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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

From left: Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean star in This Is Spinal Tap, coming to the Castro as part of Saturday's five-film "Heavy Metal Monster Mash" festival.

The San Francisco Film Festival begins Thursday, April 21, with Mike Mills and Ewan McGregor hosting a screening of the terrific new drama Beginners at the Castro, but until then, moviegoers can feast on this Saturday's "Heavy Metal Monster Mash" festival, featuring five rockin' adventures including Heavy Metal (1981), The Monster Squad (1987), Trick or Treat (1986), the low-budget Alice Cooper gorefest Monster Dog (1984) and...

1. This Is Spinal Tap

Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., 415-621-6120
When: April 16
Why: Spinal Tap is the gift that keeps on giving. No matter how often you’ve seen it, you’re still likely to discover a punch line missed, a gag overlooked. It’s one of the sharpest, most viciously dead-on parodies ever committed to film, but Rob Reiner’s classic mockumentary also boasts historical significance: Not only did it turn hair metal on its head, embarrassing rock luminaries like Steven Tyler, Robert Plant and Eddie Van Halen, it planted the seeds for star Christopher Guest’s own sublime satires, including Waiting for Guffman (1996) and 2000’s Best in Show (2000).

2. The Conspirator
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: After Lions for Lambs (2007), his rumination on America's military presence in Afghanistan, Robert Redford returns to the director's chair for this Civil War-era drama about the seven men and one woman charged with conspiring to kill President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward. Inspired by their trial and execution, James Solomon's screenplay piqued Redford's interest as much for its historical relevance as its portrayal of a tense personal struggle. "This all took place just five days after the Civil War ended when armies were still on the battlefields and the peace was very fragile," he says. "This piece of our past seems to have slipped through the cracks in our history lessons but, ultimately, what drew me to this project was the deeply personal story that takes place inside this infamous event."

3. Miral
Where:
Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., 415-771-0183
When: All Week
Why: Based on the book by Palestinian-born journalist Rula Jerbeal, who also wrote the screenplay, Julian Schnabel’s epic portrait of four women struggling against the backdrop of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict sometimes feels like a didactic history lesson. Yet the journey of its titular heroine, played as a 17-year-old by Slumdog Millionaire’s Freida Pinto, lends itself to tense, turbulent drama, handsomely shot by the Diving Bell and the Butterfly director.

4. Bill Cunningham New York
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: “We all get dressed for Bill,” says Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, paying the ultimate compliment to legendary fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, whose work has been featured in the New York Times for 33 years. But who is Cunningham, the octogenarian-about-town relentlessly searching for the perfect shot? Bill Cunningham New York leaves us with as many questions about Cunningham as answers. That we bother to ask them at all is a tribute to the film’s effectiveness.

5. Kill the Irishman
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: All Week
Why: Inspired by the true story of Danny Greene, a onetime labor leader turned gangster who rose to fame during the summer of 1976 as the man Cleveland's Italian mafia couldn't seem to murder, Kill the Irishman is a compelling chronicle of a man compromised by ambition and doomed by his brazenness, featuring a stellar cast led by Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken and Vincent D'Onofrio.

6
. Another Year
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: April 17-18
Why: Mike Leigh's latest is drama without a hint of artifice, the sobering portrait of an aging couple happy enough in their marriage but dismayed to witness the unmistakable decline of their friends. His narrative moves with no discernible momentum, adhering only to the relentless passage of time, and offers no simple solutions to the struggles of its protagonists. Yet the pain they inflict, on each other and themselves, and the dark humor Leigh extracts from their daily tragedies, are as sharply observed as the brilliant, overlooked performances of stars Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville.

7. The Big Lebowski
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: April 19-21
Why: So you can die with a smile on your face, without feelin' like the good Lord gypped you. Any questions?