A Cinderella Story A high schooler (Hilary Duff) battles her evil stepmother (Jennifer Coolidge) and longs for the star quarterback (Chad Michael Murray) in this update of the familiar fairy tale. (1:37) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Jack London.
*The Door in the Floor See Movie Clock. (1:51) Albany, Embarcadero.
*Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear, and the Selling of the American Empire This short, sharp new documentary by Jeremy Earp and Sut Jhally goes beyond mere Bush-bashing. Instead, it paints a horrifying portrait of organized U.S. imperialist expansion and public deception stretching back to the dawn of the Reagan era. That's when a few "radical neoconservatives" first hatched theoretical foreign and domestic policies too extreme to be revealed let alone fully implemented even during that reactionary administration. The future wish list included such general fuck-y'all notions as the United States no longer honoring international treaties, laws, and bodies (i.e., the United Nations); an offensive, "preemptive" approach toward invading other countries found problematic or desirable; artfully scaling back civil liberties and constitutional rights; and heightening of the elite's wealth 'n' power, and its opposite (that's you, bud). Most Republicans thought all this a little too hot to handle, whether or not they were in sympathy. Just one year before the Sept. 11 attacks, former Defense Department honcho and major rad-right theorist Paul Wolfowitz, who'd first formulated these ideas as one secret package proposal, noted that progress toward such lofty goals was likely to be slow (darn those opinionated voters!) unless some "catastrophic event, like a new Pearl Harbor" allowed them to be shoved down the public throat as bogus, "patriotic" national-security necessities. You know what happened next. With input from everyone from Medea Benjamin and Noam Chomsky to appalled (but safely retired) military personnel and cranky old Norman Mailer, Hijacking Catastrophe presents a fascist-doomsday scenario that is here. Don't expect the humor or dramatic flair of Fahrenheit 9/11; this exposé is, aptly, as sober and scarifying as a pilfered confidential file. (1:08) Little Roxie. (Harvey)
*The Hunting of the President See "Because They Could." (1:29) California, Roxie, Smith Rafael.
I, Robot A cop (Will Smith) in the year 2035 suspects a robot may have committed murder in this sci-fi tale directed by Alex Proyas (The Crow). (1:54) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London.
*Riding Giants See "Breaking the Waves." (1:42) Embarcadero, Shattuck.
*Time of the Wolf See "Bleak Future." (1:50) Act I and II, Opera Plaza.
America's Heart and Soul In Disney's counterprogramming response to Fahrenheit 9/11, filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg pays homage to the good old land of the free in a series of vignettes and interviews featuring ordinary people he met on a cross-country search for the true heart and soul of America. These Horatio Algers and everyday heroes have overcome adversity to be shining examples of just what can happen in the land of opportunity. He even includes people of color, a disabled person or two, and immigrants (one family, to be exact). Sweet! The footage looks like it was commissioned by the American tourism bureau: lots of grassy prairies and purple mountains' majesty, accompanied by the obligatory trumpet fanfare and birdsongs. If Schwartzberg had handled his material with more grace or perhaps a hint of subtlety, he could have had a decent human interest story; he does meet some likable and dynamic characters on his journey. However, he's intent on whacking the audience upside the head with a "Look at how inspiring and brave and moving my subjects are, and don't you listen to that god-awful Michael Moore, because America is totally benign and swell, I swear!" two-by-four, rather than allowing us to draw our own conclusions. (1:40) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Huang)
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy In Anchorman, Will Ferrell makes a bid to be, if not Bill Murray, then a more actorly Chevy Chase. Here he adopts the dry look and vacuous posturing of Ron Burgundy, a local TV newscaster back in the '70s day when an anchor and his good-ole-boy news posse could still rule the roost in mid-market San Diego, pre-cable, pre-Internet. That changes when the Jessica Savitch-like Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) makes the scene, as Burgundy's potential "lady" and rival. Anchorman is good for more than a few chuckles over stale '70s suits (Men's Wearhouse dead-stock alert!), stale swingers-era male chauvinism (check the halo around Corningstone's booty), and the ever lampoonable stale TV news (how many animal stories can you pull off in one newscast?). Ferrell and cowriter-director Adam McKay choose the right targets, namely have-it-all masculinity (real men play jazz flute). Too bad the comedy, like others by short-form Saturday Night Liver-ers, soon runs out of juice and incisive jabs at the boob tube fourth estate. But if you don't expect much, you'll agree that Ferrell's mustache deserves some sort of MTV movie award. (1:31) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda. (Chun)
Around the World in 80 Days London, 1872. Would-be scientific innovator Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan) is humiliated into accepting a frivolous wager from dastardly, snobbish Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent): circle the globe in a finite amount of time (see title) or close up shop. Setting out with his mysterious but faithful new servant (Jackie Chan) and a French femme, Fogg embarks on his geographic adventure and in search of his destiny. And thus Jules Verne's classic tale gets turned into a mediocre chop-socky Chan vehicle, complete with the usual acrobatic kung fu set pieces diluted into repetition and banality. Unlike the celebrity-strewn 1956 version that vacuum-packed cameos into every scene, famous guests are kept to a low-key minimum (save for one gubernatorial figure playing a narcissistic lecher ... yeah, it's a stretch). Unfortunately, so is the excitement of the movie's source material; any natural talent on display here or inherent imagination gets the second class-citizen treatment, jettisoned in favor of more flavorless Disneyfied spectacle. (2:05) Kabuki, Shattuck. (Fear)
