Has David Mamet gone soft? You wouldn't think so, what with his entertaining new film Redbelt being about fighting and all, but it feels like we've seen a different Mamet in recent years, one who wants to see the good guy succeed, even if he puts him in a cage that's almost impossible to climb—or punch—his way out of.
Redbelt stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mike Terry, an L.A. jiu jitsu instructor and former special-forces guy who refuses to fight for money. Too bad, since he doesn't have enough of it, and when an accident involving an off-duty police officer leaves him deep in the hole, he's quick to hitch his wagon to a fading action star (Tim Allen, in a terrific departure) who takes a liking to him and tries to set him up with some film work.
But this is David Mamet. The fix is in. It isn't long before Terry's stuck between a rock and hard place, forced to decide whether earning some cash in the ring is more important than trading in his dignity. Ejiofor is, as always, great, as is the writer/director's trademark scorching dialogue and the way he ties up all the loose ends. There are plenty of Mamet regulars here, including Joe Mantegna, Rebecca Pidgeon and Ricky Jay. But gone are the days of Glengarry Glen Ross, when absolutely everyone had an angle. These days, the master of macho is more about a warrior code, and old-school fans might feel he's pulling his punches.
Flight of the Red Balloon: Juliette Binoche is a single Parisian mother harried by her children and her work, so she takes in a Taiwanese nanny (Fang Song), who finds herself connecting to the young boy Simon and his imaginary world, in which they are constantly shadowed by a red balloon. Eventually, of course, it's the child that teaches his mother about what's important.
Irina Palm: Old-school singer/songwriter Marianne Faithful is Irina Palm, a retiring middle-aged woman who needs to earn some money to pay for an operation for her grandson. Sadly, the only work she can find is in a private sex club. But it turns out Irina is able, to, ahem, lend her clients a hand like none other, giving her a sense of confidence, self and glory that is rarely found on the wrong side of a glory hole.
Kiss the Bride: Matt (Philipp Karner) is shocked to discover that his old high-school boyfriend Ryan (James O'Shea) is getting married. To a woman. Who ends up being Tori Spelling. So he heads home to put a stop to this non-gay wedding and is shocked when Tori is suddenly his new best friend.
Speed Racer: The Wachowski brothers, of The Matrix fame, turn their act PG, taking on the classic Japanese cartoon Speed Racer. Emile Hirsche is the man in the Mach 5, and the movie looks amazing, a Dr. Seussian future of freakish colors, car racing and corporate malfeasance. But though the effects are great, the movie has plenty of problems, like a lengthy running time, a thin plot and unremarkable acting.
Standard Operating Procedure: Errol Morris' documentary about Abu Ghraib, the photographs taken there and the soldiers who took and appeared in them is devastating but absolutely essential viewing. Morris goes beyond the frame of the snapshots, offering them in a context that hasn't been previously considered. Even more tragic are the interviews with five of the seven “bad apples” who were charged and tried for their offenses.
Then She Found Me: Helen Hunt stars in her own directorial debut as April, an adopted woman desperate to become pregnant. Which is unfortunate, since her man-child of a husband (Matthew Broderick) has left her, just as her talk-show-host birth mother (Bette Midler) has found her. The only upside might be Frank, a hunky single dad whose wife has also given him the slip, but only if she can avoid screwing things up.
What Happens in Vegas: Both Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz are in Vegas when they meet, get drunk and—surprise!—wake up hung over and married. If that's not bad enough, one of them wins a huge jackpot on the other's quarter, leading a judge (Dennis Miller) to order them to stay hitched. Hey, if they can do it, their kids might not be so bright, but they sure will be good-looking.
One time only
Get Shorty: Shortly after his big comeback in Pulp Fiction, John Travolta starred in Barry Sonnenfeld's snappy adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel. Travolta is Chili Palmer, a one-time lone shark who chases a client to L.A. and somehow works his way into the film business. Complete with Leonard's sharp dialogue and Dennis Farina's best performance. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 7, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Teeny-Tiny Film Series: From Surreal to Abstract: UCSD's FilmPower! wraps up its series of silent films featuring live accompaniment with a selection of freaky, funky shorts from the turn of the century (that'd be the 20th century, yo). Films include Tit for Tat and Dream of a Rarebit Fiend and, as always, audience participation is encouraged, embraced and expected. The action starts at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 8, at Porter's Pub on the UCSD campus.
