Dream House Newlyweds Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, plus third wheel Naomi Watts, star in this psychological thriller. (1:33)
50/50 This is nothing but a mainstream rom-com-dramedy wrapped in indie sheep's clothes. When Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns he has cancer, he undergoes the requisite denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance like a formality. Aided by his bird-brained but lovable best friend Kyle (Seth Rogan), lovable klutz of a counselor Katherine (Anna Kendrick), and panicky mother (Anjelica Huston), Adam gets a new lease on life. This comes in the form of one-night-stands, furious revelations in parked cars, and a prescribed dose of wacky tobaccy. If 50/50 all sounds like the setup for a pseudo-insightful, kooky feel-goodery, it is. The film doesn't have the brains or spleen to get down to the bone of cancer. Instead, director Jonathan Levine (2008's The Wackness) and screenwriter Will Reiser favor highfalutin' monologues, wooden characters, and a Hollywood ending (with just the right amount of ambiguity). Still, Gordon-Levitt is the most gorgeous cancer patient you will ever see, bald head and all. (1:40) Presidio. (Ryan Lattanzio)
Machine Gun Preacher The title sounds like a sequel to Hobo with a Shotgun — but there's nary a speck of tongue-in-cheek, kitschy-koo-koo irony in this passionate rendering of the life of Sam Childers. Childers (Gerard Butler) was a former dealing, thieving biker who found God, built a refuge for Sudanese orphans and former child soldiers, and became their fiercest fight-fire-with-fire defender. As Machine Gun Preacher opens, Childers has just emerged from the pen — he's still the mean motherfucker he always was, shooting up within hours of release and hooking up with chum Donnie (Michael Shannon) to rob dealers. But a semi-mystical run-in forces him to face the worst and sends him to church, to join wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), a former stripper and addict. Childers' fiery love of the Lord, and his spontaneous visions, lead him to construct his own church for sketched-out recovered sinners like himself and then on to war-torn Sudan, where he discovers even more to fix — and likely more than he ever can. To his credit, director Marc Forster (2001's Monster's Ball, 2008's Quantum of Solace) doesn't shy away from the visceral violence nor the enraged holy-rolling that's a clear part of Childers' life, although the most memorable part of Machine Gun Preacher must be Butler, who gets his righteous wrath on in his meatiest part since 2006's 300. (2:03) (Chun)
The Mill and the Cross One of the clichés often told about art is that it is supposed to speak to us. Polish director Lech Majewski's gorgeous experiment in bringing Flemish Renaissance painter Peter Bruegel's sprawling 1564 canvas The Procession to Calvary to life attempts to do just that. Majeswki both re-stages Bruegel's painting --which draws parallels between its depiction of Christ en route to his crucifixion and the persecution of Flemish citizens by the Spanish inquisition's militia -- in stunning tableaux vivant that combine bluescreen technology and stage backdrops, and gives back stories to a dozen or so of its 500 figures. Periodically, Bruegel himself (Rutger Hauer) addresses the camera mid-sketch to dolefully explain the allegorical nature of his work, but these pedantic asides speak less forcefully than Majeswki's beautifully lit vignettes of the small joys and many hardships that comprised everyday life in the 16th century. Beguiling yet wholly absorbing. (1:37) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Sussman) *Mysteries of Lisbon Though produced for Portuguese television, Raúl Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon won awards and raves on the festival circuit. Suddenly, the aging Ruiz seemed more assured his rightful status as a master. Mysteries of Lisbon has arrived for a rather miraculous theatrical run — but Ruiz is gone. He died in August 2011, having directed many more films than his 70 years. His movies have typically been the province of hardcore cinephiles, but this splendid epic holds wider appeal. It's difficult to think of another movie that so satisfyingly captures the intricacies and volatilities of the 19th century novel — anyone enthralled by the teeming creations of Balzac and Dickens will find that Mysteries of Lisbon's four-and-a-half hours stream by. Ruiz was no stranger to the 19th century — his recent films included Klimt (2006) and the Proustian Time Regained (1999) — but the ornately plotted trio of novellas by Portuguese author Camilo Castelo Branco which supply these mysteries seem specially tailored to the director's affinity for involved narrations. The story sweeps across dozens of characters and several generations of doomed love, revenge plots, disguised identities, uncertain parentages, and religious vows. We even glimpse the Napoleonic Wars. Ruiz's narrations are commonly likened to labyrinths, but for Mysteries of Lisbon's vigorous expansion I reach for the cosmos: one luminous sphere rotates another which in turn rotates a larger system, the whole of it spreading outwards in all directions at once. (4:26) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Goldberg)
Passione John Turturro's lush tribute to the music of Naples, Italy is beamed directly from a strange alternate universe completely devoid of snark — a place where grand emotions and sweeping melodrama are presented at face value. In other words, anyone who can't stomach a heaping helping of cheese will miss the point of Passione. (If you can stomach a small helping of cheese, the film will suck you in after a few minutes.) Passione is more free-form than docs like Buena Vista Social Club (1999), but it's in a similar vein: a celebration of the musical traditions and artists from a specific place, and an exploration of what it is about that specific place that inspires such creativity. In Naples, there are centuries-old folk ballads, comedic ditties about the mafia, histrionic romantic duets, slinky laments, opera, and more. Actor-turned-director Turturro — the Brooklyn-born son of Italian immigrant parents — doesn't really provide a structure so much as simply let the performances, most of which are staged in organic settings, flow. Fans of Italian popular music might recognize some of the singers, but most will be unfamiliar to stateside viewers. The majority of the songs offer subtitles, but even the ones that don't are so over-the-top that their meanings (usually having to do with anguish, love, or the anguish of love) are easy to decipher. Turturro is scheduled to appear in person at the film's Mon/3 evening screenings; check www.sffs.org for updates. (1:31) SFFS New People Cinema. (Eddy)
*Tucker and Dale vs. Evil See "Twang On." (1:28) California, Lumiere.
