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.
The Amazing Spider-Man Spidey returns in a post-Raimi reboot. (Opens Tue/3.) (2:18)
Beyond the Black Rainbow Sci-fi in feel and striking look even though it's set in the past (1983, with a flashback to 1966), Canadian writer-director Cosmatos' first feature defies any precise categorization — let alone attempts to make sense of its plot (such as there is). Arboria is a corporate "commune"-slash laboratory where customers are promised what everyone wants — happiness — even as "the world is in chaos." Just how that is achieved, via chemicals or whatnot, goes unexplained. In any case, the process certainly doesn't seem to be working on Elena (Eva Allan), a near-catatonic young woman who seems to be the prisoner as much as the patient of sinister Dr. Nyle (Michael Rogers). The barely-there narrative is so enigmatic at Arboria that when the film finally breaks out into the external world and briefly becomes a slasher flick, you can only shrug — if it had suddenly become a musical, that would have been just as (il-)logical. Black Rainbow is sure to frustrate some viewers, but it is visually arresting, and some with a taste for ambiguous, metaphysical inner-space sci-fi à la Solaris (1972) have found it mesmerizing and profound. As they are wont to remind us, half of its original audience found 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey boring, pointless and walk out-worthy, too. (1:50) Roxie. (Harvey)
The Connection The first re-release in a project to restore all of quintessential 1960s American independent director Shirley Clarke's features, this 1961 vérité-style drama was adapted from a controversial off-Broadway play by Jack Gelber. Set exclusively in a dingy Greenwich Village crash pad, it captures a little time in the lives of several junkies there — many off-duty jazz musicians — listlessly waiting for the return of their dealer, Cowboy. To mimic the stage version's breaking of the fourth wall between actors and spectators, Clarke added the device of two fictive filmmakers who are trying to record this "shocking" junkie scene, yet grow frustrated at their subjects' levels of cooperation and resistance. With actors often speaking directly to the camera, and all polished stage language and acting preserved, The Connection offers a curious, artificial realm that is nonetheless finally quite effective and striking. A prize-winner at Cannes, it nonetheless had a very hard time getting around the censors and into theaters back home. Hard-won achievement followed by frustration would be a frequent occurrence for the late Clarke, who would only complete one more feature (a documentary about Ornette Coleman) after 1964's Cool World and 1967's Portrait of Jason, before her 1997 demise. She was a pioneering female indie director — and her difficulty finding projects unfortunately also set a mold for many talented women to come. (1:50) Roxie. (Harvey)
Corpo Celeste A 13-year-old girl comes of age in Italy's deeply Catholic Calabrian region. (1:40) SF Film Society Cinema.
Magic Mike A movie about male strippers with an unlikely director (Steven Soderbergh) and a predictably abs-tastic cast: Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, and Joe Manganiello. (1:50)
People Like Us The opening song — James Gang's can't-fail "Funk #49" — only partially announces where this earnest family drama is going. Haunted by a deceased music-producer patriarch, barely sketched-out tales of his misadventures, and a soundtrack of solid AOR, this film has mixed feelings about its boomer bloodlines, much like the recent Peace, Love and Misunderstanding: these boomer-ambivalent films are the inverse of celebratory sites like Dads Are the Original Hipsters. Commodity-bartering wheeler-dealer Sam (Chris Pine) is skating on the edges of legality — and wallowing in his own kind of Type-A prickishness — so when his music biz dad passes, he tries to lie his way out of flying back home to see his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer), with his decent law student girlfriend (Olivia Wilde). He doesn't want to face the memories of his self-absorbed absentee-artist dad, but he also doesn't want to deal with certain legal action back home, so when his father's old lawyer friend drops a battered bag of cash on him, along with a note to give it to a young boy (Michael Hall D'Addario) and his mother Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), he's beset with conflict. Should he take the money and run away from his troubles or uncover the mysterious loved ones his father left behind? Director and co-writer Alexa Kurtzman mostly wrote for TV before this, his debut feature, and in many ways People Like Us resembles the tidy, well-meaning dramas about responsibility and personal growth one might still find on, say, Lifetime. It's also tough to swallow Banks, as gifted as she is as an actress, as an addiction-scarred, traumatized single mom in combat boots. At the same time People Like Us isn't without its charms, drawing you into its small, specific dramas with real-as-TV touches and the faintest sexy whiff of rock 'n' roll. (1:55) Shattuck. (Chun)
Pink Ribbons, Inc. This enraging yet very entertaining documentary by Canadian Léa Pool, who's better known for her fiction features (1986's Anne Trister, etc.), takes an excoriating look at "breast cancer culture" — in particular the huge industry of charitable events whose funds raised often do very little to fight the cease, and whose corporate sponsors in more than a few cases actually manufacture carcinogenic products. It's called "cause marketing," the tactic of using alleged do gooderism to sell products to consumers who then feel good about themselves purchasing them. Even if said product and manufacturer is frequently doing less than jack-all to "fight for the cure." The entertainment value here is in seeing the ludicrous range to which this hucksterism has been applied, selling everything from lingerie and makeup to wine and guns; meanwhile the march, walk, and "fun run" for breast cancer has extended to activities as extreme (and pricey) as sky-diving. Pool lets her experts and survivors critique misleading the official language of cancer, the vast sums raised that wind up funding very little prevention or cure research (as opposed to, say, lucrative new pharmaceuticals with only slight benefits), and the products shilled that themselves may well cause cancer. It's a shocking picture of the dirt hidden behind "pink-washing," whose siren call nonetheless continues to draw thousands and thousands of exuberant women to events each year. They're always so happy to be doing something for the sisterhood's good — although you might be doing something better (if a little painful) by dragging friends inclined toward such deeds to see this film, and in the future question more closely just whether the charity they sweat for is actually all that charitable, or is instead selling "comforting lies." (1:38) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Ted Here's that crass comedy about a talking teddy bear from Seth MacFarlane you didn't ask for. (1:46) California.
