Director Tarsem's last feature was The Cell, a serial-killer film with absolutely breathtaking visuals. His latest project will be called a labor of love by some, a vanity project by others. The Fall took three years to wrap, an epically ambitious production that was shot in more than 20 countries. A 1920s stuntman (Lee Pace) lies in a hospital, crippled with a broken back and dying of a broken heart. When a young girl with a broken arm starts hanging out in his ward, he becomes her escape from the hospital, weaving tales of a band of heroes aiming to take down a nefarious emperor. But the story has another purpose—he wants her trust so he can talk her into stealing a fatal amount of morphine. There are sumptuous shots here, blue cities and incredible slo-mo sequences, so even if the story within the story loses its way, it's still lovely to look at. It really is a terrific idea, bending the nature of story with a love of movies, sort of a cross between The Princess Bride and Dennis Potter's brilliant The Singing Detective (the original six-hour BBC version, not the Robert Downey Jr. remake). But though it is visually stunning, Tarsem has a hard time keeping his stories straight, and the film goes astray on more than one occasion.—Anders Wright
Children of Huang Shi: Based on a true story, Roger Spottiswoode's film follows George Hogg (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an English journalist who escaped the Japanese atrocities at Nanking in 1937, winding up taking care of a remote Chinese orphanage. He eventually walked more than 60 boys hundreds of miles, helping them escape from both the Japanese army, which would have killed them, and the Chinese army, which would have conscripted them. Chow Yun-Fat also stars.
Sex and the City: The Movie: The big-screen version of the hit HBO show. Insert your own “women go cuckoo for this” joke here. The Strangers: Creeptastic. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman are staying at their isolated vacation house when three masked intruders knock on the door and tell them they're about to die.
Surfwise: Doug Pray's documentary about surf patriarch Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz and his nine surfing children sneaks up on you. Initially, you might want to emulate the kids' upbringing, all living in a cramped camper, surfing every day instead of going to school. But by the end, it's also clear that raising your kids in a salt-encrusted bubble has its disadvantages, too. See our review on Page 31.
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Delirious: Steve Buscemi is a seriously sleazy photographer who takes on hunky, homeless Michael Pitt as his assistant. Before long, Pitt's new access gets him into the bedroom of pop starlet Alison Lohman, sending Buscemi into a possibly dangerous snit fit. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 28, at the Central Library Downtown. Free.
Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids: Photographer Zana Briski spent five years in the brothels of Calcutta, hanging with the children of sex workers and providing them with cameras and classes, encouraging them to photograph their lives, which play out in the seamy underbelly of India's intense economic success. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 28, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
Viewer's Choice: The Pearl Hotel's poolside screenings are a hell of a good time. And on Wednesday, attendees will vote on which film to see that night. If you've got a strong preference, bring a big group. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 28, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Harold and Maude: Harold (Bud Cort) is young, rich and seriously into death. Hobbies include attending funerals and attempted suicide. Until he meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), an almost-octogenarian who is all about life. They rescue trees, play music and steal cars together, but Hal Ashby's 1971 film doesn't get really weird until they fall for one other. Cameron Crowe's Vinyl Films Records, which recently put together a vinyl limited edition of the film's Cat Stevens soundtrack, will hand out prizes all night long. Screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 28, at the Stone Brewing Company Bistro in Escondido. Free.
Woman in the Window: Fritz Lang's classic tale of murder and blackmail stars Edward G. Robinson as a college professor who finds himself up to his eyeballs in trouble when he actually meets the woman in a painting he admires. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, May 29 and 30, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Praying with Lior: Insightful documentary that had its premiere at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival earlier this year. It's all about Lior Liebling, a boy with Down Syndrome who's approaching his Bar Mitzvah. The kid learned to pray before he could talk, and his relationship with his God is truly profound. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 29, at the David & Dorothea Garfield Theatre at the Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla.
Spirit of the Marathon: Get prepped for San Diego's killer death race with this documentary about runners—some pro, some amateur, some first-timers—getting ready for their own 26.2-mile endeavor. With plenty of interviews from running superstars and footage that is deeply intense and emotional, it might make you want to strap on your Nikes, though it's worth remembering that the first dude to ever run the distance, back in 490 B.C., dropped dead. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 29, at AMCs Mission Valley and La Jolla and Edwards Mira Mesa.
