Film Arts Festival
The 21st annual Film Arts Festival of Independent Cinema runs Nov 3-9 at Kanbar Hall, Jewish Community Center, 3200 California, SF; Roxie Cinema (and Little Roxie), 3117 16th St, SF; Parkway Theater, 1834 Park, Oakl; Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St, San Rafael. For more information, call (415) 552-FILM; for tickets, go to www.filmarts.org. All times p.m. unless otherwise noted.
Kanbar Ballets Russes 7:30.
Roxie A Tale of Two Cities with "Reaching for Success: Graduation" 12:30. "Shorts: Love" (shorts program) 6. Just Say It: A Revolution in the Making with "Shorts: Art" 8. Women in Love 10. Blood, Sweat, and Glitter 11:30.
Little Roxie "Tilt(ed): Youth Media" (shorts program; free screening) noon.
Roxie Nuestra Familia with "November 1978" noon. Rancho California (Por Favor) with "Interstate" 1:45. In This Short Life with "Range" 3:30. Trespassing 5:45. Wellstone! with "Hush" 8:20. Come Fly With Me Nude with "Ringo" 10:30.
Roxie "Shorts: Collections" noon. Romántico 2. Prospect with "Voices Carry" 4:10. 62 Years and 6500 Miles Between with "Letter Never Sent" and "Devil's Teeth" 6:15. I Am a Sex Addict with "Tales of Mere Existence" 8.
Parkway Scared New World with "Raising the Roof" 7.
International Latino Film Festival
The ninth annual International Latino Film Festival Bay Area runs Nov 4-20 throughout the Bay Area. This week's venue is the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF. For a complete schedule and tickets (most shows $6-10), go to www.latinofilmfestival.org; tickets may also be purchased by calling (415) 392-4400. For commentary, see "Short Cuts," page 44. All times p.m. unless otherwise noted.
Castro Tapas 7. Cazuza: Time Doesn't Stop 9:30.
Castro I am Cuba, the Siberian Mammoth noon. Traveling with Che Guevara 2. Cachimba 4:45. "Tribute to John Leguizamo": Sueño 7:30. Stories of Disenchantment 10:10.
Castro Nazi Gold in Argentina noon. To Die in San Hilario 2. A Buddha 4:15. "Director's Night": Love for Rent 7. Palermo Hollywood: A Tale from Buenos Aires 10:30.
*Ballets Russes See "Passionate Loves" page 41. (1:48) Embarcadero.
Chicken Little Disney computer-animates the fable of the apocalyptic li'l chick (voiced by Zach Braff). (1:15) Grand Lake, Shattuck.
*Jarhead See Movie Clock. (1:45) California, Presidio.
NBT Never Been Thawed Tick, tick, tick, diiiiiing! The mockumentary form has already expired from exhaustion, and this feature didn't notice in time to avoid being stale on arrival. It's an attempted Christopher Guest-style, improv-based ensemble comedy joynt focused on an eccentric-pathetic "community." Or rather two: (a) People who collect "mint" frozen foods, just like baseball cards or action figures (albeit ones in need of constant refrigeration), plus (b) Christian rockers and their fans. NBT strains for wackiness too obviously to be either very funny or convincingly "mock," even stooping to a leg-humping-dog gag. (Methinks that has been done before.) There are a couple of snicker-producing moments, but in general, director, star, and cowriter Sean Anderson's first feature takes such a smug-yet-lowbrow attitude toward its caricatured "dork" characters it will leave you feeling offended for both Jesus-friendly musicians and, well, even for frozen entrees. They too deserve their dignity! (1:27) Act I and II, Lumiere. (Harvey)
*Paradise Now See "Waiting for Palestine," page 44. (1:30) Lumiere.
