June 05, 2002


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film

Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Robert Avila, Meryl Cohen, David Fear, Dina Gachman, Susan Gerhard, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Patrick Macias, and Chuck Stephens. Film intern is Summers Henderson.

Opening

Bad Company "Bad" doesn't begin to describe this unoriginal, unfunny would-be thriller from director Joel Schumacher and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. As a buddy movie, it fails: Chris Rock (as a New Jersey ne'er-do-well whose twin brother, a CIA operative, is killed while working a top-secret case) and Anthony Hopkins (as a no-nonsense agent who trains Rock to complete his brother's assignment) display some of the worst chemistry ever committed to the screen. As a fish-out-of-water movie, it fails: the usually hilarious Rock gets maybe two chuckle-worthy lines. Adding to the mess, Bad Company's action scenes are boring – strictly ho-hum car chases and snooze-worthy shoot-outs. Worst of all, the movie's (inadvertently unfortunate) central plot point – American-hating terrorists armed with a nuke, loose in NYC – seems all the ickier when mixed with lame-ass "Shaq attack" jokes. (1:47) Jack London, Oaks. (Eddy)

*Bartleby See Movie Clock, page 102. (1:22) Lumiere, Rafael, Shattuck.

*Cherish See "Tainted Love," page 41. (1:52) Embarcadero, Shattuck.

*City of Lost Souls See Critic's Choice. (1:40) Roxie.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood Fans of Fried Green Tomatoes, Beaches, Steel Magnolias, Practical Magic, and Where the Heart Is – a.k.a., chicks – are clearly the intended audience for this sweet pic based on the bestseller by Rebecca Wells and directed by Thelma and Louise scripter Callie Khouri. Manhattan playwright Sidda Lee (Sandra Bullock, back in "lovable" mode after her dour Murder by Numbers turn) is continually confounded by the antics of her unpredictable, cocktail-swilling Southern mama, Vivi (Ellen Burstyn, played as a young woman by Ashley Judd). When a giant row threatens to drive the two apart forever, Vivi's lifelong pals – the "Ya Yas" (Maggie Smith, Fionnula Flanagan, and Shirley Knight, who get all the film's best lines) – stage a flashback-heavy intervention that sheds light on Vivi's troubled past. The story has some holes (the causes of Vivi's violent breakdown could have been further explored), and the fact that Burstyn and Judd look nothing alike makes the film's time shifts somewhat disjointing. Still, fans of you-go-girl entertainment – and/or anyone with enough fortitude to take an unbridled overload of estrogen – will have a good time with this one. (1:56) Grand Lake, Jack London, Oaks, Orinda. (Eddy)

Maryam An Iranian American teenager (Mariam Parris), well-adjusted to her hopelessly blond New Jersey suburb, has family and social world turned upside down by the hostage crisis and the simultaneous arrival of her troubled cousin Ali (David Ackert), a devout Muslim with a disturbing family secret. Writer-director Ramin Serry´s slick but uneven debut film explores a pivotal moment in U.S.-Iranian history through a high-end, made-for-TV-style melodrama. The opening titles, featuring contemporary newsreel footage thumping along to the Cars´ "Let the Good Times Roll," marks the film´s all-American aesthetic at the outset. Heartfelt performances by the principals, including Maryam´s traditional but loving parents (Shaun Toub and Shohreh Aghdashloo) fail to sustain much interest, while peripheral characters approach caricature, border on the silly, or march boldly over the line. More problematically, the script plays into the xenophobia and conformity one hopes it would challenge by isolating, and finally banishing, the only wholly (and holy) Iranian character, Ali, and affirming the middle-class moralism of his Americanized cousins. (1:30) Opera Plaza. (Avila)

*Monsturd See 8 Days a Week, page 44. (1:20) Victoria Theatre.

'(Mostly) New 35mm Films from Canyon Cinema' See 8 Days a Week, page 44. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

*Sunday Thirty years after British paratroopers opened fire on civil rights marchers in Derry, Northern Ireland, killing 13, the debate around "Bloody Sunday" still rages, as new testimonies and assessments of blame continue to appear. British television has marked the anniversary with two big-budget docudramas, one of which is making its U.S. debut here. Writer Jimmy McGovern spent three years researching a script that cleaves hard to the historical record yet makes no bones about where the real blame lies. Around the experience of marcher Leo Young (Ciaran McMenamin), whose brother died that day, McGovern weaves a straightforward tale of rabidly pumped-up British "Paras," fresh from assignment in Belfast and under the command of a ruthless General Ford (Christopher Eccleston), who descend on a peaceful, albeit illegal, march of unarmed citizens. However, the overdrawn contrasts do no more than distract from a fundamentally sound interpretation. In the end, Sunday is a well-told and powerful story whose irresistible comparison with the Israel-Palestine conflict underlines the daring of British television in airing it (just try to imagine a similar treatment by U.S. media of the Jenin incursion, even 30 years hence). (1:30) Roxie. (Avila)

