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.
SAN FRANCISCO DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL
The 10th San Francisco DocFest runs through Oct. 27 at the Roxie, 3117 16th St, SF, and the Shattuck Theatre, 2230 Shattuck, Berk. Tickets ($11) and complete schedule available at www.sfindie.com.
*"ATA Film and Video Festival" Paul Clipson's Caridea and Icthyes is an abstract feast of color, light and water, complemented by a space like ambience, and interspersed with shots of sea life. Zooming in and out of the abstract, it feels as though the viewer is pushing through water (like a fish) until the abstraction becomes clearly defined as oncoming car traffic. That contrast is surprising, however ambiguous. Dream-like, Clipson's film can feel hypnotic, like an unsettling tranquility. Watching it is like being pushed under an ocean's wave and kept from going back up for air – like a euphoric drowning where time has slowed down to the point of almost not being there at all. The music by Jefre Cantu-Ledesma heightens this feeling with vague, otherworldly tinkling sounds and echos. The film, though, doesn't progress forward toward any particular point or idea. It ends where it begins. In David Baumflek's Earthrise, the filmmaker's father looks back on personal life-changing events that took place in the year 1968, including his own father's death, and coming to know the woman who he'd later marry. "1968 seemed to be the most important year of my life," he states in the beginning. As his his story reluctantly unfolds (the recording stops and starts several times), video filmed in 1968 by astronauts circling the moon is shown, subsequently drawing connections between the man's life and larger events in the world. A moving and honest short, Baumflek makes these broad connections between the mysteriousness of life and fate, and the mysteriousness of the universe, and in way that feels natural. The connections never feel forced or exaggerated, and, more importantly, they are revealing. The film places a personal life in the larger context of cosmic events, and you watch the film with equal astonishment at both. For more ATA fest reviews, visit the Pixel Vision blog at www.sfbg.com. Artists' Television Access. (James H. Miller)
*Hell and Back Again This emotionally jagged documentary mingles footage from the war and home fronts to rather nightmarishly evoke one soldier's very stressful experiences on both. Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris is seen in combat, patrolling Afghan terrain, communicating — sometimes earnestly, sometimes exasperatedly — with skeptical local villagers who are themselves wedged between foreign forces and the Taliban. After surviving a serious injury during his third tour, he has a rough time re-adjusting to civilian life in North Carolina — undergoing physical therapy, often in pain or zonked on prescription drugs, his anger straining relations with wife Ashley. Seldom articulate, forever creepily playing with his handgun, Nathan doesn't automatically win sympathy. That lends Danfung Dennis' film a certain extra veracity: with all his foibles (and all the blanks left in his biography), the protagonist here is probably a more typical representation of today's U.S. fighting forces than most similar recent docs have offered. The director's soundtrack and editorial strategies further intensify a movie that tries to get inside the unsettled mind within an (at least temporarily) broken body, and to a discomfiting extent succeeds. (1:28) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Image of the Beast and Devil Dog: The Hound from Hell This "Special Rapture Edition" of the Vortex's six-week Satanic-themed series offers doses of both salvation and demonic possession. First up is Image of the Beast (1980), third in early indie Christian filmmaker David W. Thompson's Left Behind-anticipating quartet of features about a very American Biblical apocalypse. The devil has turned the U.S. into a military police state where all legal worship has been reduced to "one big sin-infested body, the World Church." Stubborn Jesus-loving holdouts are executed by guillotine, and computers are the new "golden calf." There's a lot of Revelations-warping explanatory yakkety yak and not much action (though there's one decent living room car crash stunt). But sincerity counts — as does the eccentricity that goes with it — in this precursor to today's "faith-based entertainment" industry. Lacking any authentic impulse whatsoever is 1978's strictly Mammon-worshipping Devil Dog: The Hound From Hell, in which a So. Cal. suburban family unknowingly adopts ... well, you know. It promptly possesses mom Yvette Mimieux (she turns bitchy 'n' slutty) and the kids (Real Housewife Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, both of 1975's Escape from Witch Mountain, become school bullies ruthlessly rigging Student Council elections). Meanwhile