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.
SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival runs through Thu/3; most shows $13. Venues: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk.; SF Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; and Sundance Kabuki Cinema, 1881 Post, SF. For additional info, visit www.sffs.org.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel John Madden (1998's Shakespeare in Love) directs this comedy about British retirees (the all-star cast includes Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, and Tom Wilkinson) who journey to a dilapidated yet charming hotel in India. (1:42)
The Day He Arrives Korean auteur (Woman Is the Future of Man, 2004) Hong Sang-soo's latest exercise in self-consciousness, this black-and-white, fable-like study of a frustrated filmmaker (Yu Jun-sang), returning home to Seoul to visit an old friend after spending time in the countryside teaching, adds up to a kind of formal palimpsest. Surrounded by sycophants, vindictive former leading men, and women who seem to serve a purely semiotic purpose, he participates in an endless loop of drink, smoke, and conversation in a series of dreamlike scenes that play on the theme of coincidence and endless variation. Hong's layering of alternate scenarios at times feels like a bit of a gimmick, but the way he infuses specific urban spaces with forlorn significance in mostly static shots is affecting — even if the film's ultimate narrative slightness has the cut-and-paste haphazardness of fridge poetry magnets. (1:19) SF Film Society Cinema. (Michelle Devereaux)
The Fairy Custom-made for those who want more in the vein of 2011's The Artist — without actually reaching back to the silent era to find it — this feature is the third starring, written and, directed by the Belgian trio of Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy (2008's Rumba, 2005's The Iceberg). It's a "talkie," but dialogue here is little more than an occasional inconvenient necessity. Rom (Abel) is a hotel clerk whose routine is interrupted by barefoot Fiona (Gordon). She books a room, but only as an afterthought, having already announced that she is a you-know-what and will grant him three wishes. Expecting nothing, he makes a couple requests, but leaves the third for later. Their evolving romance soon involves police chases, an American tourist (Philippe Martz), his dog, more chases, three African illegals en route to England (Vladimir Zongo, Destine M'Bikula Mayemba, Willson Goma), a women's soccer team, pregnancy, interpretive dance, prison, and still more chasing. The creators are most clearly influenced by Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati; before you go mad with anticipatory joy, however, know that The Fairy's nostalgic slapstick pantomime alternates between the inspired and the too-precious. For every moment that honors their predecessors — the long, clever opening (in which the eating of a sandwich is perpetually delayed) and a rooftop jazz-dance duet — there are times when the film is just cute, or the cuteness feels a little forced. Still, those in the mood for whimsy may find themselves enchanted, and only serious cynics will find this less than an amusing novelty. (1:34) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
*Gerhard Richter Painting O to be a eye in the studio, simply taking in a master's process. Anyone who's wondered how artist Gerhard Richter makes his monumental paintings — or even just idly pondered art making in general — gets that rare chance with this fascinating, elegant portrait of a man and his method. After capturing Richter for the first time in 15 years in her 2007 short on his stained glass window at the Cologne Cathedral, filmmaker Corinna Belz was entrusted with pointing a camera at the artist as he worked a new series of abstractions and prepared for a major retrospective. Through unusual archival footage, brief discussions of his past, and glimpses of everyone from Richter's wife to his US dealer Marian Goodman, we end up with a privileged window in the German maker's world and utterly riveting footage of Richter in the studio — applying color to canvas; taking a squeegee to the blobs and splotches; scraping, manipulating, and morphing the hues with a mesmerizing combination of improvisation and consideration; and then stepping back to study the results, occasionally out loud. Even more than a glance into a workspace, it's a light into the mind of the man who has recharged painting and its myriad approaches, techniques, and ideas with new relevance. (1:37) Roxie. (Chun)
*Headhunters Despite being the most sought-after corporate headhunter in Oslo, Roger (Aksel Hennie) still doesn't make enough money to placate his gorgeous wife; his raging Napoleon complex certainly doesn't help matters. Crime is, as always, the only solution, so Roger's been supplementing his income by stealthily relieving his rich, status-conscious clients of their most expensive artworks (with help from his slightly unhinged partner, who works for a home-security company). When Roger meets the dashing Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of Game of Thrones) — a Danish exec with a sinister, mysterious military past, now looking to take over a top job in Norway — he's more interested in a near-priceless painting rumored to be stashed in Greve's apartment. The heist is on, but faster than you can say "MacGuffin," all hell breaks loose (in startlingly gory fashion), and the very charming Roger is using his considerable wits to stay alive. Based on a best-selling "Scandi-noir" novel, Headhunters is just as clever as it is suspenseful. See this version before Hollywood swoops in for the inevitable (rumored) remake. (1:40) Clay, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Eddy)
A Little Bit of Heaven Kate Hudson goes without make-up (but keeps her flowing curls) to play Marley, a New Orleans advertising exec whose social life of drunken good times and booty calls is rudely interrupted by a colon cancer diagnosis. Her movie-perfect friends (Lucy Punch as the artsy one; Rosemarie DeWitt as the pregnant one; Romany Malco as the gay one) and worried parents (Kathy Bates, Treat Williams) gather 'round as Marley undergoes various treatments and works on her personality flaws. Once Gael García Bernal shows up to play her doctor (and yes, that's some icky boundary-crossing, but come on — it's GGB!), a romance conveniently enters the mix as well. This is the kind of Hollywood-disease flick where God appears in the wisecracking, champagne-sipping guise of Whoopi Goldberg — and the talented Peter Dinklage (also of Game of Thrones) appears in one scene as an escort whose sole purpose is reveal his nickname, thereby giving the movie its title. (1:46) (Eddy)
