Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Matt Sussman. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.
SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 19-May 3; most shows $13. Venues: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk.; SF Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; and Sundance Kabuki Cinema, 1881 Post, SF. For additional info, visit www.sffs.org.
*Attenberg Isolated in a seaside Greek hamlet, naive about the ways of the world, and committed to watching her brilliant, terminally ill father slowly ebb away, Marina (Ariane Labed) might be living in a kind of hell from the viewpoint of many of her 20-something peers. But as imagined by writer-director Athina Rachel Tsangari, Marina’s circumscribed life instead teems with small, fascinating moments and weird, awkward instances of intimacy — the kind that add up to a compelling portrait of a coming of age and a kind of arrival of wisdom. About to face a lonely future with the imminent passing of architect dad Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis), Marina works as a driver, tooling around town to the chilled anguish of Suicide, attempting to learn about the facts of life from sexually experienced chum Bella (Evangelia Randou, a ringer for musician Eleanor Friedberger), and sparring playfully with her father. “We built an industrial colony on top of sheep pens and thought we were making a revolution,” he says in one scene, looking out at the water. “I like it. It’s soothing, all this uniformity,” Marina replies. “That’s because deep down you’re an optimistic bourgeois modernist.” “Bonjour, bourgeois.” A ripple is sent through Marina’s insular existence with the arrival of an engineer (Yorgos Lanthimos) — a real candidate for an intimate social experiment. Aligning herself firmly with her protagonist, Tsangari is gifted with a unique voice and has a remarkable eye for a resonant, poetic image. She channels both into a quiet film reminiscent of indies an age away à la Stranger Than Paradise (1984), finding a vein of humanistic hope during end times. (1:35) Presidio. (Chun)
Chimpanzee Just in time for Earth Day, Tim Allen narrates this kid-friendly, Jane Goodall-approved nature doc. (2:00) Shattuck.
4:44 Last Day on Earth Abel Ferrara’s latest imagines what the end of the world might be like for a volatile Lower East Side couple — he’s an ex-junkie (Ferrara favorite Willem Dafoe), she’s a young painter (Shanyn Leigh, Ferrara’s real-life companion). The film’s title refers to the predicted instant that an environmental catastrophe will completely dissolve the ozone layer, but 4:44 is mostly set indoors, specifically within the headspace of Dafoe’s character. It’s a gritty film that veers between self-indulgence and stuff that honestly seems pretty practical (sure, there’s a lot of Skyping, but if the world were ending, wouldn’t you?); as far as inward-looking disaster movies go, anyone planning an apocalypse film festival could double-bill 4:44 nicely with 2011’s Melancholia. (1:25) Balboa. (Eddy)
Letters From the Big Man Don’t fear the yeti. Filmmaker Christopher Munch (1991’s The Hours and Times) gets back to nature — and a more benevolent look at the sasquatch — with the engrossing Letters From the Big Man. Sarah (Lily Rabe, Jill Clayburgh’s daughter, perhaps best known for her ghostly American Horror Story flapper) is a naturalist and artist determined to get off trail, immerse herself in her postfire wilderness studies in southwestern Oregon, and leave the hassles and heartbreak of the human world behind. She’s far from alone, however, as she senses she’s being tailed — even after she confronts another solo hiker, Sean (Jason Butler Harner), who seems to share her deep love and knowledge of the wild. What emerges — as Sarah lives off the grid, sketches soulful-eyed Bigfoots, and powers her laptop with her bike — is a love story that might bear a remote resemblance to Beauty and the Beast if Munch weren’t so completely straight-faced in his belief in the big guys. The question, the mystery, isn’t whether or not sasquatch exist, according to the filmmaker, who paces his tale as if it were as big and encompassing as an ancient forest — rather, whether we can hold onto a belief in nature and its unknowables and coexist. (1:44) Roxie, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
The Lucky One Iraq War veteran Logan (Zac Efron) beats PTSD by walking with his German shepherd from Colorado to the Louisiana bayou, in search of a golden-haired angel in cutoff blue jean short shorts (Taylor Schilling). His stated (in soporific voice-over) aim is to meet and thank the angel, who he believes repeatedly saved his life in the combat zone after he plucked her photograph from the rubble of a bombed-out building. The snapshot offers little in the way of biographical information, but luckily, there are only 300 million people in the United States, and he manages to find her after walking around for a bit. The angel, or Beth, as her friends call her, runs a dog kennel with her grandmother (Blythe Danner) while raising her noxiously Hollywood-precocious eight-year-old son (Riley Thomas Stewart) and fending off the regressive advances of her semi-villainous ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson). Logan’s task seems simple enough, and he’s certainly walked a fair distance to complete it, but rather than expressing his gratitude, he becomes tongue-tied in the face of Beth’s backlit blondness and instead fills out a job application and proceeds to soulfully but manfully burrow his way into her affections and short shorts. Being an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, The Lucky One requires some forceful yanking on the heartstrings, but director Scott Hicks (1999’s Snow Falling on Cedars, 1996’s Shine) is hobbled in this task by, among other things, Efron’s wooden, uninvolved delivery of queasy speeches about traveling through darkness to find the light and how many times a day a given woman should be kissed. (1:41) Marina, Shattuck. (Rapoport)
*Marley Oscar-winning documentarian Kevin Macdonald (1999’s One Day in September; he also directed Best Actor Forest Whitaker in 2006’s The Last King of Scotland) takes on the iconic Bob Marley, using extensive interviews — both contemporary (with Marley friends and family) and archival (with the musician himself) — and performance and off-the-cuff footage. The end result is a compelling (even if you’re not a fan) portrait of a man who became a global sensation despite being born into extreme poverty, and making music in a style that most people had never heard outside of Jamaica. The film dips into Marley’s Rastafari beliefs (no shocker this movie is being released on 4/20), his personal life (11 children from seven different mothers), his impact on Jamaica’s volatile politics, his struggles with racism, and, most importantly, his remarkable career — achieved via a combination of talent and boldness, and cut short by his untimely death at age 36. (2:25) California, Embarcadero. (Eddy)
*My Way South Korean director Kang Je-gyu (2004 Korean War epic Taegukgi) returns to the battlefield for another bombastic action flick with a very complicated bro-down at its center. This time, it’s World War II, and the head-butting protagonists are not actually brothers, but lifelong frenemies: Japanese Tatsuo (mega-idol Joe Odagiri) and South Korean Joon-sik (Taegukgi star Jang Dong-gun). They meet in occupied South Korea, where class and country lines amp up their frequent confrontations as competitive long-distance runners. When WW2 breaks out, Joon-sik is forced to join the Japanese army, with guess who ordering him around; during My Way‘s meaty war-is-hell section, the men’s relationship endures a Soviet labor camp, knife (and fist) fights, blizzards, gunshot wounds, deafness, countless explosions (including lots of exploding bodies), sprints on the beach, bellowing arguments, runaway tanks, grenades, Nazis, D-Day, and moments of heroism, cowardice, insanity, weepy emotion, and dumb luck. Somehow, Kang keeps the pace between “frenetic” and “superfly TNT” for a solid two hours — the man may not care much for subtlety, but My Way is nothing if not insanely entertaining. (1:59) SF Center. (Eddy)
