Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.
SF INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 24-May 8. Screening venues include the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; New People Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post, SF. For tickets (most shows $15) and complete schedule, visit festival.sffs.org. For coverage, see film section.
Alan Partridge Steve Coogan recently took a serious-movie detour in last year’s Philomena, but he’s primarily a comedian — famed stateside for roles in cult movies like 24 Hour Party People (2002) and The Trip (2011). In his native England, he’s also beloved for playing buffoonish, image-obsessed host Alan Partridge in multiple TV and radio series — and now, a feature film, in which a giant media conglomerate takes over Alan’s North Norwich Digital radio station and gives it a cheesy corporate makeover. When he learns staffing cuts are afoot, Alan secretly throws his longtime friend and fellow DJ Pat (Colm Meany) under the bus. Though he’s oblivious to Alan’s betrayal, the depressed and disgruntled Pat soon bursts into the station, toting a shotgun and taking hostages, and Alan is designated the official go-between — to his utter delight, since he becomes the center of the surrounding media circus (“I’m siege-face!” he crows), and his already-inflated head balloons to even more gargantuan proportions. Along the way, he and Pat continue broadcasting, taking calls from listeners, spinning Neil Diamond records, and occasionally interfacing with an increasingly annoyed police force. Fear not if you haven’t seen any previous Alan Partridge outings — this film is stand-alone hilarious. (1:30) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Brick Mansions This Luc Besson-produced thriller about an undercover Detroit cop stars Paul Walker in one of his final roles. (1:30) Presidio.
Dancing in Jaffa World champion ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine, possessed of perfect posture and a flamboyant personality, returns to his native Jaffa, a city he hasn’t laid eyes on since his family (Palestinian mother, Irish father) fled in 1948. His love of teaching was dramatized in 2006’s Take the Lead — hey, if someone’s gonna make a movie about your life, you could do worse than being played by Antonio Banderas — but his task in Dancing in Jaffa is a far less glitzy one. Here, the real-life Dulaine aims to train a group of 11-year-olds how to merengue, rumba, tango, and jive, which is tall order under any circumstances, since these kids are still firmly entrenched in the awkward “boys/girls are icky” zone. Complicating matters even further is Dulaine’s determined quest to pair up tiny dancers from both Jewish and Palestinian Israeli schools, despite skeptical parents and religious restrictions against mingling with the opposite sex; it’s his fervent hope that performing together will help the kids see past their differences, and signal hope for the future. Though her documentary hits the expected beats — a depressed youngster we meet early in the film is delightfully (yet unsurprisingly) transformed by the power of dance — director Hilla Medalia (2007’s To Die in Jerusalem) does an admirable job contextualizing the students’ stories, capturing the cultural tensions that permeate everyday life in Jaffa. And a hat-tip to the kids themselves, who become surprisingly graceful hoofers despite all initial suggestions to the contrary. (1:28) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)
The German Doctor Argentine writer-director Lucía Puenzo (2007’s XXY) adapts her novel Wakolda for this drama imagining a post-World War II chapter in the life of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. It’s 1960, and there’s a new doctor residing in Bariloche, Argentina — a stunningly picturesque town in the Andean foothills that seems to harbor an awful lot of Germans. Polite, well-dressed “Helmut” (Alex Brendemühl) befriends innkeepers Eva (Natalia Oreiro) and Enzo (Diego Peretti), taking a special interest in their 12-year-old daughter Lilith (Florencia Bado), whose petite frame (cruel classmates call her “dwarf”) awakens his let’s-experiment impulses. He gets even more attached when he finds out a pregnant Eva is carrying twins. Meanwhile, Israeli agents are moving in, having just snagged Mengele’s fellow war criminal Eichmann in Buenos Aires, and Lilith’s family soon catches on to their new friend’s true identity. Measured, multi-lingual performances — Brendemühl is both suave and menacing as the “Angel of Death,” forever penciling in his grotesque medical sketchbook — and the contrast between The German Doctor‘s dark themes and the Patagonian beauty of its setting bring haunting nuance to Puenzo’s twisted-history tale. (1:33) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Eddy)
“Human Rights Watch Film Festival” The 2014 fest wraps up with a pair of nightmarish tales about men who endured wrongful imprisonment. Marc Wiese’s Camp 14 — Total Control Zone follows the solemn Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in a North Korean death camp and managed to escape not only the camp, but the country itself; he’s thought to be the only person ever to do so. He endured unimaginable horrors both physical (beatings, starvation, torture) and mental (being forced to watch his mother and brother’s executions), and finally gathered the courage to flee when he met a recent detainee who was full of tales from the outside world. These days, he no longer lives in fear; he’s based in South Korea but travels the world speaking with human-rights groups. But he’s a man understandably scarred by his past, living in a nearly empty apartment and rarely raising his voice above a whisper. Meanwhile, American injustice gives a showcase performance in An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story, Al Reinert’s emotional documentary about an innocent man convicted of killing his wife, thanks to some shoddy good ol’ boy police work. Though his own son turned against him as his years behind bars stretched into decades, Morton — now free and reconciled with his family, thanks to the Innocence Project — remains an inspiring, almost beatific example of the power of forgiveness. In Morton’s case, it helps that the real murderer was eventually nabbed and punished; in Camp 14, we meet a pair of former guards who shrug off the horrific cruelty they regularly inflicted on prisoners — and we’re reminded of the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans who remain behind bars, serving life sentences for made-up “crimes.” Not a shred of closure to be found in that one. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Eddy)
