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.
About Time Richard Curtis, the man behind 2003's Love Actually, must be enjoying his days in England, rolling in large piles of money. Coinciding with the 10-year anniversary of that twee cinematic love fest comes Curtis' latest ode to joy, About Time. The film begins in Cornwall at an idyllic stone beach house, as Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) describes his family members (Bill Nighy is dad; Richard Cordery is the crazy uncle) and their pleasures (rituals (tea on the beach, ping pong). Despite beachside bliss, Tim is lovelorn and ready to begin a career as a barrister (which feels as out of the blue as the coming first act break). Oh! And as it happens, the men in Tim's family can travel back in time. There are no clear rules, though births and deaths are like no-trespass signs on the imaginary timeline. When he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), he falls in love, but if he paves over his own evening by bouncing back and spending that night elsewhere, he loses the path he's worn into the map and has to fix it. Again and again. Despite potential repetition, About Time moves smoothly, sweetly, slowly along, giving its audience time enough to feel for the characters, and then feel for the characters again, and then keep crying just because the ball's already in motion. It's the most nest-like catharsis any British film ever built. (2:03) (Vizcarrondo)
A.K.A. Doc Pomus "All greatness comes from pain." The simple statement comes from Raoul Felder, brother of legendary R&B songwriter Doc Pomus, in the beautiful, crushing mediation on his brother's life, A.K.A. Doc Pomus, opening theatrically this week after serving as the closing-night film of the 2012 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Doc wrote some of the greatest music of a generation: R&B and early rock'n'roll standards such as "This Magic Moment," "A Teenager in Love," "Save the Last Dance For Me," and "Viva Las Vegas" — songs made famous by the likes of Dion, the Drifters, and Elvis Presley. Jewish, debilitated by polio, and vastly overweight, Doc defied expectations while struggling with a lifetime of outsider status and physical pain. William Hechter and Peter Miller's doc offers a revealing look at his remarkable life. (1:38) Vogue. (Emily Savage)
Blue is the Warmest Color See "Hot and Cool." (2:59) Embarcadero.
Diana Naomi Watts stars in this exploration of the last two years in the life of Princess Diana. (1:52) Shattuck.
Ender's Game Asa Butterfield (star of 2011's Hugo), Harrison Ford, and Ben Kingsley appear in this adaptation of Orson Scott Card's sci-fi novel. (1:54) Presidio.
Free Birds Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson lend their voices to this animated turkey tale. (1:31)
God Loves Uganda Most contemporary Americans don't know much about Uganda — that is, beyond Forest Whitaker's Oscar-winning performance as Idi Amin in 2006's The Last King of Scotland. Though that film took some liberties with the truth, it did effectively convey the grotesque terrors of the dictator's 1970s reign. But even decades post-Amin, the East African nation has somehow retained its horrific human-rights record. For example: what extremist force was behind the country's Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which proposed the death penalty as punishment for gayness? The answer might surprise you, or not. As the gripping, fury-fomenting doc God Loves Uganda reveals, America's own Christian Right has been exporting hate under the guise of missionary work for some time. Taking advantage of Uganda's social fragility — by building schools and medical clinics, passing out food, etc. — evangelical mega churches, particularly the Kansas City, Mo.-based, breakfast-invoking International House of Prayer, have converted large swaths of the population to their ultra-conservative beliefs. Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, an Oscar winner for 2010 short Music by Prudence, follows naive "prayer warriors" as they journey to Uganda for the first time; his apparent all-access relationship with the group shows that they aren't outwardly evil people — but neither do they comprehend the very real consequences of their actions. His other sources, including two Ugandan clergymen who've seen their country change for the worse and an LGBT activist who lives every day in peril, offer a more harrowing perspective. Evocative and disturbing, God Loves Uganda seems likely to earn Williams more Oscar attention. (1:23) Roxie. (Eddy)
