Film Listings: June 4 - 10, 2014
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.
The 13th San Francisco Documentary Film Festival runs June 5-19 at the Brava Theater, 2781 York, SF; Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St, SF; and Oakland School of the Arts Theater, 530 19th St, Oakl. For tickets (most shows $12) and complete schedule, visit www.sfindie.com. For commentary, see "Peculiar Thrills."
Edge of Tomorrow Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt star in this sci-fi thriller about an alien war being fought by soldiers caught in a seemingly endless time loop. (1:53) Four Star, Presidio.
The Fault in Our Stars Shailene Woodley stars in this based-on-a-best-seller romance about two teens who meet at a cancer support group. (2:05) Marina.
Night Moves Not to be confused with Arthur Penn's same-named 1975 Gene Hackman thriller, Kelly Reichardt's latest film nonetheless is also a memorably quiet, unsettling tale of conspiracy and paranoia. It takes us some time to understand what makes temporary allies of jittery Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Portland, Ore.-style alterna-chick Dena (Dakota Fanning) and genial rural recluse Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), beyond it being a mission of considerable danger and secrecy. When things don't go exactly as planned, however, the three react very differently to the resulting fallout, becoming possibly greater threats to one another than the police or FBI personnel pursuing them. While still spare by mainstream standard, this is easily Reichardt's most accessible work, carrying the observational strengths of 2010's Meek's Cutoff, 2008's Wendy and Lucy, and 2006's Old Joy over to a genuinely tense story that actually goes somewhere. (1:52) Metreon. (Harvey)
Rigor Mortis Spooky Chinese folklore (hopping vampires) meets J-horror (female ghouls with long black hair) in this film — directed by Juno Mak, and produced by Grudge series helmer Takashi Shimizu — inspired by Hong Kong's long-running Mr. Vampire comedy-horror movie series. Homage takes the form of casting, with several of Vampire's key players in attendance, rather than tone, since the supernatural goings-on in Rigor Mortis are more somber than slapstick. Washed-up film star Chin Siu-ho (playing an exaggerated version of himself) moves into a gloomy apartment building stuffed with both living and undead tenants; his own living room was the scene of a horrific crime, and anguished spirits still linger. Neighbors include a frustrated former vampire hunter; a traumatized woman and her white-haired imp of a son; a kindly seamstress who goes full-tilt ruthless in her quest to bring her deceased husband back to life; and an ailing shaman whose spell-casting causes more harm than good. Shot in tones so monochromatic the film sometimes appears black-and-white (with splashes of blood red, natch), Rigor Mortis unfortunately favors CG theatrics over genuine scares. That said, its deadpan, world-weary tone can be amusing, as when one old ghost-chaser exclaims to another, "You're still messing around with that black magic shit?" (1:45) Metreon. (Eddy)
Test Writer-director Chris Mason Johnson sets his film at a particular moment in the early years of the AIDS epidemic — when the first HIV blood test became publicly available, in 1985 — within a milieu, the world of professional modern dance, that rarely makes an appearance in narrative films. Test's protagonist, Frankie (Scott Marlowe), is a young understudy in a prestigious San Francisco company, and the camera follows him on daily rounds from a rodent-infested Castro apartment, where he lives with his closeted roommate, to the dance studio, where he marks the steps of the other performers and waits anxiously for an opportunity to get onstage. Larger anxieties are hovering, moving in. We get a rehearsal scene in which a female dancer recoils from her male partner's embrace, lest his sweat contaminate her; conversations about the virus in changing rooms and at parties; a sexual encounter between Frankie and a stranger, after which he stares at the man as if he might be a mortal enemy; a later, aborted encounter in which the man sits up in bed, appalled and depressed, after Frankie hesitantly proffers a condom, remarking, "They say we should use these&ldots;" A neighbor watches Frankie examine himself for skin lesions. Rock Hudson dies. Frankie warily embarks on a friendship with a brash, handsome fellow dancer (Matthew Risch) who offers a counterpoint to his cerebral, watchful reserve. And throughout, the company rehearses and performs, in scenes that beautifully evoke the themes of the film, a quiet, thoughtful study of a person, and a community, trying to reorient and find footing amid a cataclysm. (1:29) Elmwood (director in person Sat/7, 7:15pm show), Presidio (director in person Fri/6, 8:30pm; Sat/7, 3:50pm; and Sun/8, 6:15pm shows). (Rapoport)
