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Mars attacks: So let's say that you didn't get your tickets for Avatar in a 3D theater for opening night. You're out of luck, right? Wrong. Well, kinda wrong. In honor of James Cameron's new film, The Asylum is releasing its version of Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1917 Sci-fi novel, A Princess of Mars on DVD.
You know The Asylum, right? These are the guys who crank out, um, similar-sounding films when blockbusters hit theaters, often with a b- or c-list actor on board for legitimacy. For instance, when 2012 came out recently, The Asylum released 2012: Supernova. Paranormal Activity spawned Paranormal Entity, and there's a version of Sherlock Holmes set to come out soon in anticipation of the Robert Downey Jr. big-screen version. Yes, these are the folks who made Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, starring Lorenzo Lamas and Deborah Gibson (yes, that Deborah Gibson).
Whether or not A Princess of Mars, about a human soldier transported to the middle of a war between alien races truly inspired Avatar doesn't really matter. What does matter is that the San Diego chapter of the Mars Society is presenting the new movie, which stars Antonio Sabato Jr. and former child porn star Traci Lords (no, not a joke), the same night Avatar opens, almost two weeks before the DVD itself is released. No, it's not Avatar, but it is a sneak preview of sorts, starting 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, at the San Diego Eco Center for Alternative Fuel Education (4001 El Cajon Blvd.). Details can be found at www.marsmovieguide.com. See, we told you you were lucky. Well, kinda.
Avatar: James Cameron's sci-fi magnum opus is too long and has an inevitable love story. But, for once, when they say you've never seen anything like it, they're right. This is a film and a truly rendered alien planet that must be seen on the big screen and in 3D. See our review on Page 22.
Did You Hear About the Morgans?: Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant cash in on the lack of mainstream date films this time of year.
Rashoman: Gorgeous new print of Kurosawa's masterwork meditation on life, truth and justice.
Uncertainty: The relationship between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins is split into two different dimensions after a coin flip. Sliding Doors for the hipster set.
One time only
Xanadu: Olivia Newton John is a Greek goddess who helps a dreamer create the first roller disco. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16, at the Birch North Park Theatre.
Rifftrax LIVE: Christmas Shorts-stravaganza: The Artists Formerly Known as Mystery Science Theater 3000 team up with Weird Al Yankovic to offer running commentary on already-weird Christmas shorts. Visit www.rifftrax.com if you want to see the live show or www.ncm.com for big-screen details. Either way, it happens Wednesday, Dec. 16.
Scrooged: Before he got all serious, Bill Murray made his own version of A Christmas Carol. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Johnny Galecki, the guy from Big Bang Theory, did Anthony Michael Hall duties in this one. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17, at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. Free.
The Drummer: The rebellious son of a Triad boss flees to Taiwan, where he finds his way through Zen drumming—until he's forced to return to Hong Kong and confront both his past and his future. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
In the Loop: Armando Ianucci's terrific satire about Anglo-American politics is perfect for policy wonks. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 21, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
What Would Jesus Buy?: We're guessing world peace. Or maybe a Prius. The documentary about Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 22, at Lestat's West in Normal Heights. Free.
Home Alone: The perfect holiday movie, about a precocious child violently clobbering criminals. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Me and Orson Welles: Christian McKay is fantastic as Orson Welles, who's in the midst of directing and starring in his legendary 1937 production of Julius Caesar in Richard Linklater's new movie. He's so good, though, that the rest of the movie flags when he's not in it.
Collapse: Of all the depressing movies this holiday season, this might be the heaviest. The feature-length interview with Michael Ruppert, a former cop turned investigative reporter, is tough to take, but his worldview is fascinating. If you don't think he's a crackpot, start stocking up on gold and seeds.
Invictus: You might think Morgan Freeman would be the perfect guy to play Nelson Mandela in a film directed by Clint Eastwood about how the South African rugby team, led by Matt Damon, united the country shortly after the end of Apartheid. You'd be wrong.
The Princess and the Frog: Two notable facts here: 1) Disney has returned to 2-D animation and 2) the new film, set in jazz-era New Orleans, features an African-American heroine. Both are admirable, but the new movie doesn't live up to the Golden Age of Disney films.
Serious Moonlight: When Meg Ryan learns hubby Timothy Hutton is stepping out on her, she duct-tapes him to the toilet. Directed by Cheryl Hines of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Up in the Air: George Clooney is at his charmiest (charm + smarmy) as Ryan Bingham, flown in to fire employees at companies he has nothing to do with and aspiring to little more than more frequent flier miles. He's a lock for a Best Actor nomination.
Armored: Laurence Fishburne, Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, and their buddies pull an inside job at an armored car company.
Brothers: When Marine and solid family man Tobey Maguire is presumed dead in Afghanistan, his black-sheep brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps in to look after his wife (Natalie Portman) and kids. That can't end well.
Everybody's Fine: If Bob Dylan can make a Christmas album, Robert De Niro can make a Christmas movie.
Fantastic Mr. Fox: Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic story, which features stop-motion animation and performances from George Clooney and Meryl Streep, really is fantastic.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: Werner Herzog has been making weird and wonderful movies for more than three decades. This revamp of Abel Ferrera's definitive film, starring Nicolas Cage as a drug-addled workaholic New Orleans cop, is no different.
Ninja Assassin: The team that created V for Vendetta eschews a real plot for serious slicing-and-dicing.
Old Dogs: Robin Williams and John Travolta really haven't learned any new tricks.
Red Cliff: John Woo's epic look at Chinese history has been trimmed considerably for international audiences.
The Road: The last time someone made one of Cormac McCarthy's books into a movie, No Country for Old Men won the Best Picture. And this one, about a man and his son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic U.S., won the Pulitzer.
The Blind Side: The book this is based upon is about the economics of football and an enormous, poverty-stricken young black man—adopted by a white family—who has the potential to be a highly paid professional athlete. So, of course, they turned it into a Sandra Bullock movie.
The Messenger: Ben Foster shines as a young veteran assigned to the casualty-notification department after his return from Iraq. The scenes in which he and Woody Harrelson deliver the bad news are devastating.
Planet 51: Animated flick about invading aliens. The catch is that the aliens are us, in the form of Dwayne Johnson.
Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire: Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry helped produce this film about an obese Harlem teen in the 1980s, which is being talked up as a Best Picture possibility.
Twilight: New Moon: Either you dismiss the Twilight franchise as being for tweens and their moms or you've been drinking the blood-red Kool-aid.
2012: The guys who blew up the world in Independence Day take us down again.
Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day: The sequel to the cult classic. This time, with more guys getting shot!
Pirate Radio: Even with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, this look at DJs spinning tunes from a ship off the English coast during the '60s is all soft rock.
Disney's A Christmas Carol: Robert Zemeckis gives Dickens' classic the animated, 3-D treatment and hands the lead role to Jim Carrey.
The Men Who Stare at Goats: Even though it's got all the right ingredients, like George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey, this dark comedy about secret psychic warfare loses track of itself (which means it's not psychic, right?).
An Education: Nick Hornby of High Fidelity fame wrote the script and does a 180 by writing about a girl who desperately wants to grow up and thinks she may have found a shortcut in a good-looking charmer twice her age.
A Serious Man: The Coen brothers offer up an examination of faith that moves in mysterious ways.
Couples Retreat: Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell make a dumb romantic comedy.
Zombieland: Woody Harrelson. Zombies. Rated R. 'Nuff said.
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.
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.