Baz Luhrman comes from a land down under—you know, where women glow and men plunder. In this particular case, that woman is Nicole Kidman, and that man is Hugh Jackman, two other Aussies who returned to their homeland for Australia, Luhrman's epic new movie, and to ensure that the world knows that their continent is more than just a bloomin' onion platter at Outback Steakhouse.
Kidman's a British aristocrat who hooks up with rough-and-tumble outback man Jackman on the eve of World War II. The two take a long trip across the entire continent, only to arrive in the city of Darwin in time to see it bombed by the Japanese.
It's been seven years since Baz Luhrman's last picture (Moulin Rouge!), and what's hard to believe is that the director has only three films, besides Australia, to his credit. He's the sort of guy who, clearly, takes his time with his films, and each one is, to date, dramatically different from the others. You rarely meet anyone who loves all his films, but everyone has a favorite (me, I'm fond of Strictly Ballroom). The question is whether everyone will get on board with this enormous new picture, which has all the trimmings: big stars, huge action sequences, gorgeous landscapes. Consider it a landlocked Titanic.
Ashes of Time Redux: Wong Kar-Wai re-edited his own martial-arts-madness film (hence the Redux). Like all of his pictures, it's gorgeous to look at—even the action sequences are pretty.
Four Christmases: Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn are a married couple whose vacation plans fall through, so they're forced to spend the big day with their insane families. Just like, you know, the rest of us.
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. Check out our review here.
Transporter 3: Apparently, Jason Statham hasn't moved on from the franchise that turned him into an action star. Go figure.
One time only
Good Will Hunting: Matt Damon wasn't always Matt Damon. He was an up-and-comer for years, until he and his homeboy Ben Affleck got Gus Van Sant to direct a script they wrote (and got an Oscar for) about a mathematical genius toiling away as a janitor at MIT. How do you like them apples? Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 26, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Third Annual African Mental Liberation Film Festival: Two solid days of movies including When We Were Kings, Tupac Resurrection and The Bob Marley Story, screened from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 29 and 30, at the WorldBeat Cultural Center in Balboa Park. The lineup can be found at www.worldbeatculturalcenter.org. Free.
The Secret: What is the secret to The Secret? Depends who you talk to. Some think it's a step toward daily enlightenment; others look at it as merely the latest self-help scheme. You be the judge. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
Minority Report: Even though it stars Tom Cruise, Spielberg's take on Phillip K. Dick's short story—about a future where cops can stop crimes before they occur—is pretty slick. It has, like, six endings, though. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
Black Sunday: Mario Bava's 1960 horror film—about a witch killed by her own brother who comes back to life 200 years later to go all medieval—was seriously gory for the time; it was even banned in the U.K. for a while. After the movie's done, swing by the University Art Gallery to see how it fits into the new Fear Minus One exhibit. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 2, at Porter's Pub on the UCSD campus. Free.
Leaf: Check it—filmmaker Tim Carr wrote, directed and stars in this weird-ass take on Ryan Leaf. Yes, that craptastic quarterback who ruined your hopes and dreams for a while, San Diego. So, take a look at this dude taking a look at Leaf. And, above all, stay classy, San Diego. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 3, at the Downtown Central Library. Free.
Bad Santa: Fuck me, Santa! Fuck me, Santa! Billy Bob Thornton is a drunken department-store St. Nick who's casing the joints where he works. Screens at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 3, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
A Christmas Tale: Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Amalric (the current Bond baddie) have way too much to deal with when their entire clan comes home for the holidays amid Deneuve's cancer diagnosis. Yes, it's another dysfunctional family Christmas—but since it's French, hopefully it won't wallow in sentimentality.
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.
The Dukes: Tough guy actor Robert Davi—from The Goonies, Die Hard and Profiler—wrote and directed this little heist pic, which strays far from his usual fare. He and Chazz Palminteri are washed-up doo-wop singers down on their luck who try to pull a job out of desperation. It's sweet and funny without being overly goopy.
Fear(s) of the Dark: An anthology of animated short French films from noted comic-book creators and graphic artists like Charles Burns and Marie Caillou that explore the nature of fear. Gives us the heebie-jeebies.
Slumdog Millionaire: The new one from Danny Boyle is the first absolute must-see movie of the year. 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.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: During WWII, Bruno and his parents move to a picturesque country home, and nearby, he meets a boy wearing striped PJs who's on the other side of a fence. Turns out Bruno's dad's been transferred to Auschwitz, and the little fella has to learn the hard way that Jews aren't so bad after all.
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.
Let the Right One In: Young Oskar falls for a 12-year-old girl who happens to be a vampire whose father slaughters young boys. Yep, it's your average love story, and this one's gorgeously shot and filled with garish violence, high emotion and a shining young cast.
Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa: Stranded animated animals try to make it back to NYC but wind up in Africa.
Role Models: Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott are two juvenile dudes sentenced to work with real juveniles—one of whom is Chris “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse—as community service.
Synecdoche, New York: Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut is a glorious, sprawling mess. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a theater director who builds a life-size replica of NYC in a warehouse. Yes, life-size.
Changeling: Angelina Jolie is actually very good as Christine Collins, a single mother whose son vanished in 1928 in Clint Eastwood's new film, based upon true events. When the LAPD brings back the wrong boy and insists he's hers, she resists, ending up in a mental ward. It's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest crossed with Zodiac and L.A. Confidential.
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.
Max Payne: This was actually a groundbreaking video game in its day, the first real instance of Matrix-like bullet-time at your fingertips. Mark Wahlberg is Max, a burnt-out cop whose family has been murdered, who teams up with a hot female assassin for a little vengeance at a thousand frames per second.
High School Musical 3: Senior Year: But we missed the first two, lalala!
Secret Life of Bees: Dakota Fanning runs away with her housekeeper, Jennifer Hudson, ending up at the home of three African-American sisters in South Carolina in 1964. Queen Latifah is the matriarch, Alicia Keys the rebellious sister.
Body of Lies: Ridley Scott teams Russell Crowe with Leonardo DiCaprio for this spy thriller, about a CIA agent going after a terrorist leader in Jordan and doesn't know who he can trust on his own team. DiCaprio is the good guy. Maybe.
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.
Appaloosa: The Western continues its comeback. Ed Harris directs and stars as a lawman with good-lookin' Viggo Mortensen as his sidekick, going after a bad dude.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua: Um. Ratdogs get Babe treatment.
Religulous: Bill Maher travels the world, talking to different people about a God he doesn't believe in.
Fireproof: Kirk Cameron takes a break from those Left Behind movies to play a super-brave firefighter who doesn't have the courage to stand up to his own wife. Until, you know, something with Jesus.
The Duchess: Keira Knightley's latest period piece also stars some other Brits, like Ralph Fiennes and Dominic Cooper and (yawn) zzzzzzzzz.
Eagle Eye: Shia LaBeouf re-teams with director DJ Caruso for this terror-thriller. He's a slacker, Michelle Monaghan's a single mom, and both are being pushed to do horrible things by a threatening voice on the other end of the phone. Seriously, how have we survived this long without another Shia movie? Oh, right. Easily.
Burn After Reading: The Coen brothers' new film is a thriller-comedy reuniting bromancers Pitt and Clooney. Pitt, along with Frances McDormand, is a gym employee who blackmails a gnarly ex-CIA guy (John Malkovich) who leaves his unpublished memoirs behind after a workout. Let's hope it's more Fargo than The Ladykillers.
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.