Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Michelle Devereaux, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Erik Morse, Louis Peitzman, Lynn Rapoport, Ben Richardson, and Matt Sussman. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. For first-run showtimes, see Movie Guide.
*Big River Man Some people are just larger than life. Martin Strel is 53-year-old overweight, alcoholic, endurance swimmer from Slovenia who has made it his calling to swim the world's longest rivers. Borut Strel, his son and primary publicist, might say his father does it to increase awareness about pollution or, in the Amazon's case, deforestation, but we quickly see that there is a deeper compulsion that goes into Martin's swims. Big River Man chronicles Martin's descent down the Amazon river, from Peru to Brazil, as he scoffs at piranhas and alligators, all while drinking two bottles of wine a day. Martin is definitely a funny guy and he helps make Big River Man a funny film, but most impressive is the subtle shift from quirky human interest documentary to Heart of Darkness-style thriller when too many days in the sun cause Martin to lose his grip on reality. (1:34) Roxie. (Peter Galvin)
*The Father of My Children Grégoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) is a perpetual motion machine: a Paris-based veteran film producer of complicated multinational whose every waking moment is spent pleading, finessing, reassuring, and generally putting out fires of the artistic, logistic, or financial kind. But lately the strain has begun to surpass even his Herculean coping abilities. Debtors are closing in; funding might collapse for a brilliant but uncommercial director's already half-finished latest. After surviving any number of prior crises, Gregoire's whole production company might finally dissolve into a puddle of red ink and lawsuits. He barely has time to enjoy his perfect family, with Italian wife Sylvia (Chiara Caselli) and three young daughters happily ensconced in a charming country house. Something's got to give — and when it does, writer-director Mia Hansen-Love's drama (very loosely based on the life of a late European film producer) drastically shifts its focus midway. Her film's first half is so arresting — with its whirlwind glimpse at a job so few of us know much about, yet which couldn't be more important in keeping cinema afloat — that the second half inevitably seems less interesting by comparison. Still, for about 55 minutes The Father of My Children offers something you haven't quite seen before, an experience well worthwhile even if the subsequent 55 are less memorable. (1:50) Embarcadero. (Harvey)
*Looking for Eric Eric Bishop (Steve Everts) is a single dad, frustrated at his inability to bond with his teenage sons and heartbroken over his failed marriage to Lily (Stephanie Bishop), the woman he walked out on 20 years ago but never managed to get over. Just when things are looking dire, Eric is delivered in surprising, magical fashion by hallucinatory visitations from Eric Cantona, his favorite soccer player, a philosophical Frenchman who was as renowned for his inscrutable press conferences as he was for his scintillating goals. Cantona plays himself, and passes pensive joints with Bishop as they slowly piece his shattered life back together. American viewers might be have trouble deciphering the intricacies of soccer culture or the molasses-thick Mancunian accents, but at its heart the movie (by Brit director Ken Loach) is an amusing, tautly crafted fable of middle-aged alienation giving way to hope and gumption. (1:57) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Richardson)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Jake Gyllenhaal stars as the titular hero this video game adaptation. (2:10) California, Presidio.
Sex and the City 2 Oh my god, (more) shoes. (2:24) Castro, Cerrito, Marina, Presidio, Shattuck.
Survival of the Dead See Trash. (1:30) Lumiere, Shattuck.
