Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Michelle Devereaux, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Erik Morse, Louis Peitzman, Lynn Rapoport, Ben Richardson, and Matt Sussman. The film intern is Peter Galvin. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. For first-run showtimes, see Movie Guide.
After.Life Christina Ricci plays a girl who may or may not have died in a car accident; Liam Neeson plays a creepy funeral director who may or may not know the truth. (runtime not available)
Date Night Don't you kinda wish Steve Carell and Tina Fey were married IRL? (1:27) Presidio.
The Greatest Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon play a couple dealing with the death of their oldest son and the sudden appearance of a girl (Carey Mulligan) claiming to be pregnant with their grandson. (1:36) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael.
2012: Time for Change Author and outspoken advocate of using psychedelics to commune with spirits, Daniel Pinchbeck hosts this flimsy documentary about his search for a means to end contemporary culture's addiction to consumerism and apathy. It has little to do with the prophetic year of the title. Instead, Pinchbeck's thesis is that the year should represent a turning point in a society that is shirking its responsibility for its abuse of the earth and its people. I think we can all agree that contemporary culture is a tad self-indulgent, but Pinchbeck devalues his argument by spending an enormous amount of film time hyping psychedelic experiences and yoga as the answer to these issues. Lacking on-screen charisma himself, Pinchbeck turns to celebrity star power to punch things up. Notable are a sit-down with Sting who recounts an ayahuasca experience, David Lynch explaining transcendental meditation, and a talk with Ellen Page on the value of "shoveling goat shit." The film is so rambling and unfocused that by its end I wasn't sold on any of its points. I knew 2012 just wouldn't be the same without John Cusack. (1:25) Lumiere. (Galvin)
The Warlords No doubt following the lead of John Woo's Red Cliff (2008), this three-year-old Chinese epic is not quite as epic, but definitely worth a watch. It's set during the Taiping Rebellion of the 1860s; Jet Li is joined by Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro as he leads a force of Qing rebels. The intricacies of Chinese history are initially daunting, but thankfully the film's true themes of brotherhood and betrayal are pretty universal. Though director Peter Chan is not known for his action films, The Warlords' battlefield sequences are plenty fun. Unfortunately, the non-combat stuff i.e., anytime Chan appears interested in playing up the emotional drama between his three leads are the least developed aspects of the film. It's possible that certain sequences were more fleshed out in the film's original cut (the "international" version is shortened by 15 minutes) but by skimping on important character moments, The Warlords feels incredibly lopsided. (1:50) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Galvin)
When You're Strange Johnny Depp narrates Tom DiCillo's Doors documentary. (1:30)
Ajami You may recognize the title of Yaron Shoni and Scandar Copti's debut collaboration as one of five films nominated for a 2010 Academy Award in the Foreign Category. Though it didn't bring home the grand prize, Ajami remains a complex and affecting story about desperation and its consequences in a religiously-mixed town in Israel. As we follow the lives of four of Ajami's residents the narrative shifts perspective almost maddeningly, switching characters seemingly at the height of each story's action. But once all of the stories fully intersect, the final product has the distinction of feeling both meticulously calculated and completely natural. I was most impressed to learn that Shani and Copti prepared their actors with improvised role-playing rather than scripts. By withholding what was going to happen in a scene before shooting, we are treated to looks of surprise and emotion on actor's faces that never feel unnatural. Attaining such a level of realism may be Ajami's crowning achievement; it can't have been easy to make a foreign world feel so familiar. (2:00) Elmwood. (Galvin)
Alice in Wonderland Tim Burton's take on the classic children's tale met my mediocre expectations exactly, given its months of pre-release hype (in the film world, fashion magazines, and even Sephora, for the love of brightly-colored eyeshadows). Most folks over a certain age will already know the story, and much of the dialogue, before the lights go down and the 3-D glasses go on; it's up to Burton and his all-star cast (including numerous big-name actors providing voices for animated characters) to make the tale seem newly enthralling. The visuals are nearly as striking as the CG, with Helena Bonham Carter's big-headed Red Queen a particularly marvelous human-computer creation. But Wonderland suffers from the style-over-substance dilemma that's plagued Burton before; all that spooky-pretty whimsy can't disguise the film's fairly tepid script. Teenage Alice (Mia Wasikowska) displaying girl-power tendencies is a nice, if not surprising, touch, but Johnny Depp's grating take on the Mad Hatter will please only those who were able to stomach his interpretation of Willy Wonka. (1:48) Cerrito, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
