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.
American Reunion Care for yet another helping of all-American horn dogs? The original American Pie (1999) was a sweet-tempered, albeit ante-upping tribute to ‘80s teen sex comedies, so the latest in the franchise, the older, somewhat wiser American Reunion, is obliged to squeeze a dab more of the ole life force outta the class of ‘99, in honor of their, em, 13th high school reunion. These days Jim (Jason Biggs) is attempting to fluff up a flagging postbaby sex life with wife Michelle (Alyson Hannigan). Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) yearns to get in touch with his buried bad boy. Oz (Chris Klein) has become a sportscaster-reality competition star and is seemingly lost without old girlfriend Heather (Mena Suvari). Stifler (Seann William Scott) is as piggishly incorrigible as ever—even as a low-hanging investment flunky, while scarred, adventuring biker Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) seems to have become “the most interesting man in the world.” How much trouble can the gang get into? About as much of a mess as the Hangover guys, which one can’t stop thinking about when Jim wakes up on the kitchen floor with tile burns and zero pants. Half the cast — which includes Tara Reid, John “MILF!” Cho, Natasha Lyonne, and Shannon Elizabeth — seems to have stirred themselves from their own personal career hangovers, interludes of insanity, and plastic surgery disasters (with a few, like Cho and Thomas, firmly moving on), and others such as parental figures Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge continuing to show the kids how it’s done. Still, the farcical American franchise’s essentially benign, healthy attitude toward good, dirty fun reads as slightly refreshing after chaste teen fare like the Twilight and High School Musical flicks. Even with the obligatory moment of full-frontal penis smooshing. (1:53) California, Four Star, Piedmont. (Chun)
*Comic-Con IV: A Fan's Hope When what is now known as the San Diego Comic-Con International launched in 1970, attendance consisted of a couple hundred comic-book fans. Now, it's a huge event thronging with hundreds of thousands of geek-leaning movie, TV, video game, and — oh, yeah — comic-book fans; it's also become an essential part of the hype-building machine for every major pop-culture property. Super Size Me (2004) director Morgan Spurlock's lively doc examines the current state of Comic-Con with input from those who've ridden the nerd train to fame and fortune (Joss Whedon, Guillermo Del Toro, Stan Lee) — but the film's most compelling sequences zero in on a handful of ordinary folks obsessed with the event for a variety of reasons. There's the proprietor of a Denver comics shop, a 38-year Comic-Con veteran, faced with the chilling prospect of having to sell his most valuable (and most beloved) comic in order to keep his business afloat; the Carrie Brownstein look alike who spends the entire year crafting incredibly detailed costumes for Comic-Con's annual masquerade contest; the soldier and family man who dreams of drawing comics for a living; and the sweetly dorky young man nervously planning to propose to his girlfriend ... during a Kevin Smith panel. To its credit, Comic-Con IV never mocks its subjects, and it manages to infuse its many storylines with surprising emotional depth. Extra points for the clever, comics-inspired transitions, too. Director Spurlock appears in person for post-film Q&As Sun/8 at 5 and 7:30pm shows. (1:26) Vogue. (Eddy)
*Free Men Amid moderate hoopla for Casablanca's 70th anniversary, it's a good time for something that was a whole lot more common back then — a wartime drama not about battle or victimization, but espionage intrigue crossing the lines between military, diplomatic, and civilian sectors. Arrested for participating in the black market in the occupied Paris of 1942, North African émigré Younes (Tahar Rahim from 2009's A Prophet) evades prison or deportation by agreeing to spy on a local mosque suspected by the Nazis of harboring and smuggling out Jews. His clumsy efforts are quickly found out by a visiting imam (Michael Lonsdale), with the result that Younes — whose