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 87, and Movie Clock, page 88, for theater information.
San Francisco International
Asian American Film Festival
The 20th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival takes place through Sun/17. Venues are the AMC Kabuki 8, 1881 Post, SF; New PFA Theater, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Camera 3 Cinemas, Second St at San Carlos, San Jose. For tickets call (415) 478-2277 or go to www.naatanet.org/festival. All times are pm. For commentary see last week's Bay Guardian.
Kabuki My Journey, My Islam 1. Paper Angels 6:45. Betelnut Beauty 7. A Passage to Ottawa 7:15. "Parental Guidance Not Suggested" (shorts program) 9. Jan Dara 9:30. TBA 9:45.
New PFA Theater Daughter from Danang 7:30.
Kabuki Green Dragon 7. "All Amateur Ecstasy" (shorts program) 7:15. TBA 7:30.
Camera 3 A Passage to Ottawa 12:15. Daughter from Danang 2:45. "Salaam Mira! The Short Films of Mira Nair" (shorts program) 5. Betelnut Beauty 7:15. "All Amateur Ecstasy" (shorts program) 9:45.
Camera 3 Obachan's Garden 1:15. In Time Sounds 4. Green Dragon 6:30. Demons 9:30.
Harrison's Flowers Woe, woe to the man with a dangerous job who agrees to hit the field "one last time." So it goes with Pulitzer-winning photographer Harrison Lloyd (David Strathairn), renowned for his pictures of the world's war-torn trouble spots. He's just vowed to stop leaving wife Sarah (Andie MacDowell) and their kids behind for long perilous stretches when he disappears amid the erupting civil conflict of 1991 Bosnia. He's presumed dead, but she snaps tether enough to get on a plane and try getting close to the gruesome ethnic-cleansing terrain where he was last seen a near-impossible quest reluctantly abetted by grizzled photojournos Adrien Brody and Brendan Gleeson, along with Harrison's friend Elias Koteas. The first English-language feature by French writer-director Elie Chouraqui, Harrison's Flowers is at once honorable, reasonably hard-hitting, and fundamentally flawed. It's good in this uncommonly hawkish season (both on-screen and off) to see a firmly nonglorifying civilian's-eye view of war as hell. Yet the impressively mounted production never quite transcends the banal commercial compromise of putting a glam WASP first-worlder at its center. MacDowell is better than usual, but she's still a lightweight, technically undepthed performer, one who can't help coming off a little Susan Hayward-ish in her sufferings and empathy amid so much gritty human disaster. (2:02) Century Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Ice Age The Triassic, Jurassic, and Late Cretaceous have been thoroughly picked over Spielberg and his many descendants, but the last Ice Age which gave us the woolly mammoth, the saber-toothed tiger, and the giant ground sloth has enough fossil left in it to fuel a whole new period in movies. This early entry into the genre opens auspiciously, with a determined squirrel setting off the entire continent-shifting chain of events by attempting to bury an acorn in hard-packed ice. Chris Wedge's cool 3-D computer animation style can compare with the latest from Pixar. But his story arc feels almost as old as the 10,000-year-old era that spawned it: a mammoth and his slothful friend (voiced by Ray Romano and John Leguizamo, respectively, in the Shrek and Donkey roles) set off to save a human child from saber-toothed tigers (including one who joins them, voiced by Denis Leary). The laughs are sitcom-ready and the outcome, history. (1:24) Alexandria, Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Grand Lake, Jack London, Stonestown, UA Berkeley. (Gerhard)
Jung (War): In the Land of the Mujaheddin See "Retrench!," page 40. (1:54) Roxie.
Kissing Jessica Stein Adapted by its leading actors from their stage play, director Charles Herman-Wurmfield's feature is the WASPiest NYC Jewish romantic comedy since Crossing Delancey, and the story's gender-preference-identity-crisis gist is about as full of depth as it would be on an episode of Friends. None of which prevents this breezy movie from being a audience-pleasing experience, but those in search of something more than an indie-flick sitcom won't be among the most pleased. The title character (Jennifer Westfeldt) works at a publishing house and endures the usual parade of loser boy-men dates. Her attention is perked by a personal ad that quotes Rilke but the problem, ahem, is that it's a woman-seeking-woman ad. She pursues anyway and winds up in a tortuously tentative relationship with art gallery manager Helen (Heather Juergensen), the sticking point being Jessica's reluctance to "go" lesbian and terror of breaking the news to her friends and family. One thing that's nice about Kissing is its last-lap concession that in the Big City, changing partners, remaining friends, and shuttling about the Kinsey Scale can get to be a less than big deal. But a more conventional predictability dominates most of the progress here, with laughter and tears professionally extracted at familiar junctures. Also see "The Facts of Life," page 38. (1:47) Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Harvey)
The Most Fertile Man in Ireland See Movie Clock, page 85. (1:32) Rafael.
