July 17, 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 Adam Wadenius. See Rep Clock and Movie Clock for theater information.


Opening


*Baran By box-office measures, Majid Majidi became Iran's most successful filmmaker with 1997's Children of Heaven, a tale of urban poverty that garnered the country's first Oscar nomination for best foreign film. His latest venture finds the director in top form – telling a simple but compelling tale using highly accessible cinematic language. The story concerns Lateef (Hossein Abedini), a mischievous teenager who makes a startling discovery: Baran (Zahra Bahrami), a young Afghani refugee bravely providing for her desperate family. As the smitten boy unhesitatingly sacrifices all to aid and protect his beloved, his transformation evinces considerable humor and compassion. The film's love story achieves an artful relationship to its social context, and for all its stark realism, Baran plays like a parable: Baran, the agent of Lateef's development, is also the word for rain. This life-giving force also washes away all human-made things, dissolving footprints in the earth or lines in the sand; in this sense, it resembles the love that fills and overflows the vessel of the heart, dissolving the line separating the self from all life. (1:39) Galaxy. (Avila)

*Eight Legged Freaks See Movie Clock. (1:39) Century Plaza, Century 20, Emery Bay, Jack London, Orinda, UA Berkeley.

*Gamera 2: Advent of Legion See Tiger on Beat. (1:39) Red Vic.

K-19: The Widowmaker See "It's Playback Time," page 43. (2:18) Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, Jack London.

*Lovely and Amazing Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich) is at the top of her game in the latest from writer-director Nicole Holofcener (whose first film, Walking and Talking, also starred Keener). Keener plays Michelle, a would-be artist and onetime homecoming queen who's the eldest daughter in a family that also includes Brenda Blethyn as the about-to-be-lipo'd mom, Jane; Emily Mortimer as Michelle's self-conscious actor sister, Elizabeth; and the wonderfully sullen eight-year-old Ravin Goodwin as Jane's adopted daughter, Annie. All of the women have major issues – in one memorable scene, Elizabeth's obsession with her appearance inspires her to ask a movie star (Dermot Mulroney) she's just slept with to evaluate her naked body, part by part. But it's Keener who steals the show, playing a character who's real-life complex enough to be fully unlikable at times, pathetically endearing at others. Unlike a certain Ellen Burstyn-Sandra Bullock movie that came out earlier this year, the razor-sharp Lovely and Amazing takes a gloves-off approach to the relationships between mothers, daughters, sisters, and female friends, with the fearless Keener leading the charge. (1:31) Albany, Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Eddy)

*Master of the Flying Guillotine: Ultimate Edition See "Heads Up," page 46. (1:33) Lumiere, Shattuck.

My Wife Is an Actress A sports writer named Yvan (writer-director Yvan Attal) becomes beset with jealousy when his wife, Charlotte, France's "it" actress of the moment (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Attal's wife and France's "it" actress of the moment), is slated to act opposite an aging British hunk (Terence Stamp) known for his on-set Lothario tendencies. Like many a film brimming with "autobiographical" elements, this romantic comedy about where the performing stops and an artist's true life starts keeps the line between real and "reel" purposefully blurry. The temptation to pluck nuggets of Attal and Gainsbourg's off-screen life out of the more salacious episodes all but overwhelms the screwball elements and sacred treatment of Gainsbourg's beauty, however. Even with a deft directorial hand and the Von Sternburg valentine treatment Attal gives his spouse (she's never looked more sumptuous on-screen), Wife's prime currency is less the comedy of fiction and fidelity than the chance to indulge in Gallic-flavored celebrity voyeurism. (1:33) Clay, Rafael. (Fear)

*Never Again See Critic's Choice. (1:37) Lumiere.

