Call it an unpleasant convergence. The list of films coming out in late 2008 that deal with World War II and the Holocaust is long. We've already had The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and the French film A Secret, and early next year we'll get Defiance and possibly Adam Resurrected (there's no San Diego date currently scheduled). This week alone, there are three films that deal with the subject, at least tangentially. Read on.
The Reader: In 2005, Kate Winslet lampooned herself on Ricky Gervais' terrific show Extras, acting in a Holocaust drama because it was a guaranteed Oscar. (“We get it,” she said. “It was grim.”) It's ironic, because she's really quite amazing in Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's novel. She's Hanna Schmitz, a woman in her 30s who starts an affair with 15-year-old Michael Berg (played by David Kross and, later, Ralph Fiennes) in post-war Germany. Years later, he runs into her again, only this time she's on trial for war crimes. The third act drags, absolutely, but Winslet is so wonderfully pathetic that, like Michael, your heart breaks for her in spite of all the horrible things she's done.
The Spirit: In the world of graphic novels, Frank Miller has few peers. His version of The Dark Knight inspired the recent Batman resurgence, and he's the true vision behind Sin City. But not everyone can move to another medium. Miller's take on Will Eisner's groundbreaking comic The Spirit is proof—this is one of the worst movies of the year. Samuel L. Jackson is painfully over-the-top as bad guy The Octopus, and Scarlett Johansson just looks breasty and bored as his assistant. No, this isn't a WWII movie, but it does feature both of them in SS regalia, standing in front of a wealth of Nazi symbolism. Also, it's impossible to understand why every woman falls for The Spirit (Gabriel Macht), since he's about the dullest comic-book hero ever (um, Ben Affleck's Daredevil notwithstanding). The best thing about The Spirit is that it ends, but this is one ghost that would have been better off staying dead.
Valkyrie: Originally, Tom Cruise was going to do German accents in his portrayal of Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who led a coup against Hitler. But he went with straight American, which stands out like a sore thumb around his accomplices, well-spoken Brits like Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy and Terrence Stamp. Bryan Singer (Superman Returns, The Usual Suspects) makes slick, good-looking movies, but it's risky business going into business with Tom Cruise, whose career went into a tailspin when he declared war on the world while promoting War of the Worlds. Make no mistake—this is Cruise's film, and though he's unsuccessful in his assassination bid (if that's a spoiler, you're in trouble), the film's appeal rests entirely upon whether or not you've joined the backlash bandwagon.—Anders Wright
Bedtime Stories: Remember that stupid Adam Sandler movie this summer, where he was a former Mossad agent-turned-New York gigolo hairdresser? Made $200 million worldwide. How much can he rake in with a family-friendly flick?
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Director David Fincher directs Brad Pitt as a man born old and growing young. Beautifully shot, the film is less about youth no longer being wasted on the young than it is about the decades long love story between the characters played by Pitt and Cate Blanchett, who are going in different directions. See our review on Page 19.
How About You: Pretty young thing Hayley Atwell is left in charge of a nursing home during the holiday season, and she has to contend with nasty old ladies Vanessa Redgrave and Imelda Staunton.
Marley & Me: Jennifer Aniston bonds with Owen Wilson over a stinky dog.
One Time Only
Grease Sing-along: You know what they say: Grease is the word. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 26, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 28, at the Birch North Park Theatre.
About a Boy: Hugh Grant stars in this adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel about a lethargic, independently wealthy man who schemes to date single moms. It works out OK, until he finds that Toni Collette's son could really use a father figure. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 28, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
Seven Pounds: Will Smith's annual December movie is a feel-good film that doesn't feel all that good. He's an IRS agent trying to atone for past sins by giving, perhaps too generously, to strangers. Rosario Dawson is wonderful, though, as a girl with a weak heart, both literally and figuratively.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.