Before Sunset Nine years ago Yankee backpacker Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French student Celine (Julie Delpy) met on a Eurail train, spent 14 hours walking around Vienna, talked a lot, finally did it, and went on with their separate travels, exchanging no permanencies beyond the promise that they'd meet in the same place six months later. Well, neither of them made that date, for reasons soon discussed after Celine now an environmental activist drops in on recently published author Jesse's Paris book reading. They're both very happy to see each other, in large part because despite professional success and fairly settled lives since, each feels they blew a potential true love back then. With Jesse due on a plane, the pair has less than 90 minutes (played in real time) to catch up, hash out acquired life philosophies, and decide if maybe this thing needs to go somewhere after all. Though some found it simply yakkety (or way too big a dose of Hawke), the 1995 Before Sunrise was nonetheless one of those movies that, if it struck you the right way, felt like the most romantic ever. With Richard Linklater back in the director's seat, this sequel (written by him and the actors) has much residual good will to drawn on. But Hawke's looks (as flashbacks bear out) aren't the only thing that have faded since Sunrise. Sweet but awfully slight, with less emotional payoff, Sunset just floats down the Seine rather than taking flight. Still, I'd be willing to find out if these characters can become compelling again in another nine years. (1:32) Embarcadero, Empire, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Broadway: The Golden Age Filmmaker Rick McKay goes beyond the sequined glitz and sweeping arm movements that theater is oftentimes reduced to in his documentary that questions whether or not there was a "golden age" of Broadway. Stage legends familiar even to non-theatergoers (Angela Lansbury, Alec Baldwin, a young and sweaty Marlon Brando) bring us back to the good old days when Broadway tickets didn't cost three figures, stage actors were bigger celebrities than movie stars, and Shirley MacLaine was a young nobody dancing in the chorus of The Pajama Game. McKay interviews more than 60 stars, and the footage is fantastic; every actor is a big personality who can really spin a yarn. McKay's film is more a celebration of Broadway than an answer to his original query, and there are points when the actors start to sound like Burning Man revelers who trash-talk the present in favor of a less commercialized, more idealized past. However, those who are theater savvy will find it difficult to resist breaking into song. Everyone else can wait till they leave the theater to hum a bar or two, and if nothing else, they can go to town comparing footage of the subjects 30 years ago to their present-day appearances. Here's to Botox and all that jazz. (1:51) Lumiere, Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Huang)
The Clearing Director Pieter Jan Brugge and first-time screenwriter Justin Haythe stencil out this drama from two classic cinematic rubrics: the kidnapping caper and the ever untimely collapse of the American dream. Successful businessperson Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) is kidnapped and hustled into the woods by Arnold Mack (Willem Dafoe), a gawky former employee screwed over by work politics and bad timing. Back at the Hayes house, Wayne's wife, Eileen (Helen Mirren), and her grown-up children wait frantically for instructions, discovering some prickly secrets when they comb Hayes's personal documents for clues. Brugge and Haythe don't exactly cut any edges, but their standard nail-biter gets the thumbs-up (barely) for its performances and aptly chosen cast. (1:31) Albany, Clay, Empire, Piedmont. (Kim)
Coffee and Cigarettes If Coffee and Cigarettes feels like little more than a smoke break before the next major Jim Jarmusch project, that's because it's composed of short films made between his past ones. Nicotine and caffeine consumption loosely unites the 10 segments (along with, to a lesser degree, a visual fascination with checkerboard patterns). Some try to get by on little more than name recognition Jack and Meg White's Tesla coil demonstration, for example, coasts on "aren't we cute and cool" attitude. Other skits (Cate Blanchett as herself and as a resentful punk rock cousin; Alfred Molina fawning over a diffident Steve Coogan) bring an actorly sense of irreverence to the notion of celebrity. Jarmusch saves the best for last. "Delirium" lets Wu-Tang's RZA and GZA lecture a wasted-looking but feisty Bill Murray about the benefits of holistic health. Set in a dive bar on a sunny day, "Champagne" allows Taylor Mead whose appearance certifies the film's Warhol debt to show the nascent improvisers exactly how it should be done: with a worldly and weary sense of the absurd and enough imagination to pretend a Styrofoam cup of instant is a flute of Krug. (1:36) Balboa. (Huston)
*Control Room Al-Jazeera a fledgling and embattled network established in 1996 in Qatar that has since grown to serve 40 million Arab viewers had already earned a rep for breaking stories and taboos about covering political corruption, religion, and the role of women in society. But after Sept. 11, 2001, al-Jazeera found itself the target of a new and ever more powerful enemy. Both President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have harshly criticized the network, but ironically as Egyptian American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim's doc Control Room shows it's been al-Jazeera's loyalty to the values the United States claims to support (democracy, freedom of expression), as well as journalistic standards rightly or wrongly associated with the West (independence, balance), that's defined the network as such a threat to the neocons. The film finds that it's actually U.S. media that were, in the words of al-Jazeera senior producer Samir Khader, one of the main characters in the film, "hijacked" by the Bush administration. (1:24) Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Camille T. Taiara)
