This weekend, it's all about the Women's Marathon at the London Olympics! If my calculations are correct, I will have to basically stay up all night Saturday to catch the race (11am London time is uggghhhh our time), or descend into a spoiler-free cave where no NBC-borne spoilers can find me before the highlight reel.
Anyone needing a break from gorging on Olympic track and field coverage, however, has an array of options at the movie theater, including two standout docs about mystery men (The Imposter and Searching for Sugar Man) and William Friedkin's rip-roaring (and NC-17) latest, Killer Joe. Plus, Lovecraft!
Hollywood's big money is on the Total Recall remake, which stars an agreeable Colin Farrell and is directed with reasonable amounts of style by Len Wiseman (of Underworld series fame; naturally, wife Kate Beckinsale has a juicy part). But if you really want to see Total Recall, stick with the 1990 Verhoeven-Schwarzenegger version. The do-over adds nothing and contains zero quotable lines on par with "Get your AHH-SS to Mars!"
Short takes on other notable releases this week (including a Bresson revival, ooh la la) after the jump.
Bill W. Even longtime AA members are unlikely to know half the organizational history revealed in this straightforward, chronological, fast-moving portrait of its late founder. Bill Wilson was a bright, personable aspiring businessman whose career was nonetheless perpetually upset by addiction to the alcohol that eased his social awkwardness but brought its own worse troubles. During one mid-1930s sanitarium visit, attempting to dry out, he experienced a spiritual awakening. From that moment slowly grew the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous, which he shaped with the help of several other recovering drunks, and saw become a national movement after a 1941 Saturday Evening Post article introduced it to the general public. Wilson had always hoped the "leaderless" organization would soon find its own feet and leave him to build a separate, sober new career. But gaining that distance was difficult; attempts to find other "cures" for his recurrent depression (including LSD therapy) laid him open to internal AA criticism; and he was never comfortable on the pedestal that grateful members insisted he stay on as the organization's founder. Admittedly, he appointed himself its primary public spokesman, which rendered his own hopes for privacy somewhat self-canceling — though fortunately it also provides this documentary with plenty of extant lecture and interview material. He was a complicated man whose complicated life often butted against the role of savior, despite his endless dedication and generosity toward others in need. That thread of conflict makes for a movie that's compelling beyond the light it sheds on an institution as impactful on individual lives and society as any other to emerge from 20th-century America. (1:43) Elmwood, Roxie. (Dennis Harvey)
Crazy and Thief Former S.F. resident Cory McAbee of the Billy Nayer Show, as well as cult film faves The American Astronaut (2001) and Stingray Sam (2009), returns for one night only in this multimedia event under the umbrella of his new enterprise "Captain Ahab's Motorcycle Club." The Vogue Theatre event will offer music and conversation after a screening of McAbee's latest. Crazy and Thief stars his children, two-year-old Johnny and slightly senior Willa, in a 52-minute adventure that has them following a "star map" all by themselves around Brooklyn, then journeying out to the country via train. En route they improvise nonsense songs, cross paths with strange adults suspicious and helpful, ride a Mickey Mouse hobby horse, and so forth. A color effort that's sort of an elaborate home movie compared to the director's fancifully comic, black and white prior films, it nonetheless gets pretty far on the cuteness of toddlers and a soundtrack of original songs that find McAbee rocking like a five-year-old might — something that's also pretty cute. (:52) Vogue. (Dennis Harvey)
The Devil, Probably This seldom-revived 1977 feature from late French master Robert Bresson was his penultimate as well as most explicitly political work. Newspaper clips at the start betray where these 95 minutes will be heading: they introduce Parisian Charles (Antoine Monnier) as a casualty, a suicide at age 20. The reasons for that act are probed in the succeeding flashback, as we observe his last days drifting between friends and lovers, quitting student activist groups, and generally expressing his disillusionment with everything from politics to religion to human interaction. Then 70, Bresson expresses his own disenchantment in solidarity with the youthful characters by including documentary shots of pollution, clubbed baby seals, A-bomb explosions, and other dire signs of "an Earth that is ever more populated and ever less habitable." That essential message makes The Devil, Probably more relevant than ever, but unfortunately it's also one of the filmmaker's driest, most didactic exercises. There are a few odd, almost farcical moments (as when the constant pondering of man's fate extends to a spontaneous philosophical debate between passengers on a public bus), but the characters are too obviously mouthpieces with no inner lives of their own. In particular, Charles remains an unengaging blank in Monnier's performance, which is all too faithful to the director's usual call for "automatic," uninflected line readings from his nonprofessional cast. Nothing Bresson did is without interest, but here his detached technique drains nearly all emotional impact from a film ostensibly about profound despair. (1:35) SF Film Society Cinema. (Dennis Harvey)
Girlfriend Boyfriend The onscreen title of this Taiwanese import is Gf*Bf, but don't let the text-speak fool you: the bulk of the film is set in the 1980s and 90s, long before smart phones were around to complicate relationships. And the trio at the heart of Girlfriend Boyfriend is complicated enough as it is: sassy Mabel (Gwei Lun-Mei) openly pines for brooding Liam (Joseph Chang), who secretly pines for rebellious Aaron (Rhydian Vaughan), who chases Mabel until she gives in; as things often go in stories like this, nobody gets the happy ending they desire. Set against the backdrop of Taiwan's student movement, this vibrant drama believably tracks its leads as they mature from impulsive youths to bitter adults who never let go of their deep bond — despite all the misery it causes, and a last-act turn into melodrama that's hinted at by the film's frame story featuring an older Liam and a pair of, um, sassy and rebellious twin girls he's been raising as his own. (1:45) Metreon. (Cheryl Eddy)
Klown A spinoff from a long-running Danish TV show, with the same director (Mikkel Nørgaard) and co-writer/stars, this bad-taste comedy might duly prove hard to beat as "the funniest movie of the year" (a claim its advertising already boasts). Socially hapless Frank (Frank Hvam) discovers his live-in girlfriend Mia (Mia Lyhne) is pregnant, but she quite reasonably worries "you don't have enough potential as a father." To prove otherwise, he basically kidnaps 12-year-old nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) and drags him along on a canoe trip with best friend Casper (Casper Christensen). Trouble is, Casper has already proclaimed this trip will be a "Tour de Pussy," in which they — or at least he — will seize any and every opportunity to cheat on their unknowing spouses. Ergo, there's an almost immediate clash between awkward attempts at quasi-parental bonding and activities most unsuited for juvenile eyes. Accusations of rape and pedophilia, some bad advice involving "pearl necklaces," an upscale one-night-only bordello, reckless child endangerment, encouragement of teenage drinking, the consequences of tactical "man flirting," and much more ensue. Make no mistake, Klown one-ups the Judd Apatow school of raunch (at least for the moment), but it's good-natured enough to avoid any aura of crass Adam Sandler-type bottom-feeding. It's also frequently, blissfully, very, very funny. (1:28) Roxie. (Dennis Harvey)