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 Babymakers The Babymakers would be better titled The Anxiety-Wracked Sperminators. Longtime couple Audrey (Olivia Munn) and Tommy (Paul Schneider) have it all good looks, smart mouths, crazy-cute chemistry except the requisite rug rats. Despite Tommy's trepidation, they try and try and try, only to discover, after much tortuous testing of the neurotic would-be baby daddy, that the man has been shooting sleepy and unmotivated seed. Fortunately, Tommy sold a batch of the still-vital stuff to a local sperm bank in order to buy Audrey's ring five years ago. So swallowing the shame of purchasing nuptial bling with said whack-off money, Tommy and his gang (Kevin Heffernan, Wood Harris, and Nat Faxon) enlist the help of Indian mobster Ron Jon (director Jay Chandrasekhar, channeling Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights) embark on likely the first sperm bank break-in in cinematic history. With Chandrasekhar (2005's The Dukes of Hazzard) in the director's seat, the overall effect is that of a slightly ham-fisted indie striving for sitcom-like appeal its easy laughs fall slightly short of cheap-date status, and the narrative contortions The Babymakers undergoes to achieve its tidy wrap-up undercut the revelry. Too bad for its attractive leads: the bright and beautiful Munn has been languishing in second-banana parts for too long, and the woefully neglected Schneider has a talent for bringing an angry edge-slash-intensity to every role. (1:38) (Chun)
Bill W. Even longtime AA members are unlikely to know half the organizational history revealed in this straightforward, chronological, fast-moving portrait of its late founder. Bill Wilson was a bright, personable aspiring businessman whose career was nonetheless perpetually upset by addiction to the alcohol that eased his social awkwardness but brought its own worse troubles. During one mid-1930s sanitarium visit, attempting to dry out, he experienced a spiritual awakening. From that moment slowly grew the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous, which he shaped with the help of several other recovering drunks, and saw become a national movement after a 1941 Saturday Evening Post article introduced it to the general public. Wilson had always hoped the "leaderless" organization would soon find its own feet and leave him to build a separate, sober new career. But gaining that distance was difficult; attempts to find other "cures" for his recurrent depression (including LSD therapy) laid him open to internal AA criticism; and he was never comfortable on the pedestal that grateful members insisted he stay on as the organization's founder. Admittedly, he appointed himself its primary public spokesman, which rendered his own hopes for privacy somewhat self-canceling though fortunately it also provides this documentary with plenty of extant lecture and interview material. He was a complicated man whose complicated life often butted against the role of savior, despite his endless dedication and generosity toward others in need. That thread of conflict makes for a movie that's compelling beyond the light it sheds on an institution as impactful on individual lives and society as any other to emerge from 20th-century America. (1:43) Elmwood, Roxie. (Harvey)
Crazy and Thief Former S.F. resident Cory McAbee of the Billy Nayer Show, as well as cult film faves The American Astronaut (2001) and Stingray Sam (2009), returns for one night only in this multimedia event under the umbrella of his new enterprise "Captain Ahab's Motorcycle Club." The Vogue Theatre event will offer music and conversation after a screening of McAbee's latest. Crazy and Thief stars his children, two-year-old Johnny and slightly senior Willa, in a 52-minute adventure that has them following a "star map" all by themselves around Brooklyn, then journeying out to the country via train. En route they improvise nonsense songs, cross paths with strange adults suspicious and helpful, ride a Mickey Mouse hobby horse, and so forth. A color effort that's sort of an elaborate home movie compared to the director's fancifully comic, black and white prior films, it nonetheless gets pretty far on the cuteness of toddlers and a soundtrack of original songs that find McAbee rocking like a five-year-old might something that's also pretty cute. (:52) Vogue. (Harvey)
The Devil, Probably This seldom-revived 1977 feature from late French master Robert Bresson was his penultimate as well as most explicitly political work. Newspaper clips at the start betray where these 95 minutes will be heading: they introduce Parisian Charles (Antoine Monnier) as a casualty, a suicide at age 20. The reasons for that act are probed in the succeeding flashback, as we observe his last days drifting between friends and lovers, quitting student activist groups, and generally expressing his disillusionment with everything from politics to religion to human interaction. Then 70, Bresson expresses his own disenchantment in solidarity with the youthful characters by including documentary shots of pollution, clubbed baby seals, A-bomb explosions, and other dire signs of "an Earth that is ever more populated and ever less habitable." That essential message makes The Devil, Probably more relevant than ever, but unfortunately it's also one of the filmmaker's driest, most didactic exercises. There are a few odd, almost farcical moments (as when the constant pondering of man's fate extends to a spontaneous philosophical debate between passengers on a public bus), but the characters are too obviously mouthpieces with no inner lives of their own. In particular, Charles remains an unengaging blank in Monnier's performance, which is all too faithful to the director's usual call for "automatic," uninflected line readings from his nonprofessional cast. Nothing Bresson did is without interest, but here his detached technique drains nearly all emotional impact from a film ostensibly about profound despair. (1:35) SF Film Society Cinema. (Harvey)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days The titular hero (Zachary Gordon) returns in the third family comedy adapted from Jeff Kinney's YA novels. (1:34) Presidio.
