October 23, 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. See Rep Clock, page 103, and Movie Clock, page 104, for theater information.

Opening

All the Queen's Men A mid-'60s-style multinational Euromuddle with Yank and English stars, an expansive budget, and no guiding intelligence whatsoever, this World War II-set "comedy" makes Hogan's Heroes look like La grande illusion. Matt LeBlanc, Eddie Izzard, and James Cosmo play Allied agents assigned to infiltrate a 1944 Nazi munitions factory to discover a secret communications code's key. And oh, here's the funny part: because it's an all-female factory, they have to go undercover as women! Ha-ha! That all three are the ugliest and least convincing female impersonators you'll ever see is typical of the film's all-around haplessness, in which tired slapstick, fairly brutal violence, charmless performances, a perfunctory romance, and an ending that practically screams contempt for the audience. jostle for most-painful-element status. Not even memorably bad enough to qualify as perversely entertaining, this dud from Austrian music video director Stefan Ruzowitzky makes sense only as somebody's colossal tax write-off. You know you're in cinematic no-man's-land when a movie can't even get laughs from Udo Kier as a Nazi general with a streak of boudoir masochism. (1:39) Galaxy. (Harvey)

Auto Focus See "Sex Machines," page 46. (1:47) Embarcadero, Empire, Shattuck.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld's recent stand-up tour forms the backdrop for this doc about how comedy routines are created and performed. (1:22) Lumiere.

*Cookers See Critic's Choice. (1:49) Red Vic.

*Dog Soldiers The moratorium on decent werewolf movies has finally been lifted with this intense and fantastically scary British horror film. A squad of troops on a training mission in the Scottish highlands find themselves stalked by something hairy, hostile, and very hungry for human flesh. Under the light of the full moon, the men take refuge in a remote abandoned house, where the rapidly dwindling crew make their final stand against a clan of wily lycanthropes. Guns and ammo they've got, but there's nary a silver bullet in sight. Writer-director Neil Marshall goes for the throat with lots of breaking glass and "my guts are hanging out" gross-outs, and the end result couldn't be further from the moody-broody horror films making the rounds now (Below, The Ring). Genre devotees will recognize the nods to George Romero's zombie films and Sam Raimi's Evil Dead flicks (one of the soldiers is even named Bruce Campbell), but there's enough invention and wicked reinvention here, from the mix of soccer hooligan brogue and elegant werewolf design, to heartily recommend Dog Soldiers for a Halloween treat. (1:45) Roxie. (Macias)

Ghost Ship Terror hits the high seas when a salvage team (including Gabriel Byrne and Julianna Margulies) discovers an abandoned vessel loaded with treasures ... and spooks. (1:25) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake.

The Grey Zone Tim Blake Nelson, who played Delmar in the Coen's O Brother, Where Art Thou?, might be getting huge write-ups for his latest directorial effort, but don't let the attention fool you. Nelson adapts a true story of Sonderkommandos – Jews who were granted certain privileges for helping the Nazis in the gas chambers, until they were themselves eventually gassed – and turns it into a bad Philosophy 101 session. You can feel Nelson aiming for a lofty stance in every line of dialogue uttered by Harvey Keitel (in a bad German accent), Mira Sorvino, Steve Buscemi, and David Arquette (all in American accents, which makes suspension of disbelief a little difficult). If the film's pretentious writing, acting (the characters sound more like gangsters than WWII prisoners), and annoying handheld camera work aren't enough to send you back into the lobby, try spending two hours with characters that don't deserve a shred of sympathy, no matter how much The Grey Zone tries to justify their actions. (1:48) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Gachman)

*The Happiness of the Katakuris See "The Sound of Miike," page 46. (1:53) Opera Plaza, Shattuck.

Jackass: The Movie Don't try this at home. (1:25) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Shattuck.