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) Roxie. (Huston)
The Californians Gavin Ransom (Noah Wyle) is Marin County's leading builder of garish monster homes on pristine headlands. He's accustomed to rubber-stamp approvals from city supervisors who can afford to ignore irate constituents like his own furiously pro-environment sibling Olive (Illeana Douglas). But Gavin's business fortunes begin to turn one day, improbably driven by the protesting anthems of sub-Ani DiFranco warbler Zoe (Kate Mara). Her silken voice and child-of-wheat-grass beauty enrapture Olive and Gavin both, creating an ugly new sibling rivalry. Writer-director Jonathan Parker (who'd previously done the smart update Bartleby, with Crispin Glover) is also a controversial real-life Bay Area developer à la Gavin. For a while, this modern spin on Henry James's The Bostonians (substituting environmentalism for women's suffrage) deftly spoofs both his own capitalist ilk and their pious, hemp-wearing foes. But too soon it begins losing satirical edge, making a series of self-defeating choices. The most curious is its downplay of Olive's sexuality it's 2005, why not just make her an out lesbian? But far worse is the eventual presentation of Zoe's insipid vocals, blandly hooky tunes, and überbabe-backstage-at-a-Phish-show persona as a combo that might actually enchant. When a character this close to caricature sings "I hear Mother Nature cry" and you're still not sure whether to laugh or not, something has definitely gone wrong. (1:31) Galaxy. (Harvey)*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, Piedmont, 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) Galaxy. (Harvey)
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. (Eddy)
Doom The best thing about Doom is that it's rated R, which means there's cussin' and bloodlettin' aplenty. Also, Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings' Eomer) is dreamy. But any fool looking for plot or character development (beyond descriptive Marines-issue nicknames, à la "the Kid" and "Reaper") would be better off reading the back of a cereal box. Based on the hit video game, and directed by testosterone-ifier Andrjez Bartkowiak (Cradle 2 the Grave), Doom is made up chiefly of gun battles in dark hallways, some of which happen to be on Mars. Besides Urban and a couple of minor characters who get squished early on, the Rock is the only cast member who's remotely convincing as a Marine (he also delivers all the corny one-liners: "Semper fi, motherfucker!"). Which is to say, this squad of supposedly elite forces includes a greasy-haired lech who announces midmission, "I gotta take a dump!" In its last third, Doom abandons all pretense of being an actual movie and goes into big-screen video game mode, resulting in what must be the most ludicrous series of POV shots ever filmed. (1:35) 1000 Van Ness, Kabuki. (Eddy)
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) 1000 Van Ness, Kabuki. (Koh)
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. (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) Four Star, Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (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, Kabuki, Shattuck. (Eddy)
*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)
*Grizzly Man The cold reaches of the Kodiak archipelago touch the heart of German filmmaking legend and Grizzly Man documentarian Werner Herzog, who presents the fascinating life and gruesome death of self-styled grizzly expert, wildlife preservationist, and ex-actor Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell lived for five seasons, without a gun, with his beloved bears, in Alaska's Katmai National Park and Reserve, extensively videotaping his own life and his wildlife for a nature series before he was killed and devoured along with his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, in 2003. Herzog has shot his share of nonnarrative cinematic poetry, but he refrains in Grizzly Man, giving the fascinating story of the late activist, would-be nature-doc star, and wannabe grizzly a wide, respectful berth, as if he wanted to allow the slumbering beast within Treadwell to come out and caper on film. To that end he uses extensive video shot by the self-made grizzly expert, of himself and his animals, permitting them the space and air they seem to demand. The rest of Grizzly Man is shaped through interviews with Treadwell's friends and skeptical observers who viewed the naturalist as insane and/or naïve in his violation of the unspoken boundaries between animals and humans. (1:43) Smith Rafael. (Chun)
*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, 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, Four Star, 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) Opera Plaza. (Goldberg)
