Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.
The Iceman See "Assassination Character" at www.sfbg.com. (1:46) Embarcadero, Shattuck.
Midnight's Children Deepa Mehta (2005's Water) directs and co-adapts with Salman Rushdie the author's Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel, which mixes history (India's 1947 independence, and the subsequent division of India and Pakistan) with magical elements — suggested from its fairy-tale-esque first lines: "I was born in the city of Bombay, once upon a time." This droll voice-over (read by Rushdie) comes courtesy of Saleem Sinai, born to a poor street musician and his wife (who dies in childbirth; dad is actually an advantage-taking Brit played by Charles "Tywin Lannister" Dance) but switched (for vaguely revolutionary reasons) with Shiva, born at the same moment to rich parents who unknowingly raise the wrong son. Rich or poor, it seems all children born at the instant of India's independence have shared psychic powers; over the years, they gather for "meetings" whenever Saleem summons them. And that's just the 45 minutes or so of story. Though gorgeously shot, Midnight's Children suffers from page-to-screen-itis; the source material is complex in both plot and theme, and it's doubtful any film — even one as long as this — could translate its nuances and more fanciful elements ("I can smell feelings!," Saleem insists) into a consistently compelling narrative. Last-act sentimentality doesn't help, though it's consistent with the fairy-tale vibe, I suppose. (2:20) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Something in the Air After accidentally causing a guard serious harm during a Molotov-cocktail revenge attack on high school campus police, floppy-haired Gilles (Clément Métayer) and his baby anarchist comrades have to scatter for summer vacation. He heads to Italy along with potential new girlfriend Christine (Lola Créton), the last one (Carole Combes' Laure) having tripped off to London and Ibiza with her artist parents. Gilles wants to be an artist, too. As much of a narrative arc as there is here details his gradual shift from dedication to political ideology toward decisions that might help further his career and define his aesthetic as a painter (or maybe a filmmaker). Always interesting but never involving, Olivier Assayas' somewhat autobiographical feature is a portrait-of-a-young-man exercise that's ultimately a little too much like everyone's freshman college year: Fascinating and life-changing if you were there, not so much if you're just hearing someone else's counter cultural reminiscences. Gilles is a petulant blank whose revolutionist convictions seem borrowed rather than felt — which may be the writer-director's intent, but it's hard to tell. Originally titled Apres Mai — a much more useful reference to the French far-left political tumult of May 1968 and its aftermath — this is one more cinematic attempt to encapsulate the "turbulent" 1960s (extending here into the mid-'70s) that at least fleetingly captures the era's fluidity of sex, love, community, and ideology. And that's far less successful at convincing us the beliefs our protagonists tout are anything more than an immature following of cultural fashion. It's an incongruously passive movie about a time in which passion reigned. (2:01) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Star Trek Into Darkness CUMBERBATCH! (2:07) Balboa, Presidio.
Stories We Tell Actor and director Sarah Polley (2011's Take This Waltz) turns the camera on herself and her family for this poignant, moving, inventive, and expectation-upending blend of documentary and narrative. Her father, actor Michael Polley, provides the narration; our first hint that this film will take an unconventional form comes when we see Sarah directing Michael's performance in a recording-studio booth, asking him to repeat certain phrases for emphasis. On one level, Stories We Tell is about Sarah's own history, as she sets out to explore longstanding family rumors that Michael is not her biological father. The missing piece: her mother, actress Diane Polley (who died of cancer just days after Sarah's 11th birthday), a vivacious character remembered by Sarah's siblings and those who knew and loved her. Stories We Tell's deeper meaning emerges as the film becomes ever more meta, retooling the audience's understanding of what they're seeing via convincingly doc-like reenactments. To say more would lessen the power of Stories We Tell's multi-layered revelations. Just know that this is an impressively unique film — about family, memories, love, and (obviously) storytelling — and offers further proof of Polley's tremendous talent. (1:48) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Sun Don't Shine Prolific indie producer and actor (Upstream Color) Amy Seimetz's debut as feature writer-director is a intriguingly ambiguous mumblecore noir about a couple on the run, à la Bonnie and Clyde. Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley) are driving south through Florida — a state that seemingly always relaxes demands on intelligence and legality — with a handgun, innumerable anxieties, and something problematic hidden in the trunk. We gradually realize she's unstable, though to what extent remains unclear. Seimetz's refusal to spell out that and other basic narrative elements lends her film a compelling aura of mystery, one that heightens some striking, tense sequences but also can prove somewhat frustrating in the long run. (A little more insight would have made it easier to understand why the seemingly level-headed Leo has hitched his wagon to the increasingly off-putting Crystal.) Overall, though, it's the kind of first feature that makes you eager to see what she'll come up with next. (1:20) Roxie. (Harvey)
Aftershock Dumped into theaters without fanfare or advance screenings, this collaboration between co-scenarist/producer/star Eli Roth and Chilean director Nicolás López deserves better — it's possibly the most luridly entertaining of numerous recent jokey homages to retro grindhouse cinema. Roth plays a character known only as Gringo, a divorced Yank lawyer on vacation traveling around Chile with two local friends, brash Pollo (Nicolás Martínez) and mopey Ariel (Ariel Levy). Their tour of raves, clubs, drugz, and tail-chasing — the rare warm-up half-hour that's actually very funny and enjoyable — comes to an abrupt halt in Valparaiso. Partying with three newly met multinational lady friends (Lorenza Izzo, Andrea Osvárt, Natasha Yarovenko) they find themselves caught in a major earthquake — and the carnage that it causes is just the beginning of their woes, as crisis piles upon crisis. Spinning '70s disaster-flick tropes toward crass gore-horror, Aftershock is gleefully trashy enough to get away with outrageous cruelties, including mortal harm served out to characters shockingly high on the cast list. (1:30) (Harvey)
The Angels' Share The latest from British filmmaker Ken Loach (2006's The Wind that Shakes the Barley) and frequent screenwriter collaborator Paul Leverty contains a fair amount of humor — though it's still got plenty of their trademark grit and realism. Offered "one last opportunity" by both a legal system he's frequently disregarded and his exasperated and heavily pregnant girlfriend, ne'er-do-well Glaswegian Robbie (Paul Brannigan) resolves to straighten out his life. But his troubled past proves a formidable roadblock to a brighter future — until he visits a whiskey distillery with the other misfits he's been performing his court-ordered community service with, and the group hatches an elaborate heist that could bring hope for Robbie and his growing family ... if his gang of "scruffs" can pull it off. Granted, there are some familiar elements here, but this 2012 Cannes jury prize winner (the fest's de facto third-place award) is more enjoyable than predictable — thanks to some whiskey-tasting nerd-out scenes, likable performances by its cast of mostly newcomers, and lines like "Nobody ever bothers anybody wearing a kilt!" (not necessarily true, as it turns out). Thankfully, English subtitles help with the thick Scottish accents. (1:41) Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
At Any Price Growing up in rural Iowa very much in the shadow of his older brother, Dean Whipple (Zac Efron) cultivated a chip on his shoulder while dominating the figure 8 races at the local dirt track. When papa Henry (Dennis Quaid) — a keeping-up-appearances type, with secrets a-plenty lurking behind his good ol' boy grin — realizes Dean is his best hope for keeping the family farm afloat, he launches a hail-mary attempt to salvage their relationship. This latest drama from acclaimed indie director Ramin Bahrani (2008's Goodbye Solo) is his most ambitious to date, enfolding small-town family drama and stock-car scenes into a pointed commentary on modern agribusiness (Henry deals in GMO corn, and must grapple with the sinister corporate practices that go along with it). But the film never gels, particularly after an extreme, third-act plot twist is deployed to, um, hammer home the title — which refers to prices both monetary and spiritual. A solid supporting cast (Kim Dickens, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, Red West, newcomer Maika Monroe) helps give the film some much-needed added weight as it veers toward melodrama. (1:45) SF Center. (Eddy)
