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 Bourne Legacy Jeremy Renner steps into Matt Damon's super-spy shoes to play a Jason Bourne-esque international man of ass-kicking mystery. (2:15) Balboa. Presidio.
The Campaign A smug incumbent (Will Ferrell) and a naïve newcomer (Zach Galifianakis) battle over a North Carolina congressional seat. (1:25) Presidio, California, Vogue.
Celeste and Jesse Forever Indie dramedy about a couple (Andy Samberg and co-writer Rashida Jones) who try to stay friends despite their impending divorce. (1:31) Metreon, Sundance Kabuki.
Easy Money A title like that is bound to disprove itself, and it doesn't take long to figure out that the only payday the lead characters are going to get in this hit 2010 Swedish thriller (from Jens Lapidus' novel) is the kind measured in bloody catastrophe. Chilean Jorge (Matias Padin Varela), just escaped from prison, returns to Stockholm seeking one last big drug deal before he splits for good; JW (Joel Kinnaman from AMC series The Killing) is a economics student-slash-cabbie desperate for the serious cash needed to support his double life as a pseudo-swell running with the city's rich young turks. At first reluctantly thrown together, they become friends working for JW's taxi boss — or to be more specific, for that boss' cocaine smuggling side business. Their competitors are a Serbian gang whose veteran enforcer Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) is put in the awkward position of caring for his eight-year-old daughter (by a drug addicted ex-wife) just as "war" heats up between the two factions. But then everyone here has loved ones they want to protect from an escalating cycle of attacks and reprisals from which none are immune. Duly presented here by Martin Scorsese, Daniel Espinosa's film has the hurtling pace, engrossing characters and complicated (sometimes confusing) plot mechanics of some good movies by that guy, like Casino (1995) or The Departed (2006). Wildly original it's not, but this crackling good genre entertainment that make you cautiously look forward to its sequel — which is just about to open in Sweden. (1:59) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Hope Springs A married couple (Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones) turn to a counselor (Steve Carell) to help salvage their relationship. (1:40) Four Star, Marina, Piedmont, Shattuck.
Moth Diaries See "Fangs, But No Fangs." (1:22) SF Film Society Cinema.
Nitro Circus the Movie 3D The daredevil "action sports collective" hits the big screen with ridiculous stunts aimed at delighting Jackass and X Games fans. (1:28)
Nuit #1 Montreal director-writer Anne Émond bares more than her actor's beautiful bodies: she's eager to uncover their tenderized souls: hurt, unsavory, vulnerable, terrified, nihilistic, compulsive, and desperate. Nikolai (Dimitri Stroroge) and Clara (Catherine de Lean) are just two kids on the crowded dance floor, jumping up and down in slow motion to the tune of a torch song; before long, they're in Nikolai's shabby apartment, tearing off their clothes and making love as if their lives depended on it. But when Nikolai, laid out on his mattress on the floor like a grunge Jesus with a bad haircut, catches Clara sneaking out without saying good-bye, he sits her down for an earful of his reality. She returns the favor, revealing an unexpected double life, and the two embark on a psycho-tango that takes all night. It can seem like a long one to those impatient with the young, beautiful, and possibly damned's doubts and self-flagellation, though Émond's artful, coolly empathetic eye takes the proceedings to a higher level. She's attempting to craft a simultaneously romantic and raw-boned song of self for a generation. (1:31) Elmwood, Lumiere. (Chun)
360 A massive ensemble sprinkled with big-name stars, a sprawling yet interconnected story, and locations as far-flung as Phoenix and Bratislava: 360 is not achieving anything new with its structure (see also: 2011's Contagion, 2006's Babel, and so on). And some pieces of its sectioned-off narrative are less successful than others, as with the exploits of a posh, unfaithful duo played by Rachel Weisz (re-teaming with her Constant Gardener director Fernando Meirelles) and Jude Law. Fortunately, screenwriter Peter Morgan (2006's The Queen) finds some drama (and a lot of melancholy) in less-familiar relationship scenarios. An airport interlude that interweaves a grieving father (Anthony Hopkins), a newly single Brazilian (Maria Flor), and a maybe-rehabilitated sex offender (Ben Foster) is riveting, as are the unexpectedly sweet and sour endpoints of tales spiraling off a Russian couple (Dinara Drukarova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov) who've drifted apart. (1:51) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Unforgiveable See "When in Venice." (1:52) Opera Plaza, Shattuck.
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, Smith Rafael, 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, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
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) Roxie. (Harvey)
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)
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 (1:34) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio.