*Kamikaze Girls Tetsuya Nakashima's endlessly entertaining comedy follows the opposites-attract friendship that develops between two teenage girls: Momoko (Kyoko Fukada), who dresses like Bo Peep and longs to live in 18th-century France ("Life then was like candy!"), and Ichiko (Anna Tsuchiya), a tough "Yanki" who spits, delivers impulsive head-butts, and rides with a gang called the Ponytails. The movie's breakneck pace begins with frame one just try to resist a movie that kicks off with a cartoon hell-on-wheels type declaring, "My bike ignites!" before ripping into rock 'n' roll and never lets up, shooting off on tangents to explain Momoko and Ichiko's backstories; peppering scenes with music and animation; popping in a dream sequence or two; and creating a world where fierce embroidery skills make one impervious to harm, even when surrounded by weapons-toting bikers who mean business. (1:43) Lumiere. (Eddy)
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang The first directorial feature from Shane Black once the highly paid writer of action-comedy schlock, including the genre's Rosetta stone, Lethal Weapon is presumably the more "personal" and "character-driven" project he really wanted to do all along. The pilot snarkster here is Robert Downey Jr., whose protagonist, Harry Lockhart, starts freezing frames and cutely covering Black's ass ("I apologize. That was a terrible scene") in voice-over narration from the very first moment. He's a thief who haplessly flees from a crime scene into an audition, ending up in LA as a possible Next Big Thing. Harry's "detective lessons" for his prospective big-break part pair him with a PI known as Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) because he's gay. (Like that trait would be so distinguishing in LA.) On a routine stakeout, they witness a crime whose further investigation develops into a convoluted pileup of female corpses, hired killers (who make up most of the film's ethnic-minority casting), tail-chasing (narrative and otherwise), chases, shootings, and muchas whatnotas. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang even the title is derivative, coined for an obscure '60s Italian exploitation film and then borrowed by Pauline Kael for her first review collection is so glossy its $15 million "indie" shine almost hurts. The movie primarily means to be witty, but when it stoops, it limbo-dances about as low as you can go. (1:43) California, Metreon. (Harvey)
The Legend of Zorro You know a movie is in trouble when it fails to stack up against its own parodies. While watching the latest celluloid escapades of Latin America's greatest folk hero, I couldn't get that Simpsons episode where Homer goes around glove-slapping people and demanding "satisfaction" out of my head. It also doesn't help that our hero himself, Antonio Banderas, was infinitely more engaging as a Zorro-esque kitty in Shrek 2. Heck, even Zorro's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) thinks it's time he hung up his sword. But he's too busy ensuring California's smooth transition to statehood, reigning in his adorable rapscallion of a son, and saving the entire US of A from the nefarious plots of a ludicrous secret society (sort of al-Qaeda meets the Priory of Sion). This is being billed as a film to delight the whole family, and if yours enjoys copious groin blows, pipe-smoking horses, and good old-fashioned jingoism, it won't be let down. But the stuff of legends, boys and girls, this ain't. (2:06) 1000 Van Ness, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Shattuck. (Devereaux)
*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)
Make It Funky! It goes without saying that a very dark cloud hangs over this filmed-in-2004 celebration of New Orleans music. Though it's impossible to forget the Big Easy's recent devastation (fittingly, proceeds from these Roxie screenings will benefit Louisiana Rebirth), Michael Murphy's polished, upbeat doc captures the energy of a city that literally marches to the beat of its own drummer. A massive concert featuring the Dirty Dozen Band, Irma Thomas, several Neville brothers, and many more anchors Make It Funky's journey through New Orleans's multicultural musical history. There are sidebars dedicated to legends Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong, and others; the spectacularly costumed Mardi Gras Indians; and the importance of music in breaking down racial barriers during the civil rights era. Though some off moments pepper the film I realize Keith Richards is a rock god, and that he digs New Orleans, but does he gotta sing about it? the music, and the city's unique spirit, speaks for itself. (1:49) Roxie. (Eddy)
*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. (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, Opera Plaza. (Eddy)