Kill Your Darlings Relieved to escape his Jersey home, dominated by the miseries of an oft-institutionalized mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and long-suffering father (David Cross), Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) enters Columbia University in 1944 as a freshman already interested in the new and avant-garde. He's thus immediately enchanted by bad-boy fellow student Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a veteran of numerous prestigious schools and well on the road to getting kicked out of this one. Charismatic and reckless, Carr has a circle of fellow eccentrics buzzing around him, including dyspeptic William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and merchant marine wild child Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston). Variably included in or ostracized from this training ground for future Beat luminaries is the older David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), a disgraced former academic who'd known Carr since the latter was 14, and followed him around with pathetic, enamored devotion. It's this last figure's apparent murder by Carr that provides the bookending crux of John Krokidas' impressive first feature, a tragedy whose motivations and means remain disputed. Partly blessed by being about a (comparatively) lesser-known chapter in an overexposed, much-mythologized history, Kill Your Darlings is easily one of the best dramatizations yet of Beat lore, with excellent performances all around. (Yes, Harry Potter actually does pass quite well as a somewhat cuter junior Ginsberg.) It's sad if somewhat inevitable that the most intriguing figure here — Hall's hapless, lovelorn stalker-slash-victim — is the one that remains least knowable to both the film and to the ages. (1:40) Shattuck. (Harvey)
Last Vegas This buddy film may look like a Bucket List-Hangover hybrid, but it's got a lot more Spring Breakers in it than you expect — who beats Vegas for most bikinis per capita? Four old friends reunite for a wedding in Vegas, where they drink, gamble, and are confused for legendary men. Morgan Freeman sneaks out of his son's house to go. Kevin Kline's wife gave him a hall pass to regain his lost sense of fun. Kline and Freeman trick Robert De Niro into going — he's got a grudge against Michael Douglas, so why celebrate that jerk's nuptials to a 30-year-old? The conflicts are mostly safe and insubstantial, but the in-joke here is that all of these acting legends are confused for legends by their accidentally obtained VIP host (Romany Malco). These guys have earned their stature, so what gives? When De Niro flings fists you shudder inside remembering Jake LaMotta. Kline's velvety comic delivery is just as swaggery as it was during his 80s era collaborations with Lawrence Kasdan. Douglas is "not as charming as he thinks he is," yet again, and voice-of-God Freeman faces a conflict specific to paternal protective urges. Yes, Last Vegas jokes about the ravages of age and prescribes tenacity for all that ails us, but I want a cast this great celebrated at least as obviously as The Expendables films. Confuse these guys for better? Show me who. (1:44) Presidio. (Vizcarrondo)
Let the Fire Burn In 1985 a long-simmering conflict between Philadelphia police and the local black liberation group MOVE came to a catastrophic conclusion. Ordered to leave their West Philly building after numerous neighborhood complaints about unsanitary conditions, incessant noise, child endangerment and more, the commune refused. An armed standoff came to a halt when a helicopter dropped two FBI-supplied water gel bombs on the roof, killing 11 MOVE members (including five kids) and creating an uncontrollable fire that destroyed some 60 nearby homes. It's hard to deny after watching Jason Osder's powerful documentary that MOVE then looked like one crazy cult — its representatives spouting extreme, paranoid rhetoric in and out of court; its child residents (their malnutrition-bloated stomachs nonsensically explained as being due to "eating so much") in visibly poor health; its charismatic leader John Africa questionably stable. But whatever hazards they posed to themselves and the surrounding community, it's also almost undeniable here that city law enforcement drastically overreacted, possibly in deliberate retaliation for an officer's shootout death seven years earlier. The filmed and amply media-reported trials that ensued raised strong suspicions that the police even shot unarmed MOVE members trying to escape the blaze. This outrageous saga, with numerous key questions and injustices still dangling, is an American history chapter that should not be forgotten. Let the Fire Burn is an invaluable reminder. (1:35) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Man of Tai Chi Keanu Reeves directs and plays a supporting role in this contemporary Beijing-set martial-arts drama. (1:45) Metreon.
The Pin Canadian film about a romance between two Eastern European youths, in hiding during World War II. (1:23) Opera Plaza.
