The eighth annual Four Star Theatre Asian Film Festival takes place Aug 12-22. The venue is the Four Star, 2200 Clement, SF. Tickets ($6-10) may be purchased at the box office or by calling (415) 666-3488, faxing (415) 386-3718, or e-mailing here. A full schedule can be found at www.4starmovietheatre.net. All times p.m. For commentary, see "Hong Kong Hit Man."
Ju-On: The Grudge 8.
Lost in Time 12:30. Colour of the Truth 2:50. Macabre Case of Prom Pi Ram 4:55. Homecoming 7:20. Gate of Souls 9:45.
The Foliage noon. Colour of the Truth 2. In the Bosom of the Enemy 3:55. Gate of Souls 6:05. Drive 8. Azumi 10.
Men Suddenly in Black noon. Markova: Comfort Gay 2. Homecoming 4:05. Szechuan Concubine 6:15. Conduct Zero 8:20. Macabre Case of Prom Pi Ram 10:15.
Azumi noon. The Foliage 2:55. Conduct Zero 5. Failan 7:10. Drive 9:30.
Failan 12:30. Colour of the Truth 2:55. Lost in Time 5. Antenna 7:20. Macabre Case of Prom Pi Ram 9:40.
Alien vs. Predator In the grand tradition of King Kong vs. Godzilla and Freddy vs. Jason, horror icons meet for an FX-laden smackdown. (1:40) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Oaks.
*Code 46 See "Irresistible Force." (1:33) Lumiere.
Divan Pearl Gluck's personal essay Divan is a beguiling, thornier-than-usual take on an insular community, the Jewish Hasidim of Brooklyn and Hungary. Hasidic by birth, Gluck was taken out of the community after her parents' divorce when she was a teenager. Divan is set in the first person plural with Gluck and other tearaways profiled and tracks her effort to retrieve a family couch that a famous rebbe slept on two centuries ago, plunging her further into a never-complete cycle of identifying and renovating herself. At one point, she even resorts to a hidden camera in Hungary, noting almost as an afterthought how she's developed a crush on one of the young hasidim, who remains unidentified. A tangle of personal coups occur by film's end, not least of which is a (as ever, partial, small but profound) reconciliation with her father, who had years earlier documented the family in Super 8. (1:17) Act I and II, Opera Plaza. (Edward E. Crouse)
L.A. Twister Frustrated by the impossible task of breaking into showbiz, a pair of longtime pals struggling actor Lenny (Zack Ward) and the recently dumped Ethan (Tony Daly) decide to make their own movie by any means necessary. If director Sven Pape's L.A. Twister sounds like a million other movies set on the Hollywood fringes, well, it kind of is; imagine Swingers without the catchy lingo and jitterbugging. Still, Pape, who edited James Cameron's Imax film Ghosts of the Abyss, shakes the familiar up a bit with creative cutting techniques, blending Lenny and Ethan's film within a film into the main narrative. Also, it'd be easy for Lenny and Ethan to come across as annoyingly self-involved, but stars Ward and Daly, along with Jennifer Aspen as another wannabe actor who falls for Lenny, are genuinely likable, which makes heaps o' difference. (1:31) Galaxy, UA Stonestown. (Eddy)
My Mother Likes Women See Movie Clock. (1:33) Lumiere, Shattuck.
