In 1984, Andy Friedenberg screened a preview of All of Me, the Carl Reiner-directed comedy that starred Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin, for the first subscribers of the San Diego Cinema Society. There were 32 of them, and, Friedenberg says, “most of them were friends of my parents.”
These days, the Society is now forced to cap its membership at 800 each year, and Friedenberg says there's always a waiting list.
After years of working in the film industry, Friedenberg came to San Diego to care for an ailing parent. When he researched local alternative film programming back in the early '80s, he says, “it took me about five minutes. There was nothing.” So he filled that gap.
Cinema Society members are guaranteed at least one film a month during the eight-month season, but there are generally more. In the 2007-2008 season, which included preview screenings of Juno and The Kite Runner, there were more than 30 events. Each movie has yet to open, and some never will. “Some of the films we showcase have no distribution deal whatsoever,” Friedenberg says.
Cinema Society isn't inexpensive—a new membership runs just shy of $400 for the year—but for 30-plus movies each year, it's not dramatically more than you'd pay at the box office, and you're guaranteed a seat. At press time, Friedenberg said there were still a few memberships available for the milestone season. Details are at the Society's website: www.cinemasociety.com.
“It's really come full circle,” he says. “It's been very gratifying.”—Anders Wright
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.
I Served the King of England: A gorgeous movie about Jan Dite, a Czech man who attempts to live and love (lots of love!) between the '20s and the '60s as he works at a fine hotel in Prague. But can a man simply live his life outside world events, especially those that happened in Czechoslovakia leading up to and during World War II?
What We Do is Secret: Biopic about Darby Crash and the Germs, the seminal American punk band whose shows incited riots often enough to get them banned from the L.A. club scene. Rodger Grossman's debut may be historically accurate, but it feels inauthentic.
One time only
Inang Yang: A 2006 Filipino film that earned all sorts of acting awards, it stars Maricel Soriana as Norma, a nanny who cares for the 7-year-old daughter of a middle-class couple. When the family moves to Singapore, Norma is forced to decide if she should stay in the Philippines with her own daughter or move with the girl who feels like her own. Ends Sept. 4 at the UltraStar Chula Vista.
Son of Rambow: Set in the 1980s in England, this is a charming look at imagination and friendship as seen through the eyes of two boys, both outsiders. Will is a religious sect member who's never seen a TV show or a movie. Lee is a rebellious troublemaker who shows Will a bootlegged copy of First Blood. This, of course, blows Will's mind, and before long, the two are making their own version of the Stallone film. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 3, at the Downtown Central Library. Free
The Longest Yard: Remember that lame-ass 2005 Adam Sandler football movie with Chris Rock, Nelly and Burt Reynolds? This isn't that. This is the 1974 original, which stars Reynolds as a convict quarterback who puts together a football team to take on the guards. The remake was a Hail Mary, but the original's way tough. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 3, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Before you make your own “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 created to counteract Bill Maher's Religulous? Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 3, at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido. Free.
Bella: Mexican star Eduardo Verástegui plays José, a one-time fútbol phenom whose career was abruptly shattered. He reminisces about the day he had an encounter with a waitress, Nina (Tammy Blanchard), in the restaurant they both worked at that helped both of them put the trials and tribulations of life into perspective. Presented by the San Diego Latino Film Festival, Bella screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 3, at the Otay Ranch Town Center. Free.
Brassed Off: Used to be Ewan McGregor was best known as the dude from Trainspotting—before the Star Wars prequels. Shortly after he hit it big with the Danny Boyle heroin-addict movie, McGregor also starred in Brassed Off, an understated little film about the Grimley Collier Brass Band, made up of miners from a provincial English town. When the mine closes, the band's only hope for survival is winning a national competition. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, at the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad.