What's Your Number? Unlucky-in-love Anna Faris checks back in with all her former conquests in this romantic comedy. (1:46) Presidio.
Abduction (1:46) 1000 Van Ness.
*The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 Cinematic crate-diggers have plenty to celebrate, checking the results of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975. Swedish documentarian Göran Hugo Olsson had heard whispers for years that Swedish television archives possessed more archival footage of the Black Panthers than anyone in the states — while poring through film for a doc on Philly soul, he discovered the rumors were dead-on. With this lyrical film, coproduced by the Bay Area's Danny Glover, Olsson has assembled an elegant snapshot of black activists and urban life in America, relying on the vivid, startlingly crisp images of figures such as Stokely Carmichael and Huey P. Newton at their peak, while staying true to the wide-open, refreshingly nonjudgmental lens of the Swedish camera crews. Questlove of the Roots and Om'Mas Keith provide the haunting score for the film, beautifully historicized with shots of Oakland in the 1960s and Harlem in the '70s. It's made indelible thanks to footage of proto-Panther school kids singing songs about grabbing their guns, and an unforgettable interview with a fiery Angela Davis talking about the uses of violence, from behind bars and from the place of personally knowing the girls who died in the infamous Birmingham, Ala., church bombing of 1963. (1:36) Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Chun)
Circumstance Thirteen (2003) goes to Tehran? The world of sex, drugs, and underground nightclubs in Iran provides the backdrop for writer-director Maryam Keshavarz's lusty, dreamy take on the passionate teenagers behind the hijabs. Risking jail and worse are the sassy, privileged Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and the beautiful, orphaned Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), who, much like young women anywhere, just want to be free — to swim, sing, dance, test boundaries, lose, and then find themselves. The difference here is that they're under constant, unnerving surveillance, in a country where more than 70 percent of the population is less than 30 years old. Nevertheless, within their mansion walls and without, beneath graffitied walls and undulating at intoxicating house parties, the two girls begin to fall in love with each other, as Atafeh's handsome, albeit creepy older brother Mehran (Palo Alto-bred Reza Sixo Safai) gazes on. The onetime musical talent's back from rehab, has returned to the mosque with all the zeal of the prodigal, and has hooked up with the Morality Police that enforces the nation's cultural laws. Filmed underground in Beirut, with layers that permit both pleasure and protest (wait for the hilarious moment when 2008's Milk is dubbed in Farsi), Circumstance viscerally transmits the realities and fantasies of Iranian young women on the verge. (1:45) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Chun)
City of Life and Death There have been a number of recent works about the "rape of Nanking," but perhaps none tackles the brutal nature of Nanjing's fall with as much beauty as City of Life and Death. Shot in striking black and white, the film depicts the invasion of China's capital by Japanese forces from a number of points of view, including that of a Japanese soldier. It can be difficult at times to become emotionally attached to characters within such a restless narrative, but the structure goes a long way toward keeping the proceedings balanced. The stunningly elaborate sets and cinematography alone are worth the price of admission, and it's amazing that such detail was achieved with a budget of less than $12 million. But it is the unflinching catalog of the some 300,000 murders and rapes that took place between 1937 and 1938 in Nanjing that will remain with you long after watching. (2:13) Four Star. (Peter Galvin)
*Contagion Tasked with such panic-inducing material, one has to appreciate director Steven Soderbergh's cool head and hand with Contagion. Some might even dub this epic thriller (of sorts) cold, clinical, and completely lacking in bedside manner. Still, for those who'd rather be in the hands of a doctor who refuses to talk down to the patient, Contagion comes on like a refreshingly smart, somewhat melodrama-free clean room, a clear-eyed response to a messy, terrifying subject. A deadly virus is spreading swiftly — sans cure, vaccine, or sense — starting with a few unlikely suspects: globe-trotting corporate exec Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow), a waiter, a European tourist, and a Japanese businessman. The chase is on to track the disease's genesis and find a way to combat it, from the halls of the San Francisco Chronicle and blog posts of citizen activist-journalist Alan (Jude Law), to the emergency hospital in the Midwest set up by intrepid Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet), to a tiny village in China with a World Health investigator (Marion Cotillard). Soderbergh's brisk, businesslike storytelling approach nicely counterpoints the hysteria going off on the ground, as looting and anarchy breaks out around Beth's immune widower Mitch (Matt Damon), and draws you in — though the tact of making this disease's Typhoid Mary a sexually profligate woman is unsettling and borderline offensive, as is the predictable blame-it-on-the-Chinese origin coda. (1:42) California, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Crazy, Stupid, Love Keep the poster's allusion to 1967's The Graduate to one side: there aren't many revelations about midlife crises in this cleverly penned yet strangely flat ensemble rom-com, awkwardly pitched at almost every demographic at the cineplex. There's the middle-aged romance that's withered at the vine: nice but boring family man Cal (Steve Carell) finds himself at a hopeless loss when wife and onetime teenage sweetheart Emily (Julianne Moore) tells him she wants a divorce and she's slept with a coworker (Kevin Bacon). He ends up waxing pathetic at a slick nightclub where he catches the eye of the well-dressed, spray-tanned