First things first: do not pass go or collect your turkey leg until you’ve seen Escape From Tomorrow, the shot-secretly-at-Disney sci-fi drama that will, in fact, blow your mind. Dennis Harvey’s review here. (Speaking of mind-blowing, have you seen Gravity yet? If not, why are you still reading this? Why aren’t you rushing to the theater RIGHT NOW?)
Elsewhere this week: two powerful tales of survival are told in doc The Summit and Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips, which stars Tom Hanks and will make you glad your job doesn’t require you to traverse pirate-infested shipping lanes. My reviews of both here.
We’ve also got the latest exploitation-fan catnip from Robert Rodriguez, Machete Kills, starring Danny Trejo (fantasy role-swap: Danny Trejo as Captain Phillips), a comedy in which Amy Poehler plays Adam Scott’s stepmother, a Twilight-informed Shakespeare flick, and more. Read on!
A.C.O.D. When happy-go-lucky Trey (Clark Duke) announces rather suddenly that he’s getting married, cranky older bro Carter (Adam Scott), the Adult Child of Divorce of the title, is tasked with making peace between his parents (Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara). Trouble is, they haaaate each other (Jenkins: “If I ever see that woman, I’m gonna kick her in the balls”) — or so Carter thinks, until he discovers (to his horror) that there’s long-dormant passion lurking beneath all the insults. He also discovers that he was part of a book about kids of divorce written by a nutty PhD (Jane Lynch), and is drawn into her follow-up project — through which he meets fellow A.C.O.D Michelle (Jessica Alba, trying way too hard as a bad girl), a foil to his level-headed girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). As the life he’s carefully constructed crumbles around him, Carter has to figure out what really matters, blah blah. Stu Zicherman’s comedy (co-scripted with Ben Karlin; both men are TV veterans) breaks no new ground in the dysfunctional-family genre — but it does boast a cast jammed with likable actors, nimble enough to sprinkle their characters’ sitcom-y conflicts with funny moments. Amy Poehler — Scott’s Parks and Recreation boo — is a particular highlight as Carter’s rich-bitch stepmother, aka “the Cuntessa.” (1:27) (Cheryl Eddy)
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and PeteJennifer Hudson, Jordin Sparks, and Anthony Mackie play the grown-ups and assorted parental figures in this drama about two young boys coming of age in New York City. George Tillman, Jr. (2009’s Notorious; 2000’s Men of Honor) directs. (2:00)
Machete Kills Herewith we have the first sequel to a film (2010’s Machete) spawned from a fake trailer (that appeared in 2007’s Grindhouse). Danny Trejo’s titular killer has been tasked by the POTUS (Charlie Sheen, cheekily billed by his birth name, Carlos Estevez) to take down a Mexican madman (Demian Bechir) who’s an enemy of both his country’s drug cartels and the good ol’ USA. But it’s soon revealed (can you have plot spoilers in a virtually plotless film?) that the real villain is weapons designer Voz (Mel Gibson), a space-obsessed nutcase who’d fit right into an Austin Powers movie. The rest of Machete Kills, which aims only to entertain (with less social commentary than the first film), plays like James Bond lite, albeit with a higher, bloodier body count, and with famous-face cameos and jokey soft-core innuendos coming as fast and furious as the bullets do. As always, Trejo keeps a straight face, but he’s clearly in on the joke with director Robert Rodriguez, who’d be a fool not to continue to have his exploitation cake and eat it too, so long as these films — easy on the eyes, knowingly dumb, and purely fun-seeking — remain successful. (1:47) (Cheryl Eddy)
Mother of George Fashion photographer and music video director Andrew Dosunmu’s second feature opens with one of the most rapturous setpieces in recent cinematic memory: a wedding ceremony and banquet in Brooklyn’s Nigerian expat community so sensuously rich it washes over the viewer like a scented bath. Afterward, restauranteur Adoydele (Isaach De Bankole) and his younger immigrant bride Adenike (Danai Gurira) live in a connubial bliss increasingly compromised by the pressure on her to bear children. When that doesn’t happen, it could be either party’s biological “fault;” but tradition and an imperious mother-in-law (Bukky Ajayi) place blame firmly on Adenike’s shoulders, till the latter considers a desperate, secret solution to the problem. Like Dosunmu and his cinematographer Bradford Young’s 2011 prior feature Restless City, this followup is so aesthetically transfixing (not least its Afropop soundtrack) you can easily forgive its lack of equally powerful narrative impact. Someday they’ll make a movie that works on both levels — but meanwhile, Mother of George is gorgeous enough to reward simply as an object of sumptuous beauty. (1:47) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Muscle Shoals Hard on the heels of Dave Grohl’s Sound City comes another documentary about a legendary American recording studio. Located in the titular podunk Northern Alabama burg, Fame Studio drew an extraordinary lineup of musicians and producers to make fabled hits from the early 1960s through the early ’80s. Among them: Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” a slew of peak era Aretha Franklin smashes, the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” and those cornerstones of Southern rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” Tales of how particular tracks came about are entertaining, especially when related by the still-lively likes of Etta James, Wilson Pickett, and Keith Richards. (Richards is a hoot, while surprisingly Mick Jagger doesn’t have much to say.) Director Greg Camalier’s feature can be too worshipful and digressive at times, and he’s skittish about probing fallouts between Fame’s founder Rick Hall and some long-term collaborators (notably the local in-house session musicians known as the Swampers who were themselves a big lure for many artists, and who left Fame to start their own successful studio). Still, there’s enough fascinating material here — also including a lot of archival footage — that any music fan whose memory or interest stretches back a few decades will find much to enjoy. (1:51) (Dennis Harvey)
Romeo and JulietEvery director sees the star-crossed lovers differently: Zefferelli’s apporach was sensuous, while Luhrmann’s was hip. Carlo Carlei, director of the British-Swiss-Italian production hitting theaters this week, is so hamstrung by the soapy mechanics of the Twilight series and the firmament of high school productions he fails to add much vision — what he does instead is pander to tweens as much as possible. Which means tweens might like it. Hailee Steinfeld makes Juliet’s foolishness seem like the behavior of a highly functional teenager, while Douglas Booth’s chiseled Romeo can’t help resembling a cheerful Robert Pattinson. Juliet’s maid has never been more memorable than Leslie Mansfield and Paul Giamatti is occasionally not self-consciously Paul Giamatti as the cunning friar. Yet the syrupy score is miserably persistent, and the sword fights are abundant and laughable. Tybalt (Gossip Girl’s Ed Westwick) leads a group that walks in slo-mo, hats flopping behind them. Carlei wrongheadedly stages the double suicide to resemble Michelangelo’s Pietà, but Romeo and Juliet aren’t martyrs for our fantasies, they’re the Adam and Eve of young love. Cinematic adaptations should remind you they’re original, but this Romeo and Juliet simply doesn’t know how. (1:58) (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)
The 36th Mill Valley Film Festival opened last night and runs through Oct. 13, filling the North Bay’s travel-worthy venues (the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center is the main one) with must-see films. Check out our recs here, and read on for short takes on Hollywood’s offerings, including the season’s must-see sci-fi film.
Blind Detective Johnnie To’s latest makes its local debut as part of the San Francisco Film Society’s “Hong Kong Cinema” series, hot on the heels of his Drug War, which had a theatrical run earlier this year. Blind Detective shares Drug War’s crime theme and moody palette, but it also has — whimsy alert! — an accordion-inflected score. The cute quotient is further upped by Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng, who’ve been frequently paired in To’s lighter fare (perhaps most memorably in 2001’s Love on a Diet, which attired its attractive stars in fat suits). Lau plays a former cop who left the force after losing his vision, yet continues to solve crimes (in pursuit of reward money) using, among other unorthodox methods, his superior sense of smell. Cheng plays a scrappy policewoman who admires his investigative skills and asks him to track down a long-lost childhood friend. He agrees, but not before slyly tricking her into helping him pursue lucrative paydays on unrelated cases. Lau’s wannabe-Sherlock antics and Cheng’s lovelorn flailings wear thin after two-plus hours, but Blind Detective still manages to entertain despite its odd blend of broad comedy and serial-killer thrills. (2:10) Vogue. (Cheryl Eddy)
Gravity “Life in space is impossible,” begins Gravity, the latest from Alfonso Cuarón (2006’s Children of Men). Egghead Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is well aware of her precarious situation after a mangled satellite slams into her ship, then proceeds to demolition-derby everything (including the International Space Station) in its path. It’s not long before she’s utterly, terrifyingly alone, and forced to unearth near-superhuman reserves of physical and mental strength to survive. Bullock’s performance would be enough to recommend Gravity, but there’s more to praise, like the film’s tense pacing, spare-yet-layered script (Cuarón co-wrote with his son, Jonás), and spectacular 3D photography — not to mention George Clooney’s warm supporting turn as a career astronaut who loves country music almost as much as he loves telling stories about his misadventures. (1:31) (Cheryl Eddy)
The Institute In 2008, mysterious flyers began popping up around San Francisco that touted esoteric inventions such as “Poliwater” and the “Vital-Orbit Human Force Field” and included a phone number for the curiously-monikered Jejuene Institute. On the other side of the phone line, a recording would direct callers to a Financial District office building where they would undergo a mysterious induction process, embarking on an epic, multi-stage, years-long alternate reality game, designed primarily to reveal the magic in the mundane. In Spencer McCall’s documentary The Institute, viewers are introduced to the game in much the same way as prospective inductees, with few clues as to what lies in store ahead. A handful of seemingly random interviewees offer a play-by-play recap of their own experiences exploring rival game entities the Jejune Institute and Elsewhere Public Works Agency — while video footage of them dancing in the streets, warding off ninjas, befriending Sasquatches, spelunking sewers, and haunting iconic Bay Area edifices gives the viewer a taste of the wonders that lay in store for the intrepid few (out of 10,000 inductees) who made it all the way to the end of the storyline. Frustratingly, however, at least for this former inductee, McCall’s documentary focuses on fleshing out the fictions of the game, barely scratching the surface of what must surely be an even more intriguing set of facts. How did a group of scrappy East Bay artists manage to commandeer an office in the Financial District for so long in the first place? Who were the artists behind the art? And where am I supposed to cash in these wooden “hobo coins” now? (1:32) New Parkway, Roxie. (Nicole Gluckstern)
Parkland Timed to tie in with the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, writer-director Peter Landesman’s sprawling ensemble drama takes that tragedy as its starting point and spirals outward, highlighting ordinary folks who were caught up in the drama’s aftermath by virtue of their jobs or circumstance. There’s a lot going on here, with a huge cast of mostly-recognizable faces (Billy Bob Thornton as Secret Service Agent Forest Sorrells; Paul Giamatti as amateur filmmaker Abraham Zapruder; Ron Livingston as an FBI agent; hey, there’s Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden in two scenes as a stern nurse!), but the events depicted are so familiar that the plot never becomes confusing. Landesman — who favors scenes of breakneck-paced action punctuated by solemn moments of emotion — might’ve done better to narrow his focus a bit, perhaps keeping just to the law-enforcement characters or to Lee Harvey Oswald’s family (James Badge Dale plays his shell-shocked brother, while Jackie Weaver hams it up as his eccentric mother). But paired with 2006’s Bobby, Parkland — named for the hospital where both JFK and Oswald died — named for the hospital where both JFK and Oswald died — could make for an interesting, speculative-history double-feature for Camelot buffs. That said, Oliver Stone fans take note: Parkland is strictly Team Lone Gunman. (1:33) (Cheryl Eddy)
Runner Runner Launching his tale with a ripped-from-the-headlines montage of news reports and concerned-anchor sound bites, director Brad Furman (2011’s The Lincoln Lawyer) attempts to argue his online-gambling action thriller’s topicality, but not even Anderson Cooper can make a persuasive case for Runner Runner’s cultural relevance. Justin Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a post-2008 Wall Street casualty turned Princeton master’s candidate, who is putting himself through his finance program via the morally threadbare freelance gig of introducing his fellow students to Internet gambling. Perhaps in the service of supplying our unsympathetic protagonist with a psychological root, we are given a knocked-together scene reuniting Richie with his estranged gambling addict dad (John Heard). By the time we’ve digested this, plus the image of Justin Timberlake in the guise of a grad student with a TAship, Richie has blown through all his savings and, in a bewildering turn of events, made his way into the orbit of Ben Affleck’s Ivan Block, a shady online-gambling mogul taking shelter from an FBI investigation in Costa Rica, along with his lovely adjutant, Rebecca (Gemma Arterton). Richie’s rise through the ranks of Ivan’s dodgy empire is somewhat mysterious, partly a function of the plot and partly a function of the plot being piecemeal and incoherent. The dialogue and the deliveries are also unconvincing, possibly because we’re dealing with a pack of con artists and possibly because the players were dumbfounded by the script, which is clotted with lines we’ve heard before, from other brash FBI agents, other sketchily drawn temptresses, other derelict, regretful fathers, and other unscrupulous kingpins. (1:31) (Lynn Rapoport)
We Are What We AreThe title of Jim Mickle’s latest film sums up the attitude of the Parker family: We Are What We Are. We eat people. Our human-flesh cravings go back generations. Over the years, our dietary habits have become our religion. And that’s just the way it is — until teen sisters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) start to have some doubts. As We Are (a remake of Mexican director Jorge Michel Grau’s 2010 film) begins, the girls’ mother has suddenly died amid a punishing rainstorm — and their grief-stricken Dad (Bill Sage) has become awfully twitchy. As the local police, a suspicious doctor (Michael Parks), and a curious neighbor (Kelly McGillis) begin to poke into their business, the Parkers prep for “Lambs Day,” a feast that most definitely involves whoever is chained up in the basement. Though not all of the dots connect in the Parkers’ elaborate backstory (how do Mom and Dad have an obscure variation on mad-cow disease if they’re only eating man-meat once a year?), We Are still offers a refreshing change from indie horror’s most recent common denominators — no found-footage tricks here. The last-act dinner scene is required viewing for any self-respecting cannibal-flick connoisseur. Check out my interview with director Mickle here. (1:45) (Cheryl Eddy)
When Comedy Went to School This scattershot documentary by Ron Frank and Mevlut Akkaya is about two big subjects — the Catskill Mountains resorts that launched a couple generations of beloved Jewish entertainers, and mid-to-late 20th century Jewish comedians in general. There’s a lot of overlap between them, but the directors (and writer Lawrence Richards) can’t seem to find any organizing focus, so their film wanders all over the place, from the roles of resort social directors and busboys to clips from History of the World Part I (1981) and Fiddler on the Roof (1971) to the entirely irrelevant likes of Larry King. That said, there’s entertaining vintage performance footage (of Totie Fields, Woody Allen, etc.) and interview input from the still-kicking likes of Sid Ceasar, Jackie Mason, Mort Sahl, Jerry Stiller, and Jerry Lewis. For some this will be a welcome if not particularly well crafted nostalgic wallow. For others, though, the pandering tone set by one Lisa Dawn Miller’s (wife of Sandy Hackett, who’s son of Buddy) cringe-worthy opening rendition of “Make ‘Em Laugh” — to say nothing of her “Send in the Clowns” at the close — will sum up the pedestrian mindset that makes this doc a missed opportunity. (1:23) (Dennis Harvey)
Baggage Claim Robin Thicke may be having the year of a lifetime, but spouse Paula Patton is clearly making a bid to leap those “Blurred Lines” between second banana-dom and Jennifer Aniston-esque leading lady fame with this buppie chick flick. How competitive is the game? Patton has a sporting chance: she’s certainly easy on the eyes and ordinarily a welcome warm and sensual presence as arm candy or best girlfriend — too bad her bid to beat the crowd with Baggage Claim feels way too blurry and busy to study for very long. The camera turns to Patton only to find a hot, slightly charming mess of mussed hair, frenetic movement, and much earnest emoting. I know the mode is single-lady desperation, but you’re trying too hard, Paula. At least the earnestness kind of works — semi-translating in Baggage Claim as a bumbling ineptitude that offsets Patton’s too-polished-and-perfect-to-be-real beauty. After all, we’re asked to believe that Patton’s flight attendant Montana can’t find a good man, no matter how hard she tries. That’s the first stretch of imagination, made more implausible by pals Sam (Adam Brody) and Janine (singer-songwriter Jill Scott), who decide to try to fix her up with her old high-flying frequent-flier beaus in the quest to find a mate in time for her — humiliation incoming — younger sister’s wedding. Among the suitors are suave hotelier Quinton (Djimon Hounsou), Republican candidate Langston (Taye Diggs), and hip-hop mogul Damon (Trey Songz), though everyone realizes early on that she just can’t notice the old bestie (Derek Luke) lodged right beneath her well-tilted nose. Coming to the conclusion that any sane single gal would at the end of this exercise, Patton does her darnedest to pour on the quirk and charm — and that in itself is as endearing as watching any beautiful woman bend over backwards, tumbling as she goes, to win an audience over. The strenuous effort, however, seems wasted when one considers the flimsy material, played for little more than feather-light amusement by director-writer David E. Talbert. (1:33) (Kimberly Chun)
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 The sequel to the 2009 animated hit based on the children’s best-seller promises the introduction of “mutant food beasts,” including “tacodiles” and “shrimpanzees.” (1:35)
Don Jon Shouldering the duties of writer, director, and star for the comedy Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has also picked up a broad Jersey accent, the physique of a gym rat, and a grammar of meathead posturing — verbal, physical, and at times metaphysical. His character, Jon, is the reigning kingpin in a triad of nightclubbing douchebags who pass their evenings assessing their cocktail-sipping opposite numbers via a well-worn one-to-10 rating system. Sadly for pretty much everyone involved, Jon’s rote attempts to bed the high-scorers are spectacularly successful — the title refers to his prowess in the art of the random hookup — that is, until he meets an alluring “dime” named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who institutes a waiting period so foreign to Jon that it comes to feel a bit like that thing called love. Amid the well-earned laughs, there are several repulsive-looking flies in the ointment, but the most conspicuous is Jon’s stealthy addiction to Internet porn, which he watches at all hours of the day, but with a particularly ritualistic regularity after each night’s IRL conquest has fallen asleep. These circumstances entail a fair amount of screen time with Jon’s O face and, eventually, after a season of growth — during which he befriends an older woman named Esther (Julianne Moore) and learns about the existence of arty retro Swedish porn — his “Ohhh…” face. Driven by deft, tight editing, Don Jon comically and capably sketches a web of bad habits, and Gordon-Levitt steers us through a transformation without straining our capacity to recognize the character we met at the outset — which makes the clumsy over-enunciations that mar the ending all the more jarring. (1:30) (Lynn Rapoport)
Enough Said Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a divorced LA masseuse who sees naked bodies all day but has become pretty wary of wanting any in her bed at night. She reluctantly changes her mind upon meeting the also-divorced Albert (James Gandolfini), a television archivist who, also like her, is about to see his only child off to college. He’s no Adonis, but their relationship develops rapidly — the only speed bumps being provided by the many nit-picking advisors Eva has in her orbit, which exacerbate her natural tendency toward glass-half-empty neurosis. This latest and least feature from writer-director Nicole Holofcener is a sitcom-y thing of the type that expects us to find characters all the more adorable the more abrasive and self-centered they are. That goes for Louis-Dreyfus’ annoying heroine as well as such wasted talents as Toni Colette as her kvetching best friend and Catherine Keener as a new client turned new pal so bitchy it makes no sense Eva would desire her company. The only nice person here is Albert, whom the late Gandolfini makes a charming, low-key teddy bear in an atypical turn. The revelation of an unexpected past tie between his figure and Keener’s puts Eva in an ethically disastrous position she handles dismally. In fact, while it’s certainly not Holofcener’s intention, Eva’s behavior becomes so indefensible that Enough Said commits rom-com suicide: The longer it goes on, the more fervently you hope its leads will not end up together. (1:33) (Dennis Harvey)
