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.
SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival runs through May 6 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post, SF; Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore, SF; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; and the Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, SF. Tickets (most shows $12.50) are available by calling (925) 866-9559 or by visiting www.sffs.org. All times p.m. unless otherwise noted.
Kabuki Yellow Sheep River 12:30. Work in Progress: Joann Sfar Draws From Memory 1:30. Morning 1:45. Gainsbourg (Je T'Aime ... Moi Non Plus) 3. Russian Lessons 3:15. You Think You're the Prettiest, But You Are the Sluttiest 4:30. Nymph 4:45. Father of My Children 6. Way of Nature 6:30. "Founder's Directing Award: Walter Salles: In Search of On the Road (A Work in Progress)" 6:45. Cairo Time 7. The Oath 9. Cold Weather 9:15. Soul Kitchen 9:30. Domain 9:30.
PFA Around a Small Mountain 6:30. Susa 8:20.
Kabuki Russian Lessons 12:30. Colony 1:30. My Queen Karo 1:45. "Master Class: Walter Salles" 2:30. "Pirate Utopias" (shorts program) 3:15. Cargo 3:30. Yellow Sheep River 3:45. Linha de Passe 4:15. Pianomania 6. Everyone Else 6:15. Wild Grass 6:45. Cairo Time 7. Rejoice and Shout 9. Shirley Adams 9:15. White Material 9:30. The Famous and the Dead 9:45.
PFA Senso 6:30. Woman on Fire Looks for Water 8:50.
Castro "Peter J. Owens Award: Robert Duvall: Get Low" 7:30.
Clay Animal Heart 4. Father of My Children 6:30. Northless 9:30.
Kabuki Vengeance 12:45. Nenette 1:45. Life 2.0 3. Gainsbourg (Je T'Aime ... Moi Non Plus) 3:15. Restrepo 3:45. Night Catches Us 4:15. Winter's Bone 6. Susa 6:30. Mugabe and the White African 6:45. Shirley Adams 7. Ordinary People 9. Air Doll 9:15. The Invention of Dr. Nakamats 9:30. Wake in Fright (Outback) 9:45.
PFA Linha de Passe 6:30. Tehroun 9:15.
Castro The Music Room 2:30. "Mel Novikoff Award: An Evening with Roger Ebert: Julia" 5:30. All About Evil 10:45.
Clay Susa 3:15. The Oath 6. To Die Like a Man 9.
Kabuki The Peddler 12:30. "Kanbar Award: James Schamus: Ride With the Devil (Director's Cut)" 1. La Pivellina 1:15. 14-18: The Noise and the Fury 2. Littlerock 3:30. The Portuguese Nun 4. Nenette 5. Russian Lessons 6:15. Happythankyoumoreplease 6:30. The Famous and the Dead 6:45. Colony 7. Empire of Silver 9. "Pirate Utopias" (shorts program) 9:15. Alamar 9:30. Simonal: No One Knows How Tough It Was 9:45.
PFA Constantin and Elena 2. Marwencol 4:10. Son of Babylon 6:30. My Dog Tulip 8:50.
Castro Senso 12:30. I Am Love 3:30. Bodyguards and Assassins 6:45. The Loved Ones 10:30.
Clay A Brand New Life 12:15. La Pivellina 3. Wake in Fright (Outback) 6. Animal Heart 9:15.
Kabuki "Member Screening" 10am. Life 2.0 1. Pianomania 1:15. Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno 1:45. "Conversation: Logging Off: Is Online Gaming Addictive?" 3. Yellow Sheep River 3:15. Presumed Guilty 3:30. Lourdes 4. My Queen Karo 4:15. Air Doll 6. Alamar 6:15. Seducing Charlie Barker 6:30. Marwencol 6:45. The Wind Journeys 8:45. Lebanon 9. Cyrus 9:15. Garbo the Spy 9:30.
PFA Budrus 2. Restrepo 4:15. The Music Room 6:15. Last Train Home 8:30.
Clay Woman on Fire Looks for Water 1:45. Tehroun 4:30. The Day God Walked Away 6:45. You Think You're the Prettiest, But You Are the Sluttiest 9:30.
Kabuki To Die Like a Man 12:15. The Invention of Dr. Nakamats 1:30. The Portuguese Nun 3:15. Mugabe and the White African 3:30. Garbo the Spy 3:45. Colony 4:15. Animal Heart 6. Last Train Home 6:15. Night Catches Us 6:30. The Practice of the Wild 6:45. Winter's Bone 8:45. Rodrus 9:15. "Porchlight: True Stories from the Frontiers of International Filmmaking" 9:45.
