Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Michelle Devereaux, Peter Galvin, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Louis Peitzman, Lynn Rapoport, Ben Richardson, and Matt Sussman. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. For first-run showtimes, see Movie Guide.
*The Elephant in the Living Room Or, the mountain lion in the kitchen. The gaboon viper in the garage. Americans are crazy enough without needing to keep dangerously exotic pets, but keep them they do, as director Michael Webber discovers in this surprisingly emotional documentary. The film focuses on a pair of Ohio men: the fearless, big-hearted Tim Harrison, a cop and firefighter who’s also the point person when a cast-off or escaped pet’s in a jam; and Terry Brumfield, weakened by depression and the effects of a lingering truck accident, who keeps a pair of fully-grown lions in a dilapidated cage in his junk-strewn yard. As Tim tends to his real-life superhero duties (including going incognito to an exotic pet show and purchasing the deadliest snake on offer, then taking it to a venom lab where it’s put to work saving lives), Terry worries over the continued care of his prized pets, who he sees as family members. The two men inevitably meet, and their relationship is the heart of Webber’s film, which touches on the more sensational aspects of wild-animal ownership via news reports (remember that chimpanzee who ate that woman’s face off?) while never making Terry out to be a villain. On a more selfish note, here’s hoping any puff adder habitats in my neighborhood remain securely latched. (1:43) Four Star. (Eddy)
Hop Comedy about a live-action guy tangling with an animated Easter bunny, from the same director who made Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007) and Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties (2006). (1:30) Presidio, Shattuck.
Insidious Saw (2004) and Paranormal Activity (2007) creators join forces for this PG-13 horror movie about a family whose young son is menaced by evil spirits. (1:42)
Miral Slumdog Millionaire (2008) beauty Freida Pinto stars in Julian Schnabel’s drama about an orphan girl growing up amid Israel-Palestine unrest. (1:42) Embarcadero.
*Orgasm, Inc. Liz Canner’s doc begins as she’s hired to do some editing work for a drug company in need of a loop of erotic videos to excite the women who’re testing its latest invention: a cream targeting so-called “Female Sexual Dysfunction.” As it turns out, basically everyone with a lab is frantically trying to develop a female Viagra; potential profits could rake in billions. Canner’s intrigued enough to leave the porn-editing bay and further investigate the race to scientifically calculate exactly what women need to achieve orgasm. Of course, it’s not as simple as what men need — though that doesn’t stop pharmaceutical giants from pushing potentially harmful drugs, inventors from convincing women to get invasive operations to test something called the “Orgasmatron” (note: Woody Allen not included), surgeons from pimping scary “genital reconstruction surgery,” or TV doctors from defining what a “normal” woman’s sex life should be. San Francisco’s own Dr. Carol Queen is among the inspiring experts interviewed to help cut through all the big-money bullshit; she’ll be part of a panel discussion after the film’s Monday, April 4, 6:45 p.m. show. Director Canner will appear Saturday, April 2, from 8:30-9:30 p.m. at Good Vibrations (www.goodvibes.com) on Valencia Street. (1:19) Roxie. (Eddy)
Potiche When we first meet Catherine Deneuve’s Suzanne — the titular trophy wife (or potiche) of Francois Ozon’s new airspun comedy — she is on her morning jog, barely breaking a sweat as she huffs and puffs in her maroon Adidas tracksuit, her hair still in curlers. It’s 1977 and Suzanne’s life as a bourgeois homemaker in a small provincial French town has played out as smoothly as one of her many poly-blend skirt suits: a devoted mother to two grown children and loving wife who turns a blind eye to the philandering of husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini), Suzanne is on the fast track to comfortable irrelevance. All that changes when the workers at Robert’s umbrella factory strike and take him hostage. Suzanne, with the help of union leader and old flame Babin (Gerard Depardieu, as big as a house), negotiates a peace, and soon turns around the company’s fortunes with her new-found confidence and business savvy. But when Robert wrests back control with the help of a duped Babin, Suzanne does an Elle Woods and takes them both on in a surprise run for political office. True to the film’s light théâtre de boulevard source material, Ozon keeps things brisk and cheeky (Suzanne sings with as much ease as she spouts off Women’s Lib boilerplate) to the point where his cast’s hammy performances start blending into the cheery production design. Satire needs an edge that Potiche, for all its charm, never provides. (1:43) Clay, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Sussman)
*Rubber This starts out just on the right side of self-conscious prank, introducing a droll fourth-wall-breaking framework to a serenely surreal central conceit: An old car tire abandoned in the desert miraculously animates itself to commit widespread mayhem. Credit writer-director-editor-cinematographer-composer Quentin Dupieux for an original concept and terrific execution, as our initially wobby antihero wends its way toward civilization, discovering en route it can explode (or just crush) other entities with its “mind.” Which this rumbling black ring of discontent very much enjoys doing, to the misfortune of various hapless humans and a few small animals. Rubber is an extended Dadaist joke that has adventurous fun with filmic and genre language. Beautifully executed as it is, the concept tires (ahem) after a while, reality-illusion games and comedic flair flagging by degrees. Still, it’s so polished and resourceful a treatment of an utterly peculiar idea that no self-respecting cult film fan will want to say they didn’t see this during its initial theatrical run. (1:25) Lumiere. (Harvey)