The Big Wedding The wedding film has impacted our concepts of matrimony, fashion, and marital happiness more than all the textbooks in the world have affected our national testing average; but it's with that margin of mediocrity I report from the theater trenches of The Big Wedding. With this, the wedding movie again peters to a crawl. Susan Sarandon (an actress I love with a loyalty beyond sense) is Bebe, the stepmother/caterer swept under the rug by the selfishness of her live in lover Don (De Niro), his ex-wife/baby momma Elle (Diane Keaton) and their racist wackjob future in-laws. When Don and Elle faced the end of their marriage, they tried to rekindle with a Columbian orphan. Cue Ben Barnes in brownface. Alejandro is set to wed Amanda Seyfried and when his mother ascends from Columbia for the wedding, he decides Don and Elle have to act like their marriage never ended &ldots; which makes Bebe a mistress. Surprise! A decade of caring selflessly for your lover's kids has won you a super shitty wedding you still have to cater! To give you a sense of the conflict management on display, Bebe — the film's graceful savior —drops a drink on Don before fleeing the scene in her Alfa Romeo; she's the one character not determined to act out her more selfish urges in the style of an MTV reality show. Despite some less imaginative conflicts and degrading "solutions," this blended family still speaks some truth about the endearing embarrassment of the happy family. (1:29) SF Center. (Vizcarrondo)
Blancanieves If you saw the two crappy overblown Hollywood takes on Snow White last year, my condolences. This is probably its best cinematic incarnation ever not made by someone called Walt. Pablo Berger's Blancanieves transplants the tale to 1920s Spain and told (à la 2011's The Artist) in the dialogue-free B&W style of that era's silent cinema. Here, Snow is the daughter of a famous bullfighter (a beautiful performance by Daniel Giménez Cacho) who's paralyzed physically in the ring, then emotionally by the death of his flamenco star wife (Inma Cuesta) in childbirth. He can't bring himself to see his daughter until a grandmother's death brings little Carmencita (the marvelous Sofía Oria) to the isolated ranch he now shares with nurse-turned-second-wife Encarna — Maribel Verdú as a very Jazz Age evil stepmother. Once the girl matures (now played by the ingratiating, slightly androgynous Macarena García), Encarna senses a rival, and to save her life Carmen literally runs away with the circus — at which point the narrative slumps a bit. But only a bit. Where The Artist was essentially a cleverly sustained gimmick elevated by a wonderful central performance, Blancanieves transcends its ingenious retro trappings to offer something both charming and substantiative. Berger doesn't treat the story template as a joke — he's fully adapted it to a culture, place, and time, and treats its inherent pathos with great delicacy. (1:44) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
The Company You Keep Robert Redford directs and stars as a fugitive former member of the Weather Underground, who goes on the run when another member (Susan Sarandon) is arrested and a newspaper reporter (Shia LaBeouf) connects him to a murder 30 years earlier during a Michigan bank robbery. Both the incident and the individuals in The Company You Keep are fictive, but a montage of archival footage at the start of the film is used to place them in the company of real-life radicals and events from the latter days of the 1960s-'70s antiwar movement. (The film's timeline is a little hard to figure, as the action seems to be present day.) Living under an assumed name, Redford's Nick Sloan is now a recently widowed public interest lawyer with a nine-year-old daughter, still fighting the good fight from the suburbs of Albany, NY — though some of his movement cohorts would probably argue that point. And as Nick heads cross-country on a hunt for one of them who's still deep underground, and LaBeouf's pesky reporter tussles with FBI agents (Terrance Howard and Anna Kendrick) and his besieged editor (Stanley Tucci) — mostly there to pass comment on print journalism's precipitous decline — there's plenty of contentious talk, none of it particularly trenchant or involving. Redford packs his earnest, well-intentioned film with stars delineating a constellation of attitudes about revolution, justice, and violent radical action — Julie Christie as an unrepentant radical and Nick's former lover, Nick Nolte and Richard Jenkins as former movement members, Brendan Gleeson as a Michigan police detective involved in the original investigation, Chris Cooper as Nick's estranged and disapproving younger brother. But their scrutiny, and the film's, feels blurry and rote, while the plot's one major twist seems random and is clumsily exposed. (2:05) Albany, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
The Croods (1:38) Metreon.
Disconnect (1:55) Presidio, SF Center.