Siddhartha Those familiar with the intricacies of Hinduism are more likely to enjoy this skillful yet unbearably slow-paced adaptation of Hermann Hesse's 1921 novel. Anxious to get away from his wealthy Brahmin upbringing, Siddhartha (Shahsi Kapoor) leaves his village to become a sadhu, a wandering holy man who lives on the charity of others. He hopes to find religious enlightenment, yet such simplistic tidbits of knowledge as "Everything comes back" and "Learn to give love" come off as dull and wholly unoriginal. However flat the story line, the visual look of the film is certainly to be marveled at. Director Conrad Rooks and legendary cinematographer Sven Nykvist fill the screen with beautiful panoramas of the Indian landscape: the calmness of a river, shimmering as the sun breaks in the distance, and the vast desert plains swept over by the evening breeze. These visuals alone, however, are not able to rescue the film from its overall lethargic tone. (1:25) Castro. (Wadenius)

Stuart Little 2 In this sequel, based on the original storybook characters created by E.B. White, everyone's favorite mouse (brought to life by animatronics and the voice of Michael J. Fox) cruises the streets of Manhattan, soars over Central Park in a model airplane, and scales a skyscraper to rescue his new-found feathered friend, the doe-eyed bird Margalo (Melanie Griffith). Splashes of vibrant reds, yellows, and orange cover the screen, resulting in a '50s deco artscape that makes New York City look like TV-land gone brilliantly haywire. Even the family Little, headed by a June Cleaverish Geena Davis, appear almost cartoonlike in glorious Technicolor. Fresh from finishing his run in Broadway hit The Producers, Nathan Lane steals the show, popping out zingers as the voice of scaredy-cat Snowbell. Directed by Rob Minkoff, the movie also features the unique voices of James Woods and Steve Zahn. (1:18) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London. (Sabrina Crawford)

 

Ongoing

About a Boy Unrepentantly shallow lad Will (Hugh Grant) invents his own imaginary one-parent family to gain access to datable single mothers. Complications arise when Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a 12 year-old social misfit with a suicidal mom (Toni Collette), barges into his stratosphere, introducing the idea that maybe there's more to life than sex, haircuts, and objects. Few actors can play callow as charmingly as Grant, and his performance in this adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel almost makes it worth sifting through the more saccharine moments in the mix. Essaying a shallow, bitter version of his usual bumbling Romeo roles, he's almost daring you to question why you liked his persona in the first place. Directors Paul and Chris Weitz (American Pie) prove they can capture the self-deprecating strain of British humor, but Grant's edgy take eventually grates against the sentimentality and "Shake Ya Ass" sing-alongs included to insure mass palatability. (1:45) Four Star, Shattuck. (Fear)

*Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner It's not just the centuries-old source material that makes Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner feel so revelatory and revolutionary. It's the fact that, even as it uses modern forms of no-frills filmmaking, it has managed to boil down cinematic storytelling to its essence. Inuit director Zacharias Kunuk pays tribute to the prodigious way the Inuit have with a classic "hero on a journey" narrative, and also to the still-vibrant culture and environment that fosters that kind of storytelling. Long, nearly silent takes are devoted to capturing the Inuit lifestyle, as they work the frostbitten land in order to survive. Shot in a digital wide-screen format, the Arctic landscapes take on an otherworldly quality custom-built for mythopoetic status, even as the film's realist visual approach and slowed-down pacing ground its context within a patient, philosophical, and ritualistic culture. (2:52) Act I and II, Bridge, Rafael. (Fear)

The Bourne Identity A man (Matt Damon) with no memory retraces his steps in search of his identity. Like most cinematic victims of amnesia, it turns out he's a trained assassin for a CIA spook organization and is targeted for termination. Once our hero reappears on the intelligence grid, he and his hapless MacGuffin-of-circumstance (Franke Potente) dodge agency cleanup men and international-espionage chess games while reconstructing his past. Based on pulp-spy literati Robert Ludlum's page-turner, Bourne's plot mechanisms are basic paranoia 101 spiced with Hitchcockian hoo-ha, but director Doug Liman (Go) has a way with chase scenes and fight choreography, blending '70s grit and '90s delirium with surprising deliciousness. Damon's grace-under-pressure performance establishes that he can embody an action hero minus much meaty posturing, even if the third act's clenched jaws and pat denouements skitter away earlier, more savvy moments. Still, for a big-budget thriller, Bourne's erotic underpinnings and eschewing of cookie-cutter turns makes for a class-act, minor-chord thrill ride. (1:53) Balboa, Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Fear)

