October 2, 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, and Movie Clock, for theater information.
Mill Valley Film Festival
The 25th Annual Mill Valley Film Festival plays Oct 3-13. Venues are the Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St, San Rafael; CinéArts @ Sequoia, 25 Throckmorton, Mill Valley; Century Cinema, 41 Tamal Vista, Corte Madera. Most shows $7-9; for more information and a full schedule call (925) 866-9559 or check www.mvff.com. For commentary, see "Silver Screens," page 48. All times p.m. unless otherwise noted.
Sequoia White Oleander 7, 7:30. Just a Kiss 9:45.
Rafael Frida 7.
Sequoia "Five@Five: A Heart is Not a Toy" (short films) 5. Welcome to Collinwood 7. Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka'ehukai 7:15. Bloody Sunday 9:15. Intact 9:30.
Rafael "The Northern De-Lites" (shorts program) 5. I'm Taraneh, 15 6:45. "Tribute to Robin Wright Penn" 7. MMI 7:15. Gagooman (The Twilight) 9. Farang Ba (Crazy White Foreigner) 9:15. Made-Up (A Vanity Production) 9:30.
Sequoia Atlético San Pancho 11:30a. The King's Beard noon. Nine Good Teeth 1:45. New Suit 2. Stand and Deliver 4. I Was a Rat 4:30. Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony 6:30. Sweet Sixteen 7:15. Ping Pong 8:45. The Crime of Father Amaro 9:30.
Rafael Gangs from Rosario 11a. "Human Rights and Inhuman Wrongs" (shorts program) 11:15a. A Dream in Hanoi 11:30a. "Aardvark Adventures and Other Animania" (shorts program) 1. Higher Still 1:45. My Father, the Genius 2. "Even Oddfellows Get the Blues" (shorts program) 2:45. Leaving by the Way 4. Under One Roof 4:45. "Videosyncrasis 2002" (shorts program) 5. The Stoneraft 6:30. Beauty Queen Olivia 7. At Home and Asea 7:15. Rabbit-Proof Fence 9:15. These Are Not My Images (neither there nor here) 9:30. Lost in La Mancha 9:45.
Sequoia Nine Good Teeth 11a. Exam 11:15. "Animated Amigos" (shorts program) 11:30a. I Was a Rat 1:30. Autumn Spring 3:15. Help, I'm a Boy! 4. The Lover 5:30. Farang Ba (Crazy White Foreigner) 6:30. City of God 8. Frida 9.
Rafael The Seven Samurai 10a. Minoes 11a. We Are Family 1. Alambrista! 2:15. What Do You Believe? 2:45. Beauty Queen Olivia 4. Chekhov's Motifs 4:30. "Cake, Steak, and Cheez Whiz: A Youth Video Buffet" 4:45. Last Seen 6:30. Igor Stravinsky, Composer 7. Taking Sides 7:15. Heaven's Crossroad and Inside the Box 8:45. Higher Still 9:15. Welcome to Collinwood 9:30.
Sequoia "Five@Five: You Gotta Pay the Band" 5. A Dream in Hanoi 6:45. Bug 7. Gebirtig 9:15. Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew 9:30.
Rafael Atlético San Pancho 5. "Even Oddfellows Get the Blues" (shorts program) 6:45. Autumn Spring 7. "Independent Spirits: Faith Hubley/John Hubley" (shorts program) 7:15. TBA 9. The Stoneraft 9:15. Under One Roof 9:30.
Sequoia "Five@Five: Storywise" (shorts program) 5. Kabala 6:30. Bloody Sunday 7. Deadline 9:15. My Father, the Genius 9:30.
Rafael Uncle Ghost 4:45. Letter from the Mountain 6:30. Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka'ehukai 7. MMI 7:15. I'm Taraneh, 15 9. Amandla! A Revolution in Four Pary Harmony 9:15. Heaven's Crossroad and Inside the Box 9:30.
*Invincible See "Giant Heart," page 50. (2:08) Roxie.