Lynch: David Lynch and his films stand alone. There's nothing quite like Blue Velvet or Eraserhead, and this documentary seeks to penetrate the mind behind them. Compiled using footage shot over a two-year period, the film explores Lynch's creative process, which is, not surprisingly, weird and tender. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 8, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla branch.
Cinema Paradiso: A movie about movies for movie lovers, Cinema Paradiso easily and deservedly took home the 1990 Best Foreign Film Oscar. Salvatore is a filmmaker living in Rome who reminisces about his discovery of the movies in the small movie theater near his provincial home and the projectionist who became his friend and mentor. A beautiful film, absolutely worth seeing on the big screen. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 8, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. Free.
Volver: Penelope Cruz earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for this 2006 film from Pedro Almodovar. She plays Raimunda, and she and her sister Sole (Lola Duenas) are having all sorts of problems in their lives, not the least of which is that the ghost of their dead mother has come back to try to help them sort things out. Screens at 1 p.m. Friday, May 9, in Room 204 on the MiraCosta College's San Elijo campus, and at 7 p.m. in the Little Theatre on the college's Oceanside campus. Free.
The Big Lebowski: The Dude abides. Easily the Coen brothers' cultiest cult film, Lebowski stars Jeff Bridges as The Dude, a serious stoner who shares his name with the wealthy husband of a kidnap victim. After a mistaken-identity incident results in his rug being soiled, The Dude seeks recompense and hilarity ensues. Screens at midnight Friday, May 9, and Saturday, May 10, at Landmark's La Jolla Village Cinemas.
Casablanca: Yeah, you must remember this. Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, Ingrid Bergman walked into Humphrey Bogart's, forcing him to help her and her husband, the French resistance leader, escape from the Nazis. Absolutely an American classic, filled with unforgettable lines. Here's looking at you, kid. Screens at 8:30 Thursday, May 8, through Saturday, May 10, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
The Violin: A small, powerful film from south of the border, Francisco Vargas' picture was seen during the San Diego Latino Film Festival earlier this year. The film stars Angel Tavira as Don Plutarco, a one-handed violinist who plays for coins with his son and grandson and also, in his way, assists in the peasant revolutions of the '70s. Tavira, in his film debut, is really a one-handed violinist, and his role here earned him an acting prize at Cannes. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 12, at the Downtown Central Library. Free.
Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha): Both Goopy and Bagha want to play music, but neither has any appreciable talent, until an encounter with ghosts in the forest lands them some magic slippers that change things, at least somewhat. A strange, lovely kids' film from Sanjayit Ray, fantastical and ahead of its (1968) time. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 13, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
35MM at the Beach: The San Diego Film Festival kicks off its annual documentary series at Beach, the W Hotel's rooftop bar, held the second Tuesday of each month through August. First off is “Movement,” featuring the latest doc from local activist organization Invisible Children. The film casts a spotlight on the child soldiers of Uganda, and several Invisible Children staffers will be on hand to answer questions. Screens at 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 13, on the roof of the W Hotel, Downtown.
The Motorcycle Diaries: Gael Garcia Bernal stars as a pre-revolutionary Che Guevara, off on a road trip with his best bud (Roderigo De la Serna), doing the things young men do as they look for their place in the world. Of course, not so many of them end up taking over small island nations. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 14, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man. Da na na na na Nah na na na na na Nah na na nah! Has he lost his mind? Da na na na na Nah na na na na na Nah na na nah!
Made of Honor: Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey is a good-looking dude who's been playing the field for years. But when his best friend, Michelle Monaghan, gets engaged, he realizes she's the one and agrees to be her maid of honor in hopes of hooking up and perhaps not destroying her happiness in the process.
Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay: The sequel to the surprise 2004 pot-smoking hit picks up where the last one left off. Sadly, Harold and Kumar's trip to Amsterdam is thwarted by The Man—in the form of government agent Rob Corddry, who sends them to detention instead. Most important: Neil Patrick Harris is back. As Neil Patrick Harris.
