Film Listings

Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Robert Avila, Kimberly Chun, Susan Gerhard, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Dave Kim, Laurie Koh, Patrick Macias, Lynn Rapoport, and Chuck Stephens. The film intern is Max Goldberg. See Rep Clock and Movie Clock for theater information.

Opening

Are We There Yet? Some movies make you appreciate family. Others make you want to commit infanticide. Or hang some screenwriters (such as the four credited on Are We There Yet?). In fact, the violence that'll stem from agonized viewers of this Ice Cube comedy will make N.W.A.'s societal message seem constructive. Nick Persons (Cube), a collectibles salesman set in his playa ways, falls for a sexy divorcee with two infuriating kids. Despite his hatred of children and warnings from his talking Satchel Paige bobble-head, Nick agrees to drive the brats from Portland, Ore., to Vancouver, British Columbia, for a New Year's celebration. Yes, they demolish his brand-new Lincoln Navigator. Yes, they pee and vomit with remarkably apt timing. Yes, they get lost on purpose and flash "Help me" signs at truck drivers, but none of it – not a single shamelessly recycled gag – resembles comedy. Cube gets a nod for flashing his signature sneer at a drugstore clerk ("It's kind of my trademark from back in the day"), but it'll take more than nostalgia to salvage this disaster. (1:40) (Kim)

*Assault on Precinct 13 See "Dead by Dawn." (1:49)

*Beautiful Boxer See Movie Clock. (1:40) Lumiere.

Sky Blue Earth, 2142 A.D. Global warming and a century of toxic rain have made most of the world uninhabitable. A select few live in Ecoban, a protected city that subsists on carbon-based fuel mined from the wastelands outside. The legions of miners, or Diggers, living in contaminated shanties scheme rebellion against their privileged oppressors. A banished Ecobanite named Shua fervently leads the revolt – until he runs into his childhood sweetheart, Jay, a captain in Ecoban's armed forces. Nothing in Sky Blue's plot brings anything fresh to a swiftly expanding anime market (civil war in a dystopian future, star-crossed romance, ecological backlash) but hey, who says substance always has to come before style? Director Moon Sang Kim's first feature is a visual all-you-can-eat buffet, combining 3-D CGI backgrounds, live action footage, and traditional 2-D animation. While distinctive and promising for future anime projects, the convergence often produces a jarring, possibly intentional Roger Rabbit-like effect. Fans of old-school manga may be disappointed, but Sky Blue's marriage between traditional and up-to-the-minute forms raises the bar for Korean animation. (1:27) Act I and II, Lumiere. (Kim)

*A Talking Picture When a work of cinema or literature manages to acknowledge a reality beyond its own, it's said to have subtext. While such depth is often an indicator of worthwhile art, rarely is subtext as caustic as in Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira's new film, A Talking Picture. A devastating rumination on modern cultural woes in the guise of a Mediterranean travelogue, de Oliveira's film follows a young history professor and her inquisitive daughter as they tour the "cradle of civilization," surveying the triumphs and woes of cultural cornerstones like Marseilles, Pompeii, Athens, and Istanbul. As mother spins the relevant history and daughter poses simplistic questions with great resonance ("Which Middle Ages are we in now?"), the troubling state of the world remains unspoken but omnipresent, thickening the film's atmosphere until a jolting ending – at once unexpected and entirely appropriate – sends the audience back out into the real world. That de Oliveira is 96 only makes the sharpness of his picture all the more remarkable. (1:36) Roxie. (Goldberg)

Ongoing

Alexandra's Project If you've been aching for a little misanthropy to smother all that holiday cheer, Alexandra's Project is the ticket. This Australian low-budget job refocuses the David Lynch suburbs-as-hell thing (one part gliding camera movements, one part creepy synth tones) for a story of troubled marriage. Rather than seeking counseling, unhappy wife Alexandra opts to make a confessional videotape for hubby Steve's birthday that's maniacal, torturous, and, well, pornographic. Steve watches the video, entranced Sex, Lies, and Videotape-style, and as his wife's stunts and accusations grow increasingly devastating, we begin to wonder just how far Alexandra will go. This watching-you-watch-me video thriller doesn't particularly break any new ground, and writer-director Rolf de Heer is overly reliant on shock value to keep our attention (what's she going to do with that cucumber?!?) – but his film certainly doesn't lack for atmosphere. (1:43) Roxie. (Goldberg)

Appleseed Appleseed, like the recent Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, has its roots in the celebrated sci-fi manga of Masamune Shirow. But while Innocence took the high road with quotes from Marx and Confucius, Appleseed is content to dole out the eye candy. After World War III, human beings and the clonelike "Bioroids" inhabit the planet. Caught in the middle of a power struggle between the two factions are spunky warrior of the wasteland Knute and her ex-boyfriend turned cyborg, Briareos. The big sell is not the sub-Sci-Fi Channel story, but the new "3D Live Anime" technique that mixes up motion-capture footage and CGI. The results lead to a couple of pulse-raising action scenes, but most of Appleseed unfolds in numbing exposition where characters overtax their virtual jawbones. In the end, Appleseed's vision of the future, both for anime and for the planet, is less than compelling. If you're looking for something's that smart and good looking, best fire up that copy of Akira again. (1:43) (Macias)