Just a Kiss A group of acquaintances, friends, and lovers (including Taye Diggs, Kyra Sedgwick, and Marisa Tomei) tangles with relationships in this quirky comedy. (1:29) Lumiere, Shattuck.
The Man from Elysian Fields See Movie Clock. (1:46) Embarcadero, Shattuck.
Red Dragon Anthony "the Cannibal" Hopkins returns in this Silence of the Lambs prequel, based on the same book that spawned Michael Mann's 1986 Manhunter. (2:05) Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, Grand Lake, Jack London, Orinda.
Wasabi Frequent collaborators Luc Besson and Gérard Krawczyk team up again for this comic action thriller. Jean Reno (The Professional) stars as Hubert, a kind of French Clint Eastwood a tough-guy cop with a violent trigger who gets summoned to Tokyo to solve the mysterious death of his long-lost love. Once in Japan, Hubert teams up with the spunky teenager daughter (Ryoko Hirosue) he never knew he had and a dim-witted, gun-happy former spy buddy (Michel Muller) to take on the black-clad, dark glasses-wearing mob. The shoot-'em-up action sequences and eye-popping color orgy of downtown Tokyo give the flick a borderline comic book reality. But Wasabi gets bogged down by its sensitive side: the clichéd father-daughter reunion moments feel ridiculous to the point of being cringe-worthy inside the film's dense, Technicolor world of hyperviolence. Still, scenes like the one in which the sprightly Hirosue storms the mall with square papa in toe, then changes into a slew of ruffled, sequined, and plastic club kid outfits and bounces in techno-time to a video game dance-athon make Wasabi an easy-on-the-brain bargain matinee. (1:34) California, Lumiere. (Sabrina Crawford)
Apollo 13: The Imax Experience (1:57) Metreon IMAX.
Austin Powers in Goldmember (1:36) Century 20, 1000 Van Ness.
Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever Adorned with decidedly unexciting car explosions, emotionless gun-toting principals, and unimaginative two-shot exposition scenes, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever may very well be the first action movie suitable only for people on massive amounts of antianxiety medications. Planet-size plot holes and major general incoherence are the order of the day as former FBI agent Ecks (Antonio Banderas) is lured into a sort-of showdown with "ultimate killing machine" Sever (Lucy Liu) by his former Defense Intelligence Agency handlers. Remember when "vs." used to mean "fight to the death," à la King Kong vs. Godzilla, rather than "scuffle once or twice before teaming up to battle a common foe?" Thai director Wych Kaosayananda, a.k.a. Kaos, has all his guns and ammo in check but makes tactical blunders in the action scenes that even a 12-year-old Counter-Strike player would wince at. (1:30) Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Macias)
The Banger Sisters There's a genuine sadness to Bob Dolman's The Banger Sisters, and I'm not talking about the pseudo moment of self-discovery when Suzette (Goldie Hawn) realizes that sleeping with "zonked-out musicians" all her life has left her empty and unhappy. No, it's our own somber realization that not only is Hawn grasping at the frayed ends of her illustrious youth, but also for some reason she thinks she can re-capture it by following in the footsteps of daughter Kate Hudson (Almost Famous). After losing her bartending gig at an LA nightclub, the weathered Suzette ventures off in search of her long-lost friend Lavinia (Susan Sarandon), who, Suzette assumes, will most certainly dump her lavish lifestyle and successful family for another chance to go out and party like the good ol' days. Maybe it's just me, but two aging ex-groupies out flailing the night away to "Burning Down the House" is not a particularly appealing cinematic experience. (1:37) Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, Grand Lake, Metreon, Orinda, 1000 Van Ness. (Wadenius)
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) Shattuck. (Harvey)
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, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Gachman)
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) 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
The Bourne Identity (1:53) 1000 Van Ness.
