September 11, 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. The film intern is Adam Wadenius. See Rep Clock, page 82, and Movie Clock, page 83, for theater information.

MadCat Women's International Film Festival

The sixth annual MadCat Women's International Film Festival plays Sept. 6-29. Venues are Artists' Television Access (ATA), 992 Valencia, S.F.; El Rio, 3158 Mission, S.F.; New PFA Theater, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and San Francisco Art Institute, 800 Chestnut, S.F. Most shows $7; for more info and a full schedule call (415) 436-9523 or check www.somaglow.com/madcat. For commentary, see last week's Bay Guardian. All times p.m.

Fri/13

ATA Program Two: "Big Cities Short Stories" 8.

Tues/17

El Rio Program Three: Catching Out: The Act of Hopping Freight Trains with "The City Sleeps" 8.

Opening

Ayurveda: The Art of Being Director Pan Nalin's rich documentary offers an intimate look at Ayurveda, an ancient natural healing art practiced in rural India, and explores its influences on alternative health care worldwide. The camera unobtrusively follows several prominent gurus as they cultivate nearly extinct herbs, grind and prepare complex tinctures, and dole out medicinal tree bark, aiming to restore balance among the life energy forces they believe are responsible for maintaining inner and outer well-being and harmony. Nalin, who grew up surrounded by Ayurveda, approaches his topic with reverential respect, though testaments to the miraculous healing of cancers that could not be cured by "English doctors" may make some believers in modern science a bit uneasy. And sure, sitting slathered in dirt in the hot sun for hours for a full body "mud scan" may seem like a difficult way to diagnose gallstones. But in the end, whatever your thoughts on alternative healing, the Ayurveda way of practicing medicine for love, not profit, and treating people, not illnesses, can certainly can teach us all something. (1:42) Rafael, Roxie. (Sabrina Crawford)

Barbershop So much can happen in one day on the South Side of Chicago: so many changes, so many lessons learned, so many haircuts. Calvin Palmer (Ice Cube, who deserves meatier material) resents the fact that he had to take over his late father's barbershop, so he keeps dabbling in moneymaking scams and yearning to be free of the family business. When a slimy businessman offers Calvin a wad of cash for the shop, Calvin sells out and takes the bills. While all this is going on, two not-so-smart thugs are trying to pry open an ATM they stole the night before, which of course eventually ties into Calvin's woes and gives the story some momentum. The best scenes are those in which the characters who work and hang out at the barbershop (including Cedric the Entertainer and rapper Eve) sit around and jaw about everything and nothing. But the rest of Barbershop is weighed down by its too-obvious attempts to be deep and meaningful. (1:42) Century 20, Century Plaza, Grand Lake, Jack London. (Gachman)

*I Am Trying to Break Your Heart See Critic's Choice. (1:32) Opera Plaza, Shattuck.

*The Last Kiss See Movie Clock. (1:44) Albany, Embarcadero, Rafael.

Stealing Harvard Two ne'er-do-wells (Jason Lee and Tom Green) team up to raise tuition bucks for a poor relative who's been accepted at Harvard. (1:23) Century 20, Century Plaza.

Ongoing

Austin Powers in Goldmember (1:36) California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

*The Bank Making money menacing is the goal of new Australian thriller The Bank, writer-director Robert Connolly's second feature. Jim Doyle (David Wenham, who gets serious face time as Faramir in the next two Lord of the Rings installments) is a rumpled, thinky cutie fresh outta grad school who's already "on the verge of discovering the Holy Grail of economic theory." This attracts attention from Simon O'Reilly (Anthony LaPaglia), sharklike CEO of the enormous CentraBank corporation. The unproved Jim is promptly granted staff, a top-security lair, and all the computing gizmos a near bottomless budget can buy in order to develop a system that could actually anticipate market crashes before they occur. He wants to alleviate so much human suffering; Simon, of course, smells less altruistic opportunities. In visual terms, Connolly's direction is only competent, but still, The Bank is progressive pulp – a movie that entertainingly worries just how perilously everyone's financial world balances on the greed and whim of institutions we have almost no influence on. (1:43) Balboa, Rafael. (Harvey)

Baraka Ron Fricke's narrative- and narration-free 1992 feature roams the globe in search of stunning images, offering up one after another – in glorious 70mm, to which format this rerelease has been restored. The image clarity and depth is outclassed only by Imax movies (Fricke had previously directed the similar Chronos in that process); the format, style, and thematic undercurrents owe a great deal to Koyaanisqatsi (which Fricke photographed and co-edited). In other words, it's a sort of National Geographic-travelogue head-flick for New Agers, eco-absolutists, and guilt-savoring first worlders of every stripe. The nature = good, human progress = bad gist is simplistic, to say the least, but duly overwhelmed by pure physical beauty and Michael Stearns's score of drizzling synthesizer washes and world beat snippets. (1:36) Castro. (Harvey)

Blood Work (1:50) Metreon.

