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. For complete film listings, see www.sfbg.com.
*The Deep Blue Sea Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, filmmaker Terence Davies, much like his heroine, chooses a mutable, fluid sensuality, turning his source material, Terence Rattigan's acclaimed mid-century play, into a melodrama that catches you in its tide and refuses to let go. At the opening of this sumptuous portrait of a privileged English woman who gives up everything for love, Hester (Rachel Weisz) goes through the methodical motions of ending it all: she writes a suicide note, carefully stuffs towels beneath the door, takes a dozen pills, turns on the gas, and lies down to wait for death to overtake her. Via memories drifting through her fading consciousness, Davies lets us in on scattered, salient details in her back story: her severely damped-down, staid marriage to a high court judge, Sir William (Simon Russel Beale), her attraction and erotic awakening in the hands of charming former RF pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), her separation, and her ultimate discovery that her love can never be matched, as she hazards class inequities and ironclad gender roles. "This is a tragedy," Sir William says, at one point. But, as Hester, a model of integrity, corrects him, "Tragedy is too big a word. Sad, perhaps." Similarly, Sea is a beautiful downer, but Davies never loses sight of a larger post-war picture, even while he pauses for his archetypal interludes of song, near-still images, and luxuriously slow tracking shots. With cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister, he does a remarkable job of washing post-war London with spots of golden light and creating claustrophobic interiors — creating an emotionally resonant space reminiscent of the work of Wong Kar-wai and Christopher Doyle. At the center, providing the necessary gravitas (much like Julianne Moore in 2002's Far From Heaven), is Weisz, giving the viewer a reason to believe in this small but reverberant story, and offering yet another reason for attention during the next awards season. (1:38) Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
*House of Pleasures Set in a fin de siècle French brothel, Bertrand Bonello's lushly rendered drama is challenging and frequently unpleasant. Bonello sees the beauty and allure of his subjects, the many miserable women of this maison close, but rarely sinks to sympathy for their selfish and sometimes sadistic clients. Bound as they are by their debts to their Madame, the prostitutes are essentially slaves, held to strict and humiliating standards. All they have is each other, and the movie's few emotional bright spots come from this connection. The filmmaking is wily and nouvelle vague-ish, featuring anachronistic music and inventive split-screen sequences. Additionally, there is a spidery complexity to the film's chronology, wherein certain scenes repeat to reveal new contexts. This unstuck sense of newness is perhaps didactic — this could and does happen now as well as then — but it also serves to make an already compelling ensemble piece even richer and more engaging. (2:02) SF Film Society Cinema. (Sam Stander)
*The Hunter See "Mister Vengeance." (1:32) Roxie.
Intruders Despite his aptitude for filling a tux nicely with a loaded, Don Draper-esque suaveness, Clive Owen has a way of dominating the screen with his rage — a mad man more likely to brawl than deliver biting ad lines — so it's hard for Intruders to escape the specter of his role in 2010's Trust, as a dad futilely attempting to protect his daughter from an online predator. Consider Intruders the dark-fantasy offspring of that film and 2006's Pan's Labyrinth. A nightmare appears to be materializing for two children in Spain and England: Juan (Izan Corchero) is being tormented by a shadowy figure who creeps into his room at night, and his mother (Pilar López de Ayala) and priest (Daniel Brühl) seem unable to stop the visitations or exorcise the demon that resembles a grand inquisitor in a hoodie. Meanwhile, Mia (Ella Purnell) discovers that the terrifying faceless figure she's been writing about for her school fiction class is becoming a reality for both her and her protective papa (Owen). Is it a figment of their imagination — a case of folie à deux (and along with Apart, the second hitting the theaters in the last month) — or something potentially more terrifying, like the imaginative power of a child's mind? 28 Weeks Later (2007) director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo attempts to sustain the mystery throughout, but that calculated juggling act only succeeds in making the final "gotcha" ending — involving, yes, wronged angry dad Owen — seem like a bit of a cheat. (1:40) (Chun)
*The Island President The titular figure is Mohamed Nasheed, recently ousted (by allies of the decades long dictator he'd replaced) chief executive of the Republic of Maldives — a nation of 26 small islands in the Indian Ocean. Jon Shenk's engaging documentary chronicles his efforts up to and through the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit to gather greater international commitment to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. This is hardly do-gooderism, a bid for eco-tourism, or politics as usual: scarcely above sea level, with nary a hill, the Maldives will simply cease to exist soon if waters continue to rise at global warming's current pace. ("It won't be any good to have a democracy if we don't have a country," he half-jokes at one point.) Nasheed is tireless, unjaded, delightful, and willing to do anything, at one point hosting "the world's first underwater cabinet meeting" (with oxygen tanks, natch) as a publicity stunt. A cash-strapped nation despite its surfeit of wealthy vacationers, it's spending money that could go to education and health services on the pathetic stalling device of sandwalls instead. But do bigger powers — notably China, India and the U.S. — care enough about this bit-part player on the world stage to change their energy-use and economic habits accordingly? (A hint: If you've been mulling a Maldivian holiday, take it now.) Somewhat incongruous, but an additional sales point nonetheless: practically all the film's incidental music consists of pre-existing tracks by Radiohead. (1:51) Embarcadero. (Harvey)
