Going mental: One of the odd things about The Great Buck Howard is that even though it's a film about a young man finding his way, its key demo is actually going to be senior citizens. Colin Hanks, son of Tom, is Troy Gabel, a law-school dropout and wannabe writer who takes a job as a road manager for Buck Howard (John Malkovich), a past-his-prime mentalist who's been reduced to playing arts centers in places like Akron and Bakersfield. Yes, a mentalist—a performer who reads people's minds, does hypnotism and performs mental feats that are unexplainable. There aren't many mentalists these days, but (really) once they were all the rage. Buck is equal parts high-maintenance and genial, a man who loves his work but is despondent over how far his star has fallen. He's clearly a cipher for The Amazing Kreskin, who performed on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson dozens of times before being essentially banned by Jay Leno.
Though it purports to be a movie about finding oneself, The Great Buck Howard is really an examination of show business past and the sorts of variety-show players who've been replaced with the likes of American Idol and America's Got Talent. It's all small-time stuff, but Malkovich, who chewed away at scenery in a similar role in Colour Me Kubrick, offers levels of subtlety as a prissy has-been who still appeals to a segment of the population and who has a gift—whether it's psychic or showmanship is in the eye of the beholder. It anchors the entire picture in a way that Hanks, who simply doesn't have his dad's appeal (though Tom shows up for a couple of well-placed appearances), doesn't. Emily Blunt is perfectly charming as a New York publicist who rubs Buck wrong and Troy right. Now, is The Great Buck Howard great? No, but it would be a great movie to take your parents to.
As it is in Heaven: This Swedish picture, nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, follows a famous, morose orchestra conductor (Michael Myquist) who drops his career to return to his hometown, where he becomes the local choirmaster.
Crossing Over: Harrison Ford stars in this multilayered immigration drama that's very much in the vein of Crash. Though it features some decent performances, it's ultimately overwrought.
Duplicity: Clive Owen and Julia Roberts are good-looking spies who are definitely sleeping together and probably betraying each other.
Gomorrah: There was plenty of buzz about this Italian picture that takes a look at organized crime in today's Italy and vied for a Best Foreign Language Oscar.
I Love You, Man: Judd Apatow's fingers are nowhere to be found on this bromance, which stars Paul Rudd and Jason Segal. But they might as well be.
Knowing: If you can buy Nic Cage as an MIT prof, you'll happily go with him uncovering a time capsule that predicts all the global catastrophes of the last 50 years—and the imminent end of the world.
Sunshine Cleaning: Almost a sequel to Little Miss Sunshine. Some of the same producers are on board, the film is also shot in New Mexico and Alan Arkin plays pretty much the same part. Still, it has that vibe that made LMS so appealing, as Amy Adams and Emily Blunt play sisters who start a business cleaning up violent crime scenes.
One time only
As Soon Through These Eyes: Maya Angelou narrates this documentary full of artwork, footage and interviews with artists who survived the Holocaust. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, at the Jewish Community Center in La Jolla.
Coming to Light: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indians: Curtis photographed and recorded Native Americans in the early part of the last century. This takes a look at his life and his own changing attitudes toward the people he documented. Screens at 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. Free with museum admission.
Once: You can hate musicals, but you'll still probably love this Irish Oscar-winner about a male busker and a female Czech immigrant who meet on the streets of Dublin and make beautiful music together. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Incantessimo Napoletano: The San Diego Italian Film Festival presents this comedy about a fifth-generation Neapolitan couple whose daughter grows up speaking Milanese—which, apparently, is a bummer if you live in Naples. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 19, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. Free, donation suggested.
Banff Mountain Film Festival: When will someone finally put together a film festival about sitting around, eating nachos and watching TV? This one features films about rugged stuff like biking, kayaking and rock climbing. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 19, at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas, and Friday, March 20, through Monday, March 23, at the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.
Like Water for Chocolate: This gorgeous film about love, sex and food is part of the Oceanside Museum of Art's Culinary Cinema series. A full meal is included—the food is at 6, the movie at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 21, at the OMA. Call 760-435-3720 for reservations.
