Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.
SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
The San Francisco International Film Festival runs through May 9 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; New People Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Sundance Kabuki Cinemas 1881 Post, SF. For tickets (most shows $10-15) and complete schedule, visit festival.sffs.org.
At Any Price Growing up in rural Iowa very much in the shadow of his older brother, Dean Whipple (Zac Efron) cultivated a chip on his shoulder while dominating the figure 8 races at the local dirt track. When papa Henry (Dennis Quaid) — a keeping-up-appearances type, with secrets a-plenty lurking behind his good ol' boy grin — realizes Dean is his best hope for keeping the family farm afloat, he launches a hail-mary attempt to salvage their relationship. This latest drama from acclaimed indie director Ramin Bahrani (2008's Goodbye Solo) is his most ambitious to date, enfolding small-town family drama and stock-car scenes into a pointed commentary on modern agribusiness (Henry deals in GMO corn, and must grapple with the sinister corporate practices that go along with it). But the film never gels, particularly after an extreme, third-act plot twist is deployed to, um, hammer home the title — which refers to prices both monetary and spiritual. A solid supporting cast (Kim Dickens, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown, Red West, newcomer Maika Monroe) helps give the film some much-needed added weight as it veers toward melodrama. (1:45) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Bert Stern: Original Mad Man Mad man, cad man: both describe photographer Bert Stern, famed for his groundbreaking vodka ads as well as his "Last Sitting" session with Marilyn Monroe (a series he recently re-created, rather regrettably, with Lindsay Lohan). Now in his 80s, he's coaxed in front of the camera by longtime muse Shannah Laumeister; though their closeness (despite a 40-year age difference) means Bert Stern: Original Mad Man contains a few uncomfortably intimate moments, it also makes for some remarkably candid interviews. And what a life he's had, melding his voracious appetite for women with a talent for capturing them in stunning, creatively innovative photographs. Though his parade of exes (including celebrated ballet dancer Allegra Kent) remember him with a certain amount of curled-lip disdain, his iconic work — 1959 documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day, the poster for former co-worker Stanley Kubrick's 1962 Lolita (those heart-shaped glasses? Stern's idea) — speaks for itself. (1:50) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Iron Man 3 Well, shit. Looks like we got a trilogy on our hands. (2:06) Balboa, Marina, Presidio.
Kon-Tiki This Best Foreign Language Film nominee from Norway dramatizes Thor Heyerdahl's 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition. (1:58) Embarcadero.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Based on Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid's award-winning 2007 novel, and directed by the acclaimed Mira Nair (2001's Monsoon Wedding, 2006's The Namesake), The Reluctant Fundamentalist boasts an international cast (Kate Hudson, Martin Donovan, Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber, Om Puri) and nearly as many locations. British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed (2010's Four Lions) stars as Changez Khan, a Princeton-educated professor who grants an interview with a reporter (Schreiber) after another prof at Lahore University — an American citizen — is taken hostage; their meeting grows more tense as the atmosphere around them becomes more charged. Most of the film unfolds as an extended flashback, as Changez recounts his years on Wall Street as a talented "soldier in [America's] economic army," with a brunette Hudson playing Erica, a photographer who becomes his NYC love interest. After 9/11, he begins to lose his lust for star-spangled yuppie success, and soon returns to his homeland to pursue a more meaningful cause. Though it's mostly an earnest, soul-searching character study, The Reluctant Fundamentalist suddenly decides it wants to be a full-throttle political thriller in its last act; ultimately, it offers only superficial insight into what might inspire someone's conversion to fundamentalism (one guess: Erica's embarrassingly bad art installation, which could make anyone hate America). Still, Ahmed is a compelling lead. (2:08) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Eddy)
The Source Family See "Aquarius Rising." (1:38) Roxie.
The Angels' Share The latest from British filmmaker Ken Loach (2006's The Wind that Shakes the Barley) and frequent screenwriter collaborator Paul Leverty contains a fair amount of humor — though it's still got plenty of their trademark grit and realism. Offered "one last opportunity" by both a legal system he's frequently disregarded and his exasperated and heavily pregnant girlfriend, ne'er-do-well Glaswegian Robbie (Paul Brannigan) resolves to straighten out his life. But his troubled past proves a formidable roadblock to a brighter future — until he visits a whiskey distillery with the other misfits he's been performing his court-ordered community service with, and the group hatches an elaborate heist that could bring hope for Robbie and his growing family ... if his gang of "scruffs" can pull it off. Granted, there are some familiar elements here, but this 2012 Cannes jury prize winner (the fest's de facto third-place award) is more enjoyable than predictable — thanks to some whiskey-tasting nerd-out scenes, likable performances by its cast of mostly newcomers, and lines like "Nobody ever bothers anybody wearing a kilt!" (not necessarily true, as it turns out). Thankfully, English subtitles help with the thick Scottish accents. (1:41) Embarcadero. (Eddy)
Arthur Newman (1:41) Metreon.
