November 27, 2002



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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.


Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights Adam Sandler gets animated in this Hanukkah-themed comedy. (1:27) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Shattuck.

Ararat A filmmaker (Charles Aznavour) begins shooting a biopic based on the Turkish massacre of Armenians in 1915, sparking a ripple effect of ancestral angst among a widowed Armenian author (Arsinee Khanjian), her son (David Alpay), a Turkish actor (Elias Koteas), and an uptight customs officer (Christopher Plummer). The latest work from Canadian Armenian filmmaker Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) is a fascinating and frustrating experience, a personal look at the reverberating effects history can have on later generations that manages to be moving, muddled, and maddeningly oblique. What starts out as a blistering metacritique of cinema's penchant for trivializing and reducing past tragedies for today's voyeuristic pleasures (an edit from a horrific rape scene to a passive movie audience blankly staring cuts like a knife) ends with a generic text scroll stating that "to this day, the Turkish government has never admitted to the massacre." In one nullifying swoop, Ararat turns into everything it has spent the rest of its run time abhorring, a butterfly bent on transforming itself into a wriggling caterpillar. (1:55) Embarcadero. (Fear)

*Daughter from Danang The first war to be fought in America's living-room TV sets is still being dissected there, where archival footage is showing one era's proudest moments to be another era's sickest jokes. Mining the libraries of the major networks, Bay Area filmmakers Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco came up with the goods, evidence of American imperialistic hubris at work, through footage of "Operation Babylift," Gerald Ford's 1975 P.R. move to put a happy face on the sinister end of the Vietnam War. Orphaned Vietnamese children were supposedly being "rescued" by this effort, but many of the children weren't orphans: their parents had been coerced into sending them away. Dolgin and Franco's surprising doc intercuts old newscasts with the present-time story of one of those children – Heidi Bub, now a fully assimilated American living in the South with her military husband – going on a trip to reunite with her birth mom. The journey across cultures and through time turns out to be studded with land mines, leaving viewers knee-deep in emotional wreckage. (1:21) Shattuck. (Gerhard)

Extreme Ops A group of extreme athletes gather for a film shoot on a snowy, isolated mountain, where they stumble on the hiding place of a dangerous war criminal. Hey, it could happen. (1:33) Century Plaza, Century 20, Shattuck.

Fidel: The Untold Story See Movie Clock. (1:31) Roxie.

Solaris See "Space Junk," page 45. (1:38) Jack London, Orinda.

Treasure Planet There had to be a bomb sooner or later in Disney's uninterrupted string of good-to-very-good animated features, and here it is. A high-concept, low-yield bust, this "Star Wars meets Treasure Island" adventure – it's not just an advertising blurb, it's a whole movie! – is routinely conceived on every level, from the Celtic-themed (not again) music to the fart jokes. Plucky, rebellious teen hero Jim (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) joins an intergalactic schooner expedition to find a lost treasure. Also on board are a prim but tomboyish English captain (Emma Thompson), a wacky cyborg (Martin Short), a goofy scientist (David Hyde Pierce), and a scurvy cook (Brian Cook as the Long John Silver figure) who provides our hero with a needed father substitute while harboring treacherous secrets. The novelty here is a mix of traditional animation with 3-D computer graphics. But they don't blend well, and the result is actually rather ugly. Worse, however, is the generic nature of the characters, situations, slapstick, action, humor, and "heartwarming" content. Drop the kids off at the multiplex; you won't want to accompany them this time around. (1:35) Empire, Century Plaza, Century 20, Shattuck. (Harvey)

They A grad student is haunted by nightmares that seem all too real. (1:30) Jack London, Shattuck.


*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)

*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)

*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)

Captain Pantoja and the Special Services (1:58) Kabuki.

*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, Oaks. (Cohen)

El crimen del Padre Amaro Based on an 1875 novel by Portugese author José María Eça de Queiroz, though updated to present-day Veracruz by scenarist Vicente Leñero, the story tallies an almost Sadean checklist of sins, hypocrises, and abuses, mostly piled by the powerful and purportedly pious on the poor and helpless. Newly ordained young Padre Amaro (Gael García Bernal) arrives in Los Reyes, where he's introduced to its longtime chief papal representative Padre Benito (Sancho Gracia). Amaro soon learns to disdain the older priest's secret affair with café owner Sanjuanera (Angélica Aragón), not to mention Benito's money-laundering for drug kingpin Chato Aguilar (Juan Ignacio Aranda). Amaro is in no position to protest overmuch once he's commenced his own course of horizontal worship with Sanjuanera's nubile young daughter Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón). Before things have run their course, abortion, murder, alcoholism, blackmail, and plenty of plain old fibbing have joined the story's list of confessable behaviors. How seriously you can take these two hours' histrionics will depend on your own relationship with papal authority. If, deep down, you do now or have ever believed they're somehow above ordinary human failing, then maybe El crimen del Padre Amaro's billing as "one of the most controversial films ever made" will resound as something more than hype. (1:48) California, Century 20, Embarcadero. (Harvey)

