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.
Alps Yorgos Lanthimos is well on his way to a reputation for sick yet oddly charming high-concept spectacles. Here, a group calling themselves Alps offers substitution services for the recently bereaved that's right, they'll play your dead loved one to fill that hole in your life. Pitch-black comic moments abound, and the sensibility that made 2009's Dogtooth so thrilling is distinctly present here, if not quite as fresh. Beyond the absurd logline, the plot is rather more conventional: things get out of hand when Alps member Anna (Aggeliki Papoulia, the eldest daughter from Dogtooth) gets too invested in one of her assignments, and the power structure of Alps turns on her. If Alps is not exactly a revelation, it's still a promising entry in a quickly blossoming auteur's body of work. (1:33) Roxie. (Sam Stander)
The Apparition A couple with a ghost problem (Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan) hire Slytherin's own Tom Felton to help clean house. (1:22)
Compliance No film at this year's Sundance Film Festival encountered as much controversy as Craig Zobel's Compliance. At the first public screening, an all-out shouting match erupted, with an audience member yelling "Sundance can do better!" You can't buy that kind of publicity. Every screening (public and press) that followed was jam-packed with people hoping to experience the most shocking film at Sundance, and the film does not disappoint. (Beware: every review I have happened upon has unnecessarily spoiled major plots in the film, which is based on true events.) What is so impressive about Zobel's film is how it builds up a sense of ever-impending terror. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the film steps into Psycho (1960) terrain, specifically in the final act of the film. Compliance aims to confront a society filled with people who are trained to follow rules without questioning them. Magnolia Pictures, which previously collaborated with Zobel on his debut film Great World of Sound (which premiered at Sundance in 2007), picked up the film for theatrical release; if you dare to check it out, prepare to be traumatized. You'll be screaming about one of the most audacious movies of 2012 and that's exactly why the film is so brilliant. For an interview with Zobel, visit www.sfbg.com/pixel_vision. (1:30) Bridge, Shattuck. (Jesse Hawthorne Ficks)
Cosmopolis David Cronenberg directs Robert Pattinson in this Don DeLillo adaptation. (1:49) Embarcadero, Shattuck.
"Global Threats Film Series" The San Francisco Film Society's "Global Threats" series continues with a double dose of stuff that'll kill ya. Though separated by six decades, both features are remarkably similar for their matter-of-fact, location-shot, non-pulp treatment of a prime (if infrequently used) thriller topic: the desperate attempts by health officials to contain a deadly virus before it spreads to the whole population. While in some quarters it was criticized for being too docu-drama-esque and not "thriller" enough, Steven Soderbergh's Contagion last year was admirably cool-headed in its depiction of various global, national, and local authorities (played by an all-star cast) frantically coping with an outbreak of something that yuppie slut Gwyneth Paltrow brought home from a business trip. A year before A Streetcar Named Desire (which was, contrastingly, almost entirely shot on studio soundstages), Elia Kazan ventured to the real New Orleans for Panic in the Streets (1950), in which another traveler imports an actual plague to the Big Easy. US Public Health Service physician Richard Widmark is tasked with tracking down the rapidly growing number of the infected, which is complicated by the fact that several of them (including Jack Palance and Zero Mostel) are criminal-underground types naturally averse to cooperating with the cops or any other governmental representative. If Contagion irked some for being a little too nuts-and-bolts procedural, the brilliantly black-and-white-shot Panic excited audiences and critics at the time for its unusual realism. That extends to the warmly credible marital relationship between workaholic Widmark (very appealing in one of his few nice-guy leads) and neglected but understanding spouse Barbara Bel Geddes. SF Film Society Cinema. (Harvey)