The Assassination of Richard Nixon In 1974, would-be presidential assassin Sam Byck plotted to hijack an airplane and crash it into the White House. Byck and his elaborate scheme – previously dramatized in musical form, via Stephen Sondheim's Assassins – seemed harebrained at the time but naturally took a more sobering cast post-9/11. Inspired by this true story, Niels Mueller's resolutely downbeat The Assassination of Richard Nixon studies what might drive a person (specifically, a garden-variety sad sack who doesn't happen to be a religious fundamentalist, Manson follower, or fall-guy pawn in a political conspiracy) to such extremes. Hatred of Nixon isn't even the focus of Mueller's fictionalized Sam, here renamed Sam Bicke and embodied, with simmering frustration masked by a wimpy exterior, by Sean Penn. Socially awkward, estranged from his family, and constantly belittled by his boss, Bicke's realization that he'll never achieve "the American Dream" becomes the catalyst for his downfall. A political thriller this ain't – Penn's beautifully detailed performance aside, Assassination sometimes feels as beige as its mid-1970s color scheme. But when Bicke rehearses walking through the terminal's metal detector with a weapon strapped to his leg, fantasizing about making "a real change," uneasy stirrings of 9/11 loom large. (1:35) (Eddy)

*The Aviator Leonardo DiCaprio – still known in many circles as "the guy from Titanic" – is spot-on as the complex, charismatic, and occasionally ca-ca-crazy Howard Hughes. Perhaps more important, director Martin Scorsese is officially back in play – if he's awarded the Best Director Oscar in February, it'll be because of The Aviator's merits, not because people think it's about freakin' time he wins the thing (as, sorry, would have been the case if he'd taken it for Gangs of New York). Biopics, preferably about someone glamorous and male, are Hollywood's trend du jour, and The Aviator goes full-throttle in showing Hughes's many sides: Hollywood player, ladies' man (with ladies including Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner), out-on-a-limb industrialist, airplane fanatic, and obsessive-compulsive near-deaf misfit. The Aviator's strong points – including a lush palette, perfectly matched by top-notch production and costume design – are compromised some by its flashier forays into stunt casting (Jude Law, Gwen Stefani). But overall, DiCaprio and Scorsese nail it, fleshing out the complex life of a man who's unafraid to fly a brand-new airplane faster than any human has ever flown before – but becomes trapped in a public bathroom when the thought of touching an unclean doorknob proves too terrifying to overcome. (2:49) (Eddy)

*Bad Education All about My Mother and Talk to Her are among the most U.S.-beloved foreign-language movies of the past few years. But really, do we need Pedro Almodóvar to make films about the delicate emotions of everyday people? No. We need him to keep on making movies about style, about florid melodrama, and about other movies. Which is pretty much all Bad Education is "about." This is a lurid, contrived, gratuitously sexy (especially homo-sexy) thriller with a smirk on its face and a cigarette holder sinking hot ash into the shag carpet. It's so exquisitely – and derivatively – designed that it for sure qualifies as "mature" Almodóvar, albeit a case of such I can really get behind. It's to Almodóvar's credit that this film noir-black comedy makes us perversely root for the roto-rooter in one particular sexploitative dynamic, even more so that he manages to make priestly pederasty – take a deep breath now – so funny. These outrages amuse rather than offend because the scenarist-director layers in so much irony, deadpan camp, and cineaste in-joking – and because the Chinese-box structure of flashbacks, fantasies, alternative versions of events, etc., eventually turns all notions of victimhood upside down. (1:49) (Harvey)

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, Bening 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) (Goldberg)

*Beyond the Sea Kevin Spacey's pet project as director-star should by rights have turned out to be an embarrassing vanity exercise, but Beyond the Sea avoids that to a surprising (if incomplete) degree. Spacey plays Bobby Darin, a Bronx-born crooner who started out as a rock 'n' roll teen idol ("Splish Splash") and then became a sort of junior Rat Pack type on the charts ("Mack the Knife") and on the silver screen (an Oscar nominee for his role in the long-forgotten Captain Newman, MD). He also married and divorced the Eisenhower era's perkiest teen-girl role model, Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth), before dying of congenital heart failure amid a career downslide at age 37. Using a feature length-flashback device much like the one used in De-Lovely to explain a 46-year-old star playing a character as much as nearly three decades younger, Beyond the Sea is far more comfortable as a quasi-musical than De-Lovely is. Its brash, larger-than-life approach also turns limited psychological insight, which De-Lovely foundered on, into a seemingly deliberate, wittily ironical stylistic choice. Spacey and company never convince that Darin was more than a minor, imitative talent. But the film's wonderful production design, zesty cinematic presentation, and energetic performances sweep us into a winningly retro depiction of the 1950s American dream realized. Until, that is, the movie's last half hour collapses into a puddle of schmaltz and unearned pathos. Still, even that gets partly redeemed at the eleventh hour by a final production number that's like vintage Arthur Freed-era MGM. Beyond the Sea is very flawed but often very good enough to match its own extreme chutzpah. (1:58) (Harvey)

Callas Forever Franco Zeffirelli tried and failed to film Maria Callas as Tosca, and his movie version of La traviata attempted to transform Teresa Stratas into La Divina (whom he eulogizes at length in the best of many Callas documentaries). At the beginning of Zeffirelli's latest homage, a jet touches down on the runway to the strains of ... the Clash. "Complete Control," the title of the song Zeffirelli uses, was something Callas knew plenty about, but that incongruous choice is just the first of countless daffy ingredients here. Joe Strummer and company stand in for the sound of Bad Dreams, a band managed by Larry Kelly (ever haughty Jeremy Irons, equipped with clip-on ponytail). Greeted by Joan Plowright (as an Elsa Maxwell-type reporter), Kelly arrives in Paris in 1977 with an underlying scheme to rescue Callas (Fanny Ardant) from her self-imposed grieving exile by asking her to lip-sync those pesky real-life troubles away in film versions of her greatest recordings. The ludicrous idea that she would even consider such a project is the basis for Zeffirelli's nostalgic fantasy, which presents an Onassis-as-Scarpia comparison as revelation. Stylistically, the director doesn't need to re-create the era – he seems permanently stuck there. Ardant aptly mimics Callas's calculated wide-eyed coquettishness but scarcely hints at her fury. She's been McNally-ed and Dunaway-ed to oblivion and beyond, but Callas's talent still dwarfs those who evoke or attack her legend. (1:48) (Huston)