brother (Farid Larbi) is already a committed fighter in the Resistance underground — winds up playing double-agent, pretending to serve the police and SS while actually working against them. En route he becomes entangled in the disparate agendas of others including Leila (Lubna Azabal), who's secretly involved in the Algerian liberation movement, and Salim (Mahmud Shalaby), an apolitical, bisexual singer whose career ambitions blind him to the personal dangers he risks. Ismaël Ferroukhi's handsome, twisty drama won't have you white-knuckling the armrests, but it's an intelligent, satisfying throwback to the colorful characters and narrative intricacies of another era's cinematic melodramas — with the welcome update of making non-white players our protagonists rather than "exotic" support players. (1:39) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
*Goon An amiable Massachusetts bar bouncer who's the odd one out within his highly-educated, high-achieving Jewish family (led by Eugene Levy), Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) can punch your lights out as easily — and with as little malice — as he'd flip a light switch. That skill looks useful to a local hockey team in need of an enforcer to disable relevant members of the opposing team when needed, then sit in the penalty box. Soon "Doug the Thug's" burgeoning reputation brings him to the relative big leagues of Halifax, where his main job for the Highlanders is protecting a star (Marc-André Grondin) who's been skittish since his serious bruising at the hands of "Ross the Boss" (Liev Schreiber), our hero's veteran equivalent. Based very loosely on Doug "The Hammer" Smith's memoir, this latest from director Michael Dowse (2004's It's All Gone Pete Tong) and co-scenarist Jay Baruchel (who also plays Doug's incredibly crass best friend) is a cut above most Canadian hockey comedies — which, trust me, is not saying much. But it is indeed rather endearing eventually as an exercise in rude, pretty funny yet non-loutish humor about oafish behavior. A lot of its appeal has to do with Scott, who is arguably miscast and somewhat wasted as this "Hebrew Dolph Lundgren" — the actor's forte being manic, impulsive, near-lunatic rather than slow-witted characters — yet who helps Goon maintain a no-foul friendliness in inverse proportion to its face-mashing action on ice. The writing could be sharper, but apparently there is only room for one smart hockey satire in our universe, and that spot was taken by Slap Shot 35 years ago. (1:30) Lumiere. (Harvey)
*They Call it Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain Recent elections signal that Myanmar's status as "the second-most isolated country on the planet," per Robert H. Lieberman's doc, may soon be changing. With that hopeful context, this insightful study of Myanmar (or Burma, depending on who's referring to it) is particularly well-timed. Shot using clandestine methods, and without identifying many of its fearful interviewees — with the exception of recently-released-from-house-arrest politician Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner — They Call it Myanmar offers a revealing look at a country largely untouched by corporate influences and pop culture. Myanmar's military dictatorship is the opposite of a cult of personality; it's scarier, one subject reflects, because "it's a system, not an individual," with faceless leaders who can be quietly be replaced. The country struggles with a huge disconnect between the very rich and the very poor; it has a dismal health care system overrun by "quacks," and an equally dismal educational system that benefits very few children. Hunger, disease, child labor — all prevalent. Surprisingly, though the conditions that surround them are grim, Myanmar's people are shown to be generally happy and deeply spiritual as they go about their daily lives. A highlight: Lieberman's interactions with excited Buddhist pilgrims en route to Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, with an up-close look at the miraculously teetering "Golden Rock." (1:23) Bridge. (Eddy)
*This Is Not a Film See "The Necessity of Images." (1:15) SF Film Society Cinema.
Titanic 3D It's baaack. (3:14) Metreon.
