Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Michelle Devereaux, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Louis Peitzman, Lynn Rapoport, Ben Richardson, and Matt Sussman.
*Animal Kingdom More renowned for its gold rush history and Victorian terrace homes than its criminal communities, Melbourne, Australia gets put on the same gritty map as Martin Scorsese's '70s-era New York City and Quentin Tarantino's '90s Los Angeles with the advent of director-writer David Michôd's masterful debut feature. The metropolis' sun-blasted suburban homes, wood-paneled bedrooms, and bleached-bone streets acquire a chilling, slowly building power, as Michôd follows the life and death of the Cody clan through the eyes of its newest member, an unformed, ungainly teenager nicknamed J (James Frecheville). When J's mother ODs, he's tossed into the twisted arms of her family: the Kewpie doll-faced, too-close-for-comfort matriarch Smurf (Jacki Weaver), dead-eyed armed robber Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), Pope's best friend Baz (Joel Edgerton), volatile younger brother and dealer Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), and baby bro Darren (Luke Ford). Learning to hide his responses to the escalating insanity surrounding the Codys' war against the police — and the rest of the world — and finding respite with his girlfriend, Nicky (Laura Wheelwright), J becomes the focus of a cop (Guy Pearce) determined to take the Codys down — and discovers he's going to have use all his cunning to survive in the jungle called home. Stunning performances abound — from Frecheville, who beautifully hides a growing awareness behind his character's monolithic passivity, to the adorably scarifying Weaver — in this carefully, brilliantly detailed crime-family drama bound to land at the top of aficionados' favored lineups, right alongside 1972's The Godfather and 1986's At Close Range and cult raves 1970's Bloody Mama and 1974's Big Bad Mama. (2:02) Metreon, Shattuck. (Chun)
Army of Crime In 1941 Paris, a group of resistance fighters — mostly foreign-born, many Jewish — form an underground network to sabotage the ever-growing Nazi presence in France. Their schemes range from the clever (playing loud piano to disguise the sound of a printing press) to the violent (grenades tossed under buses). Tension builds as the film progresses, though we learn in the first three minutes which characters will have "Died for France" at the end. In addition to its important historical lesson (with a modern-day nod toward the shifting definition of what makes a terrorist), Army of Crime also boasts a strong, easy-on-the-eyes ensemble cast and a depiction of wartime Paris that favors glamorous nostalgia. (2:13) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel See "Bunny Business." (2:04) Lumiere, Shattuck.
Lebanon "Das Boot in a tank" has been the thumbnail summary of writer-director Samuel Maoz's film in its festival travels to date, during which it's picked up various prizes including a Venice Golden Lion. On the first day of Israel's 1982 invasion (which Maoz fought in), an Israeli army tank with a crew of three fairly green 20-somethings — soon joined by a fourth with even less battle experience — crosses the border, enters a city already halfway reduced to rubble, and promptly gets its inhabitants in the worst possible fix, stranded without backup. Highly visceral and, needless to say, claustrophobic (there are almost no exterior shots), Lebanon may for some echo The Hurt Locker (2009) in its intense focus on physical peril. It also echoes that film's lack of equally gripping character development. But taken on its own willfully narrow terms, this is a potent exercise in squirmy combat you-are-thereness. (1:33) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Lottery Ticket When Bow Wow wins $370 million in the lottery, his neighbors are, understandably, a bit jealous. The all-star ensemble also features Ice Cube, Loretta Devine, Mike Epps, and Charlie Murphy. (1:39)
*Mao's Last Dancer Based on the subject's autobiography of the same name, this Australian-produced drama chronicles the real-life saga of Li Cunxin (played as child, teen, and adult by Huang Wen Bin, Chengwu Guo, and Chi Cao), who was plucked from his rural childhood village in 1972 to study far from home at the Beijing Dance Academy. He attracted notice from Houston Ballet artistic director Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood) during a cultural-exchange visit, and was allowed to go abroad for a Texas summer residency. At first the film looks headed toward well-handled but slightly pat inspirational territory pitting bad China against good America, as it cuts between Li's grueling training by (mostly) humorless Party ideologues, and his astonishment at the prosperity and freedom in a country he'd been programmed to believe was a capitalist hellhole of injustice and deprivation. (Though as a Chinese diplomat cautions, not untruthfully, he's only been exposed to "the nice parts.") Swayed by love and other factors, Li created an international incident — tensely staged here — when he chose to defect rather than return home. But Jan Sardi's script and reliable Aussie veteran Bruce Beresford's direction refuse to settle for easy sentiment, despite a corny situation or two. Our hero's new life isn't all dream-come-true, nor is his past renounced without serious consequence (a poignant Joan Chen essays his peasant mother). The generous ballet excerpts (only slightly marred by occasional slow-mo gimmickry) offer reward enough, but the film's greatest achievement is its honestly earning the right to jerk a few tears. (1:57) Albany, Embarcadero. (Harvey)
Nanny McPhee Returns Emma Thompson reprises her role as the magical nanny, this time helping out harried mother Maggie Gyllenhaal. (1:48) Presidio, Shattuck.
