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AFI Fest, A to W

Red Riding

GO  ABOUT ELLY (Iran) There’s something of Chekhov (by way of The Big Chill) to Asghar Farhadi’s gripping melodrama about a group of old college friends on vacation at a ramshackle beach house, mending broken windows and doors while rekindling old friendships and rivalries. The lone interloper in the group is Elly, a schoolteacher invited by the enterprising Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani), who wants to introduce Elly to her newly divorced friend Ahmad. Then, midway through the film, Elly abruptly vanishes, setting into motion an escalating series of deceptions and disquieting revelations concerning both the missing woman and those around her. Farhadi places a refreshing emphasis on character and story (a rarity in the age of fashionable art-movie minimalism) and draws a very fine performance of Farahani (who was banned from leaving Iran after appearing opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies). (Mann Chinese 6, Mon., Nov. 2, 7 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

THE ANCHORAGE (Sweden/USA) Co-directors Anders Edstrom and C.W. Winter appear to be going the Jeanne Dielman route here, applying a rigorously unfussy approach to an ordinary life in an effort to coax transcendence out of tedium. The filmmakers use long takes, minimal editing and a largely static camera to document the daily routines of a middle-aged woman (Edstrom’s mother, Ulla) as she does household chores, entertains guests, reads, swims and putters around the grounds of a small island off the coast of Stockholm. It’s a pleasure to sink into the rhythms of Ulla’s life, but the filmmakers seem to be straining for a significance that never quite makes itself felt. Good intentions and artistic integrity aside, sometimes tedium is simply tedium. (Spielberg Theatre at the Egyptian, Sun., Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.) (Lance Goldenberg)

*CRITIC’S PICK*  THE ART OF THE STEAL (USA) Who gets to call it art? More importantly, who gets to see it? Those are among the thorny questions at the heart of director Don Argott’s scintillating documentary about the strange-but-true history of suburban Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation and its legendary collection of post-Impressionist art. The foundation was started in 1922 by one Albert C. Barnes, a sort of art-world Willy Wonka who used his pharmaceuticals fortune to buy dozens of paintings by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, et al., then stashed his treasures away in a Lower Merion villa intended not as a museum but rather a school and conservancy. In life, Barnes thumbed his nose at the Liberty City art establishment (deeming the Philadelphia Museum of Art a “house of artistic and intellectual prostitution”) and placed severe limitations on public access to his collection. In death, he sought to do much the same, via a detailed public trust dictating his wishes — and so it was, until the 1988 passing of Barnes disciple Violette de Mazia brought the wolves to the door. Deeply reported and enormously entertaining, The Art of the Steal picks up the story from there and runs with it, as those who would protect Barnes’ legacy find themselves pitted against those (including such unlikely villains as the Pew Charitable Trusts) who would turn it into a crass tourist attraction. Throughout, Barnes’ own restless spirit seems to hover, wondering if it is still possible for the will of one man to triumph over the fearsome machinations of money and power. (Mann Chinese 6, Wed., Nov. 4, 7 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

BEETLE QUEEN CONQUERS TOKYO (Japan/USA) In Japan, people don’t swat away or stomp on flying insects and creepy-crawly bugs; they catch and collect them, with reverence, and an almost obsessive fervor. In this overlong but unique documentary, American filmmaker Jessica Oreck traces the 18th-century roots of Japan’s entomomania and documents its contemporary manifestations, from insect-dispensing vending machines to crowd-filled collector’s conventions. Although Oreck might have done well to trim excess travelogue footage, she and cinematographer Sean Price Williams come upon real beauty, especially in night footage of fireflies and cicadas, and the joy-filled faces of their admirers. (Mann Chinese 6, Sat., Oct. 31, 10 a.m.) (Chuck Wilson)

BELLAMY (France) If you liked his 2007 A Girl Cut in Two, you might enjoy Claude Chabrol’s latest pensée on humanity’s dark underbelly, couched as a murder mystery in which an unwillingly vacationing detective (a very good Gerard Depardieu) tries to unravel one killing, only to get caught up in spiraling webs of deception. Nominally an arch homage to the equally misanthropic Georges Simenon, the movie ratchets up the simmering domestic rage and existential chatter, only to leave us with the tiresome insight that nothing is what it seems. For a film about the opacity of motive, Bellamy is dispiritingly transparent. (Mann Chinese 6, Sun., Nov. 1, 1 p.m.) (Ella Taylor)

GO  BEST WORST MOVIE (USA) Before The Room, there was Troll 2, a nonsensical, in-name-only “sequel” that reached the ultimate low of No. 1 on IMDb’s bottom 100 movies. It’s taken 17 years, but gradually a cult audience has formed, howling at the movie’s inept monsters and bizarre scripting. Former child actor Michael Stephenson, who had hoped Troll 2 would relaunch his career, now documents the cult surrounding his dubious debut, and it’s a riot, thanks to appearances by the still-hammy dentist-turned-thespian George Hardy and the ever-delusional Italian director Claudio Fragasso, who insists his movie is a profound parable. Best news: Fragasso is reportedly working on Troll 2: Part 2. (Mann Chinese 6, Sat., Oct. 31, 9:30 p.m.) (Luke Y. Thompson)

