What would happen if someone -- say, actor Jake Gyllenhall -- shot a bullet into a rip in the space-time continuum and it appeared 28 days prior, killing him before he took the shot? Sub in a jet engine for the bullet and you've got Donnie Darko's biggest mind-fuck. Directed by Richard Kelly, the Sundance darling bombed in its theatrical release in 2001 but achieved instant cult status on video, thanks to its time-travel stoner science plotline (which involves a high-schooler with visions of a sinister rabbit who predicts the end of the world) and a sweet '80s soundtrack. Despite being nearly unfathomable without additional information, Darko succeeds beautifully from start to finish, a rarity in the genre of films that stop making sense after the title sequence.
Kelly intended a bit of confusion, though not on such a grand scale. The studio had pres sured the first-time director to cut 20 minutes, much of it concerning the philosophy of time travel, restored in Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut. Key passages now overlay scene transitions, explaining previously obtuse concepts. They should convince you that Donnie's rabbit is indeed helping save the world, but if not, that's OK, according to Kelly. He says the movie remains "open for interpretation" -- meaning you can have all the fun you want, but he's moving on. The new cut screens at 7 and 9:40 p.m. through Jan. 3 (except New Year's Eve & Day), with additional weekend shows at 2 and 4:30 p.m., at the Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight (at Cole), S.F. Admission is $4-7; call 668-3994 or visit www.redvicmoviehouse.com.
-- Michael Leaverton
Hoping to cure yourself of a bad habit at year's end -- a fetish for Snickers bars, an attachment to an unhealthy relationship? Release your sins at the Japanese New Year's Bell Ringing Ceremony, an annual celebration of a time-honored Buddhist custom. Buddhists believe that the tones of a sacred bell can free humans from the bonds of the 108 earthly desires and turn our attention to spirituality instead. Regardless of what you believe, it's far likelier to result in serenity than going out on an all-night cheap champagne drinking binge. The bell tolls for thee at 11 a.m. at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin (at McAllister), S.F. Museum admission is free-$10; call 581-3500 or visit www.asianart.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
A hunka hunka Scottish love
"The Scottish invented the New Year," boasts Alan Black, culture guardian and beer slinger at the Edinburgh Castle Pub. Black's characteristic lack of modesty has some truth to it this time: One of the largest parties in the world is the Dec. 31 Hogmanay celebration in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Traditions like fireball swinging and "first footing" (welcoming dark strangers with gifts of shortbread and whiskey) won't be observed at this local re-enactment, but Black specifies in his press materials that other time-honored activities are encouraged: eating deep-fried Mars bars, drinking something called "Irn Bru," singing poet Robert Burns' immortal "Auld Lang Syne," and -- most important and most Scottish of all, Black says -- making out with people you've never met before. Celtic rockers Avalon Rising and live bagpipers set the tone, starting at 8 p.m. at the Castle, 950 Geary (at Larkin), S.F. Admission is $10; call 885-4074 or visit www.castlenews.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Get your annual comedy catharsis
At the finish of each college semester I liked to page through my notes prior to burning them in the back yard, thus reliving the period before purging it completely. "The Big Fat Year-End Kiss-Off Comedy Show" serves the same function, but it's more fun than presiding over a hibachi bonfire. For the 12th year running, comic Will Durst and company (which this time out includes Jim Short, Debi Durst, Michael Bossier, and Steven Kravitz) mercilessly pick over the events of the last 12 months -- hurricanes and gay marriages, election snafus and Martha the jailbird -- using stand-up, improv, and sketches to wring laughs out of news that made us cringe when it hit the headlines. Look back and laugh at 7 p.m. (and again at 10) at the Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $25-40; call 345-7575 or visit www.willdurst.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
He Blew It
Daniel Ellsberg's heroism started big and kept on going. Most famous for photocopying the 7,000-page "Top Secret McNamara Study of U.S. Decision-Making in Vietnam, 1945-68" and releasing it to major news outlets in 1971, he's since become a tireless fighter for freedom of the press and a government watchdog. The information in those Pentagon Papers sent a shock wave through America, destroying our blind trust in leadership and influencing the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon. How did Ellsberg do it? Find out in Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, from which he reads at 7 p.m. at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista (at Chickasaw), Corte Madera. Admission is free-$10; call 927-0960 or visit www.bookpassage.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser