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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 79, and Movie Clock, page 80, for theater information.

Opening

*Battle Royale See "Fight Cubs," page 34. (1:53) New PFA Theater.

Charm See Critic's Choice. (1:10) Werepad.

*The Count of Monte Cristo See Critic's Choice. (1:58) Grand Lake, Shattuck.I Am Sam See Movie Clock. (2:13) Century Plaza, Oaks.

Kung Pow: Enter the Fist Hoping to score some cheap laughs, big stupid Hollywood mutilates the great Jimmy Wang Yu's Savage Killers. (1:45)

*Metropolis See Tiger on Beat. (1:44) Lumiere, Shattuck.

*Monster's Ball See "Hangman's Tale," page 33. (1:48) Act I and II, Bridge.

The Mothman Prophecies Richard Gere stars as a man who is inexplicably drawn to a strange town where he becomes tangled up in sinister, supernatural events. (1:35) Shattuck.

Piñero A great biographical subject is pretty well squandered in director-scenarist Leon Ichaso's dramatized portrait of Miguel Piñero, the Nuyorican poet, Off-Broadway playwright, and stage and screen actor who rode to fame via the incendiary prison-set play Short Eyes. The real-life experience Piñero brought to that and other works – he'd served jail stints and been a pretty thief and drug addict – made him a figurehead in the 1970s Latino cultural explosion. Still, his demons didn't go away with that newfound celebrity; frittering away most of his opportunities, he died, homeless and still mired in substance abuse, in 1988. Benjamin Bratt gives a dynamic performance as Piñero, but the video-shot feature does poorly, trying to cover a high-profile life story with evident low-budgetary means. Worse, Ichaso's fragmentary script and short-attention-span editing reduce that life to a hectic series of quick sound bite-driven microscenes that come off glibly unevocative. Giancarlo Esposito, Talisa Soto, and Rita Moreno are among the large scroll of supporting players who never get a chance to establish more than a blunt first impression. (1:35) Lumiere. (Harvey)

A Walk to Remember MTV host and minidiva Mandy Moore takes to the big screen for this tale of small-town, star-crossed lovers. (1:42) Century Plaza, Shattuck.

Ongoing

*Aberdeen Just as she's being promoted at a major London law firm, the past returns to dump a whole fresh load of chaos on Kaisa (Lena Headey). Her mother (Charlotte Rampling), with whom she's politely near-incommunicado, insists that Kaisa drop everything and escort her father, Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård) – from whom Kaisa's most definitely estranged – back "home," to Aberdeen. Norwegian writer-director Hans Petter Moland's first English-language feature traces a familiar trajectory by the end of which parent and child overcome all accumulated emotional baggage to realize they kinda need each other, warts 'n' all. But there's very little of the usual sentimentality on tap here: both Kaisa and Tomas are discomfitingly extreme fuckups, and the beautifully shot and performed Aberdeen dishes out some truly brutal humiliations before there's much hope of redemption. (1:43) Rafael, Roxie. (Harvey)

Ali Michael Mann's epic look at the people's pugilistic champ manages to cast jug-eared fresh prince-movie star Will Smith as the shit-talkin' heavyweight and still score more than a few body blows. All of the sports hero's greatest hits, literally and figuratively, are here: the 22-year-old Cassius Clay's victory over Sonny Liston, the renouncement of his "slave name" for an honorable Muslim moniker, the verbal sparring matches with Howard Cosell (an unrecognizable and dead-on Jon Voight), and so on. Mann (The Insider) uses his trademark icy sheen and fastidious attention to let you know immediately who's calling the shots; occasionally, he throws in the odd conspiracy thriller element just to prove that, famous subject or no, it's still a "Mann" movie. But it's Smith's show all the way, and he takes on the fighter's bulky frame and silky smooth monotone with a grace that dares any doubters to step into the ring. (2:27) Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Fear)

Amélie (1:55) Albany, Clay, Piedmont.

A Beautiful Mind It's a movie about smart people, but A Beautiful Mind treats its audience as anything but, oversimplifying weighty subjects like scientific discovery, romance, and mental illness to fit director Ron Howard's Hollywood formula. The film tells the semi-true life story of John Forbes Nash Jr. (Russell Crowe), a brilliant mathematician and paranoid schizophrenic who won the Nobel Prize in 1994. As in most sweeping biopics, Mind feels like five movies in one, hurrying through 47 years as if edited for television. Though Nash and his wife, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), are supposed to be brilliant, you wouldn't know it from their often banal dialogue. When Nash asks her how he knows if he's in love, she explains that it's like knowing the universe is infinite: You can't prove it, you just believe. Sappy lines aside, Connelly is notable as Nash's strong and reasonable wife, her heroine nearly upstaging his hero. And despite the film's awkward pacing, Howard does succeed in persuading the viewer that perhaps Nash's paranoia isn't completely unfounded. (2:09) Century Plaza, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda. (Nancy Einhart)

