The Californians A slick norCal developer (Noah Wyle) clashes with his environmentalist sister (Illeana Douglas) in this twist on Henry James' The Bostonians. (1:31) Galaxy.
Doom You love the video game now go see the Rock and Karl Urban kill, kill, kill in the movie. (1:35) Century 20, Century Plaza.
Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story Horse movies of the non-talking animal variety generally fall into two categories: a wild, "unrideable" equine requires taming (The Black Stallion), or a seemingly broken pony makes an against-all-odds comeback (Seabiscuit). Dreamer is firmly in the latter category and is an amiable, if completely clichéd, addition to the genre. Little workaholic Dakota Fanning plays Cale Crane, a pensive girl who bonds with Soñador, a horse trained by her father (Kurt Russell), after it breaks its leg in a race. Fanning easily out-acts Russell, who plays the gruff head of a crumbling Kentucky horse family (Elisabeth Shue is barely a character as Mom; only weather-beaten grandpa Kris Kristofferson can keep up with the girl). Cale's father subsequently loses his job, taking the horse as severance, and the family's future rests on his willingness to believe it can race again. Writer-director John Gatis (Coach Carter) is working on familiar sports-movie turf; in his hands, Dreamer has a nice understated flavor, though it never rises above the tried and true. (1:38) Century 20. (Koh)
Emmanuel's Gift Narrated by God, I mean Oprah Winfrey, this relentlessly uplifting doc from twin sisters Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern follows the story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who might be loosely described as the Lance Armstrong of Ghana. Born with a deformed leg into a culture that refuses to assist (or even acknowledge as human beings) its disabled citizens, who comprise 10 percent of the population, Yeboah was determined not to settle into his expected role as a roadside beggar. Instead, he used a grant from the San Diego-based Challenged Athletes Foundation to buy a bicycle, and set out on a 600-kilometer ride across Ghana. Emmanuel's Gift goes on to follow Yeboah's journeys to America (on one visit, he receives a prosthetic leg that allows him to walk without crutches), chat with other disabled athletes whose stories are no less astonishing, and chart Yeboah's efforts to convince Ghana's politicians and citizens to change their attitudes toward disabled people. Yeboah is certainly inspiring, but Lax and Stern's film offers no real challenge to 2005's other disabled-athletes doc, Murderball a no less eye-opening but far more entertaining take on similar subject matter. (1:20) Galaxy. (Eddy)
Garçon Stupide Loïc (Pierre Chatagny) is a gangly, getting-to-be-handsome 20-year-old Swiss lad who works in a chocolate factory by day and tricks with guys found on the Internet most nights. Seemingly estranged from his solidly bourgeois family, his primary relationship is a platonic, somewhat live-in one with grad student Marie (Natacha Koutchoumov). She tolerates her role as confidante-slash-mother-figure until the oversensitive yet tactless Loïc pushes her too far one day. Meanwhile he toys with another substitute parent in the form of nonsexual hookup Lionel (the film's director, Lionel Baier), who endlessly videotapes Loïc (keeping his own face off-camera) as the latter natters on and on, at one point announcing that being gay "was just a bad phase." Integrating pieces of an unusable old script with elements from his own life and Chatagny's a nonprofessional who'd simply petitioned the filmmaker to cast him, Baier's video-shot drama is sorta improvised, sorta autobiographical. It's also only sorta interesting, despite graphic sex scenes which constitute the only reason this movie is playing an art house near you. There's too much here of the pedestrian and the arbitrary, an aimlessness perversely underlined by big purple swatches of Rachmaninov. (1:34) Act I and II, Lumiere. (Harvey)
Loggerheads The quorum of TV-familiar actresses of a certain age given myriad opportunities to cry and look pensively maternal might well make you suspect writer-director Tim Kirkman's North Carolina-set first feature is a Lifetime network movie that's somehow strayed to art houses like a lost sheep. Grace (Bonnie Hunt) is back home with her elderly mother (Michael Learned) after rough times, determined to find the now-grown baby boy she'd been coerced to give up as an unwed 17-year-old. Meanwhile, suburban holy rollers Elizabeth (Tess Harper) and Robert (Chris Sarandon) deal variably with the nest left empty by their son's running away several years prior after he'd been discovered as a homo. And waify drifter Mark (Kip Pardue) lands in a beach town, drawn by the loggerhead turtles that make their way from shore to sea each night insert metaphorical significance here but happy enough to be taken in by hunky motel owner George (Michael Kelly). While the time- and location-crisscrossing structure takes a while to clarify, there are few real surprises in an earnest drama whose instructive lessons re: Christianity, AIDS, homosexuality, and adoption feel virtuous but a bit pat on arrival. This is a nice, case-pleading if sudsy and style-free movie. Take mom (or grandma) to a matinee; you'll all feel a little closer afterward. (1:33) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Harvey)
North Country With dowdy wig, late-1980s fashions, and Minne-soh-ta accent firmly in place, North Country star Charlize Theron proves her Monster triumph was no fluke. Though Niki Caro's follow-up to Whale Rider is hardly perfection violations include aggressive tear-jerking it's a solid drama that often resembles Erin Brockovich in tale and tone. After fleeing her abusive husband, Josey (Theron) moves back in with her parents (Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek) with small daughter and sullen teenage son in tow. To her Dad's disgust, Josey follows the advice of a friend (Frances McDormand) and seeks out a job at the local steel mine, the only place for miles around that pays a decent wage. Josey soon finds that working shoulder-to-shoulder with raging misogynists is hardly worth the money she so desperately needs. As the abuse escalates and the film's general atmosphere of hostility intensifies, Josey takes a cue from Anita Hill and decides to sue the company. Caro avoids making all men evil by tossing a few good eggs into the mix (including Woody Harrelson as the lawyer who takes Josey's case), but the film is still exceedingly heavy-handed I'm not kidding about the tear-jerking. Still, there's an integrity at work here (plus, you can't beat the cast, and the cinematography is outstanding) that keeps North Country from dissolving into movie-of-the-week territory. (2:10) Century 20, Century Plaza, Orinda, Presidio. (Eddy)
*Proteus: A Nineteenth Century Vision David Lebrun's eccentric documentary, centered on the 19th-century German biologist, evolutionary theorist, and artist Ernst Haeckel, is brain food that goes down like brain candy. Starting with Haeckel's obsession with radiolarians he discovered, classified, painted, and lithographed over 4,000 varieties of these single-celled protozoan plankton in the conviction that their glasslike silica exoskeletons were works of art the film branches outward to tackle the marriage of science and art, the place of god in a Darwinist universe, the 19th-century euphoria over scientific breakthroughs, and Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Its wide scope and obsessive spirit help lift it above the usual PBS fodder, but what really does the trick are the limited animations of Haeckel's radiolarian lithographs the intricate wee beasties seem to caper by in flashes. Further in this vein is "Tanka," the Lebrun short accompanying Proteus, consisting of photographs of Tibetan scroll paintings fed into an optical printer, creating an animated sojourn through the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Watching it is like reading the scrolls by strobe light while in the midst of a seizure. In other words, thrilling. (1:01) Roxie. (Amanatullah)
*Sequins Trapped in a dreary small-town existence, teenager Claire (Lola Neymark) considers her options, which grow increasingly limited as her secretly pregnant belly grows (her parents don't know, the baby's father is persona non grata, and her friends at the supermarket where she toils are convinced she has cancer). Her one talent is embroidery, and it's a dazzling one; the work she does is as glittery and full of promise as her life is not until she comes under the tutelage of a local seamstress (Ariane Ascaride), herself in need of new hope in the wake of her son's death in a scooter accident. Not much "happens" in Sequins, but it's a charmer nonetheless; cowriter and director Eleonore Faucher gets to heartfelt without detouring through melodrama, thanks in no small part to Neymark's understated performance. (1:28) Balboa. (Eddy)*The Squid and the Whale See Movie Clock. (1:28) Bridge.