Girlfriend Boyfriend The onscreen title of this Taiwanese import is Gf*Bf, but don't let the text-speak fool you: the bulk of the film is set in the 1980s and 90s, long before smart phones were around to complicate relationships. And the trio at the heart of Girlfriend Boyfriend is complicated enough as it is: sassy Mabel (Gwei Lun-Mei) openly pines for brooding Liam (Joseph Chang), who secretly pines for rebellious Aaron (Rhydian Vaughan), who chases Mabel until she gives in; as things often go in stories like this, nobody gets the happy ending they desire. Set against the backdrop of Taiwan's student movement, this vibrant drama believably tracks its leads as they mature from impulsive youths to bitter adults who never let go of their deep bond despite all the misery it causes, and a last-act turn into melodrama that's hinted at by the film's frame story featuring an older Liam and a pair of, um, sassy and rebellious twin girls he's been raising as his own. (1:45) Metreon. (Eddy)
The Imposter See "Foolin'." (1:39) Lumiere, Shattuck.
Killer Joe See "The Friedkin Connection." (1:43) Embarcadero.
Klown A spinoff from a long-running Danish TV show, with the same director (Mikkel Nørgaard) and co-writer/stars, this bad-taste comedy might duly prove hard to beat as "the funniest movie of the year" (a claim its advertising already boasts). Socially hapless Frank (Frank Hvam) discovers his live-in girlfriend Mia (Mia Lyhne) is pregnant, but she quite reasonably worries "you don't have enough potential as a father." To prove otherwise, he basically kidnaps 12-year-old nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) and drags him along on a canoe trip with best friend Casper (Casper Christensen). Trouble is, Casper has already proclaimed this trip will be a "Tour de Pussy," in which they or at least he will seize any and every opportunity to cheat on their unknowing spouses. Ergo, there's an almost immediate clash between awkward attempts at quasi-parental bonding and activities most unsuited for juvenile eyes. Accusations of rape and pedophilia, some bad advice involving "pearl necklaces," an upscale one-night-only bordello, reckless child endangerment, encouragement of teenage drinking, the consequences of tactical "man flirting," and much more ensue. Make no mistake, Klown one-ups the Judd Apatow school of raunch (at least for the moment), but it's good-natured enough to avoid any aura of crass Adam Sandler-type bottom-feeding. It's also frequently, blissfully, very, very funny. (1:28) Roxie. (Harvey)
Searching for Sugar Man See "The Comeback King." (1:25) Embarcadero.
Total Recall Frankly, the 1990 Verhoeven-Schwarzenegger version didn't need remaking, but Len Wiseman (of Underworld series fame) and star Colin Farrell are here with a new take on Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" anyway. (1:58) California, Presidio.