Little Children: Before Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley were Watchmen, they starred in Todd Fields' twisted tale of suburban angst. Haley got an Oscar nomination, along with Kate Winslet. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 22, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Bob Le Flambeur: Black and white movies are hip. French movies are hip. Heist movies? Hip. And Bob Le Flambeur, the latest offering from Citizen Video, is all three. Screens at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 22, at Whistle Stop Bar in South Park. Free.
Delhi 6: A young, American-born Indian visits the old country and his ailing grandmother and finds he has more in common with his heritage than he suspected. Screens at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, March 22, at UltraStar Del Mar. Tickets at www.goldspiritfilms.com.
Milk: Yep, the one Sean Penn won an Oscar for, you homo-loving commie sons of guns. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 22, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
Roman de Gare: Stars the always-interesting French actor Dominique Pinon as a guy who may or may not be a serial killer being investigated by a thriller writer as a possible character in her new book. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 23, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Sleepy Time Gal: Jacqueline Bisset is a plain woman in her 50s trying to sort out her regrets before she dies of cancer. The movie also stars Seymour Cassel and Martha Plimpton, and director Chris Much will give a free workshop on indie distribution at 2 p.m. The film screens at 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 24, in Room 240 of the Arts Building on the CSU San Marcos campus. Free.
The True Story of the Civil War: Part of the Museum of Photographic Arts' Lou Stouman retrospective, this doc is narrated by Raymond Massey and earned Stouman the Best Short Subject Documentary Oscar. Screens at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25, at MOPA in Balboa Park. Free with museum admission.
Sex and the City: The Movie: Fe-meth. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Cherry Blossoms: The wife in a longtime German couple doesn't tell her husband that he's dying, but instead takes him to Japan to visit their son.
Everlasting Moments: A young, working-class Swede decides to keep the camera she won in a lottery and ends up documenting everything she sees around her.
Good: Likely the last of the '08 Holocaust films to hit San Diego. Viggo Mortensen is a German intellectual whose work is celebrated by government officials who start using it as propaganda. He ends up with fame and very bad karma.
The Last House on the Left: A remake of Wes Craven's brutal '72 original. A gang kidnaps and assaults a young girl and then takes refuge in her parents' summerhouse. Bad move, 'cause the folks are pissed.
Miss March: Kid in a coma wakes up to learn his high-school sweetie is in the middle of a magazine. Which, of course, leads to a road trip. And boobs.
Race to Witch Mountain: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a Vegas cabbie who picks up two kids brimming with ESP who are on the run.
Watchmen: Zack Snyder follows up 300 with a big budget take on the legendary graphic novel about the tattered personal lives of superheroes in an alternate 1985, where Nixon is still president and the world is on the brink of nuclear armageddon. It looks terrific, but it simply doesn't live up to its own source material.
Che: Steven Soderbergh's biopic about Che Guevara is four-and-a-half hours long and in Spanish. But you don't have to agree with Che's politics to appreciate how well it's made.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li: Torn from the digital pages of the video-game franchise and released just in time for Street Fighter IV to hit video-game consoles.
Two Lovers: The final film from Joaquin Phoenix, whose hip-hop career seems to really be taking off, finds him playing Leonard, a depressed Brooklyn boy living with his parents. Vinessa Shaw is great as the girl he should be with, but he only has eyes for drama queen Gwyneth Paltrow. What's unclear is why either of them have any interest in him.
The Class: No, Laurence Cantet's film about a year in a low-income multi-ethnic classroom in Paris didn't win the Oscar on Sunday night, but it's still absolutely worth seeing.
Confessions of a Shopaholic: Isla Fisher is the shopaholic, a New Yorker with an advice column in a film that's obviously been dumped into theaters in February in the hopes that women will take pity on it.
Tyler Perry's Medea Goes to Jail: Perry's been cranking out—and usually starring in—two movies a year for a while. Reprising his most popular character, crazy senior citizen Medea, this time he takes his shtick behind bars.
Fired Up: Two high-school football players spend the summer at cheerleading camp—a healthy combination of totally gay and George W. Bush.