Baby Mama: Making the jump from writer to SNL cast member to 30 Rock star to the big screen, Tina Fey is Kate, a single executive who hires low-class Amy Poehler to be a surrogate mother. The movie is terribly obvious but has its moments. Fey is the lead, but Poehler steals much of the show. Sigourney Weaver has some nice moments as the head of the surrogate agency, and Dax Shepard is hilarious as Poehler's dumb-ass common-law husband. Oh, and look for Steve Martin's extended cameo. The problem is, for a movie that's about women and babies, none of the women are particularly smart; each makes one bad decision after another, unable to see the forest for the babies.
Deception: Mild-mannered accountant Ewan McGregor is introduced to a sexy, sexy sex club by asshole lawyer Hugh Jackman. Everything's awesome—until he's framed for murder and larceny. That's some serious coitus interruptus. The Visitor: Tom McCarthy follows up his debut, The Station Agent, with this subtle look at immigration. Veteran character actor Richard Jenkins (the dead dad on Six Feet Under) is a burnt-out professor adrift in his life. Things change when he befriends a pair of illegal immigrants in New York, and when one of them is arrested and detained, he finally finds something to inspire him. This is another sweet, subtle film from McCarthy, who makes his points through people instead of politics.
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed: Ben Stein—former Nixon speechwriter and game show host and the “Anyone? Anyone?” teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off—stars in this anti-science treatise in favor of Intelligent Design. Stein, also a former law professor, is a very intelligent guy, but he's also the embodiment of the differences between intelligence and smarts.
88 Minutes: Al Pacino is a professor who spends his off-hours working as a forensic shrink for the FBI, until the day he gets a phone call telling him he has just 88 minutes to live. So he spends his last hour-and-a-half trying to sort out which of his enemies is to blame. Forbidden Kingdom: An American kid who is, like, seriously into kung fu finds himself transported back to ancient China, where he hooks up with a group of warriors to free the jailed Monkey King. Those monkeys. Always making trouble. Instead of going down as the first film to really tie together the problems with monkey rule, Forbidden Kingdom will be remembered as the first (and perhaps only) collaboration between Jet Li and Jackie Chan.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall: Jason Segel of Freaks and Geeks and How I Met Your Mother wrote and stars in this sweet rom-com, playing Peter, a composer dumped by his TV-star girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). When he heads to Hawaii to clear his head, he finds he's staying at the same resort as her and her hunky new rock-star boyfriend. Both heartfelt and raunchy, Sarah Marshall has plenty of full-frontal nude scenes—and all of them are of Segel.
My Blueberry Nights: Yes, it's Norah Jones' big-screen debut, but My Blueberry Nights also marks the Chinese auteur Wong Kar-Wai's first English-language film. Jones is a New York girl who goes on an Americana road trip to mend her broken heart, staying in touch with café owner Jude Law (at his Jude Lawiest) via postcards. Along the way she runs into the likes of unhappy cop David Strathairn (who delivers another terrific performance) and skimpily clad gambler Natalie Portman. Like all Kar-Wai's films, it's gorgeous to look at, even if the storyline is a little thin.
Young@Heart: The average age of the Young at Heart Chorus is 80, which means some of them are old enough to have told kids to stop playing the devil's music when rock 'n' roll was young. Still, that doesn't stop this crew of senior citizens from performing tunes by the likes of The Clash, James Brown, Coldplay and The Ramones. File this one under “Uplifting” or “Rock 'n' Roll Ain't Noise Pollution.”
Priceless (Hors de Prix): Jean (Gad Elmaleh), a young bartender, is mistaken for a rich dude by gorgeous, web-spinning succubus Irene (Audrey Tatou), who seduces him, only to find that he really just pulls drinks. So she ditches him—but he won't ditch her. Suddenly, the hunter is the hunted, and everywhere Irene turns, there's Jean trying to win her heart. The question is, will his love be enough to win over a woman who is interested only in money? We're not telling, but we definitely ™ Audrey Tatou.