*Naqoyqatsi Following Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi, this third entry in filmmaker Godfrey Reggio's wordless trilogy of laments over man's inhumanity to man (and the planet) is at once the most experimental and the least chilly of the lot. It represents a considerable departure from the visual tactics of the prior two. Where they rested on grandly photographed, sometimes time-lapsed but essentially straightforward views of natural and human landscapes, Naqoyqatsi is almost entirely composed of trick shots: superimposed, solarized, composited, digitally manipulated, split-screen, slo-/fast-motion, anamorphically lensed, digitally altered, tinted, and found-footage images. Yet despite all the flamboyance of technique, Reggio's latest (set to another pounding-dirge Philip Glass score) is actually far more interested in the individual – or our loss of individuality – than his earlier features, which often seemed like pretentious liberal-guilt exercises trying to pass off spectacular travelogue views as a form of evolved spiritualism. Here the thematic focus is on "war as a way of life" (the titular Hopi term's definition), so despite occasional crude or murky thinking, Reggio must deal head-on with politics, nationalism, militarism, and so forth. Thus there's more emotional immediacy to his pictorialism. While you can still accuse Reggio of making very fancy, very expensive art-house eye candy, Naqoyqatsi is an extremely striking package that really does have something inside. (1:41) Lumiere. (Harvey)

Paid in Full A young man (Wood Harris) learns the hard way that crime doesn't pay in 1980s Harlem. (1:33) Century 20.

*Real Women Have Curves If 18-year-old Ana (America Ferrera) had gone to work in her sister's East L.A. garment factory 25 years ago, she and the other workers would be eyeballing the dresses and complaining they'd never be able to afford them. Ana would have given up plans for college and joined the movement, fighting for social and economic justice. But in Real Women Have Curves, set in the present day, the women are concerned about not fitting into the gowns, and Ana's contribution is to let them know their full-figured frames are fine just they way they are. You know from the beginning Ana's going to college despite familial pressure, but it's what happens along the way that matters. Director Patricia Cardoso offers East L.A. as a kaleidoscope of color, sound, and energy, and Ferrara's infectious Ana is impossible to resist. If feel-good flicks bother you, pass this up. But if you're looking for something to smile at – that's going around these days – here's something a little different to make you do just that. (1:25) Century Plaza, Century 20, Embarcadero, Empire, Shattuck. (J.H. Tompkins)

The Truth about Charlie Jonathan Demme's remake of Charade stars Thandie Newton as a woman who enlists the help of a new friend (Mark Wahlberg) after her husband's mysterious murder. (1:44) Century 20, Grand Lake, Oaks.

Ongoing

Abandon In this well-intentioned but ultimately so-so effort, Katie Holmes plays a brainy beauty (also named Katie) who becomes involved with the detective (Benjamin Bratt) assigned to investigate the two-year-old disappearance of her rich, self-styled-artistic-genius boyfriend (Charlie Hunnam). First-time director Stephen Gaghan (who won an Oscar for writing Traffic and also scripted here) captures the tense, stakes-is-high mood of the last semester of college (exams, overdue papers, job interviews) but keeps every frame overly dark and shadowed in the most obvious, Urban Legends kind of way (especially when Katie's long-lost beau apparently returns to campus in a surly state of mind). Abandon engages early on but soon dissolves into standard thriller-movie territory, complete with a too-tidy "gotcha" ending. Added note: the supporting cast features Zooey Deschanel and Melanie Lynsky, both of whom deserve way more than playing second banana to Joey Potter. (1:39) Century Plaza, Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

Apollo 13: The Imax Experience (1:57) Metreon IMAX.

Baraka (1:36) Four Star.

Barbershop (1:42) Century 20, 1000 Van Ness.

*Below Directed by David Twohy (Pitch Black) and cowritten by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), Below is an expertly crafted, tightly wound undersea chiller. A World War II sub, heading back to America after a grueling tour of duty, scoops up the only three survivors of a torpedoed British hospital ship, including Claire (Olivia Williams of Rushmore), a nurse whose female presence – supposedly a bad omen – ignites a flurry. The inquisitive Claire soon uncovers some shady goings-on among the men in charge, with chain-of-command head Lt. Brice (Bruce Greenwood) seemingly covering up the untimely death of the sub's rightful commanding officer. Before long, however, intrigue among the passengers turns to paranoia and shadowy double takes when a series of increasingly spooky incidents – whispering corpses, ghoulish reflections, record players that turn on by themselves – raises the hackles of all aboard. Twohy's expert hand ensures that Below travels a jumpy, depth-charged path, one that's worth taking though it leads to an ultimately predictable ending. (1:44) 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

*Bloody Sunday (1:40) California, Lumiere.