*Breath Made Visible Ruedi Gerber's documentary throws a sympathetic and fascinating light on the work of dance pioneer Anna Halprin. Weaving on-camera interviews with former collaborators, family members, and Halprin herself into excerpts from current and past work suggests decades and decades thoughtfully lived by an artist who had the guts to be herself. Again and again the camera returns to the now legendary The Deck, which husband and landscape architect Lawrence Halprin built so she could do her work while their children were growing. One of this film's loveliest aspects is to see the deck changing just as Halprin does. Wisconsin-raised and East Coast-oriented, her moving to the California of the 1940s had isolated her from mainstream dance influences. But it also had opened vistas to nature and through nature into herself that she might not have able to achieve otherwise. The film may be conventionally structured but what emerges is a portrait of an anything but conventional woman, artist and thinker. (1:20) Elmwood, Roxie, Smith Rafael. (Rita Felciano)
The Bounty Hunter There's a real feeling of impotence in reviewing a movie whose ad was pasted on the side of the bus you took to the screening. This thing is determined to be seen, and that's a true shame. Those who heed the call of the ubiquitous marketing campaign will have to sit through a dull parade of contrivances concerning a bounty hunter (Gerard Butler) whose latest catch is his court-skipping ex-wife (Jennifer Aniston). She's a hotshot city journalist who's forced to continue her investigation of a police cover-up while handcuffed to a car door and bickering with her old flame. The trajectory of the plot is obvious enough, but there's so little chemistry between the two actors that the inevitable reconciliation practically constitutes a twist ending. Aniston saw fit not to whine her way through this role, which is something, but nothing nearly as complimentary can be said about Butler. He emotes in lurches, with the presence of a guy who's not sure acting is the right direction for his life but still really wants to give it a go. If "This. Is. Sparta!" weren't burned into my brain I would swear the man had never been in front of a camera before. (1:50) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Jason Shamai)
Chloe The theme of undependable narrative surfaces in Atom Egoyan's newest film, Chloe (a remake of French director Anne Fontaine's 2003 Nathalie), but here the artifice of the premise itself is so hard to move past as to feel at times like a barrier, rather than a passageway into the interior of a handful of lives. We do see interiors, in the beautiful, chilly household of Catherine (Julianne Moore), a Toronto doctor who suspects that her professor husband, David (Liam Neeson), may be cheating on her. And one of the more haunting images in the film is the painful sight of Catherine drifting through their home at night, barred from the rooms where her husband and teenage son (Max Thieriot) carry on their private, unknowable lives.
Why this unbearable situation would lead her to contact Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), a beautiful young call girl she just met, and hire her to engineer an interaction with David to test his fidelity, is not quite clear. Nonetheless, one masochistic transaction leads to another, and in a series of lavish and exquisite settings, we, along with Catherine, are treated to the erotic details of Chloe's encounters with David, which begin to charge the connection between the two women as well. Moore's work is as fine as ever, but Egoyan has settled for something here: trying to beguile and seduce us. And in the end, this is more disturbing, and surprising, than the rather sharp turn Chloe makes into the landscape of the erotic thriller, where it takes the shape of an unbelievable story we've been told many times before. (1:36) Elmwood, Four Star, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
*City Island The Rizzo family of City Island, N.Y. a tiny atoll associated historically with fishing and jurisdictionally with the Bronx have reached a state where their primary interactions consist of sniping, yelling, and storming out of rooms. These storm clouds operate as cover for the secrets they're all busy keeping from one another. Correctional officer Vince (Andy Garcia) pretends he's got frequent poker nights so he can skulk off to his true shameful indulgence: a Manhattan acting class. Perpetually fuming spouse Joyce (Julianna Margulies) assumes he's having an affair. Daughter Vivian (Dominik García-Lorido) has dropped out of school to work at a strip joint, while the world class-sarcasms of teenager Vinnie (Ezra Miller) deflect attention from his own hidden life as an aspiring chubby chaser. All this (plus everyone's sneaky cigarette habit) is nothing, however, compared to Vince's really big secret: he conceived and abandoned a "love child" before marrying, and said guilty issue has just turned up as a 24-year-old car thief on his cell block. Writer-director Raymond De Felitta made a couple other features in the last 15 years, none widely seen; if this latest is typical, we need more of him, more often. Perfectly cast, City Island is farcical without being cartoonish, howl-inducing without lowering your brain-cell count. It's arguably a better, less self-conscious slice of dysfunctional family absurdism than Little Miss Sunshine (2006) complete with an Alan Arkin more inspired in his one big scene here than in all of that film's Oscar-winning performance. (1:40) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Clash of the Titans The minds behind Clash of the Titans decided their movie should be 3D at the last possible moment before release. Consequently, the 3D is pretty janky. I don't know what the rest of the film's excuse is. Clash of the Titans retreads the 1981 cult classic with reasonable faithfulness, though Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion effects have been (of course) replaced with CG renderings of all the expected monsters, magic, gods, etc. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes as other reviews have pointed out: Schindler's List (1993) reunion! glow and glower as Zeus and Hades, while Sam Worthington (2009's Avatar) once again fills the role of bland hero, this time as a snooze-worthy Perseus. You might have fun in the moment with Clash of the Titans, but it's hardly memorable, and certainly nowhere near epic. (1:58) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Crazy Heart "Oh, I love Jeff Bridges!" is the usual response when his name comes up every few years for Best Actor consideration, usually via some underdog movie no one saw, and the realization occurs that he's never won an Oscar. The oversight is painful because it could be argued that no leading American actor has been more versatile, consistently good, and true to that elusive concept "artistic integrity" than Bridges over the last 40 years. It's rumored Crazy Heart was slotted for cable or DVD premiere, then thrust into late-year theater release in hopes of attracting Best Actor momentum within a crowded field. Lucky for us, this performance shouldn't be overlooked. Bridges plays "Bad" Blake, a veteran country star reduced to playing bars with local pickup bands. His slide from grace hasn't been helped by lingering tastes for smoke and drink, let alone five defunct marriages. He meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), freelance journalist, fan, and single mother. They spark; though burnt by prior relationships, she's reluctant to take seriously a famous drunk twice her age. Can Bad handle even this much responsibility? Meanwhile, he gets his "comeback" break in the semi-humiliating form of opening for Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) a contemporary country superstar who was once Bad's backup boy. Tommy offers a belated shot at commercial redemption; Jean offers redemption of the strictly personal kind. There's nothing too surprising about the ways in which Crazy Heart both follows and finesses formula. You've seen this preordained road from wreckage to redemption before. But actor turned first-time director Scott Cooper's screenplay honors the flies in the windshield inherited from Thomas Cobb's novel as does Bridges, needless to say. (1:51) Opera Plaza, Red Vic, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid Spoiler alert: nothing happens in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. That was OK when it was just a bookauthor Jeff Kinney's illustrated novel works due in large part to his whimsical drawings and tongue-in-cheek humor. It's a kids' book, but it's fun for adults, too. The same can't be said for the film adaptation: Diary of a Wimpy Kid sticks close to its source material without the creativity necessary to make it work on the big screen. As in the book, Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) navigates the treacherous terrain of middle school, struggling to cope with an awkward best friend, a brutal older brother, and parents who just don't understand. All the actors turn in solid performances Gordon is a particularly good find. But there's so little here to work with. The best that can be said about Diary of a Wimpy Kid is that it's cute and mostly harmless: a pleasant diversion for young'uns, and a tolerable bore for the parents they drag along. (2:00) 1000 Van Ness. (Peitzman)
*The Ghost Writer Roman Polanski's never-ending legal woes have inspired endless debates on the interwebs and elsewhere; they also can't help but add subtext to the 76-year-old's new film, which is chock full o' anti-American vibes anyway. It's also a pretty nifty political thriller about a disgraced former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) who's hanging out in his Martha's Vineyard mansion with his whip-smart, bitter wife (Olivia Williams) and Joan Holloway-as-ice-queen assistant (Kim Cattrall), plus an eager young biographer (Ewan McGregor) recently hired to ghost-write his memoirs. But as the writer quickly discovers, the politician's past contains the kinds of secrets that cause strange cars with tinted windows to appear in one's rearview mirror when driving along deserted country roads. Polanski's long been an expert when it comes to escalating tension onscreen; he's also so good at adding offbeat moments that only seem tossed-off (as when the PM's groundskeeper attempts to rake leaves amid relentless sea breezes) and making the utmost of his top-notch actors (Tom Wilkinson and Eli Wallach have small, memorable roles). Though I found The Ghost Writer's ZOMG! third-act revelation to be a bit corny, I still didn't think it detracted from the finely crafted film that led up to it. (1:49) California, Cerrito, Embarcadero, Piedmont, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
The Girl on the Train André Téchiné's beautifully photographed, ripped-from-the-headlines film explores the events that led a young Parisian girl to lie about being the victim of an anti-semitic attack. Téchiné's dramatization fails as an account of the incident, but the film manages to evoke a powerfully mysterious tone due largely to two stellar performances, by Émilie Dequenne as the 20-something Jeanne and Catherine Deneuve as her persistent mother. Much of the running time follows Jeanne's experiences before the fabrication, as she falls for (and moves in with) a young wrestler named Franck, before a tragic event causes Jeanne to invent the famous lie. An arty exploration into the psychology of victimization that happens to be anchored by a real-life event, The Girl on the Train may disappoint those looking for easy answers but is undeniable as a showcase for some outstanding acting. (1:42) Elmwood, Four Star. (Galvin)
