Though 2007 saw a spate of Iraq movies, Stop Loss is one of the first of '08, perhaps because the war isn't on people's minds as much. (“Stop-loss” is the term for the military's practice of extending a servicemember's enlistment contract.) Director Kimberly Peirce, best known for Boys Don't Cry, understands. “It makes total sense to me,” she says. “Obviously, the conflict is being fought by a minority of people in America. The upper-middle class are fundamentally not really fighting it, and by stop-lossing people, they're keeping it in a smaller pool. For most Americans, it's not their greatest concern because it's not affecting them the way the economy or healthcare do. The whole war has been fought in the background. There are definitely bastions of pro-military communities, and they're very affected, but that isn't most communities.”
Peirce has gotten a lot of positive feedback from those communities, because the movie, which tells the story of Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe), who goes on the lam after the Army stop-losses him after his tour, is more pro-soldier rather than anti-war. One of the things veterans dig about it was the footage that looks like it was shot by soldiers on the ground, complete with soldier-friendly music. Peirce says she discovered soldier-shot videos via her brother, who signed up after 9/11 and served a tour in Iraq. “When I was watching those videos, I felt like I was in the mind of a teenager, these guys who are under 20 and have guns, and that's what I wanted people to experience. So we had to learn how to do that style. I had Chris Menges, who shot The Killing Fields, and Claire Simpson, who edited Platoon, and we're like, ‘OK, we all know how to do it so it looks like Hollywood. How do we do it so it looks like reality?'”—Anders Wright
21: Utterly formulaic adaptation of Ben Mezrich's great little airport read, Bringing Down the House, about the MIT card-counting team that took its act to the Vegas blackjack tables and made a ton of money. The film, however, is just basic strategy, with Jim Sturgess as the brainy lead who needs some quick money and Kate Bosworth as the slinky love interest. The card counters act like card counters, and the fact that it takes the casinos as long as it does to ID them just means those eyes in the sky are closed. Even vets Laurence Fishburne as the casino heavy and Kevin Spacey as the sharky professor aren't enough to make you want to take a hit. See our review on this page.
Fighting for Life: Like M*A*S*H*, but for real. This doc focuses primarily on the frontline doctors and nurses working to save the lives of wounded American servicemen and women in Iraq, as well as some of the wounded vets themselves. It also follows students at USU, the military's training facility for physicians. Definitely worth a watch, especially in light of the war's recent five-year anniversary.
Flawless: In '60s London, a female executive (Demi Moore) at a diamond corporation is frustrated as she watches man after man get promotions that should be hers. Equally frustrated is the janitor (Michael Caine), who is virtually invisible in the eyes of the rich jerks who work there. So the two team up to hit them where it hurts—namely, the vault.
Planet B-Boy: I once saw a dude standing on his hands take his cap off his head with his feet. Just try to picture that. That's why break-dancing rules. This doc, which covers a number of competitors vying for the World Championship, features dancing that will absolutely blow your mind.
Run, Fatboy, Run: At CityBeat, we ™ Simon Pegg, but this new rom-com, which he co-wrote with Michael Ian Black, finds him without his longtime posse—co-star Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright. And it shows. Pegg is Dennis, the fat boy in question, an underachieving security guard who left his gorgeous pregnant fiancée (Thandie Newton) at the alter. Years later, he's still pining for her, but she's taken up with a hunky American rich guy (Hank Azaria), so Dennis decides the only way to win her back is to train for and complete the London marathon. Problem is, he's an overweight smoker who doesn't run. It's the first-time feature from David Schwimmer (Ross from Friends), which probably explains the whole thing: It has its moments but feels like an extended episode, Brit-style.
Snow Angels: David Gordon Green's small-town drama is hard to watch, but the good ones often are. Snow Angels, which weaves a troubled teen with his former babysitter, her estranged husband and several other locals, has a terrific cast that includes Kate Beckinsale, Griffin Dunne and Amy Sedaris. Sam Rockwell finally takes bites off a meaty role as Glenn, a suicidal alcoholic whose life is falling apart, and the film might just be what breaks terrific young actor Michael Angarano into the big time.
Superhero Movie: Finally, someone in Hollywood has the stones to stand up to the comic-book geeks and make a parody of the superhero movies. Men wear tights. Leslie Nielsen cameos. Hilarity ensues. Maybe.