*The Corporation Everything catchy and simple about despising George W. Bush doesn't apply to the incredibly complicated and kinda boring real stuff behind his smirking barn door. The genius of new Canadian documentary The Corporation is that it puts a sort of identifiable human-esque face on the infinitely tentacled green, white, and cyber-paper trail beast we ought really to be voting, legislating, protesting, and counter-investing to its knees. In a just world, every ticket to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 destined now to become the one political documentary normally apolitical people will see, by the millions would come with free admission to this invaluable primer, which measures the self-perpetuating system ultimately responsible for most of our international imbroglios. Drawing its basic thesis from Joel Bakan's crisp if dry tome The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, Achbar and Jennifer Abbott channel their message through a bold organizational scheme that lets the focus jump around in interconnective, humorous, hit-and-run fashion. (2:25) Act I and II, Lumiere, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
De-Lovely Musicals are expensive and risky these days, so veteran producer and underwhelming director (The Net, Life as a House) Irwin Winkler deserves some credit for being the first to actually step up to the plate since Chicago supposedly resuscitated the genre. Gratitude wanes rapidly thereafter, alas. This dramatized bio of Tin Pan Alley songwriting legend Cole Porter wants to offer the warts-and-all reality famously airbrushed from Night and Day, the 1946 biopic in which Cary Grant as a very heterosexual Porter sang "You're the Top" only to beloved wifey Alexis Smith and did not mean to imply he was the, er, bottom. Here we get Porter (Kevin Kline) as, yes, gay sorta. Yet somehow this sophisticated portrait for a new era's openness turns into a wheezy retro plaint in which the musical genius's peccadilloes with cute younger guys (who hardly get any lines) are viewed simply as an awkward handicap to his true (if apparently platonic) love with socialite spouse Linda (Ashley Judd). She enters into marriage gamely accepting of his "other" life but soon ends up crabbing about his lack of discretion, yanking them both to a new location whenever some boy toy threatens (so she claims) his all-important work. Even he starts saying things like "I didn't know how much my happiness would hurt us." Yeesh, the whitewashed celluloid closet was better than this half-assed "tolerance." Beyond that, De-Lovely sports an awkward frame (Jay Cocks's script has Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Death prompting Porter to "re-stage" his life's greatest hits), a decent but less-than-glittering cast, plush yet kind of ugly visual design, and a soundtrack you couldn't pay me to listen to again. Such variably suitable types as Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Sheryl Crow, Natalie Cole, and Alanis Morrisette are brought on-screen to wrestle vocally with Porter standards; generally speaking, nobody wins. De-pressing. (2:01) Century 20, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Harvey)
*Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story Corporate fitness chain GloboGym (slogan: "We're better than you, and we know it!") wants to buy out rival gym Average Joe's, owned by slovenly everydude Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn). There's only one way La Fleur and his gang of lovable misfit regulars can keep their weight room open: win the $50k prize against GloboGym CEO White Goodman (Ben Stiller) and his goons in a pro dodgeball tournament. To say writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber exhausts the comic potential of folks being hit in the testicles by rubber balls is a vast understatement, yet surprisingly, his Zucker-esque approach to comedy throw everything against a wall and see what sticks vomits up enough genius moments around its playground-sadism subject that you almost forget the dead space. The first hour's Simpsons-esque satirical bite eventually gives way to a typical Snobs vs. Slobs sports movie parody, but there's so much sharp writing and crack timing in this little-comedy-that-could that its status as a quotable cult insta-classic is as inevitable as a nut-punch gag. (1:36) Century 20, 1000 Van Ness. (Fear)
*Fahrenheit 9/11 By now it's clear there are two Iraqs: the one in President George W. Bush's mind, which he's succeeded in downloading to U.S. television screens, and the one many people are dying in. You know you're in that other Iraq when you watch the movingly awful images in Michael Moore's new cluster bomb of a documentary. The director's inevitable trip back to Flint, Mich., in the course of the film is essential not just to aid in the Michael Moore-ification of the story; it's the primary vein into the bigger story itself: the United States' ability to buy this film as the counterpropaganda to believe in an election year. The people who've made him an auteur, the ones he keeps remembering in Flint, are the ones fighting the war making Bush's family and its friends rich and the reason Americans, even jingoistic, xenophobic, imperialistic ones hoping manifest destiny pushes this country further and further across the globe, might vote Bush out of office. True: Moore's foray back into the homeland takes precious time away from his many other targets. But what's essentially interesting about the filmmaker's work is his persona: his literal journey, his predictable obsessions, the fact that his complaints still resonate, and, strangely, stand alone in a mind-deadening media landscape. (1:50) California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, Grand Lake, Jack London, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda. (Gerhard)
