MORE

AFI Fest: A to W

Che

Teresa Isasi/IFC FilmsChe

GO  ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE (Japan) The best film since Dolls (2002) by actor, director and all-around king of Japanese media Takeshi Kitano is a high-spirited art world send-up, in which Machisu, the son of a bankrupted industrialist and arts patron, grows up wanting to be a painter despite his lack of any obvious talent for the game. Kitano himself stars as the grown-up Machisu, who goes to increasingly absurd lengths (including oxygen deprivation) to “stimulate” his creative impulses. But the real stars of the movie are the hilarious faux canvases Machisu creates in the style of Miró, Lichtenstein, Basquiat, et al., as he struggles hopelessly to find his own voice. The paintings all issue from Kitano’s own hand, and their extravagant colors pop from Achilles’ otherwise desaturated frames like strawberries in a snowstorm. (ArcLight Hollywood, Mon., Nov. 3, 9:50 p.m.; Mann Chinese 6, Fri., Nov. 7, 3:30 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

 
AGILE, MOBILE, HOSTILE: A YEAR WITH ANDRE WILLIAMS (USA) Since arriving on the scene in 1956 with the lascivious gutbucket soul of “Bacon Fat,” Andre Williams has had his fingers in a lot of pies (and a lot of other places, as he likes to say). At 71, he is still rhythm ’n’ blues’ reigning wild man, but Agile, Mobile, Hostile fails its subject. With no production values, no ideas and no energy, a video camera clumsily shadows a tired Williams through a series of gigs with his all-white backing band. Williams has made a career of transcending shoestring budgets with his spit and spirit, but even the Black Godfather can’t lift this doc from the doldrums. (ArcLight Hollywood, Fri., Nov. 7, 9:40 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 9, 3 p.m.) (Sam Sweet)

 
GO  ALONE IN FOUR WALLS (Germany) Tolya, age 15, is serving three years for a murder he committed at age 13. Lyosha is 13 and doing two years for theft and truancy. These boys, and many like them, are doing time in a remote Russian reform school — an “army camp with lessons,” as one boy puts it. Filmmaker Alexandra Westmeier was given unfettered access to the school, and she’s made a film that’s drenched in tragedy, yet hauntingly beautiful. She has a poet’s eye, capturing the monklike rhythms of the boys’ endless work day, and using shots of the school’s rundown buildings and desolate outer landscape to punctuate moments of dramatic intensity, as when the charming but unrepentant Tolya finally recites the details of his crime. Along the way, Westmeier visits Tolya’s father, as well as the mother of the boy he killed, and from all this emerges a narrative that has the fullness of fiction, and the terrible ache of truth. (ArcLight Hollywood, Wed., Nov. 5, 9:20 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 7, 12:15 p.m.) (Chuck Wilson)

 
GO  BEFORE THE FALL (3 DIAS) (Spain) Three days before a giant meteorite is scheduled to hit Earth and end all life, a handyman named Ale (Victor Clavijo) travels with his mother from their small Spanish town to the countryside, where his nephews and nieces have been abandoned by their parents. Shielding them from the knowledge of the planet’s impending demise, Ale must prepare for an even more imminent threat: As the world descends into chaos, the prisons have emptied, and one particular convict with a grudge is likely headed their way. Initially a meditative drama, the movie turns into an all-out horror flick by the end — a tonal shift that requires as deft a hand as, say, Guillermo del Toro’s, which writer-director F. Javier Gutierrez thankfully seems to have. Just be warned: It’s neither for the squeamish nor the impatient. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sun., Nov. 2, 1:30 p.m.; Mann Chinese 6, Wed., Nov. 5, 7 p.m.) (Luke Y. Thompson)

 
GO  BETTER THINGS (UK) It takes a while to figure out exactly what’s going on in this first feature from director Duane Hopkins, but by the time a series of narratives emerges from this series of seemingly random scenes, the viewer has already been seduced. Hopkins establishes himself as a distinctive stylist in this expertly controlled evocation of drug-addled teenage (and old-age) alienation set in the idyllic surroundings of England’s Cotswolds district. The relentlessly bleak mood and mutedness of both dialogue and image make the occasional flashes of redemption all the more poignant when they finally appear. Hopkins has crafted a work of depth and originality that will surely benefit from repeated viewings. (ArcLight Hollywood, Thurs., Nov. 6, 7:10 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 7, 3:30 p.m.) (John Tottenham)

