August 21, 2002

sfbg.com

 

Extra

Andrea Nemerson's
alt.sex.column

Norman Solomon's
MediaBeat

nessie's
The nessie files

Tom Tomorrow's
This Modern World

Jerry Dolezal
Cartoon


News

PG&E and the California energy crisis

Arts and Entertainment

Venue Guide

Tiger on beat
By Patrick Macias

Frequencies
By Josh Kun


Calendar

Submit your listing

Culture

Techsploitation
By Annalee Newitz

Without Reservations
By Paul Reidinger

Cheap Eats
By Dan Leone

Special Supplements

 

Our Masthead

Editorial Staff

Business Staff

Jobs & Internships


PERSONALS | MOVIE CLOCK | REP CLOCK | SEARCH

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. The film intern is Adam Wadenius. See Rep Clock, page 87, and Movie Clock, page 88, for theater information.

Opening

Elvira's Haunted Hills Elvira, Mistress of the Dark stars in this campy homage to '60s horror classics, which is opening locally as a midnight movie. (1:31) Clay.

Little Secrets A young violinist (Evan Rachel Wood of Once and Again) spends a summer making a little extra cash serving as the neighborhood "secret keeper" in this coming-of-age family tale. (1:47) Century 20, Shattuck.

*Metropolis See Critic's Choice. (2:00) Castro.

*Mostly Martha See "Martha's Stock, page 39. (1:47) Albany, Clay.

One Hour Photo A lonely SavMart photo developer (Robin Williams) who's been obsessing over a "perfect" suburban family has taken to stalking their house, collecting their snapshots, building shrines, etc. When photographic evidence points to a possible infidelity within his idealized clan, things move from uncomfortably creepy to downright ugly. Director Mark Romanek wears his music-video past on his sleeve, imbuing his bloodlessly perfectionist compositions and color-coded set-design schematics (warm amber for the family's house, bland and banally sterile for the lunatic fringe mindset) with the self-conscious air of a still-life painter used to working within three-minute formats. Fighting for eye-space is Williams, already deep into his summer-of-discontent phase with Insomnia and hell-bent on proving that his real strength is less manic shtick than tour de force unravelings. Stuck amid arty Dutch angles and smooth Steadicam lolling, it's still Williams' blank stare and needy grin that steals the show, frazzling viewers' nerves long before the film dutifully cuts to the bone. (1:38) Bridge. (Fear)

*Secret Ballot See Movie Clock. (1:45) Rafael, Shattuck.

Serving Sara A process server (Friends' Matthew Perry) forms an unlikely partnership with a beautiful, revenge-minded millionaire (Elizabeth Hurley). (1:40) California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London.

Simone "Our ability to manufacture fraud now exceeds our ability to detect it!" screams film director Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino), a statement that's one-part boast, one-part lament and all-around manifesto for Gattaca writer-director Andrew Niccol's piss-take on Hollywood's fixation with the realistically fake. Taransky's latest movie is set to fold when his temperamental lead (Winona Ryder ... insert own tabloid joke here) storms off the film. An encounter with a dying programmer gives Taransky access to software that can create stunning human simulations on-screen; several mouse clicks later, his movie is a hit and a megastar is born. Niccol's fascination with artifice and God complexes (he also wrote The Truman Show) finds fine form in this tale of a pixelized Prometheus and his creation, though the satirical jabs at celebrity-obsessed media feel more Blake Edwards fluffy than cuttingly Chayefsky. But even slightly anesthetized, Simone's wit and intelligence still feels like the real thing in a sea of ones and zeros. (1:57) Empire, Jack London, Oaks. (Fear)

*Swimming See "Hold your Breath," page 39. (1:38) Opera Plaza, Shattuck.

Undisputed An undefeated jailhouse boxer (Wesley Snipes) and the recently incarcerated World Heavyweight Champion (Ving Rhames) square off in a high-stakes prison match. (1:30) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake.