Mirror Mirror In this glittery, moderately girl-powery adaptation of the Snow White tale (a comic foil of sorts to this summer’s gloomier-looking Snow White and the Huntsman), Julia Roberts takes her turn as stepmom, to an earnest little ingenue (Lily Collins) whose kingly father (Sean Bean) is presumed dead and whose rather-teeny-looking kingdom is collapsing under the weight of fiscal ruin and a thick stratum of snow. Into this sorry realm rides a chiseled beefcake named Prince Alcott (Arnie Hammer), who hails from prosperous Valencia, falls for Snow White, and draws the attentions of the Queen (Roberts) from both a strategic and a libidinal standpoint. Soon enough, Snow White (Snow to her friends) is narrowly avoiding execution at the hands of the Queen’s sycophantic courtier-henchman (Nathan Lane), rustling up breakfast for a thieving band of stilt-walking dwarves, and engaging in sylvan hijinks preparatory to deposing her stepmother and bringing light and warmth and birdsong and perennials back into fashion. Director Tarsem Singh (2000's The Cell, 2011's Immortals) stages the film’s royal pageantry with a bright artistry, and Roberts holds court with vicious, amoral relish as she senses her powers of persuasion slipping relentlessly from her grasp. Carefully catering to tween-and-under tastes as well as those of their chaperones, the comedy comes in various breadths, and there’s meta-humor in the sight of Roberts passing the pretty woman torch, though Collins seems blandly unprepared to wield her power wisely or interestingly. Consider vacating your seats before the extraneous Bollywood-style song-and-dance number that accompanies the closing credits. (1:46) Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
*The Salt of Life See "Solo Mio." (1:30) Bridge, Shattuck, Smith Rafael.
Wrath of the Titans Playing fast and loose with Greek myths but not agile enough to kick out a black metal jam during a flaming underworld power-grab, Wrath of Titans is, as expected, a bit of a CGI-crammed mess. Still, the sword-and-sandals franchise has attracted scads of international actorly talent — the cast is enriched this time by Édgar Ramírez (2010's Carlos), Bill Nighy, and Rosamund Pike — and you do get at least one cool monster and paltry explication (Cerberus, which bolts from earth for no discernible reason except that maybe all hell is breaking loose). Just because action flicks like Cloverfield (2008) have long dispensed with narrative handlebars doesn’t mean that age-old stories like the Greek myths should get completely random with their titanic tale-spinning. Wrath opens on the twilight of the gods: Zeus (Liam Neeson) is practically groveling before Perseus (Sam Worthington) — now determined to go small, raise his son, and work on his fishing skills — and trying to persuade him to step up and help the Olympians hold onto power. Fellow Zeus spawn Ares (Ramírez) is along for the ride, so demigod up, Perseus. In some weird, last-ditch attempt to ream his bro Zeus, the oily, mulleted Hades (Ralph Fiennes) has struck a deal with their entrapped, chaotic, castrating fireball of a dad Cronus to let them keep their immortality, on the condition that Zeus is sapped of his power. Picking up Queen Andromeda (Pike) along the way, Perseus gets the scoop on how to get to Hell from Hephaestus (Nighy playing the demented Vulcan like a ‘60s acid casualty, given to chatting with mechanical owl Bubo, a wink to 1981 precursor Clash of the Titans, which set the bar low for the remake). Though there are some distracting action scenes (full of speedy, choppy edits that confuse disorientation for excitement) and a few intriguing monsters (just how did the Minotaur make it to this labyrinth?), there’s no money line like “Release the Kraken!” this time around, and there’s way too much nattering on about fatherly responsibility and forgiveness —making these feel-good divinities sound oddly, mawkishly Christian and softheaded rather than mythically pagan and brattily otherworldly. Wasn’t the appeal of the gods linked to the fact that they always acted more like outta-hand adolescents than holier-than-thou deities? I guess that’s why no one’s praying to them anymore. (1:39) (Chun)