*CRITIC’S PICK*  EASIER WITH PRACTICE (USA) True story: A guy all alone in a motel room answers the bedside phone. There’s a woman on the other end. She sounds young and hot and, before he knows it, the guy’s having phone sex with her. But that’s not the end of the story. The woman starts calling the guy’s cell phone every day, and soon he’s having an intense romance with a woman he’s never met. In real life, all this happened to writer Davy Rothbart, who later went on to create Found magazine. In this marvelous fictionalized version by first-time writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez, the man in the motel is Davy Mitchell (Brian Geraghty), a timid 28-year-old writer traveling the Southwest with his brother (Kel O’Neill) on a sweetly pathetic “book tour” in which Davy appears at secondhand bookstores to read from his self-published story collection. “You’re the closest thing to a girlfriend I’ve ever had,” Davy eventually tells the woman on the phone (her name is Nicole). It wouldn’t be fair to give away much more, but the weird turns Davy’s life takes always feel emotionally honest, thanks in no small measure to Geraghty’s achingly true performance. From the virtuoso 10-minute shot that encompasses the initial phone call, to a long traveling shot of Davy all but running from a humiliating sexual encounter, Alvarez trusts Geraghty’s fear-and-wonder-filled eyes to tell the tale. This guy, he’s gonna break your heart. (Mann Chinese 6, Wed., Nov. 4, 10 p.m.) (CW)

GO  FIRST OF ALL, FELICIA (Romania/France/Belgium/Croatia) This Romanian drama, about a divorced woman’s aggravatingly delayed return flight to Holland after a visit with her parents in Bucharest, is bracingly astute about generation-gap issues, if overlong in execution. But there’s no doubt that it fits nicely with the country’s other noteworthy films about people trapped by a combination of history, bureaucracy, family and personal circumstance. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu screenwriter Razvan Radulescu’s directorial debut (with Melissa de Raaf) features crisp, claustrophobic cinematography and long takes, which both reward and punish. But the performances are excellent, especially Ozana Oancea as Felicia, whose swings from withering looks to short-fuse outbursts and eventually a teary rant — all directed at her sweet-faced but hectoring mom — are heartbreakingly honest. (Mann Chinese 6, Sat., Oct. 31, 1 p.m.) (Robert Abele)

FISH TANK (UK) Late in this tedious slice of public-housing nihilism from British director Andrea Arnold (Red Road), the film’s dejected teenage heroine takes a piss on the living-room floor of her deadbeat mother’s no-good, cheatin’ boyfriend (Hunger star Michael Fassbender), shortly before kidnapping and nearly murdering said boyfriend’s young daughter. Would that any of this came as a surprise. A heavily symbolic white horse also makes several appearances, unhappily tethered by the side of a highway, while Arnold and cinematographer Robbie Ryan shoot everything in the square aspect ratio of standard-def television, the better to emphasize the characters’ joyless, claustrophobic existence — just in case the title didn’t already make that clear enough. (Mann Chinese 6, Mon., Nov. 2, 7 p.m.)(SF)

GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH (USA) Too twee by half, Guy and Madeline ... suffers from writer-director Damien Chazelle fumbling his blending of artistic influences (Demy, Cassavetes) and cultural references (classic jazz; Benetton hipsterism) as he tells the tale of a young jazz musician trying to reconcile with The Girl Who Got Away. Despite some lovely images (an old-school afro pick tapping against a hand), the film never takes flight as it strains to charm the audience. Real-life jazz musician Jason Palmer (Guy) is a talented trumpeter but a wan screen presence, while some of the musical sequences (particularly a tap-off at a multiculti hipster party) are cringe-inducing. (Mann Chinese 6, Sat., Oct. 31, 2 p.m.) (Ernest Hardy)

GO  THE HOLE (USA) Like his earlier Gremlins, Explorers and Small Soldiers, director Joe Dante’s latest unfolds in one of those placid, Midwestern anytowns where, in the sci-fi and horror classics of the 1950s, body snatchers and other strange invaders regularly descended. Here, the aberrations come from below rather than above — chiefly, from a basement pit in a suburban home newly occupied by a single mother and her two sons. Once uncovered, the hole gives rise to the deepest fears of those who peer into it, a bottomless id of sorts that allows Dante (making his 3-D debut) to envision all manner of horrors, from the purely abstract to the terrifyingly concrete. And when, in the film’s final act, we finally plunge down the hole ourselves, the result is some of the most expressionistically beautiful filmmaking of Dante’s career — a Caligarian funhouse of long shadows, exaggerated perspectives and things that go bump in the night. (Mann Chinese 6, Sat., Oct. 31, 7 p.m.)(SF)

