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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

When Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island had its long-awaited October 2009 release unceremoniously delayed by Paramount, it was only natural to assume the legendary director's new thriller, starring favorite son Leonardo DiCaprio, might have missed its mark. Hardly. (The studio blamed the decision on the economy and DiCaprio's lack of availability to the foreign press.) It opens today at the Sundance Kabuki for what should be a long, well-attended run, befitting one of the most cleverly confounding thrillers in recent memory.

1. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: By leaking the contents of the top-secret Pentagon Papers to the media and forever altering America's perception of the Vietnam War, former Marine and military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, now 78, helped bring on the downfall of the Nixon administration. His story is told here concisely and powerfully by documentarians Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, who recall a time when mainstream journalists were less hesitant to challenge White House propaganda.

2. Shutter Island
Where: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post St., 415-929-4650
When: All Week
Why: Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) and adapted for the screen by Alexander's Laeta Kalogridis, Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island moves along briskly, ushering us deeper into a mystery that seems darker and more complex by the minute. What we don’t realize, though there are significant clues throughout, is that the rug is about to be yanked from beneath us. It’s not the sort of trickery you expect from Scorsese, who has never been confused with Hitchcock, but give him this: Playing by a new set of rules, he has mastered the game. His latest thriller is fascinating and breathlessly tense, even when he turns the screw and sets his grim little world on its ear.

3. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: Feb. 25-27
Why: We’ve seen Nicolas Cage slumming in disposable thrillers like Bangkok Dangerous (2008) and Neil LaBute’s misguided remake of The Wicker Man (2006), but his spirited performance in Werner Herzog's Port of Call New Orleans ranks among his very best. Here, Cage is a lunatic force, a one-man Katrina wreaking havoc on a city already in shambles, and he rises to the occasion with a fearless, man-on-a-tightrope showing. He lets himself go to stunning effect, much as he did in 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas (for which he won an Oscar) and all too infrequently since then. You won’t want to take your eyes off him.

4. Leonard Cohen Live at the Isle of Wight 1970
Where:
Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
When: All Week
Why: Ever wonder who had the misfortune to follow Jimi Hendrix's now-legendary set at the third Isle of Wight music festival? Wonder no more. Cohen, roused from a late-night nap in his trailer and escorted to the stage to perform for 600,000 frenzied fans, masterfully tamed the crowd with a performance documented here by Oscar-winning filmmaker Murray Lerner.

5. The Yes Men Fix the World
Where:
Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: Feb. 23-24
Why: Billed as "Brüno meets Michael Moore," The Yes Men Fix the World documents a series of elaborate pranks aimed at exposing hypocrisy and unmasking global injustice, committed by a pair of political activists (Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno) with little more than a pair of cheap thrift-store suits and a camera crew.

6. The Last Station
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Michael Hoffman's bittersweet story of Leo and Sofya Tolstoy, whose tempestuous marriage of nearly 50 years unraveled shortly before the author's death, is worth it for the performances alone. Christopher Plummer plays Leo as a troubled patriarch, bemused by his celebrity and wary of his wife's mercurial ravings; Helen Mirren, as Sofya, is his greatest love and most strident critic. Both earned Oscar nominations, and deservedly so, in Hoffman's exhilirating adaptation of Jay Parini's historically based novel.

7. Saint John of Las Vegas
Where: Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., 415-771-0183
When: All Week
Why: A compulsive gambler, played by Steve Buscemi, escapes from his misfortunes in Las Vegas only to return a short time later as an insurance-fraud investigator. Along the way, he encounters a wheelchair-bound stripper (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a nude militant (Tim Blake Nelson) and a sideshow curiosity (John Cho) known as the Flame Lord. Hilarity ensues only in fits and starts, but the movie is worth a look just for its cast, which also boasts the considerable talents of Peter Dinklage and Sarah Silverman.