The eighth International Latino Film Festival runs through Sun/21. Bay Area venues include Dominican University of California, 50 Acacia, San Rafael; Lark Theater, 549 Magnolia, Larkspur; Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission, SF; and Pickleweed Park Community Center, 50 Canal, San Rafael. For a San Jose screening schedule and ticket information, call (415) 458-3769 or go to www.latinofilmfestival.org. All times are p.m. unless otherwise indicated.
Dominican Farmingville with "Victory for Chino," "Ayutla," and "Cine(más) for Change: Viewing Diversity at Dominican" 7.
Lark ANC Hop Revolution with "Always" 2. Lost Embrace with "The Chimney Sweep" and "Life" 6. Sex with Love 8:40.
Mission Wizards and Giants 1. Radio Brazil: Clandestine Days with "Youth Rhythms" and "Wherever You Are" 2:45. Cardboard Days 4:30. B-Happy 5:45. Polaquito 7:45.
Mission ANC Hip Hop Revolution 2. The Landless with "Ox" 3:30. A Silent Love 5:15. Love Hurts with "Rough Awakening" 7:20.
Pickleweed Wizards and Giants 2. My Son Is a Genius 4:30.
Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi Sixteen-year-old Shlomi (Oshri Cohen) is generally regarded as "special" (as in, not all there) by those around him: a boisterous crew that includes his nagging mother, Beatles-obsessed older brother, bitchy former girlfriend, weary older sister, and cheatin' pop. Precious few in his life notably the school principal, the sultry girl next door, and his mischievous grandpa see through his simple-minded ruse; it turns out Shlomi is more than just the family cook and peacekeeper: he's Good Will Hunting in disguise. Israeli writer-director Shemi Zarhin deftly balances a huge slate of characters, escalating domestic strife, and quietly painful adolescent angst. References to Israel's political climate may seem noticeably absent (shades of Broken Wings), but there's still enough drama to toss a movie's worth o' roadblocks between the sweet Shlomi and his inevitable happy ending. (1:35) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)
*Born Rich In his debut film, which screened on HBO earlier this year, Jamie Johnson (of Johnson and Johnson fame) highlights 10 peers: twentysomethings who've all been born into ridiculously rich families. Situations that would never confound the common folk finding purpose in a life of leisure, for one affect all of the kids differently; some are surprisingly well-adjusted (Ivanka Trump, in particular, seems rather levelheaded who knew?). Of course, the fun of Born Rich is that most of its subjects display flashes of arrogance, ignorance, and entitlement so jaw-droppingly horrendous, it's hard to believe they'd allow Johnson to capture them on film; indeed, at least one lawsuit (later dropped) was brought about by a participant who had second thoughts. Johnson's insider access makes Born Rich particularly insightful; he's also unafraid to explore subjects normally considered taboo in his social class including, ironically, the very practice of talking about wealth in the first place. (1:15) Roxie. (Eddy)
*Brother to Brother Rodney Evans's long-in-the-making first feature is an uneven but stirringly ambitious construct that leaps between the Harlem Renaissance and latter-day New York City to pose questions about African American culture, identity, and history. Perry (Anthony Mackie) is a Columbia University student frustrated by the progress of his art, family relationships, and love life, the latter particularly after sleeping with a white classmate who gets morning-after cold feet about "the gay thing." When Perry meets feisty, flirty old guy Bruce Nugent (Roger Robinson), he's intrigued by the seemingly nondescript homeless man's distant past: as a key if forgotten figure in the 1920s explosion of Harlem-focused artistic innovation. Sepia-toned flashbacks detail the young Bruce's short-lived glory days, cohabiting and collaborating (sometimes controversially enough to invite NAACP censure) with the likes of Zora Neale Hurston (Aunjanue Ellis), Langston Hughes (Daniel Sunjata), Wallace Thurman (Ray Ford), James Baldwin (Lance Reddick), and others. Brother to Brother's struggle to realize a complex scenario on a slim budget is felt, and at times it's all too schematic, with a large agenda of issues at hand (including homophobia in the black community) pushing the plot and characters around. But despite its formal flaws, the film is finally as touching and satisfying as it is enterprising. (1:30) Act I and II, Lumiere. (Harvey)
Finding Neverland See Movie Clock. (1:41) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.