*Surviving Progress The very definition of a movie that most needs to be seen by the people least likely to see it — i.e. most folk the right of the political dial — this excellent documentary manages to interweave virtually all the leading planet threatening woes of our era in a succinct and entertaining fashion. Its thesis is author Ronald Wright’s notion that “We’re at the end of a failed experiment.” It’s been around a while, so you’ve doubtless heard of it: the Industrial Revolution. That shift from small-scale, self-sustaining agrarian communities to much larger ones dependent on mass production and import-export created pockets of enormous First World wealth and comfort. But the populations that benefitted used up resources wildly out of proportion to their number; now countries like China and India want their share of the industrialized pie, just as we’ve realized those resources might actually run out. Cue summaries of the harm global warming, overpopulation, consumption, soil depletion, “market fundamentalism,” etc. have done and will do, as duly noted here by a roster of A-list experts including Stephen Hawking and Jane Goodall. (The latter vividly contextualizes just how out of whack humanity has gone by opining that ours is the only species capable of terminating its future by destroying its own habitat.) While this may sound like a bitter pill to swallow, not to mention one you’ve swallowed many times before, Surviving Progress colorfully weaves together a vast assortment of audiovisual materials as well as information, to highly watchable results. Do the earth a favor: see this movie, and drag a skeptic you know along. (1:26) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Think Like a Man Based on Steve Harvey’s best-seller Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, this ensemble rom-com stars Romany Malco, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Hart, and Wendy Williams. (2:02) Shattuck.
American Reunion Care for yet another helping of all-American horn dogs? The original American Pie (1999) was a sweet-tempered, albeit ante-upping tribute to ’80s teen sex comedies, so the latest in the franchise, the older, somewhat wiser American Reunion, is obliged to squeeze a dab more of the ole life force outta the class of ’99, in honor of their, em, 13th high school reunion. These days Jim (Jason Biggs) is attempting to fluff up a flagging postbaby sex life with wife Michelle (Alyson Hannigan). Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) yearns to get in touch with his buried bad boy. Oz (Chris Klein) has become a sportscaster-reality competition star and is seemingly lost without old girlfriend Heather (Mena Suvari). Stifler (Seann William Scott) is as piggishly incorrigible as ever—even as a low-hanging investment flunky, while scarred, adventuring biker Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) seems to have become “the most interesting man in the world.” How much trouble can the gang get into? About as much of a mess as the Hangover guys, which one can’t stop thinking about when Jim wakes up on the kitchen floor with tile burns and zero pants. Half the cast—which includes Tara Reid, John “MILF!” Cho, Natasha Lyonne, and Shannon Elizabeth — seems to have stirred themselves from their own personal career hangovers, interludes of insanity, and plastic surgery disasters (with a few, like Cho and Thomas, firmly moving on), and others such as parental figures Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge continuing to show the kids how it’s done. Still, the farcical American franchise’s essentially benign, healthy attitude toward good, dirty fun reads as slightly refreshing after chaste teen fare like the Twilight and High School Musical flicks. Even with the obligatory moment of full-frontal penis smooshing. (1:53) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
Bad Fever Dustin Guy Defa’s tiny, odd character study centers on one Eddie Cooperschmidt (Kentucker Audley, a director himself), who looks like Mr. February 1992 on a calendar of sensitive grunge band hunks, but acts more like Homer Simpson — the Nathanael West version, not Matt Groening’s. He still lives with mom (unsympathetically played by Annette Wright), doesn’t or can’t hold a job, has no friends, fumbles through an oddly formal vocabulary, and carries himself like a 13-year-old who’s just had all his growth spurts in one go. In other words, he’s the sort of character whose precise status — just socially inept, or developmentally disabled, or both? — is a mystery the film doesn’t bother clarifying. Nor do we find out what the story is behind Irene (Eleonore Hendricks), his hard-bitten antithesis, who seems to be staying in an empty school classroom as some sort of weird art experiment rather than because she’s “homeless,” and who manipulates the hapless Eddie into videotaped situations that are perverse but stop short of pornography. (Or rather he — almost certainly a virgin — stops short there.) As if more goofy pathos were needed here, Eddie’s dream is to be a stand-up comedian, a career he is about as well equipped for as brain surgeon. When Eddie plays his big first (and probably last) comedy gig, the onscreen audience appears to be wondering the same thing you might: is this just sad, or some kind of Andy Kaufman-type performance piece? Painstakingly low-key and realistic in execution, Bad Fever‘s success will depend on whether you can swallow it conceptually — these characters are surrounded by a real world, but they can seem unreal themselves. (1:24) Roxie. (Harvey)
*The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye Once dubbed “the wickedest man in the world”, shock artist and cofounder of seminal industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has softened somewhat with time. Her plunge into pandrogyny, an ongoing artistic and personal process embarked upon with the late Jacqueline “Lady Jaye” Breyer P-Orridge, is an attempt to create a perfectly balanced body, incorporating the characteristics of both. As artists, the two were committed to documenting their process, but as marriage partners, much of their footage is sweetly innocuous home video footage: Genesis cooking in the kitchen decked out in a little black dress, Lady Jaye setting out napkins at a backyard bar-b-que or helping to dig through Genesis’ archives of COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle “ephemera,” the two wrapped in bandages after getting matching nose jobs. “I just want to be remembered as one of the great love affairs of all time,” Jaye tells Genesis. This whimsical documentary by Marie Losier will go a long way toward making that wish a reality. (1:12) Roxie. (Nicole Gluckstern)