Garfield: The Movie Droll, curmudgeonly Bill Murray is probably the best choice to supply to voice of the famed orange feline, but even he falls flat in the ill-conceived Garfield: The Movie. Jim Davis's outdated strip about a lazy, boorish cat and his pathetic bachelor owner makes for terrible kiddie fodder, especially when watered down. Perhaps the film's producers have get-rich delusions about resuscitating the '80s suction-cup kitty phenomenon. Garfield (rendered suspiciously like a stuffed animal) lives the good life with aw-shucks owner Jon Arbuckle (Breckin Meyer) until Arbuckle adopts dumb pooch Odie at the request of a pretty vet (Jennifer Love Hewitt), and the jealous cat sets about abusing the hapless pup. But when Odie runs away, Garfield sluggishly rescues him from an evil TV pet food pusher, learning about friendship in the process. If your child is drawn to fuzzy, jiggling objects, he or she might like this film, but I swear I heard eight-year-olds snoring at the screening. (1:25) Century 20. (Koh)
*Good Bye, Lenin! A huge hit at home in Germany and throughout Europe, Wolfgang Becker's dramedy cocktail is mixed with such crowd-pleasing astuteness you might almost feel guilty there's nothing very art house going on here past the subtitles. Resistance is futile, however: Good Bye, Lenin! is easily the most satisfying release of the year so far. Fiercely dedicated East German Christiane (Katrin Sass) collapses into a coma after she witnesses the impossible: hordes openly defying the state, marching in the streets for the right to "take walks without a wall getting in the way," as son Alex (Daniel Bruehl) puts it. When she wakes months later, history's course has drastically shifted. But since the doctor urges that her weak heart be protected from any excitement, Alex is determined to hide this news at any cost. Thus the family flat becomes a tenuously sealed bubble of prereunification life but reality keeps finding new cracks to leak through. Good Bye, Lenin! transcends a gimmicky premise to make the central charade's construction and teardown work on several levels. The ingenious script might be accused of emotional string-pulling that is, if its characters didn't seem so full-bodied or the cumulative effect weren't so unexpectedly poignant. (1:58) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
Hard Goodbyes: My Father Though Penny Panayotopoulou's Hard Goodbyes: My Father is about an at-times dysfunctional Greek clan, it's thankfully a far cry from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The poignant and beautifully shot Hard Goodbyes focuses on a late-1960s Athens family in particular 10-year-old Elias (Giorgos Karayannis), who becomes obsessed with the impending lunar landing after his beloved traveling-salesman father (Stelios Mainas) is killed in a car accident. A farewell note written just before the crash, reading in part "This time I'll be gone awhile, but I'll be back before the moon landing," becomes Elias's mantra; while everyone else sadly faces the tragedy and begins to move on, Elias is mired in stubborn denial. In lesser hands, this melancholy tale could have easily slipped into something ridiculously maudlin. But Panayotopoulou, who also wrote the script, does a fine job exploring the grieving process of a child without going to obvious, heartstring-pulling extremes. (1:53) Galaxy. (Eddy)
*Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban The first two films adapted from J.K. Rowling's hugely popular series got the job done under the steady hand of director Chris Columbus. Here, director Alfonso Cuarón (Y tu mama también) takes a moodier, less whimsical approach perfectly suited to Prisoner of Azkaban's darker story line, which involves an escaped killer with connections to Harry's troubled past, sinister supernatural prison guards, nighttime chase scenes, creepy omens, and the like. As before, the adults are played by a who's who of British all-stars (new this go-round: Michael Gambon, subbing for the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore; Gary Oldman in a brief but memorable turn as the titular prisoner; and Emma Thompson and David Thewlis, both spot-on as additions to the Hogwarts faculty). More important, though, the younger cast especially Daniel Radcliffe as Harry all nail it, proving there's room even in the biggest blockbuster for believability and heart. (2:30) Century 20, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Eddy)
I'll Sleep When I'm Dead Released to U.S. theaters two years after it had been ignored as a British TV movie, the ingenious Croupier made a name actor out of Clive Owen and rejuiced the career of perennially underrated director Mike Hodges. Since then, however, Owen has tended to play every role with just the same blank-slate emotional withdrawal, and indeed everything about this reunion with Hodges suffers from too much restraint for too little reward. Will (Owen) is a former crime kingpin who had a breakdown and abruptly left town some months ago. He now lives in a van, works odd rural jobs, has no contact with former associates, and looks more like a lumberjack than like a Limey gangsta. But when his younger brother (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) inexplicably commits suicide, Will drifts back into town like an avenging angel, determined to find out why. What he doesn't know, and we already do, is that a few hours before his self-offing, the little bro had been raped by an underworld boss (Malcolm MacDowell) for reasons that remain fuzzy even when he explains them at climactic gunpoint. Other significant players include Charlotte Rampling as the girlfriend Will abandoned (there's a 20-year age difference between these actors, but the illusion that they're peers actually works) and Jamie Foreman as his mate Mickster. Hodges has called I'll Sleep a samurai movie; it does sport a similar minimalism, stoic air, and sense of impending mortality. But Trevor Preston's story and its telling are so reined-in that you can't quite get engrossed while waiting for an explosion that never really comes. (1:42) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)
