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.
SF INTERNATIONAL ASIAN AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL
The 28th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival runs through Sun/21 at the Sundance Kabuki, 1881 Post, SF; Viz Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; Clay, 2261 Fillmore, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Camera 12 Cinemas, 201 South Second St, San Jose. Tickets (most shows $12) available at www.asianamericanmedia.org. All times pm.
PFA Agrarian Utopia 7. Mundane History 9:20.
Sundance Kabuki "Classic Filipino American Shorts" (shorts program) 4:15. God is D_ad 4:30. "FutureStates" (shorts program) 6:45. Wo Ai Ni Mommy 7. You Have Been Weighed and Found Wanting 9:15. Aoki 9:30.
Viz "Memory Vessels and Phantom Traces" (shorts program) 4:45. Ninoy Aquin and the Rise of People Power 7. Dear Doctor 9:15.
PFA Hana, Dul, Sed... 7. Bayan Ko: My Own Country 9.
Sundance Kabuki Mundane History 5. "Wandering, Wondering" (shorts program) 5. "Blueprints for a Generation" (shorts program) 5. Au Revoir Taipei 7. "FutureStates" (shorts program) 7:15.
Viz "Sweet Dreams and Beautiful Nightmare" (shorts program) 5. Tehran Without Borders 7:30.
Camera Au Revoir Taipei 7.
PFA What We Talk About When We... 7. The Forbidden Door 9:10.
Camera Dear Doctor noon. "3rd I South Asian International Shorts" (shorts program) 2:45. Aoki 3. The People I've Slept With 4:45. A Village Called Versailles 5:30. Make Yourself at Home 7:15. Like You Know it All 7:45. Prince of Tears 9:15.
PFA Manila in the Claws of Neon 6. About Elly 8:30.
Camera "Wandering, Wondering" (shorts program) noon. Talentime 2. State of Aloha 2:15. Cooking With Stella 4:30. Fog 4:45. In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee 6:45. The Forbidden Door 7. The Message 9.
The Bounty Hunter Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston play a formerly married couple who ... zzzzz. Huh? Oh, whatever. (1:50)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid The agonies of middle school come to life in this kid-friendly comedy. (2:00)
The Girl on the Train André Téchiné's beautifully photographed, ripped-from-the-headlines film explores the events that led a young Parisian girl to lie about being the victim of an anti-semitic attack. Téchiné's dramatization fails as an account of the incident, but the film manages to evoke a powerfully mysterious tone due largely to two stellar performances, by Émilie Dequenne as the 20-something Jeanne and Catherine Deneuve as her persistent mother. Much of the running time follows Jeanne's experiences before the fabrication, as she falls for (and moves in with) a young wrestler named Franck, before a tragic event causes Jeanne to invent the famous lie. An arty exploration into the psychology of victimization that happens to be anchored by a real-life event, The Girl on the Train may disappoint those looking for easy answers but is undeniable as a showcase for some outstanding acting. (1:42) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Galvin)
*The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo See "Life After Death." (2:32) Albany, Embarcadero.
Mother Bong Joon-ho's latest is a crime drama about a mentally challenged murder suspect and his formidable mother. See review at www.sfbg.com. (2:09) Clay, Shattuck.
*Neil Young Trunk Show As loose as Jonathan Demme's prior Neil doc Heart of Gold (2006) was tidy, with a taste for rave-ups where that film emphasized the mellower country-rock side, this neck-deep wade into Young's four-decade-plus songbook is pretty dang nirvanic. Shot at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA exactly the kind of funky old midsized venue you'd want to see him at it's assembled via camera and editorial choices as seemingly random yet astute as Young's grab bag of tunes. The latter range from historic hits ("Cinnamon Girl," "Harvest," "Cowgirl in the Sand") to more recent compositions ("The Believer," "No Hidden Path") and some real obscurities from the bottom of that trunk, including a few acoustic heartbreakers. Even shown out of concert order there's never any sense just where we are in the audience's evening they meld seamlessly, the epic half-hour oceanics of "Path" just as well as something small and plaintive like "Sad Movies." Never in better voice (qualify that as you will) at age 65, surrounded by an assured band of five plus scattered oddball props and one live canvas painter, Young is the eye of this particular hurricane even if "Like a Hurricane" is the one performance that feels a tad uninspired. If you're a fan, this will be pretty close to sheer ecstasy. If not ... well, frankly, I have absolutely no idea whether
you'll be converted, mildly entertained, or bored to death. (1:22) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Repo Men Nope, not a sequel to the 1984 cult classic. Jude Law and Forest Whitaker will, however, relieve you of your futuristic mechanical organs if you can't pay for them post-transplant. (1:53) Shattuck.