One time only
Best in Show: This might be the funniest thing Fred Willard has ever done, and that's saying something. He's an announcer at a national dog show attended by Parker Posey, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Michael McKean and the rest of Christopher Guest's regulars, all of whom improv their way through each scene. Though not quite as fresh as Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show is still better than most. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 26, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
French and Francophile Film Festival: Get your French on. SDSU presents its second installment of this new festival, screening half a dozen French-language films during a three-day period. All three parts of Lucas Belvaux's ambitious 2002 trilogy are on the docket, which finds the main characters in one film as supporting in the next, and so on. Runs Wednesday, March 26, through Friday, March 28, at Montezuma Hall in the Aztec Center on the SDSU campus. Show times are at 5 and 7 p.m. each night, and all screenings are free to the public. Check www.rohan.sdsu.edu/~french/tournees.htm for the lineup.
The Man Who Fell to Earth: The Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla continues its look at Nicholas Roeg's odd and wonderful canon. This one stars David Bowie as an alien looking to retrieve water for his dying planet. But that barely touches on the strangeness of this film. Oddly pornographic, gorgeously shot, almost plotless, and yet it makes a statement about the human condition. If you've never seen it, do. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 27, at MCASD in La Jolla.
La Ragazza con la Valigia: The Italian Film Festival wraps its short ode to the ladies with this 1961 feature starring Claudia Cardinale as a gorgeous lounge singer who finds everything she wants in a man in Lorenzo, who, sadly, is just 16 and cousin to her nasty ex. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 28, at the Italian Community Center in Little Italy. Free.
My Summer of Love: A lovely British romance about two girls, Mona (Nathalie Press) and Tamsin (Emily Blunt), from different classes who hook up one summer. But Mona's seriously religious brother (the always great Paddy Consadine) isn't so happy about his sister kissing a girl. Part of Sapphic Cinema, a free movie night for lesbian and bisexual women and likely a great place to meet girls—if you're a girl looking to meet girls, that is. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, March 28, at The Center in Hillcrest. Free.
Indie Film Stage Indie Fest: The Birch North Park Theatre will be home to a sharp lineup of indie films as part of the San Diego Indie Music Festival. See this page for the lowdown, and don't miss The Devil Came on Horseback or This Film is Not Yet Rated. Starts at noon on Saturday, March 29, and runs until midnight.
The Third Monday in October: Politics isn't just for assholes in Washington. Onetime Torrey Pines student vice president Vanessa Roth set this documentary against the backdrop of the 2004 national elections, focusing on middle schoolers desperately trying to get enough votes to put them into student office. Roth, who won an Oscar in February for the short doc Freeheld, will be in attendance. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 29, at The Center in Hillcrest.
Children of Heaven: This sweet, poignant Iranian picture was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1999, and deservedly so. It's small and simple, showing what happens when a young boy accidentally loses his sister's shoes. This is a poor family in a poor village, and losing a pair of shoes is no laughing matter. Beautifully shot and moving to watch, Children of Heaven screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 30, at the Central Library Downtown. Free.
Big Bucks, Big Pharma: Marketing Disease & Pushing Drugs: This doc pops the childproof lid off the bottle that is the pharmaceutical industry, exposing the way it sometimes manipulates sick folks to make a chunk of change for shareholders via better living through chemistry. Once you know the truth, you'll want a Percocet or a Xanax. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 30, at the Rancho Santa Fe Library. Free.
Dans Paris: When Paul's girlfriend breaks up with him, he moves back into his father's Paris apartment, where his younger brother Jonathan still lives. As Paul becomes more and more depressed, Jonathan continues his nights of bacchanalian revelry, and their father tries to rein them both in. Very French. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, at the Central Library Downtown. Free.
Enter the Dragon: Bruce Lee's first American film will totally kick your ass. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Under the Same Moon: Following the death of his grandmother, 9-year-old Carlos works his way across the border and heads for L.A. to find his mother, armed only with the description of the street corner she has called him from for the last four years.
Drillbit Taylor: The latest entry into the Jud Apatow family of comedies finds three high-school freshmen advertising for a mercenary to defend them against a bully. These boys need someone strong, crafty and wise. Instead, they get Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), a soldier of fortune (of sorts) who has hit the skids.
Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns: Angela Bassett is Brenda, a single mom living in Chicago who loses her job and is on the verge of losing everything else when she learns the father she never met has died in Georgia. So she packs up the kids and heads south, where she meets the Browns, a family unlike any she's had before. Former L.A. Laker Rick Fox is the love interest, and Tyler Perry, who directed the film based upon his play of the same name, reprises his hugely popular Madea for the movie.
