March 5 2003
It's funny in Kansas
Arts and Entertainment
Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Robert Avila, Meryl Cohen, David Fear, Dina Gachman, Susan Gerhard, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Patrick Macias, and Chuck Stephens. See Rep Clock and Movie Clock, for theater information.
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. Film intern is Laurie Koh. See Rep Clock, page 88, and Movie Clock, page 89, for theater information.
San Francisco International
Asian American Film Festival
The 21st annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival runs March 6-16. Venues are the AMC Kabuki 8 Theatre, 1881 Post, S.F.; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, S.F.; Pacific Film Archive Theater, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Camera 3 Cinemas, Second St at San Carlos, San Jose. For tickets and information, call (415) 255-4299 or go to www.naatanet.org/festival. For commentary, see "NAATA's Ark," page 33. All times p.m.
Kabuki Bend It like Beckham 7.
Castro Mango Soufflé 6:45. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai 9.
Kabuki "This Is the Space and Place" (shorts program) 4. Bollywood Bound 4:45. Neither Fish, Nor Fowl 7. Book of Rules 7:15. No One's Ark 9:30. "Crouching Asian, Hidden Cheese" (shorts program) 10.
PFA Eliana, Eliana 7. I-San Special 9:15.
Castro The Game of Their Lives 1. Mother India 3:30. Mekhong Full Moon Party 7:15. "GAM/F ISO Same" (shorts program) 10.
Kabuki My Life as McDull noon. "All in the Family" (shorts program) 12:15. New Moon 2. Saigon, U.S.A. 2:45. Searching for Asian America 4:45. Chicken Rice War 5. Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music 7. Charlotte Sometimes 7:30. "This Is the Space and Place" (shorts program) 9:15. Neither Fish, Nor Fowl 10.
PFA Morning Sun 6. No One's Ark 9.
Kabuki YMCA Baseball Team noon. Bang the Machine 12:15. Skin Stories 2:15. Eliana, Eliana 2:45. "Third I South Asian International Shorts 2003" (shorts program) 4:15. I-San Special 4:45. Refugee 6 (with dance, hip hop, and spoken word performances hosted by the Vietnamese Youth Development Center). "Love! Love. Love?" (shorts program) 6:30. Where's the Party Yaar? 7:15. "The Dreamlife of Asians" (shorts program) 9:15. Charlotte Sometimes 10.
PFA Mother India 5:30.
Kabuki Refugee 1. An Untold Triumph 6:30. Wet Sand 7. My Life as McDull 7:15. New Moon 7:30. Chicken Rice War 8:45. "Just Another Toothpick in the Wall" (shorts program) 9. No One's Ark 9:15.
PFA The Game of Their Lives 7.
Kabuki Wet Sand 1. Morning Sun 6:45. "Spotlight on Curtis Choy" (interview and clip show) 7. YMCA Baseball Team 7:15. Eliana, Eliana 7:30. Book Of Rules 9:15. "Music Video Asia" (shorts program) 9:30. Kung Phooey! 10.
PFA Crossed Paths 7:30. Opening
Amen. Kurt Gerstein (Ulrich Tukur) is an SS Officer who seeks the Catholic Church's help in exposing Hitler's "final solution" after stumbling on a gas chamber demonstration. Met with fear and indifference, he and an idealistic young priest (Mathieu Kassovitz) eventually take their case to the Vatican; the powers that be, however, have their own reasons for keeping the truth, and those who would speak it, silent. The specialty of legendary Euro-cinema muckraker Costa-Gavras (Z) has always been the mixture of political thriller and personal outrage, and his finger points here to the complicity of the Church while millions were sent to the slaughter. There are moments in Amen.'s first half that recall the vitality of the filmmaker's early work, as bureaucratic deference, denial, and faux-diplomacy protect a numbingly efficient horror. The film stalls as it approaches the inevitable posthumous indictment, yet the overall sense of anger at the institutionally sanctioned atrocities still hits with all the finality of the title's telltale punctuation. (2:10) Oaks. (Fear)
Bringing down the House An uptight lawyer (Steve Martin) and a bodacious prison escapee (Queen Latifah) form an unlikely alliance. (1:45) California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Jack London, Orinda, Shattuck.