The Big Wedding The wedding film has impacted our concepts of matrimony, fashion, and marital happiness more than all the textbooks in the world have affected our national testing average; but it's with that margin of mediocrity I report from the theater trenches of The Big Wedding. With this, the wedding movie again peters to a crawl. Susan Sarandon (an actress I love with a loyalty beyond sense) is Bebe, the stepmother/caterer swept under the rug by the selfishness of her live in lover Don (De Niro), his ex-wife/baby momma Elle (Diane Keaton) and their racist wackjob future in-laws. When Don and Elle faced the end of their marriage, they tried to rekindle with a Columbian orphan. Cue Ben Barnes in brownface. Alejandro is set to wed Amanda Seyfried and when his mother ascends from Columbia for the wedding, he decides Don and Elle have to act like their marriage never ended &ldots; which makes Bebe a mistress. Surprise! A decade of caring selflessly for your lover's kids has won you a super shitty wedding you still have to cater! To give you a sense of the conflict management on display, Bebe — the film's graceful savior —drops a drink on Don before fleeing the scene in her Alfa Romeo; she's the one character not determined to act out her more selfish urges in the style of an MTV reality show. Despite some less imaginative conflicts and degrading "solutions," this blended family still speaks some truth about the endearing embarrassment of the happy family. (1:29) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center. (Vizcarrondo)
Blancanieves If you saw the two crappy overblown Hollywood takes on Snow White last year, my condolences. This is probably its best cinematic incarnation ever not made by someone called Walt. Pablo Berger's Blancanieves transplants the tale to 1920s Spain and told (à la 2011's The Artist) in the dialogue-free B&W style of that era's silent cinema. Here, Snow is the daughter of a famous bullfighter (a beautiful performance by Daniel Giménez Cacho) who's paralyzed physically in the ring, then emotionally by the death of his flamenco star wife (Inma Cuesta) in childbirth. He can't bring himself to see his daughter until a grandmother's death brings little Carmencita (the marvelous Sofía Oria) to the isolated ranch he now shares with nurse-turned-second-wife Encarna — Maribel Verdú as a very Jazz Age evil stepmother. Once the girl matures (now played by the ingratiating, slightly androgynous Macarena García), Encarna senses a rival, and to save her life Carmen literally runs away with the circus — at which point the narrative slumps a bit. But only a bit. Where The Artist was essentially a cleverly sustained gimmick elevated by a wonderful central performance, Blancanieves transcends its ingenious retro trappings to offer something both charming and substantiative. Berger doesn't treat the story template as a joke — he's fully adapted it to a culture, place, and time, and treats its inherent pathos with great delicacy. (1:44) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
The Company You Keep Robert Redford directs and stars as a fugitive former member of the Weather Underground, who goes on the run when another member (Susan Sarandon) is arrested and a newspaper reporter (Shia LaBeouf) connects him to a murder 30 years earlier during a Michigan bank robbery. Both the incident and the individuals in The Company You Keep are fictive, but a montage of archival footage at the start of the film is used to place them in the company of real-life radicals and events from the latter days of the 1960s-'70s antiwar movement. (The film's timeline is a little hard to figure, as the action seems to be present day.) Living under an assumed name, Redford's Nick Sloan is now a recently widowed public interest lawyer with a nine-year-old daughter, still fighting the good fight from the suburbs of Albany, NY — though some of his movement cohorts would probably argue that point. And as Nick heads cross-country on a hunt for one of them who's still deep underground, and LaBeouf's pesky reporter tussles with FBI agents (Terrance Howard and Anna Kendrick) and his besieged editor (Stanley Tucci) — mostly there to pass comment on print journalism's precipitous decline — there's plenty of contentious talk, none of it particularly trenchant or involving. Redford packs his earnest, well-intentioned film with stars delineating a constellation of attitudes about revolution, justice, and violent radical action — Julie Christie as an unrepentant radical and Nick's former lover, Nick Nolte and Richard Jenkins as former movement members, Brendan Gleeson as a Michigan police detective involved in the original investigation, Chris Cooper as Nick's estranged and disapproving younger brother. But their scrutiny, and the film's, feels blurry and rote, while the plot's one major twist seems random and is clumsily exposed. (2:05) Albany, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
The Croods (1:38) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
Disconnect (1:55) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki.