The Runaways In Floria Sigismondi's tale of the rise and fall of a 1970s all-girl band, LA producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) proclaims that the Runaways are going to save rock and roll. It's hard to gauge the sincerity of this pronouncement, but you can certainly hear, in songs like "Cherry Bomb" and "Queens of Noise," how the band must have brightened a landscape overrun by kings of prog rock. Unfortunately, a handful of teenagers micromanaged by a sleazy, abusive nutcase proved not quite up to the task, though the band did launch the careers of metal guitarist Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) and, more famously, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart). Sigismondi's film entertainingly sketches the Runaways' beginnings in glam rock fandom and gradual attainment of their own rabid fan base. We get Currie lip-synching Bowie to catcalls at the high school assembly, Jett composing "Cherry Bomb" with Fowley, glamtastic hair-and-wardrobe eye candy, pills-and-Stooges-fueled intra-band fooling around, and five teenage girls sent off sans chaperone on an international tour with substantial quantities of hard drugs in their carry-on luggage. What follows is less pretty: a capsule version of the band's disintegration after the departure of bottoming-out 16-year-old lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). In a film darkened by Currie's trajectory, Jett's subsequent success is a feel-good coda, but it's awkwardly attached and emblematizes one of The Runaways' main problems. When the band begins to fall apart, the film doesn't know which way to turn and ends up telling no one's story well. (1:42) Bridge. (Rapoport)
Ajami You may recognize the title of Yaron Shoni and Scandar Copti's debut collaboration as one of five films nominated for a 2010 Academy Award in the Foreign Category. Though it didn't bring home the grand prize, Ajami remains a complex and affecting story about desperation and its consequences in a religiously-mixed town in Israel. As we follow the lives of four of Ajami's residents the narrative shifts perspective almost maddeningly, switching characters seemingly at the height of each story's action. But once all of the stories fully intersect, the final product has the distinction of feeling both meticulously calculated and completely natural. I was most impressed to learn that Shani and Copti prepared their actors with improvised role-playing rather than scripts. By withholding what was going to happen in a scene before shooting, we are treated to looks of surprise and emotion on actor's faces that never feel unnatural. Attaining such a level of realism may be Ajami's crowning achievement; it can't have been easy to make a foreign world feel so familiar. (2:00) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (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) Castro, Cerrito, Empire, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
*The Art of the Steal How do you put a price on something that's literally priceless? The Art of the Steal takes an absorbing look at the Barnes Collection, a privately-amassed array of Post-Impressionist paintings (including 181 Renoirs) worth billions and the many people and corporate interests who schemed to control it. Founder Albert C. Barnes was an singular character who took pride in his outsider status; he housed his art in a specially-constructed gallery far from downtown Philadelphia's museum scene, and he emphasized education and art appreciation first and foremost. But he had no heirs, and after his death in 1951, opportunists began circling his massive collection; the slippery political and legal dealings that have unfolded since then are nearly as jaw-dropping as Barnes' prize paintings. Philly documentarian Don Argott has a doozy of a subject here, and his skillful, even suspenseful film does it justice. (1:41) Elmwood, Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Avatar James Cameron's Avatar takes place on planet Pandora, where human capitalists are prospecting for precious unobtainium, hampered only by the toxic atmosphere and a profusion of unfriendly wildlife, including the Na'vi, a nine-foot tall race of poorly disguised cliches. When Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic ex-marine, arrives on the planet, he is recruited into the "Avatar" program, which enables him to cybernetically link with a part-human, part-Na'vi body and go traipsing through Pandora's psychedelic underbrush. Initially designed for botanical research, these avatars become the only means of diplomatic contact with the bright-blue natives, who live smack on top of all the bling. The special effects are revolutionary, but the story that ensues blends hollow "noble savage" dreck with events borrowed from Dances With Wolves (1990) and FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992). When Sully falls in love with a Na'vi princess and undergoes a spirit journey so he can be inducted into the tribe and fight the evil miners, all I could think of was Kevin Bacon getting his belly sliced in The Air Up There (1994). (2:42) 1000 Van Ness. (Richardson)