*The Artist With the charisma-oozing agility of Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckling his way past opponents and the supreme confidence of Rudolph Valentino leaning, mid-swoon, into a maiden, French director-writer Michel Hazanavicius hits a sweet spot, or beauty mark of sorts, with his radiant new film The Artist. In a feat worthy of Fairbanks or Errol Flynn, Hazanavicius juggles a marvelously layered love story between a man and a woman, tensions between the silents and the talkies, and a movie buff's appreciation of the power of film — embodied in particular by early Hollywood's union of European artistry and American commerce. Dashing silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin, who channels Fairbanks, Flynn, and William Powell — and won this year's Cannes best actor prize) is at the height of his career, adorable Jack Russell by his side, until the talkies threaten to relegate him to yesterday's news. The talent nurtured in the thick of the studio system yearns for real power, telling the newspapers, "I'm not a puppet anymore — I'm an artist," and finances and directs his own melodrama, while his youthful protégé Peppy Miller (Bérénice Béjo) becomes a yakky flapper age's new It Girl. Both a crowd-pleasing entertainment and a loving précis on early film history, The Artist never checks its brains at the door, remaining self-aware of its own conceit and its forebears, yet unashamed to touch the audience, without an ounce of cynicism. (1:40) California, Castro, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
*The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye Once dubbed "the wickedest man in the world", shock artist and cofounder of seminal industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has softened somewhat with time. Her plunge into pandrogyny, an ongoing artistic and personal process embarked upon with the late Jacqueline "Lady Jaye" Breyer P-Orridge, is an attempt to create a perfectly balanced body, incorporating the characteristics of both. As artists, the two were committed to documenting their process, but as marriage partners, much of their footage is sweetly innocuous home video footage: Genesis cooking in the kitchen decked out in a little black dress, Lady Jaye setting out napkins at a backyard bar-b-que or helping to dig through Genesis' archives of COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle "ephemera," the two wrapped in bandages after getting matching nose jobs. "I just want to be remembered as one of the great love affairs of all time," Jaye tells Genesis. This whimsical documentary by Marie Losier will go a long way toward making that wish a reality. (1:12) Roxie. (Nicole Gluckstern)
*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) Smith Rafael. (Chun)
*Casa de mi Padre Will Ferrell's latest challenge in a long line of actorly exercises and comic gestures — from his long list of comedies probing the last gasps of American masculinity to serious forays like Stranger Than Fiction (2006) and Everything Must Go (2010) — is almost entirely Spanish-language telenovela-burrito Western spoof Casa de mi Padre. Here Ferrell tackles an almost entirely Spanish script (with only meager, long-ago high school and college language courses under his belt) alongside Mexican natives Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna and telenovela veteran Genesis Rodriguez. This clever, intriguing, occasionally very funny, yet not altogether successful endeavor, directed by Matt Piedmont and written by Andrew Steele, sprang from Ferrell's noggin. Ferrell is nice guy Armando, content to stay at home at the ranch, hang with his buddies, and be dismissed by his father (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) as a dolt. The arrival of his sleazy bro Raul (Luna) and Raul's fiancée Sonia (Rodriguez) change everything, bringing killer narco Onza (Bernal) into the family's life and sparking some hilariously klutzy entanglements between Armando and Sonia. All of this leads to almost zero improvisation on Ferrell's part and plenty of meta, Machete-like spoofs on low-budget fare, from Sergio Leone to Alejandro Jodorowsky. Casa punctures padre-informed transmissions of Latin machismo, but it equally ridicules the idea of a gringo actor riding in and superimposing himself, badly or otherwise, over another country's culture. (1:25) Metreon, Shattuck. (Chun)
*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)
Dr. Seuss' The Lorax (1:26) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.
Footnote (1:45) Clay.