Hermano As a child, Julio (Eliu Armas) discovered foundling Daniel (Fernando Moreno) abandoned in a dumpster; taken in by the former's mom (Marcela Giron), the two boys are raised as brothers. They're close as can be, even if Julio is physically slight, shy, and straight-arrow, while strapping Daniel is a born leader and survivor quite willing to cross the legal line when it serves his purposes. One area in which they're of the same mind is the soccer field, where both (especially Daniel) are talented players with hopes of going pro. But that seems a remote dream in their violence-ridden slum. Marcel Rasquin's Venezuelan sports-crime drama is built on some hoary clichés the "good" brother/"bad" brother dynamic, the tragedy that sparks revenge that sparks more tragedy, etc. but is so unpretentious, energetic, sincere. and well-cast that skeptical resistance is futile. It's a modest movie, but a true, satisfying pleasure. (1:37) Metreon. (Harvey)
Hit and Run Annie (Kristen Bell) has a Stanford doctorate but is treading in the academic backwaters until the prospect is raised of an ideal department-heading position at UCLA. She's thrilled, but also conflicted, because live-in beau Charlie (Dax Shepard) is in the Federal Witness Protection program, and can't leave the nowhere burg he lives in incognito particularly for Los Angeles without risking serious personal harm. However, for love he decides he'll risk everything so she can take the job. Unfortunately, this fast attracts the attention of various people very much interested in halting this exodus, for various reasons: notably Charlie's inept U.S. Marshall "protector" (Tom Arnold), Annie's psycho ex (Smallville's Michael Rosenbaum), and a guy with an even more serious grudge against Charlie (Bradley Cooper in a dreadlock wig). A whole lot of wacky chases and stunt driving ensues. The second feature Shepard's co-directed (with David Palmer) and written, this aims for a cross between 1970s drive-in demolition derbies (1977's Smokey and the Bandit, 1974's Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, etc.) and envelope-pushing comedy thrillers like 1993's True Romance. There's a lot of comic talent here, including some notable cameos, yet Hit and Run is one of those cases where the material is almost there, but not quite. It moves breezily enough but some of the characters are more annoying than funny; the dialogue is an awkward mix of bad taste and PC debates about bad taste; and some ideas that aim to be hilarious and subversive (naked old people, a long discussion about jailhouse rape) just sit there, painfully. Which makes this only the second-best Dax Shepard movie with incarceration rape jokes, after 2006's Let's Go to Prison. (1:38) (Harvey)
Premium Rush Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a New York City bike messenger who accidently runs (cycles?) afoul of some dirty cops. (1:31)
Robot and Frank Imagine the all-too-placid deadpan of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) coming out of a home-healthcare worker, and you get just part of the appeal of this very likable comedy debut with a nonrobotic pulse directed by Jake Schreier. Sometime in the indeterminate near future, former jewel thief and second-story man Frank (Frank Langella) can be found quietly deteriorating in his isolated home, increasingly forgettable and unable to care for himself and assemble a decent bowl of Cap'n Crunch (though he can still steal fancy soaps from the village boutique). In an effort to cover his own busy rear, Frank's distracted son (James Marsden) buys him a highly efficient robotic stand-in (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), much to his father's grim resistance ("That thing is going to murder me in my sleep") and the dismay of crunchy sibling Madison (Liv Tyler). The robot, however, is smarter than it looks, as it bargains with Frank to eat better, get healthier, and generally reanimate: it's willing to learn to pick locks, participate in a robbery, and even plan a jewel heist, provided, say, Frank agrees to a low-sodium diet. Frank flourishes, like the garden the robot nurtures in a vain attempt to interest his human charge, and even goes on a date with his librarian crush (Susan Sarandon), though can the self-indulgent idyll last forever? A tale about aging as much as it is about rediscovery, Robot tells an old story, but one that's wise beyond its years and willing to dress itself up in some of the smooth, sleek surfaces of an iGeneration. (1:30) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Chun)
Sinister A true-crime writer (Ethan Hawke) encounters a demon who looks an awful lot like a refugee from Norway's 1990 black metal scene. (1:50)
