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AFI Fest, A to Y 

Wednesday, Nov 1 2006
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KURT COBAIN: ABOUT A SON (USA) In this quasi-experimental film, never-before-heard audiotapes of the late Nirvana front man being interviewed about everything from his childhood and his often contentious relationship with bandmates to his impassioned defense of wife Courtney Love play out against images of Northwest American landscapes, small-town strip malls and man-on-the-street photo montages. This documentary is primarily for those already deeply enmeshed in Cobain’s myth and mystique. To the nonfaithful, he just comes off like an elitist snot. (Sat., Nov. 4, 9 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 5, 1 p.m.) (EH)

LIES & ALIBIS (USA) For all of its slickness and ultracontemporary Westside Los Angeles vibe, what makes Lies & Alibis charmingly quaint is its aspiration to be nothing more — and nothing less — than an elegant entertainment in the Cary Grant/Stanley Donen tradition. It hinges on a clever-enough idea: A con man opens a firm offering airtight alibis for clients cheating on their spouses. Directors Kurt Mattila and Matt Checkowski’s rollicking movie seals the deal with Steve Coogan as the sly, dry con, and a supporting cast — including Sam Elliott, James Brolin, Rebecca Romijn and Debi Mazar — that puts “character” back in character actors. (Fri., Nov. 10, 9:30 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 11, 4 p.m.) (RK)

LIFE AFTER TOMORROW (USA) A look at the not-so-hard-knock life of child stage actors who starred in the 1970s Broadway musical smash Annie. Co-director Julie Stevens — herself an ex-Annie cast member — interviews countless women who once played orphans and belted out “Tomorrow.” The result is a comprehensive, well-edited feature documentary about a subject that merits, at most, a segment on Entertainment Tonight. Some fans will no doubt enjoy hearing Sarah Jessica Parker talk about going to Studio 54 after taking off her red wig each night, but does anyone really want to know what the production’s dog trainer thinks about the effects of show business on little girls? (Sat., Nov. 11, 6:45 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 12, 3:30 p.m.) (JCT)

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LUXURY CAR (China/France) In writer-director Wang Chao’s understated, internalized drama, a provincial schoolteacher (stage actor Wu Youcai, whose deadpan, peasant face belies a canny intelligence) travels to the bustling city of Wuhan to enlist the help of his daughter (Tian Yuan) in the search for her missing brother. Despite her evident respectability, the daughter is revealed to moonlight as a paid escort, while her supposed fiancé (Huang He) turns out to be just one of her johns. More disquieting revelations follow, though rather than tilting into melodrama, the movie retains its cool, tranquil surface, becoming a beautifully acted, precisely observed meditation on the gap between appearances and realities in modern China. (Sat., Nov. 11, 7 p.m.) (SF)

MEMORIES OF TOMORROW (Japan) Give or take a smattering of dream sequences and frequent, overly symbolic shots of clouds, this drama from director Yukihiko Tsutsumi about a high-powered advertising executive felled by Alzheimer’s disease is no more than conventional. A strenuous subtext about the notorious workaholism and after-hours whoring of Japanese businessmen feels grafted on. Still, Memories of Tomorrow is distinguished by Ken Watanabe’s affecting performance as a man facing up to the loss of everything that mattered to him, including his neglected wife (an excellent Kenji Sakaguchi). This heartfelt tale of disintegration and acceptance, seasoned with family devotion, will both raise and soothe the anxieties of those of us who regularly ask ourselves why we came into the kitchen two minutes ago. (Thurs., Nov. 2, 6:45 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 3, 3:30 p.m.) (Ella Taylor)

MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THE WORLD (Mexico) The notion of an overworked single mom and her uncontainable kid has been played to death in Hollywood women’s movies, most of them starring Michelle Pfeiffer. For their variation on the situation, co-writer-directors Andres Leon Becker and Javier Solar situate their mom and daughter in a cramped and traffic-choked Mexico City and an apartment adjacent to a dying man. The growing distance between parent and child, who sees a monster under every bed and believes that the ill neighbor is a vampire, provides the film with a strong sense of psychological pressure, deflated only by a Hallmark-card ending. (Fri., Nov. 10, 9:45 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 11, 4:15 p.m.) (RK)MOTHERLAND AFGHANISTAN (USA) The title has a dual meaning — director Sedika Mojadidi documents her family’s return to their home country, post-9/11, to offer medical assistance, but it also refers to the large number of mothers in Afghanistan who get substandard pre- and postnatal care, leading to an infant-mortality rate of 18 percent. Sedika’s doctor father travels back to Afghanistan the first time under the auspices of the U.S. government, but gets so frustrated that he later returns independently. Graphic footage — premature babies, urinary surgery, raw sewage — ensures that you won’t remain unmoved. (Fri., Nov. 3, 7:15 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 4, 1:30 p.m.) (Luke Y. Thompson)

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