Blue Like Jazz Tap or bottled water, rainy Portland, Ore. or dry Texas — how does a sincere, young Bible-thumping Baptist reconcile the two — a fish out of water nonetheless determined to swim upstream and make his way to adulthood. Based on the Donald Miller memoir-of-sorts, Blue Like Jazz may look like a Nicholas Sparks romantic opus from afar, but in the care of director-cowriter Steve Taylor, this tale of a young man coming to terms with the wider, wilder world apart from the strict confines of lock-in abstinence groups snatches a bit of the grace John Coltrane tapped in A Love Supreme. The earnest Donald (True Blood‘s Marshall Allman) is all set to go to his nearby Bible Belt Christian university until his bohemian jazz-loving dad pulls favors and enrolls him at free-form Reed College. Donald will have to closet his holy-roller background if, as his new lesbian pal (Tania Raymonde) cautions, he “plans on ever making friends or sharing a bowl or seeing human vagina without a credit card.” Donald finds his way back to meaning and spirit — and the fun is getting there, as he joins a civil-disobedience-club-for-credit (Malaysian cocktail tennis was canceled) and falls for passionate activist Penny (Claire Holt). Allman, who also co-executive produced, emerges as a thoughtful actor who can carry a potentially maudlin and ultimately lovable collegiate coming-of-age story on his own. (1:47) 1000 Van Ness, Opera Plaza. (Chun)
*Bully Anyone who’s ever been a kid on the wrong side of a bully — or was sensitive and observant enough not to avert his or her eyes — will be puzzling over the MPAA’s R rating of this doc, for profanity. It’s absurd when the gory violence on network and basic cable TV stops just short of cutting characters’ faces off, as one blurred-out bus bully threatens to do to the sweet, hapless Alex, dubbed “Fish Face” by the kids who ostracize him and make his life hell on the bus. It’s a jungle out there, as we all know — but it’s that real, visceral footage of the verbal (and physical) abuse bullied children deal with daily that brings it all home. Filmmaker Lee Hirsch goes above and beyond in trying to capture all dimensions of his subject: the terrorized bullied, the ineffectual school administrators, the desperate parents. There’s Kelby, the gay girl who was forced off her beloved basketball team after she came out, and Ja’Maya, who took drastic measures to fend off her tormenters — as well as the specters of those who turned to suicide as a way out. Hirsch is clearly more of an activist than a fly on the wall: he steps in at one point to help and obviously makes an uplifting effort to focus on what we can do to battle bullying. Nevertheless, at the risk of coming off like the Iowa assistant principal who’s catching criticism for telling one victim that he was just as bad as the bully that he refused to shake hands with, one feels compelled to note one prominent component that’s missing here: the bullies themselves, their stories, and the reasons why they’re so cruel — admittedly a daunting, possibly libelous task. (1:35) Metreon, Piedmont, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
*The Cabin in the Woods If the name “Joss Whedon” doesn’t provide all the reason you need to bum-rush The Cabin in the Woods (Whedon produced and co-wrote, with director and frequent collaborator Drew Goddard), well, there’s not much more that can be revealed without ruining the entire movie. In a very, very small nutshell, it’s about a group of college kids (including Chris “Thor” Hemsworth) whose weekend jaunt to a rural cabin goes horribly awry, as such weekend jaunts tend to do in horror movies (the Texas Chainsaw and Evil Dead movies are heavily referenced). But this is no ordinary nightmare — its peculiarities are cleverly, carefully revealed, and the movie’s inside-out takedown of scary movies produces some very unexpected (and delightfully blood-gushing) twists and turns. Plus: the always-awesome Richard Jenkins, and in-jokes galore for genre fans. (1:35) California, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Eddy)
*Casa de mi Padre Will Ferrell’s latest challenge in a long line of actorly exercises and comic gestures — from his long list of comedies probing the last gasps of American masculinity to serious forays like Stranger Than Fiction (2006) and Everything Must Go (2010) — is almost entirely Spanish-language telenovela-burrito Western spoof Casa de mi Padre. Here Ferrell tackles an almost entirely Spanish script (with only meager, long-ago high school and college language courses under his belt) alongside Mexican natives Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna and telenovela veteran Genesis Rodriguez. This clever, intriguing, occasionally very funny, yet not altogether successful endeavor, directed by Matt Piedmont and written by Andrew Steele, sprang from Ferrell’s noggin. Ferrell is nice guy Armando, content to stay at home at the ranch, hang with his buddies, and be dismissed by his father (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) as a dolt. The arrival of his sleazy bro Raul (Luna) and Raul’s fiancée Sonia (Rodriguez) change everything, bringing killer narco Onza (Bernal) into the family’s life and sparking some hilariously klutzy entanglements between Armando and Sonia. All of this leads to almost zero improvisation on Ferrell’s part and plenty of meta, Machete-like spoofs on low-budget fare, from Sergio Leone to Alejandro Jodorowsky. Casa punctures padre-informed transmissions of Latin machismo, but it equally ridicules the idea of a gringo actor riding in and superimposing himself, badly or otherwise, over another country’s culture. (1:25) Four Star. (Chun)
*Damsels in Distress Whit Stillman lives! The eternally preppy writer-director (1990’s Metropolitan; 1994’s Barcelona; 1998’s The Last Days of Disco), whose dialogue-laden scripts have earned him the not-inaccurate descriptor of “the WASP Woody Allen,” emerges with this popped-collar take on girl-clique movies like Mean Girls (2004), Clueless (1995), and even Heathers (1988). At East Coast liberal-arts college Seven Oaks (“the last of the Select Seven to go co-ed”), frat guys are so dumb they don’t know the names of all the colors; the school newspaper is called the Daily Complainer; and a group of girls, lead by know-it-all Violet (Greta Gerwig), are determined to lift student morale using unconventional methods (tap dancing is one of them). After she’s scooped into this strange orbit, transfer student (Analeigh Tipton) can’t quite believe Violet and her friends are for real. They’re not, of course — they’re carefully crafted Stillman creations, which renders this very funny take on college life a completely unique experience. Did I mention the musical numbers? (1:38) SF Center. (Eddy)
*The Deep Blue Sea Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, filmmaker Terence Davies, much like his heroine, chooses a mutable, fluid sensuality, turning his source material, Terence Rattigan’s acclaimed mid-century play, into a melodrama that catches you in its tide and refuses to let go. At the opening of this sumptuous portrait of a privileged English woman who gives up everything for love, Hester (Rachel Weisz) goes through the methodical motions of ending it all: she writes a suicide note, carefully stuffs towels beneath the door, takes a dozen pills, turns on the gas, and lies down to wait for death to overtake her. Via memories drifting through her fading consciousness, Davies lets us in on scattered, salient details in her back story: her severely damped-down, staid marriage to a high court judge, Sir William (Simon Russel Beale), her attraction and erotic awakening in the hands of charming former RF pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), her separation, and her ultimate discovery that her love can never be matched, as she hazards class inequities and ironclad gender roles. “This is a tragedy,” Sir William says, at one point. But, as Hester, a model of integrity, corrects him, “Tragedy is too big a word. Sad, perhaps.” Similarly, Sea is a beautiful downer, but Davies never loses sight of a larger post-war picture, even while he pauses for his archetypal interludes of song, near-still images, and luxuriously slow tracking shots. With cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, he does a remarkable job of washing post-war London with spots of golden light and creating claustrophobic interiors — creating an emotionally resonant space reminiscent of the work of Wong Kar-wai and Christopher Doyle. At the center, providing the necessary gravitas (much like Julianne Moore in 2002’s Far From Heaven), is Weisz, giving the viewer a reason to believe in this small but reverberant story, and offering yet another reason for attention during the next awards season. (1:38) Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
