The 23rd annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival runs March 10-20. Venues are the AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres, 1881 Post, SF; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; PFA Theater, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Camera 12 Cinemas, 201 South Second St, San Jose. Tickets (most shows $7-10) are available by calling (415) 478-2777 or visiting www.naatanet.org/festival. For commentary, see "Asian American Film, Mon Amour." All times p.m.
Kabuki "Dream Dream Revolution" (shorts program) 5. First Person Plural 5:15. The Grace Lee Project 7. Pink Ludoos 7:15. "House of Flying Pancakes" (shorts program) 9:15. Oldboy 9:30.
PFA Ethan Mao 7. Keka 9:15.
Kabuki Manzanar with "Dupont Guy" and "Sewing Woman" noon. Continuous Journey 12:15. 20:30:40 1:45. a.k.a. Don Bonus and Passing Through 2:30. "Fishbowls and Silent Years" (shorts program) 4:30. Monkey Dance 5. I Was Born, But ... 7. Yasmin 7:15. "Listening to Love Songs" (shorts program) 9:15. Slow Jam King 9:30.
PFA And Thereafter 5. Oldboy 7. Cutie Honey 9:45.
Kabuki "A Conversation with Him Mark Lai" noon. "Three by Okazaki" (shorts program) 12:15. Chinese Restaurants: Three Continents 2. The People of Angkor 2:30. And Thereafter 4:30. "Lost and Found" (shorts program) 4:45. "3rd I South Asian International Shorts 2005" (shorts program) 6:45. "Brotherhood Best" (shorts program) 7. "Fishbowls and Silent Years" (shorts program) 9:15. Out of This World 9:30.
PFA A Fond Kiss 3:45. Turtles Can Fly 6. Dumplings 8:10.
PFA The People of Angkor 7:30.
PFA 62 Years and 6500 Miles Between 7:30.
Hostage A small-town cop (Bruce Willis) becomes unwittingly embroiled in a high-stakes hostage situation. (1:53) Century Plaza, Century 20, Presidio.
*Masculine Feminine The so-called children of Marx and Coca-Cola have aged well. And they're still seductive image, sex, music, youth culture, advertising/propaganda, and an earnest, self-aware attention to the politics of all of the above suffuses Jean-Luc Godard's handsome, newly struck and re-subtitled Masculine Feminine like so much hairspray and Gauloises. Check the attention lavished on ye ye singer-slash-women's magazine photo editor Chantal Goya's glossy bob, the careful nonchalance with which 400 Blows's Jean-Pierre Léaud tosses a cigarette to his lips, and the glam cameos by Brigitte Bardot and Françoise Hardy, even as Vietnam breaks out in the old colonies and boys get shot down by girls (sometimes literally!) on a regular basis in the streets of Paris. It's a heady moment, 1966 as talk of the ills of capitalism and the National Front floats on the same cultural plane as the Beatles and birth control and perhaps that's the appeal of this, one of the last shots of semiguarded optimism in Godard's back pages. Despite the auteur's efforts at jazzy effervescence (A bout de souffle) and even Stonesy malevolence (Sympathy for the Devil), this is about as pop as the director got, before Marx proved more enticing than soda, Weekend's chaotic darkness descended, and Molly Ringwald entered the picture, leering. (1:43) Opera Plaza. (Chun)
The Passion Recut Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ returns (in slightly sanitized form) to reap even more bucks from the holy rollers. (2:02) 1000 Van Ness.
*Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land: The U.S. Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict That rambling title equivalent to a theatrical trailer revealing the whole movie announces the fact that this new documentary by Bathsheba Ratzkoff and Sut Jhally is pedantic, humorless, and very agenda-driven. But it's also a powerful, right-minded indictment so much so that you might wish at least some pretense of balance could make it more accessible to audiences not already strongly pro-Palestinian. Offering grisly footage of the type (Israeli
soldiers battering Arab citizens, mangled or shot civilian corpses, etc.) you won't see on our network news, the feature maps out how mainstream U.S. media blind our public to the real nature of this "conflict." The Israeli government's use of U.S. public relations firms, the Bush White House's tight control over press access, strategic language emphases (Palestinian violence is "terrorism," while Israeli violence is painted as "defensive"), and the obscuring of basic facts that this occupation has been illegal by international law since its 1967 beginning, that about two-thirds of the $6 billion in aid flowing from the United States to Israel goes toward the latter's military are just a few aspects of a sustained disinformation campaign. Has the United States been a longtime "broker" of peace betweens Jews and Arabs here, or has it become that goal's biggest de facto roadblock? With its lack of any conservative, pro-Israeli, or mainstream media interviewees (though there are plenty of incriminating film clips), Peace makes that question an open-and-shut case. In its way, this, too is slanted reporting but there's a whole lotta truth and comparatively little conscious denial on its side. (1:20) Roxie. (Harvey)
*Robots Say what you will about computer animation, it seems clear that the creators are having scores more fun than their live-action counterparts. The latest is Robots, a film so generous with its details that each frame teems with ingenious bursts of sight and sound. It must be said that the story doesn't match the lofty standards set by Pixar films like Finding Nemo; indeed, a degree of been-there-done-that hangs over the proceedings from the disposable invocations of pop culture to, err, Robin Williams's voice. And yet it's not hard to forgive a familiar plotline (boy leaves parents in small town, defeats corrupt forces in the big city) given the many wonders of Robot City: an endlessly entertaining parade of Rube Goldberg devices and bizarro bots. These things, plus the excellently unexpected usage of a Tom Waits tune, make Robots a fine matinee that will appeal to kids and 'rents alike. (1:31) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Metreon IMAX, Orinda, Presidio. (Goldberg)
Schultze Gets the Blues The Germans are known for all sorts of things philosophy, beer, and sausage form a particularly potent triumvirate but zydeco music is admittedly not one of them. Enter Citizen Schultze (Horst Krause), a portly fellow hailing from a rural stretch of the Rhineland: a miner by trade and accordionist at heart. Schultze Gets the Blues's protagonist makes waves when he breaks with tradition (i.e., polka) in jamming with a Bayou-friendly radio station and preferring jambalaya to bratwurst. Michael Schorr's direction is slow to the point of being languid the heavy shades of Jim Jarmusch's narrative style often seem flatly imitative but he has a good feel for character and quirk, making Schultze Gets the Blues a pleasant, if not entirely memorable, movie. (1:54) Act I and II, Lumiere. (Goldberg)
*Up and Down Following his 2000 international success Divided We Fall, this latest film by Czech director Jan Hrebejk follows the current art-house recipe for mixing up numerous disparate characters, throwing in some crises and coincidences, having all their paths overlap, then hoping the whole thing emerges resembling life itself. Two loutish mules in the illegal immigrant-smuggling trade end up accidentally left with an émigré's baby; rather than return it, they decide to keep it, maybe sell it. Meanwhile, working-class Mila (Natasa Burger) and her tenuously reformed soccer-hooligan husband, Franta (Jiri Machacek, who's great), are childless she can't conceive, and his prison record forbids them from adopting legally. Parental woes of a different nature are experienced in the upper-class home where professor Otto (Jan Triska), longtime common-law spouse Hana (Ingrid Timkova), and their teenage daughter (Kristyna Liska-Bokova) live. When Otto has a surprise heart attack, he's suddenly eager to reunite with Martin (Petr Forman), the son he's ignored for 20-plus years necessitating Martin's awkward return "home" from his adopted Australia, and uncomfortable dealings with his mother, Vera (Emilia Vasaryova), who still bitterly resents Otto for leaving her in favor of the much younger immigration social-worker Hana. Cowritten by the director and Petr Jarchovsky, Up and Down neatly balances character-based seriocomedy against a thematic backdrop addressing issues of painful Communist-era legacies, nationalist movements and organized racism, the bottomless pit of need between parents and children, et al. The story's mechanizations are on the schematic side, but that probably won't bother you until this entertaining, well-acted tale is over if then. (1:48) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)
Aliens of the Deep Titanic king of the world James Cameron's second venture into the world of 3D IMAX movies (after Ghosts of the Abyss) continues to establish him as one of Hollywood's foremost proponents of digital technology. Returning to the deep sea, Cameron's Earthship Productions and Walt Disney Pictures create a brief but interesting look at unusual marine life in the deepest regions of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Aliens chronicles a Cameron-led team of chipper marine biologists and one NASA researcher who hope to draw definitive conclusions about life on other planets by charting the unknown depths of ours. Capturing in vivid detail the peculiar aquatic species that exist thousands of meters below sea level, Aliens offers enough visual excitement to hold grade school kids in rapt awe, while simultaneously providing enough layperson-science to interest parents. (:45) Metreon Imax. (Lake)