Alice in Wonderland Tim Burton's take on the classic children's tale met my mediocre expectations exactly, given its months of pre-release hype (in the film world, fashion magazines, and even Sephora, for the love of brightly-colored eye shadows). Most folks over a certain age will already know the story, and much of the dialogue, before the lights go down and the 3-D glasses go on; it's up to Burton and his all-star cast (including numerous big-name actors providing voices for animated characters) to make the tale seem newly enthralling. The visuals are nearly as striking as the CG, with Helena Bonham Carter's big-headed Red Queen a particularly marvelous human-computer creation. But Wonderland suffers from the style-over-substance dilemma that's plagued Burton before; all that spooky-pretty whimsy can't disguise the film's fairly tepid script. Teenage Alice (Mia Wasikowska) displaying girl-power tendencies is a nice, if not surprising, touch, but Johnny Depp's grating take on the Mad Hatter will please only those who were able to stomach his interpretation of Willy Wonka. (1:48) SF Center. (Eddy)
*Babies Thomas Balmes' camera records the first year in the lives of four infants in vastly different circumstances. They're respectively born to hip young couple in Tokyo's high-tech clutter; familiar moderately alterna-types (the father is director Frazer Bradshaw of last year's excellent indie drama Everything Strange and New) in SF's Mission District; a yurt-dwelling family isolated in the vast Mongolian tundra; and a Namibian village so maternally focused that adult menfolk seem to have been banished. Yes, on one level this is the cutest li'l documentary you ever saw. But if you were planning to avoid thinking that is all (or most) of what Babies would be like, you will miss out big time. Void of explanatory titles, voice-over narration, or subtitle translations, this is a purely observatory piece that reveals just how fascinating the business of being a baby is. There's very little predictable pooping, wailing, or coddling. Instead, Balmes' wonderful eye captures absorbing moments of sussing things out, decision-making, and skill learning. While the First World tykes firstborns both — are hauled off to (way) pre-school classes, the much less day planned Third Worlders have more complex, unmediated dealings with community. Those range from fending off devilish older siblings to Mongol Bayarjargal's startlingly casual consorting with large furry livestock. (Imagine the horror of parents you know were their baby found surrounded by massive cows — a situation that here causes no concern whatsoever for adults, children, or bovines.) So accustomed to the camera that it doesn't influence their behavior, the subjects here are viewed with an intimacy that continually surprises. Babies is getting a wider-than-usual release for a documentary, one cannily timed to coincide with Mother's Day. But don't be fooled: this movie is actually very cool. (1:19) Albany, Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Smith Rafael, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
*City Island The Rizzo family of City Island, N.Y. — a tiny atoll associated historically with fishing and jurisdictionally with the Bronx — have reached a state where their primary interactions consist of sniping, yelling, and storming out of rooms. These storm clouds operate as cover for the secrets they're all busy keeping from one another. Correctional officer Vince (Andy Garcia) pretends he's got frequent poker nights so he can skulk off to his true shameful indulgence: a Manhattan acting class. Perpetually fuming spouse Joyce (Julianna Margulies) assumes he's having an affair. Daughter Vivian (Dominik García-Lorido) has dropped out of school to work at a strip joint, while the world class-sarcasms of teenager Vinnie (Ezra Miller) deflect attention from his own hidden life as an aspiring chubby chaser. All this (plus everyone's sneaky cigarette habit) is nothing, however, compared to Vince's really big secret: he conceived and abandoned a "love child" before marrying, and said guilty issue has just turned up as a 24-year-old car thief on his cell block. Writer-director Raymond De Felitta made a couple other features in the last 15 years, none widely seen; if this latest is typical, we need more of him, more often. Perfectly cast, City Island is farcical without being cartoonish, howl-inducing without lowering your brain-cell count. It's arguably a better, less self-conscious slice of dysfunctional family absurdism than Little Miss Sunshine (2006) — complete with an Alan Arkin more inspired in his one big scene here than in all of that film's Oscar-winning performance. (1:40) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