Friday the 13th: Is this prequel about the dude with the hockey mask or the guy with the long fingers? Who cares?
The International: Tom Tykwer's new film is gorgeously shot and edited, especially a huge shoot-out in New York's Guggenheim Museum. But it takes itself so seriously that it feels tragic when the logic behind it just doesn't hold up. Plus, the enormous international conspiracy is far more interesting than the good guys—Clive Owen and Naomi Watts—trying to take it down.
Coraline: Henry Selick's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Hugo-winning novella is the first of the new 3-D movies that uses the tech to complement the story. Dakota Fanning voices the lonely little girl who finds a doorway to a parallel universe that turns out to be far more dangerous than her own, and Teri Hatcher is her mom—and her Other Mother, too.
He's Just Not That Into You: A look at the dating adventures of young people in Baltimore—people like Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Connelly, Kevin Connelly, Justin Long, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Ginnifer Goodwin and plenty of others. C'mon. No one that good-looking lives in Baltimore.
Push: Dakota Fanning is a young girl with the power to get inside other people's minds. Along with Chris Evans, she's on the wrong end of a conspiracy, hunted by other weird psy-ops types. Director Paul McGuigan's last film, Lucky Number Slevin, was pretty sharp.
Taken: Liam Neeson is a former CIA man whose daughter gets kidnapped by white slavers in Paris. So he goes to the city of lights and kills everybody. Pierre Morel has crafted a brutally violent guilty pleasure.
Hotel for Dogs: Good road-trip tip—all Motel 6s take dogs. This kid-friendly movie, on the other hand, makes bitches out of actors like Don Cheadle, Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop: Rent-a-cops across the nation rejoiced when they learned their story would finally be told. Then they found out Kevin James is playing Blart.
Gran Torino: For all the buzz, Clint Eastwood's new film is flawed. Yes, his cranky old guy, Walt Kowalski, manages to be the funny kind of equal-opportunity offender who finds some salvation by taking a good-natured Hmong neighbor under his wing. The problem is that it turns out he's right about everyone he dislikes. Black, white, Asian, his own relatives—they're all awful people in the world of Gran Torino, justifying Walt's latent racism. Nice.
Revolutionary Road: Sam Mendes directs his wife, Kate Winslet, and Leonardo DiCaprio in what might be called
American Beauty: The Early Years. It's another look at the unspoken seamy underbelly of American suburbia in the 1950s, but it just doesn't hold together. Unpleasantville.
The Wrestler: Yes, Mickey Rourke is just as good as you've heard, playing Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up wrestler who was big 20 years ago and is now the old man on the high-school gym circuit. Occasionally, it veers toward sentimentality but never goes over the edge. Marisa Tomei, too, is great as the stripper he'd like to get closer to, and Evan Rachel Wood is perfect as the daughter who can't find it in herself to forgive him.
The Reader: Kate Winslet is amazing as a grown woman who has an affair with a 15-year-old boy in post-war Berlin. Their paths cross again years later when she's on trial for war crimes.
Doubt: Best. Catholic. Priest. Abuse. Movie. Ever. John Patrick Shanley adapted and directed his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play and landed a couple of acting heavyweights for the leads. Meryl Streep is a nasty nun who goes after popular priest Phillip Seymour Hoffman, because she A. doesn't like him, and B. thinks he might be getting a little too close to one of his altar boys.
Milk: Sean Penn delivers yet another tremendous performance as the first openly gay elected politician in the country, Harvey Milk, who was assassinated, along with the mayor of San Francisco, in 1978. Gus Van Sant directs, but the movie is all Penn, and it is nothing if not timely in light of Prop 8.
Slumdog Millionaire: A young, uneducated Indian man is tortured by police who want to find how he knows all the questions he's gotten right on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The answers are all in his life story, which is full of poverty, abuse, hopes for true love, and the crossroads between coincidence and destiny.
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center Space Theater: After undergoing significant renovations, the Fleet is re-opening its dome Imax theater, complete with a kick-ass new screen. Three films will run in rotation initially: Wild Ocean, Van Gogh: Brush with Genius and Animalopolis. Showtimes and prices can be found at www.rhfleet.org.
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.