 
GO  THE CHASER (South Korea) Writer-director Na Hong-jin’s smashing debut thriller vibrates in sympathy with its desperate antihero, a disgraced cop turned pimp racing to rescue one of his girls from a slacker serial killer. Na shows impeccable taste in stealing from genre classics both familiar (Silence of the Lambs) and comparatively obscure (The Silent Partner), but his clenched frustration with urban chaos and police corruption is felt and urgent. The scrambling messiness of the fights and chases juices the tension to almost unbearable levels. (ArcLight Hollywood, Fri., Oct. 31, 7:15 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 6, 12:30 p.m.) (David Chute)

 
CRITIC’S PICK CHE (USA/Spain) Nothing if not the movie of the year — the best, the worst, the longest, the most controversial, pretty much whatever you want it to be — Steven Soderbergh’s counterintuitive, two-part collection of scenes from the life of the iconic Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Guevara is as notable for what it manages to include in its four-and-a-half-hour running time as for its structuring absences — namely, all but a few fleeting glimpses of Guevara’s personal life, plus the entire six-year stretch between the end of the Cuban revolution and the start of Che’s ill-fated campaign to direct a sequel in Bolivia. Simply put, it’s a movie — or two movies — after Guevara’s own heart, in which the rebel leader (brilliantly embodied by Benicio Del Toro) often recedes into the jungle scape, one more proletariat cog in the Marxist wheel, while the greater cause — represented by long scenes of ideological debate and battlefield strategy — comes to the fore. One part ends in conditional triumph, the other in tragedy; in both, Soderbergh, per Che’s prophetic words, suggests that a revolution succeeds or fails by the will of the people. (Grauman’s Chinese; Sat., Nov. 1, 6 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

 
DEADGIRL (USA) Some provocative psychosexual ideas die from malnourishment in co-directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel’s sporadically affecting horror film about two outcast teenage buddies (Shiloh Fernandez and Noah Segan) who stumble upon a chained-up, zombielike naked woman (Jenny Spain) in an abandoned mental institution. The friends’ differing views on what to do lead to some half-formed satire about adolescent male hormones and the evil that is high school. But in trying to make a midnight-movie cult classic, the filmmakers seem to have gotten scared of their intriguing concept’s emotional underpinnings, settling into a contemptuous attitude toward their cast of dunderheaded characters. (ArcLight Hollywood, Fri., Oct. 31, 7:15 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 3, 12:15 p.m.) (Tim Grierson)

 
CRITIC’S PICK  EVERLASTING MOMENTS (Sweden/Denmark) A likely contender for this year’s foreign-film Oscar, Everlasting Moments, despite the schmaltzy title, is a deeply involving family drama that marks a late-career triumph for 77-year-old Swedish director Jan Troell, whose two-part 1971-72 epic, The Emigrants and The New Land, was internationally beloved. As with those masterpieces, Troell once again delineates the complexities of marriage, in this case that of Maria (Maria Heiskanen) and Sigfrid Larsson (Mikael Persbrandt), who wed in 1907 and soon have a houseful of children. A dockworker, alcoholic and womanizer, Sigfrid leaves the worries of familial responsibility to Maria, who one day goes to hock an old camera that she won in a contest and never used. Encouraged by the obviously smitten camera-shop owner (Jesper Christensen), Maria begins taking and later developing her own photographs, a process that is forever miraculous to her. Despite an obvious “gift for seeing,” this mother and beleaguered wife often sets aside her camera, but gradually, over the course of 10 years, she finds a way to balance her art with her life — a feat, Troell suggests, that is as miraculous as the capturing of image to film. Despite some schematic plotting, Everlasting Moments is the work of a master, who draws marvelously subtle performances from Heiskanen, Persbrandt and Christensen in which the truth of a given character lies not in what is said aloud but in what is held within. As with one of Maria’s portraits, it’s all in the eyes. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sun., Nov. 2, noon; Thurs., Nov. 6, 6:45 p.m.) (CW)

 
FINALLY, LILLIAN AND DAN (USA) Two quarter-life Cambridge sad sacks converge in this nearly self-parodic signal that legions of the mumble-afflicted wait in the wings to rise up and falter as one. Lillian is an anemic-looking slumper living with grandma (who does funny-cute dances!); Dan’s selling points are an eagerness to shop at Lillian’s supermarket, apparently adorable social paralysis and an old car. Aphasic courtship ensues. While the precious filmmaking ekes out autumnal-gold Quiet City visuals, the feeble actors’ disfiguring attempts at earnestness suggest the residents of Frownland. If any of this sounds romantic, then the reproductive prospects of the human race look grim. (Mann Chinese 6, Wed., Nov. 5, 9:45 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 7, 1 p.m.) (Nicolas Rapold)