The Blind Side When the New York Times Magazine published Michael Lewis' article "The Ballad of Big Mike" which he expanded into the 2006 book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game nobody could have predicated the cultural windfall it would spawn. Lewis told the incredible story of Michael Oher a 6'4, 350-pound 16-year-old, who grew up functionally parentless, splitting time between friends' couches and the streets of one of Memphis' poorest neighborhoods. As a sophomore with a 0.4 GPA, Oher serendipitously hitched a ride with a friend's father to a ritzy private school across town and embarked on an unbelievable journey that led him into a upper-class, white family; the Dean's List at Ole Miss; and, finally, the NFL. The film itself effectively focuses on Oher's indomitable spirit and big heart, and the fearless devotion of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the matriarch of the family who adopted him (masterfully played by Sandra Bullock). While the movie will delight and touch moviegoers, its greatest success is that it will likely spur its viewers on to read Lewis' brilliant book. (2:06) Elmwood, Oaks. (Daniel Alvarez)
Brooklyn's Finest "Really? I mean, really?" asked the moviegoer beside me as the final freeze-frame of Brooklyn's Finest slapped our eyeballs. Yes, that's the sound of letdown, despite the fact that Brooklyn's Finest initially resembled a promisingly gritty juggling act in the mode of The Wire and Cop Land (1997), Taxi Driver (1976) and Training Day (2001). Bitter irony flows from the title and from the lives, loves, bad habits, pressure-cooker stress, and unavoidable moral dilemmas of three would-be everyday cops, all occupying several different rungs on a food chain where right and wrong have an unpleasant way of switching sides. Eddie (Richard Gere) is the veteran officer just biding his time till he gets his pension, all while comforting himself with the meager sensuous attentions of hooker Chantel (Shannon Kane). Sal (Ethan Hawke) is the bad detective, stealing from the dealers to fund a dream home for his growing family with Angela (Lili Taylor). Tango (Don Cheadle) is the undercover detective who has cultivated friendships with dealers like Caz (Wesley Snipes) and sacrificed his marriage for a long-promised promotion from his lieutenant (Will Patton) and his superior (Ellen Barkin, in likely the most misogynist portrayal of a lady with a badge to date). You spend most of Brooklyn's Finest waiting for these cops to collide in the most unfortunate, messiest way possible, but instead the denouement leaves will leave one wondering about unresolved threads and feeling vaguely unsatisfied. In any case, director Antoine Fuqua and company seem to pride themselves on their tough-minded if at times cartoonish take on law enforcement, with Hawke in particular turning in a memorably OTT and anguished performance. (2:13) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Chun)
The Crazies Disease and anti-government paranoia dovetail in this competent yet overwhelmingly non-essential remake of one of George A. Romero's second-tier spook shows. In a small Iowa hamlet overseen by a benevolent sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) and his pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell), who's also the town doctor, a few odd incidents snowball into all-out chaos when a mysterious, unmarked plane crashes into the local water supply. Before long, the few residents who aren't acting like homicidal maniacs are rounded up by an uber-aggressive military invasion. Though our heroes convey frantic panic as they try to figure out what the hell is going on, The Crazies never achieves full terror mode. It's certainly watchable, and even enjoyable at times. But memorable? Not in the slightest. (1:41) 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Crazy Heart "Oh, I love Jeff Bridges!" is the usual response when his name comes up every few years for Best Actor consideration, usually via some underdog movie no one saw, and the realization occurs that he's never won an Oscar. The oversight is painful because it could be argued that no leading American actor has been more versatile, consistently good, and true to that elusive concept "artistic integrity" than Bridges over the last 40 years. It's rumored Crazy Heart was slotted for cable or DVD premiere, then thrust into late-year theater release in hopes of attracting Best Actor momentum within a crowded field. Lucky for us, this performance shouldn't be overlooked. Bridges plays "Bad" Blake, a veteran country star reduced to playing bars with local pickup