GO  I KILLED MY MOTHER (Canada) Before the eye-rolling commences at the prospect of yet another coming-of-ager steeped in the bad blood between a boy and his mom, know that writer-director Xavier Dolan’s first feature has plenty going for it. Dolan, who also stars as his alienated alter ego Hubert, is a captivating onscreen presence, and the script is layered with smart touches, natural-sounding dialogue and nods in all the right directions (early Truffaut, Van Sant and Vigo among them). All of this goes a long way toward successfully reconfiguring familiar territory, but be warned: The shrill bickering between the film’s mother-son combo frequently turns the journey into something less than palatable. (Mann Chinese 6, Tues., Nov. 3, 7 p.m.) (LG)

GO  IN THE ATTIC; OR, WHO HAS A BIRTHDAY TODAY? (Czech Republic/Slovakia/Japan) If Jan Svankmajer were hired to make a Toy Story spinoff, this could be the result. In a neglected attic, a group of toys, including a teddy bear, a doll, a lump of clay and several chess pieces, celebrate each other’s birthdays (determined by a daily roll of the dice) and ride on model trains. But when a human girl discovers the doll, and moves her to a different part of the attic, the good little toy finds itself trapped in a dictatorship of warlike action figures governed by a giant, Kim Jong-Il–esque bust. The narrative is a free-flowing sort that a kid might concoct, but richness abounds, not just in the divided-nation metaphor but also in the movie’s notion that boys do in fact play militaristically, while girls imagine happier, more benevolent days. (Grauman’s Chinese, Sat., Oct. 31, 10 a.m.; Monica 4-Plex, Fri., Nov. 6, 3:15 p.m.) (LYT)

GO  KANIKOSEN (Japan) Originally published in 1929, Takiji Kobayashi’s muckraking, pro-union novel about the deplorable working conditions aboard a Japanese crab canning ship has hardly aged a day in its depiction of honest, assembly line workers exploited by greedy upper management. Which could explain why Kobayashi’s slender volume has undergone a huge cultural revival in recent years, as the Japanese economy has slowly emerged from its “lost decade.” In this manga-stylized, mordantly funny adaptation by the director known as Sabu, Kobayashi’s oppressed proles sport black plastic ponchos and turn giant geared wheels like human hamsters, momentarily contemplating mass suicide until a chance encounter with some passing Russkies shows them the light. Viva la revolution! (Mann Chinese 6, Wed., Nov. 4, 10 p.m.) (SF)

GO  LONDON RIVER (Algeria/France/UK) Despite its own confluence of First World and Third, black skin and white, Islam and Christianity, London River almost always places its characters ahead of its polemics, making for a small but heartfelt drama about an African man (the excellent Malian actor Sotigui Kouyate) and a British woman (Brenda Blethyn) who meet while searching for their missing children in the aftermath of the 2005 London subway and bus bombings. Directed by the French-Algerian filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb (the Oscar-nominated Indigènes), London River sometimes plays things a bit too broadly in the culture-clash and racial-profiling departments, but still manages to render a nicely understated snapshot of multi-ethnic life in the global city. (Mann Chinese 6, Fri., Oct. 30, 7 p.m.)(SF)

GO  A LAKE (France) There’s no fence-sitting in Philippe Grandrieux’s inscrutable allegory about an epileptic woodcutter, his virginal sister and the mysterious stranger who penetrates their hermetically sealed domain. A dark fable both minimalist and maddeningly baroque, A Lake distills the essence of Grandrieux’s previous La Vie nouvelle while amplifying many of its excesses to the breaking point. Every action practically groans under the weight of its metaphysical charge. Sounds assume a preternatural intensity. Images wobble in and out of focus, sometimes to sublime effect, but often appear so dark or disjointed that they’re nearly indecipherable. Grandrieux’s love-it-or-hate-it proposition demands our active participation, positioning the director more than ever as a button-pushing visionary angling for membership in a club populated by the likes of Andrzej Zulawski, Lars von Trier and Carlos Reygadas. (Mann Chinese 6, Mon., Nov. 2, 10 p.m.) (LG)

GO  LOOKING FOR ERIC (U.K.) An amusing divertissement from director Ken Loach and his regular screenwriter Paul Laverty, Looking For Eric is a Cinderella story in which Cinderella happens to be a dissolute Manchester postal worker (Steve Evets) and the Fairy Godmother is none other than legendary Manchester United forward Eric Cantona. Appearing in spirit form, Cantona (who plays himself and also executive produced) gives nightly pep talks to the postman (also named Eric) on everything from patching things up with his estranged wife to the power of collective organizing (a perennial Loach theme). All told, this is not one of the movies Loach will be remembered for, but whenever the wonderfully self-effacing Cantona is on screen, it scores. (Mann Chinese 6, Thu., Nov. 5, 7 p.m.) (SF)