David Hockney: Secret Knowledge All three people, and one monkey, are left-handed in a 1660 painting David Hockney examines. Coincidence? Or just evidence of an artist's use of an optic lens, since the camera obscura reverses images from left to right? In David Hockney: Secret Knowledge, the renowned British painter presents his controversial theory that the technical brilliance of Ingres, Vermeer, and Caravaggio was due to some form of projection. Some critics have slammed his ideas, first published two years ago in Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of Old Masters. This film, directed by Randall Wright, is Hockney's rebuttal. In it, he travels around Europe and also conducts practical demonstrations of his theories on a somewhat cheesy "Hollywood Set." Computer projections, scale models, and a scientist help corroborate Hockney's examination of the techniques. The film's evidence is too scant, however, to support Hockney's claim that it is the lens that explains painting's dramatic changes after 1500. Still, the film provides an interesting look at the help some geniuses might have had. (1:12) Roxie. (Koh)
*The Safety of Objects See Movie Clock, page 89. (2:00) Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck.
*The Son The Belgian creators of Rosetta and La promesse, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, return to the underclasses with more shaky camerawork and shrewd revelation, tightening the focus on a teacher and the student he's strangely obsessed with to an almost painful degree. The thick eyeglasses of Oliver Gourmet (bossman of both Rosetta and La promesse) are less like windows to this unknowable soul than they are like crazy-house mirrors, intently framed to highlight the psychic unrest of a carpentry trainer whose world otherwise relies on complete balance. Unwieldy pieces of lumber heighten the twitch factor in this difficult film; to say anything more about the plot would be unfair. (1:43) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Gerhard)
*Spider See "Buggin'," page 37. (1:38) Lumiere, Shattuck.
Tears of the Sun Bruce Willis stars as a Navy S.E.A.L. on a dangerous rescue mission in Nigeria in the latest from Training Day director Antoine Fuqua. (2:01) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London.
About Schmidt We meet Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) as he counts off the final seconds of his life-insurance job in the dead atmosphere of a generic gray office; he seems as bloodless and overcooked as the steaks at the retirement party that soon follows. Cut off from imagination and compassion and almost too fatigued to be curmudgeonly, Schmidt is a distant relative of the antihero in Five Easy Pieces, and About Schmidt's Midwestern terrain so empty, so grim evokes that film. Of course, director Alexander Payne is also returning to the Omaha zombiescapes of Citizen Ruth and Election, trading the latter film's kinetic politicized wit (which, ironically, seems to have stemmed from its MTV money) for the slack pace of a lonely retiree's Winnebago trip to Colorado. Punctuated by letters to an orphan in Tanzania, this journey back to life is essentially a series of excruciating encounters with strangers and family, who might as well be the same. Payne mockingly pits comb-over against mullet and meaningfully hollow formal speeches against Kathy Bates's rude rants as a purple lady in the process of depicting one man's clumsy attempts at reviving himself. He's rewarded by a lead performance that's more generous than this film, whose final shot is inspired by Akira Kurosawa's superior Ikiru. (2:04) California, Empire, Four Star, 1000 Van Ness. (Huston)
Adaptation To experience the kind of writer's block that wracks the mind and wrecks the body of Adaptation's Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage, wearing the expression of someone who's habitually beaten), one need only attempt a plot synopsis. Or worse yet, a condensed version of the film's back story. Both endeavors are doomed to failure, so let's, in the spirit of the film itself, combine them. One could say Adaptation is Kaufman's made-for-the-movies rewrite of Susan Orlean's nonfiction work The Orchid Thief, but it isn't, really it's a movie about Kaufman adapting Orlean's book, a hallucinatory process that involves Kaufman's twin brother, Donald (Cage, in bright-shining dimwit mode), and screenplay guru Robert McKee (Brian Cox), two figures who wield considerably higher narrative power than the main characters in Orlean's book, John Laroche (Chris Cooper) and the author herself (Meryl Streep). Like Spike Jonze's debut, Being John Malkovich, his second movie expands the deliberate showiness of his TV-based ad work, all the while maintaining a coherence, thanks to Kaufman's faux-incoherent script, which takes small bites from two different story lines before vomiting up a Möbius strip and Hollywood genre hybrid. (1:52) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Huston)
