One Night Stands for the week of March 14-20, 2007 

Antonioni, Spinal Tap, and Bette Davis.

Reviewed by Vicki Cameron, Don Druker, Kelly Vance, Robert Wilonsky, and Naomi Wise

Thu., March 15

Children of Alcatraz — This documentary by Scott Cornfield looks at Alcatraz through the eyes of the children who grew up there (running time unknown). (Museum on Main, 603 Main St., Pleasanton, 7:00)

City of Ghosts — Here's another stranger-in-a-strange-land yarn, but Matt Dillon, in his feature directorial debut, delivers loads of atmosphere to tart up the threadbare paradigm. Playing a slick nobody insurance broker on the lam from the FBI, Dillon journeys from Big Apple ennui to Cambodian exotica in search of his mentor, the typically grunty James Caan. En route, he deals with ex-pat sleaze (Stellan Skarsgard), quests after the high-maintenance moll (Natascha McElhone), and befriends a capricious yet world-weary cyclo driver (Sereyvuth Kem, the film's big discovery). West meets East, fun meets danger, and the movie completely eclipses dippy recent fare like The Beach, landing much closer to Phillip Noyce's The Quiet American in terms of quality and overall style (116 min., 2002). — G.W. (Cerrito, 9:00)

Firefly — Episodes 4-6 from the cult TV series (total running time unknown). (Cerrito, 9:15)

L'Avventura — Next to Battleship Potemkin and Citizen Kane, perhaps he most analyzed film of all time. Michelangelo Antonioni's 1960 masterpiece leaves approximately half of the millions of filmgoers who have seen it absolutely cold — which is perhaps as much a testimony to the director's total mastery of his theme as anything else. For his theme is, by his own account, the moral, social, and physical instability of the modern world, the failure of communication, and the vanishing line between involvement and boredom. A group of rich young people play a sort of metaphysical hide-and-seek on a small island. There's the disappearance of a girl (Lea Massari), but no one seems to care too much, and a love affair (between Renzo Ricci and Monica Vitti) that involves a minimum of passion and a maximum of ennui (140 min.). — D.D. (PFA, 7:30)

Fri., March 16

This Is Spinal Tap — Rob Reiner directs this madcap parody of rock documentaries and he also plays the documentarian who follows the English group Spinal Tap (which has undergone some seventy changes in personnel over the last twenty or so years) around on their last, disastrous tour. The humor works on every possible level — the dingbat dialogue and interviews, the silly posturing, the old kinescope film clips, the mishaps on stage, the shaky camera chasing after the stars, the petulant groupies — and Reiner maintains the tone from start to finish. Whether you love or hate rock is irrelevant to enjoying this film. With Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, June Chadwick, Tony Hendra, and Bruno Kirby. Written by Guest, McKean, Reiner, and Shearer (82 min., 1984). — M.C. (S, midnight)

Who Killed the Electric Car? — Admit it: For years you've been burning to know what ol' Phyllis Diller really thinks about electric cars, which first (dis)appeared in her youth. "They were very quiet," she recalls. The real question is why this purportedly impassioned documentary investigation of a great subject — American culture's conspiratorial dismissal of eco-friendly alternatives to the gas-guzzler — would assume such massive viewer disinterest that it coats the pill with C-list celebrity NutraSweet, including Martin Sheen voiceovers that would sound unforgivably hackneyed even on basic cable (2006). — R.N. (Long Haul, 3124 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 8:00)

Sat., March 17

All About Eve — Sporting one of the wittiest, most sophisticates scripts ever created for the cinema, writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz' elegantly cynical portrait of life in the "thea-ta" is fully realized through a career performance by Bette Davis who, in her return to the screen after being blacklisted by studio heads for tussling over actors' rights to choose their own material, imbues aging Broadway star Margo Channing with an amazing juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability. And there isn't a slouch among the supporting cast, which includes Thelma Ritter as Davis' quick-with-a-quip sidekick, Anne Baxter as an adoring fan, George Saunders as viperish columnist Addison deWitt, Celeste Holm as "just a playwright's wife," Gary Merrill as Davis' director and lover, and a young Marilyn Monroe picture-perfect as "a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art." If you haven't seen it, you must. If you have seen it, you must see it again, for this is truly as good as it gets (138 min., 1950). — V.C. (Cerrito, 6:00)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show — The original 1975 British rock music horror spoof, starring Tim Curry as the androgynous Dr. Frank N. Furter (95 min.). (PW, midnight)

This Is Spinal Tap — See Fri. (S, midnight)

Sun., March 18

All About Eve — See Sat. (Cerrito, 5:00)

Wed., March 21

Casino Royale — To say that Casino Royale — the third attempt to perfect the very first book in Ian Fleming's series, which began in 1953 — ranks among the best James Bond offerings is not intended as backhanded praise. Absolutely, it goes on too long (clocking in at 144 minutes), and absolutely, half the damned thing makes no sense at all, but it works hard enough to merit its prolonged coda and nonsensical storytelling. Because beneath all the gimmicks and gadgets is the actor Daniel Craig, who brings to Bond all the things he's lacked since Sean Connery fought the Cold War in a toupee (2006). — R.W. (JCCEB, 7:00)

Persona — Ingmar Bergman's 1966 psychological study of an actress (Liv Ullmann) who decides to stop speaking and her empathetic nurse (Bibi Andersson) defines what "Bergmanesque" has come to mean. Nowhere near as cinematic as his most famous '50s works, Persona's tight close-ups, laden with angst and spiritual duplicity, contributed to the revisionist revulsion Bergman now faces (85 min.). — K.V. With a lecture by Marilyn Fabe. (PFA, 3:00)

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