Breaking the Silence Chinese megastar Gong Li, known around these parts for her spectacular turns in costume dramas like The Emperor and the Assassin, gets gritty for the role of Sun Liying, a working-class single mom who lives only to better the life of her deaf son, Zheng Da. The little family doesn't have it easy – Zheng is menaced by neighborhood bullies and breaks his hearing aid in the fray; Liying works multiple, backbreaking jobs and spends every spare moment teaching Zheng to speak more clearly so he can be admitted to school with "normal" kids. Happiness comes in small doses, like the joyous afternoon when Zheng learns to pronounce "flower" and the kindness of Mr. Fang, a teacher who befriends the pair. For all its depressing subject matter, Breaking the Silence has the good fortune not to be a product of, or even influenced by, sappy Hollywood overcoming-adversity movies. Director Sun Zhou's style is strictly realistic, and Gong's performance, heartfelt. (1:31) Four Star. (Eddy)

*Cherish In Finn Taylor's San Francisco drama, Zoe (Robin Tunney) is an off-kilter animator who runs her life with clueless abandon: annoying her coworkers by listening to the greatest hits of yesteryear and meeting men and losing them at the speed of light. She quickly moves from being a prisoner of her own habits to just being a prisoner, after she's forced at gunpoint to mow down a bicycle cop. While she waits for a trial, she's put on the "bracelet" program, which allows her to remain outside a real prison as long as she wears an electronic ankle bracelet. When the bracelet-program coordinator (Tim Blake Nelson) comes by to adjust the shackles on his kooky indoor-roller skating, love song-obsessed charge, a whole new plotline ensues. Cherish's comedy goes down better than its thrills, mostly because of a cast that includes unheralded geniuses like Nelson, who carries off his nervous warden character with clammy charm. (1:52) Opera Plaza. (Gerhard)

The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course In the world of wildlife television, there's no more distinctive character than Steve Irwin, he of the caffeinated personality, colorful array of Aussie catchphrases, and in-your-face approach to some of the world's most menacing critters. Irwin's latest venture aims to combine Steve-o's real-life outback dalliances with a fictional narrative: a cranky croc swallows a top-secret satellite beacon, bringing stuffed-shirt CIA types – whom Irwin and his constant companion, wife Terri, mistakenly believe to be poachers – to the Irwins' wild turf. Far-fetched, sure, but the tale allows for Collision Course to give audiences what they presumably want – the television show on the big screen – and to avoid sticking nonactors Steve and Terri in awkward scenes with the rest of the cast. Though its odd structure – half wildlife doc, half narrative – will work for kids and fans of the show, it remains to be seen whether the cheerfully hokey Collision Course will win over new fans. (1:30) Century Plaza, Century 20, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

Dahmer More than 10 years after Jeffrey Dahmer's gruesome killing spree came to an end, writer-director David Jacobson's Dahmer approaches its main character from a new angle, using a fact-based narrative to cast one of America's most infamous criminals in a sympathetic light. In the title role, Jeremy Renner is a good physical match for Dahmer, but his performance echoes the overall film's biggest problem: monotony. Cleary, Jacobson is aiming to draw attention to the age-old phenomenon of the banality of evil. But for all its good intentions, Dahmer (which consists of flashbacks to a teenage Jeff's first kill and scenes set in 1991, the year of Dahmer's capture) winds up being as dull as Dahmer's assembly-line job in a chocolate factory. (1:42) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)

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 (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) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

*Elling This delightful little comedy traces the rehabilitation of a pair of socially timid middle-aged men living in society for the first time. Having spent his entire life sheltered away in his childhood home, Elling (Per Christian Ellefsen) is sent to live in a state house after the death of his overprotective mother. There he shares a room with Kjell Bjarne (Sven Nordin), a sex-obsessed lunkhead. The two become friends and, upon their release from the facility, are placed in a state-funded apartment, where a social worker (Jørgen Langhelle) tells them to act responsibly as normal members of the community. Director Petter Næss and his wonderful cast of characters carefully blend humorous aspects with more poignant scenes, producing a film that is heartwarming and enjoyable without stooping to "feel-good movie" tactics. (1:29) Opera Plaza, Rafael. (Wadenius)

