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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 101, and Movie Clock, page 102, for theater information.

Cinemayaat Arab Film Festival

The rescheduled portion of the previously canceled fifth annual "Cinemayaat, the Arab Film Festival" takes place Fri/8-Sun/10. The venue is the Fine Arts Cinema, 2451 Shattuck, Berk. Tickets are $7-9. For more information call (510) 564-1100 or go to www.aff.org. For commentary see Script Doctor, page 44. All times are pm.

Fri/8

Invisible War with "Children of the Embargo" 7. Thirst with "Memory" 9:30.

Sat/9

Derrida's Elsewhere 1:15. Khiam and The Dream 3. Ben Barka 5:15. Light at the End of the Tunnel and Waiting for Salah al Din with "The Departure, the Arrival" 7:30. The Tornado with "The Train" 9:50.

Sun/10

The Poet of Cane and Sabri Mudallal: Magams for Pleasure 2:15. "Fantasms of the Real" (shorts program) 4:30. And After 6. "Moroccan Shorts 3" (shorts program) 8:30.

San Francisco Independent Film Festival

The fourth annual San Francisco IndieFest takes place through Sun/10. Venues are the Roxie Cinema, 3117 16th St, SF; Expression Center for New Media, 6601 Shellmound, Emeryville; and Parkway Theater, 1834 Park, Oakl. Tickets are $6-8. Call (415) 820-3907 or go to www.sfindie.com. For commentary see last week's Bay Guardian. All times are pm.

Wed/6

Roxie Party 7 12:30. Mutant Aliens 2:45. We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n' Roll 5. To Protect and Serve 7:15. "Love Sex Desire" (shorts program) 9:30.

Studio Z The New Woman 12:30. The Journeyman 2:45. Bad Trip 5. Love on the Run 7:15. Unspeakable 9:30.

Thurs/7

Roxie Mary/Mary 5. "The Global Village" (shorts program) 7:15. Blue Spring 9:30.

Studio Z It's All about You 2:45. "Strange Tales" (shorts program) 5. you don't know what I got 7:15. Cookers 9:30.

Fri/8

Expression Center for New Media "Strange Tales" (shorts program) 2:45. "At the Molehills of Madness" (shorts program) 5. It's All about You 7:15. Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth 9:30.

Sat/9

Expression Center for New Media Love on the Run 12:30. Listen with Pain 2:45. Two Days till Tomorrow 5. The New Woman 7:15. Cookers 9:30.

Sun/10

Expression Center for New Media "Chock Full of Notes" (shorts program) 12:30. Living in Missouri 2:45. The Journeyman 5. you don't know what I got 7. 97 Brooks 9.

Parkway Party 7 3. South West 9 6. Blue Spring 9.

Opening

Big Fat Liar Malcolm in the Middle's Frankie Muniz stars as a kid who seeks revenge on an idea-stealing Hollywood producer. (1:28) Century Plaza, Jack London, Shattuck.

Chop Suey Photographer and filmmaker Bruce Weber's inventively edited film charts the rise of a teenager from anonymous wrestler to star model; it's also an autobiographical work that looks back on Weber's own career. (1:39) Castro.

Collateral Damage Schwarzenegger! Terrorists! Explosions! Catchphrases! (1:55) Alexandria, Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Galaxy, Grand Lake, Stonestown, UA Berkeley.

Now Rose Hotel Director Abel Ferrara is no stranger to low-budget direction, but low-budget sci-fi – in this 1998 adaptation of a William Gibson short story – poses particular problems. New Rose Hotel aims to make a virtue of bypassing the empty flash it can't afford (its use of high-tech gadgetry crests with slightly modified Palm Pilots), but Ferrara doesn't have much in the way of visual ambition. He's basically provided Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe with an opportunity to indulge in extended improv-esque bullshit sessions with each other. The murky plot – matched by Ken Kelsch's cheap noir camera work – involves Walken and Dafoe's betrayal by a prostitute (Asia Argento) whom they've corralled into a get-rich-quick espionage scheme. Hotel is a typical Ferrara trip into tortured masculinity: men suffering as they fuck and drink, because, hey, it's a tough life fucking and drinking all the time. (1:32) Roxie. (Huston)

Rollerball The remake of the 1975 futuristic thriller about a world that revolves around ultraviolent sporting events finally makes it into theaters, with Chris Klein (who's no James Caan) in the James Caan role. (1:37) Century Plaza, Empire, Jack London, UA Berkeley.

