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.

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL ASIAN AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL

The 24th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival runs through Sun/26 at the Kabuki Theater, 1881 Post, SF; the Palace of Fine Arts Theater, 3301 Lyon, SF; the Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Camera 12 Cinemas, 201 S. Second St, San Jose. For tickets ($5-55) and information on related events, including panels and "Directions in Sound" music programs, go to www.asianamericanfilmfestival.org. For commentary, see last week's Guardian. All times p.m.

WED/22

Kabuki The Burnt Theatre 6:30. American Fusion 6:45. Dear Pyongyang 7. Picture Bride 7:30. China Blue 9. "Memoirs of a Sodoku Superstar" (shorts program) 9:15. Linda Linda Linda 9:30.

PFA Dreaming Lhasa 7:30.

THURS/23

Palace of Fine Arts Journey From the Fall 7.

Kabuki Chinese Restaurants: Latin Passions 7:15. "Mystery Arcade" (shorts program) 7:30.

FRI/24

Camera 12 Punching at the Sun 7.

PFA Clans of Intrigue 7. King Boxer 9.

SAT/25

Camera 12 A View from Topaz noon. The Journey of Vaan Nguyen 2. "Punchcards and Preoccupations" (shorts program) 4. Red Doors 5. Only the Brave 6:45. Rules of Dating 9:15.

PFA Café Lumiere 4:45. The Boxer from Shantung 7. Dirty Ho 9:30.

SUN/26

Camera 12 Dear Pyongyang noon. "VC Digital Slam!" (shorts program) 2:15. Kieu 4:30. Gaijin 2: Love Me As I Am 5. "3rd I South Asian Shorts" (shorts program) 6:45. American Fusion 9:15.

OPENING

*Don't Come Knocking See "Big Skies, Broken Hearts," page 70. (2:02) Embarcadero, Oaks.

The Heart Is Deceitful above All Things See "Whose Cheatin' Heart?," page 68. (1:37) Castro.

Inside Man Spike Lee's latest pits a cop (Denzel Washington) against a bank robber (Clive Owen). Jodie Foster also stars. (1:37) Century 20, Century Plaza, Grand Lake, Presidio, Shattuck.

Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector Score one for willful ignorance. (1:29) Century 20, Century Plaza.

*Same Sex America Focusing on the fights for and against legalized same-sex wedlock in Massachusetts, Henry Corra's documentary — one of several recent films on this issue, and by far the best — takes pains to understand both sides of the issue. In late 2003 the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that marriage licenses must become available to same-sex couples six months after the decision. There was an immediate reaction, with gays and supporters ecstatic over this sudden windfall. Largely Christian-based opposing forces quickly organized to demand a public vote that would "defend" the traditional "one man, one woman" definition of marriage from this "tyranny of the judges." Several gay couples of varying ages, backgrounds, and marital status (several are raising children) are followed throughout the film, their joyous nuptials providing an apt climax. But their grassroots foes are also profiled without condescension, and they're not all the Holy Roller Miss Piggys you might expect. Though you may think you've overdosed on the topic already, this exceptional feature's balance of human interest, breaking-news suspense, political maneuvers, and high emotion is a potent experience that's well worthwhile. (1:30) Roxie. (Harvey)

Stay Alive A group of teens (Jon Foster, Samaire Armstrong, Sophia Bush, and Frankie Muniz) fight to do you-know-what after encountering a killer video game. (1:25) Century 20, Century Plaza, Oaks.

Stoned Velvet Goldmine meets Auto Focus meets Grey Gardens, kind of, in this biopic charting the last days of original Rolling Stone Brian Jones (Leo Gregory). After being booted from the band, the addict-womanizer-arsehole copes by holing up in his country mansion and flashing back to happier days with his glamorous girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg (Monet Mazur), who's since taken up with Keith Richards. Sloppy and drug-addled though he is, Jones becomes the object of obsession of a builder on the property (Paddy Considine) — the man who will later be present when Jones takes his fateful final dip in his now fabled swimming pool. First-time director Stephen Woolley seems most excited about time-capsuling the 1960s, with emphasis placed on gauzy sequences involving flashy clothes and gleeful debauchery. Jones's downfall is surely one of the great rock 'n' roll tragedies, but Stoned doesn't offer much insight into the man himself and shows only passing interest in his music. (1:43) Lumiere, Shattuck. (Eddy)

*Thank You for Smoking See Pick box. (1:32) California, Embarcadero, Empire.

