Arts and Entertainment
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.
Escaflowne Calling all anime fans: this film by Shoji Kawamori and Kazuki Akane tells the story of a high school girl who realizes the fate of the world is in her hands. (1:36) Galaxy.
40 Days and 40 Nights Of course, as soon as Josh Hartnett decides to give up sex for Lent, he meets the girl of his dreams. (1:33) Colma, Emery Bay, Jack London, Metro, Stonestown, UA Berkeley.
How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog Canadian director-scenarist Michael Kalesniko's comedy has been sitting on the shelf for a couple years something that's happened to a lot of release-worthy movies. Unfortunately, this isn't one of them. Kenneth Branagh how many nails in the career coffin does it take, Ken? plays a successful but cranky L.A. playwright obsessed with the endlessly barking dog next door that keeps him up nights. Of course this is just a way of avoiding deeper conflicts involving the biological alarm clock of his wife (Robin Wright Penn), mid-career creative dry-up, all-around midlife crisis, etc. Jared Harris, Johnathon Schaech, Lynn Redgrave, Peter Riegert, and Lucinda Jenney are among the supporting actors wasted in a movie that's bland yet oddly sullen and barely attention-holding no matter how low your expectations. (1:47) Galaxy, UA Berkeley. (Harvey)
I Remember Me Kim A. Snyder's documentary explores the often misunderstood illness of chronic fatigue syndrome. (1:14) Red Vic.
*Last Orders See "Senior Thesis," page 32. (1:49) Embarcadero, Shattuck.
Mean Machine Disgraced English football hero turned convict Danny Meehan (Vinnie Jones) is lured into coaching a prisoner's soccer team that's playing the guards in a fixed exhibition match. Though he's apprehensive about returning to the field, Meehan whips the ragtag group of players into shape and decides to give the "screws" a run for their money. Retailoring lockdown gridiron classic The Longest Yard, director Barry Skolnick transforms what should have been a surefire star vehicle for the scowling Jones into a flat, flavorless English pudding. Jury-rigged with hoary clichés from both prison and sports films (this just in: you can lock a man up, but you can't take away his self-respect), the film's Guy Ritchie-lite flourishes and generic dramatics don't do its charismatic star justice. By the time its climactic game commences, neither the Easter Island-profiled lead nor loads of British cheekiness can save this one-cylinder Machine from the genre penalty box. (1:39) Lumiere, Oaks. (Fear)
Ram Dass: Fierce Grace In 1997, at age 65, New Age icon and Be Here Now author Dass had a near-fatal stroke that left him partly paralyzed and afflicted by speech-impairing aphasia. His physical recovery was (and continues to be) slow, but what troubled him most was his surprising loss of faith in the secular humanist-cum-Eastern mystic spiritual beliefs he'd espoused for decades. Ultimately, however, these ordeals both humbled and strengthened him, as well as providing a new teaching focus on coping with the body's unpredictable aging processes. This new documentary by Mickey Lemle (Compassion in Exile: The Story of the 14th Dalai Lama) is more an appreciation of Dass's current against-the-odds status as elder statesman of nondenominational soul matters than it is a complete introduction to his life and ideas. That's too bad in certain respects, since some of the present-day material is plodding, while the brisk biographical back chapters which chronicle the path of Dass (né Richard Alpert) from a prominent Boston Jewish family to a Harvard professorship, his controversial psychedelic research with Timothy Leary, his transforming '67 trip to India and subsequent U.S. makeover as a higher-consciousness guru are fascinating. If you're looking for a critical perspective on Dass's popular but often derided career, look elsewhere. Nonetheless, within its limitations the film offers suitably engaging, gentle insight into a still-questing visionary mind-set. (1:33) Rafael, Roxie. (Harvey)
*The Son's Room See Critic's Choice. (1:39) Lumiere.
*Time of Favor See Movie Clock, page 89. (1:40) Opera Plaza, Rafael, Shattuck.