Evil Dead "Sacrilege!" you surely thought when hearing that Sam Raimi's immortal 1983 classic was being remade. But as far as remakes go, this one from Uruguayan writer-director Fede Alvarez (who'd previously only made some acclaimed genre shorts) is pretty decent. Four youths gather at a former family cabin destination because a fifth (Jane Levy) has staged her own intervention — after a near-fatal OD, she needs her friends to help her go cold turkey. But as a prologue has already informed us, there is a history of witchcraft and demonic possession in this place. The discovery of something very nasty (and smelly) in the cellar, along with a book of demonic incantations that Lou Taylor Pucci is stupid enough to read aloud from, leads to ... well, you know. The all-hell that breaks loose here is more sadistically squirm-inducing than the humorously over-the-top gore in Raimi's original duo (elements of the sublime '87 Evil Dead II are also deployed here), and the characters are taken much more seriously — without, however, becoming more interesting. Despite a number of déjà vu kamikaze tracking shots through the Michigan forest (though most of the film was actually shot in New Zealand), Raimi's giddy high energy and black comedy are replaced here by a more earnest if admittedly mostly effective approach, with plenty of decent shocks. No one could replace Bruce Campbell, and perhaps it was wise not to even try. So: pretty good, gory, expertly crafted, very R-rated horror fun, even with too many "It's not over yet!" false endings. But no one will be playing this version over and over and over again as they (and I) still do the '80s films. (1:31) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)
42 Broad and morally cautious, 42 is nonetheless an honorable addition to the small cannon of films about the late, great baseball player Jackie Robinson. When Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) declares that he wants a black player in the white major leagues because "The only real color is green!", it's a cynical explanation that most people buy, and hate him for. It also starts the ball curving for a PR shitstorm. But money is an equal-opportunity leveling device: when Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) tries to use the bathroom at a small-town gas station, he's denied and tells his manager they should "buy their 99 gallons of gas another place." Naturally the gas attendant concedes, and as 42 progresses, even those who reject Robinson at first turn into men who find out how good they are when they're tested. Ford, swashbuckling well past his sell-by date, is a fantastic old coot here; his "been there, lived that" prowess makes you proud he once fled the path of a rolling bolder. His power moves here are even greater, but it's ultimately Robinson's show, and 42 finds a lot of ways to deliver on facts and still print the legend. (2:08) Four Star, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Vizcarrondo)
From Up on Poppy Hill Hayao (dad, who co-wrote) and Goro (son, who directed) Miyazaki collaborate on this tale of two high-school kids — Umi, who does all the cooking at her grandmother's boarding house, and Shun, a rabble-rouser who runs the school newspaper — in idyllic seaside Yokohama. Plans for the 1964 Olympics earmark a beloved historic clubhouse for demolition, and the budding couple unites behind the cause. The building offers a symbolic nod to Japanese history, while rehabbing it speaks to hopes for a brighter post-war future. But the past keeps interfering: conflict arises when Shun's memories are triggered by a photo of Umi's father, presumed lost at sea in the Korean War. There are no whimsical talking animals in this Studio Ghibli release, which investigates some darker-than-usual themes, though the animation is vivid and sparkling per usual. Hollywood types lending their voices to the English-language version include Jamie Lee Curtis, Christina Hendricks, Ron Howard, and Gilllian Anderson. (1:31) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Eddy)
GI Joe: Retaliation The plot exists to justify the action, but any fan of badass-ness will forgive the skimpy storyline for the outlandish badassery in GI Joe: Retaliation. Inspired by action figures and tying loosely to the first flick, Retaliation starts with a game of "secure the defector," followed by "raise the flag," but as soon as the stakes aren't real, the Joes outright suck. They don't have "neutral," which is maybe why a mission to rescue and revive the Joes as a force is the most ferocious fight that ever pit metal against plastic. The set pieces are stunning: a mostly silent sequence with Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Jinx (Elodie Yung) on a mountainside will leave the audience gaping in its high speed wake, and a prison break featuring covert explosives is nonstop amazing. You'll notice an emphasis on chain link fences and puddles (terra nostra for action figures) and set pieces conceived as if by kids who don't have a concept of basic irrefutable truths like gravity. It's just that kind of imagination and ardor and limitlessness that makes this Joe incredible, memorable, and a reason to crack out your toys again. (1:50) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Vizcarrondo)
