Korea is a film hot zone right now. The Host made its way to our shores last year, and there are few directors making films as visually arresting and emotionally interesting as Park Chan-wook, the guy behind Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. But the South Korean film industry is only half the story, because that country's estranged, deranged sister to the north makes movies, too, though they're almost impossible to see because of North Korea being, well, North Korea.
This weekend, though, UCSD presents “Korea, North and South: A Cinematic Perspective”—the first North American film festival/conference to focus on films from both sides of the Korean demilitarized zone—which will include lectures, panel discussions and movies including, according to event director Jim Cheng, North Korean films of the highest artistic caliber, such as the action-themed Hong Gil Dong, and Blood-Stained Woodblock, made directly under the tutelage of Mr. Cult of Personality himself, Kim Jong-il.
But even though the North Korean films are artistically viable, they're still clearly propaganda. But that's sort of the point of the conference, comparing and contrasting the two societies via their cinematic values. And though the films may not accurately represent North Korea's closed society, Cheng says there's a lot to be gleaned from them. “They show the current official value system and lifestyle and the cultural traditions, with a view to the history. But it's a government-dominated place. There's no independent media there.”
“Korea, North and South: A Cinematic Perspective” begins Friday morning at UCSD's Atkinson Hall. The events are free to the public, and an entire lineup can be found at kns.ucsd.edu.
Raw film: Sushi, the venerable San Diego arts organization, is branching out into celluloid. The group's Cinema Lounge, coordinated by Citizen Video honcho Holly Jones, kicks off Tuesday with the 10th annual Hi/Lo Film Festival, a traveling series of short films of the top-shelf, DIY, high-concept, low-budget variety. Also on hand will be local filmmakers Lowell Frank and Destin Crettin, who present their short Deacon's Mondays, about a simple landscaper struggling to be a good person. It has its share of quirk but also leaves you with a warm, free-to-be-you-and-me feeling. Running monthly, future installments of the Cinema Lounge include mumblecore films and a screening of the searing French film La Haine. Local band Kill Me Tomorrow will play a set on Tuesday, and the price is right—like all of Sushi's entries this season, it's all pay-what-you-can.It goes down at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, at Basic, the bar and pizza eatery, 410 10th Ave., Downtown.
How She Move: The latest entry in the fast-growing, surprisingly profitable romantic-inspirational-urban-dance genre. After her kid sister O.D.s, Raya (Rutina Wesley) returns to her old 'hood to try to come up with her med-school tuition. Student loans being what they are, she opts for step-dancing competitions.
Meet the Spartans: This! Is! Satire! The latest chintzy spoof, Spartans is from the team that brought you Scary Movie, Date Movie and Epic Movie. With that pedigree, this film is certain to be a joke, but not the good kind. That said, we can't substantiate the claim, ‘cause it's not screening for press. Go figure.
Rambo: Rambo: First Blood Part II (the second film in the franchise) was one of the first entries in the hard-R ultra-violent category of the '80s. And now, more than 20 years later, the latest installment, which features our favorite vet taking on, uh, Burma, ups the violence quotient. These human-rights violations aren't for the faint of heart. Or stomach.
U2 3D: Sure, it hits all the concert-film clichés, but U2 does those clichés better than anyone, and the technology and giant IMAX screen puts you right in the concert—both in the front row and on the stage—in a way you've never experienced, giving you a real sense of what it's like to play to a stadium full of people. It's hard not to get caught up in “Beautiful Day” or “With or Without You,” but if you're allergic to Bono, stay away, because he'll be right there, large as life, and you can't reach out and smack him.
Untraceable: Dude puts up a killer blog—literally. It's a thriller about a serial killer who puts his victims online—the more people who tune in to watch, the quicker he kills them, and, of course, he's untraceable. Only a hot detective (Diane Lane) can figure it out, so the bad guy starts to flame her. As if parents weren't already freaked out about MySpace.
War/Dance: Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine's documentary chronicles the lives of teen refugees as their school prepares for the Ugandan National Music Competition. As the kids battle personal trauma caused by the war around them, the competition offers a reason to forge ahead in spite of the political turmoil.
Skid Marks: Budget cuts force rival EMT crews to go head-to-head in the hopes of saving their jobs. San Diego Film Festival founder Karl Kozak directed this raunchy beer 'n' boobs comedy, shot entirely in San Diego. There's a two-for-one coupon available at the film's website, www.skidmarksthemovie.com.