Detention The latest from A-list music video director turned B-movie helmer Joseph Kahn (2004’s Torque) realllllly wants to be a cult classic. Not sure that’s a certainty, but midnight would definitely be the appropriate hour to view this teen-slasher parody that also enfolds body-swapping, time travel, out-of-control parties, stuffed bears, accidental YouTube porn, unrequited love, the dreaded Dane Cook, and cinema’s most sledgehammer-heavy 1990s nostalgia to date — despite the fact that Detention‘s central homage is to The Breakfast Club, which came out in 1985. Nominally grounding the film’s garish look, broad humor, and breakneck pace are the charms of young leads Shanley Caswell (as klutzy tomboy Riley) and Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson (as a Road House-worshiping skater), who displays questionable if admirable show biz aspirations by serving as one of Detention‘s executive producers. He was, after all, born in 1992, which in Detention‘s estimation was “like, the coolest year ever!” (1:30) Metreon. (Eddy)
Footnote (1:45) Albany, Clay.
*Friends With Kids Jennifer Westfeldt scans Hollywood’s romantic comedy landscape for signs of intelligent life and, finding it to be a barren place possibly recovering from a nuclear holocaust, writes, directs, and stars in this follow-up to 2001’s Kissing Jessica Stein, which she co-wrote and starred in. Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) are upper-thirtysomething New Yorkers with two decades of friendship behind them. He calls her “doll.” They have whispered phone conversations at four in the morning while their insignificant others lie slumbering beside them on the verge of getting dumped. And after a night spent witnessing the tragic toll that procreation has taken on the marriages of their four closest friends — Bridesmaids (2011) reunion party Leslie (Maya Rudolph), Alex (Chris O’Dowd), Missy (Kristen Wiig), and Ben (Jon Hamm), the latter two, surprisingly and less surprisingly, providing some of the film’s darkest moments — Jason proposes that they raise a child together platonically, thereby giving any external romantic relationships a fighting chance of survival. In no time, they’ve worked out the kinks to their satisfaction, insulted and horrified their friends, and awkwardly made a bouncing baby boy. The arrival of significant others (Edward Burns and Megan Fox) signals the second phase of the experiment. Some viewers will be invested in latent sparks of romance between the central pair, others in the success of an alternative family arrangement; one of these demographics is destined for disappointment. Until then, however, both groups and any viewers unwilling to submit to this reductive binary will be treated to a funny, witty, well crafted depiction of two people’s attempts to preserve life as they know it while redrawing the parameters of parenthood. (1:40) SF Center. (Rapoport)
*House of Pleasures Set in a fin de siècle French brothel, Bertrand Bonello’s lushly rendered drama is challenging and frequently unpleasant. Bonello sees the beauty and allure of his subjects, the many miserable women of this maison close, but rarely sinks to sympathy for their selfish and sometimes sadistic clients. Bound as they are by their debts to their Madame, the prostitutes are essentially slaves, held to strict and humiliating standards. All they have is each other, and the movie’s few emotional bright spots come from this connection. The filmmaking is wily and nouvelle vague-ish, featuring anachronistic music and inventive split-screen sequences. Additionally, there is a spidery complexity to the film’s chronology, wherein certain scenes repeat to reveal new contexts. This unstuck sense of newness is perhaps didactic — this could and does happen now as well as then — but it also serves to make an already compelling ensemble piece even richer and more engaging. (2:02) SF Film Society Cinema. (Sam Stander)
The Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a teenager living in a totalitarian state whose 12 impoverished districts, as retribution for an earlier uprising, must pay tribute to the so-called Capitol every year, sacrificing one boy and one girl each to the Hunger Games. A battle royal set in a perilous arena and broadcast live to the Capitol as gripping diversion and to the districts as sadistic propaganda, the Hunger Games are, depending on your viewpoint, a “pageant of honor, courage, and sacrifice” or a brutal, pointless bloodbath involving children as young as 12. When her little sister’s name comes up in the annual lottery, Katniss volunteers to take her place and is joined by a boy named Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), with whom she shares an old, unspoken bond. Tasked with translating to the screen the first installment of Suzanne Collins’s rabidly admired trilogy, writer-director Gary Ross (2003’s Seabiscuit, 1998’s Pleasantville) telescopes the book’s drawn-out, dread-filled tale into a manageable two-plus-hour entertainment, making great (and horrifying) use of the original work’s action, but losing a good deal of the narrative detail and emotional force. Elizabeth Banks is comic and unrecognizable as Effie Trinket, the two tributes’ chaperone; Lenny Kravitz gives a blank, flattened reading as their stylist, Cinna; and Donald Sutherland is sufficiently creepy and bloodless as the country’s leader, President Snow. More exceptionally cast are Woody Harrelson as Katniss and Peeta’s surly, alcoholic mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, and Stanley Tucci as games emcee Caesar Flickerman, flashing a bank of gleaming teeth at each contestant as he probes their dire circumstances with the oily superficiality of a talk show host. (2:22) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
*The Hunter Shot and set during Iran’s contentious 2009 Presidential campaign, The Hunter starts as a Kafka-esque portrait of quiet desperation in a cold, empty Tehran, then turns into a sort of existential thriller. The precise message may be ambiguous, but it’s no surprise this two-year-old feature has so far played nearly everywhere but Iran itself. Ali (filmmaker Rafi Pitts) is released from prison after some years, his precise crime never revealed. Told that with his record he can’t expect to get a day shift on his job as security guard at an automotive plant, he keeps hours at odds with his working wife Sara (Mitra Haijar) and six-year-old daughter Saba (Saba Yaghoobi). Still, they try to spend as much time together as possible, until one day Ali returns to find them uncharacteristically gone all day. After getting the bureaucratic runaround he’s finally informed by police that something tragic has occurred; one loved one is dead, the other missing. When his thin remaining hope is dashed, with police notably useless in preventing that grim additional news, Ali snaps — think Peter Bogdanovich’s 1968 Targets. He’s soon in custody, albeit in that of two bickering officers who get them all lost in the countryside. Pitts, a long-ago child performer cast here only when the actor originally hired had to be replaced, makes Ali seem pinched from the inside out, as if in permanent recoil from past and anticipated abuse. This thin, hunched frame, vulnerable big ears, and hooded eyes — the goofily oversized cap he wears at work seems a deliberate affront — seems so fixed an expression of unhappiness that when he flashes a great smile, for a moment you might think it must be someone else. He’s an everyman who only grows more shrunken once the film physically opens up into a natural world no less hostile for being beautiful. (1:32) Roxie. (Harvey)