In the House In François Ozon's first feature since the whimsical 2010 Potiche, he returns somewhat to the playful suspense intrigue of 2003's Swimming Pool, albeit with a very different tone and context. Fabrice Luchini plays a high school French literature teacher disillusioned by his students' ever-shrinking articulacy. But he is intrigued by one boy's surprisingly rich description of his stealth invasion into a classmate's envied "perfect" family — with lusty interest directed at the "middle class curves" of the mother (Emmanuelle Seigner). As the boy Claude's writings continue in their possibly fictive, possibly stalker-ish provocations, his teacher grows increasingly unsure whether he's dealing with a precocious bourgeoisie satirist or a literate budding sociopath — and ambivalent about his (and spouse Kristin Scott Thomas' stressed gallery-curator's) growing addiction to these artfully lurid possible exposé s of people he knows. And it escalates from there. Ozon is an expert filmmaker in nimble if not absolute peak form here, no doubt considerably helped by Juan Mayorga's source play. It's a smart mainstream entertainment that, had it been Hollywood feature, would doubtless be proclaimed brilliant for its clever tricks and turns. (1:45) Albany, Clay, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Jurassic Park 3D "Life finds a way," Jeff Goldblum's leather-clad mathematician remarks, crystallizing the theme of this 1993 Spielberg classic, which at its core is more about human relationships than genetically manufactured terrors. Of course, it's got plenty of those, and Jurassic Park doesn't really need its (admittedly spiffy) 3D upgrade to remain a thoroughly entertaining thriller. The dinosaur effects — particularly the creepy Velociraptors and fan-fave T. rex — still dazzle. Only some early-90s computer references and Laura Dern's mom jeans mark the film as dated. But a big-screen viewing of what's become a cable TV staple allows for fresh appreciation of its less-iconic (but no less enjoyable) moments and performances: a pre-megafame Samuel L. Jackson as a weary systems tech; Bob Peck as the park's skeptical, prodigiously thigh-muscled game warden. Try and forget the tepid sequels — including, dear gawd, 2014's in-the-works fourth installment. This is all the Jurassic you will ever need. (2:07) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Lords of Salem (1:41) Metreon.
Mud (2:15) California, Metreon, Piedmont.
No Long before the Arab Spring, a people's revolution went down in Chile when a 1988 referendum toppled the country's dictator, Augusto Pinochet, thanks in part to an ad exec who dared to sell the dream to his countrymen and women — using the relentlessly upbeat, cheesy language of a Pepsi Generation. In No's dramatization of this true story, ad man Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) is approached by the opposition to Pinochet's regime to help them on their campaign to encourage Chile's people to vote "no" to eight more years under the brutal strongman. Rene's well-aware of the horrors of the dictatorship; not only are the disappeared common knowledge, his activist ex (Antonia Zegers) has been beaten and jailed with seeming regularity. Going up against his boss (Alfredo Castro), who's overseeing the Pinochet campaign, Rene takes the brilliant tact in the opposition's TV programs of selling hope — sound familiar? — promising "Chile, happiness is coming!" amid corny mimes, dancers, and the like. Director-producer Pablo Larrain turns out to be just as genius, shooting with a grainy U-matic '80s video camera to match his footage with 1988 archival imagery, including the original TV spots, in this invigorating spiritual kin of both 2012's Argo and 1997's Wag the Dog. (1:50) New Parkway, Shattuck. (Chun)
Oblivion Spoiler alert: the great alien invasion of 2017 does absolutely zilch to eliminate, or at least ameliorate, the problem of sci-fi movie plot holes. However, puny humans willing to shut down the logic-demanding portions of their brains just might enjoy Oblivion, which is set 60 years after that fateful date and imagines that Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by said invasion. Tom Cruise plays Jack, a repairman who zips down from his sterile housing pod (shared with comely companion Andrea Riseborough) to keep a fleet of drones — dispatched to guard the planet's remaining resources from alien squatters — in working order. But Something is Not Quite Right; Jack's been having nostalgia-drenched memories of a bustling, pre-war New York City, and the déjà vu gets worse when a beautiful astronaut (Olga Kurylenko) literally crash-lands into his life. After an inaugural gig helming 2010's stinky Tron: Legacy, director Joseph Kosinski shows promise, if not perfection, bringing his original tale to the screen. (He does, however, borrow heavily from 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1996's Independence Day, and 2008's Wall-E, among others.) Still, Oblivion boasts sleek production design, a certain creative flair, and some surprisingly effective plot twists — though also, alas, an overlong running time. (2:05) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Olympus Has Fallen Overstuffed with slo-mo shots of the flag rippling (in breezes likely caused by all the hot air puffing up from the script), this gleefully ham-fisted tribute to America Fuck Yeah estimates the intelligence of its target audience thusly: an establishing shot clearly depicting both the Washington Monument and the US Capitol is tagged "Washington, DC." Wait, how can you tell? This wannabe Die Hard: The White House follows the one-man-army crusade of secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), the last friendly left standing when the President (Aaron Eckhart) and assorted cabinet members are taken hostage by North Korean terrorists. The plot is to ridiculous to recap beyond that, though I will note that Morgan Freeman (as the Speaker of the House) gets to deliver the line "They've just opened the gates of hell!" — the high point in a performance that otherwise requires him to sit at a table and look concerned for two hours. With a few more over-the-top scenes or slightly more adventurous casting, Olympus Has Fallen could've ascended to action-camp heights. Alas, it's mostly just mildly amusing, though all that caked-on patriotism is good for a smattering of heartier guffaws. (2:00) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy)
