Film Listings: October 16 - 22, 2013
Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, Sam Stander, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. Due to early deadlines for the Best of the Bay issue, theater information was incomplete at presstime.
After Tiller Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's After Tiller is incredibly timely, as states like Texas and North Carolina continue to push forth increasingly restrictive abortion legislation. This doc focuses on the four (yes, only four) doctors in America who are able to perform late-term abortions — all colleagues of Dr. George Tiller, assassinated in 2009 by a militant anti-abortionist. The film highlights the struggles of what's inherently a deeply difficult job; even without sign-toting (and possibly gun-toting) protestors lurking outside their offices, and ever-shifting laws dictating the legality of their practices, the situations the doctors confront on a daily basis are harrowing. We sit in as couples make the painful decision to abort babies with "horrific fetal abnormalities;" a rape victim feels guilt and relief after terminating a most unwanted pregnancy; a 16-year-old Catholic girl in no position to raise a child worries that her decision to abort will haunt her forever; and a European woman who decides she can't handle another kid tries to buy her way into the procedure. The patients' faces aren't shown, but the doctors allow full access to their lives and emotions — heavy stuff. (1:25) Roxie. (Eddy)
Broadway Idiot "I can't act, I can't dance ... compared to a lot of these people, I can't even sing," Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong admits, moments before he's seen taking the Broadway stage in the musical based on his band's American Idiot. (He played the character of St. Jimmy for stints in both 2010 and 2011.) Director Doug Hamilton's doc mixes concert, rehearsal, and full-on musical footage; interviews (with Armstrong, show director Michael Mayer, music supervisor Tom Kitt, and others); and behind-the-scenes moments to trace the evolution of American Idiot from concept album to Broadway show. Fans will feast on those behind-the-scenes moments, as when the band stops by Berkeley Rep — where the show had its pre-Broadway workshop performances — to hear new arrangements of their songs for the first time, or cast members prep to perform with Green Day at the Grammys. For everyone else, Broadway Idiot offers a slick, energetic, but not especially revealing look at the creative process. Good luck getting any of those catchy-ass songs out of your head, though. (1:20) Vogue. (Eddy)
Carrie A high-school outcast (Chloë Grace Moritz) unleashes hell on her bullying classmates (and her controlling mother, played by Julianne Moore) in Kimberly Peirce's take on the Stephen King classic. (runtime not available) Shattuck.
Escape Plan Extreme prison breaking (from, naturally, an "escape-proof" facility) with Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, and Vincent D'Onofrio. (1:56) Shattuck.
The Fifth Estate After being our guide through the world of 1970s Formula One racing in Rush, Daniel Brühl is back serving that same role — and again grumbling in the shadows cast by a flashier character's magnetism — for a more recent real life story's dramatization. Here he's German "technology activist" Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who in 2007 began collaborating with the enigmatic, elusive Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) on WikiLeaks' airing of numerous anonymous whistleblowers' explosive revelations: US military mayhem in Afghanistan; Kenyan ruling-regime corruption; a Swiss bank's providing a "massive tax dodge" for wealthy clients worldwide; ugly truths behind Iceland's economic collapse; and climactically, the leaking of a huge number of classified U.S. government documents. It was this last, almost exactly three years ago, that made Assange a wanted man here and in Sweden (the latter for alleged sexual assaults), as well as putting US Army leaker Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning in prison. The heat was most certainly on — although WikiLeaks was already suffering internal woes as Domscheit-Berg and a few other close associates grew disillusioned with Assange's megalomania, instability, and questionable judgment. It's a fascinating, many-sided saga that was told very well in Alex Gibney's recent documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, and this narrative feature from director Bill Condon (2004's Kinsey, 2006's Dreamgirls, the last two Twilights) and scenarist Josh Singer feels disappointingly superficial by contrast. It tries to cram too information in without enough ballasting psychological insight, and the hyperkinetic editing and visual style intended to ape the sheer info-overload of our digital age simply makes the whole film seem like it's trying way too hard. There are good moments, some sharp supporting turns, and Estate certainly doesn't lack for ambition. But it's at best a noble failure that in the end leaves you feeling fatigued and unenlightened. (2:04) California. (Harvey)