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement Even newly equipped with a college degree, Princess Mia (Anne Hathaway) knows she still has quite a bit of education left before she can assume the throne of Genovia. She's not too concerned, though; with Julie Andrews for a grandmother and the crown jewels to accent her wardrobe, this princess stuff seems like a walk in the park until a blimpy, menacing Parliament member proposes they enforce a traditional law saying that no woman can rule the country without a husband at her side. Mia is given 30 days to find a worthy fellow, otherwise her place in the royal family tree will be surrendered to young, handsome Sir Nicholas (Chris Pine), who is next in line for the throne. Hathaway is completely harmless as the awkward, driven queen-to-be, but more important, to those for whom Andrews can do no wrong, the film includes one phenomenal scene involving a slumber party, surfing, and a large mattress that allows the veteran star to move like she hasn't moved since Mary Poppins. Without the always-inspiring "makeover" mentality of the first Princess Diaries, this sequel lacks the original's charm, but klutzy Princess Mia evolving into an orphan-saving philanthropist comes close. (2:00) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Orinda, Shattuck. (Huang)
This Old Cub The title refers to retired Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, who set several major league records and won numerous honors though no Hall of Fame inclusion, as yet during a glorious 14-year run with that team through 1974. He accomplished all that while suffering from juvenile diabetes, which in more recent years has necessitated the amputation of both his legs. Among many anecdotes told here, one of the (unfortunately few) interesting ones is how he somehow managed to hit a homer during a vision-distorting diabetic reaction. Fellow players like Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, and Johnny Bench, as well as celebrity fans like Bill Murray (who imitates Santo's distinctive swing for the camera), testify to what a great player and all-around nice guy he is. Of course, if anything about him weren't nice, we wouldn't find out from this documentary, made by Santo's son Jeff. As you might expect, it's more a slavish tribute to Dad than an objective portrait of a fine athlete. Which means these earnest, decently crafted, innocuous 86 minutes will begin to bore all but the most devoted b-ball nostalgics by the fifth inning or so. (1:26) Galaxy. (Harvey)
*Tom Dowd: The Language of Music Tom Dowd was one of the prime invisible heroes of 20th-century music, an engineer whose landmark technical innovations were matched by his open-hearted approach to working with artists. The recorded legacies of Ray Charles, John Coltrane, and Aretha Franklin wouldn't be quite what they are if it weren't for the Dowd touch. Mark Moormann's doc spends a little too long wallowing in the man's collaborations with the Allman Brothers and Creem and not enough time on Coltrane, Franklin, and Otis Redding. But that's a petty gripe: a reunion between Dowd and Charles reveals their camaraderie, and as an interview subject, Dowd displays a life-love so contagious it's easy to see why he forsook nuclear science for music. The final scene, in which Dowd explains and performs his favorite song, is a tiny piece of pure gold. (1:30) Roxie. (Huston)
Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie A young hero fights to save Earth from an ancient evil in this animated film based on the comic book trading card-TV series juggernaut. (1:30) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Jack London, Shattuck.
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 20. (Chun)
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, Shattuck. (Harvey)
*The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi Famously incarnated by the late Shintaro Katsu in 26 films and more than 100 TV episodes since the early 1960s, Japan's favorite blind swordsman, Zatoichi, is a blind and wandering masseur whose sightlessness in no way impairs his deadly accuracy with a samurai sword. After a string of commercially and critically disappointing films the cloying Kikujiro, the confused Brother, the abominable Dolls the possibilities of treating the culturally cherished Zatoichi as more than a mere pincushion must have seemed as promising a next step for cine-auteur "Beat" Takeshi Kitano as any. So much the more surprising, then, that Kitano's Zatoichi turns out to be not just a tremendous amount of fun to watch, but also clearly the best film he's made in years. Adhering to the genre flick's demands for a fast-moving and compelling narrative (not to mention salting the film's box office bait by casting hunky heartthrob Tadanobu Asano as his costar), the director manages to afford himself plenty of time to play with exactly those sorts of comedy-variety elements he's spent years perfecting for the TV audience at home. (1:56) Albany, Embarcadero. (Stephens)