*Friends With Kids Jennifer Westfeldt scans Hollywood's romantic comedy landscape for signs of intelligent life and, finding it to be a barren place possibly recovering from a nuclear holocaust, writes, directs, and stars in this follow-up to 2001's Kissing Jessica Stein, which she co-wrote and starred in. Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) are upper-thirtysomething New Yorkers with two decades of friendship behind them. He calls her "doll." They have whispered phone conversations at four in the morning while their insignificant others lie slumbering beside them on the verge of getting dumped. And after a night spent witnessing the tragic toll that procreation has taken on the marriages of their four closest friends — Bridesmaids (2011) reunion party Leslie (Maya Rudolph), Alex (Chris O'Dowd), Missy (Kristen Wiig), and Ben (Jon Hamm), the latter two, surprisingly and less surprisingly, providing some of the film's darkest moments — Jason proposes that they raise a child together platonically, thereby giving any external romantic relationships a fighting chance of survival. In no time, they've worked out the kinks to their satisfaction, insulted and horrified their friends, and awkwardly made a bouncing baby boy. The arrival of significant others (Edward Burns and Megan Fox) signals the second phase of the experiment. Some viewers will be invested in latent sparks of romance between the central pair, others in the success of an alternative family arrangement; one of these demographics is destined for disappointment. Until then, however, both groups and any viewers unwilling to submit to this reductive binary will be treated to a funny, witty, well crafted depiction of two people's attempts to preserve life as they know it while redrawing the parameters of parenthood. (1:40) Four Star, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
*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)
Hugo Hugo turns on an obviously genius conceit: Martin Scorsese, working with 3D, CGI, and a host of other gimmicky effects, creates a children's fable that ultimately concerns one of early film's pioneering special-effects fantasists. That enthusiasm for moviemaking magic, transferred across more than a century of film history, was catching, judging from Scorsese's fizzy, exhilarating, almost-nauseating vault through an oh-so-faux Parisian train station and his carefully layered vortex of picture planes as Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), an intrepid engineering genius of an urchin, scrambles across catwalk above a buzzing station and a hotheaded station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). Despite the special effects fireworks going off all around him, Hugo has it rough: after the passing of his beloved father (Jude Law), he has been stuck with an nasty drunk of a caretaker uncle (Ray Winstone), who leaves his duties of clock upkeep at a Paris train station to his charge. Hugo must steal croissants to survive and mechanical toy parts to work on the elaborate, enigmatic automaton he was repairing with his father, until he's caught by the fierce toy seller (Ben Kingsley) with a mysterious lousy mood and a cute, bright ward, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Although the surprisingly dark-ish Hugo gives Scorsese a chance to dabble a new technological toolbox — and the chance to wax pedantically, if passionately, about the importance of film archival studies — the effort never quite despite transcends its self-conscious dazzle, lagging pacing, diffuse narrative, and simplistic screenplay by John Logan, based on Brian Selznick's book. Even the actorly heavy lifting provided by assets like Kingsley and Moretz and the backloaded love for the fantastic proponents at the dawn of filmmaking fail to help matters. Scorsese attempts to steal a little of the latters' zeal, but one can only imagine what those wizards would do with motion-capture animation or a blockbuster-sized server farm. (2:07) Metreon. (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) Balboa, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
*The Hunter Shot and set during Iran's contentious 2009 Presidential campaign, The Hunter starts as a Kafka-esque portrait of quiet desperation in a cold, empty Tehran, then turns into a sort of existential thriller. The precise message may be ambiguous, but it's no surprise this two-year-old feature has so far played nearly everywhere but Iran itself. Ali (filmmaker Rafi Pitts) is released from prison after some years, his precise crime never revealed. Told that with his record he can't expect to get a day shift on his job as security guard at an automotive plant, he keeps hours at odds with his working wife Sara (Mitra Haijar) and six-year-old daughter Saba (Saba Yaghoobi). Still, they try to spend as much time together as possible, until one day Ali returns to find them uncharacteristically gone all day. After getting the bureaucratic runaround he's finally informed by police that something tragic has occurred; one loved one is dead, the other missing. When his thin remaining hope is dashed, with police notably useless in preventing that grim additional news, Ali snaps — think Peter Bogdanovich's 1968 Targets. He's soon in custody, albeit in that of two bickering officers who get them all lost in the countryside. Pitts, a long-ago child performer cast here only when the actor originally hired had to be replaced, makes Ali seem pinched from the inside out, as if in permanent recoil from past and anticipated abuse. This thin, hunched frame, vulnerable big ears, and hooded eyes — the goofily oversized cap he wears at work seems a deliberate affront — seems so fixed an expression of unhappiness that when he flashes a great smile, for a moment you might think it must be someone else. He's an everyman who only grows more shrunken once the film physically opens up into a natural world no less hostile for being beautiful. (1:32) Roxie. (Harvey)
