MILL VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL
The 34th Mill Valley film festival runs Oct. 6-16 at various North Bay venues, including the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. For tickets (most shows $13.50) and complete schedule, visit www.mvff.com. For commentary, see "Do North."
*American Teacher Public school teachers have one of the most important jobs in America — and most of them are paid very little in proportion to the long, difficult hours they put in (truth, no matter what Tea Partiers say). Vanessa Roth's American Teacher — narrated by Matt Damon, co-produced by Dave Eggers, and spurred by the nonprofit Teacher Salary Project — examines the current state of the teaching profession, from its many drawbacks (like those mentioned above) to its chief rewards, namely, the feelings of joy that come from helping to expand young minds. As education experts lament the fact that top college grads gravitate toward big-bucks careers in law and medicine instead of teaching, the film profiles four teachers who're struggling to stay in the career they love (one of them reluctantly quits his job at San Francisco's Leadership High School in favor of a higher-paying gig with his family's real-estate business). There's also the Harvard grad tempted by a magnet school that pays its teachers over $100,000 a year; the pregnant first-grade teacher worried about the intricacies of maternity leave; and the most devastating tale, of a small-town Texas teacher and coach forced to take on a second job to support his family, at the eventual expense of his marriage. It's likely that American Teacher will play mostly for audiences already sympathetic to its message, but there's always hope a film like this will inspire an angry Fox News-er to have a change of heart. (1:21) Roxie. (Eddy)
*The Dead Most zombie movies tell the same basic story, some variation of "survivors on the run." Sometimes, the repetition is forgivable, as when the special effects are particularly juicy, or there's totally unique plot twist (2009's Zombieland set a new gold standard for that one), or there's some other special thing that makes the film stand out from the brains-gobbling pack. For British directing brothers Howard J. and Jon Ford, that thing is the setting, which is neither backwoods America nor empty London, but West Africa. When The Dead begins, the outbreak (never explained) has already commenced; in an abandoned village, a grizzled American soldier (Rob Freeman) encounters a grim African soldier (Prince David Osei). Since they're the only two living humans for miles, logic dictates they should team up; much of the film follows the pair on a surreal road trip through a rural landscape populated only by slow-moving, staring, ever-hungry undead. Despite some flaws (uneven acting, plus a few culturally iffy points — isn't "witch doctor" kind of an outdated turn of phrase?), The Dead delivers where it matters, with moments of genuine suspense and some satisfyingly gross-outs. A+ in the ripped-off limbs department, Ford brothers. (1:45) Metreon. (Eddy)
Dirty Girl The teenage heroine and hero of Dirty Girl, a self-possessed, unabashed slut and a chubby, diva-loving gay boy, were clearly meant for better things than life in the small-minded town of Norman, Okla., where they seem destined for a succession of beat-downs and shunnings. But as writer-director Abe Sylvia's sweet-tart 1987-set story opens, Danielle (Juno Temple) and Clarke (Jeremy Dozier) have been wedged by a high school administration ill-equipped to handle square pegs into a remedial-track classroom that resembles the Island of Misfit Toys. There they are paired up for a "life skills" project as unenthusiastic new parents to a five-pound sack of flour (christened Joan after the pair's respective idols, Jett and Crawford). Parenting missteps loom uncomfortably large in their lives: on Danielle's home front, an ineffectual mother (Milla Jovovich), feebly deflecting her daughter's rancor and clinging to her cheery Mormon boyfriend (William H. Macy); on Clarke's, a homophobic father (Dwight Yoakam) and a recessive mother (Mary Steenburgen) passively witnessing his abuses. With none of the adults seeming up to the task of competently raising these misfit teenagers, it's something of a relief when they acquire some wheels and Dirty Girl turns into a road movie — destination: Danielle's mystery birth father, now living in California. With Danielle narrating — and penning diary entries in baby Joan's name — Sylvia's skillfully made first feature maps the high and low points of the journey with a comic eye and compassion, depicting a girl and her (flour)baby daddy's deepening relationship and the complications attending any attempt to draw a family tree from scratch. (1:45) Shattuck. (Rapoport)
The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence In which a mentally disturbed man becomes obsessed with, and attempts to recreate, events that occurred in the original Human Centipede film. I think you know which events. (runtime not available) Lumiere.
The Ides of March George Clooney directs and co-stars, along with Ryan Gosling and Paul Giamatti, this timely political drama. (1:51) Balboa, California, Marina, Piedmont.