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) SF Center. (Chun)
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Unstoppable force meets immovable object and indeed gets stopped in Alison Klayman's documentary about China's most famous contemporary artist. A larger than life figure, Ai Weiwei's bohemian rebel persona was honed during a long (1981-93) stint in the U.S., where he fit right into Manhattan's avant-garde and gallery scenes. Returning to China when his father's health went south, he continued to push the envelope with projects in various media, including architecture he's best known today for the 2008 Beijing Olympics' "Bird's Nest" stadium design. But despite the official approval implicit in such high-profile gigs, his incessant, obdurate criticism of China's political repressive politics and censorship a massive installation exposing the government-suppressed names of children killed by collapsing, poorly-built schools during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake being one prominent example has tread dangerous ground. This scattershot but nonetheless absorbing portrait stretches its view to encompass the point at which the subject's luck ran out: when the film was already in post-production, he was arrested, then held for two months without official charge before he was accused of alleged tax evasion. (He is now free, albeit barred from leaving China, and "suspected" of additional crimes including pornography and bigamy.) (1:31) Lumiere, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
The Amazing Spider-Man A mere five years after Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man 3 forgettable on its own, sure, but 2002's Spider-Man and especially 2004's Spider-Man 2 still hold up Marvel's angsty web-slinger returns to the big screen, hoping to make its box-office mark before The Dark Knight Rises opens in a few weeks. Director Marc Webb (2009's 500 Days of Summer) and likable stars Andrew Garfield (as the skateboard-toting hero) and Emma Stone (as his high-school squeeze) offer a competent reboot, but there's no shaking the feeling that we've seen this movie before, with its familiar origin story and with-great-power themes. A little creativity, and I don't mean in the special effects department, might've gone a long way to make moviegoers forget this Spidey do-over is, essentially, little more than a soulless cash grab. Not helping matters: the villain (Rhys Ifans as the Lizard) is a snooze. (2:18) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Beasts of the Southern Wild Six months after winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance (and a Cannes Camera d'Or), Beasts of the Southern Wild proves capable of enduring a second or third viewing with its originality and strangeness fully intact. Magical realism is a primarily literary device that isn't attempted very often in U.S. cinema, and succeeds very rarely. But this intersection between Faulkner and fairy tale, a fable about improbably Hurricane Katrina, is mysterious and unruly and enchanting. Benh Zeitlin's film is wildly cinematic from the outset, as voiceover narration from six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) offers simple commentary on her rather fantastical life. She abides in the Bathtub, an imaginary chunk of bayou country south of New Orleans whose residents live closer to nature, amid the detritus of civilization. Seemingly everything is some alchemical combination of scrap heap, flesh, and soil. But not all is well: when "the storm" floods the land, the holdouts are forced at federal gunpoint to evacuate. With its elements of magic, mythological exodus, and evolutionary biology, Beasts goes way out on a conceptual limb; you could argue it achieves many (if not more) of the same goals Terrence Malick's 2011 The Tree of Life did at a fraction of that film's cost and length. (1:31) Bridge, California, Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
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) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (1:42) Opera Plaza, Shattuck.