*Source Code A post-9/11 Groundhog Day (1993) with explosions, Inception (2010) with a heart, or Avatar (2009) taken down a notch or dozen in Chicago —whatever you choose to call it, Source Code manages to stand up on its own wobbly Philip K. Dick-inspired legs, damn the science, and take off on the wings of wish fulfillment. ‘Cause who hasn’t yearned for a do-over — and then a do-over of that do-over, etc. We could all be as lucky — or as cursed — as soldier Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), who gets to tumble down that time-space rabbit hole again and again, his consciousness hitching a ride in another man’s body, while in search of the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. On the upside, he gets to meet the girl of his dreams (Michelle Monaghan) — and see her getting blown to smithereens again and again, all in the service of his country, his commander-cum-link to the outside world (Vera Farmiga), and the scientist masterminding this secret military project (Jeffrey Wright). On the downside, well, he gets to do it over and over again, like a good little test bunny in pinball purgatory. Fortunately, director Duncan Jones (2009’s Moon) makes compelling work out of the potentially ludicrous material, while his cast lends the tale a glossed yet likable humanity, the kind that was all too absent in Inception. (1:33) Marina. (Chun)
Super Naive, vaguely Christian, and highly suggestible everyman Frank (Rainn Wilson) snaps when his wife (Liv Tyler) is seduced away by sleazy drug dealer Jacques (Kevin Bacon). With a little tutoring from the cute girl at the comic store, Libby (Ellen Page), he throws together a pathetically makeshift superhero costume and equally makeshift persona as the Crimson Bolt. Time to dress up and beat down local dealers, child molesters, and people who cut in line with cracks like, “Shut up, crime!” Frank’s taking stumbling, fumbling baby steps toward rescuing his lady love, but it becomes more than simply his mission when Libby discovers his secret and tries to horn in on his act as his kid sidekick Boltie. Alas, what begins as a charming, intriguing indie about dingy reality meeting up with violent vigilantism goes full-tilt Commando (1985), with all the attendant gore and shocks. In the process director James Gunn (2006’s Slither) completely squanders his chance to peer more deeply into the dark heart of the superhero phenom, topping off this vaguely Old Testament reading of good and evil with an absolutely incoherent ending. (1:36) Embarcadero, California. (Chun)
The Adjustment Bureau As far as sci-fi romantic thrillers go, The Adjustment Bureau is pretty standard. But since that’s not an altogether common genre mash-up, I guess the film deserves some points for creativity. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau takes place in a world where all of our fates are predetermined. Political hotshot David Norris (Matt Damon) is destined for greatness — but not if he lets a romantic dalliance with dancer Elise (Emily Blunt) take precedence. And in order to make sure he stays on track, the titular Adjustment Bureau (including Anthony Mackie and Mad Men‘s John Slattery) are there to push him in the right direction. While the film’s concept is intriguing, the execution is sloppy. The Adjustment Bureau suffers from flaws in internal logic, allowing the story to skip over crucial plot points with heavy exposition and a deus ex machina you’ve got to see to believe. Couldn’t the screenwriter have planned ahead? (1:39) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Presidio, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)
*Battle: Los Angeles Michael Bay is likely writhing with envy over Battle: Los Angeles; his Transformers flicks take a more, erm, nuanced view of alien-on-human violence. But they’re not all such bad guys after all; these days, as District 9 (2009) demonstrated, alien invasions are more hazardous to the brothers and sisters from another planet than those trigger-happy humanoids ready to defend terra firma. So Battle arrives like an anomaly — a war-is-good action movie aimed at faceless space invaders who resemble the Alien (1979) mother more than the wide-eyed lost souls of District 9. Still reeling from his last tour of duty, Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) is ready to retire, until he’s pulled back in by a world invasion, staged by thirsty aliens. In approximating D-Day off the beach of Santa Monica, director Jonathan Liebesman manages to combine the visceral force of Saving Private Ryan (1998) with the what-the-fuck hand-held verite rush of Cloverfield (2008) while crafting tiny portraits of all his Marines, including Michelle Rodriguez, Ne-Yo, and True Blood‘s Jim Parrack. A few moments of requisite flag-waving are your only distractions from the almost nonstop white-knuckle tension fueling Battle: Los Angeles. (1:57) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Chun)
*Black Swan “Lose yourself,” ballet company head Thomas (Vincent Cassel) whispers to his leading lady, Nina (Natalie Portman), moments before she takes the stage. But Nina is already consumed with trying to find herself, and rarely has a journey of self-discovery been so unsettling. Set in New York City’s catty, competitive ballet world, Black Swan samples from earlier dance films (notably 1948’s The Red Shoes, but also 1977’s Suspiria, with a smidgen of 1995’s Showgirls), though director Darren Aronofsky is nothing if not his own visionary. Black Swan resembles his 2008 The Wrestler somewhat thematically, with its focus on the anguish of an athlete under ten tons of pressure, but it’s a stylistic 180. Gone is the gritty, stripped-down aesthetic used to depict a sad-sack strongman. Like Dario Argento’s 1977 horror fantasy, the gory, elegantly choreographed Black Swan is set in a hyper-constructed world, with stabbingly obvious color palettes (literally, white = good; black = evil) and dozens of mirrors emphasizing (over and over again) the film’s doppelgänger obsession. As Nina, Portman gives her most dynamic performance to date. In addition to the thespian fireworks required while playing a goin’-batshit character, she also nails the role’s considerable athletic demands. (1:50) Red Vic. (Eddy)