The City of Your Final Destination In James Ivory's latest literary adaptation, Omar (Omar Metwally), an Iranian American graduate student of Latin American literature, precipitously descends on a rural estate in Paraguay, hoping to petition the relatives of deceased writer Jules Gund for authorization to write his biography. Numbering among the somewhat complicated ménage are Gund's widow, Caroline (Laura Linney), his mistress, Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg), their child, Portia (Ambar Mallman), the author's brother, Adam (Anthony Hopkins), and Adam's lover, Pete (Hiroyuki Sanada), a household that the film depicts as caught in a sedative isolation obstructing any progress or flourishing or change. But where Gund's violent suicide has failed to produce a cataclysmic shift, the somewhat hapless Omar manages to interrupt their idle routines and mobilize them, stirring up sentiment and ambition. The notion of redirected fate is telegraphed by the title, but what the film does best is show the calm before the storm (really more of a heavy downpour) — and showcase the fineness of Hopkins's and Linney's dramatic abilities. In the final act, we see the characters being moved about rather than moved, and the sound of screeching brakes applied as the film reaches its conclusion undoes much of the subtlety invested in their performances. (1:58) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Rapoport)
Clash of the Titans The minds behind Clash of the Titans decided their movie should be 3D at the last possible moment before release. Consequently, the 3D is pretty janky. I don't know what the rest of the film's excuse is. Clash of the Titans retreads the 1981 cult classic with reasonable faithfulness, though Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion effects have been (of course) replaced with CG renderings of all the expected monsters, magic, gods, etc. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes — as other reviews have pointed out: Schindler's List (1993) reunion! — glow and glower as Zeus and Hades, while Sam Worthington (2009's Avatar) once again fills the role of bland hero, this time as a snooze-worthy Perseus. You might have fun in the moment with Clash of the Titans, but it's hardly memorable, and certainly nowhere near epic. (1:58) SF Center. (Eddy)
*Dirty Hands The 1990s-ish iconoclastic, workaholic breed of Asian hipster is obsessively worked by David Choe in Dirty Hands. Exhaustively documenting the Los Angeles-born artist for eight years as he matures before our eyes, director Harry Kim charts the growth spurts: from mischievous tot to shoplifter and graf artist to porn illustrator to street-art superstar to spiritual penitent after a stint in a Tokyo jail. The filmmaker doesn't seem to know quite when to stop, but then neither does his subject: an obviously intelligent, playful talent who specializes in compulsively analyzing himself and pushing himself to the limits of the law, his work, and his own (r)evolution as a human being. So driven in his pursuit of edge-skating experiences that he comes off as less hipster than haunted, Choe and his Bukowskian tendencies, Vice aesthetics, and "deep" thoughts rivet long after the bodily fluids and sensory overload murals congeal. (1:33) Roxie. (Chun)
*Exit Through the Gift Shop Exit Through the Gift Shop is not a film about the elusive graffiti-cum-conceptual artist and merry prankster known as Banksy, even though he takes up a good chunk of this sly and by-no-means impartial documentary and is listed as its director. Rather, as he informs us — voice electronically altered, face hidden in shadow — in the film's opening minutes, the film's real subject is one Thierry Guetta, a French expat living in LA whose hangdog eyes, squat stature, and propensity for mutton chops and polyester could pass him off as Ron Jeremy's long lost twin. Unlike Jeremy, Guetta is not blessed with any prodigious natural talent to propel him to stardom, save for a compulsion to videotape every waking minute of his life (roughly 80 percent of the footage in Exit is Guetta's) and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. When Guetta is introduced by his tagger cousin to a pre-Obamatized Shepard Fairey in 2007, he realizes his true calling: to make a documentary about the street art scene that was then only starting to get mainstream attention. Enter Banksy, who, at first, is Guetta's ultimate quarry. Eventually, the two become chummy, with Guetta acting as lookout and documenter for the artist just as the art market starts clambering for its piece of, "the Scarlet Pimpernel of street art," as one headline dubs him. When, at about three quarters of the way in, Guetta, following Banksy's casual suggestion, drops his camcorder and tries his hand at making street art, Exit becomes a very different beast. Guetta's flashy debut as Mr. Brainwash is as obscenely successful as his "art" is terribly unimaginative — much to the chagrin of his former documentary subjects. But Guetta is no Eve Harrington and Banksy, who has the last laugh here, gives him plenty of rope with which to truss himself. Is Mr. Brainwash really the ridiculous and inevitable terminus of street art's runaway mainstream success (which, it must be said, Banksy has handsomely profited from)? That question begs another: with friends like Banksy, who needs enemies? (1:27) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Sussman)
