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.
Arthur Christmas Santa's son (voiced by James McAvoy, who heads up an all-star, mostly-British cast) steps up to solve a North Pole crisis in this 3D animated tale. (1:37) Presidio, Shattuck.
Hugo Martin Scorsese directs this fanciful 3D tale of an orphan secretly living in a train station. (2:07) Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki.
The Muppets Of course The Muppets is a movie appropriate for small fry, with a furry cast (supplemented by human co-stars Jason Segel and Amy Adams) cracking wise and conveying broad themes about the importance of friendship, self-confidence, and keeping dreams alive despite sabotage attempts by sleazy oil tycoons (Chris Cooper, comically evil in the grand Muppet-villain tradition). But the true target seems to be adults who grew up watching The Muppet Show and the earliest Muppet movies (1999's Muppets from Space doesn't count); the "getting the gang back together" sequence takes up much of the film's first half, followed by a familiar rendition of "let's put on a show" in the second. Interwoven are constant reminders of how the Muppets' brand of humor — including Fozzie Bear's corny stand-up bits — is a comforting throwback to simpler times, even with a barrage of celeb cameos and contemporary gags (chickens clucking a Cee-Lo Green tune — I think you can guess which one). Co-writer Segal pays appropriate homage to the late Jim Henson's merry creations, but it remains to be seen if The Muppets will usher in a new generation of fans, or simply serve as nostalgia fodder for grown-ups like, uh, me, who may or may not totally still own a copy of Miss Piggy's Guide to Life. (1:38) Presidio. (Eddy)
My Week With Marilyn See "No Bombshell." (1:36) Albany, Clay, Piedmont.
*Sigur Rós: Inni This ain't your mom's 3D IMAX arena-rocker exercise. The follow-up to 2007's Heima, which set out to contextualize Sigur Rós in its native Iceland, Inni opens with a torrent of light and shadow that resolves into the image of frontperson Jónsi Birgisson on bowed guitar, a bright splinter on a stage otherwise drenched in black. The screen explodes with bleached-out light as Birgisson hits the high note, drummer Orri Pall Dyrason bashes his cymbal, and the combo picks up a symphonic head of noise. The still somewhat-mysterious ensemble that burst fully formed onto the international music scene along with the new millennium is seen here through the prism of live performance, worth catching on a big screen (Inní was also released this month on DVD along with a live double-CD). Director Vincent Morisset infuses the often-not-so-interesting genre of concert film with all the drama and unique strategies appropriate to a group that has charted its own indelible path from the start. Sigur Rós' music may connect to that of Mogwai and other post-rock outfits, but those groups can only hope to score the moving-image counterpart that the Icelandic band finds here, its own variant of Inní's smoky, reflective black and white imagery, flickering in time to the beat, fading in and out of focus, and favoring off-center compositions. Undercutting the serious beauty onstage are clips of Sigur Rós's slightly surreal reality of life on tour and snippets of archival footage from its first decade of life. (1:14) Roxie. (Chun)
*The Swell Season In 2008, musicians Glen Hansard (1991's The Commitments, Irish band the Frames) and Markéta Irglová won an Oscar for the original song "Falling Slowly" from the folk rock musical Once, in which they star as a Dublin street busker and a young Czech immigrant who spend a week writing and recording songs that document their falling in love. The film boosted them into the public eye at hyperspeed, and they began to tour extensively, performing under the name the Swell Season. For three years following Once's debut, filmmakers Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins, and Carlo Mirabella-Davis followed the pair, who had become romantically involved, as they struggled to negotiate sudden fame, life on the road, and the stresses of time and change on their relationship. The beautifully filmed black-and-white documentary that resulted is a quiet affair whose visual intimacies and personal revelations are balanced by soft, muted monochromes that preserve some necessary degree of distance for Hansard and Irglová. Troubling issues are engaged in conversational tones, and the rest of the tale is told onstage amid Hansard's gorgeous emotional storms and Irglová's more spare but equally lovely compositions. The honesty is sometimes uncomfortable to witness, as two people accustomed to baring their souls in their songs agree to face the camera for a little while longer. (1:31) SFFS New People Cinema. (Rapoport)
