Most TV shows that originate as films don't do so well, M*A*S*H* aside (and the last few years of M*A*S*H* sucked). But City of Men is only part TV show, as it's a feature-length film developed out of the Brazilian show that was created as a sequel to the incendiary film City of God. Got all that? Yes, the logistics are about as confusing as a favela gang war.
While City of God took place in the '60s and '70s, City of Men is set in present day, focusing on two lifelong friends, Ace (Douglas Silva) and Wallace (Darlan Cunha), on the verge of adulthood. But these guys aren't heading off to college—they live in the slums of Rio and deal daily with the politics and poverty of their 'hood. Both grew up fatherless, but while Ace already has a child of his own, Wallace is determined to track down his own dad. Oh, and Wallace, whose cousin is the local crime boss, has his eye on a girl who's loyal to a different thug, while Ace might have to raise his son alone if his wife leaves town for a job. All this is exacerbated by the imminent gang war in their neighborhood.
Both young leads are solid enough, and emotionally, there's actually more going on than in the City of God, but it feels a bit sudsy, unable to replicate the kinetic energy of the original. It isn't bad, but City of God was so fresh and unique and original that it feels like comparing men to, say, a higher power.—Anders Wright
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.
Military Intelligence and You!: A satire of those old industrial government films that combines old-school footage with a plot that finds Major Nick Reed going after Nazis and his hot ex, the aptly named Monica Tasty.
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.
Penelope: Christina Ricci is the titular character, born a wealthy girl who must find true love if the family curse that gave her a pig's snout for a nose is to be broken. But no dude wants to be with a schnozz like that, so Penelope ditches her family, hooks up with tough girl Reese Witherspoon and finds that maybe being different isn't so bad. Especially if you end up with James McAvoy.
Semi-Pro: You know how Will Ferrell movies oscillate between being really dumb and funny and just really dumb? This one, which finds Will playing Jackie Moon, the owner/coach/player of an ABA basketball team who got his money by singing a sexy, Barry White-esque '70s love song, is the just really dumb kind.
One Time Only
Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Before you make your “Anyone? Anyone?” joke, isn't it weird that super-smart Ben Stein, the economics teacher from this film, the former Pepperdine law professor, White House speech writer and host of Win Ben Stein's Money, is the star of a creationist documentary slated to drop around the same time as Bill Maher's Religulous? Just thought you should know. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
The Ramallah Concert: Daniel Barenboim and the West-East Divan Orchestra: Part 2 of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and Alternate Focus' screenings about an orchestra made up of Israelis and Arabs, put together by conductor Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian writer Edward Said. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Four Points Sheraton in Kearny Mesa. Free.
Sicko: So Michael Moore's treatise against the healthcare industry didn't win the Best Documentary Oscar. What's cool here is that this free showing is put on by the California School Employees Association. The Hefty Lefty would be proud. As the old song goes, there is power in a union. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, at the San Diego County Office of Education, 6401 Linda Vista, Room 306. Free.
Banished: Between the Civil War and the Great Depression, thousands of African-American families were pushed from their land by their white neighbors. Marco Williams' documentary explores three all-white American towns and the lingering effects of our country's racist past. Screens at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Museum of Contemporary Art's La Jolla branch.
God Sleeps in Rwanda: Nominated for the Best Documentary Short Subject Oscar in 2005, this look at five women whose lives were changed by the 1994 Rwandan genocide marks the first film in “Voices: A Women's Human Rights Film Series” from Eveoke Dance Theatre and The Cultural Worker. The weekly four-film series, programmed to celebrate Women's History Month (also known as March) will include dance performances and post-film discussions and will culminate in a creativity workshop at the end of the month. Screens at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 1, at Eveoke Dance Theater in North Park.
Peccato Che Sia una Canaglia: Presented by the Italian Film Festival, this 1955 comedy (the title translates roughly to “Too Bad She's Bad”) stars Sophia Loren as a young thief who tries to steal from the wrong people. Not a bad way to celebrate leap year. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 29, at 6:30 p.m. at the Italian Community Center in Little Italy. Free.