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) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Dark Horse You can look at filmmaker Todd Solondz's work and find it brilliant, savage, and challenging; or show-offy, contrived, and fraudulent. The circles of interpersonal (especially familial) hell he describes are simultaneously brutal, banal, and baroque. But what probably distresses people most is that they're also funny raising the issue of whether he trivializes trauma for the sake of cheap shock-value yuks, or if black comedy is just another valid way of facing the unbearable. Dark Horse is disturbing because it's such a slight, inconsequential, even soft movie by his standards; this time, the sharp edges seem glibly cynical, and the sum ordinary enough to no longer seem unmistakably his. Abe (Jordan Gelber) is an obnoxious jerk of about 35 who still lives with his parents (Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken) and works at dad's office, likely because no one else would employ him. But Abe doesn't exactly see himself as a loser. He resents and blames others for being winners, which is different he sees the inequality as their fault. Dark Horse is less of an ensemble piece than most of Solondz's films, and in hinging on Abe, it diminishes his usual ambivalence toward flawed humanity. Abe has no redemptive qualities he's just an annoyance, one whose mental health issues aren't clarified enough to induce sympathy. (1:25) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
The Dark Knight Rises Early reviews that called out The Dark Knight Rises' flaws were greeted with the kind of vicious rage that only anonymous internet commentators can dish out. And maybe this is yet another critic-proof movie, albeit not one based on a best-selling YA book series. Of course, it is based on a comic book, though Christopher Nolan's sophisticated filmmaking and Christian Bale's tortured lead performance tend to make that easy to forget. In this third and "final" installment in Nolan's trilogy, Bruce Wayne has gone into seclusion, skulking around his mansion and bemoaning his broken body and shattered reputation. He's lured back into the Batcave after a series of unfortunate events, during which The Dark Knight Rises takes some jabs at contemporary class warfare (with problematic mixed results), introduces a villain with pecs of steel and an at-times distractingly muffled voice (Tom Hardy), and unveils a potentially dangerous device that produces sustainable energy (paging Tony Stark). Make no mistake: this is an exciting, appropriately moody conclusion to a superior superhero series, with some nice turns by supporting players Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But in trying to cram in so many characters and plot threads and themes (so many prisons in this thing, literal and figural), The Dark Knight Rises is ultimately done in by its sprawl. Without a focal point like Heath Ledger's menacing, iconic Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight the stakes aren't as high, and the end result feels more like a superior summer blockbuster than one for the ages. (2:44) Balboa, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Farewell, My Queen (Benoît Jacquot, France, 2012) Opening early on the morning of July 14, 1789, Farewell, My Queen depicts four days at the Palace of Versailles on the eve of the French Revolution, as witnessed by a young woman named Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) who serves as reader to Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger). Sidonie displays a singular and romantic devotion to the queen, while the latter's loyalties are split between a heedless amour propre and her grand passion for the Duchess de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). These domestic matters and other regal whims loom large in the tiny galaxy of the queen's retinue, so that while elsewhere in the palace, in shadowy, candle-lit corridors, courtiers and their servants mingle to exchange news, rumor, panicky theories, and evacuation plans, in the queen's quarters the task of embroidering a dahlia for a projected gown at times overshadows the storming of the Bastille and the much larger catastrophe on the horizon. (1:39) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Rapoport)
Ice Age: Continental Drift (1:27) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
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) Clay, Piedmont, Shattuck. (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) Four Star, Opera Plaza. (Eddy)
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (1:33) SF Center.