*Carancho What Psycho (1960) did for showers this equally masterful, if far more bloody, neo-noir is bound to do for crossing the street at night. Argentine director Pablo Trapero has spun his country’s grim traffic statistics (the film’s opening text informs us that more than 8,000 people die every year in road accidents at a daily average of 22) into a Jim Thompson-worthy drama of human ugliness and squandered chances. Sosa (Ricardo Darín of 2009’s The Secret in Their Eyes) is the titular “carancho,” or buzzard, a disbarred lawyer-turned-ambulance chaser who swoops down on those injured in road accidents on behalf of a shady foundation that fixes personal injury lawsuits. It’s only a matter of time before he crosses paths with and falls for Lujan (a wonderful Martina Gusman, also of Trapero’s 2008 Lion’s Den), a young ambulance medic battling her own demons and a grueling work schedule. A May-December affair begins to percolate until Sosa botches a job and incurs the wrath of the foundation, kicking off a chain reaction that only leads to further tragedy for him and his newfound love. Trapero keeps a steady hand at the wheel throughout, deftly guiding his film through intimate scenes that lay bare Lujan’s quiet desperation and Sosa’s moral ambivalence as well as genuinely shocking moments of violence. The Academy passed over Carancho as one of this year’s nominees for Best Foreign Language Film, but Hollywood would do well to learn from talent like Trapero’s. (1:47) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Sussman)
*Cedar Rapids What if The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) got so Parks and Rec‘d at The Office party that he ended up with a killer Hangover (2009)? Just maybe the morning-after baby would be Cedar Rapids. Director Miguel Arteta (2009’s Youth in Revolt) wrings sweet-natured chuckles from his banal, intensely beige wall-to-wall convention center biosphere, spurring such ponderings as, should John C. Reilly snatch comedy’s real-guy MVP tiara away from Seth Rogen? Consider Tim Lippe (Ed Helms of The Hangover), the polar opposite of George Clooney’s ultracompetent, complacent ax-wielder in Up in the Air (2009). He’s the naive manchild-cum-corporate wannabe who never quite graduated from Timmyville into adulthood. But it’s up to Lippe to hold onto his firm’s coveted two-star rating at an annual convention in Cedar Rapids. Life conspires against him, however, and despite his heartfelt belief in insurance as a heroic profession, Lippe immediately gets sucked into the oh-so-distracting drama, stirred up by the dangerously subversive “Deanzie” Ziegler (John C. Reilly), whom our naif is warned against as a no-good poacher. Temptations lie around every PowerPoint and potato skin; as Deanzie warns Lippe’s Candide, “I’ve got tiger scratches all over my back. If you want to survive in this business, you gotta daaance with the tiger.” How do you do that? Cue lewd, boozy undulations — a potbelly lightly bouncing in the air-conditioned breeze. “You’ve got to show him a little teat.” Fortunately Arteta shows us plenty of that, equipped with a script by Wisconsin native Phil Johnston, written for Helms — and the latter does not disappoint. (1:26) California, Four Star, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Certified Copy Abbas Kiarostami’s beguiling new feature signals “relationship movie” with every cobblestone step, but it’s manifestly a film of ideas — one in which disillusionment is as much a formal concern as a dramatic one. Typical of Kiarostami’s dialogic narratives, Certified Copy is both the name of the film and an entity within the film: a book written against the ideal of originality in art by James Miller (William Shimell), an English pedant fond of dissembling. After a lecture in Tuscany, he meets an apparent admirer (Juliette Binoche) in her antique shop. We watch them talk for several minutes in an unbroken two-shot. They gauge each other’s values using her sister as a test case — a woman who, according to the Binoche character, is the living embodiment of James’ book. Do their relative opinions of this off-screen cipher constitute characterization? Or are they themselves ciphers of the film’s recursive structure? Kiarostami makes us wonder. They begin to act as if they were married midway through the film, though the switch is not so out of the blue: Kiarostami’s narrative has already turned a few figure-eights. Several critics have already deemed Certified Copy derivative of many other elliptical romances; the strongest case for an “original” comes of Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy (1954). The real difference is that while Rossellini’s masterpiece realizes first-person feelings in a third-person approach, Kiarostami stays in the shadow of doubt to the end. (1:46) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Goldberg)
Desert Flower Based on the best-selling “model memoir,” Desert Flower spins the remarkable tale of Waris Dirie, who fled across the Somalian desert as a young teen to escape an arranged marriage. The marriage was not the most cruel tradition to be imposed on the girl, however — as a toddler, she’d been circumcised, and the crude operation (designed to keep her “pure” until marriage) caused her pain for years after. Waris (played as an adult by Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede) eventually makes her way to London, where she’s discovered by a top photographer (Timothy Spall) while mopping floors at a fast-food restaurant. Part culture-clash drama, part girl-power success story (Waris befriends a spunky Topshop clerk, played by Sally Hawkins), Desert Flower is directed (by Sherry Hormann) with the heavy-handedness of a TV movie. But the film does a powerful job drawing attention to a subject not often discussed — despite the efforts of activists like the real-life Dirie, female circumcision still affects some 6,000 girls a day — and for that it cannot be faulted. (2:00) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (1:36) 1000 Van Ness.