Resident Evil Zombie alert! Milla Jovovich stars alongside a passel of undead in this video game-based action thriller. (1:40) Century Plaza, Colma, Emery Bay, Galaxy, Jack London, UA Berkeley.
Showtime Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy star as buddy cops who become stars thanks to a Rene Russo-produced reality TV show. (1:35) Colma, Emery Bay, Jack London, Orinda, Stonestown, UA Berkeley.
State Property This urban crime drama features a cameo by Jay-Z as a gangster named "Untouchable." (1:28) Galaxy.
All about the Benjamins Hip-hop artist turned actor Ice Cube hits the big screen once again (as star, co-screenwriter, and coproducer) for this crime-caper comedy about a Miami bounty hunter looking to strike it big. Though Benjamins falls short of the originality and comedic genius achieved by Cube's 1995 hit Friday, it does boast some serious laughs thanks to the improvisational talent of up-and-coming comedian Mike Epps. Epps, who has Cube to thank for his big-screen debut in the 1999 sequel Next Friday, excels in his role as the comedic fall guy to Cube's now-classic straight man. Cube can also take credit for jump-starting the career of first-time director Kevin Bray, who shows promise as a feature-film helmer, despite the fact that his music video background is clumsily obvious in the dizzying digital effects he tends to overemploy. (1:30) Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Cohen)
Amélie (1:55) Albany, Clay, Piedmont.
A Beautiful Mind (2:09) Balboa, Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, UA Berkeley.
Beauty and the Beast: The Large Format Cinema Special Edition (1:30) Metreon Imax.
Big Fat Liar (1:28) Century Plaza, 1000 Van Ness.
Black Hawk Down (2:23) 1000 Van Ness.
*The Count of Monte Cristo (1:58) Galaxy, Kabuki, Metreon, Shattuck.
Dragonfly (1:55) Century Plaza, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
*The Endurance (1:33) Metreon.
Escaflowne It seems like audiences have two kinds of anime movies to choose from: there are high-quality original works made especially for the cinema (Perfect Blue, Jin-Roh), and then there are less-impressive products made primarily for fans who have already consumed the TV show, the manga comics, the toys, and lord knows what else. A halfhearted retread of a much better 1996 television series, Escaflowne sadly belongs to this "for fans only" camp. A bored high school girl finds herself whisked from her mundane life in Tokyo to a war-torn parallel world called Gaia. Turns out the girl is the fabled Wing Goddess of prophecy and gets to pilot a robotlike giant suit of living armor called Escaflowne. There are some serious talents behind the scenes (creator Shoji Kawamori, composer Yoko Kanno), but the whole thing feels lackluster, and aside from a striking opening action sequence, the animation seldom impresses. Be you a fan or a newbie to the world of anime and Escaflowne, much depends on how you feel about dialogue like "Rise, dragon armor!" (1:36) Galaxy. (Macias)
40 Days and 40 Nights (1:33) Colma, Kabuki, Metreon, Metro, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness.
*Gosford Park (2:17) Colma, Four Star, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, Piedmont, Shattuck, Vogue.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2:32) Oaks.
I Am Sam (2:13) Balboa, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness.
In the Bedroom (2:26) Act I and II, Lumiere.
*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 (1:39) Embarcadero, Shattuck.
John Q (1:58) Colma, Empire, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
Lantana (2:00) Balboa, Opera Plaza, Shattuck.
