The Sixth Annual San Diego Film Festival kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 25, with The Lucky Ones, the new Iraq-war film from Neil Burger. The movie, which opens nationally a day later and stars Tim Robbins, Michael Pena and Rachel McAdams, is actually a road-trip flick, as all three play returning injured soldiers thrown together in a minivan due to circumstances beyond their control. I thought it was pretty thin, but it humanizes the soldiers in a nice way. Michael Pena, a charismatic actor, has clearly become the go-to guy for films involving 9/11 and the wars that followed. He was buried in the Twin Towers in World Trade Center, got killed in Afghanistan in Lions for Lambs and takes a piece of shrapnel in the opening moments of The Lucky Ones.
Opening-night tickets aren't always easy to get your hands on, but the Fest has plenty of other offerings down at the Reading Gaslamp. High on my list to see is The Brothers Bloom, a conman drama starring Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz and Mark Ruffalo, along with The Morning Light, a documentary about an open-ocean sailing competition, as well as Lost in the Fog, another doc about a racing horse who came out of nowhere and had incredible success—think Seabiscuit, but without Tobey Maguire. There's also Angels & Airwaves, yet another documentary about the break-up of San Diego's own blink-182, and Broken Windows, a locally shot feature from director Tony Hickman that follows four women over a three-day period (support the home team!)
All the festival details can be found at www.sdff.org.Opening
Choke: Clark Gregg's adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's nihilistic novel about a sex addict with serious mommy issues who fakes choking in restaurants to garner sympathy and money is really funny, believe it or not. It all rests on the shoulders of Sam Rockwell, and this is the role he was born to play.
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..
Miracle at St. Anna: Spike Lee's new joint explores four African-American soldiers trapped in a Tuscan village during World War II.
Nights in Rodanthe: Richard Gere and Diane Lane get busy in a small North Carolina town with the awkward name of Rodanthe. Let's just hope they both have residency and vote Democrat.
The Pool: A young hotel boy covets a swimming pool he sees from his workplace and eventually offers his services to its owners, changing his path along the way. From the director of that terrific American movie, American Movie.
Kubrador: Part of the San Diego Asian Film Festival's yearlong look at Filipino movies, Kubrador follows the life of a bookie who scrambles to collect debts from the numbers racket that exists in the slums. It runs Sept. 26 through Oct. 2 at UltraStar Chula Vista.
One time only
Ligaw Liham: After the post office shuts down, a simple young man makes a move on his childhood crush, sending her letters that she thinks are for someone else. Part of the San Diego Asian Film Festival's ongoing Filipino film series, Ligaw Liham runs through Sept. 25 at the UltraStar Chula Vista.
Maldeamores: Benicio del Toro is an executive producer on this Puerto Rican film, which stars the ridiculously cool Luis Guzmán. The movie is set on the island and is made up of three stories that take a look at the different ways we love at different times in our lives. Presented by the San Diego Latino Film Festival, it runs through Sept. 25 at the UltraStar Hazard Center.
Ladron que Roba a Ladron: Two washed-up crooks reunite to go after a rich dude who's made his money via infomercials that rip off Latino immigrants. So they put together a team of amateurs who won't be noticed because they're, well, immigrants. Call it “Ocean's Catorce.” Screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24, at Otay Ranch Marketplace. Free.
Pulp Fiction: Tarantino's character-ridden, dialogue-spurting, timeline-shifting criminal masterpiece was retro even when it was new. It's still as cool as the other side of the pillow, even if it is what gave John Travolta his career resurgence. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Jurassic Park and Rifftrax: Mike Nelson, formerly of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and Weird Al Yankovic will act like a pack of velicoraptors, tearing apart the Spielberg joint via Rifftrax's running commentary. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24, at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido. Free.
Fotoaktion!: San Diego artist Perry Vasquez steps behind the camera for his first film, about the artist Doris “Boris” Berman, who coined the titular term to describe the raucous interactive art events she staged in San Francisco's underground art scene in the 1980s. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. Free.
My Architect: KPBS director of programming Keith York is also a San Diego Architecture Foundation board member, and he's sponsoring and introducing a screening of this film, about famed building designer Louis Kahn, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25, at Luce Loft, Downtown.
