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film

Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Meryl Cohen, David Fear, Dina Gachman, Susan Gerhard, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Patrick Macias, and Chuck Stephens. Film intern is Summers Henderson. See Rep Clock, page 88, and Movie Clock, page 89, for theater information.

 

Opening

Crossroads Though she's not a girl, not yet a woman, Britney Spears manages to make her big-screen debut in this road-trip dramedy. (1:34) Century Plaza, Empire, Jack London, Shattuck.

Diamond Men Diamond seller Eddie Miller (Robert Forster) has worked the same circuit of Pennsylvania towns for 30 years. After a heart attack leaves the recent widower and his million-dollar line uninsurable, Eddie strikes a desperate bargain with his employer: they'll consider keeping him if he breaks in the new kid, obnoxious vending-machine supplier Bobby Walker (veteran "new kid" Donnie Wahlberg). If Eddie's prospects look bleak, Willy Loman he isn't. Bobby, cocky but inept, soon settles into loving admiration for the seasoned salesman, long stretches on the road shortening the generational divide. Grateful for his mentorship, Bobby decides to find Eddie a mate, enlisting the help of Tina (Jasmine Guy), proprietor of a back-roads massage parlor. Awkwardness ensues, followed quickly by a budding romance. Bobby's pet project undermines Eddie's professional caution, however, making the diamond men easy prey for crooks. Writer-director Daniel M. Cohen's debut film draws inspiration from the family trade and conveys an authentic small-town perspective (something its low-budget quality only enhances). If the buddy story feels more contrived and crudely androcentric, Forster and Wahlberg sell the film with a competence and decency that respect the buyer. (1:38) Rafael. (Robert Avila)

Fat Choi Spirit It just isn't Chinese New Year without a Chinese New Year movie, and this one has all the right elements: director Johnnie To, stars Andy Lau and Lau Ching-Wan, and a plot that mixes romantic comedy with mahjong. (1:40) Four Star.

Hart's War See Movie Clock, page 89. (2:03) Colma, Emery Bay, Empire, Jack London, UA Berkeley.

*Iris The late novelist and philosopher Dame Iris Murdoch was regarded as one of the most brilliant women of her generation, and so it was especially tragic when Alzheimer's disease stole her capacity for expression. Richard Eyre's film seeks to depict the uncommon love between Iris and her husband, John Bayley, but it succeeds more in exposing the devastating effects of her disease. The actors who portray Iris, the enchanting Kate Winslet and legendary Judi Dench, deftly convey the vitality and wit that made her so widely loved in her prime. But as her condition worsens, we are subjected to continual cuts between past and present, which are intended to provide a backdrop for John's devotion but feel mostly like an eery glimpse into Iris's own mental regression. Her deterioration is quite painful to watch, but Eyre does manage to reveal enough of Murdoch's unique philosophy to intrigue those unfamiliar with her work. (1:30) Embarcadero. (Cohen)

John Q Director Nick Cassavetes clumsily guides a mostly uninvolved cast through this story of one man standing up to the system. John Q. Archibald (Denzel Washington) is the father whose HMO won't cover his son's heart transplant and who has to take the E.R. hostage in order to squeeze a lifesaving operation (by a simpering James Woods) out of the stingy hospital administrator (a bitchy Anne Heche). Outside, the crotchety old police lieutenant (a twitching Robert Duvall) tries to hold back the gun-happy, publicity-seeking police chief (a slavering Ray Liotta), while inside, a roundtable of Hollywood character types somehow find time to discuss national medical policy. John Q wants to be the clarion call to health care reform, but the film is so dominated by exploitation, tearjerking, and good old-fashioned TV-movie-of-the-week melodrama that it's unlikely to lead to political intervention. Still, Denzel Washington is a captivating screen presence, and he brings real heart and soul to the role of the honest, working-class everyman who passionately loves his son. (1:58) Alexandria, Colma, Emery Bay, Empire, Jack London, Shattuck. (Henderson)