*The Century of the Self This four-hour BBC documentary ponders the impact Freud's theories had on 20th-century culture, particularly the way "psychological" ideas muddied the distinctions between consumerism, politics, democracy, and advertising. It's a fascinating viewpoint. Part one, "Happiness Machines," centers on how Freud's nephew Edward Bernaise, seen in 1991 interview footage, played a leading role in turning the shrink's notions about the supremacy of unconscious desires into a huge tool for "manipulating the masses." (He's credited with virtually inventing the term "public relations.") Part two extends these themes into the postwar years, with particular focus on how Freud's daughter Anna upheld strict interpretation of his ideas – which largely view man as struggling against an "enemy within" of "savage barbarism." That was a nice fit for the times, but less so as "anti-Freud" Jung and 1960s and '70s counterculture became major social influences. Yet in the later milieus of Reagan, Thatcher, and beyond, Freud's filtered-down insights would prove most helpful to conservative think tank types plotting political strategy. The Century of the Self's narrow adherence to a single-minded thesis begins to wear the closer it gets to current events. Yet there's nary a dull moment between wonderful archival clips and an extraordinary interview roster that encompasses strategists Dick Morris and Philip Gould, actress Celeste Holm (who shared Marilyn Monroe's psychiatrist), est founder Werner Erhardt, Mario Cuomo, surviving relatives of Freud and Bernaise, and many others. (4:00) Roxie. (Harvey)

Closer The quartet of sinners encased in Closer's dramatic bubble face many more moments of comeuppance than instances of pleasure. Mike Nichols's latest, an adaptation of Patrick Marber's play, works over the same masochistic impulses targeted by perfume commercials, and at times seems just as superficial. At best – usually when Marber's screenplay cuts through the visual adornments – it motors along like a cold, mechanized update of the director's past fearsome foursomes. In chilly London, journalist Dan (Jude Law) falls for stripper-turned-barrista Alice (Natalie Portman); one sequence and a year or two later, Dan and successful portrait photographer Anna (Julia Roberts) meet not-cute in her studio, alternately flirting with and insulting each other. If Anna didn't also have an other half, Marber's streamlined paradoxes wouldn't play out fully – and a dermatologist named Larry (Clive Owen, stagier yet livelier than the rest) wouldn't get to deliver the big line of deep truth about romantic corruption, lecturing Law's naive writer about the bloody, fistlike qualities of the human heart. (1:38) (Huston)

Coach Carter If Friday Night Lights left you wanting more in the way of high school sports, the local flavor of Coach Carter should do the trick nicely. Based on Richmond High's tumultuous 1999 basketball season, Coach Carter presents the inspirational story of a coach dedicated to reshaping his players' troubled lives. With the school holding the boys to irresponsibly low standards, Carter makes the team sign contracts that, among other things, require a 2.3 GPA. After whipping the team into shape for an impressive winning streak, Carter's tough standards come to a head when he benches the undefeated team for its lackluster academic performance. The movie is all about its hard-ass title character (played convincingly by – surprise, surprise – Samuel L. Jackson) and suffers when Carter's not on-screen; a pregnant girlfriend subplot, for example, smacks of an after-school special. Still, the story material is good enough for us to forgive these lapses as well as the film's reliance on tired genre clichés. While Coach Carter probably won't stick, it's winning enough to the pass the grade for a matinee. (2:16) (Goldberg)

Elektra Only hardcore Jennifer Garner fans will find much to like about this Daredevil spin-off, which is ostensibly about a reformed assassin named Elektra (Garner) who realizes her "soul is pure" after she rescues a scrappy teen (Kirsten Prout) and the teen's hunky pop (ER's Goran Visnjic) from the talons of an evil cabal known as the Hand. Baddies working for the Hand include a goth chick with killer breath and an inked-up dude whose tattoos (eagle, wolf, snake) can, like, ooze off his body and chase people. Elektra faces her foes with a variety of nifty skills, including rapid-fire blades and ESP. Too bad director Rob Bowman (Reign of Fire) is way more interested in Elektra's "redemption" story (and showing endless flashbacks of her troubled childhood) than allowing her to flat-out kick ass, Kill Bill-style; there's also way too much mumbo-jumbo (Terrance Stamp's character: what the what?) clogging up the works. Throughout, Garner flexes her red-leathered bod, and pouts her (ahem, suspiciously inflated) pucker. I hate to invoke Catwoman under any circumstances, but there's a certain similarity: look at the poster, and you've already seen all that's memorable about the film. (1:37) (Eddy)