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) Metreon. (Chun)
The Iron Lady Curiously like Clint Eastwood's 2011 J. Edgar, this biopic from director Phyllida Lloyd and scenarist Abi Morgan takes on a political life of length, breadth and controversy — yet it mostly skims over the politics in favor of a generally admiring take on a famous narrow-minded megalomaniac's "gumption" as an underdog who drove herself to the top. Looking back on her career from a senile old age spent in the illusory company of dead spouse Denis (Jim Broadbent), Meryl Streep's ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher steamrolls past hurdles of class and gender while ironically re-enforcing the fustiest Tory values. She's essentially a spluttering Lord in skirts, absolutist in her belief that money and power rule because they ought to, and any protesting rabble don't represent the "real England." That's a mindset that might well have been explored more fruitfully via less flatly literal-minded portraiture, though Lloyd does make a few late, lame efforts at sub-Ken Russell hallucinatory style. Likely to satisfy no one — anywhere on the ideological scale — seriously interested in the motivations and consequences of a major political life, this skin-deep Lady will mostly appeal to those who just want to see another bravura impersonation added to La Streep's gallery. Yes, it's a technically impressive performance, but unlikely to be remembered as one of her more depthed ones, let alone among her better vehicles. (1:45) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
*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, Shattuck. (Harvey)
*Jeff, Who Lives at Home The failure-to-launch concept will always thrive whenever and wherever economies flail, kids crumble beneath family trauma, and the seduction of moving back home to live for free with the parental units overcomes the draw of adulthood and individuation. Nevertheless brotherly writing and directing team Jay and Mark Duplass infuse a fresh, generous-minded sweetness in this familiar narrative arc, mainly by empathetically following those surrounding, and maybe enabling, the stay-at-home. Spurred by a deep appreciation of Signs (2002) and plentiful bong hits, Jeff (Jason Segel) decides to go with the signals that the universe throws at him: a mysterious phone call for a Kevin leads him to stalk a kid wearing a jersey with that name and jump a candy delivery truck. This despite the frantic urging of his mother (Susan Sarandon), who has set the bar low and simply wants Jeff to repair a shutter for her birthday, and the bad influence of brother Pat (Ed Helms), a striving jerk who compensates for his insecurities by buying a Porsche and taking business meetings at Hooters. We never quite find out what triggered Jeff's dormancy and Pat's prickishness — two opposing responses to some unspecified psychic wound — yet by Jeff, Who Lives at Home's close, it doesn't really matter. The Duplass brothers convince you to go along for the ride, much like Jeff's blessed fool, and accept the ultimately feel-good, humanist message of this kind-hearted take on human failings. (1:22) California, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi Celebrity-chef culture has surely reached some kind of zeitgeist, what with the omnipresence of Top Chef and other cooking-themed shows, and the headlines-making power of people like Paula Deen (diabetes) and Mario Batali (sued for ripping off his wait staff). Unconcerned with the trappings of fame — you'll never see him driving a Guy Fieri-style garish sports car — is Jiro Ono, 85-year-old proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a tiny, world-renowned sushi restaurant tucked into Tokyo's Ginza station. Jiro, a highly-disciplined perfectionist who believes in simple, yet flavorful food, has devoted his entire life to the pursuit of "deliciousness" — to the point of sushi invading his dreams, as the title of David Gelb's reverential documentary suggests. But Jiro Dreams of Sushi goes deeper than food-prep porn (though, indeed, there's plenty of that); it also examines the existential conflicts faced by Jiro's two middle-aged sons. Both were strongly encouraged to enter the family business — and in the intervening years, have had to accept the soul-crushing fact that no matter how good their sushi is, it'll never be seen as exceeding the creations of their legendary father. (1:21) Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
John Carter More or less an adaptation of Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1917 sci-fi classic A Princess of Mars, John Carter is yet another film that lavishes special effects (festooned with CG and 3D) on a rote story filled with characters the viewer couldn't give two craps about. Angry Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch, more muscleman than thespian) mysteriously zips to Mars, a planet not only populated by multiple members of the cast of HBO's Rome (Ciarán Hinds, James Purefoy, and the voice of Polly Walker), but also quite a bit of Red Planet unrest. Against his better judgment, and with the encouragement of a comely princess (tragic spray-tan victim Lynn Collins), Carter joins the fight, as red people battle blue people, green four-armed creatures pitch in when needed, and sinister silver people (led by Mark Strong) use zap-tastic powers to manipulate the action for their amusement. If you're expecting John Carter to be a step up from Conan the Barbarian (2011), Prince of Persia (2010), etc., because it's directed by Andrew Stanton (the Pixar superstar who helmed 2008's Finding Nemo and 2010's WALL*E), eh, think again. There's nothing memorable or fun about this would-be adventure; despite its extravagant 3D, it's flatter than a pancake. (2:17) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
