Carandiru Hector Babenco. (R) Hector Babenco has gone back to prison. The deeply engaged citizen/artist who took us inside a Brazilian juvenile facility in 1980's memorable Pixote and explored the tender, uncertain truce between a gay inmate and a straight one in The Kiss of the Spider Woman now shows us São Paulo's infamous Carandiru prison in the 1990s, when 7,500 men were crammed into cellblocks designed for 3,000. There they lived by an elaborate form of self-governance that was as weirdly elegant as it was cruelly Darwinian -- until an inexplicable (to Americans, anyway) police massacre crushed the system. Adapted from a best-selling memoir by a prison doctor, the film splits the difference between the brutal reality of the cable-TV prison series Oz and the romanticized fantasy of The Shawshank Redemption and provides a vivid, well-rounded gallery of inmate portraits. This collection of crazed crack dealers, florid drag queens and screwed-up bank robbers can also be surprisingly witty, as befits a filmmaker with a firm grasp of the irony, regret and human failing that transcend history itself. Opens Friday, June 4, at the Tivoli. (Bill Gallo)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Alfonso Cuarón. (PG) Opens Friday, June 4, at multiple locations. Reviewed in this issue.
Twilight Samurai Yoji Yamada. (unrated) Opens Friday, June 4, at the Tivoli. Reviewed in this issue.
Valentín Alejandro Agresti. (PG-13) It's a hard-knock life for nauseatingly "adorable" little Valentín (Rodrigo Noya). The streets have claimed his mother, and his absentee father (played by veteran Argentine director Alejandro Agresti) is a cruel bigot who can't sustain a girlfriend. Thus, the bespectacled moppet abides with his deteriorating grandmother (Carmen Maura) while forging a friendship between a jolly Jewish musician (Mex Urtizburea) and one of Dad's statuesque conquests (Julieta Cardinali). And that's it. This slight postcard of a movie duly delivers twee sentiment and sketches of local color but neglects to include a sincere wish-you-were-here. Despite a few spotty amusements, the dialogue is mostly pedestrian. A charming scene involving a reluctantly noble doctor (Carlos Roffé) briefly lifts the proceedings, but themes of mortality, revolutionary politics and even the crux of abandonment feel tacked-on. Essentially this is a pale imitation of My Life as a Dog or Cinema Paradiso. It means well, but it's only a "feel-good" experience if your concept of that term involves being jerked around and doused in sap. Opens Friday, June 4, at the Plaza Frontenac. (Gregory Weinkauf)