bands. His slide from grace hasn't been helped by lingering tastes for smoke and drink, let alone five defunct marriages. He meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), freelance journalist, fan, and single mother. They spark; though burnt by prior relationships, she's reluctant to take seriously a famous drunk twice her age. Can Bad handle even this much responsibility? Meanwhile, he gets his "comeback" break in the semi-humiliating form of opening for Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) a contemporary country superstar who was once Bad's backup boy. Tommy offers a belated shot at commercial redemption; Jean offers redemption of the strictly personal kind. There's nothing too surprising about the ways in which Crazy Heart both follows and finesses formula. You've seen this preordained road from wreckage to redemption before. But actor turned first-time director Scott Cooper's screenplay honors the flies in the windshield inherited from Thomas Cobb's novel as does Bridges, needless to say. (1:51) Lumiere, Piedmont, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
*An Education The pursuit of knowledge both carnal and cultural are at the tender core of this end-of-innocence valentine by Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig (who first made her well-tempered voice heard with her 2000 Dogme entry, Italian for Beginners), based on journalist Lynn Barber's memoir. Screenwriter Nick Hornby breaks further with his Peter Pan protagonists with this adaptation: no man-boy mopers or misfits here. Rather, 16-year-old schoolgirl Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a good girl and ace student. It's 1961, and England is only starting to stir from its somber, all-too-sober post-war slumber. The carefully cloistered Jenny is on track for Oxford, though swinging London and its high-style freedoms beckon just around the corner. Ushering in those freedoms a new, more class-free world disorder is the charming David (Peter Sarsgaard), stopping to give Jenny and her cello a ride in the rain and soon proffering concerts and late-night suppers in the city. He's a sweet-faced, feline outsider: cultured, Jewish, and given to playing fast and loose in the margins of society. David can see Jenny for the gem she is and appreciate her innocence with the knowing pleasure of a decadent playing all the angles. The stakes are believably high, thanks to An Education's careful attention to time and place and its gently glamored performances. Scherfig revels in the smart, easy-on-eye curb appeal of David and his friends while giving a nod to the college-educated empowerment Jenny risks by skipping class to jet to Paris. And Mulligan lends it all credence by letting all those seduced, abandoned, conflicted, rebellious feelings flicker unbridled across her face. (1:35) Oaks, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
*The Ghost Writer Roman Polanski's never-ending legal woes have inspired endless debates on the interwebs and elsewhere; they also can't help but add subtext to the 76-year-old's new film, which is chock full o' anti-American vibes anyway. It's also a pretty nifty political thriller about a disgraced former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) who's hanging out in his Martha's Vineyard mansion with his whip-smart, bitter wife (Olivia Williams) and Joan Holloway-as-ice-queen assistant (Kim Cattrall), plus an eager young biographer (Ewan McGregor) recently hired to ghost-write his memoirs. But as the writer quickly discovers, the politician's past contains the kinds of secrets that cause strange cars with tinted windows to appear in one's rearview mirror when driving along deserted country roads. Polanski's long been an expert when it comes to escalating tension onscreen; he's also so good at adding offbeat moments that only seem tossed-off (as when the PM's groundskeeper attempts to rake leaves amid relentless sea breezes) and making the utmost of his top-notch actors (Tom Wilkinson and Eli Wallach have small, memorable roles). Though I found The Ghost Writer's ZOMG! third-act revelation to be a bit corny, I still didn't think it detracted from the finely crafted film that led up to it. (1:49) California, Embarcadero, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
Green Zone Titled for the heavily-guarded headquarters of international occupation in Baghdad, Green Zone reunites director Paul "Shaky-Cam" Greengrass with star Matt Damon, the two having previously collaborated on the last two Bourne films. Instead of a super-soldier, this time around Damon just plays a supremely insubordinate one as he attempts to uncover the reason why his military unit can't find any of Saddam's WMDs. With the aid of the CIA, a Wall Street Journal reporter and a friendly Iraqi, Damon goes rogue in order to suss out the source of the misinformation. The Iraq War action is decent if scarce, but an overindulgence in (you guessed it) shaky-cam and political jargon cannot hide the fact that Green Zone's plot is simplistic and probably light on actual facts. Damon makes a fine cowboy-cum-hero, but the effectiveness of the mix of patriotism and Pentagon paranoia will vary based on your penchant for such things. Still, Green Zone moves fast enough that it remains worth a matinee for conspiracy thriller aficionados. (1:55) California, Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Sundance Kabuki. (Galvin)