*Last Orders Based on an excellent novel by Graham Swift, Last Orders was adapted and directed by Australian Fred Schepisi (Six Degrees of Separation), and while there's nothing groundbreaking, let alone remotely hip, about the film, it's a well-crafted piece of work. The death of "master butcher" Jack Dodds (Michael Caine) has pulled together his old drinking buddies for a long day's traveling pub crawl and coastal ash-scattering. His adopted son, Vince (Ray Winstone), is along as designated driver, alongside divorced bookie Lucky (Bob Hoskins), undertaker Vic (Tom Courtenay), and failed boxer Lenny (David Hemmings), all Jack's mates from way back. Last Orders is one of those films in which "nothing happens" in a chugging-narrative-engine, cathartic-explosion sense, yet everything is revealed or perhaps just enough to leave you wanting more, wishing the characters might stick around for another round or three. Better still, the movie has a generosity toward ordinary lives' accumulative errata that considers some quiet desperation as a given but refuses to admit that tragedy or transcendent uplift must then result. (1:49) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (3:00) Colma, Coronet, Grand Lake, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, UA Berkeley.
*Metropolis The best thing about Metropolis, aside from its considerable pedigree it's based on a 1949 comic by Osamu "God of Manga" Tezuka, with a script by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) and direction by the ingenious Rintaro (X) is its startling anachronism and defiance of trend. A technically brilliant, wide-eyed-innocent, jazz-age vision of what makes cities and the love for technology tick, the film makes it seem as if Blade Runner had never happened, let alone Fritz Lang's Metropolis or even Otomo's own Akira. Someone is conducting strange experiments in the megacity of Metropolis, and a detective and his son are sent in to unravel the crime. Saddled with a robot detective, the pair gets mixed up in the machinations of the rich and powerful as well as some Che Guevara-worshiping revolutionaries and a strange, amnesiac robot girl who is wanted by all. While the story stays all-ages simple, the visuals come with fantastic ambition, and in the end Metropolis offers a vital retro-future perfect for equal amounts of contemplation and escape. (1:44) Four Star. (Macias)
*Monsoon Wedding Director Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay!) returns to contemporary India but shifts her focus to the tribulations of upper-middle-class Punjabis. At the center of Monsoon Wedding is a multiday, traditional Indian marriage ceremony that gathers family and friends for feasting, celebration, and rituals. The film's sprawling, multicharacter story adroitly weaves together numerous intersecting lives: the bride, who is really in love with an already married man; the father, who is terrified his son is gay; the cousin, who must confront the childhood trauma of sexual abuse by her uncle; and the wedding planner, who is falling in love with the family maid. By compressing so much drama and conflict into three days, Nair treads dangerously close to soap opera, but she's saved by some intense, honest performances and a style that captures the poetry and lyricism of real life. (1:54) Albany, Embarcadero. (Henderson)
*Monster's Ball (1:48) Act I and II, Bridge, Century Plaza, Jack London.
Moulin Rouge (2:06) Balboa, Castro.
*Mulholland Drive (2:36) Castro.
*No Man's Land (1:37) Rafael.
Piñero (1:35) Opera Plaza, Rafael.
*Queen of the Damned (1:41) Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
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)
*Return to Never Land (1:12) Century Plaza, Galaxy, Jack London.
*The Royal Tenenbaums (2:25) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.
*Scratch It's hard not to like Scratch, a documentary that happily deconstructs the art of hip-hop DJing and scratch music with gregariousness and loving care. Opening with a shot of the Brooklyn Bridge as Gangstarr's "DJ Premier in Deep Concentration" plays in the background, Scratch quickly breaks down into several major categories ("elements," "making beats," "digging," etc.). Director Doug Pray doles out countless shots of San Francisco landmarks like Amoeba Music and Storyville, but his heavy-handed focus on local DJs and events isn't too far off the mark, considering the Bay Area's international reputation as the home of turntablism. With a few exceptions (Philadelphia's Cash Money being the most glaring omission), Scratch features most of the big names, including QBert, DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist, the X-ecutioners, and DJ Premier. While Pray's 1996 film Hype!, a look at the Seattle rock scene that spawned Nirvana, achieved an insider's perspective that never quite emerges here, Scratch is still a good primer on a vital subculture. (1:31) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Mosi Reeves)
*The Son's Room Nanni Moretti has made his name as a self-conscious, self-reflexively comic character in films often about himself, but fans of his international hit Caro diario should be warned that the frothy layer has been removed from this ale. Read no further if you don't want the spoiler: Moretti plays Giovanni, the well-adjusted father of a comfortable family whose son unexpectedly dies in a scuba-diving accident. Comparisons to In the Bedroom, frequent as they are, are actually appropriate, but where that film displayed its red-white-and-blues by grafting revenge and violence onto its story, The Son's Room manages to chip away at the icy grieving process without the heavy-handed plot maneuvers. Its metaphors are simple and central: Giovanni is a psychiatrist attending to the kooky, sometimes touching neuroses of his wayward middle-class patients. So the balance and slightly comic tone dramatically shifts when Giovanni experiences his own drama. But in true Moretti style, the director can't quite let go of his optimism: Moretti cares enough about the characters to follow them to what might not be a bitter end. (1:39) Lumiere. (Gerhard)
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. (Gerhard)
*Super Troopers (1:40) Metreon.