Kinsey This is your Beautiful Mind on sex. Boy, talk about wasted potential, when one begins fantasizing about this movie in the hands of Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, or at least Fellini, and the possibility of a truly weird, near-psychedelic exploration of the man who woke a stodgy, straight-laced 1940s-era United States from its lightly dozing dream of Puritanism and dragged it kicking, screaming, and exquisitely scandalized all in the name of science, of course into a sexual revolution. Still, we do get some veiled allusions to Liam Neeson's fabled, rumored endowments (and I don't mean funding from the Rockefeller Foundation); a relatively light hand with the narrative, thanks to writer-director Bill Condon; and swell performances by all-American fresh faces like Laura Linney and, particularly, Peter Sarsgaard as a seductively feline prof assistant who seems to have stepped out of some missing cinematic link between American Graffiti and Teorema. (1:58) Embarcadero. (Chun)
Lightning in a Bottle Considering Daddy Microsoftbucks and Experience Music museum founder-funder Paul Allen had a hand in executive-producing Lightning in a Bottle, is it any wonder this concert film doesn't know if it's a still-feisty piece o' work or simply a museum piece? The original blues dogs, and duchesses, would've probably snickered at the dutifulness of this project. Training Day director Antoine Fuqua holds the bacchanalia and brings the respect, competently capturing this February 2003 "Salute to the Blues" benefit concert at Radio City Music Hall, and though Lightning feels too self-conscious to be entirely enjoyable you'll be too afraid of knocking something over to even tap your toe it makes an effort to contextualize the music in African American history by matching contemporary interpreters with "standards"; draws a connection between the source and R&B, rock, and hip-hop; and gives blues divas their due. Still, the film may be worth it alone for its footage of Odetta and Ruth Brown bossing their backing band of heavy hitters like Levon Helm and Dr. John (someone, quick, give Brown her own documentary or reality TV show). Just try not to let cringey impressions of Howlin' Wolf and Billie Holiday by David Johansen and India.Arie, respectively, get in the way of drinking in performances by Brown, James Blood Ullmer, Buddy Guy, and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, among others. (1:43) Lumiere, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
National Treasure See "When Will It End?," page 47. (2:05) Century Plaza, Century 20, Shattuck.
*The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie Super-absorbent hero SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny) and his dim starfish pal, Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), must embark on an epic journey after evil Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) succeeds in stealing the Krabby Patty recipe, framing Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown) for stealing the crown of King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor), and generally enslaving all Bikini Bottom. En route to the dread Shell City, our hapless duo must confront various near death experiences, with only dumb luck, the Goofy Goobers song, and (eventually) deus ex machina David Hasselhoff on their side. This feature version of the beloved Nickelodeon cartoon is exactly what such expansions should be: bigger, brighter, better animated, and more giddily nonsensical than ever. While the big guest-star voices (Scarlett Johansson, Alec Baldwin) don't add a whole lot, and at nearly 90 minutes, it's maybe a little overextended, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is still one of the year's best comedies and no, you don't have to be under 10 to agree. (1:30) Century Plaza, Century 20, Shattuck. (Harvey)
After the Sunset Even the most clichéd heist film can usually hold our attention with the careful planning and neat gadgetry that go into a high-profile burglary; it's a genre that's easily manipulated to disguise shoddy storytelling. That said, Brett Ratner's After the Sunset is inexplicably bad. The story begins with criminal masterminds Max (Pierce Brosnan) and Lola (Salma Hayeck) going through the motions to pinch a fabulously expensive diamond. And here we have the film's premise: what do thieves do after their last big score? Suffice it to say, it's nothing worth a 10-buck movie ticket. The script disregards the traditional build toward a climactic caper, leaving the audience to wallow in a sea of anemic acting, limp direction, and superfluous tastelessness (sexism, homophobia, racism, colonialism you name it, After the Sunset's got it). The film becomes entirely feeble with Brosnan and Hayeck's "intimate" moments; their scenes together are about as sexy as having the flu. Do yourself a favor and wait for Ocean's Twelve. (1:33) Century Plaza, Century 20, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness. (Goldberg)
Alfie "Hey, Jude, what's this remake-update all about?" you want to ask, sometime around the moment Alfie's waggish wisecracks fade. Sure, it's about Jude Law's streamlined golden-boy charm as the title character, rolled neatly into those fitted, pink tailored shirts, and testing it against the soulful obliviousness of the original, Michael Caine. Director-producer-cowriter Charles Shyer obviously identifies far too acutely with Caine's cockney cad in high-'60s hump mode, and can only go so far in contemporizing the bleak original's so-called comedy about a rake's progress toward developing a conscience or simply some sense of consciousness. Although Shyer and cowriter Elaine Pope attempt to bring this archetypal tale from the front lines of the sexual revolution into the '00s by matching Alfie with, say, his best friend's black girlfriend, Lonette (Nia Long) they don't, unlike a certain feckless protagonist, go all the way. The Mach 2004 Alfie should be bi, at the very least, to double his dating options otherwise, what's all the fuss about? (1:43) Balboa, Century 20, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)