*Bowling for Columbine In Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore attempts to find out why, exactly, America is so very homicidal. What's so powerful about the film, a truly intelligent departure from the somber stranglehold of the Sept. 11 era on the topic of What's Wrong with America, is what's so powerful about all of Moore's films: his use of location, the comic mise-en-scène that one couldn't dream up in a studio setting, the "reality" of our reality that is truly too strange for words. I mean, after all this time, Who lets this guy in? The camera rolls as Moore makes pit stops that turn into filmmaking coups; by the time the interviews are over, those catch-phrase historic events that had been reduced to very singular meanings – "Columbine," "Oklahoma City," "9/11" – are reinvented as the truly terrible, complex situations they were. Ours is a population easily herded, a fact Moore enjoys as he revisits some of the old ghosts of media frenzy: those "Africanized killer bees" that never arrived, the razored apples poised to kill children on Halloween. Should a country this hyped up on fear be armed? That question is easy. The bigger one – Why are we so afraid? – is largely unanswerable. What's new for Moore is taking on a question so sticky in a time so angry in a country so thought-controlled. (1:59) Act I and II, Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Gerhard)

Brown Sugar (1:48) Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

*8 Women (2:00) Albany, Clay.

Formula 51 The makers of Formula 51 have come up with the perfect recipe for wretched Z-grade comedy: Swirl a soupçon of Samuel L. Jackson's stately criminal diction, à la Pulp Fiction, into a Dumpster's worth of Guy Ritchie's shock-rock, crooked-glam sensibility, then throw in a whole mess of gratuitous gore, vomit, and an exploding Meatloaf. The resulting urinal cake of a film doesn't come anywhere close to the gross hilarity of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. The pretense for this gawdawful take on gutbucket-gangster Brit comedy? Elmo McElroy (Jackson) has cooked up the ultimate drug and is looking for someone who will fork over millions in bonds – ah, another sign of the new world economic order – for the formula. Robert Carlyle is entirely wasted here as his football-fetishizing sidekick, and Emily Mortimer has the misfortune of following up her brave, naked performance in Lovely and Amazing with a role as the hired gun sent to stop McElroy. And you know onetime Hong Kong horror talent and Bride with White Hair director Ronny Yu is truly in Hollywood purgatory when the only decent joke of Formula 51's sorry lot revolves around Samuel L. Jackson wearing a kilt. (1:33) Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Kimberly Chun)

*The Good Girl (1:34) Four Star.

*Heaven (1:46) Embarcadero.

*Hell House "Abortion girl! Whoo! Got it!" says a blond cheerleader. She's elated to be cast as a sinner headed for a date with Satan, and the director of the lucrative "theater" where she'll be performing just happens to be her father. George Ratliff's doc watches – from start to finish – an annual event in Cedar Hill, Texas, put on by the Trinity Church: a haunted house where the horrors are drunk driving, school shooting, raver rape, and of course, homo-sax-y'all-ity. A Jack Chick tract come to life, Hell House is loaded with thudding ironies: a teen girl says "not having sex was drilled into me," and all the Christian thespians – especially the "rave DJ" – zealously enact the transgressions they're condemning. A more subtle irony: the film's subjects have better production values and technical skill than the filmmakers. Nevertheless, Hell House is grimly comic and Southern Gothic. (1:25) Red Vic. (Huston)

Igby Goes Down (1:38) Galaxy.

Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie (1:23) Century 20, Shattuck.

Knockaround Guys (1:32) Century Plaza, Century 20, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck.

*The Last Kiss (1:44) Four Star.

The Man from Elysian Fields (1:46) Four Star, Rafael.

Merci pour le chocolat (1:39) California, Opera Plaza, Rafael.

Moonlight Mile (2:03) Empire, Shattuck.

*Mostly Martha (1:47) Albany, Balboa, Opera Plaza.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2:01) Galaxy, Metreon, Orinda, Shattuck.

One Hour Photo (1:38) Balboa.

Pokemon 4Ever (1:17) Metreon.

Punch-Drunk Love It seems like it wouldn't be a stretch for Adam Sandler to play Punch-Drunk Love's Barry Egan, an average schlub given to fits of comical fury – unless, of course, you take into account that Punch-Drunk Love isn't the latest output of the Sandler laff factory; it's actually the new film from P.T. Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia). Love is a weird piece of work, displaying vaguely Coen brothers-like tendencies and a stop-go momentum that somehow fits its structure – essentially, it's just a series of very, very carefully plotted self-contained scenes in a world with deliberately stylized art- and sound-direction. Sandler plays Barry as nervous and earnest, and mines new emotional territory in scenes with the sweetly persistent Lena (Emily Watson), a perfectly normal person who somehow falls for the unstable, Healthy Choice pudding-obsessed Barry. By and large, Sandler pulls it off, though it's unclear whether Anderson zeroed in on him because he wanted to provide the comedian with a breakout role, or because convincing audiences to see Sandler as more than a goofy megaplex star is a formidable challenge, or just because. (1:37) California, Century 20, Metreon, Piedmont, Presidio. (Eddy)