$upercapitalist Greed is good ... fodder for cinematic drama these days as all assembled struggle to get out from under the Great Recession and look to immerse themselves in the boardroom battlefields of films like 2011's Margin Call. Spinning off his time working for CNN in Hong Kong in the halcyon mid-'00s, lead actor, writer, and producer Derek Ting stars as a bright, eager-to-please hedge fund trader from New York, transplanted in the wild, wild East, and forced to learn a lesson about unchecked, profit-driven gamesmanship. In Hong Kong, Conner (Ting) only looks as Chinese as the rest otherwise he's American through and through. Unlike, say, the old-fashioned family-run corporation he's assigned to take down, Conner is estranged from his family and has few loyalties, apart from Quentin (Darren E. Scott), the fellow trader who shows him the ropes and gets him hooked on hand-tailored suits, flash cars, and attractive arm candy, and Natalie (Kathy Uyen), a publicist who's as brainy as she is beautiful. Unfortunately the game Conner's playing has real costs for the people around him and he finds himself questioning his loyalties. Ting and director Simon Yin have the makings of a compelling thriller nothing is more tempting than a peep behind the curtain of a closed world like Chinese big business and though the overall narrative pulls you in, they get tripped up on the details, namely easy clichés like $upercapitalist's pampered, playboy son of a business dynasty, or the rote devices like the middle-class family rigged to reveal that Conner does indeed have a soul. Much like their hero, Ting and company take a bit for granted, from the viewer's patience with tired Hollywood conventions to the very system capitalist, supercapitalist, or socialist market economy that supports them. (1:36) Opera Plaza. (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) Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (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. (Eddy)
The Awakening In 1921 England Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is a best-selling author who specializes in exposing the legions of phony spiritualists exploiting a nation still grieving for its World War I dead. She's rather rudely summoned to a country boys' boarding school by gruff instructor Robert (Dominic West), who would be delighted if she could disprove the presence of a ghost there preferably before it frightens more of his young charges to death. Borrowing tropes from the playbooks of recent Spanish and Japanese horror flicks, Nick Murphy's period thriller is handsome and atmospheric, but disappointing in a familiar way the buildup is effective enough, but it all unravels in pat logic and rote "Boo!" scares when the anticlimactic payoff finally arrives. The one interesting fillip is Florence's elaborate, antiquated, meticulously detailed arsenal of equipment and ruses designed to measure (or debunk) possibly supernatural phenomena. (1:47) Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
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) California, Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Beloved There is a touch of Busby Berkeley to the first five or so minutes of Christophe Honoré's Beloved a fetishy, mid-'60s-set montage in which a series of enviably dressed Parisian women stride purposefully in and out of a shoe shop, trying on an endless array of covetable pumps. As for the rest, it's a less delightful tale of two women, a mother and a daughter, and the unfathomable yet oft-repeated choices they make in their affairs of the heart. It helps very little that the mother is played by Ludivine Sagnier and then Catherine Deneuve whose handsome Czech lover (Rasha Bukvic) is somewhat unkindly but perhaps deservedly transformed by the years into Milos Forman or that the daughter, as an adult, is played by Deneuve's real-life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni. And it helps even less that the film is a musical, wherein one character or another occasionally takes the opportunity, during a moment of inexplicable emotional duress, to burst into song and let poorly written pop lyrics muddy the waters even further. The men are sexist cads, or children, or both, and if they're none of those, they're gay. The women find these attributes to be charming and irresistible. None of it feels like a romance for the ages, but nonetheless the movie arcs through four interminable decades. When tragedy strikes, it's almost a relief, until we realize that life goes on and so will the film. (2:15) Opera Plaza. (Rapoport)
