BIG BAD LOVE (R)
This adaptation of several short stories by Mississippi writer Larry Brown marks the ambitious directing debut of actor Arliss Howard, who also co-wrote the script and stars. There's more than a touch of magic realism in Howard's style, a sort of stream-of-consciousness account of a perpetual screw-up's attempt to manage the two most important aspects of his life Ñ drinking and sending out his writing for publication, both of which he does in binges. Even if you are initially put off by the deliberately staggered rhythms and Howard's occasional navel-gazing fascination with his own drawl, something nebulous but rewarding may eventually strike you like the Southern sun blazing off the pavement when you're just out of detox. Howard's wife, the long absent Debra Winger, co-stars, and there's a well-chosen soundtrack. (Pat Holmes)
9:10 p.m. Friday-Thursday, through May 9, at Cinema 21, 616 N.W. 21st Ave.
CODE UNKNOWN (NR)
Michael Haneke's film is a series of encounters on a Paris street involving an actress (Juliette Binoche), the younger brother of her photographer boyfriend, a Romanian beggar woman and a young African teacher of deaf children. The scenes illuminate a variety of themes, from miscommunication to race and the perceptions of ourselves and others. Subtitled 'Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys,' the film's series of single-take blackout vignettes may fascinate or frustrate, depending on your perception. (PH)
7 p.m. Friday-Thursday, through May 9, at Cinema 21, 616 N.W. 21st Ave.
MURDER BY NUMBERS (R)
From Miss Congeniality to Dirty Harriet? Well, not quite. But Sandra Bullock does play a homicide cop investigating a murder in a small California coastal town. This is a misguided thriller that makes a monkey out of director Barbet Schroeder, whose films are alternately fascinating ('Reversal of Fortune') and overwrought ('Single White Female').
It doesn't help that Bullock lacks gravity, sounds whiny and only seems at home when seducing
co-star Ben Chaplin. (PH)
PANIC ROOM (R)
Director David Fincher follows up his brilliant 'Fight Club' with this solid, if not groundbreaking, thriller. Jodie Foster plays a newly divorced woman who must protect herself and her daughter when three men break into their New York City brownstone. They lock themselves in a secure panic room only to discover that what the men want is in the room itself. (Dawn Taylor)
PAULINE AND PAULETTE (PG)
All Pauline wants is to live with her sister, Paulette. But Paulette Ñ a boutique owner and third-rate opera singer Ñ has little patience for her doting, mentally retarded sister. The simple plot may sound better suited for Lifetime TV than the big screen, but this Belgian drama gets a big boost from Lieven Debrauwer's sensitive direction and Dora van der Groen's brave and brilliant portrayal of Pauline. (Stephen Blair)
VIVA ZAPATA! (NR)
From 1952, this week's entry in the Northwest Film Center's Elia Kazan series is the least seen of the director's groundbreaking collaborations with Marlon Brando. With a script by John Steinbeck, the story of Emiliano Zapata, Mexican revolutionary leader and comrade of Pancho Villa, combines an exciting adventure story with social and political themes in the compelling Kazan fashion. Chances to see it on the big screen are rare, so don't miss yours. (PH)
7 p.m. Monday, May 6, at Guild Theatre, 829 S.W. Ninth Ave.