Red Dragon (2:05) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

The Ring This version of Hideo Nakata's 1998 cult hit could have been the mighty exception that proved Hollywood remakes don't always sabotage the originals. There was hope, primarily because the film is Naomi Watts's first appearance after Mulholland Drive. Dismissing The Ring simply because it's a Hollywood product is snotty – many of the current Japanese genre masters whose movies are being optioned for remakes by Miramax and other U.S. companies are in fact strongly influenced by Hollywood genre cinema. The problem is, Nakata, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and others understand classic Hollywood B-movie strengths better than current Hollywood B-movie directors. So while Kurosawa brings the philosophical and emotional dread of Don Siegel and Jacques Tourneur to his own Ring-inspired Kairo, Gore Verbinski brings ad-language facility and vacuousness to The Ring. Nakata's deep well of dark water turns shallow here – there's no tension or character-identification beneath the slick, sometimes effectively creepy imagery. (1:45) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda. (Huston)

*Rivers and Tides (1:30) Balboa, Rafael.

The Rules of Attraction (1:44) California, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

Secretary (1:44) Bridge, Shattuck.

Spirited Away (2:04) Kabuki, Metreon, Shattuck.

*Sweet Home Alabama (1:49) Century Plaza, Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness.

Swept Away (1:33) Galaxy, Metreon.

The Transporter (1:32) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

Tuck Everlasting (1:30) Century 20, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, Shattuck.

The Tuxedo (1:39) Century Plaza, Century 20, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

*Welcome to Collinwood A petty thief (Luis Guzman) gets sent to the pen and hears about a dream burglary job from a lifer. His girlfriend starts hunting around skid row for a fall guy, inadvertently assembling a group of down-and-out grifters (Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Isaiah Washington, Michael Jeter) who decide to pull off the job themselves. Based on what's inarguably the funniest heist film ever, the Italian classic Big Deal on Madonna Street, filmmakers-siblings Anthony and Joe Russo don't aim for much past paying homage to the source material they obviously adore. Fans of the original will be hard-pressed to shake a pleasant, if nagging, sense of déjà vu, but it's tough not to be taken in by Collinwood's hangdog charm and peculiar criminal vocabulary. The cast, especially Rockwell and Macy, play ineptitude as a giddy state of comic grace, and it's their tongues-in-cheeks that turn the brother's idolatry into a bona fide second-hand pleasure. (1:26) Galaxy. (Fear)

White Oleander (1:48) Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

Rep picks

*'Bodacious B-Movies,' 'Kung Fu Kult Klassics,' and 'Midnites for Maniacs' B-movie fans best tune into the Wed/23 Japanese triple header of The Rabble (1966), Zatoichi vs. Chess Master (1965), and Lady Tiger Sword (1969). This week's Klassics (Thurs/24) are Chang Cheh's 1972 Seven Blows of the Dragon and his 1980 Assasinators. Paging Dr. Loomis: Saturday's midnight movie is John Carpenter's 1978 classic Halloween. Four Star.

*'Ladies Art Revival Film Fest' If ever Hollywood is looking for tips on creating feminist film, it might want to talk to the Ladies Art Revival, an East Coast project dedicated to making space for feminist work through screenings, distribution, and a traveling film festival. On the group's Web site a manifesto crafted by filmmaker Sarah Jacobson (Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore) includes helpful guidelines such as "at least one of the main characters is a woman," "the main woman character does not die at the end, especially if she flouts moral and sexual conventions," and "the main woman character must have one real friend who doesn't fuck her over at the end because of jealousy over a man." This week 924 Gilman celebrates these and other revolutionary notions with screenings of Jacobson's "I Was a Teenage Serial Killer," Dulcie Clarkson's "How the Miracle of Masturbation Saved Me from Becoming a Teenage Space Alien," and Lucy Thane's "She's Real: Worse than Queer." The evening also includes musical performances by Bonfire Madigan, Sanza and friends, and Hello Guerrilla. 924 Gilman. (Lynn Rapoport)

*Seven Samurai See Movie Clock, page 104. (3:23) Castro.