*The Island President The titular figure is Mohamed Nasheed, recently ousted (by allies of the decades long dictator he’d replaced) chief executive of the Republic of Maldives — a nation of 26 small islands in the Indian Ocean. Jon Shenk’s engaging documentary chronicles his efforts up to and through the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit to gather greater international commitment to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. This is hardly do-gooderism, a bid for eco-tourism, or politics as usual: scarcely above sea level, with nary a hill, the Maldives will simply cease to exist soon if waters continue to rise at global warming’s current pace. (“It won’t be any good to have a democracy if we don’t have a country,” he half-jokes at one point.) Nasheed is tireless, unjaded, delightful, and willing to do anything, at one point hosting “the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting” (with oxygen tanks, natch) as a publicity stunt. A cash-strapped nation despite its surfeit of wealthy vacationers, it’s spending money that could go to education and health services on the pathetic stalling device of sandwalls instead. But do bigger powers — notably China, India and the U.S. — care enough about this bit-part player on the world stage to change their energy-use and economic habits accordingly? (A hint: If you’ve been mulling a Maldivian holiday, take it now.) Somewhat incongruous, but an additional sales point nonetheless: practically all the film’s incidental music consists of pre-existing tracks by Radiohead. (1:51) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
*Jeff, Who Lives at Home The failure-to-launch concept will always thrive whenever and wherever economies flail, kids crumble beneath family trauma, and the seduction of moving back home to live for free with the parental units overcomes the draw of adulthood and individuation. Nevertheless brotherly writing and directing team Jay and Mark Duplass infuse a fresh, generous-minded sweetness in this familiar narrative arc, mainly by empathetically following those surrounding, and maybe enabling, the stay-at-home. Spurred by a deep appreciation of Signs (2002) and plentiful bong hits, Jeff (Jason Segel) decides to go with the signals that the universe throws at him: a mysterious phone call for a Kevin leads him to stalk a kid wearing a jersey with that name and jump a candy delivery truck. This despite the frantic urging of his mother (Susan Sarandon), who has set the bar low and simply wants Jeff to repair a shutter for her birthday, and the bad influence of brother Pat (Ed Helms), a striving jerk who compensates for his insecurities by buying a Porsche and taking business meetings at Hooters. We never quite find out what triggered Jeff’s dormancy and Pat’s prickishness — two opposing responses to some unspecified psychic wound — yet by Jeff, Who Lives at Home‘s close, it doesn’t really matter. The Duplass brothers convince you to go along for the ride, much like Jeff’s blessed fool, and accept the ultimately feel-good, humanist message of this kind-hearted take on human failings. (1:22) SF Center. (Chun)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi Celebrity-chef culture has surely reached some kind of zeitgeist, what with the omnipresence of Top Chef and other cooking-themed shows, and the headlines-making power of people like Paula Deen (diabetes) and Mario Batali (sued for ripping off his wait staff). Unconcerned with the trappings of fame — you’ll never see him driving a Guy Fieri-style garish sports car — is Jiro Ono, 85-year-old proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a tiny, world-renowned sushi restaurant tucked into Tokyo’s Ginza station. Jiro, a highly-disciplined perfectionist who believes in simple, yet flavorful food, has devoted his entire life to the pursuit of “deliciousness” — to the point of sushi invading his dreams, as the title of David Gelb’s reverential documentary suggests. But Jiro Dreams of Sushi goes deeper than food-prep porn (though, indeed, there’s plenty of that); it also examines the existential conflicts faced by Jiro’s two middle-aged sons. Both were strongly encouraged to enter the family business — and in the intervening years, have had to accept the soul-crushing fact that no matter how good their sushi is, it’ll never be seen as exceeding the creations of their legendary father. (1:21) Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
*The Kid with a Bike Slippery as an eel, Cyril (Thomas Doret) is the bane of authorities as he tries to run away at any opportunity from school and a youth home — being convinced that the whole adult world is conspiring to keep his father away from him. During one such chase he literally runs into hair-salon proprietor Samantha (Cécile De France), who proves willing to host him on weekends away from his public facility, and is a patient, steadying influence despite his still somewhat exasperating behavior. It’s she who orchestrates a meeting with his dad (Jerémié Renier, who played the child in the Dardennes’ 1996 breakthrough La Promesse), so Cyril can confront the hard fact that his pa not only can’t take care of him, he doesn’t much want to. Still looking for some kind of older male approval, Cyril falls too easily under the sway of Wes (Egon Di Mateo), a teenage thug whom everyone in Samantha’s neighborhood knows is bad news. This latest neorealist-style drama from Belgium’s Dardenne Brothers treads on very familiar ground for them, both in themes and terse execution. It’s well-acted, potent stuff, if less resonant in sum impact than their best work. (1:27) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
*The Lady Luc Besson directs Michelle Yeoh — but The Lady is about as far from flashy action heroics as humanly possible. Instead, it’s a reverent, emotion-packed biopic of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, a national hero in Burma (Myanmar) for her work against the country’s oppressive military regime. But don’t expect a year-by-year exploration of Suu’s every accomplishment; instead, the film focuses on the relationship between Suu and her British husband, Michael Aris (David Thewlis). When Michael discovers he’s dying of cancer, he’s repeatedly denied visas to visit his wife — a cruel knife-twist by a government that assures Suu that if she leaves Burma to visit him, they’ll never allow her to return. Heartbreaking stuff, elegantly channeled by Thewlis and especially Yeoh, who conveys Suu’s incredible strength despite her alarmingly frail appearance. The real Iron Lady, right here. (2:07) Bridge, Shattuck. (Eddy)
