Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Robert Avila, Kimberly Chun, Sabrina Crawford, Michelle Devereaux, Susan Gerhard, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Laurie Koh, Lynn Rapoport, and Chuck Stephens. The film intern is Jonathan L. Knapp. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. For first-run showtimes, see Movie Clock. Due to Presidents' Day, theater information was incomplete at press time.
Cowboy del Amor There's something satisfying in the totally unapologetic nature of Ivan Thompson, self-proclaimed "Cowboy Cupid" and the subject of Michele Ohayon's documentary Cowboy del Amor. After tiring of hard-to-please American women, Thompson sought and married a Mexican woman and started a business providing the same service to other lonely and frustrated American men. The film trails him as he takes three dejected American males across the border to find love. Thompson's politically incorrect rants about critics of his business ("social worker kinda people" and "women libbers") and informal, gruff language ("went over like horse poop in a punchbowl") make for some entertaining material to be sure, but Ohayon's overzealous attempts to legitimize her subject come off hollow and manipulative. She films the courtship scenes of Thompson's clients with a schmaltzy touch worthy of the basest reality TV. Thompson's attitudes may sometimes be hard to swallow, but Ohayan should recognize that he's charismatic enough to fend for himself. (1:27) (Knapp)
*CSA: Confederate States of America What if the Civil War had been won by the South? In this mock doc presented by Spike Lee, African American writer-director (and University of Kansas film professor) Kevin Willmott offers an astute, clever-yet-sobering take on what 21st-century American life might be like under Confederate leadership. Framed as a British doc being shown on American television (complete with faux commercial breaks cheerfully touting incredibly offensive products), CSA: Confederate States of America traces an alternate time line that includes "Dishonest Abe" Lincoln fleeing to Canada; "Dixie" becoming the national anthem; and, of course, slavery never being outlawed. Subtle tweaks (USA Today becomes CSA Today) back up more shocking historical revisions, including the CSA's support of Hitler during World War II. Using Ken Burnsstyle doc techniques (vintage photos coupled with actorly voice-overs), fake film clips, and talking-head interviews with experts and politicos (all played by actors), Willmott deftly depicts a society so stifled by prejudice that massive numbers have fled to "Red Canada." Though some of his speculation seems far-out (women never do get the right to vote), other elements of the racist, homophobic, anti-Semetic society ring disturbingly true: the CSA's focus on a rigid definition of "family values," for example, feels all too familiar. (1:29) Roxie. (Eddy)
Doogal Four animated critters (voiced by Daniel Tay, Jimmy Fallon, William H. Macy, and Whoopi Goldberg) band together to save the world from an evil sorcerer (Jon Stewart) in this G-rated adventure. (1:20)
*Fateless It seems beyond contention that Holocaust films form their own subgenre of war movies with both narrative and stylistic conventions informing cinematic depictions of Hitler's Final Solution. In Fateless, debut director Lajos Koltai (better known as a cinematographer) follows the basic "survivor's tale" narrative structure, films the concentration camps with a washed out palette, and includes many requisite images of hollowed eyes, mud, and corpses. Nonetheless, Fateless feels very much its own film, in large part due to a hauntingly elliptical narrative (the story, based on Imre Kertész's writing, follows a young Hungarian boy into the camps), as well as an arresting interplay between lyricism and horror. Koltai's film suggests that the very idea of a narrative's forward momentum is anathema to the reality of the camps; rather, Fateless rocks back and forth, stitching together reverie and moral testimony in the manner of Night and Fog and Primo Levi's indelible memoirs. While the film doesn't have any stand-out performances and the color compositions become tedious in their perfect uniformity, Koltai maintains an affecting dreamlike distance from his subject, rendering the Holocaust as one might remember it shadowy and inescapable. (2:20) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Goldberg)
Madea's Family Reunion Writer-director (and star, as the tough-talking granny) Tyler Perry returns with the follow-up to his hit Diary of a Mad Black Woman. (1:47)
"Oscar Shorts" Ensure your domination in your local Academy Awards pool by catching this program, which compiles all of this year's nominated live-action and animated shorts. Lumiere.
*Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea See "Brine-o-mite." (1:11) PFA, Red Vic, Smith Rafael.
Running Scared Paul Walker stars as a low-level mobster in this crime thriller from Wayne Kramer (The Cooler). (1:59)
Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth! See Trash. (1:15) Roxie.
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story See Pick box. (1:41) Smith Rafael.
