Over Her Dead Body is billed as a romantic comedy, but if that is what this film is, then that means it's possible that a movie without the slightest bit of romance or comedy can qualify as such. Practically a monument to ill-advised filmmaking, this major suck-fest deserves the straight-to-DVD treatment, yet somehow it achieved a theatrical release.
Paul Rudd and Eva Longoria Parker play soon-to-be-wed Kate and Henry, but those plans are ended when Kate is crushed by an ice sculpture in a freak accident on the big day. Just like Patrick Swayze did all those years ago, she comes back as a ghost to terrorize Henry's new love interest, the psychic Ashley (Lake Bell), who's the only person who can see or hear her. But their nasty undead catfight is just a series of painfully unfunny events cribbed from mediocre chick flicks and middling comedies.
It's bad. The movie transcends previous definitions of terrible. Its plot scales great heights of incoherence, especially evident in numerous deplorable subplots, the worst of which concerns Dan (Jason Biggs), a straight guy who's spent five years feigning homosexuality in the hopes of bagging Ashley.
The mind-numbing ludicrousness of it all would be fascinating if it weren't so insufferable. What was writer/director Jeff Lowell smoking? How could anybody give this the green light? And why did Paul Rudd agree to star? Ironically, Over Her Dead Body may end up being the most awful movie you'll never be able to forget. It's that bad.
The Eye: Ah, the lucrative Japanese-horror-film-remake market. Jessica Alba is a ridiculously hot blind violinist who gets new corneas. So, she can see, which rules, but soon she starts seeing all kinds of frightening otherworldly shit, which sucks. Alessandro Nivola is her ridiculously hot doctor, and Parker Posey picks up a paycheck.
Grace is Gone: John Cusack is an awkward family man who can't find a way to talk to his young daughters, a situation that gets much, much tougher when his wife dies in Iraq. The movie's a bit syrupy, but Cusack, maturing as an actor, is terrific.
Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both World Concert 3-D: Like porn for 'tweens. Or maybe crack. Or porn on crack. For 'tweens. In 3-D. Yeah, that's nasty.
Nanking: Wrenching documentary about the Japanese occupation of the onetime Chinese capitol, famously brought to light in Iris Chang's 1997 book, The Rape of Nanking. Not for the faint of heart but an important history lesson.
Strange Wilderness: Adam Sandler is the executive producer of Strange Wilderness, which stars Steve Zahn as the new host of a flailing nature show on the verge of cancellation, Sozahn and his sidekick Allen Covert go after Bigfoot. Funnymen Jeff Garlin, Justin Long and Ernest Borgnine bait the trap, but, really, no nature show would be canceled, what with the writers strike and all.
One time only
Shawshank Redemption: It's hard to believe such a triumph-of-the-human-spirit story was written by Stephen King, but Frank Darabont's directorial debut was nominated for seven Oscars, though it actually struck out on awards night. You know the details: Morgan Freeman is a convict whose life is changed by the wrongly convicted, utterly decent Tim Robbins. You've seen it on cable a thousand times; now catch it poolside at The Pearl. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Touch of Evil: Much has been made of Joe Wright's extended tracking shot in Atonement, but you can't talk about tracking shots without touching on the opening scene in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, which takes place in a single take over a four-block radius, all made without the technology Wright had access to. You may not buy Charleton Heston as a Mexican drug agent in the ultimate b-movie noir, but you can't deny the craft with which Welles made this film, and in glorious black and white, no less. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
Knowledge is the Beginning: A look at the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a group made up of Israeli, Palestinian, Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian and Lebanese musicians under the tutelage of conductor Daniel Barenboim, whose goals are to raise awareness and tolerance among Israelis and Arabs. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, at the Four Points Sheraton. Free
San Diego Black Film Festival: In just five years, San Diego's Black Film Festival has become one of the largest in the country.
A Hard Day's Night: The Beatles playing The Beatles being The Beatles in their pre-Sgt. Pepper days. Quick cuts, mop-top hair, screaming girls and a one-liner or two from John Lennon, a guy not remembered so much for his sense of humor—but should be. Truly a seminal moment of mid-'60s culture, A Hard Day's Night wraps up the Midnight Rocks! series at the Ken and features a set from local band Get Back Loretta. Screens at midnight, Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Ken Cinema.