Even the Rain It feels wrong to criticize an “issues movie” — particularly when the issues addressed are long overdue for discussion. Even the Rain takes on the privatization of water in Bolivia, but it does so in such an obvious, artless way that the ultimate message is muddled. The film follows a crew shooting an on-location movie about Christopher Columbus. The film-within-a-film is a less-than-flattering portrait of the explorer: if you’ve guessed that the exploitation of the native people will play a role in both narratives, you’d be right. The problem here is that Even the Rain rests on our collective outrage, doing little to explain the situation or even develop the characters. Case in point: Sebastian (Gael García Bernal), who shifts allegiances at will throughout the film. There’s an interesting link to be made between the time of Columbus and current injustice, but it’s not properly drawn here, and in the end, the few poignant moments get lost in the shuffle. (1:44) Balboa, Opera Plaza. (Peitzman)
I Am File in the dusty back drawer of An Inconvenient Truth (2006) wannabes. The cringe-inducing, pretentious title is a giveaway — though the good intentions are in full effect — in this documentary by and about director Tom Shadyac’s search for answers to life’s big questions. After a catastrophic bike accident, the filmmaker finds his lavish lifestyle as a successful Hollywood director of such opuses as Bruce Almighty (2003) somewhat wanting. Thinkers and spiritual leaders such as Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn, UC Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner, and scientist David Suzuki provide some thought-provoking answers, although Shadyac’s thinking behind seeking out this specific collection of academics, writers, and activists remains somewhat unclear. I Am‘s shambling structure and perpetual return to its true subject — Shadyac, who resembles a wide-eyed Weird Al Yankovic — doesn’t help matters, leaving a viewer with mixed feelings, less about whether one man can work out his quest for meaning on film, than whether Shadyac complements his subjects and their ideas by framing them in such a random, if well-meaning, manner. And sorry, this film doesn’t make up for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994). (1:16) Shattuck. (Chun)
*The Illusionist Now you see Jacques Tati and now you don’t. With The Illusionist, aficionados yearning for another gem from Tati will get a sweet, satisfying taste of the maestro’s sensibility, inextricably blended with the distinctively hand-drawn animation of Sylvain Chomet (2004’s The Triplets of Belleville). Tati wrote the script between 1956 and 1959 — a loving sendoff from a father to a daughter heading toward selfhood — and after reading it in 2003 Chomet decided to adapt it, bringing the essentially silent film to life with 2D animation that’s as old school as Tati’s ambivalent longing for bygone days. The title character should be familiar to fans of Monsieur Hulot: the illusionist is a bemused artifact of another age, soon to be phased out with the rise of rock ‘n’ rollers. He drags his ornery rabbit and worn bag of tricks from one ragged hall to another, each more far-flung than the last, until he meets a little cleaning girl on a remote Scottish island. Enthralled by his tricks and grateful for his kindness, she follows him to Edinburgh and keeps house while the magician works the local theater and takes on odd jobs in an attempt to keep her in pretty clothes, until she discovers life beyond their small circle of fading vaudevillians. Chomet hews closely to bittersweet tone of Tati’s films — and though some controversy has dogged the production (Tati’s illegitimate, estranged daughter Helga Marie-Jeanne Schiel claimed to be the true inspiration for The Illusionist, rather than daughter and cinematic collaborator Sophie Tatischeff) and Chomet neglects to fully detail a few plot turns, the dialogue-free script does add an intriguing ambiguity to the illusionist and his charge’s relationship — are they playing at being father and daughter or husband and wife? — and an otherwise straightforward, albeit poignant tale. (1:20) Four Star, Opera Plaza. (Chun)
Inside Job Inside Job is director Charles Ferguson’s second investigative documentary after his 2007 analysis of the Iraq War, No End in Sight, but it feels more like the follow-up to Alex Gibney’s Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005). Keeping with the law of sequels, more shit blows up the second time around. As with No End in Sight, Ferguson adeptly packages a broad overview of complex events in two hours, respecting the audience’s intelligence while making sure to explain securities exchanges, derivatives, and leveraging laws in clear English (doubly important when so many Wall Street executives hide behind the intricacy of markets). The revolving door between banks, government, and academia is the key to Inside Job‘s account of financial deregulation. At times borrowing heist-film conventions (it is called Inside Job, after all), Ferguson keeps the primary players in view throughout his history so that the eventual meltdown seems anything but an accident. The filmmaker’s relentless focus on the insiders isn’t foolproof; tarring Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson, and Timothy Geithner as “made” guys, for example, isn’t a substitute for evaluating their varied performances over the last two years. Inside Job makes it seem that the entire crisis was caused by the financial sector’s bad behavior, and this too is reductive. Furthermore, Ferguson does not come to terms with the politicized nature of the economic fallout. In Inside Job, there are only two kinds of people: those who get it and those who refuse to. The political reality is considerably more contentious. (2:00) Opera Plaza. (Goldberg)