Fat Albert Bill Cosby grabbed more than a few headlines earlier this year after airing his controversial opinions about contemporary African American culture, taking to task everything from bad parenting to bad grammar. So it's no surprise that the film based on his popular 1970s cartoon – itself based on Cosby's own childhood pals – has a detectable undercurrent of agenda-pushing. Sure, there's a game lead performance by Saturday Night Live's Kenan Thompson, who utters Fat Albert's trademark "Hey, hey, hey!" (and rocks a fat suit) with convincing optimism; as well, the real-life versions of the other Cosby Kids (Mushmouth, Dumb Donald, Rudy, et al) are well cast. The plot – Fat Albert and company emerge from their cartoon world via a forlorn young girl's TV set – aims to be about problem-solving, but it's really about good-old-days innocence (jump-roping) clashing with 21st-century cynicism (dirty rap lyrics). Some chuckle-worthy scenes aside, fans of the original show will wish the film contained more of what made the cartoon so enduring, including the good-natured, put-down-laden exchanges that flew freely (and hilariously) between Fat Albert and his pals. (1:30) (Eddy)

Finding Neverland This latest from Monster's Ball director Marc Forster is less a biopic and more a gentle examination of creativity and inspiration – which, for struggling playwright J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp), blooms after a chance encounter with a beautiful widow (Kate Winslet) and her four boisterous sons. Though he's already hitched to a snooty social climber (Radha Mitchell), childlike Barrie quickly forms a close bond with his new "family." Finding Neverland's magical moments come when the line between reality and fantasy blurs in Barrie's mind's eye and familiar Peter Pan-isms emerge for the first time (Captain Hook is particularly cleverly introduced). The theme of boys growing up – or never growing up, as the case may be – is also stressed, though a quick scene or two makes sure the audience knows the pure-hearted Barrie was no Wacko Jacko. Overall, the cast – including pros Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman in supporting roles – is excellent and the cinematography dreamy. But alas, there's no happy ending for this fairy tale: Finding Neverland's last few reels crumble into manipulative mush. (1:41) (Eddy)

The Green Butchers Obnoxious Svend (Mads Mikkelsen) and surly Bjarne (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) are assistant butchers who break away from their overbearing boss to open a competing shop. Business is nonexistent, however, until an electrician gets accidentally shut in the meat locker and freezes – and getting rid of the corpse commences a sales rush on the duo's delicious secret-recipe marinade of, er, meat. Needless to say, supply must meet demand, and several other locals meet their maker as a result. Complicating matters – beyond the basic dilemmas of murder, cannibalism, etc. – are Svend's escalating insanity, Bjarne's romance with a mortician (Line Kruse), and the sudden waking of Bjarne's brain-damaged twin brother (Kaas again) after several comatose years. The nth variation on the Sweeney Todd theme, this low-key black comedy by writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen (scenarist of myriad Dogme flicks, from Mifune to last year's Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself) doesn't fall very far from the tree, getting only medium mileage from the story's grotesque, bad-taste, and horror elements. Strangely, The Green Butchers seems in the end to think it's primarily a touching buddy pic about misfits "finding themselves" – as if all those body parts hanging from meat hooks were just learning aids for personal growth. (1:40) (Harvey)

*Hotel Rwanda In 1994 Rwanda, nearly a million Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were publicly massacred, tens of thousands a day, by their own friends and neighbors. Director Terry George (Some Mother's Son) doesn't flog us with gruesome images to refresh our memories, but the effect of this personal, family-centered true story is just as, if not more, powerful. Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) is general manager at a plush hotel in Kigali, Rwanda. When the mass killings begin, the resourceful Hutu uses his contacts and cunning to save his own part-Tutsi family, hoping that help will arrive soon for everyone else. Eventually, he opens the hotel's doors, sheltering more than 1,200 Tutsis from machete-wielding extremists. Cheadle turns in the most nuanced performance of his career as Rusesabagina, whose fear and escalating frustration never stumble into the showboating traps that flag so many other unsung-hero routines. Likewise, George's execution is both unimposing and unforgiving, never accompanied by sappy soundtracks or editing tricks to bait his emotional hooks. (2:01) (Kim)

*House of Flying Daggers No one can accuse Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou of lacking a certain Taoist agility, of failing to swing with the slings, arrows, and flying cutlery of history, like a surefooted wuxia master capering across the feathery leaves of a bamboo forest. So who can blame the auteur for diving into the most crowd-pleasing field of martial arts movies, with 2002's visually sumptuous but far too cold, stiff, and proper Hero? Zhang learned to direct action in front of the camera with that blockbuster, and it shows in his latest bout with the genres from down south. House of Flying Daggers boasts one of the more punk rock titles since 1977's The Fatal Flying Guillotines, and at least a few well-paced, up-to-par fight sequences, including the made-to-be-memorable "echo game," a splinter-inducing battle in a bamboo grove, and a forest tumble with horses. Ludicrous story line and plot holes aside – hey, quick-and-dirty storytelling that favors originality and sensation over overvalued logic and cohesion is a tradition – Zhang cuts the genre through with his trademark sensuality and love of human drama, making sure there's something for everybody in the world marketplace, including a pan-Asian cast comprising part-Japanese and part-Taiwanese heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro, veteran Hong Kong star Andy Lau, and Beijing ingenue Zhang Ziyi. (1:59) (Chun)

In Good Company In writer-director Paul Weitz's In Good Company, old business (friendly competition) versus new (all-evil, all the time) is a conflict as rife with familiar life lessons as the classic father-son dynamic it represents. Magazine ad sales director Dan (Dennis Quaid) has always done things the respectful way, but he and his loyal staff get reamed when a hostile takeover installs Carter (That 70's Show's Topher Grace) as his insecure boss. Quaid, in cantankerous mode, anchors the reluctant relationship between his character and smarmy, lonely Carter. Grace's TV comedy skills work well on the big screen – witness Carter's hilariously wandering speech to his underlings – but he's less convincing as Scarlett Johansson's love interest. Playing Dan's college-age daughter, Johansson stretches, oh, a millimeter, presenting a sportier, more down-to-earth version of her luscious and morose Lost in Translation character. Scored by Damien Rice and other professional heart-tuggers, In Good Company is soothing and amusingly reflective of today's global culture – though its compelling edge is lost somewhere along the road to feel-good land. (1:49) (Koh)