*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. Scripted hyperintelligently by playwright Tom Stoppard, a writer fluent in the expert coding and deciphering of language, 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 render the film's faults completely forgivable. (1:57) Opera Plaza. (Fear)

*Green Dragon In the days and weeks that followed the fall of Saigon in 1975, the United States took on the role of big brother, housing the mass exodus of immigrants in desert refugee camps across America. This often unseen aspect of the Vietnam War is explored in Timothy Linh Bui's beautifully crafted directorial debut, a careful examination of the struggle of a people leaving behind families and country in search of hope in an unknown land. Through the eyes of young Minh Pham (Trung Nguyen), we are introduced to a host of characters, including his guilt-ridden uncle, Tai Tran (Don Duong), camp sergeant Jim Lance (Patrick Swayze), and a melancholy volunteer cook named Addie (Forest Whitaker). Kramer Morgenthau's hazy cinematography drapes the film in a distinct sense of loss, emphasizing the unknown future of the people depicted. (1:53) Galaxy. (Wadenius)

Halloween: Resurrection With this eighth installment, Shatner-masked Michael Myers has now surpassed Freddy Krueger in the great sequel race (though neither maniac has anything on Jason Voorhees, who reached double digits with this year's Jason X). By now, all that's left of the original Halloween is John Carpenter's score and a quick cameo by Jamie Lee Curtis – and, natch, the ever bloodthirsty Mr. Myers. A group of kids at Haddonfield University are recruited to spend Halloween night in Michael's childhood home, while Internet entrepreneur Freddie (Busta Rhymes) oversees a live broadcast as part of his "Dangertainment" network. And gee, who do you think shows up with an axe to grind? Though it's nice to see Halloween embracing the 21st century, it's a negative that half of the film – and many of the scares, as we see what the Internet audience sees – are rendered in fuzzy Webcam-vision. Still, for fans of the series, there are some nice moments, not the least of which is seeing Busta Rhymes challenge Michael Myers with the battle cry "Trick or treat, muthafucka!" (1:15) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

Hey Arnold! The Movie (1:16) 1000 Van Ness.

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) Balboa. (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) Balboa, Kabuki, Shattuck. (Eddy)

*Lan Yu The latest film by Stanley Kwan, the greatest Hong Kong filmmaker ever to have happily fallen between the cracks of the former Crown Colony's cinema's staggering international success, is a ballad of sexual dependency set against the backdrop of China's political and economic reversals of fortune during the late '80s. Lan Yu is a film for all audiences, the straight-forward story of fraught but undeniable love between a hard-shell entrepreneur and a soft-centered country boy that will tear your heart apart. Based on an "Internet novel" whose chapters were published sequentially, then unified under the title Beijing Story and signed pseudonymously by one "Beijing Comrade" ("comrade" being Chinese slang for "gay"), Lan Yu concerns the rise-and-fall-and-rise-again relationship between well-off businessman Chen Handong (Hu Jun) and architecture student Lan Yu (newcomer Liu Ye). Set in a series of darkened rooms and developed through a series of devastating ellipses, the film manages everywhere to balance a sense of the intimate and the historically inevitable, as Kwan and editor (and longtime Wong Kar-Wai collaborator) William Chang establish an extraordinarily restrained but ever poignant system of micro-parallels and macro-contradictions throughout. (1:26) Four Star, (Stephens)

Like Mike After a TV-movie gig as the suffering husband of Mary Tyler Moore's Sante Kimes, the ever-ready Robert Forster shifts to a co-star with better hair: Bow Wow (now sans the Lil'). Forster is just one member of an adult roster that makes Like Mike semi-bearable for adults – others include Anne Meara as a nun and Crispin Glover, who needs some sun. Bow Wow plays a wuvvable orphan named Calvin whose magical touched-by-the-toes-of-Jordan sneakers allow him to move so fast across the floor that he's capable of the wackiest basketball high jinks since Flubber. He isn't capable of rescuing scenes that involve Jonathan Lipnicki, however. Morris Chestnut plays Bow Wow's father figure, and NBA star Allen Iverson makes a cameo. (1:40) Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Huston)