*The Ghost Writer Roman Polanski's never-ending legal woes have inspired endless debates on the interwebs and elsewhere; they also can't help but add subtext to the 76-year-old's new film, which is chock full o' anti-American vibes anyway. It's also a pretty nifty political thriller about a disgraced former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) who's hanging out in his Martha's Vineyard mansion with his whip-smart, bitter wife (Olivia Williams) and Joan Holloway-as-ice-queen assistant (Kim Cattrall), plus an eager young biographer (Ewan McGregor) recently hired to ghost-write his memoirs. But as the writer quickly discovers, the politician's past contains the kinds of secrets that cause strange cars with tinted windows to appear in one's rearview mirror when driving along deserted country roads. Polanski's long been an expert when it comes to escalating tension onscreen; he's also so good at adding offbeat moments that only seem tossed-off (as when the PM's groundskeeper attempts to rake leaves amid relentless sea breezes) and making the utmost of his top-notch actors (Tom Wilkinson and Eli Wallach have small, memorable roles). Though I found The Ghost Writer's ZOMG! third-act revelation to be a bit corny, I still didn't think it detracted from the finely crafted film that led up to it. (1:49) Elmwood, Opera Plaza. (Eddy)
*The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo By the time the first of Stieg Larsson's so-called "Millennium" books had been published anywhere, the series already had an unhappy ending: he died (in 2004). The following year, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo became a Swedish, then eventually international sensation, its sequels following suit. The books are addicting, to say the least; despite their essential crime-mystery-thriller nature, they don't require putting your ear for writing of some literary value on sleep mode. Now the first of three adaptive features shot back-to-back has reached U.S. screens. (Sorry to say, yes, a Hollywood remake is already in the works — but let's hope that's years away.) Even at two-and-a-half hours, this Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by necessity must do some major truncating to pack in the essentials of a very long, very plotty novel. Still, all but the nitpickingest fans will be fairly satisfied, while virgins will have the benefit of not knowing what's going to happen and getting scared accordingly. Soon facing jail after losing a libel suit brought against him by a shady corporate tycoon, leftie journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) gets a curious private offer to probe the disappearance 40 years earlier of a teenage girl. This entangles him with an eccentric wealthy family and their many closet skeletons (including Nazi sympathies) — as well as dragon-tattooed Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), androgynous loner, 24-year-old court ward, investigative researcher, and skillful hacker. Director Niels Arden Oplev and his scenarists do a workmanlike job — one more organizational than interpretive, a faithful transcription without much style or personality all its own. Nonetheless, Larsson's narrative engine kicks in early and hauls you right along to the depot. (2:32) Bridge, Piedmont, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Harry Brown Shades of Dirty Harry (1971) for the tea cozy and tweed set: elegantly rendered and very nicely played, Harry Brown might be the dark, late-in-the-day elder brother to 1971's Get Carter, in the hands of eponymous lead Michael Caine. He's a pensioner mourning the passing of his beloved wife, his mysterious life as a Marine stationed in Northern Ireland firmly behind him. Then his chess-playing pal Leonard (David Bradley) is terrorized and killed by the unsavory gang of heroin dealing hoodlums who lurk near their projects in a tunnel walkway like gun-toting, foul-mouthed, sociopathic trolls. Harry Brown is, er, forced to forsake a vow of peace and go commando on the culprits' asses, triggering some moments of ultraviolence that are unsettling in their whole-hearted embrace of vigilante justice. Like predecessors similarly fixated on vengeance in their respective urban hells, a la Hardcore (1979) and Taxi Driver (1976) (Harry Brown echoes key moments in the latter, in particular — see, for instance, its keenly tense, eerily humorous gun shopping scene), Harry Brown is essentially an arch-conservative film, if good looking and even likable with Caine meting out the punishment. The overall denouement just might make some seniors feel very, very good about the coiled potential for hurt embedded in their aging frames. (1:42) Embarcadero, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
How to Train Your Dragon (1:38) 1000 Van Ness.