Driving Lessons: Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter films) holds his own against Julie Walters, playing a teen who takes a job working for a fading actress in the hopes of escaping the clutches of his domineering mother (the always-great Laura Linney). Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High: The movie that made Sean Penn a star. Cameron Crowe wrote Fast Times, one of the ultimate high-school comedies, which stars Judge Reinhold, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates and many others, including bit roles for Anthony Edwards, Nic Cage, and Forest Whitaker, but it wouldn't have been the same without Penn's Spicoli, who needs only tasty waves and a cool buzz to be just fine. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
How She Move: The latest entry in the fast-growing, surprisingly profitable romantic-inspirational-urban-dance genre. After her kid sister O.D.s, Raya (Rutina Wesley) returns to her old 'hood to try to come up with her med-school tuition. Student loans being what they are, she opts for step-dancing competitions.
Meet the Spartans: This! Is! Satire! The latest chintzy spoof, Spartans is from the team that brought you Scary Movie, Date Movie and Epic Movie. With that pedigree, this film is certain to be a joke, but not the good kind. That said, we can't substantiate the claim, ‘cause it's not screening for press. Go figure.
Rambo: Rambo: First Blood Part II (the second film in the franchise) was one of the first entries in the hard-R ultra-violent category of the '80s. And now, more than 20 years later, the latest installment, which features our favorite vet taking on, uh, Burma, ups the violence quotient. These human-rights violations aren't for the faint of heart. Or stomach.
U2 3D: Sure, it hits all the concert-film clichés, but U2 does those clichés better than anyone, and the technology and giant IMAX screen puts you right in the concert—both in the front row and on the stage—in a way you've never experienced, giving you a real sense of what it's like to play to a stadium full of people. It's hard not to get caught up in “Beautiful Day” or “With or Without You,” but if you're allergic to Bono, stay away, because he'll be right there, large as life, and you can't reach out and smack him.
Untraceable: Dude puts up a killer blog—literally. It's a thriller about a serial killer who puts his victims online—the more people who tune in to watch, the quicker he kills them, and, of course, he's untraceable. Only a hot detective (Diane Lane) can figure it out, so the bad guy starts to flame her. As if parents weren't already freaked out about MySpace.
War/Dance: Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine's documentary chronicles the lives of teen refugees as their school prepares for the Ugandan National Music Competition. As the kids battle personal trauma caused by the war around them, the competition offers a reason to forge ahead in spite of the political turmoil.
Skid Marks: Budget cuts force rival EMT crews to go head-to-head in the hopes of saving their jobs. San Diego Film Festival founder Karl Kozak directed this raunchy beer 'n' boobs comedy, shot entirely in San Diego. There's a two-for-one coupon available at the film's website, www.skidmarksthemovie.com.
27 Dresses: Katherine Heigl is the perpetual self-sacrificing bridesmaid, driven to the edge when her self-absorbed sister (Malin Akerman) hooks her all-around-great-guy boss (a puffy Ed Burns), for whom she's pined for years. At the same time, reporter Kevin (James Marsden) picks up on her story as his ticket off the wedding beat. Heigl and Marsden are charming enough to keep it fun, even if Burns phones it in. Prospective husbands beware: this is a simple, inoffensive chick-flick for chicks into weddings.
Cassandra's Dream: For the third film in a row, Woody Allen returns to London, shooting another awkward crime comedy about a pair of brothers (Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor), whose uncle (Tom Wilkinson) turns them to a life of crime in order to solve their mounting debts. But things go south, violence begets violence, brother turns on brother. Maybe they should have just gone for a consolidation loan.
Cloverfield: The Big Apple looks so tasty that a giant monster hauls itself out of the ocean to take a serious bite. One of the most anticipated films of '08, Cloverfield is produced by Lost/Alias honcho J.J. Abrams and is shot exclusively from the POV of hand-held video cameras of people on the scene. Could be the perfect storm of giant monster flicks.
Mad Money: After her husband loses his job, a woman (Diane Keaton) takes a janitorial job at the Federal Reserve, where she teams up with fellow employees (Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes) to steal a bunch of money. The perfect antidote for all those high-quality award-nominated films currently in theaters.
Persepolis: Yes, it's animated, but there are no cute animals or cars in Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical account of growing up in Iran before, during and after the 1979 revolution. It looks simple, taking its old-school, black-and-white look from the author's graphic novels, and it's so good, so beautiful and so tragic that you might forget you're watching a cartoon. There's a reason France offered it up as its entry in the Foreign Language Film category for this year's Oscars.