Stay Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) directs this surreal psychological thriller about a shrink (Ewan McGregor) and his suicidal patient (Ryan Gosling). (1:38) Century 20, Century Plaza, Shattuck.
Wait Till You're Older Why wait for a film festival to see a brand-new Hong Kong flick? The Four Star feeds your Andy Lau needs with Teddy Chan's Wait Till You're Older, which is kind of Big meets Renovate My Family meets Rip Van Winkle. Troublemaking grade schooler Kwong tortures his stepmother with rubber spiders and backtalk; he also runs away from home with alarming frequency, requiring his father to bribe him with cash to return. His dream is to be a grown-up so he can escape his family, woo his favorite teacher, and bolster the confidence of his basketball-playing best friend. Cue the neighborhood mad scientist, whose aging potion turns li'l Kwong into adult Lau; he then ages from twentysomething to eightysomething over the next few days. His childhood forever lost, Kwong soon realizes his one crucial task: to mend his shattered family before he crumbles away into dust. This earnest exercise is hardly among Lau's greatest efforts (see: Infernal Affairs, Love on a Diet, etc.), but it does ably deliver one's recommended daily allowance of cheese and Canto-pop. (1:45) Four Star. (Eddy)
Where the Truth Lies Atom Egoyan: O brother, where art thou? Get outta there! The once-remarkable talent that climaxed with Exotica over a decade ago has been mostly firing blanks since, most recently via the turgid, misconceived Ararat. This is his most "Hollywood" project to date, and it's a dud "erotic thriller" that reeks of stale cheese. Lanny (Kevin Bacon) and Vince (Colin Firth) were, Martin and Lewis-style, the "most beloved entertainers" in '50s America even if their comedy act, glimpsed in flashbacks to a late-decade telethon, wouldn't have been funny in that or any other era. Then they split up. Fifteen years later, aspiring journalist Karen (Alison Lohman, whose performance almost singlehandedly sinks an already-waterlogged ship) pursues and, naturally, seduces both estranged partners to unlock the "mystery" of why a girl (Rachel Blanchard) was found dead in their heterosexually shared hotel suite (?!?) way back when. This movie is based on a novel by Rupert Holmes, which may well be as sharp as Felicia's Journey was before Egoyan ruined William Trevor's story on-screen. Eventually good for some unintentional laughs, the entirely bogus Truth goes so far awry it actually makes room for retro-sinister bisexuality, a bad-trip sequence scored to "White Rabbit," and the portentous line "I would never see her alive again." The naked three-way that supposedly earned Truth an NC-17 is so nonhappening it isn't worth your prurient bother; this is quite possibly the dumbest mainstream sexy movie with delusions of edginess since Madonna's Body of Evidence. (1:46) California, Lumiere. (Harvey)
Zombie Honeymoon Newlyweds Denise (Tracy Coogan) and Danny (Graham Sibley) are sunning on a beach when a grotesque man-thing lumbers up out of the surf, attacks Danny, ralphs some nasty gunk into his screaming pie-hole, and promptly expires. So does Danny at the hospital afterward, his EKG flatlining for 10 whole minutes at which point he just "wakes up," feeling strangely fine. Except for the must-eat-human-flesh urge, that is. Dave Gebroe's outré indie isn't really the black comedy or genre spoof one might expect though either of those options might have worked better. Instead it's a bloody but curiously serious, even sentimental, metaphor for the love that refuses to die. Cronenberg's The Fly pulled this off fairly well, but that was Cronenberg; when Gebroe combines one part Cannibal Holocaust with one part Tristan and Isolde, the twain don't quite meet. (1:28) Red Vic. (Harvey)
*The 40-Year-Old Virgin Though Wedding Crashers has its moments of Vince-Vaughn-and-maple-syrup goodness, fellow R-rated comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin boasts more laughs and way more insta-classic moments. Freaks and Geeks guru Judd Apatow makes his feature-directing debut, with a script cowritten by star Steve Carell (The Daily Show). It's all there in the title: Andy (Carell) has never done the deed; he's so blandly nice that an acquaintance is moved to observe, "I'm pretty sure he's a serial murderer." After they discover his secret, Andy's well-meaning coworkers (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, and Seth Rogan) attempt to steer him into debauchery, leading to comic high points involving porn, apple bongs, manscaping, and the following advice on how to talk to a woman: "Be David Caruso in Jade!" Of course, as it turns out, Andy doesn't really need their help, winning over single mom Trish (Catherine Keener) despite his blatant dorkiness. Though Virgin eventually reaches a predictable climax, the path it takes to get there crude enough to include puke humor, random enough for a running Michael McDonald joke, and guffaw-inducing throughout is well worth it. (2:00) 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)*2046 Once upon a time in Wong Kar-wai-ville, at the end of a movie called Days of Being Wild which would turn out to be the beginning of a now-completed trilogy of movies about loving and leaving and the lingering memory of Hong Kong circa 1962 actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai suddenly appeared onscreen. The movie was almost over, but Leung who was quite a well-known Hong Kong actor at the time had only just arrived. No one at the time could quite figure out where Leung's character, or indeed where Days of Being Wild's writer and director, had come from. Nearly a decade later, Wong finally found himself in the mood to revisit the story. Leung (as a tabloid scribe named Chow) and Cheung (as a lonely wife named Su Li-zhen who lives next door) came back with him, as brokenhearted neighbors in a brokenhearted rhapsody called In the Mood for Love. Now, and possibly forever, they're back again, in what may well be Wong's magnum opus. In 2046, Chow's smoldering but unreturned love for Su escapes and expands across fragments of time and the excruciating beauty of wide-screen space and resolves, somewhere between a future-shock space opera and a curdled-memory remix of the far-too-recent past, into one of the greatest love stories the movies have ever known. (2:07) Four Star. (Stephens)
The Aristocrats Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette's extended riff on a joke that's a secret handshake of sorts in the stand-up world is cast-of-hundreds inclusive. Yet it's also uncomfortably skewed: A few Whoopi bits aside, Chris Rock is about the only nonwhite performer, and he's the only one who doesn't seem to be enjoying himself in the closing-credits outtakes. The Aristocrats can be uproarious, and there are off-the-cuff high jinks aplenty, from Rip Taylor's migrating red wig to Fred Willard's Victorian dandy impersonation. But why no Mo'Nique, Wanda Sykes, or Dave Chapelle, when Carrot Top and Emo Phillips are allowed (if only for a few seconds) to stink up the screen? The absence is especially notable since Jillette repeatedly notes the joke's best renditions involve the type of improvisation mastered by John Coltrane. The title of The Aristocrats is also the punch line of an obscene joke detailing a family's showbiz act, it has its roots in vaudeville, but you could easily argue it's indebted to the Marquis de Sade, who was all about detailing the perverse proclivities of the privileged classes. Of course, de Sade isn't as funny as Gilbert Gottfried, whose version at a roast for a leathery and discomfited Hugh Hefner inspired this doc. (1:26) Oaks. (Huston)