smoothie Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who appears to have taken his ladies man stance from the Clooney playbook. It's manly makeover time: GQ meets Pretty Woman (1990)! Cut to Cal and Emily's babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who is crushing out on Cal, while the separated couple's tween Robbie (Jonah Bobo) hankers for Jessica. Somehow Josh Groban worms his way into the mix as the dullard suitor of Hannah (Emma Stone) in a hanging chad of a storyline that must somehow be resolved in this mad, mad, mad, mad — actually, the problem with Crazy, Stupid, Love is that it isn't really that crazy. It tries far too hard to please everybody in the theater to its detriment, reminding the viewer of a tidy, episodic TV series (albeit a quality effort) like Modern Family more than an actual film. Likewise I yearned for a way to fast-forward through the too-cute Jessica-Robbie scenes in order to get back to the sleazy-smart, punchy complexity of Gosling, playing adeptly off both Carrell and Stone. (1:58) SF Center, Shattuck. (Chun)
The Debt On paper, The Debt has a lot going for it: captivating history-based plot, "it" actor Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren vs. Nazis. And while the latest from John Madden (1998's Shakespeare in Love) is fairly entertaining, the film is ultimately forgettable. Chastain plays Rachel, a member of an Israeli team tasked with capturing a Nazi war criminal and bringing him to justice. Mirren is the older Rachel, who is haunted by the long-withheld true story of the mission. Although The Debt traffics in spy secrets, it's actually rather predictable: the big reveal is shrug-worthy, and the shocking conclusion is expected. So while the entire cast — which also includes Tom Wilkinson, Sam Worthington, and Ciaran Hinds — turn in admirable performances, the script is lacking what it needs to make The Debt an effective drama or thriller. Like 2008's overrated The Reader, the film tries to hide its inadequacies under heavy themes and the dread with which we remember the Holocaust. (1:54) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2:02) Embarcadero, Four Star, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki.
Dolphin Tale (1:53) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center.
*Drive Such a lovely way to Drive, drunk on the sensual depths of a lush, saturated jewel tone palette and a dreamlike, almost luxurious pacing that gives off the steamy hothouse pop romanticism of '80s-era Michael Mann and David Lynch — with the bracing, impactful flecks of threat and ultraviolence that might accompany a car chase, a moody noir, or both, as filtered through a first-wave music video. Drive comes dressed in the klassic komforts — from the Steve McQueen-esque stances and perfectly cut jackets of Ryan Gosling as the Driver Who Shall Remain Nameless to the foreboding lingering in the shadows and the wittily static, statuesque strippers that decorate the background. Gosling's Driver is in line with Mann's other upstanding working men who hew to an old-school moral code and are excellent at what they do, regardless of what side of the law they're working: he likes to keep it clear and simple — his services as a wheelman boil down to five minutes, in and out — but matters get messy when he falls for sweet-faced neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), who lives down the hall with her small son, and her ex-con husband (Oscar Isaac) is dragged back into the game. Populated by pungent side players like Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, and Christina Hendricks, and scattered with readily embeddable moments like a life-changing elevator kiss that goes bloodily wrong-right, Drive turns into a real coming-out affair for both Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (2008's Bronson), who rises above any crisis of influence or confluence of genre to pick up the po-mo baton that Lynch left behind, and 2011's MVP Ryan Gosling, who gets to flex his leading-man muscles in a truly cinematic role, an anti-hero and under-the-hood psychopath looking for the real hero within. (1:40) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Farmageddon First-time director Kristin Canty embarked on this documentary after discovering the healing power of raw milk in helping her child's allergies. And it shows. Farmaggedon really should have been titled A Raw Deal for Raw Milk, considering its primary focus on several small family-operated dairies and the souring treatment they have received from government bureaucrats, spurring Canty's activist act of making this movie. Larry and Linda Failace of Three Shephard's Cheese in Vermont (the latter wrote her own book, 2007's Mad Sheep: The True Story Behind the USDA's War on a Family Farm) seem to have suffered the most, driven out of business when the sheep they brought over legally, with all the required quarantines, were seized and destroyed by the government agents on the pretext that the animals might spread "mad cow" disease. The sight of Linda Failace breaking into tears reading her daughter's words about how the sheep were like her brothers and sisters is heart-breaking. Undermining such powerful, outrageous material are Canty's textbook missteps: the director has major problems organizing her seemingly scattershot, lopsided material into a coherent and, er, organic whole, and lets her many sources drone on without a strong narrative through-line. All of this makes Farmaggedon a bit of a struggle to watch, although the dirt Canty digs up is likely to justifiably raise the hackles of progressive foodies. (1:30) Roxie, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