*All the Real Girls The latest slice of poetic ruralism from director-cowriter (with star Paul Schneider) David Gordon Green (George Washington) is the story of a small-town Lothario who falls headfirst into puppy love with his best friend's sister (Zooey Deschanel). After she loses her virginity to another guy, the low-rent Casanova experiences heartbreak for the first time. Starting off at the zero mark of a romance, Girls skirts the cinematic road most traveled swelling strings, torrid stares and charts a course for the small, private moments that make up the beginning stages of a relationship. (1:30) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Fear)
Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary makes a claim for stark visual simplicity as truth. For 90 minutes, directors André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer fix their camera's unblinking eye on Traudl Junge, the titular secretary, as she recounts her years working for Adolf Hitler and feebly tries to capture the personal toll of her role in history. Naïveté is one of Junge's principal excuses for having fallen under the spell of Hitler, a reason that is hardly novel, even in the realm of full-length documentary portraits. In Ray Müller's The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, the director of Triumph of the Will is similarly smitten with a führer father figure, though she's far more defiant in defending her own alleged innocence. (1:30) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Huston)
*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) Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Gerhard)
*Catch Me If You Can (2:20) Balboa.
*Chicago This belated screen translation of Kander and Ebb's repeat Broadway success is a more qualified triumph once you get past the immediate glitter. For budgetary as well as disbelief-suspending reasons, first-time film director Rob Marshall stages all the musical numbers as mind's-eye fantasies, a tactic that rather disappointingly leaves them looking a helluva lot like they did in the 1975 show's still-running 1996 revival. Dumb-blonde failed chorine Roxie (Renée Zellweger) shoots her married lover, becoming the latest headline-grabbing "Death Row Doll" in sensation-addicted Roaring Twenties Chicago. That status deposes and rankles prior star murderess Velma (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who's also "represented" on various fronts by showboating lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), opportunistic prison warden Big Mama (Queen Latifah), and "sob sister" reporter Mary Sunshine (Christine Baranski). Benefiting from no doubt many hours of vocal and dance coaching, the leads are just OK where a cast of real Broadway types might have been dazzling. Still, the material is fun, the flashiness is bracing, and the sheer throwback novelty a big musical for Christmas was worth the effort. (1:47) Century 20, Empire, Galaxy, Grand Lake, Jack London, Metreon, Presidio. (Harvey)
*City of God City of God is a Rio de Janeiro housing project, but rather than simply present it as a setting, director Fernando Meirelles views it as a character perhaps the dominant one in the film. In one vivid segment a single fixed point of view witnesses the deterioration of an apartment as it's passed down from one drug dealer to another. The stronger and younger the kingpin, the trashier his kingdom. But static points of view aren't Meirelles's specialty. Working with codirector Kátia Lund, he's stylistically giddy in the face of much adolescent and preadolescent violence, running circles around the surface linearity of the plot's chapter structure and uncorking an array of techniques: God's-eye aerial shots that suggest the almighty has a finger on the fast-forward button, freeze-frame character intros that revive blaxploitation swank, and camera movements that follow the paths of ricocheting bullets or circle around the violence with the speed of a meth-addled figure skater. (2:10) Act I and II, Embarcadero, Empire. (Huston)