*Shiri See Movie Clock, page 102. (2:15) Lumiere.

Storytelling See "It's Only Words," page 44. (1:27) Embarcadero, Shattuck.

*Straight Outta Hunters Point It's highly probable that no one but Kevin Epps could have made a film like Straight outta Hunters Point. The first-time director was in a unique position to cover H.P.'s murderous turf wars between the Big Block and Westmob gangs; Epps grew up in the West Point projects and still lives in H.P. A onetime street hustla, Epps is on his way to becoming a role model for future independent filmmakers from the hood. He studied film at San Francisco State University and the Film Arts Foundation, gofering on other people's projects and working on cable-access TV before hooking up with editor Joshua Callaghan and making SOHP. Characterized by its intense handheld camera work and poignant portrayals of Hunters Point residents, the 63-minute documentary – set to an all-H.P. rap soundtrack – digs past the superficiality of exploitative media headlines to reveal the concrete roots of a troubled (but proud) inner-city community. (1:00) Red Vic. (Eric K. Arnold)

Ongoing

Amélie (1:55) Albany, Clay, Orinda, Piedmont.

American Adobo (1:52) Opera Plaza.

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

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

Beijing Bicycle Simply dressed in natural-light cinematography, Wang Xioshuai's new film adds contemporary color to the neorealism of Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief. The screenplay cleverly complicates De Sica's notion of thievery – an unseen act of theft forces stubborn country boy Guei (Cui Lin) and insolent city boy Jian (Zhou Xun) to share ownership of a bicycle – yet it also falls victim to a sentimentality that weakens the sting of its initial class commentary. Wang Feng's score supplies an effectively light, ringing percussive note when Jian first encounters his romantic pedal partner, Qin (Zhou Xun), but elsewhere, the music is intrusive and much too sweet. By the time Qin's temper causes trouble for both boys and their bike, Beijing Bicycle has become a generic art-film vehicle, and its alley misadventures have reached a dramatic dead end. (1:43) Lumiere. (Huston)

Birthday Girl A lonely, introverted bank clerk (Ben Chaplin) sends away for a Russian mail-order bride and winds up with a glamorous glasnost sweetheart (Nicole Kidman). When two of her "friends" (Mathieu Kassovitz and Vincent Cassel) from the old country suddenly show up, however, the dream girl's presence turns his life into a nightmare. Playing its first third as a satire of your average Joe's ideal woman (she innocently embraces your kinky fantasies, and she doesn't speak English!), the movie, with its unconventional rhythm and Kidman's impressive near-silent performance, initially seems to suggest something off the beaten track. Then the mysterious strangers set the watery noir plot into proper motion, and all atmospherics and characterizations give way to your basic Hitchcock 101 story mechanics. Director Jez Butterworth and his cast try their best to add spark to the film's ho-hum suspense twists and turns, but it's only a matter of time before the candles on this Birthday cake fizzle out. (1:33) Century Plaza, Empire, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, UA Berkeley. (Fear)

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. 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, Coronet, Emery Bay, Empire, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, UA Berkeley. (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, 1000 Van Ness, UA Berkeley. (Gerhard)

Charlotte Gray (2:00) Four Star.