A Touch Away: Screened at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival in February, the first eight episodes of this Israeli TV series have been picked up by HBO, so SDJFF is providing another chance to catch it on the big screen. A Romeo and Juliet set in Tel Aviv's Orthodox neighborhoods, the first four episodes will be shown Monday, March 3, at 7 p.m. at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla, while Episodes 5 through 8 will screen Thursday, March 6, same time, same place. $13.
Almost Famous: San Diego's prodigal son, Cameron Crowe, wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical story of a 16-year-old rock journalist who gets sent on the road by Rolling Stone to cover a seriously big band—based on Crowe's teen experiences on the road with The Allman Brothers. It's funny, sensitive and sweet, introduced the world to Patrick Fugit, earned Frances McDormand and Kate Hudson Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations and sent Crowe to the podium for Best Screenplay. Watch for Phillip Seymour Hoffman as legendary rock critic Lester Bangs. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 5, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days: An extremely well-made, excruciatingly tough movie about a back-alley abortion during the waning years of Romania's communist period. Writer-director Cristian Mungiu's film deservedly took the Palm d'Or at Cannes last year, and though it's tough to watch, it's a superb piece of art. Mungiu sits back and lets the camera run, giving his actors long, extended takes that reflect the brutal emotions and dehumanizing politics of the day. It's not pro- or anti-abortion rights, nor is it any sort of morality tale, but it is terrifyingly real.
Be Kind Rewind: Simple. A magnetized Jack Black erases all the videos in his buddy Mos Def's shop, so they have to re-shoot, well, everything—including (but not limited to) Driving Miss Daisy, Rush Hour 2, Ghostbusters, Robocop, Back to the Future and The Lion King. There is only one man who could make this movie, and it's Michel Gondry, the dude behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Luckily, he did.
Charlie Bartlett: A Ferris Bueller's Day Off for the Paxil generation, this dark coming-of-age comedy stars Anton Yelchin as Charlie, a rich kid who gets popular at public high school by dishing psychiatric advice and prescriptions to his fellow students. Yelchin is a star in the making—he stole all his scenes in last year's Alpha Dog and has signed on to play Chekhov in the upcoming J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot. Robert Downey Jr. plays the principal, and the routinely excellent (and under-appreciated) Hope Davis is Charlie's mother Marilyn.
The Signal: As TVs, radios and cell phones emit mysterious transmissions to the populace, citizens begin to turn against each other in a bloody, jealous rampage. The twist? These ain't old-school zombies—even those who have “the crazy” maintain the capacity for logic. A spiritual cousin to the films of Cronenberg and Romero, The Signal consists of three vignettes, each helmed by a different director. Its mix of grim social commentary and pitch-black humor is thrilling, faltering only when its desire to push the status quo overwhelms its ability to make complete sense.
Vantage Point: An assassination attempt on the president (William Hurt) is seen through eight different viewpoints, each of which gives a different impression of what actually went down and why. Also stars Sigourney Weaver, Matthew Fox, Dennis Quaid and Forest Whitaker on the grassy knoll.Witless Protection: Outside of Cars, Larry the Cable Guy sucks.
Definitely, Maybe: Precocious Maya (Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin) forces her about-to-be-divorced dad (Ryan Reynolds) to tell her how he and her mom got together. Like the slow-pitch-softball version of How I Met Your Mother.
Jumper: The last time Hayden Christensen faced off against Samuel L. Jackson, he zapped him out a big window in Revenge of the Sith. In Jumper, he has a gene that allows him to teleport anywhere, anytime. This makes him rich and good-looking—but not particularly bright. Jackson, sporting a freaky dye job, is on the hunt for him and others like him. Great idea, cool FX, but very dumb, very standard execution with any nifty metaphysical questions shunted aside in favor of dumbing down for the overseas box office.
