Week one - Page 5

Critics' short takes on the first week of SFIFF films
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House of Himiko (Isshin Inudo, Japan, 2005). Young Saori (Kou Shibasaki) can't afford to pass up a part-time job at a private old-age home. But she doesn't have to like it: The residents are all gay men, and they include the father (Min Tanaka) whose abandonment long ago left Saori a grudge-keeping homophobe. But her prejudices eventually melt amid these aging queens' wacky and poignant antics. This is the kind of movie that does soften up mainstream audiences' attitudes, if only because it panders to them so carefully — the ol' ’mos here are all cuddly, harmless, and postsexual, despite their occasional trash talk. For more sophisticated viewers, the cutesy stereotypes and maudlin moments may outweigh director Isshin Inudo's good intentions and passages of low-key charm. 6:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also April 27, 5:45 p.m., Castro (Harvey)

*Runners High (Justine Jacob and Alex da Silva, USA, 2006). Inspirational sports movies are hard to beat, and this doc about Students Run Oakland, a group that trains high schoolers for the Los Angeles marathon, is particularly potent. Rough neighborhoods, unstable home lives, and plain old out-of-shapeness provide obstacles for the dedicated kids profiled here, but the training benefits nearly all who stick with it. "If you can accomplish a marathon, you can accomplish anything" would be a clichéd thing for a coach to say in a narrative film; in the context of this doc, the words feel truly sincere. 7 p.m., Kabuki. Also April 27, 10 a.m., Kabuki; April 29, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; and May 2, 8:30 p.m., El Rio (Eddy)

Tues/25

Looking for Madonna (John de Rantau, Indonesia, 2005). Part potboiler romance, part quirky street-level character study, and part gritty message-movie about the fears that continue to surround HIV/AIDS — Looking for Madonna plays it multiple ways. In this, the gangly, freewheeling, and well-meaning feature debut of Indonesian director John de Rantau, Madonna is a pop star singing, "Don't Cry for Me, Indonesia," as well as a local prostitute prized for her fair skin. The Virgin Mother, however, is nowhere to be found — although AIDS-infected Papua teen Joseph tries his best to reach a state of grace, aided by his cheeky, bawdy chum Minus. 7:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also April 29, 12:45 p.m., Kabuki (Chun)

*News from Afar (Ricardo Benet, Mexico, 2005). Just as Carlos Reygadas's Japon gave viewers ample time to contemplate its maker's talent and ponder his pretense, so does Ricardo Benet's first feature as it turns a man's relationship to landscape into an existential equation. When that landscape is as broke as a nameless saltpeter town or as forbidding as Mexico City, can it be anything else? Whether Benet will follow this movie with something as sublime and ridiculous as Reygadas's Battle in Heaven is unclear, but there is no doubt that he is talented, and that News from Afar can slap a drowsy viewer upside the head with the full weight of fate gone bad. 7 p.m., PFA. Also April 29, 6 p.m., Kabuki; and May 2, 3 p.m., Kabuki (Huston)