November 20, 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.

Opening


Beauty and the Beast

Jean Cocteau's 1946 adaptation of Mme. Leprince de Beaumont's classic fairy tale may be one of the most dreamlike, poetic films ever made; it's less a filmed fable than a bedtime story haiku of trancelike proportions. Yet one never feels the tale of a young wench (Josette Day) who agrees to live in the castle of a feared Beast (Cocteau's muse Jean Marais) to save her father is relegated to playing second fiddle to avant-garde imagery or Freudian ideology. It's still considered the ultimate in cinematic flights of fantasy by many moviegoers for stream-of-consciousness scenes such the walk down a hall of "armed" candles (still less creepy than any Disney-animated singing and dancing silverware sets), but it's the story's enveloping ambience of true love blossoming in every frame that has had fans frothing in a cultlike fervor over it for decades. The new 35mm print should only serve to heighten the intoxicating romance of it all. See it with someone you love. (1:33) Castro. (Fear)

 

La Brassiere

Romantic frustrations get muddled in this lowbrow, war-of-the-sexes comedy set in a Hong Kong undergarment factory. With La Brassiere, director Patrick Leung appropriates the classic intruder-in-the-workplace formula, as two quacks, Johnny (Lau Ching-wan) and Wayne (Louis Koo), are hired by the factory head Samantha (Carina Liu) to design the "ultimate bra." The phonies lose face 30 minutes into the film when they showcase a model of trumped-up bra design genius, poached from the street hawker "Ali Bra Bra." Camera angles are set for voyeuristic pleasure as the men waste time ogling female underwear models. In the end La Brassiere is more fluffy than the powder pinks and blues that suffuse its pallete. (1:42) Four Star. (Rachel Swan)

 

Captain Pantoja and the Special Services

In this Peruvian film, a dedicated army captain is assigned the task of hiring prostitutes for lonely soldiers stuck in remote jungle outposts. (1:58) Century 20.

 

El Crimen del Padre Amaro

See "Judas Priest," page 43. (1:48) California, Century 20, Embarcadero.

 

Die Another Day

Her name is Berry, Halle Berry. (2:12) Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, Grand Lake, Jack London, Presidio.

 

The Emperor's Club

The convenient, and sometimes interesting, microcosms of society that are uptight boys' prep schools provide much fodder for drama, populated by characters that can range from poignant, sharp portraits to whiny and clichéd caricatures. Here, Kevin Kline steps into the role of William Hundert, a masterful but tough teacher whom none of his students ever forget. Hundert is summoned to a 20-year reunion thrown by former student Sedgewick Bell (played by Joel Gretsch as an adult and by Emile Hirsch in the scenes set in the 1970s), who entered Hundert's classroom a pissed-off but reluctantly brilliant teen and is now a millionaire business mogul. The bulk of the film traces Hundert's relationship with the group of boys (stereotypes abound), especially his love-hate struggle with the young Bell. Michael Hoffman, who directed Kline in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Soapdish, serves up moral lessons about cheating and loyalty with a silver spoon. (1:49) Century 20, Jack London. (Gachman)

 

Her Israel

"We live in a very difficult place – a special place," muses Hayat, a 29-year-old Palestinian teacher and mother, one of three young women profiled in Marjan Tehrani's new doc. Tehrani's subjects all live within five miles of each other in the Tel Aviv/Jaffa area, but their lives are markedly different; besides Hayat, we meet Galit, a lively 30-year-old designer of Polish-Spanish descent who's not quite ready to settle into adulthood; and Victoria, a striking 25-year-old actress with money and man troubles who as a teenager emigrated alone to Tel Aviv from the Ukraine. Though it's acknowledged Hayat is Muslim and the other women are Jewish, none of them seem particularly religious; Hayat, the only female member of the Jaffa city council, is the only one who seems remotely political. But by focusing on regular, average women, Her Israel offers an engaging, eye-opening view of what it's like to live in such a conflicted region: boyfriends cheat, babies need baths, grandmas tell granddaughters their outfits are too skimpy, and, on occasion, sudden instances of violence rock the streets – all of which is taken in stride. Explains Galit: "This is our life. This is Israel." (:59) Rafael, Wheeler Auditorium, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Eddy)

 