 
FOOD FIGHT (USA) No one gets a pie in the face in Chris Taylor’s cheeky documentary, Food Fight; instead, the director argues that the nation has been getting Twinkies and other processed food shoved down its gullets for decades. In the wake of books like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma (whose author, Michael Pollan, is one of many talking heads here), Food Fight pits organic farmers against the Industrial Agriculture Complex. While Taylor’s film serves up the history and politics of how America eats in a breezy, amusing way, its extended, hagiographic portraits of celebrity chefs (including Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck and Suzanne Goin) are a bit hard to swallow. (Mann Chinese 6, Sat., Nov. 8, 3:15 p.m.) (James C. Taylor)

 
GO  GOGOL BORDELLO NON-STOP (USA) At one point in this giddily entertaining documentary on New York–based “Gypsy-punk” band Gogol Bordello, a talking head remarks, “You have to invent freedom.” Director Margarita Jimeno spends five years following the sprawling band and its charismatic front man, Eugene Hutz (who’s acted in Everything Is Illuminated and Filth and Wisdom), while they do just that. As the camera traverses the globe, tilting from Hutz’ biography (including home movies from his native Kiev) to rehearsal footage, raucous live performances and interviews with various members of the Gogol collective, the film becomes a heady, inspiring discussion of art, politics and personal identity, and the points at which they all intersect. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, 7:10 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 5, 12:30 p.m.) (Ernest Hardy)

 
CRITIC’S PICK  GOMORRAH (Italy) Matteo Garrone’s dramatic portrait of the notorious Italian Mafia organization Neapolitan Camorra focuses on the ancillary figures who, willingly or not, prop up the mob’s activities. The five interwoven narratives in this visceral but disciplined and beautifully acted movie show to devastating effect how ordinary men and women — and especially vulnerable boys desperate for masculine role models — get caught up in the seductive violence and are ruthlessly destroyed by the network’s hardened henchmen. It’s hard to tell whether the movie exaggerates the Mafia’s reach deep into and pollution of the infrastructure of everyday life, laying the groundwork for guerrilla-style civil war. Given Gomorrah’s arch referencing of the brutality in Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, I could wish Garrone were a little less excited himself by the brutality he stretches over 136 long minutes. And if he, too, like author Roberto Saviano (upon whose best-selling exposé Gomorrah is based), is forced to leave Italy for fear of mob reprisal, will he be denied entrance to the United States on the grounds that one of the Camorra’s real-life business ventures is helping to underwrite the rebuilding of the Twin Towers in New York? (ArcLight Hollywood, Sun., Nov. 2, 3 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 7, 9:30 p.m.) (Ella Taylor)

 
THE HIGHER FORCE (Iceland) The formula of a loser hilariously bumbling his way into a film-schooly gangster demimonde gets a tedious, slapdash run from Icelandic director Olaf Fleur (The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela). David is a gopher for some geeky crooks, who mistakenly decide he has tracked down a notorious criminal named Harald last seen in Mexico. In fact, it’s just his landlord Harald, a crank who keeps cornering his “hobbitlike” tenant. The title belongs to a martial-arts video that inspires David, part of a callous back story that sees his kid brother killed in a hit-and-run in the first two minutes. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 8, 9:30 p.m.) (NR)

 
HI MY NAME IS RYAN (USA) Paul Eagleston and Stephen Rose’s documentary cops the Sundance-twee aesthetic wholesale, complete with end-credits Kimya Dawson song. Entirely appropriate for a profile of Ryan Avery, Phoenix teen musician/performance artist whose hyperpituitary condition makes him look (as a friend remarks) like a baby. Avery’s projects are short on technique and big on audience participation and property destruction. As a profile, Hi My Name Is Ryan is competent but shies away from Avery’s troubled background. As a portrait of Phoenix’s downtown arts scene, however, it’s occasionally hilarious, especially when interviewing avowed Avery nemesis Wayne Michael Reich, a local photographer who gets really, really angry at the teens who mess with him. (ArcLight Hollywood, Thurs., Nov. 6, 9:50 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 8, 12:30 p.m.) (Vadim Rizov)

