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Always bet on Black: There's no shortage of film festivals here in San Diego, and the first one of the year kicks off this weekend. It's less than a decade old, but the San Diego Black Film Festival has already become one of the largest of its kind in the nation. More than 100 movies—features, shorts, documentaries and foreign films—will be screened at Horton Plaza during this year's event, and plenty of celebs will be on hand to watch them. Yes, that includes Spike Lee and Danny Glover, both of whom will receive the SDBFF Award of Merit. Glover narrates the documentary Slap the Donkey, SDBFF's opening-night film, while Lee will be at the closing-night Awards Gala. You've also got the standard film-festival panels, of course, along with the red carpet and the annual Shaft / Superfly blowout, which goes down on Friday night, Jan. 29, jack.
Of course, it's not just high-profile films and artists that make a film festival what it is. Not all critics feel this way, but I like nothing better than getting films from up-and-coming directors who reach out when their film is coming to town. So here's a quick shout-out to Tom Huang's indie feature Why Am I Doing This?, which screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29. Huang's comedy looks at two best buds, Lester (Anthony Montgomery), who's black, and Tony (Huang), who's Asian, trying to make it in Hollywood. There's also Machetero, directed by the one-named Vagabond, which stars ultra-cool Jim Jarmusch regular Isaach de Bankolé as a journalist interviewing Pedro Taino, a Puerto Rican fighting for his country's independence who's been labeled a terrorist by the powers that be. That one screens at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30. A complete list of films, showtimes and ticket and pass info can be found at www.sdbff.com.
44 Inch Chest: This psychological look at a cuckolded gangster has all the right ingredients: Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt and the guys who wrote Sexy Beast. But it's far too talky for its own good. One week only at the Ken Cinema. See our review on Page 19.
Edge of Darkness: After his daughter's murder, homicide detective Mel Gibson shoots a bunch of guys.
The Greatest Places: This IMAX adventure features seven locales, which range from Greenland's icebergs to the enormous waterfall at Iguazu. Through February at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
When in Rome: When Kristen Bell steals coins from a Roman fountain of love, she's suddenly besieged by dopey suitors like Jon Heder and Dax Shepard.
One time only
Carousel Microcinema: A collection of 11 short films running the gamut from narrative to performance to experimental. Starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27, at Queen Bee's Art and Cultural Center in North Park.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall: Since he wrote and stars in this sweet rom-com, Jason Segel of How I Met Your Mother made sure to include plenty of sex scenes and full frontal nudity for himself. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
The Response: This fictional look at a Guantanamo detainee and the military tribunal determining his fate is based upon actual courtroom transcripts. Sig Libowitz, who wrote the film and has a part in it, will be on hand for a post-screening panel. Presented by Amnesty International UCSD, it screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, in the East Price Center Ballroom at UCSD.
Hot Rod Girls Save the World: Presented by Mental Eclectic, this indie feature hearkens back to the B-movie king Russ Meyer. Street racers, alien lights, catfights and big boobs will all lovingly save the world. The event starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, at Queen Bee's Art and Cultural Center in North Park.
Alaska: Sarah Palin does not appear in this IMAX film, screens for the final time at 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Big Lebowski: The Dude abides at midnight, Saturday, Jan. 30, at the Ken Cinema.
To the Limit: A look at humans who push their bodies to the extreme, including ballerinas, skiers and rock climbers, all in IMAX. Screens at 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1, at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Moon: Director Duncan Jones delivers an impressive debut, and Sam Rockwell gives one of his best performances to date as a lonely miner on the far side of the moon whose entire worldview changes after he finds a body out on the surface. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Siren of the Tropics: The classic 1929 silent film starring Josephine Baker will feature live accompaniment from the Teeny-Tiny Pit Orchestra for Silent Films. See Page 11 for details. Screens at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, at The Loft @ UCSD.
The Eyes of Me: Documentary about four students who attend the Texas School of the Blind. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
The Graduate: And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson. The movie that (deservedly) made Dustin Hoffman a star. They just don't make 'em like this anymore. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Extraordinary Measures: Brendan Fraser is the first guy to outbill Harrison Ford since Revenge of the Jedi, but it's cool, since they're both brilliant scientists trying to save Fraser's terminally ill children.
Killing Kasztner: During WWII, Rezso Kasztner worked directly with Adolf Eichmann to rescue thousands of Jews, yet he was charged with being a collaborator when he settled in Israel, and was eventually assassinated in 1957. Director Gaylen Ross' documentary includes a meeting between Kasztner's daughter, Ze'ev Eckstein, and the man who killed her father.
Legion: The apocalypse is now, and the only thing that can save humanity from the hordes from Hell is a small group of people, including Dennis Quaid and Tyrese, holed up in a small Southwestern diner. Good thing they have Paul Bettany, aka the Archangel Michael, on their side.
