One-Night Stands 

Repertory film listings for June 26 through July 2, 2008.

Thu., June 26

Nightmare Alley The definitive carnival film in spirit, if not in ambience (the seedy, greedy "carny" atmosphere really isn't exploited fully) has Tyrone Power as a phony mind-reader who moves from the midway to the mansion, then plunges to the depths as a "geek," biting the heads off live chickens. This oddball masterpiece, directed by Edmund Goulding, is far from flawless but still splendid. One only wishes that Edgar G. Ulmer had directed instead (110 min., 1947). — N.W. (PFA, 6:30)

The Decline of Western Civilization This ninety-odd-minute documentary on the Los Angeles punk rock scene could easily — with absolutely no loss — been reduced to half-an-hour. Footage alternates between live performances in clubs where dancers, mainly twenty-year-old males, play bumper-cars (minus the cars) on the dance floor; and interviews with band members and various freelance punks. The interviewers' questions are extremely leading (Why do you wear your hair like that?), thus the answers predictable enough. Songs are subtitled. With punk bands X, Black Flag, Germs, Fear, Circle Jerks, Alice Bag Band, and Catholic Discipline. Directed by Penelope Spheeris (100 min., 1980). Preceded by Mongoloid (4 min., 1978). — M.C. (PFA, 8:40)

Serenity For those unfamiliar with the story line of this movie, spawned from Joss Whedon's failed Fox TV series Firefly, it takes place five hundred years in the future, sometime after a sort of civil war that pit Earth's Alliance against folks who didn't take kindly to being ruled and regulated. Among the rebels is a cowpoke named Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) — the bastard son of Indiana Jones, Captain Kirk, Robert Conrad's Jim West, and Rowdy Yates — and a crew right out of every western ever made. Their mission is to protect a young woman whose mind's been tinkered with by the Alliance, which wants back this powerful prophet with the ability to see the future and destroy all comers. The sole addition to the main cast is Dirty Pretty Things' Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose cool presence renders this a classier and more thoughtful affair. Ultimately, though, he's just a guest onboard this party ship, which is just as well. Who needs brains when there's a bullet left in the chamber? (119 min., 2005). — R.W. (PW, 9:15)

Harold and Maude Some think this is black comedy because Harold (Bud Cort) keeps trying to kill himself, but the story's a little too cute to be properly black. Ruth Gordon, who plays Maude, is the energetic septuagenarian who has an affair with old-before-his-time Harold. Directed by Hal Ashby, with music by Cat Stevens (90 min., 1971). — M.C. (EC, 9:15)

Special Circumstances Documentary account of Chilean Hector Salgado's ordeal as a political prisoner in Chile circa 1973, his subsequent exile, and his face-to-face confrontation with his torturers twenty years later. Produced and directed by Marianne Teleki (73 min.). (NoneSuch Space, Piedmont, 7:00)

Girls Rock! In one slender documentary, co-directors Shane King and Arne Johnson accomplish what Hollywood routinely bungles: incisively depicting the inner lives of complicated young females. And they do it with the brio one would expect from a movie about the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls, an intensive workshop in Portland, Oregon, whose campers spend five days learning how to play an instrument, write songs, and get along with their band members. (One of the counselors is Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein.) The infectious energy dissipates somewhat as the filmmakers get sidetracked by data about the media assault on girls' self-images. Still, you've got to love eight-year-old misfit Amelia and her proposed opus, a fourteen-song cycle about her chihuahua (90 min., 2007). — A.G. (Temescal Street Cinema, 49th St. at Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 9:00)

Fri., June 27

Lizzie Based on a novel by Shirley Jackson, Lizzie is the story of a triple-personality: timid, troubled Elizabeth, wild Lizzie, and well-adjusted Beth — all played by Eleanor Parker. Joan Blondell stars as her indecent aunt (81 min., 1957). (PFA, 7:00)

Mad Detective A "mad detective" has psychotic visions that allow him to solve crimes in this dark, surrealistic film from director Johnnie To. Starring Lau Ching-wan (90 min., 2007). (PFA, 8:40)

Sat., June 28

Confession The second film in Zeki Demirkubuz's "Tales of Darkness" trilogy is set in the Turkish capital city of Ankara and centers on the disintegration of a marriage (91 min., 2001). (PFA, 6:30)

Destiny A prequel to Zeki Demirkubuz's 1997 film Innocence, Destiny is about a carpet salesman and a nightclub entertainer with unreciprocated desires (103 min., 2006). (PFA, 8:15)

North by Northwest Hitchcock's funniest comedy-thriller, and the most American of his Hollywood films, with its central chase stretching across the wide-open spaces of the rural Midwest as though Hitch had just discovered the USA and was pleased with its sinister potential. Typically, it starts with a case of mistaken identity: an innocent executive (Cary Grant) is mistaken for a spy; typically, he gets involved with a woman (Eva Marie Saint) who may or may not be on the side of the angels; and typically, it's brilliant filmmaking, with two of the finest, most bizarre thriller sequences ever made. By the end, the executive might as well be a spy — he's learned all their tricks of the trade. And by the end, Mount Rushmore is exposed for the absurdity it is (136 min., 1959). — N.W. (EC, 6:00)

Sun., June 29

Welcome in Vienna The final film of director Axel Corti and writer Georg Stefan Troller's trilogy, Where to and Back? In this one, the Austrian Jew who fled the Nazis is back in Vienna in 1945 in an American soldier's uniform and finds the post-war morality more complex, compromising, and disturbing than he might've wished for. With Gabriel Barylli, Nicolas Brieger, Claudia Messner (127 min., 1986). (PFA, 4:00)

Opening Night The play-within-a-play scenario of John Cassavetes' "lost" 1978 character study is needlessly convoluted, but for sheer, unadorned method-acting intensity this may be the pinnacle of Cassavetes' filmmaking career. Gena Rowlands, this time a deeply troubled stage actor, negotiates a minefield of emotional turmoil in the company of Ben Gazzara, Joan Blondell, Paul Stewart, Zohra Lampert, and Cassavetes himself as the leading man of "The Second Woman." How many times can we say that Gena Rowlands is one of America's finest actors? The film went unreleased until the 1991 repackaging of Cassavetes' pictures. Peter Falk, Seymour Cassel, and Peter Bogdanovich take cameo bows (144 min.). — K.V. (PFA, 6:30)

North by Northwest See Saturday. (EC, 5:00)

Wed., July 2

Atheist Alliance International Convention Secular humanist Richard Dawkins explains his views in a talk given at a Washington, DC convention in 2007. (Humanist Hall, Oakland, 7:30)

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