L!fe Happens Ah, another movie in the Juno-Knocked Up continuum of “Unplanned and totally ill-advised pregnancy? Welp, guess I’m having a baby!” We never know if a “shmishmortion” occurs to Kim (Krysten Ritter), because she has unprotected sex in the first scene and the next scene is “one year later,” with infant in tow. The wee babe’s dad, a surfer with neck tattoos, is out of the picture; Kim makes do with her job as a dog walker (Kristen Johnston plays her kid-hating, cheesy-diva boss) and the good graces of her roommates, sardonic budding self-help guru Deena (Kate Bosworth) and cheerful Laura (Rachel Bilson), whose only defining characteristic is that she’s a virgin (omg, the irony). As directed by Kat Coira (who co-wrote with Ritter), L!fe Happens lurches toward Hollywood conventionality by pairing Kim with a hunky guy (Geoff Stults) who doesn’t realize she’s a MILF. Fortunately, that storyline is frequently overshadowed — seriously, they might as well have named the baby “Plot Device” or “Conflict Generator” — by the remarkably realistic I-love-you-but-sometimes-I-want-to-kill-you relationship between BFFs Kim and Deena, which forms the film’s true emotional core. +100 for casting Weeds‘ Justin Kirk as an ascot-wearing weirdo who woos the icy Deena, with (not-so) surprising results. (1:40) 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Lockout Just when you thought Luc Besson was turning over a new, serious-minded leaf with Aung San Suu Kyi biopic The Lady, Lockout arrives to remind you that this is the dude whose earliest efforts (1990’s La Femme Nikita, 1997’s The Fifth Element) have since been subsumed beneath piles of dispose-o-flicks that resemble outtakes from the Transporter movies (which he produced, natch). That’s not to say there aren’t certain pleasures to be found in tossed-off action flicks; Lockout, which inexplicably needed two directors (James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, who co-wrote with Besson), is enjoyable enough in the moment, in addition to being completely, consistently ludicrous throughout. Guy Pearce plays the wisecracking Snow, a wrongfully-convicted government agent who’s about to suffer the Punishment of the Future: being sedated and then blasted to space prison for 30 years. That is, until the First Daughter (Maggie Grace) finds herself trapped aboard the facility when a riot breaks out. Naturally, reluctant rescuer Snow is chosen for prison-break-in-reverse duties. The rest goes like this: Boom! Quip! Boom! Quip! Lockout purports to be from an “original idea” by exec producer Besson, a bold claim considering the movie is more or less Con Air (1997) pasted over the Die Hard series and John Carpenter’s Escape movies. (1:35) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Mirror Mirror In this glittery, moderately girl-powery adaptation of the Snow White tale (a comic foil of sorts to this summer’s gloomier-looking Snow White and the Huntsman), Julia Roberts takes her turn as stepmom, to an earnest little ingenue (Lily Collins) whose kingly father (Sean Bean) is presumed dead and whose rather-teeny-looking kingdom is collapsing under the weight of fiscal ruin and a thick stratum of snow. Into this sorry realm rides a chiseled beefcake named Prince Alcott (Arnie Hammer), who hails from prosperous Valencia, falls for Snow White, and draws the attentions of the Queen (Roberts) from both a strategic and a libidinal standpoint. Soon enough, Snow White (Snow to her friends) is narrowly avoiding execution at the hands of the Queen’s sycophantic courtier-henchman (Nathan Lane), rustling up breakfast for a thieving band of stilt-walking dwarves, and engaging in sylvan hijinks preparatory to deposing her stepmother and bringing light and warmth and birdsong and perennials back into fashion. Director Tarsem Singh (2000’s The Cell, 2011’s Immortals) stages the film’s royal pageantry with a bright artistry, and Roberts holds court with vicious, amoral relish as she senses her powers of persuasion slipping relentlessly from her grasp. Carefully catering to tween-and-under tastes as well as those of their chaperones, the comedy comes in various breadths, and there’s meta-humor in the sight of Roberts passing the pretty woman torch, though Collins seems blandly unprepared to wield her power wisely or interestingly. Consider vacating your seats before the extraneous Bollywood-style song-and-dance number that accompanies the closing credits. (1:46) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Rapoport)
*Monsieur Lazhar When their beloved but troubled teacher hangs herself in the classroom — not a thoughtful choice of location, but then we never really discover her motives — traumatized Montreal sixth-graders get Bachir Lazhar (Fellag), a middle-aged Algerian émigré whose contrastingly rather strict, old-fashioned methods prove surprisingly useful at helping them past their trauma. He quickly becomes the crush object of studious Alice (Sophie Nelisse), whose single mother is a pilot too often away, while troublemaker Simon (Emilien Neron) acts out his own domestic and other issues at school. Lazhar has his own secrets as well — for one thing, we see that he’s still petitioning for permanent asylum in Canada, contradicting what he told the principal upon being hired — and while his emotions are more tightly wrapped, circumstances will eventually force all truths out. This very likable drama about adults and children from Quebec writer-director Philippe Falardeau doesn’t quite have the heft and resonance to rate among the truly great narrative films about education (like Laurent Cantet’s recent French The Class). But it comes close enough, gracefully touching on numerous other issues while effectively keeping focus on how a good teacher can shape young lives in ways as incalculable as they are important. (1:34) Albany, Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
People v. The State of Illusion Writer-producer-star Austin Vickers’ slice of self-help cinema is a motivational lecture illustrated by a lot of infomercial-type imagery, plus a narrative strand: when a stressed-out yuppie single dad’s carelessness results in a traffic death, he’s sent to prison. Naturally Aaron (played by J.B. Tuttle) hate, hate, hates it there, until the world’s most philosophically advanced janitor (Michael McCormick) gradually gets him to understand that the real “prison” is his mind — freedom requires only an “awareness shift.” The larger film, with Vickers addressing us directly and various experts chipping in, furthers that notion to suggest even cellular science supports the notion that reality is a matter of perception — and thus the roadblocks and limitations that gum us up on life’s paths (relationships, income, self-doubt, et al.) can be overcome if one believes so and acts accordingly. This elaborate pep talk isn’t really the sort of thing you can evaluate in art or entertainment terms, save to say it’s well-crafted for its type. As for value in other terms, well, odds are you’ve heard all this in one form or another before. But if you happen to be stuck in any kind of personal prison, who knows, People might be just the prod that gets you moving. (1:26) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
*The Raid: Redemption As rip-roaring as they come, Indonesian import The Raid: Redemption (from, oddly, a Welsh writer-director, Gareth Huw Evans) arrives to reassure genre fans that action films are still being made without CG-embellished stunts, choppy editing, and gratuitous 3D. Fists, feet, and gnarly weapons do the heavy lifting in this otherwise simple tale of a taciturn special-forces cop (Iko Uwais) who’s part of a raid on a run-down, high-rise apartment building where all the tenants are crooks and the landlord is a penthouse-dwelling crime boss (Ray Sahetapy). Naturally, things go awry almost immediately, and floor-to-floor brawls (choreographed by Uwais and co-star Yayan Ruhian, whose character is aptly named “Mad Dog”) comprise nearly the entirety of the film; of particular interest is The Raid‘s focus on pencak silat, an indigenous Indonesian fighting style — though there are also plenty of thrilling gun battles, machete-thwackings, and other dangerous delights. Even better: Redemption is the first in a planned trilogy of films starring Uwais’ badass (yet morally rock-solid) character. Bring it! (1:40) Metreon. (Eddy)