Evil Dead "Sacrilege!" you surely thought when hearing that Sam Raimi's immortal 1983 classic was being remade. But as far as remakes go, this one from Uruguayan writer-director Fede Alvarez (who'd previously only made some acclaimed genre shorts) is pretty decent. Four youths gather at a former family cabin destination because a fifth (Jane Levy) has staged her own intervention — after a near-fatal OD, she needs her friends to help her go cold turkey. But as a prologue has already informed us, there is a history of witchcraft and demonic possession in this place. The discovery of something very nasty (and smelly) in the cellar, along with a book of demonic incantations that Lou Taylor Pucci is stupid enough to read aloud from, leads to ... well, you know. The all-hell that breaks loose here is more sadistically squirm-inducing than the humorously over-the-top gore in Raimi's original duo (elements of the sublime '87 Evil Dead II are also deployed here), and the characters are taken much more seriously — without, however, becoming more interesting. Despite a number of déjà vu kamikaze tracking shots through the Michigan forest (though most of the film was actually shot in New Zealand), Raimi's giddy high energy and black comedy are replaced here by a more earnest if admittedly mostly effective approach, with plenty of decent shocks. No one could replace Bruce Campbell, and perhaps it was wise not to even try. So: pretty good, gory, expertly crafted, very R-rated horror fun, even with too many "It's not over yet!" false endings. But no one will be playing this version over and over and over again as they (and I) still do the '80s films. (1:31) Metreon. (Harvey)
42 Broad and morally cautious, 42 is nonetheless an honorable addition to the small cannon of films about the late, great baseball player Jackie Robinson. When Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) declares that he wants a black player in the white major leagues because "The only real color is green!", it's a cynical explanation that most people buy, and hate him for. It also starts the ball curving for a PR shitstorm. But money is an equal-opportunity leveling device: when Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) tries to use the bathroom at a small-town gas station, he's denied and tells his manager they should "buy their 99 gallons of gas another place." Naturally the gas attendant concedes, and as 42 progresses, even those who reject Robinson at first turn into men who find out how good they are when they're tested. Ford, swashbuckling well past his sell-by date, is a fantastic old coot here; his "been there, lived that" prowess makes you proud he once fled the path of a rolling bolder. His power moves here are even greater, but it's ultimately Robinson's show, and 42 finds a lot of ways to deliver on facts and still print the legend. (2:08) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Vizcarrondo)
From Up on Poppy Hill Hayao (dad, who co-wrote) and Goro (son, who directed) Miyazaki collaborate on this tale of two high-school kids — Umi, who does all the cooking at her grandmother's boarding house, and Shun, a rabble-rouser who runs the school newspaper — in idyllic seaside Yokohama. Plans for the 1964 Olympics earmark a beloved historic clubhouse for demolition, and the budding couple unites behind the cause. The building offers a symbolic nod to Japanese history, while rehabbing it speaks to hopes for a brighter post-war future. But the past keeps interfering: conflict arises when Shun's memories are triggered by a photo of Umi's father, presumed lost at sea in the Korean War. There are no whimsical talking animals in this Studio Ghibli release, which investigates some darker-than-usual themes, though the animation is vivid and sparkling per usual. Hollywood types lending their voices to the English-language version include Jamie Lee Curtis, Christina Hendricks, Ron Howard, and Gilllian Anderson. (1:31) Shattuck. (Eddy)
The Great Gatsby Every bit as flashy and in-your-face as you'd expect the combo of "Baz Luhrmann," "Jazz Age," and "3D" to be, this misguided interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic tale is, at least, overstuffed with visual delights. For that reason only, all the fashion-mag fawning over leading lady Carey Mulligan's gowns and diamonds, and the opulent production design that surrounds them, seems warranted. And in scenes where spectacle is appropriate — Gatsby's legendary parties; Tom Buchanan's wild New York romp with his mistress — Luhrmann delivers in spades. The trade-off is that the subtler aspects of Fitzgerald's novel are either pushed to the side or shouted from the rooftops. Leonardo DiCaprio, last seen cutting loose in last year's Django Unchained, makes for a stiff, fumbling Gatsby, laying on the "Old Sports" as thickly as his pancake make-up. There's nothing here so startlingly memorable as the actor and director's 1996 prior collaboration, Romeo + Juliet — a more successful (if still lavish and self-consciously audacious) take on an oft-adapted, much-beloved literary work. (2:22) California, Four Star, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Eddy)
