Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Michelle Devereaux, Peter Galvin, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Louis Peitzman, Lynn Rapoport, Ben Richardson, and Matt Sussman. The film intern is Ryan Prendiville. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. For first-run showtimes, see Movie Guide.
The Freebie See “The Good Shepard.” (1:20) Opera Plaza, Shattuck.
*The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest If you enjoyed the first two films in the Millennium trilogy — 2009’sThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire — there’s a good chance you’ll also like The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Based on the final book in Stieg Larsson’s series, the film begins shortly after the violent events at the conclusion of the second movie. There are brief flashes of what happened — the cinematic equivalent of TV’s “previously on&ldots;” — but it’s likely an indecipherable jumble to Girl first-timers. Hornet’s Nest presents the trial of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the much-abused, much-misunderstood, entirely kick-ass protagonist of the series. With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and his sister Annika (Annika Hallin) as her lawyer, Lisbeth finally gets her day in court. The conspiracy that drives the story is somewhat convoluted, and while it all comes together in the end, Hornet’s Nest isn’t an easy film to digest. Still, it’s a well-made and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy — as long as you caught the beginning and middle, too. (2:28) Bridge, Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Peitzman)
*Leaving Few beauties — French, English, French-English, or otherwise — have managed the transformation Kristin Scott Thomas has, in using her considerable beauty to convey unfathomable hunger. In this romantic thriller with a touch of Madame Bovary and more than a dab of noir, Scott Thomas is Suzanne, the efficient if somewhat taken-for-granted wife of a doctor (Yvan Attal, director of 2001’s My Wife Is an Actress and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s partner), whose marriage resembles a business arrangement more than a love match. The couple enlist Catalan ex-con Ivan (Sergi Lopez) to build an office for her budding physical therapy practice, and after a minor car accident, Ivan falls into Suzanne’s care, and as she grows to care more deeply about him, an affair begins. Director Catherine Corsini’s tough-eyed look at what follows — concerning the economics of marriage and the price of one woman’s individuation and passionate choices — calls to mind women’s melodramas of the ’40s and ’50s, though Corsini renders her oft-told tale of awakening with considerably less heavy-handedness and minimal condescension. That approach and Scott Thomas’ performance — the movie almost turns on the motionless, slowly evolving look in Suzanne’s eyes when she realizes what she must do — makes Leaving a departure from your average coming-of-liberation romance. (1:30) Albany, Clay. (Chun)
Saw 3D This is the seventh Saw movie, for those still keeping track. (runtime not available)
“United Nations Association Film Festival” Oliviero Toscani possesses two qualities that make a good documentary subject: conflict and character. A photographer known for merging humanitarianism and commerce in ad campaigns for the clothing manufacturer United Colors of Benetton, Toscani created controversy by placing confrontational images of AIDS, war, anorexia, and other decidedly non-glamorous subjects on billboards and in fashion magazines. InThe Rages of Images, part of the UNAFF 2010 International Documentary Film Festival, Toscani is put in front of the viewfinder to address critics and give some entry into his palatial, you-wish-it-was-yours life story. Animated and wildly impassioned, the photographer comes across with the energy of an aging, Italian Jack Black, defending work that threatened to co-opt suffering and was in banned in places. At 44 minutes, the documentary is straightforward with an irony that comes across in the soundtrack; Toscani is given free rein to speak from his high horse. Another UNAFF selection, Strange Birds of Paradise, follows a group of West Papuan refugees in Australia recording folk songs that are outlawed in their home country under Indonesian rule. It’s also a primer on the history of the occupation and suppression of indigenous culture in that region of the world. As though this were not enough material for the documentary, filmmaker Charlie Hill-Smith injects footage from his travels and encounters with freedom fighters and farmers. Heartfelt, occasionally amusing and absolutely sincere as it may be, the filmmaker’s presence does not help to structure the documentary, which jumps back and forth between a number of narratives and brief, unnecessary animated segments. Informative for the uninitiated, the politicizing message of the film is weighed down by the use of every possible documentary tool. Variety Screening Room. (Prendiville)
Cairo Time (1:29) Opera Plaza.