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) Director Tom Six had a vision, a glorious dream of surgically connecting three human beings via their gastro-intestinal systems, or as Kevin Smith would say — "ass to mouth." When two girlfriends on a road trip across Europe get a flat tire, they stumble upon the home of a mad doctor (Dieter Laser) with a similar dream, who drugs them and ties them up in his basement laboratory. The Human Centipede is an entry into the torture porn arena, but it feels especially icky because you just know that the girls have zero chance of escaping the "100 percent medically accurate!" surgery. Once hooked up, there's nowhere for the film to go and two out of three actors can't talk because they are sewn to someone else's anus. Still, as one-note as The Human Centipede is, I think we'd do well to encourage more films to be as batshit insane as this one. (1:30) Lumiere. (Galvin)
*Iron Man 2 Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) returns, just as rich and self-involved as before, though his ego his inflated to unimaginable heights due to his superheroic fame. Pretty much, he's put the whole "with great power comes great responsibility" thing on the back burner, exasperating everyone from Girl Friday Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow); to BFF military man Rhodey (Don Cheadle, replacing the first installment's Terrence Howard); to certain mysterious Marvels played by Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson; to a doofus-y rival defense contractor (Sam Rockwell); to a sanctimonius Senator (Garry Shandling). Frankly, the fact that a vengeful Russian scientist (Mickey Rourke) is plotting Tony's imminent death is a secondary threat here — for much of the film, Tony's biggest enemy is himself. Fortunately, this is conveyed with enjoyable action (props to director Jon Favreau, who also has a small role), a witty script (actor Justin Theroux — who knew? He also co-wrote 2008's Tropic Thunder, by the way), and gusto-going performances by everyone, from Downey on down. Stay for the whole credits or miss out on the geek-gasm. (2:05) California, Castro, Empire, Four Star, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Just Wright (1:51) 1000 Van Ness.
*Kick-Ass Based on a comic book series by Mark Millar, whose work was also the model for 2008's Wanted, Kick Ass is a similarly over-the-top action flick that plays up its absurdity to even greater comedic effect. High school nerd Dave (Aaron Johnson) decides to become the world's first real superhero. Donning a green wetsuit he bought on the internet and mustering some unlikely courage, he takes to the streets to avenge wrongdoing. Unsurprisingly, Dave is immediately beaten almost to death because he's just a kid who has no idea what he's doing, but Kick-Ass' greatest achievement is knowing exactly how to subvert audience expectations. Scenes that marry the film's innocent story with enormously exaggerated violence enhance the otherwise Superbad-lite high-school comedy unfolding around them, and a parallel plot-line involving Nicolas Cage instructing his 12-year-old daughter to commit grievous murders will probably end up being the most gratifying aspect of the film. Though too much set-up and spinning gears mars the middle act, it's hard to fault the film for competently setting up one of the most crowd-pleasing endings in recent memory. (1:58) 1000 Van Ness. (Galvin)
Kites As randomly exuberant, shamelessly cheesy, and as garishly OTT as an amalgam of Bollywood song-and-dance flash and '80s Hollywood blockbuster can get, Kites is a lovable mutt through and through — ready for its stateside close-up with by way of a forthcoming Brett Ratner English-language "remix" treatment. But first the two-hour original: J (Hrithik Roshan) is a poor but studly, V-chested dance teacher who hits the jackpot in Vegas with Gina (Kangna), his besotted student and the daughter of a powerful and deadly casino owner. Their dance competition number — jumpily cut like a hybrid of Dancing With the Stars, Saturday Night Fever (1977), and Fame (1980) — lands J in the bosom of Gina's family, where he meets her sadistic bro, Tony (Nick Brown), and his fiancée, Natasha (Barbara Mori), an illegal immigrant from Mexico. But J and Natasha have met briefly before, when she hired him to marry her for a green card. How can a connected, killer family possibly get in the way of true love — between two leads who resemble a youthful, performance-enhanced, manically happily Nicolas Cage and Megan Fox? Smoothly integrating the dance numbers into the predictable narrative, Kites has polished off any possible edge from its high-energy Bollywood riff on the movies of Michael Bay and Ridley Scott, but that doesn't mean you can tear your eyes from the screen, or stop the music. (1:30) SF Center. (Chun)