Next Goal Wins World Cup fever is imminent — first game is June 12! — so there’s no better timing for this doc, which chronicles the transformation of American Samoa’s soccer team from international joke (thanks to a record-breaking 31-0 drubbing by Australia in 2001) to inspirational underdogs. Filmmakers Steve Jamison and Mike Brett visit the close-knit island nation just as Dutch hired-gun coach Thomas Rongen swoops in to whip the team into shape. Though he’s initially unimpressed, Rongen soon realizes that what his players lack in athletic ability, they make up for in heart, particularly beleaguered keeper Nicky Salapu (coaxed out of retirement, he’s still haunted by the 2001 loss) and upbeat Jaiyah Saelua, who is 100 percent accepted by her teammates, even though she happens to be transgender (“I’m not a male or a female — I’m a soccer player!”) Next Goal Wins is ultimately as much a window into American Samoan culture as it is a sports saga, adding richness to a tale that’s already heart-poundingly rousing. (1:30) Roxie. (Eddy)
The Other Woman Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, and Kate Upton star in this comedy about a trio of women who gang up on the man (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who’s been playing them all. (1:49) Presidio.
The Quiet Ones Jared Harris (Mad Men) stars in this spooky Hammer Films drama about an Oxford professor studying the supernatural. (1:38)
Teenage This collage documentary by Matt Wolf (2008’s Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell) is based on Jon Savage’s Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, spanning the adolescent experience from 1875-1945. First-person narrators (voiced by Jena Malone and Ben Whishaw, among others) reflect on the lives of teens from the US, the UK, and Germany, emphasizing current events (notably the stock market crash and World Wars I and II, the latter including segments on the Hitler Youth), and social problems (child labor, racial intolerance) and changes (the rise of Hollywood idols and teen gangs), as well as dance, fashion, nightlife (London’s Bright Young Things get a special spotlight), and music fads. Stock footage, vintage images, textured sound design, and creative reenactments shape this unusually artistic look at the rise of an age group that didn’t merit distinct status 150 years ago — but has since become popular culture’s most influential force, for better and worse. (1:17) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Walking with the Enemy Movie history abounds with dramas about the obvious dangers and complicated delights of passing during World War II — Agnieszka Holland’s Europa Europa (1990) and Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book (2006) come immediately to mind. But despite the inherent interest in this story (based on a real person, Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum), Walking with the Enemy doesn’t hold its own next to those efforts. Elek (Jonas Armstrong), the handsome, intrepid son of a rabbi, is working in Budapest doing what any red-blooded young man of any era might, joking with his boss and flirting with the adorable Hannah (Hannah Tointon). When Hungary’s relations with the Nazis sour, the country’s Jewish citizens are gradually packed off and subjected to deadly crackdowns instigated by Adolf Eichmann, and Hungary’s Regent Horthy (Ben Kingsley) seems powerless to do very much, apart from allowing the neutral Swiss consulate to issue a stream of documents claiming the city’s Jewish denizens as its own. When two SS officers come calling in the Jewish quarter, attack Hannah, and are ultimately killed, fluent German speaker Elek and his friends snatch at the desperate measure of donning their uniforms to spy on their oppressors and save as many Jews as they can. What may have made for a fascinating tale, however, is reduced to broad strokes, awkward choices like onscreen IDs, and comically simplistic characterization, making Walking feel more like a TV movie or an educational film than anything with real power. (2:08) (Chun)
Bears (1:26) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier Marvel’s most wholesome hero returns in this latest film in the Avengers series, and while it doesn’t deviate from the expected formula (it’s not a spoiler to say that yes, the world is saved yet again), it manages to incorporate a surprisingly timely plot about the dangers of government surveillance. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), hunkiest 95-year-old ever, is still figuring out his place in the 21st century after his post-World War II deep freeze. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has him running random rescue missions with the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), but SHIELD is working on a top-secret project that will allow it to predict crimes before they occur. It isn’t long before Cap’s distrust of the weapon — he may be old-fashioned, but he ain’t stupid — uncovers a sinister plot led by a familiar enemy, with Steve’s former BFF Bucky doing its bidding as the science-experiment-turned-assassin Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, and series regular Cobie Smulders are fine in supporting roles, and Johansson finally gets more to do than punch and pose, but the likable Evans ably carries the movie — he may not have the charisma of Robert Downey Jr., but he brings wit and depth to a role that would otherwise be defined mainly by biceps and CG-heavy fights. Oh, and you know the drill by now: superfans will want to stick around for two additional scenes tucked into the end