Should you watch Watchmen?: There are two kinds of people: those who have read the groundbreaking graphic novel Watchmen and those who haven't. It's an important distinction, because Watchmen means something important to a lot of people, and the big question has been whether director Zack Snyder could do it justice.
For the uninitiated, Watchmen is an epic re-imagining of the superhero genre. It's about faded crime fighters, and it takes place in an alternate 1985 where Nixon is still president. The U.S. won in Vietnam, the world is on the brink of nuclear annihilation and heroes have been banned by law—except for Dr. Manhattan, that is. He's a physicist who has been transformed into a combination of matter and time, experiences his entire lifetime all at once—always—and works for the U.S. government.
Yeah. Heavy. Oh, and there's a massive conspiracy to save the world at an extreme cost. The broad strokes of writer Alan Moore's work have been retained. Snyder's visuals are stunning, and the action sequences and sex scenes seethe with violence and passion in a way they can't on the page. Snyder works his R-rating, and he stays as close as possible to his source material, except for a modified ending that actually suits the film better.
The film looks great, and the fights are gorgeous, bloody ballets of carnage. But the romance feels forced and unreal, some lines are utterly cringe-worthy, the ending takes forever and it'll be too intricate for some who haven't taken Watchmen 101.
Toughest of all, it can't stand up to its own source material. Hell, you couldn't read the graphic novel in the two-hour, 40-minute running time of the film. When the lights come up, Watchmen is just a good-looking superhero movie. Sure, it delves into the tattered personal lives of the people behind the masks, and, oh yes, Jackie Earle Haley goes somewhere very dark to play the sociopathic justice-hunter Rorschach. But when you read Watchmen, you experience something that transcends its own medium. Next to that, Watchmen the movie is just a movie. What's missing is the book's great human tragedy. Go see it, sure, but don't let this be your only definition of Watchmen.
Che: Steven Soderbergh's biopic about Che Guevara is four-and-a-half hours long and in Spanish. But you don't have to agree with Che's politics to appreciate how well it's made. See our feature on Page 15.
Moscow, Belgium: No-nonsense MILF Matty has to decide between her husband and the uneducated, balding young buck who's suddenly interested in her.
One Time Only
Raising Arizona: Funniest Coen brothers kidnapping movie ever, or my name ain't Nathan Arizona. Stars Nic Cage and Holly Hunter and screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
A Powerful Noise: Live: This doc about an HIV-positive widow in Vietnam, a survivor of the Bosnian war and a woman working in the slums of Mali, screens in more than 450 theaters in appreciation of International Women's Day. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 5. www.fathomevents.com.
The Present: The third film from Thomas Campbell focuses on the environs where surfers hang on a daily basis. Film screens at 7 and 9 p.m., Friday through Sunday, March 5 through 7. Friday and Saturday shows are at the La Paloma Theater in Encinitas; Sunday happens at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
Breadtruck Films event: Local filmmaking outfit screens three of its films, accompanied by cocktails, at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, March 6, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!: You wouldn't attend without a kid in tow, but if you do, you'll have a decent time. Solid animation keeps things Seussical, and the celeb voices work. Screens at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, March 7, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. Free.
Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai: Doc about Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Maathai, who began an ecological and human-rights movement in her native Kenya by planting trees across the country. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 8, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Down by Law: Jim Jarmusch's indie classic stars Tom Waits and John Lurie, stuck sharing a jail cell with Italian goof Roberto Benigni. Screens at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 8, at the Whistle Stop in South Park. Free.
The Savages: Tough to watch, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are terrific as bickering sibs caring for their dying father. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 8, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
Fermat's Room: Four mathematicians receive invites for a weekend when their problem-solving abilities just might save their lives. Calculus pays off. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 9, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Religulous: Bill Maher travels the world interviewing people about a God he does not believe in. God does nothing. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 10, at Lestat's in Normal Heights. Free.
The Naked Eye: Examines the work of Len Stouman and his photographic animation technique. Earned a 1956 Best Documentary Oscar nomination. Screens at 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 11, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
California Company Town: Takes a look at cities that once showed great promise until they were ditched by local industry. Filmmaker Lee Anne Schmitt will intro her movie. Screens at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 11, in Room 125 of Markstein Hall on the CSU San Marcos Campus. Free.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy: You, me and the whale's vagina makes three. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 11, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Amarcord: This newly restored print of Fellini's masterpiece was supervised by the film's director of photography, Giuseppe Rotunno. If you've never seen it (come on, admit it), try to catch it on the big screen while it's here.
Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience: The movie that's pushing Coraline out of the 3-D theaters.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li: Torn from the digital pages of the video-game franchise and released just in time for Street Fighter IV to hit video-game consoles.
Two Lovers: The final film from Joaquin Phoenix, whose hip-hop career seems to really be taking off, finds him playing Leonard, a depressed Brooklyn boy living with his parents. Vinessa Shaw is great as the girl he should be with, but he only has eyes for drama queen Gwyneth Paltrow. What's unclear is why either of them have any interest in him. See our review.