Richard Crenna's Satan-resisting dad tries not to let Fido's glowing eyes force his hands into lawn mower blades. An early casualty, the Mexican maid, warns "There ees a feeeling of eeeveel!" just before the puppy sets her on fire. You might think any movie that starts with the suggested witch-coven rape of a German Shepherd would be the height (or nadir) of outrageousness, but Devil Dog's clock-punching direction, disjointed script and bad performances by decent performers prove otherwise. A TV movie fit to make Satan's School for Girls (1973) look like The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), it can be explained only as definitive proof that a whole lotta cocaine was impairing a whole lot of judgment in mid-late 70s Hollywood. Vortex Room. (Harvey)
Johnny English Reborn Rowan Atkinson returns at the comedic super-spy. (1:41)
*Margin Call Think of Margin Call as a Mamet-like, fictitious insider jab at the financial crisis, a novelistic rejoinder to Oscar-winning doc Inside Job (2010). First-time feature director and writer J.C. Chandor shows a deft hand with complex, writerly material, creating a darting dance of smart dialogue and well-etched characters as he sidesteps the hazards of overtheatricality, a.k.a. the crushing, overbearing proscenium. The film opens on a familiar Great Recession scene: lay-off day at an investment bank, marked by HR functionaries calling workers one by one into fishbowl conference rooms. The first victim is the most critical — Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), a risk-management staffer who has stumbled on an investment miscalculation that could potentially trigger a Wall Street collapse. On his way out, he passes a drive with his findings to one of his young protégés, Peter (Zachary Quinto), setting off a flash storm over the next 24 hours that will entangle his boss Sam (Kevin Spacey), who's agonizing over his dying dog while putting up a go-big-or-go-home front; cynical trading manager Will (Paul Bettany); and the firm's intimidating head (Jeremy Irons), who gets to utter the lines, "Explain to me as you would to a child. Or a Golden Retriever." Such top-notch players get to really flex their skills here, equipped with Chandor's spot-on script, which manages to convey the big issues, infuse the numbers with drama and the money managers with humanity, and never talk down to the audience. (1:45) Shattuck. (Chun)
The Mighty Macs I can't be the first reviewer to dub The Mighty Macs "Sister Act 2 meets Hoosiers," but it can't be avoided — that's exactly what this movie is. It's 1971 at Immaculata College, a tiny school in financial trouble staffed by nuns and populated by female students who made it through the 1960s seemingly untouched by any rebellious spirit. Into this uptight milieu strides Sister Mary Clarence, er, Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino), an ambitious young basketball coach determined to make winners out of a team so undervalued they practice in a basement and play games wearing outdated, skirted uniforms. Based on a pretty incredible true story, The Mighty Macs is a completely clichéd sports movie, with locker-room pep talks, a disapproving authority figure (a be-wimpled Ellen Burstyn), last-minute free throws deciding crucial games, etc. But it also offers a gentle lesson about the early days of feminism, not to mention a scene featuring an elderly nun yelling "Watch out for the pick and roll!" from the sidelines. (1:38) (Eddy)
Paranormal Activity 3 Who you gonna call? (1:24) California.
The Skin I Live In I'd like to think that Pedro Almodóvar is too far along in his frequently-celebrated career to be having a midlife crisis, but all the classic signs are on display in his flashy, disjointed new thriller. Still mourning the death of his burn victim wife and removed from his psychologically disturbed daughter, brilliant-but-ethically compromised plastic surgeon Robert (played with smoldering creepiness by former Almodóvar heartthrob Antonio Banderas) throws himself into developing a new injury-resistant form of prosthetic skin, testing it on his mysterious live-in guinea pig, Vera (the gorgeous Elena Anaya, whose every curve is on view thanks to an après-ski-ready body suit). Eventually, all hell breaks loose, as does Vera, whose back story, as we find out, owes equally to 1960's Eyes Without a Face and perhaps one of the Saw films. And that's not even the half of it — to fully recount every sharp turn, digression and MacGuffin thrown at us would take the entirety of this review. That's not news for Almodóvar, though. Much like Rainer Werner Fassbinder before him, Almodóvar's métier is melodrama, as refracted through a gay cinephile's recuperative affections. His strength as a filmmaker is to keep us emotionally tethered to the story he's telling, amidst all the allusions, sex changes and plot twists torn straight from a telenovela. The real shame of The Skin I Live In is that so much happens that you don't actually have time to care much about any of it. Although its many surfaces are beautiful to behold (thanks largely to cinematographer José Luis Alcaine), The Skin I Live In ultimately lacks a key muscle: a heart. (1:57) Embarcadero. (Sussman)