Nine Lives Paul Haggis's overrated Crash, and now Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her director Rodrigo García's Nine Lives, really have me appreciating Paul Thomas Anderson. It always seemed so easy to tag PT as a Robert Altman follower, but the lesser directors reveal just how contrived Altman's trademark long take-vignette style can appear in unthinking hands. The star-studded Nine Lives comprises nine short windows into women trapped by their bodies, their pasts, their secrets, etc. The action again takes place in and around Los Angeles (as does Crash, as does Altman's Short Cuts), and the vignettes again overlap in characters and dribbling talk of "connectedness." There are a couple of strong scenes here (especially the one in which Robin Wright Penn runs into an old flame on a dizzying walk around the supermarket), and the one-take-per-vignette style is admittedly dramatic, but it all feels too neatly tied to be anything more than a setup. (1:45) Albany, Opera Plaza. (Goldberg)
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) 1000 Van Ness, Kabuki, Presidio. (Eddy)
Prime I think I saw this episode of Sex and the City; it's the one about mid-30s women dating twentysomething guys. Actually, Prime is a much longer, more tortuous take on the topic, without the catchy theme song and gratuitous fashion. Thirty-seven-year-old Rafi (Uma Thurman) has just finalized her divorce and is starting over with the encouragement of her therapist, Lisa (Meryl Streep, whose perky hair and loud outfits do their own acting). Meanwhile, a young guy named Dave (Bryan Greenberg) charms the pants off Rafi. Dave is 23 years old, Jewish, and an artist in that order, those are the character's only, constantly referenced traits. The couple pursues an Ashton-Demi romance, hindered by a mother that disapproves of Ben dating outside his religion. There's also some other endless stuff about being at different points in their lives (the dialogue in an excruciating scene of almost-impregnation made me feel vomity). One plot twist adds a little juice, but otherwise Thurman and Streep are stuck in writer-director Ben Younger's uninformed fantasy of what a woman wants. (1:39) 1000 Van Ness, Presidio. (Koh)
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) Four Star. (Eddy)
Quality of Life Local filmmaker Benjamin Morgan shot this genuine indie in the Mission District, following two young graffiti whizzes (Lane Garrison and cowriter Brian Burnam) after they're arrested for "bombing": One goes straight, the other continues tagging, despite the city's tendency to treat graffiti artists like armed robbers. "This city is covered in bullshit!" one boy rages. "What gives them the right to jam that bullshit down my throat?" So he decides to jam his bs down theirs by combing the blighted, decaying industrial side of San Francisco to create beauty in the wasteland: In one desolate, lovely, long shot, a warehouse spread of graffiti resembles a field of wildflowers. The film's social conscience and persecuted-artist theme focused on the "quality of life" statute's draconian antigraffiti penalties lumpily cohere with the acting-exercise feel of the dramatic bits, which ramp up to an implausibly overwrought climax. Though six people are credited with the story, the film feels padded, and the carpet-to-carpet soundtrack of hip-hop/alt-darlings is relied on to do too much of the dramatic work. But when it comes to capturing a specific milieu and subculture, Morgan, a former social worker, and Burnam, a quondam street calligrapher, achieve authenticity. (1:25) Galaxy. (Amanatullah)
*Saw II Last year's Saw owed its surprise success not just to its creative brutality, but also to the slippery twists that let up only when the end credits began to roll. The sequel suffers a bit, then, because not only do you expect bigger, better, more bloodthirsty business you also anticipate the eventual last-act revelation. Also, vindictive cancer patient Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) seems less menacing this time, probably because he's on camera chatting with his new nemesis, Det. Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg), for half the movie. The killer's identity is certain, but what of the hapless victims targeted by Jigsaw's latest deadly morality lesson? This time there are more unwilling, unfortunate participants (a disparate group that includes Mathews's teenage son), and instead of a grimy room, their prison is a whole grimy house (it's The Real World: Torture Chamber!). The larger scale means Saw II is less tightly wound than its predecessor, and a little lower on the "Holy shit!" scale. However, the gruesome good stuff is all there eyeballs gouged, brains splattered, etc. and that's what we really care about, isn't it? (1:31) 1000 Van Ness, Metreon. (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) 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) Shattuck. (Annalee Newitz)