Ongoing

The Adventures of Pluto Nash (1:36) Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

*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. (3:02) Act I and II, Four Star. (Fear)

Austin Powers in Goldmember All the usual suspects are back as Austin Powers (Mike Myers) tangles with Dr. Evil (Myers), new foe Goldmember (Myers), and even his long-absent dad, fellow spy and ladies' man Nigel Powers (Michael Caine). After an incredible opening sequence that's probably the highlight of all three Powers films, Goldmember settles into the familiar routine of sight gag followed by (or, more likely, combined with) outrageous toilet humor. There's not much of a plot here, and the jokes don't always hit, but it must be said that the ones that do (even the retreads of gags from Powers past) are easily funnier than anything else out there right now. (1:36) California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)Blood Work Blood Work is really only a so-so thriller, with a few too many iffy elements, including a laughable romantic subplot, Paul Rodriguez overload, and a ridiculously obvious villain – hmm, the movie's nearly over and we don't know the killer's identity yet, but there's this big name actor who, thus far, has only appeared in a minimal supporting role – but, damn it, Clint Eastwood is so frikkin' cool, it's hard not to cut the director-star some slack on this one. Eastwood plays former FBI hotshot Terry McCaleb, who was felled by a bad ticker while chasing the elusive "Code Killer." Two years later, after a transplant, McCaleb is approached by the sister (Wanda de Jesús) of the murdered woman who donated his new heart. Sis wants McCabe to help find the killer, and much to the disgust of his doctor (Anjelica Huston), the still-ailing McCaleb jumps at the chance to get back into the crime-solving groove. Even though you'll probably figure out the murderer's motive and identity long before McCaleb does, Blood Work is appealing enough fare for fans of Eastwood's laid-back charm. (1:50) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, Shattuck. (Eddy)

Blue Crush The only thing that matters to scrappy surfer Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth) is kicking ass in the upcoming Pipe Masters competition – until, of course, complications (including an eye-rolling romance with a generically hunky, vacationing football player) threaten to get in the way of her goals. As dare-to-dream sports movies go, Blue Crush is predictably plotted, but it does offer up stunning Hawaiian scenery and some exciting (if FX-enhanced) surf photography. Bosworth, in her first major role, is appealing as the determined surfer chick, and Blue Crush is enjoyable enough as popcorn fare, though lacking in a certain fun-spirited, triumphant energy that might've made it a tad more memorable. (1:44) California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

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) Century 20, 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)

Everest (:44) Metreon Imax.*Full Frontal The movies with which Steven Soderbergh has achieved his long-overdue commercial breakthrough (Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven) have not been among his most exciting artistically, so at the very least, Full Frontal comes as reassurance that he's committed to making an oddball "little" feature every so often, no matter how many Oscars pile up around the big projects. Though concisely written by Coleman Hough, Frontal flies closer to Dogma and Mike Figgis's vid-flicks (not to mention Soderbergh's own little-seen Schizopolis) with its technical and cast improvisation. Principal characters looping in and out of one another's radar during one pivotal L.A. work day/night are brittle corporate personnel exec Lee (Catherine Keener), who's on the edge of leaving sad-sack husband Carl (David Hyde Pierce); her sister Linda (Mary McCormack), a masseuse likewise unlucky in love; two movie stars (Julia Roberts, Blair Underwood) glimpsed on the set and in faux excerpts from their sappy new romance; and powerful film producer Gus (David Duchovny), whose splashy 40th birthday party provides the vehicle for an inspired all-paths-converge climax. Though Frontal covers ground familiar from too many prior films, from Welcome to L.A. through The Player, and so on, its ambiguous mix of caustic, surreal, sympathetic, and warily romantic flavors is never less than engaging. And the cast is so terrific they often elevate this "little" experiment into a realm of major satisfaction. (1:47) Presidio, Shattuck. (Harvey)

*The Good Girl Jennifer Aniston stars – a little aggressively – in another Miguel Arteta, Mike White, and Matthew Greenfield (director, writer, and producer, respectively, of Chuck and Buck) film about unhealthy obsession. Aniston plays a wife who feels, probably unfairly, imprisoned in her marriage to kind if potheaded painter husband Phil (an always awesome John C. Reilly). She looks to aisle two for spiritual relief in the form of a tormented soul, a faux writer who's renamed himself "Holden" (Jake Gyllenhaal). Their romance goes predictably awry, in a typically unpredictable Arteta way. Yet it's the bit parts that bring the real laughs in this film – from Fargo hubby John Carroll Lynch, "Your Store Manager," to Phil's bony painting partner Tim Blake Nelson. If you, unlike me, can reduce Aniston to the anonymity of her surroundings – accomplishing the inhuman feat of removing all knowledge of her soul-mating to Brad Pitt and familiarity with a certain popular TV comedy about a group of "buddies" – then you may truly be able to inhabit the film's brilliant comic nowhereland. I had to protect my eyes: her star power was shining far too neon bright in a movie where some all-purpose fluorescence was truly required. (1:34) Act I and II, Piedmont. (Gerhard)