In the House In François Ozon's first feature since the whimsical 2010 Potiche, he returns somewhat to the playful suspense intrigue of 2003's Swimming Pool, albeit with a very different tone and context. Fabrice Luchini plays a high school French literature teacher disillusioned by his students' ever-shrinking articulacy. But he is intrigued by one boy's surprisingly rich description of his stealth invasion into a classmate's envied "perfect" family — with lusty interest directed at the "middle class curves" of the mother (Emmanuelle Seigner). As the boy Claude's writings continue in their possibly fictive, possibly stalker-ish provocations, his teacher grows increasingly unsure whether he's dealing with a precocious bourgeoisie satirist or a literate budding sociopath — and ambivalent about his (and spouse Kristin Scott Thomas' stressed gallery-curator's) growing addiction to these artfully lurid possible exposé s of people he knows. And it escalates from there. Ozon is an expert filmmaker in nimble if not absolute peak form here, no doubt considerably helped by Juan Mayorga's source play. It's a smart mainstream entertainment that, had it been Hollywood feature, would doubtless be proclaimed brilliant for its clever tricks and turns. (1:45) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Iron Man 3 Neither a sinister terrorist dubbed "the Mandarin" (Ben Kingsley) nor a spray-tanned mad scientist (Guy Pearce) are as formidable an enemy to Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) as Tony Stark himself, the mega-rich playboy last seen in 2012's Avengers donning his Iron Man suit and thwarting alien destruction. It's been rough since his big New York minute; he's been suffering panic attacks and burying himself in his workshop, shutting out his live-in love (Gwyneth Paltrow) in favor of tinkering on an ever-expanding array of manned and un-manned supersuits. But duty, and personal growth, beckon when the above-mentioned villains start behaving very badly. With some help (but not much) from Don Cheadle's War Machine — now known as "Iron Patriot" thanks to a much-mocked PR campaign — Stark does his saving-the-world routine again. If the plot fails to hit many fresh beats (a few delicious twists aside), the 3D special effects are suitably dazzling, the direction (by series newcomer Shane Black) is appropriately snappy, and Downey, Jr. again makes Stark one of the most charismatic superheros to ever grace the big screen. For now, at least, the continuing Avengers spin-off extravaganza seems justified. (2:06) Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Jurassic Park 3D "Life finds a way," Jeff Goldblum's leather-clad mathematician remarks, crystallizing the theme of this 1993 Spielberg classic, which at its core is more about human relationships than genetically manufactured terrors. Of course, it's got plenty of those, and Jurassic Park doesn't really need its (admittedly spiffy) 3D upgrade to remain a thoroughly entertaining thriller. The dinosaur effects — particularly the creepy Velociraptors and fan-fave T. rex — still dazzle. Only some early-90s computer references and Laura Dern's mom jeans mark the film as dated. But a big-screen viewing of what's become a cable TV staple allows for fresh appreciation of its less-iconic (but no less enjoyable) moments and performances: a pre-megafame Samuel L. Jackson as a weary systems tech; Bob Peck as the park's skeptical, prodigiously thigh-muscled game warden. Try and forget the tepid sequels — including, dear gawd, 2014's in-the-works fourth installment. This is all the Jurassic you will ever need. (2:07) 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Kon-Tiki In 1947 Norwegian explorer and anthropologist Thor Heyderdahl arranged an expedition on a homemade raft across the Pacific, recreating what he believed was a route by which South Americans traveled to Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. (Although this theory is now disputed.) The six-man crew (plus parrot) survived numerous perils to complete their 101-day, 4300-mile journey intact — winning enormous global attention, particularly through Heyderdahl's subsequent book and documentary feature. Co-directors Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg's dramatization is a big, impressive physical adventure most arresting for its handsome use of numerous far-flung locations. Where it's less successful is in stirring much emotional involvement, with the character dynamics underwhelming despite a decent cast led by Pal Sverr Hagen as Thor (who, incredibly, was pretty much a non-swimmer). Nonetheless, this new Kon-Tiki offers all the pleasures of armchair travel, letting you vicariously experience a high-risk voyage few could ever hope (or want) to make in real life. (1:58) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Harvey)
Love is All You Need Copenhagen hairdresser Ida (Trine Dyrholm) has just finished her cancer treatments — with their success still undetermined — when she arrives home to find her longtime husband Leif (Kim Bodnia) boning a coworker on their couch. "I thought you were in chemo" is the closest he comes to an apology before walking out. Ida is determined to maintain a cheerful front when attending the Italian wedding of their daughter Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind) — even after emotionally deaf Leif shows up with his new girlfriend in tow. Meanwhile brusque businessman and widower Philip (Pierce Brosnan), the groom's father, is experiencing the discomfort of returning to the villa he once shared with his beloved late wife. This latest from Danish director Susanne Bier and writing partner Anders Thomas Jensen (2006's After the Wedding, 2004's Brothers, 2010's In a Better World) is more conventionally escapist than their norm, with a general romantic-seriocomedy air reinforced by travel-poster-worthy views of the picturesque Italian coastline. They do try to insert greater depth and a more expansive story arc than you'd get in a Hollywood rom com. But all the relationships here are so prickly — between middle-aged leads we never quite believe would attract each other, between the clearly ill-matched aspiring newlyweds, between Paprika Steen's overbearing sister in-law and everyone — that there's very little to root for. It's a romantic movie (as numerous soundtracked variations on "That's Amore" constantly remind us) in which romance feels like the most contrived element. (1:50) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Mud (2:15) California, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki.