*Be Here to Love Me: A Film about Townes Van Zandt Cards from a deck floating up toward the sky in the world of documentary, this image is poetic, but for a movie about the songwriter Townes Van Zandt, who died at the age of 52, it's apt. Some of Van Zandt's best friends thought he'd be gone a long time earlier: "I booked this gig 37 years ago," fellow musician Guy Clark joked at the funeral. A pledge pin that pierces the skin, Margaret Brown's Be Here to Love Me: A Film about Townes Van Zandt is more in tune with the dark heart of Van Zandt's songs than VH1's Behind the Music would ever be (not that it would cover him anyway). Because it's a true Southern tale of a family's bonds of love, substance abuse, and manic-depressive madness, Be Here to Love Me could be taken as a less-drama-queen cousin of Tarnation. If Brown isn't as free-associatively kinetic as Jonathan Caouette, she's still in tune visually with soul-rending songs like "Rake," not to mention imaginative enough to broadcast Van Zandt from a TV in the type of motel room where he loved to write or the type of shadowy bar where he loved to drink. (1:39) (Huston)
Big Momma's House 2 Depending on your viewpoint, Martin Lawrence's greatest asset or his greatest liability is his penchant for making a total ass of himself. Thus, Big Momma's House 2 does not disappoint. Like its predecessor, it allows Lawrence to proudly carry the torch of family-friendly blaxploitation and fatsploitation into the 21st century. Sure, the plot is simplistic and manipulative, but c'mon: It's a movie about an undercover FBI agent (Lawrence) who poses as an old, overweight black woman (Big Momma) playing nanny to a wealthy WASP family. When not channeling his female alter ego, Lawrence comes off as a drunken, mumbling mess. The jokes do occasionally misfire, as in an extended spa scene when Big Momma finds herself among barely clad Victoria's Secret models. But if you grow excited by the prospect of a fat-suited Lawrence gallivanting on the beach Bo Derekstyle (and how could you not?), there is more than enough cringe-inducing joy to go around. (1:38) (Knapp)
The Boys of Baraka After riding to his new school in rural Kenya, past villages of emaciated bodies and dilapidated huts, 12-year-old Devon says he's "happy to be around people just like me: poor and black." Devon comes from Baltimore, America's Charm City. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's documentary The Boys of Baraka tracks Devon and three other kids Montrey, Richard, and Romesh attending the Baraka School, which annually transplants 20 high-risk Baltimore youths into classrooms deep in the Kenyan bush. The four boys continually reveal their intelligence, wit, and drive despite bleak odds (76 percent of black male Baltimoreans never graduate high school). Their lives alternate between uplifting (one places highest on a Maryland statewide math exam) and heartbreaking (Richard has never seen his father outside a jail cell), and Ewing and Grady wisely show both sides of this pendulum. However, they skip over large stretches of time, focusing too heavily on the triumphs. There is indeed cause for optimism; when Richard says Baraka has changed his life, it's impossible to dismiss the sentiment. Yet even though Kenya provides a glimmer of hope for the boys, at the film's end Baltimore's run-down tenements remain as foreboding as ever. (1:24) Smith Rafael. (Knapp)
*Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain's succinct pitch "the gay cowboy movie" may be accurate enough, but it's really too simple a tag to hang on Ang Lee's gorgeous film. Adapted by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana from Annie Proulx's short story, Brokeback opens in 1963 Wyoming as two men seek a summer's worth of work tending sheep on an isolated mountain. The pair garrulous Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and taciturn Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) soon settle into a routine revolving around coyotes and campfires. Without much warning, after just a few sidelong glances you might notice just because you're waiting for 'em, the friendship becomes something more something entirely unfamiliar in the world of conventional westerns. When the summer ends, it seems the romance which breaks nearly every relationship taboo under Wyoming's big, conservative sky must too. As The Notebook, and Titanic, and a bajillion other movies and stories (starting with the likes of Romeo and Juliet) have taught us, it's much more thrilling and memorable when the happiness of the fated pair is threatened by towering obstacles. Those who'd shun this beautiful movie for its gay content couldn't be missing out more. If you must stick a label on Brokeback, you can call it the year's greatest love story and hold out hope that soon, you'll be able to call it Best Picture. (2:14) (Eddy)
*Caché With his perfectly self-satisfied pot belly poking from an upright, unselfconscious torso connected to the kind of stone face that obstructs emotion and deflects accusation, Daniel Auteuil as literary-critic-under-duress Georges Laurent in Michael Haneke's new chiller, Caché (Hidden) perfectly embodies a country, any country, clothing itself in victimization so it can numbly march itself off to war. Georges is the executive branch of a family that finds its life suddenly, creepily, observed. What we, the audience, see as the beginning of the film is one of Haneke's trademark fixed shots a clear, plain view of an unremarkable home in an upper-middle class neighborhood in Paris. What we don't realize is that we're not watching the movie, but a movie a tape given to the now-worried Georges and wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) that features nothing but ... themselves. Haneke has enjoyed placing his bourgeois characters in difficult situations (see also "apocalypse," "sadomasochism," "rape," "torture," and "murder" in films from the Euro-productions Time of the Wolf and The Piano Teacher on back to his Austrian filmmaking roots) and the director's well-honed habit of withholding information also serves this plot incredibly well. When Georges tries to hunt down his harasser himself, it's he who eventually squirms. What he is actually forced to face, but refuses, is his own guilty conscience. What nation-state ever has? (2:01) (Gerhard)
*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) (Gerhard)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Considering the strong affections and dreams of magic and power that children and adults have invested in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series, one wishes the makers of this initial installment had more confidence in their material. The thrill of having that somewhat unimaginable imaginary world visualized and embodied by charming actors like Georgie Henley, as Lucy Pevensie, and James McAvoy, as the faun Tumnus remains, though director Andrew Adamson's vision is disappointingly tame concerning this most fanciful of stories. Despite the seduction of the narrative and the veritable menagerie of well-animated unicorns, beavers, tigers, lions, and bears darting gracefully through the film the film's scope, from the initial scenes of the Pevensie children's drab WWII-era British reality to the sunlit, modestly ecstatic backdrop of Narnia, with its evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton) and talking critters (ably voiced by thespians like Liam Neeson, as the lion Aslan), is somewhat dismayingly conservative. Let's just say Disney and Adamson haven't partaken of the truly deep magic of Buñuel, Svankmajer, or Kubrick or even Jackson, Jeunet, or Lucas. And how else to explain the blatant cribbing from Lord of the Rings and Star Wars? All the hand-wringing about the subtextual Christian content aside (which for some reason doesn't glare when treated as just another mythical communiqué to Aslan's army), the tale still enchants. Just silence the rational mind and don't try to reconcile the presence of a wookiee-like creature and Father Christmas in the same film. (2:05) Red Vic. (Chun)
Curious George This is a story about George. He is always very curious. No, not about your private phone conversations. This George has considerably more sense, although he does like to stick his nose in places where it doesn't belong (usually sans warrant). He's darn cute nonetheless, and thankfully, in this Ron Howardproduced adaptation of H.A. and Margaret Rey's beloved stories, relatively unbuggered with. It's a shame that a pesky thing like narrative arc has to ruin his anarchic fun: specifically, the Man with the Yellow Hat (dubbed Ted and voiced by Will Ferrell) struggling to save the natural history museum where he works from being turned into a parking lot by the owner's son (David Cross, the perfect loser foil). He's also been a little sanitized for "modern" sensibilities (your favorite bit about George getting stoned on ether? MIA.) But the songs, by Jack Johnson, and animation, a mix of traditional 2D and 3D computer modeling, both perfectly capture the spirit of the books, and the allusions to King Kong (monkey brought back from the jungle to "terrorize" large city) are a kick. Bonus: no ongoing congressional inquiries. (1:37) 1000 Van Ness. (Devereaux)
Date Movie (1:20) 1000 Van Ness.