*Jane Eyre Do we really need another adaptation of Jane Eyre? As long as they’re all as good as Cary Fukunaga’s stirring take on the gothic romance, keep ’em coming. Mia Wasikowska stars in the titular role, with the dreamy Michael Fassbender stepping into the high pants of Edward Rochester. The cast is rounded out by familiar faces like Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, and Sally Hawkins — all of whom breathe new life into the material. It helps that Fukunaga’s sensibilities are perfectly suited to the story: he stays true to the novel while maintaining an aesthetic certain to appeal to a modern audience. Even if you know Jane Eyre’s story — Mr. Rochester’s dark secret, the fate of their romance, etc. — there are still surprises to be had. Everyone tells the classics differently, and this adaptation is a thoroughly unique experience. And here’s hoping it pushes the engaging Wasikowska further in her ascent to stardom. (2:00) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)
Kill the Irishman If you enjoy 1970s-set Mafia movies featuring characters with luxurious facial hair zooming around in Cadillacs, flossing leather blazers, and outwitting cops and each other — you could do a lot worse than Kill the Irishman, which busts no genre boundaries but delivers enjoyable retro-gangsta cool nonetheless. Adapted from the acclaimed true crime book by a former Cleveland police lieutenant, the film details the rise and fall of Danny Greene, a colorful and notorious Irish-American mobster who both served and ran afoul of the big bosses in his Ohio hometown. During one particularly conflict-ridden period, the city weathered nearly 40 bombings — buildings, mailboxes, and mostly cars, to the point where the number of automobiles going sky-high is almost comical (you’d think these guys would’ve considered taking the bus). The director of the 2004 Punisher, Jonathan Hensleigh, teams up with the star of 2008’s Punisher: War Zone, Ray Stevenson, who turns in a magnetic performance as Greene; it’s easy to see how his combination of book- and street smarts (with a healthy dash of ruthlessness) buoyed him nearly to the top of the underworld. The rest of the cast is equally impressive, with Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken, and Linda Cardellini turning in supporting roles, plus a host of dudes who look freshly defrosted from post-Sopranos storage. (1:46) SF Center. (Eddy)
The King’s Speech Films like The King’s Speech have filled a certain notion of “prestige” cinema since the 1910s: historical themes, fully-clothed romance, high dramatics, star turns, a little political intrigue, sumptuous dress, and a vicarious taste of how the fabulously rich, famous, and powerful once lived. At its best, this so-called Masterpiece Theatre moviemaking can transcend formula — at its less-than-best, however, these movies sell complacency, in both style and content. In The King’s Speech, Colin Firth plays King George VI, forced onto the throne his favored older brother Edward abandoned. This was especially traumatic because George’s severe stammer made public address tortuous. Enter matey Australian émigré Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush, mercifully controlled), a speech therapist whose unconventional methods include insisting his royal client treat him as an equal. This ultimately frees not only the king’s tongue, but his heart — you see, he’s never had anyone before to confide in that daddy (Michael Gambon as George V) didn’t love him enough. Aww. David Seidler’s conventionally inspirational script and BBC miniseries veteran Tom Hooper’s direction deliver the expected goods — dignity on wry, wee orgasms of aesthetic tastefulness, much stiff-upper-lippage — at a stately promenade pace. Firth, so good in the uneven A Single Man last year, is perfect in this rock-steadier vehicle. Yet he never surprises us; role, actor, and movie are on a leash tight enough to limit airflow. (1:58) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
*Last Lions It’s hard being a single mom. Particularly when you are a lioness in the Botswana wetlands, your territory invaded and mate killed by an invading pride forced out of their own by encroaching humanity. Add buffalo herds (tasty yes, but with sharp horns they’re not afraid to use) and crocodiles (no upside there), and our heroine is hard-pressed to keep herself alive, let alone her three small cubs. Derek Joubert’s spectacular nature documentary, narrated by Jeremy Irons (in plummiest Lion King vocal form) manages a mind-boggling intimacy observing all these predators. Shot over several years, while seeming to depict just a few weeks or months’ events, it no doubt fudges facts a bit to achieve a stronger narrative, but you’ll be too gripped to care. Warning: those kitties sure are cute, but this sometimes harsh depiction of life (and death) in the wild is not suitable for younger children. (1:28) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