Conviction A cross between 2001’s Legally Blonde and 1999’s The Hurricane, Conviction tells the real-life story of Betty Anne Waters, a high school dropout who spent 20 years trying to overturn her brother’s life sentence for murder. As this is clearly a film designated for Oscar season, Hilary Swank plays Betty, delivering another performance that is easy to appreciate, yet hard to enjoy. To her heavy gravity, Sam Rockwell brings a little levity as her brother Kenneth, once again playing a guy you can’t help but like, even if there’s no reason. If Conviction does anything perfectly, it’s casting, almost to a comedic degree, particularly with Clea DuVall and a scenery-devouring Juliette Lewis as Kenneth’s trashy exes. Otherwise, the story fails to convey an appropriate sense of struggle and time, as two decades behind books and bars pass onscreen all too easily. (1:47) SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Prendiville)
*Easy A Take the sex out of a teen sex comedy and hone in on the heard-it-yesterday info overload of the highly social-networked ’00s, and you get Easy A, a whip-smart striver looking to give a whole new definition to fast fiction. The brainy grandchild of 1930s screwball comedies and the knowing offspring of more recent spoofs of the Clearasil years like Clueless (1995) — with blood ties to the on-point pop of pater familias John Hughes — Easy A doesn’t quite aspire to the grainy, your-so-called-reality of YouTube auteurs, à la The Virginity Hit, though Bert V. Royal’s script is just as steeped in the culture of viral gossip and TMZ-writ-small, as well as the high-low literary and cinematic referents, that ’80s babies-and-up were succored on. Welcome to the postmodern mixed-up world of the girl who gets straight As, a marked contrast to all the bromancin’ going down in other parts of the cineplex: Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) is curious enough to venture fully down the rabbit hole of bad-girl schoolyard celebrity after fabricating a story about losing her virginity. Despite the swelling disapproval of Marianne (Amanda Bynes) and her virginal Christian fundamentalist crew, Olive’s soon giving pity faux-fucks to all the misfits on campus in exchange for gift cards to big-box stores. Her hilariously staged tryst with classmate Brandon (Dan Byrd), who’s sick of getting beaten up every day because he’s gay, is up there with anything in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). And though Easy A often seems pitched more to adults, like Olive’s wise-cracking parents (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci), its entertainingly self-aware fiction is still likely to bridge generational divides as much as anything on Facebook. (1:30) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Chun)
Enter the Void Gaspar Noé wants to share. Yet after three features, it’s still unclear whether what he’s got on his mind is worth sharing, let alone anywhere near as urgent as his need to share it. Enter the Void, a “psychedelic melodrama,” has polarized responses (hypnotized vs. narcotized) since it premiered in preliminary form at Cannes last year. This was Noé’s dream project all along, his big meditation on Life, Sex, and Death. Oscar (first-time actor Nathaniel Brown) is a young American living in Tokyo with kid sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), dealing (and doing) drugs while she dances at a strip club. Caught delivering goods to a friend (whose mother he’s sleeping with), Oscar is killed by cops. The film’s remaining two hours — set up by blunt nods to The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which our hero was reading — follow Oscar’s spirit as it floats through past, present, and future, eventually “escaping the circle” of this life’s consciousness via reincarnation. Noé has fingered Kenneth Anger, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and classic 1947 noir Lady in the Lake‘s entirely subjective camera as influences. But you could label rave lighting and black-light posters as equally important. Enter the Void does tamp down the prior films’ racist and homophobic invective, which discomfited mostly because it felt like the filmmaker’s personal ranting. Still, as attempted transcendence of mortal coil, Void ultimately sits and spins on Noé’s terminal literal-mindedness, no matter how many Day-Glo CGI vapors emit from vaginas. (2:17) Lumiere. (Harvey)
Hereafter Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort starts out with an unusually flashy (for him) but effective setpiece: Parisian TV journalist Marie (Cécile De France) is at the end of a beach resort vacation with producer/lover Didier (Thierry Neuvic) when a tsunami hits, turning the market street on which she’s shopping into a rapids of rushing water and crushing debris. Meanwhile, two inseparable young London twins (Frankie and George McLaren), already coping with social service workers who want to take them from their junkie mother (Lyndsey Marshal), get duly separated in a less anticipated, cruel-hand-of-fate manner. And in San Francisco, loner George (Matt Damon) struggles to forget his “curse” — since a childhood near-death incident he’s been able to communicate with the dead — while an insensitive brother (Jay Mohr) insists this “gift” is a surefire