Shopgirl Steve Martin's novella gets the big-screen treatment courtesy of director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie), and the result is a mixed-bag look at modern i.e., highly complicated romance. Saks Fifth Avenue clerk Mirabelle (Claire Danes) drifts through her lonely Los Angeles life, filling her spare hours with charcoal drawings and vintage-clothes shopping (the latter is never shown in the film, but her budget wardrobe is 1950s-cool all the way). Very nearly simultaneously, she meets age-appropriate slacker Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) and older, wealthy commitment-phobe Ray (Martin). Ray takes her to swanky restaurants; Jeremy drags her to Universal CityWalk and asks socially inept questions: "Can I kiss you or what?" As the love triangle shifts and changes, Mirabelle is let down by her own expectations again and again (none-too-subtly telegraphed by Shopgirl's intrusive, often shrill score). This is probably Danes's strongest work since My So-Called Life let's just forget about Terminator 3, shall we? but even her performance can't overcome the inherent ickiness of the Mirabelle-Ray pairing. (1:44) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Eddy)
*The Squid and the Whale 'You'd like Kafka one of my predecessors," onetime literary prodigy Bernard (Jeff Daniels) informs eldest son Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), the perfect reflecting-mirror parrot for all Dad's pretensions. It's Park Slope, Brooklyn, 1986. Joan (Laura Linney) has finally realized that being Bernard's wife his third is hard labor no one should have to endure in a free society. Still, their separation hits 16-year-old Walt and 12-year-old Frank (Owen Kline) hard, with joint custody splitting loyalties as well as the week. Frank wisely chooses Mom as a more reliable port in a storm, while Walt, as usual, seeks shelter 'neath professorial Dad's enormous ego; both kids deal with the home-front crisis in variably alcoholic, masturbatory, and plagiarizing ways. Noah Baumbach (Mr. Jealousy) won awards for both writing and directing at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, and his film is X-Acto-knife-sharply observed and acted. Yet one leaves the theater as if leaving a cocktail party where dinner was mistakenly expected. The conversation is brilliant; the hors d'oeuvres are superb. But a slightly dazzled inebriation wears off too soon, leaving the viewer sober and unsated. (1:28) Bridge, Shattuck. (Harvey)
Stay Not that anyone was mistaking Marc Forster for an auteur, but Stay extinguishes any momentum the director may have had from Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland. I like plenty of implausible movies, but Stay is insulting in the way it doesn't have time for narrative coherence; the filmmaker is too busy addressing the questions of the universe to concern himself with a minor detail like audience involvement. A laconic Ewan McGregor plays Sam Foster, a psychologist who takes a plunge through the looking glass when he begins working with a young, suicidal artist (Ryan Gosling) who may actually already be dead. Identities blur and time slips in a hackneyed procession of computer-enhanced visual effects that put leads McGregor, Gosling, and Naomi Watts out to sea. By the fiery finish (which has already been flashily alluded to a dozen times Forster doesn't seem one for tact) none of the major characters know what's going on, and neither do we. This isn't the first time New York has been depicted as a dark world of "dreams and bones," but I'll be damned if Eyes Wide Shut doesn't seem a modest work next to Forster's masturbatory foray into sci-fi babble. (1:38) 1000 Van Ness. (Goldberg)
Steal Me "Your mother is a whore" would be a fact, not an insult, to 15-year-old Jake (Danny Alexander), a rail-hopper in search of his wayward mom. He ends up in a small town in Montana and befriends Tucker (Hunter Parrish), a local boy, after getting caught trying to steal his Jeep's radio. Jake is invited to Tucker's house and becomes a member of his family, but his klepto tendencies and unmoored Oedipal libido threaten his newly won idyllic domesticity. Aided by cinematographer Paul Ryan, who shoots rural Montana as though he were working for Terrence Malick, writer-director Melissa Painter shows off a sure, sensuous, and youthfully impatient style, but it seems like that's nearly all she has to give the film is more sketchy than thought-out, yet bloated beyond natural length, with way too many shots of happily cavorting teens in the wilderness. Yet Steal Me is sincerely felt, though airy, and the actors, especially Cara Seymour as Tucker's mom, are quite good. There's lyricism in the film, but little of it strays beyond that of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog, or stock indie-prettiness. The sincerity struggles for life against the vacuity. (1:35) Smith Rafael. (Amanatullah)