*Chaos Take advantage of the chance to see a film by Japanese horror director Hideo Nakata on the big screen before the Hollywoodized version of his hugely popular Ring opens next month. In Chaos, the director wields psychological unease with an expert hand, starting with what seems like a simple kidnapping and spiraling into a complicated scenario where characters and situations are not at all what they seem. The influence of Hitchcock (especially Vertigo) and new-school noir is obvious, with a femme fatale who fluidly changes identities and a twisty, complicated plot that jumps around in time. You'll probably guess the outcome before the hapless protagonist does, but still, Chaos is far more intriguing and suspenseful than most anything that passes for an "erotic thriller" on this side of the Pacific. (1:30) Four Star. (Eddy)
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) Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Das Experiment Oliver Hirschbiegel's Das Experiment recycles the factual saga of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment in fictive thriller terms. Cab driver protagonist Tarek (Moritz Bleibtreu from Run Lola Run) enters the study because he hopes to relaunch his lapsed journalism career just as in the Stanford project, a student activist planned on selling an article to underground newspapers and was responsible for inciting conflict in hopes of a better story. And things spiral out of control much as they did three decades ago. This being a movie, however, they naturally get a lot bloodier by the final reels than nonfiction allowed. Bereft as it may be of original ideas, Das Experiment still has terrific potential. The notion of voluntary role-playing drawing out the capabilities we have for dominance, sadism, psychosis, and all else normally kept under "civilized" society's firm control is a rich one. Unfortunately, Das Experiment can't resist pulling away from those deeper resonances and going for typical popcorn thrills. (1:54) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
*8 Women Though other films by François Ozon (Water Drops on Burning Rocks, in particular) prove he's adept at creating unflattering male portraits, his latest gift to audiences comes wrapped in feminine packaging. When 8 Women's faux-Technicolor paper is ripped off, female duplicity is revealed, and Ozon presents the spectacle with compassionate cynicism. The musical whodunit unites many but not all of France's most famous actresses: Catherine Deneuve rules, or attempts to rule, with trademark hauteur over a cast that includes Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart, Virginie Ledoyen, and grand dame Danielle Darrieux. During a title sequence that also pays homage to the rain shower of phony jewels in the opening credits of Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life, the name of each actress is matched with a flower, some symbolic of innocence, some overtly obscene. The plot that follows is a murder mystery, but Ozon's true investigation as usual is a misanthrope's inquest into human nature. (2:00) Albany, Clay. (Huston)
The Four Feathers Semi-greatness, or at least competency, is to be expected from director Shekhar Kapur after the excellent Elizabeth, but The Four Feathers can boast one good battle scene and little else, saddled as it is by a horrific screenplay and a passel of unsympathetic characters. After a tiny bit of soul-searching, a British officer (Heath Ledger) resigns rather than be shipped to a messy battleground in the Sudan. He's promptly branded a coward by his pals and his beloved (Kate Hudson). After a tiny bit more soul-searching, he heads to Africa to redeem himself, growing the world's fastest beard and befriending the world's most cliched "noble savage" character (Djimon Hounsou, a compelling actor who deserves way better). Anyone who calls this overblown, wanna be-important flick an "epic" and anyone who wants to see a similarly camel-laden military adventure done a zillion times better should forgo this poor excuse and seek out the masterful Lawrence of Arabia during its current 40th anniversary revival. (2:03) California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
*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) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Gerhard)
How I Killed My Father A successful doctor (Charles Berling) is given a letter informing him that his father (Michel Bouquet), who had abandoned his family decades earlier, has just passed away in Africa. Later that same evening, the father suddenly appears at his son's house for an extended stay, wherein the patriarchal figure proceeds to puncture the doctor's frail façade of a perfect life bit by control-issue-driven bit. Fans of ye olde European art house enigma flicks will find themselves happier than pigs in slop trying to discern Freudian fantasy from neurotic fact, while actress-turned-director Anne Fontaine (Dry Cleaning) lays wreaths at the altars of maestros past (an Ophuls gliding camera here, an angular Bergmanesque duality homage there) along possibly patricidal psychological-thriller pathways. Her willingness to blur reality lines serve to incite analysis rather than confusion, however, and what at first seems little more than a dysfunctional family portrait turns into an enthralling case study as its layers are peeled off one by one. (1:40) Balboa. (Fear)
*I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (1:32) Galaxy.