moneymaker. What our main protagonists have in common is an unwanted ability, or desperate need, to glimpse the “hereafter.” It takes a very long time for Peter Morgan’s script to orchestrate their inevitable, accidental (or is it…??) paths-crossing. You might conjecture that at age 80, Eastwood felt ready to deal with the subject of mortality in a gentler, more mystical fashion than before. Perhaps Morgan wanted a break from his excellent usual docudrama terrain (2009’s The Damned United, 2008’s Frost/Nixon, 2006’s The Queen) by doing something purely, even fancifully fictive. But nothing in the film’s execution (after that startling beginning) indicates the very literal-minded Eastwood feels comfortable with or even interested in this story’s supernatural gist — was he mostly attracted by the opportunity to shoot in three swell cities? While just possibly the screenplay might have worked in other hands (Peter Weir? Werner Herzog?), here it marches listlessly toward increasing implausibility and boredom. The performers do what they can, although in the case of the child actors that’s very little indeed, while Bryce Dallas Howard overacts horribly in a support role. As composer, Eastwood does what he does — which means blanketing this DOA dud, which so badly needs tension and atmosphere, in the kind of cocktail-lounge noodling best suited for waiting rooms and pre-operative sedation. (2:09) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)
Inside Job Inside Job is director Charles Ferguson’s second investigative documentary after his 2007 analysis of the Iraq War, No End in Sight, but it feels more like the follow-up to Alex Gibney’s Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005). Keeping with the law of sequels, more shit blows up the second time around. As with No End in Sight, Ferguson adeptly packages a broad overview of complex events in two hours, respecting the audience’s intelligence while making sure to explain securities exchanges, derivatives, and leveraging laws in clear English (doubly important when so many Wall Street executives hide behind the intricacy of markets). The revolving door between banks, government, and academia is the key to Inside Job‘s account of financial deregulation. At times borrowing heist-film conventions (it is called Inside Job, after all), Ferguson keeps the primary players in view throughout his history so that the eventual meltdown seems anything but an accident. The filmmaker’s relentless focus on the insiders isn’t foolproof; tarring Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson, and Timothy Geithner as “made” guys, for example, isn’t a substitute for evaluating their varied performances over the last two years. Inside Job makes it seem that the entire crisis was caused by the financial sector’s bad behavior, and this too is reductive. Furthermore, Ferguson does not come to terms with the politicized nature of the economic fallout. In Inside Job, there are only two kinds of people: those who get it and those who refuse to. The political reality is considerably more contentious. (2:00) Embarcadero, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Goldberg)
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Largely self-inflicted scholastic pressures having manifested themselves in an array of symptoms from “stress vomiting” to suicidal ideations, depressive Brooklyn teen Craig (Keir Gilchrist) rides his bicycle to a local hospital and announces he needs help. Expecting to be fussed over a bit and given some nice tranquilizing pill, he’s dismayed instead when the no-nonsense intake psychiatrist (Viola Davis) tells him it’s her obligation to commit him for a minimum five days’ observation. Worse, the facility’s youth psych ward is being renovated, so he’s tossed in with the crazy adults. Other residents are led by comely but self-cutting fellow teen Noelle (Emma Roberts) and mentoring yet self-sabotaging Bobby (Zach Galifianakis). Based on Ned Vizzini’s semi-autobiographical novel, Funny Story is well acted (even or especially by the atypically subdued Galifianakis), its mixed humor and poignancy nicely negotiated by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck in their third feature. But compared to the duo’s prior Half Nelson (2006) and Sugar (2008), this seems conventional and a little soft — hewing dangerously close to that sentimentally twee notion (popularized in 1966’s King of Hearts, 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, et al.) that we’re all “crazy” and lunatics are really the wisest fools of all. Heartwarming life lessons get learned, needless to say. The cuteness climaxes with an “Under Pressure” music video fantasy that belongs in an episode of Glee — not, perhaps, in a movie that begins with a 15-year-old seriously considering jumping from a bridge. (1:51) Lumiere, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Harvey)