*Tomboy In her second feature, French filmmaker Céline Sciamma (2007's Water Lilies) depicts the brave and possibly perilous gender experimentations of a 10-year-old girl. Laure (Zoé Héran) moves with her family to a new town, falls in with the neighborhood gang during the summer vacation, and takes the stranger-comes-to-town opportunity to adopt a new, male persona, Mikael, a leap of faith we see her consider for a moment before jumping, eyes open. Watching Mikael quietly observe and then pick up the rough mannerisms and posturing of his new peers, while negotiating a shy romance with Lisa (Jeanne Disson), the sole female member of the gang, is to shift from amazement to amusement to anxiety and back again. As the children play games in the woods and roughhouse on a raft in the water and use a round of Truth or Dare to inspect their relationships to one another, all far from the eyes of the adults on the film's periphery, Mikael takes greater and greater risks to inhabit an identity that he is constructing as he goes, and that is doomed to be demolished sooner, via accidental discovery, or later, when fall comes and the children march off to school together. All of this is superbly handled by Sciamma, who gently guides her largely nonprofessional young cast through the material without forcing them into a single precocious situation or speech. The result is a sweet, delicate story with a steady undercurrent of dread, as we wait for summer's end and hope for the best and imagine the worst. (1:22) Embarcadero. (Rapoport)
*El Bulli: Cooking in Progress Oh to be a fly on the wall of El Bulli — back in 2008 and 2009, when director Gereon Wetzel turned his lens on the Spanish landmark, it was considered the best restaurant in the world. This elegantly wrought documentary, covering a year at the culinary destination (now closed), allows you to do just that. Wetzel opens on chef-owner Ferran Adrià shutting down his remarkable eatery for the winter and then drifting in and out of his staff's Barcelona lab as they develop dishes for the forthcoming season. Head chef Oriol Castro and other trusted staffers treat ingredients with the detached methodicalness of scientists — a champignon mushroom, say, might be liquefied from its fried, raw, sous-vide-cooked states — and the mindful intuition of artists, taking notes on both MacBooks and paper, accompanied by drawings and much photo-snapping. Fortunately the respectful Wetzel doesn't shy away from depicting the humdrum mechanics of running a restaurant, as Adrià is perpetually interrupted by his phone, must wrangle with fishmongers reluctant to disclose "secret" seasonal schedules, and slowly goes through the process of creating an oil cocktail and conceptualizing a ravioli whose pasta disappears when it hits the tongue, tasting everything as he goes. Energized by an alternately snappy and meditative percussive score, this look into the most influential avant-garde restaurant in the world is a lot like the concluding photographs of the many menu items we glimpse at their inception — a memorable, sublimely rendered document that leaves you hungry for more. (1:48) Opera Plaza. (Chun)
*The Descendants Like all of Alexander Payne's films save 1996 debut Citizen Ruth, The Descendants is an adaptation, this time from Kaui Hart Hemmings' excellent 2007 novel. Matt King (George Clooney) is a Honolulu lawyer burdened by various things, mostly a) being a haole (i.e. white) person nonetheless descended from Hawaiian royalty, rich in real estate most natives figure his kind stole from them; and b) being father to two children by a wife who's been in a coma since a boating accident three weeks ago. Already having a hard time transitioning from workaholic to hands-on dad, Matt soon finds out this new role is permanent, like it or not — spouse Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie, just briefly seen animate) will not wake up. The Descendants covers the few days in which Matt has to share this news with Elizabeth's loved ones, mostly notably Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller as disparately rebellious teen and 10-year-old daughters. Plus there's the unpleasant discovery that the glam, sporty, demanding wife he'd increasingly seemed "not enough" for had indeed been looking elsewhere. When has George Clooney suggested insecurity enough to play a man afraid he's too small in character for a larger-than-life spouse? But dressed here in oversized shorts and Hawaiian shirts, the usually suave performer looks shrunken and paunchy; his hooded eyes convey the stung joke's-on-me viewpoint of someone who figures acknowledging depression would be an undeserved indulgence. Payne's film can't translate all the book's rueful hilarity, fit in much marital backstory, or quite get across the evolving weirdness of Miller's Scottie — though the young actors are all fine — but the film's reined-in observations of odd yet relatable adult and family lives are all the more satisfying for lack of grandiose ambition. (1:55) California, Piedmont, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Dragonslayer Dragonslayer tags along with Josh "Skreech" Sandoval, a Fullerton, Calif. skater celebrated for shredding pools and living a vagabond's life. First-time director Tristan Patterson fronts with the kind of side-winding portraiture that prizes sensory impressions instead of back-story, but whittle away Dragonslayer's loose ends and you end up with an unremarkable lost generation romance, a Bonnie and Clyde with lower stakes. The film meets Skreech at 23: he's turned his back on sponsorship gigs and a romance that