Letters to Juliet If you can stomach the inevitable Barbara Cartland/Harlequin-romance-style clichés — and believe that Amanda Seyfried as a New Yorker fact-checker — then Letters to Juliet might be the ideal Tuscan-sunlit valentine for you. Seyfried's Sophie is on a pre-honeymoon trip to Verona with her preoccupied chef-restaurateur intended, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), who's more interested in sampling cheese and purchasing vino than taking in the romantic attractions of Verona with his fiancée. Luckily she finds the perfect diversion for a wannabe scribe: a small clutch of diehard romantics enlisted by the city of Verona to answer the letters to Juliet posted by lovelorn ladies. They're Juliet's secretaries — never mind that Juliet never managed to maintain a successful or long-term relationship herself. When Sophie finds a lost, unanswered letter from the '50s, she sets off sequence of unlikely events, as the letter's English writer, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), returns to Verona with her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan), in search of her missed-connection, Lorenzo. Alas, Lorenzo's long gone, and the fact-checker decides to help the warm-hearted, hopeful Claire find her lost lover. Unfortunately Sophie's chemistry with both her matches isn't as powerful as Redgrave's with real-life husband Franco Nero — after all he was Lancelot to her Guenevere in 1967's Camelot and the father of her son. Still, Redgrave's power as an actress — and her relationship with Nero — adds a resonance that takes this otherwise by-the-numbers romance to another level. (1:46) Elmwood, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
MacGruber Mudflaps, moptops, box-office flippity-flops, such is the sad transition Saturday Night Live skits make to the big screen. Handicapped as such MacGruber also has a very specific demographic in mind: the Gen-Xers who popularized the use of MacGyver as a verb and harbor a picture-tube-deep ironic affection for the lousy '80s TV action shows of their youth. Does anyone younger — or older — than that population get MacGruber's interest in Howard Stern-style transgressive humor, its "Cunth"/dick/poop/butt jokes, and its shameful identification with badly dated hair styles? That said, MacGruber isn't half bad if one keeps expectations nice 'n' low, much like its hero's brow, and one enjoys a comic antihero who uses his buds as human shields and can't MacGyver a weapon out of a tennis ball and rubber-band to save his life. Laughs can be had — as long as your bad Gen-X self is still in touch with your inner 13-year-old. MacGruber won't make the Bay Area-born-and-bred Will Forte a superstar, but at least it gives Kristen Wiig fans another, if somewhat inexplicable, chance to glimpse their heroine in action, with little to do — someone get this smart, likable actress into a Nicole Holofcener comedy ASAP. (1:39) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Chun)
*Mid-August Lunch Gianni Di Gregorio's loose, engaging comedy is about an aging bachelor still living with his ancient mum in their Rome flat. When his landlord offers to forgive some debts in return for briefly taking in his own elderly ma, Gianni (played by the director himself) soon finds himself in cat-herding charge of no less than five old ladies who delight in one another's company while running him ragged. Gomorrah (2008) screenwriter Di Gregorio used nonprofessionals to play those parts in this semi improvised miniature, which is as light and flavorful as a first course of prosciutto and mozzarella. It's a solid addition to the canon of palate-pleasing culinary flicks such as Big Night (1996) and Babette's Feast (1987), as opposed to the repulsive ones like Super Size Me (2004) or Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983). (1:15) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