Magic Mike Director Steven Soderbergh pays homage to the 1970s with the opening shot of his male stripper opus: the boxy old Warner Bros. logo, which evokes the gritty, sexualized days of Burt Reynolds and Joe Namath posing in pantyhose. Was that really the last time women, en masse, were welcome to ogle to their heart's content? That might be the case considering the outburst of applause when a nude Channing Tatum rises after a hard night in a threesome in Magic Mike's first five minutes. Ever the savvy film historian, Soderbergh toys with the conventions of the era, from the grimy quasi-redneck realism of vintage Reynolds movies to the hidebound framework of the period's gay porn, almost for his own amusement, though the viewer might be initially confused about exactly what year they're in. Veteran star stripper Mike (Tatum) is working construction, stripping to the approval of many raucous ladies and their stuffable dollar bills. He decides to take college-dropout blank-slate hottie Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing and ropes him into the strip club, owned by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, whose formidable abs look waxily preserved) and show him the ropes of stripping and having a good time, much to the disapproval of Adam's more straight-laced sister Brooke (Cody Horn). Really, though, all Mike wants to do is become a furniture designer. Boasting Foreigner's "Feels like the First Time" as its theme of sorts and spot-on, hot choreography by Alison Faulk (who's worked with Madonna and Britney Spears), Magic Mike takes off and can't help but please the crowd when it turns to the stage. Unfortunately the chemistry-free budding romance between Mike and Brooke sucks the air out of the proceedings every time it comes into view, which is way too often. (1:50) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (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) Balboa, California, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Presidio, SF Center. (Michelle Devereaux)
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. (Eddy)
The Queen of Versailles Lauren Greenfield's obscenely entertaining The Queen of Versailles takes a long, turbulent look at the lifestyles lived by David and Jackie Siegel. He is the 70-something undisputed king of timeshares; she is his 40-something (third) wife, a former beauty queen with the requisite blonde locks and major rack, both probably not entirely Mother Nature-made. He's so compulsive that he's never saved, instead plowing every buck back into the business. When the recession hits, that means this billionaire is in ready-cash as opposed to paper terms suddenly sorta kinda broke, just as an enormous Las Vegas project is opening and the family's stupefyingly large new "home" (yep, modeled after Versailles) is mid-construction. Plugs must be pulled, corners cut. Never having had to, the Siegels discover (once most of the servants have been let go) they have no idea how to run a household. Worse, they discover that in adversity they have a very hard time pulling together in particular, David is revealed as a remote, cold, obsessively all-business person who has no use for getting or giving "emotional support;" not even for being a husband or father, much. What ultimately makes Queen poignantly more than a reality-TV style peek at the garishly wealthy is that Jackie, despite her incredibly vulgar veneer (she's like a Jennifer Coolidge character, forever squeezed into loud animal prints), is at heart just a nice girl from hicksville who really, really wants to make this family work. (1:40) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Romantics Anonymous An awkward, bumbling Parisian chocolatier named Jean-Rene (Benoît Poelvoorde) falls for his gorgeous, equally awkward sales rep, Angélique (Isabelle Carré), while never missing an opportunity to say the wrong thing, surrender to shyness, or panic under pressure. It's crucial for films involving such protracted awkwardness to give the audience something to cling to emotionally, but instead we're handed a limp, formulaic story, sorely underdeveloped characters, and lazy writing in which the protagonists act uncharacteristically stupid/gullible/oblivious for the sake of plot-expedience. Amélie (2001) mined similar thematic territory, but its success lay in the depth of its characters; Romantics Anonymous is about little more than the idea of two hopeless romantics, and that's simply not enough to hold interest. It's beautifully scored, lovingly shot, and steeped in vintage French atmosphere but that doesn't compensate for sketchy characterization and weak, predictable storytelling. (1:20) Roxie. (Taylor Kaplan)
Ruby Sparks Meta has rarely skewed as appealingly as with this indie rom-com spinning off a writerly version of the Pygmalion and Galatea tale, as penned by the object-of-desire herself: Zoe Kazan. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris helm this heady fantasy about a crumpled, geeky novelist, Calvin (Paul Dano), who's suffering from the sophomore slump he can't seem to break his rock-solid writers block and pen a follow-up to his hit debut. He's a victim of his own success, especially when he finally begins to write, about a dream girl, a fun-loving, redheaded artist named Ruby (scriptwriter Kazan), who one day actually materializes. When he types that she speaks nothing but French, out comes a stream of the so-called language of diplomacy. Calvin soon discovers the limits and dangers of creation say, the hazards of tweaking a manifestation when she doesn't do what you desire, and the question of what to do when one's baby Frankenstein grows bored and restless in the narrow circle of her creator's imagination. Kazan and Dayton and Faris go to the absurd, even frightening, limits of the age-old Pygmalion conceit, giving it a feminist charge, while helped along by a cornucopia of colorful cameos by actors like Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas as Calvin's boho mom and her furniture-building boyfriend. Dano is as adorably befuddled as ever and adds the crucial texture of every-guy reality, though ultimately this is Kazan's show, whether she's testing the boundaries of a genuinely codependent relationship or tugging at the puppeteer's strings. (1:44) Metreon, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Sacrifice Power-mad General Tu'an (Wang Xueqi) engineers the slaughter of the entire Zhao clan including the newborn son who's the last of the line. But the baby's been swapped with the child of the doctor, Cheng Ying (Ge You), who delivered him, and the deception train pretty much goes off the rails after that. Suffice to say the Zhao heir survives while Cheng Ying's wife and infant do not, and Tu'an is none the wiser. Revenge seems the only logical move, so Cheng Ying patiently waits years for the boy to grow up and learn martial arts from Tu'an, plotting that he'll reveal the truth when the (kinda bratty) child becomes capable of killing his beloved "godfather" a.k.a. the guy who massacred his family (and the family of his adoptive father). If that sounds complicated, know that this epic from Chen Kaige (1993's Farewell My Concubine) has over two hours to get through all those plot mechanics. Also, it's gorgeously shot, mixing the classy trappings of a big-budget historical melodrama with thunderous battles and scenes of brutal violence. (2:10) Four Star, SF Film Society Cinema. (Eddy)
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) SF Center, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Savages If it's true, as some say, that Oliver Stone had lost his way after 9/11 when seemingly many of his worst fears (and conspiracy theories) came to pass then perhaps this toothy noir marks his return: it definitely reads as his most emotionally present exercise in years. Not quite as nihilistic as 1994's Natural Born Killers, yet much juicier than 2010's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, this pulpy effort turns on a cultural clash between pleasure-seeking, honky Cali hedonists, who appear to believe in whatever feels good, and double-dealing Mexican mafia muscle, whose apparently ironclad moral code is also shifting like drifting SoCal sands. All are draped in the Stone's favored vernacular of manly war games with a light veneer of Buddhistic higher-mindedness and, natch, at least one notable wig. Happy pot-growing nouveau-hippies Ben (Aaron Johnson), Chon (Taylor Kitsch), and O (Blake Lively) are living the good life beachside, cultivating plants coaxed from seeds hand-imported by seething Afghanistan war vet Chon and refined by botanist and business major Ben. Pretty, privileged sex toy O sleeps with both she's the key prize targeted by Baja drug mogul Elena (Salma Hayek) and her minions, the scary Lado (Benicio Del Toro) and the more well-heeled Alex (Demian Bichir), who want to get a piece of Ben and Chon's high-THC product. The twists and turnarounds obviously tickle Stone, though don't look much deeper than Savages' saturated, sun-swathed façade the script based on Don Winslow's novel shares the take-no-prisoners hardboiled bent of Jim Thompson while sidestepping the brainy, postmodernish light-hearted detachment of Quentin Tarantino's "extreme" '90s shenanigans. (1:57) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Chun)
Shit Year Santa Cruz artist Cam Archer's 2006 debut feature Wild Tigers I Have Known was a texturally gorgeous but content-lite exercise that often seemed like an extended audition for the role of Next Gus Van Sant. (The real one was, in fact, its executive producer.) This sophomore effort strikes pretty much the same (im-) balance. Colleen West (Ellen Barkin) is a famous, now middle-aged actress who decides to retire why, we don't know, particularly since she only seems more brittle, dissatisfied, and hollow upon retreating to an isolated home in a woodsy area. (She doesn't even seem to like nature.) There, she tolerates a sorta-friendship with an irritatingly chirpy neighbor (Melora Walters), endures a visit by the irritatingly uncomplicated, stable brother she was never close to (Rick Einstein), and recalls an unfulfilling affair with her much younger co-star in a play (Luke Grimes). She also imagines (?) appointments with a terse interrogator (Theresa Randle) offering some sort of futuristic experience-simulation service in an eerie all-white environ. While one questions whether there actually was one, per se, Archer's fragmentary script alternates these flashbacks, surreal interludes, and present-tense expressions of existential ennui ("I'm surrounded by a world of nothing," Colleen moans) into pretty formations. The film's B&W photography (by Aaron Platt), editing, production design, musical choices, etc. are all impeccably mannered. But our protagonist's bored self-absorbsion and self-pity, lacking any backgrounding psychology, is ultimately as vacuous a dead-end as it is when Vincent Gallo is baring his soul. Having a bitchy, platinum-haired Barkin do the job for Archer makes the effect a little campier, but no more resonant. That said, this movie would probably seem brilliant if watched on quaaludes. (1:35) Roxie. (Harvey)
