Film Capsule Reviews

Goodbye South, Goodbye (Taiwan, 1996)

In this terrific rereading of several combined gangster genre films, ranging from the yakuza pictures of Takakura Ken to Mean Streets, aging enforcer Kao (Jack Kao, so good in Millennium Mambo and at moments a dead ringer for Takakura himself) ventures into one dubious business project after another as he struggles to control his hot-tempered brother gangster. Their womenfolk pester them with their own overseas dreams and instabilities as the men drive all over creation with one eye constantly on the rearview mirror. A movie deserving to be seen again, Goodbye South, Goodbye by Hou Hsiao-hsien (Flowers of Shanghai) is this year's Mel Novikoff Award recipient, critic Manny Farber's choice for one of his past decade's favorites. (Frako Loden)

Monday, April 21, 5:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Durval Discos
Durval Discos
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Eat, Sleep, No Women
Fear and Trembling
Fear and Trembling
Goodbye South, Goodbye
Goodbye South, Goodbye
Last Scene
Last Scene
Music for Weddings and Funerals
Music for Weddings and Funerals
So Close
So Close
Whale Rider
Whale Rider
Whale Rider
Whale Rider
Whale Rider
Whale Rider

Last Scene (Japan/Korea, 2003)

The first scene of Last Scene, with its stormy night, madwoman, and dangling fetus, suggests one of Nakata Hideo's horror films (Ring/Ring 2, Dark Water) but is actually a 1960s movie set on which actor Mihara is about to kiss his career goodbye as a result of his popular co-star's retirement and his own whiskey-addled egotism. Jump ahead 35 years, and the gaunt, long-retired widower Mihara (played by jazz musician Johnny Yoshinaga) returns to acting as a dying geezer in an inane hospital melodrama staffed by a young, movie-ignorant television crew. Sly references to horror filmmaking and the asininity of Japanese TV "trendy dorama" give this ultimately sentimental paean to the '60s era of Japanese cinema a satiric edge, enhanced by the performances of a minimalist Yoshinaga and a no-nonsense Aso Kumiko (Dr. Akagi) as a demoralized prop manager. (Frako Loden)

Saturday, April 19, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Wednesday, April 23, 9:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki

Music for Weddings and Funerals (Norway, 2002)

The slow recovery of novelist Sara Abrahamson (Lena Endre) from grief over the death of her son is delayed by continuing demands on her emotions from Peter, her frosty genius of an ex-husband, in Unni Straume's intelligent and gripping Norwegian drama. Peter (Bjorn Floberg) torments Sara in the Bergman-esque first part of this film, in just the way icy Gunnar Björnstrand used to torment Liv Ullmann in Ingmar Bergman films made 40 years ago. Straume trumps Bergman by coming up with a way to exorcise this petulant control freak that Ingmar never dared, and brings in a hotblooded Serbian musician (Goran Bregovic, producing the same Gypsy tunes viewers may recognize from 1995's Underground, et al.) to lead Sara back to the land of the living. This movie, if released domestically, might do very well in Marin County or Palo Alto, where modernist buildings created by immodest architects like Peter proliferate, as may immodest architects and their stressed-out spouses. (Gregg Rickman)

Friday, April 18, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 21, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki

So Close (Hong Kong, 2002)

So close -- or, as the repeated playing of the Carpenters' song on the soundtrack implies, so close to you-- is this brazen hired-killer sister act, and yet so hard to catch. My fanboy friends who love the Hong Kong actress Shu Qi (Millennium Mambo) will thrill to her first fighting role as the glamorous big sister who executes hits while her cute little sister, played by Mainland China actress Zhao Wei (Shaolin Soccer), navigates remotely by next-generation computer tracking devices. Their nemesis is a young cop played by Karen Mok (Fallen Angels); also a genius, she's determined to track them down with the help of a male sidekick who clearly knows who's the boss of ass-kicking. It's a wacky world of bubble baths and birthday cakes interrupted by attacks of the lethal Wall of Hair and killer high-heels -- probably the most fun you'll have at the film festival this year. (Frako Loden)

Friday, April 18, midnight, AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 21, 4:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 27, 9 p.m., CinéArts

Whale Rider (New Zealand/ Germany, 2002)

Niki Caro's feel-good movie for bright preteen girls plays more briskly than John Sayles' quite similar The Secret of Roan Inish, and doesn't insult its audiences the way a Hollywood version might. A splendid child actress, Keisha Castle-Hughes, effortlessly compels attention as Pai, the strong-willed granddaughter of a New Zealand tribal chief, whose gender prevents her from assuming the role of community leadership she so obviously deserves. A charismatic but absent father, a wise grandmother, a boy pal she can best in competition, and a whale whose distress she can sense complete Pai's supporting cast. Properly promoted, this nicely cast, shot, and mounted movie could be very popular here, a tweener-girl Black Stallion. (Gregg Rickman)

Saturday, April 19, 9 p.m., Castro; Tuesday, April 22, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki

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