Shutter: From Dawson's Creek to cheap horror flicks. Josh Jackson is fashion photographer who travels to Japan with his new wife, only to be involved in a car accident that kills a young woman. Bummer. And if that wasn't enough, as he starts developing film from his shoots, he starts seeing dead people in the pictures.
Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!: You probably wouldn't attend without a kid in tow, but if you have a carpet monkey you have to take, you'll have a decent time. Gorgeous animation keeps things Seussical, and the celeb voices—Jim Carrey and Steve Carell, mainly—don't overshadow the premise. Plus, the movie's message of tolerance and anti-conformity is a decent one for kids of all ages.
Doomsday: Following the low-budget success of Dog Soldiers and the slightly bigger-budget success of The Descent, writer/director Neil Marshall is finally given some money to work with. So he sends a team of soldiers and scientists into a sealed-off contaminated zone in the U.K. in hopes of finding a cure for a virus that threatens humanity. Tough chick Rhona Mitra is the squad's head honcho, facing off against all kinds of Road Warrior-influenced punk-rock bad-asses, led by perennial bad-ass Malcolm McDowell.
Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk: Robert Redford narrates this new Imax journey, following environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr. as he rafts his way through the Grand Canyon, on the Colorado River, along with anthropologist Wade Davis, as the two document new efforts to conserve water and restore the river. Music is provided by the Dave Matthews Band. Grand Canyon Adventure plays only at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Married Life: It's the 1940s, and Harry (Chris Cooper) has fallen for Kay (Rachel McAdams), a younger, hotter woman than his wife, Pat (Patricia Clarkson). Two problems, however—first, Harry's best bud, Richard (Pierce Brosnan), finds that he, too, has a thing for Kay, and second, Harry can't bring himself to leave Pat. So he does what any patriotic, red-blooded American male would do in his situation—he decides to murder her.
Never Back Down: Take the new-kid-in-school side of The Karate Kid, add it to the underground thrashings of Fight Club, multiply it by the Ultimate Fighting Championship's Octagon and divide it all by The O.C. That's Never Back Down.
10,000 B.C.: Roland Emmerich's first film since The Day After Tomorrow could be subtitled “The Day Before Yesterday.” It follows a young mammoth hunter who takes on sabertooth tigers and a nasty dominant civilization. The effects look terrific, and everyone speaks English, which totally comes in handy when it comes to those unfortunate time-machine accidents.
The Bank Job: Jason Statham and his buddies are amateur crooks who hit the big time in this gritty, '70s-style flick that also stars Saffron Burrows as the hottie who cons Statham and Co. into pulling a bank heist. But it's only after they've got the loot that they find themselves in serious danger, as vengeful politicians, angry pornographers, crooked cops, pissed-off black militants and even MI-5 want to get their hands on what the robbers got away with. Very loosely based on the then-infamous “Walkie-Talkie Robbery,” The Bank Job is a slow boil with more class than most of Statham's recent action-thrillers.
College Road Trip: Martin Lawrence is an overbearing cop who insists on escorting his smokin'-hot 17-year-old daughter to the schools she's interested in. Yep, she's embarrassed. So is the audience.
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.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day: Frances McDormand is Miss Pettigrew, an English governess in need of a job who signs on as the assistant of a ditzy American actress (Amy Adams) whose romantic life is in such turmoil that only a strict English governess can sort it out. Of course, as she blossoms in her new high-society role, it's not impossible that Miss Pettigrew will attract some beaus of her own. Frances McDormand is terrific in everything she touches, and Amy Adams just gets better and better.
The Band's Visit: This charming drama was disqualified as Israel's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar submission because so much of it is in English. But you can see why they put it forward—the story of an Egyptian police band stuck in a backwater Israeli settlement is sweet and funny without being cloying, with subtle performances and a theme that plays like a soft Chet Baker trumpet solo.
The Other Boleyn Girl: So, you're Henry VIII and you look just like Eric Bana. Nice. You can have your pick of the English birds, but you're drawn to the Boleyn sisters, who look remarkably like Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. Now, this isn't historically accurate in any way, shape or form, but it seems like a win-win for Henry, even if he eventually beheads the sister he ends up with.