*The Future Dreams and drawings, cats and fantasies, ambition and aimlessness, and the mild-mannered yet mortifying games people play, all wind their way into Miranda July's The Future. The future's a scary place, as many of us fully realize, even if you hide from it well into your 30s, losing yourself in the everyday. But you can't duck July's collection of moments, objects, and small gestures transformed into something strangely slanted and enchanted, both weird and terrifying, when viewed through July's looking glass. Care and commitment — to oneself and others — are two vivid threads running through The Future. Cute couple Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) — unsettling look-alikes with their curly crops — appear at first to be sailing contently, aimlessly toward an undemanding unknown: Jason works from home as a customer-service operator, and Sophie attempts to herd kiddies as a children's dance instructor. But enormous, frightening demands beckon — namely the oncoming adoption of a special-needs feline named Paw-Paw (voiced by July as if it's a traumatized, innocent child). Lickety-splitsville, they must be all they can be before Paw-Paw's arrival. The weirdness of the familiar, and the kindness of strangers, become ways into fantasy and escape when the couple bumps up against the limits of their imagination. This ultra-low-key horror movie of the banal is obviously remote territory for July (2005's Me and You and Everyone We Know). The Future is her best film to date and finds her tumbling into a kind of magical realism or plastic fantastic, embodied by a talking cat that becomes the conscience of the movie. (1:31) Roxie. (Chun)
The Guard Irish police sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is used to running his small town on his own terms — not in a completely Bad Lieutenant (1992) kind of way, though he's not afraid to sample drugs and hang with hookers. More like, he's been running the show for years, and would prefer that big-city cops stay the hell out of his village. Alas, a gang of drug smugglers is doing business in the area, so an officious group of investigators from Dublin (horrors!) and America (in the form of an FBI agent played by Don Cheadle) soon descend. His mother's dying, his brand-new partner's missing, and between all the interlopers on both sides of the law, Boyle's having a hard time having a pint in peace. Good thing he's not as simple-minded as all who surround him think he is. Writer-director John Michael McDonagh (brother of playwright Martin, who directed 2008's In Bruges — also starring Gleeson) puts an affable Irish spin on what's essentially a pretty typical indie comedy, with some pretty typical crime-drama elements layered atop. Boyle's character is memorably clever, but the film that contains him never quite elevates to his level. (1:36) Lumiere, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
*The Hedgehog You needn't possess the rough, everyday refinement of the characters of The Hedgehog to appreciate this debut feature by director-screenwriter Mona Achache — just an appreciation for a delicate touch and a tender heart. Eleven-year-old Paloma (the wonderful Garance Le Guillermic) is too smart for her own good, bored, neglected by her parents, and left to fend for herself with only her considerable imagination and a camcorder. She drifts around her fishbowl of privilege, a deluxe art nouveau-style apartment building in Paris, leveling her all-too-wise gaze on its denizens and plotting certain suicide on her 12th birthday — that is until a new resident appears in her viewfinder: a kindly Japanese gentleman Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa). He has as much of a connoisseur's eye as Paloma — the proof is in his unlikely focus of attention, the building's concierge Renée Michel (Josiane Balasko, resembling a burly Gertrude Stein), who hides her cultured and bookish inclinations behind a gruff, drab exterior. They recognize in each other a reverence for an almost monkish life of the mind, the austere elegance of wabi-sabi, and the transient beauty of rough-hewn imperfection, even in the sleek, well-heeled heart of the City of Light. To the credit of Achache, working with Muriel Barbery's novel, these unlikely fragile friendships between outsiders take hold in a way that sidesteps preciousness and stays with you long after its pages have turned. (1:40) Smith Rafael. (Chun)
The Help It's tough to stitch 'n' bitch 'n' moan in the face of such heart-felt female bonding, even after you brush away the tears away and wonder why the so-called help's stories needed to be cobbled with those of the creamy-skinned daughters of privilege that employed them. The Help purports to be the tale of the 1960s African American maids hired by a bourgie segment of Southern womanhood — resourceful hard-workers like Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) raise their employers' daughters, filling them with pride and strength if they do their job well, while missing out on their own kids' childhood. Then those daughters turn around and hurt their caretakers, often treating them little better than the slaves their families once owned. Hinging on a self-hatred that devalues the nurturing, housekeeping skills that were considered women's birthright, this unending ugly, heartbreaking story of the everyday injustices spells separate-and-unequal bathrooms for the family and their help when it comes to certain sniping queen bees like Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard). But the times they are a-changing, and the help get an assist from ugly duckling of a writer Skeeter (Emma Stone, playing against type, sort of, with fizzy hair), who risks social ostracism to get the housekeepers' experiences down on paper, amid the Junior League gossip girls and the seismic shifts coming in the civil rights-era South. Based on the best-seller by Kathryn Stockett, The Help hitches the fortunes of two forces together — the African American women who are trying to survive and find respect, and the white women who have to define themselves as more than dependent breeders — under the banner of a feel-good weepie, though not without its guilty shadings, from the way the pale-faced ladies already have a jump, in so many ways, on their African American sisters to the Keane-eyed meekness of Davis' Aibileen to The Help's most memorable performances, which are also tellingly throwback (Howard's stinging hornet of a Southern belle and Jessica Chastain's white-trash bimbo-with-a-heart-of-gold). (2:17) California, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
