Film Listings

|
()

Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, and Lynn Rapoport. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. For complete film listings, see www.sfbg.com.

OPENING

Bel Ami Judging from recent attempts to shake off the gloomy atmosphere and undead company of the Twilight franchise, Robert Pattinson enjoys a good period piece, but hasn't quite worked out how to help make one. Last year's Depression-era Water for Elephants was a tepid romance, and Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod's belle epoque–set Bel Ami is an ungainly, oddly paced adaptation of the Guy de Maupassant novel of the same name. A down-and-out former soldier of peasant stock, Georges Duroy (Pattinson) — or "Bel Ami," as his female admirers call him — gains a brief entrée into the upper echelons of France's fourth estate and parlays it into a more permanent set of social footholds, campaigning for the affections of a triumvirate of Parisian power wives (Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman, and Kristin Scott Thomas) as he makes his ascent. His route is confusing, though; the film pitches forward at an alarming pace, its scenes clumsily stacked together with little character development or context to smooth the way, and Pattinson's performance doesn't clarify much. Duroy shifts perplexingly between rapacious and soulful modes, eyeing the ladies with a vaguely carnivorous expression as he enters drawing rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms, but leaving us with little sense of his true appetites or other motivations. (1:42) Clay, Smith Rafael. (Rapoport)

Double Trouble When crooks nab a priceless painting from a Taipei museum, two security guards — wannabe hero Jay (Jaycee "Son of Jackie" Chan) and Chinese-tourist-on-vacation Ocean (Xia Yu) — reluctantly team up to recover the piece. A road trip of sorts ensues, laden with petty bickering, wacky melees, bonding moments, mistaken identity, gangsters both comical and sinister, and other buddy-comedy trappings. As expected, there are a few high-flying fight scenes; in the film's production notes, director David Hsun-Wei Chang reveals he was inspired by the Rush Hour movies. Alas, Chan is neither as charismatic nor as breathtakingly nimble as his father (and, obvi, Xia is no Chris Tucker). It should be noted, however, that one of the slithery art thieves is played by underwear model Jessica C., famed in Hong Kong for her "police siren boobs." So there's that. (1:29) Metreon. (Eddy)

Elena The opening, almost still image of breaking dawn amid bare trees — the twigs in the foreground almost imperceptibly developing definition and the sky gradually growing ever lighter and pinker in the corners of the frame — beautifully exemplifies the crux of this well-wrought, refined noir, which spins slowly on the streams of dog-eat-dog survival that rush beneath even the most moneyed echelons of Moscow. Sixtyish former nurse Elena (Nadezhda Markina) is still little more than a live-in caretaker for Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov), her affluent husband of almost 10 years. She sleeps in a separate bed in their modernist-chic condo and dutifully funnels money to her beloved layabout son and his family. Vladimir has less of a relationship with his rebellious bad-seed daughter (Yelena Lyadova), who may be too smart and hedonistic for her own good. When a certain unlikely reunion threatens Elena's survival — and what she perceives as the survival of her own spawn — a kind of deadly dawn breaks over the seemingly obedient hausfrau, and she's driven to desperate ends. Bathing his scenes in chilled blue light and velvety dark shadows, filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev (2003's The Return) keeps a detached but close eye on the proceedings while displaying an uncanny talent for plucking the telling detail out of the wash of daily routine and coaxing magnetic performances from his performers. (1:49) Lumiere. (Chun)

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted The animated zoo animals (voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, and Jada Pinkett Smith) join a circus. Hence the clown wigs. (1:33)

Peace, Love and Misunderstanding How is that even as a bona fide senior, Jane Fonda continues to embody this country's ambivalence toward women? I suspect it's a testament to her actorly prowess and sheer charisma that she's played such a part in defining several eras' archetypes — from sex kitten to counterculture-heavy Hanoi Jane to dressed-for-success feminist icon to aerobics queen to trophy wife. Here, among the talents in Bruce Beresford's intergenerational chick-flick-gone-indie as a loud, proud, and larger-than-life hippie earth mama, she threatens to eclipse her paler, less colorful offspring, women like Catherine Keener and Elizabeth Olsen, who ordinarily shine brighter than those that surround them. It's ostensibly the tale of high-powered lawyer Diane (Keener): her husband (Kyle MacLachlan) has asked for a divorce, so in a not-quite-explicable tailspin, she packs her kids, Zoe (Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff), into the car and heads to Woodstock to see her artist mom Grace (Fonda) for the first time in two decades. Grace is beyond overjoyed — dying to introduce the grandchildren to her protests, outdoor concerts, and own personal growhouse — while urbanite Diane and her kids find attractive, natch, diversions in the country, in the form of Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Cole (Chace Crawford), and Tara (Marissa O'Donnell). Yet there's a lot of troubled water for the mother and daughter to cross, in order to truly come together. Despite some strong characterization and dialogue, Peace doesn't quite fly — or make much sense at its close — due to the some patchy storytelling: the schematic rom-com arch fails to provide adequate scaffolding to support the required leaps of faith. But that's not to deny the charm of the highly identifiable, generous-spirited Grace, a familiar Bay Area archetype if there ever was one, who Fonda charges with the joy and sadness of fallible parent who was making up the rules as she went along. (1:36) Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Chun)