*Cradle 2 the Grave Director Andrzej Bartkowiak again taps the formula that served him so well in Exit Wounds and Romeo Must Die: pair up a rapper (here, DMX) with a martial arts star (Jet Li), add in some foxy females (Gabrielle Union, Kelly Hu), comic relief (Tom Arnold, Anthony Anderson), and at least one slick villain (Mark Dacascos); compile an energetic hip-hop soundtrack; and keep things moving with as many ridiculous action sequences as humanly possible. All the elements come together most enjoyably in this one; Cradle 2 the Grave ain't no towering intellectual triumph, but try having a bad time at a movie that includes a rooftop chase involving cops and four-wheelers; a mysterious, radioactive superweapon; strip club and jail cell confrontations; and most important, multiple bone-crunching fights, including one that sees Li facing down a little person in a steel cage match. What more do ya want, people? (1:40) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Daredevil The comic book incarnation of Daredevil often had to work overtime to distinguish itself from the obvious inspirations (Batman and Spiderman), so it's disheartening to see a movie version that's little more than an mix of wanna-be Tim Burton angst and Sam Raimi camera tricks. Frank Miller's four-color Elektra story line is reduced to a handful of overly Matrix-esque fight scenes and an intolerable amount of dramatic dead air. You'll find yourself rooting for the bad guys, namely a hammy Colin Farrell as rolling-eye crazy assassin Bullseye, while a seemingly more-hung-over-than-blind Ben Affleck fizzles both romantically with Jennifer Garner and in his struggle against crime lord Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan). Worse still, Daredevil himself totally sucks at being a superhero and fails to do anything vaguely heroic. Which is too bad since audiences will wish someone could rescue them from the film's excessive use of clammy voice-over and alarmingly lame pop music. (1:36) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Macias)
Dark Blue Los Angeles, 1992. At the exact time four LAPD officers are on trial for brutalizing Rodney King, the long-corrupt career of another cop, Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell), is crumbling. Perry, who has spent years carrying out the dirty work of his boss (Brendan Gleeson), has recently been teamed with the inexperienced, naive Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman); he wastes little time showing the kid the ropes (intimidating suspects, roughing up reluctant witnesses, etc.). If this plot sounds all too familiar, here's why: Dark Blue draws from a story by James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) with a script by written by Training Day's David Ayer; it echoes both films but is ultimately less memorable than either. After a few particularly rough days on the job, Perry suddenly discovers his conscience; cue awakening of long-dormant desire to do the right thing. As the cliched third act comes to a close amid post-King verdicts violence, it becomes clear that Dark Blue's historically important setting is in place only to add meat to the bones of a pretty formulaic picture. (1:56) Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
A Family Affair Sadly, A Family Affair does nothing to advance the lesbian film genre. First-time filmmaker Helen Lesnick multitasks (badly) as the writer, director, and star of this cardboard-flavored comedy. She plays Rachel, a self-described sarcastic New York Jew returning home to California after a bad breakup. Rachel's PFLAG-bearing mother sets her up with an affable bubble named Christine, and the two begin dating (cut to clichéd shot of U-Haul). Issues such as religious conversion and wedding jitters arise, but no hilarity ever ensues. Lesnick attempts to play a lesbian Woody Allen, but misses the mark by several degrees of funny. The entire film feels like an odd '80s sitcom where the characters speak in witless puns and leave strange pauses for an absent laugh track. The film's most amusing part is a blind-dating montage, a clear sign of trouble. Maybe I'm being harsh, but will we ever see the bar for lesbian filmmaking raised higher? (1:41) Galaxy. (Koh)
*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) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Huston)
*Final Destination 2 Plot? Character development? Award-winning performances? Fuck 'em! Like its predecessor, which it copies exactly in structure, Final Destination 2 is about one thing only, folks: carnage candy. A premonition of the most god-awful gory highway accident ever causes a spring break-bound gal (A.J. Cook) to block the on-ramp with her car, much to the annoyance of the drivers behind her. After her vision comes to pass, the motley crew of motorists "saved" by her action begin to meet untimely ends, cause, like, Death's design has been screwed up, or something. Who cares? The entire point of Final Destination 2 is waiting for the next character to eat it in a succession of elaborate setups, false scares, and gleefully graphic payoffs. Splatstick fans and guilty pleasure-seekers can't go wrong here. (1:40) Century 20, Metreon. (Eddy)
