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.
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 epoqueset 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)
Battleship During idle moments before the action revs up, the aliens start menacing, and the deadly razor balls-cum-air mines start rampaging, wrap your noggin around these random brainwaves: can Taylor Kitsch be any better named? Is it possible for Alexander Skarsgård's glassy eyes to get any deader? Where are all the Hawaiians, Asians, and people of color in this white-bread vision of Hawaii? All matters to puzzle over in this toy franchise hopeful directed by ex-Chicago Hope regular Peter Berg. The 2007 Transformers is the best this gung-ho hybrid of up-with-the-military "Army of One" commercial and alien invasion flick with plenty of blow-'em-up-real-good explosions and a dab of J-monster movies, but the writing never quite rises to the occasion. Here, an international group of navy folk and their ships are convening in Hawaii for playful war games, though the exercises turn somewhat more serious when alien vessels splash down in the middle of the fun and some mild, no-investment family drama: Alex (Kitsch) is the screw-up younger brother of stony-faced naval man Stone (Skarsgård) and courting the daughter (Brooklyn Decker) of the fleet commander (Liam Neesom), who seems to hate his guts. The ultimate battle with space invaders, however, promises to turn that all around, as Alex is forced to sailor up and lead crew mates like Rihanna and work with former opponents like Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano). Here, at least, in the shadow of Pearl Harbor, U.S. and Japanese naval dudes can heal the wounds of World War II and bond in battle against the last unimpeachable interstellar villains who couldn't give a rat's ass if you say "I sunk your battleship." But Berg's muddled direction doesn't help when it comes to piecing out the chronology and balancing assorted perspectives in this latest effort to equate militarism with the games big and little kids play. (2:11) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Chun)
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)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (1:42) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki.
The Cabin in the Woods If the name "Joss Whedon" doesn't provide all the reason you need to bum-rush The Cabin in the Woods (Whedon produced and co-wrote, with director and frequent collaborator Drew Goddard), well, there's not much more that can be revealed without ruining the entire movie. In a very, very small nutshell, it's about a group of college kids (including Chris "Thor" Hemsworth) whose weekend jaunt to a rural cabin goes horribly awry, as such weekend jaunts tend to do in horror movies (the Texas Chainsaw and Evil Dead movies are heavily referenced). But this is no ordinary nightmare its peculiarities are cleverly, carefully revealed, and the movie's inside-out takedown of scary movies produces some very unexpected (and delightfully blood-gushing) twists and turns. Plus: the always-awesome Richard Jenkins, and in-jokes galore for genre fans. (1:35) Metreon. (Eddy)
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)
Chernobyl Diaries Despite the peripheral input of Oren Peli, who scored big with 2009's Paranormal Activity, this sorry excuse for a horror movie offers up a sample platter of shit we've already seen before: the vacation-from-hell genre, the city-slickers-versus-yokels genre, the don't-poke-around-in-the-abandoned-nuclear-facility genre. Er, all right. I will admit the setting spooky ghost town Pripyat, which abuts the Chernobyl reactors is inspired, which actually makes first-time director Bradley Parker's film even more of a disappointment. Douchey college kids characters so one-dimensional their names might as well be "I Will Die First," "I Will Make the Obviously Stupid-Ass Decision to Run Into the Woods in the Direction of Those Strange Noises We've Been Hearing," and "I Will Be the Guy Who Starts Screaming Right When We're Trying to Hide" get in a rickety van with a sketchy guide for an "extreme tour" of you-know-where. Turns out, in addition to providing backdrops for Facebook-wall photo ops, the 'Nobe is home to quite the cornucopia of beasties. Suggested alternate titles: Chernobyl Hostel. Wrong Turn (Off Chernobyl's Only Road). Don't Go In the Basement (of Chernobyl). Piranha-nobyl. Cujo-nobyl. Night of the Things in Chernobyl That Aren't Dead. The Chernobyls Have Eyes. (1:26) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (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)
Crooked Arrows (1:45) Metreon.