*Salmon Fishing in the Yemen In Lasse Hallström’s latest film, a sheikh named Muhammed (Amr Waked) with a large castle in Scotland, an ardent love of fly-fishing, and unlimited funds envisions turning a dry riverbed in the Yemeni desert into an aquifer-fed salmon-run site and the surrounding lands into an agricultural cornucopia. Tasked with realizing this dream are London marketing consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) and government fisheries scientist Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a reluctant participant who refers to the project as “doolally” and signs on under professional duress. Despite numerous feasibility issues (habitat discrepancies, the necessity for a mass exodus of British salmon, two million irate British anglers), Muhammed’s vision is borne forward on a rising swell of cynicism generated within the office of the British prime minister’s press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas), whose lackeys have been scouring the wires for a shred of U.K.-related good news out of the Middle East. Ecology-minded killjoys may question whether this qualifies. But putting aside, if one can, the possible inadvisability of relocating 10,000 nonnative salmon to a wadi in Yemen — which is to say, putting aside the basic premise — it’s easy and pleasant enough to go with the flow of the film, infected by Jones’s growing enthusiasm for both the project and Ms. Chetwode-Talbot. Adapted from Paul Torday’s novel by Simon Beaufoy (2009’s Slumdog Millionaire), Salmon Fishing is a sweet and funny movie, and while it suffers from the familiar flurried third-act knotting together of loose ends, its storytelling stratagems are entertaining and its characters compellingly textured, and the cast makes the most of the well-polished material. (1:52) California, Four Star, Opera Plaza, Piedmont. (Rapoport)
*The Salt of Life Gianni Di Gregorio is both a triumph over and cautionary illustration of the aging uomo, racking up decades of experience yet still infantilized by that most binding tie. He’s a late bloomer who’s long worked in theater and film in various capacities, notably as a scenarist for 2008’s organized crime drama Gomorrah. That same year he wrote and directed a first feature basically shot in his own Rome apartment. Mid-August Lunch was a surprise global success casting the director himself as a putz, also named Gianni, very like himself (by his own admission), peevishly trying to have some independence while catering to the whims of the ancient but demanding mother (Valeria De Franciscis) he still lives with. Lunch was charming in a sly, self-deprecating way, and The Salt of Life is more of the same minus the usual diminishing returns: the creator’s barely-alter ego Gianni is still busy doing nothing much, dissatisfied not by his indolence but by its quality. But his pint-sized, wig-rocking, nearly century-old matriarch has now moved to a plush separate address with full-time care — and Salt‘s main preoccupation is Gianni’s discovery that while he’s as available and interested in women as ever, at age 63 he is no longer visible to them. While Fellini confronted desirable, daunting womanhood with a permanent adolescent’s masturbatory fantasizing, Di Gregorio’s humbler self-knowledge finds comedy in the hangdog haplessness of an old dog who can’t learn new tricks and has forgotten the old ones. (1:30) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
*A Separation Iran’s first movie to win Berlin’s Golden Bear (as well as all its acting awards), this domestic drama reflecting a larger socio-political backdrop is subtly well-crafted on all levels, but most of all demonstrates the unbeatable virtue of having an intricately balanced, reality-grounded screenplay — director Asghar Farhadi’s own — as bedrock. A sort of confrontational impartiality is introduced immediately, as our protagonists Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) face the camera — or rather the court magistrate — to plead their separate cases in her filing for divorce, which he opposes. We gradually learn that their 14-year wedlock isn’t really irreparable, the feelings between them not entirely hostile. The roadblock is that Simin has finally gotten permission to move abroad, a chance she thinks she must seize for the sake of their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). But Nader doesn’t want to leave the country, and is not about to let his only child go without him. Farhadi worked in theater before moving into films a decade ago. His close attention to character and performance (developed over several weeks’ pre-production rehearsal) has the acuity sported by contemporary playwrights like Kenneth Lonergan and Theresa Rebeck, fitted to a distinctly cinematic urgency of pace and image. There are moments that risk pushing plot mechanizations too far, by A Separation pulls off something very intricate with deceptive simplicity, offering a sort of integrated Rashomon (1950) in which every participant’s viewpoint as the wronged party is right — yet in conflict with every other. (2:03) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
A Simple Life When elderly Ah Tao (Deanie Ip), the housekeeper who’s served his family for decades, has a stroke, producer Roger (Andy Lau) pays for her to enter a nursing home. No longer tasked with caring for Roger, Ah Tao faces life in the cramped, often depressing facility with resigned calm, making friends with other residents (some of whom are played by nonprofessional actors) and enjoying Roger’s frequent visits. Based on Roger Lee’s story (inspired by his own life), Ann Hui’s film is well-served by its performances; Ip picked up multiple Best Actress awards for her role, Lau is reliably solid, and Anthony Wong pops up as the nursing home’s eye patch-wearing owner. Wong’s over-the-top cameo doesn’t quite fit in with the movie’s otherwise low-key vibe, but he’s a welcome distraction in a film that can be too quiet at times — a situation not helped by its washed-out palette of gray, beige, and more gray. (1:58) Metreon. (Eddy)
*They Call it Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain Recent elections signal that Myanmar’s status as “the second-most isolated country on the planet,” per Robert H. Lieberman’s doc, may soon be changing. With that hopeful context, this insightful study of Myanmar (or Burma, depending on who’s referring to it) is particularly well-timed. Shot using clandestine methods, and without identifying many of its fearful interviewees — with the exception of recently-released-from-house-arrest politician Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner — They Call it Myanmar offers a revealing look at a country largely untouched by corporate influences and pop culture. Myanmar’s military dictatorship is the opposite of a cult of personality; it’s scarier, one subject reflects, because “it’s a system, not an individual,” with faceless leaders who can be quietly be replaced. The country struggles with a huge disconnect between the very rich and the very poor; it has a dismal health care system overrun by “quacks,” and an equally dismal educational system that benefits very few children. Hunger, disease, child labor — all prevalent. Surprisingly, though the conditions that surround them are grim, Myanmar’s people are shown to be generally happy and deeply spiritual as they go about their daily lives. A highlight: Lieberman’s interactions with excited Buddhist pilgrims en route to Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, with an up-close look at the miraculously teetering “Golden Rock.” (1:23) Lumiere. (Eddy)
The Three Stooges: The Movie (1:32) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio.