The Bourne Supremacy In the two years since The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has been hiding out tropical beach-style with his girlfriend (Franke Potente). This restful neutral state can't last long and in fact doesn't suffice it to say that within the first reel you know Potente won't be needed for any further sequels. Superspy-assassin Bourne has just been framed for a double murder and the theft of $3 million. So once again hot on his compact little tail are CIA and U.S. government officials both misguided but clean (led this time by Joan Allen) and corrupt, as well as the bad Russians who framed him in the first place. Bourne's first screen edition was fleet and fresh enough to stir hope for an international-espionage genre that had started lumbering long ago. This follow-up is likewise directed by somebody Jerry Bruckheimer wouldn't have chosen (Paul Greengrass, of the exceptional docudrama Bloody Sunday), which is good. The movie certainly moves, albeit sometimes at the cost of coherency, let alone character involvement; plus a little WobblyVision (you know, that jiggle-the-camera-so-things-look-urgent tactic so popular with the kids nowadays) goes a long way. A respectable if slightly disappointing sequel, The Bourne Supremacy at least saves the best for last, with a figuratively and literally smashing car chase (all Moscow becomes a demolition derby) followed by a thoughtful first dose of emotional gravitas. (2:00) Balboa, Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Jack London, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, 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) Balboa. (Huang)
Catwoman In Batman Returns, Michelle Pfeiffer oozed kitty mischief with such genuine (not computer-generated) finesse that even her character's costume-sewing skills were believable. That playful domme was director Tim Burton's purrrfectly realized vision of Catwoman. Unfortunately it's a lack of foresight that guides the schlocky new Catwoman, directed by Pitof. Halle Berry plays a meek gal who undergoes an unearthly feline makeover set to pumping hip-hop music. She then embarks on a vaguely feminist vendetta against the producers of a toxic face cream. Berry looks exquisitely fine in leather and prowls with lithe, saucy flair, but every other aspect of the movie sucks phenomenally. Bad writing, editing, and nauseating camera moves kill the cat. Love interest Benjamin Bratt is hunky deadweight, and Sharon Stone gets stuck with terrible villain lines. The most ridiculous scenes include a cat resuscitating Berry with the tuna breath of life and Berry attacking catnip. (1:30) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness. (Koh)
A Cinderella Story Like the high-pitched buzz of fluorescent lighting or a computer left on all night, one nagging question plagues A Cinderella Story: Why can't anything in this teen-romance dreckfest make me believe Hilary Duff's outcast, downtrodden title character would actually be unpopular, in possession of unsounded depths, or capable of identifying Tennyson in an I.M. from her mystery Prince Charming? Perhaps it's that she quite resembles the plastics who rule her high school. Perhaps it's that Duff couldn't act her way out of a pumpkin drawn by six white mice. Perhaps it's that the din of homilies about pursuing your dreams and staying true to yourself has drowned out any hope of intelligent scriptwriting. The filmmakers are no doubt proud of Cinderella's feminist gloss, which advocates not waiting around (too long) for your prince (here a handsome wooden doll played by One Tree Hill's Chad Michael Murray) and a state of nonbulimia, but the latter advice would be easier to follow if the film itself weren't so gag-inducing. (1:37) Century 20, 1000 Van Ness. (Rapoport)
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) Balboa. (Kim)
*Collateral A bullet-riddled long night of the soul around a grim, landmark-free Los Angeles, Collateral is a beautiful, lowercase black hole. At once taut and scattered, talky and eye-filling, loose and calculated, pulpy and poetic, pared down and ingeniously cluttered, the movie returns Michael Mann to a smaller ambient scale than his recent Oscar jabs, Ali and The Insider. Despite having more thrillerish action per square inch than most disassociative summer behemoths, Collateral is a road movie always hot to return to the confines of the "cleanest cab in Los Angeles," driven by Max Durocher (Jamie Foxx), for a face-off between Max and Vincent (a frosted Tom Cruise). A "superassassin" and a passenger for most of the movie Vincent has an assignment, one that's perpetually being consulted and laid out on a flash card in his Palm Pilot: his contract is to take down five federal witnesses he's never met before. Max, a professional in his own right, able to impressively crunch multi-borough geography, is ruthlessly trapped into being Vincent's deadly charioteer, while the latter makes his rounds. The net result is an existential study of two men, an anti-buddy picture. (2:00) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Jack London, 1000 Van Ness. (Crouse)
*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) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (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) Opera Plaza, Shattuck, 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) Kabuki. (Harvey)
*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 20, Empire, Grand Lake, 1000 Van Ness. (Gerhard)