Oblivion Spoiler alert: the great alien invasion of 2017 does absolutely zilch to eliminate, or at least ameliorate, the problem of sci-fi movie plot holes. However, puny humans willing to shut down the logic-demanding portions of their brains just might enjoy Oblivion, which is set 60 years after that fateful date and imagines that Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by said invasion. Tom Cruise plays Jack, a repairman who zips down from his sterile housing pod (shared with comely companion Andrea Riseborough) to keep a fleet of drones — dispatched to guard the planet's remaining resources from alien squatters — in working order. But Something is Not Quite Right; Jack's been having nostalgia-drenched memories of a bustling, pre-war New York City, and the déjà vu gets worse when a beautiful astronaut (Olga Kurylenko) literally crash-lands into his life. After an inaugural gig helming 2010's stinky Tron: Legacy, director Joseph Kosinski shows promise, if not perfection, bringing his original tale to the screen. (He does, however, borrow heavily from 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1996's Independence Day, and 2008's Wall-E, among others.) Still, Oblivion boasts sleek production design, a certain creative flair, and some surprisingly effective plot twists — though also, alas, an overlong running time. (2:05) Balboa, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Oz: The Great and Powerful Providing a backstory for the man behind the curtain, director Sam Raimi gives us a prequel of sorts to 1939's The Wizard of Oz. Herein we follow the adventures of a Depression-era Kansas circus magician named Oscar (James Franco) — Oz to his friends — as he cons, philanders, bickers with his behind-the-scenes assistant Frank (Zach Braff), and eventually sails away in a twister, bound for a Technicolor land of massively proportioned flora, talking fauna, and witches ranging from dazzlingly good to treacherously wicked. From one of them, Theodora (Mila Kunis), he learns that his arrival — in Oz, just to clarify — has set in motion the fulfillment of a prophecy: that a great wizard, also named Oz, will bring about the downfall of a malevolent witch (Rachel Weisz), saving the kingdom and its cheery, goodhearted inhabitants. Unfortunately for this deserving populace, Oz spent his last pre-twister moments with the Baum Bros. Circus (the name a tribute to L. Frank Baum, writer of the Oz children's books) demonstrating a banged-up moral compass and an undependable streak and proclaiming that he would rather be a great man than a good man. Unfortunately for the rest of us, this theme is revisited ad nauseam as Oz and the oppressively beneficent witch Glinda (Michelle Williams) — whose magic appears to consist mainly of nice soft things like bubbles and fog — stand around debating whether he's the right man for the task. When the fog clears, though, the view is undeniably pretty. While en route to and from the Emerald City, Oz and his companions — among them a non-evil flying monkey (voiced by Braff) and a rather adorable china doll (Joey King) — wander through a deliriously arresting, Fantasia-esque landscape whose intricate, inventive construction helps distract from the plodding, saccharine rhetoric and unappealing story line. (2:07) SF Center. (Rapoport)
Pain & Gain In mid-1995 members of what became known as the "Sun Gym Gang" — played here by Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, and Anthony Mackie — were arrested for a series of crimes including kidnapping, extortion, and murder. Simply wanting to live large, they'd abducted one well-off man (Tony Shalhoub) months earlier, tortured him into signing over all his assets, and left him for dead — yet incredibly the Miami police thought the victim's story was a tall tale, leaving the perps free until they'd burned through their moolah and sought other victims. Michael Bay's cartoonish take on a pretty horrific saga repeatedly reminds us that it's a true story, though the script plays fast and loose with many real-life details. (And strangely it downplays the role steroid abuse presumably played in a lot of very crazy behavior.) In a way, his bombastic style is well-suited to a grotesquely comic thriller about bungling bodybuilder criminals redundantly described here as "dumb stupid fucks." There have been worse Bay movies, even if that's like saying "This gas isn't as toxic as the last one." But despite the flirtations with satire of fitness culture, motivational gurus and so forth, his sense of humor stays on a loutish plane, complete with fag-bashing, a dwarf gag, and representation of Miami as basically one big siliconed titty bar. Nor can he pull off a turn toward black comedy that needs the superior intelligence of someone like the Coen Brothers or Soderbergh. As usual everything is overamped, the action sequences overblown, the whole thing overlong, and good actors made to overact. You've got to give cranky old Ed Harris credit: playing a private detective, he alone here refuses to be bullied into hamming it up. (2:00) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)
Peeples (1:35) 1000 Van Ness.