Vinyl When the surviving members of a long-defunct, once-popular Welsh pop punk outfit reunite for a less lucky member's funeral, the squabbles that have kept them incommunicado for decades are forgotten — with the help of lots of alcohol. They even jam together, and lo and behold, the hungover next morning reveals recorded evidence that they've still "got it." In fact, they've even thrown together an insanely catchy new song that would be a perfect comeback single. Only trouble is, when they shop it around to record companies (including their own old one), they're invariably told that no matter how good the music is, audiences today don't want old fogies performing it. (That would be "like watching your parents have sex," they're told.) The all-important "tweens to twenties" demographic wants stars as young as themselves, only hotter. So Johnny (Phil Daniels) and company have the bright idea of assembling a quintet of barely-legal cuties to pose as a fake band and lip-synch the real band's new tune. Needless to say, both take off like wildfire, and eventually the ruse must be exposed. Sara Sugarman's comedy is loosely inspired by a real, similar hoax (pulled off by '80s rockers the Alarm), and might have dug deeper into satire of an industry that has seldom deserved mocking evisceration more than it does now. Instead, Vinyl settles for being a brisk, breezy diversion, likable if a bit formulaic — though that single, "Free Rock 'n' Roll," really is catchy in an early Clash-meets-Buzzcocks way. (1:25) Roxie. (Harvey)
Zaytoun It's 1982 in war-torn Beirut, and on the semi-rare occasion that streetwise 12-year-old Palestinian refugee Fahed (Abdallah El Akal) attends school, he's faced with an increasing number of empty desks, marked by photos of the dead classmates who used to sit there. His own father is killed in an air strike as Zaytoun begins. When an Israeli pilot (Stephen Dorff — a surprising casting choice, but not a bad one) is shot down and becomes a PLO prisoner, Fahed's feelings of hatred give way to curiosity, and he agrees to help the man escape back to Israel, so long as he brings Fahed, who's intent on planting his father's olive sapling in his family's former village, along. It's not an easy journey, and a bond inevitably forms — just as problems inevitably ensue when they reach the border. Israeli director Eran Riklis (2008's Lemon Tree) avoids sentimentality in this tale that nonetheless travels a pretty predictable path. (1:50) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Zero Charisma Scott (Sam Eidson) is a raging nerd, of the staunchly old-school variety: he lives for the sacred ritual of "game night," where as Game Master he guides his minions through Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy role-playing. His hobby, which is really more of a lifestyle, is the only thing he really likes; otherwise, he's a self-described "loser," in his late 20s but still living with his grandmother (a delightfully acidic Anne Gee Byrd) and working a crappy job delivering tacos and donuts, sometimes to his former co-workers (who all hate him) at a game shop straight out of The Simpsons. When "cool" nerd (and insufferable hipster) Miles (Garrett Graham) joins Scott's game and threatens his fantasy world — at the exact moment his long-lost mother (Cyndi Williams) swoops in, intent on selling Nana's house out from under her — chaos reigns. Writer Andrew Matthews (who co-directed with Katie Graham) clearly knows Scott's world well; the scenes revolving around gaming ("But we're almost to the hall of the goblin queen!") are stuffed with authentic and funny nerd-banter, and while Scott himself is often mocked, RPGs are treated with respect. Scott's personal journey is a little less satisfying, but Zero Charisma — an Audience Award winner at SXSW — has at least as much quirky appeal as a pair of multi-sided dice. (1:27) Roxie. (Eddy)
A.C.O.D. When happy-go-lucky Trey (Clark Duke) announces rather suddenly that he's getting married, cranky older bro Carter (Adam Scott), the Adult Child of Divorce of the title, is tasked with making peace between his parents (Richard Jenkins and Catherine O'Hara). Trouble is, they haaaate each other (Jenkins: "If I ever see that woman, I'm gonna kick her in the balls") — or so Carter thinks, until he discovers (to his horror) that there's long-dormant passion lurking beneath all the insults. He also discovers that he was part of a book about kids of divorce written by a nutty PhD (Jane Lynch), and is drawn into her follow-up project — through which he meets fellow A.C.O.D Michelle (Jessica Alba, trying way too hard as a bad girl), a foil to his level-headed girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). As the life he's carefully constructed crumbles around him, Carter has to figure out what really matters, blah blah. Stu Zicherman's comedy (co-scripted with Ben Karlin; both men are TV veterans) breaks no new ground in the dysfunctional-family genre — but it does boast a cast jammed with likable actors, nimble enough to sprinkle their characters' sitcom-y conflicts with funny moments. Amy Poehler — Scott's Parks and Recreation boo — is a particular highlight as Carter's rich-bitch stepmother, aka "the Cuntessa." (1:27) Metreon, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Baggage