The Time Machine H.G. Wells purists may run screaming for the exits within the first 20 minutes, when the original story's "Time Traveller" character is given a name and, worse yet, a hokey romantic reason to create his reason-defying invention. Everyone else will probably make it through this entertaining-enough-while-you're-watching-it sci-fi fantasy, directed by Simon Wells (conveniently, the great-grandson of H.G.). Guy Pearce (Memento) stars as Alexander Hartdegan, an absentminded-professor type who zips from turn-of-the-20th-century New York to the year 800,000-and-something, trying to figure out why, oh why, he can't change his tragic past. Awaiting him in the far-flung future are a peaceful, cliff-dwelling tribe, including the comely Mara (popster Samantha Mumba), and their tormenters, a C.G.'d race of human-munching monsters, led by a prosthetics-covered Jeremy "Villains 'R' Us" Irons. By the end, things are a little too reminiscent of Tim Burton's stinky Planet of the Apes remake, and what remains is yet another example of how all the special effects in the world can't make up for a movie with no soul. (1:36) Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Empire, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, UA Berkeley. (Eddy)
Training Day (2:02) Galaxy.
*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. (1:34) Castro, Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Glen Helfand)
We Were Soldiers Director Randall Wallace (scripter of Braveheart and Pearl Harbor) reteams with Mel Gibson for this patriotic look at Vietnam, focusing on the heroism and sacrifice of the men of the First Calvary during a three-day battle in 1965, the first major engagement of U.S. ground forces. Gibson leads the charge as Lt. Col. Hal Moore, the kindhearted and devout commander whose leadership style draws from the same well of paternal affection as his flawless parenting (with perfect-wife Madeleine Stowe) of a cherub-faced brood. Apparently, the army itself would be one big happy family if only people weren't shooting at them. Vietnamese soldiers look every bit the worthy adversary, though. All that worthiness on both sides gives one the impression that the cause itself was also worthy, but then, this film, based on the firsthand account by the real-life Moore and journalist Joseph Galloway, never stops to ask. The title alone answers the question "Why were we in Vietnam?" with a resounding "Duh." Formulaic battle sequences make up the greater part of this sentimental flag-waver. (2:29) Alexandria, Century Plaza, Emery Bay, Empire, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, UA Berkeley. (Robert Avila)
*'Art vs. Prison' See Critic's Choice. Artists' Television Access.
*'A Radiant Abyss: Early Films by Barbet Schroeder' If Barbet Schroeder has the intelligence to get almost any milieu just about right, his craft nonetheless resists emotional involvement, which can be either a virtue or a source of puzzlement. Belatedly cued by last year's excellent Our Lady of the Assassins, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts series rewinds to Schroeder's first features as director, finding no particular answers but a lot of characteristic inquiry. In 1970, Schroeder traipsed to Papua New Guinea for La vallée (The valley). Bulle Ogier plays an uptight French ambassador's wife whiling away privileged time buying native artifacts for boutique resale; she falls in with a group of hippies questing after a remote, possibly mythical valley that may be Paradise itself. Gradually her inhibitions are loosened by psychedelics, sexual experimentation, and the primordial jungle. The series's other remaining film is the notorious 1976 Maîtresse, a study of S-M as coolly detached as the prior year's hit Story of O was swooningly partisan. Gérard Depardieu is a young petty thief transfixed by the contradictions of his new lover (Ogier). We may cringe, but the film never blinks. The spectacle is only interesting, another insider's tour to be absorbed before Schroeder moves on, once again. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Harvey)