Ed Wood: The masterpieces of cross-dressing director Ed Wood, like Plan 9 from Outer Space, were so bad they decided to make a movie about him. And, by “they,” we mean Tim Burton. Johnny Depp is terrific as Wood, but it's Martin Landau who steals the show as poor, pathetic Bela Lugosi. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 25 and 27, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
'Toon Town Troublemakers: Museum of Contemporary Art film curator Neil Kendricks has pulled together his third animation celebration, a series of films that aren't sick and twisted but definitely adult in nature. We're big fans of the Oscar-nominated Madame Tutli-Putli but also really dig DNN: Dead News Network. Starts at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, at MCASD in La Jolla.
2nd Annual Reuse/Repair Fair and EcoFilm Festival: This one-day festival includes a number of exhibitors and workshops like leather repair, composting and extreme composting. Four films run during the course of the day, including Blue Vinyl, Story of Stuff, Recyclergy and the Leo DiCaprio-produced enviropic The 11th Hour. Seriously, you should probably carpool, don't you think? Goes from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma. Free.
An Unreasonable Man: Great doc about Ralph Nader, who has really done some important work over the years. Too bad about that whole getting-W-into-the-White-House thing, though. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, at the North County Democratic Unity Office in Escondido (135 Grand Ave.). Free.
Sword of Doom: Wrapping up Citizen Video's Samurai September is the classic slash-fest mind-fuck that is Sword of Doom. A rogue ronin with no remorse hacks and stabs his way through life, driving himself insane in the process. Strangely cerebral and featuring some crazy swordfights, Sword of Doom is not to be missed. Screens at 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28, at the Whistle Stop in South Park. Free.
American Movie: Absolutely fantastic documentary about Mark Borchardt, a socially awkward filmmaker and his struggles to complete his homemade horror film, Coven. It's funny and tragic and oddly inspiring, a film for film lovers and fans of the tragedy of the human condition. If you've never seen American Movie, you should. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
Magazine Gap Road: As part of the opening festivities for UCSD's new space, The Loft, the San Diego Asian Film Festival presents this Hong Kong thriller about a museum curator and former escort whose past catches up with her. It's preceded by the short film Prekisstoric Times. Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 29, at The Loft on the UCSD campus.
Heading South: Set in Haiti in the 1970s, it tells the story of wealthy, single, older, mixed-up North American and European women (including Charlotte Rampling) who travel to the island nation to have sex with beautiful black boys. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 29, at the Downtown Central Library. Free.
The Visitor: Veteran character actor Richard Jenkins—the dead dad on Six Feet Under—is terrific as a burnt-out professor whose life finds meaning when he tries to help a detained illegal immigrant in New York. Haaz Sleiman, who was so good as the young detainee, will appear and speak at this screening, which starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30, at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice on the USD campus. Free.
Citizen Jimmy: The folks at Lestat's have themselves a little exclusive—political comedian Jimmy Dore's recent special. He's a funny guy, and kicking back and laughing about politics is about the only way to deal with election season. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30, at Lestat's in Normal Heights. Free.
The Big Lebowski: The Dude has now abided for a decade. Easily the Coen brothers' cultiest cult film, Lebowski stars Jeff Bridges as The Dude, a 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 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1, at the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Flow: We're so busy fretting about the cost of oil that we often overlook how bad our water situation has become. And not just at the tap—there's no shortage of multinationals looking to cash in on how you get your agua and how much you pay for it.
Ghost Town: Ricky Gervais finally gets the lead in an American movie. But is this the right one for his big stateside break? He's a nasty dentist who dies on the operating table, and once he's revived, he sees—and can talk to—dead people, all of whom are soon asking for favors. Like Ghost meets The Sixth Sense with a chubby Brit.
Igor: John Cusack voices the title character in this animated creature-feature, a hunchbacked lab rat desperate to become a mad scientist. The supporting cast includes Steve Buscemi and John Cleese, but we're really looking forward to Eddie Izzard's take on Dr. Schadenfreude.