produced a son (no trace of the mother here). In an arbitrarily defined chapter structure, Skreech investigates freshly abandoned pools, squats in a friend's backyard, shows off his medical marijuana license, and cracks tallboys in Southern California's magic light. He's stunned by a pretty girl's red lipstick and fades into a relationship with her (it takes a while before the movie treats her as anything more than scenery). He takes a few earnest stabs at fatherhood and rehearses his principles of no principles to the soundtrack's well-stocked bangs. There are a few genuinely poignant moments — Skreech's taking a call from his estranged mother in a bus full of punks — but in general Dragonslayer is too caught up in its own glossy reverie to register emergent emotions. Patterson's tendency to use editing as dramatic shorthand is evident in an early sequence of Skreech muffing a skate contest abroad: repeated shots of Skreech wiping out are cut with the eventual winner's triumphs and then back to our hero's defeated expression. Arranged in the foregone style of reality television, the actual event is given no room to breathe. (1:14) Roxie. (Goldberg)
*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) Lumiere. (Chun)
Happy Feet Two (1:40) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio.
Le Havre Aki Kaurismäki's second French-language film (following 1992's La Vie de Boheme) offers commentary on modern immigration issues wrapped in the gauze of a feel good fairy tale and cozy French provincialism a la Marcel Pagnol. Worried about the health of his hospitalized wife (Kaurismäki regular Kati Outinen), veteran layabout and sometime shoe shiner Marcel (Andre Wilms) gets some welcome distraction in coming to the aid of Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), a young African illegally trying to make way to his mother in London while eluding the gendarmes. Marcel's whole neighborhood of port-town busybodies and industrious émigrés eventually join in the cause, turning Le Havre into a sort of old-folks caper comedy with an incongruously sunny take on a rising European multiculturalism in which there are no real racist xenophobes, just grumps deserving comeuppance. Incongruous because Kaurismäki is, of course, the king of sardonically funny Finnish miserabilism — and while it's charmed many on the festival circuit, this combination of his usual poker-faced style and feel-good storytelling formula may strike others as an oil-and-water mismatch. (1:43) Bridge. (Harvey)
Immortals Arrow time (comin' at ya, in 3D), blood lust, fascinating fascinators, and endless seemingly-CGI-chiseled chests mark this rework of the Theseus myth. Tarsem Singh flattens out the original tale of crazy-busy hero who founded Athens yet seems determined to outdo the Lord of the Rings series with his striking art direction (so chic that at times you feel like you're in a perfume ad rather than King Hyperion's torture chamber). As you might expect from the man who made the dreamy, horse-slicing Cell (2000), Immortals is all sensation rather than sense. The proto-superhero here is a peasant (Henry Cavill), trained in secret by Zeus (John Hurt and Luke Evans) and toting a titanic chip on his shoulder when he runs into the power-mad Cretan King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, struggling to gnash the sleek scenery beneath fleshy bulk and Red Lobster headgear). Hyperion aims to obtain the Epirus Bow — a bit like a magical, preindustrial rocket launcher — to free the Titans, set off a war between the gods, and destroy humanity (contrary to mythology, Hyperion is not a Titan — just another heavyweight grudge holder). To capture the bow, he must find the virgin oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto), massacring his way through Theseus' village and setting his worst weapon, the Beast, a.k.a. the Minotaur, on the hero. Saving graces amid the gory bluster, which still pays clear tribute to 1963's Jason and the Argonauts, is the vein-bulging passion that Singh invests in the ordinarily perfunctory kill scenes, the avant-garde headdresses and costumes by Eiko Ishioka, and the occasional edits that turn on visual rhymes, such as the moment when the intricate mask of a felled minion melts into a seagoing vessel, which are liable to make the audience gasp, or laugh, out loud. (1:50) 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
In Time Justin Timberlake moves from romantic comedy to social commentary to play Will Salas, a young man from the ghetto living one day at a time. Many 12-steppers may make this claim, but Salas literally is, because in his world, time actually is money and people pay, say, four minutes for a cup of coffee, a couple hours for a bus ride home from work, and years to travel into a time zone where people don't run from place to place to stay ahead of death. In writer-director Andrew Niccol's latest piece of speculative cinema, humans are born with a digitized timepiece installed in their forearm and a default sell-by date of 25 years, with one to grow on — though most end up selling theirs off fairly quickly while struggling to pay rent and put food on the table. Time zones have replaced area codes in defining social stature and signaling material wealth, alongside those pesky devices that give the phrase "internal clock" an ominous literality. Niccol also wrote and directed Gattaca (1997) and wrote The Truman Show (1998), two other films in which technological advances have facilitated a merciless, menacing brand of social engineering. In all three, what is most alarming is the through line between a dystopian society and our own, and what is most hopeful is the embattled protagonist's promises that we don't have to go down that road. Amanda Seyfried proves convincible as a bored heiress to eons, her father (Vincent Kartheiser) less amenable to Robin Hood-style time banditry. (1:55) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Rapoport)
*Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life How remarkable is it that, some 50-plus features along, filmmaker Werner Herzog would become the closest thing to a cinema's conscience? This time the abyss is much closer to home than the Amazon rainforest or the Kuwaiti oil fields — it lies in the heart of Rick Perry country. What begins as an examination of capital punishment, introduced with an interview with Reverend Richard Lopez, who has accompanied Texas death row inmates to their end, becomes a seeming labyrinth of human tragedy. Coming into focus is the execution of Michael Perry, convicted as a teenager of the murder of a Conroe, Tex., woman, her son, and his friend — all for sake of a red Camaro. Herzog obtains an insightful interview with the inmate, just days before his execution, as well as his cohort Jason Burkett, police, an executioner, and the victims' family members, in this haunting examination of crime, punishment, and a small town in Texas where so many appear to have gone wrong. So wrong that one might see Into the Abyss as more related to 1977's Stroszek and its critical albeit compassionate take on American life, than Herzog's last tone poem about the mysterious artists of 2010's Cave of Forgotten Dreams (and it's also obviously directly connected to next year's TV documentary, Death Row). The layered tragedies and the strata of destroyed lives stays with you, as do the documentary's difficult questions, Herzog's gentle humanity as an interviewer, and the fascinating characters that don't quite fit into a more traditional narrative — the Conroe bystander once stabbed with a screwdriver who learned to read in prison, and the dreamy woman impregnated by a killer whose entire doomed family appears to be incarcerated. (1:46) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Chun)
J. Edgar The usual polished, sober understatement of Clint Eastwood's directing style and the highlights-compiling CliffsNotes nature of Dustin Lance Black's screenplay turn out to be interestingly wrong choices for this biopic about one of the last American century's most divisive figures. Interesting in that they're perhaps among the very few who would now dare viewing the late, longtime FBI chief with so much admiration tempered by awareness of his faults — rather than the other way around. After all, Hoover (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) strengthened his bureau in ways that, yes, often protected citizens and state, but at what cost? The D.C. native eventually took to frequently "bending" the law, witch-hunting dubious national enemies (he thought the Civil Rights movement our worst threat since the bomb-planting Bolshevik anarchists of half a century earlier), blackmailing personal ones, weakening individual rights against surveillance, hoarding power (he resented the White House's superior authority), lying publicly, and doing just about anything to heighten his own fame. A movie that internalized and communicated his rising paranoid megalomania (ironically Hoover died during the presidency of Nixon, his equal in that regard) might have stood some chance of making us understand this contradiction-riddled cipher. But J. Edgar is doggedly neutral, almost colorless (literally so, in near-monochrome visual presentation), its weird appreciation of the subject's perfectionism and stick-to-it-iveness shutting out almost any penetrating insight. (Plus there's Eastwood's own by-now-de rigueur soundtrack of quasi-jazz noodling to make what is vivid here seem more dull and polite.) The love that dare not speak its name — or, evidently, risk more than a rare peck on the cheek — between Hoover and right-hand-man/life companion Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer, very good if poorly served by his old-age makeup) becomes both the most compelling and borderline-silly thing here, fueled by a nervous discretion that seems equal parts Black's interest and Eastwood's discomfort. While you might think the directors polar opposites in many ways, the movie J. Edgar ultimately recalls most is Oliver Stone's 1995 Nixon: both ambitiously, rather sympathetically grapple with still-warm dead gorgons and lose, filmmaker and lead performance alike laboring admirably to intelligent yet curiously stilted effect. (2:17) Four Star, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Jack and Jill (1:39) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.