Festival Express Certainly nothing terribly wholesome can happen when a bunch of rock stars congregate on a high-speed train for five days with psychedelic party favors and a piñata-size bottle of Canadian whiskey. Festival Express is a tribute by director Bob Smeaton (The Beatles Anthology) to the musical extravaganza that took place in the summer of 1970, when a train carried an all-star team including the Grateful Dead, the Band, Sha Na Na, the Buddy Guy Blues Band, and Janis Joplin from Toronto westward to play concerts for free-lovin', flower-tressed, braless Canadian youths. Festival Express's crown jewel is the priceless footage taken on- and offstage: huge jam sessions aboard the train and an irresistible Joplin singing-screaming the bejesus out of "Cry Baby." People with a low tolerance for 10-minute songs and overgrown hairstyles might want to steer clear, but Dead fans and music lovers should climb on board if only to see Jerry Garcia profess his love to Joplin somewhere between Winnipeg and Calgary. (1:30) Act I and II, Opera Plaza. (Huang)
*Garden State Aspiring actor Andrew "Large" Largeman (Zach Braff) is living in Los Angeles and table-jockeying in a chic Vietnamese restaurant when the call comes that his mother has died. He reluctantly returns home for a few days of closure. Hanging out with his boyhood pal (Peter Sarsgaard) now a full-time stoner grave digger and a goofy young woman (Natalie Portman) he meets in a neurologist's waiting room, Large searches for the epiphany that'll ease him out of his vegetative mind-set. At first glance, Garden State may seem like just another twentysomething woe-is-me mopefest looking to ride Holden Caulfield's coattails. But thanks to writer-director-star Braff's knack for deliciously deadpan setups, the film works an alchemy of bemused charm that steamrolls over most of the story's clunks. There are a few neophyte missteps, notably in the faux-naif lines poor Portman has to pop out (still, it surely beats acting against droids) and Large's slightly stock climactic confessional with dad Ian Holm, but Braff nails the mixture of melancholia and absurdism so beautifully that it's hard not to be won over. (1:46) Bridge, Empire, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Fear)
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle From Danny Leiner, the director of Dude, Where's My Car?, comes Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (or, in other words, Dude, Where's My Car? 2: The Ethnic Edition). Harold (John Cho) is a pushover who does his coworkers' assignments (those Asians are such hard workers) and freezes whenever his dream girl is within view. Kumar (the endearing Kal Penn) got a perfect score on his MCATs but sabotages his interviews for med school and is only concerned with where his next joint is coming from. A night of bong rips gives the two friends a severe hankering for White Castle burgers; the resulting quest takes them all over New Jersey and includes jail time, jungle animals, a run-in with Doogie Howser, and of course, losing their car. The humor is easy and predictable, as are the miraculous character transformations by the end of the movie. But if you can locate the stoner frat boy in you, or if you can relate to being plain old hungry, Harold and Kumar will supply something to laugh about. (1:23) Century 20, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Huang)
*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)
A Home at the End of the World After losing his family, a teenager named Bobby is adopted by best friend Jonathan and his parents in this film based on a Michael Cunningham (The Hours) novel. Bobby romances his pal and charms all with a gentle ease that marks his later ability to thrive in any circumstances except for being alone, that is. Flash-forward to the early '80s when Bobby (Colin Farrell), age 24, finally surrenders his stunted filial love to seek out his long-lost friend in New York. Still winning and guileless, Bobby finds his way into yet another new family when he falls for and impregnates Jonathan's roommate Clare (Robin Wright Penn). Farrell plays his part beautifully, but the grown-up Bobby isn't as well-developed as Jonathan (Dallas Roberts), a complex character trying to negotiate his place within the threesome's undefined unit. Uneven at parts Home scripted by Cunningham and directed by first-timer Michael Mayer is nevertheless engaging as a quiet ode to self-made families. (1:35) Lumiere. (Koh)
*The Hunting of the President A lashing-out at what Hilary Clinton calls the "vast right-wing conspiracy," The Hunting of the President is essentially a sour B side to all of Bill Clinton's My Life book-tour interviews. Anyone drawling Clinton's story be they the president or the filmmakers bounces as usual between the Slick Willy and the Comeback Kid monikers, between chaotic randiness and mawkishness. Hunting doesn't have a story so much as a mandate to hit the anti-Clintonites square in the tabloids. The right's fetishistic hatred and their strange-but-true tactics come fast and weird: the New Zealand reporter caught trespassing, shut into some nut's houseboat, accidentally privy to the secret machinations of Alliance for the Rebirth of an Independent America; the Elves a "cabal" of three loons plus leggy, toothy tigress Ann Coulter; and the fur trapper who fronted the Arkansas project, a nest of lawyers, journalists, and investigators who poured millions into the Clinton takedown. All are parsed, almost none are explained in a movie that feels like extended footnotes. Hunting's tabloid approach fits pretty well, a tit-for-tat strategy that reminds one of the muck of living, reporting, and perceiving politics. (1:29) Roxie. (Crouse)