Titanic 3D (3:14) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
*The Turin Horse Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr’s final cinematic statement is extrapolated from a climactic episode in the life of Friedrich Nietzsche, wherein the philosopher tearfully intervened in the beating of a horse on the streets of Turin. Tarr, working with frequent collaborators Ágnes Hranitzky and László Krasznahorkai, conjures the lives of a horseman and his daughter as they barely subsist amid a windswept wasteland. This glacial Beckettian dirge of a film, shot in black and white and composed of Tarr’s trademark long takes, doesn’t so much develop these two characters as wear them down. Their stultifying daily routines — cleaning the stable, fetching water from the well, changing and cleaning their numerous layers of clothing — occupy much of the film, so it is all the more unsettling when this wretched lifestyle is torn asunder by the whims of nature. (2:26) SF Film Society Cinema. (Sam Stander)
*21 Jump Street One of the more pleasant surprises on the mainstream comedy landscape has to be this, ugh, “reboot” of the late-’80s TV franchise. I wasn’t a fan of the show — or its dark-eyed, bad-boy star, Johnny Depp — back in the day, but I am of this unexpectedly funny rework overseen by apparent enthusiast, star, co-writer, and co-executive producer Jonah Hill, with a screenplay by Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) co-writer Michael Bacall. There’s more than a smidge of Bacall’s other high school fantasy, Project X, in the buddy comedy premise of nerd (Hill’s Schmidt) meets blowhard (Channing Tatum’s Jenko), but 21 Jump Street thankfully leapfrogs the former with its meta-savvy, irreverent script and har-dee-har cameo turns by actors like Ice Cube as Captain Dickson (as well as a few key uncredited players who shall remain under deep cover). High school continues to haunt former classmates Schmidt and Jenko, who have just graduated from the lowly police bike corps to a high school undercover operation — don’t get it twisted, though, Dickson hollers at them; they got this gig solely because they look young. Still, the whole drug-bust enchilada is put in jeopardy when the once-socially toxic Schmidt finds his brand of geekiness in favor with the cool kids and so-called dumb-jock Jenko discovers the pleasures of the mind with the chem lab set. Fortunately for everyone, this crew doesn’t take themselves, or the source material, too seriously. (1:49) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
We Have a Pope What if a new pope was chosen … but he didn’t want to serve? In this gentle comedy-drama from Italian writer-director Nanni Moretti (2001’s The Son’s Room), Cardinal Melville (veteran French actor Michel Piccoli) is tapped to be the next Holy Father — and promptly flips out. The Vatican goes into crisis mode, first calling in a shrink, Professor Brezzi (Moretti), to talk to the troubled man, then orchestrating a ruse that the Pope-elect is merely hiding out in his apartments as the crowds of faithful rumble impatiently outside. Meanwhile, Melville sneaks off on an unauthorized, anonymous field trip that turns into a soul-searching, existential journey; along the way he hooks up with a group of actors that remind him of his youthful dreams of the stage — and help him realize that being the next Pope will require a performance he’s not sure he can deliver. Back at the Vatican, all assembled are essentially trapped until the new Pope is publicly revealed; the bored Cardinals kill time by playing cards and, most amusingly, participating in a volleyball tournament organized by Brezzi. Irreverent enough, though I’m not sure what kind of audience this will draw. Papal humorists? (1:44) Embarcadero. (Eddy)
Wrath of the Titans Playing fast and loose with Greek myths but not agile enough to kick out a black metal jam during a flaming underworld power-grab, Wrath of Titans is, as expected, a bit of a CGI-crammed mess. Still, the sword-and-sandals franchise has attracted scads of international actorly talent — the cast is enriched this time by Édgar Ramírez (2010’s Carlos), Bill Nighy, and Rosamund Pike — and you do get at least one cool monster and paltry explication (Cerberus, which bolts from earth for no discernible reason except that maybe all hell is breaking loose). Just because action flicks like Cloverfield (2008) have long dispensed with narrative handlebars doesn’t mean that age-old stories like the Greek myths should get completely random with their titanic tale-spinning. Wrath opens on the twilight of the gods: Zeus (Liam Neeson) is practically groveling before Perseus (Sam Worthington) — now determined to go small, raise his son, and work on his fishing skills — and trying to persuade him to step up and help the Olympians hold onto power. Fellow Zeus spawn Ares (Ramírez) is along for the ride, so demigod up, Perseus. In some weird, last-ditch attempt to ream his bro Zeus, the oily, mulleted Hades (Ralph Fiennes) has struck a deal with their entrapped, chaotic, castrating fireball of a dad Cronus to let them keep their immortality, on the condition that Zeus is sapped of his power. Picking up Queen Andromeda (Pike) along the way, Perseus gets the scoop on how to get to Hell from Hephaestus (Nighy playing the demented Vulcan like a ’60s acid casualty, given to chatting with mechanical owl Bubo, a wink to 1981 precursor Clash of the Titans, which set the bar low for the remake). Though there are some distracting action scenes (full of speedy, choppy edits that confuse disorientation for excitement) and a few intriguing monsters (just how did the Minotaur make it to this labyrinth?), there’s no money line like “Release the Kraken!” this time around, and there’s way too much nattering on about fatherly responsibility and forgiveness —making these feel-good divinities sound oddly, mawkishly Christian and softheaded rather than mythically pagan and brattily otherworldly. Wasn’t the appeal of the gods linked to the fact that they always acted more like outta-hand adolescents than holier-than-thou deities? I guess that’s why no one’s praying to them anymore. (1:39) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)