*Like Crazy Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones) meet near the end of college; after a magical date, they're ferociously hooked on each other. Trouble is, she's in Los Angeles on a soon-to-expire student visa — and when she impulsively overstays, then jets home to London for a visit months later, her re-entry to America is stopped cold at LAX. (True love's no match for homeland security.) An on-and-off long-distance romance ensues, and becomes increasingly strained, even as their respective careers (he makes furniture, she's a magazine staffer) flourish. Director and co-writer Drake Doremus (2010's Douchebag) achieves a rare midpoint between gritty mumblecore and shiny Hollywood romance; the characters feel very real and the script ably captures the frustration that settles in when idealized fantasies give way to the messy workings of everyday life. There are some contrivances here — Anna's love-token gift from Jacob, a bracelet engraved "Patience," breaks when she's with another guy — but for the most part, Like Crazy offers an honest portrait of heartbreak. (1:29) California, Piedmont, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
*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) Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
*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) Lumiere. (Eddy)
*Melancholia Lars von Trier is a filmmaker so fond of courting controversy it's like he does it in spite of himself — his rambling comments about Hitler ("I'm a Nazi") were enough to get him banned from the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, where Melancholia had its debut (and star Kirsten Dunst won Best Actress). Oops. Maybe after the (here's that word again) controversy that accompanied 2009's Antichrist, von Trier felt like he needed a shocking context for his more mellow latest. Pity that, for Melancholia is one of his strongest, most thoughtful works to date. Split into two parts, the film follows first the opulent, disastrous, never-ending wedding reception of Justine (Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), held at a lavish estate owned by John (Kiefer Sutherland), the tweedy husband of Justine's sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Amid the turmoil of arguments (John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling as Justine and Claire's divorced parents), pushy guests (Stellan Skarsgard as Justine's boss), livid wedding planner (Udo Kier, amazing), and hurt feelings (Michael is the least-wanted groom since Kris Humphries), it's clear that something is wrong with Justine beyond just marital jitters. The film's second half begins an unspecified amount of time later, as Claire talks her severely depressed, near-catatonic sister into moving into John's mansion. As Justine mopes, it's revealed that a small planet, Melancholia — glimpsed in Melancholia's Wagner-scored opening overture — is set to pass perilously close to Earth. John, an amateur astronomer, is thrilled; Claire, fearful for her young son's future and goaded into high anxiety by internet doomsayers, is convinced the planets will collide, no matter what John says. Since Justine (apparently von Trier's stand-in for himself) is convinced that the world's an irredeemably evil place, she takes the news with a shrug. Von Trier's vision of the apocalypse is somber and surprisingly poetic; Dunst and Gainsbourg do outstanding work as polar-opposite sisters whose very different reactions to impending disaster are equally extreme. (2:15) Albany, Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Midnight in Paris Owen Wilson plays Gil, a self-confessed "Hollywood hack" visiting the City of Light with his conservative future in-laws and crassly materialistic fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams). A romantic obviously at odds with their selfish pragmatism (somehow he hasn't realized that yet), he's in love with Paris and particularly its fabled artistic past. Walking back to his hotel alone one night, he's beckoned into an antique vehicle and finds himself transported to the 1920s, at every turn meeting the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Dali (Adrien Brody), etc. He also meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a woman alluring enough to be fought over by Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Picasso (Marcial di Fonzo Bo) — though she fancies aspiring literary novelist Gil. Woody Allen's latest is a pleasant trifle, no more, no less. Its toying with a form of magical escapism from the dreary present recalls The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), albeit without that film's greater structural ingeniousness and considerable heart. None of the actors are at their best, though Cotillard is indeed beguiling and Wilson dithers charmingly as usual. Still — it's pleasant. (1:34) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
The Other F Word The 1980s U.S. hardcore punk scene was one refreshing bastion of opposition in the Reagan era of militaristic, monetary, and quasi-"family values" conformism. It was a fairly harmless outlet (if also a factory) for all that excess testosterone. Boys will be boys, etc. Sooner or later they'd have to grow the fuck up. Right? Well, punk became punk-pop, embraced by the musical product divisions of multinational corporations everywhere, and while the chords didn't change much, the lyrics stopped being angry about political-economic injustice — now they were about dubious injustices like girl problems. How (let alone why) do you grow up when label execs and fans want you to stay the guy who causes shoulder dislocations worldwide? Illustrating one gun-to-head route toward responsible adulthood is Andrea Nevins' The Other F Word, a fun if superficial new documentary in which the missing unmentionable is (gasp) fatherhood. Punks become dads! Like whoa! Break out the swear jar! Much of this is cute. But the notion that getting older and more sedate is any more revelatory in a 45-year-old man from a 20-year-old band than it is for the rest of us seems questionable. Our principal guide is very likeable Pennywise leader Jim Lindberg, seen getting less and less happy with his road-to-family-time ratio. Some other interviewees here look like parental recipes for future therapy; a deeper documentary might have probed that. But F Word seldom gets past the surface "shock" appeal of heavily tattooed, aging bad boys changing nappies and joining the PTA. It's still stuck in a testosterone zone most of its subjects have at least learned to compartmentalize. (1:38) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Puss in Boots (1:45) 1000 Van Ness.