Claim Robin Thicke may be having the year of a lifetime, but spouse Paula Patton is clearly making a bid to leap those "Blurred Lines" between second banana-dom and Jennifer Aniston-esque leading lady fame with this buppie chick flick. How competitive is the game? Patton has a sporting chance: she's certainly easy on the eyes and ordinarily a welcome warm and sensual presence as arm candy or best girlfriend — too bad her bid to beat the crowd with Baggage Claim feels way too blurry and busy to study for very long. The camera turns to Patton only to find a hot, slightly charming mess of mussed hair, frenetic movement, and much earnest emoting. I know the mode is single-lady desperation, but you're trying too hard, Paula. At least the earnestness kind of works — semi-translating in Baggage Claim as a bumbling ineptitude that offsets Patton's too-polished-and-perfect-to-be-real beauty. After all, we're asked to believe that Patton's flight attendant Montana can't find a good man, no matter how hard she tries. That's the first stretch of imagination, made more implausible by pals Sam (Adam Brody) and Janine (singer-songwriter Jill Scott), who decide to try to fix her up with her old high-flying frequent-flier beaus in the quest to find a mate in time for her — humiliation incoming — younger sister's wedding. Among the suitors are suave hotelier Quinton (Djimon Hounsou), Republican candidate Langston (Taye Diggs), and hip-hop mogul Damon (Trey Songz), though everyone realizes early on that she just can't notice the old bestie (Derek Luke) lodged right beneath her well-tilted nose. Coming to the conclusion that any sane single gal would at the end of this exercise, Patton does her darnedest to pour on the quirk and charm — and that in itself is as endearing as watching any beautiful woman bend over backwards, tumbling as she goes, to win an audience over. The strenuous effort, however, seems wasted when one considers the flimsy material, played for little more than feather-light amusement by director-writer David E. Talbert. (1:33) Metreon. (Chun)
Blue Jasmine The good news about Blue Jasmine isn't that it's set in San Francisco, but that it's Woody Allen's best movie in years. Although some familiar characteristics are duly present, it's not quite like anything he's done before, and carries its essentially dramatic weight more effectively than he's managed in at least a couple decades. Not long ago Jasmine (a fearless Cate Blanchett) was the quintessential Manhattan hostess, but that glittering bubble has burst — exactly how revealed in flashbacks that spring surprises up to the script's end. She crawls to the West Coast to "start over" in the sole place available where she won't be mortified by the pity of erstwhile society friends. That would be the SF apartment of Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a fellow adoptive sister who was always looked down on by comparison to pretty, clever Jasmine. Theirs is an uneasy alliance — but Ginger's too big-hearted to say no. It's somewhat disappointing that Blue Jasmine doesn't really do much with San Francisco. Really, the film could take place anywhere — although setting it in a non-picture-postcard SF does bolster the film's unsettled, unpredictable air. Without being an outright villain, Jasmine is one of the least likable characters to carry a major US film since Noah Baumbach's underrated Margot at the Wedding (2007); the general plot shell, moreover, is strongly redolent of A Streetcar Named Desire. But whatever inspiration Allen took from prior works, Blue Jasmine is still distinctively his own invention. It's frequently funny in throwaway performance bits, yet disturbing, even devastating in cumulative impact. (1:38) Clay, Metreon. (Harvey)
Captain Phillips In 2009, Captain Richard Phillips was taken hostage by Somali pirates who'd hijacked the Kenya-bound Maersk Alabama. His subsequent rescue by Navy SEALs came after a standoff that ended in the death of three pirates; a fourth, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, surrendered and is serving a hefty term in federal prison. A year later, Phillips penned a book about his ordeal, and Hollywood pounced. Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as Phillips, an everyman who runs a tight ship but displays an admirable ability to improvise under pressure — and, once rescued, finally allows that pressure to diffuse in a scene of memorably raw catharsis. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi, cast from an open call among Minneapolis' large Somali community, plays Muse; his character development goes deep enough to emphasize that piracy is one of few grim career options for Somali youths. But the real star here is probably director Paul Greengrass, who adds this suspenseful high-seas tale to his slate of intelligent, doc-inspired thrillers (2006's United 93, 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum). Suffice to say fans of the reigning king of fast-paced, handheld-camera action will not be disappointed. (2:14) Four Star, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (1:35) Balboa, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio.