Prometheus Ridley Scott returns to Alien (1979) turf with this sci-fi thriller starring Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Noomi Rapace, and Guy Pearce. (2:03)

ONGOING

Bernie Jack Black plays the titular new assistant funeral director liked by everybody in small-town Carthage, Tex. He works especially hard to ingratiate himself with shrewish local widow Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine), but there are benefits — estranged from her own family, she not only accepts him as a friend (then companion, then servant, then as virtual "property"), but makes him her sole heir. Richard Linklater's latest is based on a true-crime story, although in execution it's as much a cheerful social satire as I Love You Philip Morris and The Informant! (both 2009), two other recent fact-based movies about likable felons. Black gets to sing (his character being a musical theater queen, among other things), while Linklater gets to affectionately mock a very different stratum of Lone Star State culture from the one he started out with in 1991's Slacker. There's a rich gallery of supporting characters, most played by little-known local actors or actual townspeople, with Matthew McConaughey's vainglorious county prosecutor one delectable exception. Bernie is its director's best in some time, not to mention a whole lot of fun. (1:39) Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

A Cat in Paris This year's Best Animated Film nominees: big-budget entries Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots, and eventual winner Rango, plus Chico and Rita, which opened just before Oscar night, and French mega-dark-horse A Cat in Paris. Sure, Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol's film failed to cash in on 2011's Paris craze, but it's still a charming if featherweight noir caper, being released stateside in an English version that features the voices of Marcia Gay Harden and Anjelica Huston. A streetwise kitty named Dino spends his days hanging with Zoey, a little girl who's gone mute since the death of her father — a cop killed in the line of duty. Zoey's mother (Harden), also a cop, is hellbent on catching the murderer, a notorious crook named Costa who runs his criminal empire with Reservoir Dogs-style imprecision. At night, Dino sneaks out and accompanies an affable burglar on his prowlings. When Zoey falls into Costa's clutches, her mom, the thief, and (natch) the feisty feline join forces to rescue her, in a series of rooftop chase scenes that climax atop Notre Dame. At just over an hour, A Cat in Paris is sweetly old-fashioned and suitable for audiences of all ages, though staunch dog lovers may raise an objection or two. (1:07) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)

The Color Wheel Carlen Altman, a nervous comedian who moonlights as a Jewish rosary maker, was doing stand-up in Brooklyn when filmmaker Alex Ross Perry approached her about collaborating on a project. The idea for a brother-sister movie came to be: The Color Wheel, a droll and perverse take on vexed lives in transition, tinged with 16mm. Perry directed, produced, and edited the film while co-writing with Altman. When the film begins, a dopey JR (Altman) shows up at the apartment of her misanthropic brother Colin (Perry). JR convinces him to help move her stuff out of her professor ex-boyfriend's place. Inevitably, their Northeastern road trip follows other tangents, taking the pair on a hilarious and sad journey that raises more questions than answers about their fraught relationship. They meet a lot of jerks, but no one more so than themselves; their characters, filterless with no desire to grow up or shut up, are far behind everyone they encounter. With all its zeitgeisty humor and lovably awful people, The Color Wheel takes some dark turns — it begins as a charming, dour comedy, but ends up viscerally queasy and pitiful, with its two leads as mixed-up as ever. (1:23) Roxie. (Ryan Lattanzio)

