Let's get one thing out of the way: The latest entry into the Harry Potter film franchise is solid summer entertainment. It's got all the stuff you want in a giant blockbuster—good story, cool special effects, romance and the obligatory battle between good and evil. But it ain't kid stuff. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a big, brooding, dark movie, the Empire Strikes Back of the series, fitting snugly in the canon and serving to set the magical plates and whet the appetites of the faithful for the film adaptation of the final book, which, incidentally, has been broken into two parts for the movies. And just like Empire—the best of the Star Wars films, of course—it doesn't have a knock-out climax, although it does stay faithful to the ending of the book on which it's based.
There are some very magical moments in HP6, but they're less about casting spells than about growing up, which is what made the books so good in the first place. Take away the wizardry, the owls, all the magical trimmings, and these are books about a lonely boy growing up without his parents. Human struggles, which have nothing to do with magic, give the new movie its foundation. The angst Hermione (Emma Watson) has over Ron's (Rupert Grint, who seems to have hit the gym since the last film) new girlfriend is very real, and the budding romance between Harry and Ginny (Bonnie Wright) is like spring awakening. Even Tom Felton, who plays Harry's nemesis, Draco Malfoy, gets his moments, as he agonizes over decisions and events that he doesn't have the maturity to handle.
The young actors have all become solid thesps since the first film came out in 2001, and they're ably aided by British veterans. Jim Broadbent turns what could be a comic role into a serious performance, Helena Bonham Carter is great fun as Bellatix Lestrange and Alan Rickman continues not to need much screen time as Severus Snape, because he's able to do so very much with what little time he has.
The tricky thing about abridging these books for the screen has always been staying as faithful to the material as possible in order to keep the fanatics happy. And director David Yates, who directed the last one and who will also helm the final two installments, wisely does just that. This means he demands serious knowledge of his audience—Harry Potter newbies will have a tough time catching up. But The Half-Blood Prince is not designed to cast a spell on those late to the Potter party. The faithful will be satisfied, and those who are only partial fans will be impressed with what they find at Hogwarts this time around. Just like the books, the Harry Potter movies are starting to put away childish things. And they have to, because these are books about growing up, and growing up often sucks, even if it's also sometimes magical.
(500) Days of Summer: A terrific film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. It's a date movie, sure, but be forewarned, this is a break-up story and not a standard love story. See our review.
$9.99: An animated film about a man hoping to find the meaning of life for just under a sawbuck.
Julia: Tilda Swinton is an alcoholic on a bender of vodka and one-night stands. Sort of like Ed Decker.
The Stoning of Soraya M.: Cyrus Nowrasteh tells the story of Freidoune Sahabjam's best-seller about an Iranian woman who was stoned to death under false pretenses in 1986.
One Time Only
Blazing Saddles: This will always be Mel Brooks' masterpiece, a brutally funny, anti-PC satire about a black man hired to be the new sheriff of a town in the Old West. Also, it's the first film to include fart sounds. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High: The movie that made Sean Penn a star. San Diego's Cameron Crowe wrote Fast Times, the ultimate high-school movie, but it wouldn't have been the same without Penn's Spicoli, who needs only tasty waves and a cool buzz to be just fine. Screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, at Stone Brewery and Bistro in Escondido. Free.
The Party: Peter Sellers is supposed to be fired from the studio where he works. Instead, he ends up on the invite list for a party thrown by the head honcho. Part of the Mid-Century California exhibition, Blake Edwards' comedy screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 16, at The Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: Bill Murray is a Cousteau-like undersea explorer, and Owen Wilson is the son he never knew he had. Or is he? Another of Wes Anderson's dysfunctional family dramedies, it screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 16, at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. Free.
From Russia With Love: Sure, Daniel Craig was great in one James Bond movie. But Sean Connery is still the definitive double-oh-seven. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, July 16 and 17, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Viva Nelson Mandela: A Hero for All Seasons: You know that song “Free Nelson Mandela”? It's totally dated now. Screens at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 18, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Strangers on a Train: Raymond Chandler co-wrote the screenplay to Hitchcock's 1951 thriller about a tennis pro approached by a psycho who wants to team up on the perfect murder. Oh, and they're on a train. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 18 and 19, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Ghostbusters: Whatever you do, don't cross the beams. Screens at midnight Saturday, July 18, at the Ken Cinema.