The Class: No, Laurence Cantet's film about a year in a low-income multi-ethnic classroom in Paris didn't win the Oscar on Sunday night, but it's still absolutely worth seeing.
The Secrets: Naomi postpones her arranged marriage to study at an all-girls seminary, providing the vehicle for a pointed critique of Orthodox Judaism's marginalization of women. A little rough around the edges, it's an interesting look at how liberating religion can be when it gets a good dose of feminism.
Confessions of a Shopaholic: Isla Fisher is the shopaholic, a New Yorker with an advice column in a film that's obviously been dumped into theaters in February in the hopes that women will take pity on it.
Tyler Perry's Medea Goes to Jail: Perry's been cranking out—and usually starring in—two movies a year for a while. Reprising his most popular character, crazy senior citizen Medea, this time he takes his shtick behind bars.
Fired Up: Two high-school football players spend the summer at cheerleading camp—a healthy combination of totally gay and George W. Bush.
Friday the 13th: Is this prequel about the dude with the hockey mask or the guy with the long fingers? Who cares?
The International: Tom Tykwer's new film is gorgeously shot and edited, especially a huge shoot-out in New York's Guggenheim Museum. But it takes itself so seriously that it feels tragic when the logic behind it just doesn't hold up. Plus, the enormous international conspiracy is far more interesting than the good guys—Clive Owen and Naomi Watts—trying to take it down.
Coraline: Henry Selick's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Hugo-winning novella is the first of the new 3-D movies that uses the tech to complement the story. Dakota Fanning voices the lonely little girl who finds a doorway to a parallel universe that turns out to be far more dangerous than her own, and Teri Hatcher is her mom—and her Other Mother, too.
He's Just Not That Into You: A look at the dating adventures of young people in Baltimore—people like Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Connelly, Kevin Connelly, Justin Long, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Ginnifer Goodwin and plenty of others. C'mon. No one that good-looking lives in Baltimore.
Pink Panther 2: Steve Martin dances on Peter Sellers' grave. Again.
Push: Dakota Fanning is a young girl with the power to get inside other people's minds. Along with Chris Evans, she's on the wrong end of a conspiracy, hunted by other weird psy-ops types. Director Paul McGuigan's last film, Lucky Number Slevin, was pretty sharp.
Frozen River: Melissa Leo's Best Actress Oscar nom has given this one a second theatrical life. She's a desperate single mom who ends up smuggling illegal immigrants through a reservation in the Northeast. It's a dark movie and a terrific performance.
Taken: Liam Neeson is a former CIA man whose daughter gets kidnapped by white slavers in Paris. So he goes to the city of lights and kills everybody. Pierre Morel crafts a brutally violent guilty pleasure that shows us what the rest of the world thinks we Americans are like.
The Uninvited: Elizabeth Banks is everywhere. She was in Zack and Miri and played Laura Bush in W. Now she's a sociopath who kills David Strathairn's wife to get with him. Can anything stop her? Maybe his daughters. And maybe, um, the ghost in their house.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycan: The third installment in the Underworld franchise is actually a prequel explaining exactly why the vampires and werewolves have been up in each other's grills for so long.
Defiance: The story of the Bielski brothers (Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell) is amazing: They took to the Bellarussian forests during World War II, fought the Nazis and eventually built a community of 1,200 Jews who survived the war.
Hotel for Dogs: Good road-trip tip—all Motel 6s take dogs. This kid-friendly movie, on the other hand, makes bitches out of actors like Don Cheadle, Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon.
Last Chance Harvey: Emma Thompson is terrific as the woman Dustin Hoffman takes a shine to when he's in the U.K. for his daughter's wedding. A romance for The Bucket List set.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop: Rent-a-cops across the nation rejoiced when they learned their story would finally be told. Then they found out Kevin James is playing Blart. Gran Torino: For all the buzz, Clint Eastwood's new film is flawed. Yes, his cranky old guy, Walt Kowalski, manages to be the funny kind of equal-opportunity offender who finds some salvation by taking a good-natured Hmong neighbor under his wing. The problem is that it turns out he's right about everyone he dislikes. Black, white, Asian, his own relatives—they're all awful people in the world of Gran Torino, justifying Walt's latent racism. Nice.
Revolutionary Road: Sam Mendes directs his wife, Kate Winslet, and Leonardo DiCaprio in what might be called
American Beauty: The Early Years. It's another look at the unspoken seamy underbelly of American suburbia in the 1950s, but it just doesn't hold together. Unpleasantville.
The Wrestler: Yes, Mickey Rourke is just as good as you've heard, playing Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up wrestler who was big 20 years ago and is now the old man on the high-school gym circuit. Occasionally, it veers toward sentimentality but never goes over the edge. Marisa Tomei, too, is great as the stripper he'd like to get closer to, and Evan Rachel Wood is perfect as the daughter who can't find it in herself to forgive him.
The Reader: Kate Winslet is amazing as a grown woman who has an affair with a 15-year-old boy in post-war Berlin. Their paths cross again years later when she's on trial for war crimes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Cristina 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.