The Three Musketeers 3D All for one and one for all. Again. (1:50)
The Way Emilio Estevez directs his pop, Martin Sheen, in this drama about a man on a modern-day odyssey. (1:55)
The Woman on the Sixth Floor There is a particular strain of populist European comedy in which stuffy northerners are loosened up by liberating exposure to those sensual, passionate, loud, all-embracing simple folk from the sunny south. The line between multicultural inclusion and condescension is a thin one these movies not infrequently cross. Set in 1960, Philippe Le Guay's film has a bourgeoisie Paris couple hiring a new maid in the person of attractive young Maria (Natalia Verbeke). She joins a large group of Spanish women toiling for snobbish French gentry in the same building. Her presence has a leavening effect on investment counselor employer Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini), to the point where he actually troubles to improve the poorly housed maids' lot. (Hitherto no one has cared that their shared toilet is broken.) But he also takes an inappropriate and (initially) unwanted romantic interest in this woman, lending a creepy edge to what's intended as a feel-good romp. (For the record, Verbeke is about a quarter-century younger than Luchini — a difference one can't imagine the film would ignore so completely if the genders were reversed.) Le Guay's screenplay trades in easy stereotypes — the Spanish "help" are all big-hearted lovers of life, the Gallic upper-crusters (including Sandrine Kiberlain as J-L's shallow, insecure wife) emotionally constipated, xenophobic boors — predictable conflicts and pat resolutions. As formulaic crowd-pleasers go, it could be worse. But don't be fooled — if this were in English, there'd be no fawning mainstream reviews. In fact, it has been in English, more or less. And that ugly moment in cinematic history was called Spanglish (2004). (1:44) Albany, Clay. (Harvey)
The Big Year The weird, kind of wonderful world of bird watching has to be the most unlikely subject to get the mainstream Hollywood movie treatment this year, yet to director David Frankel and his cast's credit, this project based on the book by Mark Obmascik takes flight with seemingly feather-light effortlessness. The Big Year entwines itself around three birding obsessives: the cocky Kenny (Owen Wilson), the record holder of the most birds sighted in one year, an achievement known as a Big Year; Stu (Steve Martin), a captain of industry who has eschewed corporate life in his pursuit of choice avian specimens; and Brad (Jack Black), the every guy determined to max out his, and his parents', credit cards to take a stab at Kenny's record. Frankel winningly seeds his yarn with playful visual devices (scribbling on the screen, say, to point out the sites of key sightings) but in the end, the human back stories of his absurdly driven characters provide the real foundation for The Big Year, while actors Black, Martin, and Wilson — all fully capable of tumbling into too-cute or too-hammy quagmires — respond with empathy to the story's delicate handling. (1:30) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
*Blackthorn This low-key neo-Western imagines what would've happened if Butch Cassidy had survived that shootout in 1908 Bolivia and retreated into anonymity as a rural rancher. Sam Shepard stars as the outlaw turned grizzled gringo (in flashbacks to the Sundance Kid days, he's played by Game of Thrones' Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Butch, now known as James Blackthorn, longs to return to America, so he empties his bank account and sells off his horses. His plan runs afoul when he loses his cash stash, thanks to a series of unfortunate events set into motion by gentleman bandit Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega), who's just ripped off a nearby mine but is ill-suited for survival in the harsh backcountry. Determined to recoup his losses, Butch reluctantly teams up with Eduardo; there are shoot-outs and escapes on horseback and a nice series of scenes with Stephen Rea as an aging, frequently soused Pinkerton detective. Director Mateo Gil (writer of 1997's Open Your Eyes, which starred Noriega) delivers an unpretentious spin on a legend highlighted by gorgeous landscapes and, of course, Shepard's true-gritty performance. (1:38) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Eddy)
*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)
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. (Louis Peitzman)
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2:02) Lumiere.
Dolphin Tale (1:53) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center.