The Hurt Locker When the leader of a close-knit U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal squad is killed in action, his subordinates have barely recovered from the shock when they're introduced to his replacement. In contrast to his predecessor, Sgt. James (Jeremy Renner) is no standard-procedure-following team player, but a cocky adrenaline junkie who puts himself and others at risk making gonzo gut-instinct decisions in the face of live bombs and insurgent gunfire. This is particularly galling to next-in-command Sanborn (Anthony Mackie). An apolitical war-in-Iraq movie that's won considerable praise for accuracy so far from vets (scenarist Mark Boal was "embedded" with an EOD unit there for several 2004 weeks), Kathryn Bigelow's film is arguably you-are-there purist to a fault. While we eventually get to know in the principals, The Hurt Locker is so dominated by its seven lengthy squad-mission setpieces that there's almost no time or attention left for building character development or a narrative arc. The result is often viscerally intense, yet less impactful than it would have been if we were more emotionally invested. Assured as her technique remains, don't expect familiar stylistic dazzle from action cult figure Bigelow (1987's Near Dark, 1989's Blue Steel, 1991's Point Break) this vidcam-era war movie very much hews to the favored current genre approach of pseudo-documentary grainy handheld shaky-cam imagery. (2:11) Cerrito, Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
*The Last Station Most of the buzz around The Last Station has focused on Helen Mirren, who takes the lead as the Countess Sofya, wife of Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer). Mirren is indeed impressive when is she not? but there's more to the film than Sofya's Oscar-worthy outbursts. The Last Station follows Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy), hired as Tolstoy's personal secretary at the end of the writer's life. Valentin struggles to reconcile his faith in the anarchist Christian Tolstoyan movement with his sympathy for Sofya and his budding feelings for fellow Tolstoyan Masha (Kerry Condon). For the first hour, The Last Station is charming and very funny. Once Tolstoy and Sofya's relationship reaches its most volatile, however, the tone shifts toward the serious a trend that continues as Tolstoy falls ill. After all the lighthearted levity, it's a bit jarring, but the solid script and accomplished cast pull The Last Station together. Paul Giamatti is especially good as Vladimir Chertkov, who battles against Sofya for control of Tolstoy's will. You'll never feel guiltier for putting off War and Peace. (1:52) Albany, Opera Plaza. (Peitzman)
*The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers For many, Daniel Ellsberg is a hero a savior of American First Amendment rights and one of the most outspoken opponents of the Vietnam war. But as this documentary (recently nominated for an Academy Award) shows, it's never an an easy decision to take on the U.S. government. Ellsberg himself narrates the film and details his sleepless nights leading up to the leak of the Pentagon Papers the top secret government study on the Vietnam war to the public. Though there are few new developments in understanding the particulars of the war or the impact the release of the Papers had on ending the conflict, the film allows audiences to experience the famous case from Ellsberg's point of view, adding a fresh and poignantly human element to the events; it's a political documentary that plays more like a character drama. Whether you were there when it happened or new to the story, there is something to be appreciated from this tale of a man who fell out of love with his country and decided to do something about it. (1:34) Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Galvin)