*Limitless An open letter to the makers of Limitless: please fire your marketing team because they are making your movie look terrible. The story of a deadbeat writer (Bradley Cooper) who acquires an unregulated drug that allows him to take advantage of 100 percent of his previously under-utilized brain, Limitless is silly, improbable and features a number of distracting comic-book-esque stylistic tics. But consumed with the comic book in mind, Limitless is also unpredictable, thrilling, and darkly funny. The aforementioned style, which includes many instances of the infinite regression effect that you get when you point two mirrors at each other, and a heavy blur to distort depth-of-field, only solidifies the film’s cartoonish intentions. Cooper learns foreign languages in hours, impresses women with his keen attention to detail, and sets his sights on Wall Street, a move that gets him noticed by businessman Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro in a glorified cameo) as well as some rather nasty drug dealers and hired guns looking to cash in on the drug. Limitless is regrettably titled and masquerades in TV spots as a Wall Street series spin-off, but in truth it sports the speedy pacing and tongue-in-cheek humor required of a good popcorn flick. (1:37) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center. (Galvin)
*The Lincoln Lawyer Outfitted with gym’d-tanned-and-laundered manly blonde bombshells like Matthew McConaughey, Josh Lucas, and Ryan Phillippe, this adaptation of Michael Connelly’s LA crime novel almost cries out for an appearance by the Limitless Bradley Cooper — only then will our cabal of flaxen-haired bros-from-other-‘hos be complete. That said, Lincoln Lawyer‘s blast of morally challenged golden boys nearly detracts from the pleasingly gritty mise-en-scène and the snappy, almost-screwball dialogue that makes this movie a genre pleasure akin to a solid Elmore Leonard read. McConaughey’s criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller is accustomed to working all the angles — hence the title, a reference to a client who’s working off his debt by chauffeuring Haller around in his de-facto office: a Lincoln Town Car. Haller’s playa gets truly played when he becomes entangled with Louis Roulet (Phillippe), a pretty-boy old-money realtor accused of brutally attacking a call girl. Loved ones such as Haller’s ex Maggie (Marisa Tomei) and his investigator Frank (William H. Macy) are in jeopardy — and in danger of turning in some delightfully textured cameos — in this enjoyable walk on the sleazy side of the law, the contemporary courtroom counterpart to quick-witted potboilers like Sweet Smell of Success (1957). (1:59) Balboa, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Mars Needs Moms (1:28) 1000 Van Ness.
The Music Never Stopped Based on a Dr. Oliver Sacks case history, this neurological wild-ride focuses on the generation gap in extremis: after a ’60s teenage son rebels against his parents, staying incommunicado in the interim, he resurfaces over two decades later as a disoriented, possibly homeless patient they’re called to identify at a hospital. He’s had a benign brain tumor removed — yet it had grown so large before surgery that it damaged gray-matter areas including those handling recent memory. As a result, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) relates to Mr. (J.K. Simmons) and Mrs. Sawyer (a terrific but underutilized Cara Seymour) as if they were still his upstate NY domestic keepers. A radiant Julia Ormond plays the music therapist who convinces them Gabe might respond to music, which had helped serially glue and sever the father-son bond decades earlier. This is an inherently fascinating psychological study. But director Jim Kohlberg and his scenarists render it placidly inspirational, with too little character nuance, scant period atmosphere (somewhat due to budgetary limitations), and weak homage to the Grateful Dead (ditto) rendering an unusual narrative oddly formulaic. (1:45) Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