Haute Cuisine Director and co-writer Christian Vincent’s unassuming ode to French food takes for granted that we’re here to learn about the life, joys, and preoccupations of a working female chef, regardless of politically correct concerns (dig that foie gras reference) or gossipy tendencies. Precisely encapsulating a very un-haute attitude that falls in line with its mild-mannered protagonist, Haute Cuisine breaks its cool only when the country’s head of state comes into view or a testosterone-y rival pulls a power play. As the movie opens, Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot) is hard at work at a far humbler job — cooking fine food for the rough crowd of workers at the Alfred Faure base in Antarctica while dismissing the attentions of a visiting video crew. Flashback to the story they’re hot to uncover, as the country innkeeper, farmer, and cooking teacher is swept off her feet by none other President François Mitterrand, not for romance but to make home-cooked regional food for his personal meals. The halls of power — and Hortense’s passage through the labyrinthian bureaucracy and pecking order — threaten to blot out the identity of the little cook from the country, but she holds her own in her chaste relationship with Mitterrand as she coaxes him to let her source directly from farmers and producers. However, the mostly one-way, closed relationship between the two can’t last forever. Haute Cuisine doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel — much as Hortense would never claim to tweak her beloved St. Honoré —and it generally refrans from looking much deeper into its main character beyond what Frot offers in her acutely telling looks and her playful give-and-take with sous chef Nicholas (Arthur Dupont). But it does gently draw the food lover and the more oblivious eater alike into its spell, with a soupçon of tasteful, and tasty-looking, food porn and its obvious respect for chefs who are dedicated to giving pleasure to those they serve. (1:35) Opera Plaza. (Kimberly Chun)
Inuk Though the Greenlandic-language Inuk takes its name from its troubled Inuit protagonist, ice is arguably its central character. And the lyrical sweep and striking beauty of the icy expanses in Uummannaq Bay and Nuuk, Greenland, threaten to upstage the adventure story at Inuk’s heart. Seeking refuge from his alcoholic mother and her abusive friends and escaping into hip-hop, the teenage Inuk (Gaaba Petersen) has been found battered and sleeping his car far too often, so he’s taken to a in the north by teacher and foster care worker Aviaaja (Rebekka Jorgensen) to learn about the old ways of hunters and an ancient wisdom that is melting away with the polar icecap. A journey by dogsled with local hunters turns into a rite of passage when bear hunter Ikuma (Ole Jørgen Hammeken) takes Inuk under his damaged wing and attempts to reconnect him to his heritage. “The ice is no place for attitude,” he declares, as Inuk makes foolish choices, kills his first seal, and learns the hard way about survival north of the Arctic Circle. You can practically feel the freezing cold seeping off the frames of this gorgeous-looking film — a tribute to director Mike Magidson and his crew’s skills, even when the overt snow-blinding symbolism blots out clarity and threatens to swallow up Inuk. (1:30) Roxie. (Chun)
“Millie Perkins in the Exploitation Cinema of Matt Cimber” Millie Perkins was a successful 20-year-old model with no acting experience when she made her film debut in 1959’s The Diary of Anne Frank, playing the title role. But her mainstream Hollywood career almost immediately foundered and soon she was playing much less angelic roles in B-movies — among them several subsequently cult-worshipped Monte Hellman films and the 1968 AIP counterculture-nightmare hit Wild in the Streets. In the mid-1970s she made two back-to-back movies for Italian exploitation maestro Matt Cimber (aka Thomas Vitale Ottaviano), who a decade earlier had briefly been married to Jayne Mansfield. The Film on Film Foundation is screening rare 35mm prints of both in this one-night tribute bill. The better known of the duo, The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976), is a bizarre psychochiller in which Perkins gets one hell of a role as SoCal cocktail waitress Molly, who seems normal enough (if a tad taciturn) but is prone to irrational rages, blackouts, drinking binges, indiscriminate pill-popping, and … murder, though we (and she) aren’t always sure whether her crimes are real or delusional. While Witch has gained some critical appreciation in recent years, the prior year’s Lady Cocoa (also released, even more improbably, as Pop Goes the Weasel) remains obscure — a late addition to the early ’70s blaxploitation craze with “First Lady of Las Vegas” Lola Falana in a non-singing role as a tough jailbird who gets a 24-hour pass to testify against her evil thug ex-boyfriend — or at least try to, if his goons (including NFL Hall of Famer “Mean” Joe Greene) don’t snuff her first. Perkins has a supporting role as one half of an alleged honeymooning couple who aren’t quite as harmless as they seem. Perhaps overwhelmed by the challenge of topping these two films, Perkins was inactive for several years afterward, then found herself welcomed back to Hollywood via numerous roles in TV movies and big-screen ones, plus recurring roles on primetime soap Knots Landing and the 1990 miniseries Elvis (as the King’s mom). Roxie. (Dennis Harvey)
On the Job Filipino director Erik Matti’s gritty crime thriller has such a clever hook that Hollywood is already circling it for a remake. No shock there. It is surprising, however, that On the Job is based on true events, in which prisoners were temporarily sprung to work as hired guns for well-connected politicos. (Kinda genius, if you think about it.) The big-screen version has veteran inmate Tang (Joel Torre) dreading his imminent parole; he’d rather have the steady income from his grisly gig than be unable to provide for his wife and daughter. As he counts down to his release, he trains volatile Daniel (Gerald Anderson) to take his place. Poking around on the other side of the law are world-weary local cop Acosta (Joey Marquez) and hotshot federal agent Francis (Piolo Pascual), who reluctantly team up when a hit cuts close to home for both of them. The case is particularly stressful for Francis, whose well-connected father-in-law turns out to be wallowing in corruption. Taut, thrilling, atmospheric, and graphic, On the Job makes up for an occasionally confusing storyline by offering bang-up (literally) entertainment from start to finish. Groovy score, too. (2:00) Metreon. (Cheryl Eddy)
Out in the DarkMeeting in a Tel Aviv gay bar, Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) and Roy (Michael Aloni) are instantly smitten with each other, though there’s much dividing them. Roy is a Jewish lawyer working at his father’s high-end firm, while the former is a Palestinian graduate psychology student who’s lucky just to get a temporary travel pass so he can take one prestigious course at an Israeli university. Even this small liberty brings him trouble, as his increasingly fanatical older brother considers any contact with Israelis borderline traitorous to their homeland and to conservative Muslim values. Needless to say, Nimr is not “out” to his family — and even though Roy is, his parents’ “tolerance” proves superficial at best. The men’s relationship soon runs into considerable, even life-imperiling difficulty from various political, cultural, religious and personal conflicts. Director and co-writer Michael Mayer’s first feature isn’t the first screen love story between star-crossed Israelis and Palestinians (or even the first gay one). It can be a bit clumsy and melodramatic, but nonetheless there’s enough chemistry between the leads and earnest urgency behind the issues addressed to make this a fairly powerful story about different kinds of oppression. (1:36) Elmwood. (Dennis Harvey)
Rush Ron Howard’s Formula One thriller Rush is a gripping bit of car porn, decked out with 1970s period details and goofily liberated camera moves to make sure you never forget how much happens under (and around, and on top of) the hood of these beastly vehicles. Real life drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda (played by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, respectively) had a wicked rivalry through the ’70s; these characters are so oppositional you’d think Shane Black wrote them. Lauda’s an impersonal, methodical pro, while Hunt’s an aggressive, undisciplined playboy — but he’s so popular he can sway a group of racers to risk their lives on a rainy track, even as Lauda objects. It’s a lovely sight: all the testosterone in the world packed into a room bound by windows, egos threatening to bust the glass with the rumble of their voices. I’m no fan of Ron Howard, but maybe the thrill of Grand Theft Auto is in Rush like a spirit animal. (The moments of rush are the greatest; when Lauda’s lady friend asks him to drive fast, he does, and it’s glorious.) Hunt says that “being a pro kills the sport” — but Howard, an overly schmaltzy director with no gift for logic and too much reliance on suspension of disbelief, doesn’t heed that warning. The laughable voiceovers that bookend the film threaten to sink some great stuff, but the magic of the track is vibrant, dangerous, and teeming with greatness. (2:03) (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)
C.O.G.The first feature adapted from David Sedaris’ writing, Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s film captures his acerbic autobiographical comedy while eventually revealing the misfit pain hidden behind that wit. Tightly wound David (Jonathan Groff), on the run from problematic family relations and his sexual identity, takes the bus from East Coast grad school to rural Oregon — his uninhibited fellow passengers providing the first of many mortifications here en route. Having decided that seasonal work as an apple picker will somehow be liberating, he’s viewed with suspicion by mostly Mexican co-workers and his crabby boss (Dean Stockwell). More fateful kinda-sorta friendships are forged with a sexy forklift operator (Corey Stoll) and a born-again war vet (Denis O’Hare). Under the latter’s volatile tutelage, David briefly becomes a C.O.G. — meaning “child of God.” Balancing the caustic, absurd, and bittersweet, gradually making us care about an amusingly dislikable, prickly protagonist, this is a refreshingly offbeat narrative that pulls off a lot of tricky, ambivalent mood shifts. (1:37) (Dennis Harvey)
Herb and Dorothy 50X50 Building upon her 2008 doc Herb and Dorothy, Megumi Sasaki revisits elderly Manhattan couple Herb and Dorothy Vogel, art-world legends for amassing a jaw-dropping collection of contemporary art despite holding modest jobs and living an otherwise low-key lifestyle. (Out of necessity, they favored smaller works on paper — and whatever they bought had to fit into their one-bedroom apartment.) Remarkably, in 1992, they donated the majority of their highly valuable collection to the National Gallery of Art, but it was so vast that most of it was put into storage rather than displayed. Sasaki’s camera picks back up with the couple (Herb now in a wheelchair, with Dorothy doing most of the talking) as they work with the National Gallery to select 50 museums nationwide, each of which will receive 50 pieces of the collection. Though the film chats with some of the Vogels’ favorite artists (Richard Tuttle, notably, was initially angered by the idea of the collection being broken up), its most compelling segments are those that focus on Vogel exhibitions in relatively far-flung places, Hawaii and North Dakota included. Of particular interest: scenes in which museums without modern-art traditions help skeptical patrons engage with the art — a towering challenge since much of it appears to be of the deceptively simple, “I-could-have-done-that” variety. (1:25) (Cheryl Eddy)
Ip Man: The Final Fight Yep, it’s yet another take on kung-fu icon Ip Man, whose real-life legacy as Wing Chun’s greatest ambassador (tl;dr, he taught Bruce Lee) has translated into pop-culture stardom, most recently with Donnie Yen’s Ip Man series and Wong Kar-wai’s still-in-theaters The Grandmaster. Final Fight is directed by the prolific Herman Yau, and though it lacks the slickness of Ip Man or the high-art trappings of The Grandmaster, it does have one heavy weapon: Hong Kong superstar Anthony Wong. A less-charismatic actor might get lost in Yau’s hectic take on Ip’s later years; it’s chockablock with plot threads (union strikes, police corruption, health woes, romantic drama, brawls with rival martial-arts schools, scar-faced gangsters …) that battle for supremacy. But that’s not a problem for Wong, who calmly rises above the chaos, infusing even corny one-liners (“You can’t buy kung fu like a bowl of rice!”) with gravitas. (1:42) (Cheryl Eddy)
Mademoiselle CFabien Constant’s portrait of French fashion editor-professional muse-stylish person Carine Roitfeld may be unabashedly fawning, but it does offer the rest of us slobs a peek into the glamorous life. The film begins as Roitfeld leaves her job at Vogue Paris; there’s passing mention of her subsequent feud with Condé Nast as she readies her own luxury magazine start-up, CR Fashion Book, but the only conflicts the film lingers on are 1) when a model cancels last-minute and 2) when Roitfeld goes double over budget on her first issue. (Looking at the lavish photo shoots in action, with big-name photogs and supermodels aplenty, it’s not hard to see why.) Mostly, though this is a fun ride-along with Roitfeld in action: hanging with “Karl” (Lagerfeld) and “Tom” (Ford); swooning over her first grandchild; sneaking a little cell phone footage inside the Met Ball; allowing celebs like Sarah Jessica Parker and designer Joseph Altuzarra to suck up to her, etc. There’s also a funny moment when her art-dealer son, Vladimir, recalls that he was never allowed to wear sweatpants as a kid — and her daughter, fashion-person Julia, remembers her mother’s horror when she dared to wear Doc Martens. (1:30) (Cheryl Eddy)
My Lucky Star Aspiring cartoonist Sophie (Ziyi Zhang) puts her romantic fantasies into her artwork — the bright spot in an otherwise dull life working in a Beijing call center and being hassled about her perma-single status by her mother and catty friends. As luck would have it, Sophie wins a trip to Singapore right when dreamy secret agent David (Leehom Wang) is dispatched there to recover the stolen “Lucky Star Diamond;” it doesn’t take long before our klutzy goofball stumbles into exactly the kind of adventure she’s been dreaming about. Romancing the Stone (1984) this ain’t, but Zhang, so often cast in brooding parts, is adorable, and occasional animated sequences add further enhancement to the silly James Bond/Charlie’s Angels-lite action. (1:53) (Cheryl Eddy)
PrisonersCanadian director Denis Villeneuve (2010’s Incendies) guides a big-name cast through this thriller about a father (Hugh Jackman) frantically searching for his missing daughter with the help of a cop (Jake Gyllenhaal). (2:33)
Salinger Documentary about the reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye. (2:00)
Thanks for Sharing Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Tim Robbins star in this comedy about sex addicts from the co-writer of 2010’s The Kids Are All Right. (1:52)
Wadjda The first-ever feature directed by a female Saudi Arabian follows a young Saudi girl who dreams of buying a bicycle. (1:37)
You Will Be My Son Set at a Bordeaux vineyard that’s been in the same family for generations, Gilles Legrand’s drama hides delightfully trashy drama beneath its highbrow exterior. Patriarch Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup of 2009’s A Prophet) treats his only son, Martin (Lorànt Deutsch) with utter contempt — think the relationship between Tywin and Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones, only with even more petty digs and insults. Still hopeful that he’ll inherit the estate someday, despite Papa Jackass’ loud proclamations about his “lack of palate,” Martin sees his future prospects crumble when dapper Philippe (Nicolas Bridet) blows into town, having left his California gig as “Coppola’s head winemaker” to care for his dying father, Paul’s longtime second-in-command François (Patrick Chesnais). Things go from terrible to utterly shitty when Paul decides Philippe is the answer to his prayers (see: title). Melodrama is the only recourse here, and the film’s over-the-top last act delivers some gasp-inducing (or guffaw-inducing, your choice) twists. Heading up a classy cast, Arestrup manages to make what could’ve been a one-note character into a villain with seemingly endless layers, each more vile than the last. (1:41) (Cheryl Eddy)
Naturally, there’s at least one horror movie, Insidious: Chapter 2, opening in honor of Friday the 13th — two if you count Our Nixon — as well as a new series paying tribute to the singular Pier Paolo Pasolini (check out Dennis Harvey’s round-up here). Read on for more new reviews and one special holiday recommendation.
And While We Were Here This second collaboration between writer-director Kat Coiro and actor Kate Bosworth is a far cry from 2011’s oops-a-baby comedy Life Happens — owing, perhaps, to that film’s co-scripter and co-star, Krysten Ritter. There’s no snarky, raunchy Ritter-ness in And While We Were Here, a drama about a brittle woman named Jane (Bosworth) whose marriage to a workaholic viola player (Iddo Goldberg) is more polite than passionate; their relationship has baggage that he’d prefer not to work through, despite the expanding tension between them. On a trip to Naples, Jane meets a free-spirited 19-year-old (Jamie Blackley) who sparks her interest; before long, it’s groove-reclaiming time. Alas, sun-dappled scenery can’t offset a familiar story — with themes heavily underlined by a subplot that has Jane listening to tapes of her grandmother (richly voiced by Claire Bloom) reminiscing about love and loss during wartime. Jane’s too self-centered to be particularly likable (to her husband, mid-argument: “You’re not curious about me!”), but Here deserves some backhanded props for gender-bending a tired plot device. Ready or not, the manic pixie dream boy has arrived. (1:23) (Cheryl Eddy)
The FamilyIt’s hard to begrudge an acting monolith like Robert De Niro from cashing out in his golden years and essentially going gently into that good night amid a volley of mildish yuks. And when his mobster-in-witness-protection Giovanni Manzoni takes a film-club stage in his Normandy hideout to hold forth on the veracity of Goodfellas (1990), you yearn to be right there in the fictional audience, watching De Niro’s Brooklyn gangster take on his cinematic past. That’s the most memorable moment of this comedy about an organized criminal on the lam with his violent, conniving family unit. Director-cowriter Luc Besson aims to lightly demonstrate that you can extract a family from the mob but you can’t expunge the mob from the family. There’s a $20 million bounty on Giovanni’s head, and it’s up to his keeper Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) to keep him and his kin quiet and undercover. But the latter has his hands full with Gio penning his memoirs, wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) blowing up the local supermarket, daughter Belle (Dianna Agron, wrapped in bows like a soft-focus fantasy nymphet) given to punishing schoolyard transgressors with severe beatings, and son Warren (John D’Leo) working all the angles in class. Besson plays the Manzoni family’s violence for chuckles, while painting the mob family’s mayhem with more ominous colors, making for a tonal clash that’s as jarring as some of his edits. The pleasure here comes with watching the actors at play: much like his character, De Niro is on the run from his career-making albeit punishing past, though if he keeps finding refuge in subpar fare, one wonders if his “meh” fellas will eventually outweigh the Goodfellas. (1:51) (Kimberly Chun)
Insidious: Chapter 2Hot off this summer’s The Conjuring, horror director James Wan turns in a sequel to his 2011 hit, also about a family with big-time paranormal problems. (1:30)
Our Nixon Cobbled together from previously unseen footage shot by some of Richard Nixon’s closest aides — the destined-for-infamy trio of H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Dwight Chapin — Penny Lane’s doc, which also uses Oval Office recordings and additional archival material (not to mention the best-ever use of Tracey Ullman’s 1983 pop confection “They Don’t Know”), offers a new perspective on Tricky Dick and White House life during his tumultuous reign. But while Our Nixon brings fresh perspective to notable moments like Nixon’s visit to China and Tricia Nixon’s lavish wedding, and peeks behind the public façade to reveal the “real” Nixon (hardly a spoiler: he’s shown to be biogoted and behind the times), the POTUS is just one of many figures in this inventive collage. The home movies themselves are the real stars here, filled with unguarded moments and shot for no reason other than personal documentation; as a result, and even taking Lane’s editing choices into account, Our Nixon feels thrillingly authentic. (1:25) Roxie. (Cheryl Eddy)
PopulairePerhaps if it weren’t set in the 1950s, this would be the fluorescent-lit story of a soul-sucking data entry job and the office drone who supplements it with a moonlighting gig. But it is the ’50s — a cheery, upbeat version of the era — and director Régis Roinsard’s Populaire reflects its shiny glamour onto the transformation of small-town girl Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François) from an incompetent but feisty secretary with mad hunting-and-pecking skills into a celebrated and adored speed-typing champion. Her daffy boss, Louis Échard (Romain Duris), is a handsome young insurance salesman who bullies her (very charmingly) into competing against a vast secretarial pool in a series of hectic, nail-biting tourneys, which treat typing as a sporting event for perhaps the first time in cinematic history. (See also: scenes of Rose cranking up her physical endurance with daily jogs and cross-training at the piano.) The glamour slips a touch when Populaire starts to delve into psychological motivations to rationalize some of Louis’s more caddish maneuvers. But meanwhile, back in the arena, bets are made, words-per-minute stats are quoted by screaming, tearful fans in the bleachers, hearts are won and bruised, a jazz band performs that classic tune “Les Secrétaires Cha Cha Cha,” and we find ourselves rooting passionately for Rose to best the reigning champ’s 512(!)-wpm record. (1:51) (Lynn Rapoport)
And inhonor of Friday the 13th, here’s Crispin Glover rocking out in 1984’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, aka “the one with Corey Feldman,” the fourth (and despite the title, by no means final) entry in the series. RELAX, JIMBO!
Who dares to challenge the box-office supremacy of Vin Diesel, who returns yet again to play the titular night vision-gifted (but really socially awkward) escaped con in sci-fi actioner Riddick?