*The Count of Monte Cristo A strapping and illiterate naïf (Jim Caviezel) is set up for charges of treason by his aristocratic "friend" Fernand (Guy Pearce) and sent to a prison where time is signified by the warden's anniversary beatings. A fellow inmate (Richard Harris) teaches him reading and swordplay, and the young man escapes and starts issuing some serious payback. This latest take on the old warhorse (this is the 17th big-screen adaptation of Alexandre Dumas's classic novel) certainly boasts the best hyperbolic tag line of the bunch ("Count on ... revenge!"), but its real strength is in wisely playing the already thrilling story straight. The usual modern audience concessions – flavor-of-the-month teen stars, martial arts "reimaginings" – are jettisoned in favor of old-fashioned yarn spinning. Director Kevin Reynolds keeps up the pace nicely, while Caviezel's swashbuckling and Pearce's camp Basil Rathbone homage of sneers and vowel-slithering suggest that this generation may get some new matinee idols thrown into the bargain as well. (1:58) Colma, Galaxy, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon, Shattuck. (Fear)

Dinner Rush (1:40) Balboa.*The Endurance (1:33) Rafael.

*Gosford Park (2:17) Albany, Four Star, Metreon, Metro, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, Piedmont.

I Am Sam (2:13) Century Plaza, Jack London, Metreon, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness.

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)

*Italian for Beginners An ensemble of lonely misfit adults – a pastor being badgered by his bitter predecessor, a beautician who seems to break down frequently during haircuts, a baker who can't help dropping the goods, and a few expected others – flicker around the flame of a night-school Italian class. When the teacher dies of a heart attack early on, one of the students, a brutish soccer fan-failed restaurateur happily takes over in this first Dogme movie by a woman, director Lone Scherfig. The waning movement could use the sweetness and light that this romantic comedy provides. Its cast of characters may be a little cute, but by the time they get together for a well-earned metaphorical big group hug in the form of an Italian-class field trip, you'll forget your fear of handheld camera. (1:39) Embarcadero. (Gerhard)

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (1:17) Century Plaza.

Kate and Leopold (1:48) Balboa.

*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) Opera Plaza, Rafael, Shattuck. (Robert Avila)

Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (1:45) Colma, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

Lantana (2:00) Embarcadero, Shattuck.

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

*The Man Who Wasn't There (1:56) Balboa.

*Metropolis (1:44) Opera Plaza, Shattuck.

*Monster's Ball Marc Forster's Monster's Ball is a small-town melodrama sobered by a pervasive pall of meaning; it communicates so much thorny pain around such genuinely discomfiting issues that the hard-won modest uplift at the end feels utterly genuine. In a contemporary Southern state where racial power divisions haven't changed much at all, death row guard Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton) crosses paths with the Leticia (Halle Berry, the widow of a former prisoner. Both Hank and Leticia are in desperate straits, each bottomlessly needy without the faintest idea of how or where to start getting help. The impulse toward mutual kindness is so unexpected and foreign, particularly as it stretches over near-impassable racial-economic lines, that neither one really knows what to do with the other for some time. The movie's eventual narrative gist is rife with tabloid TV-movie contrivance (Racist Prison Guard Gets Nice by Going Steady with Dead Inmate's Old Lady). But it works because the script and direction are so painfully attuned to the hurdles that inarticulate people driven (or frozen) by clenched rage must overcome before a happy ending is even remotely possible. (1:48) Act I and II, Bridge, Jack London. (Harvey)

The Mothman Prophecies One of America's best urban legends/unexplained phenomena – Point Pleasant, W.Va.'s doom-forecasting "Mothman," said to have visited locals prior to a deadly accident in 1967 – gets the big-screen treatment, with mixed results. This contemporary-set version of the tale concerns a big-city journalist (Richard Gere) who, after his wife's tragic, unsettling death, finds himself inexplicably drawn to a certain small town on the W.Va.-Ohio border. Turns out strange things are afoot in Point Pleasant, with eerie visions and voices plaguing the townsfolk. Director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) manages to build enough intrigue and atmosphere to make for spookiness early on, but the increasingly repetitious Mothman (how many sinister phone calls can one phantom make?) eventually settles into early Duchovny-era X Files territory, topping things off with an unnecessarily hokey Twilight Zone-ish final twist. (1:35) Alexandria, Colma, Galaxy, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, Shattuck. (Eddy)

*Mulholland Drive (2:36) Balboa, 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. (Fear)

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

Orange County (1:23) Kabuki, Metreon.