*Lilo and Stitch Rascally alien Stitch descends on Hawaii armed with supersmarts and a hardwired desire to wreak havoc on everything in his path. When this anti-E.T. crosses paths with lonely little girl Lilo – who heads a "human" cast that's more realistic and modern than is seen in most Disney flicks – mayhem, and life lessons, ensues. Using an original story rather than tapping a well-worn classic allows directors Chris Sanders (also the voice of Stitch) and Dean DeBlois considerable creative freedom, and Lilo and Stitch combines elements as diverse as hula and fire dancing, spaceship chases, surfing, intergalactic bounty hunters, and plenty of Elvis hits. At the film's core is a simple message about the importance of family, and while Lilo and Stitch may lack the Broadway-style grandeur of other recent Disney efforts, it's nevertheless a charming tale that boasts winning, memorable characters. (1:25) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, Shattuck. (Eddy)

Men in Black II Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and director Barry Sonnenfeld try awfully hard to please, cramming jokes and special effects into every split second of this 88-minute sequel. But something doesn't quite click – maybe because the first Men in Black was infused with a goofy, inspired quality that's virtually missing here. This time around the turf is a little too familiar, Lara Flynn Boyle a little too uninteresting as the big-boobed villain, and even Smith's movie tie-in hip-hop track is decidedly less catchy. Still, there's something to be said for Men in Black II's quick pacing, and Smith and Jones haven't lost their prickly chemistry. Plus, it's hard to slam any movie that features an extended cameo by Mr. Show comedian David Cross. (1:28) California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

*Minority Report It's hard to believe that Minority Report marks the first time Steven Spielberg has directed Tom Cruise – but it's not hard to believe that the pairing of two such überstars, both coming off so-so projects (A.I., Vanilla Sky), makes for such entertaining results. As troubled Chief John Anderton – head of D.C.'s elite "Pre-Crime" division, which uses a trio of clairvoyants to suss out murderers before they strike – Cruise is in his element; the role involves not only muscular ass-kicking, but a meaty back story that concerns Anderton's murdered son, plus a twisty mystery that sends the tightly-wound cop all over the city trying to clear his name when he's pegged as a future killer. Spielberg comes through with his most enjoyable film in years, mixing futuristic, but still strangely logical visuals (vertical highways, interactive advertisements, animated cereal boxes) with quick pacing and several tense, disturbing scenes. Though the king of sentimentality still can't resist a tidy, no-stone-left-unturned ending, by the time the wave of exposition hits you, Minority Report has already carried you, breathlessly, almost to the end. Also see "Do Moguls Dream of Philip K. Dick?," page 44. (2:25) Century 20, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, Presidio, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda. (Eddy)

*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) Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Summers Henderson)

Mr. Deeds Meet Deeds (Adam Sandler): pizza shop owner, aspiring greeting-card writer, serial hugger, and Mandrake Falls, N.H.'s most beloved resident. He also happens to be the sole heir to his long-lost uncle's zillion-dollar media company, a fact that puts the mild-mannered (though he packs a mean punch when provoked) Deeds in the crosshairs of his uncle's greedy underbosses. After Little Nicky, Sandler could use a hit, and Mr. Deeds errs on the side of being too cuddly cute – imagine all the earnest scenes in The Wedding Singer and Big Daddy smushed into one movie, with none of the gut-busting, off-color humor of Happy Gilmore or The Waterboy. Still, Mr. Deeds has some fun moments, with an enthusiastic (if one-note) supporting turn by John Turturro as Deeds's foot-obsessed valet. As Deeds's love interest, Winona Ryder is far less memorable than the headlines she's currently making in the tabloids. (1:31) California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, Piedmont, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding A shrinking wallflower raised amid over-the-top extroverts, Toula Portokalos (Nia Vardalos) awakens from her 30-year funk after one look at lanky hunk Ian (John Corbett). She gives herself a makeover and a new career and duly snares Mr. Right. Trouble is, his family is as WASPy as they come, while hers – well, suffice it to say that parents Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan) are so ethnocentric that their suburban house is outfitted to look like the Parthenon. Wacky culture-clashing ensues. Adapting Vardalos's autobiographical stage monologue for the screen, director Joel Zwick (a TV veteran all the way back to Laverne and Shirley) doesn't do much to elevate the material above elongated-sitcom status – though if the howling response from a largely Greek American audience at a preview screening is any indication, this agreeable, predictable comedy has at least one demographic in its pocket. (2:01) Galaxy, Shattuck. (Harvey)