The Place Beyond the Pines Powerful indie drama Blue Valentine (2010) marked director Derek Cianfrance as one worthy of attention, so it's with no small amount of fanfare that this follow-up arrives. The Place Beyond the Pines' high profile is further enhanced by the presence of Bradley Cooper (currently enjoying a career ascension from Sexiest Man Alive to Oscar-nominated Serious Actor), cast opposite Valentine star Ryan Gosling, though they share just one scene. An overlong, occasionally contrived tale of three generations of fathers, father figures, and sons, Pines' initial focus is Gosling's stunt-motorcycle rider, a character that would feel more exciting if it wasn't so reminiscent of Gosling's turn in Drive (2011), albeit with a blonde dye job and tattoos that look like they were applied by the same guy who inked James Franco in Spring Breakers. Robbing banks seems a reasonable way to raise cash for his infant son, as well as a way for Pines to draw in another whole set of characters, in the form of a cop (Cooper) who's also a new father, and who — as the story shifts ahead 15 years — builds a political career off the case. Of course, fate and the convenience of movie scripts dictate that the mens' sons will meet, the past will haunt the present and fuck up the future, etc. etc. Ultimately, Pines is an ambitious film that suffers from both its sprawl and some predictable choices (did Ray Liotta really need to play yet another dirty cop?) Halfway through the movie I couldn't help thinking what might've happened if Cianfrance had dared to swap the casting of the main roles; Gosling could've been a great ambitious cop-turned-powerful prick, and Cooper could've done interesting things with the Evel Knievel-goes-Point Break part. Just sayin'. (2:20) Embarcadero, Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Based on Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid's award-winning 2007 novel, and directed by the acclaimed Mira Nair (2001's Monsoon Wedding, 2006's The Namesake), The Reluctant Fundamentalist boasts an international cast (Kate Hudson, Martin Donovan, Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber, Om Puri) and nearly as many locations. British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed (2010's Four Lions) stars as Changez Khan, a Princeton-educated professor who grants an interview with a reporter (Schreiber) after another prof at Lahore University — an American citizen — is taken hostage; their meeting grows more tense as the atmosphere around them becomes more charged. Most of the film unfolds as an extended flashback, as Changez recounts his years on Wall Street as a talented "soldier in [America's] economic army," with a brunette Hudson playing Erica, a photographer who becomes his NYC love interest. After 9/11, he begins to lose his lust for star-spangled yuppie success, and soon returns to his homeland to pursue a more meaningful cause. Though it's mostly an earnest, soul-searching character study, The Reluctant Fundamentalist suddenly decides it wants to be a full-throttle political thriller in its last act; ultimately, it offers only superficial insight into what might inspire someone's conversion to fundamentalism (one guess: Erica's embarrassingly bad art installation, which could make anyone hate America). Still, Ahmed is a compelling lead. (2:08) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Renoir The gorgeous, sun-dappled French Riviera setting is the high point of this otherwise low-key drama about the temperamental women (Christa Theret) who was the final muse to elderly painter Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), and who encouraged the filmmaking urges in his son, future cinema great Jean (Vincent Rottiers). Cinematographer Mark Ping Bin Lee (who's worked with Hou Hsiao-hsein and Wong Kar Wai) lenses Renoir's leafy, ramshackle estate to maximize its resemblance to the paintings it helped inspire; though her character, Dédée, could kindly be described as "conniving," Theret could not have been better physically cast, with tumbling red curls and pale skin she's none too shy about showing off. Though the specter of World War I looms in the background, the biggest conflicts in Gilles Bourdos' film are contained within the household, as Jean frets about his future, Dédée faces the reality of her precarious position in the household (which is staffed by aging models-turned-maids), and Auguste battles ill health by continuing to paint, though he's in a wheelchair and must have his brushes taped to his hands. Though not much really happens, Renoir is a pleasant, easy-on-the-eyes experience. (1:51) Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