*The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo By the time the first of Stieg Larsson's so-called "Millennium" books had been published anywhere, the series already had an unhappy ending: he died (in 2004). The following year, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo became a Swedish, then eventually international sensation, its sequels following suit. The books are addicting, to say the least; despite their essential crime-mystery-thriller nature, they don't require putting your ear for writing of some literary value on sleep mode. Now the first of three adaptive features shot back-to-back has reached U.S. screens. (Sorry to say, yes, a Hollywood remake is already in the works but let's hope that's years away.) Even at two-and-a-half hours, this Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by necessity must do some major truncating to pack in the essentials of a very long, very plotty novel. Still, all but the nitpickingest fans will be fairly satisfied, while virgins will have the benefit of not knowing what's going to happen and getting scared accordingly. Soon facing jail after losing a libel suit brought against him by a shady corporate tycoon, leftie journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) gets a curious private offer to probe the disappearance 40 years earlier of a teenage girl. This entangles him with an eccentric wealthy family and their many closet skeletons (including Nazi sympathies) as well as dragon-tattooed Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), androgynous loner, 24-year-old court ward, investigative researcher, and skillful hacker. Director Niels Arden Oplev and his scenarists do a workmanlike job one more organizational than interpretive, a faithful transcription without much style or personality all its own. Nonetheless, Larsson's narrative engine kicks in early and hauls you right along to the depot. (2:32) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Green Zone Titled for the heavily-guarded headquarters of international occupation in Baghdad, Green Zone reunites director Paul "Shaky-Cam" Greengrass with star Matt Damon, the two having previously collaborated on the last two Bourne films. Instead of a super-soldier, this time around Damon just plays a supremely insubordinate one as he attempts to uncover the reason why his military unit can't find any of Saddam's WMDs. With the aid of the CIA, a Wall Street Journal reporter and a friendly Iraqi, Damon goes rogue in order to suss out the source of the misinformation. The Iraq War action is decent if scarce, but an overindulgence in (you guessed it) shaky-cam and political jargon cannot hide the fact that Green Zone's plot is simplistic and probably light on actual facts. Damon makes a fine cowboy-cum-hero, but the effectiveness of the mix of patriotism and Pentagon paranoia will vary based on your penchant for such things. Still, Green Zone moves fast enough that it remains worth a matinee for conspiracy thriller aficionados. (1:55) 1000 Van Ness. (Galvin)
Greenberg Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is 40, and you might think he's going through a midlife crisis if he hadn't been in pretty much this same crisis for 15 years or more. Still very edgy and fragile after a nervous breakdown-sparked institutional stay, he's holing up at the comfortable Hollywood home of a big-deal brother while the latter and family are on vacation in Vietnam. (The implication being that Roger is most welcome here when no one else actually has to endure his prickly, high maintenance company.) While in residence he reconnects with old friends including the ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) he dumped yet never quite got over -- though clearly she did and the ex-bandmate (Rhys Ifans) he burned by wrecking their one shot at a major-label deal. He also gets involved, kinda-sorta, with big bro's personal assistant Florence (mumblecore regular Greta Gerwig), whose passivity and low self-esteem make her the rare person who might consider a relationship with someone this impossible. Like all Noah Baumbach films, especially the slightly overrated Squid and the Whale (2005) and vastly underrated Margot at the Wedding (2007), his latest pivots around a pathologically self-absorbed and insensitive protagonist who exasperates anyone unlucky or blind enough to fall into his or her orbit. Working from a story co-conceived by spouse Leigh, Baumbach's script sports his usual sharp dialogue, penetrating individual scenes, and narrative surprises. But it also gets stuck in dislikable Roger's rut, finding conflict easily but stubbornly resisting even the smallest useful change. For all its amusing and uncomfortable moments, Greenberg emerges a dual character slice with no real point. Neither Roger or Beth reward long scrutiny (least of all as a hapless potential couple), while the few screen minutes Ifans and Leigh get make you wish their roles had hijacked the focus instead. (1:40) Empire, Piedmont, Shattuck, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
*Hot Tub Time Machine How can you hate a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine? Even those who pooh-pooh poop jokes have to admire a movie so unapologetically upfront about its ludicrous storyline. A group of friends who've drifted apart (Rob Corddry plays the maybe-suicidal asshole; Craig Robinson, the emasculated never-did-nothing; John Cusack, the recently-dumped workaholic) reunite for a ski weekend at the resort that hosted the most debaucherous party of their youth. Along for the ride, which soon includes a trip back to 1986 courtesy of you-know-which device, is Cusack's character's internet-obsessed nephew (Clark Duke), whose terror over leaving the plugged-in 21st century is soon superceded by his realization that any disruption of the past will likely erase his very existence. Hot Tub Time Machine's 80s nostalgia (Chevy Chase cameo!) enfolds an homage to the Back to the Future films (Crispin Glover cameo!), as well as Cusack's early career (see: immortal 1985 ski-slope classic Better Off Dead), but it's very much a movie of our times. See it now while the Twitter and Tiger jokes are still timely, and before the next R-rated comedy comes along to up the ante on dick jokes. (1:55) California, Marina, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
How to Train Your Dragon (1:38) Empire, Marina, 1000 Van Ness.