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) Lumiere. (Eddy)
Gangs of New York Gangs of New York is a disaster not even of the colorful kind that might reflect some idiosyncratic glory back on its maker, but a thwarted-epic mediocrity that suggests creative waffling and executive interference from shooting-day one. The first reel manages to overestablish every ham-fisted motif, betray Martin Scorsese's fatally desperate willingness to please, and build a lunatic air the subsequent two-and-a-half hours can never quite live down all in one awful 20-minute prologue. A scrappy group of mostly Irish immigrants led by Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) makes its final stand against the bullying "natives" of crime boss Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) in the working-class Five Points district of 1846 New York City. They're horribly crushed, with Vallon's only child witnessing his father's death by the knife of the Butcher himself. A moment later Priest's now grown-up son, Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio), is sprung from 15 intervening years in juvie, determined to get revenge. Gangs wants to be so much: critique of this land-of-immigrants' xenophobia, paean to NYC's street-fighting roots, American class-struggle primer, heterosexual love story, father-son love story, buddy pic, bloody goosing of costume drama. Yet it all shows up on screen as awful composite cliché, when anything past faint intention registers at all. (2:57) Galaxy, Kabuki, Metreon, Oaks. (Harvey)
Gods and Generals Civil War buffs will be stoked on Gods and Generals, the four-hours-including-intermission prequel to Gettysburg that details the events of 1861-63, including the battles of First Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. Casual viewers may not be so enraptured (reread last sentence, take note of running time). Most Gettysburg cast members return, including Jeff Daniels as Union hero Chamberlain; on the Confederate side, Robert Duvall takes on the role of Robert E. Lee, and Stephen Lang (who played a different character in Gettysburg) is the movie's focal point, Stonewall Jackson. This ambitious Ted Turner-funded extravaganza is nothing if not epic, with thousands of volunteer reenactors filling out the combat scenes. Unfortunately, director Ron Maxwell is handier at directing armed conflict than intimate moments between actors; the maudlin scenes involving Jackson and his wife are especially recommended for pee breaks. (3:40) Century 20, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
The Guru An Indian dance instructor (East Is East's Jimi Mistry) comes to America to become a movie star. Instead, thanks to the spiritual mentorship of a porn star (Heather Graham) and an eccentric rich brat (Marisa Tomei), he inadvertently becomes a sexual guru to New York's elite. From the first shot of this sophomore effort from director Daisy von Scherler Mayer (Party Girl) an Indian child sneaks out of a Bollywood extravaganza to boogie along to Grease! it's tempting to think the movie is out to become a blend of pop multicultural cheese. Instead, this runny fondue is simply something old (Tomei's ditzy heiress is a screwball staple), and many things borrowed (laughless send-ups of blue movie clichés) but virtually nothing new. Propagating stale ethnic stereotypes even while it attempts to deflate them, this comedy treats its cursory Eastern flavorings as a mere curio and any message as an afterthought. All that's left is a typical domestic dud sprinkled with curry powder but curiously bereft of spice. (1:50) California, Metreon. (Fear)
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not Everything is coming up roses for Angelique (Audrey Tautou), a young painter blessed with brains, beauty, and genuine talent. Better yet, she's fallen head over heels in love with a handsome doctor (Samuel Le Bihan) sure, he's married, but he says he's leaving his wife soon, and theirs is a passion that goes beyond social stigma. But there are some obstacles that stand in true romance's path that need to be dealt with, and Angelique is not the kind of woman who gives up her man without a fight. Several "tragic accidents" later, the film rewinds itself to ground zero, allowing a more objective view of our young couple's "romance." To say any more would kill the thrill of writer-director Laetitia Colombani's twisty little strychnine valentine, although most alert viewers will undoubtedly pick up that something smells foul long before the puzzle pieces start dropping into place. Colombani's brisk pacing and ability to conceal the metaphorical maggots in the bonbon keep things moving for a while, though the narrative's reliance on a horror female archetype and gimmicky charm wears out before the coda has played its final hand. (1:42) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Fear)
