March 26, 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
Basic A take-no-prisoners Army Ranger commander (Samuel L. "Bad Motherfucker" Jackson) stages an impromptu jungle exercise for six of his soldiers. Only two return alive, with wildly conflicting stories as to what happened. It's up to a brash Army lieutenant (Connie Nielsen) and a wild-card former Ranger (John Travolta) to find out what really happened, but can anyone be trusted? Still licking his wounds from that ill-advised Rollerball remake, director John McTiernan commandeers this ego-driven Hollywood star vehicle into the predictable territory of Military Thriller 101; even the 11th-hour plot twists and land mines of surreality (you've got to admire any film that stops its narrative to break for an inexplicable tango-choreographed fight/love scene) feel bland and safe. Much has been made of the Pulp Fiction twins' reunion, but anyone expecting the dynamic duo's chemistry redux will simply have to settle for Rashomon-lite asides and the sense that some actors may need a break from both their shtick and the spotlight. (1:35) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London. (Fear)
The Core See Movie Clock. (2:15) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London.
Gaza Strip American director James Longley's crucial Gaza Strip is a must-see. Ariel Sharon's election in January 2001 led to an eruption of violence that persuaded Longley, who originally intended to stay in the area for two weeks, to film for the next three months. The film's focus is children, especially a group of newspaper boys whose numbers dwindle and whose profound sense of despair (so jarringly out of place in 10- and 12-years-olds) leads some to wish out loud for death and a chance at paradise instead of a world of grief and increasing degradation. (1:14) Roxie. (Avila)
Head of State Chris Rock runs for president of the United States, with Bernie Mac as his running mate. (1:35) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London.
Open Hearts Cecilie (Sonja Richter) has just become engaged to live-in boyfriend Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) when an accident leaves him paralyzed, bitter, and distant. The collision wasn't really the fault of driver Marie (Paprika Steen), but she still feels horribly guilty, encouraging her husband, Niels (Mads Mikkelsen), to offer Cecilie support in his capacity as a resident physician at the hospital Joachim will be spending some months at. Cecilie is indeed pretty needy, and the two soon draw so close that romance becomes inevitable causing considerable grief for his wife and two children. This Dogma feature from director Susanne Bier and cowriter Anders Thomas Jensen (who also wrote prior Dogma titles Mifune and The King Is Alive) is well acted, generally realistic, and fairly compelling. Still, there's nothing here to firmly lift the story from intelligent-soap-opera conventions the older man-younger woman sexuality, tortured infidelity, and trauma-of-physical-incapacitation issues have each been dramatized more memorably before. (1:54) Lumiere. (Harvey)
Sandstorm A potter in rural India (Nandita Das) organizing a women's rights group is gang raped as a "warning." She then finds that her search for justice only proves India's male-centric society runs rotten to the core. Basing Sandstorm on a true story, director Jag "Jagmohan" Mundhra courts controversy from the outset. While the film certainly aims high by setting its crosshairs on the rampant sexism, caste-ism and corruption in India's social landscape, its central motif of gender-specific struggling is undone by Mundhra's broad, kitchen-sink approach to directing. Everything from sly satire to courtroom drama to gaslight theater caricatures is paraded out in lieu of a consistent narrative style, while elemental thematic factors, such as the westernized Anglo-Indian journalist covering the persecuted woman's story, go unexplored in favor of melodramatics. As an exposé of the country's medieval treatment of women, Sandstorm seems stilted and stillborn; should India ever start up its own Lifetime channel, however, it will have at least one film perfect for programming. (2:00) Oaks. (Fear)
Spun Following the doings of a loosely connected gang of SoCal drug addicts, Spun accurately approximates a crystal meth high by being hilarious, grotesque, and annoying in equal parts. Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund has a wicked fascination with the low end of American life (the kind in which trailers figure prominently), and he lays out the environs and inner worlds of his speed freaks with every music-video edit and visual gimmick in the armory. Meanwhile, a not entirely convincing air of "slumming it" hovers around Jason Schwartzman, Brittany Murphy, and Mena Suvari as they toot, jabber, and interact with an odd collection of cameo players (including Deborah Harry, China Chow, and Rob Halford). John Leguizamo's bug-eyed hyperactive shtick gets by on sheer volume alone, but it is Mickey Rourke's quietly monstrous performance as the cook that holds Hurricane Spun together at least until the third act, which trades in intense black humor and grimy close-ups for overreaching dramatics that reduce something wild to nothing more than another Just Say No piece. (1:36) Lumiere. (Macias)
About Schmidt (2:04) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness.
Adaptation (1:52) Four Star, 1000 Van Ness.
Agent Cody Banks (1:42) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony (1:43) Opera Plaza.
Boat Trip Where's a mammoth iceberg when you need one? Boat Trip is spectacular in its badness. The antics begin when an irate travel agent books the straight Cuba Gooding Jr. and Horatio Sanz on horror of horrors! a gay cruise, stranding them aboard a floating stereotype of whips, thongs, and penis-shaped ice sculptures. Good thing there's a hot female dance instructor (Roselyn Sanchez) for Gooding to romance though he has to play gay because she's fed up with men. Meanwhile, Sanz gets busy chasing tail when the cruise ship rescues the Swedish National Suntanning Team. Both guys manage to make complete asses of themselves in this "gaynormous" mess (Sanz's word) of tasteless humor. Worse, violins actually swell whenever the filmmakers sprinkle a tolerance message among the cheap jokes. Boat Trip's saving grace is that it's the most ridicule-worthy film I've seen in a long while. (1:35) Century Plaza, Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Koh)
Bowling for Columbine (1:59) Embarcadero.
Bringing Down the House (1:45) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda.