GO  THE LOVED ONES (Australia) The willingness of a father to make his only daughter happy is the starting point for Australian writer-director Sean Byrne’s pleasurably demented debut feature, in which a high school senior (Xavier Samuel) rebuffs the prom invite of a shrinking-violet classmate (the superb Robin McLeavy), then ends up the hog-tied prisoner of her and her claw-hammer-wielding father. And, well, let’s just say he’s not the first. A juicy piece of Ozploitation, Byrne’s very stylish film pays its respects to Carrie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the late John Hughes while finding in its primary location — a disco-ball accented kitchen with blood-stained linoleum floor — a special vision of Hell on Earth. (SF) (Mann Chinese 6, Sat., Oct. 31, Midnight) (SF)

*CRITIC’S PICK*  THE MILK OF SORROW (Spain/Peru) Giving new meaning to the expression “You are what you eat,” Peruvian director Claudia Llosa’s strikingly assured second feature — winner of the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival — centers on Fausta (the Modigliani-worthy Magaly Solier), a timid and superstitious village girl who believes she has been cursed by her mother’s breast milk and keeps a potato lodged inside her vagina. The potato is at once a self-defense mechanism and a reminder of the 20 years of guerrilla warfare and state-sponsored terrorism during which thousands of Peruvian women were raped and murdered. But the times they are a-changin’, for Peru and for Fausta, who takes a job as a housemaid in order to earn money for her mother’s funeral, whereupon she slowly begins to emerge from her shell. Despite the film’s superficial trappings of Third World miserablism and von Trier–ian female martyrdom, Llosa (whose 2007 debut feature, Madeinusa, showed enormous promise) has her own wholly original, almost unclassifiable style that blends indigenous folklore with a discrete political subtext and sardonic dark humor, all filtered through the ravishing compositions of cinematographer Natasha Braier. (Mann Chinese 6, Sat., Oct. 31, 4 p.m.) (SF)

*CRITIC’S PICK*  MODUS OPERANDI (USA) “A film that could only be made in Milwaukee, where life is CHEAP!” screams the tag line, and a faux-retro introductory sequence right out of Grindhouse, plus the stunt-casting of Danny “Machete” Trejo and unlikely Wisconsin celeb Mark Borchardt (American Movie) as guest villains might lead you to suspect this is just another ’70s slasher-movie tribute. Yet there’s more going on in director Frankie Latina’s debut feature. The plot is strictly boilerplate: An alcoholic CIA agent (Randy Russell) takes on a mission that will ultimately enable him to find his wife’s killer. But plot is almost beside the point. Latina is paying tribute to the ’70s here but in a bizarre, formalist way: One scene might play like a retro spy spoof, the next like a British gangster flick, another like an experimental Warhol piece, and yet another like Italian neorealism, with the attendant changes in film stocks and color schemes such shifts imply. It’s never boring, as Latina throws enough random nudity and hilariously odd scenic juxtapositions at the audience to keep them amused, titillated and vaguely following the semblance of a narrative. Expect it to appear on Quentin Tarantino’s Best of ’09 list. (Mann Chinese 6, Sat., Oct. 31, 12:15 a.m.) (LYT)

GO  MOSCOW (Brazil) The play’s the thing — but not the only thing — that intrigues in director Eduardo Coutinho’s documentary about a Brazilian theater company mounting a revival of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Rather than a straightforward portrait of the actors or a behind-the-scenes look at the rehearsal process, Moscow deftly merges the two strategies, blurring the line between the performers and their characters. (An intimate encounter between lovers, presented in two different stagings, is the most provocative stunt of its kind since Mulholland Drive’s audition scene.) Coutinho effortlessly manages what a thousand pretentious off-off-Broadway productions can’t — to contemporize a century-old classic while retaining its power and mystery. (Mann Chinese 6, Wed., Nov. 4, 10 p.m.) (Tim Grierson)

GO  MOTHER (South Korea) As he previously did for the police procedural (Memories of Murder) and the monster movie (The Host), South Korea’s sublimely talented Bong Joon-ho here takes another venerable pulp genre — the wronged-man thriller — and enthusiastically stands it on its head. When a mentally disabled man is accused of murdering a schoolgirl, his middle-aged mum (Kim Hye-ja) takes it upon herself to clear his name — a goal, it readily becomes clear, she will stop at nothing to achieve. Bong’s currents of dazzling style are enough to keep any movie humming along, but his real coup comes in the casting of veteran film and TV star Kim, an icon of maternal warmth for Korean audiences, who here has a blast giving life to a fearsome protector whom perhaps only another mother could love. (Grauman’s Chinese, Sat., Oct. 31, 7 p.m.) (SF)