The Hurt Locker When the leader of a close-knit U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal squad is killed in action, his subordinates have barely recovered from the shock when they're introduced to his replacement. In contrast to his predecessor, Sgt. James (Jeremy Renner) is no standard-procedure-following team player, but a cocky adrenaline junkie who puts himself and others at risk making gonzo gut-instinct decisions in the face of live bombs and insurgent gunfire. This is particularly galling to next-in-command Sanborn (Anthony Mackie). An apolitical war-in-Iraq movie that's won considerable praise for accuracy so far from vets (scenarist Mark Boal was "embedded" with an EOD unit there for several 2004 weeks), Kathryn Bigelow's film is arguably you-are-there purist to a fault. While we eventually get to know in the principals, The Hurt Locker is so dominated by its seven lengthy squad-mission setpieces that there's almost no time or attention left for building character development or a narrative arc. The result is often viscerally intense, yet less impactful than it would have been if we were more emotionally invested. Assured as her technique remains, don't expect familiar stylistic dazzle from action cult figure Bigelow (1987's Near Dark, 1989's Blue Steel, 1991's Point Break) this vidcam-era war movie very much hews to the favored current genre approach of pseudo-documentary grainy handheld shaky-cam imagery. (2:11) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
The Last Song Had a hunch that Miley Cyrus' poor posture at the Oscars couldn't be chalked up to a too-tight strapless or worry about a red-carpet wardrobe malfunction? Who knew Cyrus was nursing a method hangover from The Last Song, in which she plays Ronnie Miller, a rebellious piano prodigy acting out against her parents and in particular her music teacher father Steve (Greg Kinnear). Cyrus' physical contribution to the role is to slouch, sneer, and pout like a pug dog with scoliosis, making her the weakest link, performance-wise, in this latest weeper by America's favorite sentimentalist, novelist Nicholas Sparks (Dear John, 2004's The Notebook). Everything here depends on Ronnie's transformation from sullen teen stuck in a small Southern coastal town for the summer with pops and an adorable younger brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) she's determined to undermine her own talents (though the George Winston-like compositions don't make you fearful for the loss to music at large) to a happy and responsible young adult primed to do the right thing (too-good-to-be-true suitor Will, played by Liam Hemsworth, helps her learn to trust). All of which isn't to say that Cyrus isn't pretty to look at or without charm (although Coleman steals scenes from her left and right) nor is it her fault that director Julie Anne Robinson succumbs to a Touched by an Angel moment as CGI-generated sun beams pour through a stained-glass window, a mawkish moment that actually elicited giggles from the otherwise smitten crowd of true believers all around me. (1:47) Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
*The Last Station Most of the buzz around The Last Station has focused on Helen Mirren, who takes the lead as the Countess Sofya, wife of Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer). Mirren is indeed impressive when is she not? but there's more to the film than Sofya's Oscar-worthy outbursts. The Last Station follows Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy), hired as Tolstoy's personal secretary at the end of the writer's life. Valentin struggles to reconcile his faith in the anarchist Christian Tolstoyan movement with his sympathy for Sofya and his budding feelings for fellow Tolstoyan Masha (Kerry Condon). For the first hour, The Last Station is charming and very funny. Once Tolstoy and Sofya's relationship reaches its most volatile, however, the tone shifts toward the serious a trend that continues as Tolstoy falls ill. After all the lighthearted levity, it's a bit jarring, but the solid script and accomplished cast pull The Last Station together. Paul Giamatti is especially good as Vladimir Chertkov, who battles against Sofya for control of Tolstoy's will. You'll never feel guiltier for putting off War and Peace. (1:52) Shattuck. (Peitzman)
*The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers For many, Daniel Ellsberg is a hero a savior of American First Amendment rights and one of the most outspoken opponents of the Vietnam war. But as this documentary (recently nominated for an Academy Award) shows, it's never an an easy decision to take on the U.S. government. Ellsberg himself narrates the film and details his sleepless nights leading up to the leak of the Pentagon Papers the top secret government study on the Vietnam war to the public. Though there are few new developments in understanding the particulars of the war or the impact the release of the Papers had on ending the conflict, the film allows audiences to experience the famous case from Ellsberg's point of view, adding a fresh and poignantly human element to the events; it's a political documentary that plays more like a character drama. Whether you were there when it happened or new to the story, there is something to be appreciated from this tale of a man who fell out of love with his country and decided to do something about it. (1:34) Red Vic, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Galvin)
