Casa de los Babys
John Sayles (U.S.)
John Sayles is in sublime form here, tackling a highly touchy subject with an intelligence and delicacy that sacrifices nothing in drama or emotion. The premise: Six American women (among them Marcia Gay Harden, Daryl Hannah, Mary Steenburgen and Lili Taylor) have each travelled to an unspecified Latin American country in order to adopt a baby. What follows examines this practice from a multitude of perspectives, every one given its fair due. The title hints at a clash of language and culture, but Sayles is determined neither to lionize nor villainize either side of the equation. Instead, as in all his best work, his only wish is to humanize the conflict, and he succeeds admirably. There's an extended scene around the two-thirds mark a set of parallel monologues that's heart-wrenching in its poignancy. So is the ending, which insists that, whatever your life might be, your birth is a lottery some win, many don't. No matter how short your festival shopping list, be sure to pencil in this picture. R.G.
(Sun., Sept. 7, 6:30 p.m., Uptown 1; Mon., Sept. 8, 3:15 p.m., Varsity 8.)
Goodbye Dragon Inn
Tsai Ming-liang (Taiwan)
Tsai Ming-liang's remarkable run continues with his most minimalist work to date; Tsai's loyal fans know that's no small achievement. Set in a leaky, decaying movie palace inhabited by ghosts of the cinema, naturally Tsai's seemingly slight film is an inspired homage to the martial-arts films of Taiwan's King Hu (whose 1961 Dragon Inn plays in a condensed form throughout), and to moviegoing itself. There are only nine lines of actual dialogue, but who needs them? Tsai gives us laugh-out-loud, subtle physical comedy, provided by the antics of a po-faced Japanese patron who alternates trying to watch the movie in peace with cruising the theatre's bowels, and the clump-clumping of a lame ticket-taker, who Tsai puts through the wringer. Peppered with cameos from Tsai's acting family, Goodbye's long takes never seem to end, but on the day this theatre is closing forever, Tsai memorializes the malaise of the broken hearted. M.P. (Tues., Sept. 9, 6:30 p.m., Isabel Bader Theatre; Thurs., Sept. 11, 10 a.m., Cumberland 2.)
Los Angeles Plays Itself
Thom Andersen (U.S.)
This is an engrossing narrated essay from author Thom Andersen about the relationship between the city and the movie industry. From fake locations, to places that have been immortalized in film or were created by the movies and now have new functions. Los Angeles on film often reflects the condescension of the visiting eastern directors who make the movies there and have contributed to the way the city is almost consistently misrepresented, including the historical distortions in such admired films as Chinatown and L.A. Confidential. Andersen reviews favorite clichés (villains live in high modernist homes), to show how the more ideological radical and visibly underprivileged aspects of Los Angeles are erased in film, only occasionally to pop up in black, avant garde or European cinema. L.L.
(Sun. Sept. 7, 9 p.m. Royal Ontario Museum; Tues. Sept. 9, 3 p.m. ROM.)
The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam
Ann Marie Fleming (Canada)
Years of leg work by Vancouver animator/documentary filmmaker Fleming, and a terrific subject, make this a delightful look at just how wide one life can spread. Long Tack Sam, the filmmaker's great-grandfather, was a world-renowned acrobat-magician, who played on Broadway, befriended Jack Benny and taught Orson Welles magic. Through marriage, pursuit of opportunity and luck, he roamed from England, China, the United States and Austria, crashing into some of the major events of the last century. Told in personal voice-over, with cleverly illustrated animation, interviews and one commanding piece of film footage of the movie's subject in action, the story of Long Tack Sam also deals with the cult of Orientalism and its effect on 20th-century entertainment. L.L.
(Mon. Sept. 8, 8:15 p.m. ROM; Tues. Sept. 9, 9:45 a.m. Varsity 7.)
Mayor of the Sunset Strip
George Hickenlooper (U.S.)
Devotees of the flotsam and jetsam of pop culture will love this unsparing 94-minute documentary about the life and times of Rodney J. Bingenheimer. Rodney first made his mark in the mid-sixties as a pint-sized, mop-topped hanger-on/gofer for Sonny and Cher, Nancy Sinatra, the Mamas and Papas and other Los Angeles luminaries. After he lost out to Davy Jones in auditions for the Prefab Four, the Monkees, he went on to achieve a low-rent kind of fame as a record-label publicist, disc jockey, impresario and self-described "designated driver between the famous and not-so famous." Bingenheimer, who is at least 60, continues to make the scene, but it's all a little sad and a lot more desperate now. Director Hickenlooper's approach to the banality and bathos of Bigenheimer's world is alternately tender and cruel. Lots of great music, of course, and interviews with people you probably thought (or perhaps hoped) were dead. J.A.
(Fri, Sept. 5, 6 p.m., Uptown 2; Sun., Sept. 7, 10:30 a.m., Cumberland 2)