PFA Presumed Guilty 6:30. Ordinary People 8:55.
Castro "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Stephin Merritt" 8:30.
Clay Garbo the Spy 3:30. Seducing Charlie Barker 6:45. "Sneak Preview of a New Film by Francois Ozon" 9:30.
Kabuki Simonal: No One Knows How Tough it Was 3:15. Making Plans for Lena 3:45. The Day God Walked Away 4. Marwencol 4:15. To Die Like a Man 6:15. The Peddler 6:30. A Brand New Life 6:45. Tehroun 7. Last Train Home 9. Restrepo 9:30. Cyrus 9:45.
PFA Nenette 6:30. The Wind Journeys 8.
*Birdemic: Shock and Terror This underlit, out-of-focus, and erratically-edited film is America's newest cult obsession, recently booking theaters on the back on some impressive press coverage and a thumbs-up from Adult Swim superstars Tim and Eric. It's the story of a freak eagle attack on Half Moon Bay, and there's no pussyfooting around the reality that Birdemic is an amateur work. Searching for whimsy in a poorly-made film can be an infuriating struggle of highs and lows, a pitfall Birdemic avoids by being laughably inept in every frame. Thank goodness that Birdemic is so devoted to its deficiencies, or it might have been disappointing to find that the first half is eagle-free. We awkwardly meet Rod (Alan Bagh), a big-shot salesman with enough cash flow to drive a blue Mustang that "gets a 100 em-pee-gee's," and Rod awkwardly meets Nathalie (Whitney Moore), a model who loves cats. Naturally, the pair is drawn to each other and falls passionately in love, but their first night together is interrupted by a screaming eagle blitzkrieg. No one actor in Birdemic has the inverse charisma of Tommy Wiseau, director and actor of that 2003's cult classic The Room, but the CG eagles come close. They look like clip art, hovering in the air accompanied by a grating, looped cawing sound, before divebombing houses and causing them to explode into flames. Are they enraged by global warming? If the terrorizing birds are eagles, are they a metaphor for America? Birdemic poses a number of heavy questions, but the one on the tip of my tongue is whether or not it's rude to heap praise on the film for being bad. It's pretty clear that director James Nguyen didn't set out to make a comedy, but his straight-faced seriousness is much of what makes Birdemic so funny. (1:30) Roxie. (Galvin)
The Cartel Ex-Bloomberg TV anchor Bob Bowdon hosts this documentary about the rampant corruption in America's school systems. Because Bowdon lives in New Jersey and had little outside funding for the majority of his project, most of the footage distractingly revolves around the corruption in New Jersey schools alone. Set up like a local news segment, Bowdon's arguments are black and white school administrations are corrupt, school boards are money-hungry, unions are short-sighted and charter schools and vouchers are the future and his assertions remain persuasive thanks to layperson explanations of complicated subjects. Balancing the fact-dispensing with emotional interview footage of unhappy teachers and students, The Cartel is a convincing exposé of a nationwide system designed to favor school officials over students. If you don't have a problem watching what is essentially a 90-minute 20/20 episode, I'd say you might learn something. (1:33) Opera Plaza. (Galvin)
*Dancing Across Borders The transformation of the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Sokvannara Sar from a gifted 16-year-old performer of traditional Cambodian dance into a promising American ballet dancer is a story of hard work, persistence, and luck. Dancing Across Borders also shows what talent, money and resources can accomplish. In 2000 dance philantropist-filmmaker Anne Bass happened to see young Sy, to use his American name, perform in Angkor Wat. She recognized his gift and brought him to the US where he received an exceedingly rigorous training at the School of American Ballet. The rest is not just history, but a charming film that traces the young dancer's metamorphosis into a ballet dancer and his gradual acculturation to American life. It's an astounding transformation today he barely speaks with an accent in either his kinetic or verbal speech. Still, it's heartwrenching to see him back home performing for his well-wishing but uncomprehending family and friends. Even under the best of circumstances the prize of emigration is high. While interviews with American teachers, particularly Pacific Northwest's Peter Boal, excellently illuminate the intricacies of ballet, at times the film becomes bogged down in its efforts to verbally explain what the images make abundantly clear. (1:28) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Rita Felciano)
Furry Vengeance Brendan Fraser stars in this live-action comedy about a real estate developer who gets the smackdown from cunning woodland critters. (1:32) Shattuck.