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) Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

The Bourne Identity (1:53) 1000 Van Ness.

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)

*The Chateau A pair of adopted brothers – the neurotic, hippy-dippy white-guy philosophy major Graham (Paul Rudd) and the all-business African American Web entrepreneur Rex (Romany Malco) – travel to the south of France to sell a castle they've unexpectedly inherited from a recently deceased uncle. The castle's staff, including a comely maid (Sylvie Testud), subtly tries to sabotage the duo's attempts to unload the property lest they have nowhere to live. Commence crazy fish-outta-water shenanigans. Writer-director Jesse Peretz (the man responsible for that Mentos-flavored Foo Fighters video) bypasses the material's inherent audience-friendly expectations, opting for a more personal, intimate road less traveled that makes all the difference. Surprisingly gentle and giddily goofy, The Chateau beats to the rhythm of a real, human pulse. (1:32) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Fear)

City by the Sea The true saga of the LaMarca family (Angelo, executed for murder; his son, Vincent, a hero cop; Vincent's son, Joey, a junkie-turned-killer) unfolds like a grittier, uncampy version of The Bad Seed. NYPD detective Vincent LaMarca (Robert De Niro) is an introvert, terrified of unleashing the pain he's so meticulously locked out of his life – caused by the loss of his father at a young age while also being branded a criminal's kid, and later the bitter dissolution of his marriage to Margaret (Patti LuPone). Then, of course, there's Joey, the child LaMarca abandoned when the divorce sent him roaring away from the wasteland of Long Beach, N.Y. for good – or so he thought, until the body of a tattooed man with a Long Beach address in his pocket washes ashore in LaMarca's jurisdiction. Director Michael Caton-Jones (This Boy's Life) keeps the Long Beach scenes gray and dreary, a desolate landscape that's note-perfect for the inevitable confrontation between detective and quarry, father and son. Franco blusters a bit, and the filmmakers' decision to add a fourth LaMarca generation (Joey's son, Angelo ... get it?) is a little overwrought. But the compelling true story and De Niro's controlled, slowly unraveling performance render City by the Sea more haunting than expected. (1:48) California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Eddy)

Crop Circles: Quest for Truth "We are being forced to consider that this universe has all kinds of intelligence around us that we are ignoring" – so says journalist Michael Miley in William Gazecki's thought-provoking yet ultimately one-sided documentary that seeks to unravel the mystery behind the crop circle phenomenon in southern England. The film slowly builds its case for the existence of otherworldly symbol-makers, from the circles' geometric and cultural significance to the physical changes that occur in the crops and even far-out theories such as whether the formations are messages from other dimensions. However, Gazecki (who was Oscar-nominated for Waco: The Rules of Engagement) never makes an attempt to address the other end of the field, making no mention of hoaxes that may have taken place and neglecting to give nonbelievers any chance to present their evidence. Instead, his biased point of view raises more questions than he answers, giving us the notion that we have only one option to accept. (1:55) Shattuck. (Wadenius)

Everest (:44) Metreon Imax.

feardotcom Full of unintentional creaks and groans, feardotcom is an alarmingly bad horror movie even by alarmingly bad horror movie standards. But did you really expect anything else, with that title and those TV ads? After visiting a "killer Web site," Stephen Dorff and Natascha McElhone have 48 hours to solve a ghostly curse – and nab a digitally savvy serial killer (Stephen Rea) – before they check into the boneyard. Lameness is a given, but what is surprising is how much and how brazenly director William Malone (last year's House on Haunted Hill) steals from, among others, Euro horror masters Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Not only is the story a rip on the "cursed videotape" conceit from Hideo Nakata's Ring, but also entire sequences and characters have been lifted from Bava's Kill, Baby, Kill and Argento's Inferno. Feardotcom manages to evoke a sense of serious dread and techno-phobia all right, but only as they relate to a filmmaker's overdependence on his DVD collection. (1:38) Century Plaza, Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Macias)

*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) Galaxy. (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, Embarcadero, Empire, Orinda, Piedmont. (Gerhard)

*The Kid Stays in the Picture Robert Evans, who became Hollywood's numero-uno golden-boy producer thanks to a string of hits (Rosemary's Baby, The Godfather, Chinatown), only to have his empire's shag carpeting pulled out from under him, understands the movies' power to make or break personal mythology better than anyone. Today he's got a new one to sell you: his own. And oh, it's a doozy. Evans lived a life that seemed straight out of a movie, or one that seemed destined to become one someday. That day has come with The Kid Stays in the Picture, which charts Evans's three-act rise, fall, and phoenix-like return to the limelight as only an autobiographical testimony can – it's first-personal, skewed, and voyeuristically fascinating beyond belief. Filmmakers Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein (On the Ropes) use Evans's comprehensive personal archive of photos and a 3-D animation program called After Effects to construct a visual equivalent to Evans's aural acid-trip down memory lane. Paired with Evans's own narration, delivered in his velvet mumble of a voice, the result is less a documentary than sheer delirium. (1:31) Opera Plaza. (Fear)

*Lilo and Stitch (1:25) Century 20.