Happy Times Zhang Yimou is not your typical Chinese director. The son of anti-Communist parents and a product of the Cultural Revolution, his films have been known to take jabs at the Chinese establishment, both overtly (as with the epic To Live) and metaphorically (as in the Academy Award-nominated Raise The Red Lantern). His latest film, however, is billed simply as a carefree comedy about life in the big city. The offbeat story follows Zhao, a kind-hearted, aging bachelor, through a string of misguided schemes intended to land him a wife. When Zhao finds himself entrusted with a would-be fiancée's blind, adolescent stepdaughter, his search for love takes on strange new meaning. True to its billing, the film is sweet and humorous – though in an understated fashion not often found in American cinema – but it still can't escape the social commentary that comes part and parcel with Yimou's unique brand of storytelling. (1:56) Four Star, Rafael. (Cohen)

ivans xtc. Director Bernard Rose doesn't want you to see the truth about Ivan Beckman. No, he's much too busy touting him as an unfortunate victim of circumstances, in an effort to "expose" the party-hardy lifestyle of the tinseltown elite and force home the revelatory notion that yes, even movie moguls will die. However, it's pretty tough to look at a chain-smoking Hollywood talent agent with a wicked cocaine addiction and a penchant for hookers and feel sad that his sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll attitude has finally caught up with him; he's dying, you see, of lung cancer. Danny Huston (son of legendary director John) gives a solid performance as the rotten Ivan, but Rose never fails to spoil his best moments with a self-righteous opera soundtrack and amateurish dialogue (cowritten by Lisa Enos), which leaves many scenes feeling unbelievable and awkward. (1:32) Galaxy. (Wadenius)

*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 20, Grand Lake. (Eddy)*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) Shattuck. (Eddy)

Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat (1:44) Century 20, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

Master of Disguise Dana Carvey wields a faux Italian accent, an army of wigs, and light-hearted buffoonery in this man-of-a-thousand-faces adventure. Perhaps it's no surprise that just as his old Wayne's World buddy Mike Myers debuts the third Austin Powers flick, Carvey has decided to create his own super-dorky silver screen superhero challenged by an evil villain (Brent Spiner), a mom and pop in danger, (James Brolin and Edie McClurg), and his own smart and lovely assistant (Jennifer Esposito). Unfortunately, the jokes in Disguise are ill-timed, and the impersonations dim-witted: President Bush, a Hindu swami, and a dirty old matron who can't hold a candle to the Church Lady. Celebrity cameos are the real highlight here -- including a bedazzled Bo Derek sporting her 10 outfit. Sure, there are moments of frolic and folly, but Carvey fans know he can do better. (1:20) Metreon. (Sabrina Crawford)

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) Century 20. (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. (2:25) Century 20, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (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) Shattuck. (Summers Henderson)

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, Metreon, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Harvey)

Mysteries of Egypt (:39) Metreon Imax.

*Pépé Le Moko Pépé le Moko's visual and verbal velocity often matches that of the French new wave, which arrived some two decades after its initial release in 1936. Director Julien Duvivier introduces the Casbah of Algiers through a rapid montage of expressionist street scenes – one crazily angled corner leading to another and another – as quick-quip commentary likens the setting to, among other things, a vast series of staircases that descend to the sea. Pépé's gangster milieu, in which "some people dream of America as they see it at the cinema" (to quote a song lyric in the movie), also innovated the French renovations of stateside underworld archetypes and architecture found in Jean-Pierre Melville's most famed policiers and in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless. The dapper cement-block star, Jean Gabin, is a more authoritative and iconic presence – comparing him with Humphrey Bogart, critic André Bazin wrote that Gabin is "duped by life," whereas Bogart is "defined by fate." But Duvivier is as responsible as his singing actor – a child of the stage – for the fact that Pépé le Moko is the signature movie of both. (1:32) Castro, New PFA Theater. (Huston)