*Return to Never Land Disney loses one of the nevers and drops a few bombs on the world of Peter Pan in this sentimental follow-up to the 1953 version. Slotting the story into WWII gives the filmmakers a chance to make Wendy's daughter Jane a dour survivor, a child of today, who's too busy being bummed out to believe in her mother's stories of fairy dust – until Captain Hook whisks her away from the blitzkrieg she's trying to cope with and lifts her spirits with a few sword fights. The contemporary tunes have their moments, particularly the They Might Be Giants-penned accompaniment to the Lost Boys sequence, and the animation is charmingly retro. Homework assignment: Find out what happened the year after this film was set. (Walt Disney Studios welcomed the cold war into Hollywood with a lockout of the Conference of Studio Unions, ushering in a half century of awful, patriotic film posturing.) (1:12) Century Plaza, Jack London, Oaks. (Gerhard)

Scotland, PA. See "King James," page 37. (1:42) Lumiere.

Super Troopers Five-man comedy troupe Broken Lizard stars in this comedy about goofy Vermont state troopers. (1:40) Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Galaxy, Jack London, Stonestown, UA Berkeley.

The Town is Quiet See "Quiet Riot," page 38. (2:22) Lumiere, Shattuck.

 

Ongoing

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

American Adobo (1:52) Opera Plaza.

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

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

Beijing Bicycle (1:43) Shattuck.

Big Fat Liar (1:28) Century Plaza, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.

Birthday Girl (1:33) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

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, 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) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, UA Berkeley. (Gerhard)

Charlotte Gray (2:00) Four Star.

Chop Suey Turning his camera(s) on such subjects as butch lounge singer Frances Faye, Vogue legend Diana Vreeland, and a young wrestler with an Adonis physique, photographer-documentarian Bruce Weber (Let's Get Lost) shoots his film load and waxes philosophical on the concept of the muse. Ostensibly a tone poem on desire and artistry, the film is engrossed with viewing hard bodies through a lens lecherously, a preoccupation that takes center stage over the narration's notions of beauty and the being. You can't deny that Weber has an impeccable eye regarding his subjects, but the mixture of blatherings and beefcake bouillabaisse doesn't make for an insightful self-portrait; the silence concerning Weber's own sexuality amid the homoerotic tableaux he creates just leaves a lot of eye candy to ogle. Taken as a tour of the self-conscious phallus behind the poetic eye, Chop Suey makes for a passable Aperture Babylon. As a cinéma vérité meal, however, it's just an empty Chinese box. (1:39) Castro. (Fear)

Collateral Damage These days the politics of action movies – so simple during the cold war days – are just too complicated. As Collateral Damage illustrates, homeland terror (a bomb explodes in downtown L.A., killing Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife and son) feels too familiar and realistic to have a place in entertainment, and matters aren't made any better by the fact that the rest of the film – standard one-man army fare, in which Schwarzenegger battles South American jungles, waterfalls, machine gun-toting rebels, and mine fields in his fevered quest for revenge – is by and large completely ludicrous. Some inventive violence (including a pretty horrific scene that involves a snake and some poor guy's windpipe) is about the only thing Damage has going for it; though director Richard Davis tries to give dimension to the villains (yeah, they hate America, but it's America's own fault!), even without the badge of bad timing, nobody'd be calling this one an instant classic. (1:55) Alexandria, Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Galaxy, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon, Stonestown, UA Berkeley. (Eddy)

*The Count of Monte Cristo (1:58) Colma, Galaxy, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon, Shattuck.*The Endurance (1:33) Rafael.

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

I Am Sam (2:13) Balboa, Century Plaza, 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, Embarcadero. (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)

*Kandahar (1:25) Rafael.

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

Lantana (2:00) Embarcadero, Shattuck.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (3:00) 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) Colma, Galaxy, Kabuki, Metreon, Shattuck. (Eddy)

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

New Rose Hotel (1:32) Roxie.

