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Arthouse listings for May 21-27, 2015 

Wednesday, May 20 2015

Balboa Theatre. I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story: Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker's documentary takes us inside the man inside the world's first favorite muppet. A slathering of sentimentally triumphant music emphasizes what seems like a feeling of protectiveness for their subject, but fair enough. Seen in archive footage, the moment when Big Bird learned his human friend Mr. Hooper had died is, as ever, completely devastating. Through May 21. 3630 Balboa, San Francisco, 221-2184,

Castro Theatre. The Times of Harvey Milk: Ceremonial screening of Robert Epstein's Oscar-winning documentary in honor of what would have been the Mayor of Castro Street's 85th birthday. The director, former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, former Supervisor Harry Britt, and other guests also participate in a special "fireside chat" after the film. Fri., May 22, 7 p.m. $12-$40. 429 Castro, San Francisco, 621-6120,

Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center. Wine Enthusiast Wine & Film Series: Oenophiles and cinephiles unite for a month of movie screenings followed by wine samplings, with the films all involving fermentation of the grape and the industries that surround it, including Bottle Shock (May 7), Somm (May 14), A Year in Champagne (May 21), and Corked! (May 28). Thursdays. Continues through May 28. $12. 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael, 454-1222,

Clay Theatre. Iris: The final film from late, great documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles is this intimate profile of 93-year-old NYC fashion icon (and stunna shades superstar) Iris Apfel. Daily. 2261 Fillmore, San Francisco, 267-4893,

Embarcadero Center Cinema. Saint Laurent: Coming on like a narcotic, Bertrand Bonello's film presents the life of late designer Yves Saint Laurent in a series of oblique narrative vignettes, with Gaspard Ulliel seeming quite at home in boxy glasses and fey ennui, partying through the social upheaval of 1968, now and then sketching a dress with Mozart playing to help him concentrate. Daily. I'll See You in My Dreams: You might go in expecting a heart-on-sleeve handout to middle-class women of retirement age, but I'll See You in My Dreams isn't charity, and director Brett Haley doesn't seem so interested in demographic premeditation. It's light touches all around, with everybody — especially our protagonist, a retiree and widow played with truth and grace by Blythe Danner — seeming to have gotten the emotional availability memo. Neither a feel-good bromide nor a cynical comeback thereto, I'll See You in My Dreams seems patiently to be working out an equation which allows getting older on one side of the equal sign and keeping calm on the other. Starting May 22. Daily. Wild Tales: A cornucopia of comeuppance, this exuberant pulp anthology from Argentine writer-director Damián Szifrón would like to point out how ready and willing humans still are to act like animals. The tales include a perhaps deservedly unlucky assembly of airplane passengers; a dish of revenge best served at a late-night diner; a bribery spiral spinning out of control from a drunken rich kid's hit-and-run; an elaborate road-rage duel that'll be the envy of Tarantino; a demolitionist getting his own blow-up button pushed by parking-enforcement bureaucracy; and one catastrophically tacky wedding. Daily. The D Train: In planning his 20-year reunion, Pittsburgh schlub Dan Landsman (Jack Black) aggravates the inferiority complex he's been nursing since high school, so he contrives to nab a reunion RSVP from former class cool kid Oliver Lawless (James Marsden). Thus begins a farfetched bromantic farce in which unexpected developments ensue, including actual hilarity, amazing Black-Marsden chemistry, and a scorched-earth subversion of the default homophobia that's otherwise so common to movies like this. Daily. Clouds of Sils Maria: Much of Oliver Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria is a terrific two-hander between successful-but-aging actress Maria (Juliette Binoche) — who has reluctantly agreed to participate in a revival of the play that made her famous 20 years prior, with her original role now assayed by a troubled, tabloid-bait starlet — and her assistant Val (Kristen Stewart), who runs lines with Maria while engaging in occasionally fourth-wall-pushing philosophical debates about innocence versus maturity, what it means to have integrity as a celebrity in modern Hollywood, and everything in between. Daily. Far from the Madding Crowd: Tonight's episode of The Dating Game comes to you from 19th-century England, where our bachelorette has just come into possession of some land and multiple options for new suitors: a steadfast shepherd, a volatile soldier, and a middle-aged fellow farmer who once wouldn't give her the time of day but now can't get her out of his mind. Director Thomas Vinterberg's tastefully lush adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel may not be the most innovative literary update, but as a new episode of an old game show, it's a swoon-worthy knockout. Daily. 1 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, 267-4893,