For masochists, there’s Brian De Palma’s latest, Passion, which checks in for a brief Castro run (Dennis Harvey gets bored talking about it here); there are also a couple of docs, a MILF drama, and a South Korean disaster-by-numbers flick about a disease that, shockingly, doesn’t spawn zombies, just bloody coughs and rapid death. Read on for our short takes (and take note of your best-bet new flick: “charming seriocomedy” Afternoon Delight).http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KWyEbmKHsY
Adore This glossy soap opera from director Anne Fontaine (2009’s Coco Before Chanel) and scenarist Christopher Hampton, adapted from a Doris Lessing novella, has had its title changed from Two Mothers — perhaps because under that name it was pretty much the most howled-at movie at Sundance this year. Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) are lifelong best friends whose hunky surfer sons Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Tom (James Frecheville) are likewise best mates. Widow Lil runs a gallery and Roz has a husband (Ben Mendelsohn), but mostly the two women seem to lay around sipping wine on the decks of their adjacent oceanfront homes in Western Australia’s Perth, watching their sinewy offspring frolic in the waves. This upscale-lifestyle-magazine vision of having it all — complete with middle-aged female protagonists who look spectacularly youthful without any apparent effort — finds trouble in paradise when the ladies realize that something, in fact, is missing. That something turns out to be each other’s sons, in their beds. After very little hand-wringing this is accepted as the way things are meant to be — a MILF fantasy viewed through the distaff eyes — despite some trouble down the road. This outlandish basic concept might have worked for Lessing, but Fontaine’s solemn, gauzily romantic take only slightly muffles its inherent absurdity. (Imagine how creepy this ersatz women-finding-fulfillment-at-midlife saga would be if it were two older men boning each others’ daughters.) Lord knows it isn’t often that mainstream movies (this hardly plays as “art house”) focus on women over 40, and the actors give it their all. But you’ll wish they’d given it to a better vehicle instead. (1:50) (Dennis Harvey)
Afternoon Delight It takes about five seconds to suss that Kathryn Hahn is going to give a spectacular performance in Jill Soloway’s charming seriocomedy. Figuring to re-ignite husband Jeff’s (Josh Radnor) flagging libido by taking them both to a strip club, Rachel (Hahn) decides to take on as a home- and moral-improvement project big-haired, barely-adult stripper McKenna (Juno Temple). When the latter’s car slash-home is towed, bored Silver Lake housewife and mother Rachel invites the street child into their home. Eventually she’s restless enough to start accompanying McKenna on the latter’s professional “dates.” Afternoon Delight is a better movie than you’d expect — not so much a typical raunchy comedy as a depthed dramedy with a raunchy hook. It’s a notable representation of no-shame sex workerdom. It’s also funny, cute, and eventually very touching. Especially memorable: a ladies’ round-table discussion about abortion that drifts every which way. (1:42) (Dennis Harvey)
Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story Fairy tales really do come true — even when they’re as strange as the one lived by Hans Christian Andersen Award-winning illustrator, writer, and activist Tomi Ungerer. As a child, he was torn between Nazi Germany and occupied France, growing up in the Alsace region; as an artist, Ungerer possesses a creative fire fueled by the trauma of war and a bisected identity — his native Strasbourg, as he paints it with archetypal vivid colors, “is the sphincter of France. When France has indigestion, we’re the first to feel it.” In keeping with that free spirit, director Brad Bernstein playfully, beautifully captures Ungerer’s early years, from the artist’s preteen renderings of Nazi horrors, to his formative artistic inspirations, to the outpouring that followed during NYC’s golden age of illustration. In Big Apple, children’s classics like Crictor (1958), Adelaide (1959), and The Three Robbers (1961) inspired colleagues like Maurice Sendak (here in one of his last interviews) and Jules Feiffer. No niche branding and self-censorship for Ungerer, who happily fed the midcentury’s appetite for his drawings; imbued his kids tales with absurdity, fear, and his lifelong fascination with death; and created powerful anti-war posters and iconic illustrations reflecting the struggles of the ‘60s (and very adult “Fornicon” erotica as well). The latter finally ushered in a kind of closing chapter to Ungerer’s American success story, when word spread that the “kidso” favorite also did porno and his children’s books were blacklisted from libraries. Bernstein generally hastens through the decades of “exile” that followed — staying so far from some of Ungerer’s personal particulars that we never even get the name of his wife (or is it wives?) — but the time he takes to give the viewer a sense of the witty, quirk-riddled artist’s personality keeps a viewer riveted. (1:38) (Kimberly Chun)
The Flu As a shipping crate stuffed with illegal immigrants creeps into a ritzy Seoul suburb, one poor soul within stifles a cough; before long, everyone’s dead — save a crusty-eyed youth who’s apparently resistant to the disease yet still capable of kick-starting a devastating epidemic. Can the headstrong doctor (Soo Ae) save her sassy tot (Park Min-ha) from certain, blood-spewing death? Will the cocky EMT (Jang Hyuk) be able to help her, and win her heart in the process? Will the muckety-mucks in power get their shit together in time to prevent mass panic and a global outbreak? Zzzzz. Save some gnarly third-act visuals (you won’t believe what the government does with the bodies of the afflicted), this disaster movie from writer-director Kim Sung-su fails to innovate on the template laid down by films like 2011’s Contagion or 1995’s Outbreak. Also, for all the gory drama, the central storyline (re: the sick kid and the nascent couple) is completely devoid of tension, trudging for two hours toward the most predictable ending imaginable. (2:00) (Cheryl Eddy)
I Give It a Year This glossy feature writing-directing debut from longtime Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator Dan Mazer has been called the best British comedy in some time — but it turns out that statement must’ve been made by people who think the Hangover movies are what comedy should be like world-wide. Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall play mismatched newlyweds (she’s stiff-upper-lippy advertising executive, he’s a manboy prankster novelist) who worry their marriage won’t last, in part because everyone tells them so — including such authorities as her bitchy sister (Minnie Driver), his obnoxious best friend (Stephen Merchant), and their incredibly crass marriage counselor (Olivia Colman). Also, they’re each being distracted by more suitable partners: she by a suave visiting American CEO (Simon Baker), he by the ex-girlfriend he never formally broke up with (Anna Faris). This is one of those movies in which you’re supposed to root for a couple who in fact really don’t belong together, and most supporting characters are supposed to be funny because they’re hateful or rude. There’s plenty of the usual strained sexual humor, plus the now-de rigueur turn toward earnest schmaltz, and the inevitable soundtrack stuffed with innocuous covers of golden oldies. Some wince-inducing moments aside, it all goes down painlessly enough — and Mazer deserves major props for straying from convention at the end. Still, one hopes the future of British comedy isn’t more movies that might just as well have starred Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston. (1:37) (Dennis Harvey)
Riddick This is David Twohy’s third flick starring Vin Diesel as the titular misunderstood supercriminal. Aesthetically, it’s probably the most interesting of the lot, with a stylistic weirdness that evokes ’70s Eurocomix in the best way — a pleasing backdrop to what is essentially Diesel playing out the latest in a series of Dungeons & Dragons scenarios where he offers his wisecracking sci-fi take on Conan. Gone are the scares and stakes of Pitch Black (2000) or the cheeseball epic scale of The Chronicles of Riddick (2004); this is a no-nonsense action movie built on the premise that Riddick just can’t catch a break. He’s on the run again, targeted by two bands of ruthless mercenaries, on a planet threatened by an oncoming storm rather than Pitch Black’s planet-wide night. One unfortunate element leaves a bitter taste: the lone female character in the movie, Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), is an underdeveloped cliché “Strong Female Character,” a violent, macho lesbian caricature who is the object of vile sexual aggression (sometimes played for laughs) from several other characters, including Riddick. (1:59) (Sam Stander)
Spark: A Burning Man Story A few months after kicking off DocFest — and mere days after the flames of Burning Man ’13 were extinguished — doc Spark: A Burning Man Story opens for a theatrical run. With surprisingly open access to Burning Man’s inner-circle organizers, San Francisco filmmakers Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter chronicle the organization’s tumultuous 2012 season, a time when the group was forced to confront concerns both practical (a stressful ticket-sale snafu) and philosophical (why are they selling tickets in the first place?) Spark doesn’t shy away from showing the less-graceful aspects of Burning Man’s exponential growth and transformation, but at its core it’s a fairly starry-eyed celebration of the event’s allure, reinforced by subplots that focus on artists who view “the playa” as their muse. (1:30) (Cheryl Eddy)
Closed Circuit British thriller about a pair of lawyers (Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall) drawn into a possible government cover-up while investigating a London explosion. (1:36)
Drinking BuddiesMumblecore grows up in this latest from actor-writer-director Joe Swanberg (currently starring in You’re Next), about brewery co-workers Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), BFFs who’d obviously be the perfect couple if they weren’t already hooked up with significant others. At least, they are at the start of Drinking Buddies; the tension between them grows ever-more loaded when the messy, chaotic Kate is dumped by older boyfriend Chris (Ron Livingston) — a pairing we know is bound to fail when we spot him chiding her for neglecting to use a coaster. Luke’s long-term coupling with the slightly younger but way-more-mature Jill (Anna Kendrick) is more complicated; all signs indicate how lucky he is to have her. But the fact that they can only meander around marriage talk indicates that Luke isn’t ready to settle down — and though Jill may not realize it, Luke’s feelings for Kate are a big reason why. Working from a script outline but largely improvising all dialogue, Swanberg’s actors rise to the challenge, conveying the intricate shades of modern relationships. Their characters aren’t always likable, but they’re always believable. Also, fair warning: this movie will make you want to drink many, many beers. (1:30) Roxie. (Cheryl Eddy)
Getaway Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez team up in a high-speed, high-stakes race to save Hawke’s kidnapped wife. Jon Voight co-stars as “Mysterious Voice,” so there’s that. (1:29)
The GrandmasterThe Grandmaster is dramatic auteur Wong Kar-Wai’s take on the life of kung-fu legend Ip Man — famously Bruce Lee’s teacher, and already the subject of a series of Donnie Yen actioners. This episodic treatment is punctuated by great fights and great tragedies, depicting Ip’s life and the Second Sino-Japanese War in broad strokes of martial arts tradition and personal conviction. Wong’s angsty, hyper stylized visuals lend an unusual focus to the Yuen Woo-Ping-choreographed fight scenes, but a listless lack of narrative momentum prevents the dramatic segments from being truly engaging. Abrupt editing in this shorter American cut suggests some connective tissue may be missing from certain sequences. Tony Leung’s performance is quietly powerful, but also a familiar caricature from other Wong films; this time, instead of a frustrated writer, he is a frustrated martial artist. Ziyi Zhang’s turn as the driven, devastated child of the Northern Chinese Grandmaster provides a worthy counterpoint. Another Wong cliché: the two end up sadly reminiscing in dark bars, far from the rhythm and poetry of their martial pursuits. (1:48) (Sam Stander)
Instructions Not Included Mexican superstar Eugenio Derbez stars in this comedy about a ladies’ man who finds redemption when he’s suddenly tasked with being a single parent to his young daughter. (1:55)
One Direction: This is Us Take them home? The girls shrieking at the opening minutes of One Direction: This Is Us are certainly raring to — though by the closing credits, they might feel as let down as a Zayn Malik fanatic who was convinced that he was definitely future husband material. Purporting to show us the real 1D, in 3D, no less, This Is Us instead vacillates like a boy band in search of critical credibility, playing at an “authorized” look behind the scenes while really preferring the safety of choreographed onstage moves by the self-confessed worst dancers in pop. So we get endless shots of Malik, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson horsing around, hiding in trash bins, punking the road crew, jetting around the world, and accepting the adulation of innumerable screaming girls outside — interspersed with concert footage of the lads pouring their all into the poised and polished pop that has made them the greatest success story to come out of The X Factor. Too bad the music — including “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Live While We’re Young” — will bore anyone who’s not already a fan, while the 1D members’ well-filtered, featureless, and thoroughly innocuous on-screen personalities do little to dispel those yawns. Director Morgan Spurlock (2004’s Super Size Me) adds just a dollop of his own personality, in the way he fixates on the tearful fan response: he trots out an expert to talk about the chemical reaction coursing through the excitable listener’s system, and uses bits of animation to slightly puff up the boy’s live show. But generally as a co-producer, along with 1D mastermind Simon Cowell, Spurlock goes along with the pop whitewashing, sidestepping the touchy, newsy paths this biopic could have sallied down — for instance, Malik’s thoughts on being the only Muslim member of the biggest boy band in the world — and instead doing his best undermine that also-oh-so-hyped 3D format and make One Direction as tidily one dimensional as possible. (1:32) (Kimberly Chun)
The Patience Stone “You’re the one that’s wounded, yet I’m the one that’s suffering,” complains the good Afghan wife in this theatrical yet charged adaptation of Atiq Rahimi’s best-selling novel, directed by the Kabul native himself. As The Patience Stone opens, a beautiful, nameless young woman (Golshifteh Farahani) is fighting to not only keep alive her comatose husband, a onetime Jihadist with a bullet lodged in his neck, but also simply survive on her own with little money and two small daughters and a war going off all around her. In a surprising turn, her once-heedless husband becomes her solace — her silent confidante and her so-called patience stone — as she talks about her fears, secrets, memories, and desires, the latter sparked by a meeting with a young soldier. Despite the mostly stagy treatment of the action, mainly isolated to a single room or house (although the guerilla-shot scenes on Kabul streets are rife with a feeling of real jeopardy), The Patience Stone achieves lift-off, thanks to the power of a once-silenced woman’s story and a heart-rending performance by Farahani, once a star and now banned in her native Iran. (1:42) (Kimberly Chun)
Short Term 12 A favorite at multiple 2013 festivals (particularly SXSW, where it won multiple awards), Short Term 12 proves worthy of the hype, offering a gripping look at twentysomethings (led by Brie Larson, in a moving yet unshowy performance) who work with at-risk teens housed in a foster-care facility, where they’re cared for by a system that doesn’t always act with their best interests in mind. Though she’s a master of conflict resolution and tough love when it comes to her young chargers, Grace (Larson) hasn’t overcome her deeply troubled past, to the frustration of her devoted boyfriend and co-worker (John Gallagher, Jr.). The crazy everyday drama — kids mouthing off, attempting escape, etc. — is manageable enough, but two cases cut deep: Marcus (Keith Stanfield), an aspiring musician who grows increasingly anxious as his 18th birthday, when he’ll age out of foster care, approaches; and 16-year-old Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), whose sullen attitude masks a dark home life that echoes Grace’s own experiences. Expanding his acclaimed 2008 short of the same name, writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton’s wrenchingly realistic tale achieves levels of emotional honesty not often captured by narrative cinema. He joins Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler as one of the year’s most exciting indie discoveries. (1:36) (Cheryl Eddy)
Thérèse Both Emma Bovary and Simone de Beauvoir would undoubtedly relate to this increasingly bored and twisted French woman of privilege stuck in the sticks in the ’20s, as rendered by novelist Francois Mauriac and compellingly translated to the screen by the late director Claude Miller. Forbiddingly cerebral and bookish yet also strangely passive and affectless, Thérèse (Audrey Tautou) looks like she has it all from a distance — she’s married to her best friend’s coarse, hunting-obsessed brother (Gilles Lellouche) though envious of her chum’s affair with a handsome and free-thinking Jewish student. Turns out she’s as trapped and close to death as the birds her spouse snares in their forest, and the suffocatingly provincial ways of family she’s married into lead her to undertake a dire course of action. Lellouche adds nuance to his rich lunk, but you can’t tear your eyes from Tautou. Turning her pinched frown right side up and hardening those unblinking button eyes, she plays well against type as a well-heeled, sleepwalking, possibly sociopathic sour grape, effectively conveying the mute unhappiness of a too-well-bred woman born too early and too blinkered to understand that she’s desperate for a new century’s freedoms. (1:50) (Kimberly Chun)
Let’s Boo-Boo! Edgar Wright’s latest bromance-in-genre-clothing, The World’s End, opens today, and it’s a riot. Elsewhere, there’s a rom-com about Jane Austen obsessives, Hollywood’s latest supernatural-teen fantasy, and an indie horror flick critic Dennis Harvey calls “a very bloody good ride.” (Check out those reviews below).
Austenland Jane (Keri Russell) is a Jane Austen fanatic who finds real-life modern romance highly lacking as compared to the fictive Regency Era variety — though having a life-sized cutout of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in her bedroom surely didn’t help recent relationships. After yet another breakup, she decides to live her fantasy by flying to England to vacation at the titular theme park-fantasy role play establishment, where guests and staff meticulously act out Austen-like scenarios of well-dressed upper class leisure and chaste courtship. Upon arriving, however, Jane discovers she’s very much a second-class citizen here, not having been able to afford the “platinum premium” package purchased by fellow guests. Thus cast by imperious proprietor Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) as the unmarriageable “poor relation,” she gets more flirtatious vibes from the actor cast as sexy stable boy (Bret McKenzie) than the one playing a quasi-Darcy (JJ Feild), at least initially. Adapting Shannon Hale’s novel, Jerusha Hess (making her directorial bow after several collaborations with husband Jared Hess, of 2004’s Napoleon Dynamite) has delightfully kitsch set and costume designs and a generally sweet-natured tone somewhat let down by the very broad, uninspired humor. Even wonderful Jennifer Coolidge can’t much elevate the routine writing as a cheerfully vulgar Yank visitor. The rich potential to cleverly satirize all things Austen is missed. Still, the actors are charming and the progress lively enough to make Austenland harmless if flyweight fun. (1:37) (Dennis Harvey)
Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-JamalOr, almost everything you ever wanted to know about the guy who inspired all those “Free Mumia” rallies, though Abu-Jamal’s status as a cause célèbre has become somewhat less urgent since his death sentence — for killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981 — was commuted to life without parole in 2012. Stephen Vittoria’s doc assembles an array of heavy hitters (Alice Walker, Giancarlo Esposito, Cornel West, Angela Davis, Emory Douglas) to discuss Abu-Jamal’s life, from his childhood in Philly’s housing projects, to his teenage political awakening with the Black Panthers, to his career as a popular radio journalist — aided equally by his passion for reporting and his mellifluous voice. Now, of course, he’s best-known for the influential, eloquent books he’s penned since his 1982 incarceration, and for the worldwide activists who’re either convinced of his innocence or believe he didn’t receive a fair trial (or both). All worthy of further investigation, but Long Distance Revolutionary is overlong, fawning, and relentlessly one-sided — ultimately, a tiresome combination. (2:00) Roxie. (Cheryl Eddy)
The Mortal Instruments: City of BonesAdapted from the first volume of Cassandra Clare’s bestselling YA urban fantasy series, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones follows young Clary Fray (Lily Collins) through her mother’s disappearance, the traumatic discovery of her supernatural heritage, and her induction into the violent demon-slaying world of Shadowhunters. This franchise-launching venture is unlikely to win any new converts with its flimsy acting, stilted humor, and clichéd action. It will probably also disappoint diehard fans, since it plays fast and loose with the mythology and plot of the novel, with crucial details and logical progressions left by the wayside for no clear reason. It’s never particularly awful — except for a few plot twists that fall wincingly, hilariously flat — but it’s hard to care about the perfectly coiffed, emotionally clueless protagonists. Fantastic character actors Jared Harris, Lena Headey, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are all dismally underused, though at least Harris gets to exercise a bit of his vaguely irksome British charm. (2:00) (Sam Stander)
The World’s EndThe final film in Edgar Wright’s “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy” finally arrives, and the TL:DR version is that while it’s not as good as 2004’s sublime zombie rom-com Shaun of the Dead, it’s better than 2007’s cops vs. serial killers yarn Hot Fuzz. That said, it’s still funnier than anything else in theaters lately. Simon Pegg returns to star and co-write (with Wright); this time, the script’s sinister bugaboo is an invasion of body snatchers — though (as usual) the conflict is really about the perils of refusing to actually become an adult, the even-greater perils of becoming a boring adult, and the importance of male friendships. Pegg plays rumpled fuck-up Gary, determined to reunite with the best friends he’s long since alienated for one more crack at their hometown’s “alcoholic mile,” a pub crawl that ends at the titular beer joint. The easy chemistry between Pegg and the rest of the cast (Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsan) elevates what’s essentially a predictable “one crazy night” tale, with a killer soundtrack of 1990s tunes, slang you’ll adopt for your own posse (“Let’s Boo-Boo!”), and enough hilarious fight scenes to challenge This is the End to a bro-down of apocalyptic proportions. (1:49) (Cheryl Eddy)
You’re NextThe hit of the 2011 Toronto Film Festival’s midnight section — and one that’s taken its sweet time getting to theaters — indie horror specialist (2010’s A Horrible Way to Die, 2007’s Pop Skull, 2012’s V/H/S) Adam Wingard’s feature isn’t really much more than a gussied-up slasher. But it’s got vigor, and violence, to spare. An already uncomfortable anniversary reunion for the wealthy Davison clan plus their children’s spouses gets a lot more so when dinner is interrupted by an arrow that sails through a window, right into someone’s flesh. Immediately a full on siege commences, with family members reacting with various degrees of panic, selfishness. and ingenuity, while an unknown number of animal-masked assailants prowl outside (and sometimes inside). Clearly fun for its all-star cast and crew of mumblecore-indie horror staples, yet preferring gallows’ humor to wink-wink camp, it’s a (very) bloody good ride. (1:36) (Dennis Harvey)
Ain’t enough for you? Read on for Kick-Ass 2, Jobs, and more on the week’s fresh crop of flicks.