Dream House (1:33) 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) 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, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Ryan Lattanzio)
Finding Joe Think of Finding Joe as a noob's every-hero introduction to mythologist Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Director Patrick Takaya Solomon assembles a diverse group of Campbell experts and acolytes such as Joseph Campbell Foundation president Robert Walter, author Deepak Chopra, tai chi master Chungliang Al Huang, A Beautiful Mind (2001) screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, and skater Tony Hawk, who expound on every aspect of the hero's journey, from experiencing spiritual death to finding bliss to summoning the courage to slay dragons. Somewhat predictable clips from Star Wars (1977) and other cinematic sources bring home the ways that pop culture has incorporated and been read through the filter of Campbell's ideas. All of which makes for an accessible survey of our bro Joe's work — though despite the inclusion of a few token female talking heads like actress Rashida Jones and Twilight (2008) director Catherine Hardwicke, Solomon's past shooting action sports and commercials gives the doc a distinctly macho cast. (1:23) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Chun)
Fireflies in the Garden Don't let the A-list cast (Willem Dafoe, Ryan Reynolds, Emily Watson, Julie Roberts) fool you: this is a minor-key melodrama that would be just as unmemorable with a cast of unknowns. Writer-director Dennis Lee tosses a co-writing credit to Robert Frost, whose poem lends the film its title and plays a part in a pivotal scene. Scarred by a childhood made miserable by his cruel father (Dafoe) — who, as onscreen dads go, really isn't that terrible (see The Woman, below) — a successful writer (Reynolds) returns home for a family celebration that turns (wait for it) tragic. This is the kind of movie that attempts to hit big emotional notes without actually earning them; if the lure of Reynolds as a hunky sad sack is too great to resist, prepare to feel either completely unmoved or totally manipulated. Not sure which is worse. (1:39) Embarcadero. (Eddy)
Footloose Another unnecessary remake joins the queue at the box office, aiming for the pockets of '80s-era nostalgics and fans of dance movies and naked opportunism. A recap for those (if there are those) who never saw the 1984 original: city boy Ren McCormack moves to a Middle American speck-on-the-map called Bomont and riles the town's inhabitants with his rock 'n' roll ways — rock 'n' roll, and the lewd acts of physicality it inspires, i.e., dancing, having been criminalized by the town council to preserve the souls and bodies of Bomont's young people. Ren falls for wayward preacher's daughter Ariel Moore — whose father has sponsored this oversolicitous piece of legislation — and vows to fight city hall on the civil rights issue of a senior prom. Ren McCormack 2.0 is one Kenny Wormald (prepped for the gig by his tenure in the straight-to-cable dance-movie sequel Center Stage: Turn It Up), who forgoes the ass-grabbing blue jeans that Kevin Bacon once angry-danced through a flour mill in. Otherwise, the 2011 version, directed and cowritten by Craig Brewer (2005's Hustle & Flow), regurgitates much of the original, hoping to leverage classic lines, familiar scenes, and that Dance Your Ass Off T-shirt of Ariel's. It doesn't work. Ren and Ariel (Dancing with the Stars' Julianne Hough) are blandly unsympathetic and have the chemistry of two wet paper towels, the adult supporting cast should have known better, and the entire film comes off as a tired, tuneless echo. (1:53) 1000 Van Ness. (Rapoport)
*Happy, Happy Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen) and Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens) seem like very exciting new neighbors to Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen) — she's almost hysterical with welcoming enthusiasm, perhaps overcompensating for the frigidity of her union to dour Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen). But it soon emerges that the urban, urbane newcomers to this snowy country community also have more than their share of domestic woes. When those unpleasant facts tumble out over a rather disastrous dinner party, the revelation somehow throws Kaja and Sigve together as not just the injured parties in their respective marriages, but potential soulmates. This first feature for both director Anne Sewitzky and scenarist Ragnhild Tronvoll nearly passed unnoticed at Sundance this January — being so good-natured and, well, Norwegian — but dang if it wasn't just too much of a genuine (as opposed to contrived) crowdpleaser to go ignored. The characters behave badly (as well as irresponsibly, since there are children involved), yet their fates develop real rooting interest through a number of clever, complex, sometimes hilarious narrative developments. It would be a delight even without the slam-dunk inspiration of an unlikely Greek chorus: four vanilla gents singing African-American spirituals a cappella as incongruous yet strangely perfect external commentary on our protagonists' hapless entanglements. (1:28) Lumiere. (Harvey)
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) SF Center, Shattuck. (Chun)
The Ides of March Battling it out in the Ohio primaries are two leading Democratic presidential candidates. Filling the role of idealistic upstart new to the national stage — even his poster looks like you-know-who's Hope one — is Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), who's running neck-and-neck in the polls with his rival thanks to veteran campaign manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and ambitious young press secretary Steven (Ryan Gosling). The latter is so tipped for success that he's wooed to switch teams by a rival politico's campaign chief (Paul Giamatti). While he declines, even meeting with a representative from the opposing camp is a dangerous move for Steven, who's already juggling complex loyalties to various folk including New York Times reporter Ida (Marisa Tomei) and campaign intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), who happens to be the daughter of the Democratic National Party chairman. Adapted from Beau Willimon's acclaimed play Farragut North, Clooney's fourth directorial feature is assured, expertly played, and full of sharp insider dialogue. (Willimon worked on Howard Dean's 2004 run for the White House.) It's all thoroughly engaging — yet what evolves into a thriller of sorts involving blackmail and revenge ultimately seems rather beside the point, as it turns upon an old-school personal morals quandary rather than diving seriously into the corporate, religious, and other special interests that really determine (or at least spin) the issues in today's political landscape. Though stuffed with up-to-the-moment references, Ides already feels curiously dated. (1:51) California, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
The Lion King 3D (1:29) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center.