*Mother You can guarantee that a movie titled Mother is not gonna be a love fest, ever. And through the lens of The Host (2006) director-writer Bong Joon-ho, motherly love becomes downright monstrous though altogether human. Much credit goes to the wonderful lead actress Kim Hye-ja as the titular materfamilias, who's frantically self-sacrificing, insanely tenacious, quaintly charming, wolfishly fearsome, and wildly guilt-ridden, by turns. On the surface, she's a sweetly innocuous herbalist and closet acupuncturist happily, and a wee bit too tightly, tethered to her beloved son Yoon Do-joon (Won Bin). He's a slow-witted, forgetful, and easily confused mop-top who flies into deadly rages when taunted or called a "'tard." When Do-joon is quickly arrested and charged with the murder of schoolgirl Moon Ah-jung (Mun-hee Na), Mom snaps into action with a panic-stricken, primal ferocity and goes in search of the killer to free her boy. But there's more to Do-joon, his studly pal Jin-tae (Ku Jin), and Moon Ah-jung than meets the eye, and Mother discovers just how much she's defined, and twisted, herself in relation to her son. Bong gives this potentially flat and cliched noirish material genuine lyricism, embedding his anti-heroine in a rural South Korean landscape like a penitent wandering in an existential desert, gently echoing filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman and Abbas Kiarostami and beautifully transcending genre. (2:09) Bridge, Shattuck. (Chun)
Our Family Wedding America Ferrera and Lance Gross play a couple of lovebirds who must jump through some serious family hoops before they get married in the mostly serviceable Our Family Wedding. What begins as a dual Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, with the differences in each family's traditions forcing complications and compromises, soon loses sight of its matrimonial plot as the focus steers towards a childish rivalry between the fathers. While it's being marketed as a goofy comedy, the final product seeks a relatively sentimental tone, which makes the few slapstick moments like a goat trying to rape Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker seem pretty inappropriate. Still, for some audiences the well-tread plot will act as comfort food: they fight, they make up, and it all ends in a big wedding where we watch the characters dance for damn near ten minutes. (1:41) Four Star. (Galvin)
*A Prophet Filmmaker Jacques Audiard has described his new film, A Prophet, as "the anti-Scarface." Yet much like Scarface (1983), A Prophet bottles the heady euphoria that chases the empowerment of the powerless and the rise of the long-shot loner on the margins. In its almost-Dickensian attention to detail, devotion to its own narrative complexity, and passion for cinematic poetry, A Prophet rises above the ordinary and, through the prism of genre, finds its own power. The supremely opportunistic, pragmatically Machiavellian intellectual and spiritual education of a felon is the chief concern of here. Played by Tahar Rahim with guileless, open-faced charisma, Malik is half-Arab and half-Corsican and distrusted or despised by both camps in the pen. When he lands in jail for his six-year sentence, he's 19, illiterate, friendless, and vulnerable. His deal with the devil and means of survival arrives with Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi), temporarily locked up before his testifies against the mob. Corsican boss Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup) wants him dead, and Malik is tagged to penetrate Reyeb's cell with a blade hidden in mouth. After Malik's gory rebirth, it turns out that the teenager's a seer in more ways than one. From his low-dog position, he can eyeball the connections linking the drugs entering the prison to those circulating outside, as well as the machinations intertwining the Arab and Corsican syndicates. It's no shock that when Cesar finds his power eroding and arranges prison leaves for his multilingual crossover star that Malik serves not only his Corsican master, but also his own interests, and begins to build a drug empire rivaling his teacher's. Throughout his pupil's progress, Audiard demonstrates a way with Henri Cartier-Bresson's decisive moment, and when Malik finally breaks with his Falstaffian patriarch, it makes your heart skip a beat in a move akin to the title of the director's last film. This Eurozone/Obama-age prophet is all about the profit but he's imbued with grace, even while gaming for ill-gotten gain. (2:29) Lumiere, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
The Runaways In Floria Sigismondi's tale of the rise and fall of a 1970s all-girl band, LA producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) proclaims that the Runaways are going to save rock and roll. It's hard to gauge the sincerity of this pronouncement, but you can certainly hear, in songs like "Cherry Bomb" and "Queens of Noise," how the band must have brightened a landscape overrun by kings of prog rock. Unfortunately, a handful of teenagers micromanaged by a sleazy, abusive nutcase proved not quite up to the task, though the band did launch the careers of metal guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) and, more famously, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart). Sigismondi's film entertainingly sketches the Runaways' beginnings in glam rock fandom and gradual attainment of their own rabid fan base. We get Currie lip-synching Bowie to catcalls at the high school assembly, Jett composing "Cherry Bomb" with Fowley, glamtastic hair-and-wardrobe eye candy, pills-and-Stooges-fueled intra-band fooling around, and five teenage girls sent off sans chaperone on an international tour with substantial quantities of hard drugs in their carry-on luggage. What follows is less pretty: a capsule version of the band's disintegration after the departure of bottoming-out 16-year-old lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). In a film darkened by Currie's trajectory, Jett's subsequent success is a feel-good coda, but it's awkwardly attached and emblematizes one of The Runaways' main problems. When the band begins to fall apart, the film doesn't know which way to turn and ends up telling no one's story well. (1:42) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Rapoport)