The Missing Person: Michael Shannon is a hardboiled PI tracking a man on a train who's been missing since 9/11. Ends Jan. 28.
The Tooth Fairy: No, it's not a horror film. This family comedy stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a small-time hockey player forced to become the titular Fairy. Actually, that's pretty horrifying.
The White Ribbon: Michael Haneke's black-and-white examination of acts of brutality in a small German town just before WWII is a self-assured look at the roots of violence in society. Hard to watch, which means it should be watched.
The Book of Eli: Denzel Washington stars in the new film from the Hughes brothers, fighting his way across scorched earth to save a fancy book.
The Lovely Bones: Peter Jackson films Alice Sebold's novel about young Susie Salmon (Saorsie Raorsin), who narrates the picture after being raped and murdered by her creepy neighbor. Jackson works hard, but books are referred to as “unfilmable” for a reason.
Mysteries of Egypt: IMAX-peep the Nile River as it travels from Ethiopia to Egypt. Through Jan. 31 at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Spy Next Door: Jackie Chan is a retired spy who ends up babysitting the kids next door. And, you know, taking them on spy missions.
Crazy Heart: Sure, it's a clean-and-sober story, but Jeff Bridges is guaranteed an Oscar nomination for playing faded country singer and legendary drunk Bad Blake.
Daybreakers: A virus has turned the bulk of the population into vampires, the human blood supply is dwindling and the only man who can save us is Ethan Hawke. Yes, we're doomed.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: Terry Gilliam's latest is also Heath Ledger's last. It's a strange, fascinating and flawed piece, an examination of good (Christopher Plummer) versus evil (that'd be Tom Waits) with Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law filling in for Ledger, who died midway through shooting.
Leap Year: Apparently, here's an Irish tradition that says a guy must accept if he's proposed to on Feb. 29. So Amy Adams goes to Dublin to try to snag Matthew Goode in the year's first stupid romantic comedy.
Sherlock Holmes: Robert Downey Jr. is great, as usual, even if his Sherlock Holmes is more brawn than brains.
A Single Man: Colin Firth delivers on the role of a lifetime in fashion designer Tom Ford's directorial debut.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel: Another sign of the pending apocalypse.
Broken Embraces: The new one from Pedro Almodovar stars Penelope Cruz as the former mistress of a blind film director musing on his past.
It's Complicated: A romantic comedy starring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. Yet another sign of said pending apocalypse.
Nine: Rob Marshall, the guy who brought you Chicago, goes back to the Broadway trough for Nine. And even though this film adaptation of a stage adaptation of Fellini's 8 1/2 stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a film director dealing with all the women in his life, it feels long, boring and lifeless.
The Young Victoria: The Devil Wears Prada's Emily Blunt stars as, well, a young Queen Victoria.
Avatar: James Cameron's sci-fi magnum opus is too long and has an inevitable love story. But, for once, when they say you've never seen anything like it, they're right. This is a film and a truly rendered alien planet that must be seen on the big screen and in 3D.
Invictus: You might think Morgan Freeman would be the perfect guy to play Nelson Mandela in a film directed by Clint Eastwood about how the South African rugby team, led by Matt Damon, united the country shortly after the end of Apartheid. You'd be wrong.
The Princess and the Frog: Two notable facts here: 1) Disney has returned to 2-D animation and 2) the new film, set in jazz-era New Orleans, features an African-American heroine. Both are admirable, but the new movie doesn't live up to the Golden Age of Disney films.
3 Idiots: The enormous Bollywood comedy blockbuster finds its way into American theaters.
Up in the Air: George Clooney is at his charmiest (charm + smarmy) as Ryan Bingham, flown in to fire employees at companies he has nothing to do with and aspiring to little more than more frequent flier miles. He's a lock for a Best Actor nomination.
Fantastic Mr. Fox: Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic story, which features stop-motion animation and performances from George Clooney and Meryl Streep, really is fantastic.
The Blind Side: The book this is based upon is about the economics of football and an enormous, poverty-stricken young black man—adopted by a white family—who has the potential to be a highly paid professional athlete. So, of course, they turned it into a Sandra Bullock movie.
Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire: Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry helped produce this film about an obese Harlem teen in the 1980s, which is being talked up as a Best Picture possibility.
Twilight: New Moon: Either you dismiss the Twilight franchise as being for tweens and their moms or you've been drinking the blood-red Kool-aid.
Amazon: Tour the storied river from the high Andes, through the rainforest, and into the Amazon basin—in IMAX. Through Feb. 28 at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Under the Sea: This IMAX film takes you to such underwater locations as South Australia, the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Triangle islands of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Through Jan. 31 at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Hurt Locker: Kathryn Bigelow's tense new film focuses on an Iraq unit that specializes in defusing bombs. Well-made, well-written and well-acted.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.