*Notorious C.H.O. "Do you know how hard I have to work to put pussy on the table?" Margaret Cho asks at one point during her new concert film. The hard work has paid off: Notorious C.H.O. reaches its comic peak when Cho reveals her own very specific turn-ons and turnoffs, free-associating herself in and out of absurd bedroom scenarios, some imaginary, some hilariously real. Cho doesn't meet doctrinaire definitions of a gay man (though she's one in sensibility) or a lesbian (while attracted to dykes who resemble John Goodman, she admits pussy isn't her first choice). Despite an opening interview that contains words such as "inclusion" and "validated," Cho's new movie trims down the empowerment mantras of her first, I'm the One That I Want. The emphasis is on raunch. Cho is equipped with one-liners, expert turns of phrase, and an arsenal of silly voices, but her secret weapon is physical comedy, a talent ideally suited to sexual stand-up. Lorene Machado's mostly artless direction intuitively hooks up with Cho's pantomimes only once: a crotch-level view as she imitates an ex-boyfriend bellowing, "Why can't you cuuuuum when I fuck you?" (1:35) Lumiere, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Huston)

The Powerpuff Girls Movie While The Powerpuff Girls Movie has plenty of the biff, bang, pow, fight-like-a-girl action you'd expect, creator Craig McCracken's attempt to move his adorable, animated, bug-eyed trio to the big screen falls flat. Sure, we get to see our beloved Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup sprout from the Professor's lab; wage their first battle with the evil Mojo Jojo and his army of ultra-powerful primates; and become the erstwhile guardians of Townsville. But not even McCracken's fervent retro animation, set seamlessly to a punchy techno score, can make up for the fact that short attention spans begin to wander after the first hour. Even the normally ass-kicking fight scenes seem to drag on. As the cartoon's hallmark zip-zing pacing wanes, the film feels less like a feature debut and more like a TV show that's just too darn long. While it's fine for a family outing or a Sunday matinee, die-hard fans seeking real Powerpuff action should probably just stay home and watch back-to-back episodes. (1:20) Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Crawford)

Pumpkin The world of blond-bobbed Carolyn Duffy (Christina Ricci) would be complete if her sorority won the best-house-on-campus award. The honor seems inevitable once her fellow Sigma royalty choose the "Challenged Games" as their pet charity. As Carolyn finds herself romantically drawn to the handicapped "Pumpkin" Romanoff (Hank Harris), however, she jeopardizes not only her relationship with her hunky boyfriend (Sam Ball) but also her entire social status. Even with such obvious targets as Greek systems and suburbia in its crosshairs, Pumpkin's flaccid satire is so preoccupied with the camp aspects of its '50s Sirk-us Maximus melodramatic mores that it can't decide how to properly craft a parody. Essayed by two directors (Adam Larson Broder and Anthony Abrams), the entire affair seems plagued by dualities: too warm 'n' fuzzy to be truly misanthropic, too mean-spirited and kitschy to be sincere, too much and yet far from enough. Marinating in Farrelly-style handicapped humor minus the brothers' sweet-and-sour touch, this schizophrenic affair ends up a pulpy, seedy mess. (1:47) Opera Plaza. (Fear)

Reign of Fire See "Here There Be Dragons," page 38. (1:48) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.

