August 28, 2002
Arts and Entertainment
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.
*The Bank See "Banking on It?," page 42. (1:43) Rafael, Roxie.
Baraka See Movie Clock. (1:36) Castro.
The Business of Fancydancing Native American author Sherman Alexie makes his directorial bow with this complex, intriguing look at cross-cultural identity. A popular "crossover" artist because of his Caucasian-friendly poems about Indian suffrage, Seymour Polatkin (Evan Adams) is much less loved in his formative Northwestern tribal community, where he's considered a New Age sellout. As he journeys back to attend a childhood friend's funeral, the gay scribe gets a harsh wake-up lesson in community loyalty. Uneven in character and story development, the movie nonetheless has a textural richness and restless intelligence that consistently fascinate. (1:43) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
feardotcom A detective (Stephen Dorff) investigates a Web site so eeeevil it kills all who dare look on its pages. (1:38) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Jack London.
*Tosca See "Scarlet Diva," page 42. (1:59) Opera Plaza.
The Adventures of Pluto Nash (1:36) Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
*Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (3:02) Four Star, Shattuck.
Austin Powers in Goldmember (1:36) California, Century Plaza,
Century 20, Empire, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van
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 (1:53) Century 20, 1000 Van Ness.
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)
Elvira's Haunted Hills Some films are so bad in their failure to initiate laughs that they become mildly entertaining examples of botched humor. This is not one of those films. No, this is a film so terrible that it skips right on through the "so bad it's good" phase and moves right along to "so bad I want to strangle the man who invented jokes for having given the screenwriters of this dreck license to believe that they could ever make up funny ones." Now I know that this or any Elvira film is meant purely as a camp-horror extravaganza, yet this mess falls miserably short of its simple goal, with the majority of the blame falling on a painfully unfunny screenplay by Cassandra Peterson and John Paragon. I won't waste any time with plot details, because the story line is about as useful to the film as a turtleneck sweater is to its rapidly aging star. (1:31) Clay. (Wadenius)
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. (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, Empire, Orinda, Piedmont. (Gerhard)
Happy Times (1:56) Four Star.
ivans xtc. (1:32) Galaxy.
*Lilo and Stitch (1:25) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake.*Little Secrets Director Blair Treu's film is the tale of Emily ("like Dickinson and Brontë" and played by Evan Rachel Wood), a bright, intense suburban 14-year-old in love with the violin who moonlights as the neighborhood mystic, keeping the cracked vases, hush-hush secrets, and broken promises of local kids hidden in her treasure chest. Her clients provide endless troubles, her mother a surprise pregnancy, and her music mentor sage advice, all of which teaches Emily about the burdens of silence. Secrets chronicles that rocky in-between time when adult duties such as skipping summer camp to audition for the orchestra mix with the whimsy of playing dress-up, youthful crushes, and girlhood bonds. Picture the adventurous spirit of The Secret Garden with a hint of The Brady Bunch's "aren't you glad we're all in this together" sentiment. (1:47) Century 20, Metreon, Shattuck. (Sabrina Crawford)
*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) Balboa, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat (1:44) Century 20.
Men in Black II (1:28) Century 20.
*Metropolis See Critic's Choice. (2:00) Castro, Rafael, Shattuck.*Minority Report (2:25) Balboa, Century 20.
*Monsoon Wedding (1:54) Balboa, Shattuck.
*Mostly Martha Hamburg-born writer-director Sandra Nettelbeck's sumptuous new film, Mostly Martha, extends the Euro-foodie film genre to Germany with its story of a woman looking for love amid scads of gorgeously shot meat, fish, and pasta. Martha (Martina Gedeck) is a top chef at a fancy Italian restaurant in Hamburg. Martha's fiery, uncompromising spirit comes across in her meticulous control of the kitchen and in her refusal to ever let a customer get away with criticizing her food. Even in her therapy sessions she can't bring herself to express her feelings about love and life but obsessively recites recipes to her shrink. The sudden death of Martha's sister in a car accident is the tragic catalyst that opens her emotional floodgates, the rock-bottom moment that makes her fall apart. When Martha's boss (Sibylle Canonica) brings on a free-spirited Italian sous chef (Sergio Castellitto) to help out in the kitchen, Martha's frustration and anxiety mount. Martha offers an array of sensual and cinematic pleasures, and it ultimately has even more to say to us about grief and longing and about how we must reach out to those around us in both good times and bad. (1:47) Albany, Clay. (Jenni Olson)
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.
*Notorious C.H.O. (1:35) Balboa.
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) Act I and II, Bridge, Orinda, Piedmont. (Fear)
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 (1:55) Galaxy.
*Rivers and Tides (1:30) Rafael.
Road to Perdition (1:59) Century 20, Four Star, Kabuki, Metreon, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness.