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

Black Hawk Down Detailing the true story of a routine Special Forces mission that resulted in two helicopters being felled, 18 soldiers dying, and a FUBAR (military speak for, ahem, a less than ideal situation) of monumental proportions, Black Hawk Down hits the ground like a somber but standard-issue action flick, less concerned with narrative coherence than with reaching its peak moments of flight as soon as possible. After a quick rundown of the why, what, and where, we get only a brief, semaphore introduction to the main players-cum-composites: the outfit's soulful magnet for disillusionment (Josh Hartnett), the desk clerk who'll prove himself in battle (Ewan McGregor), and the badass (Eric Bana). The viewer is thrust into two hours of gritty, grueling battle scenes designed to re-create the historical horrors of one day. The problem is, by downplaying the who and why, the film strands its audience in a shrapnel-filled vacuum that values mayhem and stimulation over reason and emotion; all this Dolby-ready carnage feels stylistically sound but strangely empty. The temptation is to point at director Ridley Scott, who has always valued imagery over storytelling. But it's the agenda of the real auteur behind Black Hawk Down – legendary über-producer Jerry Bruckheimer – that infects every frame like an adrenal-seeking virus. (2:23) Century Plaza, Empire, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Fear)

*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) Century Plaza, Metreon. (Gerhard)

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)

*The Endurance (1:33) Fine Arts Cinema, 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, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, Piedmont. (Harvey)

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

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)

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, Embarcadero, Jack London. (Huston)

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (1:17) Kabuki, Jack London, Metreon.

*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) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Avila)

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

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)

*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 Boosted by immaculate production design and a cast and crew who glow with respect for J.R.R. Tolkien's source material, the hobbit pipe-weed high should last all the way to the final reel, wherein "The Breaking of the Fellowship" (Book Two, Chapter 10) becomes painfully literal. Faithful to a fault, Fellowship is stuck with the most inconclusive and unsatisfactory conclusion to a big-budget fantasy film since The Empire Strikes Back left audiences wondering, "Is that it?" Such are the dangers of trilogy building. Peter Jackson – though he's secured a three-hour running time and deals to make two more movies – still makes it feel like he's in an awful rush to finish the journey ASAP. There's a hurried quality to Fellowship's pacing, which makes that awkward ending feel even more like hitting a brick wall. Grand events occur, literary characters spring pleasingly to life, but Middle-earth seldom gets a chance to breathe. But to his considerable credit, Jackson knows how to make the film itself come alive, alternating between well-placed subjective shots, epic vistas, and Dead Alive-style action. (3:00) Empire, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda. (Macias)

The Majestic (2:30) 1000 Van Ness.

*The Man Who Wasn't There The Coen brothers' "man" is a laconic barber (Billy Bob Thornton) who's blackmailing his wife's lover (James Gandolfini) to finance a lucrative business deal in 1940s Santa Rosa. A body turns up, and someone's gotta take the fall ... so far, so noir. Soon, however, the film begins veering into darker, more ambiguous territory. Thanks to Thornton's revelatory low-key performance, the character's passivity recasts the traditional genre hero as a gaping existential maw. Clichés are defanged, deadpan voice-overs diffuse possible motivations, and the usual telltale currents of desire are replaced by numbed ennui. (1:56) Opera Plaza. (Fear)

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

*Mulholland Drive David Lynch shifts the Laura Palmer fetishism of Twin Peaks into a matured, interior feminine realm – a space he redecorates in shades of Vertigo and Persona. Laura Elena Harring, at least initially, is Rita, a raven-tressed amnesiac; Naomi Watts, at least initially, is Betty Elms, a starry-eyed blond (Watts's performance, simultaneously satirical and realist, provides Lynch with the deepest emotional undertow of his career.) Lynch tails these women like Vertigo's Scottie before going all the way with both. In a film that also corrects many of his past mistakes, Lynch reforms Hollywood history so that viewers experience it as a déjà vu dream. (2:36) Opera Plaza. (Huston)

Ocean's Eleven (1:46) 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) Empire, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon. (Harvey)

*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) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Presidio, Shattuck. (Huston)

Running out of Time 2 Like Samson's, Ekin Cheng's strength was in his hair. But in Running out of Time 2 (Four Star) Cheng done shorn his David Cassidy-caliber locks. Now, with Miami Vice stubble and criminally exposed earlobes, Cheng, the Chinese Superman of Legend of Zu, reveals himself to be merely human. Perhaps that's why this entry in the would-be Running out of Time franchise seems to be lacking that certain something. Without so much as a nod to the events of the first film, a police negotiator (Lau Ching Wan) is hot on the trail of a mystery man and aspiring magician (Cheng) who has stolen three priceless art treasures and is holding them for ransom so he can buy candy (that's right, candy!) for starving children. Cheng keeps Lau on his toes and fills the running time with wicked games, requests for counterfeit dough, and cruel jokes, but there's really nothing at stake here, and the lack of characterization and intrigue, previously a major stronghold for codirector Johnnie To and Milkyway Productions, makes you pine for To's tough stuff (The Mission) or even the well-rounded romantic comedy shtick of his Love on a Diet. (1:34) Four Star. (Macias)

