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Indie Theater Roundup: 7 Movies to See This Week

If you already need a time-out from March Madness, here's a list of some of the finest films currently in rotation a San Francisco indie theater near you.

1. The Great Buck Howard
Where: Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore St., 415-346-1124
When: All Week
Why: John Malkovich, rarely funnier, plays Howard, a has-been “mentalist” whose glory days of playing the Carson-hosted Tonight Show seem a distant memory as his song-and-sleight-of-hand act plays to diminishing crowds in second-tier towns. A lesser man might feel the strain, but Howard, whose love of performing is as fierce as his oversized ego and caustic temperament, stubbornly carries on. Under the top or over it, Malkovich is a pleasure to watch.

2. Harvard Beats Yale 29-29
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: All Week
Why: One can be forgiven for not counting The Game – the annual football contest between Harvard and Yale – among 1968’s most memorable events. During a year that witnessed the assassinations of M.L.K. and R.F.K., Nixon’s ascent to the presidency and the escalation of Vietnam War protests, even one of the most exciting games in college sports history might understandably be overlooked. Director Kevin Rafferty (The Atomic Café) makes it the focus of his latest documentary, a captivating tale of heartbreak and joy set against a backdrop of massive social upheaval.

3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Where: Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore St., 415-346-1124
When: March 20-21
Why: If you miss the old Arnold Schwarzenegger – the one who shot first and asked monosyllabic questions later – he’ll be making a rare big-screen return at the Clay this weekend, as the seemingly indestructible cyborg at the center of James Cameron’s man-versus-machine saga. It’s a product of a different era: Edward Furlong was considered an up-and-coming star, and Guns N’ Roses, contributing “You Could Be Mine” to the soundtrack, was still a band. But 18 years later, Judgment Day has lost none of its thunder.

4. Tokyo!
Where: Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California St., 415-885-3201
When: March 18-19
Why: Wildly uneven but never uninteresting, Tokyo! is exactly what you might expect from a trinity of filmmakers (French filmmakers Michel Gondry and Leos Carax, and Korea’s Bong Joon-ho) who seem to revel in confounding expectations – disjointed and frustratingly problematic at times, inspired and strangely beautiful at others. For those seeking a clean break from the cinematic norm, this surreal triptych might be the weekend’s most welcome arrival.

5. Virtual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived
Where: Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., 415-668-3994
When: March 20-24
Why: Director Koji Masutani spins the “what-if” game into a full-length historical fantasy, though not in the fashion suggested by its provocative title. Rather than offering a comprehensive reimagining of recent American history, Virtual JFK studies the former president’s artful resistance to military engagement with the Soviets and questions whether he could have prevented the escalation of hostilities in Vietnam that his successor, Lyndon Johnson, seemed helpless to stop.

6. Gomorrah
Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Ctr., 415-352-0835
When: All Week
Why: Winner of the grand prize at Cannes 2008 and the European Film Award, Matteo Garrone’s fierce crime epic (inspired by Robert Saviano’s bestseller of the same name) depicts the foot soldiers of the Naples-based Camorra crime syndicate casually slaughtering one another in the name of business. That Garrone chose to present his story in documentary-like fashion, using actors whose performances can only be described as workmanlike, strips the blunt-force drama on screen of any hint of Hollywood-style glamour.

7. Crips and Bloods: Made in America
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., 415-863-1087
When: All Week
Why: Directed by acclaimed documentarian Stacy Peralta (Dogtown and Z-Boys) and produced by former Golden State Warriors star Baron Davis, Crips and Bloods: Made in America traces the origins of gang culture that have turned some of South Central L.A.’s neighborhoods into urban war zones.