Duma Just when you thought the year of the wildlife documentary was over, with all those penguins and grizzly bears safely tucked into their DVD cases, along comes Duma, the sweet tale of a boy who journeys across South Africa to return his pet cheetah to the wild. Duma isn't a doc (though it is based on a true story), but it's firmly in the kid-friendly tradition of director Carroll Ballard's previous films The Black Stallion and Fly Away Home. On a more wholesome planet, Ballard's style of animal filmmaking for young audiences would be prevail not, as reality has it, the method that involves copious CGI, the droll voice of Bill Murray, and tie-in toys tucked into Happy Meals. Smaller tykes who're expecting Madagascar-type shenanigans and song stylings may be less than impressed, but older children (and their parents, as well as anyone without spawn who happens to enjoy a beautifully shot nature yarn) will have no trouble warming to Duma's charms. (1:40) Smith Rafael. (Eddy)
Eight Below First came Rin Tin Tin, the Olivier of canine thespians. That moneymaking hound was followed by Lassie, Benji, six Air Bud movies, and, in recent years, far too many pooches cuted up by CGI and celebrity voice casting. Old-fashioned doggie acting a triumph of both training and editing returns with Eight Below. Based on a true story, as well as the 1983 Japanese film Antarctica, Eight Below bills itself as "the most amazing story of survival, friendship, and adventure ever told" a strong statement, considering director Frank Marshall also made the plane-crash saga Alive. His latest film may lack cannibals, but it does boast adorable sled dogs, several veterans of the unfortunate Snow Dogs among them. Left to fend for themselves after "the biggest Antarctic storm in 20 years," the pups express confusion, grief, and determination with barks and knowing glances (if only the two-legged actors, including Paul "Ken Doll" Walker, emoted as effectively). They also fight a leopard seal, munch on a whale carcass, and refrain from devouring the first human that crosses their path after months in the wild. Alas, you'll have to watch The Thing which Eight Below slightly resembles in its opening moments to see anything so primal. (2:00) 1000 Van Ness, Kabuki. (Eddy)
*Final Destination 3 You know the drill: teen suddenly develops ESP, realizes a terrible accident is imminent, and yells loud enough to save a handful of people confounding death's predestined plan in the process. Each not-so-lucky survivor then meets his or her elaborately gruesome end. Final Destination uses this spooky set-up most effectively; nothing in the sequels has matched that film's exploding plane, nor its oddly inspired touches (like the "Rocky Mountain High" motif). The deliciously gory second entry tries awfully hard to make sense of the "death's design" theory, linking those who narrowly avoid a horrible highway pile-up (a diverse group that includes a mother and son, a cokehead, and a cop) to the teens who escaped the doomed flight, and bringing Ali Larter back from the first film to provide endless exposition and to suffer her own crispy demise. Though original director James Wong returns, Final Destination 3 suffers noticeably from stale-concept syndrome. This time around, a killer roller-coaster snatches a class of high school seniors off this mortal coil. The boring bunch of students who don't bite it at the amusement park are exterminated by the Grim Reaper's show-offy stunts (four words: death by tanning bed). A gimmick that involves the kids being able to tell how they'll die by looking at photographs taken before the coaster accident is convoluted and unnecessary, serving only to take up time between head-squashings. But oh, what head-squashings: worth the ten bucks, my fellow gorehounds. (1:32) 1000 Van Ness, Kabuki. (Eddy)
Firewall Harrison Ford, once the charismatic leading man who could smirk his way through any scenario, now has a leathery old mug frozen in a state of discomfort and disgust. Firewall, the latest entry in the geriatric action star phase of his career, attempts to capitalize on his current ornery persona but would benefit from some of the humorous spark of yesteryear. As bank security expert Jack Stanfield, Ford is all piss and vinegar, a grumpy old man who refuses to play ball when criminal Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) holds his wife (Virginia Madsen) and kids hostage in exchange for assistance in a bank heist. Bettany brings some much-needed charm to the whole affair, but he has little to work with least of all Ford. When Jack says to his adoring, boring wife, "I don't deserve you," it's hard not to agree with him and think, "True, and you don't deserve us either." (1:55) 1000 Van Ness, Kabuki. (Knapp)
Freedomland About halfway through this heavy-handed crime drama, the audience I saw it with began to squirm. Two-thirds of the way through, they began heckling the screen. Finally, with under 10 minutes to go, a gentleman at the front of the theater stood up, announced "This shit is wack!", and exited stage right with his entourage. Adapted by Richard Price from his novel, Freedomland aims to push buttons by exploring racial tensions between two neighboring New Jersey towns. A nervous white woman (Julianne Moore, vigorously unsympathetic) claims she's been carjacked while taking a shortcut through a mostly African American housing project. When she reveals that her young son was mistakenly spirited away in the stolen vehicle, the white town's cops go on red alert, blockading the black neighborhood much to the (completely understandable) outrage of its residents, as well as their usual ally on the force (Samuel L. Jackson). Anyone who's seen Law and Order will anticipate Freedomland's twists and pinpoint its red herrings with minimal difficulty, and will also wonder why Joe Roth's film, for all its movie star power, can't improve on the police-procedural formula that dominates prime time television. What's worse, its attempts at teaching a Very Important Lesson about racism come off as self-important, with the added turn-offs of an overlong build-up and too many blustery monologues. Mighty wack, indeed. (1:53) 1000 Van Ness, Kabuki. (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) (Eddy)
*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) Roxie. (Huston)
Hoodwinked One of the first independently made CG cartoon features, this "Little Red Riding Hood" take-off gropes toward the examples of Shrek and Shark Tale, adopting their use of celebrity casts and flip in-jokes for adults. Beginning near the fairy tale's end, with the Big Bad Wolf (Patrick Warburton) waiting for Red (Anne Hathaway) after having tied up Granny (Glenn Close), Hoodwinked deconstructs the familiar story into conflicting Rashomon-style accounts and cleverly integrates them to reveal a mystery tale ending in a BondMission Impossible parody climax. The graphics are mostly smooth though the human characters resemble perky garden gnomes but it would be unfair to hold them to the Pixar standard (or budget). As expected from its influences, Hoodwinked's humor is mostly derived from adult self-congratulation at the expense of the fairy tale and children. (Red, now a karate champ, asks the Wolf, "What do I have to do, get a restraining order?") But kids will be entertained enough to consider the film a second-class Shrek, while adults, despite several gruesome musical interludes, won't squirm too often. (1:21) (Ihsan Amanatullah)