*Of Gods and Men It’s the mid-1990s, and we’re in Tibhirine, a small Algerian village based around a Trappist monastery. There, eight French-born monks pray and work alongside their Muslim neighbors, tending to the sick and tilling the land. An emboldened Islamist rebel movement threatens this delicate peace, and the monks must decide whether to risk the danger of becoming pawns in the Algerian Civil War. On paper, Of Gods and Men sounds like the sort of high-minded exploitation picture the Academy swoons over: based on a true story, with high marks for timeliness and authenticity. What a pleasant surprise then that Xavier Beauvois’s Cannes Grand Prix winner turns out to be such a tightly focused moral drama. Significantly, the film is more concerned with the power vacuum left by colonialism than a “clash of civilizations.” When Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson) turns away an Islamist commander by appealing to their overlapping scriptures, it’s at the cost of the Algerian army’s suspicion. Etienne Comar’s perceptive script does not rush to assign meaning to the monks’ decision to stay in Tibhirine, but rather works to imagine the foundation and struggle for their eventual consensus. Beauvois occasionally lapses into telegraphing the monks’ grave dilemma — there are far too many shots of Christian looking up to the heavens — but at other points he’s brilliant in staging the living complexity of Tibrihine’s collective structure of responsibility. The actors do a fine job too: it’s primarily thanks to them that by the end of the film each of the monks seems a sharply defined conscience. (2:00) Albany, Lumiere. (Goldberg)
Paul Across the aisle from the alien-shoot-em-up Battle: Los Angeles is its amiable, nerdy opposite: Paul, with its sweet geeks Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost), off on a post-Comic-Con pilgrimage to all the US sites of alien visitation. Naturally the buddies get a close encounter of their very own, with a very down-to-earth every-dude of a schwa named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), given to scratching his balls, spreading galactic wisdom, utilizing Christ-like healing powers, and cracking wise when the situation calls for it (as when fear of anal probes escalates). Despite a Pegg-and-Frost-penned script riddled with allusions to Hollywood’s biggest extraterrestrial flicks and much 12-year-old-level humor concerning testicles and farts, the humor onslaught usually attached to the two lead actors — considered Lewis and Martin for pop-smart Anglophiles — seems to have lost some of its steam, and teeth, with the absence of former director and co-writer Edgar Wright (who took last year’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to the next level instead). Call it a “soft R” for language and an alien sans pants. (1:44) 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
*Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune When Phil Ochs was at his peak, he was one of the finest polemical folksingers to come out of the ’60s, and when he tumbled from those heights, the fall was terrible: he lost more than friends and fame — he appeared to completely lose himself, to substance abuse and mental illness. Director Kenneth Bowser does the singer-songwriter justice with this documentary, threading to-the-ramparts tunes like “Hazard, Kentucky,” questioning numbers a la “Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” and achingly beautiful songs such as “Jim Dean of Indiana” throughout political events of the day, scenes from a protest movement that were inextricably entangled with Ochs’ oeuvre. Along with the many clips of Ochs in performance are interviews with the artist’s many friends, cohorts, and fans including Van Dyke Parks (who is becoming a Thurston Moore-like go-to for a generation’s damaged voices), brother (and music archivist) Michael Ochs, Joan Baez, Tom Hayden, Peter Yarrow, Billy Bragg, daughter Meegan Ochs, and Ed Sanders. Expect an education in Ochs’ art, but also, perhaps more importantly (to the singer-songwriter), a glimpse into a time and place that both fed, fueled and bestowed meaning on his songs. Bowser succeeds in paints the portrait of a performer that was both idealistic and careerist, driven to fight injustice yet also propelled to explore new creative avenues (like recording with local musicians in Africa). Did Ochs fall — by way of drink, drugs, and mental illness — or was he pushed, as the artist claimed when he accused CIA thugs of destroying his vocal chords? The filmmaker steps back respectfully, allowing us to draw our own conclusion about this life lived fully. (1:38) Balboa, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
*Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? There are plenty of docs out there detailing the slow decline of the human race — self-inflicted decline, that is, thanks to our disregard for long-term environmental damage caused by our greedy, polluting ways. But unlike the recent Carbon Nation (2010), for example, which took a broad look at renewable energy, Queen of the Sun studies a far more specific issue. A tiny one, in fact: the size of a honeybee. Of course, as the movie points out, this honeybee-sized disaster is actually a global disaster in the making. The latest from Taggart Siegel, director of 2005’s The Real Dirt on Farmer John, investigates the global bee crisis, talking to numerous beekeepers and scientists to discover why bees are disappearing, how their mass-vanishing act affects the food chain, and what (if anything) can be done before it’s too late. Creative animation and quite a few characters (including a shirtless French guy who tickles his hive with his graying mustache) keep Queen of the Bees from feeling too much like a lecture; in fact, it’s quite an eye-opener. You’ll think twice before ever swatting another bee. (1:23) Roxie. (Eddy)
Rango (1:47) Empire, Presidio, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki.
