BEFORE BORN (China) The Godot-like Li Chonggao is who the hard-bitten traveler with the suitcase (Tommy Wai) and the attractive young beach dweller (Xu Baihui) are awaiting at a seaside resort. And if it’s patently clear that they will have to suffer alone/together in anticipation, so, it appears, do we. Despite director Zhang Ming’s felicitous eye for Antonioni-like images of crisp desolation — and some brief hints of a commentary on where individualism in China is headed — the film’s starkness rarely translates into anything truly meaningful. (Italian Cultural Institute; Fri., June 23, 2:30 p.m.; Sat., June 24, 7:30 p.m.) (Robert Abele)

SP!T (USA) At its best, “slam” (spoken-word poetry inspired by the fiery rhetoric of hip-hop MCs) achieves a level of candid self-expression that bling-minded mainstream rap never dares. But writer-director Rotimi Rainwater’s slick documentary, which revolves around preparations for the National Poetry Slam championship, funnels the phenomenon into a conventional big-competition framework, reducing its charismatic performers to simple rooting interests. Rainwater wants to champion the art form’s creativity — too bad his own film sorely lacks in that department. (Mann Festival; Fri., June 23, 4:30 p.m.) (Tim Grierson)

GO BEYOND CONVICTION (USA) Since 1998, Pennsylvania has allowed the victims of violent crime to confront their assailants. In this raw wound of a documentary, director Rachel Libert follows three such encounters, introducing us to the criminal and the wronged party, then observing their interaction. Despite the reality-television fascination inherent in these visceral face-to-face exchanges, the film’s power stems from its subtle supposition that a crime’s emotional repercussions are ultimately more damaging than the crime itself. Years after the fact, these individuals remain hostages to their past, hoping to find comfort, ironically, in the one person who can relate. (Landmark Regent, Fri., June 23, 7:15 p.m.; Italian Cultural Institute, Mon., June 26, 4:30 p.m.) (TG)HOT CHICKS (USA) A compilation of nine short films based on the tiny comic books of Christian cartoonist Jack T. Chick, whose crudely drawn, malarial cautionary tales about abortion, Halloween, Catholicism and other unholy scourges have made him a pop-cult figure. The anthology’s willfully tacky adaptations, however, prove that some things are too unintentionally funny to parody on film. Longish where the originals are abrupt, spoofy where Chick’s are visceral, the episodes dwell mostly on the artist’s screeds against homosexuality and rock music; the best are “Doom Town,” directed by P. David Ebersole, and the animated “Somebody Goofed,” directed by Roney Ascher and Syd Garon. (Majestic Crest; Fri., June 23, 9:30 p.m.; Sun., June 25, 4:30 p.m.) (Steven Mikulan)

GRETCHEN (USA) Gretchen (Courtney Davis) is an awkward 17-year-old fashion victim who keeps falling for fat, creepy dirtbags. Sent to an emotional-recovery center, she finds she must run away to diagnose the root of her condition. (Turns out it’s her wayward dad, played by genius cameo-miniaturist Stephen Root.) Director Steve Collin’s lonely-girl’s lament is often unsteady in its pacing and emotional tone, veering from tragic to deadpan and back, but the arrival of each new, bewigged dirtbag/masher keeps the laughs coming, albeit infrequently. (Landmark Regent, Fri., June 23, 10 p.m.; Sunset 5, Mon., June 26, 7 p.m.) (John Patterson)

GO WHO NEEDS SLEEP? (USA) The master cinematographer Haskell Wexler (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, In the Heat of the Night) directed this angry and impassioned documentary about the deaths of Hollywood film crew members who have been killed in auto accidents caused by falling asleep at the wheel. The result is — no pun intended — a powerful wake-up call, not just for an industry prone to sacrificing safety in the name of “getting the shot,” but for an entire nation that once fought passionately for the eight-hour workday and now, ever more willingly, works itself to death. (Mann Festival; Sat., June 24, noon) (Scott Foundas)