*Trembling Before G-d Religious fundamentalism, regardless of faith, concerns itself with the most unbendable rules. And they are rules that don't often work well in a globalized culture where gray areas abound. The interview subjects of Sandi Simcha DuBowski's handsome, sometimes stirring documentary are all people who have faced a fundamental conflict between their sexual identity as gays and lesbians and their religious affiliation as Orthodox Jews. It's a poignant struggle to be sure, but only as poignant as the person facing down the dilemma of wholesale rejection by family and community and/or creating a workable alternative. In Trembling there's a range some ultimately address the painful issue with humor, spunk, and creativity, while others truly tremble, repeatedly hurling themselves against a monolithic belief, and hurting themselves every time. Depending on your own perspective, such brave documentary moments generate a sense of annoyance, pity, or empathy. Also see "God's Spell," page 33. (1:34) Castro. (Glen Helfand)
We Were Soldiers Mel Gibson makes a war movie, because everybody's doing it. (2:29) Alexandria, Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Empire, Jack London, Presidio, UA Berkeley.
Amélie (1:55) Albany, Clay, Orinda, Piedmont.
American Adobo (1:52) Opera Plaza.
A Beautiful Mind (2:09) Alexandria, Balboa, Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, UA Berkeley.
Beauty and the Beast: The Large Format Cinema Special Edition (1:30) Metreon Imax.
Big Fat Liar (1:28) Century Plaza, Jack London, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.
Birthday Girl (1:33) 1000 Van Ness.
Black Hawk Down (2:23) Century Plaza, Coronet, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
*Brotherhood of the Wolf (2:20) UA Berkeley.
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, Rafael. (Fear)
Collateral Damage (1:55) Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Galaxy, Metreon.
*The Count of Monte Cristo (1:58) Colma, Galaxy, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon, Shattuck.
Crossroads (1:34) Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Empire, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
Diamond Men (1:38) Rafael.
Dragonfly Six months after his wife's death, Dr. Joe Darrow (Kevin Costner) still can't seem to move on. His friends worry when his work starts to slip but when he claims that she has been trying to contact him through the near-death experiences of her former patients, they think he's losing his mind. Dragonfly is billed as a supernatural thriller, which is unfamiliar territory for director Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Patch Adams), and his fresh perspective lends itself well to this untraditional story. After all, how many thrillers feature heroes who actually seek out the ghosts who are haunting them? However, the strength of such an unusual premise is lost as the film veers sharply toward an unrealistic resolution, driven (weakly) by the mushy spirituality of a nun who tells Joe that if he believes it, it will be. Needless to say, it's a far cry from "if you build it, he will come." (1:55) Century Plaza, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, UA Berkeley. (Cohen)
*The Endurance (1:33) Rafael, Red Vic.
Fat Choi Spirit (1:40) Four Star.
*Gosford Park (2:17) Albany, Colma, Emery Bay, Four Star, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, Piedmont, Vogue.
Hart's War (2:03) Colma, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
I Am Sam (2:13) Balboa, Century Plaza, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness.
In the Bedroom (2:26) Act I and II, Embarcadero.
*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 eerie 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, Shattuck. (Cohen)
*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, Shattuck. (Gerhard)
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) Colma, Emery Bay, Empire, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Henderson)
Lantana (2:00) Embarcadero, Shattuck.
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (3:00) Colma, Emery Bay, Grand Lake, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, UA Berkeley.
*The Man Who Wasn't There (1:56) Balboa.
*Metropolis (1:44) Opera Plaza.
*Monster's Ball (1:48) Act I and II, Bridge, Century Plaza, Jack London.
The Mothman Prophecies (1:35) Metreon.
*Mulholland Drive (2:36) Balboa, Rafael, Red Vic, Roxie.
*No Man's Land (1:37) Rafael.
Piñero (1:35) Opera Plaza.
*Return to Never Land (1:12) Century Plaza, Jack London, Kabuki, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness.
Rollerball (1:37) Metreon.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2:25) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Piedmont, Shattuck.
