I'm automatically suspicious of any movie that claims to be based on a true story, because those words make people think that what they're watching actually happened, mostly because people want to think real life is like the movies. It's not, and though it's more than fair to say that real events inspired a screenwriter to craft a story, that's as close to reality as most movies get.
Take Killer Elite, for instance, the new actioner starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen and—wait for it—Robert De Niro. This is a film that wants to be the next Heat, Michael Mann's terrific crime movie. De Niro, who faced off against Al Pacino in that one, plays a supporting role here, as Statham and Owen go mano-a-mano. Statham's a former hit man pulled back into the game after his mentor, De Niro, is kidnapped. To earn his freedom, he and his posse have to assassinate several former British special-forces soldiers, who committed what could be considered war crimes during a past Middle East conflict. Standing in their way is a secret society of former military types whose muscle comes in the form of Owen, who sports a wispy mustache and a sense of right and wrong that's simplistic enough to make him both dangerous and manipulable.
Loosely based on the book The Feathermen, one of Killer Elite's problems is that there is no right to be found. Despite his reluctant killer status, Statham is still a killer, committing heinous crimes for a reason that's hard to justify. And though the movie strives for complexity and sophistication, it devolves into a series of action sequences that, while occasionally impressive and clever, don't allow the movie to live up to its lofty ambitions.
And finally, let's face it, Statham and Owen are no De Niro and Pacino. This is a film that wants to be Heat, but in the end, it just doesn't cook.
Abduction: Taylor Lautner tries to break away from the Twilight franchise and take over Shia LaBeouf's gig as the plucky teenager everyone wants to kill.
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame: A steampunk murder mystery set in ancient China finds a legendary detective trying to solve an epic case on the eve of the Empresses' coronation.
Dolphin Tale: A boy and his dolphin. A family picture with Morgan Freeman and Harry Connick Jr., not to be confused with that weird '75 Don Johnson sci-fi movie A Boy and His Dog.
Love Crime: Kristen Scott Thomas is a powerful executive who toys with underling Ludivine Sagnier just a little too much.
Mausam: A Punjabi Air Force officer and a Kashmiri refugee fall for one another in this Bollywood love story.
Moneyball: Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A's who shook up baseball by reinventing the way players are valued. Sounds like dry stuff, but the last time someone adapted a Michael Lewis sports-business book for the big screen was The Blind Side, which earned Sandra Bullock an Oscar. See our review on Page 38.
Mysteries of Lisbon: A more-than-fourhour epic adaptation of the 19th-century Portuguese novel about the successes and failures of three decades' worth of aristocracy.
Restless: Mia Wasikowska is a terminal cancer patient who starts a romance with Henry Hopper, a young man who's terribly depressed over the death of his parents and whose best friend is the ghost of a Kamikaze pilot.
One Time Only
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: The public library's monthly Schlockfest goes in a seriously different direction with this schlocky 1954 musical. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Dazed and Confused: Richard Linklater's terrific movie, all about the last day of school in 1976, helped launch plenty of careers, including those of Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Milla Jovovich. It screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. Free.
3 Idiots: UCSD's ArtPower! Film kicks off its new season with this Indian film about geeky engineering students whose takes on life change after a kick-ass road trip. Isn't that always how it goes? Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, on the East Lawn of the Price Center at UCSD. Free.
Bachelor Party: Man, Tom Hanks has come a long way. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Showgirls with TrashTalk Theatre 3000: You like to mock Showgirls as much as the rest of us, but you've run out of ways to make it interesting. Fear not— multimedia artist Jason Ponce will get those creative juices flowing for you at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, at Space 4 Art in the East Village. See Page 15 for details.
Spellbound: Gregory Peck is the amnesiac accused of murder, and Ingrid Bergman is the psychiatrist trying to protect him. Hitchcock's 1945 classic screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, through Saturday, Sept. 24, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Come Hell or High Water: This doc about body surfing screens at 8 and 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.
The Dark Crystal: Jim Henson's epic Muppet fantasy screens at midnight, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 23 and 24, at the Ken Cinema.
Year Zero: A post-apocalyptic surf doc set in the here and now. Screens at 7 and 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.
Everything Must Go: Will Ferrell gets all serious. He loses his job and ends up living in his front yard after his wife dumps him and moves all his stuff out there. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, at the Central Library, Downtown.
The Last Train Home: An intense doc about the journey of one family of Chinese migrant workers who travel home for the New Year, along with 130 million of their countrymen, women and children. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, at the Central Library, Downtown.
The Endless Summer: The seminal surf flick screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. Free.
The Goonies: I'm pretty sure this is the movie that has screened at more one-off venues than any other this summer. This time it's at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Magic Trip: Ken Kesey's Search for a Cool Place: Hipster progressive Oscarwinning documentarian Alex Gibney codirected this look at Kesey and his buddies' attempts to tune in, turn on and drop out, once they were fueled with all that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest money. Ends Sept. 22 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Straw Dogs: This remake of Sam Peckinpah's controversial 1971 film, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Susan George and was set in the U.K., stars James Marsden as the wimpy husband and Kate Bosworth as his gorgeous wife, who return to her hometown in the deep South and run into all kinds of trouble with the locals.