GO MR. CONSERVATIVE: GOLDWATER ON GOLDWATER (USA) Despite an inappropriate musical score that falls somewhere between Gershwin and Parsifal, Julie Anderson’s documentary pays heartfelt tribute to our last true libertarian hero, Barry Goldwater. Interviews (William F. Buckley Jr. is conspicuous in his absence) and home movies follow Goldwater, who was born in territorial Arizona, as he rises from outdoors photographer to champion of Boer Americans to defender of gays in the military. Revisionists like to say Goldwater’s brand of conservatism is liberal by today’s standards, but Anderson’s film, narrated by Goldwater’s granddaughter C.C. Goldwater (who also produced), makes us wonder if it isn’t liberalism that has turned rightward. (Majestic Crest, Sat., June 24, 2 p.m.; UCLA James Bridges Theater, Fri., June 30, 7 p.m.; Sunset 5, Sun., July 2, 5:30 p.m.) (Steven Mikulan)

A PLACE TO DANCE (USA) This slight documentary on a decades-old New Orleans dance hall that caters to elderly (and quite spry) fans of big band music is a mildly interesting, occasionally funny/insightful love note to the folks caught in its frame. The film’s only real resonance comes from director Alan Berg having been in the middle of filming when Hurricane Katrina hit. Still, these proudly Southern guys and dolls ooze a fair amount of charm — and even bawdy sexiness — that represents elderly folk in more dynamic ways than anything Hollywood (indie or mainstream) has done in ages. (Mann Festival, Sat., June 24, 5 p.m.; Landmark Regent, Fri., June 30, 4:45 p.m.) (Ernest Hardy)


ANALOG DAYS (USA) They quarrel with their professors. They gossip about each other. They dress up in black ski masks and stick it to the Man. Following an hour and more of awkwardly framed close-ups, endlessly recycled establishing shots and badly recorded dialogue, Mike Ott’s not entirely tedious rehash of film-school grievances, postadolescent anomie and Andrew Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha manages, in a surprise last-minute maneuver, to give the appearance of drawing things — or, at least, the most attractive of its undeveloped characters — toward a point, a tryst, a confrontation, something! No such luck. (Landmark Regent, Sat., June 24, 7:45 p.m.; Majestic Crest, Tues., June 27, 9:45 p.m.; Sunset 5, Thurs., June 29, 5 p.m.) (Ron Stringer)

GO MAQUILaPOLIS (CITY OF FACTORIES) (USA/Mexico) For audiences familiar with The Corporation and Darwin’s Nightmare, Maquilapolis’ condemnation of greedy multinational companies won’t feel particularly revelatory, but directors Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre recycle the typical accusations with fresh outrage. In Tijuana, single and undereducated mothers desperate to feed their children work menial factory jobs for companies like Panasonic while earning very little, having few rights and facing exposure to dangerous chemicals. Maquilapolis wastes time on awkward visual-poem interludes of the workers defiantly posing for the camera, but its criticism is most striking during several unadorned scenes showing the poverty and disease that ravage the women’s community, which resides in the literal shadows of the oppressive, all-powerful corporations. (Mann Festival; Sun., June 25, 11 a.m.) (TG)

KABUL TRANSIT In this subtle and voice-over-free documentary tour of Kabul, Afghanistan, filmmakers Gregory Edwards and David Whitmore discover a community paralyzed less by war than by the all-too-human failures of organizing bureaucracies, both local and Western. The sweetest scene shows jobless young men flying kites to pass the time, while the oddest has President Bush speaking in translated Farsi on Afghan TV — he’s way more convincing in a foreign tongue. (Italian Cultural Institute, Sun., June 25, 4:30 p.m.; Tues., June 27, 2 p.m.; Sunset 5, Thurs., June 29, 9:45 p.m.) (Chuck Wilson)

GO ISLANDER (USA) Despite an overly protracted prologue, this drama about a Maine lobster fisherman’s attempt to reestablish himself in his hometown after doing prison time gradually gains in both nuance and poignancy. Writer-director Ian McCrudden and co-writer Thomas Hildreth, who also plays the lead role, ground their film in the workaday rhythms of Vinalhaven, Maine, where the occasional awkward performance by a local is balanced by deeply felt work from Hildreth, Amy Jo Johnson and Philip Baker Hall, whose brief monologue about a friendship gone awry will stand as one of his finest moments. (Mann Festival, Sun., June 25, 7 p.m.; Landmark Regent, Wed., June 28, 4 p.m.; Sunset 5, Sat., July 1, 7:15 p.m.) (CW)

