Northern promises

MILL VALLEY FILM FEST: Our picks of the litter

'Flicker,' 'Holy Motors,' and 'fat Kid Rules the World' are featured at this year's fest

On the Road (Walter Salles, US/France/UK/Brazil, 2012) Walter Salles (2004's The Motorcycle Diaries) engages Diaries screenwriter Jose Rivera to adapt Jack Kerouac's Beat classic; it's translated to the screen in a streamlined version, albeit one rife with parties, drugs, jazz, danger, reckless driving, sex, philosophical conversations, soul-searching, and "kicks" galore. Brit Sam Riley (2007's Control) plays Kerouac stand-in Sal Paradise, observing (and scribbling down) his gritty adventures as they unfold. Most of those adventures come courtesy of charismatic, freewheeling Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund of 2010's Tron: Legacy), who blows in and out of Sal's life (and a lot of other people's lives, too, including wives played by Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst). Beautifully shot, with careful attention to period detail and reverential treatment of the Beat ethos, the film is an admirable effort but a little too shapeless, maybe simply due to the peripatetic nature of its iconic source material, to be completely satisfying. Among the performances, erstwhile teen dream Stewart is an uninhibited standout. Thu/4, 6:30 and 6:45pm, Smith Rafael. (Cheryl Eddy)

Road North (Mika Kaurismäki, Finland) Mika Kaurismäki's films are generally much more broadly accessible than the dryly minimalist ones of his brother Aki, yet the latter has by far the larger international audience. That might change a bit with this likable seriocomic road trip. Emotionally recessive concert pianist Timo (Samuli Edelmann) is less than delighted one day to find an uninvited guest slumped outside his apartment: the father who abandoned him 30-odd years earlier. Far from having improved himself in the interim, Leo (Vesa-Matti Loiri) is a corpulent slob, convenience store robber, and car thief. But he is insistent in dragging his son on a journey whose full purpose he won't reveal until its end. Actually, you can guess where it's headed — but getting there is full of surprises, some touching and some very funny. Fri/5, 9pm, Smith Rafael; Sun/7, 6pm, Sequoia. (Dennis Harvey)

Fat Kid Rules the World (Matthew Lillard, US) It really does suck to be Troy (Jacob Wysocki from 2011's Terri). An XXL-sized high schooler, he's invisible to his peers, derided by his little brother (Dylan Arnold), and has lived in general domestic misery since the death of his beloved mother under the heavy-handed rule of his well-meaning but humorless ex-military dad (Billy Campbell). His only friends are online gamers, his only girlfriends the imaginary kind. But all that begins to change when chance throws him across the path of notorious local hell raiser Marcus (Matt O'Leary), who's been expelled from school, has left the band he fronts, and is equal parts rebel hero to druggy, lyin' mess. But he randomly decrees Troy is cool, and his new drummer. Even if he's just being used, Troy's world is headed for some big changes. Actor Matthew Lillard's feature directorial debut, based on K.L. Going's graphic novel, is familiar stuff in outline but a delight in execution, as it trades the usual teen-comedy crudities (a few gratuitous joke fantasy sequences aside) for something more heartfelt and restrained, while still funny. O'Leary from last year's overlooked Natural Selection is flamboyantly terrific, while on the opposite end of the acting scale Campbell makes repressed emotion count for a lot — he has one wordless moment at a hospital that just might bring you to the tears his character refuses to spill. Sat/6, 3pm, Sequoia; Oct. 11, 7pm, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

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