Ready: The latest extreme snowboarding joint from Absinthe Films hits Encinitas as part of the Sphere of Influence Tour. Sure, it has Jeremy Jones, Matt Beardmore, Annie Boulanger and others shredding in exotic locales on screen. But even better, those athletes will also be on hand to mingle and sign merch. The event includes a righteous after-party for the over-21 set. Tickets can be picked up ahead of time at Hansen's Surf Shop and K5 Board Shops, as well as at the venue. The show starts at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, at La Paloma Theater in Encinitas.
Chocolat: Lasse Hallström directed this tasty romance that's sweet in more ways than one. When Juliette Binoche and her daughter open a chocolate shop in a provincial French village suffering from sexual repression, the mayor wants to shut her down, especially once she starts sharing her sugar with charming lowlife Johnny Depp. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, through Saturday, Sept. 6, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Critical Condition: Documentary following four seriously sick Americans and the slings and arrows of outrageous insurance they must face. It's enough to make you rent a place in Ohio to make sure your vote in November actually makes a difference. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7, at the Downtown Central Library. Free.
Dr. Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb: This Kubrick classic is an absolute masterpiece. Peter Sellers plays three roles in this tale of a mad general (Sterling Hayden) who provokes a nuclear confrontation with the Russians during the Cold War, and the efforts of his aide (Sellers), the President (Sellers) and the nation's top mad scientist (Sellers) to put a stop to it. George C. Scott is terrific, too, as a bizarro-Patton. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
Expired: This is a little love story—about a meter maid (Samantha Morton) and an angry traffic cop (Jason Patric)—that never found its way to San Diego. Screens at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 8, at the Downtown Central Library. Free.
Rotonda: Part of the San Diego Asian Film Festival's year of Filipino Cinema, Rotonda is set at a seedy urban intersection and follows a single piece of currency as it makes its way from one character to another, each holder desperately needing a break and a little redemption. They're all on a collision course, and it's something that can't end well. Screens Tuesday, Sept. 9, through Thursday, Sept. 11, at the UltraStar Chula Vista.
San Diego Latino Film Festival Short Films: The series continues with a collection of family-oriented animated shorts that have appeared in past festivals. Local dance troupe Ballet Folklorico Tapatio de San Diego kicks things off at 6:30 p.m. and the film rolls at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 10, at Otay Ranch Town Center. Free.
Showgirls: Best. Bad. Cult. Film. Ever. With lots of tits. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 10, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Army of Darkness: The sequel to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2 is still all about Ash, who has been time-warped to 1300 A.D. Facing a brutal army of the undead, all he's got on his side is his shotgun, his muscle car and his chainsaw hand. This movie rocks. Screens at 9 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 10, at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. Free.
Babylon A.D.: Vin Diesel returns to sci-fi, the genre that made him the massive star he once was. He's a mercenary taking a woman from Russia to China. Sounds easy, but she hosts some sort of nasty organism that a freaky cult wants to get its hands on. Mathieu Kassovitz, who made Gothika and the searing La Haine, is at the reins.
College: Three high-school seniors get hooked up with a frat during a weekend visit to look at colleges. Turns out the sorority girls who come to the house to party dig them, something the frat bros don't appreciate. Imagine, Greek system and college-girl humiliation a whole year early!
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.
A Man Named Pearl: It could almost be considered a good thing that potential neighbors told Pearl Fryar, who is African-American, that they didn't want him to move in near them because “black people don't keep up their yards.” Because, otherwise, he never would have taught himself how to make such an incredible garden that went on to inspire his entire community, even the crackers. Call it better living through topiary.
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.
Hamlet 2: There's something to offend everyone in Hamlet 2, and Steve Coogan is terrific as Dana Marschz (last name intentionally unpronounceable), a failed actor turned drama teacher who writes, directs and then stars as Jesus Christ in a musical sequel to the greatest play ever written in the English language.
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.
The Longshots: Family-friendly football film directed by—drum roll, please—Fred Durst. That's right, Fred “Did it all for the nookie” Durst. Fred “Sex tape on the Internet” Durst. And, apparently these days, Fred “Wholesome family man” Durst. Keke Palmer is Jasmine Plummer, in this true story of the first girl to ever play in the Pop Warner football tourney. Ice Cube's her dad.