'The Animation Show 2005' Take a friend and a Valium to this year's edition of Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt's annual collection of animated short films. The gambit-running 12 shorts take on subjects from the vulgar to the ethereal, expressed in all manner of contemporary and classic animation techniques. Drawing from a pool of the world's most prolific and progressive animators, Judge and Hertzfeldt provide an alternative to the Disney, Pixar, and anime tales that have come to dominate our perception of what animation is. Although stop-motion and experimental sketch make strong showings in this year's edition, digital shorts like "Rock Fish" and "Fallen Art" are disturbingly brilliant in the realism of motion and texture they convey. Also of note is Bill Plympton's "Guard Dog," which collected numerous accolades at various international film festivals and was subsequently nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short. (1:27) Lumiere, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Lake)
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) Century Plaza. (Kim)
*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) Century 20, Grand Lake, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness. (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) Balboa. (Harvey)
Be Cool Vince Vaughn is establishing a rather profitable career playing the annoying-bastard role, though much of his talent may just be natural arrogance thinly disguised as character acting. The thing is, he's really good at it, and his latest reprise as a scene-stealing white music manager who's convinced he's black is the best (or worst) thing about Be Cool. The rest of the film is forgettable; it's basically an extended rehash of those commercials for the T-Mobile Sidekick: dozens of celebs getting paid to be cute and gently poke fun at themselves. Get Shorty's Chili Palmer (John Travolta), a mobster turned movie producer now trying his hand at the music industry, could make singer Linda Moon (Christina Milian) a star, if record exec Nick Carr (Harvey Keitel) would just surrender her five-year contract. Moon's manager, Raji (Vaughn), his gay bodyguard (the Rock, being a good sport), and a random bevy of rappers led by Cedric the Entertainer try to keep Palmer in check and fail. Travolta pretty much sleepwalks through his scenes, but Vaughn and the Rock are so busy making asses of themselves that you'll forget he's even in it. (1:59) Century Plaza, Century 20, Grand Lake, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness, Orinda. (Kim)
*Because of Winn-Dixie Sometimes the term "family film" is used as a pejorative, as in "warning, warning, may contain traces of talking animals and painful slapstick." But in Wayne Wang's adaptation of the Newberry-winning children's story Because of Winn-Dixie, the genre is at its best, serving up kid-style fun, adventure, and drama. Sort of Annie meets Little House on the Prairie, Winn-Dixie is the story of a scrappy, motherless, preacher's daughter (AnnaSophia Robb) who spontaneously adopts a stray dog when he's terrorizing the local supermarket. OK, so the weird use of special effects to make the dog smile is a little creepy. But refreshingly absent are the usual array of annoying animated characters designed with toy lines in mind. With a small-town-America feel, and good old-fashioned characters the grumpy landlord, the town witch this tale of a misfit and her mischievous mutt is the perfect Sunday-afternoon family flick. Costars include Jeff Daniels as the preacher, Eva Marie Saint as the librarian, and Dave Matthews as the town drifter who charms animals with what else his acoustic guitar. (1:46) Century 20. (Sabrina Crawford)
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) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Goldberg)
*Born into Brothels Far from your typical travelogue, Born into Brothels traces the profound bond formed between a New York photographer and a group of bubbly children hailing from Calcutta's red-light district. Zana Briski travels to the city intending to document brothel workers but ends up becoming more heavily involved with the prostitutes' children, all of whom are by turns creative, outgoing, jaded, and fiercely intelligent. Rather than simply photographing the kids, Briski gives them cameras of their own and hosts an informal workshop. Besides making for some disarming, raw imagery, this premise allows Briski and co-filmmaker Ross Kauffman to own up to a defining difficulty of making a documentary recording especially on subjects like poverty and pain without actually intervening. As Briski struggles to get the children out of the brothels and into boarding schools, the film's narrative structure flirts with being overformulaic, but the radiant energy bursting forth from the young faces gives more than enough reason to keep watching. (1:37) California, Lumiere, Piedmont, Smith Rafael. (Goldberg)
*Bride and Prejudice The latest from Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) puts a Bollywood (and Hollywood) spin on Pride and Prejudice. The director's attempts to update Jane Austen's classic chase-to-the-altar story as well as shift it into a new culture, imagining an American Mr. Darcy (The Ring's Martin Henderson) and an Indian Elizabeth Bennet (Aishwarya Rai) occasionally come off as forced. Also, it's hard suspending disbelief long enough to accept that anyone who looks like Rai would have trouble finding a husband, or that she'd spy a serious contender in one of the blandest takes on Darcy ever filmed. Still, the musical numbers are great fun, the scenery (including Rai believe the hype, people) is gorgeous, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more cheerful or energetic movie on any continent. (1:51) Albany, Embarcadero, Empire, Orinda. (Eddy)