King Arthur The ominous textual explanation at the beginning of King Arthur (right before the equally ominous voice-over kicks in) might lead audiences to believe director Antoine Fuqua and producer Jerry Bruckheimer have been off at Celtic Studies school reading old manuscripts, or on some archeological dig deep in the hills of Britain. Here, we're told, the truth shall unfold regarding the real, honest-to-goodness roots of the Arthurian legend no magic, no fairy nonsense, just a bunch of hard men (and one hard woman) hanging around Hadrian's Wall cracking skulls. There's a lake but no lady, a sword but no stone, no romantic triangle to speak of, and Arthur (Clive Owen) just wants to get his men home from battle; procure some alone time with blue-painted, leather-clad Guinevere (Keira Knightley, looking more like an underfed fetish-wear model than the fierce warrior woman posited by the filmmakers); and live in a world in which all men are free and equal. Our hero seems like a good enough guy, with decent values and his heart in the right place, but the overwrought speechifying quickly becomes an embarrassment and a drag, and Arthur invokes the word "freedom" so many times the movie begins to bear an odd resemblance to a State of the Union address. (2:10) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness. (Rapoport)
*Metallica: Some Kind of Monster When Metallica's St. Anger hit the shelves in 2003, some fans were a little taken aback by the more introspective turn the band had taken. How did they go from "Search and Destroy" to self-examination? The answer lies in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's brilliant new documentary. Not just in its chronicling of the band's confrontation with their inner demons, its notation of lead singer James Hetfield's check-in to rehab, its candid view of their emotion-airing sessions it's in the making of the film itself. Unlike your typical Behind the Music tour of tragedies and triumphs, this rockumentary isn't afraid to show shit getting real ugly as the musicians go from Damaged Inc., to a group that can finally work out their problems in a proactive manner. But the warts aren't what make this two-and-a-half-hour peek into the juggernaut such a compelling, even moving, piece of work. Any vérité rock doc can do voyeurism, but how many actually show the lifestyle's aftermath; unflinchingly detail how fucked-up, flawed, and unforgiving the subjects can be; or aid the process of licking the collective wounds? The film looks into the belly of a wounded beast while letting the cameras both converge with and record the need to finally let it all out. (2:20) Bridge, Grand Lake, Shattuck. (Fear)
The Mother Those who associate director Roger Michell with period pieces (Persuasion) or pithy comedies (Notting Hill) may be in for a shock with this devastating drama about a widow (Ann Reid) who, after years of playing the dutiful wife and mother, decides to make up for lost time regarding her heart and her loins. Unfortunately, it happens to be with a handyman (Daniel Craig) several decades her junior. He's also her son's best friend and her narcissistic daughter's lover. Michell and legendary Brit scribe Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette) go at the subject sensitively yet refuse to pull any punches, adding layers of psychological complexity to the December-May relationship that could have easily drifted into movie-of-the-week territory. Both actors anchor the film with jaw-droppingly honest performances, with Reid's take on the sexagenarian wounded-bird woman awakening to her dormant corporeal desires providing the veteran TV actress the chance to flex serious muscle. (1:51) Four Star, Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Fear)
*Napoleon Dynamite In this first feature by director and co-scenarist (with wife Jerusha) Jared Hess, Napoleon (Jon Heder) is the geekiest high schooler in Idaho, if not the western hemisphere. He lives with Grandma (Sandy Martin), sexually ambiguous bro Kip (Aaron Ruell), and vainglorious Uncle Rio (Jon Gries). The latter comes to live with the "boys" when Gram suffers a dune-buggy accident. Napoleon's only friend is new kid Pedro (Efren Ramirez), who seems to be on major laxatives. Pedro enters the student body president election, running against the most corn-fed popular blond (Haylie Duff) in a cheerleader suit. Can he triumph over her odds? Can Napoleon get with girl-of-his-dreams Trisha (Emily Kennard), girl-who-maybe-even-likes-him Deb (Tina Majorino), or indeed any girl actually born a girl? (Actually, boy-born girls would likely decline him too.) Can he get horrible Uncle Rio the hell out of the house? Can he survive the climactic school talent competition without complete humiliation? This often excruciatingly funny exercise is like Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) meeting the Harmony Korine of Gummo (not his other crap). In other words, it's deadpan-surreal teen-flick absurdism absolutely loaded with possibly empty but hella filling entertainment carbs. Scarf it up, puppies! (1:26) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Harvey)
The Notebook If the phrase "adapted from the Nicholas Sparks novel" sends you fleeing for the nearest exit (reference points: Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember), this probably isn't your kind of flick. Nick Cassavetes (John Q) directs his mom, Gena Rowlands, as an Alzheimer's patient kept company by a man (James Garner) who reads a handwritten tale of love lost and found again from the titular volume. The more interesting parts of The Notebook take place in flashback, as the couple rich, spirited Allie (Rachel McAdams) and poor, soulful Noah (Ryan Gosling) meet as teens in pre-World War II South Carolina. The ghosts of thousands of star-crossed love stories haunt the plot, but enjoyable performances make The Notebook more memorable than some such yarns. Though the younger actors are cast against type McAdams was last seen catfighting with Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls; Murder by Numbers' Gosling usually plays junior-psycho roles they're both surprisingly effective here as googly-eyed lovers. (2:01) Century Plaza, Century 20, Four Star, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