Sakuran Oh the pretty colors! Elaborate headpieces, brightly colored floors and walls, and the silky smoke of the opium pipe steal every scene of this Japanese film about a rebellious girl sold into courtesanship. Anna Tsuchiya brings that same punk-rock attitude that made her such a treat to watch in Kamikaze Girls (2004) to the role of Kiyoha, a young courtesan whose defiant attitude diverts the spotlight from the head orian and sets her whole Edo-era pleasure-house abuzz. Based on a manga series, the story itself feels a little light and cliché if you've seen any films set in this period, but Tsuchiya has created a distinct character in Kiyoha who happily feels out of place in 1700s Japan. As captivating as she is, there's no denying that the costume and set-design are the true stars of Sakuran. (1:41) Viz Cinema (www.newpeopleworld.com). (Galvin)
Secret of Kells The preceding year was such great one for feature animation that the 2010 Oscar category could have been credibly filled twice over. Four nominees were predictable major U.S. studio productions but the fifth was neither another such, nor one of several terrific if slightly off-the-beaten-path titles like Ponyo, A Town Called Panic, or Sita Sings the Blues. Instead, it was this hitherto barely-seen European co-production vaguely inspired by Irish history and mythology. Orphaned Brendan, raised by stern uncle Cellach (voice of Brendan Gleeson) in a medieval monastery, is intrigued by the vast forest outside its walls (where he's forbidden to roam) and by a visiting master illuminator's work on a "magical" book. Though overall this first feature by co-directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey might look best on the small screen its line-drawing character designs are as simple as those in a 60s "Fractured Fairy Tale" it's been justifiably praised for some bold color and minimalist design elements. However, Kells is so preoccupied with those abstract backgrounds (which will likely confuse children by bearing little resemblance to the intended locations) that there's no attention paid toward basic story clarity and involvement. Villains supernatural ("The Dark One") and mortal (Viking invaders) are virtually interchangeable; after 75 minutes you might realize you still have no idea just what the book is, or why it's so important. Though clearly targeted as an audience, kids are likely to grow bored fast, and so might you. (1:15) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Harvey)
She's Out of My League From the co-writers of the abysmal Sex Drive (2008), She's Out of My League could be another 90-minute assemblage of gross-out humor, dick jokes, and unabashed homophobia. As it turns out, the latest offering from Sean Anders and John Morris is legitimately funny far better than the trailer (and that half-assed title) would have you believe. The adorkable Jay Baruchel stars as Kirk, a hapless loser who finds himself dating bonafide hottie Molly (Alice Eve). Once you get past the film's silly conceit Kirk's only "movie ugly," and personality goes a long way you're left with a surprisingly charming comedy. The characters are amusing and the wit is sharp. Not to mention the fact that She's Out of My League offers a downright heartfelt message. There's a sincerity here that feels genuine instead of just tacked-on: yeah, yeah, it's about what's inside that counts, but there's more to it than that. Ignore the dreadful "jizz in my pants" scene, and the movie's almost an old-fashioned romcom. (1:44) 1000 Van Ness. (Peitzman)
Shutter Island Director Martin Scorsese and muse du jour Leonardo DiCaprio draw from oft-filmed novelist Dennis Lehane (2003's Mystic River, 2007's Gone Baby Gone) for this B-movie thriller that, sadly, offers few thrills. DiCaprio's a 1950s U.S. marshal summoned to a misty island that houses a hospital for the criminally insane, overseen by a doctor (Ben Kingsley) who believes in humane, if experimental, therapy techniques. From the get-go we suspect something's not right with the G-man's own mind; as he investigates the case of a missing patient, he experiences frequent flashbacks to his World War II service (during which he helped liberate a concentration camp), and has recurring visions of his spooky dead wife (Michelle Williams). Whether or not you fall for Shutter Island's twisty game depends on the gullibility of your own mind. Despite high-quality performances and an effective, if overwrought, tone of certain doom, Shutter Island stumbles into a third act that exposes its inherently flawed and frustrating storytelling structure. If only David Lynch had directed Shutter Island it could've been a classic of mindfuckery run amok. Instead, Scorsese's psychological drama is sapped of any mystery whatsoever by its stubbornly literal conclusion. (2:18) California, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
A Single Man In this adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's 1964 novel, Colin Firth plays George, a middle-aged gay expat Brit and college professor in 1962 Los Angeles. Months after the accidental death of Jim (Matthew Goode), his lover for 16 years, George still feels worse than bereft; simply waking each morning is agony. So on this particular day he has decided to end it all, first going through a series of meticulous preparations and discreet leave-takings that include teaching one last class and having supper with the onetime paramour (Julianne Moore) turned best friend who's still stuck on him. The main problem with fashion designer turned film director Tom Ford's first feature is that he directs it like a fashion designer, fussing over surface style and irrelevant detail in a story whose tight focus on one hard, real-world thing grief cries for simplicity. Not pretentious overpackaging, which encompasses the way his camera slavers over the excessively pretty likes of Nicholas Hoult as a student and Jon Kortajarena as a hustler, as if they were models selling product rather than characters, or even actors. (In fact Kortajarena is a male supermodel; the shocker is that Hoult is not, though Hugh Grant's erstwhile About a Boy co-star is so preening here you'd never guess.) Eventually Ford stops showing off so much, and A Single Man is effective to the precise degree it lets good work by Goode, Moore and especially the reliably excellent Firth unfold without too much of his terribly artistic interference. (1:39) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
