Considering the R-rating, it's not surprising that Wanted is splattered with blood and contains some of the most gratuitous f-bomb usages in recent memory. What is surprising is that it's also one of the most appealing movies of its kind since The Matrix, a blend of kinetic style, incredible special effects and mild social commentary that succeeds as pure popcorn entertainment.
James McAvoy is Wesley, a 20-something cubicle-dwelling nobody who allows his girlfriend, best friend and boss to walk all over him. But everything changes when he's kidnapped by The Fraternity, a rogue team of assassins. Sloan (Morgan Freeman) and Fox (Angelina Jolie) school him in his hidden, extrasensory capabilities that make him destined to become part of their clan.
Jolie as a sleek, tattooed killer might draw the crowds, but the real star here is director Timur Bekmambetov. Night Watch and Day Watch, the first two parts of his Russian sci-fi vampire trilogy, have gained cult followings here in the States, and with a Hollywood-appropriate budget, his wildly creative integration of CGI is given a chance to shine.
OK, so the script isn't as clever or subversive as it wants to be, and Jolie doesn't contribute much besides looking like the ultimate MILF. But McAvoy is coming into his own as a solid, versatile leading man, and as summer eye-candy, Wanted is ahead of the pack. It ain't rocket science, but no one's going to a super-assassin movie to think.—Todd Kroviak
Brick Lane: Turns out that, for women, arranged marriages aren't always the blissful paradise the media make them out to be. Based on the bestseller from Monica Ali, Brick Lane is the story of Nanzeen, a 17-year-old sent from Bangladesh to be the hot young wife of a fat old dude from London who makes her life miserable. But when local boy Karim makes his way into her life, she has to make some tough decisions.
Constantine's Sword: Former priest and National Book Award-winning writer James Carroll tries to come to terms with his relationship with Christianity in this documentary. Sadly, in the course of his research he determines that the church, historically, is all cozied up to violence and has a lot of 'splaining to do. Liev Schreiber, Natasha Richardson and Philip Bosco all lend their pipes.
Fugitive Pieces: Rade Sherbedgia (the “sneaky f-in' Russian” from Snatch) is Athos, a Greek archaeologist in Nazi-occupied Poland who shelters Jakob (Robbie Kay), an orphaned 7-year old Jewish boy. After the war, Athos and the boy emigrate to Canada, but as he grows into a man (Stephen Dillane), Jakob can't shake the loss of his family.
Mother of Tears: Dario Argento wraps up his Three Mothers trilogy with this nail-biter, starring his own daughter, Asia Argento, as an American college student who opens an ancient urn that fucks up the world. Sort of like global warming, but with demons. Thanks a lot, lady.
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.
War, Inc.: John Cusack co-wrote and stars in this anti-war satire, playing Hauser, an assassin sent to the recently invaded and occupied nation of Turaqistan to off a foreign oil minister, run a Brand U.S.A. trade show and preside over the wedding of the Central Asian version of Britney Spears. It's ultimately too broad and scattered but has some moments of deadly cleverness.
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Meet the Parents/Meet the Fockers: Point Loma's Pearl Hotel wants to Fock you out of at least four hours of your time with a double-feature. The Ben Stiller/Robert De Niro vehicle was funny enough, with Stiller meeting the crazy, ex-CIA father of his fiancé. The sequel, not as much, though we meet Stiller's parents, played by Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman. See what you think as you watch them back-to-back. It's free, so order dinner and tip your server well. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 25, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Bring out your dead! Geeks still quote this one, almost 40 years later. Screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, June 25, at the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido. Free. 21-and-older.
COMCAL Film Festival: Produced by Southwestern College's Telemedia Club, this is the first iteration of a new festival, featuring shorts from students from Southwestern, Grossmont and City colleges. It's organized by students, and the winning film gets a month-long run at the UltraStar Cinema in Chula Vista. The red carpet rolls out at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 26, and the shorts roll an hour later.
Big Wednesday: Co-writer Danny Aaberg puts in an appearance at this benefit screening of the epic 1978 coming-of-age surf film, with proceeds going to the Moores Cancer Center at UCSD. The movie was made before Gary Busey went nuts, before Jan-Michael Vincent got hooked—even before William Katt was the Greatest American Hero. The three stars are lifelong friends facing the country's turning tide as it slides from the get-it-on-free-love '60s into the fight-the-power '70s. Surfs up on Thursday, June 26 at the La Paloma Theater in Encinitas. The reception starts at 6 p.m.; the film starts an hour later. Tickets are $50 in advance (it's a benefit, remember?), or $60 the day of. Tickets can be bought ahead of time at www.longboardluau.org.