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, Shattuck. (Sussman)
Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview Is this a quickie cash-in following the tidal wave of appreciation following the death of Steve Jobs? Interviewer Robert Cringely made Triumph of the Nerds, a PBS miniseries about the birth of the personal computer industry, in 1995, and much of this lengthy talk with Jobs (his former employer) didn't ultimately make the cut, although the Apple co-founder's critique of Microsoft as lacking taste went down in history. The master tapes of this discussion were thought to be lost until the series editor unearthed an unedited copy of the entire interview in his London garage. This rush production isn't quite unedited (at points Cringely steps in to contextualize) — and it was done more than 15 years ago, before Jobs sold NeXT to Apple and returned to the firm to shake the firmament with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad — but the interview and the answers Cringely fields are nevertheless fascinating, from the potentially silly question "are you a hippie or a nerd?" ("If I had to pick one of those two, I'm clearly a hippie," Jobs responds with a sly look in his eye, "and all the people I worked with were clearly in that category, too") to Jobs' prophesies about the impact of the Web to musings like "I think everybody in this country should learn to program a computer, learn a computer language, because it teaches you how to think." (1:00) Opera Plaza. (Chun)
Tower Heist The mildest of mysteries drift around the edges of Tower Heist — like, how plausible is Ben Stiller as the blue-collar manager of a tony uptown NYC residence? How is that Eddie Murphy's face has grown smoother and more seamless with age? And how much heavy lifting goes into an audience member's suspension of disbelief concerning a certain key theft, dangling umpteen floors above Thanksgiving parade, in the finale? Yet those questions might not to deter those eager to escape into this determinedly undemanding, faintly entertaining Robin Hood-style comedy-thriller. Josh Kovacs (Stiller) is the wildly competent manager of an upscale residence — toadying smoothly and making life run perfectly for his entitled employers — till Bernie Madoff-like penthouse dweller Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is arrested for big-time financial fraud, catching the pension fund of Josh's staffers in his vortex. After a showy standoff gets the upstanding Josh fired, he assembles a crew of ex-employees Enrique (Michael Peña) and Charlie (Casey Affleck), maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), and foreclosed former resident Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), as well as childhood friend, neighbor, and thief Slide (Murphy). Murphy gets to slink effortlessly through supposed comeback role — is he vital here? Not really. Nevertheless, a few twists and a good-hearted feel for the working-class 99 percent who got screwed by the financial sector make this likely the most likable movie Brett Ratner has made since 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand — provided you can get over those dangles over the yawning gaps in logic. (1:45) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Chun)
Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part One Some may have found Robert Pattinson's stalker-suitor Edward Cullen sufficiently creepy (fits of overprotective rage, flirtatious comments about his new girlfriend's lip-smackingly narcotic blood) in 2008's first installment of the Twilight franchise. And nothing much in 2009's New Moon (suicide attempt) or 2010's Eclipse (jealous fits, poor communication) strongly suggested he was LTR material, to say nothing of marriage for all eternity. But Twilight 3.5 is where things in the land of near-constant cloud cover and perpetually shirtless adolescent werewolves go seriously off the rails — starting with the post-graduation teen nuptials of bloodsucker Edward and his tasty-smelling human bride, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), and ramping up considerably when it turns out that Edward's undead sperm are, inexplicably, still viable for baby-making. One of the film's only sensible lines is uttered at the wedding by high school frenemy Jessica (Anna Kendrick), who snidely wonders whether Bella is starting to show. Of course not, in this Mormon-made tale, directed by Bill Condon (1998's Gods and Monsters, 2004's Kinsey). And while Bella's dad, Charlie (Billy Burke), seems slightly more disgruntled than usual, no one other than lovesick werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) seems to question the wisdom of this shotgun-free leap from high school to honeymoon. The latter, however, after a few awkward allusions to rough sex, is soon