*Capote Truman Capote's life resists easy summary, so it's appealing that the first Hollywood biopic on the author ignores formula and turns one agonizing chapter of his life into an opportunity for an essay. Though Capote is based on the 1988 Gerard Clarke biography, Bennett Miller's film actually has a lot more in common with Janet Malcolm's 1990 The Journalist and the Murderer (a relationship the filmmakers also acknowledge). It's not so much a story of Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as the illustration of the question Malcolm so artfully dodged: What, really, do journalists owe their subjects? In this case, what did the glittering Capote owe the two killers who lent him their life stories for his nonfiction "novel"? Hints of the hundred separate movies that could be made from Capote's life emerge in key details: The scarf he rattles like a saber in Kansas's cop HQ calls to mind the family warfare that accompanied his growing up gay in the '30s and '40s; the bottle of booze he doesn't seem to leave home without foreshadows a grim decline. This film makes a wonderful habit of entering ensemble scenes midsentence, creating a vérité feel without the sea-sickening camera, and it's hard to find fault with the casting: Catherine Keener, gently butch as the conscience of the film, Harper Lee, nails Capote's alter ego and "research assistant," hired for her ability to steward the writer into Holcomb, Kan.'s housewives' hearts. (1:50) Clay, Empire, Shattuck. (Gerhard)
*The Constant Gardener With Ralph Fiennes as its star, rather than, say, Tom Hanks, the film version of John le Carré's 2000 novel, The Constant Gardener, isn't likely to be as popular an entertainment as it could have been. Which is everybody's loss: This is a very good movie almost any post-teenage viewer could enjoy, and within its classic framework of life-love lost and avenged, excellent points are made about how the world really works. Fiennes plays Justin Quayle, a British civil servant posted to Kenya, where he upholds the standard of international diplomacy by maintaining a polite smile, turning a blind eye, and privately wishing one could do something for these people. Storming into his quiet life with placards afire is Tessa (Rachel Weisz), the kind of borderline obnoxious but indomitable child-of-bourgeois-liberal-activist who actually does get things done. We know from very early on that she ends up raped, murdered, and burned in an ambush on a rural road, presumably for pushing her activist sleuthing. Gardener charts Justin's attempts to find out who ordered her death and why, intercutting that quest with flashbacks to their relationship. In his English-language debut, director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) creates a thoroughly accomplished work that manages old-school plot intrigue, conventional romance, globe-trotting location work, and a heavyweight cast with ease. (2:08) Empire, Galaxy, Grand Lake, Kabuki. (Harvey)
*Darwin's Nightmare Let me tell you a story about a fish. If filmmaker Hubert Sauper were a fabulist instead of a documentarian, that might be how Darwin's Nightmare would begin. Instead it opens with the ominous shadow of a jumbo cargo plane over the troubled waters of Tanzania's Lake Victoria, birthplace of the Nile. Music surges on the soundtrack, and we know we're in trouble. Sauper is tracking one particular kind of trouble a chain reaction set off nearly a half-century ago when a nonnative fish, known as the Nile perch, got dumped into Lake Victoria. A ravenous predator, it proceeded to eat everything in sight. Omnivorous and cannibalistic, the Nile perch is destroying the ecosystem of the lake. Anyone who smells an allegory has a good nose: Nonnative Russian pilots fly giant planes loaded with Nile perch back to Europe as famine besets Tanzania. Villagers move to the lake to catch Nile perch to sell. Fishermen contract AIDS and die. Widows move to the lake to work as prostitutes. Preachers fish for souls and bury bodies but won't advise using condoms. The human ecosystem is ravaged. Darwin's Nightmare is a whodunnit, but it's also a passionate plea for the endangered soul of humanity. Pacing his chronicle with minimal intertitles that supply the facts, Sauper has enough heart to build his story on the ground, chock full of memorable characters and savvy local informants to narrate the tragedy. (1:47) Balboa, Smith Rafael. (B. Ruby Rich)
Domino Here's the thing: Domino might've been a hella cool movie, circa 1995. A decade later, its ADD editing, faux-Tarantino posturing, and dipped-in-urine color scheme are not only dated, they're kinda boring. Keira Knightley stars as the title character in this very loosely based-on-reality story of a Beverly Hills brat who becomes a bounty hunter. Knightley snarls prettily, but that ain't reason to care about her character especially for two-plus hours, and especially when she's supposed to be anchoring a needlessly complicated plot (the screenplay is by Donnie Darko's Richard Kelly; Man on Fire's Tony Scott directs). The trouble starts when Domino and her posse (Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez) are sent to hunt down a quartet of robbers who've jacked a casino boss's millions. Mistaken identity, the Mafia, unrequited love, Las Vegas, a random lap dance, a randomer five minutes featuring Tom Waits, and a reality show hosted by former Beverly Hills, 90210 pinups Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green (playing themselves; Christopher Walken cameos as their producer) create a cacophony from which Domino never escapes though a scene featuring Mo'Nique (who plays a crooked DMV employee) taking over the Jerry Springer Show is pretty frickin' hilarious, if totally extraneous. (2:08) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Century Plaza, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Elizabethtown "There's a difference between a failure and a fiasco," humiliated shoe designer Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) explains early in Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown, before adding, "A fiasco is a disaster of mythic proportions." I don't know if "mythic" applies to Elizabethtown, but unsuspecting audiences may benefit from a certain amount of disaster preparedness. The movie starts off kinda Jerry Maguire: When Drew's sneaker project bombs, he's fired from his Nike-like company and promptly plots an elaborate suicide. Then Crowe goes all Garden State, dispatching the morose lad to Elizabethtown, Ky., after his father unexpectedly dies. (A spontaneous romance between Drew and Kirsten Dunst's flight attendant is the film's eventual focal point, and it's a cringe-worthy one). Though the overhyped Bloom couldn't be blander here, Elizabethtown is ultimately defeated by Crowe's sappy script and meandering direction. The filmmaker may be skilled at crafting memorable moments (Lloyd Dobler and his boom box), catchphrases ("Show me the money!"), and mining success from uniquely personal stories (Almost Famous). But while Elizabethtown is also based on Crowe's life, its trite plot and broad themes (reconnecting with family, discovering what's really important) are pretty ho-hum compared to, say, a teenage journalist hanging with rock stars. (1:47) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Century Plaza, Kabuki, Presidio, Shattuck. (Eddy)
