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film

Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are David Fear, Dina Gachman, Susan Gerhard, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Patrick Macias, Anhoni Patel, and Chuck Stephens. Film intern is Meryl Cohen. See Rep Clock, page 81, and Movie Clock, page 82, for theater information.

Berlin and Beyond Film Festival

The seventh annual Berlin and Beyond film festival plays through Wed/16 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, S.F. Tickets are available on the Web at www.ticketweb.com and at Café de la Presse, 352 Grant, S.F. For more information go to www.goethe.de/sanfrancisco. All times are p.m.

Wed/16

Utopia Blues 1:30. The State I Am In 4. Gripsholm 7.

Opening


*Aberdeen See Movie Clock, page 82. (1:43) Roxie.

Black Hawk Down See "Empty Nest," page 39. (2:23) Century Plaza, Coronet, Emery Bay, Empire, Jack London, UA Berkeley.

Final Dennis Leary plays Bill, who wakes up in a New England psych ward after an apparent coma caused by a car accident. Physician Ann (Hope Davis) tries prodding him back to full memory recall. But Bill is convinced she has a hidden agenda – and that it's no longer 1999 but a distant future in which his cryogenically thawed self is now in mortal danger. Leary's usual sarcastic-hipster-guy persona is ill suited to the disoriented, vulnerable working-class-loser character he's playing, and the usually solid Davis is straitjacketed into dullness here. The video-shot feature can't be blamed for its obvious budget limitations, but nonetheless actor turned director Campbell Scott lacks the visual imagination or tonal ambivalence needed to successfully explore this middling, garrulous script's paranoiac sci-fi dimensions. More surprisingly, he pushes the performance and editorial rhythms until they just hiccup nervously. The results play like a so-so Twilight Zone episode, with a 30-minute-worthy concept that feels every bit as long as the 100 minutes it actually takes to play out. (1:41) Four Star. (Harvey)

The Hidden Half When an Iranian judge is called on to review the pending execution of a female political prisoner, the wife he idolizes reveals her own political past as a college student in the years surrounding the 1979 revolution. Empathizing with the unknown woman in her husband's hands, Fereshteh (Niki Karimi) unfolds in a long letter the story of her days in a Maoist student group, as well as her enchantment with a suave and snooty intellectual (Mohammad Nikbin). Writer-director Tamineh Milani's outspoken opinions on feminism and politics in the Islamic Republic recently led some real judges in Tehran's Revolutionary Court to arrest her on charges of using her art to support "counterrevolutionary groups." The gravity of her still-pending case (Milani faces execution if convicted) has deservedly brought the director of 1999's Two Women a host of international supporters and the status of a cause célèbre. As for the film, audiences may glean from its timely plea for reconciliation some of the complex legacy of Iran's revolution. At the same time, Milani's courageous (if frequently didactic) exploration of this hidden history comes snugly wrapped in a tiresome TV-style melodrama, which hinders her effort to lift the veil on the repressed. (1:48) Rafael. (Robert Avila)

Lantana Starting with a view of a body facedown in some dense shrubbery, this Australian drama looks set to become a murder mystery, but Andrew Bovell's sharp screenplay is more interested in the impulses toward infidelity and doubt that trouble several interconnected relationships. Police detective Leon (Anthony LaPaglia) guiltily cheats on a wife (Kerry Armstrong) who senses that the commitment's gone out of their marriage; she sees a psychiatrist (Barbara Hershey) whose own husband (Geoffrey Rush) seems to be drifting away. Several other well-defined characters figure notably in Ray Lawrence's tightly wound film, which builds considerable tension despite some implausible plot connections and a final sequence that strains a bit to deliver its closing flourish. (2:00) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Harvey)

*Life and Debt See Critic's Choice. (1:26) Lumiere, Shattuck.

Running Out of Time 2 See Tiger on Beat. (1:34) Four Star.

Snow Dogs Cuba Gooding Jr. and James Coburn (both Oscar winners, mind you) butt heads over a team of talking sled dogs. (1:39) Century Plaza, Jack London, UA Berkeley.

Ongoing

Ali (2:27) Alexandria, Colma, Emery Bay, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.

Amélie (1:55) Albany, Clay, Piedmont.

A Beautiful Mind (2:09) Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, UA Berkeley.

Beauty and the Beast: The Large Format Cinema Special Edition (1:30) Metreon Imax.

Behind Enemy Lines (1:46) Metreon.

Brotherhood of the Wolf One of the strangest fictions ever to be "based on a true story," Brotherhood of the Wolf finds a way to capitalize on martial arts chic even as it sets its story in 18th-century France. A beast roams the countryside killing women and children, and a naturalist and his Native American cohort attempt to find and kill the monster. Their real enemies, however, do not have four legs, and by the end of this strangely sparkling drama, the choreography of Phillip Kwok (Hard-Boiled), the editing of David Wu (The Bride with White Hair), the killer kicks of Mark Dacascos ("The Crow" TV series), and the plot convolutions of France's biggest H.K. film fan and Sam Raimi booster, director Christophe Gans (Crying Freeman), will have your head spinning. (2:20) Metreon, UA Berkeley. (Gerhard)

*The Business of Strangers (1:24) Balboa.