*In the Realms of the Unreal Fahrenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me have grabbed all the ink, but the year's best documentary just might be In the Realms of the Unreal, Jessica Yu's fascinating portrait of outsider artist Henry Darger. When Darger, a reclusive Chicago janitor, passed away in 1973, his landlords were shocked to discover the huge volume of work he'd left behind: double-sided paintings that stretched to more than 10 feet long, a 15,000-page novel, piles and piles of drawings, and old phone books pasted full of the cartoons and pictures he obsessively collected. His brilliantly colored artwork – a self-taught combination of collage, tracing, overlapping, and overlay – illustrates his elaborate fantasy world, where a child slave rebellion leads to an apocalyptic battle between two fictional lands. Yu uses subtle animation, music, and sound effects to bring the products of his odd imagination to life. In addition to (often conflicting) anecdotes shared by Darger's acquaintances, actor Larry Pine provides voice-over as the artist, reading from his journals and stories, while child star Dakota Fanning, a dead ringer for one of the hero princesses in Darger's epic, provides pitch-perfect narration. (1:25) Smith Rafael. (Eddy)

*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) (Goldberg)

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) Smith Rafael. (Chun)

*Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events Many, many unfortunate events occur in Brad Silberling's film, based on the first three Lemony Snicket books (The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window) – but for moviegoers, this wonderfully dark and funny tale is fortunate indeed. After losing their parents in a mysterious fire, a trio of young siblings – inventive Violet (Emily Browning), bookworm Klaus (Liam Aiken), and baby Sunny (Kara Hoffman and Shelby Hoffman) – face repeated showdowns with the comically sinister Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), who's got his greedy eyes trained on the orphans' inheritance. Edward Gorey-esque set design and a tone that carefully balances grotesque with goofy are matched by a standup cast; since the kid actors are perfectly deadpan, the grown-ups can afford to go big without being too ridiculous (including Meryl Streep as nervous Aunt Josephine). Smaller children may find certain elements too intense, but young 'uns worth their Harry Potter will dig this sly adventure. (1:30) (Eddy)

*The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou "Sail-ors! Fighting in the dance halls!" David Bowie yelps in the first mega-soundtrack blast of Wes Anderson's painstaking, pain-writ comedy The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, a howl encapsulating the traumatized trip to come. No dance halls here, actually, but a roiling, elliptical comic ship of souls at ebb tide. Jump to a bit later: "It's very lifelike," Ned (Owen Wilson) says, regarding a crude, impressionistic oil rendering of a man who may be his father. The could-be pater is Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), pop oceanographer and maker of documentaries on undersea life. As Life Aquatic commences, Steve's latest work, which depicts his best friend being eaten by an unseen "jaguar shark," is badly received. At the post-screening Q&A, Steve vows revenge. Ned emerges from the murky past to claim something, feeling out a bond that's thus far consisted of two letters and numerous distant denials. Before long, he joins Steve and his crew – among them a tender German second hand (an uproarious Willem Dafoe), an Australian radarman (Noah Taylor), and a Brazilian safety expert (Seu Jorge) who plays Bowie tunes in Portuguese – on their blackout-prone ship, Belafonte. Many critics, or at least some of the arch jargon-slingers, think Anderson has finally gone too far into his own whizzing head. Don't believe it. Seemingly spiky and assured at first, Anderson's meanings multiply and shift, some hiding in plain sight, and the whole film tends to change emotional speeds on subsequent viewings. (1:58) (Edward E. Crouse)

Meet the Fockers Meet the Fockers is what it is – a one-note gag machine that surprisingly doesn't tank. Ben Stiller returns as Greg – né Gaylord Focker – a neurotic (no, really?) male nurse saddled with a terrible moniker and a worse future father-in-law. Via the stick up his arse, Jack (Robert De Niro) leads his clan plus Greg to Miami in an armored tanker of an R.V. in order to check out Greg's own warped family tree. Predictably, the parents mix like latke oil and Puritan water amid plenty of Stiller-brand gross-out humor. Meet the Parents focused on Stiller's character's unbelievable bad luck, then a flimsy acceptance lesson at the end. This time acceptance is the main course, and rigid Jack is the one floundering about as his wife (Blythe Danner) embraces the freewheeling, kinda dirty Fockers. With big hair, yoga pants, and a sense of humor, Barbra Streisand is unexpectedly silly and at ease as Stiller's sex-therapist mother who "Fockerizes" people – her character's term for sexual healing. (1:55) (Koh)

*Million Dollar Baby After all the hype that surrounded last year's Mystic River, Clint Eastwood's latest directorial effort is practically sneaking in under the radar. Funny thing is, Million Dollar Baby is among the best things he's ever done, as an actor or a director. Ex-fighter Scrap (Morgan Freeman) supplies the Shawshank Redemption-style narration in this tale of Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), a crabby boxing manager who reluctantly agrees to take on spunky Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank, proving Boys Don't Cry was no fluke), though not before growling more than once, "I don't train girls!" Twin lonely souls Frankie (who's lost contact with his own daughter) and Maggie (who still mourns the loss of her beloved father) forge a deep bond as her winning streak extends – turns out, she's a real contender. Yes, there's a training montage, but Baby is no rah-rah Rocky; a weirdly melodramatic tragedy two-thirds through adds deeply felt layers to the film's various nuggets of sports wisdom, especially Frankie's main piece of advice to Maggie: "Always protect yourself." (2:14) (Eddy)