Possession Increasingly bankable yet loathed by many, Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors, Nurse Betty) directs this bucket of upmarket Miramax sentimental slop that's as Merchant-Ivory as contemporary-lit adaptations get. Based on A.S. Byatt's novel, Possession is an elaborate literature-about-literature construct in which two modern-day academics (Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart) hunt down evidence linking two Victorian authors, one obscure, the other fabled. Naturally, the push-pull tentative romance between the latter-day researchers comes to mirror the more tragically thwarted wuv of the late greats. Eckhart (loyally cast by LaBute in all his features to date) comes off best here; for one thing, he's handsome in a large-featured way that flies against the Tom Cruise-alike generic standard we've had for a couple decades. He also bears up under limiting circumstances (underwritten, ugly-American-stereotype style) as a prickly pseudoslacker who might credibly find careerist excitement in 150-year-old communications. Possession looks conventionally "lush" in its wide-screen photography and steady art-house pacing. Yet the flashbacks never convince as anything but costume drama, and the present-day histrionics never get past two characters' annoying self-absorption. (1:42) Empire, Galaxy, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, Orinda. (Harvey)

*Read My Lips France's national brand of Hitchcockian femme fatales and hapless heroes is a film subgenre usually filed under Chabrol, but in Jacques Audiard's Read My Lips, the usual front-and-center homage shell game takes a backseat to spin-the-bottle power struggles. Clara (Emmanuelle Devos) is a deaf office worker who wears her frumpiness like a cloak. Forever being mocked, exploited, and pushed over for promotions, she silently waits her turn to gain an upper hand. Enter Paul (Vincent Cassel), a rough-trade ex-con whom Clara hires on as a temp. Out of pity and animal attraction, she sets him up with an apartment and covers up his mistakes; in turn, he poses as her boyfriend at social events and "convinces" a coworker to stop stealing her work. When Paul is drawn back into the criminal underworld, Clara's new thirst for danger and her singular talent for lipreading pull them both deeper into dark waters. Audiard's deft handling of the comic and crime-story aspects maneuver the movie away from your typical copycat potboiler into the desperate territory of longing and belonging. (1:55) Galaxy. (Fear)

*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, Kabuki, Metreon, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness. (Macias)

*Sex and Lucía In this lush Spanish pic, writer-director Julio Medem (Lovers of the Arctic Circle) weaves a poetic tale about the intersection of fantasy and reality. As an emerging author (Tristán Ulloa) attempts to write his second novel, the lines begin to meld between memory and experience, desire and love, and art and obligation. His girlfriend, Lucía (Paz Vega), along with a mother, a traveler, a porn star, and her daughter, become entwined in the web of his (and their own) unfolding tales of truth and fiction. Moving from Madrid to a small secluded island, the film floats amid the currents of sex and imagination. The sweeping Mediterranean seascapes, shot with vivid overexposure, bring this tale about the dark space between consciousness and unconsciousness – which constantly challenges the viewer to decide what is "real" – dramatically to life. (2:08) Rafael. (Crawford)

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) Rafael. (Wadenius)

*Signs Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's Signs centers on a Pennsylvania farmer and former man of the cloth, Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), who wakes one morning to find mysterious circles in his cornfield. Before long, Graham and his kids – 10-year-old Morgan (Rory Culkin) and 5-year-old Bo (Abigail Breslin) – and his brother, failed baseball pro Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), are thrust into circumstances as terrifying as they are enigmatic. Anyone who's seen The Sixth Sense knows that Shyamalan likes to insert clues that point the way toward the film's final twist; though still an effective technique, with the heavy-handed Signs his touch has become less subtle. Thought-provoking, if obviously trying to be so at times, Signs skillfully reuses the Sixth Sense ploy of slowly drawing the film's subtext to the forefront of the "scary" story. Some corny, distracting factors shadow the finale a bit, but Shyamalan is definitely in his element here. (1:46) Century Plaza, Century 20, Coronet, Empire, Grand Lake, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda. (Eddy)