*Saved! Somewhere in suburban America, in a sector of the world where a woman might find pleasure in being named her community's "number-one Christian interior decorator," school is in session and the students are all praying for your immortal soul. Especially if you're gay. Or pregnant. Or Jewish. Welcome to American Eagle Christian High School and welcome to Saved!, Brian Dannelly's sweet-natured social satire about the kids of Christian America. The film revolves around the spiritual, physical, and emotional turmoil of a popular girl named, yup, Mary (Jena Malone) who eventually finds herself cast out by her peers when she ends up in a family way. The film's message isn't so much a call to burn down the evangelist churches and rehabilitate the youth group leaders as it is a down-to-earth plea for tolerance among those of the faith. School principal Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan) pushes the notion that where certain transgressions are concerned, there's "no room for moral ambiguity." And yet Saved! seems quietly certain there's plenty. (1:32) Four Star, Galaxy, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Rapoport)
The Seagull's Laughter After her husband dies in World War II, Freya (Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir) leaves the United States and returns to her family's home in the Icelandic village where she grew up. Her arrival causes no small ruckus in the town; she immediately has men and women both salivating over her silk stockings and Beyoncé hips. Freya wins the hand of the town's most eligible bachelor but is ousted from the house after throwing a cat at her sourpuss fossil of a mother-in-law. From then on Freya rallies the women of the village to her side in an all-out battle of the sexes. We're led through director-cowriter Ágúst Guomundsson's film by Freya's nine-year-old cousin Agga (Ugla Egilsdóttir), who in the tradition of child actors outside of the United States is refreshingly not bleached blond and cookie-cutter perfect. Still, the characters are caricatures more than real people, and even Freya, who's supposed to be riveting as the film's main focus, is overshadowed by smaller, less obvious elements of the film: Icelandic dance routines grunted out by the not-so-agile magistrate's daughter, a hot love scene under racks of drying codfish, and the moors of Iceland that serve as the backdrop for the story. (1:40) Act I and II, Opera Plaza. (Huang)
*Shrek 2 Newlyweds Shrek the ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) and Fiona the princess turned ogre (Cameron Diaz), along with sidekick Donkey (Eddie Murphy, who gets less screen time this go-round and is therefore, thankfully, less annoying), head to meet Fiona's folks in the suspiciously Hollywood-esque Kingdom of Far, Far Away. Naturally, the Queen (Julie Andrews) and the King (John Cleese) are shocked when they first see their transformed daughter and new son-in-law; equally flummoxed are Fiona's one-time intended, the snooty Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), and his mummy, the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders). AbFab vet Saunders and Antonio Banderas (as lethal cat-sassin Puss in Boots) are the standout supporting players in Shrek 2, which zooms along at breakneck speed incorporating as many eye-blink spoofs, sight gags, and winks to the audience as an entire season of The Simpsons. A soundtrack filled with unexpected selections is a welcome carry-over from the first film, as is the intricate animation, which somehow makes even a hulking, green ogre capable of facial expressions layered with different emotions. (1:33) Balboa, Century 20, Kabuki, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)Sleepover It's the end of eighth grade and Julie (Spy Kids' Alexa Vega) is having a sleepover. As high school that maelstrom of unforgiving social hierarchies where having the right jeans or a fling with the quarterback has the potential to cement your popularity and therefore overall worth as a human being draws near, Julie and her fellow average-Jane friends worry about what will become of them. Will they prolong their unremarkable social status into high school and graduate without a bang, going quietly into the night? Or will they take their fates into their own hands and actively refuse to be those girls that collect the tickets outside the gym on Homecoming night because no one asked them to be their date? It just so happens that the eighth-grade big shots (pretty, mean girls with flowing hair and driver's permits) are also having a slumber party that same night. Julie's casual soiree goes from having pedicures and fried Twinkies to a raging scavenger hunt against those queen bees, with stakes of life-or-death consequences: the fountain lunch spot where anybody who's anybody eats their sloppy joes. The film lacks the bite and wit of other high school flicks (Heathers, Clueless), but it has heart and gives a message of mostly, but not completely, unrealistic hope. (1:30) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, 1000 Van Ness. (Huang)