I Don't Know How She Does It I don't know how a likable comedian like Sarah Jessica Parker does it — meaning, such mediocre material as this mom-com. Parker may have parlayed her Sex and the City fame into a fashion, fragrance, and spin-off franchises, but she still hasn't quite found her stride away from Carrie Bradshaw, though her Lucille Ball-esque physical comedy here — pulling down her skirt in mid-mommy-frazzle in front of her high-powered client — can be cute. Kate (Parker) just might be the busiest mom in the world: she's juggling two kids, a hubby whose own career is on the rise (Greg Kinnear), and a major fund idea, which she has to sell to an attractive banking bigwig (Pierce Brosnan). Poor, poor privileged mom — in the trenches of the still-unadorable field of banking, with her obviously sizable salary, enviable Boston duplex, flaky-nice nanny, and bubbly single-mom friend (Christina Hendricks)! The biggest assist comes from her careerist aide, played by Olivia Munn, who grabs the biggest laughs with her deadpan delivery. (1:35) 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
*Killer Elite Jason Statham has a lot going on, in addition to devastatingly attractive male-pattern balding: along with fellow Brit Daniel Craig, he's one of the most believable action heroes in the cineplex today. This continent-hopping, Bourne-ish exercise, kitted out with piercingly loud sound design, comes chock-full of promise in the form of Statham, Robert De Niro, and Clive Owen, wielding endless firearms and finding new deadly uses for bathroom tile — you don't want to be caught solo in anger management class with these specialists in cinematic rageaholism. Mercenary assassin Danny (Statham) wants out of the game after a traumatic killing involving way too much eye contact with a small child. Killer coworker Hunter (De Niro) pulled him out of that tight spot, so when the aging gunman is held hostage, Danny must emerge from hiding in rural Australia and take on a seemingly impossible case: avenge the deaths of a dying sheik's sons, who were gunned down by assorted highly trained British military hotshots, get them to confess, and make it all look like an accident. Oh, yes, and try to make sure his own loved ones aren't killed in the process. Dancing backwards as fast as he can is those retired Brits' guardian angel-of-sorts, Spike (Owen), another intense, dangerous fellow with too much time on his hands. Throw in my favorite Oz evil-doer Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Danny and Hunter's boss, some welcome been-there twinkle from De Niro, as well as a host of riveting fight scenes (and that '00s cliché: sudden death by bus/truck/semi), and you have diverting popcorn killer. (1:40) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Chun)
The Lion King 3D (1:29) SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki.
*Love Crime Early this year came the announcement that Brian De Palma was hot to do an English remake of Alain Corneau's Love Crime. The results, should they come to fruition, may well prove a landmark in the annals of lurid guilty-pleasure trash. But with the original Love Crime finally making it to local theaters, it's an opportune moment to be appalled in advance about what sleazy things could potentially be done to this neat, dry, fully clothed model of a modern Hitchcockian thriller. No doubt in France Love Crime looks pretty mainstream. But here its soon-to be-despoiled virtues of narrative intricacy and restraint are upscale pleasures. Ludivine Sagnier plays assistant to high-powered corporate executive Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas). The boss enjoys molding protégée Isabelle to her own image, making them a double team of carefully planned guile unafraid to use sex appeal as a business strategy. But Isabelle is expected to know her place — even when that place robs her of credit for her own ideas — and when she stages a small rebellion, Christine's revenge is cruelly out of scale, a high-heeled boot brought down to squash an ant. Halfway through an act of vengeance occurs that is shocking and satisfying, even if it leaves the remainder of Corneau and Nathalie Carter's clever screenplay deprived of the very thing that had made it such a sardonic delight so far. Though it's no masterpiece, Love Crime closes the book on his Corneau's career Corneau (he died at age 67 last August) not with a bang but with a crisp, satisfying snap. (1:46) Albany, Clay, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Mary Lou A musical fable for fans of Glee, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), and Bollywood, the latest from Eytan Fox (2002's Yossi and Jagger) is a drag-flavored dramedy (Israel's first?) Originally a hit miniseries in its home country, Mary Lou screens at the Castro in one big chunk jammed with singing, dancing, and a dreamy cast. Pouty Ido Rosenberg stars as Meir, a gay boy obsessed with finding the mother who left him when he was 10. After a disastrous graduation party, Meir flees his homophobic high school for the worldly environs of Tel Aviv, where he soon becomes a drag star named Mary Lou, after his mother's favorite song. Love, loss, friendship, tragedy, joy, coming-of-age, and quite a few elaborate musical numbers soon transpire — the plot is not without clichés, to be sure, but it's hard to hate on anything possessed of such sparkly energy. Not familiar with Svika Pick, the Israeli legend whose music provides much of the soundtrack? It matters not, especially if you're a fan of deliriously corny pop tunes. (2:30) Castro. (Eddy)
Midnight in Paris Owen Wilson plays Gil, a self-confessed "Hollywood hack" visiting the City of Light with his conservative future in-laws and crassly materialistic fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams). A romantic obviously at odds with their selfish pragmatism (somehow he hasn't realized that yet), he's in love with Paris and particularly its fabled artistic past. Walking back to his hotel alone one night, he's beckoned into an antique vehicle and finds himself transported to the 1920s, at every turn meeting the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Dali (Adrien Brody), etc. He also meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a woman alluring enough to be fought over by Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Picasso (Marcial di Fonzo Bo) — though she fancies aspiring literary novelist Gil. Woody Allen's latest is a pleasant trifle, no more, no less. Its toying with a form of magical escapism from the dreary present recalls The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), albeit without that film's greater structural ingeniousness and considerable heart. None of the actors are at their best, though Cotillard is indeed beguiling and Wilson dithers charmingly as usual. Still — it's pleasant. (1:34) Albany, Embarcadero, Four Star, Piedmont. (Harvey)