Exploratorium. Saturday Cinema: Weekly thematic film screenings presented in the Kanbar Forum by the Exploratorium's Cinema Arts program. Saturdays. Free with museum admission. Pier 15, San Francisco, 528-4444,

Oasis. Club King: San Francisco premiere of the indie documentary about LGBT party promoter Mario Diaz, with Diaz and director Jon Bush in attendance. Thu., May 21, 8 p.m. $15. 298 11th St., San Francisco, 985-4442,

Oddball Films. Cinema Soirée: Quadratura Circuli (Squaring the Circle): An experimental evening of 16mm and Super 8 short films that revolve (pun intended) around circle, sphere, and spiral themes and imagery. Thu., May 21, 8 p.m. $10. 275 Capp, San Francisco, 558-8112,

Opera Plaza Cinemas. About Elly: Reviewable only with heavy spoiler protection, Asghar Farhadi's About Elly is masterfully character-driven, full of narrative switchbacks, reveals within reveals, and electrifying recriminations. Farhadi has a uniformly excellent ensemble cast and a fine sense of dramatic proportion, and while the cultural tension between progressivism and religious tradition seems explicitly Iranian, the human behavior seems precisely universal. Starting May 22. Daily. In the Name of My Daughter: A true crime story of money and power and sex and betrayal and missing persons and the mafia, André Téchiné's French Riviera-set film stars Catherine Deneuve as a casino owner and still somehow manages to be dull. The point where detached French-movie sophistication tips over into forgettability seems to have been passed before this film, for all its calmly agile camerawork, even began. Starting May 22. Daily. Félix and Meira: Ever since the first full-length talking picture, Alan Crosland's 1927 The Jazz Singer, the struggle between Orthodox Judaism and the secular world has been a recurring theme. In Maxime Giroux's Félix and Meira, the latter (Hadas Yaron) is a young Hasidic wife and mother living the sheltered life her culture demands, when a chance encounter with the kind yet secular Félix (Martin Dubrueil) inspires Meira to consider the possibility of living life on her own terms, rather than those dictated by her religion and her strict husband Shulem (Luzer Twersky). Daily. Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World: As the overture of Belinda Sallin's film recounts it, approaching the late H.R. Giger's woods-ensconced Zurich home felt a little like going upriver in Apocalypse Now, on account of the jungly enclosure, and the many skulls, and the general aura of derangement. But of course the main Giger movie association will always be Alien. Talking-head consensus seems to be that Giger's work tapped into the otherwise unremembered trauma of the perinatal journey; all he really knew was that in general he put his exquisitely creepy visions on canvas to keep them from freaking him out. Daily. What We Do in the Shadows: In this mockumentary written and directed by two Flight of the Conchords guys, Vladislav, Viago, Deacon, and Nick are vampires of varying antiquity who cohabitate in a grungy flat in New Zealand. Followed by a documentary crew, they go on about the business of both being undead (if foppish) ghouls who feed on the blood of humans to survive, as well as being a bunch of straight men living together, which means the dishes and other basic chores tend to go undone. Daily. Tangerines: Essentially a chamber-drama allegory, writer-director Zaza Urushadze's Tangerines takes its title from its setting — a war-defiled grove of citrus trees in Georgia — and is powered by casually great, lived-in acting, particularly from Lembit Ulfsak as the old man under whose roof a gruff Chechen mercenary (Giorgi Nakashidze) and his sensitive young Georgian foe (Mikheil Meskhi) find themselves facing off. Being a heart-on-sleeve humanist, Urushadze doesn't get into the particulars of the civil war in question, as if not to dignify them. Being also an Eastern European, he very helpfully doesn't dignify sentimentalism either. Daily. Dior and I: Frédéric Tcheng's latest contribution to ever-burgeoning field of fashion documentaries follows newbie Christian Dior artistic director Raf Simons, erstwhile fashion "minimalist," through the expedited creation and delivery of his first haute couture collection, seeming like the movie equivalent of one of those glossy multi-page ad spreads that thicken up your favorite perfume-scented magazines. Or, at best, like an extended and extremely haute episode of Project Runway. Daily. 601 Van Ness, San Francisco, 777-3456,

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