*Spider-Man 2 Forget those incredible reflexes and awe-inspiring web-slinging skills. Spider-Man or more specifically, his real-life counterpart, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is steeped in malaise. His crime-fighting skills are in high demand, but he's got major money problems. Plus, he's so tied up with catching crooks and rescuing the helpless, he can't even make time to see his beloved M.J. (Kirsten Dunst) star in, appropriately enough, The Importance of Being Earnest. Gloominess aside, any moviegoer with a pulse will be thrilled by Spider-Man 2, which is even better than 2002's generally fine Spider-Man (clearly, some of the prove-thyself pressure's been lifted off director Sam Raimi, as his trademark weirdness is more keenly felt this go-round). The exhilarating shots of Spider-Man swooping through Manhattan that so defined the first film are back, with new technological wonders in the form of tentacled villain Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina). More important, though, Raimi allows Maguire to dig deeply into Peter's existential ennui, daring to suggest that even in a film full of fantastic pizzazz, a keenly felt internal conflict can be just as powerful as anything created in front of a blue screen. (2:05) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
The Stepford Wives Ira Levin's original novel was a paranoid female-subjugation thriller (not unlike his Rosemary's Baby) that cleverly literalized women's early-'70s fears that somehow their liberation wave could be reversed and they might turn out just like their Betty Crocker moms after all. Bryan Forbes's 1975 film version stuck with people not just because the concept was so campy but also because it managed to mix satire, suspense, and character sympathy with genuine skill. This giganticized remake from Muppet-schooled director Frank Oz and queer sitcom specialist Paul Rudnick neither renowned for subtlety aims for a much more farcical tone than earlier incarnations. Nicole Kidman stars as a TV network president fired when one of her reality-show smashes turns into a radioactive legal quagmire. Chastened, she opts to start again as a simple "homemaker," taking husband Matthew Broderick and barely noted children to idyllic gated community Stepford. This "family paradise" of pseudo-colonial monster homes and shopping chimera is populated by nerdy white-collar men whose wives are gorgeous, adoring, passive, and absolutely mad about keeping the domestic front in white glove-test order. Kidman's partners in suspicion about that lopsided setup are Bette Midler (as a messy Jewish career ma) and Roger Bart (as the nelly half of a gay male couple he's funny, though Rudnick's rainbow-flag stamp seems a mite gratuitous here). As they get to the bottom of the terrible conspiracy, the film itself descends from reasonably witty, overproduced entertainment to "something very wrong in Stepford" indeed. What follows the original-story endpoint at about 80 minutes is a failure of nerve that suggests Levin's not-so-challenging concept is too sophisticated and cynical for 2004 viewers. Guess what: Oz and Rudnick's "feel-good" cop-out will leave this movie remembered as a famous flop by exactly the same audience. (1:33) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Harvey)
The Story of the Weeping Camel Any movie in which large, furry, and charmingly ugly animals play the lead characters faces the danger of being exploitative or trashed by effects-ridden Disneyfication. But filmmakers Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni take the documentarian's route for their tale of two camels, which reticently depicts the self-sustaining, sometimes merciless universe of the Gobi Desert. A nomadic Mongolian family assists one of its camels with a painful birth, growing concerned when the mother rejects its snow-white calf every time it tries to feed. After countless attempts at breaking the ice between the two creatures, the family hires a violinist to perform a reconciling music ritual for the frosty mother. This unembellished narrative really happened during the film's brief 23-day shoot, though some of its scenes are dramatic reenactments. Fascinating without resorting to oppressive ethnography, Weeping Camel models its faux-vérité structure on Robert Flaherty's Man of Aran and his pivotal Nanook of the North. Davaa and Falorni's project isn't as spectacle-oriented as the highly romanticized Nanook, but expect a few cultural performances for the camera toward the end. (1:33) Balboa, Opera Plaza, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Kim)
*Super Size Me Morgan Spurlock donated his body to filmmaking and he almost got the chance to donate it to science as well when his 30-day diet of McDonald's food began destroying his liver. No one has had quite this much fun with the first-person film-crusade format since Michael Moore went searching for Roger. Spurlock has chosen just as wily and dangerous a foe, and he too has the rare qualities of showmanship that make this polemic against junk food in our schools, neighborhoods, and indeed our brains as entertaining as it is informative. Anyone who finds Moore's pedantries a touch patronizing when it comes to the one-on-one interview (and, for the record, I do not include myself in that category) will find nothing to object to in Spurlock's methodology. As generous with the folks behind the counter as he is with the portions, it's Spurlock himself throwing up out a car window, displaying a hard-won spare tire in patriotic briefs who suffers for our Mcfastfood sins. (1:38) Embarcadero, Lumiere, Shattuck. (Gerhard)
The Terminal Steven Spielberg's rather typical new film affectionately licks viewers' faces with the director's usual "oh, the humanity" insistence. Man-child Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) a traveler from the recently revolutionized fictional country of Krakozhia, unable to leave JFK Airport's terminals thanks to a political coup that's left him with a passive passport substitutes for the usual Spielbergian pre-pubescent protagonist. And in lieu of characters or narrative, we get one-dimensional ciphers (Stanley Tucci as the villain! Catherine Zeta-Jones as the love interest!) and vignettes designed to show off Hanks's Little-Tramp-meets-Balki-from-Perfect-Strangers mimeograph performance. Like many of the filmmaker's past works, grace notes of true beauty peek through the prodigious displays of technique, but for the most part, tsunamis of overwrought metaphors wash over them completely. (2:01) Century 20, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness, Oaks, Orinda. (Fear)
