We go to Spider-Man movies to watch Spidey spin a web, any size. We go to Harry Potter movies to watch Harry practice magik. And we go to Will Smith movies to watch Will Smith charm the hell out of us. So when a film like Seven Pounds comes along, which features Smith in an altogether different kind of role, it's hard to know what to think of it.
Smith is Ben Thomas, a dude with an FBI badge and a lot of pain. There's something in his past that compels him to seek out seven different people, each who has real problems, none of whom know each other, so he can drastically change their circumstances at an extraordinarily high cost to himself. There's Emily (Rosario Dawson), a young woman with a heart condition, and Ezra (Woody Harrelson), a lonely blind pianist, and several others played by people who aren't big movie stars.
It's an interesting idea, and the last time Smith teamed up with director Gabriele Muccino—The Pursuit of Happyness—he scored an Oscar nomination. But what's lacking here is that appealing charisma we know so well. One thing we don't do is go to the movies to watch the Fresh Prince be all mopey, but in Seven Pounds (the title is never fully explained, but those with a knowledge of history may glean its meaning) that's exactly what he does. We know Smith can act, and it's been fun watching him grow in recent years, but he's one of those movie stars whose real appeal is in his magnetism, which he seems to have de-magnetized to take on the role. That's the film's problem—it would be a more daring choice for him to be as happy and upbeat as ever while going through all the dark, nasty stuff he has to go through.
So it's not your average Will Smith movie. It is, however, a great Rosario Dawson movie. She's the one who is radiant and appealing, even though her character is on the verge of being done in by a bad ticker. The weight of Seven Pounds may not stay with you for long after you leave the theater, but Dawson's performance probably will.
Antarctica: The continent is a long way from Israel, where gay siblings Omer and Shirley live. Still, that doesn't stop the latter from planning a trip there, even if her overbearing mother and her girlfriend would rather keep her in town.
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.
House of Sleeping Beauties: A German remake of a Japanese film about a brothel for heartbroken older men where all the girls are drugged and asleep.
The Tale of Despereaux: Matthew Broderick is Despereaux, a mouse who reads, and he's teamed up with a rat (Dustin Hoffman) and a bumbling servant (Tracey Ullman) in this animated take on the classic children's story.
Yes Man: Jim Carrey dips back into the well (over-the-top funny with a sweet spot) that made him an A-lister, playing a dude who decides to say “yes.” To everything.
One Time Only
Tootsie: Washed-up actor Dustin Hoffman goes to an audition in drag and lands the part. Now everyone thinks he's a she—and he can't get laid. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
SDSU student film festival: SDSU has turned out some great young filmmakers in recent years. Catch their stuff now, before they get famous. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, at the Don Powell Theatre on the SDSU Campus. $7.
It's a Wonderful Life: Hey, there's a reason the Jimmy Stewart classic is still kicking. Watch it at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, at Sea Rocket Bistro in South Park. Free.
Showgirls: Now with 20-percent more nipples! (Disclaimer: claim not true.) Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, at the Center in Hillcrest. Free.
Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster: This is the one where the man in the Godzilla costume teams up with the dude in the Mothra suit and the chick who dresses up like Rodan to fight those bastards in the Ghidorah outfit. Screens at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 19, in Studio 106 in the Art Union Building in Golden Hill. Free, but RSVP to email@example.com because seating is limited.
White Christmas: The first of the sing-along series over in North Park, you too can belt it out with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and that other lady who never got as famous as her co-stars. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21, at the Birch North Park Theatre.
Viewer's Choice: Café Libertalia will be screening a holiday-themed movie on Sunday. But which movie is up to you—assuming you show up with numbers. Yes, the audience will be polled to determine which holiday chestnut to watch, so if you're a fan of Bad Santa, you'd better bring your posse. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
The Day the Earth Stood Still: Remake of Robert Wise's groundbreaking 1951 sci-fi thriller about an alien who's come to earth to save it—from us. The update has crazy FX and Keanu Reeves, and no, he doesn't play the robot.