Brighton Rock: This adaptation of Graham Greene's novel, about a young, violent, desperate teenager who marries the only witness to his crime to keep her quiet, also stars grownups like Helen Mirren, John Hurt and Andy Serkis. Ends Sept. 22 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Circumstance: A coming-of-age film that takes place in Iran's underground youth culture, where gay teens risk arrest and jail for doing what American kids do on YouTube every weekend.
Drive: Ryan Gosling is a wheelman who spends his days doing stunts for the movies and his nights driving the getaway car for crooks. Nicholas Winding Refn's film also stars Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks as you've never seen him before.
The Hedgehog: An 11-year-old who's decided to commit suicide on her 12th birthday finds herself drawn to some other curmudgeons who encourage her interest in stuff like art and philosophy.
I Don't Know How She Does It: Sarah Jessica Parker's post-Sex and the City gig finds her playing a successful mom, while Greg Kinnear is her stay-at-home husband.
The Lion King 3-D: Hakuna matata in another dimension.
Contagion: Stephen Soderbergh's big-budget virus movie stars everyone from Matt Damon to Kate Winslet to Marion Cottilard to Gwyneth Paltrow. Finally, we know what happened to the bird flu.
Mozart's Sister: He had one, apparently, and she was quite a musical prodigy in her own right.
Warrior: Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton star as estranged brothers going mano-a-mano for a winner-take-all MMA championship. Gavin O'Connor's new film has every sports-movie cliché in the book yet still manages to be well-acted, well-shot and totally inspiring.
The Debt: Helen Mirren is a retired Mossad agent forced to revisit her past when developments from a previous operation come to light.
The Living Sea: Sting provided the music for this IMAX film, screening Friday evenings in September at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. That'll either send you to it or drive you away.
The Names of Love: A gorgeous French lefty sleeps with her political enemies in order to win them over. It all goes great, until she meets the guy she just can't shake. Ends Sept. 22 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
Sholem Aleichem: This doc about the writer whose work became the foundation for Fiddler on the Roof should be something to think about, something to drink about.
Columbiana: Zoe Saldana grows up to become an assassin after she witnesses the murder of her parents.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark: This Guillermo del Toro-produced remake of the 1973 horror flick stars Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes as a couple who should, in fact, be afraid of the dark.
Our Idiot Brother: Paul Rudd is Ned, a simple soul who continuously screws up his sisters' lives by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, although, by the end of it, you might wonder who the real idiot is.
Senna: What, you've never heard of Ayrton Senna, who was one of the greatest racecar drivers of all time before his tragic death? This documentary will tell you all you need to know. Ends Sept. 22 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
One Day: Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess are Dexter and Em. The film follows the same day of their lives, year after year. David Nicholls adapted his own book into a screenplay, but director Lone Scherfig—who did so much with An Education—is unable to transform it into something truly interesting.
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D: The fourth dimension in this case is Aromascope. No, seriously.
30 Minutes or Less: Danny McBride and Nick Swardson chain a bomb to Jesse Eisenberg's neck and force him to rob a bank. Sounds like a laugh riot, huh?
The Help: Based on Kathryn Stockett's novel, this stars Emma Stone as Skeeter, a '60s-era college kid who starts interviewing the African-American women in her southern town, something that just wasn't done at the time.
The Guard: Brendan Gleeson's portrayal of a corrupt small-town Irish cop trying to take down some major drug traffickers is one of the best of the year, raising this crime comedy, which also stars Don Cheadle, to unexpected success.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes: James Franco, John Lithgow, Andy Serkis and the kid who played Draco Malfoy go bananas.
Crazy, Stupid, Love: Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling headline a good-enough romantic comedy that's not ashamed of its PG-13 status.
Sarah's Key: Kristin Scott Thomas is an American journalist trying to learn the fate of a Jewish French girl who went missing during WWII.
The Smurfs: They're so hard to get off your shoe when you step on them, especially when they're in 3-D.
Captain America: The First Avenger: Chris Evans plays the superhero in this week's superhero movie.
Friends with Benefits: Best buddies Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis can't find anyone to date, so they start sleeping with each other, no strings attached. Um, you lost us at Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis can't find anyone to date.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2: It's tough to say goodbye, but fans will be thrilled with the franchise's conclusion, which streamlines the final half of the final book and offers up some serious wizardry—in story and special effects.
Horrible Bosses: Put-upon drones Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day decide to murder their employers, played by Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston. It's a comedy—ha!
Midnight in Paris: Woody Allen's most charming film in years stars Owen Wilson as a Jazz Age-infatuated screenwriter and aspiring novelist who ends up hanging with the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
Boto be Wild 3-D: Despite sounding like yet another animated animal movie, this is an IMAX film about baby elephants and orangutans and the people who love them. Oh, and it's narrated by Morgan Freeman. Collective sigh for the baby monkeys, please.
Tornado Alley: This new IMAX film, which travels into twisters with some professional storm chasers, has to be better than Twister, the movie. At the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Hubble: Leonardo DiCaprio lends his pipes to this IMAX film, which uses CGI and real footage to take a close look at saturn's rings. Just stay away from Uranus. At the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.