Harry Brown Shades of Dirty Harry (1971) for the tea cozy and tweed set: elegantly rendered and very nicely played, Harry Brown might be the dark, late-in-the-day elder brother to 1971's Get Carter, in the hands of eponymous lead Michael Caine. He's a pensioner mourning the passing of his beloved wife, his mysterious life as a Marine stationed in Northern Ireland firmly behind him. Then his chess-playing pal Leonard (David Bradley) is terrorized and killed by the unsavory gang of heroin dealing hoodlums who lurk near their projects in a tunnel walkway like gun-toting, foul-mouthed, sociopathic trolls. Harry Brown is, er, forced to forsake a vow of peace and go commando on the culprits' asses, triggering some moments of ultraviolence that are unsettling in their whole-hearted embrace of vigilante justice. Like predecessors similarly fixated on vengeance in their respective urban hells, a la Hardcore (1979) and Taxi Driver (1976) (Harry Brown echoes key moments in the latter, in particular see, for instance, its keenly tense, eerily humorous gun shopping scene), Harry Brown is essentially an arch-conservative film, if good looking and even likable with Caine meting out the punishment. The overall denouement just might make some seniors feel very, very good about the coiled potential for hurt embedded in their aging frames. (1:42) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Chun)
A Nightmare on Elm Street If this remake sucks, all involved better not fall asleep. (1:42)
Touching Home Hometown boys (Logan and Noah Miller) make good in this based-on-a-true-story tale of identical twins who must divide their time at home between training for major league baseball and looking after their alcoholic father. The brothers, who also wrote and directed the film, aim for David Gordon Green by way of Marin, but fall short of mastering that director's knack for natural dialogue. Ed Harris is, unsurprisingly, compelling as the alcoholic father, but the actors in the film who are not named Ed Harris tend to contribute to the script's distracting histrionics. Touching Home has some amazing NorCal cinematography, and I could see how family audiences might enjoy its "feel bad, then feel good" style of melodrama. But while it's awkward to say that someone's real-life experiences come off as trite, there are moments here that feel as clichéd as a Lifetime movie. (1:48) Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (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) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy)
The Back-Up Plan (1:40) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio.
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) SF Center. (Jason Shamai)
*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) Lumiere, Piedmont, 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) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy)
Date Night By today's comedy standards, Date Night is positively old-fashioned: a case of mistaken identity causes a struggling married couple (Steve Carell and Tina Fey) to be tangled in a ransom plot for a stolen flash drive that belongs to a local mob boss. Unfussy plots are par for the course for films belonging to the all-but-lost "madcap all-nighter" genre, and in this case the simplicity of the set-up becomes Date Night's greatest asset, allowing Carell and Fey free reign to joke and ad lib lines. Like it or loathe it, the pair's trademark senses of humor are the movie, and they arrange some pretty gleefully entertaining bits on the fly. Toss in a bunch of cameos from the likes of Ray Liotta and Mark Wahlberg and you've got yourself a bona fide movie-film, but it's difficult not to see what Date Night might have been with just a smidge more effort. (1:27) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Galvin)
Death at a Funeral Less than three years since its stateside premiere, indie Brit hit Death at a Funeral (2007) arrives as a surprising choice for a mainstream American makeover. In both versions the death of a family patriarch brings family from far and wide to a wake, where the eldest son struggles to keep things together amidst the strains of blackmail and a rogue bottle of hallucinogenic pills. But, by replacing all those stuffy British actors with the likes of Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, and Tracy Morgan, director Neil LaBute succeeds in creating a completely different tone for what is mostly a shot-for-shot reconstruction of the original script. The impossibly quick-moving plot is organized with a deftness that reflects LaBute's dual career as a playwright, keeping the film even-tempered during screwball moments like Tracy Morgan getting covered in Danny Glover's doo-doo. (1:33) 1000 Van Ness. (Galvin)