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)
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)
Ice Age: Continental Drift (1:27) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
The Imposter A family tragedy, an international thriller, a Southern-fried mystery, and a true story: The Imposter is all of these things. This unique documentary reveals the tale of Frédéric Bourdin, dubbed "the Chameleon" for his epic false-identity habit. His ballsiest accomplishment was also his most heinous con: in 1997, he claimed to be Nicholas Barclay, a San Antonio teen missing since 1994. Amazingly, the impersonation worked for a time, though Bourdin (early 20s, brown-eyed, speaks English with a French accent) hardly resembled Nicholas (who would have been 16, and had blue eyes). Using interviews — with Nicholas' shell-shocked family, government types who unwittingly aided the charade, and Bourdin himself — and ingenious re-enactments that borrow more from crime dramas than America's Most Wanted, director Bart Layton weaves a multi-layered chronicle of one man's unbelievable deception. (1:39) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Eddy)
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) Clay. (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. (Eddy)
Killer Joe William Friedkin made two enormously popular movies that have defined his career (1971's The French Connection and 1973's The Exorcist), but his resumé also contains an array of lesser films that are both hit-and-miss in critical and popular appeal. Most have their defenders. After a couple biggish action movies, it seemed a step down for him to be doing Bug in 2006; though it had its limits as a psychological quasi-horror, you could feel the cracking recognition of like minds between cast, director, and playwright Tracy Letts. Letts and Friedkin are back in Killer Joe, which was a significant off-Broadway success in 1998. In the short, violent, and bracing film version, Friedkin gets the ghoulish jet-black-comedic tone just right, and his actors let themselves get pushed way out on a limb to their great benefit — including Matthew McConaughey, playing the title character, who's hired by the Smith clan of Texas to bump off a troublesome family member. Needless to say, almost nothing goes as planned, escalating mayhem to new heights of trailer-trash Grand Guignol. Things get fugly to the point where Killer Joe becomes one of those movies whose various abuses are shocking enough to court charges of gratuitous violence and misogyny; unlike the 2010 Killer Inside Me, for instance, it can't really be justified as a commentary upon those very entertainment staples. (Letts is highly skilled, but those looking for a message here will have to think one up for themselves.) Still, Friedkin and his cast do such good work that Killer Joe's grimly humorous satisfaction in its worst possible scenarios seems quite enough. (1:43) Embarcadero. (Harvey)
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)
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) 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) California, Four Star, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (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)
Red Lights Skeptics and budding myth busters, get ready. Maybe. Director-writer Rodrigo Cortés blends the stuff of thrillers and horror in this slippery take on psychics and their debunkers. Psychologist Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her weirdly loyal assistant Tom (Cillian Murphy) investigate paranormal phenomena — faith healers, trance mediums, ghost hunters, and psychics — in order to peer behind the curtain and expose all Ozs great and small. Spoon-bending blind ESP master Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) is their biggest prize: he's come out of retirement after the death of his most dogged critic. Has Silver learned to kill with his mind? And can we expect a brain-blowing finale on the same level as The Fury (1978)? Despite all the high-powered acting talent in the room, Red Lights never quite convinces us of the urgency of its mission — it's hard to swallow that the debunking of paranormal phenomenon rates as international news in an online-driven 24/7 multiniched news cycle — and feels like a curious '70s throwback with its Three Days of the Condor-style investigative nail-biter arc, while supplying little of the visceral, camp showman panache of a De Palma. (1:53) (1:53) Metreon. (Chun)
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, Piedmont, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
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. (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) SF Center. (Chun)
Searching for Sugar Man The tale of the lost, and increasingly found, artist known as Rodriguez seems to have it all: the mystery and drama of myth, beginning with the singer-songwriter's stunning 1970 debut, Cold Fact, a neglected folk rock-psychedelic masterwork. (The record never sold in the states, but somehow became a beloved, canonical LP in South Africa.) The story goes on to parse the cold, hard facts of vanished hopes and unpaid royalties, all too familiar in pop tragedies. In Searching for Sugar Man, Swedish documentarian Malik Bendjelloul lays out the ballad of Rodriguez as a rock'n'roll detective story, with two South African music lovers in hot pursuit of the elusive musician — long-rumored to have died onstage by either self-immolation or gunshot, and whose music spoke to a generation of white activists struggling to overturn apartheid. By the time Rodriguez himself enters the narrative, the film has taken on a fairy-tale trajectory; the end result speaks volumes about the power and longevity of great songwriting. (1:25) Embarcadero. (Chun)
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. (Rapoport)
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, 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, Opera Plaza, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Total Recall Already the source material for Paul Verhoeven's campy, quotable 1990 film (starring the campy, quotable Arnold Schwarzenegger), Philip K. Dick's short story gets a Hollywood do-over, with meh results. The story, anyway, is a fine nugget of sci-fi paranoia: to escape his unsatisfying life, Quaid (Colin Farrell) visits a company capable of implanting exciting memories into his brain. When he chooses the "secret agent" option, it's soon revealed he actually does have secret agent-type memories, suppressed via brain-fuckery by sinister government forces (led by Bryan Cranston) keeping him in the dark about his true identity. Shit immediately gets crazy, with high-flying chases and secret codes and fight scenes all over the place. The woman Quaid thinks is his wife (Kate Beckinsale) is actually a slithery killer; the woman he's been seeing in his dreams (Jessica Biel) turns out to be his comrade in a secret rebel movement. Len Wiseman (writer and sometimes director of the Underworld films) lenses futuristic urban grime with a certain sleek panache, and Farrell is appealing enough to make highly generic hero Quaid someone worth rooting for — until the movie ends, and the entire enterprise (save perhaps the tri-boobed hooker, a holdover from the original) becomes instantly forgettable, no amnesia trickery required. (1:58) California, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Eddy)
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) 1000 Van Ness, 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)