Last week, I attended what turned out to be the first public screening of Phantom. If I'd done my homework, I'd probably have realized that it was going to be stuffed full of people who'd worked on the movie, because the majority of it was, it turns out, shot in San Diego.
Phantom, opening Friday, March 1, is a submarine movie, and the submarine in question was provided by the San Diego Maritime Museum, so the set is legit. This isn't a roomy big-budget set—guys like Ed Harris, David Duchovny and William Fichtner, dealing with a potential nuclear crisis at the height of the Cold War, are right on top of each other, which ratchets up the tension.
Though I always support the home team and would like to see more movies made here, that was one of the few highlights for me.
Phantom is a great idea for a movie—the crew of an aging Russian sub commanded by the aging Commander Demi (Harris) and his second-in-command Alex (Fichtner) has to contend with secret agent Bruni (Duchovny) and the new technology he's installed. There are some gaping plot holes, but, for me, the toughest part is the accents, or the lack thereof.
Obviously, having American actors play Russians is always problematic. Do you go around it, as they did in The Hunt for Red October? Or do you embrace the accents, like in K-19: The Widowmaker? Here, the filmmakers decided to ignore them completely. The problem, though, is that these actors are not just speaking English, but in an American dialect, and if it weren't for a couple of terrible mustaches and an overabundance of vodka, you'd be tempted to think they're actually on an American sub.
And to that, comrades, I say, "Nyet."
21 & Over: Straight-laced honors student gets crunky the night before his big medical-school exam. You won't be surprised to hear that it's written by the same guys who penned The Hangover.
The Gatekeepers: Dror Moreh's Oscarnominated documentary features interviews with all of the living former heads of the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet. And you'll be surprised by some of the opinions they hold.
Jack the Giant Slayer: The first feature from Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects) in five years is about a young farmhand who takes the war between humans and giants straight to the giants.
The Last Exorcism Part II: Um, kind of an oxymoronic title, right?
No: Gael García Bernal is a young advertising executive who leads a campaign designed to take on Augusto Pinochet, the longtime Chilean dictator.
A Place at the Table: Jeff Bridges is the frontman for this documentary, which looks at hunger problems in the United States and offers some solutions. Screens for one week only at the Ken Cinema.
One Time Only
Canela: This Mexican movie, about a granddaughter and grandmother and their shared love of food, is the latest in UCSD's ArtPower! Film's Foovie series. A meal that sounds tasty is available at 7 p.m., and the movie starts at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Feb. 27, at The Loft at UCSD.
The Black Scorpion: Miguel Rodriguez, head honcho of Horrible Imaginings, San Diego's horror-film fest, is curating the Public Library's ongoing Schlockfest and presents this 1957 horror, um, classic at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Feb. 27, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Casino Royale: Daniel Craig's first go as James Bond rebooted the franchise in spectacular fashion. Definitely shaken, not stirred. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
To Kill a Mockingbird: Gregory Peck won his Oscar playing a 1950s Southern lawyer defending a black man, seen through the eyes of his tomboy daughter. Screens at noon and 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at Reading Cinemas Town Square in Clairemont.
Aliens: Ridley Scott's original was an amazing horror movie. This one, James Cameron's sequel, is a kick-ass sci-fi-action flick. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at ArcLight La Jolla.
There Will Be Blood: Paul Thomas Anderson's magnificent exploration of greed and the corruption of the human soul guaranteed another Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis. He drinks your milkshake at 2:30 p.m. Friday, March 1, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Urbanized: This documentary about the future of our cities, as foretold by architects, designers and urban planners, is paired with the short 1975 film Deftly Averted, in conjunction with the San Diego Museum of Art's Journey Through the City exhibit. Starts at 8 p.m. Friday, March 1, at the Museum of Art in Balboa Park.
Argo: Ben Affleck's thriller, about the CIA man who got six Americans out of Tehran after the 1979 embassy takeover, won Best Picture last Sunday. It also kicks off Cinema Under the Stars' spring season at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 1 and 2, at its outdoor theater in Mission Hills.
Free Men: An Algerian with ties to the black markets finds himself joining the French Resistance during World War II after he unexpectedly becomes friends with a Jewish man. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 4, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Back to the Future: Part of the new ArcLight Presents series, Marty McFly takes to the big screen once again at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 4, at ArcLight La Jolla.
King Kong: Not a remake! Nope, this is the terrific 1933 original. Screens at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Pulp Fiction: Quentin Tarantino gave John Travolta his career back in this timeline-shifting, hysterically funny criminal tour de force. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga: The latest documentary from Werner Herzog and co-director Dmitry Vasyukov is missing something—Herzog himself. Though he cut the film and narrates it, he wasn't present for the year his Russian counterpart spent with trappers in the Siberian outback, and it shows.
Bless Me, Ultima: During World War II, a young man teams up with an elderly medicine woman to sort out the problems in his small New Mexico town. Screens at the Regal Rancho Del Rey in Chula Vista.
Dark Skies: A young family, led by Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton, learn that some nasty supernatural beasties want to get their mitts on them.
Snitch: Dwayne Johnson goes undercover for the DEA after his son is busted during a drug sting.
Kai Po Che: Bollywood flick about three buddies who start a cricket training academy, trying to cash in on the influx of money in India around the turn of the millennium.
Oscar-nominated short documentaries: This marks the first time the short docs have been presented in San Diego before the Oscar ceremony. The five films run more than three hours total, but they're impressive, including Inocente, which was made in San Diego. Ends Feb. 28 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
Beautiful Creatures: After the success of Twilight, you know there are plenty of young-adult supernatural franchises to come. This one is about witches!