I, Robot It's rare that a major studio spends truckloads of money on a sci-fi epic, crams it full of CGI and assorted visual clichés, hires a lead who's desperately chucking his ha-ha status and the resulting product, amazingly, doesn't suck. It could be that our standards for Hollywood keep getting lower, or the film's disgraceful trailers simply dropped viewer expectations, but Alex Proyas's latest dystopian future flick actually lays some thought beneath its polished veneer. Will Smith (quit cringing, he's okay in this one) stars as Detective Spooner, a pie-eating technophobe who's convinced that all the robots in Chicago (circa 2035) can't be trusted. While investigating the apparent suicide of a robotics expert, the gumshoe cop learns that machines especially ones built by evil corporations sometimes do things not included in their programs. So with the help of a stunning scientist (Bridget Moynahan), Spooner rolls up his sleeves and saves humanity from well, that part is unclear. The film does raise some intriguing ethical questions about the preservation of life but ultimately gets distracted by its own coolness factor (i.e., techno-violence with post-Matrix effects). (1:54) Century Plaza, Century 20, 1000 Van Ness. (Kim)
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) Galaxy. (Harvey)
Intimate Strangers A potentially embarrassing case of mistaken identity brings together intense, self-involved Anna (Sandrine Bonnaire) and quiet, lonely William (Fabrice Luchini). She bursts into his office, thinking he's a psychiatrist and before this man of few words can set her straight (he's actually a tax lawyer; the shrink's office is next door), Anna's blabbed some rather personal details about her sexually unsatisfying marriage. Future "sessions" result as the duo forge a relationship that borders on codependency: she's found an outlet to share her deepest thoughts and confessions (whether or not they're true), while he's found a reason to look forward to the next dreary week. Somehow, this compelling drama from director Patrice LeConte (The Man on the Train) keeps from straying into too-creepy, overwrought-"erotic" territory and actually comes out more sweet than expected. Thank the performances, especially Luchini's, whose expressive face reveals all, no dialogue required. (1:45) Albany, Clay. (Eddy)
Kaena: The Prophecy Certain recent events may be depressing enough to warrant washing your hands of the entire human race, but apparently in a light year or two we'll really be in dire straits. In the French animated film Kaena: The Prophecy, humans are reduced to industrious, antlike robo-droids who harvest tree sap to mollify their gods, survive on the flesh of massive, pulsating worms, and toil under the leadership of a tyrannical religious wacko. Kaena (voiced by Kirsten Dunst) is the only one who thinks something may be a little off about this arrangement, and when she's not leaping nimbly from tree to tree in a costume remarkably similar to the one Christina Aguilera wore in her "Dirrty" video, she draws pictures of hazy visions that she assumes are proof of another universe. After being kicked out of her village, she is rescued by Opaz (voiced by Richard Harris), the sole survivor of an alien race who unveils her planet's nasty secrets and gives her the credibility to be the new leader of her people. Kaena could be construed as touching on larger issues of religion and power, but these themes feel accidental and poorly planned, as does the entire plot. The set design is noteworthy, however: Kaena can rightfully take her place beside Lara Croft as some animator's masturbatory homage to impossible waist-to-hip ratios. (1:25) Red Vic. (Huang)
Little Black Book Early in Little Black Book, Stacy Holt (Brittany Murphy) narrates that in times of anxiety, she does what her mother does for comfort: turns to Carly Simon. This information is followed by the sight of a tear-streaked Stacy belting out a Simon hit in the bathroom stall of her college dorm, to the shock of her peers. This scene is about as funny as this romantic comedy gets. Stacy, who believes in things like destiny, is certain of two things: her boyfriend Derek (Ron Livingston) is the One, and someday she'll get to work with her childhood idol, Diane Sawyer. But since a girl has to start her journalism career somewhere, Stacy takes a job at a trashy talk show as an associate producer. Soon, Stacy learns the reality of talk TV (it's not pretty) but finds a friend in feisty veteran producer Barb (Holly Hunter). In no time the scheming Barb convinces the naive girl that the commitment-phobe Derek is hiding something. Paranoid, Stacy breaks into Derek's Palm Pilot to uncover his past relationships. What follows is a lame detective story wrapped up by a lesson about relationships that could easily be learned for free any night of the week by watching network TV. (1:45) Century 20, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Stephanie Laemoa)