*North Face You'll never think of outerwear the same way again and in fact you might be reaching for your fleece and shivering through the more harrowing climbing scenes of this riveting historical adventure based on a true tale. Even those who consider themselves less than avid fans of outdoor survival drama will find their eyes frozen, if you will, on the screen when it comes to this retelling/re-envisioning of this story, legendary among mountaineers, of climbers, urged on by Nazi propaganda, to tackle the last "Alpine problem." At issue: the unclimbed north face of Switzerland's Eiger, a highly dangerous and unpredictable zone aptly nicknamed "Murder Wall." Two working-class friends, Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann of 2008's Jerichow) and Andi Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas) here portrayed as climbing fiends driven to reach summits rather than fight for the Nazis take the challenge. There to document their achievement, or certain death, is childhood friend and Kurz's onetime sweetheart Luise (Johanna Wokalek, memorable in 2008's The Baader Meinhof Complex), eager to make her name as a photojournalist while fending off the advances of an editor (Ulrich Tukur) seeking to craft a narrative that positions the contestants as model Aryans. But the climb and the Eiger, looming like a mythical ogre is the main attraction here. Filmmaker Philipp Stölzl brings home the sheer heart-pumping exhilaration and terror associated with the sport and this specific, legendarily tragic climb by shooting in the mountains with his actors and crew, and the result goes a way in redeeming an adventure long-tainted by its fascist associations. (2:01) Smith Rafael. (Chun)
Our Family Wedding America Ferrera and Lance Gross play a couple of lovebirds who must jump through some serious family hoops before they get married in the mostly serviceable Our Family Wedding. What begins as a dual Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, with the differences in each family's traditions forcing complications and compromises, soon loses sight of its matrimonial plot as the focus steers towards a childish rivalry between the fathers. While it's being marketed as a goofy comedy, the final product seeks a relatively sentimental tone, which makes the few slapstick moments like a goat trying to rape Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker seem pretty inappropriate. Still, for some audiences the well-tread plot will act as comfort food: they fight, they make up, and it all ends in a big wedding where we watch the characters dance for damn near ten minutes. (1:41) 1000 Van Ness. (Galvin)
*Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief It would be easy to dismiss Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief as an unabashed Harry Potter knock-off. Trio of kids with magic powers goes on a quest to save the world in a Chris Columbus adaptation of a popular young adult series sound familiar? But The Lightning Thief is sharp, witty, and a far cry from Columbus' joyless adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001). Logan Lerman stars as Percy Jackson, the illegitimate son of Poseidon and Catherine Keener. Once he learns his true identity at Camp Half-Blood, he sets off on a quest with his protector, a satyr named Grover, and potential love interest Annabeth, daughter of Athena. Along the way, they bump into gods and monsters from Greek mythology with a twist. Think Percy using his iPhone to fight Medusa (Uma Thurman), or a land of the Lotus-Eaters disguised as a Lady Gaga-blasting casino. A worthy successor to Harry Potter? Too soon to say, but The Lightning Thief is at least a well-made diversion. (1:59) 1000 Van Ness. (Peitzman)
*A Prophet Filmmaker Jacques Audiard has described his new film, A Prophet, as "the anti-Scarface." Yet much like Scarface (1983), A Prophet bottles the heady euphoria that chases the empowerment of the powerless and the rise of the long-shot loner on the margins. In its almost-Dickensian attention to detail, devotion to its own narrative complexity, and passion for cinematic poetry, A Prophet rises above the ordinary and, through the prism of genre, finds its own power. The supremely opportunistic, pragmatically Machiavellian intellectual and spiritual education of a felon is the chief concern of here. Played by Tahar Rahim with guileless, open-faced charisma, Malik is half-Arab and half-Corsican and distrusted or despised by both camps in the pen. When he lands in jail for his six-year sentence, he's 19, illiterate, friendless, and vulnerable. His deal with the devil and means of survival arrives with Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi), temporarily locked up before his testifies against the mob. Corsican boss Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup) wants him dead, and Malik is tagged to penetrate Reyeb's cell with a blade hidden in mouth. After Malik's gory rebirth, it turns out that the teenager's a seer in more ways than one. From his low-dog position, he can eyeball the connections linking the drugs entering the prison to those circulating outside, as well as the machinations intertwining the Arab and Corsican syndicates. It's no shock that when Cesar finds his power eroding and arranges prison leaves for his multilingual crossover star that Malik serves not only his Corsican master, but also his own interests, and begins to build a drug empire rivaling his teacher's. Throughout his pupil's progress, Audiard demonstrates a way with Henri Cartier-Bresson's decisive moment, and when Malik finally breaks with his Falstaffian patriarch, it makes your heart skip a beat in a move akin to the title of the director's last film. This Eurozone/Obama-age prophet is all about the profit but he's imbued with grace, even while gaming for ill-gotten gain. (2:29) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