The Sapphires The civil rights injustices suffered by these dream girls may be unique to Aboriginal Australians, but they'll strike a chord with viewers throughout the world — at right about the same spot stoked by the sweet soul music of Motown. Co-written by Tony Briggs, the son of a singer in a real-life Aboriginal girl group, this unrepentant feel-gooder aims to make the lessons of history go down with the good humor and up-from-the-underdog triumph of films like The Full Monty (1997) — the crucial difference in this fun if flawed comedy-romance is that it tells the story of women of color, finding their voices and discovering, yes, their groove. It's all in the family for these would-be soul sisters, or rather country cousins, bred on Merle Haggard and folk tunes: there's the charmless and tough Gail (Deborah Mailman), the soulful single mom Julie (Jessica Mauboy, an Australian Idol runner-up), the flirty Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), and the pale-skinned Kay (Shari Sebbens), the latter passing as white after being forcibly "assimilated" by the government. Their dream is to get off the farm, even if that means entertaining the troops in Vietnam, and the person to help them realize that checkered goal is dissolute piano player Dave (Chris O'Dowd). And O'Dowd is the breakout star to watch here — he adds an loose, erratic energy to an otherwise heavily worked story arc. So when romance sparks for all Sapphires — and the racial tension simmering beneath the sequins rumbles to the surface — the easy pleasures generated by O'Dowd and the music (despite head-scratching inclusions like 1970's "Run Through the Jungle" in this 1968-set yarn), along with the gently handled lessons in identity politics learned, obliterate any lingering questions left sucking Saigon dust as the narrative plunges forward. They keep you hanging on. (1:38) Piedmont, Shattuck. (Chun)
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's This glossy love letter to posh New York City department store Bergdorf Goodman — a place so expensive that shopping there is "an aspirational dream" for the grubby masses, according to one interviewee — would offend with its slobbering take on consumerism if it wasn't so damn entertaining. The doc's narrative of sorts is propelled by the small army assembled to create the store's famed holiday windows; we watch as lavish scenes of upholstered polar bears and sea creatures covered in glittering mosaics (flanking, natch, couture gowns) take shape over the months leading up to the Christmas rush. Along the way, a cavalcade of top designers (Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani, Jason Wu, Karl Lagerfeld) reminisce on how the store has impacted their respective careers, and longtime employees share anecdotes, the best of which is probably the tale of how John Lennon and Yoko Ono saved the season by buying over 70 fur coats one magical Christmas Eve. Though lip service is paid to the current economic downturn (the Madoff scandal precipitated a startling dropoff in personal-shopper clients), Scatter My Ashes is mostly just superficial fun. What do you expect from a store whose best-selling shoe is sparkly, teeteringly tall, and costs $6,000? (1:33) Clay. (Eddy)
The Source Family Under the guidance of charismatic, luxuriously-bearded leader Father Yod (once named Jim Baker, later known as YaHoWha), the Source Family operated one of the country's first health food restaurants. They lived in a Hollywood Hills mansion, wore flowing robes, assumed dreamy new names, meditated, and studied Father Yod's custom blend of Eastern and Western philosophy and mysticism. As the home movies that comprise Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille's documentary, The Source Family, suggest, there were golden moments aplenty, even as the mainstream began to view the group with suspicion (and an aging Father Yod's decision to take multiple wives confused some members — particularly the woman he was already legally married to). Tapping into the group's extensive film and psych-rock music archives, as well as interviews with surviving members, The Source Family offers a captivating look at what had to be the most earnest (and most photogenic) cult of the 1970s. (1:38) Roxie. (Eddy)
Upstream Color A woman, a man, a pig, a worm, Walden — what? If you enter into Shane Carruth's Upstream Color expecting things like a linear plot, exposition, and character development, you will exit baffled and distressed. Best to understand in advance that these elements are not part of Carruth's master plan. In fact, based on my own experiences watching the film twice, I'm fairly certain that not really understanding what's going on in Upstream Color is part of its loopy allure. Remember Carruth's 2004 Primer? Did you try to puzzle out that film's array of overlapping and jigsawed timelines, only to give up and concede that the mystery (and sheer bravado) of that film was part of its, uh, loopy allure? Yeah. Same idea, except writ a few dimensions larger, with more locations, zero tech-speak dialogue, and — yes! — a compelling female lead, played by Amy Seimetz, an indie producer and director in her own right. Enjoying (or even making it all the way through) Upstream Color requires patience and a willingness to forgive some of Carruth's more pretentious noodlings; in the tradition of experimental filmmaking, it's a work that's more concerned with evoking emotions than hitting some kind of three-act structure. Most importantly, it manages to be both maddening and moving at the same time. (1:35) Roxie. (Eddy)