*The Lizard Picture Jerry Falwell and his minions as your government and you'll get a rough idea why The Lizard became such an unprecedented box office success in Iran this year. It's the story of a thief (named Reza the Lizard for his skill in scaling walls) who impersonates a Muslim cleric to escape prison, only to discover the benefits of life as a holy man in Iran's Islamic Republic. Moreover, his down-to-earth style attracts quite a following, much to his chagrin, reanimating religious life in the border town where he hides out while planning a final escape. Veteran director Kamal Tabrizi's adroit comedy earned the honor of a government ban last May after hard-line clerics (at least one of whom reportedly complained of being called "lizard" in the street) began preaching against it a prerogative whose preposterousness the film beautifully anticipates in Reza's sermon on Pulp Fiction, misconstrued as the work of "one of the great Christian filmmakers." But anchored by Parvis Parastui's superb, well-rounded performance as the likable Reza, it's more than the send-up of Iran's mullahs that lends the film appeal. Ultimately making a serious case for an authentic community based on mutual respect and sincerity between all people, The Lizard is smart and humane, as well as very funny. (1:57) Balboa. (Avila)
*The Manchurian Candidate Jonathan Demme, director of the Manchurian Candidate remake, must be delighted by the success of Fahrenheit 9/11 it's the perfect companion piece to this timely thriller, the bare bones of which (mind control, political intrigue, the crazed pursuit of power) still resonate years after the cold war-infused original. Gulf War veteran Major Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington) starts to doubt his own memory after a rash of troubling dreams suggest a hero soldier, Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), may not be who he appears to be. Since the men shared time in Kuwait, Shaw has been elected to Congress; his fervently patriotic mother (Meryl Streep) is a senator who schemes to get Shaw his never-named party's vice presidential nomination. As the election looms, Marco tries to convey his fears to Shaw, babbling about implants and nightmares and what really happened in the desert. Though The Manchurian Candidate remake does unfurl its own modern twist commenting on corporations rather than Communists it's ultimately less shocking than the original was at the time of its release. Still, it emerges an undeniably thought-provoking film. (2:10) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
*Maria Full of Grace Seventeen-year-old Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno) thinks she could do better than her boring boyfriend, boring job de-thorning roses at a flower factory, and boring home life as meal ticket for a demanding mother, whiny sister, and the latter's wailing baby. The trouble is, Maria lives in a nowhere town outside Bogota, Colombia, where options are few. Restlessness, anger, and willpower alone aren't enough to reroute Maria's dead-end life trajectory, especially after she discovers she's unhappily pregnant. So she seizes on one extremely risky road to material success: working as an international drug mule, smuggling heroin into the United States via umpteen ingested jumbo capsules that are horse tranquilizer-size and fulla horse, period. A hefty financial reward awaits if she and several other nervous young women survive the gauntlet of suspicious customs officials, possible capsule leakage (which would be fatal), nausea, cramps, and any unforeseen additional disasters. Writer-director Joshua Marston's drama may lack the emotionally grueling force of some prior, more floridly cautionary works on this subject (most famously Midnight Express), but its documentary-style directness still offers a powerful microcosm of one woman's attempt to share in the "free trade" bounty that pretty much flows just one way out from disadvantaged countries. (1:53) Act I and II, Embarcadero, Empire, Piedmont, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
*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) Galaxy. (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)
*Open Water According to Open Water writer-director-editor and co-cinematographer Chris Kentis, sharks just happen to be one element of his film, a digitally shot, based-on-true-events tale of two spectacularly unlucky scuba divers left stranded miles offshore. But Open Water is a shark movie if ever there was one especially when you consider Kentis and co-cinematographer-producer Laura Lau (who also happens to be his wife; the scuba-loving pair financed the film themselves and shot it over two-plus years on vacations from their day jobs) didn't have a Jaws-style stunt shark on the payroll. With the help of "shark wranglers," a relatively tame shark population, and some well-timed bloody bait, Kentis was able to capture all the fin-filled footage he needed, no special effects required. It's almost too bad this behind-the-scenes information isn't conveyed in the film's opening credits it might enhance the experience for unsuspecting filmgoers prepped for a computer-generated shriekfest, like, say, Deep Blue Sea. Though every line is scripted, the slow-burning Open Water has an almost documentary feel to it; it literally floats along, allowing dread and despair to build over 