 
GO  IDIOTS AND ANGELS (USA) Cult animator Bill Plympton’s hand-penciled expressionism is most recognizable from his shorts, likely because his deadpan, spatial-distorting sight gags often can’t sustain momentum in feature form, almost by design. Yet his beautifully creepy fifth film somehow transcends this limitation and proves his most fully realized yet — a grim fairy-tale comedy, told without a word of dialogue, about a truculent businessman who discovers angelic wings sprouting from his back. The mean bastard undergoes a spiritual awakening as his new appendages thwart his every transgression, a humiliating rise-fall-and-rise tale that affects a bar owner and his salsa-dancing wife, a conniving surgeon and a town full of arson victims. Less concerned with gags than nimble storytelling and wide-screen aesthetics (every brooding corner of the frame is blotted in monochromatic noir hues), Plympton mines elegance from the utterly gonzo. (ArcLight Hollywood, Wed., Nov. 5, 9:40 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 6, 1 p.m.) (Aaron Hillis)

 
GO  THE JUCHE IDEA (USA) The latest of Interkosmos director Jim Finn’s reinhabitings of foreign propaganda films has all the comical cult oddity of a YouTube forward and, for Finn’s widening circle of festival and avant admirers, more intricate fiddling with ideology on vintage instruments. The archival playground this time is North Korea, where the Dear Leader espouses the titular ethos of socialism and self-reliance. Footage from shamed-comrade melodramas and mass parades alternates with restaged ESL lessons and Finn’s ironic framing story about a visiting filmmaker retooling her host country’s party line. With some effort, the satirical dialectic offers more than meets the eye. (Mann Chinese 6, Thurs., Nov. 6, 9:40 p.m.; ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 8, 4:30 p.m.) (NR)

 
THE LAST DAYS OF SHISHMAREF (Netherlands) Thanks to global warming, the Alaskan village of Shishmaref is falling into the sea, leaving 500 Inupiaq Eskimo residents little choice but to move to higher ground. Documentarian Jan Louter is annoyingly neglectful of the politics surrounding Shishmaref’s plight — just where is the government in all this? — but, in lovingly tracking the daily lives of three village families, he captures the never-ending struggle between tradition and modernity. The Inupiaq spend their days in nature, and are reliant upon it; yet, on his down time, a teenage boy can be seen bobbing his head knowingly to gangsta rap, as if taking notes for a dreamed-of future far beyond Shishmaref. (Arclight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, 7 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 5, noon.) (CW)

 
NILOOFAR (France/Iran/Lebanon) Inspired by an educated widow in her Iraqi village, 12-year-old Niloofar wants to become a doctor. But her father promises her hand in marriage to a wealthy sheik as soon as she “becomes a woman,” which leads her to hide evidence of her first period in order to stall her fate. Writer-director Sabine Gemayel doesn’t reveal much that’s new in her tale of the limited options afforded to poor Muslim women, although the inclusion of the wealthy, educated widow complicates cultural stereotype somewhat. But it’s the slow build of Niloo’s fear and hopelessness, and the way they connect to the tragic back story of her uncle that pull you in and rivet. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, 9:30 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 3, noon) (EH)

 
NIRVANA (Russia) Of course a Russian movie called Nirvana will be about heroin addicts; what were you expecting? Igor Voloshin’s first feature is a dose of fancy-dress nihilism for industrial club kids. A triangle of sorts between a nurse (Olga Sutulova), a blue-haired junkie (Artur Smulyaninov) and his bartender girlfriend (Marya Shalaeva), Nirvana has enough drugs, ODs, random killings, outré fashion and unmotivated violence to keep Bret Easton Ellis fans happy. St. Petersburg is transformed into a third-rate Luc Besson dystopia. It’s the kind of movie where terrible industrial music plays most of the time, somber choral music indicates a fall from grace, and Joy Division scores the end credits. Excruciating. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, 12:30 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 8, 7 p.m.) (VR)

 
GO  NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (Australia) The classy New Australian Cinema movement of the 1970s had an evil twin, a parallel flood of Aussie gore films and sex comedies that made more money but got no respect. That’s writer-director Mark Hartley’s claim in this lively documentary, bolstered with clips of geysering severed limbs and jouncing full-frontal appendages. The antihero of the piece is Brian Trenchard-Smith, a cheerfully crass Cinephile Dundee whose dystopian splatter film Turkey Shoot is a watchword among trash-cinema gourmets such as Quentin Tarantino, who is interviewed at length. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, 7:10 p.m.) (DC)

 
GO  OF ALL THE THINGS (USA) Singer-­songwriter Dennis Lambert had a dazzling cross-genre three-decade run as a songwriter and producer (including Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” and the Four Tops’ “Ain’t No Woman”) before retiring to raise a family and sell real estate. Convinced by his son Jody to finally accept an offer to perform in the Philippines, where he’s an icon on the basis of his lone early-’70s CD, Lambert lets Jody’s camera follow along as he stages a comeback he’d never envisioned. The result is a hilarious, hugely moving film that not only shines a much deserved spotlight on one of pop’s minor masters, but serves as a loving tribute to the devotion of fans. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sun., Nov. 2, 9:40 p.m.; Tues., Nov. 4, noon) (EH)