*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)
The Chorus (Les choristes) Surely hoping to capitalize on the crossover capabilities demonstrated by Amélie's emphatically French brand of nostalgia, Miramax serves up The Chorus, a boarding school fable far more prone to cheap sentimentality than it is to character depth or narrative structure. The film's story is told in flashback as a famous conductor reads his music teacher's diary of a year spent at Fond de l'Étang, a school for unruly boys lorded over by a sadistic principal. Despite tough beginnings, Monsieur Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot) shapes his ruffians into a likable singing band of outsiders. Boarding school has provided wonderful material for past films, but The Chorus is more Mr. Holland's Opus than Zéro de conduite. The students are made to suffer, but we're never close enough to believe their pain and share in their unlikely triumphs. The film reveals its true colors in its ending: the flashback grants an epilogue despite Mr. Mathieu's diary having come to an end, offering a tidy conclusion bereft of meaning. (1:37) Oaks. (Goldberg)
*Constantine Keanu Reeves checks in as glowering antihero John Constantine (plucked from the DC Comics/Vertigo Hellblazer graphic novels), a guy who's able to distinguish between the Earth-dwelling ambassadors of heaven and hell, as well as zip in and out of Hades whenever the mood strikes. Constantine's remaining time above ground is limited, and his future looks eternally, blisteringly hot, thanks to a teenage suicide attempt that dumped him onto damnation road. He hopes to earn his way into heaven by policing Los Angeles's population of humanlike "half-breeds"; as you might guess, the demons give him far more trouble than the angels. A solid shot at redemption may come in the form of Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), a cop investigating her twin sister's suspicious suicide if the duo can first thwart a sinister plan that threatens all of humanity. Constantine's plot is hardly unfamiliar, and there have been plenty of religious themes in movies lately but thanks to all the satanic shenanigans, this ludicrous pile of fire, brimstone, and CG "soldier demons" actually makes for a pretty entertaining movie. (1:57) Century 20, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Cursed Bad news for Wes Craven fans, and fans of Kevin Williamson's smart scripts for the horrormeister's Scream trilogy: Cursed sucks. So delayed was this stinky werewolves-of-Los Angeles tale that the lead character (Christina Ricci) holds down a job at The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn off the air for months now. The distinctive hipness of the Scream films is completely absent from Cursed, which wallows in mediocrity (dialogue, casting, story all very ho-hum) and is further hampered by what's clearly an after-the-fact PG-13 rating (translation: blatant cutaways from the blood 'n' guts). Also, the werewolves which shift obviously between stunt people in hairy suits and C.G. are stupid-looking; if you thought it couldn't get worse than An American Werewolf in Paris, you were soooo wrong. (1:26) Century 20, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Days of Being Wild Days of Being Wild was the first collaboration (of eight to date) between mainland-born Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai and cinematographer Christopher Doyle, an Australian who's worked mostly in Southeast Asia. Credit for a movie's general tenor and artistry usually goes directly to the person yelling, "Cut!" but in this case, a central partnership renders single authorship pretty irrelevant. When it came out in 1991, Days both kick-started and stalled the Wong-Doyle association. (The current, restored-new-print rerelease is the film's first official U.S. theatrical run.) Featuring a cast led by six hugely popular local pop stars cum actors (including Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau, and the late Lesie Cheung), Days earned admiring, if not always adulatory, critical response. But the public, as they say, stayed away in droves. The primary reason: it was, well, boring. Looked at now as the real birth of Wong and Doyle's signature style languorous yet unpredictable, steeped in romantic fatalism, visually overpowering, almost indifferent to narrative it's easy to appreciate Days as more than a beautiful package that just sits there. (1:35) Roxie. (Harvey)
Dear Frankie Shona Auerbach's first feature is a Scottish seriocomedy that's bittersweet but perhaps just a little too low-key for its own good. Nine-year-old Frankie (Jake McElhone), his mother, Lizzie (Emily Mortimer), and grandmother Nell (Mary Riggans) are constantly uprooting themselves, finding a new Glasgow flat and neighborhood every time Lizzie's violent ex-husband zeroes in on their whereabouts. This instability has wreaked some damage on stamp-collecting, shark-obsessed Frankie, who almost never speaks (he's hearing-impaired) and dreams of his real dad, a globe-wandering sailor he's never met and who, in fact, exists only in the letters Lizzie fabricates. When push comes to shove, she's forced to have a stranger (Gerard Butler, much better than he was as the phantom of the opera) pose as the imaginary father for a day. Needless to say, the mystery man proves something of a knight in shining black-leather armor, though this being Glasgow, don't expect any miraculously upbeat resolutions. Dear Frankie is another movie (like Seducing Dr. Lewis and Good Bye Lenin!) that depends entirely on your buying into a central deception that no one in their right mind would ever devise. Still, this occasionally heavy-handed and precious tale has enough nice moments and performances to qualify as a nice movie but only that. (1:45) Embarcadero. (Harvey)