Moneyball As fun as it is to watch Brad Pitt listen to the radio, work out, hang out with his cute kid, and drive down I-80 over and over again, it doesn't quite translate into compelling cinema for the casual baseball fan. A wholesale buy-in to the cult of personality — be it A's manager Billy Beane or the actor who plays him — is at the center of Moneyball's issues. Beane (Pitt) is facing the sad, inevitable fate of having to replace his star players, Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon, once they command the cash from the more-moneyed teams. He's gotta think outside of the corporate box, and he finds a few key answers in Peter Brand (a.k.a. Paul DePodesta, played by Jonah Hill), who's working with the sabermetric ideas of Bill James: scout the undervalued players that get on base to work against better-funded big-hitters. Similarly, against popular thought, Moneyball works best when director Bennett Miller (2005's Capote) strays from the slightly flattening sunniness of its lead actor and plunges into the number crunching — attempting to visualize the abstract and tapping into the David Fincher network, as it were (in a related note, Aaron Sorkin co-wrote Moneyball's screenplay) — though the funny anti-chemistry between Pitt and Hill is at times capable of pulling Moneyball out of its slump. (2:13) Marina, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
Mozart's Sister Pity the talented sister of a world-shaking prodigy. Maria Anna "Nannerl" Mozart, who may have had just as much promise as a composer as her younger brother, according to Rene Féret's Mozart's Sister. A scant five years older, enlisted in the traveling family band led by father-teacher Leopold (Marc Barbe), yet forced to hide her music, being female and forbidden to play violin and compose, Nannerl (Marie Féret, the filmmaker's daughter) tours the courts of Europe and is acclaimed as a keyboardist and vocalist but is expected to share little of her brother's brilliant future. Following a chance carriage breakdown near a French monastery, Nannerl befriends one of its precious inhabitants, a daughter of Louis XV (Lisa Féret, another offspring), which leads her to Versailles, into a cross-dressing guise of a boy, and puts her into the sights of the Dauphin (Clovis Fouin, who could easily find a spot in the Cullen vampire clan). He's seduced by her music and likewise charms Nannerl with his power and feline good looks — what's a humble court minstrel to do? The conceit of casting one's daughters in a narrative hinging on unjustly neglected female progeny — shades of Sofia Coppola in The Godfather: Part III (1990)! — almost capsizes this otherwise thoughtful re-imagination of Maria Anna's thwarted life; despite the fact Féret has inserted his children in his films in the past, both girls offer little emotional depth to their roles. Nevertheless, as a feminist rediscovery pic akin to Camille Claudel (1988), Mozart's Sister instructs on yet another tragically quashed woman artist and might inspire some righteous indignation. (2:00) Bridge, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
*My Afternoons with Margueritte There's just one moment in this tender French dramedy that touches on star Gerard Depardieu's real life: his quasi-literate salt-of-the-earth character, Germain, rushes to save his depressed friend from possible suicide only to have his pretentious pal pee on the ground in front of him. Perhaps Depardieu's recent urinary run-in, on the floor of an airline cabin, was an inspired reference to this moment. In any case, My Afternoons With Margueritte offers a hope of the most humanist sort, for all those bumblers and sad cases that are usually shuttled to the side in the desperate '00s, as Depardieu demonstrates that he's fully capable of carrying a film with sheer life force, rotund gut and straw-mop 'do and all. In fact he's almost daring you to hate on his aging, bumptious current incarnation: Germain is the 50-something who never quite grew up or left home. The vegetable farmer is treated poorly by his doddering tramp of a mother and is widely considered the village idiot, the butt of all the jokes down at the cafe, though contrary to most assumptions, he manages to score a beautiful, bus-driving girlfriend (Sophie Guillemin). However the true love of his life might be the empathetic, intelligent older woman, Margueritte (Gisele Casadesus), that he meets in the park while counting pigeons. There's a wee bit of Maude to Germain's Harold, though Jean Becker's chaste love story is content to remain within the wholesome confines of small-town life — not a bad thing when it comes to looking for grace in a rough world. (1:22) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Chun)
*Point Blank Not for nothing did Hollywood remake French filmmaker Fred Cavaye's last film, Anything for Her (2008) as The Next Three Days (2010) — Cavaye's latest, tauter-than-taut thriller almost screams out for a similar rework, with its Bourne-like handheld camera work, high-impact immediacy, and noirish narrative economy. Point Blank — not to be confused with the 1967 Lee Marvin vehicle —kicks off with a literal slam: a mystery man (Roschdy Zem) crashing into a metal barrier, on the run from two menacing figures until he is cornered and then taken out of the action by fate. His mind mainly on the welfare of his very pregnant wife Nadia (Elena Anaya), nursing assistant Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) has the bad luck to stumble on a faux doctor attempting to make sure that the injured man never rises from his hospital bed. As police wrangle over whose case this exactly is — the murder of an industrialist seems to have expanded the powers of the stony-faced, monolithic Commandant Werner (Gerard Lanvin) — Samuel gets sucked into the mystery man's lot, a conspiracy that allows them to trust no one, and seemingly impossibly odds against getting out of the mess alive. Cavaye never quite stops applying the pressure in this clever, unrelenting cat-and-mouse and mouse-and-his-spouse game, topping it with a nerve-jangling search through a messily chaotic police station. (1:24) Opera Plaza. (Chun)
