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Will Smith plays the title character in Hancock, a nasty, drunken superhero who saves the life of an idealistic publicist (Jason Bateman) who sets out to change Hancock's image. Really, on the surface it makes for a terrific blockbuster.
There are no real super-villains to challenge our hero—rather, his biggest issues are booze and his own badittude. But Hollywood has never been known for treating great ideas well—complexities are often dumbed down or, in this case, straightforward concepts are rendered overly convoluted.
Still, the first half of Hancock is great fun, with decent effects as Hancock creates all kinds of collateral damage while trying to save the day. Both Smith and Bateman have superhero levels of charm, and Peter Berg's direction keeps things moving crisply along. But the second act, as we learn more about Bateman's wife (Charlize Theron), ventures into territory far darker than the first suggests. The backstory moves away from the original concept faster than a speeding bullet, and it's a shame, really, because what we truly want to see is the Wonder Twin powers of Will Smith and Jason Bateman. —Anders Wright
Encounters at the End of the World: Werner Herzog spent seven weeks in Antarctica making this odd little documentary, ostensibly about who ends up falling all the way down to the bottom of the world. But Herzog is a master of this sort of encounter, and while the people he meets are fascinating, it's the land and water and what's underneath all of it—much of which feels almost entirely alien—that is truly amazing. See our review here.
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson: Can a documentary really capture all the insanity and fear and loathing that really was Hunter S. Thompson? Consider—the director is Alex Gibney, who won an Oscar last year for Taxi to the Dark Side, and who is a gonzo filmmaker of sorts. And while most people think of him in terms of the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson was also an astute writer of both sports and politics, not to mention culture. And ladies, if that's not enough, Johnny Depp provides the narration.
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.
Savage Grace: Based on true events, Savage Grace tells the tragic tale of Barbara Baekeland (Julianne Moore), heir to the Baekeland plastics fortune. Her husband thinks their son is a loser, so to protect him she gets a little too close, especially as he gets older. Actually, she gets way, way, way too close, as in, read between the lines too close.
One time only
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: Kansas City BBQ, the Downtown spot where they shot that scene in which Tom Cruise croons “You've Lost That Loving Feeling” to Kelly McGillis, burned down last week. 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 8 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) and at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 9, at the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma (free).
For a Few Dollars More: The second installment of the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood spaghetti-western trilogy, this one is often overlooked in favor of A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. But the showdown between Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, both playing bounty hunters after the same man, is true grit. There's no kiss kiss, but plenty of bang bang. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 3, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. Free.
Some Like it Hot: San Diego's favorite movie, and with good reason. With scenes shot at the Hotel Del, Some Like It Hot stars Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as jazz musicians who dress in drag to escape some gangsters. Of course, when they hook up with Marilyn Monroe, she thinks she's found her new BFFs. But guys always want to be more than friends. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, July 3 through 6, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Pee Wee's Big Adventure: Who would have thought that a grown man who acts like a socially awkward little boy would eventually be best remembered for masturbating in a porno house? Still, the Tim Burton movie's pretty awesome. Screens at midnight, Saturday, July 5, at the Ken Cinema.
The Last Conquistador: Prior to its airing on PBS on July 15, you can catch this P.O.V. documentary on sculptor John Houser and his plans to build a huge statue of the Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate in El Paso, Texas. Some find it great, a monument to the contributions Latinos made in building up the country. Others, like, say, the Native Americans, think of De Oñate as the dude who stole their land and sold them into slavery. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 6, at the Central Library Downtown. Free.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being: Perpetual Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis is Tomas, an apolitical Czech surgeon caught—in the right way—between two women. When the Soviet tanks roll into Prague in 1968, all of them have to face up to life being about a little more than a three-way in the afternoon. A lovely movie, based on the novel by Milan Kundera. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 6, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
Diggers: It's the summer of '76, and four friends, including Paul Rudd and Ron Eldard, are watching their livelihood as Long Island clamdiggers get taken away by a corporate operation. A sweet coming-of-age picture that screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 7, at the Downtown Central Library. Free.
35MM: Green: The San Diego Film Festival's summer documentary series continues with a collection of shorts on going green, making the world a better place and, one assumes, Priuses. Attendees get a free beer and popcorn. Screens at 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 8, at The Beach on top of the W Hotel, Downtown. $5 donation strongly suggested.
Blazing Saddles: Sure, these days Mel Brooks is mostly synonymous with The Producers and Young Frankenstein, thanks to the Broadway musicals. But his masterpiece will always be Blazing Saddles, a brutally funny, anti-PC satire about what happens when a black man is hired as the new sheriff of a town in the Old West. Oh, and it's often regarded as the first film to have fart sounds on screen. Screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 9, at the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido. Free.
Wanted: The real star of this summer actioner isn't poor-loser-turned-assassin James McAvoy or seriously MILFy Angelina Jolie—it's Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, who goes to town with his massive Hollywood budget and his R-rating.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Counterfeiters: Winner of this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, The Counterfeiters is about Operation Bernhardt, the Nazi attempt to counterfeit British and American currency in the waning days of World War II. It tells the story of Jewish master forger Sally Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), who heads up the detail of craftsmen whose lives are spared as long as they support the German war effort, knowing the entire time that if they do their job well, the war will continue on.
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.