credits. (2:16) Balboa, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Cesar Chavez “You always have a choice,” Cesar Chavez (Michael Peña) tells his bullied son when advising him to turn the other cheek. Likewise, actor-turned-director Diego Luna had a choice when it came to tackling his first English-language film; he could have selected a less complicated, sprawling story. So he gets props for that simple act — especially at a time when workers’ rights and union power have been so dramatically eroded — and for his attempts to impact some complicated nuance to Chavez’s fully evident heroism. Painting his moving pictures in dusty earth tones and burnt sunlight with the help of cinematographer Enrique Chediak, Luna vaults straight into Chavez’s work with the grape pickers that would come to join the United Farm Workers — with just a brief voiceover about Chavez’s roots as the native-born son of a farm owner turned worker, post-Depression. Uprooting wife Helen (America Ferrera) and his family and moving to Delano as a sign of activist commitment, Chavez is seemingly quickly drawn into the 1965 strike by the Mexican workers’ sometime rivals: Filipino pickers (see the recent CAAMFest short documentary Delano Manongs for some of their side of the story). From there, the focus hones in on Chavez, speaking out against violence and “chicken shit macho ideals,” hunger striking, and activating unions overseas, though Luna does give voice to cohorts like Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson), growers like Bogdanovitch (John Malkovich), and the many nameless strikers — some of whom lost their lives during the astonishingly lengthy, taxing five-year strike. Luna’s win would be a blue-collar epic on par with 1979’s Norma Rae, and on some levels, he succeeds; scanning the faces of the weathered, hopeful extras in crowd scenes, you can’t help but feel the solidarity. The people have the power, as a poet once put it, and tellingly, his choice of Peña, stolidly opaque when charismatic warmth is called for, might be the key weakness here. One suspects the director or his frequent costar Gael García Bernal would make a more riveting Chavez. (1:38) Metreon. (Chun)
Divergent Based on the blockbuster dystopian-future YA novel by Veronica Roth (the first in a trilogy), Divergent is set in a future city-state version of Chicago in which society is divided into five character-based, color-coded factions: Erudite, Amity, Candor, Abnegation, and Dauntless. Like her peers, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), the film’s Abnegation-born teenage heroine, must choose a permanent faction — with the help of a standardized aptitude test that forgoes penciling in bubbles in favor of virtual reality psychic manipulation. When the test fails to triangulate her sole innate personality trait, she learns that she belongs to a secret, endangered sixth category: Divergent, an astonishing set of people who are not only capable of, say, acts of selflessness but can also produce intelligent thought, or manifest bravery in the face of danger. Forced to hide her aberrant nature in a society whose leaders (Kate Winslet) are prone to statements like “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” and seemingly bored among Abnegation’s hive of gray cardigan-wearing worker bees, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, a dashing gang of black-clad, alterna-rock music video extras who jump on and off moving trains and live in a warehouse-chic compound whose dining hall recalls the patio at Zeitgeist. Fittingly, a surly, tattooed young man named Four (Theo James) leads Beatrice, now Tris, and her fellow initiates through a harsh proving regimen that, if they fail, will cast them into an impoverished underclass. Director Neil Burger (2006’s The Illusionist, 2011’s Limitless) and the behemoth marketing force behind Divergent are clearly hoping to stir up the kind of madness stoked by the Twilight and Hunger Games series, but while there are bones a-plenty to pick with those franchises, Divergent may have them beat for pure daffiness of premise and diameter of plot holes — and that’s after screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor’s major suturing of the source material’s lacunae. The daffiness doesn’t translate into imaginative world-building, and while a couple of scenes convey the visceral thrills of life in Dauntless, the tension between Tris and Four is awkwardly ratcheted up, and the film’s shift into a mode of crisis is equally jolting without generating much heat. (2:20) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Rapoport)
Dom Hemingway We first meet English safecracker Dom (Jude Law) as he delivers an extremely verbose and flowery ode to his penis, addressing no one in particular, while he’s getting blown in prison. Whether you find this opening a knockout or painfully faux will determine how you react to the rest of Richard Shepard’s new film, because it’s all in that same overwritten, pseudo-shocking, showoff vein, Sprung after 12 years, Dom is reunited with his former henchman Dickie (Richard E. Grant), and the two go to the South of France to collect the reward owed for not ratting out crime kingpin Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). This detour into the high life goes awry, however, sending the duo back to London, where Dom — who admits having “anger issues,” which is putting it mildly — tries to woo a new employer (Jumayn Hunter) and, offsetting his general loutishness with mawkish interludes, to re-ingratiate himself with his long-estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke). Moving into Guy Ritchie terrain with none of the deftness the same writer-director had brought to debunking James Bond territory in 2006’s similarly black-comedic crime tale The Matador, Dom Hemingway might bludgeon some viewers into sharing its air of waggish, self conscious merriment. But like Law’s performance, it labors so effortfully hard after that affect that you’re just as likely to find the whole enterprise overbearing. (1:33) Metreon, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Draft Day (2:00) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki.