ONGOING

16 Blocks It takes Det. Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) nearly two hours to get a con (Mos Def) from lock-up to a Manhattan courthouse to testify against some crooked cops — yes, the trip spans the 16 blocks of this gimmicky real-time pic's title. Perhaps screenwriter Richard Wenk was inspired one afternoon while crawling though Midtown traffic during "rush" hour. As the alcoholic precinct joke, Willis is sufficiently beat-down (the rock he apparently put in his shoe works wonders — but Willis has to get Method to limp?). Still, even though Mosley is starting to get the shakes from withdrawal, he somehow manages to fight off the marauding hordes with the reflexes of a prima ballerina. No surprise, Def is the best thing here; his Benicio-Del-Toro-on-crank cadence bores into you like a chigger, but he's compulsively watchable. At the halfway point 16 Blocks briefly becomes Rio Bravo on a bus. But, like all hack urban action films, it eventually devolves into High Noon in a parking lot. Too bad Wenk didn't just take the A train. (1:45) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Century Plaza, Kabuki. (Devereaux)

Aquamarine Tween cinema proves it can outlive the tabloid-ification of every Lohan, Duff, and Olsen with Aquamarine, a movie as sweet (if nutritionally deficient) as a bag of gummy worms. Nickelodeon star Emma "Julia's niece" Roberts and minipopster JoJo play Claire and Hailey, best pals who dread the end of summer and Hailey's impending move away from their idyllic beach community. Enter Aquamarine (Sara Paxton), a magical mermaid who promises to grant them one wish if they'll help her prove that love exists. (See, I told you: gummy worms.) Anyway, what follows includes a shopping montage (sayeth the mermaid: "I love vintage!"), a dreamy lifeguard, a tanorexic villainess, a scene with dolphins, and endless fishy quirks: forget OPI — Aqua's fingernails change color according to her mood. Aquamarine is hardly a guilty-pleasure girlie flick for the ages (unlike Bring it On, written by Aquamarine coscripter Jessica Bendinger), but it's totally and age-appropriately harmless. (1:49) Century 20, Century Plaza. (Eddy)

Ask the Dust Robert Towne returns to the City of Angels with his latest directorial effort, an adaptation of John Fante's Depression-era novel Ask the Dust. Like Chinatown, Dust deftly punctures the Tinseltown mythos by portraying characters far from showbiz cliché — this time it's struggling writer Arturo Bandini (Colin Farrell), a poor, first-generation Italian American from Colorado who comes to California to write and land a blond bombshell (in his mind, they should be as plentiful and easily plucked as a clementine from a local grove). Instead he meets Camilla (Salma Hayak), a Mexican waitress, and the two embark on a racially charged, emotionally sadomasochistic love affair. Towne's painterly attention to detail, Caleb Deschanel's gritty yet luminous cinematography (as good as anything in Chinatown or Hal Ashby's dust bowl gem, Bound for Glory), and nuanced performances from both leads elevate Dust from the corny, high-pitched melodrama it sometimes falls prey to. Here, Chinatown's contentious water has been replaced by (sour) milk and orange blossom honey to a surprisingly sweet-tart affect. Plus there's one hell of skinny-dipping scene. (1:57) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Devereaux)

*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) California, Embarcadero, Piedmont. (Eddy)

*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) Opera Plaza, Shattuck. (Gerhard)