Die Another Day James Bond should not surf. Ever. But hit the waves he does in Die Another Day, not once but twice, heralding a distinct downturn in quality for the 40th anniversary of a once vaguely dignified franchise. In a mishmash of License to Kill and Diamonds Are Forever, a disgraced Bond (Pierce Brosnan) follows a trail of precious stones across North Korea, Cuba, the U.K., and Iceland, pausing to romance a paltry two Bond girls (Halle Berry and Rosamund Pike – what, no Miss France runner-up?) along the way. The script overdoes the sci-fi trappings, and the results at best recall the excesses of Moonraker, and at worst, the ice planet episode of Battlestar Galactica. Director Lee Tamahori goes for a mix of MTV-style cuts and leaden pacing that will please neither series purists nor casual thrill-seekers. But his greatest crime lies in using shoddy digital effects in lieu of actual stunts. If James Bond is going to surf, then at least let someone risk death doing it. (2:12) Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Macias)

*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, Kabuki, 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, Opera Plaza. (Huston)

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, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Gachman)

*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 (2:06) 1000 Van Ness.

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)

Friday After Next It's Friday (the one after Friday and Next Friday, that is), and cousins Craig (Ice Cube) and Day-Day (Mike Epps) are cozily snoring away in their new Shady Palms apartment. The Christmas tree is lit up, the presents are heaped up, and it's a silent night in the hood, until a drunken, skinny Santa Claus breaks in and snatches all of their gifts and the rent money they had hidden in a speaker. After three inept cops show up to scope out their apartment – and slyly "confiscate" their weed – Craig and Day-Day head out to their first day on the job as strip-mall security guards. Like all Fridays (in this series, anyway), this one snowballs into a chaotic hell of a mess. Music-video director Marcus Raboy keeps the action moving, though watching characters survive car crashes, beatings, and gunshots kind of makes Friday after Next feel like a Warner Bros. cartoon that's trying a little too hard to get some laughs. (1:25) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Gachman)

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) Kabuki, 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)

*Heaven (1:46) Opera Plaza, Rafael.

I Spy (1:36) Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

Interview with the Assassin Interview with the Assassin is the latest digitally shot feature to tweak the "live or Memorex?" lexicon of vérité stylings for dramatic fuel, but it owes less to the Blair Witches of the world than to what may be the most (in)famous piece of amateur filmmaking ever: the "Zapruder footage," a 26-second stream of history fossilized on Super 8 celluloid. When Interview's detour to Dealey Plaza begins duplicating the cinematic cadence of that landmark footage, it's not just a vogue bandwagon jump; the whole notion of a truth-based film form does a slow onion-peel before your very eyes. The film's conceit is that unemployed TV news cameraman Ron Kobeleski (Dylan Haggerty) has stumbled across the scoop of the century. His terminally ill, loner neighbor (Raymond J. Barry) has asked Ron to record a confession to a crime: he was the second gunman who killed Kennedy. The central gambit or gimmick, depending on your point of view, is that every ounce of information is presented to us in the medium of flattened, deadpan you-are-there interview footage, spy-cam moments, and video-surveillance transmissions. Director Neil Burger milks it for every meta-moment it's worth in the film's better sleight-of-hand passages, working deft tension into the low-rent thriller look. (1:28) Galaxy. (Fear)

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, Kabuki, 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)

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)

*Mostly Martha (1:47) Albany.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2:01) Galaxy, 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) 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 (1:45) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

*Rivers and Tides (1:30) Rafael.

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. (Fear)

The Santa Clause 2 (1:45) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Metreon.

*Seven Samurai (3:47) Shattuck.

Spirited Away (2:04) Act I and II, Kabuki.

*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) Lumiere, Rafael, Shattuck. (Fear)

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

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) Fine Arts, Four Star. (Fear)

Rep picks

*'Bo-Dacious B-Movies,' 'Kung Fu Kult Klassics,' and 'Saturday Midnights for Maniacs' This week: Gone in 60 Seconds (the 1974 original) meets the redneck mayhem of Six-Pack Annie (Wed/4); Crippled Kung Fu Boxer and Blood Stained Tradewinds fill the kung fu quotient (Thurs/5); and the fit hits the motherfuckin' shan in 1976's Day of the Animals (Sat/7). Four Star.

*Singin' in the Rain See 8 Days a Week, page 56. (1:43) Castro.