One time only
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: There was a resurgence of westerns in '07, and though there were some good ones, none compare to BC and the SK. With Paul Newman and Robert Redford, an Oscar-winning screenplay from William Goldman, and terrific direction from George Roy Hill, the film defines the buddy movie, the anti-hero movie, the heist movie and the anti-western. Still fresh after more than 35 years. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Bheema: Rival street gangs, over-the-top action-choreography, crazy music and awesome overacting. Hooray for Bollywood! Screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, at UltraStar 8 Del Mar and at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at Edwards Mira Mesa, 5:30 p.m. $12.95.
Citizen Fest Dos: Citizen Video and Whistle Stop Bar team up for their second block party, a collection of shorts by local filmmakers. Citizen's Craig Oliver pulled together the slate, which includes Matthew Jackalinski's You Should Totally Date My Friends, Two Four Zero Six from Cathy de la Cruz, Brad Kester's animated The Red, Red Worm, Avec La Moustache from Demitri Andrikopoulos and many more. They screen at 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, at the Whistle Stop in South Park. Free
Roma Citta' Aperta: The first entry in a film series focusing on Italian women in Italian cinema is Roberto Rossellini's 1945 neo-realist classic, whose title means “Rome, open city.” The Italian woman this Friday is Anna Magnani, who plays Pina, a widow who finds herself helping her fiancé and her priest smuggle a resistance leader out of Rome and away from the Nazis during the war. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, at the Italian Community Center in Little Italy. Free
Big Time: Q: Who's cooler than Tom Waits? A: No one. Big Time, his 1988 concert film, uses mostly songs from Swordfishtombones, Frank's Wild Years and Rain Dogs, three underrated masterpieces from the Me Decade. Waits, the master storyteller with the whisky-soaked vocal chords and the unbelievably tall tales, is at the absolute top of his game. Part of the Ken's Midnight Rocks series, local band The Vision of a Dying World will take the stage before Waits and Co. take the screen. Starts at midnight Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Ken Cinema. $7.25.
Allegro o Non Tropo: Leave it to the Italians to spoof something as purely American as Fantasia. A naïve director thinks pairing classical music and animation is an original idea, only to find out that Disney did it years earlier. But he forges ahead with his own version regardless, and the results are seriously weirder (i.e. more European) than Mickey dancing with brooms and buckets. Pre-viewing drinking is a must—good thing it's at a bar. Screens at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at Whistle Stop Bar in South Park. Free.
Smiley Face: Gregg Araki helmed this comedy featuring Anna Faris as Jane, an unemployed actress who ingests some seriously debilitating pot cupcakes, impacting the rest of her day's activities: attending an audition, paying back an irritated dealer and desperately trying to replace her psycho roommate's precious drug-infused desserts. Though it had a small 2007 release, Araki's indie cred, plus and a cast brimming with comic potential (Faris, Jon Krasinski, Adam Brody, John Cho), could add up to cult sleeper. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Shawshank Redemption: It's hard to believe such a triumph-of-the-human-spirit story was written by Stephen King, but Frank Darabont's directorial debut was nominated for seven Oscars, though it actually struck out on awards night. You know the details: Morgan Freeman is a convict whose life is changed by the wrongly convicted, utterly decent Tim Robbins. You've seen it on cable a thousand times; now catch it poolside at The Pearl. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
27 Dresses: Katherine Heigl is the perpetual self-sacrificing bridesmaid, driven to the edge when her self-absorbed sister (Malin Akerman) hooks her all-around-great-guy boss (a puffy Ed Burns), for whom she's pined for years. At the same time, reporter Kevin (James Marsden) picks up on her story as his ticket off the wedding beat. Heigl and Marsden are charming enough to keep it fun, even if Burns phones it in. Prospective husbands beware: this is a simple, inoffensive chick-flick for chicks into weddings.
Cassandra's Dream: For the third film in a row, Woody Allen returns to London, shooting another awkward crime comedy about a pair of brothers (Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor), whose uncle (Tom Wilkinson) turns them to a life of crime in order to solve their mounting debts. But things go south, violence begets violence, brother turns on brother. Maybe they should have just gone for a consolidation loan.
Cloverfield: The Big Apple looks so tasty that a giant monster hauls itself out of the ocean to take a serious bite. One of the most anticipated films of '08, Cloverfield is produced by Lost/Alias honcho J.J. Abrams and is shot exclusively from the POV of hand-held video cameras of people on the scene. Could be the perfect storm of giant monster flicks.
Mad Money: After her husband loses his job, a woman (Diane Keaton) takes a janitorial job at the Federal Reserve, where she teams up with fellow employees (Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes) to steal a bunch of money. The perfect antidote for all those high-quality award-nominated films currently in theaters.