79 agonizing minutes. (1:19) California, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Outfoxed Somewhere in TV land's pixelated global theater lives a 24-hour news channel that, in its zeal to reinvent the news in the image of its creator, has merged all the credibility of professional wrestling with the subtlety of a New York Post headline. With no wink and no nod, but huge three-dimensional graphics sewn together by Betsy Ross, it markets itself under the slogan "Fair and balanced." Robert Greenwald, director of the new documentary Outfoxed, does what no other informed American would even consider: he takes Fox News at its word. There's no shortage of talking heads in Outfoxed, including Walter Cronkite and the always on-point Robert McChesney, to explain the ongoing harm caused by Rupert Murdoch's ownership of a media empire, a collection of nine TV satellites, 175 newspapers, 40 book imprints, 100 cable stations, 40 TV stations, and one movie studio, reaching a total of 4.7 billion people, which is about three-fourths of the people on the earth. And it's no surprise that the empire's flagship news channel supports the Republicans who help Murdoch stay on top of the dirt pile. What is a surprise are the smoking guns Greenwald digs up to show just how it's done. (1:17) Oaks, Roxie. (Gerhard)
*Riding Giants With solar blond hair and bronzed quads to match, the world's greatest big-wave surfer, Laird Hamilton, stands on an ocean-framed precipice, looking out at infinity. It's a signature moment of Dogtown and Z-Boys director Stacy Peralta's Riding Giants a film that darkens the happy cannabis cloud of the surf-film genre because even as the camera shoots an endless summer vista, it indicates trouble's on the horizon. The ocean is at peace, meaning: there are no waves. In the grammar of Peralta's Riding Giants, a documentary that replaces the party-boy tone of so many extreme-sports movies with utter, earnest, seriousness and a massive amount of historical footage, the situation is equivalent to gazing on a nuclear winter. It's, of course, too terrible a thing to speak of directly. Explained by Hamilton himself, "It's like if you were a dragon slayer and there were no more dragons." It's a lack of imagination on my part, I realize, that I can't quite picture it without some help. But Riding Giants supplies the dragons, the dragon-slayers, the play-by-play commentators, as well as the poets, to give us a reason why big-wave surfers face a very public death nearly every day over a very private trip. (1:42) Embarcadero. (Gerhard)
*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) Galaxy. (Rapoport)
Seducing Dr. Lewis The sleepy northern Quebec island burg of Ste. Marie-La Mauderne is on its last legs. The fishing industry that long supported it is fished-out, and the only remaining residents are elders too stubborn or lazy to follow their children's exodus to the big city. When a multinational corporation considers (improbably) building a factory there, things are suddenly looking up. But one condition is that the town must have a resident physician of its own, a circumstance that hasn't existed since the last one died of old age. Happenstance well, blackmail actually places a jaded young Montreal plastic surgeon (David Boutin) in the town for a month. The locals knock themselves out trying to convince him that their falling-down community is in fact a charming hamlet coincidentally full of all the things he likes (cricket matches, fine dining, etc). Winning him over short-term is one thing, but what will happen when he finds out it's all a sham? This effort by scenarist Ken Scott and director Jean-François Pouliot is OK, but so nakedly yet another stab at milking the Full Monty-Waking Ned Devine "triumph of the little guys" formula that all its seriocomic charm and local character feel sterilized and shrink-wrapped. (1:35) Galaxy. (Harvey)
*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) 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
*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 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, 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) Galaxy, Red Vic. (Gerhard)
*Superstar in a Housedress Carol Burnett was Jackie Curtis's spiritual godmother. Robert DeNiro made his acting debut in Curtis's play Glamour, Glory, and Gold. Harvey Fierstein places Curtis's writing on a par with Woody Allen's. As yet another friend of the subject notes in Superstar in a Housedress, the 6'2" Curtis was undeniably the "brains" of the Paul Morrissey-era Andy Warhol drag constellation, an unholy trinity that also featured fellow women-in-revolt Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling. Like the recent Warhol-related doc Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story, Craig Highberger's movie is a biography for nonreaders. Pie had a living, ranting subject to grapple with; in contrast, Highberger gathers a colorful bouquet of admirers Fierstein and Lily Tomlin (who also narrates) are two of the milder blooms on display to sing the praises of a late, great cult figure. The production values aren't on the level of Bill Weber and David Weissman's recent portrait of the Cockettes, whose trailblazing antics Highberger downplays. But that's a tiny quibble. Superstar gives Curtis a long-overdue, luxuriant tribute. (1:35) Castro. (Huston)