Igby Goes Down (1:38) Galaxy, Metreon, Orinda, Shattuck.
In Praise of Love Touted as a "return to form," Jean-Luc Godard's latest will disappoint anyone expecting youthful energy: the film may have the 60s blues, but in this case "60s" refers to Godard's age, not the 20th century's. Death is no longer offhandedly depicted it's pondered in tones of dread. He may return to the streets of Paris, but he still privileges philosophy over narrative: Balzac, Bresson, Weil, and Hugo aid him in building a convoluted, curmudgeonly mental maze. Technology is accused of erasing history, Steven Spielberg is charged with exploiting Schindler's widow, and America's titanic beauty is attacked for being nameless and amnesiac. As dreamlike cinematography shifts from black and white to color, the question "What is an adult?" is repeatedly asked. Though the clock seems to be winding down, an answer never arrives. (1:38) Oaks, Opera Plaza. (Huston)
In Shifting Sands: The Truth about UNSCOM and the Disarming of Iraq This new doc by former United Nations weapons inspector (and ex-Marine intelligence officer) Scott Ritter studies why weapons inspection in Iraq has become an increasingly tense issue since the Gulf War. The United States which, despite an agreement to the contrary, kept economic sanctions against Iraq in place even after the United Nations special committee declared Iraq more than 95 percent disarmed comes across as exceedingly sinister, willing to override the wishes of the U.N. for its own selfish purposes. On the other hand, the film notes that Saddam Hussein's refusal to allow inspectors access to certain locations is a clear indication of his priorities he'd rather keep whatever weapons he might have hidden away, rather than comply with the U.N. and clear the way for the sanctions against his poverty-stricken people to be lifted. Somewhat dry and saddled with its own baggage (though not revealed to the viewer, the film was largely funded by an alleged pro-Saddam Iraqi American), In Shifting Sands isn't quite the open-and-shut excoriation of the U.S. government it would like to be. However, its insider perspective on such timely subject matter makes it well worth a look. (1:32) Roxie. (Eddy)
*The Last Kiss Writer-director Gabriele Muccino's The Last Kiss, a tender look at the realities of growing up and settling down, is also a modernized take on the traditional Italian sex comedy. Less about raw lust (though there's no shortage here) than about the restlessness that permeates contemporary relationships, the film ultimately paints love as a state of perpetual confusion and repeatedly asks whether it is ever possible to recognize happiness once you've found it. Muccino accomplishes this through the interwoven stories of a group of college buddies on the verge of hitting 30: Carlo (Stefano Accorsi, also of the Italian import The Son's Room) is secretly petrified of marrying his pregnant girlfriend, Paolo (Claudio Santamaria) can't seem to get over his domineering ex, and Alberto (Mario Cocci) is beginning to question the value of an endless string of one-night stands. Well-structured and well-acted, The Last Kiss deftly canvasses the gamut of human emotions, from the joys of childbirth to the dizzying fear that somehow, somewhere, a better life is passing us by. (1:44) Act I and II, Embarcadero. (Cohen)
*Lawrence of Arabia Very, very near the start of T.E. Lawrence's cinematic memorial, barely one reel in and right after our hero has shuffled off this mortal coil, a departing mourner is asked for comments on the recently deceased. "What, more words?" he wearily replies ... not unlike a critic attempting to translate the experience of watching this beloved touchstone of Goliath-size image-making into mere scratches on a page. Really, what can you say about David Lean's absurdly epic movie that hasn't already been carved into stone by worshipers of the collective wide-screen unconscious, dutiful Hollywood historians, and your own mind's eye in the past 40 years? It's better to just see it on a big screen like the Castro's and let it wash over, firsthand. Bringing back the 1989 restoration road show of the film that cemented its status for a new generation of popcorn addicts, this ruby-anniversary version comes complete with a restored writing credit for blacklisted contributor Michael Wilson, a new 70mm print, and digitally remastered sound. (3:36) Castro. (Fear)
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) Balboa. (Fear)