Being Julia Above all else, Hungarian director István Szabó's backstage drama Being Julia is about its star, Annette Bening. With every emotive gasp and bubbly burst of dialogue, Benning petitions the camera for her Oscar. She stars as Julia Lambert, a brilliant English stage actress who has grown unsatisfied with matters personal and professional. Fast approaching the impasse of middle age, Julia throws herself into a reckless love affair with Tom (Shaun Evans), an American admirer many years her junior. All is well until Tom convinces Julia to accept his other, younger love interest as an understudy. The movie wholeheartedly invites the All about Eve comparison, often borrowing entire scenes from Bette Davis's tour de force. The difference between the two is that while Davis's performance feels like a very real act of resistance against a misogynistic script helmed by a man's voice-over, all of the cards fall just right for Bening: her performance is coaxed and catered to. The result is pleasant enough, but it's a distant echo of Davis's original. (1:45) Albany, Embarcadero, Empire. (Goldberg)
Birth Widow and wealthy professional Anna (Nicole Kidman, sporting a Jean Seberg coiffure) agrees to remarry after a decade of mourning, only to meet a 10-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) who claims to be the reincarnation of her dead husband. She's incredulous at first, but the boy soon proves to know more than just the dead man's name. With this bleak second feature, director Jonathan Glazer departs from the offbeat, dialogue-dependent comedy of Sexy Beast, defying suspense clichés with a sparing, Kubrickian delivery. Brooding performances oust the genre's shock tactics, meditative shots test our attention spans, and dialogue is kept simple often excruciatingly so. Still, Glazer maintains the intrigue that most films of artsy monotony lose by their second acts; well-integrated cinematography and a delicate score by Alexandre Desplat keep the film from feeling overly stilted. Working with such an implausible story, Glazer deftly places character psychology in the limelight rather than juggle a bunch of tricky justifications. Kidman, following suit, brings deeper and subtler layers to her wounded-woman persona, a role she's had plenty of chances to master. (1:40) 1000 Van Ness. (Kim)
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason The last we saw her, the pudgy-by-Hollywood-standards Bridget (Renée Zellweger) had finally landed the perfect man, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), and was settling into a disgustingly happy ending. Life remains pretty perfect Darcy's few quirks aside, including his being a bit of a snob but Bridget still manages to bungle things, because there would be no reason for this sequel if she didn't. Beeban Kidron's good-natured comedy is, for the most part, a carbon copy of the first film albeit with more moments of stupidity (see Bridget skydive! ski! take magic mushrooms! get locked up in a Thai jail!) and less stabs at depth (while Bridget's parents had poignantly separated in the first film, here they're planning to remarry in a lavish all-lavender ceremony). Conflict is supplied by Bridget's gift for social foibles, as well as her uneasy reunion with playa Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). Feather-light and ready with a pop song to guide the audience's every emotion, The Edge of Reason feels terribly forced most of the time, even if Zellweger's gung-ho performance scraggly hair and all ultimately proves hard to resist. (1:48) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda. (Eddy)
Cowboys and Angels It becomes clear all too quickly while watching David Gleeson's Cowboys and Angels that the writer-director isn't shy about rifling through the many clichés of that most clichéd genre, the coming-of-age story. The voice-over, the sexual tension, the hazy house party: all the signposts are here, only now the characters have Irish accents! Shane is the bloke caught between boy and man, struggling to settle into Limerick's city life. He's a fledgling civil servant working with people three times his age and wants oh so badly to revel in youth and art. Enter Vincent, a Queer as Folk city type with a penchant for men and fashion. The two inexplicably become flatmates, and Shane's maturation process is officially under way. The characters are likable enough, but their situation is so thoroughly ridiculous that it's hard to feel like we actually know them a decidedly bad thing for a film aiming for meaningful character development. (1:29) Opera Plaza. (Goldberg)