The Switch Sperm-donor humor: now officially a tired trend. (1:56) Shattuck.
Vampires Suck And they're ripe for parody, too. (1:40)
Agora (2:06) Shattuck.
*Alamar (1:13) Roxie.
Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (1:40) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center.
The Concert (1:47) Clay.
Despicable Me (1:35) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center.
Dinner for Schmucks (1:50) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center.
*The Disappearance of Alice Creed (1:40) Sundance Kabuki.
Eat Pray Love The new film based on Elizabeth Gilbert's chart-busting memoir, Eat Pray Love, benefits greatly from the lead performance by Julia Roberts, an actor who can draw from her own reserves of pathos when a project has none of its own. The adaptation, about a whiny American author farting around the globe in search of what amounts to spiritual room service, is nothing without her. The journey begins with the Type-A, book contract-inspired premise that Gilbert will travel to three appointed countries over the course of a year in order that, having thrice denied herself absolutely nothing, she might come out the other end a better-balanced human being. The first stop is Italy, where her entire plan is to finally unbutton her jeans and indulge in a celebrated cuisine, as if her home base of Manhattan were a culinary backwater. But this film is all about tired equivalencies, so Italy equals food, and expressive hand gestures, and "the art of doing nothing." India, her next stop, equals enlightenment (her discovery that the guru she's come to see is currently at an ashram in New York is an irony lost on the movie). And Bali, her final getaway, apparently equals contradictory but flattering aphorisms and thematically hypocritical romances. The sole appeal to a moviegoer here is aspirational. What's so embarrassing about Eat Pray Love is its insistence that this appeal sprouts from the spiritual quest itself, and not just from the privilege that enables Gilbert to have such an extravagant quest in the first place. But then, self-awareness is supposed to be a obstacle to enlightenment. She's got nothing to worry about there. (2:30) Cerrito, Elmwood, Empire, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Jason Shamai)
The Expendables Exactly what you're expecting: a completely ludicrous explosion-o-thon about mercenaries hired by Bruce Willis to take down a South American general who's actually a puppet for evil CIA agent-turned-coke kingpin Eric Roberts. Clearly, Sylvester Stallone (who directed, co-wrote, stars, and even coaxed a cameo out of Schwarzenegger) knows his audience, but The Expendables — bulging with a muscle-bound cast, including Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Jason Statham, and Steve Austin, plus Jet Li, who suffers many a short-guy joke — is content to simply tap every expected rung on the 80s-actioner homage ladder. There's no self-awareness, no truly witty one-liners, no plot twists, and certainly no making a badass out of any female characters (really, couldn't the South American general's daughter have packed some heat, or kicked someone in the balls — anything besides simply heaving her cleavage around?) The only truly memorable thing here is the inclusion of Mickey Rourke as Stallone's tattoo-artist pal; I would possibly wager that Rourke was allowed to write his own weepy monologue, delivered in a close-up so extreme it's more mind-searing than any of the film's many machine-gun brawls. (1:43) 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
The Extra Man (1:45) Elmwood, Embarcadero.
