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.
Anonymous Who really wrote Shakespeare's plays? The suddenly literary Roland Emmerich (1996's Independence Day, 2009's 2012) investigates in this political thriller starring Rhys Ifans. (2:10)
Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life Far from perfect, yet imbued with all the playful, artful qualities of the maestro himself, writer-director Joann Sfar goes out of his way to tell singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg's tale the way that he sees it, as that of an artist, and in the process creates a wonderland of cartoonish perversity from the cradle to the grave. The remainder of A Heroic Life is almost eclipsed by the film's earliest interludes, which trail the already too-clever-for-his-own-good young musician and painter, born Lucien Ginsburg, as he proudly claims his gold star from the Nazis. With echoes of 400 Blows (1959) resounding with every wayward step, the brash young Lucien lives by his active imagination, dreaming up a fat, spiderlike plaything from the monstrous Jew depicted in Nazi propaganda and conjuring an imaginary alter-ego he dubs his ugly Mug. Though Heroic Life's adult Serge is seamlessly embodied by Eric Elmosnino, few of the moments from the grown lothario's life rival those initial scenes, with the exception of his exuberant love affair with Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta) and the fantastic music that came out of it. Still, it's a joy to hear his music, even in short snatches, with subtitles that clearly spell out Gainsbourg's talents as a stunning, uniquely talented lyricist. (2:02) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
*Gainsbourg: The Man Who Loved Women Those hungry for more of the real Serge Gainsbourg — after being tantalized and teased by Joann Sfar's whimsical comic book-inspired feature — will want to catch this documentary by Pascal Forneri for many of the details that didn't fit or were skimmed over, here, in the very words and image of the songwriter and the many iconic women in his life. Much of the chanson master's photographic or video history seems to be here — from his blunt-force on-camera proposition of Whitney Houston to multiple, insightful interviews with the love of his life, Jane Birkin, as well as the many women who won his heart for just a little while, such as Brigitte Bardot, Juliette Gréco, Françoise Hardy, and Vanessa Paradis. Gainsbourg may be marred by its somewhat choppy, mystifying structure, at times chronological, at times organized according to creative periods, but overriding all are the actual footage and photographs loosely, louchely assembled and collaged by Forneri; delightful pre-music-videos Scopitones of everyone from France Gall to Anna Karina; and the gemlike, oh-so-quotable interviews with the mercurial, admirably honest musical genius and eternally subversive provocateur. Quibble as you might with the short shrift given his later career—in addition to major '70s LPs like Histoire de Melody Nelson and L'Homme à tête de chou (Cabbage-Head Man) — this is a must-see for fans both casual and seriously seduced. (1:45) Roxie. (Chun)
In Time Justin Timberlake stars in this futuristic thriller, set in a world where people stop aging at 25. Andrew Niccol (1997's Gattaca) directs. (runtime not available)
The Legend is Born: Ip Man If you prefer your martial arts movies Zhang Yimou-lush, Jackie Chan-hilarious, or Tsui Hark-insane, you'll want to skip The Legend is Born: Ip Man, an earnest, unfussy semi-biopic about the early years of Wing Chun grandmaster Yip Man (he taught Bruce Lee ... respect). Here, he's called Ip Man and is played by the bland Dennis To, who might be carved from wood if not for his many nimble fight scenes — playful dispute-settling, grueling training sequences, to-the-death clashes, etc. The Ip Man story has been popular Hong Kong movie fodder in recent years, with the far more charismatic Donnie Yen playing the lead in a pair of 2008 and 2010 flicks. This apparently unrelated production is less flashier than those films, but purists will appreciate appearances by fightin' screen legends Sammo Hung and Yuen Bao, plus a cameo by Yip Man's real-life son. Side note: director Herman Yau co-directed absolutely bonkers crime drama The Untold Story (1993), starring Anthony Wong as a Sweeney Todd type who runs a restaurant famed for its "pork" buns. Worth a look, fiends. (1:40) Four Star. (Eddy)
*Martha Marcy May Marlene If Winter's Bone star Jennifer Lawrence was the breakout ingénue of 2010, look for Martha Marcy May Marlene's Elizabeth Olsen to take the 2011 title. Both films are backwoodsy and harrowing and offer juicy roles for their leading starlets — not to mention a pair of sinister supporting roles for the great John Harkes. Here, he's a Manson-y figure who retains disturbing control over Olsen's character even after the multi-monikered girl flees his back-to-the-land cult. Writer-director Sean Durkin goes for unflashy realism and mounds on the dread as the hollow-eyed Martha attempts to resume normal life, to the initial delight of her estranged, guilt-ridden older sister (Sarah Paulson). Soon, however, it becomes clear that Things Are Not Ok. You'd be forgiven for pooh-poohing Olsen from the get-go; lavish Sundance buzz and the fact that she's Mary-Kate and Ashley's sis have already landed her mountains of pre-release publicity. But her performance is unforgettable, and absolutely fearless. (1:41) (Eddy)