There Will Be Blood: Paul Thomas Anderson's first project since Punch-Drunk Love is easily one of the year's best, anchored by an epic, astonishing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. He plays Daniel Plainview, a turn-of-the-20th-century oilman driven by greed and competition and utterly loathing of the world around him.
First Sunday: Desperate for money, bumbling petty crooks Ice Cube and Tracy Morgan knock off a church with a full collection plate. But after they break in and take hostages, including preacher Chi McBride and current hot comic Katt Williams, they discover someone, possibly a higher power, has beaten them to the loot. Lessons, undoubtedly, are learned.
The Bucket List: Smart blue-collar Morgan Freeman and rich jerk Jack Nicholson meet in a hospital room where they're both battling cancer and become best buddies, determined to live the rest of their lives to the fullest. Interesting first act that quickly turns into an irritatingly goofy travelogue as they hit the road to check off items on their “Kick the bucket list”—like Wild Hogs for the senior set. Did those years on the political sidelines made Rob Reiner soft? He directs, but with no particular flair.
The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A Veggie Tales Movie: Talking animated fruits and vegetables that wear eye-patches and say “Arrrrgh” might sound like a great way to spend the afternoon with your kids. But be forewarned—these veggies spread the word of Jesus.
The Orphanage: Produced by Guillermo del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy fame, this first-time feature from director J.A. Bayona falls back on some horror-movie standards but is so well-made and so darn creepy that you won't care. Laura (Belén Rueda) returns with her husband and son to the orphanage where she was raised, only to discover that some spooky stuff went down since her adoption, and some of her childhood friends might still be hanging around.
One Missed Call: Ah, that not-so-fresh feeling one gets from the first remake of Japanese horror film of the new year. Friends of Beth Raymond (Shannyn Sossaman) keep getting voice mails from their future selves describing the date and time of their own deaths--which turn out to be accurate. ‘Course, no one believes her except maverick cop Jack Andrews (Edward Burns, who likely has a balloon payment on a subprime mortgage coming due).
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem: The first Aliens vs. Predator movie was the suckiest suck that ever sucked. But the sequel, which brings the intergalactic battle to determine the deadliest species to a small town in Colorado, ups the violence all the way to 11. Which is exactly what you're hoping for, if you're the sort to go see the sequel to Aliens vs. Predator.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: So, acclaimed American painter Julian Schnabel makes a movie in French about Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of the French edition of Elle who, following a stroke, can only communicate by blinking his left eyelid. And it's really, really good. Gorgeous to look at and heartbreaking to experience, The Diving Bell gets deep into the psyche of Bauby, who ended up writing his memoirs one letter at a time. The film features an extraordinary performance from Mathieu Amalric as Bauby and earned Schnabel Best Director honors at Cannes.
Charlie Wilson's War: What lazy filmmaking. There's no sign of the Mike Nichols we know and love, Aaron Sorkin's usually crisp dialogue is inane, Julia Roberts sucks and everyone's trying to skate on Tom Hanks' trademark charm. Sure, he's fun as the party-go-lucky congressman who spearheaded funding the Afghani resistance back in the '80s, but Charlie's only saving grace is Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who runs the entire picture from behind the scenes as a veteran covert operator.
The Kite Runner: This is the picture that forced the studio to relocate its two child stars and their families. It's a terrific story, dealing with the childhood friendship of two Afghani boys, Amir and Hassan, and the terrible traumas that tear them apart. Based on the best-selling novel by UCSD grad Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner follows Amir's return to his homeland after the Russians have left and the Taliban have taken over. Serious weeper, sure, but director Marc Forster makes it far more sentimental than it needs to be.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets: Nicolas Cage and his band of merry men and hot chicks sort out who's buried in Grant's tomb.
P.S. I Love You: Gerard “This is Sparta!” Butler sheds his abs to leave his widow, Holly (Hillary Swank), a series of posthumous messages that just might help her get on with her life. With Kathy Bates and Lisa Kudrow. Bring a hankie.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Tim Burton teams up once again with Johnny Depp and longtime girlfriend Helena Bonham-Carter to goth up Sondheim's classic musical. Depp is the barber himself, slashing throats left and right and working with his landlady to grind the remains into meat pies, all in the hopes of eventually getting revenge against Alan Rickman. Woe be to anyone who stands in his way, including Sacha Baron Cohen. None of the principals have great singing voices, but the movie looks so good that you might not care.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story: John C. Reilly is dumb-ass country musician Dewey Cox in this parody of music biopics that hits nearly all the right notes. Kristen Wiig and Jenna Fischer are solid choices for his love interests, and the rest of the cast provides decent laughs throughout. From comedy king Judd Apatow and director Jake Kasdan, Dewey Cox contains inspired writing, more than a dozen memorable cameos and, best of all, seriously good music.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Jason Lee is Dave Seville, the man attempting to keep computer-animated Alvin, Simon and Theodore from engaging in their typical wacky chipmunk antics. The bad news: If you have kids, chances are they'll whine until you take 'em to see it. The good news: It's only 90 minutes long.