Bernie Jack Black plays the titular new assistant funeral director liked by everybody in small-town Carthage, Tex. He works especially hard to ingratiate himself with shrewish local widow Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine), but there are benefits estranged from her own family, she not only accepts him as a friend (then companion, then servant, then as virtual "property"), but makes him her sole heir. Richard Linklater's latest is based on a true-crime story, although in execution it's as much a cheerful social satire as I Love You Philip Morris and The Informant! (both 2009), two other recent fact-based movies about likable felons. Black gets to sing (his character being a musical theater queen, among other things), while Linklater gets to affectionately mock a very different stratum of Lone Star State culture from the one he started out with in 1991's Slacker. There's a rich gallery of supporting characters, most played by little-known local actors or actual townspeople, with Matthew McConaughey's vainglorious county prosecutor one delectable exception. Bernie is its director's best in some time, not to mention a whole lot of fun. (1:39) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
The Bourne Legacy Settle down, Matt Damon fans the original Bourne appears in The Bourne Legacy only in dialogue ("Jason Bourne is in New York!") and photograph form. Stepping in as lead badass is Jeremy Renner, whose twin powers of strength and intelligence come courtesy of an experimental-drug program overseen by sinister government types (including Edward Norton in an utterly generic role) and administered by lab workers doing it "for the science!," according to Dr. Rachel Weisz. Legacy's timeline roughly matches up with the last Damon film, The Bourne Ultimatum, which came out five years ago and is referenced here like we're supposed to be on a first-name basis with its long-forgotten plot twists. Anyway, thanks to ol' Jason and a few other factors involving Albert Finney and YouTube, the drug program is shut down, and all guinea-pig agents and high-security-clearance doctors are offed. Except guess which two, who manage to flee across the globe to get more WMDs for Renner's DNA. Essentially one long chase scene, The Bourne Legacy spends way too much of its time either in Norton's "crisis suite," watching characters bark orders and stare at computer screens, or trying to explain the genetic tinkering that's made Renner a super-duper-superspy. Remember when Damon killed that guy with a rolled-up magazine in 2004's The Bourne Supremacy? Absolutely nothing so rad in this imagination-free enterprise. (2:15) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
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, Shattuck. (Eddy)
The Campaign (1:25) California, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Vogue.
Celeste and Jesse Forever Married your best friend, realized you love but can't be in love with each other, and don't want to let all those great in-jokes wither away? Such is the premise of Celeste and Jesse Forever, the latest in what a recent wave of meaty, girl-centric comedies penned by actresses here Rashida Jones working with real-life ex Will McCormack; there, Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks), Zoe Lister Jones (Lola Versus), and Lena Dunham (Girls) who have gone the DIY route and whipped up their own juicy roles. There's no mistaking theirs for your average big-screen rom-com: they dare to wallow harder, skew smarter, and in the case of Celeste, tackle the thorny, tough-to-resolve relationship dilemma that stubbornly refuses to conform to your copy-and-paste story arc. Nor do their female protagonists come off as uniformly likable: in this case, Celeste (Jones) is a bit of an aspiring LA powerbitch. Her Achilles heel is artist Jesse (Andy Samberg), the slacker high school sweetheart she wed and separated from because he doesn't share her goals (e.g., he doesn't have a car or a job). Yet the two continue to spend all their waking hours together and share an undeniable rapport, extending from Jesse's encampment in her backyard apartment to their jokey simulated coitus featuring phallic-shaped lip balm. Throwing a wrench in the works: the fact that they're still kind of in love with each other, which all their pals, like Jesse's pot-dealer bud Skillz (McCormack), can clearly see. It's an shaggy, everyday breakup yarn, writ glamorous by its appealing leads, that we too rarely witness, and barring the at-times nausea-inducing shaky-cam under the direction of Lee Toland Krieger, it's rendered compelling and at times very funny there's no neat and tidy way to say good-bye, and Jones and McCormack do their best to capture but not encapsulate the severance and inevitable healing process. It also helps that the chemistry practically vibrates between the boyish if somewhat one-note Samberg and the soulful Jones, who fully, intelligently rises to the occasion, bringing on the heartbreak. (1:31) Metreon, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
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) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (1:34) Metreon.