Enduring Love Things start off weird and get weirder in Notting Hill director Roger Michell's adaptation of Ian McEwan's Booker Prize-winning novel. Straightlaced professor Joe (Daniel Craig) leads a calm, uneventful life with his girlfriend, sculptor Claire (Samantha Morton) until an idyllic picnic outing is disrupted by a freak accident involving a hot air balloon. Joe and three other strangers, including Jed (Rhys Ifans), launch a rescue attempt that goes horribly awry. Joe is badly shaken, and his guilt is exacerbated when creepy Jed wielding Kurt Cobain hair, a grubby Members Only jacket, and a fondness for belting out "God Only Knows" in public places begins to stalk him, claiming the two made a love connection during the incident. Though the performances are suitably intense, the film's thoughtful extrapolations on the nature of love and emotion are ultimately overshadowed by its Fatal Attraction flourishes. (1:40) Act I and II, Bridge. (Eddy)
Friday Night Lights Nestled in the barren, Wal-Mart-speckled landscape of West Texas, the town of Odessa has a singular focus: high school football. Based on the real-life Permian High Panthers' 1988 season (and H.G. Bissinger's book by the same name), the gritty Friday Night Lights is a sports drama in the most dramatic sense, with blessedly little comic relief diluting the tension and heartbreak that go down on (and off) the field. Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton, who manages to be both low-key and intense) knows the importance of winning, but he also recognizes the individual struggles of his players, in particular the cocky star (Derek Luke) who suffers a devastating injury. As a former Permian player and now one young tailback's alcoholic dad country star Tim McGraw gets perhaps the film's most poignant moment, explaining to his son the importance of making the most of one's glory days. Director Peter Berg (The Rundown) overdoes the shaky hand-held camera, but in all likelihood, gridiron fans will be too wrapped up in the agony and ecstasy to notice. (1:57) 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
*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) Balboa, Opera Plaza, Red Vic. (David Fear)
*Gloomy Sunday Though steeped in melodrama, Nick Barkow's novel of overlapping love affairs amid war-torn 1930s Budapest translates stunningly to the big screen. Director Rolf Schübel recaptures all the magic of an old-school drama as his charismatic actors bring the romantic script to life. Very much in love, Laszlo (Joachim Krol) and Ilona (Erika Maroszán) run a restaurant and hire Andras (Stefano Dionisi) to play piano. Andras is quickly pulled in by Ilona's charms, and the three develop an understanding relationship, rather than suffering one man to live without her affection. The film takes its name from the stirring yet depressing song Andras writes for Ilona (in real life, the so-called suicide song, made popular by Billie Holliday, was written in 1935 by Hungarians Rezsö Seress and Laszlo Javor). A return to real movie making, where all the elements blend in a harmony seldom seen in Hollywood these days, Gloomy Sunday cleverly deals with threats to perfect love: the "other man," manipulation, war, and even death. (1:54) Balboa. (Melissa McCartney)
Go Further The premise of Ron Mann's new documentary, Go Further, seems a bit contrived. The icon of Ken Kesey's bus of Merry Pranksters has certainly suffered from overuse; do we really need to see actor-cum-environmentalist Woody Harrelson lead his band of flunkies down the Pacific Coast in a hippified eight-wheeler? The Harrelson crew are on a college tour, making frequent on-campus stops to promote organic food, sustainability, yoga, veganism, and all sorts of other crunchy stuff. They're also determined to walk the walk: raw food, biofuel, and meditation all the way! While the enthusiasm is duly appreciated, it's a shame that such a freewheeling road trip translates to such a stilted movie. Certain scenes and personalities feel weirdly staged, and the film frustratingly rejects tonal consistency. While Harrelson's wanderings clearly generate some well-deserved excitement, Go Further never lets the audience get on the bus. (1:20) Smith Rafael. (Goldberg)
*The Grudge After The Sixth Sense and other friendly-ghost movies, it's good to know, just in time for Halloween, that the dead are still evil thanks to the efforts of Evil Dead and Spider-Man director Sam Raimi, Evil Dead producer Rob Tapert, and Ringu producer Taka Ichise, who oversaw this rewrite-remake of Takashi Shimizu's Ju-On: The Grudge and eventually got Shimizu to direct. Consider this cultural exchange a little more evenhanded than, dare I say, Lost in Translation: American expats meet Japanese ghost-demons, and wacky miscommunication and blood-letting ensues! The pleasantly minimalist Grudge may not be reinventing the wheel (of death), but it does provide plenty of creeps, more per minute than Dubya's State of the Union addresses. And that's plenty. Let's say you'll never look at long black hair or adorable little Japanese boys with bowl cuts and no genitalia quite the same way again. The punch line is that when Shimizu trains his camera on stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Bill Pullman, he seems to be possessed by, or paying homage to, horror kings Dario Argento and David Lynch, with Gellar looking as teary, gelatin-skinned, and doll-like as a bird with crystal plumage and Lynch-pins Pullman and Grace Zabriskie resembling some sort of sinister waxy buildup. And don't take that the wrong way. (1:36) Century 20, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Chun)