*Boy Apparent in his 2007 film Eagle vs. Shark and his brief turns writing and directing The Flight of the Conchords, filmmaker Taika Waititi seems to embody a uniquely Polynesian sensibility, positioned at a crossroads that's informed by his Te-Whanau-a-Apanui heritage and his background in the Raukokore area of New Zealand, as well as an affection of global pop culture and a kind of keeping-it-real, keeping-it-local, down-home indie sensibility. All of which has fed into Boy, which became the highest-grossing New Zealand film of all time when it was released in its homeland in 2010. Its popularity is completely understandable. From the lush green inlands and stunning beaches of Waihau Bay to its intimate, gritty and humorous sketch of its natives, this affectionate, big-hearted bildungsroman is a lot like its 11-year-old eponymous hero — eminently lovable and completely one of a kind. Despite the tragedies and confines of his small-town rural life, Boy has a handle on his world: it's 1984, and his pals spend their time hanging out at the snack shop and harvesting weed for one deadbeat biker parent. Boy's brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) believes he has superpowers and is scarred by the fact that his birth was responsible for their mother's death, and Michael Jackson has just been crowned the king of pop. Then, while his grandma's away, Boy's own deadbeat dad, Alamein (Waititi) appears on the scene, turning an extended family of small children on its head — and inspiring many a Thriller dance-slash-dream sequence. Waititi finds his way inside Boy's head with Crayola-colorful animated children's drawings, flashbacks, and the kind of dreamy fluidity that comes so naturally during long, hot Polynesian days, all while wonderfully depicting a world that far too few people have glimpsed on screen. (1:30) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
The Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a teenager living in a totalitarian state whose 12 impoverished districts, as retribution for an earlier uprising, must pay tribute to the so-called Capitol every year, sacrificing one boy and one girl each to the Hunger Games. A battle royal set in a perilous arena and broadcast live to the Capitol as gripping diversion and to the districts as sadistic propaganda, the Hunger Games are, depending on your viewpoint, a "pageant of honor, courage, and sacrifice" or a brutal, pointless bloodbath involving children as young as 12. When her little sister's name comes up in the annual lottery, Katniss volunteers to take her place and is joined by a boy named Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), with whom she shares an old, unspoken bond. Tasked with translating to the screen the first installment of Suzanne Collins's rabidly admired trilogy, writer-director Gary Ross (2003's Seabiscuit, 1998's Pleasantville) telescopes the book's drawn-out, dread-filled tale into a manageable two-plus-hour entertainment, making great (and horrifying) use of the original work's action, but losing a good deal of the narrative detail and emotional force. Elizabeth Banks is comic and unrecognizable as Effie Trinket, the two tributes' chaperone; Lenny Kravitz gives a blank, flattened reading as their stylist, Cinna; and Donald Sutherland is sufficiently creepy and bloodless as the country's leader, President Snow. More exceptionally cast are Woody Harrelson as Katniss and Peeta's surly, alcoholic mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, and Stanley Tucci as games emcee Caesar Flickerman, flashing a bank of gleaming teeth at each contestant as he probes their dire circumstances with the oily superficiality of a talk show host. (2:22) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
*The Kid with a Bike Slippery as an eel, Cyril (Thomas Doret) is the bane of authorities as he tries to run away at any opportunity from school and a youth home — being convinced that the whole adult world is conspiring to keep his father away from him. During one such chase he literally runs into hair-salon proprietor Samantha (Cécile De France), who proves willing to host him on weekends away from his public facility, and is a patient, steadying influence despite his still somewhat exasperating behavior. It's she who orchestrates a meeting with his dad (Jerémié Renier, who played the child in the Dardennes' 1996 breakthrough La Promesse), so Cyril can confront the hard fact that his pa not only can't take care of him, he doesn't much want to. Still looking for some kind of older male approval, Cyril falls too easily under the sway of Wes (Egon Di Mateo), a teenage thug whom everyone in Samantha's neighborhood knows is bad news. This latest neorealist-style drama from Belgium's Dardenne Brothers treads on very familiar ground for them, both in themes and terse execution. It's well-acted, potent stuff, if less resonant in sum impact than their best work. (1:27) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Harvey)
*The Raid: Redemption As rip-roaring as they come, Indonesian import The Raid: Redemption (from, oddly, a Welsh writer-director, Gareth Huw Evans) arrives to reassure genre fans that action films are still being made without CG-embellished stunts, choppy editing, and gratuitous 3D. Fists, feet, and gnarly weapons do the heavy lifting in this otherwise simple tale of a taciturn special-forces cop (Iko Uwais) who's part of a raid on a run-down, high-rise apartment building where all the tenants are crooks and the landlord is a penthouse-dwelling crime boss (Ray Sahetapy). Naturally, things go awry almost immediately, and floor-to-floor brawls (choreographed by Uwais and co-star Yayan Ruhian, whose character is aptly named "Mad Dog") comprise nearly the entirety of the film; of particular interest is The Raid's focus on pencak silat, an indigenous Indonesian fighting style — though there are also plenty of thrilling gun battles, machete-thwackings, and other dangerous delights. Even better: Redemption is the first in a planned trilogy of films starring Uwais' badass (yet morally rock-solid) character. Bring it! (1:40) California, Metreon, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)