Moonlight Mile After a young woman in the wrong place at the wrong time is murdered, her fiancé (Jake Gyllenhaal), mother (Susan Sarandon), and closed-off father (Dustin Hoffman) must pick up the pieces amid feelings of guilt, grief, and good intentions gone sour. Director Brad Silberling's autobiographical meditation on loss is a substantial leap from his deathly City of Angels and offers much in the way of grace notes. Some amazing performances (Gyllenhaal hits all of the right awkward notes, Sarandon bites into a meaty character with both subtlety and fangs) and a transcendental last shot help screen mourning become electric, which unfortunately makes the pandering moments designed for instant audience gratification (do we really need another slow dance in a crowded bar scene, or that cringe-inducing false courtroom epiphany?) stick out like sore thumbs. There's much to recommend, but one wishes this elegiac take on moving on had enough courage to dive headfirst into its touchy subject rather than simply stick its toe into the water then retreat. (2:03) Century Plaza, Kabuki, Metreon, Shattuck. (Fear)
*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, Embarcadero. (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)
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 mind set) 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) Century 20, Embarcadero. (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) Kabuki. (Harvey)
Road to Perdition (1:59) Shattuck.
*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) Balboa, 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, Shattuck. (Fear)
Satin Rouge Each night in a small Tunisian town, a cabaret filled with jovial male patrons comes to life when bejeweled belly dancers take the stage. The allure of such a sensual underworld is unimaginable to Lilia (Hiyam Abbas), a widowed seamstress who divides her time between sewing, cleaning, and worrying about her rebellious teenage daughter. That is, until she stumbles upon it while snooping into her daughter's love life. What follows is a much needed tour of self-discovery for Lilia. Unfortunately, her metamorphosis, while uplifting, is disappointingly slow and predictable. The film, by writer-director Raja Amari, is partly redeemed by its many belly dancers, whose fluid movements and rapid-fire gyrations are quite enchanting, and by the breathtaking Tunisian cityscapes. There is also something to be said for touting an image of feminine beauty that celebrates women as they exist in nature, folds, love handles, and all. (1:40) Balboa. (Cohen)
Secretary Its special prize at Sundance earlier this year for "originality" only proved that for many people consensual dominance-submission is still a waaaaay exotic concept. If you're not so easily shocked, this will be readily seen for what it really is: an offbeat yet familiarly "quirky" romantic-comedy date flick. Adapted from a Mary Gaitskill story, Steven Shainberg's accomplished feature revolves around the gradual self-definition of Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a jittery wallflower who's just gotten out of an institution for inflicting grievous bodily harm on herself. Determined to escape the clinging of an aging trophy-wife mom (Lesley Ann Warren) and the shadow of a too-perfect elder sister, Lee takes the first job offer she gets: secretary to attorney E. Edward Grey (neurotic yuppie archetype James Spader). Plagued by more than a few dimly glimpsed insecurities himself, he's alternately solicitous and harsh. But Lee finds his occasional (then frequent, then constant) "disciplinary" strictures exciting, even liberating external humiliation frees her from her own tiresome demons, obedience perversely allowing her to become the person she'd never had the courage or confidence to be before. Smartly wrapping outré content in a deadpan veneer, with excellent lead performances, Secretary is a classic Cinderella story at heart its non-p.c. progress admits without guilt that, yes, some women really do want a man to boss them around. (1:44) Act I and II, Bridge, Empire, Piedmont. (Harvey)