*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) (Harvey)

National Treasure Whether National Treasure turns out to be a hit or a dud, the alleged high-concept hybrid here – sorta Uncle Sam goes Indiana Jones – is sure to prove a blueprint for mediocrities yet unpitched. It's like The Da Vinci Code for dummies. Nicolas Cage's character, Benjamin Franklin Gates (really), is convinced the founding fathers did something really important: they hid lots of expensive stuff. As in gold and priceless art looted – oops – preserved from civilizations lost over the course of four millennia. The government scoffs when Gates warns it that ruthless former partner Ian Howe (Sean Bean; a Brit, natch) is going to steal the Declaration of Independence to access the secret map in invisible ink on its back. Aided by Comedy-Relief Sidekick (Justin Bartha) and the Girl (Diane Kruger, the face that launched a thousand shrugs in Troy), Gates must thus steal the document first, before those bad guys do. American History 101 errata, as well as conspiracy nuggets involving those trendy Masons and Knights Templar, are sprinkled amid routine chases that invariably take place in and around national monuments. Somehow all this scrambling for historic bling is painted in flag-waving good citizenship terms. But more concrete values are detectable in the sweet new wheels and tony new digs the good guys flaunt at the fade. (2:05) (Harvey)

Ocean's 12 To paraphrase This Is Spinal Tap, "It goes to 11," and director Steven Soderbergh should have listened. Instead, he cranks his cast number up another ineffectual notch to 12. Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his crew of stylin' bandits are settling into boring retirement when Benedict (Andy Garcia), the casino heavy they ripped off in Ocean's 11, demands his $160 million back. The devilish boys reunite and tangle abroad with a Europol detective (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and playboy rival thief (Vincent Cassel) as they try to raise the money. The film's a piece of gin-soaked cake for Soderbergh and company, with zing aplenty in the atmosphere. But the overburdened plot is about as compelling as the cast's several nondescript benchwarmers. In Ocean's 11, each character is conveniently introduced to the audience when Danny and Rusty (Brad Pitt) recruit for the gang. The sequel has no such handy reminder, and most of the non-superstars fade into the background without even getting to use their signature thieving skills. (2:10) (Koh)

*The Phantom of the Opera It's easy to imagine projects Joel Schumacher would be wrong, wrong, wrong for –including several he's directed. But he turns out to be an ideal fit for this elaborate, faithful screen translation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's schlock operetta. As someone who truly hated the play's occasionally sugary-sweet but mostly bombastic score, pedestrian libretto, and overall pandering kitsch, I was steeled to abhor it all over again. Yet the rococo style that seemed horribly overwrought in ex-window dresser Schumacher's Batman flicks is perfect here: he was born to be the new Zeffirelli cum Minnelli for CGI-era movie musicals. Jennifer Beals ringer Emmy Rossum plays the innocent young protégée to a mysterious "angel of music" who demands she sing the lead in his original opera – or else the Phantom (stiff Gerard Butler) will rain grief upon an ornate late-19th-century Parisian venue's artists, patrons, and owners. The dashing suitor (Patrick Wilson), the indignant diva (Minnie Driver, with singing dubbed), and the woman with the key to our masked antihero's tortured past (Miranda Richardson) are among those who explicate or exacerbate the classic tale's march toward tragedy. Some cuts would have been nice, but Webber bankrolled this lavish indie production, so no such luck. That aside – plus the score, which I'd still gladly replace with a Walkman blaring anything else – this film enlarges upon Harold Prince's original theatrical staging to create a snow-globe environment of swooning antique melodrama filtered through the sexy goth sensibilities of Anne Rice, Cher, and Harlequin romances. It's as gorgeous as it is empty-caloric. But so is eggnog, another guilty seasonal pleasure to be enjoyed precisely because it's sooo decadent. (2:14) (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) (Kim)

Racing Stripes A scrappy zebra dreams of being a racehorse in this predictable comedy, which relies heavily on the hilarious device of using CG technology to give live-action animals sassy facial expressions. Granted, the jockey-riding-a-zebra thing is pretty novel, but overall Racing Stripes is hardly original: it basically draws on the most familiar elements of The Black Stallion (underdog kid and underdog trainer teach underdog animal the wonders of being a speed demon) and Babe (chatty barnyard dwellers), with a little Fast and the Furious tossed in for good measure. Celebrities picking up checks for their vocal talents include Frankie Muniz, Mandy Moore, Dustin Hoffman, and Whoopi Goldberg; most of Racing Stripes's scattered chuckles come courtesy of Steve Harvey and David Spade, who're oddly endearing as a pair of poop-loving horse flies. (1:30) (Eddy)

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) (Huston)

Shortcut to Nirvana: Khumb Mela Virtually unheard of in the West, the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage is quite possibly the best-attended organized gathering the world over. Millions of devotees set up camp on the shores of India's most sacred waterways every 12th year in search of spiritual restoration. One would expect this transient metropolis to yield some of the best footage this side of Woodstock, but while Shortcut to Nirvana: Kumbh Mela does house some remarkable images, the sum total feels flat. This is largely due to the film's clumsy frame; we experience the event through three young journeyers, two of whom are way-deep New Yorkers. Codirectors Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day never really commit to these characters yet inexplicably feel the need to include various confessional cutaways à la The Real World. The result is a hazed view of the massive event that falls well short of the enlightenment professed by the documentary's subjects. (1:25) Smith Rafael. (Goldberg)