*Wendigo This imaginative new horror film delicately blurs the line between paranoia and the paranormal, much as writer-director Larry Fessenden's excellent prior Habit made vampire-bitten anemia look suspiciously like a case of closet heroin addiction. Manhattan family Kim (Patricia Clarkson), George (Jake Weber), and only child, Miles (Erik Per Sullivan, the youngest brother on Malcolm in the Middle), are on their way upstate to a loaned vacation house when a buck collides with their car. That accident is upsetting enough; equally unnerving is the hostility of the local men who'd been hunting it, especially smirking Otis (John Speredakos). Signs of vandalism at the house further suggest that city folk are not especially welcome hereabouts. The excitable Miles has more bad thoughts to dwell on when an elderly Native American man – whom no one else seems to see – tells him the legend of the half-man, half-animal, all-devouring spirit. There are echoes here of Stephen King stories, Straw Dogs-style evil-redneck melodramas, and the redoubtable Blair Witch (which will probably forever hang over thrillers set in the woods). But Fessenden and his actors transcend genre convention by paying unusually sharp attention to the sources of everyday, real-world fear – we immediately grasp the fissures in the urban couple's marriage, for instance, as well as the well-intended glitches in their parenting skills. Those expecting a balls-out bloodfest will be disappointed by Wendigo's relatively small scale and limited fantasy imagery, but what it does achieve is actually more memorable/disturbing than just about any recent by-the-book horror flick. (1:30) Red Vic. (Harvey)

Ongoing

About a Boy (1:45) Century Plaza, Four Star, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, Shattuck.

Amélie (1:55) Balboa, Opera Plaza.

*The Cat's Meow (1:47) Balboa, Opera Plaza.

CQ In the 1960s, horndoggery, cold war machismo, mod fashion, and the nouveau concept of camp all found their most fruitful mutual expression in the Bondian spy flick, a genre that sired as many bastard offspring as fictional James might've. One suspects Roman Coppola knows every mylar nook and fun-fur cranny of such films firsthand, as his debut feature, CQ, is both endearing and frustrating as slavish homage to this epoch. Paris, 1969: an American editor (Jeremy Davies) is day-jobbing on Dragonfly, a softcore sci fi-spy flick à la Barbarella. When Dragonfly's director is sacked, insecure Paul finds himself expected to take over. The films CQ flatters and parodies are 100 percent style, so it's no backhanded compliment to say Coppola gets all the peripherals right. But CQ needs more than retro-design cred and psychotronic affection to hang on. As is, this sweet but very soft flashback impacts rather like a Bondian freeze-ray gun. The immediate effect is striking, but once it's over you can't remember anything happening at all. (1:40) Bridge, Shattuck. (Harvey)

Culturejam: Hijacking Commercial Culture (:58) Roxie.

Domèsticas (1:30) Rafael.

*Enigma It's 1943, and English intelligence agents must break a new Nazi code days before an imminent attack at sea. The only man who can do it is ace brainiac Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott), a neurotic code-cracker who cracked himself into a breakdown over a fellow agent (Saffron Burrows) now gone missing. Her disappearance, however, may be the key to the puzzle, if only Tom and his objet d'amour's housemate (Kate Winslet) can solve the mystery in time. Enigma was scripted hyperintelligently by playwright Tom Stoppard, a writer fluent in the expert coding and deciphering of language, and the emphasis on words occasionally clashes with The World Is Not Enough director Michael Apted's need for giving modern audiences kinetic "speed." Still, Enigma's ability to turn cerebral talk into action currency very nearly renders the film's faults completely forgivable. (1:57) Clay, Rafael, Shattuck. (Fear)

Enough (1:45) Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

Hollywood Ending (1:14) Four Star.