To Rome with Love See "Midnight in Woodyland." (1:52) Albany, Embarcadero.
Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection Pretty sure Madea has made more movies than James Bond at this point. (1:54)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Are mash-ups really so 2001? Not according to the literary world, where writer Seth Graham-Smith has been doing brisk trade in gore-washing perfectly interesting historical figures and decent works of literature — a fan fiction-rooted strategy that now reeks of a kind of camp cynicism when it comes to a terminally distracted, screen-aholic generation. Still, I was strangely excited by the cinematic kitsch possibilities of Graham-Smith's Lincoln alternative history-cum-fantasy, here in the hands of Timur Bekmambetov (2004's Night Watch). Historians, prepare to fume — it helps if you let go of everything you know about reality: as Vampire Hunter opens, young Lincoln learns some harsh lessons about racial injustice, witnessing the effects of slavery and the mistreatment of his black friend Will. As a certain poetic turn would have it, slave owners here are invariably vampires or in cahoots with the undead, as is the wicked figure, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), who beats both boys and sucks Lincoln's father dry financially. In between studying to be a lawyer and courting Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the adult Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) vows to take revenge on the man who caused the death of his mother and enters the tutelage of vampire hunter Henry (Dominic Cooper), who puts Abe's mad skills with an ax to good use. Toss in a twist or two; more than few freehand, somewhat humorous rewrites of history (yes, we all wish we could have tweaked the facts to have a black man working by Lincoln's side to abolish slavery); and Bekmambetov's tendency to direct action with the freewheeling, spectacle-first audacity of a Hong Kong martial arts filmmaker (complete with at least one gaping continuity flaw) — and you have a somewhat amusing, one-joke, B-movie exercise that probably would have made a better short or Grindhouse-esque trailer than a full-length feature — something the makers of the upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should bear in mind. (1:45) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
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) Lumiere, Smith Rafael. (Rapoport)
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) Balboa, Embarcadero, Shattuck, SF Center, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (1:42) Albany, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki.