Faust It’s taken nearly three years for Aleksandr Sokurov’s Faust to get to the Bay Area. That seems apt for what was surely, in 2011, the least popular recipient of the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion in decades. Sokurov is a bit of a weirdo; even his popular triumphs — 1997’s rhapsodic Mother and Son; 2002’s extraordinary 300-years-of-history-in-one-traveling-shot Russian Ark — are very rarefied stuff, disinterested in conventional narrative or making their meanings too clear. In production scale, Faust is Sokurov’s biggest project, which hardly stops it also being possibly his most perverse. It rings bells redolent of certain classic 1970s Herzog features, and of course Sokurov’s own prior ones (as well as those by his late mentor Tarkovsky). But it has a stoned strangeness all its own. It’s not 140 minutes you should enter lightly, because you are going to exit it headily, drunk off the kind of questionable homebrew elixir that has a worm floating in it. In a clammy mittle-Yurropeon town in which the thin margin between pissy bourgeoisie and dirty swine is none too subtly delineated when a funeral march collides with a cartful of porkers, Professor Faust (the marvelously plastic Johannes Zeiler) dissects a corpse in his filthy studio. Impoverished and hungry, the questionably good doctor is an easy mark for Mephistophelean moneylender Mauricius Muller (physical theater specialist Anton Adasinsky), an insinuating snake who claims the soul is “no heavier than a coin,” and will happily relieve Faust of his in return for some slippery satisfactions. Coming complete with the director’s trademark distortion effects (in both color tinting and image aspect), Faust has a soft, queasy, pickled feel, like a disquieting dream too fascinating to wake yourself from. (2:14) Roxie. (Harvey)
Finding Vivian Maier Much like In the Realms of the Unreal, the 2004 doc about Henry Darger, Finding Vivian Maier explores the lonely life of a gifted artist whose talents were discovered posthumously. In this case, however, the filmmaker — John Maloof, who co-directs with Charlie Siskel — is responsible for Maier’s rise to fame. A practiced flea-market hunter, he picked up a carton of negatives at a 2007 auction; they turned out to be striking examples of early street photography. He was so taken with the work (snapped by a woman so obscure she was un-Google-able) that he began posting images online. Unexpectedly, they became a viral sensation, and Maloof became determined to learn more about the camerawoman. Turns out Vivian Maier was a career nanny in the Chicago area, with plenty of former employers to share their memories. She was an intensely private person who some remembered as delightfully adventurous and others remembered as eccentric, mentally unstable, or even cruel; she was a hoarder who was distrustful of men, and she spoke with a maybe-fake French accent. And she was obsessed with taking photographs that she never showed to anyone; the hundreds of thousands now in Maloof’s collection (along with 8mm and 16mm films) offer the only insight into her creative mind. “She had a great eye, a sense of humor, and a sense of tragedy,” remarks acclaimed photographer Mary Ellen Mark. “But there’s a piece of the puzzle missing.” The film’s central question — why was Maier so secretive about her hobby? — may never be answered. But as the film also suggests, that mystery adds another layer of fascination to her keenly observed photos. (1:23) Clay, Shattuck. (Eddy)
The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden Extensive archival footage and home movies (plus one short, narrative film) enhance this absorbing doc from San Francisco-based Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (2005’s Ballets Russes). It tells the tale of a double murder that occurred in the early 1930s on Floreana — the most remote of the already scarcely-populated Galapagos Islands. A top-notch cast (Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen, Josh Radnour) gives voice to the letters and diary entries of the players in this stranger-than-fiction story, which involved an array of Europeans who’d moved away from civilization in search of utopian simplicity — most intriguingly, a maybe-fake Baroness and her two young lovers — and realized too late that paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Goldfine and Geller add further detail to the historic drama by visiting the present-day Galapagos, speaking with residents about the lingering mystery and offering a glimpse of what life on the isolated islands is like today. (2:00) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Eddy)
The Grand Budapest Hotel Is this the first Wes Anderson movie to feature a shootout? It’s definitely the first Anderson flick to include a severed head. That’s not to say The Grand Budapest Hotel, “inspired by” the works of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, represents too much of a shift for the director — his intricate approach to art direction is still very much in place, as are the deadpan line deliveries and a cast stuffed with Anderson regulars. But there’s a slightly more serious vibe here, a welcome change from 2012’s tooth-achingly twee Moonrise Kingdom. Thank Ralph Fiennes’ performance as liberally perfumed concierge extraordinaire M. Gustave, which mixes a shot of melancholy into the whimsy, and newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero, his loyal lobby boy, who provides gravitas despite only being a teenager. (Being played by F. Murray Abraham as an older adult probably helps in that department.) Hotel‘s early 20th century Europe setting proves an ideal canvas for Anderson’s love of detail — the titular creation rivals Stanley Kubrick’s rendering of the Overlook Hotel — and his supporting cast, as always, looks to be enjoying the hell out of being a part of Anderson’s universe, with Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Adrien Brody having particularly oversized fun. Is this the best Wes Anderson movie since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums? Yes. (1:40) Balboa, California, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Eddy)
A Haunted House 2 (1:26) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center.