Diary of a Mad Black Woman What begins as a provocative, noirish glare at a marital crisis quickly tumbles into pathetic farce and Bible-thumping ballyhoo. Wealthy attorney Charles McCarter (Steve Harris) takes a mistress and abruptly throws out Helen (Kimberly Elise), his loving wife of 18 years. Crushed, the divorcée turns to her trigger-happy grandmother Madea (Tyler Perry, who also penned the screenplay) for advice. The two scheme bitter revenge till Helen meets Orlando (Shemar Moore), a steel worker who's sensitive, ridiculously good-looking, "and Christian too!" Mushy would be a good word to describe the ensuing romance. Nauseating would be better Diary is full of blatant proselytizing ("Not Buddha or Mohammed, but Jesus is the way!") and love scenes resembling R&B music videos. Perry's performance brings the comic relief to what would otherwise be a pretty sad attempt at Hollywood romance, and the scene in which Madea splits the McCarters' possessions with a chainsaw is about the best he can do. (1:56) Century Plaza, Century 20, 1000 Van Ness. (Kim)
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) Four Star, Galaxy, Oaks. (Eddy)
*Gunner Palace Filmmaker Michael Tucker spent two months with the 2-3 Field Artillery in Baghdad making Gunner Palace and it's peopled with soldiers whose minds were clearly fertilized in the fields of pop culture. Forget the mock M*A*S*H scenes poolside at the wrecked palace of Uday Hussein. The new Army of this movie is epitomized by a guy named Wilf who's seemingly making his Real World: Baghdad debut with a mop-head-bedsheet-sheikh shtick and a Jimi Hendrix-styled "Star Spangled Banner." Tucker remixes the work of Wilf and comrades into a new anthem of Army life in this very weird war throwing Rummy's cheesy cheerleading on American Forces Radio up next to Islamic calls to prayer, the strange soundtracks of psyops vehicles, and the rapid-fire, impromptu raps the many African American Army "volunteers" offer up for the camera. Spc. Richmond Shaw breaks the fourth wall as he lays it out in verse: "For y'all, this is just a show, but we live in this movie." (1:26) California, Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Gerhard)
Head-On An unlikely love affair anchors this energetic drama from German writer-director Fatih Akin. Seeking a way to escape her conservative Muslim family (including a brother who broke her nose for holding hands with a boyfriend), Sibel (Sibel Kekilli) convinces the first guy she finds who shares her Turkish-German background the years-older Cahit (Birol Ünel) to marry her. That the two meet in a mental hospital, share the same insatiable appetite for partying, and initially have no intention of ever consummating this marriage of convenience doesn't bode well for their bliss, wedded or otherwise. Head-On is packed with high drama (drunken brawls, screaming matches, sweaty sex scenes, and one particularly nasty street fight) and almost nonstop music (everything from traditional Turkish tunes to Sisters of Mercy), but the its few tender, quiet moments are what resonate. Though the story and characters veer over the top on occasion, the performances by Ünel and first-time thespian Kekilli are strikingly genuine. (1:58) Roxie. (Eddy)
Hitch Smooth operator Alex Hitchens (Will Smith) makes his living coaching dorky New Yorkers including accountant Albert (Kevin James), who's lovesick over unattainable socialite Allegra (Amber Valletta) in the art of wooing. The irony, of course, is that Hitch is single until he meets his match in Sara (Eva Mendes), a gossip columnist who'd rather get exclusive dirt on Allegra than settle down with a serious boyfriend. In his first full-on romantic comedy, Smith is in good hands with director Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama), who's able to weave a few novel touches into Hitch's predictable boy-meets-girl routine. James (The King of Queens) is endearing as a can't-dance white guy who finally lands his dream girl, and Revlon goddess Mendes is convincing as a gal who'd make even Casanova lose his cool. This is Smith's show, however, and fans of his loose, nice-guy humor better when it's subtle, as when Hitch literally loses his shirt in a taxi door, rather than way big (a food-allergy gag enters Farrelly Brothers territory) will find plenty to enjoy. (1:58) Century Plaza, Century 20, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Eddy)
*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) Empire, Four Star, Galaxy, Kabuki, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Kim)
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) Balboa. (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) Roxie. (Eddy)
The Jacket Time-travel romance goes another round in The Jacket, which manages to mostly contain its gooey, cavity-inducing core in layers of gritty confusion, unsettling flashbacks and flash-forwards, and close-ups of Adrien Brody's expressively haunted face. Brody plays Jack Starks, a Gulf War veteran whose stint in Iraq came with an unfortunate parting gift: a head wound that may or may not have lasting, extremely mind-fucking effects. Back home, he's implicated in a roadside shooting and his injury scores him a one-way ticket to an insane asylum located somewhere twixt Twelve Monkeys (but sadly, not La jetée) and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. There a grizzled doc (Kris Kristofferson) taps the new patient as a test case for his unconventional brand of therapy, which involves the titular garment a straitjacket, and a gnarly one at that. Once he's strapped in, Jack has visions of the future, which include a hard-drinking yet alluring waitress named Jackie (Keira Knightley) who just might have played a key role in his murky, postwar but pre-hospital past. British director and artist John Maybury (Love Is the Devil) has an edgy touch, but all the visual zip in the world can't conceal what an ultimately ho-hum story this is. (1:42) Century Plaza, Century 20, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
Man of the House (1:37) Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness.
