July 30 2014 03:27 PM

Joe Swanberg's new independent film starring Anna Kendrick leads our rundown of movies screening around town

Happy Christmas
Happy Christmas

Joe Swanberg made his mark on the independent-film scene, crafting super-low-budget melodramas about young people experimenting with sex and moral ineptitude. In 2013, Drinking Buddies catapulted him into the mainstream; this deceptively bleak film breezily riffed on romantic-comedy tropes while occasionally flirting with darker territory. It was also the first time Swanberg worked with legitimate movie stars like Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick. 

Happy Christmas—opens Friday, Aug. 1, and screens through Aug. 7 at the Ken Cinema—finds the filmmaker once again dabbling in millennial malaise. This time Kendrick plays Jenny, a recently heartbroken 20-something who moves in with her brother Jeff (Swanberg) and his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey), who are in the midst of raising a rambunctious toddler. Their Chicago home has a tiki-themed basement that's perfect for a young woman already indulging in a midlife crisis.

As Jenny proves herself a hot mess time and again, inspiring the occasional irresponsible behavior in Jeff, Kelly's torn between her own career impulses and duties as a mother. Outbursts of anxiety and doubt become a common occurrence in the film, which quickly establishes itself as a cyclical and sometimes masochistic examination of laziness. 

From a performance perspective, much of the problems lie with Kendrick, who doubles down on her snotty grimacing schtick previously honed in the charming Pitch Perfect. If too much time is dedicated to the cloying Jenny, Lynskey's Kelly feels underdeveloped and shortchanged.

Swanberg the auteur seems to be on autopilot; his handheld camera lazily hangs around the actors, casually dropping in on conversations that go absolutely nowhere. The seasonal setting makes very little sense in relation to the overall narrative. Then again, Happy Christmas never feels like a fully formed film to begin with; it's nothing more than a yuletide doodle.


Borgman: In this enigmatic, magical-realist horror film, a mysterious vagrant starts tormenting an upper-class family for his own sadistic urges and needs. Screens through Aug. 6 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park. 

Get on Up: The James Brown biopic we've all been waiting for from the director of The Help

Guardians of the Galaxy: American pilot Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his rowdy alien crew become objects of a manhunt after stealing a valuable orb that belongs to a diabolical space villain. 

Happy Christmas: When heartbroken Jenny (Anna Kendrick) moves in with her brother (Joe Swanberg), his novelist wife (Melanie Lynskey) and their 2-year-old baby, things get weird fast. Screens through Aug. 7 at the Ken Cinema. 

Lucky Them: Toni Collette plays a rock journalist assigned to track down her musician ex-husband. Screens through Aug. 7 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.

Magic in the Moonlight: Woody Allen's latest cinematic confection follows an English debunker (Colin Firth) brought in to unmask a possible swindle involving a wacky astrologist (Emma Stone). 

Oceanside International Film Festival: It's cinema time by the surf. More than 70 films will be screened during this eight-day festival running from Sunday, Aug. 3, through Sunday, Aug. 10. For more information visit ocaf.info/oceanside-inter

One time only

The Graduate: Mrs. Robinson, still seducing after all these years. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 30, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.

Ex (Many Kisses Later): Apparently, this romantic comedy from Italian maestro Fausto Brizzi lives up to its title. There are plenty of smooches. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 31, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. 

Back to the Future: Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) goes back in time to save his family's future. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 31, at Arclight La Jolla.

In a Lonely Place: Humphrey Bogart stars as a screenwriter who's accused of murder and charms his neighbor into giving him an alibi. By master director Nicholas Ray. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, July 31 and Aug. 1, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills. 

Pulp Fiction: Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead. Screens at midnight on Saturday, Aug. 2, at the Ken Cinema. 

1to1 Movement's America's Finest Film Festival: Along with showcasing 20 new short films, the one-day event will also have beer tastings. Screens at 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, at the Irwin Jacobs Center in Sorrento Mesa. See Page 15 for details.

Sixteen Candles: John Hughes' classic 1980s film follows Molly Ringwald around as she gets continuously humiliated on her 16th birthday. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 2 and 3, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills. 

Feminist Stories from Women's Liberation: Documentary about the famous feminist group that fought for women's rights in the 1970s. Screens at 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3, at the Women's Museum in Point Loma's Liberty Station. 

Square Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja: Miami's 1970s pot-smuggling scene gets a rowdy and loving portrait by filmmaker Billy Corben. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 4, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.

10 Years: A group of high-school friends gets together the night before their 10-year reunion, only to realize that not much has changed. It stars Channing Tatum and Rosario Dawson. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 5, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library. 

Impossible Light: Watch renowned artist Leo Villareal and his team install 25,000 LED lights on San Francisco's Bay Bridge for an abstract-art sculpture. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 5, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. 

Jaws: Chomp chomp. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. 

Un Difetto di Famiglia (A Family Flaw): Small-town Italian life turns batty in this rambunctious farce about a series of misadventures involving a runaway coffin. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6, at Ultrastar Mission Valley Cinemas.

Now playing

A Most Wanted Man: Director Anton Corbijn (The American) adapts John le Carré's famous novel about a web of spies operating in the shadowy confines of Hamburg, Germany.

And So it Goes: Michael Douglas plays a grumpy real-estate agent whose life is suddenly uprooted when he's forced to care for his estranged granddaughter. It co-stars Diane Keaton. 

Code Black: Director Ryan McGarry's documentary takes viewers inside a notorious trauma bay in an inner-city emergency room that's known as the "hurt locker of medicine."

The Empty Hours: When a teenager takes over his uncle's small and cozy hotel on the coast of Vera Cruz, he meets a seductive older woman who changes his life forever. Screens through July 31 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.