*Troy Many will argue that Troy is held back from greatness by star Brad Pitt and his famous abs, or the Brabs, as they like to be called. This isn't true: Troy wouldn't be a great movie anyway, but there are a lot of good reasons to appreciate it. Most of them are for what it manages not to be: too corny, overblown, ponderous, laughable, or garish, for starters. The score, by James Horner, doesn't underline everything and then some. CGI effects are used mostly to heighten real-world ones, creating a rare modern blockbuster that doesn't feel like Space Mountain on endless loop. The cogent script by David Benioff ("inspired by Homer's Iliad" well, who isn't?) trips on relatively few dialogue howlers. The heavy machinery of spectacle and actual plot (as opposed to those spindly legs top-heavy Gladiator and Braveheart stood on: you killed my woman, now I kill you) move their impressive bulk around without too many gears squeaking. Director Wolfgang Petersen a man who's never wavered, or embarrassed himself, jumping willy-nilly from Das Boot to Neverending Story to Air Force One rises to the occasion with slightly impersonal but very accomplished craftsmanship. As for Stark Raving Brad, what can one say? He's trying hard, voice pushed low, chiseled forehead lined from the warrior's woe of doling out life and death. Yet even bulked up for the role, he remains lightweight. (2:45) Galaxy. (Harvey)
Two Brothers From their parents' dramatic mating ritual onward, we follow twin tiger brothers Kumal and Sangha as explorer Aidan McRory (Guy Pearce) nabs and separates them, a circumstance that eventually leads to a feline battle to the death for the ringside entertainment of some other nasty humans. Take The Jungle Book and Free Willy, add a dash of The Parent Trap, and you've got Two Brothers; it's nothing terribly innovative in the world of epic animal cinema. There are points where director Jean-Jacques Annaud (Enemy at the Gates, The Bear) seems to aim for heart-wrenching but inadvertently winds up with comedy, and at times the film stinks of oversentimentality and predictability. Nonetheless, there are about 20 glorious seconds in the fight scene where Kumal and Sangha claw the shit out of each other, and plenty of opportunities for the animal lovers in the house to "awwww" in unison as baby tigers skip around doing nauseatingly cute things. (1:49) Century 20. (Huang)
White Chicks So, like, black people are totally different from white people, and ohmigod, isn't it funny to watch those lovable Wayans brothers slap on prosthetic pale faces, ditch their urban drawls, and do Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer in reverse? But calling this one by the weighty term controversial would be fueling a nonexistent flame; White Chicks is meant to be taken lightly, so to speak, and if the race card does get dealt in this hand, it's played solely for a cheap laugh or two. After flubbing an easy assignment, FBI agents Kevin and Marcus (Shawn and Marlon Wayans, respectively) undergo rich-white-girl transformations, posing as hotel heiresses Tiffany and Brittany Wilson for a weekend in the Hamptons. Brash histrionics and dick 'n' fart jokes abound, dialogue plods along between decent gags, and the agents' ghastly disguises make suspension of disbelief damn near impossible. The film's real hero is buff-man actor Terry Crews, whose deadpan schmaltziness ekes out a laugh-out-loud moment whenever we start to lose interest. (1:45) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, 1000 Van Ness. (Kim)
*¡Pablo Neruda!¡Presente! Isabel Allende narrates this new documentary by Neruda scholar Mark Eisner. It provides a straightforward chronological recap of the great Chilean poet's extraordinary life and times, from his precocious beginnings through student-radical days to political exile, triumphant return, and 1973 demise during the military coup that commenced Pinochet's brutal regime. He died from a broken heart, 'tis said. Plenty of archival footage, recited excerpts from the Nobel Prize winner's writings, interviews with surviving intimates, and handsome shots of the native landscapes Neruda adored also help make this a fine introduction to a literary (and revolutionary) giant. It's making its world premiere in conjunction with "Festival Neruda," a multimedia celebration marking the late poet's birth centenniary. (1:23) La Peña Cultural Center, Theater Artaud. (Harvey)
*Playtime Perhaps the most meticulously designed comedy ever made, Jacques Tati's 1967 magnum opus follows an American tourist group and anyone else who passes by through a Brave New Paris dominated by nonstop confusion, one-size-fits-all corporate modernity, and the sound of technology running amok, eating its young. Like a jet set-era take on Chaplin's Modern Times, the film indicts bigger/faster/better impersonality through balletic slapstick and prescient satire though there's no Little Tramp at sentimental center. There is Monsieur Hulot, the multitalented Tati's own popular alter ego, but in his boredom with that character and narrative conventions in general, even Hulot recedes into a view of contemporary humanity as herdlike and bewildered. Playtime was this French genius's most ambitious effort, and his financial Waterloo. The incredible set dubbed "Tativille" necessitated 100 construction workers to build, and its very own power plant to function. Acts of God, budget crises, and other disasters stretched the shooting schedule to three years. Then a backlash against too much advance publicity, somewhat mystified audience response, and the heavy political shadow of May 1968's student riots killed it at the box office, bankrupting Tati. Originally shot in 70mm, the film has been unavailable in that (as well as uncut) form for more than 30 years. The Castro Theatre offers a fully restored print with enhanced digital sound that should provide myriad delight for the senses. Playtime is perhaps a masterpiece easier to admire than to love Tati's perfectionism by this time left little room for warmth but it's still a Rube Goldberg-ian wonder that's not quite like anything else. (2:06) Castro. (Harvey)
*Rollercoaster See 8 Days a Week. (1:59) PFA Theater.