Between the Lines: And here's the other Vietnam War surfing movie benefit. John Milius knows a thing or two about surfing and Vietnam, of course, since he shares a screenwriting credit with Coppola on Apocalypse Now. Milius narrates this documentary, which focuses on how the war affected the surfing community. It includes interviews with those who went and those who stayed home, and all proceeds from this benefit screening will go to the Rick Thomas Veterans Counseling Center here in San Diego. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 26, at Hansen Surfboards in Encinitas. $10.
Planet of the Apes: Don't you always think about that awesome Simpsons episode with the Planet of the Apes musical? “From chimpan-A to chimpanzee.” That rocked. Still, we'll go on record—the original, which is the one being shown, is much better than Tim Burton's lame remake. Now that Charlton Heston's gone to that great ape-planet in the sky and we've taken his guns from his cold, dead hands, we can go back to enjoying this sci-fi classic, written, by the way, by Twilight Zone mastermind Rod Serling. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 26, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
Viva Las Vegas: It's kinda funny that Elvis' most famous movie is his Vegas movie, even though the Vegas Elvis era, which happened years after Viva, was all about being bloated and wasted. Still, they didn't call him “The Pelvis” for nothing. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, June 26 and 27, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills. Lost & Delirious: Mischa Barton is a cute freshman who discovers that her roommates—Piper Perabo and Jessica Paré—are lovers. A great event to meet girls, but only if you're one yourself, because it's part of The Center's monthly Sapphic Cinema. Screens at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 27, at the Center in Hillcrest. Free.
San Diego Stories: The Media Arts Center San Diego's Digital Story Station allows county residents to share stories about something deeply important to them. The Center, which produces the Latino Film Festival, has digital recording stations at three public libraries and hopes to have 21 throughout the state by the fall. This collection of digital tales explores Escondido's Grape Day Festival, the history of San Diego's Native American community and more. Saturday, June 28, at 4:30 p.m. at the Escondido Public Library. Free.
Jurassic Park: Spielberg's original, based on the bestseller from Michael Crichton, had some pretty amazing effects but spawned two sequels that we wish a T-Rex would eat. Or even better, they'd be savaged by a pack of Velicoraptors. Screens at midnight Saturday, June 28, at the Ken Cinema.
Indiscreet: Sure, it's a light comedy, but the combo of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman is pretty sweet. She's an actress who's given up on men, until he walks through the door. Too bad there's something he's not telling her. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 28 and 29, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
JFK II—The Bush Connection: Finally, a conspiracy theory we can get behind. The East County Democratic Club is presenting a doc purporting that George H.W. Bush, who was ass-deep in a presidential campaign at the time, was a key player in a successful conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy Jr. We haven't seen the movie, so can't deliver a quantifiable opinion, but this is a conspiracy theory that rocks. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 29, at the Rancho San Diego Library. Free.
George Carlin Night: In the wake of George Carlin's death, Café Libertalia is putting together a collection of performances from the counterculture icon, taken from various stops along the way. If you're wondering what the big deal is about Carlin, his “Seven Dirty Words” monologue was basically the catalyst for the Supreme Court to regulate what you can and cannot hear over the public airwaves. Oh, and he was pretty motherfucking funny, too. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, June 29, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez: The San Diego Latino Film Festival is co-presenting this PBS P.O.V. documentary, about the young U.S. goat herder shot in 1997 by U.S. Marines who were patrolling the Texas/Mexico border and mistook him for a drug runner. Until then, no Americans had been killed on U.S. soil by military forces since Kent State. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 30, at the Central Library Downtown. Free.
Africa Sing Me Your Song: The public library is partnering with SaveAfricaNow to screen this documentary, which looks at the 15 million African children orphaned amid Africa's AIDS crisis and offers ways that the rest of the world could/should/would make a difference. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 2, at the Central Library Downtown. Free.
