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Weekend!Movies: A Traveling Fisherman, A Hapless Dork and John Jennon
by: COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES CLASSICS, “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles”

Edited by Anne Marie DiStefano

'Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles' (PG)

Zhang Yimou, director of the sumptuous epics 'Hero' and 'House of Flying Daggers,' scales back his vision a bit for this nostalgic, lovely road picture starring the great 75-year-old Japanese actor Ken Takakura.

Takakura plays Gou-ichi Takata, a fisherman who travels from his village to visit his dying, estranged son in a Tokyo hospital. But his son won't see him - so, unable to think of what else to do, Takata travels to China to fulfill his son's previously expressed wish to film a Chinese folk singer (Jiamin Li) perform an opera called 'Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.'

His journey is funny, sad and touching, with Zhang's camera capturing the beauty of rural China as Takata steadfastly plods ever forward, determined despite communication problems and repeated setbacks to fulfill his quest. It's a small, very human, always surprising film that again proves Zhang to be a brilliant director who defies categorization.

- Dawn Taylor

Fox Tower

'The U.S. Vs. John Lennon' (PG-13)

OK, we all may feel a lot safer since Homeland Security boldly thwarted the sinister menace posed by former folk-rocker Cat Stevens. But that's only the latest victory in our government's ongoing struggle against the threat posed by popular rock 'n' rollers.

This documentary chronicles the period when a vigilant J. Edgar Hoover took time out from trying on frocks to train his sights on a peace-mongering former Beatle.

The most impressive thing about the film is the hit parade of interview subjects - ranging from Walter Cronkite to Gore Vidal to Angela Davis to Tommy Smothers (among many others) - providing historical and cultural context for the story.

This assemblage is the main reason for seeing an otherwise loosely gathered and somewhat bland account that actually seems aimed at people who already know everything in it.

Nevertheless, we can all use a reminder to remain on the alert. As David Letterman commented after the Cat Stevens incident, Homeland Security is now closing in on Dan Fogelberg.

- Pat Holmes

Fox Tower

'School for Scoundrels' (PG-13)

With this update of a cheery 1960 British comedy, director Todd Phillips ('Old School,' 'Road Trip,' 'Starsky and Hutch') takes a few tentative steps outside the frat house.

There are still enough groin injuries to keep his fan base from deserting, but enough of something resembling a story to draw a few newcomers.

The starring role of a hapless dork who takes an assertiveness course isn't exactly a comic mother lode, but it actually qualifies as a kind of pleasant stretch for Jon Heder in his quest to be known as something other than 'the guy from 'Napoleon Dynamite.' '

Billy Bob Thornton's dour drollery neatly serves the role of the instructor who becomes Heder's romantic rival, even as the specter of typecasting begins to dog him.

Michael Clarke Duncan also scores as Thornton's strangely menacing assistant, and the thin but happily light-footed enterprise even proves affable enough to survive an appearance by Ben Stiller.

- PH

Cinetopia, Century Eastport, Pioneer Place, Lloyd Center, Hilltop, Evergreen Parkway, Movies on TV, Division Street, Stark Street

Also new this week: Filmmaker Aaron Russo finds an ominous way to connect the dots between the federal income tax, the national identity card and election fraud in 'America: Freedom to Fascism' (Clinton Street Theater). The Lens on Syria series continues at Northwest Film Center, as does a retrospective of French popular comedies (see www.nwfilm.org for details).