*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)
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) Balboa, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
*Pina Watching Pina Bausch's choreography on film should not have been as absorbing and deeply affecting of an experience as it was. Dance on film tends to disappoint — the camera flattens the body and distorts perspective, and you either see too many or not enough details. However, improved 3D technology gave Wim Wenders (1999's Buena Vista Social Club; 1987's Wings of Desire) the additional tools he needed to accomplish what he and fellow German Bausch had talked about for 20 years: collaborating on a documentary about her work. Instead of making a film about the rebel dance maker, Wenders made it for Bausch, who died in June 2009, two days before the start of filming. Pina is an eloquent tribute to a tiny, soft-spoken, mousy-looking artist who turned the conventions of theatrical dance upside down. She was a great artist and true innovator. Wenders' biggest accomplishment in this beautifully paced and edited document is its ability to elucidate Bausch's work in a way that words probably cannot. While it's good to see dance's physicality and its multi dimensionality on screen, it's even better that the camera goes inside the dances to touch tiny details and essential qualities in the performers' every gesture. No proscenium theater can offer that kind of intimacy. Appropriately, intimacy (the eternal desire for it) and loneliness (an existential state of being) were the two contradictory forces that Bausch kept exploring over and over. And by taking fragments of the dances into the environment — both natural and artificial — of Wuppertal, Germany, Wenders places them inside the emotional lives of ordinary people, subjects of all of Bausch's work. (1:43) Four Star, Shattuck. (Rita Felciano)
*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)
Safe House Frankly, Denzel Washington watchers are starved for another movie in which he's playing the smartest guy in the room. Despite being hampered by a determinedly murky opening, Safe House should mostly satisfy. Washington's Tobin Frost is well-used to dwelling into a grayed-out borderland of black ops and flipped alliances — a onetime CIA star, he now trades secrets while perpetually on the run. Fleeing from killers of indeterminate origin, Tobin collides headlong with eager young agent Matt (Ryan Reynolds), who's stuck maintaining a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. Tasked with holding onto Tobin's high-level player by his boss (Brendan Gleeson) and his boss's boss (Sam Shepard), Matt is determined to prove himself, retain and by extension protect Tobin (even when the ex-superspy is throttling him from behind amid a full-speed car chase), and resist the magnetic pull of those many hazardous gray zones. Surrounded by an array of actorly heavies, including Vera Farmiga, who collectively ratchet up and invest this possibly not-very-interesting narrative — "Bourne" there; done that — with heart-pumping intensity, Washington is magnetic and utterly convincing as the jaded mouse-then-cat-then-mouse toying with and playing off Reynolds go-getter innocent. Safe House's narrative doesn't quite fill in the gaps in Tobin Frost's whys and wherefores, and the occasional ludicrous breakthroughs aren't always convincing, but the film's overall, familiar effect should fly, even when it's playing it safe (or overly upstanding, especially when it comes to one crucial, climactic scrap of dialogue from "bad guy" Washington, which rings extremely politically incorrect and tone-deaf). (2:00) SF Center. (Chun)
*Salmon Fishing in the Yemen In Lasse Hallström's latest film, a sheikh named Muhammed (Amr Waked) with a large castle in Scotland, an ardent love of fly-fishing, and unlimited funds envisions turning a dry riverbed in the Yemeni desert into an aquifer-fed salmon-run site and the surrounding lands into an agricultural cornucopia. Tasked with realizing this dream are London marketing consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) and government fisheries scientist Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a reluctant participant who refers to the project as "doolally" and signs on under professional duress. Despite numerous feasibility issues (habitat discrepancies, the necessity for a mass exodus of British salmon, two million irate British anglers), Muhammed's vision is borne forward on a rising swell of cynicism generated within the office of the British prime minister's press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas), whose lackeys have been scouring the wires for a shred of U.K.