*Jackass 3D How to capture the magic of Jackass: The Movie (2002), after 2006’s Jackass Number Two‘s bitter yuks, desperate striving for kicks, and pained grimaces? So much of Jackass has to do with body abuse: it hybridizes skate vids’ physical derring-do, backyard wrestling’s amateur one-upmanship, and the absurd lengths machismo will take boys to. What to do when the body crumbles and the imagination flags? Jackass 3D finds the remedy in the faux-excitement of 3-D, while thankfully jettisoning much of the sour, been-there tone and desperate striving of Two. Bless Johnny Knoxville and company for lampooning the 3-D medium with all the nose-thumbing gusto they can muster: tossing bowlfuls of dildos at the camera, blowing crap up until the shards rain down like Avatar (2009) jungle spew, and shooting each other with fluorescent-bright paint balls in a rainbow-hued opening that recalls ’70s kindergarten-colored memories and the gay pride flag. The ass in Jackass is foregrounded, big-time, in 3D. The perpetual shit stream — including Steve O’s bungee bounce in an overflowing port-o-potty and the human volcano that spews diarrhea — as well as stunts like Lamborghini dental surgery and the quaffing of writer Preston Lacy’s sweat will drive folks who used to frequent the carnival freak show to the cineplex, not the micro-cameos by aiders and abettors like co-producer Spike Jonze (his 2009 Where the Wild Things Are doesn’t seem so far afield from this Dickhouse production), Corin Tucker spouse Lance Bangs (who vomits on his own camera), the Margera parentals, and Rip Taylor. The inclusion of Taylor, though, tells you exactly where the boys are coming from, laughing at their own OTT antics and scattering debris like confetti along the way. (1:30) 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
*The Kids Are All Right In many ways, The Kids Are All Right is a straightforward family dramedy: it’s about parents trying to do what’s best for their children and struggling to keep their relationship together. But it’s also a film in which Jules (Julianne Moore) goes down on Nic (Annette Bening) while they’re watching gay porn. Director Lisa Cholodenko (1998’s High Art) co-wrote the script (with Stuart Blumberg), and the film’s blend between mainstream and queer is part of what makes Kids such an important — not to mention enjoyable — film. Despite presenting issues that might be contentious to large portions of the country, the movie maintains an approachability that’s often lacking in queer cinema. Of course, being in the gay mecca of the Bay Area skews things significantly — most locals wouldn’t bat an eye at Kids, which has Nic and Jules’ children inviting their biological father (“the sperm donor,” played by Mark Ruffalo) into their lives. But for those outside the liberal bubble, the idea of a nontraditional family might be more eye-opening. It’s not a message movie, but Kids may still change minds. And even if it doesn’t, the film is a success that works chiefly because it isn’t heavy-handed. It refuses to take itself too seriously. At its best, Kidsis laugh-out-loud funny, handling the heaviest of issues with grace and humor. (1:47) Red Vic. (Peitzman)
Life as We Know It (1:52) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio.
*Mademoiselle Chambon Stéphane Brizé’s new Mademoiselle Chambon is a movie whose protagonists lunge toward each other — even though they shouldn’t, for their own sakes and everyone else’s. Grave-voiced, craggy-faced Jean (Vincent Lindon) is a construction-site laborer; Anne Marie (Aure Atika) his assembly-line worker wife; Jeremy (Arthur Le Hourerou) the eight-year-old offspring who’s already better educated than either of them. One day Anne Marie suffers a temporarily disabling factory accident, leaving Jean to pick up Jeremy from school. There, Jean first encounters Jeremy’s teacher, Véronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain). She has the willowy body of a veteran ballet dancer and a naturally refined air — at least by his limited experiential standards. There’s an immediate if unadmitted spark between them, yet Mademoiselle Chambon doesn’t get cheap about it. None of these people are more than ordinary, kinda-attractive. As temptations and related tensions unravel their stability, Brize allows his characters to slip grip gracefully. No one behaves well, but they do behave credibly. Mademoiselle Chambon sees rational folk with well-organized lives stubbornly resisting a mutual pull whose logical outcome will surely suck for all concerned. It’s a fine, measured drama presented with typical Gallic insouciance — tenderly discreet even when conventional art and commerce shout for something more crudely dramatic. (1:41) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
My Dog Tulip “Unable to love each other,” J.R. Ackerley observes at the beginning of Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s My Dog Tulip, “the English turn naturally to dogs.” So it would seem from this animated adaptation of the British literary figure’s 1956 memoir, an account of 16 years’ cohabitation with and devotion to an adopted German shepherd distinguished mainly, it seems, by various deficits of behavior and temperament. Ackerley (voiced by Christopher Plummer) narrates from the vantage point of a lonely middle age in which he has largely set aside the “dream of finding the Ideal Friend” with whom to share his life (depicted here as a scribbled series of hypothetical male and female figures, though Ackerley was rather openly gay). He comes to find this wished-for helpmeet in an unruly canine who destroys the drapery, alarms acquaintances, terrifies passersby, and generally turns Ackerley’s social calendar into a grid of empty squares. No matter, though, as human connection is depicted here as something of a lost cause; instead Ackerley busies himself with projects like finding Tulip a suitable “husband” so that she might know the joys of sexual intimacy and motherhood. This and other household adventures are recounted in somewhat graphic detail, and depicted by the filmmakers in a playful mix of animation styles that cleverly distinguish between straightforward narrative, fantastical musings, and faded recollection. The latter tactics are visually captivating, though the patchy narrative leaves both man and dog feeling somewhat sketchy and unknowable. (1:22)Smith Rafael. (Rapoport)