*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) (Huston)

Spanglish If someone had leaned over to me during the umpteenth sex scene in Julio Medem's Sex and Lucia and told me that starlet Paz Vega would be cooing "mi amor" to Adam Sandler in three years' time, I probably would have scoffed. Enter Spanglish. Vega plays Flor, a proud mother who flees Mexico with her daughter for the sort of prosperity that being a Bel Air maid affords. She finds work with the Clasky clan, a sitcom-ish cavalcade starring a gracious patriarch, neurotic wife, alcoholic grandmother, insecure teenage girl, and cutesy kid brother. As the film's title suggests, writer-director James L. Brooks is after a lighthearted exploration of culture clash. What he gets is a whole lot of not-in-a-good-way awkwardness. The Claskys don't know how to handle Flor, and neither does Brooks – his unfortunate decision to frame the story with Flor's daughter's college admissions essay is emblematic of the discomfort. Sandler's performance is the only thing that keeps the film buoyant in a sea of bourgeoisie guilt. The actor updates his Punch Drunk Love sensitive-to-a-fault character beautifully, channeling the deepest uncertainties of being a father and husband into a zany babble of words and gestures. (2:11) (Goldberg)

*Straight-Jacket Yesteryear's luxury closets are cleaned in the second feature from Girls Will Be Girls writer-director Richard Day. Bearing a considerable resemblance to Rock Hudson, 1950s movie star Guy Stone (Matt Letscher) is happy being a matinee idol to millions of women – and a total slut who shuffles through Tinseltown's twinkie ranks like a deck of cards. "What's the point of being famous if you can't use it to get laid?" he tells his eye-rolling agent (Veronica Cartwright). But when Guy's sex life threatens to become a public scandal, he's forced by the studio to marry a female secretary – just as Rock did in real life. Thus the swinging bachelor suddenly has to share his hearth with alarmingly wholesome, oblivious Sally (Carrie Preston), even as he finally experiences man-on-man love truer than a one-night stand via conveniently hunky left-wing writer Rick (Adam Greer). Will Guy sacrifice love for career, or vice versa? A far better camp spoof of plastic Rock-and-Doris-type romantic comedies than 2003's dismal Down with Love, Straight-Jacket is occasionally too silly but mostly delightful. It also sports, in the form of Michael Emerson's Victor, the most hilariously know-it-all butler since Robert Greig in Sullivan's Travels. (1:36) (Harvey)

*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) Red Vic. (Huston)

Travellers and Magicians Travellers and Magicians is the first feature film to be shot entirely in the kingdom of Bhutan, and, truth be told, the mountain-bound locale is probably reason enough to see the movie. Dondup is a Bhutanese university graduate with an enviable officer position in a bucolic village. He's smitten with America, though, and longs to travel to the land of the free in search of prosperity and city life. After receiving a letter promising him a visa, the curmudgeonly protagonist begins to hitchhike toward his dream, meeting up with a monk and a papermaker's charming daughter, among others. During their travels the sly monk recites a lengthy story regarding a country boy's descent into seduction and suspicion. The heavy-handed cuts between the main plot and the monk's fable render the latter an overobvious mirror of Dondup's plight. In this regard, writer-director Khyentse Norbu doesn't have enough faith in his audience but rather accents moments of insight with a patronizing degree of zeal. One can see how Dondup's journey might have worked as a sort of Jim Jarmusch wandering cine-poem, but, as is, Travellers and Magicians is a simplistic tale offset by splendorous scenery. (1:48) Smith Rafael. (Goldberg)

*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) (Jeffrey M. Anderson)

A Very Long Engagement French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and star Audrey Tautou reprise their Amélie collaboration in this fable of love and war. Tautou plays Mathilde, a limping young beauty living with her aunt and uncle in a perfectly charming house by the sea that will send Francophiles' heads spinning. Her fiancé, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel), has shipped off to the brutal battlefields of the First World War, leaving Mathilde to wait. When she learns that her beloved was court-martialed and left to die in no-man's-land, she embarks on a spirited search for the circumstances of his service, desperately hoping for evidence of his survival. A Very Long Engagement has the visual sparkle, narrative quirk, and flooring production design we've come to expect from Jeunet's films, but his directorial spunk feels a little weighed down by such standard melodrama. Granted, this take on war obstructing love is leagues more nervy and energetic than, say, Cold Mountain, but it still seems like an oddly laborious choice for the director-actress team that made Amélie such an effortless delight. (2:13) (Goldberg)

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) Red Vic. (Nickie Huang)

White Noise After his beloved wife dies in a mysterious car accident, architect Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton) abandons his comfy, gated house in favor of a cold, steel-and-glass loft apartment. And that's about as subtle as White Noise gets. As soon as the grieving Jonathan learns of "electronic voice phenomenon" – which the audience already knows all about, thanks to the definition that pops up before the movie's opening credits (but, er, after the Thomas Edison quote) – he's fiddling with staticy TVs and radios 24-7, trying to make contact with his wife on "the other side." Anyone who's watched a fair amount of MSNBC Investigates has probably caught at least one ghost-hunting episode involving real-life clairvoyant types attempting to record communications with the dead; it's an intriguing idea, with decent spooky-movie potential. Unfortunately, White Noise is devoted mostly to shots of Keaton hunched over a fuzzy TV screen (it worked in Poltergeist, but it gets tedious here), followed by a last-act mystery twist that feels extremely, laughably, ridiculously shoehorned in. (1:41) (Eddy)