On the Road Walter Salles (2004's The Motorcycle Diaries) engages Diaries screenwriter Jose Rivera to adapt Jack Kerouac's Beat classic; it's translated to the screen in a streamlined version, albeit one rife with parties, drugs, jazz, danger, reckless driving, sex, philosophical conversations, soul-searching, and "kicks" galore. Brit Sam Riley (2007's Control) plays Kerouac stand-in Sal Paradise, observing (and scribbling down) his gritty adventures as they unfold. Most of those adventures come courtesy of charismatic, freewheeling Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund of 2010's Tron: Legacy), who blows in and out of Sal's life (and a lot of other people's lives, too, including wives played by Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst). Beautifully shot, with careful attention to period detail and reverential treatment of the Beat ethos, the film is an admirable effort but a little too shapeless, maybe simply due to the peripatetic nature of its iconic source material, to be completely satisfying. Among the performances, erstwhile teen dream Stewart is an uninhibited standout. (2:03) Four Star, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Oz: The Great and Powerful Providing a backstory for the man behind the curtain, director Sam Raimi gives us a prequel of sorts to 1939's The Wizard of Oz. Herein we follow the adventures of a Depression-era Kansas circus magician named Oscar (James Franco) — Oz to his friends — as he cons, philanders, bickers with his behind-the-scenes assistant Frank (Zach Braff), and eventually sails away in a twister, bound for a Technicolor land of massively proportioned flora, talking fauna, and witches ranging from dazzlingly good to treacherously wicked. From one of them, Theodora (Mila Kunis), he learns that his arrival — in Oz, just to clarify — has set in motion the fulfillment of a prophecy: that a great wizard, also named Oz, will bring about the downfall of a malevolent witch (Rachel Weisz), saving the kingdom and its cheery, goodhearted inhabitants. Unfortunately for this deserving populace, Oz spent his last pre-twister moments with the Baum Bros. Circus (the name a tribute to L. Frank Baum, writer of the Oz children's books) demonstrating a banged-up moral compass and an undependable streak and proclaiming that he would rather be a great man than a good man. Unfortunately for the rest of us, this theme is revisited ad nauseam as Oz and the oppressively beneficent witch Glinda (Michelle Williams) — whose magic appears to consist mainly of nice soft things like bubbles and fog — stand around debating whether he's the right man for the task. When the fog clears, though, the view is undeniably pretty. While en route to and from the Emerald City, Oz and his companions — among them a non-evil flying monkey (voiced by Braff) and a rather adorable china doll (Joey King) — wander through a deliriously arresting, Fantasia-esque landscape whose intricate, inventive construction helps distract from the plodding, saccharine rhetoric and unappealing story line. (2:07) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
Pain & Gain In mid-1995 members of what became known as the "Sun Gym Gang" — played here by Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, and Anthony Mackie — were arrested for a series of crimes including kidnapping, extortion, and murder. Simply wanting to live large, they'd abducted one well-off man (Tony Shalhoub) months earlier, tortured him into signing over all his assets, and left him for dead — yet incredibly the Miami police thought the victim's story was a tall tale, leaving the perps free until they'd burned through their moolah and sought other victims. Michael Bay's cartoonish take on a pretty horrific saga repeatedly reminds us that it's a true story, though the script plays fast and loose with many real-life details. (And strangely it downplays the role steroid abuse presumably played in a lot of very crazy behavior.) In a way, his bombastic style is well-suited to a grotesquely comic thriller about bungling bodybuilder criminals redundantly described here as "dumb stupid fucks." There have been worse Bay movies, even if that's like saying "This gas isn't as toxic as the last one." But despite the flirtations with satire of fitness culture, motivational gurus and so forth, his sense of humor stays on a loutish plane, complete with fag-bashing, a dwarf gag, and representation of Miami as basically one big siliconed titty bar. Nor can he pull off a turn toward black comedy that needs the superior intelligence of someone like the Coen Brothers or Soderbergh. As usual everything is overamped, the action sequences overblown, the whole thing overlong, and good actors made to overact. You've got to give cranky old Ed Harris credit: playing a private detective, he alone here refuses to be bullied into hamming it up. (2:00) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Harvey)