Never Let Me Go The time is not so long ago, and the atmosphere is of a rural England that resists change. So it takes a while for us to realize that this adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s acclaimed book (by fellow novelist Alex Garland) takes place in an alternative recent past in which society has indeed changed in ways that are few, yet enormous. Raised at what appears to be a familiar if slightly peculiar English boarding school, the students of Hailsham are given limited but highly specific education preparing them for an adulthood of service. A short adulthood, that is, for they are clones grown from “originals,” considered not quite human, their purpose being eventual willing harvest for organs by a populace whom medical science breakthroughs can now allow extraordinarily long lifespans. Placidly preparing for that future sacrifice are best friends Ruth (Keira Knightley), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and Kathy (Carey Mulligan), the latter such a born accommodator that she doesn’t utter a peep of protest when Ruth grabs Tommy as her boyfriend — destroying all Kathy’s hopes and probably dimming Tommy’s somewhat as well. Directed by Mark Romanek (2002’s One Hour Photo), Never Let Me Go spans a couple of decades, but its aura of mournful melancholy never wavers. The results are well cast, handsomely outfitted (Rachel Portman contributes a plaintive string score), tasteful, and just a little bit more monotonous and less touching than you might hope. Not particularly plot-driven, this is a good film that’s also another illustration (like such recent examples as 2009’s The Road and 2008’s Revolutionary Road) of how sometimes no amount of intelligent effort can make a movie achieve everything that some literature can. (1:43) Lumiere. (Harvey)
*Nowhere Boy Music biopics are hit-or-miss — and generally speaking, they’re the latter. Nowhere Boy is one of those rare exceptions because it limits its scope to John Lennon’s formative years. The Beatles don’t need an origin story, and we don’t get one. Instead, the film offers a look at a lesser-known period in John’s life, specifically his fraught relationships with Mimi (Kristin Scott-Thomas), the aunt who raised him, and Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), the mother who left him behind. Fresh off his breakout role in Kick-Ass, Aaron Johnson delivers another strong performance, capturing Lennon’s ever-shifting moods and effortless charm. Nowhere Boy doesn’t neglect the elephant in the room: the Beatles, though never named, are a constant presence, with John meeting Paul and George in his quest to form a rock band. Knowing the success they will soon encounter adds another layer to the film, but it never detracts from its well-earned emotional resonance. Fair warning to Beatles fans: you’ll never listen to the song “Julia” the same way again. (1:37) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)
Paranormal Activity 2 Taking a cue from the Paranormal Activity 2 audience member who called “Bullshit!” before the final credits rolled at a recent screening, I’m haunted by the many way the filmmakers (Tod Williams directs with original writer-director Oren Peli relegated to co-producer role) could have taken Paranormal to another level, while maintaining some of the original’s DIY 21st-century-video-folk-art charm and resourcefully low-budge creepiness. How about kicking off with a good body hurl at the camera — or two or six? Or turning up the horror the in the sequel’s haunted McMansion, beyond misbehaving cabinetry — I do know that if I have to look at that kitchen island one more time I’ll have to hurt the wall-to-wall beige carpeting. Or have the demonically possessed (yes, you have to see the first installment for part two to make a lick of sense) do something genuinely, messily nasty, or having something truly dreadful happen to the innocents, namely the baby and dog? After all Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Beyond (1981) provided the blueprint for Oedipal and pet owner horror several decades ago — but then that says something about the quickie cash-in quality of Paranormal 2, which mistakes the original’s minimal action and special-effects de-emphasis for banal shots of interiors and poor pacing. The writing never quite rises beyond the level of basic-cable scares — or threatens to add much to the source material. Yep, you still have the blinkered man, willfully ignoring the red flags of intuition; the women who hesitate to go there; the mediums or brujas who offer dire warnings; and the demonic force who shall remain nameless that likes to take a bite out of human ass. This time the prize is the first male born into the family of Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden) in, er, quite a while — don’t bother the movie makers with the details. And considering how annoyingly clueless most men are in Paranormal‘s world, I’d say we’re better off letting the kid go. (1:45)California, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