I Heart Huckabees Even before it darts through gray office mazes not far from Being John Malkovich's portal, David O. Russell's fourth film charts Charlie Kaufman territory there's more than a hint of Adaptation to an introductory scene that places audiences squarely within the self-critical mind of disgruntled eco-activist Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman). A plot synopsis of I Heart Huckabees is a mug's game: ultimately, Schwartzman's character is the Matt Gonzalez, and Jude Law's white-collared climber is the Gavin Newsom, of this meta-story, which races through philosophy at a Preston Sturges pace and engineers more than one too-polite head-on collision at the intersection of politics and economics. The fact that Schwartzman's character looks an awful lot like Russell would seem to hint at where the director's sympathies lie, yet the stargazing Law along with Mark Wahlberg and Naomi Watts excels in this antic terrain. (Old pro Lily Tomlin fares best, though she isn't on-screen enough.) Russell went into this picture batting three-for-three, but I Heart Huckabees, while fitfully funny, isn't quite a splendiferous charm. (1:45) California, Four Star, Galaxy, Kabuki, Piedmont. (Huston)
*The Incredibles In a movie market glutted with films that attempt to reach across demographics by playing to the lowest common denominator, Pixar productions are a welcome rarity. Films like Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Finding Nemo have established the company as a reliable source of well-crafted entertainment: the real deal in "fun for the whole family." Its newest computer-animated wonder is The Incredibles. While there's no shortage of recent superhero movies, writer-director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant) offers a clever turn in playing the "it's hard being a superhero" plotline off a Leave It to Beaver-type nuclear family. The Incredibles delivers the wit, visual splendor, colorful cast, and enthralling action sequences we've come to expect from Pixar but never quite coalesces the way its predecessors did. This is largely a matter of story; the narrative lacks the cohesion and resonance that made Finding Nemo so unique. Still, The Incredibles is consistently imaginative, and as such, it's an exemplary blockbuster. (1:55) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda. (Goldberg)
Incident at Loch Ness First a disclaimer: the views expressed in this blurb do not represent the views of an audience of 500 others with whom I had the displeasure of viewing Incident at Loch Ness. They laughed uproariously at a film I consider the worst thing Werner Herzog has ever lent his name to. And maybe you, too, will find the idea of a fake documentary, a "mockumentary," original. You may find the idea of the great cinema poet Herzog taking self-reflexive jabs at his own legendary exploits in a trip to Scotland to look for the Loch Ness monster hiiiilarious. And you may laugh and laugh at the concept of a double-crossing producer working behind Herzog's back to turn his mythic quest into cheap entertainment, complete with sexy girl-in-wet-suit gags. Seriously, don't let me talk you out of seeing this movie, just don't accuse me of recommending it. (1:34) Smith Rafael. (Gerhard)
Junked Director Lance W. Lane's self-consciously "edgy" drama focuses on a quartet of grimy junkies including hustler Switch (The Punisher's Thomas Jane) and his hooker sister Niki (Cabin Fever's Jordan Ladd, whose look exactly replicates a trashier version of Boys on the Side-era Drew Barrymore). When one of their ca-ca-crazy associates randomly knifes someone, the streets already mean get downright ugly (cue chase scenes, fight scenes, rape scenes, etc.). Junked is one of those movies where nearly every line of dialogue ("Man ain't got respect, he ain't got a goddamn thing!" "Whores don't love nothin' but money!" "I ain't suckin' no dick!" "I told you to shut the fuck up!" "There ain't no families in hell!") is shouted; the film's few subtle moments come courtesy of Jane, who's occasionally able to garner some sympathy for Switch, the film's only semilayered character. (1:26) Galaxy. (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) California, Lumiere, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
*The Motorcycle Diaries Walter Salles's The Motorcycle Diaries feels very much like a throwback to early-'70s road movies, but with an important improvement: its road-tripping protagonists get enlightened upward, gaining strength, purpose, and profundity from confronting injustice. The Motorcycle Diaries cannily exploits Che Guevara as icon by finding a quite legitimate context in which to ignore all the problematic aspects of his later life: early 1952 sees a 23-year-old Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (Gael García Bernal) dropping out of med school one semester short of graduation to travel the South American continent with 29-year-old Alberto Granada (Rodrigo de la Serna no relation to the above) on a 1939 Norton 500 hog dubbed "the Mighty One." Their ultimate destination is a leper colony where both volunteer; the resulting route charts a learning curve. The Motorcycle Diaries has plenty of dents, but they're fairly minor quibbles given the film's appealing assurance, which remains faithful to the pleasures, pains, and insights the protagonists derive from their journey. (2:08) Albany, Clay, Empire, Piedmont. (Harvey)
*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) Four Star, Red Vic. (Harvey)