*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) Bridge. (Harvey)
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) Opera Plaza. (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) 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) Opera Plaza. (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)
Real Steel Everybody knows what this movie about rocking, socking robots should have been called. Had the producers secured the rights to the name, we'd all be sitting down to Over The Top II: Child Endangerment. Absentee father Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) and his much-too-young son Max (Dakota Goyo) haul their remote-controlled pugilists in a big old truck from one underground competition to the next. Along the way Charlie learns what it means to be a loving father while still routinely managing to leave cherubic Max alone in scenarios of astonishing peril. Seriously, there are displays of parental neglect in this movie that strain credulity well beyond any of its Rock 'Em Sock 'Em elements. Fortunately the filmmakers had the good sense to make those elements awesome. The robots look great and the ring action can be surprisingly stirring in spite of the paper-thin human story it depends on. And as adept as the script proves to be at skirting the question of robot sentience, we're no less compelled to root for our scrappy contender. Recommended if you love finely wrought spectacle but hate strong characterization and children. (2:07) 1000 Van Ness. (Jason Shamai)
The Sleeping Beauty Fairytales are endemically Freudian; perhaps it has something to with their use of subconscious fantasy to mourn — and breathlessly anticipate — the looming loss of childhood. French provocateuse Catherine Breillat's feminist re-imagining of The Sleeping Beauty carries her hyper-sexualized signature, but now she also has free reign to throw in bizarre and beastly metaphors for feminine and masculine desire in the form of boil-covered, dungeon-dwelling ogres, albino teenage princes, and icy-beautiful snow queens. The story follows Anastasia, a poor little aristocrat, who longs to be a boy (she calls herself "Sir Vladimir"). When her hand is pricked with a yew spindle (more of a phallic impalement, really), Anastasia falls into a 100-year adventurous slumber, eventually awakening as a sexually ripe 16-year-old. It all plays like an anchorless, Brothers Grimm version of Sally Potter's 1992 Orlando. And while it's definitely not for the kiddies, it's hard to believe that many adults would find its overt symbolism and plodding narrative any more than a sporadically entertaining exercise in preciousness. Your own dreams will undoubtedly be more interesting — perhaps you can catch a few zzz's in a theater screening this movie. (1:42) SFFS New People Cinema. (Michelle Devereaux)
*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, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
The Thing John Carpenter's 1982 The Thing is my go-to favorite film (that and 1988's They Live — I'm a little bit Carpenter-obsessed). So this prequel-which-is-actually-more-like-a-remake is already treading on holy cinematic ground with me. My expectations were low. Pleasantly, first-time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. doesn't deliver a total suckfest (as most remakes of sacred movies do, like the abominable 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre); his Thing is rated R, is not in 3D, casts a few actual Norwegians to play the inhabitants of Norway's Antarctic research lab, etc. It also tries to create continuity with Carpenter's film by ending exactly where the 1982 film begins. However, all that comes before is basically a weak imitation of Carpenter, whose own film was heavily inspired by 1951 sci-fi classic The Thing from Another World (all three versions list John W. Campbell Jr.'s story "Who Goes There?" as source material). Van Heihningen Jr. offers nothing new except for CG (the 1982 organic FX were creepier, though). Oh, there's also a "we need a final girl" plot device that shoehorns Mary Elizabeth Winstead into the mix. Both this version and Carpenter's film build up dread with paranoia. But Carpenter's was also heavy with the Antarctic-long-haul side effects of cabin fever and extreme isolation. Not really a factor when your main character has just jetted in from New York. (1:43) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Toast Oh, what a tasty dish Helena Bonham Carter has become, not afraid to look bad, mumsy, frazzled, or even like a fashion icon (as in recent Marc Jacobs ads). Watching her clean, cook, and spar with the young, preternaturally