Hercules: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson dons the sword, sandals and skimpy underwear to play the half-god at odds with his immortal brethren.

I Origins: A molecular biologist (Michael Pitt) makes a discovery that could change the world, all while romancing his lab assistant. It's directed by Mike Cahill (Another Earth) and co-stars Brit Marling and Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead).

Land Ho!: Two old friends take a road trip through Iceland, hoping to find a new lease on life, in Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens' quirky dramedy.

Lucy: Thanks to a drug-smuggling operation gone bad, Scarlet Johansson miraculously begins to use 100 percent of her brain and seeks revenge against the bad guys who put her on the spot. 

Mood Indigo: The sprightly world of Michel Gondry produces yet another fanciful and visually textured romance about a wealthy bachelor (Romain Duras) who tries to find a cure for his lover's (Audrey Tautou) unusual disease. Ends July 31 at the Ken Cinema.

Sweet Dreams: Documentary about Rwanda's only all-women drumming troupe, Ingoma Nshya, which decides to open the country's first-ever ice-cream shop, thanks help from Brooklyn's Blue Marble Ice Cream. Screens through July 30 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.

Very Good Girls: During their last summer together, two high-school friends (Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olson) decide to make a pact that both will lose their virginity before heading off to college.

Sex Tape: During a drunken celebration, a husband (Jason Segel) and wife (Cameron Diaz) make a sex tape, only to find it gone the next morning. A frantic search for it's whereabouts commences.

Boyhood: Richard Linklater's epic drama follows the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from age 6 to 18, charting all the highs and lows in between.

Planes: Fire and Rescue: This sequel to the 2013 animated hit film finds lead race plane Dusty (Dane Cook) forced into working with a fire-and-rescue unit after his engine is damaged. 

The Purge: Anarchy: It's that time of year again to murder, murder, murder, all for the benefit of the good ol' United States of America. Let freedom ring.

Wish I Was Here: Zach Braff stars as a struggling actor attempting to overcome the avalanche of problems that face his family and parents.

Begin Again: When a forlorn singer / songwriter (Keira Knightley) breaks from her cheating superstar boyfriend (Adam Levine), she finds newfound success with a disgraced record executive (Mark Ruffalo) willing to take a chance on an unknown talent. Ends July 31 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.

Le Chef: An aspiring chef faces off against a celebrity food star in this French comedy by director Daniel Cohen. Ends July 31 at Hillcrest Cinemas.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Ten years after a virus outbreak pitted apes against men, the two factions forge a fragile peace that's tested by fear and aggression. It's directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) and stars Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman and Andy Serkis. 

Hidden Universe: Blast off into the stratosphere with this documentary that uses real images captured from telescopes to examine the vast reaches of space. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. 

America: From the mastermind behind 2016: Obama's America comes another hyperbolic documentary that imagines a scenario where the United States lost the Revolutionary War and America did not come to exist.

Deliver Us From Evil: A New York City police officer (Eric Bana) and an unconventional Catholic priest (Edgar Ramirez) team up to solve a series of supernatural crimes terrorizing the city. 

Earth to Echo: The found-footage film has finally found its way to the children's-sci-fi genre in this adventure about an alien who recruits a group of friends to help it return home. I'm sure E.T. is suing for copyright infringement.

Snowpiercer: In a frozen post-apocalyptic future, the only human survivors live aboard a high-speed train with distinct class boundaries and brutal restrictions. A revolt by the impoverished tail section threatens to shift the balance of power. 

Born to be Wild: Morgan Freeman narrates this IMAX adventure that follows the lives of elephants and orangutans from birth to their time in the wild. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. 

Tammy: Melissa McCarthy stars as a fast-food employee who hits the road with her alcoholic grandmother (Susan Sarandon) after losing her job and leaving her husband.

Third Person: A successful writer (Liam Neeson) going through a mid-life crisis begins writing his next book only to find his novel splitting off in different directions.

Transformers: Age of Extinction: Boom! 

Jersey Boys: Clint Eastwood adapts the popular Broadway play about the rise of musical group The Four Seasons. 

22 Jump Street: Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill return for more violent shenanigans as undercover cops trying to expose a drug ring at a local college.

How to Train Your Dragon 2: Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless encounter new challenges while trying to bring their species together in harmony. 

Edge of Tomorrow: Tom Cruise dies a thousand times in order to find the right info about an alien attack that will destroy Earth. It co-stars a very buff Emily Blunt.

The Fault in Our Stars: In a dramedy starring Shailene Woodley (Divergent), from the writers of (500) Days of Summer, young love is tested when a cancer-stricken teenager falls for her witty foil despite her serious illness. 

Maleficent: Angelina Jolie stars as the infamous sorceress who sets her sights on the nubile young Princess Aurora in this big-budget reboot of Sleeping Beauty

X-Men: Days of Future Past: The latest installment of the popular Marvel franchise finds Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) going back in time to recruit his colleagues' younger selves in order to save mankind from the evil Sentinels. 

Chef: Jon Favreau returns to comedy filmmaking with this story of a well-respected chef who opens a food truck after being fired by a posh restaurateur. 

Million Dollar Arm: On a mission to find the next baseball phenom in the unlikeliest of places, a sports agent (Jon Hamm) travels to India in hopes of convincing talented cricket players to play American baseball. 

Journey to the South Pacific: Let the glorious scale of IMAX take you to the tropical islands of West Papua, where life under the sea is just as lush and vibrant as it is on shore. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.

Mysteries of the Unseen World: This amazing documentary uses high-speed and time-lapse photography to focus on things that are either too fast or two slow for the eye to see. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.


See all events on Friday, Dec 9