*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. (Eddy)

Mad Love Spain, 1496. The beautiful young princess Joan of Castile (Pilar López de Ayala) marries Fabio look-alike Philip the Handsome (Daniele Liotti) and is soon consumed with a near nymphomaniac passion for the object de l'amour. When her mother passes away, Joan becomes the queen of Castile; when she becomes consumed with jealousy and rage over her husband's infidelities, she transforms into Juana la Loca (Joan the Mad), risking her empire's stability. Veteran Spanish director Vicente Aranda (Lovers) grafts his obsession with ill-fated passion onto a full-fledged historical drama, albeit one with enough moments of carnality and psychic carnage to make the Decameron-era Pasolini squeal. His penchant for impeccably crafted wide-screen images yields some of the most breathtaking murals of classic formalism you're likely to see (every other scene looks like a Rembrandt), lending what's basically a melodramatic tale of a particularly flammable royal moth and her killing flame an air of near transcendental, graceful gravity. (1:57) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Fear)

Men in Black II (1:28) California, Century 20, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

*Minority Report (2:25) Century 20.

*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) Balboa, Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Summers Henderson)

*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.

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, Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, 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) Galaxy, 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) Opera Plaza, Rafael, Shattuck. (Fear)

Road to Perdition (1:59) Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

Serving Sara (1:40) Century Plaza, Century 20, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

*Sex and Lucía (2:08) Lumiere.

*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, Grand Lake, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

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) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Fear)

Spider-Man (1:51) California, Century 20, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (1:45) Century Plaza, Century 20, Kabuki.

Swimfan The plot of this teen Fatal Attraction is nothing new: mysterious femme fatale seduces and stalks the handsome hero, threatening his perfect world, his cute girlfriend, and ultimately his life. Ben Cronin (a very unexciting Jesse Bradford) is a star swimmer who's hoping to get the attention of some Stanford scouts at an upcoming meet. His girlfriend, Amy (Shiri Appleby), leaves him handmade cards in his locker and offers him endless support when he's stressed out, but that doesn't keep Ben from drooling over Madison Bell (Traffic's Erika Christensen), the new blonde from "the South" who slithers down the school hallways in leather skirts and heels. After one night of passion, Madison won't leave poor Ben alone, and the stalking escalates from incessant emails to murder. Whether director John Polson intended it or not, Swimfan's kitschy evil and schlock dialogue give it a campiness that's shamelessly fun to watch. (1:26) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Gachman)

*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) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Fear)

*13 Conversations about One Thing (1:42) Balboa.

*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) Embarcadero, 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, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Gachman)

XXX (2:00) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.

Rep picks

*'All the Colors of the Dark: The Films of Mario Bava' Euro "art movies" always got away with otherwise objectionable content by being, well, arty about it, but by the 1960s the line between edification and exploitation was blurred into an impressionist smear. Directors were permitted any auteurist indulgence (on the set at least – such stuff often got rudely cut out by foreign distributors) so long as they delivered enough sex and violence to maintain the audience's delicious sense of slumming. Generally dismissed or despised by mainstream critics at the time, Eurotrash genre cinema of the '60s and '70s now makes the period look like a golden era of artistic adventure in the cause of crass cash-harvesting. No one was more deeply embroiled in both values than Mario Bava, the late Italian horror master whose works are showcased this month at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and next month at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive. The visual intoxication should be well over legal limits during these series, since the 35mm prints to be screened were fully restored for simultaneous DVD release and represent the most complete versions of oft-cut, retitled, and otherwise messed-with titles. This week: 1972's Lisa and the Devil, a labyrinth of strangeness (satanic Telly Savalas hounds Elke Sommer though hallucinatory crumbling-mansion misadventures) that played only a festival date before it was butchered and stuffed with bad, new, pea soup-vomiting scenes as 1974's opportunistic House of Exorcism; and 1970's Five Dolls for an August Moon, a riot of convoluted giallo mayhem anticipating the next decade's less interesting slasher genre. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Harvey)'The Great Nickelodeon Show' See 8 Days a Week, page tk. Castro.

*'Kung Fu Kult Klassics' This week's Thursday double feature includes 1987's ghost story Golden Swallow, with Anthony Wong, and a second film to be announced. Four Star.