*Rise of the Planet of the Apes "You gotta love a movie where the animals beat up on the humans," declared my Rise of the Planet of the Apes companion. Indeed, ape must not kill ape, and this Planet of the Apes prequel-cum-remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) takes the long view, back to the days when ape-human relations were still high-minded enough to forbid smart apes from killing those well-armed, not-so-bright humanoids. I was a fan of the original series, but honestly, I approached Rise with trepidation: I dreaded the inevitable scenes of human cruelty meted out to exploited primates — the current wave of chimp-driven films seems focused on holding a scary, shaming mirror up to the two-legged mammalian violence toward their closest living genetic relatives. It's a contrast to the original series, which provided prisms with which to peer at race relations and generational conflict. But I needn't have feared this PG-13 "reboot." There's little CGI-driven gore, apart from the visceral opening and the showdown, though the heartbreak remains. Scientist Will (James Franco, brow perpetually furrowed with worry) is working to find a medicine designed to supercharge the brain in the wake of Alzheimer's — a disease that has struck down his father (John Lithgow). When the experimental chimp that responds to his serum becomes violently aggressive, the project is shut down, although the primate leaves behind a surprise: a baby chimp that Will and his father name Caesar and raise like a beloved child in their idyllic Bay Area Victorian. Growing in intelligence as he matures, Caesar finds himself torn by an existential dilemma: is he a pet or a mammal with rights that must be respected? Rise becomes Caesar's story, rendered in heart-wrenching, exhilarating ways — to director Rupert Wyatt and his team's credit you don't miss the performance finesse of Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter in groundbreaking prosthetic ape face in the original movies — while resolving at least one question about why humans gave up the globe to the primates. One can only imagine the next edition will take care of the lingering question about how even the cleverest of apes will feed themselves in Muir Woods. (1:50) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Chun)
Sarah's Key (1:42) Opera Plaza.
*Senna When Ayrton Senna died in 1994 at the age of 34, he had already secured his legacy as one of the greatest and most beloved Formula One racers of all time. The three-time world champion was a hero in his native Brazil and a respected and feared opponent on the track. This eponymous documentary by director Asif Kapadia is nearly as dynamic as the man himself, with more than enough revving engines and last minute passes to satisfy your lust for speed and a decent helping Ayrton's famous personality as well. Senna was a champion, driven to win even as the sometimes-backhanded politics of the racing world stood in his way. A tragic figure, maybe, but a legend nonetheless. You don't have to be an F1 fan to appreciate this film, but you may wind up one by the time the credits roll. (1:44) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Cooper Berkmoyer)
*Shaolin There's a lot to like about Shaolin, from Andy Lau, as a warlord turned passionate monk, to the return of Jackie Chan, as a stir-frying Shaolin, to its overall Buddhistic message (by way of heaps of chopsocky, blood-spitting violence), to its many action scenes, complete with mucho ax-throwing and horsing around with out-of-control carriages. We're at the dawn of China's republic, and the warlords are squabbling over the country's spoils. General Hou Jie (Lau) appears to be the most ruthless of them all, following his second in command Cao Man (Nicholas Tse) into the Shaolin Temple to pursue an enemy with a golden secret and arrogantly leaving his mark on the sanctuary signage. But tragedy turns Hou around and sends him in the temple once more, where he finds real brotherhood with the good-hearted monks. Lau has reteamed here with director Benny Chan, and the results effectively recast the star, sometimes too easily pictured as a villain with his hawkish looks, as a hero once again, all while foregrounding Buddhism and giving it to the white devils at the end — an anti-imperialism message that has become rote in recent years, little wonder considering China's growing might and the hardening of positions on the front lines of the global economy. (2:11) SFFS New People Cinema. (Chun)
Straw Dogs Never could I have predicted there would be a day when the violent finale of Straw Dogs would be met with raucous cheers. The original 1971 film was produced within a morally ambiguous social climate and remains one of director Sam Peckinpah's most controversial efforts; contemporary audiences trained to applaud a payoff of blood and gore are likely in the wrong headspace for a film like this. The remake, which sends a good-natured screenwriter (James Marsden) on a retreat in his wife's (Kate Bosworth) sweaty Southern hometown where they find themselves at odds with a group of good ol' boys, remains powerful and just as uncomfortable and mean as Peckinpah's version, but it's in service of a moral outcome that's more in line with its commercial placement: ultimately it takes the road of "man becomes protector" over "man becomes monster." If you have no interest in the original, you will find a fair bit of talent in this remake, but without the cynical attitude it can be hard to separate Straw Dogs from any other horror-movie-of-the-week. (1:50) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Galvin)