Lakeview Terrace: Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington move in next to Samuel L. Jackson, an angry cop who doesn't want a biracial couple as neighbors. It's from director Neil LaBute, so prepare your buttons now—they will likely be pushed.
Maldeamores: Benicio del Toro is one of the executive producers of this Puerto Rican film, which stars the ridiculously cool Luis Guzmán. The movie is set on the island and is made up of three stories that take a look at the different ways we love at different times in our lives. Presented by the San Diego Latino Film Festival, this one runs Sept. 19 to 25 at the UltraStar Hazard Center.
My Best Friend's Girl: Irritating comic Dane Cook is hired by his best friend, the irritating Jason Biggs, to woo the irritating Kate Hudson, so she'll see how great the irritating Biggs is. Surprise! The irritating Cook falls for her. We're guessing that at some point, we'll hear the somewhat irritating song from The Cars that the movie is named after.
Towelhead: Alan Ball's feature debut, taken from Alicia Erian's novel, is easy to appreciate, if difficult to enjoy, because the subject matter is so intense. Thirteen-year-old Jasira (played by 20-year-old Summer Bishil, who does an amazing job) moves in with her Lebanese father in Houston on the eve of the first Gulf War. As she begins to explore her budding sexuality, so does her neighbor, a slightly bigoted Army reservist played by Aaron Eckhart. Strong performances all around.
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.
Righteous Kill: Two aged New York cops investigate murders that are eerily reminiscent of a case they tackled years ago. Just check the cast: Al Pacino. Robert De Niro. And 50 Cent? For reals.
Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys Together: Two families, one white and one black, are intertwined in an adulterous web, pitting matriarchs Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates against each other.
The Women: Annette Bening and Meg Ryan star as rich New York bitches in this remake of George Cukor's 1939 take on Clare Booth Luce's classic play.
Bangkok Dangerous: Another Nic Cage action movie. This time, he's a hit man who goes to Thailand to whack people but ends up falling in loooooove. Actually, this one has promise—it's written and directed by Asian-horror-meisters the Pang brothers, who remake their own insane 1999 Thai film.
Disaster Movie: It's a small-budget parody of big-budget disaster films, and we wish it would melt in the heat of a plane that's crashing into a volcano during a massive earthquake tsunami. No surprise, Carmen Electra plays “Beautiful Assassin.”
Mamma Mia!: The Sing-Along Edition: Perhaps you wish you could stand up in a darkened theater and belt out the ABBA songs featured in Mamma Mia! Well, your time has come. There's a new edition of the based-on-the-hit-Broadway-musical film starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan that will feature the lyrics to all the songs on the screen, like a disturbingly large karaoke machine. You'll be with a group of like-minded ABBA fans, so your version of “Take a Chance on Me” will be supported—nay, encouraged—by the rest of the faithful.
Traitor: Don Cheadle is a former U.S. Special Operations officer who may or may not have been compromised by the extremist and terrorist groups he's been infiltrating undercover for years. Guy Pearce is the straight-laced FBI man sent to track him down.
Transsiberian: An American couple (Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer) are living a lifelong dream, taking a trip from China to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Too bad the folks they start hanging out with are drug dealers, putting them smack in Johnny Law's crosshairs. And once the train is rolling, well, it's hard to get away from former KGB agent Ben Kingsley.
Death Race: The satire that originally appeared in Roger Corman's 1975 camp classic, Death Race 2000, is missing, but if you're the sort who wants to see pimped-out armored cars armed with massive machine guns shooting at each other on an enclosed prison racetrack, you won't care. Jason Statham is Jensen Ames, a former NASCAR driver framed for murdering his wife so a crooked warden (Joan Allen) can get him behind the wheel of her ass-kicking deadly racing franchise. Sure, it's thin, but it puts the muscle in muscle car.
Elegy: Isabel Coixet directs this adaptation of Philip Roth's short novel The Dying Animal, about a serial seducing college professor, played by Ben Kingsley, and how his life is turned upside down by a former student (Penelope Cruz) whom he finds himself falling for.