The Hours Like fellow leading British theater director Sam Mendes's American Beauty follow-up, The Road to Perdition, Stephen Daldry's sophomore screen effort (after Billy Elliot) arrives so convinced of its masterly import that each pearly moment seems to hand itself an individual Oscar. Which is not to say this adaptation by David Hare, no less of Michael Cunningham's ingenious novel is nearly as ponderous or hollow as Perdition. Rather, its genuinely prestigious material is intelligently handled, but top-heavy with more conspicuous "talent" than any self-supporting story should have to bear. Three narrative strands are interwoven, tracing vaguely similar arcs amongst women ill-at-ease with their particular era's definitions of gender, social status, and creative usefulness: nose-blunted Nicole Kidman plays the real-life British novelist Virginia Woolf, battling madness and overprotected domesticity two decades before her 1941 suicide. Julianne Moore is Laura Brown, a less stable version of her "perfect" post-World War II suburban wife and mother in Far from Heaven. Meryl Streep is Clarissa Vaughan, a contemporary, lesbian-partnered Mrs. Dalloway whose privileged New York life provides little satisfaction, especially as her longtime best friend (Ed Harris) lies dying of AIDS. The book's graceful, gently echoing swings between one strand and another are replaced somewhat necessarily, but still by overemphatic crosscuts that hammer home each one-size-fits-all motif. (1:54) Balboa, Century 20, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Harvey)
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days Poor, poor, beautiful blond Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson). Her cushy job (we know it's cushy because she whiffs around New York in perfectly fitted Marc Jacobs ensembles) as the "How-To" advice columnist at a frothy women's rag simply isn't fulfilling her intellectual needs. "I want to write about things that matter," she whines. In the meantime, she plots her latest column (see title of movie). Her mark is ad agency hotshot Ben (Matthew McConaughey), who has just accepted a bet from his conniving coworkers: he's got to make a woman of their choosing (guess who?) fall in love with him in 10 days. An over-the-top, antagonistic relationship ensues, as Andie spreads teddy bears around Ben's bachelor pad and leaves Vagisil in his medicine cabinet, while Ben sucks it up in the name of career advancement. Newly minted leading lady Hudson gives it her all, but this unremarkable would-be Valentine's treat from director Donald Petrie (Miss Congeniality) ain't one for the ages. (1:58) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
The Jungle Book 2 (1:30) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
The Life of David Gale An investigative journalist (Kate Winslet) is summoned to interview the nation's foremost anti-death penalty activist, David Gale (Kevin Spacey), three days before he is to be executed for a murder he says he didn't commit. Thanks to a series of gratuitously stylized flashbacks, we see how this college professor went from ivory-tower intellectual to death-row inmate. Meanwhile, our hero rushes to find out the real story before Gale's time runs out. Director Alan Parker (Mississippi Burning) tackles this hot topic-headline melodrama with his usual blend of advertising aesthetics and overwrought piety, misguided enough to believe polemics can be substituted for narrative logic or dramatic tension without losing credibility. Spacey's martyred Gale is less a performance than a string of Oscar clips, while Winslet reminds us that crying on cue is a skill unto itself. Someone saw a civic lesson delivered with a kino-fist in the material; what's left writhing around onscreen, however, is simply ham-fisted nonsense. (2:10) Century Plaza, Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Fear)
The Lion King IMAX (1:29) Metreon IMAX.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2:59) Century 20, Metreon.