Love in the Time of Money

This so-called "sexual roundelay" is steeped in New York City vibes, with characters that echo New York Stories or, more appropriately, the metropolitan denizens full of ennui and intellect in Jon Jost's All the Vermeers in New York. It's a verbose exercise that trails different lonely, unsatisfied, desperate people as their lives intersect, with commerce – whether it's money exchanged for sex, or art bought for the cost of a blow job – looming as some kind of entity that's keeping these people from truly connecting. Its ideas are reminiscent of Vermeers, only this time the director, Peter Mattei, is examining the rift between money and love rather than art and commerce. There's a kamikaze feel to Love, Mattei's debut (yes, that means many scenes fall flat, some of the dialogue is ridiculous, and the badly lit DV look can be distracting), but he's managed to create a film that's intriguing despite its faults. Much help comes from the cast, which includes Steve Buscemi, Rosario Dawson, Carol Kane and others. (1:30) Opera Plaza. (Gachman)

 

Maya

Though the first half of writer-director Digvijay Singh's film concerns only the mischievous adventures of a 12-year-old girl named Maya and her same-age cousin Sanjay, you know something sinister lies around the bend thanks to the film's pre-credits warning: "Based on true practices," followed by a young child screaming on the soundtrack. And indeed, when little Maya gets her period, her happy world falls apart. First, she's told that now that she's a grown-up, she can't run and play with her cousin. Then, she's subjected to a "prayer ceremony" – really a gang rape by the village priests – that her family approaches with matter-of-fact nonchalance. With his film, Singh seeks to enlighten the world about this form of ritual abuse, illegal but apparently still practiced in parts of India. Parts of Maya are disturbing and not easy to watch, so be warned. (1:53) Roxie. (Eddy)

 

Ongoing


Alias Betty

A novelist (Sandrine Kiberlain) living in Paris finds her life grinding to a halt after tragically losing a son. Her mother (Nicole Garcia), a self-centered and clinically insane woman with a rocky history of parenting (she once tried to kill her daughter in a fit of psychosis), decides to kidnap a little boy and give him to her offspring to dull the pain. What's worse is that the child's mother, an abusive waitress (Mathilde Seigner) whose biggest aspiration is to whore for local gangsters, doesn't seem to care much when the media cameras are gone. While one could technically bill Betty as a thriller, veteran French director Claude Miller (The Accompanist) owes more to low-key nail-biters like Laurent Cautet's Time Out than to the Hitchcock-homage school of suspense. Fueled by ironies (real ones, not the self-referential in-jokes that often pass for it) and the discreet shards of the bourgeoisie's shattered psyches, this adaptation of mystery writer Ruth Rendell's novel The Tree of Hands builds a toxic head of steam off quiet desperation without ever breaking its smooth-as-glass surface. (1:41) Rafael. (Fear)

 

Auto Focus

"I always wanted to make an impression," a jaunty Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) confides early in Auto Focus, Paul Schrader's biopic about the Hogan's Heroes star. Twenty-four years after his death, it has become clear that Crane's showbiz career made far less of an impression on the public than his still-unsolved brutal murder, which has in turn been eclipsed by his well-documented, rather spectacular appetite for sex and amateur pornography. Though Crane goes through two troubled marriages in the film, his relationship with AV expert John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe) is portrayed as the most meaningful. The pals share equally proportioned libidos in overdrive – their motto is "A day without sex is a day wasted!" – as well as a passion for the latest video technology. Both Kinnear and Dafoe have some nice moments, but the film's structure is too tidy to feel like it's telling a true story. Crane's life is boiled down to a cut-and-dried tale of a good man corrupted by Hollywood, fame, and the machinations of his leechlike best friend, and the film ultimately offers no insight into Crane's eventually life-wrecking obsession with having sex and documenting his conquests. (1:47) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)

 

Bloody Sunday

It started out as a "peaceful march against internment;" it ended up with thirteen dead and turned a town in Northern Ireland into ground zero for "the Troubles." That early morning massacre in Derry on January 30, 1972, has been memorialized in books and song, but it's filmmaker Paul Greengrass's gut-wrenching recreation of the day of infamy that truly captures the sheer horror of the tragedy. Focusing on the events leading up to the shooting of Irish demonstrators and its aftermath, Bloody Sunday incorporates the viewpoints of MP-activist Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt), nervous soldiers, one of the victims, and several British army commanding officers to present a multi-sided, fragmented perspective. The film's gritty you-are-there verite camera work begs comparisons to The Battle of Algiers, but it's the sequential fade-outs that reduce everything to elements of a nightmarish waking dream, bypassing sensationalism and sentimentality for a dread-filled march towards the inevitability of history. (1:40) Four Star. (Fear)

 

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)

 