Everything Is Illuminated Frodo as 8 1/2-era Marcello Mastroianni? First-time director, SF native, and evident '60s-film buff Liev Schreiber evokes zanily surreal mid-period Fellini in his quest to capture the full meta-mania of Jonathan Safran Foer's debut novel. In his role as a young Jewish American writer named Jonathan Safran Foer in search of the Ukrainian woman who saved his grandfather during World War II, Elijah Wood plays the attractive if stylized foil in a suit and horn-rims (weirdly resembling Mastroianni, Harold Lloyd, and Wood's Sin City psychopath, but who can resist turning the ring-bearer into an icon?) to the cast of quirk-ridden characters encountered back in the old country. Among the latter, Gogol Bordello frontperson Eugene Hutz stands out adding welcome humor and the scrappy texture of reality as a wannabe b-boy translator. Visually striking moments abound in this ambitious adaptation, but do moments add up to a strong narrative when it comes to this erratic feature, one that obviously places such value in the loaded, cathartic power of storytelling? (1:42) Albany, Opera Plaza. (Chun)
Flightplan Jacked-up Lifetime mom Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) faces not just stranger danger but also terrorism when her six-year-old daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), implausibly vanishes aboard a jumbo jet. The small family is traveling from Berlin to New York with a tragic mission: to bury Dad, whose coffin is loaded into the plane's belly as Julia solemnly watches. Director Robert Schwentke, working from a script by Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) and Peter A. Dowling, foreshadows gleefully, playing off travel fears in the manner of another recent in-flight thriller, Red Eye. When Julia goes missing, Kyle a propulsion engineer who conveniently knows her way around the gigantic plane's every nook and cranny goes ballistic, demanding the captain (Sean Bean) allow her free reign to search. He's willing to help, at least until the question of whether or not Julia was even aboard in the first place is raised; a snippy air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard) and throngs of anxious passengers only make matters worse. Flightplan's reasonably tense first 80-odd minutes are compromised less by its expected twist than by its ridiculous epilogue, which tenders the ham-handed suggestion that we can all get along despite a little "turbulence" along the way, of course. (1:28) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Century Plaza, Kabuki, Shattuck. (Eddy)
The Fog Far scarier than this so-so remake is the fact that it even got made in the first place. Apparently, there really are no original ideas left though, gosh, fog technology sure has come a long way since 1980. An Oregon island community idyllic enough to spawn lookers Tom Welling, Maggie Grace, and Selma Blair hides a dark past (here's a hint: lepers!), and when the you-know-what rolls in extra thick one creepy night, it's payback time. This new version spends more time explaining the town's backstory, always a little fuzzy in the original, but adds lame modern touches like a video-phone linkup for lighthouse DJ Stevie (Blair, the only cast member with a pulse). After Assault on Precinct 13, this is 2005's second remake of a John Carpenter film; meanwhile, the genre genius has been MIA since 2001's Ghosts of Mars. Better make something soon, sir, or Hollywood'll have nothing to rip off in 2030. (1:37) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Century Plaza, Kabuki. (Eddy)
*The Goebbels Experiment As a key early Hitler supporter and Germany's minister of propaganda from 1933 to 1945, Joseph Goebbels was hugely important in shaping the people's enthusiastic compliance in what would soon be considered the most loathsome regime in history. This striking documentary by Lutz Hachmeister and Michael Kloft is assembled from lesser-seen archival footage that chronologically charts its subject's saga from well-heeled, well-educated if sickly youth to a career that wielded extraordinary power and broke sophisticated new ground in using mass media to shape the public will (or the public ignorance, when preferable). Among many fascinating moments here is when Goebbels his diary entries read by Kenneth Branagh, who hasn't given a better film performance in years sneers at a British propagandistic film's clumsiness, since the ones he oversaw for Germany achieved a state of nonstop rabble-rousing climax. We also hear him complain about Triumph of the Will director Leni Riefenstahl's (offscreen) "lunatic histrionics," dismiss Churchill as a "revolting fat beast," and so forth. A true believer in the Social Democratic "German Revolution," and a fierce anti-Semite and stirring orator, Goebbels was also full of private competitiveness, resentment, and neurosis, often giving in to self-pitying depression at the slightest hurdle. If you saw Downfall, you know that as Allied forces raided Berlin, he and his wife took the lives of their six children before taking their own. If you see Experiment, you'll understand the personality that could consider such unfathomably extreme actions a natural endpoint in patriotic duty. (1:47) Roxie. (Harvey)
*Good Night, and Good Luck As Good Night, and Good Luck opens, Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) rips into an audience that has gathered to honor him at a 1958 Radio and Television News Directors Association gala. George Clooney (who also directs) and Grand Heslov's script stays true to Murrow's real-life speech, a searing indictment of television's shift toward fluffy programming, as well as the networks' increasingly close ties to advertisers. Were he alive today, Murrow would no doubt have additional thoughts about the 21st-century version of "this weapon"; in particular he'd probably take issue with the 24-hour-news culture, which favors sensational nuggets over in-depth stories. Good Night is a Murrow biopic of sorts, but it focuses on the specific events surrounding March 9, 1954, when Murrow's See It Now program dared to take on Sen. Joseph McCarthy at the height of the Red Scare. Director Clooney takes his cue from this moment in television history, using real film clips and plucking Murrow's on-air dialogue from transcripts. The result is a period-authentic, eerily resonant snapshot of a time when national security issues could trump the rights of individuals, and fear kept most Americans woefully silent. (1:30) Albany, Embarcadero, Orinda, Piedmont. (Eddy)
The Gospel The story of wresting faith from the wildernesses of the world is certainly one that bears repeating. From Augustine on down to Kanye, it's this account of self-discovery that renders religion most human and knowable. Writer-director Rob Hardy evokes the narrative in his film The Gospel, but in such a limp way that the movie seems a different breed altogether. David Taylor (Boris Kodjoe) is the estranged son who's gone from his father's pulpit to the bling-bling of the R&B charts; once Papa gets sick, though, David is slowly (very, very slowly) drawn back into the church. If it sounds like an MTV-style after-school special, well, that's pretty close to the mark. Throw in a couple of dizzyingly edited gospel sequences, and you've got your movie. So why am I so irked by this painfully average melodrama? Precisely because there's such rich material in this story. So many R&B legends (Gaye, Green, and Cooke for starters) went through David's struggle, and there's more suspense and confused passion in one breath of their music than there is in all of The Gospel. (1:45) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20. (Goldberg)