Prom Night: Poor Brittany Snow. An insane sadistic killer from her past is slaughtering her friends and, like, totally ruining prom. Smart People: There's a fine line between intelligent and smart in this Sundance fave. Dennis Quaid is a brilliant asshole of a college professor, Ellen Page (in her first big post-Juno role) is his straight-laced, type-A daughter and Thomas Haden Church is the black-sheep adopted brother who chauffeurs Quaid after the latter loses his license. Sarah Jessica Parker, a onetime student of Quaid's, plays the ER doctor who treats the professor, both on and off the job, after an accident. Both dad and daughter are so intelligent they're insufferable, and while Haden Church may not be a scholar, he's smarter than everyone else when it comes to how people tick.
Street Kings: Plotted by L.A. crime-fiction king James Ellroy, Street Kings is another intricately drawn portrayal of crooked cops and dirty deeds, set in present day with Keanu Reeves as tortured detective Tom Ludlow. The movie is smart and cynical, but unlike its natural predecessors—L.A. Confidential (based on Ellroy's novel) and Training Day (written by director David Ayer), Kings isn't blessed with a star who has the chops to pull it all off.
Leatherheads: George Clooney stars in and directs this romantic comedy set in the early days of football, playing Dodge Connelley, who's determined to bring the game into the mainstream. John Krasinski (The Office) is an Ivy League war hero who brings new tactics to the game, rivaling Clooney's authority and battling him for the affections of sports reporter Renee Zellweger. Think Bull Durham, with pigskin.
Nim's Island: This adaptation of Wendy Orr's novel finds Abigail Breslin as Nim, a young girl who imagines the island she lives on is magical, based on the fictional adventurer Alex Rover in her favorite books. But when her dad goes missing, Nim teams up with Alex Rover's author (Jodie Foster) to track him down. Gerard “This. Is. Sparta!” Butler plays Nim's dad and Alex Rover. Shine a Light: Martin Scorsese directed this Rolling Stones concert film, shot in two nights at New York's venerable, 2,800-seat Beacon Theatre in 2006. Jack White, Christina Aguilera and Buddy Guy all came out to play with them, and the Clintons were in the audience. Man, that must've been a tough ticket.
21: Utterly formulaic adaptation of Ben Mezrich's great little airport read, Bringing Down the House, about the MIT card-counting team that took its act to the Vegas blackjack tables and made a ton of money.Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!: You probably wouldn't attend without a kid in tow, but if you have a carpet monkey you have to take, you'll have a decent time. Gorgeous animation keeps things Seussical, and the celeb voices—Jim Carrey and Steve Carell, mainly—don't overshadow the premise. Plus, the movie's message of tolerance and anti-conformity is a decent one for kids of all ages.
Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk: Robert Redford narrates this new Imax journey, following environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr. as he rafts his way through the Grand Canyon, on the Colorado River, along with anthropologist Wade Davis, as the two document new efforts to conserve water and restore the river. Music is provided by the Dave Matthews Band. Grand Canyon Adventure plays only at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
10,000 B.C.: Roland Emmerich's first film since The Day After Tomorrow could be subtitled “The Day Before Yesterday.” It follows a young mammoth hunter who takes on sabertooth tigers and a nasty dominant civilization. The effects look terrific, and everyone speaks English, which totally comes in handy when it comes to those unfortunate time-machine accidents.
The Counterfeiters: Winner of this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, The Counterfeiters is about Operation Bernhardt, the Nazi attempt to counterfeit British and American currency in the waning days of World War II. It tells the story of Jewish master forger Sally Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), who heads up the detail of craftsmen whose lives are spared as long as they support the German war effort, knowing the entire time that if they do their job well, the war will continue on.
The Other Boleyn Girl: So, you're Henry VIII and you look just like Eric Bana. Nice. You can have your pick of the English birds, but you're drawn to the Boleyn sisters, who look remarkably like Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. Now, this isn't historically accurate in any way, shape or form, but it seems like a win-win for Henry, even if he eventually beheads the sister he ends up with.
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, Grand Canyon Adventure and Mysteries of Egypt are some of the rotating films shown each Friday at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center's IMAX theater where, for only $7.50, you can catch four flicks. 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.