The Sensation of Sight: The always-outstanding David Straithairn is Finn, an English teacher closing in on retirement and a midlife crisis at the same time. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 19, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Two Lovers: Is this really the final film from Joaquin Phoenix? That hip-hop career hasn't really blown up. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 20, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
The World According to Monsanto: Takes a hard look at the multinational food corporation and its evil plans to rule the world. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 21, at Lestat's West in Normal Heights. Free.
Hotel for Dogs: Good road-trip tip: All Motel 6s take dogs. This kid-friendly movie, on the other hand, makes bitches out of Don Cheadle, Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon. Screens at dusk on Tuesday, July 21, at Viejas Outlet Center in Alpine. Free.
Valley Girl: Like, gag me with a spoon. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 22, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Snatch: It's been downhill for Guy Ritchie since this sharp, funny crime drama that turned Jason Statham into a leading man. You can't understand a word Brad Pitt says, and it's one of the best things he's ever done. Screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 22, at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido. Free.
Brüno: In his follow-up to Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen proves that Paula Abdul is a moron, Ron Paul is woefully out of touch, and ignorant, homophobic crackers are ignorant, homophobic crackers.
Blood: The Last Vampire: A hot vampire in a schoolgirl outfit kills demons with a seriously sharp sword. Otherwise known as a fanboy's wet dream.
The Hurt Locker: Kathryn Bigelow's tense new film focuses on an Iraq unit that specializes in defusing bombs. Well-made, well-written and well-acted—not what you expect for an summer action movie.
The End of the Line: This documentary argues that if we keep doing what we're doing, our oceans might be seafood-free by 2048.
I Love You, Beth Cooper: When high-school valedictorian Denis (Paul Rust) professes his love for popular girl Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere) during his grad speech, the last thing he expects is for her to show up at his house that night.
The Girl From Monaco: When a brilliant attorney heads to Monaco for a trial, he doesn't count on falling for a psychotic vixen who distracts him from his upcoming case.
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs: When, oh when, will animated mammoths remember their rightful place as construction equipment?
Public Enemies: Michael Mann's movie about the end days of John Dillinger is long on history, style—and length.
Cheri: Set in 1920s Paris, a woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), breaks a younger man's heart, sending him spinning into a fantasy world. Based on the novels of Collette, the movie's directed by the always-reliable Steven Frears from a screenplay by Christopher (Dangerous Liasons) Hampton.
My Sister's Keeper: The summer's first big weeper. Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric have a second child, Abigail Breslin, in hopes of providing a donor match for their leukemia-stricken firstborn.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: In one of the last summer blockbusters of the year, giant robots blow shit up.
Whatever Works: The combination of Larry David and Woody Allen should be a comedy slam dunk, but it just feels like two old guys kvetching.
Food, Inc.: A documentary about how fucked-up the food system is in this country. Pass the buttered popcorn.
Moon: Director Duncan Jones delivers an impressive debut, and Sam Rockwell gives one of his best performances to date as a lonely miner on the far side of the moon whose entire worldview changes after he finds a body out on the surface.
The Proposal: Ryan Reynolds is Sandra Bullock's assistant. She pushes him into a marriage of convenience (at least for her), but we're guessing it sticks.
Year One: Jack Black and Michael Cera star in what could be subtitled History of the World, Part 2.
Away We Go: Director Sam Mendes continues his examination of the American psyche with this road-trip comedy about a young pregnant couple (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) looking for parenting role models.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3: Whenever this remake, which stars Denzel Washington as a subway dispatcher and John Travolta as the guy who takes a subway car hostage, slows down, it's easy to see how ridiculous it is.
Departures: This Japanese film about a cellist who becomes a mortician of sorts earned the Best Foreign Film Oscar in February.
The Hangover: They cut a good trailer for Todd Phillips' new film, about three buddies—Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis—who wake up the morning after a brutal bachelor party with no memory of what happened or where the groom is.
Up: The trailer for Pixar's first 3D film doesn't sell it, but this story of an old man who flies his house to South America via helium balloons is just as good as what you've come to expect from those guys.
Valentino, the Last Emperor: Documentary about the legendary designer Valentino Garavani.
Angels and Demons: More fun than The Da Vinci Code, but just as stupid.
Star Trek: The JJ Abrams-directed franchise reboot boldly goes to the heart of the original show and makes it fun again. It's fun, fresh and exciting, the first badass Trek movie since The Wrath of Khan. Good for Trekkies, good for non-Trekkies and great for Trek.
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. Films vary week-to-week. 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.