*Exit Through the Gift Shop Exit Through the Gift Shop is not a film about the elusive graffiti-cum-conceptual artist and merry prankster known as Banksy, even though he takes up a good chunk of this sly and by-no-means impartial documentary and is listed as its director. Rather, as he informs us voice electronically altered, face hidden in shadow in the film's opening minutes, the film's real subject is one Thierry Guetta, a French expat living in LA whose hangdog eyes, squat stature, and propensity for mutton chops and polyester could pass him off as Ron Jeremy's long lost twin. Unlike Jeremy, Guetta is not blessed with any prodigious natural talent to propel him to stardom, save for a compulsion to videotape every waking minute of his life (roughly 80 percent of the footage in Exit is Guetta's) and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. When Guetta is introduced by his tagger cousin to a pre-Obamatized Shepard Fairey in 2007, he realizes his true calling: to make a documentary about the street art scene that was then only starting to get mainstream attention. Enter Banksy, who, at first, is Guetta's ultimate quarry. Eventually, the two become chummy, with Guetta acting as lookout and documenter for the artist just as the art market starts clambering for its piece of, "the Scarlet Pimpernel of street art," as one headline dubs him. When, at about three quarters of the way in, Guetta, following Banksy's casual suggestion, drops his camcorder and tries his hand at making street art, Exit becomes a very different beast. Guetta's flashy debut as Mr. Brainwash is as obscenely successful as his "art" is terribly unimaginative much to the chagrin of his former documentary subjects. But Guetta is no Eve Harrington and Banksy, who has the last laugh here, gives him plenty of rope with which to truss himself. Is Mr. Brainwash really the ridiculous and inevitable terminus of street art's runaway mainstream success (which, it must be said, Banksy has handsomely profited from)? That question begs another: with friends like Banksy, who needs enemies? (1:27) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Sussman)
*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) Four Star, Lumiere, Piedmont, Presidio, Shattuck. (Eddy)
*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)
The Greatest Lofty title aside, there's nothing particularly extraordinary about The Greatest. In many ways, it's your standard grief porn, in that it focuses on a group of characters mourning a dead teenager for an hour and a half. On the other hand, the cast is tremendous Susan Sarandon and Pierce Brosnan are solid as the parents of the broken Brewer family, but the young actors give the most memorable performances. Fresh off her Oscar nomination for An Education (2009), Carey Mulligan continues to mingle precociousness and naiveté. The Greatest also showcases the very talented Johnny Simmons, whose past films Hotel for Dogs (2009) and Jennifer's Body (2009) haven't exactly earned him exposure. For its genre, then, The Greatest is actually quite good. It has plenty of charm mixed with moments of genuine emotion, often marked by much welcome restraint. But even with a slight twist on the convention (Mulligan's Rose is pregnant with the dead kid's baby), it's still just a well-made tearjerker. (1:36) Smith Rafael. (Peitzman)
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) Four Star, Presidio, SF Center. (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) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Eddy)
How to Train Your Dragon (1:38) 1000 Van Ness.
*The Joneses David Duchovny has been enjoying a nice career renaissance since designing his embarrassing-old-guy shtick for Californication, and the shtick continues to deliver in The Joneses. Duchovny plays the father of a family of four who move into a well-off suburban neighborhood and set about inserting themselves in every marketable aspect of the town's culture. I don't think I'm spoiling anything by telling you that the family is not really a family at all, even if The Joneses does play the dynamic as a mystery for a good 20 minutes. In fact, the four are un-related members of a stealth marketing firm hired to sell products by living a desirable lifestyle. Trouble inevitably arises when the line blurs between the lie they've created and who they really are. It's about as predictable and simple-minded as it sounds but The Joneses is endearing anyway, thanks to a few solid laughs and the believable will-they-or-won't-they between Duchovny and pretend-wife Demi Moore. (1:33) Empire, SF Center, Shattuck. (Galvin)
*Kick-Ass Based on a comic book series by Mark Millar, whose work was also the model for 2008's Wanted, Kick Ass is a similarly over-the-top action flick that plays up its absurdity to even greater comedic effect. High school nerd Dave (Aaron Johnson) decides to become the world's first real superhero. Donning a green wetsuit he bought on the internet and mustering some unlikely courage, he takes to the streets to avenge wrongdoing. Unsurprisingly, Dave is immediately beaten almost to death because he's just a kid who has no idea what he's doing, but Kick-Ass' greatest achievement is knowing exactly how to subvert audience expectations. Scenes that marry the film's innocent story with enormously exaggerated violence enhance the otherwise Superbad-lite high-school comedy unfolding around them, and a parallel plot-line involving Nicolas Cage instructing his 12-year-old daughter to commit grievous murders will probably end up being the most gratifying aspect of the film. Though too much set-up and spinning gears mars the middle act, it's hard to fault the film for competently setting up one of the most crowd-pleasing endings in recent memory. (1:58) California, Empire, Marina, 1000 Van Ness. (Galvin)