Heaven is for Real (1:40) Metreon.
Jodorowsky’s Dune A Chilean émigré to Paris, Alejandro Jodorowsky had avant-garde interests that led him from theater and comic book art to film, making his feature debut with 1968’s Fando y Lis. Undaunted by its poor reception, he created El Topo (1970), a blood-soaked mix of spaghetti western, mysticism, and Buñuellian parabolic grotesquerie that became the very first “midnight movie.” After that success, he was given nearly a million dollars to “do what he wanted” with 1973’s similarly out-there The Holy Mountain, which became a big hit in Europe. French producer Michel Seydoux asked Jodorowsky what he’d like to do next. Dune, he said. In many ways it seemed a perfect match of director and material. Yet Dune would be an enormous undertaking in terms of scale, expense, and technical challenges. What moneymen in their right mind would entrust this flamboyant genius/nut job with it? They wouldn’t, as it turned out. So doc Jodorowsky’s Dune is the story of “the greatest film never made,” one that’s brain-exploding enough in description alone. But there’s more than description to go on here, since in 1975 the director and his collaborators created a beautifully detailed volume of storyboards and other preproduction minutiae they hoped would lure Hollywood studios aboard this space phantasmagoria. From this goldmine of material, as well as input from the surviving participants, Pavich is able to reconstruct not just the film’s making and unmaking, but to an extent the film itself — there are animated storyboard sequences here that offer just a partial yet still breathtaking glimpse of what might have been. (1:30) Embarcadero. (Harvey)
The Lunchbox Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a self-possessed housewife and a great cook, whose husband confuses her for another piece of furniture. She tries to arouse his affections with elaborate lunches she makes and sends through the city’s lunchbox delivery service. Like marriage in India, lunchbox delivery has a failure rate of zero, which is what makes aberrations seem like magical occurrences. So when widow Saajan (Irrfan Khan) receives her adoring food, he humbly receives the magical lunches like a revival of the senses. Once Ila realizes her lunchbox is feeding the wrong man she writes a note and Saajan replies — tersely, like a man who hasn’t held a conversation in a decade — and the impossible circumstances lend their exchanges a romance that challenges her emotional fidelity and his retreat from society. She confides her husband is cheating. He confides his sympathy for men of lower castes. It’s a May/December affair if it’s an affair at all — but the chemistry we expect the actors to have in the same room is what fuels our urge to see it; that’s a rare and haunting dynamic. Newcomer Kaur is perfect as Ila, a beauty unmarked by her rigorous distaff; her soft features and exhausted expression lend a richness to the troubles she can’t share with her similarly stoic mother (Lillete Dubey). Everyone is sacrificing something and poverty seeps into every crack, every life, without exception — their inner lives are their richness. (1:44) Albany, Opera Plaza. (Vizcarrondo)
Noah Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic begins with a brief recap of prior Genesis events — creation is detailed a bit more in clever fashion later on — leading up to mankind’s messing up such that God wants to wipe the slate clean and start over. That means getting Noah (Russell Crowe), wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and their three sons and one adopted daughter (Emma Watson) to build an ark that can save them and two of every animal species from the imminent slate-wiping Great Flood. (The rest of humanity, having sinned too much, can just feed the fishes.) They get some help from fallen angels turned into Ray Harryhausen-type giant rock creatures voiced by Nick Nolte and others. There’s an admirable brute force and some startling imagery to this uneven, somber, Iceland-shot tale “inspired” by the Good Book (which, needless to say, has endured more than its share of revisions over the centuries). Purists may quibble over some choices, including the device of turning minor Biblical figure Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) into a royal-stowaway villain, and political conservatives have already squawked a bit over Aronofsky’s not-so-subtle message of eco-consciousness, with Noah being bade to “replenish the Earth” that man has hitherto rendered barren. But for the most part this is a respectable, forceful interpretation that should stir useful discussion amongst believers and non believers alike. Its biggest problem is that after the impressively harrowing flood itself, we’re trapped on the ark dealing with the lesser crises of a pregnancy, a discontented middle son (Logan Lerman), and that stowaway’s plotting — ponderous intrigues that might have been leavened if the director had allowed us to hang out with the animals a little, rather than sedating the whole menagerie for the entire voyage. (2:07) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Oculus Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan) are grown siblings with a horrible shared past: When they were children, their parents (Rory Cochrane, Katee Sankhoff) moved them all into a nice suburban house, decorating it with, among other things, a 300-year-old mirror. But that antique seemed to have an increasingly disturbing effect on dad, then mom too, to ultimately homicidal, offspring-orphaning effect. Over a decade later, Tim is released from a juvenile mental lockup, ready to live a normal life after years of therapy have cleaned him of the supernatural delusions he think landed him there in the first place. Imagine