*Lost in La Mancha Lost in La Mancha chronicles Terry Gilliam's ambitious take on Miguel de Cervantes' classic book via The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, his longtime pet project about a modern-day ad executive (Johnny Depp) who somehow ends up alongside Cervantes' erstwhile knight lancing buildings. The promising preproduction, fueled by the giddiness of a director whose vision was becoming a reality, suggested magic on the horizon. Then, production starts: lead actor Jean Rochefort suddenly has health problems, a shooting day's light drizzle turns into a torrential mud slide, and quicker than you can say "Munchausen syndrome," the project falls apart. Documentarians Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe had set out to record the making of a would-be masterpiece, but came back instead with a candid portrait of how filmmaking and the fates battle it out over one man's impossible dream. (1:29) Balboa. (Fear)
Old School Mitch (Luke Wilson) has just found out the extent of his live-in girlfriend's secret swinger lifestyle. Beanie (Vince Vaughn) has a wife and several very young children, though those responsibilities seem to weigh on him like itchy boulders. Frank (Will Ferrell) just got married, and probably shouldn't have. As a result of these various factors the three friends find themselves yearning to revisit their carefree, bachelor collegiate days and succeeding, more or less. They turn Mitch's just-off-campus rental house into an ersatz fraternity house, complete with barely-of-age babes wrestling topless in KY Jelly pools and Snoop Dogg as one night's "house band" (Beanie has industry connections). This second narrative feature from director Todd Phillips and his coscenarist Scot Armstrong doesn't have half the inspiration or hilarity of their prior teen-flick classic Road Trip; there are ill-advised ventures into attempted serious drama, the opportunity to do an updated Animal House-grade farce is wasted, and Jeremy Piven's university dean makes a dull villain. Still better put together than most recent teen-slanted comedies, Old School reps a disappointment that's nonetheless fairly painless to watch. (1:30) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)
*The Pianist Roman Polanski's The Pianist is a stunning look at one man's journey through the maze of fascism a detailed map partly drawn from the filmmaker's own memories of his childhood in Nazi-occupied Poland. Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) is separated from his family as they are sent to Dachau, and he takes refuge in apartments that become solitary-confinement cells. When Szpilman finally wanders into the world once again, he finds a seemingly endless street of wreckage. The world has become a landfill, and only now is there a possibility of freedom within it. The same blunt paradoxes that define The Pianist's visual landscape color the film's view of human nature. In particular, the movie emphasizes that Szpilman's talent and reputation as a pianist save him from death. There's a wry incredulity to Polanski's documentation of Szpilman's survival, a quality furthered by the Brody's performance: his face is operatically sorrowful on the surface, yet it's the subtle shifts in his expressions that are truly revealing. (2:28) Albany, Clay, Orinda. (Huston)
*The Quiet American Whether or not you think the world needs one, The Quiet American is the boldest cinematic antiwar statement of the year. Both Graham Greene's novel and Phillip Noyce's film open with an ending, and an intrigue: a dead American, who used to be a "quiet American," an apparent oxymoron in a landscape of U.S. operatives bragging and drinking their way through a Vietnamese landscape corrupted by colonialism. Pre-Vietnam War, America is just beginning to meddle in "regime change" in the area, and one of its key schemers is American "aid" worker Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), who dangerously falls for Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen), the girlfriend of British journalist Fowler (Michael Caine). Pyle plans to create a "third force" in Vietnam to give people something besides colonialism and communism to choose from using explosives that kill civilians to do it. The jaded Fowler, who doesn't want to take sides, has to migrate to one corner of the triangle by the film's end. But what Greene and the filmmakers give us is not an ideological treatise on which side is right, but a view of the terrible journey a person of conscience makes when taking sides. (1:52) Act I and II, Bridge, Orinda, Piedmont. (Gerhard)
*Rabbit Proof Fence (1:34) Albany, Opera Plaza, Rafael.