Remember Me Ominously set in New York City during the summer of 2001, Remember Me, starring Robert Pattinson (of the Twilight series) and Emilie de Ravin (of TV's Lost), pretty much answers the question of whether it's still too soon to make the events of September 11 the subject of a date movie. Or rather, not the subject so much as the specter waiting just off-camera for its walk-on while brooding 21-year-old Tyler Hawkins (Pattinson) quotes Gandhi, gets into brawls, gets drunk, writes letters to his dead brother, and otherwise channels despondency and rage into various salubrious outlets. One of these is romancing (under circumstances severely testing the viewer's credulity) de Ravin's Ally Craig, grappling somewhat more constructively with her own familial tragedy. Ally is the sort of self-possessed, strong-willed young woman whose instincts, shortly after she's been backhanded by her drunk father (Chris Cooper), tell her to placate and have sex with her drunk boyfriend when he comes home enraged after battling his own father (Pierce Brosnan). She is there to teach Tyler, through quirky habits like eating dessert first, what director Allen Coulter (2006's Hollywoodland) wishes to teach us: that time is short and one must fill one's life with meaningful actions -- like throwing a fire extinguisher through a window to convince a classroom of tweens to stop bullying one's little sister. The film is seeded with allusions to an impending catastrophe that feels less integrated than exploited. And it's uncomfortable seeing the fall of the towers used to make the ground shake under a sweet, fairly depthless depiction of love and grief. (2:08) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
She's Out of My League From the co-writers of the abysmal Sex Drive (2008), She's Out of My League could be another 90-minute assemblage of gross-out humor, dick jokes, and unabashed homophobia. As it turns out, the latest offering from Sean Anders and John Morris is legitimately funny far better than the trailer (and that half-assed title) would have you believe. The adorkable Jay Baruchel stars as Kirk, a hapless loser who finds himself dating bonafide hottie Molly (Alice Eve). Once you get past the film's silly conceit Kirk's only "movie ugly," and personality goes a long way you're left with a surprisingly charming comedy. The characters are amusing and the wit is sharp. Not to mention the fact that She's Out of My League offers a downright heartfelt message. There's a sincerity here that feels genuine instead of just tacked-on: yeah, yeah, it's about what's inside that counts, but there's more to it than that. Ignore the dreadful "jizz in my pants" scene, and the movie's almost an old-fashioned romcom. (1:44) Elmwood, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Peitzman)
Shutter Island Director Martin Scorsese and muse du jour Leonardo DiCaprio draw from oft-filmed novelist Dennis Lehane (2003's Mystic River, 2007's Gone Baby Gone) for this B-movie thriller that, sadly, offers few thrills. DiCaprio's a 1950s U.S. marshal summoned to a misty island that houses a hospital for the criminally insane, overseen by a doctor (Ben Kingsley) who believes in humane, if experimental, therapy techniques. From the get-go we suspect something's not right with the G-man's own mind; as he investigates the case of a missing patient, he experiences frequent flashbacks to his World War II service (during which he helped liberate a concentration camp), and has recurring visions of his spooky dead wife (Michelle Williams). Whether or not you fall for Shutter Island's twisty game depends on the gullibility of your own mind. Despite high-quality performances and an effective, if overwrought, tone of certain doom, Shutter Island stumbles into a third act that exposes its inherently flawed and frustrating storytelling structure. If only David Lynch had directed Shutter Island it could've been a classic of mindfuckery run amok. Instead, Scorsese's psychological drama is sapped of any mystery whatsoever by its stubbornly literal conclusion. (2:18) California, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)