Comedian

Two years after Jerry Seinfeld's sitcom went off the air, the acclaimed comedian made an unusual decision to retire every last joke in his well-worn arsenal and build a new stand-up act from scratch. Christian Charles and Gary Streiner, the producers of Seinfeld's American Express commercials, asked permission to document the process when they learned that the performer was actually terrified of taking the stage without the safety net of his old material. With two hand-held digital cameras, they followed Seinfeld around the New York City comedy club circuit, capturing the action, both onstage and off. The resulting film, initially titled Anatomy of a Joke, is a surprising and very funny behind-the-scenes look at the unique world of stand-up comedy. Featuring appearances by Colin Quinn, Chris Rock, Jay Leno, and Bill Cosby, Comedian reveals a community bonded by the daunting task of making people laugh night after night and committed to making it look easy. (1:22) Lumiere. (Cohen)

 

8 Mile

Eminem's stab at big-screen stardom may hew closer to Purple Rain than any of his jokey, off-color videos, but it's hard not to get caught up in Curtis Hanson's 8 Mile, the tale of Rabbit, a scrappy guy from the wrong side of the tracks whose extraordinary rhyme skills are, clearly, his only ticket out of trailer-park hell. The obstacles – a crummy job, a crappy car, stage fright, hostile rivals, a dismal home life, the all-consuming Detroit dreariness – pile up, but even though you know Eminem is eventually going to rock the shit out of the mic, his performance as a quietly determined but often defeated dreamer is enough to make you worry a little bit. And the payoff delivered in the film's final rap battle is so immense that 8 Mile's faults (a few too many one-sided characters, particularly the female ones) are easily swept away by the triumph of the moment. (1:51) California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

 

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, Lumiere. (Huston)

 

Far from Heaven

Set in suburban Connecticut circa 1958, Todd Haynes's Far from Heaven primarily pays homage to Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, but Far from Heaven is more than a semiotic Hallmark card to melodrama – it's an unashamedly florid expression of movie love. Within the meticulous architecture of Haynes's movie, Frank (Dennis Quaid), who reveals he is gay, and wife Cathy (Julianne Moore), who falls in love with an African American gardener (Dennis Haysbert), pass through revolving doors to meet betrayal and take elevator rides – always going down – toward a floor marked divorce. It has been argued that Haynes shows women have the least autonomy of Far from Heaven's triad of '50s outsiders or minorities, but the film isn't interested in weighing injustices so much as revealing how societal structures work to reinforce them. Cathy's and Frank's and Raymond's individual attempts at finding happiness collide, and one character's freedom becomes another's punishing trap. (1:47) Clay, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Huston)

 

Femme Fatale

This flamboyantly awful France-U.S. coproduction is yet another Brian DePalma "Hitchcockian" contraption recycling the same old split-screen effects, slow-mo, elaborate tracking, et al, to absolutely no purpose; on that level it's even worse and more gratuitous than the director's prior low, Raising Cain. Rebecca Romijin-Stamos plays Laure, a deadlier-than-the-male assassin-thief-seductress-multilinguist who gets away with the jewels during a bloody bungled robbery. Some years she's reinvented herself as a U.S. ambassador's wife, and an unwanted snap by a photographer (Antonio Banderas) puts angry old allies back on her trail. Make that tail. Romijin-Stamos doesn't have a character to play here; she is used, as the performers are called on porn sets, as a "model." There's a scene in which she grinds against a pool table in an alleged Paris biker bar that would almost be beneath Shannon Tweed. (His own presence completely beside the point, Banderas bears a "get me outta here" look throughout.) Femme Fatale is the most embarrassing major release I've seen all year. It's so bad, it's not even good-bad – he pervasive stupidity first gets you gaping, then it leaves you yawning. (2:06) Balboa, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)

 

Frida

Director Julie Taymor (Titus) suffers from Tim Burton-itis: in her films the sumptuous art direction tends to overshadow everything else onscreen. Frida comes to life when Kahlo's colorful, sorrowful paintings are the focus, but the rest of the film – mostly concerned with the rocky relationship between Kahlo (Salma Hayek, who also produced) and husband Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) – is bogged down in melodrama and distracting cameos (Antonio Banderas, Saffron Burrows, Edward Norton) by Hayek's show biz pals. In her most high-profile role to date, Hayek – dutifully sporting the unibrow – looks gorgeous in Kahlo's elaborate costumes and hairdos. The pleasures of eye candy aside, however, it's too bad a biopic about such a passionate artist comes off feeling like too much decoration, not much soul. (1:58) Albany, Bridge, Century 20, Orinda, Piedmont. (Eddy)

 