*Rivers and Tides Building elaborate installation pieces out of Mother Nature's flotsam and jetsam in its own "natural" habitat (open fields, seashores, riverbanks), artist Andy Goldsworthy spends hours altering the landscape or working his elemental materials into man-made paths and patterns of harmonious grace. A finished work can last for as long as a few days or as short as a minute before a light breeze or an eddying tide picks it apart like carrion; in Goldsworthy's art, deconstruction is as much a part of his vision as construction. German documentarian Thomas Riedelshiemer's affectionate, awestruck look at the man and his mission to tap into a frequency of symmetrical order in terra firma's chaos is as hypnotically dazzling as his subject's abstract expressionist products. Fluently gliding around Goldsworthy's struggle to complete a fragile twig leitmotiv before it collapses under its own weight or pulling far back to reveal a sidewinder pattern snaking around a forest glen, Riedelshiemer's camera becomes the subject's partner, capturing the artist's attempts to channel the ebb and flow of organic life for posterity in a gorgeous, wide-screen, 35mm time capsule. (1:30) Rafael, Roxie, Shattuck. (Fear)

Road to Perdition A depression-era gangland psychodrama may not seem like the most natural follow-up to Sam Mendes's debut, American Beauty, but odds are that the handsomely crafted Road to Perdition, which contains some of the most achingly beautiful cinematography in recent memory, will wind up being just as decorated at next year's Oscars. Betrayed hitman Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) and his sullen 12-year-old son (Tyler Hoechlin) are on the run from a shutterbug assassin with bad teeth played by Jude Law, not to mention other stooges sired in the camp of paternal big boss John Rooney (Paul Newman). The pulpy story is done up with much poetry and enormous late-era Leone-size brush strokes, yet the subtleties of the performances manage to shine through. Adapted from a graphic novel, itself inspired by the classic samurai manga Lone Wolf and Cub, this entry in the usually silent mythology of fathers and sons is writ very large indeed. The film loses points for chickening out on some of the comic's harder edges (where "the kid was a killer," so to speak) and for the generic DreamWorks SKG sappy ending. Still, those involved probably have their acceptance speeches already written. (1:59) Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda. (Macias)

Scooby-Doo Like the billboards say, be afraid. Unless you're accompanying a pint-size fan who'll be entertained by bright colors, peppy music, and an extended farting contest (and isn't easily freaked by a few scary-for-kids moments) – or you're a Matthew Lillard-Freddie Prinze Jr. buddy movie completist – best to give this garish fumble a wide berth. Much like another recent Hanna-Barbera big-screen debacle, Josie and the Pussycats, Scooby-Doo is unable to transform a generally amusing half-hour cartoon into a full-length, live-action adventure; similarly, it's unclear who the film targets: the Spy Kids set or teens (who'll appreciate the pot jokes and Sarah Michelle Gellar's slinky costumes but not the predictable "mystery" about a spooky amusement park). Lillard makes for a dead-on Shaggy, but his valiant efforts to save the movie are tempered by the fact that he shares nearly every scene with a certain so-C.G.'d-it-hurts canine. (1:27) Century 20. (Eddy)

*Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones Cons: some unfortunate dialogue made even worse by some unfortunately stiff acting; a detectable lack of that goofy magic that made episodes IV-VI sacred texts for the masses. Pros: some of the most spectacular action sequences ever committed to film; the death sticks-Jedi mind trick exchange; and minimal sightings of a certain Mr. Binks. Worth seeing at least once to mend any festering Phantom Menace wounds; worth seeing twice for the battle between Christopher "Dracula" Lee and the meanest, greenest fighting machine in the galaxy. (2:22) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

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 Morgan Freeman, and a third-act set piece designed to drop jaws. (2:04) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Fear)