Don Jon Shouldering the duties of writer, director, and star for the comedy Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has also picked up a broad Jersey accent, the physique of a gym rat, and a grammar of meathead posturing — verbal, physical, and at times metaphysical. His character, Jon, is the reigning kingpin in a triad of nightclubbing douchebags who pass their evenings assessing their cocktail-sipping opposite numbers via a well-worn one-to-10 rating system. Sadly for pretty much everyone involved, Jon's rote attempts to bed the high-scorers are spectacularly successful — the title refers to his prowess in the art of the random hookup — that is, until he meets an alluring "dime" named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who institutes a waiting period so foreign to Jon that it comes to feel a bit like that thing called love. Amid the well-earned laughs, there are several repulsive-looking flies in the ointment, but the most conspicuous is Jon's stealthy addiction to Internet porn, which he watches at all hours of the day, but with a particularly ritualistic regularity after each night's IRL conquest has fallen asleep. These circumstances entail a fair amount of screen time with Jon's O face and, eventually, after a season of growth — during which he befriends an older woman named Esther (Julianne Moore) and learns about the existence of arty retro Swedish porn — his "Ohhh&ldots;" face. Driven by deft, tight editing, Don Jon comically and capably sketches a web of bad habits, and Gordon-Levitt steers us through a transformation without straining our capacity to recognize the character we met at the outset — which makes the clumsy over-enunciations that mar the ending all the more jarring. (1:30) Four Star, Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
Enough Said Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a divorced LA masseuse who sees naked bodies all day but has become pretty wary of wanting any in her bed at night. She reluctantly changes her mind upon meeting the also-divorced Albert (James Gandolfini), a television archivist who, also like her, is about to see his only child off to college. He's no Adonis, but their relationship develops rapidly — the only speed bumps being provided by the many nit-picking advisors Eva has in her orbit, which exacerbate her natural tendency toward glass-half-empty neurosis. This latest and least feature from writer-director Nicole Holofcener is a sitcom-y thing of the type that expects us to find characters all the more adorable the more abrasive and self-centered they are. That goes for Louis-Dreyfus' annoying heroine as well as such wasted talents as Toni Colette as her kvetching best friend and Catherine Keener as a new client turned new pal so bitchy it makes no sense Eva would desire her company. The only nice person here is Albert, whom the late Gandolfini makes a charming, low-key teddy bear in an atypical turn. The revelation of an unexpected past tie between his figure and Keener's puts Eva in an ethically disastrous position she handles dismally. In fact, while it's certainly not Holofcener's intention, Eva's behavior becomes so indefensible that Enough Said commits rom-com suicide: The longer it goes on, the more fervently you hope its leads will not end up together. (1:33) Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Escape From Tomorrow Escape From Tomorrow acquired cachet at Sundance this year as a movie you ought to see because it probably wouldn't surface again. The reason was its setting, which composites two of the most photographed (and "happiest") places on Earth. They're also among the most heavily guarded from any commercial usage not of their own choosing. That would be Disney World and Disneyland, where Escape was surreptitiously shot — ingeniously so, since you would hardly expect any movie filmed on the sly like this to be so highly polished, or for its actors to get so little apparent attention from the unwitting background players around them. That nobody has pulled the fire alarm, however, suggests Disney realized this movie isn't going to do it any real harm. While its setting remains near-indispensable, what writer-director Randy Moore has pulled off goes beyond great gimmickry, commingling satire, nightmare Americana, cartooniness, pathos, and surrealism in its tale of 40-ish Jim (Roy Abramsohn), which starts on the last day of his family vacation — when his boss calls to fire him. What follows might either be hallucinated by shell-shocked Jim, or really be a grand, bizarre conspiracy, with occurrences appearing to be either imaginary or apocalyptic (or both). Lucas Lee Graham's crisp B&W photography finds the grotesquerie lurking in the shadows of parkland imagery. Abel Korzeniowski's amazing score apes and parodies vintage orchestral Muzak, cloying kiddie themes, and briefly even John Williams at his most Spielbergian. All the actors do fine work, slipping fluidly if not always explicably from grounded real-world behavior to strangeness. But the real achievement of Escape From Tomorrow is that while this paranoid fantasy really makes no immediate sense, Moore's cockeyed vision is so assured that we assume it must, on some level. He's created a movie some people will hate but others will watch over and over again, trying to connect its almost subliminal dots. (1:43) Roxie, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Gravity "Life in space is impossible," begins Gravity, the latest from Alfonso Cuarón (2006's Children of Men). Egghead Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is well aware of her precarious situation after a mangled satellite slams into her ship, then proceeds to demolition-derby everything (including the International Space