Crash Paul Haggis's first directorial feature provides a fine opportunity to note which critics you need never take seriously again. Namely, any caught clapping their heads off at this crap-a-palooza, a steaming pile of horseshit spray-painted Oscar gold — though, in fact, Crash takes itself so seriously, it might settle for nothing less than the Nobel Peace Prize. Hewing way too close to the Magnolia model, it throws together umpteen marquee names (including Sandra Bullock, Brendan Frasier, Matt Dillon, and Don Cheadle) as two-dimensional characters who intersect during a fateful 36 hours in that Hollywood veteran's perennial notion of Everytown, L.A. One dimension is that they're all racist — and aren't we all, the movie sorrowfully chides — and the other is that they're still "human," meaning they love their kids or have sick parents or such. With every scene a blunt confrontation, the movie is a Rube Goldberg contraption in which one overamped event sets off another, each obvious irony and tragic misunderstanding highlighted in boldface throughout. (1:40) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

*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 Burns–style 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-Semitic society ring disturbingly true: the CSA's focus on a rigid definition of "family values," for example, feels all too familiar. (1:29) Act I and II, Roxie. (Eddy)

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 Howard–produced 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, Century 20. (Devereaux)

*Dave Chappelle's Block Party If his appearances on Inside the Actors Studio and Oprah felt a little like damage control, one need only watch the opening five minutes of Dave Chappelle's Block Party to remember why the master of timing was offered $50 million for two seasons of Chappelle's Show. (Not that fans of the show — funny and eminently quotable even after repeat viewings, as evidenced by its record-setting DVD sales — ever forgot.) Modeled on Wattstax, 1973's chronicle of "the black Woodstock," Block Party kicks off in Chappelle's Ohio hometown, with a car that won't start in the foreground, a marching band practicing in the background, and a bullhorn-wielding Chappelle outlining the roster for what he later calls "the concert I've always wanted to see." While Wattstax mixed performances by Isaac Hayes, the Bar-Kays, and other soul greats with Richard Pryor riffs, Block Party gathers the likes of Mos Def, Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Common, the Roots, and the reunited Fugees. The Brooklyn concert segments are rousing: Director Michel Gondry's camera captures a beaming crowd soaking up sun, rain, and the energy of musicians who (for the most part) seem thrilled to be jamming together. But without Chappelle, Block Party might feel like an all-star edition of MTV Unplugged. Instead, unlike last year's Aristocrats — I like gross-out humor as much as the next sicko, but admit it: That movie had precious few actual laughs — Block Party is pretty much nonstop hilarity of the trademark good-natured-yet-edgy Chappelle's Show variety. (1:43) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20. (Eddy)

Don't Tell Belonging to the school of melodrama that pulls all the stops without a hint of self-consciousness, this Oscar-nominated Italian film grows increasingly unbearable throughout its two hours. A committed lead performance from Giovanna Mezzogiorno and some much-needed comic relief from Giuseppe Battiston (think a pre–weight loss Peter Jackson, if he were a jaded, chain-smoking Italian) can't save the movie from taking its audience ever further down a path of misery. Following the death of her parents, Sabina (Mezzogiorno) begins having disturbing, disjointed dreams related to her past. Unable to discuss them with her soap-opera-star boyfriend, Franco (Alessio Boni), Sabina flees to America and the arms of her expatriated brother, Daniele (Luigi Lo Cascio). There she finds a link to her shocking past, except to us it's not so shocking — nor is the film's habit of making everything possible go wrong. And, oh, did I mention that Sabina's pregnant? (2:00) Bridge. (Knapp)

*Duck Season Jim Jarmusch meets John Hughes in this stranger-than-paradise breakfast club of a debut, which has pocketed prizes abroad and at home, including 11 Ariels (Mexico's Oscar equivalent). The setup is simple: Fourteen-year-olds Flama and Moko are psyched when Flama's mother leaves them alone in his council apartment; an afternoon of fast food, soft drinks, and PlayStation mayhem is on the horizon. But a flirtatious next-door neighbor and a slightly tardy pizza delivery man (the Roberto Benigni–like Enrique Arreola) soon alter the duo's plans, even if the pair never steps outside the front door. The title refers to an ugly painting that Flama's parents are fighting over while in the throes of divorce; his mixed feelings about the split come to the surface, as do Moko's conflicted affections, in a brief, innocent moment of Y Tu Mama Tambien–style, junior-platonic-turned-homoerotic bonding. Whether paying homage to the cover of the Beatles' Please Please Me or visualizing the type of wonder weed-laced brownies can induce, director Fernando Eimbcke remains in perfect sync with his characters, as if he were just another witness to an unforgettable day. (1:25) Shattuck. (Huston)