*William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice While Al Pacino doing Shakespeare seems like a recipe for lots of shouting, Il postino director Michael Radford's new version of The Merchant of Venice is marked by a tasteful sense of restraint all too rare in cinematic translations of the Bard's work. The parts are performed in Shakespearean language, but Radford's direction gives the actors plenty of room to breathe; the cast doesn't seem like it's performing so much as conversing. While youthful Joseph Fiennes and Lynn Collins sometimes stumble through Bassanio and Portia's love scenes, the cast's elders turn in something special: Jeremy Irons is a dead ringer for slight and superior Antonio, and Pacino seethes as Shylock with eyes a-bulging. To be certain, though, it's 16th-century Venice that often steals the show. The bygone city is rendered with a sleazy panache that provides an inspired stage for Shakespeare's venerable revenge tale. (2:18) (Goldberg)

*The Woodsman So often a buoyant, physically exuberant actor, Kevin Bacon withdraws and shrinks to fit the skin of Walter, the protagonist in director-coscenarist Nicole Kassell's first feature, adapted from a play by Stephen Fechter. Walter has just been released after 12 years in prison and returns to his native Philadelphia. But there's no family or community left that's willing to embrace him. Even life among strangers bristles with the threat of rejection, or worse – since Walter is now a registered child molester. The Woodsman has its share of contrived elements, but the credibly glum lower-class Philly milieu, Bacon's half-dead eyed conviction, and a couple of complexly harrowing man-child scenes make this bizarre Christmas Day release powerful in its quietude. Without pushing, it suggests that in the paranoid child-endangerment climate of recent years, even nonviolent offenders of this type face almost impossible odds in terms of reforming and acclimatizing to mainstream society and not reverting to their past ways. (1:27) (Harvey)

Rep picks

*'Auntie Dote: Rare Flicks by the Cockettes and Jack Smith' Celebrate Inauguration Day the right way – with cross-dressing and full-frontal nudity – via this San Francisco Cinematheque-presented double bill of counterculture camp rarities from the Nixon era (you know, back when Tricky Dick seemed like the worst president imaginable). Ah, how young and idealistic (or unborn, as the case may be) we were then! How bitter and mortified we are now. Anyway, Tricia's Wedding showcases the rowdy Cockettes and their friends (including future disco star Sylvester) in an anarchic re-creation of Tricia Nixon's 1971 White House nuptials, one of that shack's gaudier state-social affairs before the Reagans made every function a variety show. Needless to say, some liberties are taken in this half-hour account, which is dedicated to Divine, designates Sebastian (a.k.a. Milton Miron) as director, and was produced by Mark L. Lester – a subsequently proven if underrated genius of cinema whose own credits would include Truck Stop Women, Class of 1984, and all-time Linda Blair classic Roller Boogie. Suffice it to say that a hammered Mamie Eisenhower falls into the wedding cake, Prince Charles swaps tongue with Mick Jagger, and Eartha Kitt spikes the punch bowl with LSD, leading to an orgy enjoyed by all. Yes, even Golda Meir. The second half of the bill contains the third and last of director Jack Smith's "features" (he frequently changed their content and sound from one showing to another). No President is a 50-minute black-and-white pastiche mixing archival and staged elements. Anthropological footage of South Pacific island "savages" and fodder from Republican nominee Wendell Wilkie's failed 1940 presidential campaign are thrown up against tableaux in which imperious drag exotics and desultorily dick-waggling naked guys act out some subterranean drama. I'm not sure what it means, but nonetheless: both these movies will make you feel proud once again to be an American. Artists' Television Access. (Harvey)

Shooting Porn: The Movie Back for a slightly puzzling three-day gig eight years after its original Castro Theatre run is Ronnie Larsen's entertaining if superficial look at the gay video industry. His primary focus is on two of the genre's established auteurs – Chi Chi LaRue, sometimes spotted in Divine-like drag, and the intriguingly deadpan Gino Colbert, who's directed straight porn as well – as each shoots a new sex flick. Their methods are as different as their models (boyish versus hunky), but there's little discussion here of different working or screen styles. Instead, we get interviews with various industry personnel and some funny, demystifying glimpses behind the scenes. (Shocking revelation: pornos occasionally use fake "stunt" spunk!) The personalities are fun (particularly Colbert's Brit star Blue Blake), the packaging lively. But Shooting Porn is pretty blatantly aimed at fans, and aimed away from biting the hand it's feeding from. More general questions about this business – its scale, its relation to the hetero one, market-induced content formulas, the impacts of home video and AIDS – go unanswered in a documentary-lite that leaves you hoping someone makes a more, er, penetrating nonfiction look at the subject one day. (1:20) Castro. (Harvey)

*Until When ... "From the moment I could hear, I heard the sound of shooting. From the moment I could see, I saw the army. The first time I wanted to go out, there was a curfew. Whenever I saw a gathering, it was someone's funeral. I don't know. Perhaps the occupation is in every pore of our being," Jamal Sa'ad explains, setting the theme for Until When ..., a documentary directed by Dahna Abourahme and produced by Annemarie Jacir, with associate production provided by UCSF professor Jess Ghannam. The film chronicles the histories, struggles, and dreams of people living in Dheisheh, a Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem that holds close to 12,000 residents in a mere half-square-mile area. And while the movie may not offer anything new for those who've sought out the truth about Israel's oppression of Palestine, its power lies in the simple fact that it opens a window into the life behind the checkpoints and walls, allows Dheisheh's inhabitants to speak for themselves – and demonstrates how their survival, in the end, is predicated on their resistance. (1:16) La Peña Cultural Center, El Rio. (Camille T. Taiara)