The Expendables 2 (1:43) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
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, Opera Plaza. (Rapoport)
Hope Springs Heading into her 32nd year of matrimony with aggressively oblivious Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), desperate housewife Kay (Meryl Streep) sets aside her entrenched passivity in a last-ditch effort to put flesh back on the skeleton of a marriage. Stumbling upon the guidance of one Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell) in the self-help section of a bookstore, Kay (barely) convinces Arnold to accompany her to a weeklong session at Feld's Center for Intensive Couples Counseling, in Hope Springs, Maine. The scenes from a marriage leading up to their departure, as well as the incremental advances and crippling setbacks of their therapeutic sojourn, are poignant and distressing and possibly familiar. Some slow drift, long ago set in motion, though we don't know by what, has settled them in concrete in their separate routines and bedrooms. It's the kind of thing that, if it were happening in real life say, to you might make you weep. But somehow, through the magic of cinema and the uncomfortable power of witnessing frankly depicted failures of intimacy, we laugh. This is by no means a wackiness-ensues sort of sexual comedy, though. Director David Frankel (2006's The Devil Wears Prada and, unfortunately, 2008's Marley & Me) and Jones and Streep, through the finely detailed particularities of their performances, won't let it be, while Carell resists playing the therapeutic scenes for more than the gentlest pulses of humor. More often, his empathetic silences and carefully timed queries provide a place for these two unhappy, inarticulate, isolated people to fall and fumble and eventually make contact. (1:40) Four Star, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
Ice Age: Continental Drift (1:27) Metreon.
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 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. (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) Lumiere, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Love in the City By 1953 Italian cinema had begun to export bombshells (Silvana Mangano from 1949's Bitter Rice, then Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida); soon would come the sword and sandal epics and international coproductions that would make Rome a crazy hive of commercial filmmaking. Neorealism was on its way out, but as a brand it still had familiarity and a certain market appeal. Ergo a "second generation" of directors were introduced via Love in the City (1953), a recently restored six-part omnibus feature opening for a week at the San Francisco Film Society Cinema. It isn't a great film so much as a great curio, and a crystal ball forecasting where the local industry would be head for the next 20 years or more. Little of that was immediately apparent, but just months later Federico Fellini (the sole director here who'd already made several well-received features) would cause a sensation with La Strada (1954). The others, including Michelangelo Antonioni, would eventually follow with breakthroughs of their own. The two surviving today are still active in fact Francesco Maselli and Carlo Lizzani just contriburted to a new omnibus feature last year. (1:45) SF Film Society Cinema. (Harvey)
Moonrise Kingdom Does Wes Anderson's new film mark a live-action return to form after 2007's disappointingly wan Darjeeling Limited? More or less. Does it tick all the Andersonian style and content boxes? Indubitably. In the most obvious deviation Anderson has taken with Moonrise, he gives us his first period piece, a romance set in 1965 on a fictional island off the New England coast. After a chance encounter at a church play, pre-teen Khaki Scout Sam (newcomer Jared Gilman) instantly falls for the raven-suited, sable-haired Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward, ditto). The two become pen pals, and quickly bond over the shared misery of being misunderstood by both authority figures and fellow kids. The bespectacled Sam is an orphan, ostracized by his foster parents and scout troop (much to the dismay of its straight-arrow leader Edward Norton). Suzy despises her clueless attorney parents, played with gusto by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand in some of the film's funniest and best scenes. When the two kids run off together, the whole thing begins to resemble a kind of tween version of Godard's 1965 lovers-on the-lam fantasia Pierrot le Fou. But like most of Anderson's stuff, it has a gauzy sentimentality more akin to Truffaut than Godard. Imagine if the sequence in 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums where Margot and Richie run away to the Museum of Natural History had been given the feature treatment: it's a simple yet inspired idea, and it becomes a charming little tale of the perils of growing up and selling out the fantasy. But it doesn't feel remotely risky. It's simply too damn tame. (1:37) Four Star, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Michelle Devereaux)
The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2:05) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center.