NEIL YOUNG TRUNK SHOW (USA) The second in Jonathan Demme’s promised trilogy of Neil Young performance documentaries is a tough sell. Consider this: A live rendition of a single song, “No Hidden Path,” consumes more than a quarter of this 82-minute concert film of Young’s 2008 tour. That’s a lot of time spent on one track, especially considering it’s not “Cortez the Killer” or “Like A Hurricane” (though a performance of the latter is included). Recorded in Toronto, the film offers little in the way of behind-the-scenes action, unless you consider a doctor dealing with Young’s hang nail to be high drama. Yes, there is a bigger backdrop: Young survived an aneurysm a few years back, and, facing his own mortality, felt the natural urge to document his years. But that issue fueled Demme’s first Young film, Heart of Gold. Here, we get the genius songwriter soloing like he has all the time in the world, and then some. Hopefully he does. It’s just important to use that time wisely. (Grauman’s Chinese, Wed., Nov. 4, 10:30 p.m.) (Randall Roberts)

GO  NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS (Iran) If Andy Hardy–era Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were reborn as young Iranian musicians trying to pull together a band in order to meet a deadline to perform abroad, the result might be No One Knows About Persian Cats. That’s far from a diss. This charming, funny film filters serious concerns (government censorship; immigration) through a comedic filter in order to make worthy political points. Highlights are the numerous musical performances — ranging from soulful alt-rock to heavy metal — during which montages of everyday people unfold, offering glimpses of an Iran far more dynamic and complex than the nightly news would have us believe. (Mann Chinese 6, Mon., Nov. 2, 10 p.m.) (EH)

*CRITIC’S PICK*  NORTHLESS (Mexico/Spain) A warmly human and complex corrective to the screaming anti-immigration extremists on cable news, this remarkably assured debut feature from Mexican writer-director Rigoberto Perezcano views a Oaxacan farmer’s attempts to cross over as a case of hopes deferred, sometimes sweetly, often tensely. The movie opens with a stirring, wordless sequence of waiting, walking and panting that brings Andres (Harold Torres) just over the border before he’s captured and dumped off in Tijuana, where he starts helping out at a grocery store within rock-throwing distance of the fence. Tough but fair shopkeeper Ela (Alice Leguna) and her friend Asensio (Luis Cardenas) spark to Andres’ situation, while melancholy worker Cata (Sonia Couoh) eyes him warily. They all eventually form a bond, however, that reveals how the allure of a poor country’s wealthier neighbor fractures relationships at the same time it offers the promise of new ones. With a mostly unadorned, documentarylike (but beautifully photographed) style that allows for the dignity of broken souls to rise above a harsh environment, Perezcano nudges his talented actors toward moments of quietly powerful clarity, without histrionics or predictably fated ends. What’s left is a sobering, charming and ultimately moving depiction of the geographical and emotional spaces that exist between places left behind and the ones we’re in a hurry to get to. (Mann Chinese 6, Mon., Nov. 2, 10 p.m.) (RA)

GO  PETITION (France/China) Zhao Liang’s documentary about ordinary Chinese citizens seeking redress for assorted wrongs (unlawful firings; police brutality) at the Petition Office in Beijing was more than a decade in the making. During that time, Liang skirted the law by filming inside the office while following a handful of petitioners on their quest for justice, and then took his cameras to Petition Village (just outside Petition Office) to capture the squalid living conditions of petitioners. The result is a riveting, depressing look at systemic injustice and people fearlessly battling both the perpetrators of their original injuries and a bureaucratic agency that merely compounds the wound. (Mann Chinese 6, Thurs., Nov. 5, 7 p.m.) (EH)

*CRITIC’S PICK*  POLICE, ADJECTIVE A spirit of literal-mindedness guides Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective, easily the best film in Cannes not screening in the main competition. (Instead, it was inexplicably relegated to a single 11 a.m. screening in the festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar.) Set, like Porumboiu’s previous 12:08 East of Bucharest, in the filmmaker’s hometown of Vaslui, Police, Adjective depicts an absurdly protracted sting operation designed to catch a lone high school student in the act of selling marijuana. Cristi, the cop assigned to the case, realizes the futility of his mission, though his attempts to convince his bureaucratic superiors of the same are met with contempt, derision and the reminder that it is not his place to question the letter of the law. But it is nothing less than letters and laws — of both the legal and grammatical variety — that are the keys to Porumboiu’s wonderfully pliable, allegorical theme. For much of the running time, Porumboiu gives us a series of long, nearly wordless scenes of the cop pursuing his suspect, which turn out to be the carefully laid groundwork for a showstopping final act of Stoppardian verbosity, as the cop and his superior engage in a verbal tennis match about conscience, personal morality and the true meanings of words. (Mann Chinese 6, Sun., Nov. 1, 4:15 p.m.) (SF)