*Bread and Tulips (1:44) Balboa.

Charlotte Gray Not quite as bad as the infamous Shining Through – in which that born secret agent Melanie Griffith infiltrates Nazi intelligence – this similarly conceived WWII-intrigue film nonetheless represents a bewildering misstep for director Gillian Armstrong and star Cate Blanchett. The latter plays a French-fluent London nurse who decides it's her patriotic duty to become a spy in Axis-occupied Vichy France. She neglects to inform superiors of her secondary, personal "mission": finding the Royal Air Force pilot boyfriend she's only known for a few days who's been shot down thereabouts. The clunky script might as well have been written in 1943, and it could have worked then as a glam propagandistic-escapist vehicle for, say, Joan Crawford. But it's ludicrously ill-judged now: the heroine comes off as a ninny, and Blanchett is too levelheaded an actor to make Charlotte's actions seem credible, let alone noble or passionate. The movie doesn't seem to grasp its own inherent absurdity, either. Inappropriately postcard-picturesque, breathlessly paced, it's unredeemed even as camp by scattered unintentional laughs. A full-blown disaster. (2:00) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

Dark Blue World This WWII drama from Czech director Jan Sverak (Kolya) shares a few similarities with last year's overblown Pearl Harbor, most notably a plot point that involves two close male friends (and pilots) torn apart when they fall in love with the same woman. Unlike Pearl Harbor, though, Dark Blue World actually has a soul, and some depth, and some interesting characters. After the Nazi invasion of their country, two Czech airmen – Franka (Ondrej Vetchy), a kind soul who has a way with women and dogs, and the young, emotional Karel (Krystof Hadek) – escape to England to fly with the British Royal Air Force. Dark Blue World is at its best when focusing on the men's relationship, which at various times casts the pair in the roles of teacher-student, father-son, romantic rivals, best friends, and war-weary soldiers with realistic complexity. (1:49) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Eddy)

The Devil's Backbone (1:46) Lumiere.

*The Endurance (1:33) Fine Arts Cinema, Four Star, Rafael.

*Fat Girl (1:23) Four Star.

*Ghost World (1:51) 1000 Van Ness.*Gosford Park Robert Altman's best movie in ages negotiates a middle path between his usual catch-all meandering and the scrubbed orderliness of Merchant Ivory terrain, arriving at something greater than either. An English country estate presided over by Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and his much younger wife, Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas), is the destination on a 1932 autumn weekend for a large roster of relatives, in-laws, and hangers-on, most of whom have a considerable, parasitic stake in staying on the wealthy host's good side. An even larger army of servants attends them, their hierarchies and hidden agendas just as complex as those of the "masters." Midway through these 48 hours of tortured politeness, a murder occurs, and indeed, this time the butler might really have done it, though there's hardly a shortage of suspects. Tethered to an exceptionally good screenplay by Julian Fellowes, and hugely benefiting from the expertise of a remarkable cast, the film gets deeper into its archaic milieu than any Altman project since (at least) The Player – with less condescension or performance showboating to boot. (2:17) Albany, Metreon, Metro, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, Piedmont. (Harvey)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2:32) Century Plaza, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Stonestown, UA Berkeley.

How High (1:36) Century Plaza, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

Imposter (1:36) Galaxy, UA Berkeley.

In the Bedroom Fusing TV movie with art film, Todd Field's debut feature seems to be made with Academy Awards in mind; an ensemble of actors navigate the icy, stormy psychology of its Maine-set screenplay (adapted from a novel by Andre Dubus), which traces the effects of a murder on a select few of the characters. Married couple Matt (Tom Wilkinson) and Ruth (Sissy Spacek) Fowler are troubled their college-age son Frank (Nick Stahl of Bully, cementing his position as 2001's top cinematic sitting duck) is in a relationship with Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei): she's older, she has kids, she hasn't gotten a divorce from abusive brewery-brat Richard Strout (William Mapother), and she's clouding Frank's vision of a wealthy future. Actually, Frank's dad takes a certain vicarious pleasure from his son's new romance; his mom, however, is unhappy that he might choose lobstering over architecture – and her concern is soon eradicated in the worst possible way. Spacek and Wilkinson are excellent, especially when the script calls on them to deliver Bergman Americana, but In the Bedroom's narrative matches ellipses with heavy-handed symbolism, and the results are too often numbing. (2:26) Act I and II, Colma, Embarcadero, Jack London. (Huston)

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (1:17) Alexandria, Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Kabuki, Jack London, Metreon, Oaks, Stonestown.