Margaret Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) is an Upper West Side teen living with her successful actress mother (J. Smith-Cameron, wife to writer-director Kenneth Lonergan) — dad (Lonergan) lives in Santa Monica with his new spouse — and going through normal teenage stuff. Her propensity for drama, however, is kicked into high gear when she witnesses (and inadvertently causes) the traffic death of a stranger. Initially fibbing a bit to protect both herself and the bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) involved, she later has second thoughts, increasingly pursuing a path toward "justice" that variably affects others including the dead woman's friend (Jeannie Berlin), mom's new suitor (Jean Reno), teachers at Lisa's private school Matt Damon and Matthew Broderick), etc. Lonergan is a fine playwright and uneven sometime scenarist who made a terrific screen directorial debut with 2000's You Can Count On Me (which also featured Ruffalo, Broderick and Smith-Cameron). He appears to have intended Margaret as a pulse-taking of privileged Manhattanites' comingled rage, panic, confusion, and guilt after 9-11. But if that's the case, then this convoluted story provides a garbled metaphor at best. It might best be taken as a messy, intermittently potent study of how someone might become the kind of person who'll spend the rest of their lives barging into other people's affairs, creating a mess, assuming the moral high ground in a stubborn attempt to "fix" it, then making everything worse while denying any personal responsibility. Certainly that's the person Lisa appears to be turning into, though it's unclear whether Lonergan intends her to be seen that way. Indeed, despite some sharply written confrontations and good performances, it's unclear what Lonergan intended here at all — and since he's been famously fiddling with Margaret's (still-problematic) editing since late 2005, one might guess he never really figured that out himself. (2:29) Embarcadero. (Harvey)
1911 Jackie Chan's 100th film is a historical epic, presumably containing some pretty awesome fight scenes. (2:05) Four Star, Opera Plaza, Shattuck.
*Puncture Chris Evans seems poised to break out of that chiseled superhero category with this smart, quietly rabble-rousing portrait of a hard-partying lawyer who makes the switch from ambulance-chasing to crusading. Mike Weiss (Evans) is an attorney with a penchant for cruising for crack, jumping on bumps, and hitting the hypodermic while buried in briefs or on the way to the courtroom or Senator's office. He comes to learn that chemical addiction can translate into a consuming passion for justice when he and his partner, Paul (Mark Kassen, co-directing with brother Adam Kassen) meet with nurse Vicky (Vinessa Shaw), who has become infected with HIV after a prick from a contaminated needle. She only wants one thing: that her inventor friend Jeffrey Dancort's (Marshall Bell) safety needle is used in hospitals to avoid future accidents like her own. "Sometimes the brightest light comes from the darkest places," she assures Mike, in the throes of his fighting a battle with his own addicted body as his way-over-its-head firm struggles to wage war with a massively well-funded pharmaceutical giant. Throughout Mike's showdowns and screw-ups — notably, nodding out and dripping blood from his ravaged nostrils instead of attending a vital meeting with his client — Evans convincingly pours himself into his part, while imparting the idea that his counselor's only hope is the conviction that he's in a righteous fight. Also on point: the Kassens' restrained direction — encapsulating the seedy eccentricity of their protagonist, the OTT opulence of the opposition, and the crumminess of generic hotel suites, as well as rain drops refracting street lights — and Ryan Ross Smith's minimal electronic score. (1:39) Bridge. (Chun)
Real Steel Father-son bonding, plus robot boxing. Or vice versa, not sure. (2:07) Presidio.
*Sleep Furiously Gideon Koppel's poetical feature takes a snapshot of an ebbing agricultural hamlet in middle Wales where his parents now live, one near in flavor and geography to Dylan Thomas' fictive "Llareggub" in Under Milk Wood. Not that any background information is laid out here — this is the kind of documentary that eschews narrative and informational elements for an impressionist approach, little fragments of artfully arranged life adding up to a flavorsome if incomplete whole picture. Koppel is attracted to the way things haven't changed — we never see a TV on, let alone somebody using a cell phone — yet we soon glean that things in Trefeurig are changing whether he likes it or not. The local residents we meet don't: a dwindling populace has already shuttered the post office and other basic lifelines, with the schoolhouse scheduled next. What's at issue here is the extinction of a community, though despite the attempts we see at sustaining local traditions, that may already be a foregone conclusion. Still, life goes on, from livestock birthings and shearings to the rain-or-shine route of John the mobile librarian, whose monthly visits to isolated pensioners provides Sleep's closest thing to a connecting thread. Some may be frustrated by the film's opacity, and Koppel's directorial choices can be pointlessly mannered. Yet there's a lovely, lyrical warmth of observation that makes this perversely named (after a Noam Chomsky quote) nonfiction work a real pleasure to watch. It's also a pleasure to hear, thanks to one exceptional local choir (featured in a rehearsal segment) and an original ambient soundtrack by Aphex Twin. (1:34) Roxie. (Harvey)
*Take Shelter Jeff Nichols directed Michael Shannon in 2007's Shotgun Stories, released right around the time the actor's decade-plus prior career broke huge with an Oscar nom for 2008's Revolutionary Road. Their second collaboration, Take Shelter, is a subtle drama that succeeds mostly because of Shannon's strong star turn, with an assist from Jessica Chastain (suddenly ubiquitous after The Help, The Debt, and Tree of Life). Curtis (Shannon) and Samantha (Chastain) live paycheck to paycheck in a small Midwestern town; the health insurance associated with his construction job is the only reason they'll be able to afford a cochlear implant for their deaf daughter. When Curtis starts having horrible nightmares, he can't shake the feeling that his dreams prophesize an actual disaster to come — or are an indicator that Curtis, like his mother before him, is slowly losing touch with reality. Curtis does seek professional help, but he also starts ripping up his backyard, making expensive improvements to the family's tornado shelter. You know, just in case. Domestic turmoil, troubles at work, and social ostracization inevitably follow. Where will it all lead? Won't spoil it for you, but Take Shelter's conclusion isn't nearly as gripping as Shannon's performance, an skillfully balanced mix of confusion, anger, regret, and white-hot terror. (2:00) Embarcadero. (Eddy)
*Weekend See "A New England." (1:36) Embarcadero, Shattuck.