Semi-Pro: You know how Will Ferrell movies oscillate between being really dumb and funny and just really dumb? This one, which finds Will playing Jackie Moon, the owner/coach/player of an ABA basketball team who got his money by singing a sexy, Barry White-esque '70s love song, is the just really dumb kind.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days: An extremely well-made, excruciatingly tough movie about a back-alley abortion during the waning years of Romania's communist period. Writer-director Cristian Mungiu's film deservedly took the Palm d'Or at Cannes last year, and though it's tough to watch, it's a superb piece of art. Mungiu sits back and lets the camera run, giving his actors long, extended takes that reflect the brutal emotions and dehumanizing politics of the day. It's not pro- or anti-abortion rights, nor is it any sort of morality tale, but it is terrifyingly real.
Be Kind Rewind: Simple. A magnetized Jack Black erases all the videos in his buddy Mos Def's shop, so they have to re-shoot, well, everything—including (but not limited to) Driving Miss Daisy, Rush Hour 2, Ghostbusters, Robocop, Back to the Future and The Lion King. There is only one man who could make this movie, and it's Michel Gondry, the dude behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Luckily, he did.
Vantage Point: An assassination attempt on the president (William Hurt) is seen through eight different viewpoints, each of which gives a different impression of what actually went down and why. Also stars Sigourney Weaver, Matthew Fox, Dennis Quaid and Forest Whitaker on the grassy knoll.
Definitely, Maybe: Precocious Maya (Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin) forces her about-to-be-divorced dad (Ryan Reynolds) to tell her how he and her mom got together. Like the slow-pitch-softball version of How I Met Your Mother.
George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead: Romero's latest, shot with handheld cameras, is an indictment of mass media, the blogosphere and those of us who consume the news—all told amid the imminent zombie apocalypse.
Jumper: The last time Hayden Christensen faced off against Samuel L. Jackson, he zapped him out a big window in Revenge of the Sith. In Jumper, he has a gene that allows him to teleport anywhere, anytime. This makes him rich and good-looking—but not particularly bright. Jackson, sporting a freaky dye job, is on the hunt for him and others like him. Great idea, cool FX, but very dumb, very standard execution with any nifty metaphysical questions shunted aside in favor of dumbing down for the overseas box office.
Fool's Gold: Matthew McConaughey. Kate Hudson. Skimpy bathing suits. And something about sunken treasure. In Bruges: Noted playwright Martin McDonagh's dark comedy finds Colin Farrell as a killer with a conscience—a return to the charismatic, small-film style of acting that got him all those big crappy movies. Brendan Gleeson is, as always, great as his mentor, and Ralph Fiennes swears a whole hell of a lot.
There Will Be Blood: Paul Thomas Anderson's first project since Punch-Drunk Love is easily one of the year's best, anchored by an epic, astonishing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. He plays Daniel Plainview, a turn-of-the-20th-century oilman driven by greed and competition and utterly loathing of the world around him. The Bucket List: Smart blue-collar Morgan Freeman and rich jerk Jack Nicholson meet in a hospital room where they're both battling cancer and become best buddies, determined to live the rest of their lives to the fullest. Interesting first act that quickly turns into an irritatingly goofy travelogue as they hit the road to check off items on their “Kick the bucket list”—like Wild Hogs for the senior set. Did those years on the political sidelines made Rob Reiner soft? He directs, but with no particular flair.
The Orphanage: Produced by Guillermo del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy fame, this first-time feature from director J.A. Bayona falls back on some horror-movie standards but is so well-made and so darn creepy that you won't care. Laura (Belén Rueda) returns with her husband and son to the orphanage where she was raised, only to discover that some spooky stuff went down since her adoption, and some of her childhood friends might still be hanging around.
Juno: Fizzy and enjoyable, the year's best feel-good film centers, surprisingly, on an unwed pregnant teen. That'd be Juno (Ellen Page), who decides to give her baby to a yuppie couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) and toy with her good friend and the father of her child, Paulie Bleeker (an excellent Michael Cera). With sharp dialogue from stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody and solid direction from Jason Reitman, Juno is a solid, if inoffensive, triumph.
Atonement: Though they've gone out of their way to make Atonement look like a generic period romance, Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's shatteringly good novel is crisply directed, gorgeous to look at and terribly well-acted by James McAvoy and Keira Knightley as a star-crossed couple whose future is taken from them when Knightley's younger sister misinterprets something she sees and later turns McAvoy's Robbie in for a crime he did not commit. The buzz has been about the six-minute tracking shot on the war-strewn beaches of Dunkirk, but the real heat is between the two leads.
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, The Living Sea 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.