Sex with Strangers Allegedly an evenhanded look at "swingers" culture, Sex with Strangers is disappointing on all fronts: incoherent and hateful, the film offers weirdly asynchronous glimpses into the sex lives of three couples whose nonmonogamous relationships are neither good examples of swinging nor even decent examples of relationships. The recent documentary The Lifestyle offered a more realistic portrait of swingers, who are by and large a rather staid, comfortably married bunch. Sex with Strangers plunges us into a creepy, dysfunctional world of manipulative men and neurotic women whose willingness to bare their bodies and emotions to the cameras initially is a kind of pleasant shock but later becomes shockingly repulsive. While directors Joe and Harry Gantz's well-regarded HBO series Taxicab Confessions offered bizarre but sympathetic glimpses into people's private lives, Sex with Strangers is a classic exploitation documentary, complete with naive, exhibitionistic subjects who clearly don't understand the implications of sharing so much. (1:45) Lumiere. (Annalee Newitz)
Snow Dogs (1:39) Century Plaza, Grand Lake, Orinda.
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) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Gerhard)
*Super Troopers (1:40) Emery Bay, Metreon.
*Queen of the Damned "Joy-eeen me or die!" might not have quite the same ring as "Geef me that Coparah chewel!," but Jack Smith would be overjoyed to know that the late Aaliyah's final performance is worth mentioning in the same breath as Maria Montez. The glamorous rapture of Aaliyah's scenes in Queen of the Damned are matched only by Hype Williams's video for "Rock the Boat." Arnold, Mel, Bruce, and Josh may be stinking up the multiplexes with their patriotic muscle-straining he-man sweaty odor, but at least in America, Aaliyah could believe she was the queen of the damned. Aaliyah was remarkable for the gracefulness of her gestures and movement. This gracefulness was a real process of moviemaking. Those who see a "bad actress" miss the magic. Too bad their loss. Don't slander her beautiful womanliness or whatever in her that turned cheap CGI sets to beauty. Her eye saw not just beauty but incredible, delirious, druglike hallucinatory beauty. (1:41) Alexandria, Colma, Emery Bay, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, Shattuck, 1000 Van Ness, Stonestown. (Huston)
A Walk to Remember (1:42) Century Plaza.
Facing the Forest The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival presents this low-key thriller from Israeli director Daniel Wachsmann. Alex is a Ph.D. history student whose summer job as a fire watchman at an isolated observation tower unexpectedly leads him to discover archaeological evidence for a new interpretation of the Christian-Muslim conflict during the Crusades. The story of Alex's struggle to uncover the truth about this evidence, and what really happened to the watchman he's replaced, takes place against a background of tensions in multicultural Israeli society. The unusual setting in a forest and the resonance of ancient history with contemporary life give this film an interesting dimension. However, despite some strong performances, the complications get just a little complicated, the drama just verges on dramatic, and the thrills are only moderately thrilling. (1:36) Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Henderson)
*A Sigh Western audiences might think popular Chinese cinema consists of nothing but ghost stories, triad glories, and hyperkinetic wire-fu, but as filmmaker Feng Xiaogang's A Sigh proves, the country's specialty might be sublime Hollywood melodrama. A married writer (Zhang Guoli) begins having an affair with his younger assistant (Liu Pei), much to the consternation of his friends, business colleagues, and estranged wife (Xu Fan). Phenomenally successful and controversial in its homeland thanks to the film's frank look at adultery, this domestic drama avoids the usual pitfalls of the genre thanks to its amazing cast (especially Pei) and Feng's surprisingly light touch. Usually known for his broad comedies, the director here takes a toned-down approach that undercuts the story's inherent sap. Playing most of its dramatic moments in long takes minus a score and keeping the focus squarely on the human element, A Sigh tackles its heavy subject in a manner as refreshingly wispy and elegiac as its namesake. All screenings of A Sigh will feature the director and star in person. The film plays as part of the Four Star's "Celebration of Chinese Cinema" festival; other films (also featuring directors in person) include Teng Wenji's Rhapsody of Spring and Chen Guoxing's Roaring Across the Horizon. (1:55) Four Star. (Fear)