Step Up Revolution The Step Up franchise makes a play for the Occupy brand, setting up its fourth installment's Miami street crew, the Mob, as the warrior dance champions of the 99 percent here represented by a vibrant lower-income neighborhood slated for redevelopment. Embodying the one percent is a hotel-chain mogul named Bill Anderson (Peter Gallagher), armed with a wrecking ball and sowing the seeds of a soulless luxury monoculture. Our hero, Mob leader Sean (Ryan Guzman), and heroine, Anderson progeny and aspiring professional dancer Emily (Kathryn McCormick), meet beachside; engage in a sandy, awkward interlude of grinding possibly meant to showcase their dance skills; and proceed to spark a romance and a revolution that feel equally fake (brace yourself for the climactic corporate tie-in). The Mob's periodic choreographed invasions of the city's public and private spaces are the movie's sole source of oxygen. The dialogue, variously mumbled and slurred and possibly read off cue cards, drifts aimlessly from tepid to trite as the protagonists attempt to demonstrate sexual chemistry by breathily trading off phrases like "What we do is dangerous!" and "Enough with performance art it's time to make protest art!" Occasionally you may remember that you have 3D glasses on your face and wonder why, but the larger philosophical question (if one may speak of philosophy in relation to the dance-movie genre) concerns the Step Up films' embrace of postproduction sleights of hand that distance viewers from whatever astonishing feats of physicality are actually being achieved in front of the camera. (1:20) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck. (Rapoport)
Take this Waltz Confined to the hothouse months of a summer in Toronto, Take This Waltz is a steamy, sad takedown of (rather than a take on) the romantic comedy. That's only because it's very romantic and very funny, often at once, but otherwise the film has nothing in common with its generic sistren. It's a feel-good movie for the cynics, directed by actor turned director Sarah Polley (2007's Away From Her). Margot (Michelle Williams) is a writer married to Lou (Seth Rogen), who is sweet and caring and cooks chicken for a living. Both are in their late 20s, and they are obviously each others' first loves. It is a love like that of children: idealistic and blooming, but they never have a serious conversation. Enter neighbor Daniel (Luke Kirby) a conventionally sexier man than Lou, more swarthy and sweaty. Soon, Margot is conflicted and confused, torturing herself with some heavy emotional gymnastics and flip-flopping. Williams is always good at using her face to convey feeling. In one of two scenes of the film set on a Scrambler carnival ride, the entire arc of Margot registers on her facial gestures, from scared to elated to uncertain as the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" surrounds her. Margot may be indecisive, but she is never docile about her desires. She does, inevitably, make a decision and there is eventual closure, unlike most everything else out there in the indie ether. (1:56) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Ryan Lattanzio)
Ted Ah, boys and their toys and the imaginary friends that mirror back a forever-after land of perpetual Peter Pans. That's the crux of the surprisingly smart, hilarious Ted, aimed at an audience comprising a wide range of classes, races, and cultures with its mix of South Park go-there yuks and rom-commie coming-of-age sentiment. Look at Ted as a pop-culture-obsessed nerd tweak on dream critter-spirit animal buddy efforts from Harvey (1950) to Donnie Darko (2001) to TV's Wilfred. Of course, we all know that the really untamable creature here wobbles around on two legs, laden with big-time baggage about growing up and moving on from childhood loves. Young John doesn't have many friends but he is fortunate enough to have his Christmas wish come true: his beloved new teddy bear, Ted (voice by director-writer Seth MacFarlane), begins to talk back and comes to life. With that miracle, too, comes Ted's marginal existence as a D-list celebrity curiosity still, he's the loyal "Thunder Buddy" that's always there for the now-grown John (Mark Wahlberg), ready with a bong and a broheim-y breed of empathy that involves too much TV, an obsession with bad B-movies, and mock fisticuffs, just the thing when storms move in and mundane reality rolls