Illusion Erstwhile Party of Five heartthrob Michael Goorjian has retained the soulful baby face and doe eyes that gazed so memorably at Neve Campbell every week. Illusion, which Goorjian cowrote, directed, and stars in, succeeds when plucking the strings of teenage melodrama but falters when turning to matters more serious than puppy love. As Hollywood director Donald Baines (a still-fiery Kirk Douglas) lies on his death bed, he laments never getting to know his illegitimate son, Christopher (Goorjian). Last-minute opportunity arrives when Stan (cowriter Ron Marasco), Donald's deceased former editor, visits from heaven with film reels of Christopher's life in hand. Donald watches his son, who lives in San Francisco, fall in love, go goth, and, most unbelievably, go to jail. As in SLC Punk!, the naturally likeable Goorjian shows he deserves a post-Party acting career. But, as a director, the Oakland native needs to earn the sentimentality he seems so anxious to embrace. (1:46) Four Star. (Knapp)
*Imagine Me and You It's a banner time for gay romance the universal kind where the duo just happen to be same-sex. In fact, the degayed version of Brokeback Mountain's poster seems to advertize that if viewers squint right, the film is downright straight as a red state line. With British romantic comedy Imagine Me and You, writer-director Ol Parker uses the tactic to refresh a genre that got played out the day Meg Ryan started to dabble in botox. On her wedding day, Rachel (Piper Perabo) and florist Luce (Lena Headey) experience an intense connection, and the two embark on a breathy, stomaches-a-flutter friendship in which Rachel must ultimately decide if she should follow her heart. She agonizes not over her sexuality, but rather, over hurting her sweet husband Heck (Matthew Goode). Parker doesn't give a flying crumpet that the overarching plot of his film is paint-by-numbers. Instead he expends his talent on dialogue and gesture, building Rachel and Luce's electric onscreen chemistry with playful vignettes. Peppered with wry supporting characters (minus Heck's sleazy friend), Imagine is fluff of the most enjoyable variety. (1:33) (Koh)
Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World Will someone please remind me why Albert Brooks is famous? The soft nebbish (to Woody's more hardcore version) writes, directs, and stars in the tepid Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, and with Albert as our guide, we're going to be looking for a long time. Brooks plays a dim-witted version of himself who accepts an invitation from the US government to research and report on what makes Muslims in India and Pakistan laugh. Completing the 500-page memorandum something Brooks can't stop kvetching about is the closest Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World comes to narrative thrust, and it's plainly not enough. All of the film's ineffectual one-liners can be seen in its trailer, and they're not any funnier in context. At one point in the film, Brooks bombs a stand-up performance in front of a large Indian crowd; it's supposed to be so-bad-it's-funny, but, alas, we're not laughing because as bad as the stand-up is, the film is even worse. (1:38) (Goldberg)
*The Matador There's a certain patness to actors we first grow used to via TV. For a quarter-century Pierce Brosnan has been agreeably but uninspirationally handsome, suave, rakish, a romance-novel notion of the leading man. Remington Steele and James Bond both fitted him like tailored suits beautifully, a bit stuffily while unrelated roles in various big- and small-screen films did little beyond underline his competence. Despite his recent very public grousing about being dropped from the Bond franchise, it's obvious he delights in upending that image here. Brosnan plays Julian Noble, an international hitman more than a bit fried after decades of first-class accomodations, whoring, drugging, and serious drinking. Stumbling onto the path of this sociopathic mess in Mexico City is über-square Denver businessman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear). Feeling friendly after a good day's capitalist deal-making, Danny opines "Margaritas taste better south of the border" at their hotel bar. "Yes, margaritas and cock," Julian ripostes. He's only pulling chain, of course (well, probably). The two go on to build an improbable friendship that looks to be (as Julian puts it) "the best cocktail story you ever met" until a second-act reunion that drops unicorn-exotic Julian into the incredibly squaresville environ of Danny and wife Bean (Hope Davis). Styled in sly-brash widescreen homage to earlier spy thrillers, hitherto undistinguished writer-director Richard Shepard's feature doesn't break from buddy-comedy genre conventions overall. But it's the details that matter, and here they're nuanced to a witty fine-point. The major pleasure remains Brosnan, who nails drunk, disorderly, disheveled, and desperate with a panache fully up to his character's admittance: "Look at me I'm a wreck, I'm a parody." A great one, at that. (1:36) 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)
*Match Point Italian opera is paired with those Windsor-font credits that Woody Allen has made a trademark at the beginning of Match Point just the first of many ironic instances in which the humane warmth of Verdi is used to frame the cold-blooded, if also tragic, social climbing of extennis pro Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). Scarcely 10 minutes into the movie, Wilton is already at Covent Garden watching a performance of La Traviata while his meal ticket, a plain girl named Chloe (Emily Mortimer), watches him. But Allen takes his title, the film's signature image of a ball floating back and forth across a net, and his core conceit that stupid luck outweighs good or evil from tennis. Ripley Serves might be an alternate title for the story of the Irish Wilton, who sees Chloe as a money mine, and struggling American actress Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson) as his real lust, if not love. Unfortunately, Nola is engaged to Chloe's affable brother, Tom (Matthew Goode), and quicker than you can say or read Henry James or Theodore Dreiser, the whole affair becomes dangerous. It might be an overstatement to say that Match Point is his best movie since Crimes and Misdemeanors, its most obvious counterpart in the Allen library. At times, Allen's screenplay is wince-inducing. But by far the most intriguing and effective aspect of Match Point is the bleak, fatalistic ricochet effect created by the rare lack of an obvious Allen surrogate amongst the quartet of young leads. (2:04) 1000 Van Ness. (Huston)