Green Street Hooligans Unfairly chucked out of Harvard, a young American (Elijah Wood) crosses the Atlantic and falls in with a "firm" of football hooligans led by his brother-in-law (Charlie Hunnam). That firm is the GSE (Green Street Elite, fan-gang for West Ham United's team the Hammers), a fight club for yobbos who get bigger existential kicks from brawling with opposing firms than from watching football. Wood uses the pervy hint in his overripe cherub's face to convincingly play a lost sheep that runs with wolves and eventually becomes one, and Hunnam gives the picture vitality even his wonky Cockney accent is an energy burst. Lexi Alexander, a quondam kickboxer, cowrote and directed; if you've ever wondered what a film made by a German kickboxing champ would look like, this jittery, vamping pounder is it. A sentimentally macho paean to the thrill of being in a screaming, bloodlusting, happily homosocial mob, Hooligans feels obligated to pay lip service to the costs of violence but celebrates the very relations that cause it; the film's crude buddy-values system (stand your ground and stick by your mates) can't foster genuine ambivalence. Despite the reality of firm hooliganism, the drama is vainly trumped-up. (1:49) Galaxy. (Amanatullah)
*Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque It's hard to overestimate the impact of Henri Langlois on film history even on the very existence of that concept. Starting out as an obsessed fan collecting, screening, and sometimes singlehandedly saving films, like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1936, he hid and protected an ever-growing store of fragile reels from the Nazis (who would have destroyed titles from Allied countries) through World War II, opening his first real (if tiny) theater a few years afterward. That venue one of very few places around the globe back then where you could view movies no longer in commercial release magnetized a generation of avid "students" who went on to comprise the French New Wave's directors (Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, et al), critics, and historians. Yet even as the portly Langlois was becoming recognized around the world as an educator and preservationist, his eccentric, even anarchic managerial methods created opponents who plotted to replace him with someone more politically cooperative. His attempted ouster in 1968 (just before the famous May uprisings) drew protestors, police confrontations (Godard got clubbed), and angry missives from international filmmakers. Twenty years after the 1977 heart attack that killed him, a fire shuttered his Musée du Cinéma an event that some thought proved government antipathy continued even after he passed away. "They killed him by exhausting him with vile administrative pettiness," one ally opines. Whether viewed as victim, visionary, or his own worst enemy, Langlois lived an extraordinary life that this jam-packed documentary (two hours edited down from a 210-minute original) summarizes in a fascinating, breakneck compilation of interviews and archival footage. (2:08) Roxie. (Harvey)
*A History of Violence Peel away an all-American facade, and you'll find a murderous gangster underneath: This message lurks throughout David Cronenberg's A History of Violence. The doc-like title of Cronenberg's latest (adapting a graphic novel of the same name) is par for a director whose vision has always been coolly antiseptic, and the first "big word" in its title is anathema to contemporary amnesia. Nonetheless, this lean and mean family tale has definite mainstream crossover appeal; Cronenberg's version of national allegory trumps Clint Eastwood's Mystic River, not least because it favors genre (Out of the Past, anyone?) and archetypes over bogus realism. From the Lynch-like diner small-talk about coffee and pie, to the foreboding, shiny black car slowly creeping into sunbathed golden settings, Americana fits the Canadian auteur like a surgical glove. The result is his best movie since Dead Ringers. There's a reason the name of History's protagonist, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), is so plain, so benign, though he's loathe to reveal it to wife Edie (Maria Bello), son Jack (Ashton Holmes), and daughter Sarah (Heidi Hayes). Mortensen's Mt. Rushmore of a face is the film's riddle, allowing a pair of wonderfully outsize Mafia turns by a sarcastic Ed Harris and a hilarious William Hurt to effectively steal scenes, if not lives. (1:35) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Metreon, Presidio. (Huston)
In Her Shoes It's a chick flick, sure, but In Her Shoes is actually meatier than most. Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) directs; Erin Brockovich scripter Susannah Grant adapts Jennifer Weiner's best seller; and Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, and Shirley MacLaine form the trio of women at its center. After a lifetime of picking up after her party-girl sister, Maggie (Diaz), plain-Jane lawyer Rose (Collette) finally puts her well-shod foot down when Sis pushes her too far. With nowhere else to go, Maggie tracks down the sisters' long-lost grandmother (MacLaine), who's living the Golden Girls life in Florida. Meanwhile, Rose decides she's had enough of the corporate world and finds a new job walking dogs; she also gets engaged to a devoted foodie (Mark Feuerstein), who inspires her to patch up her fractured family, which is divided not just by the Rose-Maggie feud, but the long-ago death of the girls' mentally ill mother. That tearful reconciliation will occur is never in question, but In Her Shoes digs in deep, facilitating relationships and characters that feel genuine. The acting is uniformly excellent, with poster girl Diaz displaying surprising range in the flashiest role. (2:10) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Century Plaza, Kabuki. (Eddy)
Innocent Voices By blending a tender coming-of-age story with an embittered account of war, Innocent Voices writer-director Luis Mandoki evokes El Salvador's brutal 12-year civil war by relentlessly tugging at the audience's heartstrings. Our inlet to the history is Chava, an 11-year-old boy who becomes man of the house when his father leaves the family to fend for itself in a village rife with gunfire. The US-trained army recruits boys at the age of 12, amplifying Chava's adolescent crossroads to mythic proportions. While the many slow-motion shots of the protagonist clutching his mother are overused to the point of contrivance, the relentless volley between pastoral scenes of village life and shattering moments of violence captures the harrowing reality of war for those caught in the crossfire. If Innocent Voices's narrative isn't strong enough to make the film a historical document, Mandoki's deep humanism infuses his work with courage and heart. (2:00) Embarcadero, Empire, Shattuck. (Goldberg)