-related good news out of the Middle East. Ecology-minded killjoys may question whether this qualifies. But putting aside, if one can, the possible inadvisability of relocating 10,000 nonnative salmon to a wadi in Yemen — which is to say, putting aside the basic premise — it's easy and pleasant enough to go with the flow of the film, infected by Jones's growing enthusiasm for both the project and Ms. Chetwode-Talbot. Adapted from Paul Torday's novel by Simon Beaufoy (2009's Slumdog Millionaire), Salmon Fishing is a sweet and funny movie, and while it suffers from the familiar flurried third-act knotting together of loose ends, its storytelling stratagems are entertaining and its characters compellingly textured, and the cast makes the most of the well-polished material. (1:52) Albany, Embarcadero, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
*The Salt of Life Gianni Di Gregorio is both a triumph over and cautionary illustration of the aging uomo, racking up decades of experience yet still infantilized by that most binding tie. He's a late bloomer who's long worked in theater and film in various capacities, notably as a scenarist for 2008's organized crime drama Gomorrah. That same year he wrote and directed a first feature basically shot in his own Rome apartment. Mid-August Lunch was a surprise global success casting the director himself as a putz, also named Gianni, very like himself (by his own admission), peevishly trying to have some independence while catering to the whims of the ancient but demanding mother (Valeria De Franciscis) he still lives with. Lunch was charming in a sly, self-deprecating way, and The Salt of Life is more of the same minus the usual diminishing returns: the creator's barely-alter ego Gianni is still busy doing nothing much, dissatisfied not by his indolence but by its quality. But his pint-sized, wig-rocking, nearly century-old matriarch has now moved to a plush separate address with full-time care — and Salt's main preoccupation is Gianni's discovery that while he's as available and interested in women as ever, at age 63 he is no longer visible to them. While Fellini confronted desirable, daunting womanhood with a permanent adolescent's masturbatory fantasizing, Di Gregorio's humbler self-knowledge finds comedy in the hangdog haplessness of an old dog who can't learn new tricks and has forgotten the old ones. (1:30) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
*A Separation Iran's first movie to win Berlin's Golden Bear (as well as all its acting awards), this domestic drama reflecting a larger socio-political backdrop is subtly well-crafted on all levels, but most of all demonstrates the unbeatable virtue of having an intricately balanced, reality-grounded screenplay — director Asghar Farhadi's own — as bedrock. A sort of confrontational impartiality is introduced immediately, as our protagonists Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) face the camera — or rather the court magistrate — to plead their separate cases in her filing for divorce, which he opposes. We gradually learn that their 14-year wedlock isn't really irreparable, the feelings between them not entirely hostile. The roadblock is that Simin has finally gotten permission to move abroad, a chance she thinks she must seize for the sake of their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). But Nader doesn't want to leave the country, and is not about to let his only child go without him. Farhadi worked in theater before moving into films a decade ago. His close attention to character and performance (developed over several weeks' pre-production rehearsal) has the acuity sported by contemporary playwrights like Kenneth Lonergan and Theresa Rebeck, fitted to a distinctly cinematic urgency of pace and image. There are moments that risk pushing plot mechanizations too far, by A Separation pulls off something very intricate with deceptive simplicity, offering a sort of integrated Rashomon (1950) in which every participant's viewpoint as the wronged party is right — yet in conflict with every other. (2:03) Albany, Lumiere. (Harvey)
*The Secret World of Arrietty It's been far too long between 2008's Ponyo, the last offering from Studio Ghibli, and this feature-length adaptation of Mary Norton's children's classic, The Borrowers, but the sheer beauty of the studio's hand-drawn animation and the effortless wonder of its tale more than make up for the wait. This U.S. release, under the very apropos auspices of Walt Disney Pictures, comes with an American voice cast (in contrast with the U.K. version), and the transition appears to be seamless — though, of course, the background is subtly emblazoned with kanji, there are details like the dinnertime chopsticks, and the characters' speech rhythms, down to the "sou ka" affirmative that peppers all Japanese dialogue. Here in this down-low, hybridized realm, the fearless, four-inches-tall Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) has grown up imaginative yet lonely, believing her petite family is the last of their kind: they're Borrowers, a race of tiny people who live beneath the floorboards of full-sized human's dwellings and take what they need to survive. Despite the worries of her mother Homily (Amy