Technically, summer begins the third week of June. But when it comes to the movies, well, the season now kicks off the very first weekend in May. Of course, unless you've been living under a rock in a cave with no outside light, TV or the Internet, you already know that X-Men Origins: Wolverine opens this Friday, opening the floodgates for a torrent of enormous summer blockbusters that will flood multiplexes for the next several months.
For many, the summer-movie season came even earlier, as tens of thousands downloaded and watched the leaked Wolverine work print that found its way online in March. Not surprisingly, the studio, the filmmakers and Hugh Jackman all cried foul over the not-ready-for-prime-time DVD-quality version, which runs the same length as the theatrical edition but reportedly includes some footage that has since been re-shot, as well as some scenes in which the special effects and/or music weren't complete.
How damaging will this be for the box-office grosses? If I had to guess—none whatsoever. If anything, the leaked print helps the movie. Luckily for director Gavin Hood, the leaked version garnered mostly positive reviews from those who would admit to having seen it. And, most importantly, it got people talking about the movie at a time when all anyone was interested in was the latest version of the Terminator franchise. Essentially, that leak earned the movie millions of dollars of free publicity.
And let's face it, the people who just couldn't wait to see it on their monitors are the sort of fans who will still shell out to see it on the big screen. All that should add up to serious ticket sales. Yeah, Hollywood is known for recycling good ideas—maybe they should start leaking more movies before the release date.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil: The best reach-for-your-dreams film of the year is about aging Canadian metal-heads.
Battle for Terra: The 3-D animated movie you've never heard of is surprisingly good and mostly family-friendly. Aliens looking for a new planet invade a peaceful world. Nope, it's not this one. In fact, the aliens are us, driven off of Earth by our own un-earth-friendly living.
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past: Matthew McConaughey is confronted by the former loves of his life, A Christmas Carol style.Is Anybody There?: Michael Caine is terrific and tragic as an aging magician forced to live in an old-people's home, where he befriends the young, lonely boy who lives there.
Newcastle: An English surfing movie. Man, that water must be cold.
One Time Only
Death Note: L: Change the World: The latest entry in the anime franchise plays two nights. Wednesday has subtitles, while Thursday is dubbed for those who hate reading. Screens at 7:30 p.m. April 29 and 30 at AMC Mission Valley, Edwards Mira Mesa and Horton Plaza. Advance tickets at www.fathomevents.com.
10: This movie used to be so risqué. Dudley Moore stars in Blake Edwards' classic about a dude having a midlife crisis who gets hooked on a hot blonde thing (Bo Derek) and starts having serious fantasies about her. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 29, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
The Sea is Watching: Based on the screenplay Kurosawa was writing when he died. Set in the 19th century, it's about the love affairs suffered by the prostitute O-Shin and the cleansing typhoon she must suffer through. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 30, at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. Free.
Freedom Riders: About the history of mountain biking and the relationship between hardcore bikers who teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service to develop sustainable free-ride trails around the country. Part of the proceeds goes to the International Mountain Bike Association. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 30, at Cal Coast Bicycles and 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 1, at Ray Street Studios.
Ask Not: Early screening from the PBS Independent Lens series looks at the state of the military's don't ask don't tell policy at a time when it desperately needs more recruits. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 3, at the Central Library Downtown. Free.
Midnight Cowboy: This John Schleissenger classic was rated X when it came out. It also won Best Picture, the only X-rated film to do so. Jon Voight is Joe Buck, a wannabe male prostitute in New York City who teams up with Dustin Hoffman's small-time scoundrel Ratso Rizzo. Not to be missed. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, May 3, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
Roman Polanksi: Wanted and Desired: Terrific documentary about the man himself, his films and his years on the lam. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 4, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Vincent Who?: Documentary about the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, who was killed by two autoworkers who accused the Chinese man of being A. Japanese, and B. responsible for Detroit's employment hemorrhage. Presented by the San Diego Asian Film Festival, it screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 6, at the Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego. Free.
Top Secret: The Humanist Association of San Diego puts on the Val Kilmer spy-spoof classic to celebrate the May 1 May Day Communist Revolution. Hell yeah, you read that right. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 6, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Scarlett Johanssen and Rebecca Hall are Barcelona tourists who are infatuated with brooding painter Javier Bardem. When his crazy ex-wife, Penelope Cruz, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role, enters the picture, the whole trip becomes a total bummer. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 6, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
The Informers: Lifestyles of the rich and vacuous intersect with those on the bottom of the L.A. food chain in 1983. With Billy Bob Thornton and Mickey Rourke, just to name a few.