RED RIDING The four novels that comprise British author David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet — with chronological titles 1974, 1977, 1980 and 1983 — earned literary notoriety for their Ellroy-influenced fact/fiction mash-ups, which dove headlong into the climate of fear, despair and sinful power that pervaded mining-hub Yorkshire during the reign (1975-80) of a serial killer dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper. The narratively compressed film trilogy adapted from the books (1977 was left out), which first aired in March on the U.K.’s Channel 4, is a mixed bag of noir-inflected style and awkwardly slick character studies. Directed by Julian Jarrold and set before the Ripper murders, 1974 introduces a cocky young journalist (Andrew Garfield) who is exploring the connection between a schoolgirl’s rape/murder and several missing girls of years prior — a pursuit that entangles him with one girl’s mother (Rebecca Hall); the viciously brutal West Yorkshire police (who say things like “To the North, where we do what we want!”); and a powerful construction magnate (Sean Bean). Man on Wire director James Marsh’s 1980 chronicles the efforts of a Home Office investigator (Paddy Considine) to unearth possible law enforcement cock-ups in the now-full-blown Ripper case, which leads him down treacherous and ultimately violent personal and professional paths. Lastly, the Anand Tucker–directed 1983 follows a haunted lawyer (Mark Addy) and a conscience-stricken detective (David Morrissey, who along with a few other actors, appears in all three films) as each turns over rocks in the thought-to-have-been-solved murders from the first film. At five hours’ total, the Red Riding movies valiantly attempt to turn Peace’s scorching (if self-conscious) mix of it’s-grim-up-north plotting and tortured interior monologues into an intertwined movie epic about the limits of humanity in a place teeming with visible and hidden devils. Yet, the urgency of the novels has been mostly stripped and replaced by an arty, burnished bleakness that, although often eye-catching in 16mm (1974), 35mm (1980) and Red One HD video (1983), prevents the many characters from ever truly getting under our skin — despite a great cast that includes Peter Mullan, Eddie Marsan and Jim Carter. Marsh’s 1980 is the most satisfying of the lot — the best-acted, surest in tone and crispest in execution as a story — but while it makes for a tantalizingly dark heart at the core of Red Riding’s venal anatomy, it rarely pumps. (All films in the Red Riding trilogy screen at the Mann Chinese 6 on Sat., Oct. 31: 1974 at 4:30 p.m.; 1980 at 6:30 p.m.; and 1983 at 8:15 p.m.) (RA)

GO  REPORTER (USA) A convincing, but not hectoring, argument for the importance of old-school investigative reporting in the blog age, director Eric Daniel Metzgar’s documentary uses two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof as the catalyst for a larger discussion about the difficulty of keeping Westerners interested and emotionally involved in ongoing, seemingly endless humanitarian crises like the Rwandan genocide. Metzgar follows Kristof as he travels to Congo in June 2007 in the hopes of interviewing a dangerous local warlord reportedly responsible for the deaths of thousands, and the resulting footage is a gripping, Heart of Darkness–style confrontation between journalistic rigor and commonplace evil. (Mann Chinese 6, Thurs., Nov. 5, 10 p.m.) (TG)

*CRITIC’S PICK*  A ROOM AND A HALF (Russia) Condemned under the Soviets to internal exile for “social parasitism” (more commonly known as poetry), Joseph Brodsky fled to the West in 1972 and never returned to his beloved St. Petersburg before he died at 55 in 1996. In this ecstatically fanciful film, Russian filmmaker Andrei Khrzhanovsky brings the acclaimed Nobel Laureate back home via his sonorous verse, his memories and a montage of archival footage, wickedly doctored photos, re-enactments and puckish animation featuring two crows and a very large cat. As placed by actor Grigoriy Dityatkovsky, a ringer for the impish writer, Brodsky bears witness to his life from his childhood as the only son of doting parents, through his youth under Stalin as a cocky dissident who scorned his country’s endemic Russian anti-Semitism, to his years as a fledgling poet hungry for Western literature, honing his craft while exiled to a freezing village. The almost unbearable final sequence imagines Brodsky upon his return, filled with wonder at the new Russia and sorrow at the empty, subdivided apartment that his parents had made into a warm nest. If A Room and a Half can be read forward as a break for intellectual freedom, it is most hauntingly understood backward as a wistful longing for the home and the parents Brodsky was so desperate to leave. The loss, Khrzhanovsky suggests, was not only his. (Mann Chinese 6, Fri., Oct. 30, 6:30 p.m.) (ET)

GO  THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (Argentina/Spain) A crafty, pulpy crime-thriller, The Secret in Their Eyes has a plot line seemingly lifted from your average Cold Case episode, but it’s a testament to director Juan José Campanella that the film (based on Eduardo Sacheri’s novel) feels so spry. A retired court officer (Ricardo Darín) remains haunted by the unsolved murder of a young woman 25 years ago. Writing a novel about the case, he revisits the crime in a series of extended flashbacks, while Campanella invests the conventions of the police procedural with dark humor and taut pacing, particularly during an exceptional chase sequence in the middle of a sold-out soccer arena. (Mann Chinese 6, Wed., Nov. 4, 4 p.m.) (TG)