*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) California, Century Plaza, Century 20, Empire, Grand Lake, 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
*Night of Henna After nine years spent learning "how to be a good Pakistani daughter" from the grandparents who raised her, Hava (Pooja Kumar) heads to America. Thrilled by the new culture that surrounds her, Hava hopes to take advantage of opportunities less available to women in Pakistan, including enrolling in college classes and working part-time at a coffee shop. Though she manages to achieve both goals behind her father's back, of course it seems Night of Henna is not headed toward the realization of Hava's humble dreams: the opening scene flashes forward to reveal preparations for her very traditional, very prearranged wedding day. Local writer-director Hassan Zee shot most of Night of Henna in San Francisco, but he manages to avoid visual clichés for the most part; likewise, his clash-of-cultures script juggles elements both familiar and refreshing. (1:35) Century 20, Shattuck. (Eddy)
*Nobody Knows If you dispense with the need for the gratuitous jolts of stateside revamps of films like The Grudge, Hirokazu Kore-eda's Nobody Knows can also easily check in as the latest quiet, realist addition to a pack of Japanese chillers that revolve around a contemporary urban culture's deteriorating familial support systems. In Nobody Knows the damage is relatively bloodless; instead, the director of Maborosi and After Life brings a solemn, gut-level empathy and intimacy to a tale based on the real-life 1988 "affair of the four abandoned children of Nishi-Sugamo," in which a mother deserted her kids, all of whom were born of a different father, never educated, and in fact didn't legally exist because their births were never recorded. Working with amateur child actors for almost a year and editing as he filmed, Kore-eda suffuses the story with a vérité lightness and handheld intimacy when it could easily have been overshadowed by sensation. This is horror with a human face, striking a reverberant note ordinarily found in fairy tales and adventure stories. (2:18) Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Chun)
*Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior Though he's being touted as the future of martial arts movies, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior star Tony Jaa couldn't be more old-school. Jaa specializes in Muay Thai, a gracefully deadly martial arts style that's had a lower cinematic profile than most; his fights are enacted without wires or special effects, and his stunts are of the high-danger, cringe-in-your-seat-as-you-watch-'em variety. On top of its many Jaa-dropping brawls, Ong-Bak also boasts some of the most supremely entertaining chase scenes in recent memory. This was Thailand's top-grossing movie in 2003, and it's not hard to see why; though Ong-Bak's story (a monk-raised rural lad heads to Bangkok to retrieve the stolen head of a Buddha statue) and characters (pretty one-note all around) are less than memorable, much praise is due Jaa, director Prachya Pinkaew, and stunt choreographer Phanna Rithikrai ("the Bruce Lee of Thailand") for generating mad on-screen excitement something seriously lacking in the recent wave of overly art-directed martial arts flicks. (1:45) Shattuck. (Eddy)
The Pacifier Chrome-domed muscleman Vin Diesel is best known for his action movies (The Fast and the Furious, XXX, The Chronicles of Riddick), less so to his dismay, I'm sure for his acting (Saving Private Ryan, Boiler Room). With The Pacifier, he ventures into the fart-joke-strewn world of family comedy, playing a no-nonsense Navy SEAL assigned to protect the unruly kids of a scientist killed (off-camera, of course) by bad guys determined to get their hands on Dad's top-secret computer program. The set-up is merely an excuse for Diesel to play a fish out of water in this Daddy Day Care-Kindergarten Cop-Three Men and a Baby-style farce, in which the soldier finds domestic woes (dirty diapers and crabby teens among them) to be fearsome obstacles. No real surprises emerge from this predictable comedy aimed squarely at the grade-school set though The Pacifier may be the first Disney flick in history to feature man-boob jokes. (1:46) Century Plaza, Century 20, Kabuki, 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Paper Clips (1:22) Galaxy.
Pooh's Heffalump Movie (1:08) 1000 Van Ness.