through. With his tendency to spew whatever profanity-laced thought comes into his head and his talents are a ladies' bear, Ted is the id of a best friend that enables all of John's most memorable, un-PC, Hangover-style shenanigans. Alas, John's cool girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) threatens that tidy fantasy setup with her perfectly reasonable relationship demands. Juggling scary emotions and material that seems so specific that it can't help but charm you've got to love a shot-by-shot re-creation of a key Flash Gordon scene MacFarlane sails over any resistance you, Lori, or your superego might harbor about this scenario with the ease of a man fully in touch with his inner Ted. (1:46) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
To Rome with Love Woody Allen's film legacy is not like anybody else's. At present, however, he suffers from a sense that he's been too prolific for too long. It's been nearly two decades since a new Woody Allen was any kind of "event," and the 19 features since Bullets Over Broadway (1994) have been hit and-miss. Still, there's the hope that Allen is still capable of really surprising us or that his audience might, as they did by somewhat inexplicably going nuts for 2011's Midnight in Paris. It was Allen's most popular film in eons, if not ever, probably helped by the fact that he wasn't in it. Unfortunately, he's up there again in the new To Rome With Love, familiar mannerisms not hiding the fact that Woody Allen the Nebbish has become just another Grumpy Old Man. There's a doddering quality that isn't intended, and is no longer within his control. But then To Rome With Love is a doddering picture a postcard-pretty set of pictures with little more than "Have a nice day" scribbled on the back in script terms. Viewers expecting more of the travelogue pleasantness of Midnight in Paris may be forgiving, especially since it looks like a vacation, with Darius Khondji's photography laying on the golden Italian light and making all the other colors confectionary as well. But if Paris at least had the kernel of a good idea, Rome has only several inexplicably bad ones; it's a quartet of interwoven stories that have no substance, point, credibility, or even endearing wackiness. The shiny package can only distract so much from the fact that there's absolutely nothing inside. (1:52) Albany, Lumiere, Marina, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
The Watch Directed by Lonely Island member Akiva Schaffer (famed for Saturday Night Live's popular digital shorts, including "Dick in a Box"), The Watch is, appropriately enough, probably the most dick-focused alien-invasion movie of all time. When a security guard is mangled to death at Costco, store manager and uber-suburbanite Evan (Ben Stiller, doing a damn good Steve Carell impersonation) organizes a posse to keep an eye on the neighborhood despite the fact that the other members (Vince Vaughn as the overprotective dad with the bitchin' man cave; Jonah Hill as the creepy wannabe cop; and British comedian Richard Ayoade as the sweet pervert) would much rather drink beers and bro down. Much bumbling ensues, along with a thrown-together plot about unfriendly E.T.s. The Watch offers some laughs (yes, dick jokes are occasionally funny) but overall feels like a pretty minor effort considering its big-name cast. (1:38) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center. (Eddy)
The Well-Diggers Daughter Daniel Auteuil owes a debt of gratitude to Marcel Pagnol, courtesy of his breakthrough roles in the 1980s remakes of the writer and filmmaker's Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring. He returns the favor with his debut directorial work, reworking the 1940s film and crafting a loving, old-school tribute to Pagnol. The world is poised on the edge of World War I; Auteuil plays salt-of-the-earth Pascal Amoretti. The poor widower does the town's dirty work (oh, the dangerous symbolism of hole-digging) and cares for his six daughters his favorite, the eldest and the most beautiful, Patricia (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), has caught the eye of his assistant, Felipe (Kad Merad). The happy home and tidy arrangement is shattered, however, when Patricia meets an inconveniently dashing pilot Jacques Mazel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who sweeps her away, in the worst way possible for a girl of her day. "You've sinned, and I thought you were an angel," says the stunned father when he hears his beloved offspring is pregnant. "Angels don't live on earth," she responds. "I'm like any other girl." Faced with the inevitable, Auteuil and company shine a sweet but, importantly, not saccharine light one that's as golden warm as the celebrated sunshine of rural Provence on the proceedings. And equipped with Pagnol's eloquent prose, as channeled through his love of the working folk, he restores this tale's gently throwback emotional power, making it moving once more for an audience worlds away. (1:45) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Chun)