Piñero (1:35) Lumiere.

*The Royal Tenenbaums (2:25) Emery Bay, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Presidio, Shattuck.

The Shipping News (2:00) Four Star, Galaxy, Oaks.

Slackers After three college con artists are caught cheating by campus misfit "Cool Ethan" (Rushmore's Jason Schwartzman ... Max Fischer, why hast thou forsaken us?), the trio is blackmailed into getting Ethan the girl of his dreams (model-actor-professional waif James King). Complications arise when the scam's head perpetrator (Devon Sawa) falls in love with the object of Ethan's affections. I am not sure whom the filmmakers thought they would fool by trotting out stale raunch and every recycled bad gag of the last 20 years and calling it comedy. Less a film than a finger painting of fecal matter with a light projecting behind it, Slackers, with its parade of post-American Pie freeze-dried offensiveness, is nothing but a gag-reflex assault that requires a long, hot shower and quarantine time postscreening posthaste. (1:27) Colma, 1000 Van Ness. (Fear)

Snow Dogs (1:39) Century Plaza, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

Vanilla Sky (2:30) 1000 Van Ness.

A Walk to Remember (1:42) Century Plaza, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck, Stonestown.

*Werckmeister Harmonies If Antonioni had directed Eraserhead, it might have looked a little something like Hungarian filmmaker-cum-demented-genius Béla Tarr's latest opus of paranoia and demagoguery gone awry. Set sometime in the late 20th century, the stream-of-consciousness "narrative" revolves around a man (Lars Rudolph), a town, a malcontent mob, and a mysterious circus that acts as the catalyst for an inevitable boiling point. The filmmaker's emphasis on long takes and ethereal gliding cameras contribute to the nightmarish atmosphere of postindustrial malaise, a world in which an apocalypse is only a 12-minute tracking shot away. Shot in ultrasaturated black-and-white stock, every ray of light, shadow, and shape within the film's images seems steeped in a hallucinogenic beauty that beckons even as it decomposes into murky darkness. Four years in the making, Harmonies may be the first masterpiece of the new millennium; profoundly disturbing and unforgettable, it's an art film experience that, once seen, sears itself permanently onto the mind's eye. (2:25) Castro, Rafael. (Fear)

*What Time is it There? More than 60 minutes into Tsai Ming-liang's What Time Is It There?, François Truffaut's 400 Blows briefly takes over the entire screen, as Truffaut's alter ego, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), steals a glass of milk. This theft sets in motion a series of similar but sexually charged covert actions by Time's central fate-crossed pair. In Taipei, Tsai's own alter ego, Hsiao Kang (Lee Kang-sheng), has sex with a prostitute. In Paris, Shiang-chyi (Chen Shiang-chyi) soon shares a bed – and an extended, unnerving stare-down – with a fellow female traveler from Hong Kong. Paris may be seven hours behind Taipei, but the real answer to the question of the movie's title is "Tsai time": an ever expanding yet selectively compressed series of moments – including 1992's Rebels of the Neon God and 1996's The River – that show (not tell) the stories of a family. And Tsai's clock only seems slow if you're a passive viewer. Time unites Tsai with phosphorescent cinematographer Benoît Delhomme, and it's suspiciously obvious that the distant "romance" between watch vendor Hsiao Kang and Shiang-chyi stands in for the director's relationship to European movies. A master of portraiture who just happens to let actors move through his "stills," in Time Tsai further hones his trademark field-of-vision magic tricks. (1:56) Lumiere, Rafael, Shattuck. (Huston)

Rep picks

*'Eurotika!' See Critic's Choice. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.