GO  SITA SINGS THE BLUES (USA) One of the unexpected dividends of watching Nina Paley’s gorgeous animated feature Sita Sings the Blues is that you come away from it with a somewhat coherent sense of what the bleep is going on in the ancient Hindu epic The Ramayana of Valmiki. Paley draws from a dozen traditions of animation, finds autobiographical significance in the story of Sita’s stubborn loyalty to her betrayed and exiled husband, and pulls in blues icon Annette Hanshaw as a de facto Bollywood playback singer. The movie is all over the place, and you’d swear it couldn’t possibly work, but the artist’s playful personality comes through in every frame and holds it all together. (Grauman’s Chinese; Tues., Nov. 3, 10 a.m.) (David Chute)

GO  SOMETHING’S GONNA LIVE (USA) What’s going to live on is the life’s work of three master production designers who met at USC in the 1930s and went on to create the visual motifs of such classic films as Vertigo, North by Northwest, In Cold Blood, War of the Worlds, The Ten Commandments and To Kill a Mockingbird. In this slightly meandering but deeply affecting documentary by Daniel Raim, those nonagenarians — Robert Boyle and the late Henry “Bummy” Bumstead and Albert Nozaki — revisit their old Paramount Studio digs and describe working with masters such as Hitchcock and DeMille. A must-see for true-blue movie lovers. (Mann Chinese 6, Mon., Nov. 2, 4 p.m.) (CW)

GO  TRANSCENDENT MAN (USA) Director Barry Ptolemy’s hot-button documentary on inventor/futurist Ray Kurzweil pivots on his hugely controversial “Singularity” theory — the postulation of a not-too-distant future where man and machine merge to create a new civilization free of war, disease and even death. Kurzweil’s vision of technologically enhanced post-humanity is communicated eloquently via a collection of talking heads that includes noted scientists, journalists and, most significantly, Kurzweil himself. There’s not nearly enough time allotted to those arguing the dystopian potential inherent in Kurzweil’s notion of utopia, and some extremely complex concepts are by necessity boiled down to little more than sound bites, but this is still fascinating and immensely timely stuff. (Mann Chinese 6, Thurs., Nov. 5, 4 p.m.) (LG)

*CRITIC’S PICK*  TRASH HUMPERS (USA/U.K.) Greil Marcus’ notion of “the old weird America” takes on new permutations in this gleefully anarchic bit of street theater from Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy director Harmony Korine. Purporting to be the consumer-grade video diary of a roving band of shrieking, property-destroying, paraphilic senior citizens (played by younger actors in Halloween makeup), Trash Humpers — which has already been condemned by The New York Times as one of the worst movies ever made — is by turns a retirement-home Jackass and by others a taboo-shattering vaudeville à la Jack Smith and early John Waters, with Korine orchestrating all manner of unexpected segues into tap-dancing, spoken-word poetry (including a Gregroy Corso–worthy ditty about a world without human heads) and one of the more memorable family dinner scenes this side of Eraserhead. The trash humpers were, they tell us, “spawned by our greed” — a notion supported by the desolate suburban flatland they travel through, with its gutted-out homes, vacated storefronts and other signposts of recession-era U.S.A. Korine’s film may be engineered to offend just about everyone (what else did you expect?), but dare I say there is also something admirable, even endearing about watching these geriatric derelicts as they cast off the shackles of commodified society and make hay with our waste — proving that one man’s garbage is indeed another man’s gold, or at least his fetish object. (Mann Chinese 6, Tue., Nov. 3, 10 p.m.) (SF)

*CRITIC’S PICK*  THE TWO HORSES OF GENGHIS KHAN (Germany/Mongolia) No bare outline could do the beauty of this film justice — yet, its power grows out of the single-minded steadiness of purpose with which Mongolian singer Urna Chahar-Tugchi traverses her homeland, hoping to reconstruct the lyrics of an ancient song before it is lost forever. “A Mongol sings from the moment he opens his mouth,” she tells us — and it stirs the heart by escalating degrees to discover, as we move about these majestically grassy, isolated regions, how vital song is to her people, and every culture. (We all have voices before we have words; we all memorize songs before we learn to read and write.) It is tragic, too, how successfully Mongolia’s folkloric heritage was nearly stamped out as a long-range consequence of Mao’s 1967 Cultural Revolution. Sweet-spirited but indomitable, Chahar-Tugchi embodies the antidote, and the filmmakers are lucky beyond belief to have her — and one very, very elderly woman she finds on her journey — to build a film around. Director Byambasuren Davaa, working with cinematographer Martijn Van Broekhuizen and his assistant Graham Johnson, document this exceptional protagonist, the music of her history, and contemporary Mongolia in images that move at the speed of poetry. (Mann Chinese 6, Fri., Oct. 30, 10 p.m.) (F.X. Feeney)