Into the Blue Director John Stockwell (Blue Crush) sure does love a tropical paradise. In a movie like Into the Blue, which is full of more hot air than a fleet of inflatable rafts, the setting is particularly important. Without the Bahamas, there'd be no sunken treasure (represented by a downed plane stuffed with cocaine, as well as a gold-laden shipwreck), no opportunities for underwater emoting, and no Jessica Alba undulating in a bikini. Yep, this movie clearly knows it's vacuous, and feels no shame about it, so neither should you for enjoying its coconut oil-glazed silliness. Scott Caan gets most of the funny lines as leading himbo Paul Walker's goofy-asshole buddy; Josh Brolin gets a few (unintentional) laughs as Walker's asshole-asshole treasure-hunting rival. Also: sharks! (1:50) Galaxy. (Eddy)
Just Like Heaven The latest from director Mark Waters (Mean Girls) is pure fantasy and not just because it's about a lonely guy (Mark Ruffalo) who falls in love with the restless spirit of a woman (Reese Witherspoon) whose apartment he has just begun subletting. Sure, the romance is far-fetched (and indebted to Ghost, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and every other supernatural love story ever filmed), but the real fantasy here is the apartment itself: enormous, gorgeous, and blessed with a private roof that affords the kind of San Francisco views that only gazillionaire city dwellers dare to dream about. Of course, the metaphysically mismatched couple is so cornball and adorable, so cosmically meant to be together (screw your living will, darling!) that it's almost enough to let certain suspension-of-disbelief elements slide. As an occult bookstore clerk with "the gift," Napoleon Dynamite star Jon Heder casually swipes every scene he's in. Alas, his character is one of precious few offbeat elements that distinguish Just Like Heaven from Witherspoon vehicles past. (1:41) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20. (Eddy)
*Los Angeles Plays Itself The narrator of Thom Andersen's new movie has a chip the size of Los Angeles on his shoulder. Make no mistake: I mean Los Angeles, not LA. During a brief, potent passage that browses the title credits of movies that have opted for common shorthand from William Friedkin's To Live and Die in LA to little-known cheapies such as L.A. Crackdown the gruff voice-over of Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself cringes at the practice of reducing a mammoth urban sprawl to a mere pair of initials. But there's more at play here than the difference between 2 letters and 10, and play is the operative word. Andersen's nearly three-hour documentary an epic yet personal attempt to visually rebuild a city that's been endlessly reduced and destroyed by Hollywood takes its title from another film that favors the diminutive term for Los Angeles, Fred Halsted's L.A. Plays Itself. In fact, Halsted's is a rare LA movie that Andersen likes; deeming it a "gay porn masterpiece," Andersen's narrator links it to nonhardcore experimental works and traces Halsted's lost-Eden sexual panorama, which spans from idyllic couplings among water bugs to rougher stuff in ghetto terrain. In contrast, the testimonial given by Los Angeles Plays Itself's narrator is a call to arms: It lands blows against Hollywood's historical and geographical mythmaking while celebrating those lesser-known filmmakers (such as Halsted) who have faithfully surveyed Los Angeles's landscape and inhabitants. (2:49) Roxie. (Huston)
*March of the Penguins Pity the emperor penguin. His name is glorious, but his lot in life as incredulously documented by Luc Jacquet and narrated with morbid amusement by Morgan Freeman is one of unrelenting duty and sacrifice. If social Darwinists love the traditional top-of-the-food-chain tale, only a true evolutionary thinker can really appreciate this one. Or a working parent. March of the Penguins has less in common with French adventures into animal kingdoms Microcosmos, Winged Migration than it does with the more moralizing cultural work of, say, Robert Flaherty. But it's still got to be the most beautifully filmed animal story of the year, in one of the landscapes most endangered by rapacious humanity: gorgeous mile after mile of frozen earth, with pastel skyscapes, brutal storms, and line after line of amazing, tuxedoed birds, devotedly marching in formation. (1:20) Four Star, Opera Plaza, Piedmont, Shattuck. (Gerhard)
*MirrorMask Even if you aren't familiar with any of MirrorMask's touchstones the work of Sandman's Neil Gaiman, who wrote the story; artist and frequent Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean, who directs; or any of the Jim Henson Company's darker, Kermit-free output (The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth) you can still dive headfirst into the film's fantasy world. Bored with her seemingly exotic life as a performer at the pocket-sized circus run by (groan) her parents, Helena (Stephanie Leonidas), dreams instead of being a boring, average teenager. When her mother (Gina McKee) falls suddenly ill, Helena travels into a world seemingly conjured by her own drawings, filled with off-kilter, Wonderland-Meets-Oz characters: sphinxes, giants, monkey birds, and masked jugglers. A dying-kingdom ticking clock (elements of The NeverEnding Story) and a particularly trippy Burt Bacharach interlude guide MirrorMask toward its fairy-tale conclusion, which springs no surprises equal to those conveyed by the film's truly unique visuals, a painterly mix of live action and animation. (1:41) Act I and II, Lumiere. (Eddy)
Oliver Twist Charles Dickens wrote with sarcastic rage about the gap between the haves and have-nots; in this new Gilded Age he's become our contemporary. But Roman Polanski's film doesn't have much of Dickens's vigor: Reviewers who congratulate themselves on pointing out personal resonances between Oliver's harrowing childhood and Polanski's own are compensating for this adaptation's lack of passion or personality. The film agreeably trots through the familiar story: Oliver (Barney Clark), fresh from the workhouse, falls into the fetid stinkhole of industrial-age London, joining a gang of pickpockets trained by the ratty, treacherous fence Fagin (Ben Kingsley). The film is beautifully made, and that's its first problem: the Masterpiece Theatre score, storybook sets, and overburnished lighting are too pretty and rob the tale of immediacy. Kingsley's grotty, shambling Fagin is more a bit of playacting than an actual performance, yet the film, atoning for the book's anti-Semitism, tries to soften and humanize the character, only managing to rob him of his power as part of a larger pattern of sapping Dickens' melodramatic iron. Despite Polanksi's missteps, in the hands of a gifted director the story remains a crowd-pleaser. Even after 160 years, the audience still claps when villainous Bill Sykes gets his comeuppance. (2:15) Galaxy. (Amanatullah)