Dark Shadows Conceptually, there's nothing wrong with attempting to turn a now semi-obscure supernaturally themed soap opera with a five-year run in the late 1960s and early '70s into a feature film. Particularly if the film brings together the sweetly creepy triumvirate of Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter and emerges during an ongoing moment for vampires, werewolves, and other things that go hump in the night. Depp plays long-enduring vampire Barnabas Collins, the undead scion of a once-powerful 18th-century New England family that by the 1970s the groovy decade in which the bulk of the story is set has suffered a shabby deterioration. Barnabas forms a pact with present-day Collins matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) to raise the household currently comprising her disaffected daughter, Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her derelict brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his mournful young son, David (Gulliver McGrath), David's live-in lush of a psychiatrist, Dr. Hoffman (Carter), and the family's overtaxed manservant, Willie (Jackie Earle Haley) to its former stature, while taking down a lunatic, love-struck, and rather vindictive witch named Angelique (Eva Green). The latter, a victim of unrequited love, is the cause of all Barnabas's woes and, by extension, the entire clan's, but Angelique can only be blamed for so much. Beyond her hocus-pocus jurisdiction is the film's manic pileup of plot twists, tonal shifts, and campy scenery-chewing by Depp, a startling onslaught that no lava lamp joke, no pallid reaction shot, no room-demolishing act of paranormal carnality set to Barry White, and no cameo by Alice Cooper can temper. (2:00) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
The Dictator As expected, The Dictator is, yet again, Sacha Baron Cohen doing his bumbling-foreigner shtick. Said character (here, a ruthless, spoiled North African dictator) travels to America and learns a heaping teaspoon of valuable lessons, which are then flung upon the audience an audience which, by film's end, has spent 80 minutes squealing at a no-holds-barred mix of disgusting gags, tasteless jokes, and schadenfreude. If you can't forgive Cohen for carbon-copying his Borat (2006) formula, at least you can muster admiration for his ability to be an equal-opportunity offender (dinged: Arabs, Jews, African Americans, white Americans, women of all ethnicities, and green activists) and for that last-act zinger of a speech. If The Dictator doesn't quite reach Borat's hilarious heights, it's still proudly repulsive, smart in spite of itself, and guaranteed to get a rise out of anyone who watches it. (1:23) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
First Position Bess Kargman's documentary follows a handful of exceptional young ballet dancers, ranging in age from 10 to 17, over the course of a year as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, the world's largest ballet scholarship competition. Those who make it from the semifinals (in which some 5,000 dancers aged 9 to 19 perform in 15 cities around the world) to the finals (which bring some 300 contestants to New York City) compete for scholarships to prestigious ballet schools, dance-company contracts, and general notice by both the judges and the company directors in the audience. The film's subjects come from varied backgrounds 16-year-old Joan Sebastian lives and studies in NYC, far from his family in Colombia; 14-year-old Michaela was born in civil war-torn Sierra Leone and adopted from an orphanage by an American couple in Philadelphia; 11-year-old Aran, an American, lives in Italy with his mother while his father serves in Kuwait. The common threads in their stories are the daily sacrifices made by them as well as their families, whose energies and other resources are largely poured into these children's single-minded pursuit. We get a vague sense of the difficult world they are driving themselves, in nearly every waking hour, to enter. But the film largely keeps its focus on the challenges of preparing for the competition, offering us many magnificent shots of the dancers pushing their bodies to mesmerizing physical extremes both on- and offstage. (1:34) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Rapoport)
For Greater Glory (2:15) SF Center.