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

Snow Dogs There was a time, not so long ago, when a reviewer could say "starring Oscar winner so-and-so" and automatically command some level of respect for a film. Well, with the release of Disney's latest "drama," starring Oscar winners Cuba Gooding Jr. and James Coburn, those days are officially gone. In the wake of intelligent kids' movies like Monsters Inc. and Shrek, which crossed the generation gap with panache, the pointless and entirely unfunny Snow Dogs seems an even more pathetic addition to the genre. In the trailers it has masqueraded as a comedy about talking dogs in sunglasses, and even that misguided premise would have made for a better film than the psuedo-dramatic story of a wealthy Miami dentist (Gooding) seeking his roots in the Alaskan wilderness. Maybe the increasingly out-of-touch folks at Disney should stick to fairytales and leave the hard stuff to the new guys. (1:39) Century Plaza, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Cohen)

Spy Game (2:07) Shattuck.

Vanilla Sky (2:30) Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

*Waking Life Dazed and confused and reveling in it, Richard Linklater's animated Waking Life is both a return to form and an intense break from it – a movie filmed entirely in live-action is transformed into animation. Shattering the naturalistic facade of his well-structured Slacker of a decade ago, the filmmaker revisits his Austin roots but drops his wandering souls into a stylized, artist-sketched reverie. An ode to college towns and the ideas that swelter inside them, the story follows lucid dreamer Wiley Wiggins as he drifts through random conversations about the meaning and future of life on this planet and others. (1:37) Four Star. (Gerhard)

Rep Picks

*Boom: the Sound of Eviction Created by the video activist collective Whispered Media, Boom: The Sound of Eviction examines the problem of dot-com gentrification in San Francisco and the resulting wave of evictions that recently rocked the Mission. The members of Whispered Media have no formal education in film or video, but they clearly have a knack for it. An impressively edited montage of colorful and poignant shots, this film captures the powerful individual stories of families, senior citizens, artists, and nonprofit organizations, all displaced after many years in their beloved neighborhood. Featuring interviews with local organizers, journalists, and the loathed Mayor Willie Brown, the piece is informative as well as moving, especially where it seeks to explain that the gentrification phenomenon won't disappear as the dot-com boom goes bust. (1:36) Artists' Television Access, Parkway. (Cohen)

'Mosaic and Selected Short Films by Deborah Hoffman' Part of a year-round collaboration between the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, this presentation of Mosaic and other films by German-Jewish filmmaker Deborah Phillips marks a departure from the series's typical fare. Phillips is a highly experimental film artist, and her latest is as nonlinear and abstract as they come. Essentially a dynamic collage, it offers up a seemingly endless barrage of images of Jewish and Islamic architecture, intending to blur the lines between the two cultures by revealing a history of close coexistence. Artistically, the piece possesses a unique aesthetic, which stems from the use of obsolete editing techniques and an almost complete lack of objective motion (that is, motion occurring independent of the camera). For patient fans of film and video art this entry is worth checking out, but nearly an hour of revolving ceilings and magnified molding may not be for everyone. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Cohen)

*The Wide Blue Road Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a fisherman is just a fisherman. Unless, of course, the fisherman in question is the protagonist in former Italian resistance fighter-communist party member Gillo Pontecorvo's extraordinary debut film, 1957's The Wide Blue Road, and he's portrayed by Yves Montand, the filet mignon of '50s Euro-hunkiness. This swarthy monger of sea poultry is both a peasant hero fighting tooth and nail for his family (and using dangerous, illegal explosives to gather his bounty) and a cipher used to contrast the power of the collective union in battling injustice. The story of a postwar Italian fishing community struggling to survive, Pontecervo's first feature already shows the filmmaker blending his leftist political leanings with Italian cinema's humanist neorealism roots (the director claims seeing a Roberto Rossellini film inspired him to pick up a camera), refining techniques he would later bring to such incendiary socialist treatises as 1965's The Battle of Algiers and '69's Quemada! He'd originally set out to learn the ropes by filming a gritty black-and-white movie cast with actual village fishermen; the film's producer insisted on using color stock and movie stars Montand and Alida Valli. Frustrated by the result, Pontecorvo himself initially dismissed the work as amateurish melodrama, and the film was largely forgotten until Jonathan Demme caught a screening at a retrospective for the filmmaker. Thanks to his efforts, this Road rarely traveled has been brushed off and will finally get a wide U.S. release, allowing film lovers the chance to observe one of cinema's great political activists finding his footing and forging his voice in front of their very eyes. (1:39) Roxie. (Fear)