12 Years a Slave See "To Hell and Back." (2:14) California, Embarcadero.
The Visitor Barbara (Joanne Nail) Directed by "Michael J. Paradise" (aka Giulio Paradisi), this 1979 Italian-US. co-production is belatedly starting to acquire a cult following. Joanne Nail is Barbara, mother of Katy (Paige Conner), a seemingly normal little girl with a disconcerting tendency to swear like a longshoreman when out of ma's earshot. Also unbeknownst to mom is that her boyfriend (Lance Henriksen, no less), as well as characters played by Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, John Huston, Sam Peckinpah, and the inimitable Shelley Winters are all very interested — on the good and the evil side — in Katy, a "miracle of nature" with "immense powers." Those powers apparently include making Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's basketball explode at the hoop, and sending teenage boys through plate glass at an ice rink. Some of the adults nosing around Katy really, really want Barbara to give her a similarly gifted baby brother, others do not. It all involves some kind of interplanetary conspiracy to ... well, beats me, frankly. Its utter senselessness part of the charm, The Visitor includes any number of bizarre moments, including Winters' evident enjoyment of slapping some sense into Katy (the child thesp later confirmed that the Oscar winner went a little too Method in that scene), and crusty old Huston intoning the line "I'm, uh, the babysitter." This glossy sci-fi horror mess. which is the Roxie is showing in a new digital transfer, borrows elements freely from 1977's Exorcist II: The Heretic (a fiasco that inspired very little imitation), 1976's The Omen (or rather 1978's Damien: Omen II) and, strangely, Orson Welles' 1947 The Lady from Shanghai (directly ripping off its famous hall of mirrors scene). Yet there's a certain undeniable originality to its incoherence. (1:48) Roxie. (Harvey)
All Is Lost As other reviewers have pointed out, All Is Lost's nearly dialogue-free script (OK, there is one really, really well-placed "Fuuuuuck!") is about as far from J.C. Chandor's Oscar-nominated script for 2011's Margin Call as possible. Props to the filmmaker, then, for crafting as much pulse-pounding magic out of austerity as he did with that multi-character gabfest. Here, Robert Redford plays "Our Man," a solo sailor whose race to survive begins along with the film, as his boat collides with a hunk of Indian Ocean detritus. Before long, he's completely adrift, yet determined to outwit the forces of nature that seem intent on bringing him down. The 77-year-old Redford turns in a surprisingly physical performance that's sure to be remembered as a late-career highlight. (1:46) Albany, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
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)
Carrie Is the world ready for a candy-covered Carrie? It's a sad state of affairs when the best thing about a movie, particularly a wholly superfluous remake like this, is its creepy poster. That's the closest thing this Carrie has to offer next to that retina-scorching, iconic 1976 image of blood-saturated Sissy Spacek that continues to lend inspiration to baby Billiths everywhere. Nonetheless, like a shy violet cowering in the gym showers, this Carrie comes loaded with potential, with Boys Don't Cry (1999) director Kimberly Peirce at the helm, the casting of Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz in the critical mother-daughter roles, and the unfortunately topical bullying theme. Peirce makes a half-hearted attempt to update the, um, franchise when the tormented Carrie (a miscast Moretz) is virally videoed by spoiled rival Chris (Portia Doubleday), but the filmmaker's heart — and guts — aren't in this pointless exercise. We speed through the buildup — which unconvincingly sets up Carrie's torments at home, instigated by obviously mentally ill, Christian fundamentalist mom Margaret (Moore), and at school, where the PE teacher (Judy Greer) pep-talks Carrie and Sue Snell (Gabriella White) is mysteriously hellbent on paying penance for her bullying misdeeds — to the far-from-scary denouement. Let's say mean-spirited reflexive revenge-taking is no real substitute for true horror and shock. Supposedly drawn to Carrie for its female-empowerment message, Peirce nevertheless isn't cut out to wade into horror's crimson waters — especially when one compares this weak rendition with Brian De Palma's double-screen brio and high-camp Freudian passion play. (1:32) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (1:35) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
The Counselor The reviews are in, and it's clear Ridley Scott has made the most polarizing film of the season. Most of The Counselor's detractors blame Cormac McCarthy's screenplay, the acclaimed author's first that isn't drawn from a prexisting novel. To date, the best film made from a McCarthy tale is 2007's No Country for Old Men, and The Counselor trawls in similar border-noir genre trappings in its tale of a sleek, greedy lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who gets in way over his head after a drug deal (entered into with slippery compadres played by Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem) goes wrong. Yes, there are some problems here, with very few unexpected twists in a downbeat story that's laden with overlong monologues, most of them delivered by random characters that appear, talk, and are never seen again. But some of those speeches are doozies — and haters are overlooking The Counselor's sleazy pleasures (many of which are supplied by Cameron Diaz's fierce, feline femme fatale) and attention to grimy detail. One suspects cult appreciation awaits. (1:57) Four Star, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