*Secret Ballot A ballot box is air-dropped at dawn into the safekeeping of a soldier (Cyrus Abidi) who stands watch in a sleepy provincial backwater of Iran. The package represents the gift of democracy delivered from on high. It's a simultaneously absurd and ominous image and altogether fitting for the start of this wise and winsome comedy by Iranian writer-director Babak Payami. Fast on the heels of the box comes an agent from Tehran (Nassim Abdi) to collect local votes for a national election. But, in the first of a series of colliding worldviews that make up the film, the soldier declares himself loathe to cooperate since the agent is a woman. The bustling bureaucrat quickly pulls rank, however, enlisting his help (and his jeep) in making herself available to would-be voters across the parched, thinly populated vistas of Kish Island in the Persian Gulf. Musing on the competing allegiances to God, the gun, and the ballot, Payami unsettles glib notions of "progress" and instead explores the complexity of change and exchange in contemporary Iran. He's too shrewd to endorse any of those jockeying authorities outright, preferring to show the weaknesses of each in the foibles of their somewhat ridiculous spokespersons. In the unlikely friendship that quietly blossoms between the soldier and the bureaucrat, the film hints at the decidedly human dimension to all social change. (1:45) Rafael. (Avila)
Serving Sara The premise of Serving Sara isn't a bad idea for a summer comedy: a sleazy process server (Matthew Perry) attempts to serve the former trophy wife (Elizabeth Hurley) of a wealthy Texas cattle rancher and winds up becoming her partner in the race to the courthouse. And the film has its moments. There are a few gleeful sequences involving ass-whooping, monster trucks, and bestial innuendo à la Top Secret. But overall, the comic execution is limp. Hurley frolics about in a skimpy Daisy Duke getup in her quest for revenge, while Perry (unshaven and looking very much like an actor on the verge of a pill-popping overdose) oozes jaded-guy attitude. Despite real-life drug problems and pompous one-liners, Perry just doesn't cut it as a bad boy on the big screen. Someone should tell him to lay off the leather and stick to his cream sweaters and spoiled-wise-guy routine alongside the rest of the cast Friends. (1:40) California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Crawford)
*Signs (1:46) Century Plaza, Century 20, Coronet, Grand Lake, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
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) Jack London, Metreon, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness. (Fear)
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (1:45) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
*Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2:22) Century 20.
Stuart Little 2 (1:18) Century 20.
*Swimming Growing up in a resort town is a weird one could cynically say apt preparation for life. The annual influx of strangers having the presumed time of their lives seems to suggest everybody else knows something you don't. That restiveness amid endless trivial diversions is nicely caught by Robert J. Siegel's Swimming. Her parents having retired to Arizona, Frankie Wheeler (Lauren Ambrose) is stuck running the family's Myrtle Beach, S.C., restaurant and bar with her older brother. Frankie lets herself be dragged hither and yon by best friend Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Love), a fiend for attention who needs an audience to witness each conquest. Passive, ultra-noncompetitive Frankie fills that role perfectly. This balance is upset by the arrival of gorgeous Josee (Joelle Carter), whom Frankie helps get a job as a waiter. Disastrous as diner help but forgiven for the way she turns heads 180 degrees while tottering around in flimsy-fabric microtubes one might liberally call dresses Josee can't help being the object of fervent universal desire that Nicola strenuously casts herself as. Swimming risks inconsequence by resisting melodrama so thoroughly, though that restraint is also its strength. The performances are perfectly low-key; the humor and angst ditto. (1:38) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Harvey)
*Tadpole (1:17) Albany.
*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)
Undisputed Do you think Mike Tyson, while incarcerated, would have been allowed in the ring to beat on his fellow inmates? If it brought in a heavy cash flow, maybe. That's one hurdle to get over watching Walter Hill's new style-over-substance movie about a heavyweight champ called Iceman (Ving Rhames) sent to hardcore Sweetwater Prison on a rape charge, only to find out that it's not so easy to be the badass when you're locked up and stripped of your title, your limos, and all the hype. Iceman soon finds out that the only person that stands a chance of beating him is a brooding, Yoda-like inmate named Monroe Hutchen (Wesley Snipes) who's the undefeated champ on the inside. When whiskey-and-cigar voiced inmate Mendy Ripstein (Peter Falk) a white-collar criminal who's still running numbers and making millions behind bars, and who also happens to be a boxing aficionado sets up a match between Monroe and Iceman, it becomes a battle between the underdog and Caligula. The set design's too pretty for a prison ring, and the good-evil line's a little too thin, but Hill's movie still rises above anything that's come off the shallow Bruckheimer assembly line. The ending might leave some people unsatisfied, but if you've gotta get your tough-guy action fix, or if you've got an affection for Peter Falk, Undisputed is worth a look. (1:30) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Gachman)
XXX (2:00) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.
The Fact of Asian Women See 8 Days a Week, page 54. Delancey Street Theater.
Harold and Maude See 8 Days a Week, page 54. (1:31) Red Vic.*'Kung Fu Kult Klassics' This week's Thursday night double feature includes Johnnie To's 1998 Where a Good Man Goes, starring Lau Ching-Wan and Leon Lai, and Master of the Flying Guillotine's Jimmy Wang Yu in the 1971 Chow Ken. Four Star.