Red Boomers — and rapidly aging Gen-Xers — rejoice: you’re still a force to be reckoned with, even as the hairline recedes and the paunch descends. The sleeker Hollywood companion to Michael Caine’s recent turn as a killer pensioner “Dirty Harry” in 2009’s Harry Brown, Red (based on a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner) turns the world of black ops, convert assassinations, and the government-approved killers that make it all happen — and happen to survive long enough to retire into humdrum civilian life — into the stuff of action comedy. Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) isn’t quite ready to go quietly into the good night: he’s restless, bored, and lonely enough to strike up a telephone flirtation with Sarah, the woman charged with issuing his pension checks. Luckily she’s Mary-Louise Parker, applying the wide-eyed and game yet sarcastic and knowing qualities she brings to Weeds to the current “situation”: an assassination plot against Frank via the archetypal “Company” man (Karl Urban). The thrown-together couple is swiftly tracked from city to city while Frank rounds up the old gang, namely the very charismatic and watchable Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren. Half the fun here, evident in the TV teasers, is watching Mirren quickly switch from Martha Stewart-like flower arranging to the steely application of machine gun fire, in a full-tilt formalwear. Consider Red the action-dappled, lightly entertaining wish fulfillment of so many oldsters, who have found themselves still toiling for a paycheck at time when they hoped to retire, frustrated and feeling betrayed by the so-called system and wishing they could also take it out on the proper baddies with seriously effective firepower. (1:51) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Chun)
*Secretariat In this biopic of one of the most-celebrated horses in U.S. history, Denver housewife and mother of four Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) returns to the Kentucky horse-breeding farm where she grew up, drawn to the project of reviving the ailing business. She pins her hopes on an unborn foal of questionable marketability, who she comes to believe is destined for greatness. Secretariat — or Big Red, as he’s known to his friends — is raised in the light of this belief by a small, reverent circle including his trainer (John Malkovich), his jockey (professional rider Otto Thorwarth), his groom (True Blood‘s Nelsan Ellis), and the farm’s longtime secretary (Margo Martindale), and he goes on to attain the status of a national folk hero. Director Randall Wallace has crafted an appropriately epic tale — and heavily salted the film with messages about unswerving faith and determination and hope and glory, mostly delivered in ringing, overwrought tones by Lane (which undercuts the pleasure of seeing her character quietly pursue a larger setting than the domestic scene she inhabits at Secretariat‘s outset). But somehow it’s harder to poke fun when the hero of the story is a horse, especially one of such majestic stature and jaw-dropping prowess. Each time Secretariat goes surging around the oval, in one of the film’s white-knuckle race sequences, the clichés fly and then fall away like dirt on the track. (1:56) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Shattuck. (Rapoport)
*The Social Network David Fincher’s The Social Network is a gripping and entertaining account of how Facebook came to take over the known social-networking universe. In this version of events — scripted by Aaron Sorkin and based on Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires, in turn based substantially on interviews with FB cofounder Eduardo Saverin, with input from Mark Zuckerberg icily absent — a girlfriend’s dumping of Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) on a crisp evening in 2003 is the impetus in his headlong quest for a “big idea.” The film is structured around the conference-room depositions for two separate lawsuits, brought against Zuckerberg by Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and by fellow Harvard entrepreneurs Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) for crimes involving intellectual property and vast scads of retributive money. Unless Zuckerberg decides to post it on Facebook (which he probably shouldn’t, given the nondisclosure vows that capped off the first round of lawsuits), we’ll never know what truly motivated him and how badly he screwed over his friends and fellow students. But Fincher and Sorkin have crafted a compelling, absorbing, and occasionally poignant tale of how it could have happened. (2:00) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)