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) Century 20. (Eddy)

Failure to Launch Tempting as it is to ridicule this clunky title en route to lampooning this clunkier film, it almost seems too easy, as if director Tom Dey and the honchos at Paramount were offering up bait to us grumpy critics. Say what you will about Failure to Launch — for example, that it's about as breezy as lead paint — but stars Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker have great teeth. As the regrettable slapstick gags, idiotic supporting characters, and plot contrivances pile up, I found myself entranced by the duo's unending barrage of smiles. There's promise in Failure to Launch's premise — that the world's sexiest man still lives with his parents and needs to be "launched" by Sex and the City's scribe — but in the end, the only pleasure to be found comes courtesy of those pearly whites. (1:37) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Century Plaza, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Orinda, Presidio. (Goldberg)

*Find Me Guilty Whether cops, crooks, or something in between, Sidney Lumet's more memorable protagonists (Serpico, Prince of the City, The Verdict, et al) invariably seem headed toward the courtroom. In this limber effort, the 82-year-old director's central figure goes almost nowhere else. He's Giacomo "Fat Jack" DiNorscio (Vin Diesel, outfitted with prosthetic flab and Bruce Willis's hair weave), who, while already in prison, found himself tried alongside 20 fellow Lucchese family "goodfellas" on 76 counts of, ahem, off-grid capitalism. The notorious late 1980s trial dragged on for nearly two years, much of its circusy entertainment value derived from Jackie D's decision to defend himself, sixth-grade education and all. "I'm not a gangster, ladies and gentlemen; I'm a gagster," he ka-boom-cha'd. "All this, and we gotta contend with fuckin' Shecky Greene," one unamused fellow plaintiff opines. If all this didn't actually happen (the screenplay is largely based on court records), you'd think it was a really far-fetched rip off the old My Cousin Vinny–goes-Sopranos block. Lumet's best film in aeons is entertaining. Diesel's good behavior goes some distance toward erasing many recent cinematic crimes. A subdued Ron Silver is excellent, on-fire Annabella Sciorra ditto, and Peter Dinklage almost gets away with playing Morgan Freeman. (You know, the dignified, minority-cast, utterly gratuitous part that exists solely to flatter the star.) Just one thing bothers me: This is a little-guy-triumphs tale whose little (wise) guys evidently kill, steal, peddle, and intimidate a living from lawful society — a truth soft-pedaled so Guilty can be the jaunty, Joisey, everyman-sentimental ("Family — that's all that matters"), feel-good flick it is. Gag. (2:04) 1000 Van Ness, Empire, Presidio. (Harvey)

*Good Night, and Good Luck As Good Night, and Good Luck opens, Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) rips into an audience that has gathered to honor him at a 1958 Radio and Television News Directors Association gala. George Clooney (who also directs) and Grand Heslov's script stays true to Murrow's real-life speech, a searing indictment of television's shift toward fluffy programming, as well as the networks' increasingly close ties to advertisers. Were he alive today, Murrow would no doubt have additional thoughts about the 21st-century version of "this weapon"; in particular he'd probably take issue with the 24-hour-news culture, which favors sensational nuggets over in-depth stories. Good Night is a Murrow biopic of sorts, but it focuses on the specific events surrounding March 9, 1954, when Murrow's See It Now program dared to take on Sen. Joseph McCarthy at the height of the Red Scare. Director Clooney takes his cue from this moment in television history, using real film clips and plucking Murrow's on-air dialogue from transcripts. The result is a period-authentic, eerily resonant snapshot of a time when national security issues could trump the rights of individuals, and fear kept most Americans woefully silent. (1:30) Shattuck. (Eddy)