The Artist and the Model The horror of the blank page, the raw sensuality of marble, and the fresh-meat attraction of a new model — just a few of the starting points for this thoughtful narrative about an elderly sculptor finding and shaping his possibly finest and final muse. Bedraggled and homeless beauty Mercè (Aida Folch) washes up in a small French town in the waning days of World War II and is taken in by a kindly woman (Claudia Cardinale), who seems intent on pleasantly pimping her out as a nude model to her artist husband (Jean Rochefort). As his former model, she knows Mercè has the type of body he likes — and that she’s capable of restoring his powers, in more ways than one, if you know what I mean. Yet this film by Fernando Trueba (1992’s Belle Époque) isn’t that kind of movie, with those kinds of models, especially when Mercè turns out to have more on her mind than mere pleasure. Done up in a lustrous, sunlit black and white that recalls 1957’s Wild Strawberries, The Artist and the Model instead offers a steady, respectful, and loving peek into a process, and unique relationship, with just a touch of poetry. (1:41) (Kimberly Chun)
Blue Exorcist: The Movie Though it’s spawned from Kazue Kato’s manga-turned-TV-series, familiarity with the source material is not necessary to enjoy Blue Exorcist: The Movie‘s supernatural charms. Set in True Cross Academy Town — named for the Hogwarts-ish school of exorcism at its center — the film opens with a folk tale about an adorable demon that wrecked an entire town by turning all of its inhabitants into lazy slackers. The creature was eventually captured, but nobody knows where it’s been hiding — until boyish exorcist-in-training Rin, half-demon himself, encounters a suspiciously adorable critter while chasing yet another demon, this one huge and prone to damaging city blocks (and cracking open things that should remain sealed in the process). Trouble ahead! Blue Exorcist does contain some yep-this-is-anime moments (there’s a powerful female exorcist … who wears a tiny bikini top that barely contains her enormous bazongas), but it’s mostly fun fantasy, with a sly sense of humor (“Let’s put a beatdown on these Tokyo demons!”) and some endearingly flawed heroes. (1:28) Four Star. (Cheryl Eddy)
In a World… Lake Bell (Childrens Hospital, How to Make It in America) writes, directs, and stars in this comedy about a women who sets her sights on a career in movie-trailer voiceovers. (1:33)
Jobs With the upcoming Aaron Sorkin adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s biography nipping at its heels, Jobs feels like a quickie — true to Silicon Valley form, someone realized that the first to ship can end up defining the market. But as this independent biopic goes for each easy cliché and facile cinematic device, you can practically hear Steve Jobs himself spinning in the ether somewhere. Ashton Kutcher as Jobs lectures us over and over again about the virtues of quality product, but little seemed to have penetrated director Joshua Michael Stern as he distracts with a schmaltzy score (he should have stuck to Bob Dylan, Joe Walsh, and era-defining AOR), and relies on corny slow-motion to dramatize the passing of a circuit board. The fact that Kutcher might be the best thing here — he clearly throws himself into impersonating the Apple icon, from his intense, upward-glancing glare to his hand gestures — says a bit about the film itself, as it coasts on its self-made man-captain of enterprise narrative arc. Dispensing with much about the man Jobs became outside of Apple, apart from a few nods to his unsavory neglect of friends and offspring, and simply never acknowledging his work at, say, Pixar, Jobs, in the end, comes off as a lengthy infomercial for the Cupertino heavyweight. (2:02) (Kimberly Chun)
Kick-Ass 2 Even an ass-kicking subversive take on superherodom runs the risk of getting its rump tested, toasted, roasted — and found wanting. Too bad the exhilaratingly smarty-pants, somewhat mean-spirited Kick-Ass (2010), the brighter spot in a year of superhero-questioning flicks (see also: Super), has gotten sucker-punched in all the most predictable ways in its latest incarnation. Dave, aka Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and Mindy, otherwise known as Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), are only half-heartedly attempting to live normal lives: they’re training on the sly, mostly because Mindy’s new guardian, Detective Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut), is determined to restore her childhood. Little does he realize that Mindy only comes alive when she pretends she’s battling ninjas at cheerleader tryouts — or is giving her skills a workout by unhanding, literally and gleefully, a robber. Kick-Ass is a little unnerved by her semi-psychotic enthusiasm for crushing bad guys, but he’s crushing, too, on Mindy, until Marcus catches her in the Hit-Girl act and grounds her in real life, where she has to deal with some really nasty characters: the most popular girls in school. So Kick-Ass hooks up with a motley team of would-be heroes inspired by his example, led Colonel Stars and Stripes (an almost unrecognizable Jim Carrey), while old frenemy Chris, aka Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) begins to find his real calling — as a supervillain he dubs the Motherfucker — and starts to assemble his own gang of baddies. Unlike the first movie, which passed the whip-smart wisecracks around equally, Mintz-Plasse and enabler-bodyguard Javier (John Leguizamo) get most of the choice lines here. Otherwise, the vigilante action gets pretty grimly routine, in a roof-battling, punch-’em-up kind of way. A romance seems to be budding between our two young superfriends, but let’s skip part three — I’d rather read about it in the funny pages. (1:43) (Kimberly Chun)
Lee Daniels’ The Butler Forest Whitaker stars as the White House’s longtime butler in this based-on-a-true-story tale, with the added bonus of some creative POTUS casting (John Cusack as Richard Nixon; Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan; Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower). (1:53)
Paranoia A young go-getter (Liam Hemsworth) gets drawn into the world of corporate espionage thanks to a feud between evil tech billionaires (Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman). (1:46)
Remember that brief, exciting period last year when Woody Allen sightings were being breathlessly reportedon ’round town, particularly in the Mission? Here’s your chance to see Allen’s take on San Francisco (it ain’t exactly glossy) in Blue Jasmine, which boasts a stellar performance by likely Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett as someone you would not want to have as a houseguest. Dennis Harvey’s take on the film here.
Also opening today: a doc about Napster, a so-so biopic of political theorist Hannah “Banality of Evil” Arendt, an action flick for Denzel Washington completists, and likely Oscar nominee (um…) Smurfs 2. What can I say…if you’re not a Woody Allen fan, it’s kind of a slower week. Read on for short reviews.
Downloaded The startlingly fast rise and even more abrupt demise of Napster is chronicled in this entertaining documentary by Alex Winter (yes, of Bill & Ted fame). Shawn Fanning dropped out of college in 1999 to work on an idea of greatly improving the then-tortuous downloading and sharing of MP3 files, soon moving to the Bay Area and drawing other friends (including co-founder Sean Parker) to launch Napster for real. When the program launched in mid-1999, it quickly took the world of music fans by storm, allowing any user to post or access any song for free — rapidly building a massive library that won tens of millions of fervent participants. But what the company saw as a “community building” global-record-swapping-party was viewed by an ill-prepared and appalled record industry itself as blatant copyright infringement. Artists themselves were sharply divided, with some (like Seal here) thinking Napster brought “true democracy back into the music business” while others, most notably Metallica and Dr. Dre (who both sued, as did various labels) loudly proclaimed that it was blatant theft of their work. (It’s worth noting that these were among the comparatively few acts who’ve gotten rich rather than screwed by the biz.) The somewhat one-sided thesis in this doc (on which Fanning is an executive producer) supports the founders’ continued plaint that “sharing” wasn’t “piracy” and that they always intended to integrate themselves with the established industry as legitimate fee-charing digital distributors — though each side says the other wouldn’t negotiate. In any case, after little more than two years, Napster was shut down by court decisions — though file sharing continues, and the industry’s poor adjustment to new technologies has seen it in fiscal freefall ever since. Napster staff, musicians, executives, and others offer their two cents here, with DJ Spooky providing an original score. (1:46) Roxie. (Dennis Harvey)
Hannah Arendt New German Cinema’s Margarethe von Trotta (1975’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1986’s Rosa Luxemburg) delivers this surprisingly dull biopic about the great German-Jewish political theorist and the heated controversy around her New Yorker article (and subsequent book) about Israel’s 1961 trial of Nazi Adolph Eichmann. Played with dignified, slightly vulnerable countenance by the inimitable Barbara Sukowa, Arendt travels from her teaching job and cozy expat circles in New York to Jerusalem for the trial. There she comes face to face with the “banality of evil” in Eichmann, the petty careerist of the Holocaust, forcing her to “try and reconcile the shocking mediocrity of the man with his staggering deeds.” This led her to further insights into the nature of modern society, and triggered a storm of outrage and vitriol — in particular from the Commentary crowd of future neocons — all of which is clearly of relevance today, and the impetus for von Trotta’s revisiting this famous episode. But the film is too mannered, too slick, too formulaic —burdened by a television-friendly combination of posture and didacticism, and bon mots from famous and about famous figures in intellectual and literary history to avoid being leaden and tedious. A mainstream film, in other words, for a very unconventional personality and dissident intellectual. While not exactly evil, there’s something dispiriting in so much banality. (1:49) (Robert Avila)
The Smurfs 2 Look at it this way: any enterprise that employs Neil Patrick Harris can’t be all bad. (1:45)
2 Guns Rob a bank of cartel cash, invade a naval base, and then throw down against government heavies — you gotta expect to find a few bullet-hole-sized gaps in the play-by-play of 2 Guns. The action flick is riddled with fun-sized pleasures — usually centered on the playful banter and effortless chemistry between stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg — and the clever knot of a narrative throws a twist or two in, before director Baltasar Kormákur (last year’s Wahlberg vehicle Contraband) simply surrenders to the tidal pull of action. After visiting Mexican mafia kingpin Papi (Edward James Olmos) and finding the head of their contact in a bag, Bobby (Washington) and Stig (Wahlberg) decide to hit Papi where he’ll feel it: the small border bank where his men have been making drops to safe deposit boxes. Much like Bobby and Stig’s breakfast-time diner gab fest, which seems to pick up where Vincent and Jules left off in Pulp Fiction (1994), as they trade barbs, truisms, and tells, there’s more going on than simply bank robbery foreplay. Both involved for different reasons: Bobby is an undercover DEA agent, and Stig is a masquerading navy officer. When the payout is 10 times the expected size, not only do Papi, Bobby’s contact Deb (Paula Patton), and Stig’s superior Quince (James Marsden) come calling, but so does mystery man Earl (Bill Paxton), who seems to be obsessed with following the money. We know, sort of, what’s in it for Bobby — all fully identifiable charm, as befits Washington, who makes it rain charisma with the lightest of touches. But Stig? The others? The lure of a major payday is supposed to sweep away all other loyalties, except a little bromantic bonding between two rogue sharp shooters, saddled, unfortunately, with not the sharpest of story lines. (1:49) (Kimberly Chun)
This week: the 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival takes off with screenings all over the Bay Area; check out my take on some of the documentary selections here. Also, the harrowing documentary Blackfish opens, a film that will make you never want to visit SeaWorld again (with good reason). My interview with the film’s director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, here.
Elsewhere, Hollywood hopes you’re ready for yet more claw-bearing Hugh Jackman (in The Wolverine), Danish actor Mads Mikklesen shines as a falsely-accused man in The Hunt; indie darling Andrew Bujalski delivers what may be his finest film to date with Computer Chess; a majorly great/bad/quotable/mind-blowing cult film plays the Clay’s midnight series; and more. Read on for our short takes.
Computer ChessMumblecore maestro Andrew Bujalski (2002’s Funny Ha Ha; 2005’s Mutual Appreciation) makes his first period picture, kinda, with this stubbornly, gloriously retro saga set at an early-1980s computer-chess tournament (with a few ventures into the freaky couples-therapy seminar being held at the same hotel). The technology is dated, both on and off-screen, as hulking machines with names like “Tsar 3.0” and “Logic Fortress” battle for nerdly supremacy as a cameraman, wielding the vintage cameras that were actually used to film the feature, observes. Tiny dramas highlighting the deeply human elements lurking amid all that computer code emerge along the way, and though the Poindexters (and the grainy cinematography) are authentically old-school, the humor is wry and awkwardly dry — very 21st century. Keep an eye out for indie icon Wiley Wiggins, last seen hiding from Ben Affleck’s hazing techniques in 1993’s Dazed and Confused, as a stressed-out programmer. (1:32) (Cheryl Eddy)
Fame HighThis doc by Scott Hamilton Kennedy (2008’s The Garden) steps behind the doors of the LA County High School for the Arts, where teens toil in (and out of) the classroom to achieve their artistic dreams. There’s the jazz pianist with the overbearing stage dad; the sheltered ballerina whose Juilliard aspirations depend on her learning to loosen up on the dance floor; the sparkplug actress who hails from a theatrical family; and the harpist-singer whose mother moved with her from small-town Wisconsin to nurture her talents. As the year progresses, Fame High tracks each teen’s struggle to negotiate academics and arts, their relationships with their parents, budding romances, and rebellions both tentative and full-blown. In a culture in which insta-fame seems the norm, thanks to reality TV competitions and the internet, Fame High serves as a reminder that most show-biz careers are built on hard work and difficult lessons — with the added bonus of likeable, well-chosen subjects, all of whom happen to be easy to root for. (1:41) Elmwood. (Cheryl Eddy)
The HuntMads Mikkelsen has the kind of face that is at once strikingly handsome and unconventional enough to get him typecast in villain roles. Like so many great foreign-accented actors, he got his big international break playing a bad guy in a James Bond film — as groin-torturing gambler Le Chiffre in 2006 franchise reviver Casino Royale. Currently, he’s creeping TV viewers out as a young Dr. Lecter on Hannibal. His ability to evoke both sympathy and a suspicion of otherness are particularly well deployed in Thomas Vinterberg’s very Danish The Hunt, which won Mikkelsen the Best Actor prize at Cannes last year. He plays Lucas, a lifelong small-town resident recently divorced from his son’s mother, and who currently works at the local kindergarten. One day one of his charges says something to the principal that suggests Lucas has exposed himself to her. Once the child’s misguided “confession” is made, Lucas’ boss immediately assumes the worst. She announces her assumptions at a parent-teachers meeting even before police can begin their investigation. By the time they have, the viral paranoia and suggestive “questioning” of other potential victims has created a full-on, massive pederasty scandal with no basis in truth whatsoever. The Hunt is a valuable depiction of child-abuse panic, in which there’s a collective jumping to drastic conclusions about one subject where everyone is judged guilty before being proven innocent. Its emotional engine is Lucas’ horror at the speed and extremity with which he’s ostracized by his own community — and its willingness to believe the worst about him on anecdotal evidence. Engrossing, nuanced, and twisty right up to the fade-out, The Hunt deftly questions one of our era’s defining public hysterias. (1:45) (Dennis Harvey)
Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as HimselfTom Bean and Luke Poling’s Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself, an affectionate portrait of the longtime Paris Review editor and “professional collector of experiences” who wrote books, articles, and made TV specials about his delight in being “the universal amateur.” His endeavors included playing football with the Detroit Lions, hockey with the Boston Bruins, and the triangle with the New York Philharmonic, among even more unusual pursuits. Some called him a dilettante (to his face while he was alive, and in this doc, too), but most of the friends, colleagues, and family members here recall Plimpton — born to an upper-crust New York family, he was friends with the Kennedys and worshipped Hemingway — as an irrepressible adventurer who more or less tailored a journalism career around his talents and personality. (1:29) Roxie. (Cheryl Eddy)
Samurai Cop Terrible movies deserve restoration too! Such is the case with this under-the-radar 1989 direct-to-video atrocity whose slowly accumulated cult audience now has a newly restored print to watch in apt contexts like the Clay’s midnight series. It’s a martial arts movie shot in the US by an Iranian director (Amir Shervan), with at least one porn star (Krista Lane of such classics as Fatal Erection, Days Gone Bi, Mammary Lane, and The Bitches of Westwood) in the cast. Shervan also wrote the script, and to say the dialogue is a tad ESL would be a very kind way of putting it. Low-end Miami Vice-like duo Joe (Matt Hannon) and Frank (Mark Frazer) are cops on the trail of Japanese gangsters led by Mr. Fugiyama (Gerard Okamura), with Robert Z’Dar (from 1988’s Manic Cop) as their main enforcer. Joe acts like the slimiest swingin’-dick stud on the fern bar scene, his spray-tanned, long-feathered-hair vanity just partially excused when he takes off his shirt to reveal Tarzan-worthy musculature. (Hitherto a film-crew carpenter, Hannon understandably never acted again.) Frank is, er, African American. (Black sidekicks never require much character definition in this sort of movie.) Between fight scenes that feature some of the most ludicrous martial-arts howls ever (personal favorite: “Wafu!”), we get numerous gratuitous soft core sex scenes that briefly provide a female full-frontal glimpse. Other highlights include the peppy aerobics-workout synth score, an outrageously swishy “comedy gay” Costa Rican waiter, and the opening credit “Hollywood Royal Pictures presents.” You will laugh, you will cry (from the pain). While Samurai Cop will no doubt be an experience to remember watched on the big screen with an unruly crowd, you might also want to check out its DVD extras, the most memorable of which is an interview with today’s Z’Dar — a huge, burly actor now incongruously hair-dyed, rouge-painted and otherwise completely weird-looking. (1:36) Clay. (Dennis Harvey)
The To Do List Mistress of deadpan Aubrey Plaza stars in this raunchy comedy about a recent high-school grad determined to go all the way (and then some) before she ships off to college. (1:44)
The Wolverine James Mangold’s contribution to the X-Men film franchise sidesteps the dizzy ambition of 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine and 2011’s X-Men: First Class, opting instead for a sleek, mostly smart genre piece. This movie takes its basics from the 1982 Wolverine series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, a stark dramatic comic, but can’t avoid the convoluted, bad sci-fi plot devices endemic to the X-Men films. The titular mutant with the healing factor and adamantium-laced skeleton travels to Tokyo, to say farewell to a dying man who he rescued at the bombing of Nagasaki. But the dying man’s sinister oncologist has other plans, sapping Wolverine of his healing powers as he faces off against ruthless yakuza and scads of ninjas. The movie’s finest moments come when Mangold pays attention to context, taking superhero or Western movie clichés and revamping them for the modern Tokyo setting, such as a thrilling duel on top of a speeding bullet train. Another highlight: Rila Fukushima’s refreshing turn as badass bodyguard Yukio. Oh, and stay for the credits. (2:06) (Sam Stander)
This week marks the opening of Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, a moving look at Oscar Grant’s final hours; it’s an especially important film for Bay Area residents, but will likely have nationwide impact. Check out my interview with rookie writer-director Ryan Coogler here.
And, as always, there’s more. SO MUCH MORE. Emily Savage writes about Peaches Christ‘s campy, vampy, celeb-filled tribute (Sat/13 at the Castro!) to 1996 cult classic The Crafthere.