his dismay when Kaylie announces she has spent the meantime researching aforementioned “evil mirror” — which turns out to have had a very gruesome history of mysteriously connected deaths — and painstakingly re-acquiring it. She means to destroy it so it can never wreak havoc, and has set up an elaborate room of camcorders and other equipment in which to “prove” its malevolence first, with Tim her very reluctant helper. Needless to say, this experiment (which he initially goes along with only in order to debunk the whole thing for good) turns out to be a very, very bad idea. The mirror is clever — demonically clever. It can warp time and perspective so our protagonists don’t know whether what they’re experiencing is real or not. Expanding on his 2006 short film (which was made before his excellent, little-seen 2011 horror feature Absentia), Mike Flanagan’s tense, atmospheric movie isn’t quite as scary as you might wish, partly because the villain (the spirit behind the mirror) isn’t particularly well-imagined in generic look or murky motivation. But it is the rare new horror flick that is genuinely intricate and surprising plot-wise — no small thing in the current landscape of endless remakes and rehashes. (1:44) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Harvey)
On My Way Not for nothing too does the title On My Way evoke Going Places (1974): director Emmanuelle Bercot is less interested in exploring Catherine Deneuve’s at-times-chilled hauteur than roughing up, grounding, and blowing fresh country air through that still intimidatingly gorgeous image. Deneuve’s Bettie lost her way long ago — the former beauty queen, who never rose beyond her Miss Brittany status, is in a state of stagnation, working at her seafood restaurant, having affairs with married men, living with her mother, and still sleeping in her girlhood room. One workday mid-lunch hour, she gets in her car and drives, ignoring all her ordinary responsibilities and disappearing down the wormhole of dive bars and back roads. She seems destined to drift until her enraged, equally lost daughter Muriel (Camille) calls in a favor: give her son Charly (Nemo Schiffman) a ride to his paternal grandfather’s. It’s chance to reconnect and correct course, even after Bettie’s money is spent, her restaurant appears doomed, and the adorable, infuriating Charly acts out. The way is clear, however: what could have been a musty, predictable affair, in the style of so many boomer tales in the movie houses these days, is given a crucial infusion of humanity and life, as Bercot keeps an affectionate eye trained on the unglamorous everyday attractions of a French backwater and Deneuve works that ineffable charm that draws all eyes to her onscreen. Her Bettie may have kicked her cigarette habit long ago, but she’s still smokin’ — in every way. (1:53) Embarcadero. (Chun)
Only Lovers Left Alive Jim Jarmusch has subverted genre films before — you don’t have to dig deep to find fierce defenders of 1995 Western Dead Man — but his latest, Only Lovers Left Alive, is poised to be his biggest commercial hit to date. That’s not merely because it’s a vampire film, though this concession to trendiness will certainly work in its favor, as will the casting of high-profile Avengers (2012) star Tom Hiddleston. But this is still a Jarmusch vampire movie, and though it may be more accessible than some of the director’s more existential entries, it’s still wonderfully weird, witty, and — natch — drenched in cool. The opening credits deploy a gothic, blood red font across a night sky — a winking nod to the aesthetics of Hammer classics like Horror of Dracula (1958). Then, the camera begins to rotate, filming a record as it plays, and symbolizing the eternal life of the two figures who’ve entered the frame: gloomy Adam (Hiddleston, rocking a bedhead version of Loki’s dark ‘do), who lurks in a crumbling Detroit mansion, and exuberant Eve (Tilda Swinton, so pale she seems to glow), who dwells amid piles of books in Tangier. These two live apart, partially due to the hassle of traveling when one can’t be in the sun (red-eye flights are a must). Yet they remain entangled in spirit, a phenomenon referenced amid much talk of what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance,” and when at last they reunite, it’s glorious. Unlike those old Hammer films, there’s no stake-wielding Van Helsing type pursuing these creatures of the night; if there’s a villain, it’s actual and emotional vampire Ava (Mia Wasikowska), Eve’s bad-penny sibling, who swoops in for a most unwelcome visit. But Only Lovers Left Alive‘s biggest antagonist is simply the outside world, with its epidemics of dull minds and blood-borne diseases. The delight Jarmusch takes in tweaking the vampire mythos is just as enjoyable as his interest in exploring the agony, ecstasy, and uneventful lulls of immortality. (2:03) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Particle Fever “We are hearing nature talk to us,” a physicist remarks in awe near the end of Particle Fever, Mark Levinson’s intriguing doc about the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson particle. Earlier, another scientist says, “I’ve never heard of a moment like this in [science] history, where an entire field is hinging on a single event.” The event, of course, is the launch of the Large Hardon Collider, the enormous machine that enabled the discovery. Though some interest in physics is probably necessary to enjoy Particle Fever, extensive knowledge of quarks and such is not, since the film uses elegant animation to refresh the basics for anyone whose eyes glazed over during high-school science. But though he offers plenty of context, Levinson wisely focuses his film on a handful of genial eggheads who are involved in the project, either hands-on at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), or watching from afar as the mighty LHC comes to life. Their excitement brings a welcome warmth to the proceedings — and their “fever” becomes contagious. (1:39) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Eddy)