I Wish It's tempting to hold Hirokazu Kore-eda's I Wish up to that other kids adventure story in the theaters, Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, but that's a disservice to Anderson: his arch look back at an age of innocence comes off as loftily contrived in contrast to this gently empathetic, ground-level view of children's dreams and desires, one that falls well short of preciousness, thanks to Kore-eda's acute eye for a changing Japan. Brothers Koichi and Ryunosuke (real-life sibs Koki and Ohshiro Maeda) are living apart like their two parents: the former bunks with his mother (Nene Otsuka) and grandparents in Kagoshima, where he plots to get his parents together again and frets over the ash-spewing still-active volcano; the latter is busy enabling his laid-back guitar-playing father (Jo Odagiri of 2003's Bright Future) on the other side of the island, where he grows fava beans, eats takeout, and hangs out with pals like budding actress Megumi (Kara Uchida). These offspring of Peter Pan-like parents, who have had a tough time growing up and fulfilling their own dreams, have been forced to grow up fast — but Koichi is pinning his hopes on something faster: the new bullet train line that will link his town with his brother's. He gets it in his mind that if a wish is made when the first trains pass each other, a miracle, like his bickering parents' reunion, will occur. The kids conspire to grab to that magical moment, by hook or crook, and a little help from an elderly couple that might have stepped out of an older, more gracious Japan, as rhapsodized by Yasujiro Ozu. And as with his devastating portrait of abandoned kids eking out a living on their own, Nobody Knows (2004), Kore-eda effortlessly coaxes great performances out of his child actors. Like Nobody Knows's Akira, Koichi and Ryunosuke are determined to persevere, post-familial meltdown, through all personal Armageddons, be they triggered by volcano, tsunami, or heartbreak. (2:08) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Chun)

Moonrise Kingdom Does Wes Anderson's new film mark a live-action return to form after 2007's disappointingly wan Darjeeling Limited? More or less. Does it tick all the Andersonian style and content boxes? Indubitably. In the most obvious deviation Anderson has taken with Moonrise, he gives us his first period piece, a romance set in 1965 on a fictional island off the New England coast. After a chance encounter at a church play, pre-teen Khaki Scout Sam (newcomer Jared Gilman) instantly falls for the raven-suited, sable-haired Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward, ditto). The two become pen pals, and quickly bond over the shared misery of being misunderstood by both authority figures and fellow kids. The bespectacled Sam is an orphan, ostracized by his foster parents and scout troop (much to the dismay of its straight-arrow leader Edward Norton). Suzy despises her clueless attorney parents, played with gusto by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand in some of the film's funniest and best scenes. When the two kids run off together, the whole thing begins to resemble a kind of tween version of Godard's 1965 lovers-on the-lam fantasia Pierrot le Fou. But like most of Anderson's stuff, it has a gauzy sentimentality more akin to Truffaut than Godard. Imagine if the sequence in 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums where Margot and Richie run away to the Museum of Natural History had been given the feature treatment: it's a simple yet inspired idea, and it becomes a charming little tale of the perils of growing up and selling out the fantasy. But it doesn't feel remotely risky. It's simply too damn tame. (1:37) Metreon, Sundance Kabuki. (Michelle Devereaux)

Snow White and the Huntsman It's unclear why the zeitgeist has blessed us this year with two warring iterations of the Snow White fairy tale, one broadly comedic (April's Mirror Mirror), one starkly emo. But it was only natural that Kristen Stewart would land in the latter rendering, breaking open the hearts of swamp beasts and swordsmen alike with the chaste glory of her mien. As Snow White flees the henchmen and hired killers dispatched by her seriously evil stepmother, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), and traverses a blasted, virulent forest populated with hallucinogenic vapors and other life-threatening obstacles, Stewart need not act so much as radiate a dazzling benignity, weeping the tears of a martyr rather than a frightened young girl. (Unfortunately, when required to deliver a rallying declaration of war, she sounds as if she's speaking in tongues after a heavy hit on the crack pipe.) It's slightly uncomfortable to be asked, alongside a grieving, drunken huntsman (The Avengers' Chris Hemsworth), a handful of dwarfs (including Ian McShane and Toby Jones), and the kingdom's other suffering citizenry, to fall worshipfully in line behind such a creature. But first-time director Rupert Sanders's film keeps pace with its lovely heroine visually, constructing a gorgeous world in which armies of black glass shatter on battlefields, white stags dissolve into hosts of butterflies, and a fairy sanctuary within the blighted kingdom is an eye-popping fantasia verging on the hysterical. Theron's Ravenna, equipped in modernist fashion with a backstory for her sociopathic tendencies, is credible and captivating as an unhinged slayer of men, thief of youth, destroyer of kingdoms, and consumer of the hearts of tiny birds. (2:07) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Rapoport) *