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) Lumiere. (Eddy)
Hide Away Josh Lucas plays a grieving man who buys a substantial sailboat sight unseen (note to self: never do that) and spends months restoring it from decrepitude to a thing of beauty. All while never leaving its Lake Michigan dock and for a while seeming hellbent on self-destruction via winter cold, alcohol, and cough syrup. Among those witnessing his solitary exile are Ayelet Zurer as a woman keeping an eye peeled from her shorefront diner; and James Cromwell as an old salt (he's actually billed as "The Ancient Mariner") prone to wearing a kilt, playing bagpipes, and spouting wise groaners like "Sometimes when you get to where you're s'posed to be, it's too soon." Peter Vanderwall's screenplay aims for artful minimalism, but still one might wish there were even less of it too much of the writing is psychologically undercooked, pretentious, silly, or incongruously over-garrulous. There are too many thankless moments of under-contextualized actor exertion, and narrative elements that do not reward when they need to. But if Smoke Signals (1998) director Chris Eyres' film is shaky as drama, it still provides aesthetic rewards as an exercise in melancholy poetics, especially via Eliot Davis' photography of the northern Michigan environ through several seasons, and the persistent keening emotion of Tony Morales and Edward Rogers' original soundtrack. (1:23) SF Film Society Cinema. (Harvey)
High School (1:40) Metreon.
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) 1000 Van Ness. (Rapoport)
Hysteria Tanya Wexler's period romantic comedy gleefully depicts the genesis of the world's most popular sex toy out of the inchoate murk of Victorian quackishness. In this dulcet version of events, real-life vibrator inventor Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a handsome young London doctor with such progressive convictions as a belief in the existence of germs. He is, however, a man of his times and thus swallows unblinking the umbrella diagnosis of women with symptoms like anxiety, frustration, and restlessness as victims of a plague-like uterine disorder known as hysteria. Landing a job in the high-end practice of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose clientele consists entirely of dissatisfied housewives seeking treatments of "medicinal massage" and subsequent "parosysm," Granville becomes acquainted with Dalrymple's two daughters, the decorous Emily (Felicity Jones) and the first-wave feminist Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal). A subsequent bout of RSI offers empirical evidence for the adage about necessity being the mother of invention, with the ever-underused Rupert Everett playing Edmund St. John-Smythe, Granville's aristocratic friend and partner in electrical engineering. (1:35) Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
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)
The Intouchables Cries of "racism" seem a bit out of hand when it comes to this likable albeit far-from-challenging French comedy loosely based on a real-life relationship between a wealthy white quadriplegic and his caretaker of color. The term "cliché" is more accurate. And where were these critics when 1989's Driving Miss Daisy and 2011's The Help movies that seem designed to make nostalgic honkies feel good about those fraught relationships skewed to their advantagewere coming down the pike? (It also might be more interesting to look at how these films about race always hinge on economies in which whites must pay blacks to interact with/educate/enlighten them.) In any case, Omar Sy, portraying Senegalese immigrant Driss, threatens to upset all those pundits' apple carts with his sheer life force, even when he's shaking solo on the dance floor to sounds as effortlessly unprovocative, and old-school, as Earth, Wind, and Fire. In fact, everything about The Intouchables is as old school as 1982's 48 Hrs., spinning off the still laugh-grabbing humor that comes with juxtaposing a hipper, more streetwise black guy with a hapless, moneyed chalky. The wheelchair-bound Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is more vulnerable than most, and he has a hard time getting along with any of his nurses, until he meets Driss, who only wants his signature for his social services papers. It's not long before the cultured, classical music-loving Philippe's defenses are broken down by Driss' flip, somewhat honest take on the follies and pretensions of high culture a bigger deal in France than in the new world, no doubt. Director-writer Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano aren't trying to innovate they seem more set on crafting an effervescent blockbuster that out-blockbusters Hollywood and the biggest compliment might be that the stateside remake is already rumored to be in the works. (1:52) Embarcadero. (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) Bridge. (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) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Men in Black III Why not? It's been ten years since Men in Black II (the one where Lara Flynn Boyle and Johnny Knoxville remember them? played the