The Raid 2 One need not have seen 2011’s The Raid: Redemption to appreciate this latest collaboration between Welsh director Gareth Evans and Indonesian actor, martial artist, and fight choreographer Iko Uwais — it’s recommended, of course, but the sequel stands alone on its own merits. Overstuffed with gloriously brutal, cleverly choreographed fight scenes, The Raid 2 — sometimes written with the subtitle “Berendal,” which means “thugs” — picks up immediately after the events of the first film. Quick recap of part one: a special-forces team invades an apartment tower controlled by gangsters. Among the cops is idealistic Rama (Uwais). Seemingly bulletproof and fleet of fists and feet, Rama battles his way floor-by-floor, encountering machete-toting heavies and wild-eyed maniacs; he also soon realizes he’s working for a police department that’s as corrupt as the gangster crew. The Raid‘s gritty, unadorned approach resonated with thrillseeking audiences weary of CG overload. A second Raid film was inevitable, especially since Evans — who became interested in Indonesian martial arts, or pencak silat, while working on 2007 doc The Mystic Art of Indonesia — already had its story in mind: Rama goes undercover within a criminal organization, a ploy that necessitates he do a prison stint to gain the trust of a local kingpin. Naturally, not much goes according to plan, and much blood is shed along the way, as multiple power-crazed villains set their sinister plans into motion. With expanded locations and ever-more daring (yet bone-breakingly realistic) fight scenes aplenty — including a brawl inside a moving vehicle, and a muddy, bloody prison-yard riot — The Raid 2 more than delivers. Easily the action film of the year so far, with no contenders likely to topple it in the coming months. (2:19) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
The Railway Man The lackluster title — OK, it’s better than that of director Jonathan Teplitzky’s last movie, 2011’s Burning Man, which confused sad Burners everywhere — masks a sensitive and artful adaptation of Eric Lomax’s book, based on a true story, about an English survivor of WWII atrocities. As Railway Man unfolds, we find Eric (Colin Firth), a stammering, attractive eccentric, oddly obsessed with railway schedules, as he meets his sweet soul mate Patti (Nicole Kidman) in vaguely mid-century England. Their romance, however, takes a steep, downward spiral when Patti discovers her new husband’s quirks overlay a deeply damaged spirit, one with scars that never really healed. As Eric grows more isolated, his best friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) reveals some of their experiences as POWs forced to toil on the seemingly impossible-to-build Thai-Burma Railway by Japanese forces. The brutality of the situation comes home when the young Eric (played by Jeremy Irvine of 2011’s War Horse) takes the rap for building a radio and undergoes a period of torture. The horror seems rectifiable when Finlay discovers that the most memorable torturer Nagase (played at various ages by Tanroh Ishida and Hiroyuki Sanada) is still alive and, outrageously, leading tours of the area. Revenge is sweet, as so many other movies looking at this era have told us, but Railway Man strives for a deeper, more difficult message while telling its story with the care and attention to detail that points away from the weedy jungle of a traumatic past — and toward some kind of true north where reconciliation lies. (1:53) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Chun)
Rio 2 (1:41) Four Star, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
That Demon Within Hong Kong action director Dante Lam’s latest resides firmly within his preferred wheelhouse of hyper-stylized cops-and-robbers thriller, though this one’s more ghoulish than previous efforts like 2008’s Beast Stalker. Merciless bandits — identities concealed behind traditional masks — have been causing all kinds of trouble, heisting diamonds, mowing down bystanders, blowing up cars, exchanging mad gunfire with police, etc. After he’s injured in one such battle, sinister Hon (Nick Cheung), aka “the Demon King,” stumbles to the hospital, where cop Dave (Daniel Wu) donates blood to save the man’s life, not realizing he’s just revived HK’s public enemy number one. The gangster is soon back to his violent schemes, and Dave — a withdrawn loner given to sudden rage spirals — starts having spooky hallucinations (or are they memories?) that suggest either the duo has some kind of psychic connection, or that Dave is straight-up losing his mind. Meanwhile, a police inspector everyone calls “Pops” (Lam Kar-wah) becomes obsessed with taking Hon down, with additional tension supplied by crooked cops and infighting among the criminal organization. Does an overwrought, mind-warpingly brutal finale await? Hell yes it does. (1:52) Metreon. (Eddy)