*Memoirs of a Geisha If you can get over the first stopper a blue-eyed non-hapa star geisha Sayuri with otherwise archetypally Asian coloring played by Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang chances are you might enjoy the old-fashioned Hollywood moviemaking propelling Memoirs of a Geisha. Sayuri is sold by her impoverished, crumbling peasant family into the servitude of an okiya, or geisha house. If she's lucky she'll be trained to be a maiko, or apprentice, then a geisha who, the script takes pains to point out (though dropping mixed messages), is an artist and entertainer, rather than a prostitute. When Hatsumono, the house's gorgeous money-making geisha (Gong Li, digging into her role like a spitting, tigerlike silent film icon), scuttles Sayuri's career, the girl finds hope in kind eyes of the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), a local captain of industry, and under the wing of Hatsumoto's rival geisha, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh). Considering Japan's longtime racial homogeneity and the fact that the casting reflects Western stereotypes about Asians "all looking alike," the dominance of Chinese actresses amid their Japanese male counterparts like Watanabe and Kiyoshi Kurosawa favorite Koji Yakusho (like Gong, dropping naturalism for operatic gestures) is puzzling, apart from predictable US box-office concerns. Still, Memoirs' Cinderella story should be comfortingly familiar for Western audiences, though the art-house success of Crouching Tiger and genre chops of Jet Li and company should allay any fears of middle America buying a major studio picture set in Japan after the box office seppuku committed by The Last Samurai. (2:07) Four Star. (Chun)
*Mrs. Henderson Presents Anglophiles, vaudeville aficionados, and admirers of sassy old ladies everywhere, rejoice: The gods of cinema have brought you a holiday gift. Based on the true story of an uppity, eccentric, wealthy widow who reopened a dilapidated theater in the late 1930s and turned London's West End on its head, Stephen Frears' Mrs. Henderson Presents is a refreshing break from the schmaltzy Christmas flicks and last-minute Oscar wannabes that typically plague movie theaters this time of year. Shining star Dame Judi Dench is phenomenal as Mrs. Henderson mixing razor-sharp wit, humor, stubborn upper-class arrogance, sensuality, and delicious impropriety into a quirky, laughable, lovable, and thoroughly human portrait of a woman audiences will feel they truly know. It's always a treat to see a leading role written for an actress in her golden years that isn't a woman dying of cancer or Alzheimer's. And in case anyone is wondering, Dench, like Mrs. Henderson, may be getting older, but she's still very much alive and kicking. (1:42) Oaks. (Crawford)
Munich It's already been a very good year for Steven Spielberg despite the best efforts of TomKat, War of the Worlds triumphed. But there's no alien storyline to provide any sort of allegory in Munich: here, the message is as up-front as it is mixed. Munich begins as terrorists take the Israeli team hostage at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and the ensuing massacre unfolds via increasingly horrifying flashbacks. The film's main story follows the "officially unofficial" Mossad agents (including Eric Bana as their leader) assigned to hunt down the Palestinians they hold responsible for the tragedy. For a time, the job runs smoothly. The Ocean's Eleven-ish motley crew (the old guy, the nervous guy, the sharp dresser, etc.) plots creative executions that unfold with intense suspense, largely due to the technological limitations of the 1970s (compare, say, Munich's iffy telephone bomb to the 21st-century hit carried out at Syriana's climax). While we're meant to identify with the Israeli characters, Spielberg is careful to show the Palestinian side, most notably through a minor character who gets to deliver a heartfelt speech about how "home is everything." Usually a dedicated crowd-pleaser, the director is stuck in a situation where he really can't designate good guys and bad guys, lest he end up with an offensive, insensitive film. Munich's message is basically this: The cycle of violence is neverending and it sure makes people feel bad. No news flash, that. (2:40) Kabuki. (Eddy)
Nanny McPhee As a movie about a magical nanny sent from above to tame naughty children, Nanny McPhee inevitably draws comparisons to Mary Poppins. However, Emma Thompson's nanny brings not a spoonful of sugar, but a spoonful of bubbling black bile. Thompson, who scripted the film and plays its titular character, envisions her domestic worker (based on Christianna Brand's Nurse Matilda books) as a benevolent, snaggletoothed witch with a sadistic streak. She does not aim to harm the children in her care, of course; this is, after all, a family fable. But, quite delightfully, she is not averse to giving them their comeuppance. As Nanny McPhee, Thompson does little besides glance knowingly through warts and untamed hairs. Fortunately, she has plenty of support: The children alternate believably between cute and cruel, Colin Firth and Kelly Macdonald are reliably charming, and grand dames Imelda Staunton and Angela Lansbury memorably fill their scant screen time. (1:37) (Knapp)
Neil Young: Heart of Gold Neil Young fans particularly those enraptured by his less-than-rock acoustic folk and rootsier modes will find their hearts a-flutter as the curtain rises on this concert film, clearly inspired more by The Last Waltz than Rust Never Sleeps. A dedicated music fiend from way back who regularly showcases his eclectic tastes, filmmaker Jonathan Demme barely touches on the aneurysm Young suffered before the filming at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium, and scarcely interviews the players, providing skeletal context for this show, which revels in the musical autumn of this folk-rock patriarch. For less-forgiving listeners, this gently nostalgic film will suffer from the tonal sameness of Young's recent album, Prairie Wind (Reprise), but the legend's contained yet still fiery attack, especially on older songs ranging from "Old King" to "The Needle and the Damage Done," still burns on contact. In keeping with the director's consistent cinematic leitmotif of using less-than-perfect, unique faces in his films, Demme piles on the close-ups: At times, he seems more interested in following intriguing faces at whatever moment, than following the music and shooting, say, whoever is playing the solo. On the other hand, watching Young live at Shoreline Amphitheatre, one can't always make out the performer's tortured snarl when he hits those high notes, or see the loving glances he exchanges with his wife Pegi (here joining Emmylou Harris on backup vocals). Those cast in a gold light that only the former Grand Ole Opry venue, and a musical legend, can conjure are here. (1:43) (Chun)