La Mission A veteran S.F. vato turned responsible — if still muy macho — widower, father, and Muni driver, fortysomething Che (Benjamin Bratt) isn't the type for mushy displays of sentiment. But it's clear his pride and joy is son Jess (Jeremy Ray Valdez), a straight-A high school grad bound for UCLA. That filial bond, however, sustains some serious damage when Che discovers Jes has a secret life — with a boyfriend, in the Castro, just a few blocks away from their Mission walkup but might as well be light-years away as far as old-school dad is concerned. This Bratt family project (Benjamin's brother Peter writes-directs, his wife Talisa Soto Bratt has a supporting role) has a bit of a predictable TV-movie feel, but its warm heart is very much in the right place. (1:57) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Mother and Child Adoption advocates who railed against Orphan (2009) should turn their sights on Mother and Child, a ridiculous melodrama with a thoroughly vile message. I'd wager writer-director Rodrigo García didn't set out to make an anti-adoption film: this is a movie about the relationship between mothers and daughters. But the undertones are impossible to miss. Annette Bening plays Karen, a miserable woman consumed by regret for putting her daughter up for adoption 37 years ago. That biological daughter is Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), who — despite having been adopted at birth — speaks dismissively of her "adoptive" parents as though they were never really hers. She's cold and manipulative, sleeping with her boss and married neighbor because she can. Mother and Child offers no real explanation for why these women are so unpleasant, so we're forced to conclude it's the four decades-old adoption. Despite a stellar cast, which also includes Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, and S. Epatha Merkerson, the film's misguided politics are too distracting to ignore. (2:06) Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)
*OSS 117: Lost in Rio The Cold War heated up a public appetite for spy adventures well before James Bond became a pop phenomenon. In fact, Ian Fleming hadn't yet created 007 in 1949, when Jean Bruce commenced writing novels about Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, a.k.a. Agent OSS 117. This French superspy was ready-made to join the ranks of umpteen 007 wannabes, appearing in somewhere between six and 11 films (it's unclear whether all involved de La Bath, or were just Bruce-based) through 1970, played by at least four actors. The series remained well-known enough to get a new life in 2006 when director Michel Hazanavicius and top French comedy star Jean Dujardin sought to spoof 1960s espionage flicks a la Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). That was a big hit, so now we've got a sequel. OSS 117: Lost in Rio isn't as fresh or funny as the preceding Cairo, Nest of Spies. But it's still a whole lot fresher and funnier than Austin Powers Nos. two (1999) and three (2002). Dujardin's de La Bath is the very model of jet-set masculinity, twisting the night away at a ski chalet with umpteen soon-to-be-machine gunned "Oriental" lovelies in the opening sequence. Of course such pleasure pursuits take place strictly between car chases, shootouts, and karate fights. Agreeably silly, Lost in Rio doesn't go for Hollywood-style slapstick and gross out yuks. Instead, its biggest laughs are usually droll throwaways, as when 117 explains a shocking sudden costume change with the unlikely declaration "I sew," or during an LSD-dosed hippie orgy proves quite willing to go with the flow — even when that involves another guy's groovy finger breaching security up the pride of French intelligence's derriere. (1:37) Lumiere, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
*Please Give Manhattan couple Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) are the proprietors of an up-market vintage furniture store — they troll the apartments of the recently deceased, redistributing the contents at an astonishing markup — and they've purchased the entire apartment of their elderly next-door neighbor (Ann Guilbert). As they wait for her to expire so they can knock down a wall, they try not to loom in anticipation in front of her granddaughters, the softly melancholic Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and the brittle pragmatist Mary (Amanda Peet). Filmmaker Nicole Holofcener has entered this territory before, examining the interpersonal pressures that a sizable income gap can exert in 2006's Friends with Money. Here she turns to the pangs and blunderings of the liberal existence burdened with the discomforts of being comfortable and the desire to do some good in the world. The film capably explores the unexamined impulses of liberal guilt, though the conclusion it reaches is unsatisfying. Like Holofcener's other work, Please Give is constructed from the episodic material of mundane, intimate encounters between characters whose complexity forces us to take them seriously, whether or not we like them. Here, though, it offers these private connections as the best one can hope for, a sort of domestic grace accrued by doing right, authentically, instinctively, by the people in your immediate orbit, leaving the larger world to muddle along on its axis as best it can. (1:30) Clay, SF Center, Shattuck. (Rapoport)