The Place Beyond the Pines Powerful indie drama Blue Valentine (2010) marked director Derek Cianfrance as one worthy of attention, so it's with no small amount of fanfare that this follow-up arrives. The Place Beyond the Pines' high profile is further enhanced by the presence of Bradley Cooper (currently enjoying a career ascension from Sexiest Man Alive to Oscar-nominated Serious Actor), cast opposite Valentine star Ryan Gosling, though they share just one scene. An overlong, occasionally contrived tale of three generations of fathers, father figures, and sons, Pines' initial focus is Gosling's stunt-motorcycle rider, a character that would feel more exciting if it wasn't so reminiscent of Gosling's turn in Drive (2011), albeit with a blonde dye job and tattoos that look like they were applied by the same guy who inked James Franco in Spring Breakers. Robbing banks seems a reasonable way to raise cash for his infant son, as well as a way for Pines to draw in another whole set of characters, in the form of a cop (Cooper) who's also a new father, and who — as the story shifts ahead 15 years — builds a political career off the case. Of course, fate and the convenience of movie scripts dictate that the mens' sons will meet, the past will haunt the present and fuck up the future, etc. etc. Ultimately, Pines is an ambitious film that suffers from both its sprawl and some predictable choices (did Ray Liotta really need to play yet another dirty cop?) Halfway through the movie I couldn't help thinking what might've happened if Cianfrance had dared to swap the casting of the main roles; Gosling could've been a great ambitious cop-turned-powerful prick, and Cooper could've done interesting things with the Evel Knievel-goes-Point Break part. Just sayin'. (2:20) California, Embarcadero, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Presidio, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Quartet Every year there's at least one: the adorable-old-cootfest, usually British, that proves harmless and reassuring and lightly tear/laughter producing enough to convince a certain demographic that it's safe to go to the movies again. The last months have seen two, both starring Maggie Smith (who's also queen of that audience's home viewing via Downton Abbey). Last year's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, in which Smith played a bitchy old spinster appalled to find herself in India, has already filled the slot. It was formulaic, cute, and sentimental, yes, but it also practiced more restraint than one expected. Now here's Quartet, which is basically the same flower arrangement with quite a bit more dust on it. Smith plays a bitchy old spinster appalled to find herself forced into spending her twilight years at a home for the elderly. It's not just any such home, however, but Beecham House, whose residents are retired professional musicians. Gingerly peeking out from her room after a few days' retreat from public gaze, Smith's Jean Horton — a famed English soprano — spies a roomful of codgers rolling their hips to Afropop in a dance class. "This is not a retirement home — this is a madhouse!" she pronounces. Oh, the shitty lines that lazy writers have long depended on Smith to make sparkle. Quartet is full of such bunk, adapted with loving fidelity, no doubt, from his own 1999 play by Ronald Harwood, who as a scenarist has done some good adaptations of other people's work (2002's The Pianist). But as a generator of original material for about a half-century, he's mostly proven that it is possible to prosper that long while being in entirely the wrong half-century. Making his directorial debut: 75-year-old Dustin Hoffman, which ought to have yielded a more interesting final product. But with its workmanlike gloss and head-on take on the script's very predictable beats, Quartet could as well have been directed by any BBC veteran of no particular distinction. (1:38) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
Renoir The gorgeous, sun-dappled French Riviera setting is the high point of this otherwise low-key drama about the temperamental women (Christa Theret) who was the final muse to elderly painter Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), and who encouraged the filmmaking urges in his son, future cinema great Jean (Vincent Rottiers). Cinematographer Mark Ping Bin Lee (who's worked with Hou Hsiao-hsein and Wong Kar Wai) lenses Renoir's leafy, ramshackle estate to maximize its resemblance to the paintings it helped inspire; though her character, Dédée, could kindly be described as "conniving," Theret could not have been better physically cast, with tumbling red curls and pale skin she's none too shy about showing off. Though the specter of World War I looms in the background, the biggest conflicts in Gilles Bourdos' film are contained within the household, as Jean frets about his future, Dédée faces the reality of her precarious position in the household (which is staffed by aging models-turned-maids), and Auguste battles ill health by continuing to paint, though he's in a wheelchair and must have his brushes taped to his hands. Though not much really happens, Renoir is a pleasant, easy-on-the-eyes experience. (1:51) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Room 237 What subtexts, hidden meanings, conspiracy theories, and strange coincidences are hidden within Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror masterpiece The Shining? Former San Franciscan Rodney Ascher's wonderfully spooky and unconventional doc burrows deep down the rabbit hole with five Shining-obsessed people, who share their ideas in voice-over as images from that film (and others chosen for reasons both obvious and curious) flow together on the screen. Innovative sound design and a throwback electronic soundtrack contribute to Room 237's spellbinding vibe. You'll never watch The Shining the same way again. (1:42) Roxie. (Eddy)