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) Galaxy. (Huston)
*The Sea Inside Motivating dramatic conflict with a divisive political issue is tricky business. In The Sea Inside, director Alejandro Amenábar (The Others) explores a sharp-witted quadriplegic's struggle for the right to die with great restraint and balance, never allowing political rhetoric to overwhelm his characters' humanity. The story is based on true events, but Amenábar steers clear of documenting Ramón Sampedro's legal struggles, instead aiming for a meditative character study. Javier Bardem (Before Night Falls) plays the lead role with great nuance, often summoning gargantuan bursts of emotion with the raise of an eyebrow. The narrative unfurls slowly, pausing on Sampedro's fantasies and minor interactions with the family, friends, and lawyers who crowd his bed. The film does suffer for its wandering when Amenábar awkwardly fumbles to neatly pull the story together, but by this point the emotional impact is already in the bag. Indeed, The Sea Inside's muted colors and hushed voices are deeply affecting and sure to make a mark in the upcoming award season. (2:05) Balboa, Shattuck. (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) Bridge, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Huston)
Son of the Mask More than 10 years have passed since the first Mask, wherein Jim Carrey established himself as Hollywood's clown and coined the ubiquitous (if short-lived) catchphrase "Sssmokin'!" Naturally, a sequel starring a vaudevillian infant and none of the original cast was just indispensable for 2005. Aspiring animator Tim Avery (Jamie Kennedy) unwittingly dons the enchanted mask and turns into a shape-shifting dancing queen at his company Halloween party. Back at home he does a different type of dance with his wife, Tonya (Traylor Howard), while still under its influence. Nine months later, Tonya has a son blessed with the powers of mischief god Loki (Alan Cumming), who happens to be in town looking for his missing mask. The newborn half-god proceeds to drive his father nuts while Mommy is out of town, but the real showdown happens when Loki comes a-knocking. Hokeyness predictably abounds in this cartoonish, epilepsy-invoking spectacle, so take your kids (be warned: lots of crude humor) and expect nothing. The zanier gags, plus Ben Stein's bit in the first five minutes, may squeeze out a chuckle or two. (1:26) Century 20. (Kim)
*The Take Early on in Canadian doc The Take written by No Logo author Naomi Klein and directed by fellow activist Avi Lewis an uppity news personality berates Klein for not presenting any viable alternatives to the International Monetary Fund. What follows considers a single corner of the globalization debate but keeps an eye on the big picture, never losing sight of the belligerent newscaster's challenge. Lewis and Klein's focus is Argentina; the once-prosperous nation is presented as a textbook case of capitalism gone berserk. Voice-over narration, news footage, and personal testimony all point to a country in crisis, made downtrodden by the model of multinational economics that leaves jobs and equity by the wayside. After many of the country's factory owners simply abandon ship during an economic downslide, disenfranchised workers respond by forming cooperatives to occupy the factories and run them on equitable terms. The struggle isn't without its hurdles, and, indeed, the IMF's Goliath looms large over the proceedings, but The Take is stirring in its insistence that another world is possible. (1:17) Balboa. (Goldberg)
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) Balboa, Shattuck. (Goldberg)
*Walk on Water This provocative story of redemption from director Eytan Fox (Yossi and Jagger) charts an imperfect but earnest voyage through the contemporary Israeli psyche. Fox's duality as someone who was born in New York but raised in Israel lends itself to Walk on Water's themes, which grapple with the sympathy and disconcertion felt for Israeli's current state of affairs. Set in both Tel Aviv and Berlin, Water tracks Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi), a hardened and troubled Mossad agent who has been assigned the task of tracking down Alfred Himmelman, an elderly, ailing Nazi war criminal. Posing as a travel guide, Eyal befriends Himmelman's German-born grandchildren during their visit to Israel, hoping to get information about the elusive man's whereabouts. During his mission, Eyal is forced to reconsider both violence and forgiveness by way of the Palestinian conflict and its relationship to the imprint left by the Holocaust on the Israeli collective unconscious. An ambitious drama, Water inevitably raises more questions than it can fairly answer, a forgivable stumble once you consider the careful navigation of self that went into the making of the film. (1:44) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Lake)
The Wedding Date Don't bother diving for this stinky bouquet from How to Deal director Claire Kilner, a would-be romantic comedy that goes down like a spoonful of Splenda. Debra Messing (Will and Grace) stars as a New York City gal so unlucky in love she resorts to hiring a male escort (Dermot Mulroney) when her sister's London wedding beckons. You don't have to be familiar with Pretty Woman to predict where this is going (cue gold-hearted hooker); you should be forewarned, however, that Pretty Woman is a master of characterization and believability compared to The Wedding Date, which might've had a chance if it were merely a made-for-ABC Family Channel flick. Instead, its many flaws most glaringly, the fact that every emotional note rings patently, eye-rollingly false are exacerbated as they play out on the big screen. (1:41) 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)
*The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill Having moved to San Francisco at the end of the hippie era to become a professional musician, Mark Bittner never realized that goal. Instead, he belatedly found an alternate raison d'être, feeding and studying the colorful tropical parrots originally abandoned or escaped pets who proved adaptable to this cooler climate which often roosted on his doorstep in his North Beach neighborhood. Distinguishing all 40-odd birds by markings or behavior, he gave them each a name and ingratiated himself enough to be able to hand-feeding them. When the landlords who've allowed him to live rent-free decide to remodel their property, he must move on. This is no small crisis, since Bittner has never held a "real" job, nor does he have any contingency plans. Veteran local filmmaker Judy Irving's beautifully shot documentary balances surprisingly engrossing aviary insights with rather poignant human ones, arriving at a charming portrait of the kind of mild dropout eccentricity that the world (and even San Francisco) barely tolerates anymore. (1:13) Act I and II, Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
*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) Albany, Opera Plaza, Presidio. (Goldberg)
*'Benning x 2 + 27' See Critic's Choice. San Francisco Cinematheque.