snobbish food writer Nigel Slater (played as a child by Oscar Kennedy, then as a teenager by Freddie Highmore) is the central, entirely edible joy of this changeable, not-quite-cozy journey back to a damp, dour '60s-era Britain. Swinging London is more than simply a few miles away from Nigel's sad childhood in this film based on Slater's memoir: he fantasizes about lavish spreads of food while his aggro dad (Ken Stott) blusters hopelessly and his sickly mum (Victoria Hamilton) cringes at even spaghetti Bolognese and relies on the culinary fallback of toast. The arrival of the blowsy, earthy and, in Nigel's eyes, unendingly tacky housekeeper, Mrs. Potter (Carter), brings genuinely good food — and welcome comedy — into Nigel's life while stirring a sense of indignant competition. The way to a dad's, or rather, a man's, heart is obviously through a lofty, majestic lemon meringue pie. Too bad young Nigel is such an elitist bitch, making for a repugnant protagonist that's hard to sympathize with. Likewise Highmore and Kennedy are outclassed when it comes to Bonham Carter, who snatches the entire film away with her undeniable sass, manic scrubbing, and sorrowful looks. (1:36) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Chun)
*Weekend In post-World War II Britain, the "Angry Young Man" school excited international interest even as it triggered alarm and disdain from various native bastions of cultural conservatism. Alan Sillitoe's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) discomfited many by depicting a young factory grunt who frequently wakes in a married woman's bed, chases other available tail, lies as naturally as he breathes, and calls neighborhood busybodies "bitches and whores." Today British movies (at least the ones that get exported) are still more or less divided by a sort of class system. There's the Masterpiece Theatre school of costumed romance and intrigue on one hand, the pint-mouthed rebel yellers practicing gritty realism on another. Except contemporary examples of the latter now allow that Angry Young Men might be something else beyond the radar once tuned to cocky, white male antiheroes. The "something else" is gay in Weekend, which was shot in some of the same Nottingham locations where Albert Finney kicked against the pricks in the 1960 film version of Saturday Night. The landscape has changed, but is still nondescript; the boozy clubs still loud but with different bad music. It's at one such that bearded, late-20s Russell (Tom Cullen) wakes up next morning with a hangover next to no married lady but rather Glen (Chris New). It would be unfair to reveal more of Weekend's plot, what little there is. Suffice it to say these two lads get to know each other over less than 48 hours, during which it emerges that Russell isn't really "out," while Glen is with a vengeance — though the matter of who is more emotionally mature or well adjusted isn't so simple. Writer-director Andrew Haigh made one prior feature, a semi-interesting, perhaps semi-staged portrait of a male hustler called Greek Pete (2009). It didn't really prepare one for Weekend, which is the kind of yakkety, bumps and-all romantic brief encounter movies (or any other media) so rarely render this fresh, natural, and un-stagy. (1:36) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Harvey)
The Woman Writer-director Lucky McKee scored a cult hit with 2002's May; his latest, The Woman (co-written with novelist Jack Ketchum), arrived in my mailbox packaged in a barf bag, "just in case." This bit of Herschell Gordon Lewis-style gimmickry had me expecting great things, and indeed, McKee's love of gore goes to 11, with gnawed-off digits, ripped-out entrails, and other squishy moments aimed squarely at shock-horror enthusiasts. All is not well in the household headed up by cheerful misogynist-sadist Chris (Sean Bridgers of Deadwood): his wife (May's Angela Bettis) is a quivering wreck; his older daughter (Lauren Ashley Carter) is concealing a growing secret; and his son (Zach Rand) is a middle-school sociopath. When Chris captures a Nell-by-way-of-Leatherface feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) in the woods near his home, he chains her up in a storm shelter and sets about "civilizing" her — which basically means keeping her as his own personal torture puppet. McKee, who never met a slo-mo shot he didn't like, seems to be aiming for black comedy at least part of the time, but The Woman is so mean-spirited that by the time its inevitable tidal wave of revenge crashes down, it's hard to feel any kind of satisfaction or release. Revulsion, however: yes. (1:45) Metreon. (Eddy)