The Sapphires The civil rights injustices suffered by these dream girls may be unique to Aboriginal Australians, but they'll strike a chord with viewers throughout the world — at right about the same spot stoked by the sweet soul music of Motown. Co-written by Tony Briggs, the son of a singer in a real-life Aboriginal girl group, this unrepentant feel-gooder aims to make the lessons of history go down with the good humor and up-from-the-underdog triumph of films like The Full Monty (1997) — the crucial difference in this fun if flawed comedy-romance is that it tells the story of women of color, finding their voices and discovering, yes, their groove. It's all in the family for these would-be soul sisters, or rather country cousins, bred on Merle Haggard and folk tunes: there's the charmless and tough Gail (Deborah Mailman), the soulful single mom Julie (Jessica Mauboy, an Australian Idol runner-up), the flirty Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), and the pale-skinned Kay (Shari Sebbens), the latter passing as white after being forcibly "assimilated" by the government. Their dream is to get off the farm, even if that means entertaining the troops in Vietnam, and the person to help them realize that checkered goal is dissolute piano player Dave (Chris O'Dowd). And O'Dowd is the breakout star to watch here — he adds an loose, erratic energy to an otherwise heavily worked story arc. So when romance sparks for all Sapphires — and the racial tension simmering beneath the sequins rumbles to the surface — the easy pleasures generated by O'Dowd and the music (despite head-scratching inclusions like 1970's "Run Through the Jungle" in this 1968-set yarn), along with the gently handled lessons in identity politics learned, obliterate any lingering questions left sucking Saigon dust as the narrative plunges forward. They keep you hanging on. (1:38) Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Chun)
Scary Movie 5 (1:35) Metreon.
Silver Linings Playbook After guiding two actors to Best Supporting Oscars in 2010's The Fighter, director David O. Russell returns (adapting his script from Matthew Quick's novel) with another darkly comedic film about a complicated family that will probably earn some gold of its own. Though he's obviously not ready to face the outside world, Pat (Bradley Cooper) checks out of the state institution he's been court-ordered to spend eight months in after displaying some serious anger-management issues. He moves home with his football-obsessed father (Robert De Niro) and worrywart mother (Jacki Weaver of 2010's Animal Kingdom), where he plunges into a plan to win back his estranged wife. Cooper plays Pat as a man vibrating with troubled energy — always in danger of flying into a rage, even as he pursues his forced-upbeat "silver linings" philosophy. But the movie belongs to Jennifer Lawrence, who proves the chops she showcased (pre-Hunger Games megafame) in 2010's Winter's Bone were no fluke. As the damaged-but-determined Tiffany, she's the left-field element that jolts Pat out of his crazytown funk; she's also the only reason Playbook's dance-competition subplot doesn't feel eye-rollingly clichéd. The film's not perfect, but Lawrence's layered performance — emotional, demanding, bitchy, tough-yet-secretly-tender — damn near is. (2:01) New Parkway. (Eddy)
Spring Breakers The idea of enfant terrible emeritus Harmony Korine — 1997's Gummo, 2007's Mister Lonely, 2009's Trash Humpers — directing something so utterly common as a spring break movie is head-scratching enough, even moreso compounded by the casting of teen dreams Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, and Ashley Benson as bikini-clad girls gone wild. James Franco co-stars as drug dealer Alien, all platinum teeth and cornrows and shitty tattoos, who befriends the lasses after they're busted by the fun police. "Are you being serious?" Gomez's character asks Alien, soon after meeting him. "What do you think?" he grins back. Unschooled filmgoers who stumble into the theater to see their favorite starlets might be shocked by Breakers' hard-R hijinks. But Korine fans will understand that this neon-lit, Skrillex-scored tale of debauchery and dirty menace is not to be taken at face value. The subject matter, the cast, the Britney Spears songs, the deliberately lurid camerawork — all carefully-constructed elements in a film that takes not-taking-itself-seriously, very seriously indeed. Korine has said he prefers his films to make "perfect nonsense" instead of perfect sense. The sublime Spring Breakers makes perfect nonsense, and it also makes nonsense perfect. (1:34) New Parkway, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Starbuck Starbuck has a great (if not entirely original) comedic concept it chooses to play seriocomedically — i.e., less for the laughs it seldom earns than for the heart-tugging it eventually pretty much does. An ingratiatingly rumpled Patrick Huard (a major Quebec star best known for the mega-hit Les Boys series and 2006's Good Cop, Bad Cop) plays David, erstwhile stellar contributor to a Montreal sperm bank in his salad days. Now older but no wiser, he finds himself confronted by the reality of 533 