Top Gun: Most famous movie ever shot in San Diego? Nah, that's Some Like it Hot, but this one's a close second. Just imagine a world in which Goose scared off Iceman and the Russkies because Maverick didn't make it. We can dream, right? Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 2, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Napoleon Dynamite: It's still funny, still sharp, still well-written and still the movie that made Jon Heder a perpetual B-lister, but listen to us: If you're still wearing a Vote for Pedro shirt, you have problems. Screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 2, at the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido. Free for the 21-and-older set, illegal for the kids.
Up the Yangtze: Yung Chang's doc is ostensibly about damming up the Yangtze River, but it's really a portrait of what it's like to be poor in China. Heartbreaking.
Get Smart: Do 20-something hipsters today even know what Get Smart is? OK, primer time: This is a film based upon a Mel Brooks-created spy-spoof show that ran for five years, starting in 1965, starring the very funny Don Adams. Someone, somewhere, decided that a remake would make a good vehicle for Steve Carell—and, hey, maybe it will. Or maybe it'll miss it by that much.
The Love Guru: Mike Myers returns to his first live-action movie in years. This time he's Pitka, an American-born, foreign-raised self-help guru returned to the United States to annoy the shit out of audiences.
Mongol: It's like the early life and times of Genghis Khan. Nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar last year, this biopic is epic and bloody, as young Genghis is lowered to less than nothing. Of course, he then proceeds to kick everyone's ass until he unites the tribes, rules Mongolia and waits for Part 2 of the planned trilogy to be filmed.
The Rape of Europa: Anne Archer narrates this sharp documentary, which had its premiere at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival earlier this year, about the artistic treasures the Nazis plundered during World War II, and also about the many people who risked—and sometimes lost—their lives to prevent Hitler and Co. from getting their hands on even more.
The Foot Fist Way: Fred Simmons' (Dany McBride) world falls apart when his wife gets it on with somebody else. Unable to keep it together, he goes on a pilgrimage to meet his hero, Chuck “The Truck” Wallace (Ben Best), an alcoholic martial-arts movie star who ends up making things even worse. It's a small movie, and parts of it feel ragged, but it's clearly something that wasn't made with test audiences in mind.
The Happening: The latest end-of-the-world project from M. Night Shyamalan stars an airborne toxin that compels people to commit violent suicide, sending survivors like science teacher Marky-Mark Wahlberg and his estranged honey, Zooey Deschanel, on the run.
The Incredible Hulk: Call it Hulk 2.0, now with 78 percent more smashing. This time around, Edward Norton is Bruce Banner, on the run from General Ross (William Hurt) and trying to find a cure for his gamma radiation poisoning, which turns him seriously mean and green if his heart rate gets too high. Certainly it's better than Ang Lee's ‘03 take on the character, which missed the mark because it assumed that fans wanted to see Banner suffering through his trauma, when what they really want is to see him rip shit up. Hulk has a new foe, too, in Tim Roth, who plays supersoldier Emil Blonsky, who also undergoes the procedure and becomes Abomination (who is—we have to admit—kinda cooler than the Hulk).
The Promotion: Sure, it's billed as a comedy, but The Promotion, which stars Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly as Chicago-area supermarket assistant managers bucking for the same leg up, is far more emotional and tragic than your standard laugher. Still, the two dudes are funny guys, and the script, from first-time director Steve Conrad, lets both of them shine.
When Did You Last See Your Father?: It's the age-old father/son struggle for Colin Firth, who has to come to terms with his father's behavior and their historically conflicted relationship, as his dad (always-awesome Jim Broadbent) suffers from a terminal illness.
Kung Fu Panda: Jack Black voices Po, a chunky kung fu-fanboy Panda who's just as surprised as the legendary fighters he admires when he's chosen to save the Valley of Peace from the brutal snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane). Panda looks kind of ridiculous on the surface, but it looks kind of awesome on the screen, one of those for-children-of-all-ages experiences. The animation is top-notch, and the action sequences are exciting and, unlike most animated flicks, not impossible to follow.
You Don't Mess with the Zohan: There's been some talk that Adam Sandler's latest vehicle is actually sort of subversive, because it comes complete with plenty of jokes about terrorism and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. But it also has Mariah Carey, which kind of cancels out any political overtones. The sometimes-funnyman is a former Mossad agent who runs off to New York to become a women's hairdresser.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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!
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.
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 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.