 
PARADISE (USA) The ethereal title is a ­gentle provocation in this earthbound new work by the consistently undervalued and chronically undistributed director Michael Almereyda (Hamlet, Happy Here and Now), comprising a couple dozen diarylike sketches recorded by the filmmaker as he traveled the world, A man adds anti-freeze to his car on a San Francisco street; a tourist woman browses the merchandise in a Tehran rug store; the actress Elina Löwensohn pays a visit to the studio of a Parisian abstract painter; and, in the wilds of Chickahominy, Virginia, Terence Malick is heard (and ever so briefly glimpsed) giving direction to Colin Farrell on the set of The New World. The constant is nothing more — or less — than Almereyda’s ability to ferret out the inimitable in the seemingly ordinary, the exceptional in that which appears to lack exception. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sun., Nov. 2, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 6, 3:45 p.m.) (SF)

 
PINDORAMA — THE TRUE STORY OF THE SEVEN DWARVES (Brazil) What could have been fodder for cheap freak-show exploitation, this documentary about Pindorama, a traveling Brazilian circus featuring a family of dwarves, never subjects these performers to ridicule or slack-jawed gawking. Unfortunately, the filmmakers’ insights are hardly groundbreaking: The circus life is a difficult one; little people aren’t that different from you and me. A recurring motif about audience members who decided to abandon their loved ones and join Pindorama raises interesting questions about the mythic pull circuses have on some people, but ultimately, Pindorama feels so respectful of its subjects that it forgets to make them compelling. (ArcLight Hollywood, Mon., Nov. 3, 9:30 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 5, 3 p.m.) (TG)

 
CRITIC’S PICK  PRODIGAL SONS (USA) Like Jonathan Caouette’s 2003 Tarnation, Kimberly Reed’s Prodigal Sons shows that DIY cinematic autobiographies can be much more than just indulgent grad-school-thesis navel gazes. Sons has all the pitfalls of the genre — self-realization, troubled past, lack of structure — and yet it transcends them thanks to Reed’s ability to get out of the way and let a great story tell itself. The film begins as a record of Reed’s return to Helena, Montana, where she grew up as Paul McKerrow, a co-captain of the high-school football team, only to later undergo successful gender-reassignment surgery and start a new life back east. Reed’s homecoming is upstaged by her adopted brother, Marc, who’s still jealous of Kim/Paul’s childhood popularity and confused by the fact that his brother is now his sister. Marc, who suffers from the effects of a massive head injury in his youth, then finds out he’s the biological grandson of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. And this is still only the first half-hour. While Reed’s doc lacks the wild iMovie exuberance of Tarnation, she has a patient eye, and this is what ultimately makes the rough but entirely captivating Prodigal Sons a true documentary rather than a freak show, personal essay or rant. Reed keeps the camera rolling as her filmed diary develops into a portrait of an entire family — one that’s bizarre, unbelievable and, deep down, not that different from most others. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, 9:30 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 3, 12:45 p.m.) (James C. Taylor)

 
GO  REVANCHE (Austria) Stationed somewhere between chamber drama and revenge thriller, this tightly wound film from writer-director Götz Spielmann places its precision-caliber focus on two very different couples: a policeman and his wife living in the Austrian countryside, and a prostitute (Irinia Potapenko) and her errand-boy lover (Johannes Krisch) trying to wriggle out from under the thumb of a brutal pimp in Vienna’s red-light district. A seemingly can’t-miss bank robbery provides the unlikely point of connection, but Spielmann shows markedly less interest in narrative coincidences than in the relationships between men and women and the complex emotional aftermath of loss. In his first major screen role, Krisch is a standout in an excellent ensemble — an actor of electrifying physicality who can also make compelling business out of staring off into the horizon. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, noon; Sun., Nov. 2, 10:15 p.m.) (SF)