Brave Pixar's latest is a surprisingly familiar fairy tale. Scottish princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) would rather ride her horse and shoot arrows than become engaged, but it's Aladdin-style law that she must marry the eldest son of one of three local clans. (Each boy is so exaggeratedly unappealing that her reluctance seems less tomboy rebellion than common sense.) Her mother (Emma Thompson) is displeased; when they quarrel, Merida decides to change her fate (Little Mermaid-style) by visiting the local spell-caster (a gentle, absent-minded soul that Ursula the Sea Witch would eat for brunch). Naturally, the spell goes awry, but only the youngest of movie viewers will fear that Merida and her mother won't be able to make things right by the end. Girl power is great, but so are suspense and originality. How, exactly, is Brave different than a zillion other Disney movies about spunky princesses? Well, Merida's fiery explosion of red curls, so detailed it must have had its own full-time team of animators working on it, is pretty fantastic. (1:33) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (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)
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) Metreon, Shattuck. (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 cast. (1:49) Lumiere. (Chun)
Found Memories The literal Portuguese-to-English translation of this film's title — "stories that exist only when remembered" — is clunky, but more poignantly accurate than Found Memories. At first, it's not entirely clear if Brazilian Júlia Murat is making a narrative or a documentary. In an tiny, isolated community populated by elderly people, Madalena (Sonia Guedes) follows a schedule she's kept for years, probably decades: making bread, attending church, doing chores, tending the cemetery gates, writing love letters to a long-absent partner ("Isn't it strange that after all these years, I still find your things around the house?"), and grousing at the "annoying old man" who grinds the town's coffee beans. One day, young photographer Rita (Lisa Fávero) drifts into the village, an exotic import from the outside, modern world. Slowly, despite their differences, the women become friends. That's about it for plot, but as this deliberately-paced film reflects on aging, dying, and memories (particularly in the form of photographs), it offers atmospheric food for thought, and a few moments of droll humor. Note, however, that viewer patience is a requirement to reap its rewards. (1:38) SF Film Society Cinema. (Eddy)
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)
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) Opera Plaza. (Rapoport)
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 advantage—were 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)
The Invisible War Kirby Dick's searing documentary takes a look at the prevalence of rape within U.S. military ranks, a problem whose unbelievably high levels of occurrence would long ago have caused huge public outcry and imposed reform in any other institutional context. Yet because it's the military — where certain codes of loyalty, machismo, and insularity dominate from the grunt level to the highest ranks — the issue has not only been effectively kept secret, but perpetrators almost never suffer any disciplinary measures, let alone jail time or dishonorable discharges. Meanwhile the women — some studies estimate 20% of all female personnel (and 1% of the men) suffer sexual assault from colleagues — are further traumatized by an atmosphere that creates ideal conditions for stalking, rape, and "blame the victim" aftermaths from superiors. (Indeed, for many the superior to whom they would have reported an attack was the one who attacked them.) Most end up quitting promising service careers (often pursued because of generations of family enlistment), dealing with the serious mental health consequences on their own. The subjects who've come forward on the issue here are inspiring in their bravery, and dedication to a patriotic cause and vocation that ultimately, bitterly betrayed them. Their stories are so engrossing that The Invisible War is as compulsively watchable as its topic and statistics are inherently appalling. (1:39) Metreon. (Harvey)
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)
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (1:33) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
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. (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, Shattuck. (Eddy)
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) California, Metreon, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Michelle Devereaux)
Oslo, August 31st Heroin movies are rarely much fun, and Oslo is no exception, though here the stress lies not in grisly realism but visceral emotional honesty. Following an abortive, Virginia Woolf-esque suicide attempt during evening leave from his rehab center, recovering addict Anders visits Oslo for a job interview. He reconnects bittersweetly with an old friend, tries and fails to meet up with his sister, and eventually submerges himself in the nightlife that once fueled his self-destruction. Expressionistic editing conveys Anders' sense of detachment and urge for release, with scenes and sounds intercut achronologically and striking sound design which homes in on stray conversations. A late intellectual milieu is signified throughout, quite humorously, by serious discussions of popular television dramas, presumably an update of similar concerns addressed in Pierre Drieu La Rochelle's 1931 novel Le Feu follet, on which the film is based. (1:35) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Sam Stander)
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) Smith Rafael. (Chun)
Prometheus Ridley Scott's return to outer space — after an extended stay in Russell Crowe-landia — is most welcome. Some may complain Prometheus too closely resembles Scott's Alien (1979), for which it serves as a prequel of sorts. Prometheus also resembles, among others, The Thing (1982), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Event Horizon (1997). But I love those movies (yes, even Event Horizon), and I am totally fine with the guy who made Alien borrowing from all of them and making the classiest, most gorgeous sci-fi B-movie in years. Sure, some of the science is wonky, and the themes of faith and creation can get a bit woo-woo, but Prometheus is deep-space discombobulation at its finest, with only a miscast Logan Marshall-Green (apparently, cocky dude-bros are still in effect at the turn of the next millennium) marring an otherwise killer cast: Noomi Rapace as a dreamy (yet awesomely tough) scientist; Idris Elba as Prometheus' wisecracking captain; Charlize Theron as the Weyland Corportation's icy overseer; and Michael Fassbender, giving his finest performance to date as the ship's Lawrence of Arabia-obsessed android. (2:03) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Rock of Ages (2:03) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki.