*Sunshine State Florida's past and present play a key role in the topography of John Sayles's latest opus. Marly (Edie Falco) runs the dilapidated motel and restaurant her now-senile dad built up, which sits on primo waterfront property in Delrona Beach. A young architect (Timothy Hutton) hired by developers sparks a feeling in Marly that a way out may lie in selling out. In nearby Lincoln Beach, elders Dr. Lloyd (Bill Cobbs) and Eunice Stokes (Mary Alice) attempt to bring together their fragmented town to keep Lincoln's proud African American past alive. Into the mix walks Eunice's daughter Desiree (Angela Bassett), who has returned to prove to everyone that she turned out OK. Juggling close to a dozen characters and weaving several narrative strands together, Sunshine State's saving grace lies squarely in its maker's affinity for capturing the rhythms of real life. Few directors write dialogue for actors or understand the pace of living as well as Sayles, and even when social agendas threaten to detrimentally breach his films' surfaces, the power of performance always redeems his rhetorical leanings. (2:21) Albany, Embarcadero. (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 Alfonso Cuarón, the latest director to owe a stylistic debt to Godard, is less concerned with praising love per se than its physical manifestation, be it in onanistic, coupled, or ménage à trois variations. Handheld camera work shakes and snakes around corners à la Raoul Coutard. Sound drops out occasionally so a narrator can digress into characters' past, present, and future. People sprout manifestos full of dogmatic statements like "Truth is cool but unattainable" and "Pop beats poetry." Of course, one of those statements is "Whacking off rules!," which I can't remember ever hearing in any of Godard's films. Welcome to someone else's glorious masterpiece. Tenoch (Diego Luna) and his best friend, Julio (Amores perros's Gael García Bernal) have the bond of being raging hormone collections trapped in the form of teenage boys on the hunt. Spotting a beautiful Spanish woman named Luisa (Maribel Verdú) at a lavish wedding reception, the two would-be Lotharios invite her on a road trip to the beach. The trio hits the road in search of paradise. What they get instead is a series of sexual rocket blasts, some painful doses of maturity, and Mexico in all its permutations. (1:45) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Fear)

Ultimate X (:39) Metreon Imax.

Warm Water under a Red Bridge Shohei Imamura's scatalogical sense of humor gets full display in this fable of a mystical seaside baker (Misa Shimizu, from Dr. Akagi, etc.) who unleashes a literal geyser from her loins every time she gets hot. Her eventual paramour (Koji Yakusho, Shall We Dance? stud and Kiyoshi Kurosawa regular) is a man whose first interest in her is the "treasure" supposedly buried somewhere in her vicinity. Many other surprises await him, however. Bring an umbrella: whether you want to elevate her to metaphor and mermaid status or are happy to settle with spectacular female ejaculation, Imamura intends you to leave physically and mentally aroused. (1:59) Galaxy. (Gerhard)

Yana's Friends (1:30) Galaxy.

 

Rep picks

ABBA: The Movie See 8 Days a Week, page 56. (1:36) Red Vic.*'Cinemuerte International Horror Festival' See "Tyrrell Alert," page 47. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

*'Jean Gabin: Working-Class Hero' Most countries have offered up their own masculine ideal in terms of a movie star once a generation. In France, for a long time that icon was Jean Gabin. Tough, gruff, deeply cynical yet invariably undone by a core nobility, his archetypal characters were often doomed – they met their fate with a shrug and a Galoise puff. He remained popular for decades after World War II (right up until his 1976 death at age 72). But his defining moment was in the late 1930s, when a country dreading imminent catastrophe produced a series of fatalistic, proto-noir dramas that perfectly suited Gabin's wounded-animal grace. This Pacific Film Archive retrospective covers a long career as late as 1971's The Cat (Gabin locked in a bitter aging marriage with Simone Signoret) and as early as the frou-frou 1934 musical Zouzou, costarring imported U.S. exoticon Josephine Baker. (Not unlike his rough stateside equivalent James Cagney, Gabin could – but seldom got to – sing and dance.) The glories of the series, however, are '30s titles that remain stunning in directorial and star accomplishment. For Jean Renoir, Gabin was the tormented Zola-derived railroad engineer of 1938's The Human Beast (Fri/19) and heroic Average-Jacques of the 1937 antiwar masterpiece The Grand Illusion (Fri/26). For Marcel (Children of Paradise) Carne, he amazed in the dark diptych of 1938's Port of Shadows (Sat/3) and 1939's Daybreak (Sat/3), each brilliant portraits of fatalistic resignation. For Julien Duvivier, he starred in 1937's Pépé le Moko (Sat/24) as a supremely self-confident master thief safe within the labyrinth of the Casbah – until an upscale seductress lures him out. Gabin was so glorious in his prime that the later screen images (and missed opportunities – he loathed the nouvelle vague) were sometimes hard to take. But his best films remain superb vehicles for an uncommonly complex film personality. New PFA Theater. (Harvey)