Farewell (1:53) Opera Plaza, Shattuck.
Get Low Born from the true story of Felix Bush, an eccentric Tennessee hermit who invited the world to celebrate his funeral in advance of his own death, Get Low is a loose take on what might inspire a man to do a thing like that. It's a small story, and unlikely to attract the attention of popcorn-addled viewers in the midst of the summer blockbuster season, but Get Low has a whopper of a character in Felix Bush. Robert Duvall becomes Bush, constructing a quiet man who sees it all and speaks only when he has something to say, and supporting roles from Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray are expectedly solid, but the real surprise is what a strong eye director Aaron Schnieder has. In allowing scenes to unfold on their own terms and in their own time, Schneider gives a real humanity to what could have been a Hallmark movie. (1:42) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Peter Galvin)
*The Girl Who Played With Fire (2:09) Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck, Smith Rafael.
*The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2:32) Shattuck.
Harimaya Bridge (2:00) Four Star.
*I Am Love (2:00) Elmwood, Opera Plaza.
Inception (2:30) Empire, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki.
*Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (1:24) Opera Plaza, Red Vic.
*The Kids Are All Right In many ways, The Kids Are All Right is a straightforward family dramedy: it's about parents trying to do what's best for their children and struggling to keep their relationship together. But it's also a film in which Jules (Julianne Moore) goes down on Nic (Annette Bening) while they're watching gay porn. Director Lisa Cholodenko (1998's High Art) co-wrote the script (with Stuart Blumberg), and the film's blend between mainstream and queer is part of what makes Kids such an important — not to mention enjoyable — film. Despite presenting issues that might be contentious to large portions of the country, the movie maintains an approachability that's often lacking in queer cinema. Of course, being in the gay mecca of the Bay Area skews things significantly — most locals wouldn't bat an eye at Kids, which has Nic and Jules' children inviting their biological father ("the sperm donor," played by Mark Ruffalo) into their lives. But for those outside the liberal bubble, the idea of a nontraditional family might be more eye-opening. It's not a message movie, but Kids may still change minds. And even if it doesn't, the film is a success that works chiefly because it isn't heavy-handed. It refuses to take itself too seriously. At its best, Kids is laugh-out-loud funny, handling the heaviest of issues with grace and humor. (1:47) Bridge, California, Cerrito, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Presidio, SF Center. (Peitzman)
*Life During Wartime The Kids Are Alright isn't the only film this summer that subtly skewers the suburban upper-middle class by following a seemingly well-adjusted family as they're thrown into crisis when a shadowy father figure attempts to enter their orbit. Only in the case of Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime, instead of a sperm donor, Dad is a convicted child molester. A quasi-sequel to 1998's Happiness, Life picks up 10 years later to survey the still-damaged Jordan sisters. After discovering that her husband Allen (Michael Kenneth Williams) is still making sexually harassing phone calls, mousy Joy (squeaky-voiced British actress Shirley Henderson) flees to Florida, where her older sister Trish (Allison Janney) has attempted to start a new life for herself and her children. Oldest Billy (Chris Marquette) is now a bitter college student, and youngest son Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) still doesn't know the horrible truth about his father Bill (Ciarán Hinds), who has just been released from prison. Third sister Helen (Ally Sheedy), has had success in Hollywood, but still feels victimized by her family. Despite the entirely new cast, happiness remains just as elusive as before. Pleasure, when it can be found, is fleeting. Characters' awkward conversations with each other inevitably sputter and stall, and even the best intentions are no measure against disaster. Solondz may be a scathing observer, but he is not above being sympathetic when its called for. Neither does he gloss over the serious questions — what are the limits of forgiveness? When is forgetting necessary? (1:37) Lumiere. (Sussman)
Lourdes (1:39) Roxie.
Middle Men (1:45) 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki.
The Other Guys (1:47) California, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio.
Patrik Age 1.5 (1:38) Lumiere.
Peepli Live (1:46) Balboa.
Salt (1:31) 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki.