Half Past Dead

It's like this: Alcatraz has been reopened as a new, high-tech jail; its warden goes by the nickname "El Fuego," and its execution chamber boasts a picture window with choose-your-own-views. After getting popped by the feds, who're really trying to take down their crime boss, homies-4-life Sascha (Steven Seagal) and Nick (Ja Rule) end up on the Rock – coincidentally, right around the same time a snarling sociopath (Morris Chestnut, who gets to deliver a speech containing the phrase "God is dead!") invades with his gang of "49ers," intent on forcing a death row inmate to divulge the location of the zillions in gold he stole and stashed years before. Conveniently, there's also ripe hostage material – a Supreme Court justice – visiting the island. As Sascha happens to be, secretly, deep undercover FBI (he's seeking revenge on that crime boss, who killed his wife; that sound you hear is Seagal trying to emote), the whole good-guy-fights-bad-guys-because-he-happens-to-be-there (see also Under Siege) plot kicks in. Don't be fooled by the ads, which highlight the participation of Rule and fellow rapper Kurupt. This is vintage Seagal, a step down from last year's unexpectedly satisfying Exit Wounds, and only for connoisseurs of abso-ludicrous action junk. (1:39) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

 

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Happily free from the burden of exposition (see last year's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which spent way too much time grappling with that tiresome-but-necessary task) Chamber of Secrets, again directed by Chris Columbus, is a fast-paced adventure from start to finish. Young wizards Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, all spot-on) make like Hogwarts' own Bloodhound Gang, using smarts and spells to unravel a mystery so dangerous it's even got the school's unflappable teaching staff (including Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, and the late Richard Harris) on edge. New faces in Chamber of Secrets include Jason Isaacs as the sinister Lucius Malfoy and the particularly hilarious Kenneth Branagh as the smug, self-obsessed Professor Lockhart. A few scary scenes (including one involving giant, hungry spiders) may make younger kids a little nervous, but the film's magical elements, in the forms of a flying car, a hair-raising Quidditch match, chatty ghosts, screaming letters, clumsy owls, and much more – not to mention an underlying message about friendship and loyalty – are what lingers after the lights come up. (2:41) Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, Grand Lake, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda. (Eddy)

 

Jackass: The Movie

You can call this coproducer Spike Jonze's antiprestige project – a Bronx cheer to the Spiegel heir and anointed cinematic star's skateboarder roots. But apart from a cameo as one of a makeup-spackled crew of Lark-crashing, shoplifting oldsters, Jonze shouldn't get all the credit: after all, Johnny Knoxville, Chris Pontius, Bam Margera, and crew are the ones accruing the stitches and scar tissue. In any case, if you loved the series, you'll bust a gut at Jackass: The Movie – till you're in as much pain as the MTV pranksters. Basically a lengthy version of the series, complete with short-attention span episodes such as "Off-Road Tattooing," "Yellow Snowcone," and "Bungie Wedgie," a tossed-off, grainy-as-crap, straight-from-video look, and handheld bumbling (including vomiting camerapersons), Jackass: The Movie is the unholy, funny-as-hell spawn of Faces of Death, backyard wrestling, Evel Knieval, and Candid Camera. (1:25) Century 20, Metreon, Shattuck, 1000 Van Ness. (Kimberly Chun)

 

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) Four Star. (Cohen)

 

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) Balboa, Shattuck. (Jenni Olson)

 

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) Opera Plaza, Rafael. (Harvey)

 

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, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

 

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) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (J.H. Tompkins)

 

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, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Huston)

 

Roger Dodger

First-class lout Roger Swanson (Campbell Scott) uses his gift of dizzying gab to become the top copywriter in his advertising firm – and to woo every female who strays into his sight line. But the cruelest joke of all is that this self-proclaimed ladies' man really doesn't know dick about the fairer sex; his one truly intimate relationship is with his own self-loathing. So when his precocious teenage nephew, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), shows up looking for tips on the art of seduction, you can practically hear the backbone-snap of innocence lost coming like a far-off thunderclap. Words are also first-time director-writer Dylan Kidd's main ace in the hole, as he's constructed a film consisting of one riff of whirling verbiage after another with a self-conscious case of antsy Cassavetes-camera jitters. Mainly, it's the performers' line readings of Kidd's hyperbolic prose that makes Roger Dodger worth a look, giving the budding filmmaker's love of nihilistic patter a life even in a third act of diminishing returns. (1:45) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Fear)

Seven Samurai (3:47) Shattuck.

 

Spirited Away (2:04) Shattuck.

