The Thing plays at the Ken Cinema at midnight on Saturday, Feb. 6
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Cold fear: They really don't make horror movies like they used to. Back in 1981, when John Carpenter teamed up with Kurt Russell to remake the 1950s horror film The Thing, the kind of CGI that would be used today was more pipe dream than reality. But the film's special effects were totally groundbreaking, and the movie is still super creepy, the perfect flick to watch at midnight after you've had a couple of cocktails.
Carpenter and Russell already had one successful outing together before making The Thing, with Carpenter creating Russell's signature role as Snake Plissken in Escape From New York. But The Thing is by far and away the better film. Russell is R.J. MacReady, a pilot assigned to a scientific station in Antarctica that finds itself in serious trouble when a helicopter arrives, carrying a pair of Norwegians desperately trying to kill a dog. It isn't the Scandinavians MacReady and Co. have to watch out for, despite their blond hair and terrific cheekbones—it's the dog, which has fallen prey to an unfrozen shape-shifting alien that kills and then takes the identity of its victims. There you go—once the Thing is on base, you never know who the Thing might be.
And that's the best part of the film. Sure, it's gory. Sure, it's gross. But it's really about fear and paranoia, not knowing whom to trust when any of the few remaining survivors might be planning to rip off your arms and then dismember the rest of your corpse with your own hands. It's great stuff, and it plays at the Ken Cinema's midnight series on Saturday, Feb. 6. Have a friend stand in line for tickets while you tip a couple back. Just make sure it's still them when you get back.
A Town Called Panic: The stop-action-animated story of Cowboy, Indian and Horse, who find themselves in a strange underwater world during one of their adventures. One week only at the Ken Cinema.
Dear John: Lasse Hallestrom can be a pretty great director, but he may be jumping the shark by adapting a Nicholas Sparks novel.
From Paris with Love: Jonathan Rhys Meyers teams up with a wisecracking John Travolta to stop a terrorist attack. Sounds terrible, but director Pierre Morel's last film, Taken, was awesome.
Journey Into Amazing Caves: Is it stalactites or stalagmites that go up? And why? Find out in this classic IMAX film. Screens at 8 p.m. Fridays through Feb. 19 at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
La Danse: Le ballet de l'Opera de Paris: Frederick Wiseman is one of the greatest documentarians ever, and his new film looks at seven productions of the Paris Opera Ballet.
The Last Station: Michael Hoffman's film about Tolstoy's final days manages to avoid being a stuffy, standard period piece and features some terrific acting from Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer.
Paano Na Kaya: The latest entry in the ongoing Filipino film series at Horton Plaza.
To Save a Life: A high-school athlete sacrifices his dream for others. Yeah, it's a Christian film.
One time only
The Eyes of Me: Documentary about four high-school students attending the Texas School of the Blind. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Veer: An epic Bollywood blockbuster that takes place during the war of independence against the British. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3, at UltraStar Del Mar.
The Graduate: And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson. The movie that (deservedly) made Dustin Hoffman a star. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
The Nature of Cities: Documentary about an architecture professor's trip around the world to explore urban-planning attempts to introduce nature into cities. Screens at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, at the Sierra Club office in Clairemont.
Curious George 2: Sadly, this is not the one with the ether. Screens at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. Free.
The Letter: This documentary looks at the small town of Lewiston, Maine, which suddenly received an influx of more than 1,000 Somali refugees after 9/11. The letter in question was sent by the town's mayor to the Somali elders, advising them to tell other Somalis not to move there. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story: A look at the legendary record label responsible for putting out “Dock of the Bay,” “Midnight Hour,” “Soul Man” and the theme from Shaft. Screens at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7, at Whistle Stop Bar in South Park. Free.
Silent Sunday: The resident mixologist concocts cocktails to go along with the moving pictures behind the bar at 8 p.m. Sunday (natch), Feb. 7, at Alchemy in South Park. Free.
The Other Man: Liam Neeson is understandably bummed when his wife, Laura Linney, goes missing. But when he goes looking, he's even more bummed when he meets her lover, Antonio Banderas. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 8, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Shorts 'n Spirits: Mental Eclectic's short film series has undergone a slight facelift, changing its name and location. This week's collection includes three films from San Diego and a pair from L.A., including the world premiere of A Song for Obama, a documentary about the song Pink wrote for last year's inauguration that was cut due to time constraints. Starts at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 8, at Queen Bee's Art & Cultural Center in North Park.
Can't Buy Me Love: Before Patrick Dempsey jumped the shark (the first time, anyway) he made this John Hughes knockoff, which is a sweet guilty pleasure. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 10, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
San Diego Jewish Film Festival: The lineup for the Festival's 20th anniversary is a good one. We'll bring you some highlights next week. In the meantime, swing by www.lfjcc.org to take a look. It kicks off Wednesday, Feb. 10, and runs through Feb. 21.
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. Ends Feb. 4 at the Ken Cinema.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Youth in Revolt: Michael Cera is Nick, the antihero of this adaptation of C.D. Payne's novel, a sex-obsessed teen desperate to hook up with Sheeni (Portia Doubleday). When she rebuffs his advances, he creates Francois, a mustachioed player who is also his alter-ego.
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.
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.
An Education: Nick Hornby of High Fidelity fame wrote the script and does a 180 by writing about a girl who desperately wants to grow up and thinks she may have found a shortcut in a good-looking charmer twice her age.
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.