The Polar Express Cleverly adapted, choreographed, and stunningly executed, Robert Zemeckis's animated feature will have critics asking: what's the point of animation, if it's emulating realism down to its subtlest nuances? The latest benchmark in motion-capture technology, "performance capture," is put to work here, recording actors' body movements with unprecedented 3-D detail. Befitting the magic of the story, the system's gorgeous product is a visual step above real life more than an attempt to simulate it. Tom Hanks stars as a young boy who's having doubts about Santa's existence. On Christmas Eve, he boards an enchanted train with a surly and slightly fascist conductor (also played by Hanks) headed for the North Pole. With any luck, the train will make it before midnight and allow the boy to meet Santa, along with about a million funny-looking elves (look for Steven Tyler). Though it boasts remarkably cinematic angles, tracking shots, and a fantastic POV sequence involving a lost ticket, The Polar Express does have trouble capturing key facial expressions. But it'll keep the wool over youngsters' eyes for another year of mall Santas and wish lists. (1:33) Century Plaza, Century 20, Four Star, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Oaks, 1000 Van Ness. (Kim)
Ray I'd love to say Ray does justice to the genius of Ray Charles and that Jamie Foxx's performance is, say, a greater contribution to pop culture than his hilarious if Pryor-derived stand-up routines. But Foxx's enshrinement as an A-lister, and all the critical respect that comes with it, stems from the "seriousness" of what he does here, and little else. His performance is impressive as a collection of mannerisms, but it doesn't dig into or expose an artist's soul you'd be better off renting the Foxx concert performance I Need Security, or better yet, listening to Charles's records and reading David Ritz's biography. Ray's best moments aim to convey the hair-raising electricity of "Drown in My Own Tears" and other breakthroughs, and this movie unlike, say, What's Love Got to Do With It? is at least interested in conveying the experiences, inspirations, and stories behind its music. But director Taylor Hackford's predictable reliance on color-saturated childhood flashbacks leaves a bored mind to dream about what a director like Charles Burnett might have done with this subject matter, this budget, and this type of bottom-line studio support. Of course, that's another story, one that proves Hollywood isn't as evolved as it would like to pretend. (2:32) Balboa, California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda. (Huston)
Remember Me, My Love In the tasteful, upper-middle-class apartment of an average-seeming (if ridiculously good-looking) Italian family, everything is quietly falling apart. After a chance encounter with his old sweetheart (Monica Bellucci), Carlo Ristuccia (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) has taken to skipping work and isolating himself from his nagging wife, Giulia (Laura Morante). A former actress, Giulia who's suffering what could kindly be called a crisis of confidence is suddenly offered a terrifying yet tempting chance to return to the stage. Suffering no lack of confidence is teen queen Valentina (Nicoletta Romanoff), who's so vain she falls asleep staring at her reflection; meanwhile, sad-sack Paolo (Silvio Muccino) gazes into the mirror only when he needs a self-pep talk (which is often). As various conflicts reach boiling points, a melodramatic, overly convenient tragedy brings the family together again. Despite this trite plot twist, writer-director Gabriele Muccino's study of domestic turmoil is, for the most part, well acted and engaging. (2:05) Balboa, Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Saw When the plucky young filmmakers of Saw discussed how they came up with their concept after a Sundance screening this January, it was a reminder of how innocent cynicism can be. Nothing could've been simpler: they just wanted a break and, if necessary, would create one themselves. It would be a horror film, because that's commercial; mostly a two-characters-in-one-room piece, because that's cheap. James Wan had directed shorts and Australian TV shows like More Great Vegetarian Dishes; this strictly-for-carnivores feature would prove he could "handle" mainstream action stuff. He collaborated on the script with fellow Aussie Leigh Whannell, an actor, who naturally included a lead role for himself. Why did they make this movie? Well ... to get to make other movies. And they will. Which isn't nearly as depressing a prospect as actually sitting through Saw, a movie that's crass, sensational, gruesome, dull, ludicrous, laughable, and sort of offensive all at once. It's not just soulless; it keeps shoving you around and grinning like an idiot, assuming you're delighted too. (1:40) Century 20, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)
*Seed of Chucky The Child's Play movies were never really about white-hot terror to begin with. How could they be, with the campiest of villains a snarling, overalls-clad doll taking butcher knife in molded-plastic hand and racking up the body count? Entry number five in the series (in order up to this point: Child's Play, Child's Play 2, Child's Play III: Look Who's Stalking, and Bride of Chucky) offers Don Mancini, who wrote all the previous films, a chance to direct, and he goes big. Way big. Shades of Scream and Scary Movie (and their sequels) emerge, as nonpossessed versions of Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif) and "bride" Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) are cast in a Hollywoodized version of a series of unsolved murders actually committed by Chucky. The "real" Jennifer Tilly (good-naturedly spoofing herself) stars, of course. Nods to Halloween, Psycho, The Shining, and Ed Wood come fast and furious, as a third doll, Glen (or Glenda?, voiced by Billy Boyd) accidently brings the gruesome twosome to life. Added bonuses: John Waters appears as a "paparazzi scumbag," and anatomically correct puppet masturbation is introduced, making Seed of Chucky the perfect double-bill match for the equally unholy Team America: World Police. (1:27) Century Plaza, Century 20. (Eddy)