*The Hills Have Eyes Before I say anything else, I gotta ask: Why remake yet another cult horror classic? Fortunately, this do-over of Wes Craven's dissertation on why you should never, ever get off the main road — especially while traveling with your Ugly American family — is more in the vein of 2004's Dawn of the Dead and not one of the, uh, Fog-gier retreads. With Craven coproducing, director Alexandre Aja (High Tension) adheres closely to 1977's Hills, a few key changes aside. The backcountry marauders are now actual genetic freaks, so rendered by nuclear tests conducted near their desert lair (imagine Sloth from The Goonies, except evil). Story padding allows the pussy son-in-law character (here, Aaron Stanford from Tadpole) to kick more ass while rescuing his "fat 'n' juicy" infant daughter from misshapen clutches. But Aja retains the original's calculated two-family dynamic (monsters vs. Republicans) as well as its nasty brutality: Suburbanites are molested, mutants are shanked, and Beast the dog turns into a righteous killing machine, earning audience adoration in the process. (1:47) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Century Plaza, Kabuki. (Eddy)

Joyeux Noel After beginning with standard war scenes and partial sketches of a pedestrian love story, Christian Carion's Joyeux Noel opens up to reveal an undeniably compelling core. The true events that inspired this film — a series of cease-fires that occurred across World War I's western front over the Christmas of 1914 — create the sort of heartwarming tale that makes Hollywood salivate, and could quite easily have sent the movie back to France with the Best Foreign Film Oscar (for which it was nominated). Though it sometimes indulges in unnecessary dramatization, Joyeux Noel adeptly captures a fascinating and important historical event. The side plots, in particular that of married opera singers Anna (Diane Kruger) and Nikolaus (Benno Furmann), feel incomplete and distracting. However, the central relationship between three military officers (one German, one French, one Scottish) that unexpectedly develops across the battle lines gives the film a powerful weight, as mutual respect clashes and coexists with the official order to kill. (1:56) Albany, Balboa, Opera Plaza. (Knapp)

The Libertine Let me preface this: I like period films, and I love Johnny Depp. When the two unite in The Libertine, it should be fireworks, but it's just fizzle. In the time of King Charles II, Depp plays royal rake, poet, drunk, and ne'r-do-well John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, who is meant to embody the spirit of a debauched, decaying, and out-of-control English decade. The story opens with Depp's candlelit monologue, in which he insists "You will not like me" and warns that a tale of reckless, lascivious living is about to unfold. He's right. You won't like him, and odds are, you won't like this movie either. Somehow, The Libertine has managed the seemingly impossible: It's made sinning seem downright dull. This, despite a stellar cast that includes John Malkovich (whose devilish turn in Dangerous Liaisons puts The Libertine to shame). If it's curly wigs, ruffled shirts, gold brocade, and the manly-yet-effeminate ruffian posturing of Depp you crave, stick with Pirates of the Caribbean, matey. (1:50) 1000 Van Ness, Shattuck. (Crawford)

Madea's Family Reunion (1:47) Century 20.

*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 ex–tennis 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, Presidio. (Huston)

*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) Four Star, Piedmont. (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, Shattuck. (Eddy)

*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) Four Star. (Eddy)

The Pink Panther (1:32) Century 20.

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)

The Shaggy Dog Disney family comedies seem ripe fodder for Remakesville these days (witness the resurrection of The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday, and Herbie the Love Bug). So perhaps it was really only a matter of time before family-friendly comedian Tim Allen and CGI came together to unearth that Lassie-est of genres, the canine comic caper. In this updated version of The Shaggy Dog, hijinks ensue when a high-powered attorney (Allen) gets his genes crossed with an ancient magical mutt and has to juggle being both man and man's best friend. Channeling his over-the-top physical slapstick skills, Allen sniffs, scratches, growls, and chases his way across the screen. But it's Allen's canine alter ego, Coal, reportedly so good that his animatronic double sat mostly on standby, who steals the show. Yet even a prize pooch can't save this flick from a series of stale punch lines and a saccharine family-first message about as subtle as a bludgeon. (1:39) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Century Plaza, Shattuck. (Crawford)