Grown Ups 2 Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, and David Spade reunite for another round of dad comedy. (1:42)
How to Make Money Selling Drugs Want to see a deeply thought-provoking, well-made documentary (with commentary by The Wire‘s David Simon, among others) about America’s War on Drugs? Seek out last year’s The House I Live In, and give Matthew Cooke’s more superficial distillation of the same subject (does David Simon ever turn down a talking-head request?) a pass. That’s not to say How to Make Money Selling Drugs is a total fail, but its slick production values and gimmicky premise (complete with video game style “levels” tracing the rise through the drug trade) wear thin after awhile. However, Drugs does offer a lively viewing experience, with an array of colorful characters — former dealers and law enforcement officers, with some celebrities sprinkled in — holding forth on, and sometimes bragging about, how drug empires are built and dismantled. Speaking of celebrities, the film’s biggest coup is an eerie interview with Eminem, in which he candidly discusses the depths of his prescription-drug addiction. It’s a rare moment of killer honesty amid Drugs‘ short-attention-span flash. (1:34) Roxie. (Cheryl Eddy)
One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das Born Jeffrey Kagel, “average neurotic Long Island kid,” the man now known as Grammy nominee Krishna Das underwent a spiritual transformation after trying acid, dropping out of college, meeting Be Here Now author Ram Dass, and becoming a follower of Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba, a.k.a. Maharaj-ji. A rock ‘n’ roller who declined the chance to join the band that became Blue Oyster Cult, KD’s talents became entwined with his religion years after Maharaj-ji’s death — an emotionally devastating event that led to a brief but raging coke habit. He began performing kirtan, or call-and-response chants, at yoga studios, and (unwittingly or not) became part of a suddenly trendy movement to “make enlightenment accessible,” per the New York Times. Now he’s recorded multiple albums with Rick Rubin and tours the country, playing to rapt audiences at venues as big as the Warfield. Whether or not you can stomach New Age music or philosophy (or share the opinion that Krishna Das once overheard about himself: that he’s “an American burger with Indian ketchup”), Jeremy Frindel’s One Track Heart keeps its running time brief (just over an hour) and avoids deifying its subject — someone who clearly digs the spotlight, but who has also enough done soul-searching to keep his ego mostly in check and a higher power in mind. (1:12) (Cheryl Eddy)
Pacific Rim The fine print insists this film’s title is actually Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures Pacific Rim (no apostrophe, guys?), but that fussy studio demand flies in the face of Pacific Rim‘s pursuit of pure, dumb fun. One is tempted to picture director/co-writer Guillermo del Toro plotting out the battle scenes using action figures — Godzillas vs. Transformers is more or less what’s at play here, and play is the operative word. Sure, the end of the world seems certain, thanks to an invading race of giant “Kaiju” who’ve started to adapt to Earth’s decades-long countermeasures (giant robot suits, piloted by duos whose minds are psychically linked), but there’s far too much goofy glee here for any real panic to accumulate. Charlie Hunnam is agreeable as the wounded hunk who’s humankind’s best hope for salvation, partnered with a rookie (Rinko Kikuchi) who’s eager, for her own reasons, to kick monster butt. Unoriginal yet key supporting roles are filled by Idris Elba (solemn, ass-kicking commander); Charlie Day (goofy science type); and Ron Perlman (flashy-dressing, black-market-dealing Kaiju expert). Pacific Rim may not transcend action-movie clichés or break much new ground (drinking game idea: gulp every time there’s an obvious reference or homage, be it to Toho or Bruckheimer), but damn if it doesn’t pair perfectly with popcorn. (2:11) (Cheryl Eddy)
Storm Surfers 3D With 3D being slapped indiscriminately on too many interchangeable Hollywood flicks these days, it’s easy to forget that there are some subjects that practically beg for the format. Incredibly, it seems no one thought to make a 3D film about surfing, the sport and spectacle to which stereoscopic cinema is ideally suited. Christopher Nelius and Justin McMillan’s movie (actually the third Storm Surfers entry so far) follows best-friend Australian surfing legends Ross Clarke-Jones and Tom Carroll as, guided by surf forecaster Ben Matson, they race off on short notice to various locations where huge storm-fed waves can be expected. This is risky business, and there’s human interest in the two riders’ different ways of struggling with aging (they’re both nearing 50), possibly mortal danger, and family responsibilities. These way heavily on Carroll; nothing does on Clarke-Jones, who is your basic “fuck it, let’s go” thrill junkie. Their genial personalities help spark what’s otherwise a solid if unremarkable surfing doc — albeit one that does indeed look great in 3D. (1:35) (Dennis Harvey)
Read on for our takes on these films, and more! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irSSZumpYS4
AugustineWhen a 19-year-old Parisian kitchen maid (single-named French musician Soko) has a dramatic seizure during dinner service, she makes for Salpêtrière Hospital, where she becomes the superstar patient of Dr. Charcot (Vincent Lindon) — a real-life 19th century professor and neurologist who later mentored Sigmund Freud. There’s no “talking cure” at work here, though; Augustine’s medical treatment consists mostly of naked poking and prodding, as well as hypnosis-induced episodes of her increasingly sexualized “ovarian hysteria.” The tension builds as Charcot struggles against popular disdain for his methods (read aloud to him from newspapers by his coolly elegant wife), as well as his forbidden attraction to Augustine. Occupying the same moody, sensual milieu as David Cronenberg’s too-talky A Dangerous Method (2011), first-time feature writer-director Alice Winocour approaches her tale of misunderstood madness from a point of view that’s more emotionally-driven, with some subtle feminist undercurrents. Points deducted, though, for some obvious symbolism — like costuming Augustine in a brand-new red dress right after she starts her period for the first time. (1:42) (Cheryl Eddy)
Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay David Mamet fans will recognize Ricky Jay from multiple appearances in the director’s work; he’s also been in films like Boogie Nights and Tomorrow Never Dies (both 1997). But Jay’s true passion is stage magic, specifically card and other sleight-of-hand tricks, performed with a skill so dazzling that it’s tempting to believe he really does have supernatural powers. He’s also a witty, self-deprecating, and sometimes “irascible” (to quote a word used in Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein’s doc) character — and has a vast, ever-expanding interest in magic history. Using first-hand interviews, TV and stage-show clips, and some wonderful vintage footage, Deceptive Practice traces Jay’s career (he was a child prodigy in the 1950s, thanks to his supportive grandfather), pausing along the way to pay tribute to the men who influenced him and, in many cases, taught him their top-secret techniques. Throughout, Jay is seen demonstrating his own mind-bending tricks — as “simple” as changing a card’s suit, as elaborate as making it sail across the room and plunge like a knife into a watermelon rind — although never, of course, revealing how he does it. (1:28) (Cheryl Eddy)
Despicable Me 2 The laughs come quick and sweet now that Gru (Steve Carell) has abandoned his super-villainy to become a dad and “legitimate businessman” — though he still applies world-class gravitas to everyday events. (His daughter’s overproduced birthday party is a riot of medieval festoonage.) But like all the best reformed baddies, the Feds, or in this case the Anti-Villain League, recruit him to uncover the next international arch-nemesis. Now a spy, he gets a goofy but highly competent partner (Kristen Wiig) and a cupcake shop at the mall to facilitate sniffing out the criminal. This sequel surpasses the original in charm, cleverness, and general lovability, and it’s not just because they upped the number of minion-related gags, or because Wiig joined the cast; she ultimately gets the short end of the stick as the latecomer love-interest (her spy gadgets are also just so-so). However, Carell kills it as Gru 2 — his faux-Russian accent and awkward timing are more lived-in. Maybe the jokes are about more familiar stuff (like the niggling disappointments of family life) but they’re also sharper and more surprising. And though the minions seemed like one-trick ponies in the first film, those gibberish-talking jellybeans outdo themselves in the sequel’s climax. (1:38) (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)
I’m So ExcitedI’m So Excited may be to Pedro Almodóvar what Hairspray (1988) was for director John Waters: a kind of low-intensity, high-fluff gateway drug for a filmmaker who’s otherwise an “acquired taste.” (Note: unlike Hairspray, this is not a family movie.) Almodóvar’s previous pictures were far more explicit about their obsessive thinking: mothers suffered (1999’s All About My Mother); sex was deadly (1990’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) and men were dishonorable (all of them). But in this drug and booze-addled flame-fest, Almodóvar takes one of his lesser themes (the joy of confinement) and transforms a flight from Madrid to Mexico into the funniest soap opera to ever feature cabaret and S&M talk. Early in the flight we learn the landing gear is shot; this means the flight’s dueling pilots have to find a place to host an emergency landing while Europe is on holiday. They anesthetize all of coach (um…metaphor, anyone?), leaving the rich to bellyache over their lost children, lost happiness, and stubborn virginity. Business class is full of drama queens so the flamboyantly gay attendants spike a cocktail with ecstasy (to make everyone get along) and an orgy ensues, complete with a seemingly victimless rape and multiple change-overs from hetero to homo. Almodóvar does have a knack for make-believe, but his biggest gift for fantasy happens in his stress-free transitions; oh, that coming out could be so liberating — but living in a Catholic country lousy with sexual disorientations, maybe the only place that can happen is at 30,000 feet. (1:35) (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)
Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain The comedian (2012’s Think Like a Man) performs in this concert film, shot at Madison Square Garden during his 2012 stand-up tour. (1:15)
ManiacAnd it came to pass that William Lustig’s trashy classic Maniac (1980) was remade, with Elijah Wood assuming the role of twisted killer Frank, a role closely associated with its originator, the late, great cult actor Joe Spinell. Lustig is credited with a producing credit on this otherwise largely French effort, directed by Franck Khalfoun and co-written by Alejandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur — who also worked together on the 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes. Though it’s set in contemporary Los Angeles (complete with dating websites and cell phones), Maniac is shot to mimic the original film’s late-1970s New York (cabs, deserted subways, grimy streetscapes), with a synth-heavy score enhancing the retro vibe. Frank is still obsessed with mannequins, scalps, and his dead mother, with shades of both Psycho (1960) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) filtering through. When Frank meets Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a beautiful French photographer whose preferred subject is mannequins, he grows ever more confused — and more violent. The entire movie is shot from Frank’s POV (we see Wood’s face only in mirrors and photographs), an off-putting gimmick that fails to add much in the way of suspense or scares. As for the gore, there’s nothing amid the CG enhancements that matches the work of special effects genius Tom Savini, whose memorable exploding-head scene plays just as repulsively effective in 2013 as it did in 1980. If you really wanna be freaked out by a movie maniac, skip this so-so do-over and spend some quality time with Spinell instead. (1:29) Roxie. (Cheryl Eddy)
The Way, Way Back Duncan (Liam James) is 14, and if you remember being that age you remember the awkwardness, the ambivalence, and the confusion that went along with it. Duncan’s mother (Toni Collette) takes him along for an “important summer” with her jerky boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell) — and despite being the least important guy at the summer cottage, Duncan’s only marginally sympathetic. Most every actor surrounding him plays against type (Rob Corddry is an unfunny, whipped husband; Allison Janney is a drunk, desperate divorcee), and since the cast is a cattle call for anyone with indie cred, you’ll wonder why they’re grouped for such a dull movie. Writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash previously wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for 2011’s The Descendants, but The Way, Way Back doesn’t match that film’s caliber of intelligent, dry wit. Cast members take turns resuscitating the movie, but only Sam Rockwell saves the day, at least during the scenes he’s in. Playing another lovable loser, Rockwell’s Owen dropped out of life and into a pattern of house painting and water-park management in the fashion of a conscientious objector. Owen is antithetical to Trent’s crappy example of manhood, and raises his water wing to let Duncan in. The short stint Duncan has working at Water Wizz is a blossoming that leads to a minor romance (with AnnaSophia Robb) and a major confrontation with Trent, some of which is affecting, but none of which will help you remember the movie after credits roll. (1:42) (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)
This week: two musicdocs, a buddy-cop movie starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, and America’s Sweetmeat Channing Tatum saves the White House and, ergo, the world. Plus, more! Read on for takes from our critics.
The Heat First things first: I hated Bridesmaids (2011). Even the BFF love fest between Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig couldn’t wash away the bad taste of another wolf pack in girl’s clothing. Dragging and dropping women into dude-ly storylines is at best wonky and at worst degrading, but The Heat finds an alternate route. Its women are unlikable; you don’t root for them, and you’re not hoping they become princesses because such horrifying awkwardness can only be redeemed by a prince. In Bridesmaids and Heat director Paul Feig’s universe, friendship saves the day. Sandra Bullock is Murtaugh to Melissa McCarthy’s Riggs, with tidy Bullock angling for a promotion and McCarthy driving a busted hoopty through Boston like she’s in Grand Theft Auto. Circumstances conspire to bring them together on a case, in one of many elements lifted from traditional buddy-cop storylines. But! The jokes are constant, pelting, and whiz by like so much gunfire. In one running gag, a low-rung villain’s worst insult is telling the women they look old — but neither character is bothered by it. It’s refreshing to see embarrassment humor, so beloved by chick flicks, get taken down a peg by female leads who don’t particularly care what anyone thinks of them. (1:57) (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)
Hey Bartender Hey, have you heard of this trendy thing called craft cocktails? Be warned, sophisticated San Francisco drinkers: Douglas Tirola’s upbeat documentary mentions our fair city in passing only a handful of times; instead, it concentrates on New York City’s relatively recent “cocktail revolution,” interviewing movers and (literal) shakers on the scene while giving a brief history of cocktails in America (again, with an emphasis on NYC). Hey Bartender‘s focal points are well-chosen studies in contrast: ex-Marine Scott — tattooed and scrupulously mustached — who’s working his way up the ranks at hipster lounge Employees Only; and middle-aged Steve, who runs a struggling blue-collar bar just outside the city and is slowly coming around to the idea of adding fancier drinks to his menu. Though dive-bar denizens may roll their eyes at some of Hey Bartender‘s more pretentious trappings (the movie doesn’t mention it, but drinks at Employees Only are in the $15-16 range), it does make the case that today’s superstar “mixologists” deserve just as much recognition as superstar restaurateurs. And the film has a point: can a Top Chef spinoff for bartenders be that far off? (1:32) Roxie. (Cheryl Eddy)
Laurence Anyways Xavier Dolan’s latest is yet another gorgeously-designed love story; it fits perfectly alongside his extremely personal I Killed My Mother (2009) and the devastating Heartbeats (2010). Although some critics have suggested that this young director needs to hire an editor (Laurence Anyways clocks in at two hours and 48 minutes), I would argue that this epic, gender-bending love story needed to take its stylized time to achieve what most films never do: humanize a transgendered lead character. Melvil Poupaud (Raúl Ruiz’s favorite ingénue) is stunning as Laurence; as his longtime lover, Fred, Suzanne Clément performs with a guttural passion that should keep audiences glued to the screen. For those willing to accept a decade’s worth of hypnotic set and costume designs (the film spans 1989-1999); cryptic character development; a crew of campy castaways; and an electric, eclectic soundtrack (Depeche Mode, Celine Dion), Laurence Anyways is well worthy of its epic running time. Could this be the film that elevates Canada’s best-kept secret to being the leader of a post-gender film movement that’s just about to explode? (2:48) Metreon. (Jesse Hawthorne Ficks)
The Secret Disco RevolutionJamie Kaster’s Canadian documentary chronicles the rise and fall of the 70s booty shaking phenomenon — though what with the subsequent developments of house music, rave culture, et al., you might say disco never really went away. It’s got a goldmine of kitschy vintage clips, and plenty of enjoyable interviews with the scene’s erstwhile stars (Thelma Houston, “KC” Casey, etc.), producers, and observers. (The weirdest are scenes with the Village People, who today are staples on the corporate-party circuit and seem bizarrely eager to deny they were ever a subversively gay act.) Unfortunately, Kaster also burdens the film with sometimes overreaching arguments for disco’s sociopolitical radicalism, as mostly articulated by academic Alice Echols. And there’s a labored staged thread in which an arch narrator informs of us the behind-the-scenes mechanizations of three fictive “masterminds” (played by actors) who propagated disco to liberate gays, women and ethnic minorities. It’s a whimsical conceit that falls completely flat. As a result, there’s plenty of fun to be had here, but the conceptual missteps make this less than the definite disco doc it aims to be. (1:25) (Dennis Harvey)
20 Feet From StardomSinging the praises of those otherwise neglected backup vocalists who put the soul into that Wall of Sound, brought heft to “Young Americans,” and lent real fury to “Gimme Shelter,” 20 Feet From Stardom is doing the rock ‘n’ roll true believer’s good work. Director Morgan Neville follows a handful of mainly female, mostly African American backing vocal legends, charts their skewed career trajectories as they rake in major credits and keep working long after one-hit wonders are forgotten (the Waters family) but fail to make their name known to the public (Merry Clayton), grasp Grammy approval yet somehow fail to follow through (Lisa Fischer), and keep narrowly missing the prize (Judith Hill) as label recording budgets shrivel and the tastes, technology, and the industry shift. Neville gives these industry pros and soulful survivors in a rocked-out, sample-heavy, DIY world their due on many levels, covering the low-coverage minis, Concert for Bangladesh high points, gossipy rumors, and sheer love for the blend that those intertwined voices achieve. One wishes the director had done more than simply touch in the backup successes out there, like Luther Vandross, and dug deeper to break down the reasons Fischer succumbed to the sophomore slump. But one can’t deny the passion in the voices he’s chosen to follow — and the righteous belief the Neville clearly has in his subjects, especially when, like Hill, they are ready to pick themselves up and carry on after being told they’re not “the Voice.” (1:30) (Kimberly Chun)
Unfinished SongA grumpy widower (Terrence Stamp) learns to enjoy life again by joining an unconventional choir group. Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Arterton, and Christopher Eccleston round out the cast. (1:36)
White House Down Ah, the mid-1990s: a time when two big-budget movies on the same subject were regularly released within months of each other (1997’s Volcano and Dante’s Peak; 1998’s Armageddon and Deep Impact). When a director named Roland Emmerich ascended into the blockbuster pantheon with Independence Day (1996), a film that’s best-remembered for that iconic shot of the White House exploding under alien death rays. The intervening years have seen Emmerich plunge ever-deeper into various flavors of disaster, and White House Down — which reignites that ’90s copycat-rivalry thing by riding the fumes of March’s Olympus Has Fallen — finds its boogeyman in domestic terrorism. It beings on a triumphant day for President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), who has just ordered all US troops removed from the Middle East — angering some high-up men in his administration, as well as some ex-military goons with axes of their own to grind. When the White House is compromised, a wannabe Secret Service agent (Channing Tatum), at the Prez’s house for a tour with his precocious daughter, shoulders one-man-army duties. Rockets are launched; there’s a high-speed limo chase across the White House lawn; we learn the truth about Marilyn and JFK; and thanks to evil genius Skip Tyler (Jimmi Simpson), “the greatest hack the world has ever seen” is about to unleash World War III. Yep, that’s right: 17 years after ID4‘s Jeff Goldblum broke into the alien mainframe, thereby saving the White House-less planet, Emmerich has decided that hackers are actually bad guys. It goes with White House Down‘s warning that the enemy is no longer an external threat, but something lurking right under your nose. Better start working out, America — and working on your one-liners. (2:17) (Cheryl Eddy)
This weekend, Hollywood would ask you to choose between zombies vs. Brad Pitt, and spoiled teens who live by the mantra “I wanna rob!” (also, if you have younger kids, there’s a new Pixar joint, too). Reviews for all after the jump, with special shout-outs to the very cool, very strange Berberian Sound Studio (essential viewing for fans of 1970s Italian horror films), and the tense Danish thriller A Hijacking.
Berberian Sound Studio It’s the 1970s, and frumpy British sound designer Gilderoy (a flawless Toby Jones) has, somewhat inexplicably, been hired by a flamboyant Italian filmmaker to work on his latest lurid genre piece, The Equestrian Vortex — about a girl who realizes her riding academy is haunted by witches. Any resemblance to 1977’s Suspiria is entirely intentional, as writer-director Peter Strickland crafts a meta-horror film that’s both tribute to Argento and co. and a freaky number all its own, as Gilderoy begins to realize that the “vortex” he’s dealing with isn’t merely confined to the screen. Fans of vintage Euro horror will appreciate the behind-the-scenes peek at the era’s filmmaking process, as well as Strickland’s obvious affection for one of cinema’s most oddly addictive genres. Bonus points for the Goblin reference. (1:28)Roxie. (Cheryl Eddy)
The Bling Ring When it was revealed that high schoolers were behind a series of robberies targeting the lavish homes of Hollywood’s famous-for-being-famous types — most notably Paris Hilton — the fallout became fodder for gossip websites like TMZ.com, plus a memorable Vanity Fair article. The latter (recently expanded into a book by author Nancy Jo Sales) is the basis for Sofia Coppola’s new film, a fictionalized take on the crimes. Bored by upper-middle-class lives that leave them with lots of free time and habitually absent parents, a posse of SoCal teens (newcomers Katie Chang and Israel Broussard, and Harry Potter‘s all-grown-up Emma Watson, lead the charge) begin creepy-crawling the homes of Hilton and others, dovetailing their celebrity obsessions with a raging hunger for expensive shit. (Was ever a crime so victimless, one wonders, than a heist perpetrated at the expense of a starlet’s handbag collection, so vast she won’t even notice a few missing Birkins?) Flashing their ill-gotten new clothes, jewelry, and wads of cash in Facebook selfies, the burglars miss the most valuable lesson of all: that the friendships they share are fleeting and meaningless — kind of like fame, kind of like blowing (stolen) money on designer clothes that will soon be out of style. Ironically, with The Bling Ring, Coppola has delivered her least-vapid film since 1999’s The Virgin Suicides; it’s both candy-colored and canny, a cautionary tale that lingers just long enough on its scenes of youthful excess to let you know it’s in on the joke. (1:27) (Cheryl Eddy)
“From the Archive: Treasures of Eastern European and Soviet Cinema: A Tribute to George Gund III” One rich guy who really, really loved art — not just as an investment or public charity platform — recently deceased Bay Area resident George Gund III was a burly entrepreneur and athlete who grew fascinated with Soviet-bloc cinema early on. He spread that passion as a longtime board member for the San Francisco Film Society, and as a donor of prints to Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive. A selection from the latter collection is being showcased in a month-long PFA tribute that starts this week. Spanning from Hungary to Czechoslovakia to former USSR territories over a richly creative cinematic era (1960s to 1970s), it offers numerous seldom-revived gems including Juraj Herz’s macabre 1968 Czech black comedy The Cremator, Georgian master Otar Iosseliani’s 1975 Pastorale, and decorous kitsch-classic Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) director Jaromil Jiles’ contrastingly stark 1972 follow-up And Give My Love to the Swallows, which depicts the fate of a young woman sentenced to death for supporting the resistance under Nazi occupation. Pacific Film Archive. (Dennis Harvey)
A HijackingDanish director Tobias Lindholm’s thriller is not based on a specific incident, but its story feels ripped-from-the-headlines familiar, and it’s part of a larger trend of films — including the upcoming Captain Phillips, directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks — about Somali pirates. Coincidentally, A Hijacking is reminiscent of Greengrass’ style, shot almost like a documentary with great attention to realism. At sea, we follow good-natured cargo-ship cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) as he deals with the sudden invasion of machine-gun toting thugs (who speak neither Danish nor English, and aren’t given subtitles to translate their own language), and is drawn into drama with the one member of their team he can communicate with: capricious go-between Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), who’s armed with power instead of weapons. Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, reserved shipping-company CEO Peter (Søren Malling) steps into the delicate role of negotiator when the ransom demands start rolling in. A Hijacking is tense and tightly constructed, as when an exhausted, frustrated Peter removes his shirt and tie and reveals he’s wearing the same type of undershirt as the grimy, terrified Mikkel. And if the film tends to view the hijackers as an indistinguishable mob of trigger-happy villains, at least there’s the Omar character — and one briefly uplifting scene where the whole group fishes off the boat to replenish their dwindling food supply — to humanize them somewhat. (1:39) (Cheryl Eddy)
Monsters UniversitySeven-year-old Mike Wazowski is even more adorable than grown-up, Billy-Crystal-voiced Mike Wazowski. It’s a pity, then, that one of the big lessons Monsters University teaches is that the essence of monster-identity is how scary one is. What Mike loses in frightfulness he forcefully recovers in spunk, and after a trip to the scare floor that briskly reminds us the premise of 2001’s Monsters, Inc., mini-Mike becomes the first ever career-driven Pixar character. (For this, I love him.) We all know he eventually becomes a superstar in this scare-powered retro-verse, but first he has to overcome frat boy-inflicted embarrassment and flunk out of school. The most noteworthy thing about Pixar’s first prequel is how very massively its characters fail — it’s a lovely tilt that suggest the greatness of tomorrow begins when you overcome the failures of today. The administrators of Monsters University (in particular Helen Mirren’s dragon-lady Dean) require formal perfection in the scares they grade, but in the world of actual scarers, oddness and difference actually become advantages. It’s all theory but no rulebook. And doesn’t that sound like a good lesson from the studio that once proudly said “story is king,” yet now scrambles to meet Disney’s once-a-year feature demands? Such rigidity comes at a price. (1:50) (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)
Somm First-time filmmaker Jason Wise follows four wine-obsessed men (including three from the Bay Area) on their quest to become Master Sommeliers. Their genial rivalry — the stuffiest member of the quartet is nicknamed “Dad” — somewhat offsets the immense pressure they’re under, though every guy turns into Rain Man when he starts ID-ing each unmarked glass, detecting subtle yet highly specific aromas like “sage, truffle, wet forest floor, decaying dried red rose petals,” “a freshly opened can of tennis balls,” and (in the weirdest example) “grandma’s closet.” It’s an insular, elite world, but Wise’s camera gets right to the front lines as the candidates prep for the grueling, multi-day test, interviewing the long-suffering spouses of the candidates (one of whom ruminates on the grossness of “spit buckets” left behind after late-night tasting marathons). As the day of reckoning looms, the tension mounts along with the piles of flash cards — but the friendships and good humor remain, even after the results are revealed. (1:33) (Cheryl Eddy)
World War Z Or, Brad Pitt saves the world from undead beings with rotted brains but super-sharp hearing. Somehow, Max Brooks’ innovative multi-character book — written in the form of interviews with survivors of a recent zombie outbreak — becomes by-the-numbers action horror in the hands of director Marc Forster (2008’s Quantum of Solace, a.k.a. that Bond movie nobody remembers), complete with credit sequence filled with real news reports of environmental disasters, global unrest, and even a little shout-out to that guy who ate another guy’s face off last year in Florida. No bath-salt jokes here, though; instead, we have Pitt playing a verrrry serious former UN investigator — former, because he quit to spend more time with his family, a promise he actually considers keeping even when the survival of the world hinges, apparently, on his very specific expertise. He jets around the world (South Korea! Israel! Wales?) in search of a cure, but it’s obvious from the beginning — when he escapes immediate death in the initial rampage with his picture-perfect wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters — that he’ll eventually suss out a planet-saving solution. (Sorry, but if that’s a spoiler you’ve never seen a movie before.) A few nifty setpieces can’t save World War Z from more or less embodying the descriptor “meh,” with its undynamic 3D, uninspiring CG, and cobbled-together script, complete with reassuring final voice-over. And one more thing: for the love of flesh-ripping gore, can we please make this the last PG-13 zombie movie? (1:56) (Cheryl Eddy)
Already in theaters, Seth Rogen and his bro posse take on doomsday in This Is the End. I got the chance to talk with Mr. Rogen, his co-director and co-writer Evan Goldberg, and co-star Craig Robinson when they visited San Francisco a few days back. (Fun fact: Rogen really does laugh like that in real life.) Check the interview here!