The Overture Who knew the early-20th-century world of Thai music was so totally cutthroat? This fictional biopic, loosely based on the life of celebrated music master Luang Pradit Pairoh, offers a serious look at the World War II-era crackdown on Thai traditions, where new "cultural guidelines" outlawed anything deemed "outmoded and obsolete." This greatly affects Sorn (played as an old man by Adul Dulyarat), an esteemed performer and teacher whose famed skills on the Ranad Ek, or lead xylophone, make him a target for the new regime. The Overture's most dynamic scenes, however, come during its many flashbacks to Sorn's youth, as the prodigy (portrayed as a young man by Anuchit Saphanphong) realizes the full extent of his musical gifts thanks in no small part to a glowering archnemesis he encounters on the streets of Bangkok. Director Itthi-sunthorn Wichailak lenses both city and country scenes with lush beauty, but he's also prone to using melodramatic slo-mo whenever emotion runs high. The music, however, is undeniably majestic. (1:44) Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Proof Shakespeare in Love director John Madden reteams with that film's Oscar-winning star, Gwyneth Paltrow, for this cinematic take on the Pulitzer-winning play by David Auburn (who coadapted the screenplay with Rebecca Miller). Impressed yet? Fortunately, Proof feels hardly as overloaded and "actorly" as it could've been, even considering the rest of the cast is Anthony Hopkins (as a brilliant mathematician who struggles with madness), Hope Davis (as his uptight daughter, and sister to Paltrow's character, Catherine), and Jake Gyllenhaal (as a grad student and Catherine's sorta-boyfriend). Proof zeroes in on the double meaning of its title after the sisters' father dies, leaving behind an important mathematical discovery that may have actually been made by Catherine herself. Meanwhile, the dour, bitter Catherine struggles with the idea that if she shares her father's genius, she may also share his proclivity for mental illness. Devotees to the play may bristle at filmmaking liberties taken, but generally strong performances do make the big-screen Proof worthwhile. (1:39) Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Eddy)
Separate Lies The title may sound generic, but it's an accurate summation of this story of death in plush places, a low-key thriller of manners that becomes a modest and quietly satisfying tale of a tested marriage. A fatal hit-and-run accident in the Buckinghamshire countryside ensnares a stolid, well-off solicitor (Tom Wilkinson), his emotionally neglected wife (Emily Watson) and her affectless playboy lover (Rupert Everett) in a roundelay of guilt-transference and complicity. Who was behind the wheel? Who should confess and who should keep quiet? Separate Lies first seems like another exercise in civilized nastiness and beastly bourgeois hypocrisy, but it avoids petty misanthropy, instead treating even the trashiest characters with very old-fashioned humanism, so that when the screws are steadily tightened, each plot twist seems organic rather than just another hoop for the players to leap through. Making his directorial debut after having written Gosford Park, Julian Fellowes operates with finesse, but the film would be slight if Wilkinson and Watson weren't giving some of the best performances of their careers. (1:27) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Amanatullah)
*Serenity From the opening spaceship chase scene over a wild west planet, to the final showdown with scary, ultraviolent cannibals, Joss Whedon's Serenity delivers the kind of smarty-pants science fiction action his fans expect. Whether this movie spin-off of Whedon's cult SF-western TV series, Firefly, will work for the Star Wars and War of the Worlds crowds is another matter. Exciting and well-written, Serenity isn't exactly a special-effects extravaganza. Instead, it's a character study of a small group of renegades whose revolution was crushed by the wealthy, imperial Alliance (a mishmash of the former US and Chinese governments) several years before the film begins. On the frontiers of known space, the crew of the ship Serenity is lead by former rebel leader Capt. Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his first officer, Zoe (the amazing Gina Torres). They've become outlaws to survive. But their thieving goes awry when Malcolm decides to steer the crew on a final and possibly fatal mission to undermine the social controls of the Alliance. In the process, they'll solve the mystery of Serenity's most mysterious crew member, a psychic, superpowerful young woman named River whose brain was modified by Alliance doctors. Fun, action-packed, and full of bizarre future-Mandarin curses, Serenity is sure to please anyone who likes adventure stories with brains. (1:59) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Kabuki, Shattuck. (Annalee Newitz)
*Thumbsucker "Sensitive" masculine coming-of-age quandaries are found in Mike Mills's Thumbsucker, a likable, pointedly critical American snapshot that nonetheless illustrates the current somewhat immature? US indie tendency to cling to liberal milieus rather than infiltrate conservative ones. Given Mills's fondness for silly slogan T-shirts, black-hair-by-Clairol teen sirens, and off-kilter characters Keanu Reeves's New Age dentist is a genius stroke of cameo star-casting he has a kinship of sorts with Miranda July. There's something potentially radical about a thumbsucking main man, though Mills never really investigates the psychosexual aspects of the first addiction favored by ADHD high-schooler Justin (Lou Pucci) beyond father-substitute Reeves's assertion that he's found a replacement for Mom's breast. Television and psychopharmaceuticals are the two main targets Mills takes aim at from a postrecovery vantage point. Thankfully, he's too irreverent to be righteous, letting wisecracks and Justin's debate-club travels prove his points. (1:36) Opera Plaza. (Huston)
*Tim Burton's Corpse Bride God bless Tim Burton, the ever-lovin' freak. Just when you thought he'd become completely immersed in the tar pit-like sap of Big Fish or encased in the sickly hard candy shell of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he emerges like a stop-motion butterfly with this visually stunning, thoroughly winsome fable. And he manages to rescue Johnny Depp (at least his vocal chords) in the process. Not since the Depp-Burton love-match Edward Scissorhands has the director displayed such a knack for conjuring Gothic morbidity leavened with a gentle, childlike sweetness. Depp plays sad-sack hero Victor Van Dort, whose resolve is even more precarious than his Skellington-esque spindly legs. He's meant to be the every-puppet in this scenario, but the surprising emotional core is the wistful Corpse Bride herself. Possessing the body of former Burton flame Lisa Marie (she's voiced by current squeeze Helena Bonham Carter) and adorned with blue Play-Doh Fun Factory hair and Courtney Love's (new) lips, she's a gorgeous-frightening misfit who just wants to be loved is that so wrong? Call her Bride of Scissorhands. (1:15) 1000 Van Ness, California, Century 20, Century Plaza, Grand Lake, Kabuki. (Devereaux)
Two for the Money Desperate for a morality play about a naive wunderkind and his greasy, Svengali-like mentor? Well, while you're waiting for that Netflix copy of Wall Street to arrive, this cautionary tale about the high-stakes world of sports-betting consultants should tide you over. Al Pacino plays "legal" gambling impresario Walter Abrams, a kind of 21st-century Gordon Gekko with a self-persecution complex (he's also in Gamblers Anonymous). Pacino is in full bug-eyed screaming mode, but costar Matthew McConaughey somehow still manages to out-chew him in a performance that can only be described as "hash-cocky" (picture Tom Cruise in Cocktail, only really, really baked). Full of action-packed TV-watching and covered in a rich patina of homoeroticism, Two for the Money is good for a few guffaws, but its '80s-soaked irrelevancy is sure to leave a bad taste in your mouth. Unless you're a big fan of wine coolers. (1:56) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Century Plaza, Kabuki. (Devereaux)