The Importance of Being Earnest Two young gadflies (Rupert Everett, Colin Firth) both invent fictional alter egos named Earnest as a means to ease the social pressure to get married – but they end up opening a Pandora's box of Farce 101 tropes in the process. Oscar Wilde's arsenic-laced scone of a play is full of enough deliciously nasty epigrams and barbed wit that it would seem hard to screw up a relatively faithful film adaptation. But there are ways to dull the playwright's sharpened prose: throw in gratuitously anachronistic touches (fantasy sequences, tattoo parlors) that add nothing to the text, couch it in a flat visual palette, and tame the tongue-lashing needed under the characters' stiff upper lips. Director Oliver Parker is no stranger to the Wilde style (he adapted An Ideal Husband for the screen), but his curious fumbling of the material's potential and the period-film stalwart cast here seems more in tune with modern sitcom barking and less with the play's patented bite. (1:40) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Fear)

*Insomnia When a high school girl turns up dead in rustic Nightmute, Alaska, the local brass bring LAPD-detective-under-fire Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and his partner, Hap (Martin Donovan), up from the lower 48 to help with the case. Dormer digs into the search for the killer with the kind of smarts that have made him a legend to cops everywhere, including fresh-faced go-getter Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank). But even before Insomnia – a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name – starts feeling too Silence of the Lambs-ish, a twist makes Dormer and his top suspect, detective novelist Walter Finch (a very low-key Robin Williams), unlikely allies. Mind games ensue, and what's worse, it's summer in Nightmute, and 24 hours of daylight have dragged Dormer's biological clock to the point of no return. Director Christopher Nolan does fine work here – though Insomnia is nowhere near as stylistically inventive as his Memento, scenes like a guns-drawn chase through a foggy forest show he's no one-trick pony – but it's Pacino, as a beleaguered soul who reaches a point where he'd just as soon catch 40 winks as catch a killer, who makes Insomnia worth watching. (1:55) Century Plaza, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Eddy)

*Italian for Beginners (1:39) Balboa.

Kissing Jessica Stein (1:47) Balboa.

*Lagaan As an introduction to the Bombay-based film industry known colloquially and sometimes controversially as Bollywood, you could hardly do better than Lagaan, with its extravagant musical interludes, syrupy-sweet romantic love triangles, wide-screen scoops of historical flair, occasional broad comic moments, and heroic and impossibly photogenic leads. India, 1893: the British Empire is deep in its colonial rule of the country. When one small town's population, led by local rabble-rouser Bhuvan (Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan), protests that taxes are bleeding everyone dry, the sadistic British captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne) proposes a bet: beat the captain's team in a "friendly" game of cricket, and no taxes for three years. Lose, and the entire countryside will pay triple the fee. Of course, anyone who has seen a sports/romance/action feel-good movie of the summer can predict what happens next. Like many a Bollywood film before it, Lagaan succeeds primarily because it's willing to do anything it has to in order to entertain on the grandest of all levels. It works itself up to such a tizzy of spectacle for such a long time that it leaves you both exhilarated and exhausted, giddy with the thrill of discovery. (3:45) Lumiere, Rafael. (Fear)

*Monsoon Wedding (1:54) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont.

*Murderous Maids In Le Mans, France, in 1933, Christine and Léa Papin – sisters, lovers, and maids – pummeled the mother-daughter faction of their employers beyond recognition, then hopped in bed together to wait for the inevitable arrival of authority figures. Few murderers have inspired intellectual and stage and cinematic scrutiny to the degree of the Papins, and Jean-Pierre Denis's Murderous Maids is comparatively realist and understated. The campiest touch is an element of the promotional material: a stylized version of a famous Papin sisters mug shot that – adding nuances to a stark and impenetrable original image – portrays Christine (Sylvie Testud) as defiant and crafty and Léa (Julie-Marie Parmentier) as dimly obedient to her older sister's rebelliousness. Placing class commentary in the background and moving Christine Papin's mind-set to the fore, Murderous Maids manages to make its wide screen intimate and sometimes claustrophobic. Denis remains detached, collecting ingredients (religious zealotry, the cruelties of class hierarchy, a fractured family prone to mental illness) rather than providing an overriding reason. (1:34) Castro, Rafael. (Huston)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2:01) Orinda, Shattuck.

The Mystic Masseur (1:47) Four Star.

The New Guy (1:30) Metreon.

*Nine Queens (1:54) Four Star, Opera Plaza.

*The Piano Teacher (2:10) Opera Plaza.