*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) Kabuki.

Piñero (1:35) Lumiere.

Rollerball (1:37) Century Plaza, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, UA Berkeley.

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

*Shiri Director Kang Je-gyu's Shiri, a runaway hit in Korea, achieves the nearly impossible feat of melding stellar action sequences (forget slo-mo: lots of running, lots of shooting, and some spectacular exploding body parts) with an of-the-moment political story line. Elite South Korean secret agents Ryu (Han Suk-gyu) and Lee (Song Kang-ho) are frustrated by their inability to capture North Korean assassin Hee (Kim Yun-jin), who has emerged from a mysterious hiatus right around the time that a liquid explosive is snatched by a North Korean terrorist group led by Park (a scene-stealing Choi Min-sik, who's far more than a one-dimensional villain). Even that most dreaded part of any action film – the romantic subplot, here between Ryu and his girlfriend (she owns an exotic fish store, and fish and fish tanks are one of Shiri's key motifs) – is handled with style and ultimately proves intrinsic to the film's main story line. Word on the street is that Korean movies are the next big thing, and Shiri offers substantial proof that the rumors are true. (2:15) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)

Slackers (1:27) Colma, 1000 Van Ness.

Snow Dogs (1:39) Century Plaza, 1000 Van Ness.

Storytelling Todd Solondz's new film has two chapters, "Fiction" and "Non-fiction." "Fiction," as you might expect, deals with truth – a college fiction-writing class's stories, which are, for the most part, literal translations of what's happening in the students' lives. "Non-fiction" is, of course, riddled with lies – sliding itself down a slippery slope of reality-"shaping" in documentary filmmaking. Solondz, who reinvented the "rude" in Welcome to the Dollhouse and exposed the "nice" in Happiness, toys with the "correct" here. Fiction may turn victimhood into bad art, but the presence of American Movie's Mike Schank in the "Non-fiction" segment reminds us that nonfiction turns its very subjects into victims in the process. Which exploiters are worse? Solondz has chosen sides. But he's built a film with so many layers, positions, retellings, and substories that it's impossible to unravel their purposes on first viewing. Only one thing is clear: his anger feels just as two-dimensional as the characters in each of his gorgeously antisocial films. (1:27) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Gerhard)

Vanilla Sky (2:30) Shattuck.

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

*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) Rafael. (Huston)

 

Rep picks

*'Eurotika!' The BBC-produced Eurotika! is a series of half-hour programs spotlighting various trends and trendmongers from the roughly two-decade period before hardcore porn, home video, disappearing drive-ins, and skittish financiers dealt Eurosploitation its final death blows. Among the nine episodes Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is showing as its daytime film program this spring, the best spotlight filmmakers whose output was singular/limited enough to suit this short-format scrutiny. Gallic "sexy vampire" specialist Jean Rollin, Moroccan-born comic-book artist turned erotic-horror maximalist José Larraz, dead-at-26 Brit wunderkind Michael Reeves (Witchfinder General), and baroque softcore eye-candy purveyors Max Pecas and Jose Benazeraf are all given due attention here. Less successful are the overcompressed overviews of Italian and Spanish genre horror (the latter focuses so much on werewolf maestro Paul Naschy that it should have simply profiled him), and the range of Jess Franco's 200-plus feature oeuvre gets shortchanged. Somewhat repetitious in thematic focus – you'll come away thinking 60 percent of the era's movies were naked-lesbian-bloodsucker sagas – and in use of clips (no doubt due to print and legal-availability issues), Eurotika! is nonetheless a hip package of interviews, excerpts, and historical trivia. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Harvey)

'Forty Years in Focus: The Queer Avant-Garde,' See "Black, White, and Blue," page 38. San Francisco Art Institute.

'Obscure Love and Death,' See "Black, White, and Blue," page 38. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.