The Rocker: Every rose has its thorn. Sure, Rainn Wilson's first big lead, The Rocker, is a School of Rock knock-off. But there's something pleasant about the story of a hair rocker who gets a second chance.
Bottle Shock: A terrific premise that is sadly more schlock than shock. Bill Pullman is the winemaker who could, the man whose Chardonnay beat out the French in a blind 1976 tasting, putting Napa wines on the map. But the dialogue is trite, and his relationship to his slacker son, Chris Pine, just never feels real. It's like a bottle opened too soon. Alan Rickman is great, though, as the Englishman who puts the event together. Like a fine wine, Rickman just gets better with age.
Fly Me to the Moon: This is the first animated film made specifically in the new 3D, and word is that they got it right. Still, it's a cartoon about three young houseflies that stow away in the Apollo 11 moon flight. Take the kids, and then explain to them that it's Buzz Aldrin, and not Buzz Lightyear, voicing Buzz Aldrin.
Frozen River: It's about time Melissa Leo got a leading role. Best known as a cop on TV's Homicide and for being harassed by ex-beau John Heard, Leo dropped off the map for a while, but she returns in this intense little drama. She's a single mother who teams up with an Indian to smuggle immigrants on the reservation between the U.S. and Canada. The film earned Grand Jury Prize honors at Sundance.
Henry Poole is Here: Want to get away? Just ditch your girl and your career and buy a crappy house in the crappy suburban neighborhood you grew up in. That's what a depressed Luke Wilson does, and it works just fine, until his neighbors see Jesus in a water stain in his stucco.
Mirrors: Keifer Sutherland moves from his super secret agent on 24 to a mall cop, charged with making sure nothing goes down in an abandoned mall. Too bad it's haunted by scary mirrors.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2: Three years after their first film, the Sisterhood, including Amber Tamblyn and Ugly Betty's America Ferrera, is back, transitioning into a time when young women go through new changes in their lives. That's right, college. As in, keggers, sororities, the freshman 15. They stay connected via their amazing pair of magic pants, which—now that the girls are older—have college boys trying to figure out how to get inside them.
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.
Brideshead Revisited: The latest version of Evelyn Waugh's pre-WWII novel is brought to life by director Julian Jarrold and a cast of distinguished Brits, including Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon. If you like Atonement and Merchant Ivory productions, this should be right up your alley. The rest of us may be caught nodding off from time to time.
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.
Step Brothers: An excuse for Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly to act like 14-year-old boys. Both are 40-year-olds who still live at home. When their parents get hitched, they suddenly find they have to get in each other's faces. Yes, it's scatological and raunchy—it's so over-the-top that Step Brothers benefits from its R-rating. Still, it feels like it's a movie for 15-year-old boys who will have to sneak in.
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.
Tell No One: A French doctor, whose wife was murdered years ago, finds that the police have reopened the case and that he's a suspect once again. Worse, he gets an e-mail that links to a video clip that suggests that perhaps his wife is actually still alive.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army: Guillermo del Toro and his big-fisted, solid-rock superhero are back for a rematch with the supernatural. This is a good thing. We got the origin story out of the way in the first movie, so del Toro should be freewheeling and fancy-free when it comes to this story, which has something to do with Hellboy saving Earth from the demon hordes. There is no director working today with such command over visual imagery, and Ron Perlman makes for a great Hellboy.
The Wackness: Terrific coming-of-age story about a young pot dealer in NYC in 1994 trying to get to college, listen to phat beats and get with his shrink's stepdaughter (played by Juno's BFF, Olivia Thirlby). Oh yeah, and the shrink is the pot-smoking, pill-popping Ben Kingsley, going through a midlife crisis and delivering a performance that's equal parts tragic and hilarious. Don't miss his make-out scene with Mary-Kate Olsen.
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.
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 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.