Red Riding Hood In order to appreciate a movie like Red Riding Hood, you have to be familiar with the teen supernatural romance genre. Catherine Hardwicke’s sexy reinterpretation of the fairy tale is not high art: the script is often laughable, the acting flat, and the werewolf CGI embarrassing. But there’s something undeniably enjoyable about Red Riding Hood, especially in the wake of the duller, more sexually repressed Twilight series. Amanda Seyfried stars as Valerie, a young woman living in a village of werewolf cannon fodder. She’s torn between love and duty — or, more accurately, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and Henry (Max Irons). Meanwhile, a vicious werewolf hunter (Gary Oldman) has arrived to overact his way into killing the beast. It’s a silly story with plenty of hamfisted references to the original fairy tale, but if you can embrace the camp factor and the striking visuals, Red Riding Hood is actually quite fun. Though, to be fair, it might help if you suffer through Beastly first. (1:38) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Peitzman)
Sucker Punch If steampunk and Call of Duty had a baby, would it be called Baby Doll? That seems to be the question posed by director-cowriter Zack Snyder with his latest edge-skating, CGI-laden opus. Neither as saccharine and built-for-kids as last year’s Legend of the Guardians, nor as doomed and gore-besotted as 2006’s 300, Sucker Punch instead reads as a grimy Grimm’s fairy tale built for girls succored on otaku, Wii, and suburban pole dancing lessons. Already caught in a thicket of storybook tropes, complete with a wicked stepfather and vulnerable younger sister, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is tossed into an asylum for wayward girls, signed up for a lobotomy that’s certain to put her in la-la land for good. Fortunately she has a great imagination — and a flair for disassociating herself from the horrors around her —and the scene suddenly shifts to a bordello-strip club populated by such bad-girls-with-hearts-of-gold as Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and sister Rocket (Jena Malone). There Baby Doll discovers yet another layer in the gameplay: like a prospective hoofer in Dancing with the Stars, she must dance her way to the next level or next prize — while deep in her imagination, she sees herself battling giant samurai, robot-zombie Nazis, dragons, and such, assisted by the David Carradine-like, cliché-spouting wise man (Scott Glenn) and accompanied by an inspiring score that includes Björk’s “Army of Me” and covers of the Pixies and Stooges. Things take a turn for the girl gang-y when she recruits Sweet Pea, Rocket, and other random stripper-‘hos (Vanessa Hudgens and Real World starlet Jamie Chung) in her scheme to escape. Why bother, one wonders, since Baby Doll seems to be a genuine escape artist of the mind? The ever-fatalistic Snyder obviously has affection for his charges: when the shadows inevitably close in, he delicately refrains from the arterial spray as the little girls bite the dust in what might be the closest thing to a feature-length anime classic that Baz Luhrmann would give his velvet frock coat to make. (2:00) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Chun)
*Win Win Is Tom McCarthy the most versatile guy in Hollywood? He’s a successful character actor (in big-budget movies like 2009’s 2012; smaller-scale pictures like 2005’s Good Night, and Good Luck; and the final season of The Wire). He’s an Oscar-nominated screenwriter (2009’s Up). And he’s the writer-director of two highly acclaimed indie dramas, The Station Agent (2003) and The Visitor (2007). Clearly, McCarthy must not sleep much. His latest, Win Win, is a comedy set in his hometown of New Providence, N.J. Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a lawyer who’s feeling the economic pinch. Betraying his own basic good-guy-ness, he takes advantage of a senile client, Leo (Burt Young), when he spots the opportunity to pull in some badly-needed extra cash. Matters complicate with the appearance of Leo’s grandson, Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer), a runaway from Ohio. Though Mike’s wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), is suspicious of the taciturn teen, she allows Kyle to crash with the Flaherty family. As luck would have it, Kyle is a superstar wrestler — and Mike happens to coach the local high school team. Things are going well until Kyle’s greedy mother (Melanie Lynskey) turns up and starts sniffing around her father’s finances. Lessons are learned, sure, and there are no big plot twists beyond typical indie-comedy turf. But the script delivers more genuine laughs than you’d expect from a movie that’s essentially about the recession. (1:46) Bridge, California, SF Center. (Eddy)
Winter in Wartime (1:43) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael.
Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead Joe Cross appears in person for a special screening of his weight-loss documentary; visit www.balboamovies.com for details and advance tickets. (1:40) Balboa.
*Some Girls Do, The President’s Analyst This last double bill in the Vortex Room’s March of vintage espionage offers something silly and something sublime. The former is journeyman U.K. director Ralph Thomas’ 1969 feature, a slick 007 knockoff with Richard Johnson — a homelier Sean Connery lookalike — being pursued far and wide by foes of “the world’s first supersonic airliner.” Plus a lot of sexy girls, natch, including Ohio-born starlet Synde Rome — whose stunning filmography would include roles opposite Marty Feldman, David Bowie, and The Pumaman (1960), not to mention a Polanski movie — as miniskirted twit “Flicky,” and Israeli bombshell Daliah Lavi. The semi-spoof no doubt taxed the finances of Rank Organization, that British studio remembered for its muscleman-striking-gong logo, which had missed out on the Bond bonanza. It’s enjoyably dated disposable entertainment. By contrast, 1967’s The President’s Analyst by writer-director Theodore J. Flicker, whose non-promotion to the status of Woody Allen or Mel Brooks deprived us of unimaginable comic gold, is possibly the greatest of all 1960s movie satires. A marvelous James Coburn plays the title figure, whose privileged access to the Oval Office results in tracking by assassins worried he “knows too much,” to the free world’s peril. Parodying everything from spy flicks to emergent hippie culture, it’s an undervalued classic you’ll remain unacquainted with at your peril. Vortex Room. (Harvey)