In rep news, this weekend at the Castro Theatre heralds the San Francisco Silent Film Festival‘s “Hitchcock 9” event, spotlighting nine silent films by the guy who would later claim the title “Master of Suspense,” direct some of the greatest thrillers of all time, etc. You can’t go wrong with any of the films, but just for kicks, here’s my take on the series here. And at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Austrian director Ulrich Seidl’s dark Paradise Trilogy continues its bummer-summer run this weekend; Dennis Harvey breaks ’em down here.
Plus! That Superman movie you’ve been hearing a thing or two about, and the rest of the week’s new offerings, after the jump.
Becoming Traviata Philippe Béziat’s backstage doc offers an absorbing look at a particularly innovative production of Verdi’s La Traviata, directed by Jean-François Sivadier and starring the luminous Natalie Dessay (currently appearing in SF Opera‘s production of Tales of Hoffman). Béziat eschews narration or interviews; instead, his camera simply tracks artists at work, moving from rehearsal room to stage as Sivadier and Dessay (along with her co-stars) block scenes, make suggestions, practice gestures, and engage in the hit-and-miss experimentation that defines the creative process. The film is edited so that La Traviata progresses chronologically, with the earliest scenes unfolding on a spartan set (Dessay’s practice attire: yoga clothes), and the tragic climax taking place onstage, with an orchestra in the pit and sparkly make-up in full effect. Dessay will appear in person at San Francisco screenings Sat/15 at 7pm and Sun/16 at 2pm. (1:53) (Cheryl Eddy)
Dirty Wars Subtitled “the world is a battlefield,” this doc follows author and Nation magazine writer Jeremy Scahill as he probes the disturbing underbelly of America’s ongoing counterterrorism campaign. After he gets wind of a deadly nighttime raid on a home in rural Afghanistan, Scahill does his best to investigate what really happened, though what he hears from eyewitnesses doesn’t line up with the military explanation — and nobody from the official side of things cares to discuss it any further, thank you very much. With its talk of cover-ups and covert military units, and interviewees who appear in silhouette with their voices disguised, Dirty Wars plays like a thriller until Osama bin Laden’s death shifts certain (but not all) elements of the story Scahill’s chasing into the mainstream-news spotlight. The journalist makes valid points about how an utter lack of accountability or regard for consequences (that will reverberate for generations to come) means the “war on terror” will never end, but Dirty Wars suffers a bit from too much voice-over. Even the film’s gorgeous cinematography — director Rick Rowley won a prize for it at Sundance earlier this year — can’t alleviate the sensation that Dirty Wars is mostly an illustrated-lecture version of Scahill’s source-material book. Still, it’s a compelling lecture. (1:26) (Cheryl Eddy)
The Guillotines Why yes, that is Jimmy Wang Yu, director and star of 1976 cult classic Master of the Flying Guillotine, in a small but pivotal role commanding a team of assassins who specialize in dispatching heads with airborne versions of you-know-which weapon. Unfortunately, this latest from Andrew Lau (best-known stateside for 2002’s Infernal Affairs, remade into Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Oscar-winner The Departed) doesn’t have nearly as much fun as it should; dudes be chopping heads off in a flurry of CG’d-up steampunky whirlygigs, but The Guillotines‘ tone is possibly even more deadly, as in deadly serious. When a rebellious prophet-folk hero known as Wolf (Xiaoming Huang) runs afoul of the Emperor’s top-secret Guillotine brotherhood, led in the field by Leng (Ethan Juan), the squad travels in disguise to a rural, smallpox-afflicted village to track him down. Along for the journey is the Emperor’s top operative, ruthless Agent Du (Shawn Yue), a boyhood friend of Leng’s. Leng and Du share a dark secret: the Guillotines have been deemed expendable — yep, in the Stallone sense — and the Emperor has decided to kill them off and replace them with armies toting guns and cannons in the name of progress. Lau is no stranger to tales of men grappling with betrayals, misplaced loyalties, and hidden personal agendas — and as historical martial-arts fantasies go, The Guillotines has higher production values than most, with sweeping, luscious photography. Too bad all the action scenes are punctuated by episodes of moody brooding — replete with slo-mo gazing off into the distance, dramatically falling tears, solemn heart-to-hearts, swelling strings, and the occasional howl of anguish. (1:53) (Cheryl Eddy)
Man of Steel As beloved as he is, Superman is a tough superhero to crack — or otherwise bend into anything resembling a modern character. Director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer, working with producer Christopher Nolan on the initial story, do their best to nuance this reboot, which focuses primarily on Supe’s alien origins and takes its zoom-happy space battles from Battlestar Galactica. The story begins with Kal-El’s birth on a Krypton that’s rapidly going into the shitter: the exploited planet is about to explode and wayward General Zod (Michael Shannon) is staging a coup, killing Kal-El’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), the Kryptonians’ lead scientist, and being conveniently put on ice in order to battle yet another day. That day comes as Kal-El, now a 20-something earthling named Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) — resigned to his status as an outsider, a role dreamed up by his protective adoptive dad (Kevin Costner) — has turned into a bit of a (dharma) bum, looking like a buff Jack Kerouac, working Deadliest Catch-style rigs, and rescuing people along the way to finding himself. Spunky Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is the key to his, erm, coming-out party, necessitated by a certain special someone looking to reboot the Kryptonian race on earth. The greatest danger here lies in the fact that all the leached-of-color quasi-sepia tone action can turn into a bit of a Kryptonian-US Army demolition derby, making for a mess of rubble and tricky-to-parse fight sequences that, of course, will satisfy the fanboys and -girls, but will likely glaze the eyes of many others. Nevertheless, the effort Snyder and crew pack into this lengthy artifact — with its chronology-scrambling flashbacks and multiple platforms for Shannon, Diane Lane, Christopher Meloni, Laurence Fishburne, and the like — pays off on the level of sheer scale, adding up to what feels like the best Superman on film or TV to date — though that bar seems pretty easy to leap over in a single bound. (2:23) (Kimberly Chun)
Pandora’s Promise Filmmaker Robert Stone has traveled far from his first film, 1988’s Oscar-nominated anti-nuke Radio Bikini, to today, with the release of Pandora’s Promise, a detailed and guaranteed-to-be-controversial examination of nuclear power and the environmentalists who have transitioned from fervently anti- to pro-nuclear. Interviewing activists and authors like Stewart Brand, Gwyneth Cravens, Mark Lynas, and Michael Shellenberger, among others, Stone eloquently visualizes all angles of their discussion with media, industrial, and newly shot footage, starting with a visit to the largest nuclear disaster of recent years, Fukushima, which he visits with the hazmat-suited environmental activist and journalist Lynas and continuing to Chernobyl and its current denizens. Couching the debate in cultural and political context going back to World War II, Stone builds a case for nuclear energy as a viable method to provide clean, safe power for planet in the throes of climate change that will nonetheless need double or triple the current amount of energy by 2050, as billions in the developing world emerge from poverty. In a practical sense, as The Death of Environmentalism author Shellenberger asserts, “The idea that we’re going to replace oil and coal with solar and wind and nothing else is a hallucinatory delusion.” Stone and his subjects put together an enticing argument to turn to nuclear as a way forward from coal, made compelling by the idea that designs for safer alternative reactors that produce less waste are out there. (1:27) (Kimberly Chun)
Also in this week’s paper: Dennis Harvey’s round-up of “The Vortex Phenomena,” the SOMA venue‘s monthlong series of conspiracy-theory films of the 1970s (Bermuda Triangle! Fog monsters! Yeti!)
And of course, we got all your first-run intel right here. This week’s feast includes the reteaming of tight bros from way back Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, playing Google noobs in The Internship; Joss Whedon’s detour from superheroes to Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing; and Wish You Were Here, an Aussie thriller about a vacation gone awry starring a very good (and very freaked-out) Joel Edgerton. Plus more, all after the jump.
The East In Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling’s powerful second film collaboration (Batmanglij directs, and the pair co-wrote the screenplay, as in 2011’s Sound of My Voice), Marling plays Sarah, an intelligence agent working for a private firm whose client list consists mainly of havoc-wreaking multinationals. Sarah, presented as quietly ambitious and conservative, is tasked by the firm’s director (Patricia Clarkson) with infiltrating the East, an off-the-grid activist collective whose members, including Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), Izzy (Ellen Page), and Doc (Toby Kebbell), bring an eye-for-an-eye sensibility to their YouTube-publicized “jams.” Targeting an oil company responsible for a BP-style catastrophe, they engineer their own spill in the gated-community habitat of the company’s CEO, posting a video that juxtaposes grisly images of oil-coated shorebirds and the unsettling sight of gallons of crude seeping through the air-conditioning vents of a tidy McMansion. A newspaper headline offers a facile framework for understanding their activities, posing the alternatives as “Pranksters or Eco-Terrorists?” But as Sarah examines the gut-wrenching consequences of so-called white-collar crime and immerses herself in the day-to-day practices of the group, drawn in particular to the charismatic Benji, the film raises more complex questions. Much of its rhetorical force flows from Izzy, whom Page invests with a raw, anguished outrage, drawing our sympathies toward the group and its mission of laying bare what should be unbearable. (1:56) (Lynn Rapoport)
Fill the Void Respectfully rendered and beautifully shot in warm hues, Fill the Void admirably fills the absence on many screens of stories from what might be considered a closed world: the Orthodox Hasidic community in Israel, where a complex web of family ties, duty, and obligation entangles pretty, accordion-playing Shira (Hada Yaron). An obedient daughter, she’s about to agree to an arranged marriage to a young suitor when her much-loved sister (Renana Raz) dies in childbirth. When Shira’s mother (Irit Sheleg) learns the widower Yochay (Yiftach Klein) might marry a woman abroad and take her only grandchild far away, she starts to make noises about fixing Shira up with her son-in-law. The journey the two must take, in possibly going from in-laws to newlyweds, is one that’s simultaneously infuriating, understandable, and touching, made all the more intimate given director Rama Burshtein’s preference for searching close-ups. Her affinity for the Orthodox world is obvious with each loving shot, ultimately infusing her debut feature with a beating heart of humanity. (1:30) (Kimberly Chun)
The Internship The dirty little secret of the new economy continues to be the gerbil cycle of free/cheap labor labeled “internships” that propels so many companies — be they corporate or indie, digital or print media. But gee, who’s going to see an intern comedy titled The Exploitation, besides me and my local union rep? Instead, spinning off a Vince Vaughn story idea and a co-writing credit, The Internship looks at that now-mandatory time-suck for so many college students through the filter of two older, not-quite-wiser salesmen Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Owen Wilson) hoping to make that working guy’s quantum leap from watch sales to Google’s Mountain View campus, which director Shawn Levy casts as a bright and shiny workers wonderland with its free spring rolls and lattes, bikes, and napping pods. Departing from reality: the debugging/coding/game-playing/app-making competition that forces Billy and Nick to bond with their team of castoffs (Dylan O’Brien, Tiya Sircar, Tobit Raphael), led by noob manager Lyle (Josh Brener), in order to win a full-time job. Part of the key, naturally, turns out to be a Swingers-like visit to a strip club, to release those deeply repressed nerd sexualities — nothing like a little retrograde sexism to bring a group together. Still, the moment is offset by the generally genial, upbeat attitude brought to The Internship by its lead actors: Nick and Billy may be flubs at physics and clueless when it comes to geek culture, but most working stiffs who have suffered the slings and arrows of layoffs and dream of stable employment can probably get behind the all-American ideals of self-reinvention and optimism about the future peddled in The Internship, which easily slips in alongside The Great Gatsby among this year’s Great Recession narratives. Blink too fast and you might miss the microcameo by Google co-founder Sergey Brin. (1:59) (Kimberly Chun)
The Kings of Summer Ah, the easy-to-pluck, easy-to-love low-hanging fruit of summer — and a coming of age. Who can blame director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and writer Chris Galletta, both TV vets, for thinking that a juicy, molasses-thick application of hee-hee-larious TV comedy actors to a Stand by Me-like boyish bildungsroman could only make matters that much more fun? When it comes to this wannabe-feral Frankenteen love child of Terrence Malick and Parks and Recreation, you certainly don’t want to fault them for original thinking, though you can understand why they keep lurching back to familiar, reliably entertaining turf, especially when it comes in the form of Nick Offerman of the aforementioned P&R, who gets to twist his Victorian doll features into new frustrated shapes alongside real-life spouse Megan Mullally. Joe (Nick Robinson) is tired of his single dad (Offerman) stepping on his emerging game, so he runs off with neurotic wrestling pal Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and stereotypically “weirdo foreign” kid Biaggio (Moises Arias) to a patch of woods. There, from scrap, they build a cool-looking house that resembles a Carmel boho shack and attempt to live off the land, which means mostly buying chicken from a Boston Market across a freeway. Pipes are pummeled, swimming holes are swum, a pathetically wispy mustachio is cultivated — read: real burly stuff, until the rising tide of testosterone threatens to poison the woodland well. Vogt-Roberts certainly captures the humid sensuality and ripe potential of a Midwestern summer — though some of the details, like the supposedly wild rabbit that looks like it came straight from Petco, look a bit canned — and who can gripe when, say, Portlandia’s Kumail Nanjiani materializes to deliver monster wontons? You just accept it, though the effect of bouncing back and forth between the somewhat serious world of young men and the surprisingly playful world of adults, both equally unreal, grows jarring. The Kings of Summer isn’t quite the stuff of genius that marketing would have you believe, but it might give the “weirdo foreign” art house crowd and TV comedy addicts something they can both stand by. (1:33) (Kimberly Chun)
Much Ado About Nothing Joss Whedon (last year’s The Avengers) shifts focus for a minute to stage an adaptation of the Shakespeare comedy, drawing his players from 15 years’ worth of awesome fantasy/horror/sci-fi TV and film projects. When the Spanish prince Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) pays a post-battle visit to the home of Leonato (Clark Gregg) with his officers Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof), Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese), while Benedick falls to verbal blows with Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Amy Acker). Preserving the original language of the play while setting his production in the age of the iPhone and the random hookup, Whedon makes clever, inventive use of the juxtaposition, teasing out fresh sources of visual comedy as well as bringing forward the play’s oddities and darker elements. These shadows fall on Beatrice and Benedick, whose sparring — before they succumb to a playfully devious setup at the hands of their friends — has an ugly, resentful heat to it, as well as on Hero and Claudio, whose filmy romance is unsettlingly easy for their enemies, the malevolent Don John (Sean Maher) and his cohorts, to sabotage. Some of Acker and Denisof’s broader clowning doesn’t offer enough comic payoff for the hammy energy expenditure, but Nathan Fillion, heading up local law enforcement as the constable Dogberry, delivers a gleeful depiction of blundering idiocy, and the film as a whole has a warm, approachable humor while lightly exposing “all’s well that ends well”’s wacky, dysfunctional side. (1:49) (Lynn Rapoport)
1 Mile Above When his brother dies suddenly, sheltered Taiwanese student Shuhao takes possession of the older boy’s “riding diaries,” determined to complete his sibling’s dream of biking to the highest point in Tibet. It’d be a perilous journey even for an experienced cyclist — but Shuhao’s got gutsy determination that (almost) makes up for his wobbly wheels. Fortunately, nearly everyone he meets en route to Lhasa is a kind-hearted soul, including a food-obsessed fellow traveler who doles out advice on how to avoid government checkpoints, prevent “crotch trouble” (from all that riding), and woo women, among other topics. (The cruel weather, steep inclines, and hostile wild dogs he faces, however, aren’t as welcoming.) Jiayi Du’s based-on-true-events drama doesn’t innovate much on similar adventure tales — spoiler alert: it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts — but it admirably avoids melodrama for the most part, and the gorgeous location photography is something to behold. (1:29) Metreon. (Cheryl Eddy)
The Purge Writer-director James DeMonaco founds his dystopian-near-future tale on the possibly suspect premise that the United States could achieve one percent unemployment, heavily reduced crime rates, and a virtually carb-free society if only it were to sanction an annual night of national mayhem unconstrained by statutory law — up to and including those discouraging the act of homicide. Set in 2022, The Purge visits the household of home security salesman James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), wife Mary (Lena Headey), and their children, Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane), as the annual festivities are about to begin, and the film keeps us trapped in the house with them for the next 12 hours of bloodletting sans emergency services. While they show zero interest in adding to the carnage, James and Mary seem to be largely on board with what a news commentator describes as “a lawful outlet for American rage,” not giving too much credence to detractors’ observations that the purge is a de facto culling of the underclass. Clearly, though, the whole family is about to learn a valuable lesson. It comes when Charlie, in an act of baseline humanity, draws the ire of a gang of purgers running around in bathrobes, prep school jackets, and creepy masks, led by a gleaming-eyed alpha-sociopath whom DeMonaco (whose other screenplay credits include 2005’s Assault on Precinct 13 remake) tasks with wielding the film’s blunt-object message alongside his semi-automatic weaponry. (1:25) Shattuck. (Lynn Rapoport)
Shadow Dancer Watching the emotions flicker across the exquisitely smooth, pale plane of Andrea Riseborough’s face is one of the central pleasures of Shadow Dancer. Likely the surest step Madonna made in making 2011’s W.E. was choosing the actress as her Wallis Simpson — her features fall together with the sweet symmetry of a, well, Madonna, and even when words, or the script, fail her, the play of thoughts and feelings rippling across her brow can fill out a movie’s, or a character’s, failings admirably. The otherwise graceful, good-looking Shadow Dancer fumbles over a few in the course of resurrecting the Troubles tearing apart Belfast in the 1990s. After feeling responsible for the death of a younger brother who got caught in the crossfire, Collette (Riseborough) finds herself a single mom in league with the IRA. Caught after a scuttled bombing, the petite would-be terrorist is turned by Mac (Clive Owen) to become an informant for the MI5, though after getting quickly dragged into an attempted assassination, Collette appears to be way over her head and must be pulled out — something Mac’s boss (Gillian Anderson) won’t allow. Director James Marsh (2008’s Man on Wire) brings a keen attention to the machinations and tested loyalties among both the MI5 and IRA, an interest evident in his Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980 (2009), and even imbues otherwise blanked-out, non-picturesque sites like hotel suites and gray coastal walks with a stark beauty. Unfortunately the funereal pacing and gaps in plotting, however eased by the focus on Riseborough’s responses, send the mind into the shadows. (1:44) (Kimberly Chun)
Violet and Daisy The 1990s revival has already infiltrated fashion and music; Violet and Daisy, the directorial debut of Oscar-winning Precious (2009) screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, suggests that cinema may be next. Unfortunately, not enough time has passed since the first wave of Pulp Fiction (1994) knockoffs to make the genre feel particularly interesting again. And yet here comes a pair of assassins dressed as nuns, cracking long-winded jokes before unloading on their targets with guns they’ve concealed in pizza boxes … as an AM radio hit (“Angel of the Morning”) swells in the background, and Danny Trejo stops by for a cameo. At least this Tarantino-lite exploration of crime and daddy issues has an appealing cast; besides Trejo, Alexis Bledel (sporting Mia Wallace bangs) and Saoirse Ronan play the jailbait titular killers, and James Gandolfini pops in as a sad-sack who manages to evade their bullets because, like, he’s nice and stuff. Despite their efforts, the over-stylized Violet and Daisy comes off like a plate of leftovers reheated too long after the fact. (1:28) (Cheryl Eddy)
Wish You Were Here One of few bright spots in The Great Gatsby, Joel Edgerton returns in this Aussie import that doesn’t need to set off 3D glitter bombs to win over its audience — that’s the power of a well-acted, well-written thriller. Under the opening credits we witness married Sydney couple Dave and Alice (Edgerton and Felicity Price, who co-wrote the script with her husband, director Kieran Darcy-Smith), along with Alice’s sister Steph (Warm Bodies’ Teresa Palmer) and new beau Jeremy (Antony Starr), having a blast on their Southeast Asian escape: sampling exotic food, dancing all night, spotting an elephant wandering the streets … oh, and guzzling drinks and gobbling drugs. Next scene: Dave and Alice returning home to their two young children, tension in the air, vacation bliss completely erased. It seems Jeremy is missing, somewhere in remote Cambodia — and that’s not the only lingering fallout from this journey gone terribly awry. Flashbacks mix with present-day scenes, including the police inquiry into Jeremy’s disappearance, to flesh out what happened; the end result is a suspenseful, surprising, precisely-assembled tale that only reveals what it needs to as the minutes tick by. (1:33) (Cheryl Eddy)
After Earth In around a century, we’ll board penitentiary-style ships and evacuate Earth for a sexier planet. Let’s call it a middle-aged migration — we all saw this coming. It’ll be dour, and we’ll feel temporary guilt for all the trees we leveled, bombs we dropped, and oil refineries we taped for 1960s industrial films. Like any body post-divorce, our planet will develop defenses against its ex — us humans — so when Will Smith and son Jaden crash land on the crater it’s toxic to them, full of glorious beasts and free as the Amazon (because it was partly filmed there). Critically wounded General Raige (Will) has to direct physically incredible Kitai (Jaden) through the future’s most dangerous Ironman triathalon. It’s more than a Hollywood king guiding his prince through a life-or-death career obstacle course, it’s a too-aggressive metaphor for adolescence — something real-world Jaden may forfeit to work with dad. Call that the tragedy beneath After Earth: it makes you wonder why the family didn’t make a movie more like 1994’s The Lion King — they had to know that was an option. Director M. Night Shyamalan again courts the Last Airbender (2010) crowd with crazy CG fights and affecting father-son dynamics, but for once, Shyamalan is basically a hired gun here. The story comes straight from Papa Smith, and one gets the feeling the movie exists primarily to elevate Jaden’s rising star. (1:40) (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)
Now You See Me Magicians rob banks in this ensemble caper starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, and Woody Harrelson. (1:56)
Rebels with a Cause The huge string of parklands that have made Marin County a jewel of preserved California coastline might easily have become wall-to-wall development — just like the Peninsula — if not for the stubborn conservationists whose efforts are profiled in Nancy Kelly’s documentary. From Congressman Clem Miller — who died in a plane crash just after his Point Reyes National Seashore bill became a reality — to housewife Amy Meyer, who began championing the Golden Gate National Recreation Area because she “needed a project” to keep busy once her kids entered school, they’re testaments to the ability of citizen activism to arrest the seemingly unstoppable forces of money, power and political influence. Theirs is a hidden history of the Bay Area, and of what didn’t come to pass — numerous marinas, subdivisions, and other developments that would have made San Francisco and its surrounds into another Los Angeles. (1:12) Roxie. (Dennis Harvey)
Venus and Serena How do you compress the remarkable life and stunning career of one Williams sister into a doc that’s a shade over 90 minutes, much less fit both of their stories in there? Venus and Serena can’t do much more than offer an overview of the sports phenoms, shadowing both during what proved to be an unfortunately injury-plagued 2011 season. It also flashes back to chart the sisters’ rise from Compton-raised prodigies to Grand Slam-dominating forces of nature, and features glamorously-lit interviews with the women, a handful of their relatives, and famous admirers (with Anna Wintour stopping by to purr that they are “fashion gladiators and tennis gladiators”). Though directors Maiken Baird and Michelle Major don’t leave out the more controversial bits — the sisters’ feelings about their domineering father (their former coach); their on-court tantrums; their frank talk about religion, race, dealing with stress, etc. — the straightforward Venus and Serena lacks any stylistic flair, a shame considering how important style is to the sisters. It does offer a few unexpected off-the-cuff moments, however, as when a karaoke-obsessed Serena launches into “Hole Hearted,” by 1990s hair rockers Extreme, after a disappointing day at Wimbledon. (1:39) (Cheryl Eddy)
We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks Call it the unenviable yet altogether fascinating task of the smartest moviemaker in the room: capturing the evasive, mercurial and fallible free-speech crusader Julian Assange and his younger church-going, trans-curious cohort Bradley Manning, all sans interviews with the paranoid former who’s in hiding and the guileless latter who was incarcerated without charges for a year by the military. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) documentary maker Alex Gibney seems to be just the guy to take on this project, pulling back the curtain on the transparency-first site, navigating the labyrinthine contradictions of a classic Internet-age antihero, and telling the previously untold story of the young man who tied himself to WikiLeaks’s, and Assange’s, fortunes. It starts out innocently (or not) enough, with Assange and his minuscule band of volunteers uploading and unleashing the still-shocking video footage of a Reuters news crew and their rescuers, mistaken for insurgents, being mowed down in a hailstorm of friendly fire by US forces in Iraq.