Thunderbirds There are two major strikes against Thunderbirds straight away: the bizarre Supermarionation puppets that made the 1964-66 TV show so distinctive have been replaced with less compelling flesh-and-blood performers (the jury is still out on a wooden Bill Paxton); and as supervillain the Hood (Ben Kingsley) tries to put the do-gooder Tracy family's International Rescue team out of commission, the film trades in the series' protagonists for the Spy Kids-like antics of their younger relations. Still, the space-age optimism of the original remains, and there's enough attention lavished on the effects and pop-art set design to please the fans. Those wanting a proper attack of the puppet people may want to hold out for October's Thunderbirds parody, Team America: World Police. (1:35) Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness. (Macias)
Touch of Pink The good news: gays are increasingly part of the mainstream. The bad news: now we have to live in the mainstream. A film like writer-director Ian Iqbal Rashid's first feature, unthinkable not long ago, is now as grimly inevitable as the prospect of another Julia Roberts/Meg Ryan/Brittany Murphy romantic comedy and in most of the same ways too. The Guru's Jimi Mistry plays Alim, a gay yuppie in London with a great live-in boyfriend (Kristen Holden-Ried) and a secret fantasy life wherein his constant companion and life coach is dapper-beyond-the-grave Cary Grant (Kyle McLachlan). Retro Hollywood's advice on matters of comportment, formal wear, and being charming aren't much help, however, when Alim's mother (Suleka Mathew) descends from Toronto. She's been kept in the dark enough to insist he settle down and marry a nice Indian girl. Oh, the wacky complications that ensue! This shotgun wedding between The Wedding Banquet and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is worth seeing for one reason MacLachlan's delicious spin on Grant, as good a riff as Bruce Campbell's Bubba Ho-Tep Elvis and worth avoiding for every other. Better produced than such prior gay dramedies as Trick, it's just as bereft of original ideas, with a script that feels written by committee and a "cute" concept that doesn't even fit the characters. (1:32) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
The Village Gawd, where to begin? Inhabitants in wee Covington, which appears to be some sort of isolated 19th-century New England religious community, are disturbed when skinned animal corpses suggest that "Those We Don't Speak Of" monsters who live in the surrounding woods no one is allowed to enter are angry. A "truce" between the creatures and the humans has apparently been breached. Okay, that's it for plot. An excruciatingly ponderous 90-minute buildup precedes the film's paltry smidgen of "action" (you will later struggle to recall just how the trailer made this look like a scary horror film), and a surprise revelation that is just so, so lame. The Village should finally make everyone aware that M. Night Shyamalan represents the biggest case of Emperor's New Clothes since emperors actually existed. Sure, The Sixth Sense was a clever (if far from original) idea, but Unbreakable and Signs were 98 percent empty portent and 2 percent actual content. Here the self-appointed master of supernatural suspense (his production company is called Blinding Edge, for chrissakes) takes a concept that might've floated a mediocre Twilight Zone half hour and treats it as if it combined the artistic, moral, and oh-the-humanity weight of The Scarlet Letter, Our Town, The Lottery, and a medieval Passion Play combined. These may be the slowest and dumbest two hours ever unleashed at this level of mainstream-Hollywood-"event" expense and hype. I wouldn't be surprised if some audiences throw things at the screen before killing word-of-mouth gets out. Joaquin Phoenix, William Hurt, Ron Howard's pretty daughter Bryce (like hell she wasn't a nepotistic hire conveying her character's sightlessness seems beyond her), Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody (a Hall of Shame performance as the village idiot), and other thespians do not emerge unscathed. (2:00) Century Plaza, Century 20, Jack London, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda, Shattuck. (Harvey)
What the #$*! Do We Know? What's the purpose of life? Do we experience multiple realities? What exactly is the nature of space and time? What the #$*! Do We Know? attempts to answer life's real toughies with a host of appropriately mad scientists and experts in the field. The quasi-conclusive information is then supplemented by a sequence starring Marlee Matlin, whose character overcomes a jilted marriage and anger floating from her past and is freed by deeper knowledge of what's truly important. This film has the potential to stun with animation sequences of the body's nervous system and internal organs and maybe even teach us a thing or two, but instead it resorts to dumbed-down language and downright embarrassing sequences of cells dancing, speaking, and doing things they have no business in doing. For an after-school philosophy special for junior high students, fine, but as a feature-length film, What the #$*! Do We Know falls flat on its pseudo-metaphysical face. (1:51) Piedmont. (Huang)