over, and Bella does indeed start showing. Suffice it to say, it's not one of those pregnancies that make your skin glow and your hair more lustrous. What follows is like a PSA warning against vampire-bleeder cohabitation, and one wonders if even the staunchest members of Team Edward will flinch, or adjust their stance of dewy-eyed appreciation. (1:57) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas Delivery of a mystery package to the crash pad Kumar (Kal Penn) no longer shares with now-married, successfully yuppiefied Harold (John Cho) forces the former to visit the latter in suburbia after a couple years' bromantic lapse. Unfortunately Kumar's unreconstructed stonerdom once again wreaks havoc with Harold's well-laid plans, necessitating another serpentine quest, this time aimed toward an all-important replacement Xmas tree but continually waylaid by random stuff. Which this time includes pot (of course), an unidentified hallucinogen, ecstasy, a baby accidentally dosed on all the aforementioned, claymation, Ukrainian mobsters, several penises in peril, a "Wafflebot," and a Radio City Music Hall-type stage holiday musical extravaganza starring who else but Neil Patrick Harris. Only in it for ten minutes or so, NPH manages to make his iffy material seem golden. But despite all CGI wrapping and self-aware 3D gratuitousness, this third Harold and Kumar adventure is by far the weakest. While the prior installments were hit/miss but anarchic, occasionally subversive, and always good-natured, Christmas substitutes actual race jokes for jokes about racism, amongst numerous errors on the side of simple crassness. There are some laughs, but you know creators Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg are losing interest when the majority of their gags would work as well for Adam Sandler. Cho and Penn remain very likeable; this time, however, their movie isn't. (1:30) 1000 Van Ness. (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) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
*The Woodmans Francesca Woodman jumped off a building in 1981 when she was 22, despondent over the fact that her photographs hadn't found a niche in New York's competitive art world. She was no stranger to competition — she'd grown up with a parents who placed art-making above all other obligations. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and Francesca remains the most-acclaimed Woodman; her haunting black-and-white photos, often featuring the artist's nude figure, have proven hugely influential in the realms of both fine art and fashion. She was, as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art website says (an exhibit of her work opens Nov. 5), "ahead of her time." Scott Willis' documentary features extensive interviews with her parents, George and Betty, and to a lesser extent Francesca's brother, Charles (also an artist); the film is both Woodman bio and incisive exploration of the family's complex dynamics. Most fascinating is Charles, who remarks of his daughter's posthumous success, "It's frustrating when tragedy overshadows work." But after her death, he took up photography, making images that resemble those Francesca left behind. (1:22) Roxie. (Eddy)
Young Goethe in Love You might be suspect North Face (2008) director Philipp Stölzl's take on Germany's most renowned writer is biting off of 1998's Shakespeare in Love, but the filmmaker manages to rise above facile comparisons to deliver his own unique stab at re-creating the life and love of the 23-year-old polymath, long before he became an influential poet and cultural force. Stölzl and co-writers Christoph Müller and Alexander Dydyna spin off the autobiographical nature of what some consider the world's first best-seller, 1774's The Sorrows of Young Werther, though there were few sorrows at first for the young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Alexander Fehling) — a perpetually raging, playful party animal rather than the brooding forerunner of romanticism. Unable to move forward in his law studies and believed a wretched failure by his father (Henry Hübchen), Goethe is exiled to a job in a small-town court, beneath the thumb of the fiercely bourgeois court councilor Kestner (Moritz Bleibtreu). Embodying the charms of provincial life: Lotte Buff (Miriam Stein), the bright-eyed, artistic eldest daughter of a struggling widower. Naturally Goethe and Lotte end up caught in each other's orbits, although rivals for affection and attention lie around each corner, as does a certain inevitable sense of despair. Charismatic lead actors and attention to period details — as well as an infectious joie de vivre — are certain to animate fans of historical romance. (1:42) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Chun)
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