Persepolis: Yes, it's animated, but there are no cute animals or cars in Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical account of growing up in Iran before, during and after the 1979 revolution. It looks simple, taking its old-school, black-and-white look from the author's graphic novels, and it's so good, so beautiful and so tragic that you might forget you're watching a cartoon. There's a reason France offered it up as its entry in the Foreign Language Film category for this year's Oscars. See our review on Page 23.
There Will Be Blood: Paul Thomas Anderson's first project since Punch-Drunk Love is easily one of the year's best, anchored by an epic, astonishing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. He plays Daniel Plainview, a turn-of-the-20th-century oilman driven by greed and competition and utterly loathing of the world around him. First Sunday: Desperate for money, bumbling petty crooks Ice Cube and Tracy Morgan knock off a church with a full collection plate. But after they break in and take hostages, including preacher Chi McBride and current hot comic Katt Williams, they discover someone, possibly a higher power, has beaten them to the loot. Lessons, undoubtedly, are learned.
The Bucket List: Smart blue-collar Morgan Freeman and rich jerk Jack Nicholson meet in a hospital room where they're both battling cancer and become best buddies, determined to live the rest of their lives to the fullest. Interesting first act that quickly turns into an irritatingly goofy travelogue as they hit the road to check off items on their “Kick the bucket list”—like Wild Hogs for the senior set. Did those years on the political sidelines made Rob Reiner soft? He directs, but with no particular flair.
The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A Veggie Tales Movie: Talking animated fruits and vegetables that wear eye-patches and say “Arrrrgh” might sound like a great way to spend the afternoon with your kids. But be forewarned—these veggies spread the word of Jesus.
The Orphanage: Produced by Guillermo del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy fame, this first-time feature from director J.A. Bayona falls back on some horror-movie standards but is so well-made and so darn creepy that you won't care. Laura (Belén Rueda) returns with her husband and son to the orphanage where she was raised, only to discover that some spooky stuff went down since her adoption, and some of her childhood friends might still be hanging around.
One Missed Call: Ah, that not-so-fresh feeling one gets from the first remake of Japanese horror film of the new year. Friends of Beth Raymond (Shannyn Sossaman) keep getting voice mails from their future selves describing the date and time of their own deaths--which turn out to be accurate. ‘Course, no one believes her except maverick cop Jack Andrews (Edward Burns, who likely has a balloon payment on a subprime mortgage coming due).
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem: The first Aliens vs. Predator movie was the suckiest suck that ever sucked. But the sequel, which brings the intergalactic battle to determine the deadliest species to a small town in Colorado, ups the violence all the way to 11. Which is exactly what you're hoping for, if you're the sort to go see the sequel to Aliens vs. Predator.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: So, acclaimed American painter Julian Schnabel makes a movie in French about Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of the French edition of Elle who, following a stroke, can only communicate by blinking his left eyelid. And it's really, really good. Gorgeous to look at and heartbreaking to experience, The Diving Bell gets deep into the psyche of Bauby, who ended up writing his memoirs one letter at a time. The film features an extraordinary performance from Mathieu Amalric as Bauby and earned Schnabel Best Director honors at Cannes.
Charlie Wilson's War: What lazy filmmaking. There's no sign of the Mike Nichols we know and love, Aaron Sorkin's usually crisp dialogue is inane, Julia Roberts sucks and everyone's trying to skate on Tom Hanks' trademark charm. Sure, he's fun as the party-go-lucky congressman who spearheaded funding the Afghani resistance back in the '80s, but Charlie's only saving grace is Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who runs the entire picture from behind the scenes as a veteran covert operator.
The Kite Runner: This is the picture that forced the studio to relocate its two child stars and their families. It's a terrific story, dealing with the childhood friendship of two Afghani boys, Amir and Hassan, and the terrible traumas that tear them apart. Based on the best-selling novel by UCSD grad Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner follows Amir's return to his homeland after the Russians have left and the Taliban have taken over. Serious weeper, sure, but director Marc Forster makes it far more sentimental than it needs to be.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets: Nicolas Cage and his band of merry men and hot chicks sort out who's buried in Grant's tomb.