*Scott Pilgrim vs. The World For fans of Bryan Lee O'Malley's just-completed comics saga Scott Pilgrim, the announcement that Edgar Wright (2004's Shaun of the Dead, 2007's Hot Fuzz) would direct a film version was utterly surreal. Geeks get promises like this all the time, all too often empty (Guillermo del Toro's Hobbit, anyone?). But miraculously, Wright indeed spent the past five years crafting the winning Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The film follows hapless Toronto 20-something Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), bassist for crappy band Sex Bob-omb, as he falls for delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), only to find he must defeat her seven evil exes — like so many videogame bosses — before he can comfortably date her. As it happens, he's already dating a high-schooler, Knives (Ellen Wong), who's not coping well with Scott moving on. Cera plays a good feckless twerp; his performance isn't groundbreaking, but it dodges the Cera-playing-his-precious-self phenomenon so many have lamented. The film's ensemble cast maintains a sardonic tone, with excellent turns by Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, and newcomer Wong. Jason Schwartzman is perfectly cast as the ultimate evil ex-boyfriend — there's really no one slimier, at least under 35.The film brilliantly cops the comics' visual language, including snarky captions and onomatopoetic sound effects, reminiscent onscreen of 1960s TV Batman. Sometimes this tends toward sensory overload, but it's all so stylistically distinctive and appropriate that excess is easily forgiven. (1:52) California, Four Star, Presidio, Shattuck. (Stander)
Step Up 3D (1:46) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center.
Tales from Earthsea Drawn from Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series of fantasy novels, the feature debut of Goro Miyazaki, the legendary Hayao Miyazaki's son, is the latest to come out of Japan's Studio Ghibli. It tells the story of angsty patricidal prince-refugee Arren, who finds himself in the company of the wise Archmage Sparrowhawk and must help him and his friends defeat a Maleficent-esque evil sorcerer. But this film's fantastical world tends too often toward the unengagingly mundane, with a cast of half-baked archetypes battling over overwrought metaphysical concepts. To boot, too many of the weird creatures and unreal elements seem reminiscent of the elder Miyazaki's creations in films like Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001). Ghibli is famed for its relentlessly creative productions, but Earthsea misses the mark, even if it is entirely watchable. It's worth noting that Le Guin herself has written a lengthy piece on the film's many problems. (1:55) Sundance Kabuki. (Sam Stander)
*Toy Story 3 (1:49) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki.
Vengeance Prolific Hong Kong director Johnnie To's two best films to date are 1999's The Mission and its sorta-sequel, 2006's Exiled. Both are about hired killers going about their business — a favored To plot that allows him to explore his fascination with male bonding, particularly amid crooks who fiercely adhere to the underworld's sticky loyalty codes. His latest stateside release is 2009's Vengeance; I had to double-check to make sure this was a new movie, because how could To have not made one called Vengeance already? The turf is classic To; The Mission and Exiled star Anthony Wong is, of course, the chief assassin; as always, he's a cool, stone-faced cat of the sunglasses-at-night variety. There are elegantly staged gun battles, a post-skirmish tending-our-wounds scene, a daring getaway via a series of fire escapes, and lots of slo-mo. But there's one new element here: 60-something Johnny Hallyday, dubbed "the French Elvis" in the 1960s. His Costello is a killer-turned-chef seeking revenge for the death of his Macau-based daughter's family. He hasn't been in the game for decades, so he hires Wong and co. to help him annihilate the bad guys. Hallyday has a certain glamorous presence, but at times it feels like he's been grafted onto Vengeance just so it won't feel like To is repeating himself (again). Costello is losing his memory at a rapid rate, so much time is spent waiting for him to shuffle through his Memento-style sheaf of Polaroids, struggling to recall who he's with, why he's there, and finally, "What is revenge?" Indeed, as another character points out, "What does revenge mean when you can't remember anything?" Wong's gunslingers may have just met Costello, but he's paid for their loyalty — and earned their respect. Plus, his Paris restaurant is called "Frères," so of course his newfound "brothers" will finish the job. (1:48) Four Star, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest (1:33) Opera Plaza.
*Winter's Bone (1:40) Empire, Lumiere, Shattuck.