Station) in its path. It's not long before she's utterly, terrifyingly alone, and forced to unearth near-superhuman reserves of physical and mental strength to survive. Bullock's performance would be enough to recommend Gravity, but there's more to praise, like the film's tense pacing, spare-yet-layered script (Cuarón co-wrote with his son, Jonás), and spectacular 3D photography — not to mention George Clooney's warm supporting turn as a career astronaut who loves country music almost as much as he loves telling stories about his misadventures. (1:31) Balboa, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Inequality for All Jacob Kornbluth's Inequality for All is the latest and certainly not the last documentary to explore why the American Dream is increasingly out of touch with everyday reality, and how the definition of "middle class" somehow morphed from "comfortable" to "struggling, endangered, and hanging by a thread." This lively overview has an ace up its sleeve in the form of the director's friend, collaborator, and principal interviewee Robert Reich — the former Clinton-era Secretary of Labor, prolific author, political pundit, and UC Berkeley Professor of Public Policy. Whether he's holding forth on TV, going one-on-one with Kornbluth's camera, talking to disgruntled working class laborers, or engaging students in his Wealth and Poverty class, Inequality is basically a resourcefully illustrated Reich lecture — as the press notes put it, "an Inconvenient Truth for the economy." Fortunately, the diminutive Reich is a natural comedian as well as a superbly cogent communicator, turning yet another summary of how the system has fucked almost everybody (excluding the one percent) into the one you might most want to recommend to the bewildered folks back home. He's sugar on the pill, making it easier to swallow so much horrible news. (1:25) Metreon, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete (2:00) Metreon.
Insidious: Chapter 2 The bloodshot, terribly inflamed font of the opening title gives away director James Wan and co-writer and Saw series cohort Leigh Whannell's intentions: welcome to their little love letter to Italian horror. The way an actor, carefully lit with ruby-red gels, is foregrounded amid jade greens and cobalt blues, the ghastly clown makeup, the silent movie glory of a gorgeous face frozen in terror, the fixation with 1981's The Beyond — lovers of spaghetti shock will appreciate even a light application of these aspects, even if many others will be disappointed by this sequel riding a wee bit too closely on its financially successful predecessor's coattails. Attempting to pick up exactly where 2011's Insidious left off, Chapter 2 opens with a flashback to the childhood of demonically possessed Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson), put into a trance by the young paranormal investigator Elise. Flash-forward to Elise's corpse and the first of many terrified looks from Josh's spouse Renai (Rose Byrne). She knows Josh killed Elise, but she can't face reality — so instead she gets to face the forces of supernatural fantasy. Meanwhile Josh is busy forcing a fairy tale of normalcy down the rest of his family's throats — all the while evoking a smooth-browed, unhinged caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Subverting that fiction are son Dalton (Ty Simpkins), who's fielding messages from the dead, and Josh's mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), who sees apparitions in her creepy Victorian and looks for help in Elise's old cohort Carl (Steve Coulter) and comic-relief ghost busters Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). Sure, there are a host of scares to be had, particularly those of the don't-look-over-your-shoulder variety, but tribute or no, the derivativeness of the devices is dissatisfying. Those seeking wickedly imaginative death-dealing machinations, or even major shivers, will curse the feel-good PG-13 denouement. (1:30) 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
The Institute In 2008, mysterious flyers began popping up around San Francisco that touted esoteric inventions such as "Poliwater" and the "Vital-Orbit Human Force Field" and included a phone number for the curiously-monikered Jejuene Institute. On the other side of the phone line, a recording would direct callers to a Financial District office building where they would undergo a mysterious induction process, embarking on an epic, multi-stage, years-long alternate reality game, designed primarily to reveal the magic in the mundane. In Spencer McCall's documentary The Institute, viewers are introduced to the game in much the same way as prospective inductees, with few clues as to what lies in store ahead. A handful of seemingly random interviewees offer a play-by-play recap of their own experiences exploring rival game entities the Jejune Institute and Elsewhere Public Works Agency — while video footage of them dancing in the streets, warding off ninjas, befriending Sasquatches, spelunking sewers, and haunting iconic Bay Area edifices gives the viewer a taste of the wonders that lay in store for the intrepid few (out of 10,000 inductees) who made it all the way to the end of the storyline. Frustratingly, however, at least for this former inductee, McCall's documentary focuses on fleshing out the fictions of the game, barely scratching the surface of what must surely be an even more intriguing set of facts. How did a group of scrappy East Bay artists manage to commandeer an office in the Financial District for so long in the first place? Who were the artists behind the art? And where am I supposed to cash in these wooden "hobo coins" now? (1:32) Smith Rafael. (Gluckstern)
Lee Daniels' The Butler (1:53) 1000 Van Ness.