GO CHALK (USA) Despite its overfamiliar mockumentary format, writer-director Mike Akel’s semi-improvised Chalk manages to wring seven shades of laughter, anxiety and discomfort from the tribulations of one year before the blackboard. Akel and co-writer/star Chris Maas (playing an idiot dead-set on winning Teacher of the Year) are educators themselves, able to sympathize with teachers who sometimes lose their shit in class but still manage to establish precious, if momentary, connections with their students. Worth seeing just for shy, depressed history teacher Mr. Lowery (Troy Schremmer) — who finally wins his pupils’ respect after a calamitous start — but elsewhere filled wall-to-wall with laughter and pain, perfectly observed. (Italian Cultural Institute, Sun., June 25, 9 p.m.; Sunset 5, Tues., June 27, 7 p.m.; Sunset 5, Sat., July 1, 2 p.m.) (JP)

THE BOYS AND GIRLS GUIDE TO GETTING DOWN (USA) Writer-director Paul Sapiano’s primer on Los Angeles nightlife follows a collection of hard-partying Angelenos over one long bender of casual sex and recreational drug use. Styled as a straight-faced informational film — complete with dry, British-accented voice-over — Guide includes lessons on how to drive drunk “safely” and why cocaine is a “fun” drug when snorted but a “sketchy” one when smoked. Generous minds may regard this as satire; others (including this reviewer), as a repellent, flash-in-the-pan bid for hipster chic. (Majestic Crest; Sun., June 25, 7:30 p.m.; Tues., June 27, 4:45 p.m.) (SF)

GO MARIO’S STORY (USA) Stories about the wrongfully incarcerated can easily touch our heart, as demonstrated by directors Jeff Werner and Susan Koch’s affecting exposé of Mario Rocha, a 16-year-old East L.A. Latino sentenced to life for a murder he didn’t commit. Documenting the six-year battle of Mario’s lawyers to free him, the film could do without its forced “inspirational” undertone — too often we hear Rocha reading from his faux-poetic prison journals, accompanied by a treacly score that tries to canonize him on the spot. Still, the film smartly illustrates the disconcerting commonness of Rocha’s predicament, casting him as one more helpless everyman ensnared by an unjust legal system. (Landmark Regent, Mon., June 26, 7 p.m.; Italian Cultural Institute, Wed., June 28, 4:30 p.m) (TG)


MATTHEW BARNEY: NO RESTRAINT (USA) Controversial artist/filmmaker (and Björk baby-daddy) Matthew Barney is profiled in this by-the-numbers, largely fawning documentary about the man and his work. Talking heads, from Barney’s father to art critics and gallery owners to Björk herself, wax enthusiastic about Barney’s avant-garde films and installations. Brief mention is made of detractors and naysayers, but director Allison Chernick gives none of the unconvinced time to make their case. And there is a case to be made. (Mann Festival, Mon., June 26, 9:30 p.m.; UCLA James Bridges Theater, Tues., June 27, 7 p.m.) (EH)

13 (TZAMETI) (France/Georgia) If there’s one image that transcends international borders, it’s men with guns — preferably aimed squarely at each other’s heads. Hence the recent announcement that 13 (Tzameti), the buzz-creating debut by Georgian director Gela Babluani, is being remade in the U.S. The film is a stark little black-and-white thriller buttressed by vague art-house nihilism: It concerns a fortune-seeking youth who stumbles across a savage underground gambling ring. The Fight Club-with-guns scenario is compelling, but the movie’s implied critique of its decadent and desiccated slumming-bourgeois villains rings hollow. (Mann Festival, Tues., June 27, 4:30 p.m.; Landmark Regent, Fri., June 30, 9:45 p.m.) (Adam Nayman)