 
GO  SHAKESPEARE AND VICTOR HUGO’S INTIMACIES (Mexico) By turns tender and ferociously creepy, director Yulene Olaizola’s documentary plays connect-the-dots with the strangely symbiotic relationship of Rosa Carvajal (the filmmaker’s grandmother) and Jorge Riosse, a troubled young man who once lived in her Mexico City boarding house. The camera focuses on Carvajal as she rattles around her old dark house remembering her long-dead tenant with affection and terror, but it’s Riosse’s unseen presence that steals the show. By the time Olaizola floats the possibility that grandma’s “beloved madman” was an artistically inclined serial killer who painted better than Gacy and wrote catchier tunes than Manson, we’re hooked. (ArcLight Hollywood, Thurs., Nov. 6, 7 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 7, 3:15 p.m.) (Lance Goldenberg)

 
STILL ORANGUTANS (Brazil) Mainly notable for consisting of a single 81-minute tracking shot, director Gustavo Spolidero’s film wears its poisoned heart on its sleeve as it follows a motley crew of fringe dwellers through the steamy streets of Porto Alegre, Brazil. The characters scream, argue and flail about in all directions, but nothing particularly interesting results, and the only thing holding together the random vignettes is the movie’s stylistic gimmick — and the filmmaker’s underwhelming appreciation for excess and hysteria. That’s a poor substitute for imagination, however, and Spolidero’s one-trick pony barely qualifies as an anti–Russian Ark. (ArcLight Hollywood, Mon., Nov. 3, 7:10 p.m.; Tues., Nov. 4, 12:30 p.m.) (LG)

 
CRITIC’S PICK  SUGAR (USA) The second dramatic feature by Half Nelson creators Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (who here share directing credit) gets as much right about baseball as any movie I’ve ever seen. It gets the hum of the electric lights in the ozone-heavy summer air and the satisfying smack of a knuckle curve as it lands squarely in the catcher’s mitt. It exults in the zigzag poetry of the white ball with the red stripes — to the shortstop, to second, to first. Double play! Above all, it understands baseball as a crucible of the American Dream, for Americans themselves and for those who long to come to these shores. In telling the fictional story of a young Dominican pitcher, Miguel “Sugar” Santos (gifted newcomer Algenis Perez Soto), during his first season on the roster of an MLB farm team, Sugar traces a factual line through several generations of minority immigrant ballplayers, from Hiram Bithorn and Roberto Clemente to Sammy Sosa. It’s a gorgeous film — subtle, observant, full of life — and the surprise isn’t how good it is but rather how true it rings. Fleck and Boden are a long way away from Half Nelson’s gritty Brooklyn verisimilitude here, but Sugar feels every bit as lived-in, whether we’re on the dirt streets of a Dominican Republic shantytown or the hardened clay of a Bridgeport, Indiana, single-A ballpark. (ArcLight Hollywood, Thurs., Nov. 6, 7 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 7, 3 p.m.) (SF)

 
CRITIC’S PICK  SUMMER HOURS (France) Those who’ve been following the recent career of director Olivier Assayas may at first be perplexed by the absence of S&M ­cyber-porn and nefarious corporate terrorists in this lyrical, Chekovian drama about three adult siblings settling the estate of their late mother (the magisterial Edith Scob), the niece of a famous French painter. But in making the deceptively conventional Summer Hours, Assayas has merely put a warmer, more quotidian face on his films’ abiding preoccupation: the erasure of borders, the fragmenting of culture and the blurring of identity at the hands of globalization and technology. Not that Assayas has gone all Naomi Klein on us: he merely observes, closely, how a modern French family might consist of a daughter (Juliette Binoche) who designs housewares in New York, a son (Jérémie Renier) who works for a shoe company in China, and a gaggle of grandchildren who, regardless of nationality, seem unmistakably American. Only the eldest sibling (Charles Berling) shows more than a fiscal interest in their mother’s bucolic country house and the treasure trove of art nouveau furnishings it contains — all of them now destined to become museum objects, strange fossils of a time when man, art and nature lived in closer harmony, gazed upon quizzically by the Ikea-and-iPhone elite. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, 3 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 5, 7 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

 
GO  THREE BLIND MICE (Australia) The Australian actor Matthew Newton wrote, directed and stars in this auspicious drama about three naval officers on 24 hours’ shore leave in Sydney before shipping out to Iraq. A tuneless On the Town directed by an aspirant Cassavetes, Three Blind Mice sets up its characters — card-playing smart-ass Harry (Newton), soon-to-be-married Dean (Toby Schmitz) and possibly-going-AWOL Sam (the excellent Ewen Leslie) — with an overextended bit of actorly chest-beating in a Darling Harbour hotel room, but quickly finds its sea legs as the sailors embark on their long night of hellraising, soul-searching and drunken revelation. Newton is particularly good at sustaining complex emotional beats over the course of long dramatic scenes. In what may be a movie first, the film’s leading lady, Gracie Otto (daughter of Barry, sister of Miranda) is also its editor, and acquits herself assuredly on both accounts. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, 12:30 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 5, 7:10 p.m.) (SF)