The Losers If films like The Dark Knight (2008) and Watchmen (2009) elevated the comic book movie to a more evolved state, The Losers regresses back to the dark ages. Not every flick has to be high art that's why we have words like "flick" but this isn't even enjoyably over-the-top. The Losers is gleefully stupid, and no amount of explosions or eye-gougings can distract from that. Watchmen's Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Clay, the leader of an elite Special Forces team that finds itself framed for murdering a bunch of Bolivian children. Clay's team, with the assistance of Zoe Saldana's Aisha, go after the real culprit a supervillain by the name of Max. Not feeling threatened yet? Wait till you find out he's played by Jason Patric. His evil shtick is mildly amusing but impossible to take seriously: there's never any real threat. And so we follow the bouncing boobs and bombs toward an absurd and shrug-worthy conclusion. Or we roll our eyes and wait for a movie that's stupid and loud but good. (1:38) California, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Peitzman)
*Mid-August Lunch Gianni Di Gregorio's loose, engaging comedy is about an aging bachelor still living with his ancient mum in their Rome flat. When his landlord offers to forgive some debts in return for briefly taking in his own elderly ma, Gianni (played by the director himself) soon finds himself in cat-herding charge of no less than five old ladies who delight in one another's company while running him ragged. Gomorrah (2008) screenwriter Di Gregorio used nonprofessionals to play those parts in this semi improvised miniature, which is as light and flavorful as a first course of prosciutto and mozzarella. It's a solid addition to the canon of palate-pleasing culinary flicks such as Big Night (1996) and Babette's Feast (1987), as opposed to the repulsive ones like Super Size Me (2004) or Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983). (1:15) Bridge, Shattuck. (Harvey)
La Mission A veteran S.F. vato turned responsible if still muy macho widower, father, and Muni driver, fortysomething Che (Benjamin Bratt) isn't the type for mushy displays of sentiment. But it's clear his pride and joy is son Jess (Jeremy Ray Valdez), a straight-A high school grad bound for UCLA. That filial bond, however, sustains some serious damage when Che discovers Jes has a secret life with a boyfriend, in the Castro, just a few blocks away from their Mission walkup but might as well be light-years away as far as old-school dad is concerned. This Bratt family project (Benjamin's brother Peter writes-directs, his wife Talisa Soto Bratt has a supporting role) has a bit of a predictable TV-movie feel, but its warm heart is very much in the right place. (1:57) Empire, Opera Plaza, Marina, Shattuck. (Harvey)
*Oceans Dried-out, just-the-facts types who like to wallow in verbiage can stay home Oceans instead welcomes children, poetic-minded nature fiends, and opera lovers eager for sea spray and giant morays. In fact co-director Jacques Perrin considers Oceans the second film from Disneynature, which produced 2007's Earth a "wildlife opera," and Perrin and co-director Jacques Cluzaud cram their marine fantasia with so many remarkable images you can't believe they got what they did without the help of computer animation: hundreds of dolphins race through South African waters to trap a so-called bait ball of herring, while jillions of sea birds dive into the action, alongside sharks and whales a sequence that genuinely boggles the imagination. There's the effortless wit of a marine iguana crawling the Galapagos shore and the surreal mien of the pudding-profiled Asian sheepshead wrasse. A mother walrus cradles her cub in a heart-tugging embrace that would bring tears to Walt's eyes. The images stream on sans much obvious structure, explication, or preaching, though the directors obviously hope to plant the seed of activism in viewers' minds. In the meantime, one simply marvels at the animals the filmmakers and their crew glimpsed over the course of a four-year shoot, which took them on 75 excursions, tipped by fishermen, environmentalists, divers, marine biologists, and other humanoids who love or rely on the sea. (1:40) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (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 Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) 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 Currie. 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. (Rapoport)
The Secret in Their Eyes (2:07) Albany, Embarcadero.
The Square Sydney suburbanites Ray (David Roberts) and Carla (Claire van der Boom) are having a torrid affair while still mired in separate, stale, childless marriages. Upon discovering her husband Billy (Joel Edgerton) has hidden away a small fortune in presumably stolen cash he keeps some pretty suspicious company the lovers decide to nick it in order to run away and start anew. Stuntman-turned-director Nash Edgerton's film, written by his brother Joel, follows that classic noir formula in which essentially good people try to do something mildly bad, which plan of course goes horribly wrong. Things then get wronger and wronger as bodies pile skyward under the hot (this being Australia) Yuletide sun.
Cleverly conceived, smartly acted and directed, The Square is a very plotty neonoir whose combination of the everyday and macabre suggests more than a little Coen Brothers influence. Its only problem is that we ultimately don't care so much all the ironic twists of fate befall characters who never quite transcend being narrative pawns. Unlike the Coens, the Edgertons aren't yet comfortable letting style trump the substance they lack. So their movie ends up being both admirably precise and more easily shaken off than it should be. (1:41) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
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) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Peitzman)
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