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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

Frameline34 continues through Sunday's closing-night presentation of Howl – an revealing portrait of poet Allen Ginsberg's early years, starring James Franco – with a full slate of screenings scheduled at the Castro, Roxie and Victoria theaters. As always, here's a list of some of the finest films currently playing at an indie theater near you.

1. I Am Love

Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835; Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post St., 415-929-4650
When: All Week
Why: Tilda Swinton stars in Luca Guadagnino's seductive Italian drama as a Russian immigrant married into a wealthy Milanese family, awakened, fulfilled and, finally, ruined by her affair with a young chef. Rather than condemn her infidelity, though, Guadagnino seems to celebrate her submission to long-neglected desire; his is an astutely observed portrait of passion in conflict with tradition, and the lengths Swinton's unhappy heroine will go to find the intimacy she craves.

2. Air Doll
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: All Week
Why: "Can people fulfill their own emptiness? What is the meaning of life? What is a human being?" These are the questions posed, however indirectly, by director Hirokazu Kore-eda's melancholy fantasy about an inflatable sex doll (Bae Doo-na, of The Host) who comes to life in Tokyo, only to find a city filled with lonely souls consumed (and isolated) by their own fantasies. Those expecting Mannequin-style shenanigans need not apply.

3. Uncle Bob
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
When: June 26
Why: Former photographer, performance artist and gallery owner Robert Opel, a fixture in San Francisco's underground arts scene throughout the 1970s, is the focus of this illuminating documentary, lovingly directed by his nephew and namesake. Opel, who briefly rose to national prominence by streaking the 1974 Academy Awards telecast, was shot to death in 1979, but his return, via the big screen, serves as a joyous celebration of his life and a provocative investigation of his murder.

4. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835; Bridge Theatre, 3010 Geary Blvd., 415-751-3213
When: All Week
Why:
It’s a startling revelation, seeing the famously tough Joan Rivers revealing such vulnerability in Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg's A Piece of Work. Here, the two filmmakers delve into the comedian's personal and professional lives, and all they reveal points to a complicated and bittersweet portrait of a woman clinging to the fame she considers rightfully hers, tormented by insecurities and desperate to stay in the spotlight.

5. Winter's Bone

Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Debra Granik's subtle, suspenseful thriller finds Jennifer Lawrence (The Burning Plain) braving the frigid Ozarks and its vicious criminal underworld as she searches for her father, a methamphetamine cooker gone missing after his latest arrest. If the premise sounds familiar – a gritty slice of small-town Americana embedded in the fabric of a hopelessly grim coming-of-age fable – Granik's understated execution and Lawrence's fierce, mesmerizing performance transcend caricature and cliché.

6. Solitary Man
Where: Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., 415-771-0183
When: All Week
Why: It is tempting to think of Solitary Man a belated coming-of-age story, but that would suggest Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas, brilliant) learns something from his rapid nosedive to the nadir of a lengthy midlife crisis. One of the movie’s great strengths, in its convincing portrayal of a man unwilling or unable to put the brakes on his decline, is that Kalmen’s redemption is left as unfinished business. Screenwriter Brian Koppelman offers no facile solutions, and Douglas, who has played different versions of Kalmen before, doesn't leave us wanting them.

7. Casino Jack and the United States of Money
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: June 29 – July 1
Why: Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) profiles Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, currently imprisoned for defrauding American Indian tribes and corrupting public officials, in Casino Jack, an exhaustive portrait that follows him from his early days as a fervent supporter of Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign to his 2008 sentencing. His story, we soon learn, is stranger than fiction – outrageous, uproarious and, considering his uncomfortably close ties to the Bush administration, infuriating.