Safety Not Guaranteed San Francisco-born director Colin Trevorrow's narrative debut feature Safety Not Guaranteed, written by Derek Connolly, has an improbable setup: not that rural loner Kenneth (Mark Duplass) would place a personal ad for a time travel partner ("Must bring own weapons"), but that a Seattle alt-weekly magazine would pay expenses for a vainglorious staff reporter (Jake Johnson, hilarious) and two interns (Aubrey Plaza, Karan Soni) to stalk him for a fluff feature over the course of several days. The publishing budget allowing that today is true science-fiction. But never mind. Inserting herself "undercover" when a direct approach fails, Plaza's slightly goth college grad finds she actually likes obsessive, paranoid weirdo Kenneth, and is intrigued by his seemingly insane but dead serious mission. For most of its length Safety falls safely into the category of off-center indie comedics, delivering various loopy and crass behavior with a practiced deadpan, providing just enough character depth to achieve eventual poignancy. Then it takes a major leap — one it would be criminal to spoil, but which turns an admirable little movie into something conceptually surprising, reckless, and rather exhilarating. (1:34) Metreon, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World A first directorial feature for Lorene Scafaria, who'd previously written Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008) — another movie dubiously convinced that sharing its Desert Island Discs equals soulfulness — Seeking is an earnest stab at something different that isn't different enough. Really, the film isn't anything enough — funny, pointed, insightful, surprising, whatever. Lars von Trier's Melancholia (2011), for all its faults, ended the world with a bang. This is the whimper version. An asteroid is heading smack toward Earth; we are fucked. News of this certainty prompts the wife of insurance company rep Dodge Peterson (Steve Carell) to walk out — suggesting that with just days left in our collective existence, she would rather spend that time with somebody, anybody, else. When vandals force Dodge to flee his apartment building, he teams up with "flaky, irresponsible" neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) for a tepid road-trip dramedy. Carell's usual nuanced underplaying has no context to play within — Dodge is a loser because he's ... what? Too nice? His character's angst attributable to almost nothing, Carell has little to play here but the same put-upon nice guy he's already done and done again. So he surrenders the movie to Knightley, who exercises rote "quirky girl" mannerisms to an obsessive-compulsive degree, her eyes alone overacting so hard it's like they're doing hot yoga on amphetamines. It's an empty, showy performance whose neurotically artificial character one can only imagine a naturally reserved man like Dodge would flee from. That we're supposed to believe otherwise stunts Scafaria's parting exhale of pure girly romanticism — admirable for its wish-fulfillment sweetness, lamentable for the extent that good actors in two-dimensional roles can't turn passionate language into emotion we believe in. (1:41) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
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, Shattuck. (Rapoport)
That's My Boy (1:55) SF Center.
Ultrasonic Is it madness to imagine a stylish new twist on the claustrophobic conspiracy thriller? Multi-hyphenate director, co-writer, and cinematographer (and musician and software engineer) Rohit Colin Rao manages just that with this head-turning indie feature film debut, while managing to translate a stark indie aesthetic encapsulated by Dischord and Touch and Go bands, lovers of Rust Belt warehouses and waffle houses, culture vultures who revere both Don DeLillo and Wisconsin Death Trip, and critics who lean too hard on the descriptor "angular." Musician Simon York (Silas Gordon Brigham) is one denizen firmly placed in that cultural landscape, but the pressures of funding his combo's album, coping with the diminishing returns of his music teacher livelihood, and anticipating the arrival of a baby with his wife, Ruth (Cate Buscher), seem to be piling on his murky brow. Simon begins to hear a hard-to-pin-down sound that no one else can detect, though Ruth's eccentric and possibly certified conspiracy-theorist brother Jonas (Sam Repshas) is quick to affirm — and build on — his fears. Painting his handsome, stylized mise-en-scène in noiry blacks and wintry whites, Rohit positively revels in this post-punk jewel of a world he's assembled, and it's a compelling one even if it's far from perfect and ultimately shies away from the deepest shadows. (1:30) Roxie. (Chun)
Your Sister's Sister The new movie from Lynn Shelton — who directed star and (fellow mumblecore director) Mark Duplass in her shaggily amusing Humpday (2009) — opens somberly, at a Seattle wake where his Jack makes his deceased brother's friends uncomfortable by pointing out that the do-gooder guy they'd loved just the last couple years was a bully and jerk for many years before his reformation. This outburst prompts an offer from friend-slash-mutual-crush Iris (Emily Blunt) that he get his head together for a few days at her family's empty vacation house on a nearby island. Arriving via ferry and bike, he is disconcerted to find someone already in residence — Iris' sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who's grieving a loss of her own (she's split with her girlfriend). Several tequila shots later, two Kinsey-scale opposites meet, which creates complications when Iris turns up the next day. A bit slight in immediate retrospect and contrived in its wrap-up, Shelton's film is nonetheless insinuating, likable, and a little touching while you're watching it. That's largely thanks to the actors' appeal — especially Duplass, who fills in a blunderingly lucky (and unlucky) character's many blanks with lived-in understatement. (1:30) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)