Machete Kills Herewith we have the first sequel to a film (2010's Machete) spawned from a fake trailer (that appeared in 2007's Grindhouse). Danny Trejo's titular killer has been tasked by the POTUS (Charlie Sheen, cheekily billed by his birth name, Carlos Estevez) to take down a Mexican madman (Demian Bechir) who's an enemy of both his country's drug cartels and the good ol' USA. But it's soon revealed (can you have plot spoilers in a virtually plotless film?) that the real villain is weapons designer Voz (Mel Gibson), a space-obsessed nutcase who'd fit right into an Austin Powers movie. The rest of Machete Kills, which aims only to entertain (with less social commentary than the first film), plays like James Bond lite, albeit with a higher, bloodier body count, and with famous-face cameos and jokey soft-core innuendos coming as fast and furious as the bullets do. As always, Trejo keeps a straight face, but he's clearly in on the joke with director Robert Rodriguez, who'd be a fool not to continue to have his exploitation cake and eat it too, so long as these films — easy on the eyes, knowingly dumb, and purely fun-seeking — remain successful. (1:47) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Metallica: Through the Never The 3D IMAX concert film is lurching toward cliché status, but at least Metallica: Through the Never has more bite to it than, say, this summer's One Direction: This is Us. Director Nimród Antal (2010's Predators) weaves live footage of the Bay Area thrash veterans ripping through hits ("Enter Sandman," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," etc.) into a narrative (kinda) about one of the band's roadies (The Place Beyond the Pines' Dane DeHaan). Sent on a simple errand, the hoodie-wearing hesher finds himself caught in a nightmarish urban landscape of fire, hanging bodies, masked horsemen, and crumbling buildings — more or less, the dude's trapped in a heavy metal video, and not one blessed with particularly original imagery. The end result is aimed more at diehards than casual fans — and, R-rated violence aside, there's nothing here that tops the darkest moments of highly personal 2004 documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. (1:32) Metreon. (Eddy)
Muscle Shoals Hard on the heels of Dave Grohl's Sound City comes another documentary about a legendary American recording studio. Located in the titular podunk Northern Alabama burg, Fame Studio drew an extraordinary lineup of musicians and producers to make fabled hits from the early 1960s through the early '80s. Among them: Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman," a slew of peak era Aretha Franklin smashes, the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar," and those cornerstones of Southern rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" and "Sweet Home Alabama." Tales of how particular tracks came about are entertaining, especially when related by the still-lively likes of Etta James, Wilson Pickett, and Keith Richards. (Richards is a hoot, while surprisingly Mick Jagger doesn't have much to say.) Director Greg Camalier's feature can be too worshipful and digressive at times, and he's skittish about probing fallouts between Fame's founder Rick Hall and some long-term collaborators (notably the local in-house session musicians known as the Swampers who were themselves a big lure for many artists, and who left Fame to start their own successful studio). Still, there's enough fascinating material here — also including a lot of archival footage — that any music fan whose memory or interest stretches back a few decades will find much to enjoy. (1:51) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Prisoners It's a telling sign of this TV-besotted times that the so-called best-reviewed film of the season so far resembles a cable mystery in line with The Killing and its ilk — in the way that it takes its time while keeping it taut, attempts to stretch out beyond the perimeters of the police procedural, and throws in the types of envelope-pushing twists that keep easily distractible viewers coming back. At two and a half hours plus, Prisoners feels like a hybrid, more often seen on a small screen that has borrowed liberally from cinema since David Lynch made the Twin Peaks crossing, than the large, as it brings together an art-house attention to detail with the sprawl and topicality of a serial. Incendies director Denis Villeneuve carefully loads the deck with symbolism from the start, opening with a shot of a deer guilelessly approaching a clearing and picking at scrubby growth in the cold ground, as the camera pulls back on two hunters: the Catholic, gun-toting Keller (Hugh Jackman) and his son (Dylan Minnette), intent on gathering a Thanksgiving offering. Keller and his fragile wife Grace (Maria Bello) are coming together with another family — headed up by the slightly more yuppified Franklin (Terence Howard) and his wife Nancy (Viola Davis) — for Thanksgiving in what seems like a middle-class East Coast