Somehow straddling the line between comedy, thriller and romance, Jean-Jacques Beineix's now-classic Diva is the sort of film you wish you could see for the first time all over again. A new print is making the rounds for the 25th anniversary of the picture, which tells the story of a young opera-loving postman (Frédéric Andréi) who bootlegs a tape of his recording-shy obsession (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez). He leaves the tape in the saddlebag of his scooter, exactly the same place a dying hooker drops a cassette implicating a corrupt police officer. Suddenly, the postman finds himself on the run from cops, thugs and Taiwanese record pirates in a stylish adventure that's gorgeous to look at, emotionally touching, utterly strange and very, very French. And though it still has something of an '80s look, this was one of the most striking examples of the New French New Wave, if you will. Diva is only at the Ken Cinema for a week, so if you've never seen it, make sure you do. And if you have seen it, make sure you see it again. Runs Jan. 11 through 17.Opening
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale: You almost feel bad for Uwe Boll, the prolific German filmmaker whose films are lambasted by fans and critics even before they hit theaters. Still, his movies seem to make money—how else would he have gotten $60 million for his latest video-game adaptation, which stars studmuffin Jason Statham as a simple feudal farmer driven to rescue his kidnapped wife from some freaky animal-warriors. Ray Liotta is the heavy, Leelee Sobieski is the hottie, and Burt Reynolds is the king, natch.
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. See our review on Page 22.
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.
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American Beauty: Sam Mendes' 2000 debut stars Kevin Spacey as suburbanite loser Lester Burnham, who's in thorough midlife-crisis mode. His wife (Annette Bening) and daughter (Thora Birch) loathe him, his job sucks and he's smoking pot and lusting after a neighborhood cheerleader (Mena Suvari). Maybe not quite as brilliant as the Academy thought, but it still earned Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay honors, as well as a Best Actor walk to the podium for Spacey. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9, at the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
This is… Spinal Tap: This is where it all began, the faux-docs perpetuated by Christopher Guest and Co. Directed by Rob Reiner, this is the ultimate guitar-hero classic, going all the way up to 11, as it follows the fictional dimwitted head-banging metalheads of Spinal Tap, played by Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. As cultie as cult films get, this midnight screening includes a performance by Under the Influence of Us. Screens on Saturday, Jan. 12, at the Ken Cinema.
The Dark Crystal: Citizen Video's first Whistle Stop Sunday matinée of the year is the weird Muppet fantasy classic directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. In an alt.universe, the conjunction of the three suns grows nigh and the nasty vulture-like Skekses vie for control over the strange benevolent Urskeks. Only Jen, last of the Gelflings, can possibly fix the Dark Crystal and restore things to their rightful order. Yes, it's weird-ass stuff but strangely complex and oddly emotional, at least for puppets. Screens at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13, at Whistle Stop Bar in South Park. Free.
Just an Ordinary Jew: The San Diego Jewish Film Festival kicks off Feb. 7, but organizers are offering up a special preview of Oliver Hirshbiegel's film. Ben Becker plays journalist Emanuel Goldfarb, who's asked by a kindly schoolteacher what it means to be a Jew in contemporary German society. Turns out it's a pretty complex answer, and his long-form ranting monologue has received great press at festivals around the country. Screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13, at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center.
The Beautiful Country: A long-after look at the consequences of the Vietnam War, The Beautiful Country tells the story of Binh (Damien Nguyen), the 20-year-old son of an American GI who travels from his village to the U.S. in hopes of finding his father. Along the way, he faces internment, starvation, illness, indentured servitude and an insane freighter captain (Tim Roth). Imagine somehow surviving all that hardship, finally getting to Texas and discovering that your dad is, in fact, Nick Nolte. Screens at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: There was a resurgence of westerns in '07, and though there were some good ones, none compare to BC and the SK, one of the truly great American films. With Paul Newman and Robert Redford at the absolute top of their games, a brilliant Oscar-winning screenplay from William Goldman (The Princess Bride), terrific direction from George Roy Hill and Burt Bacharach's “Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head,” the film defines the buddy movie, the anti-hero movie, the heist movie and the anti-western. Still fresh after more than 35 years. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16, at The Pearl hotel in Point Loma. Free.
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.
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.
The Great Debaters: Denzel Washington sits back in the director's chair for a movie that looks like an Oprah episode—and for good reason: the Queen of All Media is on board as a producer. Loosely based on true events, Washington also stars in the picture, playing Melvin Tolson, a Depression-era professor at Texas' black Wiley College who created a debate team that challenged the country's reigning champions. Also starring Forrest Whitaker, The Great Debaters is formulaic and predictable, sure, but also more inspiring than you might expect.