*Tamara Drewe Applying the lightest hand where Thomas Hardy waxed heavily symbolic, Tamara Drewe finds director Stephen Frears in an airily bucolic, comedic mood, working with Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel, which was, in turn, inspired by Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. Here, country life clashes with city rascals in a hilariously on-point vaguely meta-ish satire that would likely offend ye olde moralizer Hardy. The titular heroine (Gemma Arterton) has returned to the village where she grew up — riper, more voluptuous, and, thanks to a nose job, a Bathsheba-style hottie — to deal with her late mother’s country manse. The old stomping grounds teem with amusing characters: neighboring mystery novelist-cum-lecher Nicholas (Roger Allam) and long-suffering spouse Beth (Tamsin Greig) run a writers retreat populated by creatively constipated scribblers; Tamara’s childhood love Andy (Luke Evans) is pulling himself up by his bootstraps after hard times; and two naughty, low-brow schoolgirls Casey (Charlotte Christie) and Jody (Jessica Barden) keep things interesting with romantic fantasies of their own. Frears has the most fun with his sharp lampoon of writerly pretensions — one wishes he continued to train his gaze on their huffy, stuffy, Chintz-ruffled follies, as the affairs ensue, a cheesy rock star rumbles through the hamlet, and both illumination and scandal comes to pass. (1:51) SF Center.(Chun)
The Town While not quite on par with The Departed (2006) or Gone Baby Gone (2007), The Town is a solid entry into the Boston crime drama genre. Ben Affleck directs — it’s his second full-length feature after Gone Baby Gone — and stars as Doug MacRay, a lifelong bank robber who wants out of the family business. His desire to change is further complicated when he falls for Claire (Rebecca Hall), the woman he and his gang took hostage during their latest robbery. The Town doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises: if you’re familiar with the genre, you know what to expect. But it’s sleek and well-paced, with a script that at least raises some thought-provoking questions. The film also boasts a universally accomplished cast. Affleck, Hall, and Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner are predictably good, but the two standouts are actors better known for their television work: Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm as an FBI agent and Gossip Girl‘s Blake Lively (yes, really) as a drug-addled single mom. (2:10) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Shattuck. (Peitzman)
*Waiting for “Superman” As was the case with Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth, his latest documentary has an active internet campaign: pledge to see Waiting for “Superman.” The films seem like apples and oranges at first glance — Truth warned about the extinction of our species, the end of life as we know it, while “Superman” takes on the public education system. But the picture Guggenheim paints in the latter is a bleak one: our schools are failing America’s youth. In clear, relatable words, he reveals the causes of this national epidemic lack of funding, misguided unions, no accountability. Like Truth,“Superman” is a smart and inspiring call to arms. Guggenheim’s wisest choice was following a group of young schoolchildren who want nothing more than to get a good education. Their struggle provides a necessary contrast to the bureaucracy. In showing the problem’s human face, the film offers further proof — as if we needed more—that something must be done to fix a broken system. For supplemental interview, visit www.sfbg.com/pixel_vision. (1:51) California, Piedmont, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Woody Allen’s latest, once again set in tony London, has all the moving parts for a satisfying farce of self-sabotage, but the writer-director never gets past touching up his character sketches — which are far from interesting in themselves. There is Helena (Gemma Jones), elderly and recently divorced; she wants something stronger than tea and a psychic to rescue her from reality. Her daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) either wants a child or her boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas). She gets migraines and has an eye for art, and that’s about all. Meanwhile, hubby Roy (Josh Brolin) eyes the available young body across the way from his study (Freida Pinto) when he’s not grousing about his fledgling career as a novelist. Helena’s ex Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) is off in his own corner of the movie, taking up with a dopey prostitute (Lucy Punch) who, unlike his wife, is not old. There are sparks of life when these fine actors are allowed to play off one another — Jones and Brolin, in particular, work up a nicely caustic repartee — but a chirpy narrator belies the wobbly narrative construct. And unlike 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, the ethnically marked objects of desire don’t get any good lines. Banderas as an art dealer is paint-by-numbers fantasy, while Pinto’s Dia is embarrassingly elaborated: always in red, a musicology PhD student who wants to be someone’s muse, she responds favorably to Roy’s slovenly flirtations, and, the kicker, has a father who translates Eastern European authors. Jones’ spiritualist is the only one who gets a Hollywood ending, and while I suppose that’s meant ironically, there’s plenty of soft-headedness to go around. (1:38) Albany, Embarcadero. (Goldberg)