*The New World The John SmithPocahontas romance has long been a cornerstone of America's mythical landscape. Their doomed love speaks to how this paradise was won and then lost. It is a story that Terrence Malick a writer-director whose work has always sloped toward myth and, in The Thin Red Line, epic poetry has wanted to tap for decades and finally does in his strange new film. In The New World, Malick seems to have sacrificed clarity and control for the sake of spectacle. Still, he retains his formidable talent for grounding his characters in a specific geography, and he remains refreshingly concerned with their interiority. Few movie characters have souls as deep as Malick's. The writer-director's movies are all marked by a stark tension between hyperrealism and voice-over-laden stylization (a muted style being no less a style than a flashy one). So if The New World is a fascinating failure with brilliant flourishes weighing against strained seriousness and muddled lyricism and if the writer-director has finally stumbled, it proves what one might have guessed all along: that a Malick failure is many times more interesting than an average filmmaker's success. (2:15) Balboa, Presidio. (Goldberg)
*Night Watch Remember in the Matrix sequel when they trotted out all that jibba-jabba about how glitches in the matrix created ghosts, vampires, and other supernatural types and then delivered zero payoff? Enter Timur Bekmambetov's Night Watch, which ruled the Russian box office in 2004 but is just now opening Stateside (it's also the first in a trilogy; the last, yet-to-be-shot film will be filmed in English, apparently with Hollywood talent). Based on Sergei Lukyanenko's sci-fi novel, Night Watch imagines that lurking within the realms of boring old human existence subways, high-rise apartment buildings, public swimming pools are gifted beings who pledge allegiance (per a tense, centuries-old truce) to either the forces of light or dark. The story is a little more concerned with mythology and style than plot and character development, which works out just fine when it's about an enforcer for the light (Konstantin Khabensky) trying to avert the apocalypse while protecting a young boy earmarked as vampire bait. It's dark, it's gory, it features shape-shifting humanimals, and Khabensky is as dreamy-haggard as Keanu Reeves is dreamy-wooden. Bonus: Even the subtitles are cool. (1:54) Metreon. (Eddy)
The Pink Panther (1:32) Kabuki, Presidio.
*Pride and Prejudice Like the 12-bar blues and the facts of life, we all know how it goes, but precisely how do the particulars compare to our own internal Pride and Prejudices as well as, admit it, the definitive BBC miniseries with the wet-shirted Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy? Here, the crucial roles are fairly well filled: As Elizabeth, the bruised-eyed Keira Knightley is impish, girlish, and toothy, yet twinkly smart. Ape-draped MI-5 actor Matthew Macfadyen plays Darcy so low-down and subtle that he runs the risk of resembling a dot-mouthed cartoon, but when the time comes to confess his most ardent affections, he steps up and fills Firth's pantaloons, even if he has to channel Laurence Olivier's Heathcliff and stomp through the moors in what looks to be a bathrobe. Other roles are beautifully filled out by Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Tom Hollander, Judi Dench, and Jena Malone. Director Joe Wright favors a muddy, frizzy-haired, minimal-makeup naturalism, reminiscent of '60s-era reworkings of Penguin Classics, complete with zooming camera, an emphasis on daylight, pigs' testicles, and odd moments of modern-day randiness. Did Elizabeth really check out Wickham's ass in the book? (2:08) Four Star. (Chun)
Roving Mars Thanks to the combined efforts of, oddly, NASA, Walt Disney, and defense monolith Lockheed Martin, you can see the red planet up close and personal for the first time in IMAX super size. Except that is, that for the most part, you can't. Despite our best scientific efforts and millions of dollars, it seems that the only way we can get a close-up look at our nearest planetary neighbor, sadly, is still through CGI. Roving Mars starts off promising, tracking the buildup to the breakthrough mission that sent two robots to the Martian surface. But at the touchdown, just when it should be getting good, the film becomes a special effects minefield. The real Mars images are given short shrift with still photos shown only briefly in favor of sexier, slick, glossy, hypercolorized CG recreations (think Nova on steroids). It's too bad, because though often gritty and black and white, the pictures of the rocky, barren landscape are spectacular in their true otherworldliness and don't need the cosmetic surgery makeover. (:40) Metreon IMAX. (Crawford)
Something New A successful but tightly wound accounting firm bigwig (Sanaa Lathan) searches for what her girlfriends call the IBM ("ideal black man"), spurred on by the fact that 42.4 percent of black women have never been married. Through a blind date she not only meets a white guy (Simon Baker), but also finds herself reluctantly falling in love with him, much to the alarm of her friends and family ("Are you sneaking off to the OC?!" asks her incredulous brother). The ensuing arrival of an honest-to-God IBM (Blair Underwood) ensures further mayhem. Lest you presume the title accurate, Something New follows the standard romantic-comedy blueprint (meet, blow-up, fend off third party, reconcile) with depressingly schematic ease, grafting an overly talky anticultural separatism message onto the usual "follow your heart" fluff. Lathan can make even excess sobriety alluring, and music-video pro Sanaa Hamri gives her first feature a lush texture (though setting it among LA's opulent classes makes it easier to avoid the reason why IBMs are really hard to find: the crisis facing black men). You can sense a lot of talented people constrained by the genre, yet if the movie were more astringent about race relations it would forfeit its rom-com credentials and most of its chances at the box office. (1:40) 1000 Van Ness. (Amanatullah)
*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) Roxie, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)