Assange’s notoriety and undoing comes with the arrival of a mass of easily shared government intelligence uploaded then passed along to him by computer wiz Private Manning in the biggest leak of state secrets in US history; the lonely analyst’s unexpected friendship with Sacramento hacker Adrian Lamo, who ultimately turns him in; and the rape charges that finally ensnare Assange in a web of lies, ironically, of his own making. Seemingly on the side of Assange, Net anarchists, and the free flow of information at the start of the saga, Gibney uses extensive interviews with (Bush-era) intelligence experts, Lamo, an Assange sexual-assault accuser, WikiLeaks supporters, and reporters; animation; and footage culled from journalists and likely anyone with a cellphone camera in shooting distance of Assange to tell this riveting story of good intentions and ego run amok, sidestepping the WikiLeaks poobah’s approval in a comprehensive, impassioned warts-and-all way that he even might appreciate. (2:10) (Kimberly Chun)
In Hollywood, summer starts in May, or even earlier … give it a few more years and there’ll be an Avengers tie-in movie ringing in the season in early February. This weekend’s “summer” blockbuster is Star Trek Into Darkness, directed by J. J. Abrams, who was recently tapped to helm at least the first film in the “Star Wars sequel trilogy.” Lotta stars in J.J.’s eyes these days. At least he’s having fun with it so far (my review of Darkness after the jump).
Also this week: he’ll soon be playing the villain in Man of Steel, speaking of summer blockbusters, but Michael Shannon first appears as a based-on-truth hitman in the very fine Iceman, reviewed here by Dennis Harvey. Also of interest, the first Himalayan Film Festival is now underway in various Bay Area theaters; I take a look at the doc-heavy line-up here.
Star Trek Into Darkness Do you remember 1982? There are more than a few echoes of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in J. J. Abrams’ second film retooling the classic sci-fi property’s characters and adventures. Darkness retains the 2009 cast, including standouts Zachary Quinto as Spock and Simon Pegg as comic-relief Scotty, and brings in Benedict “Sherlock” Cumberbatch to play the villain (I think you can guess which one). The plot mostly pinballs between revenge and preventing/circumventing the destruction of the USS Enterprise, with added post-9/11, post-Dark Knight (2008) terrorism connotations that are de rigueur for all superhero or fantasy-type blockbusters these days. But Darkness isn’t totally, uh, dark: there’s quite a bit of fan service at work here (speak Klingon? You’re in luck). Abrams knows what audiences want, and he’s more than happy to give it to ’em, sometimes opening up massive plot holes in the process — but never veering from his own Prime Directive: providing an enjoyable ride. (2:07) (Cheryl Eddy)
Midnight’s ChildrenDeepa Mehta (2005’s Water) directs and co-adapts with Salman Rushdie the author’s Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel, which mixes history (India’s 1947 independence, and the subsequent division of India and Pakistan) with magical elements — suggested from its fairy-tale-esque first lines: “I was born in the city of Bombay, once upon a time.” This droll voice-over (read by Rushdie) comes courtesy of Saleem Sinai, born to a poor street musician and his wife (who dies in childbirth; dad is actually an advantage-taking Brit played by Charles “Tywin Lannister” Dance) but switched (for vaguely revolutionary reasons) with Shiva, born at the same moment to rich parents who unknowingly raise the wrong son. Rich or poor, it seems all children born at the instant of India’s independence have shared psychic powers; over the years, they gather for “meetings” whenever Saleem summons them. And that’s just the 45 minutes or so of story. Though gorgeously shot, Midnight’s Children suffers from page-to-screen-itis; the source material is complex in both plot and theme, and it’s doubtful any film — even one as long as this — could translate its nuances and more fanciful elements (“I can smell feelings!,” Saleem insists) into a consistently compelling narrative. Last-act sentimentality doesn’t help, though it’s consistent with the fairy-tale vibe, I suppose. (2:20) (Cheryl Eddy)
Something in the Air After accidentally causing a guard serious harm during a Molotov-cocktail revenge attack on high school campus police, floppy-haired Gilles (Clément Métayer) and his baby anarchist comrades have to scatter for summer vacation. He heads to Italy along with potential new girlfriend Christine (Lola Créton), the last one (Carole Combes’ Laure) having tripped off to London and Ibiza with her artist parents. Gilles wants to be an artist, too. As much of a narrative arc as there is here details his gradual shift from dedication to political ideology toward decisions that might help further his career and define his aesthetic as a painter (or maybe a filmmaker). Always interesting but never involving, Olivier Assayas’ somewhat autobiographical feature is a portrait-of-a-young-man exercise that’s ultimately a little too much like everyone’s freshman college year: Fascinating and life-changing if you were there, not so much if you’re just hearing someone else’s countercultural reminscences. Gilles is a petulant blank whose revolutionist convictions seem borrowed rather than felt — which may be the writer-director’s intent, but it’s hard to tell. Originally titled Apres Mai — a much more useful reference to the French far-left political tumult of May 1968 and its aftermath — this is one more cinematic attempt to encapsulate the “turbulent” 1960s (extending here into the mid-’70s) that at least fleetingly captures the era’s fluidity of sex, love, community, and ideology. And that’s far less successful at convincing us the beliefs our protagonists tout are anything more than an immature following of cultural fashion. It’s an incongruously passive movie about a time in which passion reigned. (2:01) (Dennis Harvey)
Stories We Tell Actor and director Sarah Polley (2011’s Take This Waltz) turns the camera on herself and her family for this poignant, moving, inventive, and expectation-upending blend of documentary and narrative. Her father, actor Michael Polley, provides the narration; our first hint that this film will take an unconventional form comes when we see Sarah directing Michael’s performance in a recording-studio booth, asking him to repeat certain phrases for emphasis. On one level, Stories We Tell is about Sarah’s own history, as she sets out to explore longstanding family rumors that Michael is not her biological father. The missing piece: her mother, actress Diane Polley (who died of cancer just days after Sarah’s 11th birthday), a vivacious character remembered by Sarah’s siblings and those who knew and loved her. Stories We Tell’s deeper meaning emerges as the film becomes ever more meta, retooling the audience’s understanding of what they’re seeing via convincingly doc-like reenactments. To say more would lessen the power of Stories We Tell‘s multi-layered revelations. Just know that this is an impressively unique film — about family, memories, love, and (obviously) storytelling — and offers further proof of Polley’s tremendous talent. (1:48) (Cheryl Eddy)
Sun Don’t Shine Prolific indie producer and actor (Upstream Color) Amy Seimetz’s debut as feature writer-director is a intriguingly ambiguous mumblecore noir about a couple on the run, à la Bonnie and Clyde. Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley) are driving south through Florida — a state that seemingly always relaxes demands on intelligence and legality — with a handgun, innumerable anxieties, and something problematic hidden in the trunk. We gradually realize she’s unstable, though to what extent remains unclear. Seimetz’s refusal to spell out that and other basic narrative elements lends her film a compelling aura of mystery, one that heightens some striking, tense sequences but also can prove somewhat frustrating in the long run. (A little more insight would have made it easier to understand why the seemingly level-headed Leo has hitched his wagon to the increasingly off-putting Crystal.) Overall, though, it’s the kind of first feature that makes you eager to see what she’ll come up with next. (1:20) Roxie. (Dennis Harvey)
Short takes on wider releases below, including The Great Gatsby, a film adaptation that finally realizes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s deathbed wish: that one day, his most beloved work would be shot in garish 3D. Clearly, only suckers read booksanymore.
AftershockDumped into theaters without fanfare or advance screenings, this collaboration between co-scenarist/producer/star Eli Roth and Chilean director Nicolás López deserves better — it’s possibly the most luridly entertaining of numerous recent jokey homages to retro grindhouse cinema. Roth plays a character known only as Gringo, a divorced Yank lawyer on vacation traveling around Chile with two local friends, brash Pollo (Nicolás Martínez) and mopey Ariel (Ariel Levy). Their tour of raves, clubs, drugz, and tail-chasing — the rare warm-up half-hour that’s actually very funny and enjoyable — comes to an abrupt halt in Valparaiso. Partying with three newly met multinational lady friends (Lorenza Izzo, Andrea Osvárt, Natasha Yarovenko) they find themselves caught in a major earthquake — and the carnage that it causes is just the beginning of their woes, as crisis piles upon crisis. Spinning ’70s disaster-flick tropes toward crass gore-horror, Aftershock is gleefully trashy enough to get away with outrageous cruelties, including mortal harm served out to characters shockingly high on the cast list. (1:30) (Dennis Harvey)
The CrumblesThe awkward slackers and damaged hipsters of The Crumbles live in a sun-strafed, paved-over Los Angeles habitat of coffee shops, taco trucks, bookstores, budding filmmakers, and living room band practice. Darla (Katie Hipol) is slouching nowhere fast when her zany, charismatic cool-girl chum Elisa (Teresa Michelle Lee) enters the picture, looking for a place to crash. Elisa’s wacky, erratic, and unreliable, but she’s also capable of generating real excitement — and a mean little keytar hook — and the girls’ band, the Crumbles, gets off the couch and threatens to get all involved to bust out of their shells. Though director Akira Boch never quite dips into the deep background of his characters’ various dysfunctions — the threatened readings of Darla and Elisa’s psychic friend never quite sheds light — the first-time feature filmmaker has a real feel for the drifting, up-for-anything quality of Cali 20-somethings and an appreciation for their highs and lows that makes this familiar, loving, lets-put-on-show-kids update compelling. (1:13) Roxie. (Kimberly Chun)
The Great Gatsby Every bit as flashy and in-your-face as you’d expect the combo of “Baz Luhrmann,” “Jazz Age,” and “3D” to be, this misguided interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale is, at least, overstuffed with visual delights. For that reason only, all the fashion-mag fawning over leading lady Carey Mulligan’s gowns and diamonds, and the opulent production design that surrounds them, seems warranted. And in scenes where spectacle is appropriate — Gatsby’s legendary parties; Tom Buchanan’s wild New York romp with his mistress — Luhrmann delivers in spades. The trade-off is that the subtler aspects of Fitzgerald’s novel are either pushed to the side or shouted from the rooftops. Leonardo DiCaprio, last seen cutting loose in last year’s Django Unchained, makes for a stiff, fumbling Gatsby, laying on the “Old Sports” as thickly as his pancake make-up. There’s nothing here so startlingly memorable as the actor and director’s 1996 prior collaboration, Romeo + Juliet — a more successful (if still lavish and self-consciously audacious) take on an oft-adapted, much-beloved literary work. (2:22) (Cheryl Eddy)
Kiss of the Damned This first feature by Xan Cassavetes isn’t remotely like the Method-y angstfests her late father John used to direct (although he did act in upscale genre movies like 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby and 1978’s The Fury). Instead, it’s an homage to the erotic European horror movies of the late 1960s through early ’80s, with further nods to Dario Argento, 1983’s The Hunger, and other fan-bait. Mysterious Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) is immediately attracted to hunky screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), and vice versa. But she’s reluctant to follow through, and when he presses, she explains why: she’s a vampire, albeit the respectable kind who only “hunts” wild animals. When he decides that is a drawback he can deal with, they seem set to spend an undead eternity together. Unfortunately, they soon get an unwelcome guest in Djuna’s sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), a classic “bad girl” type who has no such compunctions about feasting on “stupid humans,” and whose recklessness threatens the cover of any associated fellow vampire. Like its models, Kiss drags at times, and probably will seem too arty and slow to those attuned to mainstream current horror cinema. But if you’re a dweeb enough to know who the likes of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco are, this aesthetically slavish (on a faithfully low budget) salute to their sexy-bloody vintage schlock should amuse, with Steven Hufsteter’s original score an encyclopedia of vintage Eurotrash soundtrack tropes. (1:37) (Dennis Harvey)
Love is All You NeedCopenhagen hairdresser Ida (Trine Dyrholm) has just finished her cancer treatments — with their success still undetermined — when she arrives home to find her longtime husband Leif (Kim Bodnia) boning a coworker on their couch. “I thought you were in chemo” is the closest he comes to an apology before walking out. Ida is determined to maintain a cheerful front when attending the Italian wedding of their daughter Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind) — even after emotionally deaf Leif shows up with his new girlfriend in tow. Meanwhile brusque businessman and widower Philip (Pierce Brosnan), the groom’s father, is experiencing the discomfort of returning to the villa he once shared with his beloved late wife. This latest from Danish director Susanne Bier and writing partner Anders Thomas Jensen (2006’s After the Wedding, 2004’s Brothers, 2010’s In a Better World) is more conventionally escapist than their norm, with a general romantic-seriocomedy air reinforced by travel-poster-worthy views of the picturesque Italian coastline. They do try to insert greater depth and a more expansive story arc than you’d get in a Hollywood rom com. But all the relationships here are so prickly — between middle-aged leads we never quite believe would attract each other, between the clearly ill-matched aspiring newlyweds, between Paprika Steen’s overbearing sister in-law and everyone — that there’s very little to root for. It’s a romantic movie (as numerous soundtracked variations on “That’s Amore” constantly remind us) in which romance feels like the most contrived element. (1:50) (Dennis Harvey)
PeeplesKerry Washington and Diahann Carroll star in this Tyler Perry-produced family drama set in the Hamptons. (1:35)
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s This glossy love letter to posh New York City department store Bergdorf Goodman — a place so expensive that shopping there is “an aspirational dream” for the grubby masses, according to one interviewee — would offend with its slobbering take on consumerism if it wasn’t so damn entertaining. The doc’s narrative of sorts is propelled by the small army assembled to create the store’s famed holiday windows; we watch as lavish scenes of upholstered polar bears and sea creatures covered in glittering mosaics (flanking, natch, couture gowns) take shape over the months leading up to the Christmas rush. Along the way, a cavalcade of top designers (Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani, Jason Wu, Karl Lagerfeld) reminisce on how the store has impacted their respective careers, and longtime employees share anecdotes, the best of which is probably the tale of how John Lennon and Yoko Ono saved the season by buying over 70 fur coats one magical Christmas Eve. Though lip service is paid to the current economic downturn (the Madoff scandal precipitated a startling dropoff in personal-shopper clients), Scatter My Ashes is mostly just superficial, fan-service fun. What do you expect from a store whose best-selling shoe is sparkly, teeteringly tall, and costs $6,000? (1:33) (Cheryl Eddy)
This week: the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival continues (our second week picks here); hippie cult doc The Source Family opens at the Roxie (my interview with the filmmakers, who were able to access vast amounts of archival footage shot by the group itself, here); and Iron Man 3 follows the exploits of Tony Stark, Lord of Winterfell. My review of that low-budget indie that you probably haven’t heard of below, plus more! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNMljhftcWY
At Any Price Growing up in rural Iowa very much in the shadow of his older brother, Dean Whipple (Zac Efron) cultivated a chip on his shoulder while dominating the figure 8 races at the local dirt track. When papa Henry (Dennis Quaid) — a keeping-up-appearances type, with secrets a-plenty lurking behind his good ol’ boy grin — realizes Dean is his best hope for keeping the family farm afloat, he launches a hail-mary attempt to salvage their relationship. This latest drama from acclaimed indie director Ramin Bahrani (2008’s Goodbye Solo) is his most ambitious to date, enfolding small-town family drama and stock-car scenes into a pointed commentary on modern agribusiness (Henry deals in GMO corn, and must grapple with the sinister corporate practices that go along with it). But the film never gels, particularly after an extreme, third-act plot twist is deployed to, um, hammer home the title — which refers to prices both monetary and spiritual. A solid supporting cast (Kim Dickens, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, Red West, newcomer Maika Monroe) helps give the film some much-needed added weight as it veers toward melodrama. (1:45) (Cheryl Eddy)
Bert Stern: Original Mad Man Mad man, cad man: both describe photographer Bert Stern, famed for his groundbreaking vodka ads as well as his “Last Sitting” session with Marilyn Monroe (a series he recently re-created, rather regrettably, with Lindsay Lohan). Now in his 80s, he’s coaxed in front of the camera by longtime muse Shannah Laumeister; though their closeness (despite a 40-year age difference) means Bert Stern: Original Mad Man contains a few uncomfortably intimate moments, it also makes for some remarkably candid interviews. And what a life he’s had, melding his voracious appetite for women with a talent for capturing them in stunning, creatively innovative photographs. Though his parade of exes (including celebrated ballet dancer Allegra Kent) remember him with a certain amount of curled-lip disdain, his iconic work — 1959 documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day, the poster for former co-worker Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 Lolita (those heart-shaped glasses? Stern’s idea) — speaks for itself. (1:50) (Cheryl Eddy)
Iron Man 3 Neither a sinister terrorist dubbed “the Mandarin” (Ben Kingsley) nor a spray-tanned mad scientist (Guy Pearce) are as formidable an enemy to Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) as Tony Stark himself, the mega-rich playboy last seen in 2012’s Avengers donning his Iron Man suit and thwarting alien destruction. It’s been rough since his big New York minute; he’s been suffering panic attacks and burying himself in his workshop, shutting out his live-in love (Gwyneth Paltrow) in favor of tinkering on an ever-expanding array of manned and un-manned supersuits. But duty, and personal growth, beckon when the above-mentioned villains start behaving very badly. With some help (but not much) from Don Cheadle’s War Machine — now known as “Iron Patriot” thanks to a much-mocked PR campaign — Stark does his saving-the-world routine again. If the plot fails to hit many fresh beats (a few delicious twists aside), the 3D special effects are suitably dazzling, the direction (by series newcomer Shane Black) is appropriately snappy, and Downey, Jr. again makes Stark one of the most charismatic superheros to ever grace the big screen. For now, at least, the continuing Avengers spin-off extravaganza seems justified. (2:06) (Cheryl Eddy)
Kon-TikiThis Best Foreign Language Film nominee from Norway dramatizes Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition. (1:58)
The Reluctant FundamentalistBased on Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid’s award-winning 2007 novel, and directed by the acclaimed Mira Nair (2001’s Monsoon Wedding, 2006’s The Namesake), The Reluctant Fundamentalist boasts an international cast (Kate Hudson, Martin Donovan, Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber, Om Puri) and nearly as many locations. British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed (2010’s Four Lions) stars as Changez Khan, a Princeton-educated professor who grants an interview with a reporter (Schreiber) after another prof at Lahore University — an American citizen — is taken hostage; their meeting grows more tense as the atmosphere around them becomes more charged. Most of the film unfolds as an extended flashback, as Changez recounts his years on Wall Street as a talented “soldier in [America’s] economic army,” with a brunette Hudson playing Erica, a photographer who becomes his NYC love interest. After 9/11, he begins to lose his lust for star-spangled yuppie success, and soon returns to his homeland to pursue a more meaningful cause. Though it’s mostly an earnest, soul-searching character study, The Reluctant Fundamentalist suddenly decides it wants to be a full-throttle political thriller in its last act; ultimately, it offers only superficial insight into what might inspire someone’s conversion to fundamentalism (one guess: Erica’s embarrassingly bad art installation, which could make anyone hate America). Still, Ahmed is a compelling lead. (2:08) (Cheryl Eddy)
Hollywood is clearly bowing down to the power of Tom Cruise this week, opening no other contenders (sorry, Rob Zombie, The Lords of Salem doesn’t count) to compete with what’s sure to be an Oblivion-ated weekend box office. (And to be honest, the movie’s big and dumb, but actually pretty entertaining. My review after the jump.)