The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep: Young Angus (Alex Etel) finds a mysterious egg that hatches into a mysterious creature he names Crusoe. Unable to care for the growing reptile, Angus deposits him in the nearest body of water—Loch Ness. You get the rest.
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.
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.
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.Youth Without Youth: In his first film in a decade, Francis Ford Coppola has assembled a jumbled, inaccessible take on Mircea Eliade's novella about a lonely, aging academic (Tim Roth) who is struck by lightning in pre-war Romania, emerging from his bandages a middle-aged man with a new lease on life.
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.
The Perfect Holiday: A romantic comedy with Gabrielle Union, Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard centered on a divorced mom (Union) and her kids' Christmas hopes that she will find a man to make her happy. Former hip-hop video director Lance Rivera takes the reins, but there's no ass-shaking or Cristal-drinking in this one.
Starting Out in the Evening: Frank Langella gets the role of his career as Leonard Schiller, an obsolete writer who has toiled on his latest book for a decade. Lauren Ambrose is the grad student determined to reintroduce him to the public, and Lili Taylor is his daughter confronting her own midlife crisis. But the movie is all about Langella and his subtle, heartbreaking performance.
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.
The Golden Compass: Chris Weitz, one of the dudes behind the American Pie franchise, takes on the first installment of Phillip Pullman's celebrated His Dark Materials trilogy, which has bible-thumpers the world over thumping madly and hoping to prevent Pullman's anti-church leanings from getting out to the public. The source material is terrific, but Weitz's take on this alt.world, in which everyone has their own personal daemon animal, is fairly tepid, even with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig as the adult leads. The movie looks gorgeous, but it's poorly structured and will seem awkward to those unfamiliar with the complex storyline. Still, those armored polar bears are awesome.
Margot at the Wedding: The tenderness found in Noah Baumbach's last film, The Squid and the Whale, just isn't present in Margot. Here, Margot (Nicole Kidman) is attending her sister's (Jennifer Jason Leigh) wedding. Kidman and Jason Leigh are top-notch, but there's so much acid in this family that it's hard to like any of them, even Margot's future bro-in-law, slacker rock dude Malcolm (Jack Black).
Awake: The force must still be strong in Hayden Christensen, because he regains consciousness during brain surgery and overhears his doctors plotting to kill him. Jessica Alba plays Padme in this one—insert your own Darth Vader joke here.
August Rush: Irish guitarist Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) and American cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) share an intimate night in New York, spawning a lovechild (Freddy Highmore) who grows up sans parents, becoming a musical prodigy under the tutelage of Max “Wizard” Wallace (soul-patch wearing Robin Williams). He hopes that his songs will reconnect him with his mom and dad, and we hope that Robin Williams is funny this time around.
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.
Hitman: Taken from the successful video game franchise, Hitman manages to be a slow-moving, ponderous film about an genetically modified assassin. It should probably just be rubbed out.
I'm Not There: This strange look at the life and times of Bob Dylan might strike you as insane, a masterpiece or both. Todd Haynes directs six different actors, including Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere and Heath Ledger, who all play different sides of The Artist Formerly Known as Robert Zimmerman. Fascinating and non-linear, this is the sort of picture that puts the “art” in art-house. But is it any good? The answer is blowin' in the wind.
This Christmas: Delroy Lindo, Mekhi Phifer, Idris Elba and Regina King star in this romantic comedy about a successful family that gathers to celebrate the holidays only to discover all sorts of dysfunction and tension bubbling beneath the surface. Lovable and light-hearted, or clichéd and corny? You make the call.
Beowulf: Here you go—this is what will keep movie theaters going in the future. Not Beowulf, but high-end 3-D affairs that are so visually spectacular that you might be willing to overlook a thin story. In five years, Beowulf won't impress. Right now, in 3-D, it's bleeding-edge cool.
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.
Fred Claus: Paul Giamatti is the fat man in the red suit, and Vince Vaughn is Fred, his misfit older brother whose exploits land him behind bars. St. Nick bails out his bro on the condition that Fred helps out during the Christmas rush. Annoying hilarity, complete with elves, ensues.
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.
Bee Movie: Jerry Seinfeld gets back in the game as the voice of the bee, Barry B. Benson, in this animated flick. Barry befriends New York florist Vanessa (Renee Zellweger) and discovers that people really dig that stuff bees churn out. Better than it sounds, Bee Movie is ultimately as sweet as, well, honey.
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.