We Are the Best! Fifteen years after Show Me Love, Lukas Moodysson's sweet tale of two girls in love in small-town Sweden, the writer-director returns to the subject of adorably poignant teen angst. Set in Stockholm in 1982, and adapted from a graphic novel by Moodysson's wife, Coco Moodysson, We Are the Best! focuses on an even younger cohort: a trio of 13-year-old girls who form a punk band in the interest of fighting the power and irritating the crap out of their enemies. Best friends Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) spend their time enduring the agonies of parental embarrassment and battling with schoolmates over personal aesthetics (blond and perky versus chopped and spiked), nukes, and whether punk's dead or not. Wreaking vengeance on a group of churlish older boys by snaking their time slot in the local rec center's practice space, they find themselves equipped with a wealth of fan enthusiasm, but no instruments of their own and scant functional knowledge of the ones available at the rec center. Undaunted, they recruit a reserved Christian classmate named Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), whose objectionable belief system — which they vow to subvert for her own good — is offset by her prodigious musical talents. Anyone who was tormented by the indignities of high school PE class will appreciate the subject matter of the group's first number ("Hate the Sport"). And while the film has a slightness to it and an unfinished quality, Moodysson's heartfelt interest in the three girls' triumphs and trials as both a band and a posse of friends suffuses the story with warmth and humor. (1:42) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Rapoport)
Cold in July Though he's best-known for his cut-above indie horror flicks (2010's Stake Land; 2013's We Are What We Are), Jim Mickle's most accomplished film to date explores new turf for the writer-director: small-town noir. Cold in July, a thriller ranging across East Texas, circa 1989, is adapted from the novel by Joe R. Lansdale, who — buckle up, cultists — also penned the short story which spawned 2002's Bubba Ho-Tep. That said, there are no supernatural elements afoot here; all darkness springs entirely from the coal-black hearts beating in its characters. Well, some of its characters, anyway; though Cold in July begins with a killing, the trigger hand is attached to mild-mannered Richard Dane (Dexter's Michael C. Hall, rocking a splendid mullet). The masked man he shot was breaking into his home; Richard was just protecting his family, and the crime is breezed over by the police. Unlike Viggo Mortensen's secret gangster in 2005's A History of Violence, a film which begins with a similar premise, Richard has zero past aggression to draw on; dude's got a history of mildness — with a heretoforth untapped curiosity about the wilder side of life awakened by a sudden bloody act. The good guy/bad guy dynamic is twisted, tested, and taken to extremes as the story progresses; it's the sort of film best viewed without much knowledge of its plot twists, which are numerous and cleverly plotted. Throughout, the film expertly works its 1980s setting as both homage to and embodiment of the era's gritty thrillers; its synth-heavy score and the casting of Wyatt Russell (son of Kurt) add to the feeling that Cold in July was crafted after much time spent in the church of St. John Carpenter. Amen to that. (1:49) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)
The Dance of Reality His unique vision recently re-introduced to audiences by unmaking-of documentary Jodorowsky's Dune, cinematic fabulist Alejandro Jodorowsky is back with his first film in a quarter-century. This autobiographical fantasia shows all initial signs of being a welcome yet somewhat redundant retread of his cult-famed early work (1970's El Topo, 1973's The Holy Mountain), as Santa Sangre was in 1989. It starts with the filmmaker himself fulminating wisdoms about the spiritual emptiness of a money-centric world, then appearing as guardian angel to his child self (Jeremias Herskovits). Little Alejandro is raised by a bullying, hyper macho father (Brontis Jodorowsky) and warm, indulgent mother (soprano Pamela Flores, singing every line of dialogue) who naturally clash at every turn. Jodorowsky's stunning eye for bizarre imagery (abetted by DP Jean-Marie Dreujou's handsome compositions) hasn't faded, so there are delights to be had even in what fans might consider an over-familiar parade of dwarfs, amputees, anti clerical burlesques (like a dress-up dog beauty contest at church), Chaplinesque circus sentimentality, and other simple if surreal illustrations of society's eternal victims and overlords. At a certain point, however, the misdeeds of father Jaime force his self-exile. The film's consequent picaresque allegory of epic suffering toward redemption becomes cheerfully goofy, its symbol-strewn path increasingly funny and sweet rather than burdened by import. A large part of that appeal is due to junior Jodorowsky Brontis, who demonstrates considerable farcical esprit while flashing more full-frontal nudity than Michael Fassbender and Ewan McGregor combined ever dreamed of obliging. Shot in the family's native Chile on a purported crowd funded budget of $3 million — could Hollywood provide so much original spectacle for 30 times that amount?—The Dance of Reality finds its 84-year-old maker as frisky as a pony, one that provides an endearingly unpredictable ride. (2:10) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