House Bunny: Anna Faris is a Playboy bunny who gets tossed from the mansion only to wind up at a sorority house full of socially inept ugly ducklings. Just like in real life, it turns out the women of Zeta Alpha Zeta just need a really hot, skimpily clad chick around to make them feel good about themselves.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Force goes animated. The new film—really the pilot for an ongoing show on the Cartoon Network—doesn't capture the awesomeness of the 1977 original. But it's still better than the last three movies.
Tropic Thunder: Ben Stiller directed and stars in this monster comedy about a bunch of spoiled actors dropped into a real war zone. The thing is, they think it's a movie set, but the guerrillas they're up against are the real deal. Jack Black stars as the funnyman taking on a serious role, and Robert Downey Jr. is the award-winning actor who dyes his skin to play the part of the unit's black sergeant. Like most of Stiller's stuff, it's really dumb and kinda funny. Oh, and in this case, it's rated R, so it's also really violent.
Vicky Christina Barcelona: Will Woody Allen ever make another film in New York? After shooting the last two in the U.K., he moved his act overseas. Scarlett Johanssen and Rebecca Hall are tourists in Barcelona who find themselves infatuated with mysterious brooding painter Javier Bardem. When his crazy ex-wife (Bardem's real-life honey, Penelope Cruz) enters the picture, the whole trip becomes a total bummer.
Man on Wire: James Marsh directs this compelling documentary about Frenchman Philippe Petit, who illegally tightrope-walked between the World Trade Center towers in 1974. Man on Wire explores Petit's obsessive and meticulous plotting, and how he convinced a group of wild-eyed young adventurers to assist him. Drawing on gorgeous archival footage and charming the audience with vivid storytelling, it's an imaginative, entertaining riff on heist movies.
Pineapple Express: Seth Rogen and James Franco play buddies Dale and Saul, whose possession of some ultra-rare weed leads them into compromising situations with the police, thugs, drug dealers and a Chinese crime syndicate. Yeah, it's as dumb as it sounds. It's also hilarious and hugely entertaining, with a star-making performance by Danny McBride as Red. Keep an eye out for the absurd props, which provide some unexpected laughs.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: It's hard to imagine there were fans begging for a second sequel in The Mummy franchise, but Brendan Fraser is back for this trilogy-capping finale, co-starring Maria Bello and Jet Li. Chances are Fraser will deliver a lot of dumb catchphrases, Bello will look hot and Li will, um, kick people in the face.
The Dark Knight: It's finally here, and yes, Christopher Nolan's new Batman movie is everything you hoped it would be. An epic two-and-a-half-hour crime drama that examines the complicated nature of good, evil and heroism and simply must be seen on an Imax screen to be believed. Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhard are all well-served by a tense, taut script, but it truly is Heath Ledger's movie, as he plays Batman's nemesis, The Joker, with a shambling malevolence that's terrifying and intense.
Mamma Mia!: The hit Broadway musical consisting of nothing but Abba tunes is turned into a big, fat Hollywood movie. But this one's got Meryl Streep as an overbearing mother. Her daughter Sophie is getting married, but she doesn't know who her dad is. So she invites all of mom's exes—Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård—to the wedding.
Journey to the Center of the Earth: Kids won't have to be too tall to ride the undoubtedly forthcoming theme-park ride based upon this 3D re-envisioning of the Jules Verne classic, because it is decidedly PG. It's not bad, necessarily, just somewhat bland and inoffensive. Brendan Fraser is the laughingstock of the scientific community who takes his nephew and a hot Icelandic mountain guide down into, well, the center of the earth. Where there are T-Rexes and all sorts of other dangers, all of which conveniently throw themselves directly at the camera. The 3D effect is OK, but the movie's appeal is going to fall off dramatically on DVD.
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl: Abigail Breslin stars as a precocious young reporter. It's got a seriously high-profile supporting cast, but if you're the target demo, you shouldn't be reading CityBeat.
Wall*E: Our hopes are high for the cute li'l titular robot, whose trailers are enough to make us both laugh and cry. It's hundreds of years in the future, and Wall*E's been cleaning up our mess since we left. And along the way, he's gotten lonely. Sure, we already get the An Inconvenient Truth messaging, but Pixar has yet to do us wrong.
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 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.