*Syriana Inspired by Robert Baer's See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism, Syriana is a genuinely political thriller. It's an elaborate fiction very much in the mode of Traffic, writer-director Stephen Gaghan's last screenplay, but better, with a more self-effacing directorial style and less distracting star personalities. A paunched-out, credibly weary George Clooney plays CIA agent Bob, who facilitates speedy deaths for inconvenient people in the oil-rich Near East. His promised final assignment before desk-job retirement is to eliminate Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig), an emir's idealistic heir apparent who dares to give new drilling rights to the highest bidder a Chinese concern rather than to a Texas conglomerate. Meanwhile, Washington, DC, attorney Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) is expected to provide the Justice Department with enough evidence of corruption to punish the Texas corporation for some past dealings but not enough to disrupt business as usual. American energy analyst Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) becomes a close ally of the prince after a tragic accident pushes them together. And way down the economic totem pole, abruptly fired young energy-field grunt workers Wasim (Mazhar Munir) and Farooq (Sonnell Dadral) find moral enlightenment and some dangerous ideological zeal under a fundamentalist recruiter's wing. Apart from an occasional overblown speech, Syriana is engrossing, intelligent, well acted, and relevant enough to be the thinking lefty's movie of choice this season. (2:06) (Harvey)
*That Man: Peter Berlin Peter Berlin: Dutch Boy haircut and tight pants showcasing a horn o' plenty. The superior inspiration behind Owen "Butterscotch Stallion" Wilson's Hansel character in Zoolander. If you're a fan of the splendor of man, then entering the house of Berlin a shrine of self-tribute to an icon of sex is like going to Valhalla. Director Jim Tushinski makes the trip in the new documentary That Man: Peter Berlin, and what he emerges with is a bit surprising: a teasing and ultimately tender portrait of a modest, vain, playful, and stern youth. Who is Peter Berlin? He's a trailblazer from the burgeoning gay liberation era of the early '70s. He's the star of two feature films and the creator of hundreds of stylized photos that might even be able to teach Cocteau a thing or two about Narcissus. He's a legend of San Francisco for his street appearance alone. A caricature come to life, foolishly mistaken for a "dumb blond," Berlin is the epitome of that oft-mocked species, the male sex symbol. That Man has no shortage of important names and colorful commentators eager to sound off about Berlin: John Waters likens Berlin to the Jayne Mansfield of The Girl Can't Help It. Yet some of the best quotes come from the film's subject. Proud possessor of the kind of intelligence and wisdom that doesn't come from books, that man, whose picture could be placed in a dictionary next to the definition of narcissism, has plenty to say about subjects other than himself. (1:20) Castro. (Huston)
*The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada Time jumps, reverses, creeps, and generally surprises in movies written by Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams). When The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada's good, bad, and ugly trio rancher (Tommy Lee Jones), kidnapped border patrolman (Barry Pepper), and rotting dead friend (Julio Cesar Cedillo) cross the Texas-Mexico border and take a break at the shack that time forgot, an elderly gentleman kindly serves them inedible soup, then begs the men to euthanize him. They decline. Set in the gorgeous, thirsty landscapes of West TexasChihuahua, a story that should be something of a race against time turns into a patiently morbid meditation on place. Technically, the question of "where" at the heart of this film centers on the burial plot: Jones's Perkins goes on the lam to deliver the body of his unjustly killed employeebest friend to the man's mythic Mexican home. Perkins has other cargo besides the dead body: the trigger-happy patrolman who accidentally killed Melquiades, who, Perkins believes, needs an education regarding his crime. Director Jones plays Jones as well as he's ever played him, and in the first half, at least, Arriaga rearranges the sequence of events into his trademark brilliant confusions. The result is unexpected: methodical and thoughtful where it could have been paranoid and adrenaline-fueled, the film's sacred pace and silent sarcasm are right for a new West that feels older than ever. (2:01) (Gerhard)
Transamerica Good things do happen to (some) actors who wait. Felicity Huffman's work in various media was steady but little-noticed until Desperate Housewives caused instant celebrity. Her new status no doubt fanned critical-buzz flames around her very solid if unspectacular performance in this fairly solid but decidedly unspectacular indie drama. She plays Bree, formerly Stanley, Osbourne, a pre-op MTF transsexual who's dowdily Marian the Librarian rather than sexily superfemme. On the brink of final surgery, the LA transplant is improbably told by therapist Elizabeth Peña she won't be truly "ready" unless she deals with one remnant of masculine life unknown until just now: Teenage son Toby (Kevin Zegers). Arrested as a prostitute in NYC, he's somehow tracked down Bree as a bail source, unaware that, well, she's his father. They wind up making a coast-to-coast "transformative journey" that's uneven and anecdotal and funny-sad in fairly pat ways. The movie's earnestness reels off balance in the third act, when its protagonists meet the conservative-Christian parents Bree is estranged from with Fionnula Flanagan caricaturing the gorgon mother. While Huffman is fine in a role that (especially as cast with a woman) can't help but scream "award bait," Air Bud franchise survivor Zegers is equally impressive. Together they anchor a film that, as written and directed by Duncan Tucker, is pleasant and well-intentioned but somewhat pedestrian. (1:43) (Harvey)
Underworld: Evolution (1:46) 1000 Van Ness.
*Walk the Line It's worth mentioning right up front that Walk the Line doesn't really shake up the template set down by Ray, the recent Elvis miniseries, and any number of other true musical tales: Start with a significant childhood event (preferably traumatic) to set the tone, then let that sucker echo throughout the performer's life. Coscripted by director James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted) and Gill Dennis and based on two Cash autobiographies, Walk the Line leans a bit heavily on Cash's guilt 'n' grief complex. It also relies on lurching transitions that map Cash's creativity in the most literal way possible. There's no doubting Mangold's reverence for Cash though, seriously, everyone loves Johnny Cash but thankfully the filmmaker is, at times, able to nudge past hero worship and point out that the man had some gnarly flaws. Cash's legend, especially when packed into the biopic mold, may be a familiar one, but Walk the Line still springs a few surprises. The lead actors are outstanding; both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon do their own singing and strumming. With shiny black pompadour lacquered into place, natural born brooder Phoenix eerily mimics Cash's wounded snarl and gravelly voice, while Witherspoon Walk the Line's stealth weapon turns in a thoughtful, passionate performance. (2:16) 1000 Van Ness, Four Star. (Eddy)
When a Stranger Calls (1:27) 1000 Van Ness.