Poehler), Arrietty begins to embark on borrowing expeditions with her father Pod (Will Arnett) — there are crimps in her plans, however: their house's new resident, a sickly boy named Shawn (David Henrie), catches a glimpse of Arrietty in the garden, and caretaker Hara (Carol Burnett) has a bit of an ulterior motive when it comes to rooting out the wee folk. Arrietty might not be for everyone — some kids might churn in their seats with ADD-style impatience at this graceful, gentle throwback to a pre-digital animation age — but in the care of first-time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Ghibli mastermind Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote co-wrote the screenplay, Arrietty will transfix other youngsters (and animation fans of all ages) with the glorious detail of its natural world, all beautifully amplified and suffused with everyday magic when viewed through the eyes of a pocket-sized adventurer. (1:35) Metreon, Shattuck. (Chun)
*Shame It's been a big 2011 for Michael Fassbender, with Jane Eyre, X-Men: First Class, Shame, and A Dangerous Method raising his profile from art-house standout to legit movie star (of the "movie stars who can also act" variety). Shame may only reach one-zillionth of X-Men's audience due to its NC-17 rating, but this re-teaming with Hunger (2008) director Steve McQueen is Fassbender's highest achievement to date. He plays Brandon, a New Yorker whose life is tightly calibrated to enable a raging sex addiction within an otherwise sterile existence, including an undefined corporate job and a spartan (yet expensive-looking) apartment. When brash, needy, messy younger sister Cissy (Carey Mulligan, speaking of actors having banner years) shows up, yakking her life all over his, chaos results. Shame is a movie that unfolds in subtle details and oversized actions, with artful direction despite its oft-salacious content. If scattered moments seem forced (loopy Cissy's sudden transformation, for one scene, into a classy jazz singer), the emotions — particularly the titular one — never feel less than real and raw. (1:39) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)
*Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie It's almost impossible to describe Adult Swim hit Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, but "cable access on acid" comes pretty close. It's awkward, gross, repetitive, and quotable; it features unsettling characters portrayed by famous comedians and unknowns who may not actually be actors. It all springs from the twisted brains of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, now on the big screen with Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie. The premise: Tim and Eric (amplified-to-the-extreme versions of Heidecker and Wareheim) get a billion to make a movie, and the end result is a very short film involving a lot of diamonds and a Johnny Depp impersonator. On the run from their angry investors (including a hilariously spitting-mad Robert Loggia), the pair decides to earn back the money managing a run-down mall filled with deserted stores (and weird ones that sell things like used toilet paper) and haunted by a man-eating wolf. Or something. Anyway, the plot is just an excuse to unfurl the Tim and Eric brand of bizarre across the length of a feature film; if you're already in the cult, you've probably already seen the film (it's been On Demand for weeks). Adventurous newcomers, take note: Tim and Eric's comedy is the ultimate love-it-or-hate-it experience. There is no middle ground. There are, however, some righteously juicy poop jokes. (1:32) Roxie. (Eddy)
*21 Jump Street One of the more pleasant surprises on the mainstream comedy landscape has to be this, ugh, "reboot" of the late-'80s TV franchise. I wasn't a fan of the show — or its dark-eyed, bad-boy star, Johnny Depp — back in the day, but I am of this unexpectedly funny rework overseen by apparent enthusiast, star, co-writer, and co-executive producer Jonah Hill, with a screenplay by Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) co-writer Michael Bacall. There's more than a smidge of Bacall's other high school fantasy, Project X, in the buddy comedy premise of nerd (Hill's Schmidt) meets blowhard (Channing Tatum's Jenko), but 21 Jump Street thankfully leapfrogs the former with its meta-savvy, irreverent script and har-dee-har cameo turns by actors like Ice Cube as Captain Dickson (as well as a few key uncredited players who shall remain under deep cover). High school continues to haunt former classmates Schmidt and Jenko, who have just graduated from the lowly police bike corps to a high school undercover operation — don't get it twisted, though, Dickson hollers at them; they got this gig solely because they look young. Still, the whole drug-bust enchilada is put in jeopardy when the once-socially toxic Schmidt finds his brand of geekiness in favor with the cool kids and so-called dumb-jock Jenko discovers the pleasures of the mind with the chem lab set. Fortunately for everyone, this crew doesn't take themselves, or the source material, too seriously. (1:49) Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
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) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun) *