 
TIME CRIMES (Spain) In one of the best movie opening sequences in recent memory, a peeping Tom (Karra Elejalde) tries to get a closer look at a naked woman in the woods, only to be stabbed in the arm by a man with a bandaged face. Fleeing to a nearby silo, he accidentally ends up hiding in an experimental time machine that sends him an hour into the past. Convolutions ensue as the man encounters different versions of himself — this is one of those movies where you’ll be struggling to figure out if it all actually makes sense. Worth a look but less novel than it aspires to be. (ArcLight Hollywood, Fri., Oct. 31, 7:30 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 3, 3:45 p.m.) (LYT)

 
TOKYO! (France/Japan/Germany/South Korea) Three short films set in Japan, two by Frenchmen and one by a South Korean. Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine ...) gets half-smiles out of an Edogawa Rampo–like fable of bodily transformation. Leos Carax (Pola X) slathers the Godzilla theme over boorish images of a shit-streaked gaijin vagrant (Denis Lavant) attacking people on the street. But Bong Joon-ho (The Host) makes it all worthwhile in an ingeniously embroidered story of a pathological recluse liberated by an earthquake and a living doll of a pizza-delivery girl. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, 3 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 8, 9:30 p.m.) (DC)

 
CRITIC’S PICK  24 CITY (China) Further confirmation of China’s Jia Zhangke as the planet’s most excitingly original filmmaker, this latest message in a bottle from the front lines of the world’s most rapidly transforming economy uses a series of first-person testimonials to relate the history of a state-owned aerospace factory about to be razed and relocated to make way for a modern, high-rise apartment complex. The factory is real, as are many of the workers who pass in front of Jia’s camera. There they freely — and seamlessly — intermingle with professional actors, including Jia’s ­radiant muse, Zhao Tao, as a professional personal shopper whose parents worked for the factory, and Joan Chen as an employee whose colleagues tell her she looks like (who else?) Joan Chen. Where Jia’s early films were sharply critical of China’s headlong rush into the 21st century and the collateral damage it was leaving in its wake, in the recent Still Life and now here he seems more circumspect, culminating in an inimitably ironic moment when Zhao states her certainty that she will continue to prosper in the new, free(r) China. Why? “Because,” she says as though it were patently obvious, “I am a daughter of workers.” (ArcLight Hollywood, Mon., Nov. 3, 3 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 8, 7 p.m.) (SF)

 
GO  TWO-LEGGED HORSE (Iran) Samira Makhmalbaf’s latest film is an allegory about two Afghan children who are as alike in their despair as they are separated by circumstance. The smaller child — wealthy and legless — pays the larger — poor and retarded — $1 per day to transport him around like a horse. The film refuses to coddle its audience: The scenes of cruelty are blunt, and the boys’ relationship grows more damaging as the plot progresses. Yet, the plainspoken storytelling recalls neorealist parables like The Bicycle Thief, and like De Sica, Makhmalbaf treats her characters with the greatest humanity even as she portrays a world without it. (ArcLight Hollywood, Tues., Nov. 4, 7 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 5, 3:15 p.m.) (SS)

 
CRITIC’S PICK  TWO LOVERS (USA) After three rounds of increasingly tortured (and tedious) cops-and-robbers action (Little Odessa, The Yards, We Own the Night), the last thing one would have expected from writer-director James Gray is this delicate, sensitive romantic drama about the gradually deepening affection of two damaged people: a depressed young man (Joaquin Phoenix) recovering from a suicide attempt and the shy legal secretary (Gwyneth Paltrow) who has newly moved in upstairs. He’s in the midst of being foisted on the proverbial nice Jewish girl (Vinessa Shaw) his dry-cleaner parents would like him to settle down with; she’s put too much faith in the married lawyer (Elias Koteas) who claims he’s going to leave his wife and child for her. Yet, in a series of exquisitely tender, unhurried exchanges, these virtual strangers come to see in each other the chance for a new start and maybe even happiness. Two Lovers is a small but beautifully realized work in which Gray’s strengths as a filmmaker — his strong senses of family, community, class and tradition — support the material in a way they haven’t before. Paltrow is very good in a role that gives her more than one monotonous beat to play, while Phoenix is loose, in-the-moment and mesmerizing. Having previously dismissed Gray as the flash-in-the-pan enthusiasm of a few influential French film critics, I heretofore switch my party allegiance. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 6, 3:30 p.m.) (SF)

