Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls, was shot dead in 1997 after the Soul Train Awards in L.A., putting an end to the so-called East-West rap war. His murder has never been solved. But it's his life that's on display in Notorious, the new film from director George Tillman Jr. The movie hits most of the standard musical biopic marks—problems at a young age, overcoming all kinds of obstacles, getting some fame and fortune—but if you paid attention to the turbulent mid-'90s hip-hop scene, it's an interesting look back. No, the movie never actually says that Death Row Records honcho Suge Knight had Wallace killed, but the insinuation is definitely there. Jamal Woolard is solid as Biggie, bringing an iconic rapper back to life, and Angela Bassett is terribly strident as his mother. Anthony Mackie is sharp as his rival, the terribly charismatic Tupac Shakur. By the time the credits roll, it's the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy, played by Derek Luke, who comes out looking exceedingly intelligent, refined, entrepreneurial, talented, peace-making, blameless and good-looking. Perhaps that's because Sean Combs—aka Puffy, aka Puff Daddy, aka P. Diddy, aka just plain Diddy—also served as the film's executive producer. Hey, it's great that he told his friend's story to the rest of the world, but to portray himself as such a terrific individual—well, that seems just a little notorious.
Beauty in Trouble: A Czech tragicomedy about a flighty young mother who can't decide whether to stick with her crooked husband or get with the older gent who offers to take care of her and her kids.
Chandni Chowk to China: Hey, does a 2.5-hour Bollywood kung fu comedy, complete with singing and dancing, sound good to you?
Defiance: The story of the Bielski brothers, played by Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell, is amazing: They took to the Bellarussian forests during World War II, fought the Nazis and eventually built a community of 1,200 Jews who survived the war. Director Ed Zwick, however, makes sure you know that you're watching a Very Important Movie. See our review on Page 22.
Hotel for Dogs: Good road-trip tip—all Motel 6s take dogs. This kid-friendly movie, on the other hand, makes bitches out of actors like Don Cheadle, Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon.
Last Chance Harvey: Emma Thompson is terrific as the woman Dustin Hoffman takes a shine to when he's in the U.K. for his daughter's wedding. A romance for The Bucket List set.
My Bloody Valentine 3-D: Pro: Slasher movie in 3-D! Con: It's not Halloween, and Valentine's Day is a month off.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop: Rent-a-cops across the nation rejoiced when they learned their story would finally be told. Then they found out Kevin James is playing Blart.
One time only
For Your Eyes Only: Maybe the best of the Roger Moore era of James Bond flicks, if only because it actually has an edge. The movie opens up, in fact, with Bond standing at his wife's grave. Later, he has to retrieve an encryption device and bed some ladies. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Plagues and Pleasures of the Salton Sea: Balboa Park's Museum of Photographic Arts had such success with Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer's documentary about that body of water to the east and the people who live near it that they're bringing it back for another go. The movie is appropriately awesome and strange, especially since it's narrated by John Waters and features music from The Friends of Dean Martinez. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15, at MoPA in Balboa Park.
The Big Blue: Luc Besson's sweet little diving movie stars Jean-Marc Barr as a diver who is more dolphin than man, Rosanna Arquette as the chick interested in him and Jean Reno as his old friend and foe. Screens at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 15 at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. Free.
Beyond The Secret: Are you way into the self-help system known as The Secret? Dude, this goes beyond that. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15, at AMC Mission Valley and La Jolla and Edwards Mira Mesa and Horton Plaza. Tickets at www.fathomentertainment.com.
James and the Giant Peach: The first entry in the Museum of Photographic Arts family film series is Henry Selick's stop-action animation take on Roald Dahl's classic book. Screens at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, at MoPA in Balboa Park. Free.
Alien: The Director's Cut: We forget, sometimes, just how ahead of its time Alien was. Ridley Scott's original came out in 1979. It's scary and well-acted, has terrific FX and a top-notch cast. The director's cut offers a few more details, including what really happened to Tom Skerritt's character. Hint: It ain't pretty. Screens at Midnight on Saturday, Jan. 17, at the Ken Cinema.
Perlasca, An Italian Hero: The San Diego Jewish Film Festival, which kicks off in February, presents this film about Giorgio Perlasca, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust by posing as a Spanish ambassador. Screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 18, at the Jewish Community Center in La Jolla.
