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 through 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.
The Five-Year Engagement Jason Segal and Emily Blunt star in this Judd Apatow-produced rom-com as a couple whose dilemma is pretty adequately summed up by the movie title. (2:04) Marina.
*Hit So Hard Along with Last Days Here, which screened earlier this year as part of the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, Hit So Hard is one of the most inspiring rock docs in recent memory. Patty Schemel was the drummer for Hole circa Live Through This, coolly keeping the beat amid Courtney Love’s frequent Lollapalooza-stage meltdowns after Kurt Cobain’s 1994 death. Offstage, however, she was neck-deep in substance abuse, weathering several rounds of rehab even after the fatal overdose of Hole bandmate Kristen Pfaff just months after Cobain (who appears here in Schemel’s own remarkable home video footage). P. David Ebersole’s film gathers insight from many key figures in Schemel’s life — including her mother, who has the exact voice of George Costanza’s mother on Seinfeld, and a garishly made-up, straight-talking Love — but most importantly, from Schemel herself, who is open and funny even when talking about the perils of drug addiction, of the heartbreak of being a gay teen in a small town, and the ultimate triumph of being a rock ‘n’ roll survivor. (1:43) Roxie. (Eddy)
*The Hunter See “Tiger Woods.” (1:41) Shattuck.
*Natural Selection The Lord taketh away — and the Lord giveth, with the damnedest good-bad sense of timing. That might be one takeaway from this likable, gently mirthful indie comedy — writer-director Robbie Pickering’s debut feature. Working in sweetly mysterious ways, devout, childless Christian haus-maus Linda (Rachael Harris, renowned as The Hangover‘s harpy and here resembling a beleaguered Laura Linney dragged over miles of bad road) discovers that hubby Abe (John Diehl) has been leading a secret life after he suffers a stroke: he’s been regularly spreading his seed hither and yon, via a local sperm bank, all while preaching abstinence at home. To fulfill his final wishes, his dutiful wifey sets out on a journey to find his eldest offspring, who turns out to be a grimy, habitually misbehaving hairball of an ex-con (Matt O’Leary) with a genuine distaste for holy rolling. His past is catching up with him, so he sets off with Linda on a road trip back to “that bilateral father of mine.” On the way home, both the wannabe mom and the prodigal spawn uncover a thing or two about themselves, and we learn that not only is it “time for the meek to inherit the girth,” as one sperm clinic Christian porno puts it, but it’s high time that Harris got a role like this, one that shows us the sweet, select stuff she’s made of. (1:30) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Chun)
The Pirates! Band of Misfits Aardman Animations, home studio of the Wallace and Gromit series as well as 2000’s Chicken Run, are masters of tiny details and background jokes. In nearly every scene of this swashbuckling comedy, there’s a sight gag, double entendre, or tossed-off reference (the Elephant Man!?) that suggests The Pirates! creators are far more clever than the movie as a whole would suggest. Oh, it’s a cute, enjoyable story about a kind-hearted Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) who dreams of winning the coveted Pirate of the Year award (despite the fact that he gets more excited about ham than gold) — and the misadventures he gets into with his amiable crew, a young Charles Darwin, and a comically evil Queen Victoria. But despite its toy-like, 3D-and-CG-enhanced claymation, The Pirates! never matches the depth (or laugh-out-loud hilarity) of other Aardman productions. Yo ho-hum. (1:27) Presidio. (Eddy)
The Raven John Cusack stars as Edgar Allan Poe in this murder mystery from James McTeigue (2009’s Ninja Assassin). (1:50) California, Presidio.
Safe Jason Statham, man of action, doin’ what he does best. (1:35)
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale The head count — as in decapitated noggins — of this epic thrashathon almost rivals that of 2010’s 13 Assassins (hell, maybe even 1976’s Master of the Flying Guillotine), so, er, does that make this high-minded endeavor by Wei Te-Sheng (2008’s Cape No. 7) any more or less worth squirming through? The feeling is mixed — part disgust, part fascination — when it comes to this little-known part of Taiwan’s indigenous history. Moura Rudo (first-time aborigine actor Lin Ching-tai, he of the superheroically muscular calves) is the leader of the once-fierce, now-barely contained Seediq tribe — here depicted as the almost supernaturally gifted hunters of Taiwan’s mountainous jungles. As a young man he waged a valiant guerrilla war of resistance, armed with only shotguns and machetes and the like, against the Japanese colonizers, who took over the island from 1895 to 1945. But the indignities and humiliations his tribesmen suffer at the hands of the police finally spur them to action. Embarking on what would become known as the Wushe Incident Rebellion, the men form a coalition with other aboriginal tribes to undertake a clearly suicidal mission, standing up for their identity and becoming “Seediq Bale,” or true men, capable of crossing a rainbow bridge to meet their ancestors in the next world. All of which sounds noble — and the filmmaker interjects moments of grace, as when Mouna intones a folk ballad alongside his dead father, and foregrounds the intriguing cultural similarities between the Seediq and Japanese warrior codes of honor. Yet as compelling Warrior‘s concept is — and as heartfelt as it seems — it fails to rise above its treatment of violence, at the unnerving center of everything: the cheesily bug-eyed gore, overwrought sentimentality, and sheer bloody body count come off as closer to classic drive-in exploitation than that of a lost, vital history that needs to be remembered. (2:30) Metreon. (Chun)
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)
*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, 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)
Chimpanzee (2:00) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.
*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)
Footnote (1:45) Albany, Opera Plaza.
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)
*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) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
*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) Lumiere, Shattuck. (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)
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. (Eddy)
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, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, 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, Smith Rafael. (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)
*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)
*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) Four Star, Opera Plaza, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Rapoport)
*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) Four Star, 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)
Think Like a Man (2:02) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.
The Three Stooges: The Movie (1:32) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
Titanic 3D (3:14) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
*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) Balboa, 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) Opera Plaza. (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)