*Three ... Extremes A trio of Asia's most thrilling directors contribute to this anthology of unease. The feature-length version of Fruit Chan's Dumplings played at this year's San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, but even in shorter form it sets Three ... Extremes off on a path of gruesome delights. Bai Ling stars as a woman whose dumplings owe their youth-restoring properties to a taboo ingredient (lensed in brilliant crimson by Christopher Doyle). The creepy crunch-crunch-crunch of Dumplings bridges into Cut, in which Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy) checks in with his favorite theme revenge with the story of a film director and his wife who are taken hostage by an outraged background actor. Takashi Miike brings Three ... Extremes to a baffling close; his Box, about a circus performer turned novelist haunted by her dead twin sister, is eerily quiet and fantastically ambiguous. (1:58) Galaxy. (Eddy)
*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) Shattuck. (Devereaux)
*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, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Orinda. (Eddy)
Wasabi Tuna Perhaps the fewer words said about the good-natured and Logo-ready Wasabi Tuna the better. As a vehicle for a pre-TrimSpa Anna Nicole Smith, this is no The Girl Can't Help It, let alone a Seven Year Itch. As a movie set in West Hollywood that takes place on Halloween night, this comedy is just slightly scarier than the brain cell-deficient gay slasher pic Hellbent. We're talking about a film in which the chief merits are Antonio Sabato Jr.'s butt cheeks, exposed during a blink-length shower scene. Once again courting the gay ticket, Sabato Jr. stretches his dramatic talents to play ... a fitness trainer. An early scene in which he and an obsessive gym-cycling client trade hot-and-bothered glances is the funniest moment in this directorial debut by Lee Friedlander (no, not the famous photographer). As one of a few Anna Nicole impersonators, Alexis Arquette, declares, "A girl's gotta put food on the table," which might explain why her career has come to this. If you think Anna Nicole is camp, and you don't think she's overexposed, you'll probably think this is funny otherwise, stay away. (1:32) Galaxy. (Huston)
The Weather Man Apparently, the midlife crisis is still fascinating to somebody otherwise they wouldn't keep making films about it. Here we have David Spritz (Nicolas Cage), a Chicago weatherman whose grand swan dive into personal hell coincides with what would otherwise be a happy event: an audition for a gig at the nationally broadcast Hello America show. Smarmy and glib on camera, David's real life is marked by a Pulitzer-winning legend for a disapproving dad (Michael Caine); an estranged wife (Hope Davis) who openly hates him; and two unfortunate kids: troubled rebel Mike (About a Boy's Nicholas Hoult) and chunky preteen Shelly (Gemmenne de la Pena). Yes, the icy, inhospitable weather is used as a metaphor for all the unhappy lives contained in The Weather Man's milieu; there are also quirky diversions about David's pursuit of archery, his colorful way with foul language, and a recurring bit about angry viewers pelting him with fast food. Frankly, he's such a dour character, those McNugget missles are actually well earned. As we know, Cage does hangdog well; Caine is amusing (never has "camel toe" been so elegantly explained); and Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) directs with glossy visual flair. But The Weather Man, a film that's really about a hollow man, is never as profound as it wants to be. (1:42) 1000 Van Ness, Kabuki, Shattuck. (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) Roxie. (Harvey)
*Days of Heaven and Badlands See 8 Days a Week, page 60. (each film, 1:35). Castro.
Get Rid of Yourself The purpose of protest (specifically, the nonpeaceful variety) is outlined in Get Rid of Yourself, a new semidoc from the anticorporate (and thus ironically named) Bernadette Corporation. Footage of the July 2001 riots that erupted outside the G8 summit in Genoa, Italy mixes with shots of seaside vacationers; the two symbolically come together in one long shot of a beach umbrella set aflame. Anonymous voice-overs, in both French and English, shift from observational to philosophical, though the message is hardly straightforward; if you didn't have any sympathy for the so-called "Black Bloc" movement before watching Get Rid of Yourself, you may have no better understanding of these seemingly counter-productive protestors when it's all over. The avant-garde element is raised during scenes featuring actress Chloë Sevigny, seemingly filming herself rehearsing lines (many of which have appeared in the "real" narration) from a script about Black Bloc types: "Also, you can break open the gas tanks of motorbikes to make Molotov cocktails." The film's oddest moments come when shots of the crumbling World Trade Center towers are inserted seemingly at random; there's definitely an anticapitalist message being conveyed here, but the appropriation of those specific images feels somehow ill-advised. (:60) Artists' Television Access. (Eddy)
*'Sin in Soft Focus: Paramount Pre-Code' See Critic's Choice. Balboa.