CHANNELING: An Invocation of Spectral Bodies & Queer Spirits: This touring collection of experimental short films explores political and historical issues within the gay community via personal experience. There are eight shorts in total, beginning at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 19, at Agitprop Gallery in North Park.
Beautiful Simplicity: Paul Bockhorst's documentary about Southern California's arts and crafts architecture features plenty of San Diego homes. See Page 13 for details. Screens at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21, at the Museum of San Diego History in Balboa Park.
Brokeback Mountain: We still can't believe Brokeback lost the Best Picture Oscar to Crash. We don't know how to quit this movie. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Waltz with Bashir: Considering the violence in Gaza, there's no more timely film to see right now than Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir. The movie is essentially an animated documentary, as Folman works to recover his memories as a soldier during the 1982 Israel-Lebanon conflict and discover why he repressed them in the first place.
Bride Wars: Sadly, not an R-rated movie about women in wedding dresses duking it out in a steel cage. No, this first film of 2009 is about two BFFs—Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway—who become bitter rivals after they schedule their weddings on precisely the same day. For the 27 Dresses set.
Ciao: Two gay men are brought together by the death of a mutual friend. It's sincere, but slow moving.
Gran Torino: For all the buzz, Clint Eastwood's new film, which he directs and stars in, is flawed. Yes, his cranky old guy, Walt Kowalski, manages to be the funny kind of equal-opportunity offender who finds some salvation by taking a good-natured Hmong neighbor under his wing. The problem is that it turns out he's right about everyone he dislikes. Black, white, Asian, his own relatives—they're all awful people in the world of Gran Torino, justifying Walt's latent racism. Nice.
Not Easily Broken: After a couple whose marriage is already on the skids are involved in a car accident, they have to really decide if they want to make things work. Taraji Henson, who is so good in Benjamin Button, is the wife.
Revolutionary Road: Sam Mendes directs his wife, Kate Winslet, and Leonardo DiCaprio in what might be called American Beauty: The Early Years. It's another look at the unspoken seamy underbelly of American suburbia in the 1950s, but it just doesn't hold together. Unpleasantville.
The Unborn: Poor Casey was abandoned by her mom when she was a child. Turns out it was because of a nasty family curse that comes in the form of a demon that wants to possess her. What, we wonder, is Gary Oldman doing in this movie?
The Wrestler: Yes, Mickey Rourke is just as good as you've heard, playing Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up wrestler who was big 20 years ago and is now the old man on the high-school gym circuit. Occasionally, it veers toward sentimentality but never goes over the edge. Marisa Tomei, too, is great as the stripper he'd like to get closer to, and Evan Rachel Wood is perfect as the daughter who can't find it in herself to forgive him. See our review on Page 19.
The Reader: Kate Winslet is amazing as a grown woman who has an affair with a 15-year-old boy in post-war Berlin. Their paths cross again years later when she's on trial for war crimes.
The Spirit: Remember how much you loved Sin City? Frank Miller's cinematic take on Will Eisner's groundbreaking cartoon will make you like it less.
Valkyrie: He's the greatest fighter pilot, the best race-car driver, the superest future cop, the coolest hustler, the awesomest drink mixer and the sharpest sports agent. So why can't Tom Cruise kill Hitler? Huh? Why? Why?
Bedtime Stories: Remember that stupid Adam Sandler movie this summer, where he was a former Mossad agent-turned-New York gigolo hairdresser? Made $200 million worldwide. How much can he rake in with a family-friendly flick?
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Director David Fincher directs Brad Pitt as a man born old and growing young. Beautifully shot, the film is less about youth no longer being wasted on the young than it is about the decades long love story between the characters played by Pitt and Cate Blanchett, who are going in different directions.
Marley & Me: Jennifer Aniston bonds with Owen Wilson over a stinky dog.
Seven Pounds: Will Smith's annual December movie is a feel-good film that doesn't feel all that good. He's an IRS agent trying to atone for past sins by giving, perhaps too generously, to strangers. Rosario Dawson is wonderful, though, as a girl with a weak heart, both literally and figuratively.
Doubt: Best. Catholic. Priest. Abuse. Movie. Ever. John Patrick Shanley adapted and directed his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play and landed a couple of acting heavyweights for the leads. Meryl Streep is a nasty nun who goes after popular priest Phillip Seymour Hoffman, because she A. doesn't like him, and B. thinks he might be getting a little too close to one of his altar boys.