Kandahar It seems somehow appropriate that the film speaking most eloquently to the needs of the hour comes from Iran and not Hollywood. For two decades now, that country has been producing an increasing variety of excellent films by socially committed filmmakers with a pronounced humanist aesthetic. Inspired by the true story of the film's lead actor, Nelofer Pazira, director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar tells the story of Nafas, an Afghan journalist living in Canada, who returns to Afghanistan to save her sister from suicide. Kandahar displays many traits – a blurring of documentary and fiction, an emphasis on visual beauty, and a moral focus – that have helped make Iran's cinema one of the world's most vital; it also forces one to ask whether, despite the current mass-media spotlight, Afghanistan might not remain a country without an image if in it we cannot recognize ourselves. (1:25) Act I and II, Lumiere, Rafael. (Avila)

Kate and Leopold (1:48) Century Plaza, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness.

*Little Otik Jan Svankmajer's Little Otik is a film that takes us back to the helplessness of childhood, seizing the viewer with panic, terror, and paranoia that gives way to convulsive laughter. A married couple can't seem to come by a baby on their own, so they dream one into existence, shaping him from a piece of wood. No one is quite sure where this little wooden stump is headed, but once Momma outfits him in pristine white baby linens, the nightmare – in the form of the babe's insatiable appetite – is off and running. The comedy is created in the cutting room: working a variety of tricks, from 3-D stop-action animation to excessive close-ups to the magic of editing, Svankmajer wreaks his usual havoc on reality. Unlike Rosemary's Baby, a seminal moment in the demon-spawn genre, Little Otik builds black comedy from the horrors of childbirth, and it has plenty of room in which to do it, fully reflecting the effect that decades of birth control, child-bearing manipulations, and genetic engineering have had on the collective psyche. (2:07) Red Vic. (Gerhard)

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (3:00) Alexandria, Colma, Emery Bay, Empire, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, UA Berkeley.

The Majestic (2:30) Oaks, 1000 Van Ness, Stonestown.

*The Man Who Wasn't There (1:56) Bridge, Rafael.

*Monsters, Inc. (1:24) Colma, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.

*Mulholland Drive (2:36) Balboa, Opera Plaza, Rafael.

*No Man's Land This absurdist anti-war "comedy" from Bosnia starts slashing with a serrated edge from the get-go and never lets up. Two soldiers, one Serbian (Rene Bitorajac) and one Croatian (Branko Djuric), are stranded together in a trench between their respective armies' strongholds with nothing but hatred, a common homeland, and a booby-trapped comrade to keep them company. What starts out as an accident of combat escalates into a full-blown incident once the military brass, a UN observation patrol, and an English TV reporter (Katrin Cartlidge) began wading into the fray. Director Denis Tanovic's tenure filming war atrocities on the Sarajevo front lends an air of elegiac realism to the film's Beckett-like flak-black humor, painting a portrait of life during wartime that's equal parts horror and ridiculousness. (1:37) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Fear)

Not Another Teen Movie (1:28) 1000 Van Ness.

Ocean's Eleven (1:46) Colma, Emery Bay, Galaxy, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, Shattuck.

Orange County Writer-director Jake Kasdan's teen comedy transcends its genre with some amusingly eccentric ideas, yet the execution is just fair-to-middling. Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) is an aspiring writer desperate to escape the perceived banality of his native Orange County and the definite disaster of his rich but megadysfunctional family. He has seized on attending Stanford University as the one, the only, ticket outta there. But a high school guidance counselor sends another (failing) student's transcript to Stanford by mistake, rather than his own stellar one. Accompanied by stoner-slob brother Lance (Jack Black) and space-case girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk), he bets all on a road trip north to plead his case before the admissions department. In theory, this makes for a pleasantly sweet-natured and absurdist film. In execution, however, the low-budget MTV production is just occasionally as funny as it thinks it is. (1:23) Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Empire, Galaxy, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, UA Berkeley. (Harvey)

The Others (1:38) Opera Plaza.

*Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy (1:19) Four Star.

*The Royal Tenenbaums Wes Anderson turns New York City into a diorama, multiplying Rushmore's Max by three and shoving the trio of variants into adulthood. A preteen, pre-Tina New Yorker brownstone is the Tenenbaum family's fort within a haunted metropolitan playground, where the sins of their awfully lovable father (Gene Hackman) define the Tenenbaum children – financial ace Chas (Ben Stiller), ex-tennis champ Richie (Luke Wilson), and playwright Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), who've just moved back in with their urban archaeologist mother (Anjelica Huston). Anderson deploys tracking shots and musical montage with the highly irregular constancy of that letter Anderson, P.T. – each comic-strip storyboarded frame, whether exterior or interior, is like the bedroom of a wealthy wunderkind, or, when truly inspired, a self-conscious intellect's imagination. The Royal Tenenbaums has six times the nervous energy of its subjects, who've been losing so long that they're paralyzed in the past. (2:25) Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Presidio, Shattuck. (Huston)

The Shipping News (2:00) Colma, Grand Lake, Metreon, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness, Vogue.

Spy Game (2:07) Galaxy.

Vanilla Sky (2:30) Alexandria, Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.

Wisconsin Death Trip (1:16) Balboa