*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) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Skins In this follow-up to his 1998 success Smoke Signals, Native American filmmaker Chris Eyre returns with an insightful yet frustrating work about rampant poverty and alcohol abuse on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. Police officer Rudy Yellow Lodge (Eric Schweig) spends most of his nights locking up drunken residents oftentimes including his older brother Mogie (Graham Greene). Tired of the violence that is slowly eating away at the community, Rudy takes matters into his own hands as a vigilante, applying swift justice to local delinquents. Aside from Rudy's behavior, the film is most troubling in that it raises important questions about the issues facing the residents of Pine Ridge, all the while failing to explore any solutions to these problems. Based on Adrian C. Louis's 1995 novel, the screenplay instead resorts to cheap sentimentality and a finale that, while intended as an act of liberation, comes across as inappropriate. (1:30) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Wadenius)
Spirited Away A little girl and her parents stumble across an "abandoned amusement park!" (No, it's not Euro-Disney.) After her folks eat some magical food and literally turn into pigs, the girl goes through the looking glass into a world of talking animals, hungry ghosts, cute boys who are really dragons, and one pissed-off, gigantic toddler. Like the best fables, grand anime sensei Hayao Miyazaki's (Princess Mononoke) fantasy epic is both charmingly childish and a feverish nightmare. Why Miyazaki's work is getting the red-carpet treatment from the House of Mickey is almost as mystifying as the film's scattershot "plot"; whether Disney is hoping to court a homegrown generation raised in the light of the Sailor Moon or is just altruistically giving a mainstream release to a complete, if barely comprehensible, work of imagination is one for the ages. Regardless of mouse-eared intentions, Spirited Away is one undeniable visual experience that may require viewers to simply give up following the story, sit back, and just enjoy the acidic trip. (2:04) Kabuki, Metreon, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Fear)
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (1:45) Century 20, Oaks.
Stealing Harvard (1:23) Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
*Sweet Home Alabama Up-and-coming fashion designer Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon) has just accepted a proposal from her high-society beau (Patrick Dempsey, eerily JFK Jr.-like), who happens to be the son of the image-conscious New York City mayor (Candice Bergen). Trouble is, Melanie has a secret, hell-raisin' past and a good ol' boy husband (Matthew McConaughey clone Josh Lucas) in backwater Pigeon Creek, Ala. When the former "Felony Melanie" heads south for the first time in seven years determined to finalize her divorce, her stilettos-'n'-cell phone persona makes for culture clash with the yokels (including her plain-folks parents, played by Fred Ward and Mary Kay Place). Social faux pas ensue, Civil War jokes abound, the nature of true love is pondered, and come on, if you've seen the trailer, you know how this cinematic equivalent of lemon chess pie ends. It's a chick flick, sure, but the Witherspoon factor ensures Sweet Home Alabama is a top-notch entry into the genre. (1:49) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Eddyy)
Swimfan (1:26) Century 20, 1000 Van Ness.
Trapped(1:39) Century 20, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
The Tuxedo Real-life superhuman Jackie Chan has struck gold more than once with buddy comedies (both Rush Hour movies, Shanghai Noon) that mask his lessened abilities to perform his trademark jaw-dropping stunts (hey, even superhumans get old) with jokey repartee. The formula fails in The Tuxedo, however, mostly because costar Jennifer Love Hewitt is no Chris Tucker. Or Owen Wilson. It's not entirely Hewitt's fault, though; the movie wants to be Inspector Gadget-meets-James Bond, but too many slo-mo shots of Hewitt's boobs, the terrifying sight of Chan sporting a Hooters t-shirt and soul patch, and some way overused plot contrivances (four words: James Brown as himself) render The Tuxedo more work than fun to watch. (1:39) Calfornia, Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
*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) Lumiere.
XXX (2:00) 1000 Van Ness.
'Cinemath' See 8 Days a Week, page 54. PFA Theater.
Fudoh Dead or Alive director Miike Takashi's 1996 release the greatest Japanese gangland trash epic in ages, featuring the fearsome sartorial stylings of Riki Takeuchi gets a big-screen renaissance. (1:38) Four Star.
*'Kung Fu Kult Klassics' and 'Midnites for Maniacs' This week's kung fu double feature includes one of last year's greatest movies, Love on a Diet, starring fat-suited H.K. superstars Sammi Cheng and Andy Lau, plus Samo Hung's 1981 comedy-horror Encounter of the Spooky Kind. Saturday's midnight movie is Lo Chen's crazed 1974 Mad Killer. Four Star.