Earth: Gorgeous Disney documentary about the big blue marble you live on.
Fighting: Dito Martiel follows up his terrific debut, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, with a look at bare-knuckle underground fighting in New York City. Stars Channing Tatum and Terrence Howard.
Goodbye Solo: Ramin Bahrani continues his streak of terrific small films about immigrants with this gem about a Senegalese cabbie in Winston-Salem and the old white man he shuttles around.
Lymelife: Alec Baldwin is so good on 30 Rock that you probably forgot you used to hate him. But he's great in Lymelife as the philandering dad to Jimmy Bartlett (Kieren Culkin), who is coming of age just as the '70s turn into the '80s and lyme disease is all the rage.
Obsessed: Idris Elbra, aka The Wire's Stringer Bell, has a gorgeous wife in Beyonce and a gorgeous stalker in Ali Larter. Things could be worse.
The Soloist: Adaptation of Los Angeles Times writer Steve Lopez's book, about the talented homeless musician (Jamie Foxx) he befriended. Robert Downey Jr. plays Lopez.
17 Again: Teen heartthrob Zac Ephron is an old dude who suddenly gets young again. You know, like Benjamin Button.
Crank: High Voltage: Again, Jason Statham has to be like the bus in Speed. If he stops moving, his heart explodes.The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: Lackluster adaptation of Michael Chabon's debut novel.
Shall We Kiss: French film that's all about making out.
State of Play: Russell Crowe is a D.C. reporter investigating the murder of Congressman Ben Affleck's mistress. Sounds cheesy, but it comes from the same U.K. team that wrote The Queen and The Deal.
Observe and Report: Seth Rogen's new mall-cop movie is darker than you expect it to be. But just as profane as you think it could be, too.
Dragonball: Evolution: Before you get all high and mighty over a movie based on a cartoon about a young warrior who must collect seven magical orbs, be aware that Hong Kong action legend Chow Yun-Fat deigned to be in this one. Then again, so did Ernie Hudson.
Hannah Montana: The Movie: This just makes us feel old. And we're not old.
Paris 36: It's Paris, 1936, and the local music hall has closed down. So three former employees and plenty of locals get together and—guess what—put on a show!
Sugar: New film from the directors of Half-Nelson about a young Dominican pitcher trying to make it to the majors.
Tokyo!: Three different directors—Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho—tell intersecting stories set in Kyoto. Just kidding, Tokyo.
Sin Nombre: Cary Fukunaga's first feature earned him this year's Best Director award at Sundance. It's a harrowing tale of two immigrants—one a Mexican gang member, the other a young Honduran girl—who find themselves connected through violence as they head north.
Adventureland: Greg Mottola follows up Superbad with a summer romance that stars Kristen Stewart as the unattainable love interest and Jesse Eisenberg, who holds the entire thing together.
Fast and Furious: Vin Diesel and Paul Walker re-team for the fourth entry in the fast-car franchise.
The Haunting in Connecticut: Evil lives in the hardest state to spell.
Monsters vs. Aliens: Reese Witherspoon brings some life to this huge 3-D animated extravaganza, but the story is dwarfed by the special effects.
Duplicity: Clive Owen and Julia Roberts are good-looking spies who are definitely sleeping together and probably betraying each other.
I Love You, Man: Judd Apatow's fingers are nowhere to be found on this bromance, which stars Paul Rudd and Jason Segal. But they might as well be.
Knowing: If you can buy Nic Cage as an MIT prof, you'll happily go with him uncovering a time capsule that predicts all the global catastrophes of the last 50 years—and the imminent end of the world.
Sunshine Cleaning: Almost a sequel to Little Miss Sunshine. Some of the same producers are on board, the film is also shot in New Mexico and Alan Arkin plays pretty much the same part. Still, it has that vibe that made LMS so appealing, as Amy Adams and Emily Blunt play sisters who start a business cleaning up violent crime scenes.
Watchmen: Zack Snyder follows up 300 with a big budget take on the legendary graphic novel about the tattered personal lives of superheroes in an alternate 1985, where Nixon is still president and the world is on the brink of nuclear armageddon. It looks terrific, but it simply doesn't live up to its own source material.
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.
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.
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 has crafted a brutally violent guilty pleasure.
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.
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.
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.
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.