*Oka! It's good to know Lavinia Currier's 1997 Passion in the Desert — a Napoleonic army officer meets Egyptian leopard love story, and yes you read that right — was no fluke. Her latest is at least as nuts. Diagnosed with liver failure from leprosy, or something, New Jersey ethno-musicologist Larry (tall, skinny Brit Kris Marshall with a shovel-flattened Yankee accent) heeds the telepathic call of a witch doctor and journeys back with recording equipment in hand to the African Bayaka pygmies he once documented, whose Central African Republic home is currently being decimated by foreign-funded deforestation. This wonderfully arbitrary adventure is supposedly based on an unpublished real-life memoir, but then Passion was allegedly derived from Balzac — one suspects everything Currier touches turns to Instant Crazy. (No wonder it's taken her 26 years to make three features; if any filmmaker deserved a patron with an open checkbook to hurry the old artistic process up, it's her.) There's not much plot here, but what with hilarious sexual tensions, political intrigue, spectacular wildlife, and a elephant stampede/quasi-production-number/dream climax, your entertainment dollars will be rolling in dividends. To think that just two weeks ago a Mill Valley Film Festival premiere made Marshall seem the most obnoxious actor alive — here he seems pretty near the most delightful. This has been a shit film year so far, with even the good stuff feeling like the same old. Blessedly eccentric exceptions: Machotaildrop, The Arbor, The Mill and the Cross. Don't let Oka! become yet another you've missed. (1:46) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
Oranges and Sunshine At the center of this saga of lives ripped apart by church and state is Margaret Humphreys, the Englishwoman who uncovered the scandalous mass deportation of children from England to Australia. In one of her most rewarding roles since The Proposition (2005), her last foray to Oz, Watson portrays the English social worker who in the '80s learns of multiple cases of now-adult orphans in Australia who don't know their real name or even age but remember that they once lived in the UK. She starts to explore the past of victims such as Jack (Hugo Weaving) and Len (David Wenham) and tries to reunite them with their families, including mothers who were told their youngsters were adopted into real families. In the course of her work, and at the expense of her own family life, Humphreys discovers the horrors that befell many young deportees — as child slave-laborers — and the corruption that extends its fingers into government and the Catholic church. In his first feature film, director Jim Loach, son of crusading cinematic force Ken Loach, turns over each stone with care and compassion, finding the perfect filter through which to tell this well-modulated story in Watson, whose Humphreys faces harassment and post-traumatic stress disorder in her quest to heal the children who were lured overseas in the hope that they would ride horses to school and pick oranges off a tree for breakfast. (1:45) Albany, Embarcadero. (Chun)
*Programming the Nation? Filmmaker Jeff Warrick investigates the history of subliminal messages in America, touching on everything from commercials to rock music to political campaigns. The question mark in the title suggests that this sort of subconscious brainwashing might not be going on, but the film offers truckloads of evidence to the contrary; basically, every hidden-message rumor you've ever heard (in Beatles songs, Disney movies, Camel cigarette ads, and so forth) is compiled here, for talking-head experts to discuss (and, ultimately, for the viewer pass judgment on). He also posits that the current vogue lies less in actual subliminal imagery and sounds, and more in the vein of not-so-subtle suggestion — think product placement in movies, and slanted news coverage underwritten by advertisers. Warrick's film suffers a bit from his unpolished narration and a slightly dated quality (aside from a quick mention of Obama at the end, much of the film's political content refers to the George W. Bush era), but it offers quite a bit of food for thought, and not just for paranoid conspiracy theorists. He'll be in person Fri/28-Sat/29 at the Balboa to answer questions, plus there'll be live musical performances after each show — presumably without subliminal content. Turn me on, dead man! (1:45) Balboa. (Eddy)
Puss in Boots Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek voice the leads in this Shrek series spin-off. (1:45)
The Rum Diary Johnny Depp stars in this tropical comedy adapted from a Hunter S. Thompson novel. (2:00) California, Piedmont.