The Grand Seduction Canadian actor-director Don McKellar (1998's Last Night) remakes 2003 Quebecois comedy Seducing Doctor Lewis, about a depressed community searching for the town doctor they'll need before a factory will agree to set up shop and bring much-needed jobs to the area. Canada is still the setting here, with the harbor's name — Tickle Head — telegraphing with zero subtlety that whimsy lies ahead. A series of events involving a Tickle Head-based TSA agent, a bag of cocaine, and a harried young doctor (Taylor Kitsch) trying to avoid jail time signals hope for the hamlet, and de facto town leader Murray (Brendan Gleeson) snaps into action. The seduction of "Dr. Paul," who agrees to one month of service not knowing the town is desperate to keep him, is part Northern Exposure culture clash, part Jenga-like stack of lies, as the townspeople pretend to love cricket (Paul's a fanatic) and act like his favorite lamb dish is the specialty at the local café. The wonderfully wry Gleeson is the best thing about this deeply predictable tale, which errs too often on the side of cute (little old ladies at the switchboard listening in on Paul's phone-sex with his girlfriend!) rather than clever, as when an unsightly structure in the center of town is explained away with a fake "World Heritage House" plaque. Still, the scenery is lovely, and "cute" doesn't necessarily mean "not entertaining." (1:52) Embarcadero. (Eddy)
Ida The bomb drops within the first ten minutes: after being gently forced to reconnect with her only living relative before taking her vows, novice nun Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) learns that her name is actually Ida, and that she's Jewish. Her mother's sister, Wanda (Agneta Kulesza) — a Communist Party judge haunted by a turbulent past she copes with via heavy drinking, among other vices — also crisply relays that Ida's parents were killed during the Nazi occupation, and after some hesitation agrees to accompany the sheltered young woman to find out how they died, and where their bodies were buried. Drawing great depth from understated storytelling and gorgeous, black-and-white cinematography, Pawel Pawilowski's well-crafted drama offers a bleak if realistic (and never melodramatic) look at 1960s Poland, with two polar-opposite characters coming to form a bond as their layers of painful loss rise to the surface. (1:20) Clay. (Eddy)
The Immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotilliard) is an orphaned Polish émigré who's separated from her sickly sister at Ellis Island in 1921, and scheduled for deportation as an alleged "woman of low morals." She's rescued from that by Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), though he's not quite the agent of charity he seems — in fact, Ewa doesn't realize she's actually been recruited for a prostitution racket he thinly veils as a theatrical troupe. Still, she stays, believing she has no other viable path to freeing her sister from quarantine, she allows her own degradation for money's sake. This latest collaboration between Phoenix and director-coscenarist James Gray is a handsome period piece that's done skillfully and tastefully enough to downplay — but not quite hide — the fact that its moral melodrama might as well have been written (as well as set) nearly a century ago. Cotilliard is fine in her best English-language role to date, and Phoenix is compelling as usual; Jeremy Renner is somewhat miscast as a distant-third lead. But whether you find The Immigrant poignant or forced will depend on your tolerance for a script whose every turn is all too predictable. (2:00) Metreon. (Harvey)
Maleficent Fairytale revisionism is all the rage these days, what with the unending power of Disney princesses to latch into little girls everywhere and bring parental units (and their wallets) to their knees. Yet princesses almost seem beside the point in this villain's-side-of-the-story tale — Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), the queen of the fairies in the magical moors, wronged by Stefan (Sharlto Copley), who saws off her wings in order to win a crown. Accompanied by her shape-shifting minion, crow Diaval (Sam Riley), Maleficent attends the christening of King Stefan's first-born daughter, Aurora, hot on the heels of three clownish good fairies (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple), and delivers a curse that will have this future Sleeping Beauty (Elle Fanning) prick her finger on a spindle and sink into a deathlike coma until her true love's kiss. Will that critical smooch be delivered by Prince Bieber, er, Phillip (Brenton Thwaites)? Considering the potential for Disney's trademark, heart-tugging enchantment to get magically tangled up in girl power, it's tough to suck up the disappointment in the ooey-gooey, gummy-faced troll-doll aesthetics of the art direction and animation, as well as first-time director Robert Stromberg's choppy, dashed-through storytelling. Part of the problem is that there's almost zero threat here, despite its antihero's devilish presence — is there ever any doubt that a healthy resolution will win out, even at the expense of blood ties? Best to find dangerous pleasures where one can — namely in the vivid Jolie, cheekbones honed to a razor edge, who spits biting remarks at her accursed charge, beneath Joan Crawford-esque eyebrows and horns crying out for club-kid Halloween treatments. (1:37) Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Chun) *