Elsewhere, the must-see movie-obsessive doc Room 237 opens at the Roxie (check out my interview with director Rodney Ascher here; he’ll be at the Roxie in person this weekend), and Dennis Harvey takes on a pair of imports that actually do fairy-tale adaptations proud: Blancanieves and Let My People Go! Also worth checking out is the latest from Ken Loach, a comedy about crime and whiskey … what’s not to love? My review follows.
The Angels’ Share The latest from British filmmaker Ken Loach (2006’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley) and frequent screenwriter collaborator Paul Leverty contains a fair amount of humor — though it’s still got plenty of their trademark grit and realism. Offered “one last opportunity” by both a legal system he’s frequently disregarded and his exasperated and heavily pregnant girlfriend, ne’er-do-well Glaswegian Robbie (Paul Brannigan) resolves to straighten out his life. But his troubled past proves a formidable roadblock to a brighter future — until he visits a whiskey distillery with the other misfits he’s been performing his court-ordered community service with, and the group hatches an elaborate heist that could bring hope for Robbie and his growing family … if his gang of “scruffs” can pull it off. Granted, there are some familiar elements here, but this 2012 Cannes jury prize winner (the fest’s de facto third-place award) is more enjoyable than predictable — thanks to some whiskey-tasting nerd-out scenes, likable performances by its cast of mostly newcomers, and lines like “Nobody ever bothers anybody wearing a kilt!” (not necessarily true, as it turns out). Thankfully, English subtitles help with the thick Scottish accents. (1:41) (Cheryl Eddy)
Oblivion Spoiler alert: the great alien invasion of 2017 does absolutely zilch to eliminate, or at least ameliorate, the problem of sci-fi movie plot holes. However, puny humans willing to shut down the logic-demanding portions of their brains just might enjoy Oblivion, which is set 60 years after that fateful date and imagines that Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by said invasion. Tom Cruise plays Jack, a repairman who zips down from his sterile housing pod (shared with comely companion Andrea Riseborough) to keep a fleet of drones — dispatched to guard the planet’s remaining resources from alien squatters — in working order. But Something is Not Quite Right; Jack’s been having nostalgia-drenched memories of a bustling, pre-war New York City, and the déjà vu gets worse when a beautiful astronaut (Olga Kurylenko) literally crash-lands into his life. After an inaugural gig helming 2010’s stinky Tron: Legacy, director Joseph Kosinski shows promise, if not perfection, bringing his original tale to the screen. (He does, however, borrow heavily from 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1996’s Independence Day, and 2008’s Wall-E, among others.) Still, Oblivion boasts sleek production design, a certain creative flair, and some surprisingly effective plot twists — though also, alas, an overlong running time. (2:05) (Cheryl Eddy)
Better order your popcorn with a side of open-mindedness this week, what with To the Wonder (meh) and Upstream Color (woo!) launching themselves at audiences. Less experimental types can settle for ensemble drama Disconnect or Scary Movie 5, the latest in the pop-culture parody series.
Read on for the rest of this week’s new films, including the latest from Danny Boyle and Robert Redford, plus a perfectly-timed-to-maximize-on-the-start-of-baseball-season Jackie Robinson biopic.
The Company You Keep Robert Redford directs and stars as a fugitive former member of the Weather Underground, who goes on the run when another member (Susan Sarandon) is arrested and a newspaper reporter (Shia LaBeouf) connects him to a murder 30 years earlier during a Michigan bank robbery. Both the incident and the individuals in The Company You Keep are fictive, but a montage of archival footage at the start of the film is used to place them in the company of real-life radicals and events from the latter days of the 1960s-’70s antiwar movement. (The film’s timeline is a little hard to figure, as the action seems to be present day.) Living under an assumed name, Redford’s Nick Sloan is now a recently widowed public interest lawyer with a nine-year-old daughter, still fighting the good fight from the suburbs of Albany, NY — though some of his movement cohorts would probably argue that point. And as Nick heads cross-country on a hunt for one of them who’s still deep underground, and LaBeouf’s pesky reporter tussles with FBI agents (Terrance Howard and Anna Kendrick) and his besieged editor (Stanley Tucci) — mostly there to pass comment on print journalism’s precipitous decline — there’s plenty of contentious talk, none of it particularly trenchant or involving. Redford packs his earnest, well-intentioned film with stars delineating a constellation of attitudes about revolution, justice, and violent radical action — Julie Christie as an unrepentant radical and Nick’s former lover, Nick Nolte and Richard Jenkins as former movement members, Brendan Gleeson as a Michigan police detective involved in the original investigation, Chris Cooper as Nick’s estranged and disapproving younger brother. But their scrutiny, and the film’s, feels blurry and rote, while the plot’s one major twist seems random and is clumsily exposed. (2:05) (Lynn Rapoport)
42 Broad and morally cautious, 42 is nonetheless an honorable addition to the small cannon of films about the late, great baseball player Jackie Robinson. When Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) declares that he wants a black player in the white major leagues because “The only real color is green!”, it’s a cynical explanation that most people buy, and hate him for. It also starts the ball curving for a PR shitstorm. But money is an equal-opportunity leveling device: when Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) tries to use the bathroom at a small-town gas station, he’s denied and tells his manager they should “buy their 99 gallons of gas another place.” Naturally the gas attendant concedes, and as 42 progresses, even those who reject Robinson at first turn into men who find out how good they are when they’re tested. Ford, swashbuckling well past his sell-by date, is a fantastic old coot here; his “been there, lived that” prowess makes you proud he once fled the path of a rolling bolder. His power moves here are even greater, but it’s ultimately Robinson’s show, and 42 finds a lot of ways to deliver on facts and still print the legend. (2:08) (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)
My Brother the DevilThough its script hits some unsurprising beats, Sally El Hosaini’s drama is buoyed by authentic performances and a strong command of its setting: diverse London ‘hood Hackney, where sons of Egyptian immigrants Rashid (James Floyd) and Mo (Fady Elsayed) stumble toward maturity. After his best friend is killed in a gang fight, older “bruv” Rashid turns away from a life of crime, but dropping his tough-guy façade forces him to explore feelings he’s been desperately trying to deny, especially after he meets photographer Sayyid (Saïd Taghmaoui). The only thing he knows for certain is that he doesn’t want his little brother to start running with the drug-dealing crew he’s lately abandoned. The less-worldly Mo, already dealing with a tidal wave of typical teenage emotions, idolizes his brother — until he finds out Rashid’s secret, and reacts … badly, and the various conflicts careen toward a suspenseful, dread-filled, life-lessons-learned conclusion. Added bonus to this well-crafted film: sleek, vibrant lensing, which earned My Brother the Devil a cinematography prize at Sundance 2012. (1:51) (Cheryl Eddy)
No Place on Earth “Every cave I enter has a secret,” muses caver Chris Nicola in his clipped New York accent at the start of No Place on Earth. An interest in his family’s Eastern Orthodox roots brought him to the Ukraine soon after the Soviet Union dissolved; while exploring one of the country’s lengthy gypsum caves, he literally stumbled over what he calls “living history:” artifacts (shoes, buttons) that suggested people had been living in the caves in the not-too-distant past. Naturally curious, Nicola investigated further, eventually learning that two families of Ukrainian Jews (including young children) hid in the caves for 18 months during World War II. Using tasteful re-enactments and interviews with surviving members of the families, as well as narration taken from memoirs, director Janet Tobias reconstructs an incredible tale of human resilience and persistence; there are moments of terror, literally hiding behind rocks to escape roaming German soldiers, and moments of joy, as when a holiday snowfall enables precious outdoor playtime. Incredibly, the film ends with now-elderly survivors — one of whom lived just seven miles from Nicola in NYC — returning to “say thank-you to the cave,” as one woman puts it, with awed and grateful grandchildren in tow. (1:24) (Cheryl Eddy)
Trance Where did Danny Boyle drop his noir? Finding the thread he misplaced somewhere along the way from Shallow Grave (1994) to Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Boyle strives to put his own character-centered spin on the genre in this collaboration with Grave and Trainspotting (1996) screenwriter John Hodge, though the final product feels distinctly off, despite its Hitchcockian aspirations toward a sort of modern-day Spellbound (1945). Untrustworthy narrator Simon (James McAvoy) is an auctioneer for a Sotheby’s-like house, tasked with protecting the multimillion-dollar artworks on the block, within reason. Then the splashily elaborate theft of Goya’s Witches’ Flight painting goes down on Simon’s watch, and for his trouble, the complicit staffer is concussed by heist leader Franck (Vincent Cassel). Where did those slippery witches fly to? Simon, mixed up with the thieves due to his gambling debts, cries amnesia — truth appears to be locked in the opaque layers of his jostled brain, and it’s up to hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to uncover the Goya’s resting place. Is she trying to help Simon extricate himself from his impossible situation, seduce Franck, or simply help herself? Boyle tries to transmit the mutable mind games on screen, via the lighting, glass, and watery reflections that are supposed to translate as sleek sophistication. But devices like speedy, back-and-forth edits and off-and-on fourth-wall-battering instances as when Simon locks eyes with the audience, read as dated and cheesy as a banking commercial. The seriously miscast actors also fail to sell Trance on various levels — believability, likeability, etc. — as the very unmesmerized viewer falls into a light coma and the movie twirls, flaming, into the ludicrous. (1:44) (Kimberly Chun)
Deadites, dino-junkies, indie supporters, doc watchers, foreign-film fans, “Hey Girl” lovers … there’s a little something for all y’all this week. (If you’d prefer to avoid the multiplex, check out the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Pen-ek Ratanaruang series and/or the San Francisco Cinematheque’s Crossroads fest.)
Evil Dead “Sacrilege!” you surely thought when hearing that Sam Raimi’s immortal 1983 classic was being remade. But as far as remakes go, this one from Uruguayan writer-director Fede Alvarez (who’d previously only made some acclaimed genre shorts) is pretty decent. Four youths gather at a former family cabin destination because a fifth (Jane Levy) has staged her own intervention — after a near-fatal OD, she needs her friends to help her go cold turkey. But as a prologue has already informed us, there is a history of witchcraft and demonic possession in this place. The discovery of something very nasty (and smelly) in the cellar, along with a book of demonic incantations that Lou Taylor Pucci is stupid enough to read aloud from, leads to … well, you know. The all-hell that breaks loose here is more sadistically squirm-inducing than the humorously over-the-top gore in Raimi’s original duo (elements of the sublime ’87 Evil Dead II are also deployed here), and the characters are taken much more seriously — without, however, becoming more interesting. Despite a number of déjà vu kamikaze tracking shots through the Michigan forest (though most of the film was actually shot in New Zealand), Raimi’s giddy high energy and black comedy are replaced here by a more earnest if admittedly mostly effective approach, with plenty of decent shocks. No one could replace Bruce Campbell, and perhaps it was wise not to even try. So: pretty good, gory, expertly crafted, very R-rated horror fun, even with too many “It’s not over yet!” false endings. But no one will be playing this version over and over and over again as they (and I) still do the ’80s films. (1:31) (Dennis Harvey)
Gimme the LootBiggie Smalls’ track is just a smart starting point for this streetwise, hilarious debut feature by Adam Leon. Young graf artists Malcolm (Ty Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana Washington) are hustling hard to get paid and fund a valiant effort to tag the Mets’ Home Run Apple to show up rival gang-bangers. The problem lies in raising the exorbitant fee their source demands, either by hook (selling pot to seductive, rich white girls) or crook (offloading cell phone contraband). The absurdity of the pair’s situation isn’t lost on anyone, especially Leon. But their passion to rise above (sorta) and yearning for expression gives the tale an emotional heft, and Gimme the Loot stays with you long after the taggers have moved onto fresh walls. (1:21) (Kimberly Chun)
Jurassic Park 3D “Life finds a way,” Jeff Goldblum’s leather-clad mathematician remarks, crystallizing the theme of this 1993 Spielberg classic, which at its core is more about human relationships than genetically manufactured terrors. Of course, it’s got plenty of those, and Jurassic Park doesn’t really need its (admittedly spiffy) 3D upgrade to remain a thoroughly entertaining thriller. The dinosaur effects — particularly the creepy Velociraptors and fan-fave T. rex — still dazzle. Only some early-90s computer references and Laura Dern’s mom jeans mark the film as dated. But a big-screen viewing of what’s become a cable TV staple allows for fresh appreciation of its less-iconic (but no less enjoyable) moments and performances: a pre-megafame Samuel L. Jackson as a weary systems tech; Bob Peck as the park’s skeptical, prodigiously thigh-muscled game warden. Try and forget the tepid sequels — including, dear gawd, 2014’s in-the-works fourth installment. This is all the Jurassic you will ever need. (2:07) (Cheryl Eddy)
The Place Beyond the Pines Powerful indie drama Blue Valentine (2010) marked director Derek Cianfrance as one worthy of attention, so it’s with no small amount of fanfare that this follow-up arrives. The Place Beyond the Pines‘ high profile is further enhanced by the presence of Bradley Cooper (currently enjoying a career ascension from Sexiest Man Alive to Oscar-nominated Serious Actor), cast opposite Valentine star Ryan Gosling, though they share just one scene. An overlong, occasionally contrived tale of three generations of fathers, father figures, and sons, Pines’ initial focus is Gosling’s stunt-motorcycle rider, a character that would feel more exciting if it wasn’t so reminiscent of Gosling’s turn in Drive (2011), albeit with a blonde dye job and tattoos that look like they were applied by the same guy who inked James Franco in Spring Breakers. Robbing banks seems a reasonable way to raise cash for his infant son, as well as a way for Pines to draw in another whole set of characters, in the form of a cop (Cooper) who’s also a new father, and who — as the story shifts ahead 15 years — builds a political career off the case. Of course, fate and the convenience of movie scripts dictate that the mens’ sons will meet, the past will haunt the present and fuck up the future, etc. etc. Ultimately, Pines is an ambitious film that suffers from both its sprawl and some predictable choices (did Ray Liotta really need to play yet another dirty cop?) Halfway through the movie I couldn’t help thinking what might’ve happened if Cianfrance had dared to swap the casting of the main roles; Gosling could’ve been a great ambitious cop-turned-powerful prick, and Cooper could’ve done interesting things with the Evel Knievel-goes-Point Break part. Just sayin’. (2:20) (Cheryl Eddy)
RealityDirector Matteo Garrone’s Cannes Grand Prix winner couldn’t be more different from his 2008 Gomorrah, save one similarity: that film was about organized crime, and dark comedy Reality stars Aniello Arena, a former gangster who was allowed out of prison to shoot his scenes. All things considered, he’s rather winning as Neapolitan everyman Luciano, whose daily life slinging fish can’t compete with his big dreams of appearing on the Italian version of Big Brother. He makes it through the second round of auditions — and soon starts believing he’s being watched by casting agents considering whether to put him on the show. His level-headed wife (Loredane Simioli) suspects he’s being paranoid (as does the audience, before long), though he’s told “never give up!” by cheesy-sleazy Big Brother vet Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante), a character clearly designed to comment on reality TV’s own peculiar brand of insta-fame. Nobody who’s ever watched reality TV will be surprised at the film’s ultimate messages about the hollow rewards of that fame, but Arena’s powerful performance makes the journey worthwhile. (1:55) (Cheryl Eddy)
Renoir The gorgeous, sun-dappled French Riviera setting is the high point of this otherwise low-key drama about the temperamental women (Christa Theret) who was the final muse to elderly painter Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), and who encouraged the filmmaking urges in his son, future cinema great Jean (Vincent Rottiers). Cinematographer Mark Ping Bin Lee (who’s worked with Hou Hsiao-hsein and Wong Kar Wai) lenses Renoir‘s leafy, ramshackle estate to maximize its resemblance to the paintings it helped inspire; though her character, Dédée, could kindly be described as “conniving,” Theret could not have been better physically cast, with tumbling red curls and pale skin she’s none too shy about showing off. Though the specter of World War I looms in the background, the biggest conflicts in Gilles Bourdos’ film are contained within the household, as Jean frets about his future, Dédée faces the reality of her precarious position in the household (which is staffed by aging models-turned-maids), and Auguste battles ill health by continuing to paint, though he’s in a wheelchair and must have his brushes taped to his hands. Though not much really happens, Renoir is a pleasant, easy-on-the-eyes experience. (1:51) (Cheryl Eddy)
The Revolutionary Optimists If the children, as someone once sang, are our future, the inspiring work done by youth activists living in the slums of Kolkata, India hints that there might be brighter days ahead for some of the poorest communities in the world. Under the guidance of Amlan Ganguly and his non-profit, Prayasam, kids whose daily struggles include lacking easy access to drinking water, having to work backbreaking long hours at the local brick field, and worrying that their parents will marry them off as soon as they turn 13, find hope via education and artistic expression. Sensitively directed over the span of several years by Nicole Newnham (who made the excellent 2006 doc The Rape of Europa) and Maren Grainger-Monsen, The Revolutionary Optimists shows stories of both success (12-year-old sparkplug Salim speaks before Parliament about bringing water to his neighborhood) and failure (16-year-old Priyanka is forced into an abusive marriage, ending her dreams of becoming a dance teacher). With harsh reality keeping its stories firmly grounded, the film — which is, of course, ultimately optimistic — offers a look at how the youngest members of a community can help effect real change. (1:23) (Cheryl Eddy)