suburb. The peace is shattered when the families' young daughters suddenly disappear; the only clues are the mysterious RV that rumbles slowly through the quiet neighborhood and ominous closeups from a predator's perspective. Police detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is drawn into the mystery when the RV is tracked down, along with its confused driver Alex (Paul Dano). That's no consolation to the families, each grieving in their own way, with Keller perpetually enraged and Franklin seemingly on the brink of tears. When Alex's aunt (an unrecognizable Melissa Leo) comes forward with information about her nephew, Keller decides to take matters into his own hands in ways that question the use of force during interrogation and the very definition of imprisonment. Noteworthy performances by Jackman, Gyllenhaal, and Dano highlight this elegant, wrenching thriller — while Villeneuve's generally simple, smart choices might make the audience question not only certain characters' morality but perhaps their own. (2:33) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Chun)
Romeo and Juliet Every director sees the star-crossed lovers differently: Zefferelli's approach was sensuous, while Luhrmann's was hip. Carlo Carlei, director of the British-Swiss-Italian production hitting theaters this week, is so hamstrung by the soapy mechanics of the Twilight series and the firmament of high school productions he fails to add much vision — what he does instead is pander to tweens as much as possible. Which means tweens might like it. Hailee Steinfeld makes Juliet's foolishness seem like the behavior of a highly functional teenager, while Douglas Booth's chiseled Romeo can't help resembling a cheerful Robert Pattinson. Juliet's maid has never been more memorable than Leslie Mansfield and Paul Giamatti is occasionally not self-consciously Paul Giamatti as the cunning friar. Yet the syrupy score is miserably persistent, and the sword fights are abundant and laughable. Tybalt (Gossip Girl's Ed Westwick) leads a group that walks in slo-mo, hats flopping behind them. Carlei wrong-headedly stages the double suicide to resemble Michelangelo's Pietà, but Romeo and Juliet aren't martyrs for our fantasies, they're the Adam and Eve of young love. Cinematic adaptations should remind you they're original, but this Romeo and Juliet simply doesn't know how. (1:58) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Vizcarrondo)
Runner Runner Launching his tale with a ripped-from-the-headlines montage of news reports and concerned-anchor sound bites, director Brad Furman (2011's The Lincoln Lawyer) attempts to argue his online-gambling action thriller's topicality, but not even Anderson Cooper can make a persuasive case for Runner Runner's cultural relevance. Justin Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a post-2008 Wall Street casualty turned Princeton master's candidate, who is putting himself through his finance program via the morally threadbare freelance gig of introducing his fellow students to Internet gambling. Perhaps in the service of supplying our unsympathetic protagonist with a psychological root, we are given a knocked-together scene reuniting Richie with his estranged gambling addict dad (John Heard). By the time we've digested this, plus the image of Justin Timberlake in the guise of a grad student with a TAship, Richie has blown through all his savings and, in a bewildering turn of events, made his way into the orbit of Ben Affleck's Ivan Block, a shady online-gambling mogul taking shelter from an FBI investigation in Costa Rica, along with his lovely adjutant, Rebecca (Gemma Arterton). Richie's rise through the ranks of Ivan's dodgy empire is somewhat mysterious, partly a function of the plot and partly a function of the plot being piecemeal and incoherent. The dialogue and the deliveries are also unconvincing, possibly because we're dealing with a pack of con artists and possibly because the players were dumbfounded by the script, which is clotted with lines we've heard before, from other brash FBI agents, other sketchily drawn temptresses, other derelict, regretful fathers, and other unscrupulous kingpins. (1:31) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
Rush Ron Howard's Formula One thriller Rush is a gripping bit of car porn, decked out with 1970s period details and goofily liberated camera moves to make sure you never forget how much happens under (and around, and on top of) the hood of these beastly vehicles. Real life drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda (played by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, respectively) had a wicked rivalry through the '70s; these characters are so oppositional you'd think Shane Black wrote them. Lauda's an impersonal, methodical pro, while Hunt's an aggressive, undisciplined playboy — but he's so popular he can sway a group of racers to risk their lives on a rainy track, even as Lauda objects. It's a lovely sight: all the testosterone in the world packed into a room bound by windows, egos threatening to bust the glass with the rumble of their voices. I'm no fan of Ron Howard, but maybe the thrill of Grand Theft Auto is in Rush like a spirit animal. (The moments of rush are the greatest; when Lauda's lady friend asks him to drive fast, he does, and it's glorious.) Hunt says that "being a pro kills the sport" — but Howard, an overly schmaltzy director with no gift for logic and too much reliance on suspension of disbelief, doesn't heed that warning. The laughable voiceovers that bookend the film threaten to sink some great stuff, but the magic of the track is vibrant, dangerous, and teeming with greatness. (2:03) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Vizcarrondo)