The Spiderwick Chronicles: The latest kids' fantasy-novel-turned-big-budget-movie-adaptation, Spiderwick tells the story of siblings Mallory (Sarah Bolger), Jared and Simon Grace (both played by Freddie Highmore) as their family moves into the mysterious Spiderwick Estate. The big surprise? They discover an alternate world filled with all sorts of mystical, magical creatures played or voiced by a barrage of big-name talent (Seth Rogen, David Strathairn, Martin Short, Nick Nolte).
Step Up 2 The Streets: Dancer Andie is an outcast in her new hoity-toity arts school—she just has too much street in her. But it comes in handy when she and the other dance geeks enter a hardcore dance contest. Yep, you can take the girl out of the streets, but you can't take the streets out of the girl. Or the title.
Fool's Gold: Matthew McConaughey. Kate Hudson. Skimpy bathing suits. And something about sunken treasure. In Bruges: Noted playwright Martin McDonagh's dark comedy finds Colin Farrell as a killer with a conscience—a return to the charismatic, small-film style of acting that got him all those big crappy movies. Brendan Gleeson is, as always, great as his mentor, and Ralph Fiennes swears a whole hell of a lot.
Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins: Master mugger Martin Lawrence is a massively successful self-help talk-show host—the perfect blend of Oprah and Dr. Phil—who returns to the South for his parent's 50th anniversary. Egos are blown. Lessons are learned.
The Eye: Ah, the lucrative Japanese-horror-film-remake market. Jessica Alba is a ridiculously hot blind violinist who gets new corneas. So, she can see, which rules, but soon she starts seeing all kinds of frightening otherworldly shit, which sucks. Alessandro Nivola is her ridiculously hot doctor, and Parker Posey picks up a paycheck.Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both World Concert 3-D: Like porn for 'tweens. Or maybe crack. Or porn on crack. For 'tweens. In 3-D. Yeah, that's nasty.
Rambo: Rambo: First Blood Part II (the second film in the franchise) was one of the first entries in the hard-R ultra-violent category of the '80s. And now, more than 20 years later, the latest installment, which features our favorite vet taking on, uh, Burma, ups the violence quotient. These human-rights violations aren't for the faint of heart. Or stomach.
U2 3D: Sure, it hits all the concert-film clichés, but U2 does those clichés better than anyone, and the technology and giant IMAX screen puts you right in the concert—both in the front row and on the stage—in a way you've never experienced, giving you a real sense of what it's like to play to a stadium full of people. It's hard not to get caught up in “Beautiful Day” or “With or Without You,” but if you're allergic to Bono, stay away, because he'll be right there, large as life, and you can't reach out and smack him.
27 Dresses: Katherine Heigl is the perpetual self-sacrificing bridesmaid, driven to the edge when her self-absorbed sister (Malin Akerman) hooks her all-around-great-guy boss (a puffy Ed Burns), for whom she's pined for years. At the same time, reporter Kevin (James Marsden) picks up on her story as his ticket off the wedding beat. Heigl and Marsden are charming enough to keep it fun, even if Burns phones it in. Prospective husbands beware: this is a simple, inoffensive chick-flick for chicks into weddings.
Cloverfield: The Big Apple looks so tasty that a giant monster hauls itself out of the ocean to take a serious bite. One of the most anticipated films of '08, Cloverfield is produced by Lost/Alias honcho J.J. Abrams and is shot exclusively from the POV of hand-held video cameras of people on the scene. Could be the perfect storm of giant monster flicks.
Persepolis: Yes, it's animated, but there are no cute animals or cars in Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical account of growing up in Iran before, during and after the 1979 revolution. It looks simple, taking its old-school, black-and-white look from the author's graphic novels, and it's so good, so beautiful and so tragic that you might forget you're watching a cartoon. There's a reason France offered it up as its entry in the Foreign Language Film category for this year's Oscars.
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. He plays Daniel Plainview, a turn-of-the-20th-century oilman driven by greed and competition and utterly loathing of the world around him.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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, The Living Sea 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.