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. (Chun)
*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) Shattuck. (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) 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) Shattuck. (Chun)
The Debt On paper, The Debt has a lot going for it: captivating history-based plot, "it" actor Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren vs. Nazis. And while the latest from John Madden (1998's Shakespeare in Love) is fairly entertaining, the film is ultimately forgettable. Chastain plays Rachel, a member of an Israeli team tasked with capturing a Nazi war criminal and bringing him to justice. Mirren is the older Rachel, who is haunted by the long-withheld true story of the mission. Although The Debt traffics in spy secrets, it's actually rather predictable: the big reveal is shrug-worthy, and the shocking conclusion is expected. So while the entire cast — which also includes Tom Wilkinson, Sam Worthington, and Ciaran Hinds — turn in admirable performances, the script is lacking what it needs to make The Debt an effective drama or thriller. Like 2008's overrated The Reader, the film tries to hide its inadequacies under heavy themes and the dread with which we remember the Holocaust. (1:54) Balboa. (Louis Peitzman)
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2:02) Lumiere.
Dolphin Tale (1:53) 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) Bridge, 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. (Chun)
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)
*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. (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)
Johnny English Reborn (1:41) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center.
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) Lumiere. (Harvey)
*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, Smith Rafael, 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) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Harvey)
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) Metreon. (Eddy)
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)
*Paranormal Activity 3 A prequel to a prequel, this third installment in the faux-home-movie horror series is as good as one could reasonably hope for: considerably better than 2010's part two, even if inevitably it can't replicate the relatively fresh impact of the 2007 original. After a brief introductory sequence we're in 1988, with the grown-up sisters of the first two films now children (Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown) living with a recently separated mom (Lauren Bitter) and her nice new boyfriend (Christopher Smith). His wedding-video business provides the excuse for many a surveillance cam to be set up in their home once things start going bump in the night (and sometimes day). Which indeed they do, pretty quickly. Brown's little Kristi has an invisible friend called Toby she says is "real," though of course everyone else trusts he's a normal, harmless imaginary pal. Needless to say, they are wrong. Written by Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity 2, 2007's Disturbia) and directed by the guys (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman) who made interesting nonfiction feature Catfish (2010), this quickly made follow-up does a good job piling on more scares without getting shameless or ludicrous about it, extends the series' mythology in ways that easily pave way toward future chapters, and maintains the found-footage illusion well enough. (Excellent child performances and creepy camcorder "pans" atop an oscillating fan motor prove a great help; try to forget that video quality just wasn't this good in '88.) Not great, but thoroughly decent, and worth seeing in a theater — this remains one chiller concept whose effectiveness can only be diminished to the point of near-uselessness on the small screen. (1:24) California, 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)
*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, Shattuck. (Jason Shamai)
Sarah's Key (1:42) Balboa.
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, Sundance Kabuki. (Sussman)
*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) Lumiere, Shattuck. (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. (Eddy)
The Three Musketeers 3D (1:50) 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki.
The Way (1:55) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center.
*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. (Harvey)
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, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
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