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams The bite-size secret agents that make up the junior spy force of the "OSS" certainly know how to handle themselves. Whether they're flying through the air on jet propulsion sneakers, or ascending up a giant metal wall with spider-hand magnets, they always have a gadget available to get themselves out of a jam. Back again are Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen (Alexa Vega), who, after saving their parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) in the last installment, have been bumped up to Level 2 spy clearance. This time around, the duo must compete with rival spy kids Gary (Matthew O'Leary) and Gerti (Emily Osment) over which team gets the next top assignment. Robert Rodriguez again writes, directs, produces, and edits, melding Spy Kids 2's slick special effects, colorful set pieces, and exotic locations into one giant toybox of a story. (1:45) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Wadenius)

*Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2:22) Century 20, 1000 Van Ness.

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 20. (Crawford)

*Tadpole There was a brief time in the '70s when, if your only contact with American society was through contemporary film and literature, you'd swear that the United States was mostly composed of New York's Upper East Side. Gary Winick's Tadpole would, in a perfect world, restore the inhabitants of that occasionally grainy-lensed, sometimes Gershwin-soundtracked cultural gestalt to center stage. Fifteen-year-old budding intellectual Oscar Grubman (Aaron Stanford), nicknamed "Tadpole," comes home from boarding school to celebrate Thanksgiving with his history professor dad in Manhattan. His main interest in the holiday homecoming, however, involves a monster crush he's nursing for his middle-age stepmother (Sigourney Weaver). Complications arise when Oscar's seduction by his stepmom's best friend (Bebe Neuwirth) threatens to derail his own Oedipal courtship. Shot in dusty-looking digital video and focusing on a precocious teen pining for an older woman, it's tempting at first to dismiss Tadpole as a low-rent Rushmore. But the hyperintelligent writing and wit overcomes the cruder, clumsier technical moments to make this upper-crust comedy of manners the freshest sex farce in ages. (1:17) Albany, Piedmont. (Fear)

*24 Hour Party People Manchester-based label Factory gave the world Joy Division, the Happy Mondays, and the seeds of rave culture via its sister club Hacienda and was renowned as much for its owners' bad business sense and drug-fueled burnout as for its stark, minimalist sound. 24 Hour Party People seems destined to cement the collective's rightful place in the pantheon, but any notion of genuflection or pedestal polishing quickly gets pissed on. Laden with one of the cinema's most unreliable narrators in the form of Factory impresario Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) and brimming with pop art detritus filmmaking (punky Super 8 comfortably cuddles with druggy D.V.), the film is less concerned with facts than with Factory's mythos as a beautiful supernova failure. Director Michael Winterbottom (Wonderland) incorporates Lester-like giddiness, deconstructive asides, and even actual participants from the era (keep an eye out for Mark E. Smith and Howard DeVoto) to correct the film when it "gets it wrong," still, any glitches are overrun by the film's gleeful willingness to jettison narrative and biopic concerns in order to hook viewers on a feeling. (1:57) Shattuck. (Fear)

XXX Tattooed malcontent Xander Cage (Vin Diesel from The Fast and the Furious) spends his days pulling off outlandish, extreme stunts – until a matter of national security arises, and Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) recruits Cage for a mission no conventional operative has been able to complete. America's newest secret agent soon sets about infiltrating Anarchy 99, a diabolical Russian gang angling for world domination. The fact that the story rips off every spy movie ever made is irrelevant here, and XXX is entertaining enough to justify its flagrant fouls, which include a few too many gratuitous shots of chicks in wet bikinis. This is a movie whose success depends on the audience gasping a collective "Holy shit!" when Cage gets out of another tight spot with effortless, fearless aplomb, outrunning the Colombian army, an avalanche, hails of bullets, and so on. For its lead, XXX should serve as the tipping point to introduce the term "a Vin Diesel movie"; for movie fans unimpressed by pretty boy action heroes like Ben Affleck, XXX signals the welcome return of the muscle-bound, '80s-style one-man army. (2:00) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Eddy)

Rep picks

'Independent Exposure: All Women Edition' See 8 Days a Week, page 48. 111 Minna Gallery.

*'Kung Fu Kult Klassics' This week's Thursday night double feature includes (Lau Ching-Wan alert!) Johnnie To's 1999 Where a Good Man Goes and (Bolo Yeung alert!) the 1979 violent classic Snake Deadly Act. Four Star.