Shall We Dance? Submitted for your approval in the current Twilight Zone-populated by Hollywood remakes of crowd pleasers made in Japan: Richard Gere as the bourgie wet dream of a well-heeled, unhappy hubby, in midlife crisis mode; Stanley Tucci as a footloose Latin-dance firebrand in an ill wig; and Jennifer Lopez as the pinched, prudish, and untouchable babe of an ice queen, her Danskins cinched a few sizes too tight. Director Peter Chelsom translates this remake of the 1996 hit by Masayuki Suo into an appealing middle-aged woman's romance by staying true to the original narrative of a bored desk jockey (Gere) searching for passion (and emotional expression) in the over-the-top world of ballroom dancing while playing up the Grey Foxy Gigolo's time-tested, Pretty Woman-forged Prince Charming qualities. The story thankfully doesn't hinge on J.Lo despite the subtextual snipes (her last partner just wasn't right for her!) and a surprise cameo by guess who. If this version of Shall We Dance? is a tad self-consciously cute with its assortment of artificially sweetened, zany dance-studio "characters" and its equal-time take on the spurned spouse (Susan Sarandon) she's gotta dance too! there's also certainly wholesome charm here. Ah, the supposedly secret life of men how can Oprah, or any straight woman, resist? (1:46) Century 20, Galaxy. (Chun)
Shark Tale Admit it, you've been crossing your fingers for an animated kids' movie to jump on the hip-hop bandwagon. And now, thanks to the tragically hip eggheads at Dreamworks, you can finally enjoy Finding Nemo in the Hood. Little fish in a big pond Oscar (Will Smith) dreams of leaving his gig at da Whale Wash, so he can become somebody and live on top of the reef. Meanwhile, Lenny (Jack Black), a friendly (and suspiciously San Franciscan) shark who can't connect with his bloodthirsty mob family, wishes he could just be himself in front of his pop (Robert De Niro). A freak accident and a little truth-stretching make Oscar into an immediate hero, but he soon ends up seeking Lenny's help to maintain his celebrity status. Hip-hop-isms and a few mob movie allusions, some of which teeter on questionable taste, offer some hearty laughs for the grown-ups. But everything else is fairly routine, including high-speed shark chases and a being-different-is-OK message for the kids. (1:31) Century 20. (Kim)
*Sideways You can count on Alexander Payne to bring the pain to his characters: his new film, Sideways, dives into that reliably self-involved, potentially lamest of periods middle age with Olympian skill. But this time Payne uncovers the sentiment beneath his corrosive satire, and the risk pays off. Sideways' pitch a couple of buddies hit wine country might seem ho-hum, but Payne's fourth go-round rivals Election as a career highlight, largely because he allows actors to breathe life into roles. The leisurely paced story, based on a just-published novel by Rex Pickett, follows depressive wine connoisseur Miles (Paul Giamatti) and second-rate actor but first-rate womanizer Jack (Thomas Haden Church) as they rove through Santa Barbara County's wineries and recovery spots. Though this odd couple think they're going on vacation, their holiday winds up teaching them a hard lesson or two, with wake-up calls coming from Maya (an excellent Virginia Madsen) and Stephanie (Sandra Oh), the pair's respective romantic interests. In interviews, Payne has been up-front about the influence of pre-Jaws '70s American cinema on his sensibility, and Sideways is a film for adults, albeit one with uproarious streaks largely and at least once literally supplied by Church of juvenile comedy. (2:04) Embarcadero, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Huston)
*Tarnation Jonathan Caouette's movie-screen memoir is the story of a mother and a son but it's also a hell of a lot more than any one linear story. When the narrative flow is violently interrupted by passages reflecting his and his mother's detached or unhinged states of mind, the results are sometimes visionary. Ironically, all the splintered stories in Tarnation threaten to be eclipsed by the story behind it: Caouette's first feature has acquired a reputation as "the $218.32 movie," in reference to how much the initial finished cost to make. Caouette first picked up a video camera at the age of 11; thus began his obsessive devotion to filming and audio and videotaping himself and his family. Tarnation's 20 years of raw material were assembled with the free iMovie software included with a computer Caouette received as a gift from his boyfriend's aunt. Now the autobiographical project is finally complete. Or is it? Right up until the last month before its official release, Tarnation was undergoing changes. Will these tiny changes, or Tarnation's increasingly big picture, haunt Caouette and can any telling of a life story be definitive? (1:28) Roxie. (Huston)