The Summit The fight for survival is a dominant theme this season at the movies, with astronaut Sandra Bullock grappling for her life in Gravity; lone sailor Robert Redford piloting a leaky boat in All Is Lost; and Tom Hanks battling Somali pirates in Captain Phillips. No movie stars appear in The Summit, a documentary from Irish filmmaker Nick Ryan, but that doesn't lessen its power. In fact, this tale of a staggeringly tragic mountaineering accident — in which 11 people perished in a 48-hour period atop K2, the second-highest peak in the world — might be the most terrifying of the bunch. Along with the expected historical context, interviews, and some stunning aerial footage, The Summit crafts its tale using a seamless blend of re-enactments and archival footage shot during the deadly 2008 expedition. Editor Ben Stark picked up two awards at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and you can see why — it's difficult at times to pick out what's real and what's not. The Summit also delves into the more metaphysical aspects of climbing, including "summit fever" — sharing the startling statistic that for every four people who attempt K2, one will die. It goes without saying that the danger of K2 is clearly part of its allure, and The Summit (a companion piece of sorts to 2003's Touching the Void) does an admirable job getting inside the heads of those who willingly tempt death in order to feel more alive. (1:39) SF Center. (Eddy)
Wadjda Hijabs, headmistresses, and errant fathers fall away before the will and wherewithal of the 11-year-old title character of Wadjda, the first feature by a female Saudi Arabian filmmaker. Director Haifaa al-Mansour's own story — which included filming on the streets of Riyadh from the isolation of a van because she couldn't work publicly with the men in the crew — is the stuff of drama, and it follows that her movie lays out, in the neorealist style of 1948's The Bicycle Thief, the obstacles to freedom set in the path of women and girls in Saudi Arabia, in terms that cross cultural, geographic, and religious boundaries. The fresh star setting the course is Wadjda (first-time actor Waad Mohammed), a smart, irrepressibly feisty girl practically bursting out of her purple high-tops and intent on racing her young neighborhood friend Abudullah (Abdullrahman Algohani) on a bike. So many things stand in her way: the high price of bicycles and the belief that girls will jeopardize their virginity if they ride them; her distracted mother (Reem Abdullah) who's worried that Wadjda's father will take a new wife who can bear him a son; and a harsh, elegant headmistress (Ahd) intent on knuckling down on girlish rebellion. So Wadjda embarks on studying for a Qu'ran recital competition to win money for her bike and in the process learns a matter or two about discipline — and the bigger picture. Director al-Mansour teaches us a few things about her world as well — and reminds us of the indomitable spirit of girls — with this inspiring peek behind an ordinarily veiled world. (1:37) (Chun)
When Comedy Went to School This scattershot documentary by Ron Frank and Mevlut Akkaya is about two big subjects — the Catskill Mountains resorts that launched a couple generations of beloved Jewish entertainers, and mid-to-late 20th century Jewish comedians in general. There's a lot of overlap between them, but the directors (and writer Lawrence Richards) can't seem to find any organizing focus, so their film wanders all over the place, from the roles of resort social directors and busboys to clips from History of the World Part I (1981) and Fiddler on the Roof (1971) to the entirely irrelevant likes of Larry King. That said, there's entertaining vintage performance footage (of Totie Fields, Woody Allen, etc.) and interview input from the still-kicking likes of Sid Ceasar, Jackie Mason, Mort Sahl, Jerry Stiller, and Jerry Lewis. For some this will be a welcome if not particularly well crafted nostalgic wallow. For others, though, the pandering tone set by one Lisa Dawn Miller's (wife of Sandy Hackett, who's son of Buddy) cringe-worthy opening rendition of "Make 'Em Laugh" — to say nothing of her "Send in the Clowns" at the close — will sum up the pedestrian mindset that makes this doc a missed opportunity. (1:23) (Harvey) *