A Single Man In this adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's 1964 novel, Colin Firth plays George, a middle-aged gay expat Brit and college professor in 1962 Los Angeles. Months after the accidental death of Jim (Matthew Goode), his lover for 16 years, George still feels worse than bereft; simply waking each morning is agony. So on this particular day he has decided to end it all, first going through a series of meticulous preparations and discreet leave-takings that include teaching one last class and having supper with the onetime paramour (Julianne Moore) turned best friend who's still stuck on him. The main problem with fashion designer turned film director Tom Ford's first feature is that he directs it like a fashion designer, fussing over surface style and irrelevant detail in a story whose tight focus on one hard, real-world thing grief cries for simplicity. Not pretentious overpackaging, which encompasses the way his camera slavers over the excessively pretty likes of Nicholas Hoult as a student and Jon Kortajarena as a hustler, as if they were models selling product rather than characters, or even actors. (In fact Kortajarena is a male supermodel; the shocker is that Hoult is not, though Hugh Grant's erstwhile About a Boy co-star is so preening here you'd never guess.) Eventually Ford stops showing off so much, and A Single Man is effective to the precise degree it lets good work by Goode, Moore and especially the reliably excellent Firth unfold without too much of his terribly artistic interference. (1:39) 1000 Van Ness, Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
*Sweetgrass Recorded between 2001-03 by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash, Sweetgrass immerses us in sheep farming before taking off after a pair of latter-day cowboys on a 150-mile drive through Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth range a journey with deep historical roots and no practical future. As its rugged scenery beggars (but ultimately unseats) projections of the pastoral, so too do its mild sheep trigger myriad symbolic associations. Sweetgrass is finally about the relationship between farmhands and their flocks, and in this, it is notably unsentimental. During long takes of shearing and birthing, the correspondent displays of violence and tenderness, much of it erotic and seemingly reflexive, speaks to the human-animal encounter Berger eulogized in 1977. The lonesome cowboys whisper sweet nothings to the dogs and hurl fantastically mismatched streams of curses at the sheep (the absence of women being the common link). Through it all, Castaing-Taylor's camera is an embodied presence, and hard work at that. Compared with Planet Earth's impossible views and spectacular displacements, Sweetgrass has its feet planted on the ground. (1:41) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Goldberg)
The Female Bunch Al Adamson was the Ed Wood Jr. of the late 60s and 1970s, albeit a version without any delusions of grandeur in it for the money, he knew his ultra-cheap films were crap. This one, titled to cash in on The Wild Bunch and made the same year (though there were no distribution takers until 1971, two years later), is closer to an unacknowledged, soporific remake of Herschell Gordon Lewis' great '68 She-Devils on Wheels, with the deadly dames on horseback rather than motorcycles. When Sandy (Nesa Renet) is dumped by her faithless Vegas lounge singer boyfriend and no wonder, since she behaves like a Velcro doormat her showgirl friend Libby (peroxide-blonde perennial Adamson star and subsequent spouse Regina Carroll) recommends she join a "club" of women on a secret ranch. They smuggle drugs, have soft-core orgies (with Mexican men and each other), abuse the local "wetbacks," and enforce a strict "no men" rule on ranch property whose violation can lead to the poor sod getting branded, dragged to death, or worse. One such unfortunate is Russ Tamblyn, who sure fell hard and fast from being third-billed in Best Picture winner West Side Story just eight years prior; another is pathetic ranch hand Lon Chaney, Jr. in one of his last roles, seeming even more pathetic than called for because he was undergoing debilitating cancer treatments at the time. The "she-devil" here is serious man-hater Grace, whose thespian Jennifer Bishop also appeared in such greats as 1970's Bigfoot (as one of the pretty girls it keeps chained in its cave), 1974's Impulse (imperiled by William Shatner), 1969's The Maltese Bippy, and two Hee Haw episodes. The Female Bunch was advertised with slogans including "Hot Pants and a Fast Draw! They Treat Their Horses Better Than Their Men!" It was partially shot at the Spahn Ranch, also home at the time to Charlie Manson and company. This grade-Z opus is preceded at the Vortex Room by the very big-budget Candy (1968), an abysmal stab at Terry Southern's porn satire whose all-star cast included everyone from Brando and Burton to Ringo Starr, Sugar Ray Robinson, John Huston, and Anita Pallenberg. Thurs/18, 9 p.m., $5, Vortex Room, 1082 Howard, SF; www.myspace.com/thevortexroom. (Harvey)
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