Painted Skin: The Resurrection A sort-of sequel to 2008's Painted Skin (which one need not have seen to enjoy Resurrection), this lavish fantasy stars two of China's most glamorous leading ladies and follows the adventures of fox demon Xiaowei (Xun Zhou), who can become human only if someone voluntarily offers up his or her heart (as in, the actual blood-pumping muscle). Though she's been rampaging cross-country trying to find a suitable man-donor, she spots a likelier candidate in Princess Jing (Vicki Zhao), who wears a delicate gold mask to conceal her scarred face. Jing has fled her royal duties to confront her true love, General Huo (Chen Kun), who is a generally nice guy and most excellent archer, but not a huge fan of the messed-up face. But wait! Supernaturally pretty Xiaowei has just the solution, and it definitely involves swapping bodies (and all-important internal organs). But Huo is secondary here. Less a love story than the tale of a toxic friendship, Resurrection adds levity with a subplot about a demon hunter (William Feng) who falls for Xiaowei's bird-demon sidekick (Mini Yang), and has plenty of over-the-top flair, with abundantly obvious CG and Kris Phillips' campy performance as an evil wizard. It was a huge hit in China but will probably only reach a small audience here, so don't miss your chance. (2:11) Metreon. (Eddy)
ParaNorman (1:32) Balboa, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio.
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) Lumiere, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
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) California, Four Star, Piedmont. (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)
Sparkle What started as a vehicle for American Idol's Jordin Sparks will now forever be known as Whitney Houston's Last Movie, with the fallen superstar playing a mother of three embittered by her experiences in the music biz. Her voice is hoarse, her face is puffy, and her big singing moment ("His Eye Is on the Sparrow" in a church scene) is poorly lip-synced but dammit, she's Whitney Houston, and she has more soul than everything else in Sparkle combined and squared. The tale of an aspiring girl group in late-60s Detroit, Sparkle's other notable points include flawless period outfits, hair, and make-up (especially the eyeliner), but the rest of the film is a pretty blah mix of melodrama and clichés: the sexpot older sister (Carmen Ejogo) marries the abusive guy and immediately starts snorting coke; the squeaky-clean youngest (Sparks, sweet but boring) is one of those only-in-the-movie songwriters who crafts intricate pop masterpieces from her diary scribblings. As far as Idol success stories go, Dreamgirls (2006) this ain't; Houston fans would do better to revisit The Bodyguard (1992) and remember the diva in her prime. (1:56) Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
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. (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) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, 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. (Eddy)
2 Days in New York Messy, attention-hungry, random, sweet, pathetic, and even adorable such is the latest dispatch from Julie Delpy, here with her follow-up to 2007's 2 Days in Paris. It's also further proof that the rom-com as a genre can yet be saved by women who start with the autobiographical and spin off from there. Now separated from 2 Days in Paris's Jake and raising their son, artist Marion is happily cohabiting with boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock), a radio host and sometime colleague at the Village Voice, and his daughter, while juggling her big, bouncing bundle of neuroses. Exacerbating her issues: a visit by her father Jeannot (Delpy's real father Albert Delpy), who eschews baths and tries to smuggle an unseemly selection of sausages and cheeses into the country; her provocative sister Rose (Alexia Landeau), who's given to nipple slips in yoga class and Marion and Mingus' apartment; and Rose's boyfriend Manu (Alexandre Nahon), who's trouble all around. The gang's in NYC for Marion's one-woman show, in which she hopes to auction off her soul to the highest, and hopefully most benevolent, bidder. Rock, of course, brings the wisecracks to this charming, shambolic urban chamber comedy, as well as, surprisingly, a dose of gravitas, as Marion's aggrieved squeeze he's uncertain whether these home invaders are intentionally racist, cultural clueless, or simply bonkers but he's far too polite to blurt out those familiar Rock truths. The key, however, is Delpy part Woody Allen, if the Woodman were a maturing, ever-metamorphosing French beauty and part unique creature of her own making, given to questioning her identity, ideas of life and death, and the existence of the soul. 2 Days in New York is just a sliver of life, but buoyed by Delpy's thoughtful, lightly madcap spirit. You're drawn in, wanting to see what happens next after the days are done. (1:31) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Chun)