Deep Throat Many viewers who've seen the excellent new documentary Inside Deep Throat probably never got to see the film it's about. Thanks to the Roxie Cinema, here's your big chance. Nobody ever claimed Deep Throat was a good movie (except Al Goldstein), and it sure hasn't aged well: the production values are on the level of 1960s grindhouse "nudie-cuties," the sex is unattractively photographed, and a fair number of the performers are, well, unattractive. Still, this is a steaming hunk o' history; Birth of a Nation hasn't aged well either (for different reasons), and that, too, should be seen once. The original breakout porn flick and most profitable film ever (given its $25,000 budget) has Florida condo swinger Linda Lovelace (played by Linda Lovelace, née Boreman) dissatisfied because all her humping never leads to "bells ringing," i.e., orgasm. Just "little tingles." Dr. Young (a burlesque turn by Harry Reems, né Herbert Streicher) "untangles her tingle" by finding the source of the problem: Linda's clitoris is located not downstairs but upstairs, well down her throat. Scenes of our heroine suppressing her gag reflex to mind-bending degrees may well make you gag. Nonetheless, it remains impressive. Deep Throat is just one hour long, though it eventually feels more like two; its cheesiness is somewhat alleviated by the comic tone, which is much abetted by a soft rock-cum-schlock score that includes an immortal title song ("Deeper than deep your throat / Don't row the boat / Don't get your goat / That's all she wrote"). Now you can say you've actually seen a porn movie old school-style, on the big screen. At last life will feel complete. (1:01) Roxie. (Harvey)
*Dolls The Four Star's Spring Asian Film Series continues with this artsy 2002 entry from Takeshi Kitano (The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi), in which the director views his characters as living inhabitants of a Bunraku-doll theater world. Three stories are interwoven by the unseen puppet master: a one-eyed former pop star meets her most devoted fan; an elderly mobster searches for the woman he left behind and is amazed to find she still pines for him all these years later; and a pair known as the "bound beggars" silently drift though life, joined by a red cord and their troubled romantic past (she went nuts after he dumped her and nearly married his boss's daughter). Gorgeous landscapes, artful compositions, and striking Yohji Yamamoto costumes lend the moving (if slow-moving) Dolls a generous helping of style with all the human-relationship-drama substance. (1:44) Four Star. (Eddy)
The Great Conspiracy: The 9/11 News Special You Never Saw Canadian journalist and media critic Barrie Zwicker may never get the answers to his "questions the 9/11 commission and the mainstream media never asked" but he phrases them in ways that'll make even skeptics rethink the "official" 9/11 story. The straightforward Great Conspiracy foregoes Michael Moore-style infotainment, using talking heads (mostly Zwicker's) to delve into different points about 9/11 and the military actions that followed: why didn't any fighter jets intercept the hijacked planes? What did Bush know about 9/11, and when did he know it? Was 9/11 an inside job? What was up with the 9/11 Commission's findings, anyway? The Great Conspiracy's four Bay Area screenings benefit Northern California 9/11 Truth Alliance, and most important, since you'll surely have your own questions after you see the film all feature post-show discussions with Zwicker, Project Censored director Peter Phillips, and other experts. (:44) Grand Lake, Guild Theater, Herbst Theatre, Odd Fellows Hall. (Eddy)