I Am Legend: The latest take on Richard Matheson's novel turns Will Smith into Robert Neville, a brilliant military scientist who is also the last man in New York City, not counting the untold hordes of vampire-like people who were infected by an errant cure for cancer. Some of the scenes of an empty Big Apple are amazing, but the movie chops out Matheson's dark, nihilistic vision and turns Neville, always an Everyman dealing with extraordinary circumstances, into a superdude with serious pecs. Still, if you've got to spend an hour watching one guy on screen, it might as well be Smith, who's terrific until he finally has company.
Juno: Fizzy and enjoyable, the year's best feel-good film centers, surprisingly, on an unwed pregnant teen. That'd be Juno (Ellen Page), who decides to give her baby to a yuppie couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) and toy with her good friend and the father of her child, Paulie Bleeker (an excellent Michael Cera). With sharp dialogue from stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody and solid direction from Jason Reitman, Juno is a solid, if inoffensive, triumph.
Atonement: Though they've gone out of their way to make Atonement look like a generic period romance, Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's shatteringly good novel is crisply directed, gorgeous to look at and terribly well-acted by James McAvoy and Keira Knightley as a star-crossed couple whose future is taken from them when Knightley's younger sister misinterprets something she sees and later turns McAvoy's Robbie in for a crime he did not commit. The buzz has been about the six-minute tracking shot on the war-strewn beaches of Dunkirk, but the real heat is between the two leads.
Enchanted: A deconstructed Disney cartoon, Enchanted, which stars Amy Adams as an animated princess turned to real life on the streets of New York, is far more enchanting than its premise. Grey's Anatomy's McDreamy co-stars, along with Prince Charming James Marsden of X-Men fame.
No Country for Old Men: Their first decent film since Fargo, No Country is a Coen Brothers masterpiece and perhaps the best picture of '07. Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, the story centers on a good ol' boy (Josh Brolin), an aging county sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones), a unstoppable psychopathic killer (Javier Bardem) and a valise thick with drug money. Tight, taut, challenging and brutal, it just gets better with repeated viewings.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead: The latest crime film from octogenarian Sidney Lumet stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers trying to pull an ill-advised small-time score. Intricately plotted and full of secrets and unlikable characters, Devil also stars Marisa Tomei as Hoffman's unhappy wife who gets naked all over the place and Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris as the boys' parents.
American Gangster: Denzel Washington is Frank Lucas, the real-life drug kingpin who beat the mafia at its own game, running the New York drug trade back in the 1970s. Russell Crowe is the cop trying to take him down, and Ridley Scott directs them both. The movie looks terrific, but even with all that talent on display, it's hard not to feel like we haven't seen this before.
Into the Wild: Sean Penn takes on John Krakauer's book with Emile Hirsch as Alexander Supertramp, the young man formerly known as Chris McCandless, who left his suburban family behind in the early '90s and took to the road, eventually making his way to an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness. Penn makes Hirsch a little too much of a Christ figure, but the supporting cast is great, especially Hal Holbrook in the best role of his career.
The Savages: A terrific movie about being forced to finally grow up. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are Jon and Wendy Savage, siblings forced to put their nasty, aging father (Phillip Bosco) in a nursing home and come to terms with each other. Superb acting, a fine script and direction from Tamara Jenkins, and an ending that will leave some cool and others inspired.
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.
Fridays at the Fleet: Sea Monsters, The Living Sea and Mysteries of Egypt are some of the rotating films shown each day at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center's IMAX theater. Sure, it's more Discovery Channel than Transformers, but the Fleet's enormous old-school dome screen is way cool, and some of the talent—narrators like Meryl Streep or Johnny Depp—is impressive. You might find yourself as mesmerized as the little kiddies sitting around you. Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. Check www.rhfleet.org for the screening list.