*CRITIC’S PICK*  VINCERE (Italy/France) This grandly operatic historical melodrama from Marco Bellocchio (Fists in the Pocket) traces the rise of Benito Mussolini from the perspectives of his first wife, Ida Dalser (the excellent Giovanna Mezzogiorno), and their son, Benito Albino Mussolini, both of whom spent much of their respective lives tucked away in asylums after Mussolini (who was on record as being Benito’s father) denied any relation to them. At 69, age has diminished none of Bellocchio’s sting — he opens his film with Mussolini the young socialist denying the existence of God and climaxes two hours later with the 1929 creation of the Papal State, in between revisiting all of his career-spanning concerns about the many faces of fascism and the hypocrisy of Catholic family values. Formally, the film ranks among his boldest, from the newsreel and propaganda film excerpts that impishly interrupt the narrative to the fascist slogans (of which the title is one) writ large across the screen, Bellocchio revelling in the timeless entanglement of politics, the press and the madding crowd. The history of 20th-century Italy emerges as a kind of grandly cinematic delusion, and Vincere as a timely cautionary tale about despots who fancy themselves media barons — and vice versa. (Mann Chinese 6, Sun., Nov. 1, 7:15 p.m.)(SF)

*CRITIC’S PICK*  WAKE IN FRIGHT (Australia) If Michelangelo Antonioni had directed a nightmare version of Groundhog Day set in the Australian outback, it might have looked rather like director Ted Kotcheff’s existentialist horror film about a one-room schoolteacher (Gary Bond) who becomes trapped in a one-horse mining town while traveling to Sydney for his summer holidays. After gambling away all his money in a barroom game of two-up and missing his flight, the somewhat uppity teacher finds himself at the mercy of the feral locals (including an alcoholic doctor played by the great Donald Pleasance) who quickly introduce him to the local customs of binge drinking and — in the film’s most disquieting set piece — kangaroo hunting. The more the teacher tries to flee, the deeper he finds himself drawn in, the desolate landscape (brilliantly captured by cinematographer Brian West) transforming into a claustrophobic prison, the passing days assuming the fugitive logic of a dream. Originally released in 1971, Wake in Fright was, despite its young age, believed to be a lost film until the original camera negatives were discovered in 2002 in a Pittsburgh film vault; they’d been marked for destruction! Since then, the film has been treated to a painstaking digital restoration and now, back on the big screen — its images rendered in especially sharp relief — it is more terrifying than ever. (SF) (Grauman’s Chinese, Sat., Oct. 31, 10:15 p.m.)

*CRITIC’S PICK*  THE WHITE RIBBON (Austria/Germany/France/Italy) The setting of this masterful sociological drama from director Michael Haneke — winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes — is a rural German village during the year leading up to World War I, where the local schoolteacher (excellent newcomer Christian Friedel) comes to believe that a rash of deadly accidents befalling the townsfolk may be the work of one or more of his eerily withdrawn, stoic pupils. The ribbon of the title, a symbol of innocence and purity, is one that Haneke gradually unravels as the teacher hones in on the ritualistic cycle of domination, submission and humiliation churning beneath the town’s placid Protestant surface. Less conceptual and more novelistic in structure than Haneke’s Caché and Funny Games, this disturbing, austerely beautiful film (shot in forbidding black-and-white) methodically works its way through a dense, multicharacter narrative while further refining the director’s trademark concerns about society’s hidden violence and the evils transmitted from parents to children. As usual in Haneke’s films, guilt is a communal rather than individual affliction, human decency a fragile flame flickering in the gale. For these reasons and more, Haneke has always been too bitter a pill for some audiences to swallow, but The White Ribbon reaffirms him as the leading European filmmaker of his generation. (Mann Chinese 6, Sun., Nov. 1, 7 p.m.) (SF)

GO  WOMAN WITHOUT PIANO (Spain/France) As her cab-driving husband innocently sleeps, a mild-mannered, middle-aged wife throws on a wig, packs a bag and heads out into the night to ... well, what exactly? It’s the tease of not knowing that powers director Javier Rebollo’s charming and mysterious comedy-drama. Carmen Machi beautifully portrays the film’s pokerfaced heroine, and although her midnight encounters with hookers and runaways may initially seem inconsequential, Woman Without Piano strengthens its emotional hold as darkness turns to dawn and Rebollo’s episodic narrative evolves into a treatise on loneliness, aging and new beginnings. Your patience for the film’s randomness will be richly rewarded — even its title hides secret revelations. (Mann Chinese 6, Sun., Nov. 1, 4 p.m.) (TG)


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