Escape From Planet Earth: Brendan Fraser voices Scorch, an astronaut who needs the help of his little brother (Rob Cordrry) when he lands on an inhospitable planet full of unspeakable dangers. Hint: It's Earth.
A Good Day to Die Hard: Bruce Willis goes to Moscow, meets up with his son (Jai Courtney) and shoots a bunch of guys.
John Dies at the End: This horror comedy from Phantasm director Don Coscarelli, about two slackers trying to save the world from forces unknown, is pretty funny. Paul Giamatti shows up in a supporting role. Ends Feb. 28 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Safe Haven: The latest Nicholas Sparks romance stars Julianne Hough as a mysterious woman who takes up with a hunky widower (Josh Duhamel).
Spike & Mike's Festival of Animation: Sure, they're better known for their sick-and-twisted stuff, but this 30th-anniversary family-friendly greatest-hits set of films from the past four decades has some great stuff. Screens through March at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
Identity Thief: Jason Bateman hits the road to find out who stole his identity. Not a spoiler: It's Melissa McCarthy.
Side Effects: This thriller is rumored to be Steven Soderbergh's final theatrical release. If so, he's going out on top with this one, about a woman (Rooney Mara) whose shrink (Jude Law) prescribes her anti-depressants that end up plunging both of them down a rabbit hole.
Special 26: Bollywood heist movie based on a real robbery that went down in Mumbai in 1987.
Top Gun 3D: The fighter-jet stuff is just fine. It's that Tom Cruise singing "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" bit that gets creepy in 3D.
Oscar Nominated Short Films: All 10 Oscar-nominated short and live-action films are screening at Hillcrest Cinemas, and there are some real winners in this batch.
Stand Up Guys: Al Pacino gets out of the joint after almost 20 years and immediately hooks up with his old associates, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin.
Warm Bodies: In a world populated by both zombies and humans, one member of the walking dead (Nicholas Hoult) starts to have feelings for a real girl (Teresa Palmer).
Quartet: It's surprising that it took Dustin Hoffman this long to direct a movie. Quartet, about what happens when a faded opera singer (Maggie Smith) is forced to move into a home for retired musicians, including the rest of the quartet she left behind, is slight, but enjoyable.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters: Sure. Why not?
Parker: After his crew double-crosses him, Jason Statham teams up with Jennifer Lopez to get his revenge.
Beasts of the Southern Wild: Wait, what? Didn't this micro-budget movie come out last summer before being nominated for a slew of Oscars last week? Yeah, that's why it's back in theaters, Sherlock.
Cosmic Collisions: So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
Mama: Fresh from Zero Dark Thirty, Jessica Chastain has to take care of her young nieces, who survived in the woods for five years. Also, there are ghosts or something.
Amour: Michael Haneke's Palm d'Or-winning drama, about an elderly couple facing declining health, is as terrifying as his movies about sadism, home invasions and fanaticism.
Gangster Squad: Hey, girl, Ryan Gosling is a spiffy L.A. cop shooting up mobster types like Sean Penn's Mickey Cohen in the new movie from Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer.
The Impossible: Biopic about a family, led by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, caught up in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.
Zero Dark Thirty: Kathryn Bigelow's movie, about the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden, is a masterwork of filmmaking, and the fact that it's inspiring debate about torture should be more tangential than anything else.
Django Unchained: Tarantino takes on yet another genre—the western—and blows it up and makes it fun again. Jamie Foxx is Django, a slave freed by German bounty hunter Christoph Waltz, off to rescue wife Kerry Washington from plantation owner Leonardo DiCaprio.
Les Miserables: Fans of the legendary musical will get their fix from this big-screen adaptation by King's Speech director Tom Hooper, who relies heavily on close-ups and, sadly, Russell Crowe, who isn't a trained singer. Anne Hathaway, on the other hand, dreams a nice dream as Fantine.
Parental Guidance: Billy Crystal and Bette Midler agree to look after their grandchildren. Hilarity for a certain demographic ensues.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth in the first of three films based on the book that came before Lord of the Rings.
Life of Pi: Ang Lee's adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning novel about a boy, a tiger and a lifeboat is this year's movie that you simply must see on a big screen and in 3-D. Really.
Silver Linings Playbook: Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a bipolar guy from Philly who's just out of the mental hospital, having lost his job, his home and his wife. He moves in with his parents (Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro) in hopes of regaining his marriage, but things are thrown askew by Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has problems of her own.
Lincoln: It might as well have been called The 13th Amendment. Despite another spellbinding performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln's biopic is really about getting legislation through Congress.
Tales of the Maya Skies: This IMAX movie explores the rich history of the Mayan people, just in time for the end of the world. At the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Wreck-It Ralph: The latest animated film from Disney stars John C. Reilly as Ralph, the bad guy in an old-school video game who desperately wants to be liked.
Argo: Ben Affleck directs and stars in this take on the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, and believe it or not, it's gonna be a Best Picture contender.
Flight of the Butterflies: It turns out Monarch butterflies are much like SDSU students—every year, thousands of them head to Mexico. This IMAX film captures their beautiful trip. The butterflies, that is.
Flying Monsters 3D: No, it's not a crappy studio blockbuster—this one is all about dinosaurs and was written and directed by Richard Attenborough, using Avatar-like technology, and plays the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.
To the Arctic 3-D: Cute-animal-movie alert No. 2. Meryl Streep narrates this new IMAX movie about a mama polar bear and her two cubs.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.