She's the Man This update of Twelfth Night by way of Just One of the Guys (and, uh, Shaolin Soccer) is hardly a classic, but it's amusing enough. Star athlete Viola (Amanda Bynes) switches prep schools after her soccer team is cut, and pretends to be her twin brother so she can take to the field with the boys. Complications — and there are plenty — involve a series of girl, boy, and girl-dressed-like-a-boy crushes, as well as a tarantula, a bitchy ex, and a carnival sequence that requires Viola to switch from boy to girl with a rapidity not seen since Mrs. Doubtfire. Bynes makes for a wholesome and endearing teen-dream lead (and she still appears to have her real teeth — ahem, Hilary Duff), even if she's not entirely believable as a dude. Supporting cast members include David Cross as Viola's loopy principal; Julie Hagarty (Airplane!) as her debutante ball-obsessed mother; and Emily Perkins, unrecognizable out of Ginger Snaps mode as a headgear-encircled nerdette. (1:45) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Century Plaza, Kabuki. (Eddy)

*Sophie Scholl: The Last Days Emboldened by the Axis's recent crushing defeats, particularly on the Russian front, a group of Munich college students formed a secret organization during World War II. Called the White Rose, its members used peaceful means to incite active resistance against the Third Reich's murderous campaign toward a "Final Victory" that by any rational standard was already doomed. Its sole female member was 21-year-old Sophie Scholl, who with her brother Hans was arrested when caught distributing leaflets on campus. Charged with "high treason, troop demoralization and aiding the enemy," their fate was determined — with no chance for mercy — within a few short day early in 1943. The story of their bravery and sacrifice has, unsurprisingly, proved very popular ever since in a postwar Germany anxious for evidence that not all its citizens goose-stepped complacently through the Nazi era. It1s been told in several prior films (notably ones by Percy Adlon and Michael Verhoeven), but director Marc Rothemund and scenarist Fred Breinersdorfer take a different tack by focusing exclusively on the Scholls' arrest, interrogation and "trial" by a so-called "people's court." While some dramatic license has had to be taken (surviving records, of course, reflected a strictly doctrinaire Nazi viewpoint), the stark narrative has an effective feel of docudrama. Julia Jentsch (The Edukators) makes a suitably strong impression as Sophie, who first tries, with some success, to protect her collaborators — then when faced with irrefutable evidence of anti-Nazi agitation admits "Yes — and I'm proud of it." (1:57) Balboa, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

Sorry, Haters Wow. It's surely too early to hand out 2006 awards — especially for anyone still reeling from that Crash thing — but the year's "Huh?" plaster-piece for most completely muddled intentions may well go to this curiosity from writer-director Jeff Stanzler. Ashade (Abdellatif Kechiche) is a Syrian-born NYC cabbie with a lot on his mind: His doctor brother has been mistaken for a terrorist and sent to Gitmo, leaving wife and baby alone. Trying to keep them afloat, Ashade needs all the fares he can get, excepting this one. Not since C. Thomas Howell noticed Rutger Hauer's thumb out has a passenger caused havoc like Phoebe (Robin Wright Penn). She's a bitter divorcee and the producer of a crass MTV Cribs-type show. Or so it seems. Her careening mix of charitable good intentions, casual racist invective, and self-loathing single white female psychosis soon take Ashade on a merry ride indeed. But Sorry, Haters is just getting warmed up; its already overladen agenda goes Looney-Tunes-postal-in-outer-space by the end, if you catch my drift (and you shouldn't). Because whatever this movie is trying to say — something involving "loneliness," 9/11, and vapid pop culture, for starters — it climaxes in an almost Zenlike implode of complete self-cancellation. Getting there isn't boring (the performers bring near saintly conviction under absurd circumstances), and those last few minutes of sheer wha-tha-fa flabbergastery are almost worth the trip. Comparable prior experiences are hard to come by, perhaps the way Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre got left-of-left-field "cosmic" at the end? No, even that was more coherent. (1:26) Roxie. (Harvey)