Transcendence Darn those high-tech romantics, hiding out and planning global takeover in their shadowy Berkeley Craftsmen and hippie-dippie leafy grottos. That’s one not-so-great notion emanating from this timely thriller, helmed by a first-time director (and veteran cinematographer) Wally Pfister and writer Jack Paglen. In line with the dreamy, brainy idealism of its protagonists — and the fully loaded promises of artificial intelligence — Transcendence starts with a grand idea teeming with torn-from-the-tech-headlines relevancy, only to spiral off course, seemingly far out of the control of its makers. Ray Kurzweil-like scientist Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is in the midst of refining his work on artificial intelligence when Luddite terrorists shoot him, using a bullet coated with radioactive material, after a lecture on the UC Berkeley campus. That tragedy allows Will and devoted wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) a chance to put his ideas into action and to attempt to preserve that beautiful mind, with the help of friend and kindred researcher Max (Paul Bettany). Yet once his intelligence gets online, out to a Burning Man-like tabula rasa desert, and in the cloud, quite literally, there apparently are no limits in sight. Transcendence‘s stoppers, however, are all too human, including technical flubs that betray its newbie filmmaker’s limitations; script slip-ups that, for instance, highlight a rather dated fear of “Y2K”; and a narrative that ends up reading a bit too much like a technophobic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. (1:59) California, Four Star, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Under the Skin At the moment, Scarlett Johansson is playing a superhero in the world’s top blockbuster. Her concurrent role in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin — the tale of an alien who comes to earth to capture men, but goes rogue once her curiosity about the human world gets the better of her — could not be more different in story or scope. Her character’s camouflage (dark wig, thickly-applied lipstick) was carefully calibrated to make her unrecognizable, since Glazer (2000’s Sexy Beast) filmed the alien’s “pick-up” scenes — in which Johansson’s unnamed character cruises around Glasgow in a nondescript van, prowling for prey — using hidden cameras and real people who had no idea they were interacting with a movie star. The film takes liberties with its source material (Michel Farber’s novel), with “feeding” scenes that are far more abstract than as written in the book, allowing for one of the film’s most striking visual motifs. After the alien seduces a victim, he’s lured into what looks like a run-down house. The setting changes into a dark room that seems to represent an otherworldly void, with composer Mica Levi’s spine-tingling score exponentially enhancing the dread. What happens next? It’s never fully explained, but it doesn’t need to be. When the alien begins to mistakenly believe that her fleshy, temporary form is her own, she abandons her predatory quest — but her ill-advised exploration of humanity leads her into another dark place. A chilling, visceral climax caps one of the most innovative sci-fi movies in recent memory. (1:47) California, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Watermark Daring to touch the hem of — and then surpass — Godfrey Reggio’s trippy-movie-slash-visual-essays (1982’s Koyaanisqatsi, 2013’s Visitors) and their sumptuous visual delights and global expansivenesses, with none of the cheese or sensational aftertaste, Watermark reunites documentarian Jennifer Baichwal and photographer Edward Burtynsky, the latter the subject of her 2006 film, Manufactured Landscapes. Baichwal works directly with Burtynsky, as well as DP Nick de Pencier, as the artist assembles a book on the ways water has been shaped by humans. Using mostly natural sound and an unobtrusive score, she’s able to beautifully translate the sensibility of Burtynsky’s still images by following the photographer as he works, taking to the air and going to ground with succinct interviews that span the globe. We meet scientists studying ice cores drilled in Greenland, Chinese abalone farmers, leather workers in Bangladesh, and denizens on both sides of the US/Mexico border who reminisce about ways of life that have been lost to dams. Even as it continually, indirectly poses questions about humans’ dependence on, desire to control, and uses for water, the movie always reminds us of the presence and majesty of oceans, rivers, and tributaries with indelible images — whether it’s a time-lapse study of the largest arch dam in the world; the glorious mandalas of water drilling sites related to the Ogallala Aquifer; or a shockingly stylized scene of Chinese rice terraces that resembles some lost Oskar Kokoschka woodcut. While striking a relevant note in a drought-stricken California, Watermark reaches a kind of elegant earthbound poetry and leaves one wondering what Baichwal and Burtynsky will grapple with next. (1:31) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Chun)
Le Week-End Director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi first collaborated two decades ago on The Buddha of Suburbia, when the latter was still in the business of being Britain’s brashest multiculti hipster voice. But in the last 10 years they’ve made a habit of slowing down to sketching portraits of older lives — and providing great roles for the nation’s bottomless well of remarkable veteran actors. Here Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent play a pair of English academics trying to re-create their long-ago honeymoon’s magic on an anniversary weekend in Paris. They love each other, but their relationship is thorny and complicated in ways that time has done nothing to smooth over. This beautifully observed duet goes way beyond the usual adorable-old-coot terrain of such stories on screen; it has charm and humor, but these are unpredictable, fully rounded characters, not comforting caricatures. Briefly turning this into a seriocomedy three-way is Most Valuable Berserker Jeff Goldblum as an old friend encountered by chance. It’s not his story, but damned if he doesn’t just about steal the movie anyway. (1:33) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Harvey) *