*The Sun It may have taken five years for Alexander Sokurov's The Sun (2005) to reach local theaters, but then the Russian master's contemplation of Emperor Hirohito's last days as Godhead is decidedly out of time. Painterly and slow like all Sokurov's work, the film specifically follows his estranged reconstructions of Hitler's retreat with Eva Braun (1999's Moloch) and Lenin's demise (2000's Taurus). In August 1945, Hirohito broke with tradition by making a direct appeal to the Japanese people to end military operations; soon thereafter he renounced his divine rights. The Sun's elliptical narration intuits the emperor's paled existence, and Issey Ogata's lead performance, centering on a fish-out-of-water puckering of the lips, amply conveys the shuttered hours of a man who, in experience if not in fact, is not quite human. The muted use of available light and a disquieting sound design (faraway air-raid sirens yield to the barest brush of a finger) eschew historiography's harsh glare, instead returning primal scenes of power to a dreamlike state of unknowing. Sokurov's most hallucinatory effects are reserved for ashen views of firebombed Tokyo which float free from perspective or clear boundary; a brief fantasy in which fish-like warplanes spew apocalyptic destruction suggests the emperor's childlike imagination and set the stage for his historical date with General MacArthur, realized by Sokurov less as a diplomatic breakthrough than a leaden twilight. (1:50) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Goldberg)
Vincere Given the talent involved, Vincere should be a better film that it is. Director Marco Bellocchio has a lengthy track record of successes, and star Giovanna Mezzogiorno is one of the biggest names in contemporary Italian cinema. The based-on-a-true-story plot is certainly worthy of being filmed: Mezzogiorno plays Ida Dalser, secret wife of Mussolini and mother of the dictator's first-born son. When Ida begins to make trouble for Il Duce by publicly proclaiming their marriage, she is locked away in a mental hospital. But while Vincere's subject is compelling, the film as a whole falls flat. Moments of greatness are few and far between, and the rest of the movie gets by on mediocrity. It's likely the fault lies with the script, which is too scattered and unfocused to maintain an audience's focus. Why after almost two hours of watching Ida's struggle are we suddenly left with her son's descent into madness? How depressing that a film about a woman forgotten by history is, itself, mostly forgettable. (2:02) Albany, Clay, Smith Rafael. (Peitzman)
Waking Sleeping Beauty Hollywood history is full of epic rivalries, juicy scandals, multi-million-dollar mistakes, and triumphant comebacks. Sometimes, all of the above and more can be contained within a single studio, or even a single studio division, or even a single studio division during a finite number of years, as illustrated by this insidery peek at Disney's animation division. The doc gives a bit of background, but focuses its attentions on 1984-1994, a ten-year span that saw the floundering department struggle through post-Walt, identity-crisis blues before blossoming into a rejuvenated powerhouse. Waking Sleeping Beauty director Don Hahn was a producer on the Oscar-nominated Beauty and the Beast (1991), so he's uniquely positioned to tell the story as it unfolded, using home movies and countless interviews. High points include a glimpse of late composer Howard Ashman introducing his demo for the iconic Little Mermaid (1989) tune "Under the Sea" (it was Ashman's idea to give the crab character a Jamaican accent), and plenty of dish on the legendary Jeffrey Katzenberg-Michael Eisner feud. (1:26) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)
*The White Ribbon In Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, his first German-language film in ten years, violence descends on a small northern German village mired in an atmosphere of feudalism and protestant repression. When, over the course of a year, a spate of unaccountable tragedies strikes almost every prominent figure as well as a powerless family of tenant farmers, the village becomes a crucible for aspersion and unease. Meanwhile, a gang of preternaturally calm village children, led by the eerily intense daughter of the authoritarian pastor, keep appearing coincidentally near the sites of the mysterious crimes, lending this Teutonic morality play an unsettling Children of the Corn undertone. Only the schoolteacher, perhaps by virtue of his outsider status, seems capable of discerning the truth, but his low rank on the social pecking order prevent his suspicions from being made public. A protracted examination on the nature of evil and the troubling moral absolutism from which it stems. (2:24) Four Star. (Nicole Gluckstern)
Why Did I Get Married Too? (2:01) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.
*"Out in Israel Film Series" See "Way Out Middle East." Roxie.
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