Princess Kaiulani Well-meaning and controversial (the independent's first title, Barbarian Princess, and the tragic events it depicts has distressed some native Hawaiians) in its own inoffensive way, Princess Kaiulani is unfortunately overshadowed by star Q'orianka Kilcher's first film, 2005's The New World, in which she portrayed Pocahontas. The Hawaii-raised Kilcher appears to be getting typecast as a tragic, romanticized native royal. Still, if you can get past director Marc Forby's weak attempts to match New World director Terrence Malick's searingly poetic montages and the clunky History Channel-by-the-numbers screenplay, you might give a little credit to the makers for bringing to the screen the tale of Hawaii's last intelligent, beautiful, and accomplished princess — a young woman determined to fight an overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and battle its annexation against the white land owners and descendents of missionaries who tried to block the voting rights of native Hawaiians. Kilcher possesses some of the noble charisma claimed by the real Kaiulani, but the obligatory romance superimposed on the narrative and the neglect of some of genuinely promising threads, such as Kaiulani's friendship with Robert Louis Stevenson, make Princess Kaiulani feel as faux as those who pretended to Hawaii's rule. (2:10) Elmwood, Embarcadero. (Chun)
Robin Hood Like it or not, we live in the age of the origin story. Ridley Scott's Robin Hood introduces us to the outlaw while he's still in France, wending his way back to Albion in the service of King Richard III. The Lionheart soon takes an arrow in the neck in order to demonstrate the film's historical bona fides, and yeoman archer Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) — surrounded by a nascent band of merry men — accidentally embroils himself in a conspiracy to wrest control of England. The complications of this intrigue hie Robin to Nottingham, where he is thrown together with Maid Marion (Cate Blanchett), a plucky rural aristocrat who likes getting her hands dirty almost as much as she likes a bit of smoldering Crowe seduction. A lot of hollow medieval verisimilitude ensues, along with a good bit of slow-mo swordplay, but the cumulative effect is tepid and rote. (2:20) Cerrito, Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Richardson)
The Secret in Their Eyes (2:07) Albany, Embarcadero.
Shrek Forever After 3D It's easy to give Dreamworks a hard time for pumping out a fourth sequel to a film that never really needed a sequel in the first place. But Shrek Forever After isn't all that bad — it's mostly just irrelevant. The film does begin on an interesting note, with Shrek discovering the consequences of settling down with a wife and kids: serious ennui. It's refreshing to see a fairy tale in which "happily ever after" is revealed to be rather mundane. But soon there are wacky magical hijinks that spawn an alternate universe, a cheap way to inject new life into tired old characters. (You like Puss in Boots? Well, he's fat now.) Luckily, the voice actors are still game and the animation remains top-notch. The 3D effects are well used for once, fleshing out Shrek's world rather than providing an unnecessary distraction. The end result is a mildly entertaining addition to the franchise, but like the alternate universe in which Shrek finds himself stranded, there's no real reason it should exist. (1:33) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)
Touching Home Hometown boys (Logan and Noah Miller) make good in this based-on-a-true-story tale of identical twins who must divide their time at home between training for major league baseball and looking after their alcoholic father. The brothers, who also wrote and directed the film, aim for David Gordon Green by way of Marin, but fall short of mastering that director's knack for natural dialogue. Ed Harris is, unsurprisingly, compelling as the alcoholic father, but the actors in the film who are not named Ed Harris tend to contribute to the script's distracting histrionics. Touching Home has some amazing NorCal cinematography, and I could see how family audiences might enjoy its "feel bad, then feel good" style of melodrama. But while it's awkward to say that someone's real-life experiences come off as trite, there are moments here that feel as clichéd as a Lifetime movie. (1:48) Smith Rafael. (Galvin)