 
CRITIC’S PICK  UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US (USA) Heavy metal begat the speedy tempos of thrash, and thrash begat the double-kick drumming and extreme distortions of Norwegian black metal — an unexpectedly melodic subgenre that in turn begat a ’90s underground scene that was notoriously eclipsed by murder, suicide and large-scale arson. Filmmaking team Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites spent two years in Norway investigating what’s left of the Black Circle, the “unholy cult” (as the newspapers stained them) of eloquent young musicians in corpse paint, who congregated at an Oslo record store opened by Mayhem guitarist Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, who was later stabbed to death by one of their own. Today, Burzum front man Varg “Count Grisnackh” Vikernes sits arrogantly and unrepentantly in a maximum security prison, the pioneer of a classically inspired, dark ambient sound, as well as a string of politically motivated Christian church burnings. Darkthrone’s Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell, a doting follower of Vikernes (musically, at least), seems alone after the fallout, and mourns how black metal was commercially co-opted after all the negative press. As richly compelling and artfully shot as rock docs get, Until the Light Takes Us goes beyond charting black metal’s underpinnings and the tabloid sensationalism of its fiery saga. Through smartly constructed reveals and blunt interviews that include many vulnerable moments, Ewell and Aites investigate the entanglement of art, terrorism, and the media that tried to define both. (ArcLight Hollywood, Fri., Oct. 31, 7:45 p.m.; Mann Chinese 6, Wed., Nov. 5, 3 p.m.) (Aaron Hillis)

 
VISIONEERS (USA) Indebted to everything from Brazil to American Beauty, Visioneers demonstrates that while modern life may be one soul-crushing encounter after another, there’s nothing quite so miserable as a movie that turns it into a witless absurdist parable. George (Zach Galifianakis) enjoys a comfortable existence with a big house and a pretty wife (Judy Greer), but his pointless office job has him wondering if there’s something missing. Visioneers’ litany of social ills — faceless mega-corporations, quick-fix depression cures — doesn’t offer any revelations, and director Jared Drake’s sluggish comedic pace makes life’s doldrums seem positively ecstatic by comparison. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, 9:45 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 3,12:30 p.m.) (TG)

 
CRITIC’S PICK  WITCH HUNT (USA) Watching Don Hardy and Dana Nachman’s ­documentary on the mid-’80s legal witch hunt that arose from the media-scare that child molesters were lurking on every corner in America is to be horrified anew at the vulnerability of everyday folk up against an unchecked legal system. As the town of Bakersfield was rattled by an ever-growing chain of arrests, the innocent men and women accused of molestation lost jobs, family, friends and their identities. Narrator Sean Penn (who also executive-produced) fills in the gaps with information not provided by interviews with the accused, the children who were pawns of overzealous law officials, and assorted lawyers and sheriffs. Filled with amazing old news footage and infuriating new interviews that outline ways in which the miscarriages of justice are still resonating today, Witch Hunt also taps an unexpected emotional current as prison love letters between a convicted husband and wife are read aloud onscreen. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sun., Nov. 2, 7:10 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 3, 3:15 p.m.) (Ernest Hardy)

 
WORLDS APART (Denmark) Denmark’s thoroughly respectable Oscar candidate has several near-impossible tasks to accomplish, and mostly pulls them off. Co-writer/director Niels Arden Oplev first introduces audiences into the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses without condescension or freaking anyone out, showing how someone who isn’t the stereotypical fundamentalist could find structure therein. Then it drags our heroine, 17-year-old Sara (Rosalinde Mynster), out of those confines and re-integrates her into society via First Love, overwrought-teen style, without making that seem equally obnoxious. All these things are accomplished in mildly absorbing fashion. What’s absent is any sense of passion or commitment; the Breaking the Waves approach is missed. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 1, 9:45 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 8, 12:15 p.m.) (VR)

 
GO  THE WORLD WE WANT (USA) “We the People: Project Citizen” is a U.S.-sponsored program that encourages young people all over the world to become community activists — rabble-rousers, in effect. In this inspiring film, director Patrick Davidson tracks eight high-school-age groups from around the globe who each chose one burning issue in their community and then hit the streets to fix the problem, by organizing petitions and getting in the face of local officials. Their work, much of it astonishingly effective, includes an effort to get the Russian government to regulate out-of-control public gambling, and a 300-kid street march demanding clean ­water for a Senegalese village. Heroes all. (Mann Chinese 6, Sat. Nov. 8, 7 p.m., free) (CW)