biologically fathered, now-grown offspring who've filed a class action lawsuit to discover his identity even as he deals with mob debt and an exasperated, pregnant semi-ex-girlfriend (Julie LeBreton). This is one of those "loser manboy must semi-grow up fast amid crisis, finding family values en route" scenarios tailor-fit for Adam Sandler. That said, the overlong, stubbornly endearing Starbuck is so much less insufferable than anything Sandler has made since ... um, ever? Halfway through, this agreeable movie gets clever — as David stumbles into a meeting of his prodigious anonymous progeny — and remains reasonably so to the satisfyingly hard-won happy ending. It's still got moments of contrivance, editorial fat (too many montages, for one thing), and more climactic hugs than any self-respecting dramedy needs to get the redemptive point across. Yet it's also got something few comedies of any national origin have today: a lovely, distinctive, bright yet non-cartoonish widescreen look. (1:48) Four Star. (Harvey)
Tai Chi Hero Six months ago, Tai Chi Zero — Stephen Fung's nutty tale of a martial arts savant who journeys to an isolated town to learn a top-secret technique — barreled into local theaters. A stylish kung fu flick with a high degree of WTF-ness, Zero ended on a pretty significant cliffhanger, so here's the cheeky sequel for those who've been wondering what happened to Yang Lu Chan (Yuan Xiaochao) — a sweet fool when he's not in supernatural Hulk-smash mode — and company. A brief intro gets newbies up to speed before the action starts: Lu Chan and the bossy-yet-comely daughter (Angelababy) of the local grandmaster (Tony Leung Ka Fai) have entered into a marriage of convenience — and there's something fishy about Lu Chan's brother-in-law, newly returned from a long exile with his own secretive bride. Meanwhile, the family worries about the dreadful "bronze bell prophecy" while the first film's Westernized villain plots tasty revenge. In addition to all the high-flying, slo-mo scenes of hand-to-hand combat, highlights include a soundtrack filled with unexpected choices (heavy metal, accordion), a cameo by cult actor Peter Stormare (hamming it up big-time), and an army tricked out with steampunky weapons. (1:40) Four Star, Metreon. (Eddy)
Trance Where did Danny Boyle drop his noir? Somewhere along the way from Shallow Grave (1994) to Slumdog Millionaire (2008)? Finding the thread he misplaced among the obfuscating reflections of London's corporate-contempo architecture, Boyle strives to put his own character-centered spin on the genre in this collaboration with Grave and Trainspotting (1996) screenwriter John Hodge, though the final product feels distinctly off, despite its Hitchcockian aspirations toward a sort of modern-day Spellbound (1945). Untrustworthy narrator Simon (James McAvoy) is an auctioneer for a Sotheby's-like house, tasked with protecting the multimillion-dollar artworks on the block, within reason. Then the splashily elaborate theft of Goya's Witches' Flight painting goes down on Simon's watch, and for his trouble, the complicit staffer is concussed by heist leader Franck (Vincent Cassel). Where did those slippery witches fly to? Simon, mixed up with the thieves due to his gambling debts, cries amnesia — the truth appears to be locked in the opaque layers of his jostled brain, and it's up to hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to uncover the Goya's resting place. Is she trying to help Simon extricate himself from his impossible situation, seduce Franck, or simply help herself? Boyle tries to transmit the mutable mind games on screen, via the lighting, glass, and watery reflections that are supposed to translate as sleek sophistication. But devices like speedy, back-and-forth edits and off-and-on fourth-wall-battering instances as when Simon locks eyes with the audience, read as dated and cheesy as a banking commercial. The seriously miscast actors also fail to sell Trance on various levels — believability, likeability, etc. — as the very unmesmerized viewer falls into a light coma and the movie twirls, flaming, into the ludicrous. (1:44) SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
Upstream Color A woman, a man, a pig, a worm, Walden — what? If you enter into Shane Carruth's Upstream Color expecting things like a linear plot, exposition, and character development, you will exit baffled and distressed. Best to understand in advance that these elements are not part of Carruth's master plan. In fact, based on my own experiences watching the film twice, I'm fairly certain that not really understanding what's going on in Upstream Color is part of its loopy allure. Remember Carruth's 2004 Primer? Did you try to puzzle out that film's array of overlapping and jigsawed timelines, only to give up and concede that the mystery (and sheer bravado) of that film was part of its, uh, loopy allure? Yeah. Same idea, except writ a few dimensions larger, with more locations, zero tech-speak dialogue, and — yes! — a compelling female lead, played by Amy Seimetz, an indie producer and director in her own right. Enjoying (or even making it all the way through) Upstream Color requires patience and a willingness to forgive some of Carruth's more pretentious noodlings; in the tradition of experimental filmmaking, it's a work that's more concerned with evoking emotions than hitting some kind of three-act structure. Most importantly, it manages to be both maddening and moving at the same time. (1:35) Roxie. (Eddy) *
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