Rain In Christine Jeffs's first feature, the sky is too full and never empties, and family members have things to say and rarely get past spy games, competitive impulses, and underhanded accusations. The setting is a should-be-idyllic beach house on the New Zealand coast, described by 13-year-old narrator Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki) as her father attempts to make her mother happy. Jeffs lets the camera show how well that's working in the dismal opening scene, where the pair (Alistair Browning and Sarah Peirse) sit and drink all day in the backyard, making no use of the paradise around them, ignoring their children. Trouble is already around, but there's always room for more. Enter Cady (Marton Csokas), a quietly unpleasant guy with a boat and a nice set of abs. After a while, the pouring of drinks takes on a methodical weight. The characters overuse, and so does Jeffs. The ending works to be explosive and traumatizing, but it feels forced, shifting abruptly from the sexual explorations of a young girl to a clichéd, abbreviated look at mourning and guilt. (1:32) Lumiere. (Lynn Rapoport)

Space Station 3D (:47) Metreon Imax.

Spider-Man (1:51) Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

*Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron This surprisingly subversive DreamWorks film counters the snappy, po-mo, self-reflexive tone of zany 3Ders Shrek, Monsters, Inc., and Toy Story(s) with an earnest, (mainly) traditionally animated tale that upends American frontier formulae. Spirit, the horse of the title, is the leader of a herd of wild mustangs who, for once, don't speak English but roam a majestic landscape that remains unnamed (which is good, since they appear to run from Yosemite to Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon in a matter of minutes). Captured by a group of scouts from the U.S. Cavalry, Spirit's brought back to their fort to be assimilated into the worker-horse life – until a Lakota Indian named Little Creek stages a daring escape. Culminating in an ending happy enough for a six-year-old and sad enough for those who understand what the words "manifest destiny" actually mean and marred only by Bryan Adams's soundtrack misfires, the film picks up street cred with American Indian Daniel Studi as Little Creek and PETA member James "Farmer Hogget" Cromwell as the Colonel. (1:22) Century Plaza, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Doug Young)

*Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2:22) Century Plaza, Grand Lake, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

The Sum of All Fears Tom Clancy's intellectual man of mystery, Jack Ryan – a character who's already changed hands once, from Alec Baldwin to Harrison Ford – gets another face-lift in Phil Alden Robinson's The Sum of All Fears, transforming from a married, fortysomething husband and father into a single, twentysomething young turk played by Ben Affleck. The suddenly youthful Central Intelligence Agency analyst must confront a grab bag of stock action-espionage villains (cold war-era Russians, hawkish American generals, terrorist organizations, neo-Nazis) and figure out who plans to wreak havoc with a rogue nuclear bomb. What's basically a run-of-the-mill nail-biter is helped by a good supporting cast, notably Liev Schreiber and the voice of cinematic gravitas, Morgan Freeman, and a third-act set piece designed to drop jaws. But the flaw of having the Ryan brand-name cake and eating it at the 18-to-24 demographic table too is just too big to overlook. (2:04) Century Plaza, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Fear)

*13 Conversations about One Thing Making a big leap from her OK but modest office-comedy debut, Clockwatchers, director Jill Sprecher has crafted an unusually depthed ensemble piece about disparate lives intersecting – or not – in contemporary NYC. Matthew McConaughey plays a smug prosecutor whose involvement in a hit-and-run accident destroys his assurance of purpose. Alan Arkin is a divorced insurance-company manager pained by the good fortune he sees inevitably going to other, less deserving people. John Turturro is a mathematics professor who leaves his wife (Amy Irving) for a tenuous new life involved with a married woman (Barbara Sukowa). Clea DuVall's timid young housecleaner finds her faith in life's ultimate just rewards badly shaken by cruel happenstance. Sprecher's script (cowritten with sibling Karen Sprecher) is platitudinous at times, and "chapter"-separating intertitles that repeat those platitudes don't help. (Nor does the rather pretentious title.) Still, this is a rare American feature with genuine ambition, credible real-world narrative detail, philosophical weight, and a complex structure that never seems overschematic. (1:42) Act I and II, Embarcadero. (Harvey)

*Y tu mamá también (1:45) Act I and II, Embarcadero, Piedmont.

Ultimate X (:39) Metreon Imax.

Undercover Brother Aspiring to be a black Austin Powers, spoofing both James Bond-style spy thrillers and 1970s-era blaxploitation films, this attempt lacks the cleverness of the Mike Myers franchise. A weak story about an organization of black heroes fighting a white, evil overlord links together a series of heavy-handed gags, and gives Eddie Griffin ample chance to prove he's no leading man. Most of those gags, like the "caucasiovision" device that brainwashes Undercover Brother with white culture, should be hilarious but aren't. Director Malcom D. Lee has no sense of comic timing, and his pedestrian visuals prove he's no Spike (that's his cousin). If the audience around you is laughing, it's perhaps because people respond hysterically to the uncomfortable issue of race (not because it's really funny). Or maybe they're reacting to the potential humor of pushing the already extreme blaxploitation style even further, though the filmmakers show little appreciation of the genre's true appeal. (1:26) Century Plaza, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Henderson)

Unfaithful (1:21) Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon.