Waiting ... Writer-director Rob McKittrick's first feature is set during one afternoon-to-closing shift at Shenanigan's, a middlebrow eatery in the vein of Applebee's or Sizzler. This happens to be the first day for high school-aged trainee Mitch (John Francis Daley), whose nonplussed reactions are meant to underline just how the wild 'n' wacky the staff here is. They are led by snarky, underage-womanizing waiter Monty (Ryan Reynolds), his cynical onetime girlfriend Serena (Anna Faris), his nice-guy housemate Dean (Justin Long), plus the lesbian bartender, teenage wiggers, and various others, including two who are pretty much defined by being pee-shy and saying "fuck" a lot (respectively). This is a movie whose central running gag revolves around something called "the penis-showing game." At one point Faris calls the humor of all these twentysomething-going-on-twelve jackoffs "an exercise in retarded homophobic futility," and elsewhere muses, "If you guys go five minutes without referencing your genitals, I'll be amazed." Y'know, having a character nail the peurile lameness of your crushingly unfunny and derivative flick doesn't make its failings "ironical" just more pathetic. If you are old enough to get into the R-rated yet wholly juvenile Waiting ... alone, you're old enough to recall that even Porky's Revenge was better. (1:33) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20. (Harvey)
*Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit Aardman's adorable claymation heroes finally get their own full-length film, codirected by Steve Box and critter creator Nick Park. Though Were-Rabbit is hardly a transcendant work of cinematic greatness, it is the best kind of children's film, which is the kind that pleases kids and parents alike (as well as nonparental adults, though perhaps to a lesser degree). The overriding joke that the dog, Gromit, is smarter than the man, Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) serves Were-Rabbit's fanciful story well, as cheese-loving inventor Wallace accidentally transforms himself into the title monster on the eve of a giant-vegetable competition hosted by his carrot-haired crush (Helena Bonham-Carter, on an animated roll after Corpse Bride). Naturally, it's up to Gromit who can drive cars, handle power tools, and even fly airplanes, not to mention overcome his muteness with wryly evocative gestures and expressions to save his master from a gun-toting romantic rival (Ralph Fiennes). For maximum hare-raising, watch this film, then go home and read Bunnicula with the rugrats. (1:25) 1000 Van Ness, Balboa, California, Century 20, Century Plaza, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Orinda, Presidio. (Eddy)
The War Within The first American film to depict a suicide bomber living and working on our soil, Joseph Castelo's The War Within is a (sometimes depressingly) conventional drama, but after considering how easily its incendiary subject could have inspired agit-prop and sensationalism, the film's levelheaded sanity may seem like a godsend. And after enduring the oncoming slew of post-9/11 terrorist-themed films that exploit our insecurities or offer simple answers to messy problems, we might look back at The War Within with gratitude. Cowriter-star Ayad Akhtar portrays the bomber as a wholly modern-day terrorist: buttoned-down, well educated (in America), rootless, and motivated less by religious dogmatism than quasi-misanthropy. Yet beyond suggesting that torture radicalized this once liberal man, the film doesn't fully shade in his motives and mind-set, suggesting the bomber's ultimate unknowability and the limits on the filmmakers' talents. We're still waiting for a modern-day Dostoevsky or Conrad to anatomize the 21st-century terrorist, but this frighteningly relevant film should ease the wait. (1:40) Shattuck. (Amanatullah)
*Cat People Jacques Tourneur's 1942 Cat People comes out of the gate strong with a great title and deliciously absurd premise. Ibrena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) is a Serbian-born beauty who falls for American Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) in the streets of New York. Problem is, Ibrena believes she's under an old-country curse that transforms her from woman to panther whenever she gets, um, emotionally charged. Any horror movie worth its salt finds foundation in sexual repression, but it's a kick to watch director Tourneur and RKO producer Val Lewton actually make a movie about such Freudian angst. Cat People was the first film of Lewton's reign over RKO's horror unit and established the producer's playful style of making something from nothing; by indicating a monster's presence with a thickly stylized mise-en-scène rather than actually showing the beast, the producer leaves terror to the audience's imagination and saves a few bucks in the process. Tourneur was his best director, and the two would go on to release the rightly celebrated I Walked with a Zombie the following year before Tourneur went on to explore other genres (most successfully with his masterpiece of noir confusion, Out of the Past). Producers, directors, cinematographers, and screenwriters alike have much to learn from Cat People's crisp economy; as to the general audience, the pleasure is all ours. (1:13) Castro. (Goldberg)
'Chainsaw Mafia Horror Film Festival' See "Gore Gore Girl," page 49. Parkway.
Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove A minihorror convention you can do in one night, and get to see an actual movie besides, "Halloween Terrorama" presented by Bay Area Film Events is a perfect fit for anyone who's found plastic fangs a close personal friend in that voyage we call life. But you'll have to travel to the 'burbs for it scaaaary! Longtime fave Midwestern "creature feature" TV host the Ghoul (a.k.a. Ron Sweed) makes his first live Cali appearance, presiding over an evening featuring dealers selling genre memorabilia and "ghoulish contests" complete with presumably ghastly prizes. The main attraction, however, is the screening of Double-D Avenger auteur William Winckler's latest camp feature. Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove is a retro B&W drive-in cheesefest that sets the two monstas against each other, throwing in a Wolfman to boot. Disreputable-looking women strip and jiggle for no obvious reason, older people who don't look like actors don't act (capably) like them either, and the thespian roll call mercifully gets reduced every five minutes or so. Oh, the horror. Winckler, crew, and cast members will be present to entertain your questions and accept your kudos. Surprise them with a real opinion! They'll thank you for it! (2:00) Auctions by the Bay, Hyatt Cinema. (Harvey)
*Je T'aime Moi Non Plus (I Love You No More) See "Script Doctor," page 48. (1:30) Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
*'Peter Kubelka' See "Heart Core," page 47. PFA, San Francisco Cinematheque.
'United Nations Association Film Festival' See Critic's Choice. Stanford University.