villains), Will Smith has barely aged, and he hasn't made a full-on comedy since, what, 2005's Hitch? Here, he does a variation on his always-agreeable exasperated-guy routine, clashing with his grim, gimlet-eyed partner Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones, and in a younger incarnation, a spot-on Josh Brolin) in a plot that involves a vicious alien named Boris (Flight of the Conchords' Jermaine Clement), time travel, Andy Warhol, the moon (as both space-exploration destination and modern-day space-jail location), and lines that only Smith's delivery can make funny ("This looks like it comes from planet damn.") It's cheerful (save a bit of melodrama at the end), crisply paced, and is neither a must-see masterpiece nor something you should mindfully sleep through if it pops up among your in-flight selections. Oh, and it's in 3D. Well, why not? (1:42) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Monsieur Lazhar When their beloved but troubled teacher hangs herself in the classroom not a thoughtful choice of location, but then we never really discover her motives traumatized Montreal sixth-graders get Bachir Lazhar (Fellag), a middle-aged Algerian émigré whose contrastingly rather strict, old-fashioned methods prove surprisingly useful at helping them past their trauma. He quickly becomes the crush object of studious Alice (Sophie Nelisse), whose single mother is a pilot too often away, while troublemaker Simon (Emilien Neron) acts out his own domestic and other issues at school. Lazhar has his own secrets as well for one thing, we see that he's still petitioning for permanent asylum in Canada, contradicting what he told the principal upon being hired and while his emotions are more tightly wrapped, circumstances will eventually force all truths out. This very likable drama about adults and children from Quebec writer-director Philippe Falardeau doesn't quite have the heft and resonance to rate among the truly great narrative films about education (like Laurent Cantet's recent French The Class). But it comes close enough, gracefully touching on numerous other issues while effectively keeping focus on how a good teacher can shape young lives in ways as incalculable as they are important. (1:34) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
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)
Piranha 3DD (1:23) 1000 Van Ness.
Polisse Comparisons to The Wire are not to be tossed around lightly, but when the Hollywood Reporter likened Polisse to an entire season of the masterpiece cop show packed into a single film, it was onto something. Director, co-writer, and star Maïwenn (the object of desire in 2003's High Tension) hung out with real officers serving in Paris' Child Protection Unit, drawing inspiration from their dealings with pedophiles, young rape victims, negligent mothers, pint-sized pickpockets, and the like (another TV show worth mentioning in comparison: Law & Order: SVU). But Polisse (the title is deliberately misspelled, as if by a child) is no simple procedural; it plunges the viewer directly into the day-to-day lives of its boisterous characters, who are juggling not just stressful careers but also plenty of after-hours troubles, particularly relationship issues. Between heart wrenching moments on the job (and off), the unit indulges in massive cut-loose episodes of what amounts to group therapy: charades, dance parties, and room-clearing arguments, most of which involve huge quantities of booze. Watching Polisse is a messy, emotional, rewarding experience; no wonder it picked up the Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. (2:07) Lumiere. (Eddy)
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)
What to Expect When You're Expecting You needn't direct what you know, but the first major misstep in this ensemble comedy was tapping a man, Kirk Jones (2005's Nanny McPhee), to helm. Apparently Nicole Holofcener, Nancy Meyers, and Nora Ephron were too busy busy making films not based on self-help bestsellers. Instead, What to Expect shows how marginal women can be to certain Hollywood blockbuster decision makers. On the surface, it's all about the gals and their experiences, as an array of women from somewhat different, if pretty uniformly bourgie, walks of life fitness star Cameron Diaz, baby store owner Elizabeth Banks, food truck chef Anna Kendrick, and trophy wife Brooklyn Decker all find themselves knocked up. The odd woman out, surprisingly, is the boho photog played by Jennifer Lopez, who aspires to nest with a baby adopted from Ethiopia. But despite the frantic efforts of Banks, who shoulders the comedy burden here with hormones gone wild and gassy, and the climax, which should choke up all present and wannabe moms, the women are consistently upstaged by the bros, primarily the "Dudes Group" of dads headed up by Chris Rock and Thomas Lennon. Unlike the far-too-prominent, shruggable storyline involving an expectant father and son (Dennis Quaid and Ben Falcone), that crew gets the funniest, and perhaps most perceptive lines, in a baldly patriarchal play to the fellows forced into the cineplexes. Can't the ladies catch a break, even as their waters are breaking? (1:50) Metreon. (Chun)