Rep picks

*'Elegies: The Visionary Videoworks of Alexander Sokurov' See "Silent Spring," page 43. New PFA Theater.

'The Fatboy Chronicles' Videomaker Rene Broussard gleefully appropriates images, mostly of naked young boys, from throughout film history, ranging from The Little Rascals to Lord of the Flies. He's especially fond of boys being spanked, so we see lots of boys' school headmasters caning bare bottoms and locker-room bullies attacking other kids. Through his voiceover Broussard painfully reveals his attraction to other fat boys, his history of being tormented by cruel classmates, and his difficulty accepting his own large body. Rather than being a confidant self-portrait of queer sexuality, Fatboy reveals that Broussard is still very confused about his sexual identity, however much he desperately wants this video to be a bold statement about who he is. As it plays on (and on) the film begins to seem less like a coherent media archaeology project and more like a reel compiling moments from the director's favorite, secret stroke films. (1:40) SFLGBT Community Center. (Henderson)

*'Saturday Midnites for Maniacs' This week's maniacal selection is Fulltime Killer director Johnnie To's 1998 A Hero Never Dies, a HK gangsta actioner starring Leon Lai and Lau Ching-Wan. (1:26) Four Star.

'A Tribute to Wim Wenders: Early Films 1967-1975' Fifteen years later, in the wake of such snoozefests as Until the End of the World, Faraway So Close!, The End of Violence, and Million Dollar Hotel, one has to wonder if Wim Wenders's leap toward spiritual transcendence in Wings of Desire was worth the subsequent New Age piousness. Before he started collecting celebrities (you go, Bono!) and quasi-intellectual whimsies, however, he was as cagily populist, funny, and austere as anyone working in the New German Cinema -- certainly I'd take 1976's Kings of the Road over any Fassbinder you could name. This Goethe Institut series of early works, some very little-seen, runs a gamut from the sublime to the perverse -- a 1968 short, "Same Player Shoots Again," affords a 16-minute tracking shot of a man (seen only from the waist down) staggering along a street with a gun, while the 1970 feature Summer in the City (both films Thurs/13) is rather too precisely reflective of just how much boredom and time-killing an ex-con's avoidance of malevolent associates would entail. 1974's Alice in the Cities (Tues/18) was a breakthrough, however, yet another "road movie without a map" -- but one reluctantly warmed to poignancy by the protagonist's forced caretaking of a nine-year-old girl. Adapted from a Goethe story, the lesser-remembered 1974 Wrong Move (Tues/11) puts Rüdiger Vogler on an uncertain geographic quest, as his would-be writer and successful misanthrope tries but fails to connect with a series of needy individuals including Hannah Schygulla and the precociously beautiful Nastassja Kinski (making her screen debut at 14). Nothing "happens," yet the sense of the hero's slipping off a final precipice has tragic, cataclysmic weight. Wrong Move is preceded by a 1970 pseudo-instructional "Polizeifilm," which demonstrates kinder, gentler new ways for cops to thwart student demonstrators, and is utterly hilarious. Goethe Institut Inter Nationes. (Harvey)

*The Untold Story Half of this week's "Kung Fu Kult Klassics" double-feature at the Four Star, Herman Yau's The Untold Story (technically, not a kung fu film) may be the sickest Anthony Wong movie ever made (though the great Ebola Syndrome does come pretty close). In this darkly hilarious 1992 film ("based on real events"), Wong plays an unbridled lunatic who butchers an entire family (including their brood of wee children) and takes over their restaurant. Various horrific methods of murder are explored – most using chopsticks, ladles, meat cleavers, and other handy kitchen implements – and the resulting piles of human flesh are efficiently cooked into the next day's menu items. Things really get nasty, though, when Wong is hauled in by the fuzz and tortured so badly you almost start to feel sorry for the poor lil' tot-killing cannibal. Wimpy, easily nauseated types might want to give The Untold Story a pass, but if you've been dying for the ultimate in bloodthirsty bad-taste gross-outs, catch this rarely screened should-be classic while you can. The Untold Story plays with Wong Kar-Wai's 1993 sword-fighting epic Ashes of Time. (1:35) Four Star. (Eddy)