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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

Real-life horse whisperer Buck Brannaman is profiled in Cindy Meehl's fascinating new documentary, now playing at the Embarcadero.

With Frameline35 wrapping up Sunday and the Jewish Film Festival (July 21 – Aug. 8) right around the corner, now is the time to take a breather from the festival circuit and check out one of these offerings currently playing at an indie theater near you.

1
. Buck
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: "Your horse is a mirror to your soul, and sometimes you may not like what you see. Sometimes, you will." So says Buck Brannaman, an American cowboy who travels the country for nine months a year helping horses with people problems. Buck, Cindy Meehl's richly textured documentary about an ordinary man who's overcome tremendous odds to lead an extraordinary life, follows Brannaman from his troubled childhood to his successful career as a real-life "horse whisperer."

2
. Viva Riva!
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: All Week
Why: Having swept this year's African Movie Academy Awards after winning over audiences at the Toronto Film Festival last September, Riva! is an erotically charged film noir about a small-time Congolese smuggler (Patsha Bay) more interested in partying than planning his defense against a ruthless rival gangster. A lurid slice of pulp fiction, writer-director Djo Tunda Wa Munga's feature debut is a genre exercise smartly and stylishly executed.

3. The Blue Angel
Where:
Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., 415-621-6120
When:
June 29
Why:
Emil Jannings  – the first recipient of the Academy Award for Best Actor  – stars in Josef von Sternberg's 1930 classic as a sexually repressed teacher fatefully seduced and disgraced by Marlene Dietrich's irresistible nightclub siren. The crowning achievement of the Weimar cinema, this first of six collaborations between Dietrich and von Sternberg is an agonizing portrait of decay and sexuality, and a subtle rebuke of Nazi Germany's glorification of the physical over the intellectual.

4. Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: All Week
Why: Conan O'Brien Can’t Stop is a snapshot of a performer on the rebound, taken at a very specific, precarious moment. It’s not always funny – director Rodman Flender (Leprechaun 2) highlights the former Tonight Show host’s musical excursions more than his comedy – and it’s not always pretty, but for the Coco-nuts of the world, it’s at least more intimate and honest than anything they’re likely to find on basic cable.

5. 13 Assassins
Where: Bridge Theatre, 3010 Geary Blvd., 415-751-3213
When: All Week
Why: Takashi Miike's story of 13 samurai-for-hire assembled to murder a sadistic young lord is invigorated by the irrepressible charisma of star Koji Yakusho (Babel) and the director's hypnotic, unrelenting pacing. Yet Assassins is most unforgettable for the sheer audacity of Miike's vision: The film, which recalls Kurosawa at his most grandiose, is a dazzling spectacle, highlighted by a climactic 45-minute showdown that somehow leaves us panting for more.

6
. Trollhunter
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: All Week
Why: The title says all you need to know: Armed with a video camera and some seriously misguided chutzpah, a trio of college students set outs to discover the truth about trolls – the supposedly mythical monsters who inhabit the Norwegian woods, not Rotten Tomatoes critics like Armond White. What they find, with the help of a cryptic “poacher” (Otto Jespersen), are creatures as fearsome as they are laughably difficult to hunt.

7. The Tree of Life
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Winner of the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Terrence Malick's Life traces the spiritual journey of a disillusioned son (played as a restless adult by Sean Penn) struggling to reconcile a troubled relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). In trying to arrive at some deeper understanding of the existential, the director's visual poetry is striking, his narrative as insightful (at times) as it is frustratingly oblique.