What's Eating Gilbert Grape?: Johnny Depp was supposed to be the star of Lasse Hallström's first big American film, playing Gilbert, a small-town guy stuck taking care of his morbidly obese mother and developmentally disabled brother. But it was Leonardo DiCaprio, as his brother, who truly made it big, delivering a heartbreaking performance. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 31 and June 1, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
The Still Life: A drunken young artist (Jason Barry) finds that his work, dubbed “destructionism,” has made him a hit. But, of course, the more famous he gets, the more detached he gets from his art. Director Joel Miller will be on hand for the screening, along with Guns N' Roses member Dizzy Reed, who put together some of the music. Screens Tuesday, June 3, at the Stone Brewing Company Bistro in Escondido. Q&A at 8, movie at 8:30 p.m. Free.
Juno: You either loved or hated this cute little teen-pregnancy film that earned a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Diablo Cody. Ellen Page is great as Juno, a knocked-up teen who spouts her own pop philosophy with every single line. It's the dialog that people either loved or hated, because you either went with the stylized approach or thought that no teen ever talked that way. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 4, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Anyone? Anyone? Most of these screenings are 21-and-older, but this one's open to minors (with accompanying old folks, that is). Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 4, at the Stone Brewing Company Bistro in Escondido. Free.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: It's great to have Harrison Ford back in his trademark fedora, even if the convoluted script feels more like just another sequel than a reinvention. Still, Indy 4 is easy-going entertainment and will easily be one of the biggest box-office earners of the year. See our review on page 52.
Roman de Gare: The only film willing to take on Indiana Jones, this creepy murder mystery stars the always-interesting French actor Dominique Pinon as a guy who may or may not be a serial killer who is being investigated by a thriller writer as a possible character in her new book. 'Course, if he is a killer, maybe she doesn't want to get too close.
Before the Rains: This Merchant Ivory flick, set in the 1930s in India, is the English-language debut of director Santosh Sivan. As a nationalist fervor grips the region, a young man must decide what to do when he discovers that his English employer (Linus Roache) is having an affair with a local village girl (Nandita Das).
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: Disney returns the four Pevensie kids to the CGI world of Narnia, where a millennium has passed since they first went through the wardrobe. Things in Narnia have gone downhill, so, once again, they must take up arms to ensure that Prince Caspian, another Christian allegory, ends up large and in charge. How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer: America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) stars as the youngest member of three generations of Mexican-American women in writer/director Georgina Riedel's first feature. She's a teenager, hooking up with her first boyfriend. Her single mother is looking for love, too, and, hey, even grandma finds herself with a gentleman caller.
Son of Rambow: Set in the 1980s in England, this is a charming look at imagination and friendship as seen through the eyes of two boys, both outsiders. Will is a member of a religious sect who has never seen a TV show or a movie. Lee is a rebellious troublemaker who shows Will a bootlegged copy of First Blood. This, of course, blows Will's mind, and before long, the two are making their own version of the Stallone film. But the movie breeds fame and celebrity, and when word gets out at school, everyone wants in on the action.
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies: Before James Bond, there was Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, also known as OSS 117, a French secret agent whose adventures were chronicled in something like 250 novels. This new film parodies the entire genre, sending de la Bath to Cairo, where he shoots and seduces his way through the story, saving the world in the process.
Red Belt: This David Mamet film 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, so 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?: The title is a question no one seems to be asking. Except for Morgan Spurlock, that is. The Super Size Me guy is doing W.'s work for him, heading to the Middle East in search of the 9/11 mastermind. By simply asking around after Osama, Spurlock finds more than perhaps he should, casting light and explaining the hatred many folks in that part of the world feel about the United States.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Band's Visit: This charming drama was disqualified as Israel's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar submission because so much of it is in English. But you can see why they put it forward—the story of an Egyptian police band stuck in a backwater Israeli settlement is sweet and funny without being cloying, with subtle performances and a theme that plays like a soft Chet Baker trumpet solo.
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.