The Tale of Despereaux: Matthew Broderick is Despereaux, a mouse who reads, and he's teamed up with a rat (Dustin Hoffman) and a bumbling servant (Tracey Ullman) in this animated take on the classic children's story.
The Day the Earth Stood Still: Remake of Robert Wise's groundbreaking 1951 sci-fi thriller about an alien who's come to earth to save it—from us. The update has crazy FX and Keanu Reeves, and no, he doesn't play the robot.
Frost/Nixon: Ron Howard is restrained in his take on the Broadway play about the interviews between lightweight talk-show host David Frost and President Nixon. Both Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprise their stage roles as Frost and Nixon, respectively—Langella delivers a masterful performance of Mr. Not-a-Crook himself.
Yes Man: Jim Carrey dips back into the well (over-the-top funny with a sweet spot) that made him an A-lister, playing a dude who decides to say “yes.” To everything.
Australia: Baz Luhrman comes from a land down under, where women glow and men plunder. The glowing lady, in this case, is Nicole Kidman, who plays an uptight Brit, while Hugh Jackman is the looter. Of course, all three are from Australia, the setting for Luhrman's epic romance adventure. Sort of like a landlocked Titanic.
Milk: Sean Penn delivers yet another tremendous performance as the first openly gay elected politician in the country, Harvey Milk, who was assassinated, along with the mayor of San Francisco, in 1978. Gus Van Sant directs, but the movie is all Penn, and it is nothing if not timely in light of Prop 8.
Bolt: Disney's latest animated adventure takes a page from Pixar's playbook. John Travolta is a TV-star dog who takes a fantastic journey outside the studio, where he learns he doesn't have the powers he thinks he does.
Slumdog Millionaire: A young, uneducated Indian man is tortured by police who want to find how he knows all the questions he's gotten right on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The answers are all in his life story, which is full of poverty, abuse, hopes for true love, and the crossroads between coincidence and destiny.
Twilight: Never heard of Twilight? It's like Harry Potter, with vampires, for tweens and their moms, all of whom react to it like desperate meth addicts. If you have heard of Twilight, you know we're telling the truth.
Quantum of Solace: Remember how awesome the Daniel Craig '06 James Bond franchise reboot was? Well, even though the new one takes place about 20 minutes after Casino Royale ended, this one isn't awesome at all.
Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa: Stranded animated animals try to make it back to NYC but wind up in Africa.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Believe it or not, Kevin Smith's new film is his most adult yet—in more ways than one. Yes, Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) set out to make porn to pay their bills, but they fall in love along the way. It's got Smith's trademark rat-a-tat raunchy dialog, and Rogen and Banks are great together.
Happy-Go-Lucky: Mike Leigh's new one is a change in direction from his recent work. Instead of exploring the seamy underbelly of the human condition, he looks at Poppy (Sally Hawkins), an effervescent schoolteacher who won't grow up. She's sort of infectious, sort of annoying, but the effect she has on everyone around her is far more real than, say, Peter Pan.
Rachel Getting Married: The herky-jerky handheld camera in Jonathan Demme's new movie mirrors the emotional turmoil of Kym (Anne Hathaway), just out of rehab to attend her sister's wedding. There's Oscar buzz surrounding Hathaway, who is equal parts toxic and pathetic but ultimately someone worth pulling for.
Vicky Christina Barcelona: Will Woody Allen ever make another film in New York? After shooting the last two in the U.K., he moved his act overseas. Scarlett Johanssen and Rebecca Hall are tourists in Barcelona who find themselves infatuated with mysterious brooding painter Javier Bardem. When his crazy ex-wife (Bardem's real-life honey, Penelope Cruz) enters the picture, the whole trip becomes a total bummer.
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center Space Theater: After undergoing significant renovations, the Fleet is re-opening its dome Imax theater, complete with a kick-ass new screen. Three films will run in rotation initially: Wild Ocean, Van Gogh: Brush with Genius and Animalopolis. Showtimes and prices can be found at www.rhfleet.org.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: No, it's not a time warp—the love-it-or-hate-it camp classic continues its midnight run in its 37th year of release. When the lead character of the film is a transvestite scientist named Dr. Frank-N-Furter, you know you're in for some seriously trashy viewing. And, of course, this is the one movie where you want the audience shouting at the screen. Screens Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theater in Encinitas.