 

Standing in the Shadows of Motown

They played on more number-one hits than Elvis and the Beatles combined, providing the instrumentation for such milestones as "My Girl," "What's Going On," and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" – the soul music soundtrack for untold numbers of sweat-drenched backseat conceptions. Yet the names of the house musicians that graced Motown's legendary Studio A have been relegated to footnotes in rock history, obscured by the well-known artists and groups they backed. That's about to change with filmmaker Paul Justman's tributary documentary of the Funk Brothers, Studio A's collective of skin beaters, brass blowers, and ivory ticklers, which puts names and faces to the sounds. The film mixes oral histories of the aging musicians (call them the Motor City Social Club), and of the social climate they provided the score for, with reunion concert footage and event "re-creations." Standing falls just shy of rote as a documentary, but as a musical homage to forgotten heroes, it may be the most infectious, joyous restoration job to grace a Dolby system. (1:48) Embarcadero, Rafael, Shattuck. (Fear)

 

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2:22) Metreon IMAX.

 

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) Balboa, Century 20, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

 

The Trials of Henry Kissinger

History goes easy on winners – at least longer than it does with the losers. However, there may be an expiration date approaching for all the ass-kissing accorded Kissinger, who was regarded as the genius element in several Republican presidencies. This BBC-produced documentary suggests that Kissinger's public persona may well have been sculpted only to distract attention from his lust for power on the international stage at whatever cost, via often secret meetings and negotiations. The film's indictment includes evidence of chicanery in the '68 presidential election; a guiding hand in needlessly prolonging the Vietnam War; urging covert bombing and then the 1970 invasion of Cambodia; orchestrating the overthrow of Chile's democratically elected, anti-U.S.-capitalist Allende and installing Pinochet's dictatorship; and still later turning a blind eye to Indonesia's brutalities in East Timor. Called "brilliant, manipulative, and secretive" even by some ostensible allies, Kissinger has been running scared since elderly Pinochet's arrest-dodging media inquiries, refusing to comment on specific allegations in journalist Christopher Hitchens's exposé book (on which Trials is based). Still, the existing paper trail is already damning enough. Is Kissinger a war criminal? No matter how you've felt about him in the past, your view of this 1973 Nobel Peace Prize winner is sure to be shaken by these terse 80 minutes' scrutiny. (1:20) Balboa. (Harvey)

 

Tully

Handsome, corn-fed hunk Tully Coates (Anson Mount) has come to a crossroads: should he keep playing the role of the town heartthrob and tarnish his reputation with the local stripper, or should he settle down with freckled nice girl Ella (Julianne Nicholson) and risk a broken heart? Meanwhile, back at the ranch (literally), a mysterious debt threatens both the foreclosure of his father's farm and to open the door to a closet full of familial skeletons. It's tempting to think that director-screenwriter Hilary Birmingham derived her film from watching overlaid transmissions of Petticoat Junction and Peyton Place as a kid, which would explain the small-town landscape of swimming holes and Tastee Freezes, where soap operatics lurk around every hay-strewn corner. Mount certainly has the looks and homegrown charm to essay such a guileless backwoods gigolo role, but everything else about this indie melodrama can't seem to rise above a feeling of freeze-dried familiarity. (1:42) Galaxy, Oaks. (Fear)

 

24 Hour Party People

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

Rep picks


'Bo-Dacious B-Movies' and 'Saturday Midnights for Maniacs'

This week: violence reigns when Hell in the Pacific meets Straw Dogs (Wed/20); and Jackie Chan, pre-Hollywood buddy comedy addiction, kicks ass (and directs) 1980's Young Master. Four Star.

 

The Hate Man, Street Philosopher

The star of Ivan Jaigirdar's short documentary, Berkeley street personality Hate Man, is a scrappy nonconformist-cum-urban savant who looks like the lovechild of Johnny Rotton and Rip van Winkle. When he's not heckling soapbox preachers, he's quoting obscure German philosophers, and Hate Man's philosophy, like his shopping cart, careens in every direction. Eccentricity notwithstanding, Hate Man peppers his diatribe with odd scraps of genius (surprising fact: he was once a writer for the New York Times). But for one crude montage of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that cuts into Hate Man's voice-over narrative, Jaigirdar's documentary is remarkably unpretentious and without artifice. It's worth seeing if you want a thumbnail sketch of an oddball character, even if it won't inspire you to leave your job and in the name of spreading the hate. (:27) Artists' Television Access. (Swan)

 

Sordid Lives

Del Shores's 2000 cult favorite, the tale of a trashy Texas clan that includes Delta Burke, Olivia Newton-John, and Beau Bridges, hits the Balboa. (1:51) Balboa.