Chicago (1:47) Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, Galaxy, Grand Lake, Jack London, Metreon, Presidio.
City of God (2:10) Four Star, Opera Plaza.
Cradle 2 the Grave (1:40) Metreon.
Daredevil (1:36) Century 20, Metreon.
Down and out with the Dolls (1:27) Galaxy.
Dreamcatcher The mind of Stephen King hath wrought some wonderful movies. Dreamcatcher is not one of them. As directed by Lawrence Kasdan from an inconsistent script by Kasdan and William Goldman, this tale of four friends facing an alien menace in snowy isolation mixes recycled King motifs (including elements of Stand by Me, It, and The Shining) into an increasingly incomprehensible story, the obvious product of a zillion-page book being winnowed down into two hours of cinema. The only scene worth noting is Jason Lee's blood-and-guts battle with a "shit weasel" from outer space unless you're looking to yuk it up, in which case, stay tuned for the Morgan Freeman master class in villainous overacting. (2:16) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Far from Heaven (1:47) Opera Plaza.
Frida (1:58) Balboa.
Gangs of New York (2:57) Galaxy, Oaks.
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (1:42) Four Star.
The Hours (1:54) Century 20, 1000 Van Ness.
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (1:58) Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon.
The Hunted (1:34) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
The Jungle Book 2 (1:30) Century 20.
Laurel Canyon (1:43) Embarcadero, Empire.
The Lion King IMAX (1:29) Metreon IMAX.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2:59) Grand Lake, Metreon.
O Fantasma (1:30) Opera Plaza.
Old School (1:30) Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
The Pianist (2:28) Clay.
Piglet's Big Movie The latest Disneyfication of A.A. Milne's classic stories has all the sweetness of the characters with none of the whimsical spice. This time, after failing to appreciate their little pal's heroism, Pooh and friends search for the missing Piglet by using his book of memories. It's a plot familiar to anyone who's seen a television flashback show, with the same results: if you love the cast, you'll enjoy the show, but you'll spend much of the hour and a half wishing you were watching the original episodes, or wishing they'd thought up a fresh story. (1:15) Grand Lake, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness. (Jean Field)
The Quiet American (1:52) Bridge, Orinda.
Rabbit Proof Fence (1:34) Balboa, Rafael.
Russian Ark (1:48) Balboa, Rafael.
Shanghai Ghetto (1:35) Balboa.
Spider (1:38) Lumiere.
Spirited Away (2:04) Empire, Grand Lake.
Stone Reader (2:08) Rafael.
Talk to Her (1:52) Embarcadero.
Tears of the Sun (2:01) Century 20, Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
25th Hour (2:26) 1000 Van Ness.
View from the Top Gwyneth Paltrow has won an Oscar. Mike Myers is a prolific and inventive comedic genius. Mark Ruffalo stunned audiences and critics alike with his award-winning performance in 2000's You Can Count on Me. The fact that all three of these accomplished actors star in View from the Top proves conclusively that sometimes the whole is worth significantly less than the sum of its parts. Even the supporting cast, which includes big names like Kelly Preston and Rob Lowe, brings a broad and long résumé to the table. So what went wrong? Screenwriter Eric Wald probably had the right idea when he wrote a spoof about the surreal world of flight attendant training programs, complete with beauty classes and mock airplane cabins. But somewhere along the way this filmmaking team forgot they were joking. Instead of a parody they made a formulaic romantic comedy, and a bad one at that. (1:27) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Cohen)
*Willard (1:35) Kabuki, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
*'Emotion Pictures: Celebrating Sam Fuller' "A film is like a battlefield," says a cigar-chomping party guest near the halfway point of Godard's Pierrot le Fou. The man is a former yellow journalist, ex-soldier, and filmmaker named Sam Fuller, and anyone who's seen his films whether they're dealing with actual warfare, as many of them did, or tackling racism, communism, and social hypocrisy can attest to the validity of that statement. Fuller's films usually hit viewers like a mortar blast from frame one, launching surprise attacks and throwing sucker punches at captive audiences until the end credits; to him, phrases like "hard-boiled" and "brutally honest" were the highest compliments. Audiences unfamiliar with the master's work can take a big bite of Fuller's kino-fist knuckle sandwich as the Rafael Film Center pays tribute with a brief series of the filmmaker's work, including the anti-pinko Pickup on South Street, the torn-from-today's-headlines delirium of The Naked Kiss, and a rare screening of his wide-screen western Forty Guns. Christa Lang Fuller, the director's wife and coauthor of the new biography Sam Fuller: A Third Face, will be on hand to wax pulp-etic on the late, great muckraker. Rafael. (Fear)
'Fresh Eyes, Program Ten': 'Psychogenre Re-Visions: New Work by Bobby Abate' See "Saris and Sneakers," page 37. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Full Circle: A Life Story of Eustace Conway Eustace Conway is the controversial woodsman profiled in Elizabeth Gilbert's recent book The Last American Man. At age 17 he supposedly left home to go camping for a week and stayed for 20 years. He can kill a chipmunk with a throwing knife, start a fire from scratch, and braid a hair rope. Conway has done some great work to inspire others towards natural living, but boy is he conceited. Women and apprentices beat a steady path to this guru's teepee. Jack Bibbo's documentary does little to illuminate Conway's life, focusing instead on a horse-and-buggy journey around the Great Plains. The film crawls by and lacks compelling structure. For instance, Bibbo takes longer to acknowledge Conway's girlfriend than he does a horse he purchases. The film is only noteworthy as the first to be edited by solar power. (1:62) Dolby Laboratory. (Koh)
'The Films of Frederick Wiseman' See Critic's Choice. PFA Theater.