GO SWEDISH AUTO (USA) Lukas Haas has the face of a suffering ax murderer, but in this promising feature debut by Derek Sieg he’s just dandy as a suffering auto mechanic with an after-hours habit of spying on a pretty violinist — until he learns he’s being spied on too, by a pretty waitress (January Jones) with a dark secret of her own. Sieg has a fine sense of place and a precise feel for the humdrum routines of the lonely, and though the movie becomes a touch overplotted in its second half, it never gives in to the demands of speed. (Majestic Crest, Tues., June 27, 7:15 p.m.; Regent, Thurs., June 29, 4:30 p.m.; Sunset 5, Sat., July 1, 9:45 p.m.) (Ella Taylor)

TROUBLED WATER (Israel) Filmmakers Gil Karni and Meni Elias spent 15 years chronicling the idyllic fishing community of Dugit, a Jewish settlement along the Gaza Strip that briefly enjoyed peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbors. Troubled Water explains how that tranquillity collapsed, forcing families to evacuate. But despite the documentarians’ wealth of access, the film seems oddly distant. Karni and Elias are understated to a fault; they never make us feel appreciably outraged or saddened by these people’s lost paradise. (UCLA James Bridges Theater, Wed., June 28, 7 p.m.; Italian Cultural Institute, Sun., July 2, 5 p.m.) (TG)

GO BOFFO! TINSELTOWN’S BOMBS AND BLOCKBUSTERS Although it never delves very deeply, Boffo! does a charming, highly energetic job of dancing with the subject of failure — a source of constant dread in Hollywood life. Taking his premise from the recent book by Variety editor Peter Bart (who co-wrote and produced the film), director Bill Couturie interweaves a clever wealth of pleasurable movie clips with funny interviews: George Clooney, particularly droll recollecting his brief time as Batman; Morgan Freeman, keeping mum about Bonfire of the Vanities; and Brian Grazer, acidly funny on the subject of his envy at the success of others. The entire discussion is authoritative, and thought provoking — the one limitation being that Boffo!’s definition of failure is so box-office driven that cult hits and late-blooming successes don’t ever enter into the conversation. (Mann Festival; Wed., June 28, 7:15 p.m.) (F.X. Feeney)

GO JONESTOWN: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PEOPLES TEMPLE (USA) From director Stanley Nelson (The Murder of Emmett Till, A Place of Our Own), this is a straight-forward tracing of the Rev. Jim Jones’ ever-darkening vision of a multiracial, socialistic heaven on Earth, leading to his bunkered-down 1978 apotheosis in Guyana, in which more than 900 of his followers joined him in an orgy of mass murder and suicide. While former cult members speak eloquently here of the desperate hopes and generous impulses that led them (and their dead) to embrace this Antichrist-in-dark-glasses, the ease with which Jones stage managed the cyanide poisoning of young children by their parents will remain, for most viewers — and despite Nelson’s probing — an impenetrable mystery. Which, of course, is both a danger and a blessing. (Majestic Crest, Mon., June 26, 7:15 p.m.; Sunset 5, Tues., June 27, 9:30 p.m.) (RS)


I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH (USA) Chicago-born comic Jeff Garlin (best known as Larry David’s long-suffering manager on Curb Your Enthusiasm) wrote, directed and stars in this wan comedy about a struggling actor battling a weight problem and looking for love in all the wrong places. Garlin makes for a warm and immensely likable screen presence, but the movie itself is a shambles of sub-Curb randomness, unrewarding celebrity cameos (including Paul Mazursky, Sarah Silverman and Amy Sedaris) and tiresome jokes about Garlin’s overbearing Jewish mother and a remake of Marty starring teen idol Aaron Carter. (Majestic Crest; Fri., June 30, 7 p.m.) (SF)

