Guess how many movies are opening in the Bay Area Fri/13? Sixteen. Sixteen, y'all. That might be an all-time Ultimate Grand Supreme record. So in this saturated situation, what's worth seeing, considering this is your last weekend before the San Francisco International Film Festival sets up shop and dominates all your moviegoing brain cells?
First, check out Dennis Harvey's feature-length review of Applause, imported from Denmark and featuring "a flamboyant, arresting, faultless star turn" from Paprika Steen, a megastar in her home country.
Seeking more? Here are five (out of 16, remember — true fiends can check out our complete film listings if five ain't enough) to get you through the weekend.
A buzzed-about doc on the (unfortunately) hot topic of teen bullying:
Bully Anyone who’s ever been a kid on the wrong side of a bully — or was sensitive and observant enough not to avert his or her eyes — will be puzzling over the MPAA’s R rating of this doc, for profanity. It’s absurd when the gory violence on network and basic cable TV stops just short of cutting characters’ faces off, as one blurred-out bus bully threatens to do to the sweet, hapless Alex, dubbed “Fish Face” by the kids who ostracize him and make his life hell on the bus. It’s a jungle out there, as we all know — but it’s that real, visceral footage of the verbal (and physical) abuse bullied children deal with daily that brings it all home. Filmmaker Lee Hirsch goes above and beyond in trying to capture all dimensions of his subject: the terrorized bullied, the ineffectual school administrators, the desperate parents. There’s Kelby, the gay girl who was forced off her beloved basketball team after she came out, and Ja’Maya, who took drastic measures to fend off her tormenters — as well as the specters of those who turned to suicide as a way out. Hirsch is clearly more of an activist than a fly on the wall: he steps in at one point to help and obviously makes an uplifting effort to focus on what we can do to battle bullying. Nevertheless, at the risk of coming off like the Iowa assistant principal who’s catching criticism for telling one victim that he was just as bad as the bully that he refused to shake hands with, one feels compelled to note one prominent component that’s missing here: the bullies themselves, their stories, and the reasons why they’re so cruel — admittedly a daunting, possibly libelous task. (1:35) Piedmont, Shattuck. (Kimberly Chun)
A horror spoof so good we don't dare spoil it for you. Not even posting the trailer, that's how serious we are:
The Cabin in the Woods If the name "Joss Whedon" doesn't provide all the reason you need to bum-rush The Cabin in the Woods (Whedon produced and co-wrote, with director and frequent collaborator Drew Goddard), well, there's not much more that can be revealed without ruining the entire movie. In a very, very small nutshell, it's about a group of college kids (including Chris "Thor" Hemsworth) whose weekend jaunt to a rural cabin goes horribly awry, as such weekend jaunts tend to do in horror movies (the Texas Chainsaw and Evil Dead movies are heavily referenced). But this is no ordinary nightmare — its peculiarities are cleverly, carefully revealed, and the movie's inside-out takedown of scary movies produces some very unexpected (and delightfully blood-gushing) twists and turns. Plus: the always-awesome Richard Jenkins, and in-jokes galore for genre fans. (1:35) California, Presidio. (Cheryl Eddy)
The only movie involving Luc Besson you need to worry about this week (we've seen the Besson-produced and co-written Lockout, which could skate by on action-movie silliness if it didn't so blatantly rip off John Carpenter, a.k.a. The Great One):
The Lady Luc Besson directs Michelle Yeoh — but The Lady is about as far from flashy action heroics as humanly possible. Instead, it's a reverent, emotion-packed biopic of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, a national hero in Burma (Myanmar) for her work against the country's oppressive military regime. But don't expect a year-by-year exploration of Suu's every accomplishment; instead, the film focuses on the relationship between Suu and her British husband, Michael Aris (David Thewlis). When Michael discovers he's dying of cancer, he's repeatedly denied visas to visit his wife — a cruel knife-twist by a government that assures Suu that if she leaves Burma to visit him, they'll never allow her to return. Heartbreaking stuff, elegantly channeled by Thewlis and especially Yeoh, who conveys Suu's incredible strength despite her alarmingly frail appearance. The real Iron Lady, right here. (2:07) Bridge, Shattuck. (Cheryl Eddy)
The last of 2012's Best Foreign Language Film nominees to open locally, after Bullhead, Footnote, In Darkness, and eventual winner A Separation:
Monsieur Lazhar When their beloved but troubled teacher hangs herself in the classroom — not a thoughtful choice of location, but then we never really discover her motives — traumatized Montreal sixth-graders get Bachir Lazhar (Fellag), a middle-aged Algerian émigré whose contrastingly rather strict, old-fashioned methods prove surprisingly useful at helping them past their trauma. He quickly becomes the crush object of studious Alice (Sophie Nelisse), whose single mother is a pilot too often away, while troublemaker Simon (Emilien Neron) acts out his own domestic and other issues at school. Lazhar has his own secrets as well — for one thing, we see that he's still petitioning for permanent asylum in Canada, contradicting what he told the principal upon being hired — and while his emotions are more tightly wrapped, circumstances will eventually force all truths out. This very likable drama about adults and children from Quebec writer-director Philippe Falardeau doesn't quite have the heft and resonance to rate among the truly great narrative films about education (like Laurent Cantet's recent French The Class). But it comes close enough, gracefully touching on numerous other issues while effectively keeping focus on how a good teacher can shape young lives in ways as incalculable as they are important. (1:34) Albany, Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Dennis Harvey)
And The Three Stooges: The Movie. Wait, no. Actually...
The Turin Horse Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr’s final cinematic statement is extrapolated from a climactic episode in the life of Friedrich Nietzsche, wherein the philosopher tearfully intervened in the beating of a horse on the streets of Turin. Tarr, working with frequent collaborators Ágnes Hranitzky and László Krasznahorkai, conjures the lives of a horseman and his daughter as they barely subsist amid a windswept wasteland. This glacial Beckettian dirge of a film, shot in black and white and composed of Tarr’s trademark long takes, doesn’t so much develop these two characters as wear them down. Their stultifying daily routines — cleaning the stable, fetching water from the well, changing and cleaning their numerous layers of clothing — occupy much of the film, so it is all the more unsettling when this wretched lifestyle is torn asunder by the whims of nature. (2:26) SF Film Society Cinema. (Sam Stander)