*Marvel's The Avengers The conflict — a mystical blue cube containing earth-shattering (literally) powers is stolen, with evil intent — isn't the reason to see this long-hyped culmination of numerous prequels spotlighting its heroic characters. Nay, the joy here is the whole "getting' the band back together!" vibe; director and co-writer Joss Whedon knows you're just dying to see Captain America (Chris Evans) bicker with Iron Man (a scene-stealing Robert Downey Jr.); Thor (Chris Hemsworth) clash with bad-boy brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston); and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) get angry as often as possible. (Also part of the crew, but kinda mostly just there to look good in their tight outfits: Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow.) Then, of course, there's Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) running the whole Marvel-ous show, with one good eye and almost as many wry quips as Downey's Tony Stark. Basically, The Avengers gives you everything you want (characters delivering trademark lines and traits), everything you expect (shit blowing up, humanity being saved, etc.), and even makes room for a few surprises. It doesn't transcend the comic-book genre (like 2008's The Dark Knight did), but honestly, it ain't trying to. The Avengers wants only to entertain, and entertain it does. (2:23) Balboa, Marina, Presidio. (Eddy)
*Sound of My Voice Gripped with the need to do something important before they shrivel up and turn 30, Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) pretend to join a mysterious cult with the aim of making a documentary exposé. Their target: an alluring woman named Maggie (co-writer Brit Marling) — all golden hair and new-age wisdom — who lives in a basement and claims to be from the future. What Maggie is preparing her followers for is never quite explained, with their secret handshakes and all-white attire, but director and co-writer Zal Batmanglij builds up plenty of subtle dread: there's a visit to a shooting range (shades of last year's Martha Marcy May Marlene), Maggie's whispery references to an impending civil war, and Peter's diminishing ability to resist his faux-guru's prove-your-faith demands. Just when you think you have Maggie figured out (as when she's put on the spot to sing a song "from the future"), Batmanglij and Marling add another layer of ambiguity. An intriguing presence, Marling also wrote herself a juicy role in 2011's Another Earth; it'll be interesting to see if she can hold her own in a movie that doesn't paint her character as the center of the universe. (1:25) Embarcadero. (Eddy)
The Five-Year Engagement In 2008's Forgetting Sarah Marshall, viewers were treated to the startling, tragicomic sight of Jason Segel's naked front side as his character got brutally dumped by the titular perky, put-together heartbreaker. In The Five-Year Engagement, which he reunited with director Nicholas Stoller to co-write, Segel once again sacrifices dignity and the right to privacy, this time in exchange for fake orgasms (his own), ghastly hand-knit sweaters, egregious facial-hair arrangements, and various other exhaustively humiliating psychological lows — all part of an earnest, undying quest to make people giggle uncomfortably. Segel plays Tom, a talented chef with a promising career ahead of him in San Francisco's culinary scene (naturally, food carts get a cameo in the film). On the one-year anniversary of meeting his girlfriend, Violet (Emily Blunt), a psychology postgrad, he asks her to marry him in a meticulously planned, gloriously botched proposal scene coengineered by Tom's oafish friend Alex (Chris Pratt), little realizing that this romantic gesture will soon lead to successive frozen winters in the Midwest (Violet gets offered a job at the University of Michigan), loss of professional stature, cabin fever, mead making, bow-hunting accidents, the titular nuptial postponement, and other, more gruesome events. The humor at times descends to some banally low depths as Segel and Stoller explore the terrain of the awkward, the poorly socialized, and the playfully grotesque. But Segel and Blunt present a believable, likable relationship between two warm, funny, flawed people, and, however disgusted, no one should walk out before a scene in which Violet and her sister (Alison Brie) channel Elmo and Cookie Monster to elaborate on the themes of romantic idealism and marital discontent. (2:04) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Rapoport)
The Raven How did Edgar Allan Poe, dipsomaniac, lover of 13-year-old child brides, and teller of tales designed to make the flesh creep and crawl, wind up, at age 40, nearly dying in the gutter and spending his last days in a Baltimore hospital, muttering incoherent imprecations about a mysterious fellow named Reynolds? In The Raven, director James McTeigue (2006's V for Vendetta) makes the case for a crafty, sociopathic serial killer having played a role in the famous yet impoverished writer's sad, derelict demise. Recently returned to the dark, thickly fog-machined streets of Baltimore, Poe, vehemently embodied by John Cusack, is chagrined to learn from one Detective Fields (Luke Evans) that someone has begun using his macabre stories ("The Pit and the Pendulum" to particularly gory effect) to enact a series of murders. When the killer successfully gains Poe's full attention by seizing his ladylove, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), the pileup of bodies inspires a few last outbursts of genius. The trail of literary clues feels a bit forced, and Cusack's Poe possesses an admirable quantity of energy, passion, and general zest for life for one so roundly indicted — by everyone from his editor to his barkeep to his sweetheart's roundly repellent father (Brendan Gleeson) — as a useless, used-up slave to opiates and alcohol. But the script is smart enough and the action absorbing enough to keep us engaged as Poe attempts to rescue Emily and the film attempts to rescue Poe's reputation through imagined heroics of both the pen and the sword. (1:50) California, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center. (Rapoport)