GO STRANDED (Australia) In this fine-looking, smartly edited 52-minute featurette, director Stuart McDonald turns Kathleen O’Brien’s promising if somewhat overwrought first screenplay — about a family blown apart by the sudden departure of the mother — into a kind of ghost story, a stark meditation on the near impossibility of letting go. The filmmakers are abetted by a capable cast headed by Emma Lung, who brings a measure of the young Bette Davis’ fire and vulnerability to her nuanced performance as big sister Claudia, poised for flight and impatient with delay. Screens with Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves, a shorter short by Andrea Janakas. (Italian Cultural Institute, Fri., June 30, 7:30 p.m.; Mann Festival, Sun., July 2, 1 p.m.) (RS)

GO HEAD TRAUMA (USA) In this game melding of the conventions of the modern Japanese ghost story with those of the standard American amnesia melodrama, writer-director Lance Weiler delivers a fair number of chills, a modicum of thrills and some downright nifty pyrotechnics. Tracing the doomed efforts of its whiny protagonist (Francis Coppola look-alike Vince Mola) to salvage the run-down and apparently haunted house he’s inherited from his grandmother, Head Trauma unassumingly works its way under the skin, raising neck hairs while teasing us to pry open its psychological puzzle box of unpaid pipers and arrested development. (Majestic Crest, Sat., June 24, 11:59 p.m.; Landmark Regent, Mon., June 26, 10 p.m.) (RS)

GO LUCY (Germany) Working in a Dardennes brothers vein of observant lucidity, German director/co-writer Henner Winckler’s unobtrusive yet effective drama focuses on Maggy (recessive beauty Kim Schnitzer), a teen mother who’d rather go clubbing with friends than look after her baby daughter Lucy. When she hooks up with a pot-smoking bartender (Gordon Schmidt) who has his own Internet business, a subtle suspense develops over whether she’ll continue to be ruled by immature emotions or rise to the challenge of domestic stability. Winckler and Schnitzer keep Maggy firmly in our sympathies as she navigates the troubling intersection of nagging responsibility and instinctual self-centeredness. (Sunset 5, Wed., June 28, 7:15 p.m.; Landmark Regent, Fri., June 30, 7:15 p.m.) (RA)

BABOOSKA (Italy/Austria) The lovely 20-year-old Babooska is part of a family that performs in and owns a small circus that travels the Italian countryside. Veteran documentary filmmakers Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel track this nomadic community over the course of a year in a film that has the admirable fly-on-the-wall objectivity of a Frederick Wiseman film, but is so without major incident or tension that one begins longing for the fire eater to have a bad day. (Italian Cultural Institute, Thurs., June 29, 10:30 p.m.; Mann Festival, Sun., July 2, 6:15 p.m.) (Chuck Wilson)

GO SISTERS IN LAW (Cameroon/England) In their ramshackle courthouse in Kumba, Cameroon, Judge Beatrice Ntuba and Prosecutor Vera Nagassa oversee the prosecution of child rapists and wife beaters, contending not just with conflicting witness accounts but with religious and tribal practices that have long kept women oppressed. No more, say these two feisty den mothers, who can unravel a lie in nanoseconds, and who encourage desperate women to use the law to better their lives. This is hands-on justice, firm but gentle, with accusers facing down abusers and the legal ladies demonstrating the recuperative value of a good face-to-face shellacking. Inspirational stuff, and often hysterical to boot. (Italian Cultural Institute, Fri., June 30, 7.30 p.m.; Mann Festival, Sun., July 2, 1 p.m.) (JP)

GO CROSSING THE BRIDGE: THE SOUND OF ISTANBUL (Germany) Head-On director Fatih Akin’s documentary gives the Buena Vista Social Club treatment to Istanbul, with Alexander Hacke of the band Einstürzende Neubauten playing musical tour guide through more than a dozen performances across the city. From Ceza, a wickedly fast young rapper, to Ohran Gencebay — he’s also a Turkish film star — who plays a thin lute called a “saz,” the sounds span centuries. A woman named Aynur sings a heartbreaking dirge in Kurdish, a language that was illegal in Turkey until 1991. Istanbul itself looks and sounds beautiful, as the mix of Asian, European and Middle Eastern cultures create a huge spectrum of sounds, beautifully captured by Akin. (Majestic Crest; Fri., June 30, 9:45 p.m.) (Mark Mauer)

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