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) 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) Balboa, 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. (Harvey)
Escape Plan It's fascinating how ruined faces and silvered goatees can lend an air of, uh, gravitas to even the most muscle-bound action-movie veterans. The logic: Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have been around so long that they must possess more than a few brain cells to rub together. And rub they do — to surprisingly pleasing effect in this cut-above-the-next-Expendables-sequel meeting of blockbuster behemoths. Stallone's Ray Breslin is a prison security specialist so nerdily devoted to his work that he gets himself locked up to test his clients' jails. He gets in over his head when he's thrown into the most secure private prison in the world, which happens to be run by former Blackwater mercenaries. It's essentially the next, rather permanent-looking step after your not-so-friendly rendition flight. Breslin befriends security man Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), who's in the clink on behalf of his "digital Robin Hood" boss. Menaced by warden Hobbs (Jim Caviezel) and brawny Drake (Vinnie Jones), the two prisoners kick off a changeable game, Muslim prisoner Javed (Faran Tahir) in tow. Director Mikael Håfström lays out the plans with geeky enthusiasm by way of zippy point-of-view shots that are supposed to let you into Breslin's noggin. Shockingly, after Stallone's recent brain-dead exercises (2012's Bullet to the Head), it's not an unhappy experience in this smarter-than-it-looks post-9/11 prison-break drama that wears its complicated feelings about War on Terror-era crime and punishment — and torture — on its sleeve. Still, matters never get too bleeding-heart liberal here, at the risk of alienating the stars' audiences. Sly obviously embraces this opportunity to play smarter than usual, while the ex-Governator sinks his choppers into his role with glee, trotting out a Commando-style slo-mo gun-swinging move that will have his geek brigade cheering. (1:56) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Chun)
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) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (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, Vogue. (Eddy)
Informant Local filmmaker Jamie Meltzer's complex, compelling Informant makes its theatrical bow at the Roxie a year and a half after it premiered at the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival (it's been playing festivals nearly nonstop since). The doc explores the strange life of Brandon Darby, a lefty activist turned FBI informant turned Tea Party operator who helped send two 2008 Republican National Convention protestors to jail. He's a polarizing guy, but the film, which is anchored by an extensive interview with Darby, invites the audience to draw their own conclusions. (Side note: if you conclude that you want to yell at the screen and give Darby a piece of your mind, chances are you won't be alone.) (1:21) Roxie. (Eddy)
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) Metreon. (Chun)
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (1:32) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio.
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) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
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. (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) SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Vizcarrondo)
Torn An explosion at a mall throws two families into turmoil in this locally-shot drama from director Jeremiah Birnbaum and scenarist Michael Richter. Maryam (Mahnoor Baloch) and Ali (Faran Tahir) are Pakistani-émigré professionals, Lea (Dendrie Taylor) a working-class single mother. Their paths cross in the wake of tragedy as both their teenage sons are killed in a shopping center blast that at first appears to have been caused by a gas-main accident. But then authorities begin to suspect a bombing, and worse, the principals' dead offspring — one as a possible Islamic terrorist, another for perhaps plotting retaliation against school bullies. As the parents suffer stressful media scrutiny in addition to grief and doubt, they begin to take their frustrations out on each other. An earnest small-scale treatment of some large, timely issues, the well-acted Torn holds interest as far as it goes. But it proves less than fully satisfying, ending on a note that's somewhat admirable, but also renders much of the preceding narrative one big red herring. (1:20) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
The Trials of Muhammad Ali If you've seen an Ali doc before (or even the 2001 biopic), a lot of the material in The Trials of Muhammad Ali will feel familiar. But Bill Siegel's lively investigation, which offers interviews with Louis Farrakhan and Ali's former wife Khalilah, among others, does well to narrow its focus onto one specific — albeit complicated and controversial — aspect of Ali's life: the boxing champ's Nation of Islam conversion, name change, and refusal to fight in Vietnam. And as always, the young, firebrand Ali is so charismatic that even well-known footage makes for entertaining viewing. (1:26) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (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) Opera Plaza. (Chun)
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) Smith Rafael. (Eddy)