The Recruit (1:55) Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
*Russian Ark First, the more obvious distinction, the one that's likely to get curiosity seekers in the art house door: Russian Ark is a 96-minute (minus framing credits) single shot, accomplished in a single take, requiring new technology to enable a high definition video camera's seamless travel via Steadicam of some 4,265 feet through nearly three dozen rooms, up and down two floors. Its conceit is a sort of supernatural tour; the setting the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg a depository for millennia of archaeological finds, classical antiquities, old masters, decorations, sketches, and sculptures from Russia as well as the outlying (mostly Western) world. Our viewpoint is spiritualized as Being John Malkovich-like joyriders in the camera's-eye mindset of a contemporary narrator (Sergei Dontsov, but surely the spirit of director Alexander Sokurov) who finds himself transported without explanation back to the future Hermitage building in its earliest, circa-1710 days. Sokurov has never worked before on so massive an organizational scale, let alone risked such international commercial viability, but Russian Ark: very good. More Sokurov: oh-so-much better. He should rule current art house dialogue the same way Bergman, Antonioni, and Fellini once did. (1:48) Opera Plaza, Rafael, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Shanghai Knights (1:54) Century Plaza, Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
*Talk to Her A more accurate, lively title for this film would be Girlfriend in a Coma, but Douglas Coupland has already stolen from Morrissey with diminished returns. Like the classic Smiths song, Pedro Almodóvar's new film literalizes metaphor in order to ponder communication's role within a relationship. It twins the conceit, though: comatose girls Alicia (Leonor Watling) and Lydia (Rosario Flores) are cared for by spurned lovers Marco (Darío Grandinetti) and Benigno (Javier Cámara), respectively, with radically different results. The restraint of Almodóvar's recent work is magnified here by its male lead characters and relatively muted color schemes. The flourishes come from two Pina Bausch dances (so-so), one Caetano Veloso song (excellent), and a short silent film sequence (brilliant) that speaks the truth. Once again, rape is a dramatic turning point, but in this case its occurrence is offscreen and ambiguous an approach that won't attract the attacks that Almodóvar's underrated and misunderstood Kika was subjected to, though it's just as mischievous. (1:52) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Huston)
25th Hour (2:26) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
'Fresh Eyes, Program Eight': 'Mama Said Knock You Out One More Time: The Media Manipulations of Art Jones' See 8 Days a Week, page 54. San Francisco Art Institute.
'Independent Media Network' See 8 Days a Week, page 54. Access San Francisco (Channel 29).
Bill Plympton The Oscar-nominated animator whose brutally funny clips make frequent appearances in the Spike and Mike festivals comes to the Balboa Theatre for two midnight presentations. Friday, he'll introduce "The Don and Bill Show: Slightly Bent," a collection of shorts by Plympton and Don Hertzfeldt (of "Billy's Balloon" and "Ah L'Amour" fame). Saturday, Plympton presents his latest feature, Mutant Aliens if you missed it at the 2001 SF Indiefest, now's your chance to witness this tale of some particularly pissed-off outer space dwellers and the evil scientist in their crosshairs. Both programs are suitable for adults only. Balboa. (Eddy)
*'Treasures from the American Film Theatre' It's hard to imagine Hollywood issuing anything like the American Film Theatre series today: subscription-based "seasons" of exceptional 20th-century plays in first-class adaptations by the leading directors and actors of the day. Producer Ely Landau's bold plan to bring the cream of Broadway to the entire country ran from 1973 to 1975 and included works by O'Neill, Ionesco, Genet, Brecht, and John Osbourne, among others. Patrons bought tickets in advance for limited screenings at more than 500 theaters nationwide and even received playbills. Envisioned as a blending of two art forms, the exquisite productions surpass mere film recordings of stage plays yet remain extremely faithful renderings. Peter Hall's visceral adaptation of Harold Pinter's Homecoming (featuring the original 1965 cast) or Tony Richardson's wonderfully manicured version of Edward Albee's Delicate Balance (with Katharine Hepburn and Paul Scofield) two must-sees offer intense, finely wrought dramas that make for powerful cinematic journeys. For that matter, John Frankenheimer's monumental four-hour version of O'Neill's Iceman Cometh (with Lee Marvin, Jeff Bridges, and Fredric March) is surely a trip unto itself. AFT films became rare after 1975, and early video recordings are hard to find. Six films recently screened at Lincoln Center (the Castro Theatre series adds three more), and Landau's widow and son-in-law have been working to have all 14 original films released on video and DVD. Catching them now on the big screen, however, will still be a rare treat for film and theater aficionados alike and will likely whet the appetite for more. Castro. (Avila)