*Summer Storm Starnberg Rowing Club is the pride of its small Bavarian burg, with a winning streak partly attributable to well-liked, easygoing coxswain Tobi (Robert Stadlober). But he's preoccupied at present by feelings of more-than-brotherly love toward best friend and teammate, Achim (Kostja Ullmann). Yet Achim's sexual-romantic interest seems much more magnetized by Achim's girlfriend, Sandra (Miriam Morgenstern). Tobi hedges bets by pretending to be interested in Sandra's own best friend, Anke (Alicja Bachleda-Curus), a beauty who's smitten with him despite some very conflicting signals. These various yearnings and tensions push toward extremis when the Starnberg boys' and girls' teams go to a special competitive rowing camp in the countryside, where the unexpected presence of a Berlin team called Queer Strokes only heightens Tobi's desire and discomfort. There's nothing conceptually original, or cinematically very interesting, about Marco Kreuzpaintner's first feature. We've seen variations on this bittersweet teenage coming-out saga many times before. But before long, the nuanced writing, perfect performances, and low-key direction prove so winning, the emotions so well earned, that Summer Storm becomes as hugely satisfying as it is, admittedly, familiar. (1:38) Act I and II, Opera Plaza. (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) Four Star. (Harvey)

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) Empire, Grand Lake, Lumiere, Shattuck. (Harvey)

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story Yorkshire pastor Laurence Sterne's novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman has long been considered unadaptable — for precisely the same qualities that enraged some fellow writers of the 1760s (including Samuel Johnson) and that have made it a lasting delight for readers ever since. This ostensible autobiography of the titular well-born mediocrity means to chronicle his entire, rather inglorious history but gets continually sidetracked by his windy philosophizing, digressions-within-digressions, and narrative obliviousness so profound that on one level the thousand-or-so pages never get past describing his own birth. Attracted to the challenge, director Michael Winterbottom and his frequent screenplay collaborator Martin Hardy (though apparently no more: They had a falling-out over the course of this project) have gone the French Lieutenant's Woman route, intercutting scenes from the "unfilmable" literary source with a fictive making-of-the-film saga that satirizes the creative process itself (among other things). Thus, Steve Coogan, cast as Tristram, and Rob Brydon, as Uncle Toby, play themselves as actors not-so-covertly obsessed with who in fact has the bigger part. A harassed Jeremy Northam plays Michael Winterbottom, more or less, and Ian Hart his scenarist. All this is very handsomely mounted, droll, clever, and lightly amusing. Hilarious, perhaps, if you know the book by heart and can seize on every in-joke. But for the rest of us, Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy may be most impressive as a stunt, not unlike his sex-centric last feature, 9 Songs — another movie seemingly created primarily because no one had dared, or cared, to try it before. (1:41) Lumiere, Shattuck, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

Tsotsi There was a time when foreign cinema implied risk and genuine difference, but the middlebrow pull of indie behemoths like Miramax increasingly means the subtitled films that receive theatrical distribution are every bit as conventionally sentimental as their American counterparts. Oscar, of course, couldn't be happier: Films with as much heart as Tsotsi will always find favor with the Academy's voters. South African writer-director Gavin Hood here streamlines the City of God formula into a more standard-issue redemption narrative. On the run from a brawl, the title character hijacks a rich woman's car only to later discover her baby is in the backseat. Without a plan, hardened Tsotsi (played with nervous calm by Presley Chweneyagau) reluctantly begins to care for the child and reconnect with his own lost innocence. If that sounds contrived, let's just say Hood isn't above picturing a dog writhing to its pathetic, violent death (in a flashback, no less) by way of characterizing Tsotsi. Subtlety, it would seem, is not the filmmaker's strong suit. Still, even if it does seem prepackaged for Oscar audiences, much of the cinematography is ravishing in its burnished, dusty detail — hardly enough to make Tsotsi the year's best foreign film but enough, perhaps, for a saving grace. (1:34) Albany, Clay, Piedmont. (Goldberg)

Ultraviolet (1:28) 1000 Van Ness.