The White Countess The final Merchant-Ivory collaboration (producer Ismail Merchant died last May) is one of their middling efforts. It's an opulent period piece, beautifully visualized (shot by Christopher Doyle) and astutely cast, but without a great deal of narrative drive or involvement somewhat surprising since the screenplay is an original by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, whose adapted Remains of the Day was perhaps the last really good Merch-Ivory feature. Natasha Richardson plays the widowed Countess Sofia Belinsky, whose aristocratic family has fallen far since the Czar's ouster and Bolshevism's triumph rendered them penniless refugees. In 1936 they live in a squalid Shanghai flat, where she supports a young daughter and various relatives by working as a taxi dancer in sleazy nightclubs. Imperious in-laws Olga (Lynn Redgrave) and Greshenka (Madeleine Potter) treat her as a shamefully fallen woman never mind that Sofia's labors are the only thing keeping them fed and sheltered. More sympathetic, but ineffectual and slightly senile, are Aunt Sara (Vanessa Redgrave) and Uncle Peter (John Wood). A good deed Sofia performs for likewise-widowed, accident-blinded, former American diplomat Jackson (Ralph Fiennes) pays dividends when he raises funds to open his dreamed-of "perfect nightclub," calling it the White Countess and duly hiring her to act as its elegant hostess-slash-figurehead. As they ever-so-slowly (too slowly, in fact) realize their relationship ought be more than professional, obstacles arise, including his escalating alcoholism, her continued family grievances, and the rising threat of a Japanese invasion that may be somehow connected to Jackson's mysterious friend Matsuda (Hiroyuki Sanada of The Last Samurai). Yet despite all these potentially rich complications, The White Countess is a little too bloodlessly white. An overblown cast-of-thousands climax can't erase the nagging sense that this prestige project is part Cabaret without the music or decadence, part Casablanca without the romantic chemistry parts that don't add up to a successful whole. (2:15) (Harvey)
Why We Fight Every successful agitdoc has to have a star. For those not on the Robert Greenwald e-mail list, it's not enough to simply present the sobering faces of Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, and a supporting cast of whistle-blowing ex-spies. To make it to the top of the antiwar-movie heap these days, you can't simply present a brilliant idea you have to go for the marquee value. Eugene Jarecki found a song-and-dance man who could also play a great villain with his first big documentary a few years back, The Trials of Henry Kissinger. This time around, Eugene Jarecki likes Ike, and uses Eisenhower's middle-finger farewell address to the nation as his starting point for his antiwar documentary Why We Fight. Eisenhower echoed George Washington's warning about standing armies and the building of empires but gave the old concept a new name: the military industrial complex. In a country newly, broadly, and loonily employed by the military, no one, it seems, was listening. Where Frank Capra's short propaganda film series by the same name urged a country to dutifully take its steroids and win WWII, Jarecki's film questions the massive military apparatus that has only grown exponentially since the close of that war. His answer to the question "Why do we fight?" is simple: because war is a moneymaker. The trouble lies in the circuitous path Jarecki takes to get there. I get booed off the stage every time I offer up this idea, but Michael Moore's short, sentimental damnation of democracy gone empire-mad in Bowling for Columbine the "What a Wonderful World" montage is worth a million minor moments of talking head confession. But please: If you are in any way unclear about the reason we are in a state of perpetual war for perpetual peace, don't let me dissuade you from seeing this film. Afterwards we can argue over the details. (1:38) (Gerhard)
The World's Fastest Indian Though Anthony Hopkins' pock-marked face would have cinched him a recurring role in the Westerns of yesteryear, the "Indian" in this film's title refers to a motorcycle: a gnarly, low-to-the-ground beast that was already outdated 40 years ago. Mechanical limitations aside, Hopkins' character, Burt Munro, is a devotee of the model, having doctored up his bike with a lifetime of sweat and tool-shed ingenuity. A New Zealander to the core, Munro travels across the world to the sheer Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah late in his life to attempt a land-speed record on his shoestring Indian. The World's Fastest Indian, written and directed by Roger Donaldson, delivers this trek earnestly, with the kindness of strangers and welling of tears around each new bend. It's a sports movie high on the heartwarming quality of its subject and, as such, plays more like a Hallmark card than a thrilling motorcycle ride. (2:06) 1000 Van Ness, Balboa, Smith Rafael. (Goldberg)
*66 Seasons After opening with an elegiac montage of faded photos of a scenic seaside, Peter Kerekes' documentary 66 Seasons quickly abandons all formalities. The director, his oft-visible boom mic, and his camera crew playfully interact with his grandmother, her peers, and their children and grandchildren as they reminisce about six decades of Slovak history, as seen from a public swimming pool in Kosice, a city in the eastern part of the landlocked country. Kerekes weaves these interviews with vintage footage and staged re-enactments that reveal a filmmaker who skillfully balances his prankster's sensibility with a reverence for the past. Though the memories are frequently painful many involve the Nazis and the Soviets Kerekes allows each story to find its own tone and, therefore, its own poignancy. In doing so, he perfectly captures the complicated and sometimes contradictory nature of the film's people, his people: melancholic, self-reflective, and surprisingly philosophical, but also warm and uncommonly funny. (1:26) Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Knapp)
*Classe Tous Risques The first film of note by late French director Claude Sautet (Cesar et Rosalie, Une coeur en hiver) was this offbeat 1960 crime story, based on a novel by ex-con Jose Giovanni. Poker-faced Lino Ventura plays Abel Davos, a career thief whose latest getaway from a Milan robbery accomplished via car, motorcycle, bus, boat, fist, and gun is nearly complete when customs police show up at the wrong moment. His confederates as well as the cops killed, Abel calls upon his erstwhile fellow Parisian gangsters to rescue him and his surviving two young sons. But these allies have since slunk into respectability, and are unwilling to risk their own necks; they send affable lone gun Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo, just months before Breathless made him a star) in their place. Smuggled back across the border, Abel settles the boys with Eric's help, but his own options are dwindling, with old friends now disloyal and the police closing in. Overshadowed at the time by the first Nouvelle Vague classics, the black-and-white Classe Tous Risques wasn1t fully appreciated at home until years later, and has seldom been seen in the US. In classic French style, its shade of noir is less black-hearted than melancholy gray, with emphasis on male camaraderie (even Sautet admitted the romantic subplot didn1t interest him) and the pathos of a protagonist's luck inexorably running out. The final effect is at once sad and utterly unsentimental. (1:43) Balboa. (Harvey)
*"Human Rights Watch International Film Festival 2006" See "Born under Punches." PFA.
*Lions Love See "Viva Viva!" (1:50) San Francisco Cinematheque. *