*3 The press literature for 3, Tom Tykwer's latest, throws around references to classic Hollywood screwball comedies, but this romantic drama is far too self-conscious, serious, and almost pretentious to ever completely ape the mercury lightness of that genre. Apart from one slightly jarring fantasy sequence or two, this polyamorous love story is all about contemporary Berlin bohemia, from hero Hanna's (Sophie Rois) immersion in the worlds of science and art, to her increasingly plastic relationship with partner Simon (Sebastian Schipper). On the edge of their 20th anniversary, the smart, stylish 40-ish bohos are still in love, though a younger, perpetually amused-looking doctor Adam (Devid Striesow) threatens to turn their two-decade itch into something much more involved. Tykwer kicks off his high-minded romp with a pas de trois, sprinkling split-screen interludes into the program as he goes, but such devices fall away — sucking the viewer into its heady, seductive undertow — beneath the sheer eroticism of these sexual empiricists' couplings, particularly in the humid, Cat People-like scenes set in a Badeschiff pool, which comes to resemble a carnally charged hothouse as envisioned by Olafur Eliasson. (1:59) Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
The Tree of Life Mainstream American films are so rarely adventuresome that overreactive gratitude frequently greets those rare, self-conscious, usually Oscar-baiting stabs at profundity. Terrence Malick has made those gestures so sparingly over four decades that his scarcity is widely taken for genius. Now there's The Tree of Life, at once astonishingly ambitious — insofar as general addressing the origin/meaning of life goes — and a small domestic narrative artificially inflated to a maximally pretentious pressure-point. The thesis here is a conflict between "nature" (the way of striving, dissatisfied, angry humanity) and "grace" (the way of love, femininity, and God). After a while Tree settles into a fairly conventional narrative groove, dissecting — albeit in meandering fashion — the travails of a middle-class Texas household whose patriarch (a solid Brad Pitt) is sternly demanding of his three young sons. As a modern-day survivor of that household, Malick's career-reviving ally Sean Penn has little to do but look angst-ridden while wandering about various alien landscapes. Set in Waco but also shot in Rome, at Versailles, and in Saturn's orbit (trust me), The Tree of Life is so astonishingly self-important while so undernourished on some basic levels that it would be easy to dismiss as lofty bullshit. Its Cannes premiere audience booed and cheered — both factions right, to an extent. (2:18) Lumiere. (Harvey)
*Warrior Those wondering why the mixed martial arts scene has captured the imagination of so many can finally understand what the fuss is all about, now that it comes filtered through a melodramatic narrative akin to The Fighter (2010). Warrior's mis-en-scene is immediately recognizable: a prodigal returns, in the form of Tom Conlon (Tom Hardy). Once a talented teenage wrestler, the now-battered man is the damaged youngest son of alcoholic ex-boxer Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte). Tom wants his father to train him for a major mixed martial arts tournament with a multimillion-dollar purse, though the two obviously still have a deadly hold on each other — the repentant Paddy is on the wagon and the emotionally bruised Tom harbors secrets he won't reveal — and battle with cutting comments rather than fists. Tom isn't the only prodigal in the house: Paddy has lost the trust of Tom's bro, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a former fighter and present-day physics high school teacher who's struggling to make ends meet with an underwater mortgage. Though Warrior is no Raging Bull (1980), it almost outdukes The Fighter in terms of its brutal bouts, conveying the swift, no-holds-barred action of MMA in the ring, while giving actors plenty of drama to wrap their jowls 'round — particularly in Nolte's case. His tore-up turn as an all-excuses patriarch is as heartbreaking as a solid kick to the jaw. (2:19) SF Center. (Chun)
*We Were Here Reagan isn't mentioned in David Weissman's important and moving new documentary about San Francisco's early response to the AIDS epidemic, We Were Here — although his communications director Pat Buchanan and Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell get split-second references. We Were Here isn't a political polemic about the lack of governmental support that greeted the onset of the disease. Nor is it a kind of cinematic And the Band Played On that exhaustively lays out all the historical and medical minutiae of HIV's dawn. (See PBS Frontline's engrossing 2006 The Age of AIDS for that.) And you'll find virtually nothing about the infected world outside the United States. A satisfying 90-minute documentary couldn't possibly cover all the aspects of AIDS, of course, even the local ones. Instead, Weissman's film, codirected with Bill Weber, concentrates mostly on AIDS in the 1980s and tells a more personal and, in its way, more controversial story. What happened in San Francisco when gay people started mysteriously wasting away? And how did the epidemic change the people who lived through it? The tales are well told and expertly woven together, as in Weissman's earlier doc The Cockettes. But where We Were Here really hits home is in its foregrounding of many unspoken or buried truths about AIDS. The film will affect viewers on a deep level, perhaps allowing many to weep openly about what happened for the first time. But it's a testimony as well to the absolute craziness of life, and the strange places it can take you — if you survive it. (1:30) Castro. (Marke B.)
Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Michelle Devereaux, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Louis Peitzman, Lynn Rapoport, Ben Richardson, and Matt Sussman. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. For complete film listings, see www.sfbg.com.
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