Frost/Nixon: Ron Howard is restrained in his take on the Broadway play about the interviews between lightweight talk-show host David Frost and President Nixon. Both Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprise their stage roles as Frost and Nixon, respectively—Langella delivers a masterful performance of Mr. Not-a-Crook himself.
Nothing Like the Holidays: San Diego's Rick Najera co-wrote the screenplay to this holiday film, about a Puerto Rican family in Chicago. The very strong cast includes Alfred Molina, John Leguizamo, Luis Guzman, Freddy Rodriguez and Debra Messing.
Repo! The Genetic Opera: There was a lot of buzz about this film from Saw II, III and IV director Darren Lynn Bousman. 'Cause who wouldn't want to see a rock opera about donated organs being repossessed that stars Paris Hilton and the dude from Hedwig and the Angry Inch? Though it's not getting a full-fledged release here in San Diego, you can catch it at the La Paloma Theatre through Dec. 18.
A Secret: French actor Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) stars as the patriarch of a Jewish family in Paris after World War II whose son discovers a devastating secret about how he came to be.
Cadillac Records: Adrien Brody is Leonard Chess of the legendary Chess Records, who introduced the world to the likes of Etta James (Beyonce), Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright).
Punisher: War Zone: The Marvel movie about the ruthless vigilante has a new star, as well as a director who was fired during post-production. Still, it also has Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty in The Wire) as the bad guy. It's this year's ultra-violent holiday movie.
Australia: Baz Luhrman comes from a land down under, where women glow and men plunder. The glowing lady, in this case, is Nicole Kidman, who plays an uptight Brit, while Hugh Jackman is the looter. Of course, all three are from Australia, the setting for Luhrman's epic romance adventure. Sort of like a landlocked Titanic.
Four Christmases: Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn are a married couple whose vacation plans fall through, so they're forced to spend the big day with their insane families. Just like, you know, the rest of us.
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.
Transporter 3: Apparently, Jason Statham hasn't moved on from the franchise that turned him into an action star. Go figure.
Bolt: Disney's latest animated adventure takes a page from Pixar's playbook. John Travolta is a TV-star dog who takes a fantastic journey outside the studio, where he learns he doesn't have the powers he thinks he does.
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.
Twilight: Never heard of Twilight? It's like Harry Potter, with vampires, for tweens and their moms, all of whom react to it like desperate meth addicts. If you have heard of Twilight, you know we're telling the truth.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: During WWII, little Bruno meets a boy wearing striped PJs who's on the other side of a fence. Turns out Bruno's dad's been transferred to Auschwitz, and the little fella has to learn the hard way that Jews aren't so bad after all.
Quantum of Solace: Remember how awesome the Daniel Craig '06 James Bond franchise reboot was? Well, even though the new one takes place about 20 minutes after Casino Royale ended, this one isn't awesome at all.
Let the Right One In: Young Oskar falls for a 12-year-old girl who happens to be a vampire whose father slaughters young boys. Yep, it's your average love story, and this one's gorgeously shot and filled with garish violence, high emotion and a shining young cast.
Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa: Stranded animated animals try to make it back to NYC but wind up in Africa.
Role Models: Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott are two juvenile dudes sentenced to work with real juveniles—one of whom is Chris “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse—as community service.
Changeling: Angelina Jolie is actually very good as Christine Collins, a single mother whose son vanished in 1928 in Clint Eastwood's new film, based upon true events. When the LAPD brings back the wrong boy and insists he's hers, she resists, ending up in a mental ward. It's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest crossed with Zodiac and L.A. Confidential.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Believe it or not, Kevin Smith's new film is his most adult yet—in more ways than one. Yes, Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) set out to make porn to pay their bills, but they fall in love along the way. It's got Smith's trademark rat-a-tat raunchy dialog, and Rogen and Banks are great together.
Rachel Getting Married: The herky-jerky handheld camera in Jonathan Demme's new movie mirrors the emotional turmoil of Kym (Anne Hathaway), just out of rehab to attend her sister's wedding. There's Oscar buzz surrounding Hathaway, who is equal parts toxic and pathetic but ultimately someone worth pulling for.
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.
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.