*V for Vendetta Nerds, celebrate: The Alan Moore adaptation you've been dying for has finally arrived (begone, celluloid travesties From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Produced by the Wachowski Brothers and directed by James McTeigue, V for Vendetta's least shocking scene is the one where star-waif Natalie Portman is shorn to the skull. More startling is the film's antigovernment, proterrorist message, conveyed through a masked British revolutionary (Hugo Weaving) who's part anarchist, part Phantom of the Opera. Why the television ads show the film's climactic scene — Big Ben go boom — is a little mystifying, but there's still enough antifascist propaganda amid the haircuts and explosions to make V for Vendetta the most thoughtful action movie in recent memory — not to mention the most relevant, especially considering the source material was penned in the 1980s. Paranoid governments controlling the media, censoring artists, torturing prisoners, discriminating against gays and lesbians, and ruling with force and scare tactics? Nah, doesn't ring a bell. (2:10) 1000 Van Ness, Century 20, Century Plaza, Grand Lake, Kabuki, Orinda. (Eddy)

*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. (Eddy)

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) Four Star. (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) Smith Rafael. (Goldberg)

The Zodiac Nope, this ain't the new film from David Fincher they were filming in downtown SF a few months back. Same late-1960s Bay Area serial killer, though: the Zodiac, a never captured fiend who generated nearly as much fear from his creepy postal correspondence as he did for his crimes. NorCal native Alexander Bulkely cowrote and made his directorial debut with The Zodiac, which takes a more low-key (and decidedly low-budget) approach to the case, focusing on a Vallejo detective (Justin Chambers of Grey's Anatomy) who becomes obsessed with the killer as his crimes intensify — to the distress of his wife (Robin Tunney) and the curiosity of his young son (Rory Culkin). True crime buffs will recognize a certain attention to detail (the enigmatic Zodiac — a noted Mikado quoter — spins a Gilbert and Sullivan record in his lair), but there's also a lack of intensity that seems odd, given the ripe material (ya wanna be on the edge of your seat, rent the also-inspired-by-the-Zodiac Dirty Harry). Tunney and Culkin are fine but are often relegated to the background, while TV star Chambers — the focus of the story — comes across as generic on the big screen. What could've made this take more intriguing: shifting its center to the local journalist (William Mapother) whose career receives a giant boost as a result of the Zodiac, the most shrewd and bloodthirsty manipulator of the media since Jack the Ripper. (1:32) Century 20, Presidio. (Eddy)

REP PICKS

*Oh! What a Lovely War See "The 'Ol Whizbang," page 70. (2:14) Smith Rafael.

*Utopia SoCal experimentalist James Benning's 1998 film is, by his standards, almost conventional storytelling — though that element is entirely borrowed. He took (without permission) the entire soundtrack of Richard Dindo's 1994 Swiss-French documentary Ernesto Che Guevara, the Bolivian Journal and used it as his own, setting the straightforward mix of voice-over chronology, diary excerpts, and interviews (with peasants, soldiers, and surviving witnesses) against a typical Benning succession of exquisite landscape shots. In this case, they're all of the Imperial River Valley, which extends from the Salton Sea to Mexico. While these views of vast desert, abandoned buildings, military and industrial sites, casinos, et al may have no direct connection to the tale of Che's last months trying to foment revolution in military-ruled Bolivia, the images soon begin to take on a narrative, or at least a symbolic, character. They arguably stir the viewer's empathetic imagination more than the more literal-minded visuals in Dindo's original did. While one is free to read (or create) any subtext here between seemingly disconnected picture and sound, it's hard not to guess at some political commentary of Benning's own — after all, a CIA official was present during Guevara's final captivity and execution. With shots lasting 15 to 50 seconds or so each, this is practically an action flick beside the filmmaker's more recent efforts (where they run to 10 minutes). If you haven't become acquainted with this great if rarefied American artist yet, Utopia is an easy place to start. (1:33) San Francisco Cinematheque. (Harvey) *