P.S. I Love You: Gerard “This is Sparta!” Butler sheds his abs to leave his widow, Holly (Hillary Swank), a series of posthumous messages that just might help her get on with her life. With Kathy Bates and Lisa Kudrow. Bring a hankie.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Tim Burton teams up once again with Johnny Depp and longtime girlfriend Helena Bonham-Carter to goth up Sondheim's classic musical. Depp is the barber himself, slashing throats left and right and working with his landlady to grind the remains into meat pies, all in the hopes of eventually getting revenge against Alan Rickman. Woe be to anyone who stands in his way, including Sacha Baron Cohen. None of the principals have great singing voices, but the movie looks so good that you might not care.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story: John C. Reilly is dumb-ass country musician Dewey Cox in this parody of music biopics that hits nearly all the right notes. Kristen Wiig and Jenna Fischer are solid choices for his love interests, and the rest of the cast provides decent laughs throughout. From comedy king Judd Apatow and director Jake Kasdan, Dewey Cox contains inspired writing, more than a dozen memorable cameos and, best of all, seriously good music.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Jason Lee is Dave Seville, the man attempting to keep computer-animated Alvin, Simon and Theodore from engaging in their typical wacky chipmunk antics. The bad news: If you have kids, chances are they'll whine until you take 'em to see it. The good news: It's only 90 minutes long.
I Am Legend: The latest take on Richard Matheson's novel turns Will Smith into Robert Neville, a brilliant military scientist who is also the last man in New York City, not counting the untold hordes of vampire-like people who were infected by an errant cure for cancer. Some of the scenes of an empty Big Apple are amazing, but the movie chops out Matheson's dark, nihilistic vision and turns Neville, always an Everyman dealing with extraordinary circumstances, into a superdude with serious pecs. Still, if you've got to spend an hour watching one guy on screen, it might as well be Smith, who's terrific until he finally has company.
Juno: Fizzy and enjoyable, the year's best feel-good film centers, surprisingly, on an unwed pregnant teen. That'd be Juno (Ellen Page), who decides to give her baby to a yuppie couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) and toy with her good friend and the father of her child, Paulie Bleeker (an excellent Michael Cera). With sharp dialogue from stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody and solid direction from Jason Reitman, Juno is a solid, if inoffensive, triumph.
Atonement: Though they've gone out of their way to make Atonement look like a generic period romance, Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's shatteringly good novel is crisply directed, gorgeous to look at and terribly well-acted by James McAvoy and Keira Knightley as a star-crossed couple whose future is taken from them when Knightley's younger sister misinterprets something she sees and later turns McAvoy's Robbie in for a crime he did not commit. The buzz has been about the six-minute tracking shot on the war-strewn beaches of Dunkirk, but the real heat is between the two leads.
Enchanted: A deconstructed Disney cartoon, Enchanted, which stars Amy Adams as an animated princess turned to real life on the streets of New York, is far more enchanting than its premise. Grey's Anatomy's McDreamy co-stars, along with Prince Charming James Marsden of X-Men fame.
No Country for Old Men: Their first decent film since Fargo, No Country is a Coen Brothers masterpiece and perhaps the best picture of '07. Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, the story centers on a good ol' boy (Josh Brolin), an aging county sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones), a unstoppable psychopathic killer (Javier Bardem) and a valise thick with drug money. Tight, taut, challenging and brutal, it just gets better with repeated viewings. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead: The latest crime film from octogenarian Sidney Lumet stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers trying to pull an ill-advised small-time score. Intricately plotted and full of secrets and unlikable characters, Devil also stars Marisa Tomei as Hoffman's unhappy wife who gets naked all over the place and Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris as the boys' parents.
American Gangster: Denzel Washington is Frank Lucas, the real-life drug kingpin who beat the mafia at its own game, running the New York drug trade back in the 1970s. Russell Crowe is the cop trying to take him down, and Ridley Scott directs them both. The movie looks terrific, but even with all that talent on display, it's hard not to feel like we haven't seen this before.
Into the Wild: Sean Penn takes on John Krakauer's book with Emile Hirsch as Alexander Supertramp, the young man formerly known as Chris McCandless, who left his suburban family behind in the early '90s and took to the road, eventually making his way to an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness. Penn makes Hirsch a little too much of a Christ figure, but the supporting cast is great, especially Hal Holbrook in the best role of his career.
The Savages: A terrific movie about being forced to finally grow up. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are Jon and Wendy Savage, siblings forced to put their nasty, aging father (Phillip Bosco) in a nursing home and come to terms with each other. Superb acting, a fine script and direction from Tamara Jenkins, and an ending that will leave some cool and others inspired.
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.
Fridays at the Fleet: Sea Monsters, The Living Sea and Mysteries of Egypt are some of the rotating films shown each day at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center's IMAX theater. Sure, it's more Discovery Channel than Transformers, but the Fleet's enormous old-school dome screen is way cool, and some of the talent—narrators like Meryl Streep or Johnny Depp—is impressive. You might find yourself as mesmerized as the little kiddies sitting around you. Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. Check www.rhfleet.org for the screening list.