*Team America: World Police Seekers of sophisticated satire, and anyone who is easily offended, look elsewhere. Please. If, however, you can see the humor in a movie that skewers Hollywood blockbusters and self-righteous celebrities, casts the United States as a big bully, and drags out a puking scene to operatic lengths, settle in for Team America: World Police. It's easily the funniest (and most tasteless) movie of the year, brought to lifelikeness by a cast of wooden puppets. Given its title, which pretty much sums up the premise, Team America is surprisingly all over the political map, spraying barbs left and right and impaling targets both obvious (over-the-top patriotism) and seemingly random (Matt Damon). Just about the only topic creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone (a.k.a. the South Park guys) leave untouched is the presidential race, with George W. Bush glimpsed only in a brief cameo. Still, Team America makes its point about the United States' well-deserved bad reputation of late with interludes of graphic puppet sex thrown in along the way, for good measure. (1:43) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Eddy)
*Vera Drake Bustling around drizzly, post-WWII London with a happy, doughy face and gleaming eyes, Vera (Imelda Staunton) works as a floor scrubber for the wealthy, humming to herself and calling everyone "dear." For Vera, no problem is ever so great that a nice cup of tea can't solve it; she often visits ailing neighbors and occasionally helps expectant girls by performing homespun abortions. When one of these patients almost dies, Vera is arrested and tried for her "crime." Writer-director Mike Leigh contrasts Vera's story with that of a well-heeled girl (Sally Hawkins) who goes through proper channels for her abortion and suffers from crushing, psychological shame. Leigh shapes the superb Vera Drake as a repressed working-class companion to his 2002 film All or Nothing, establishing a vivid place and time but offering little in the way of comfort or comment. Staunton's performance radiates with glazed, dewy shock as she teeters into the film's wrenching final scene. (2:05) Empire, Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Jeffrey M. Anderson)
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) Galaxy, Red Vic. (Nickie Huang)
Zelary If ever there was a film aimed at the Academy Awards, it's Zelary, a nominee for the 2003 foreign language Oscar. Based upon real events, Zelary is the story of a woman forced to transform her identity under Nazi occupation. Eliska is a cosmopolitan participating in Prague's resistance. When her clan of fellow dissenters is discovered, she must escape to the countryside with Joza, the injured peasant for whom she recently donated blood. Eliska becomes Hana and poses as Joza's beloved. The identity swap isn't easy, but our heroine eventually forges the kind of bond with Joza that will periodically send the audience for their hankies. This is the melodrama the Academy drools for: overblown and oh so literary. It would be nice to experience the film's emotional impact without the help of a syrupy score and predictable staging, but subtlety isn't what Czech director Ondrej Trojan is after. (2:30) Smith Rafael. (Goldberg)
*Aventurera Considered by many to be the apex of the once-wildly popular caberetera genre lurid Mexican musical melodramas centering on a usually nightclub-employed heroine's shocking travails this 1949 hit defined the post-World War II collaboration between director Alberto Gout and his Cuban-born star, snout-nosed, bottle blond Ninón Sevilla (who's still working). She plays Elena, a good girl from a good family who starts going bad the day she spies her prissy mom making out with dad's business associate. By nightfall, mom's gone, dad's committed suicide, and a broken Elena has left to start life over in the big city. There, she's incessantly pawed by louts on various short-lived jobs and suffers the virtuous starvation of unemployment until she's reunited with too-smooth old friend "Handsome" Lucio (Tito Junco). Promising dinner, he's soon got her drunk, dizzy, drugged, and diddled under the hawk's eye of ruthless brothel madam Rosaura (Andrea Palma, who'd been Mexico's leading screen bombshell in the 1930s and '40s). When not being degraded, breaking bottles over heads, or impetuously starting catfights, Elena is the singing-dancing star of massive production numbers that take place on impossibly large "nightclub stages," have song titles like "Zig-Zig-Bum," and feature skimpy costumes with extras (like two giant, glittering pineapples as a headdress). Once the opportunity for revenge arises, however, Elena proves even more diabolical than those who done her wrong. There's a jaw-dropping camp quotient in this noir-tinged black-and-white sleazefest, yet it's also so handsomely appointed, breathlessly paced, and beautifully crafted that it's a genuine classic of its type. Joan Crawford, eat your heart out. Co-billed is another zesty Sevilla potboiler from the same year, Victims of Sin. (1:42) PFA. (Harvey)
*'Godzillafest' See "Original G," page 41. Castro.
In Search of Jewish Amsterdam The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival revives Philo Bregstein's 1975 documentary regarding the flourishing Jewish community of pre-World War II Amsterdam. The focus of In Search of Jewish Amsterdam isn't the past so much as the memory of this bygone age. Bregstein avoids the Ken Burns-style, pan across bleary black-and-white photographs approach, instead concentrating on the expressions of his many narrators. When he does cut away from the talking heads, it's usually to show a former market or music hall as it stood in 1975. In this way, the ghost of WWII presides over the remembrances of professors, socialists, diamond cutters, boxers, picklers, and bakers. The film is without a center, but its wandering can nonetheless be quite evocative of a community charged with ideas and acceptance. With the direct links to the prewar era becoming fewer and fewer, Bregstein grants us important access to the voices of Jewish history. (1:10) Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Goldberg)