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) Lumiere, 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. (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) Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki. (Louis Peitzman)
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2:02) Lumiere.
Dolphin Tale (1:53) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center.
Dream House (1:33) 1000 Van Ness, 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) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
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) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Ryan Lattanzio)
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. (Eddy)
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) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (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. (Chun)
The Lion King 3D (1:29) 1000 Van Ness, 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. (Harvey)
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) Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
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. (Harvey)
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)
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) Balboa, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (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) Shattuck. (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) Opera Plaza. (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. (Chun)
Sarah Palin: You Betcha! Isn't the Sarah Palin joke kind of over at this point? Apparently not, as British documentarian Nick Broomfield (1998's Kurt and Courtney) dons his ear-flap hat and travels to Alaska, intent on discovering the real Palin. Unsurprisingly, Palin dodges his interview requests; her supporters are none to eager to speak to Broomfield either, after word gets out he's making "a hit [piece]," according to Palin's father (who does appear in the film, along with his "antler dog"). Broomfield doggedly traces Palin's path from Wasilla beauty queen to mayor to Alaska governor to Vice Presidential nominee, finding plenty of dirt (albeit no real revelations) along the way. Worth seeing for some of the odder asides (Levi Johnston's manager suggesting the lad won't go below $20,000 for an interview), but there's not much new Sarah-bashing material here. Now, if Broomfield could marshal a Michele Bachmann hit-piece right quick, that'd be something worth cashing in on. (1:30) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
*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. (Cooper Berkmoyer)
*Tucker and Dale vs. Evil Hillbilly horror is nothing new. Some might mark its heyday as the 1970s, a decade containing Deliverance (1972) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and I Spit On Your Grave (1978). Others might point to Herschell Gordon Lewis' immortal Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), probably cinema's most persuasive example of why Yankees road-tripping below the Mason-Dixon Line should never, for any reason, detour off the main highway. Twenty-first century hillbillies are still scary, at least on the big screen; this is one stereotype that'll never die. Any number of recent horror films — most of them remakes of the films noted above (or directed by Rob Zombie) — have drawn their clichéd plots from a checklist that always includes city slickers, cars that break down, cell phones that don't work, and inbred locals. The lesson remains the same: stay the hell out of the backwoods, yuppie! But what if, asks Eli Craig's Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, you were totally misjudging those sinister-seeming whiskey-tango yokels? What if, despite being a little unwashed and fond of sharp objects and power tools, they happened to be really nice guys? The film — about a couple of blue-collar guys (Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk) hanging out at their mountain cabin who unwittingly terrify a group of vacationing college kids — finds a sense of humor in the tired genre. The result is blood-spattered comedy gold. (1:28) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Eddy)
*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.)
What's Your Number? Following some sage relationship advice from Marie Claire about the perils of a lengthy sexual résumé, Ally (Anna Faris) resolves to cut off her partner roster at 20, too late to avoid getting tagged a slut by her friends but not, she hopes, to secure her soul mate — if she can cast back over a storied career of failed relationships and hook the one who might not have been a total douche after all. Aiding her in this sad, misguided quest is her far sluttier across-the-hall neighbor, Colin (Chris Evans), whose main selling point other than P.I. skills and a well-defined set of obliques seems to be that he's virtually the only person in the movie who doesn't think Ally is doomed to solitude for having slept with 20 people. Faris is a charmer, and — no mean feat given the modest claims of the material at hand — she injects a comic exuberance into Ally's reunions with a succession of impossibles, who are either engaged to be married, still not interested, or a gay politico seeking a beard. For jokes not revealed in the trailer, see: the inexorable progression of Ally and Colin's friendship (they have plenty of time to hang out, cyber-stalk people, and play games of strip H-O-R-S-E since she's just been laid off and he has no visible source of income), which leaves Ally with a couple of insights into Colin's character and motivations and the viewer shrugging, only half-convinced of the merits of bachelor number 21. (1:46) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Rapoport)
Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Matt Sussman. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.
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