On The Office, the show on NBC, Rainn Wilson has turned his character, Dwight Schrute, into far more than a caricature of the annoying guy you work with, because he has great writers and a serialized storyline. He's not as lucky with The Rocker, his first high-profile leading role, though he brings a great deal of Dwight to Robert “Fish” Fishman, the man-child drummer to whom life offers a second chance.
On the eve of hitting the big time, Fish was jettisoned from his '80s hair band, which became massively famous while he went on to a series of soul-crushing cubicle farms. But when his nephew's band needs a drummer for the prom, Fish steps behind the kit. One naked YouTube drumming session later, the band has a deal and goes on tour, during which Fish tries to relive his glory days.
So, it sounds dumb. And it is dumb. But here's the thing—I really enjoyed The Rocker. Yeah, it feels like a School of Rock knock-off, and, yes, you can see everything coming, and, sure, it's not particularly risky. But there's something Novery sweet about it, even if much of the humor is found in physical comedy involving Wilson getting hit in the head or the nuts. His young co-stars—Teddy Geiger, Emma Stone and Josh Gad—actually keep it kind of real. The songs they play aren't half bad, and Christina Applegate is terrifically appealing as the single mom with whom Fish just might end up.
No, it isn't classic rock; The Rocker is more like a pleasantly inoffensive pop song with a great hook that you hear over and over one summer. You won't remember it next year, but you don't change the station when it comes on.Opening
A Man Named Pearl: It could almost be considered a good thing that potential neighbors told Pearl Fryar, who is African-American, that they didn't want him to move in near them because “black people don't keep up their yards.” Because, otherwise, he never would have taught himself how to make such an incredible garden that went on to inspire his entire community, even the crackers. Call it better living through topiary.
Boy A: Jack is 24, but he's spent the bulk of his life in juvenile prisons for committing a brutal crime as a minor. A new identity protects him from his history but means he has to come to terms with not being able to truly open up to anyone he meets. Andrew Garfield stars in the title role, and Peter Mullan is Terry, the case worker who stands by him.
Death Race: The satire that originally appeared in Roger Corman's 1975 camp classic, Death Race 2000, is missing, but if you're the sort who wants to see pimped-out armored cars armed with massive machine guns shooting at each other on an enclosed prison racetrack, you won't care. Jason Statham is Jensen Ames, a former NASCAR driver framed for murdering his wife so a crooked warden (Joan Allen) can get him behind the wheel of her ass-kicking deadly racing franchise. Sure, it's thin, but it puts the muscle in muscle car.
Donsol: The San Diego Asian Film Festival kicks off a 365-day-long series of Filipino films with Donsol, a Foreign Language Oscar submission from the Philippines about two lonely people, a broken-hearted man and an older woman suffering from breast cancer, who find each other. It runs from Aug. 22 to 28, at the UltraStar Chula Vista.
Elegy: Isabel Coixet directs this adaptation of Philip Roth's short novel The Dying Animal, about a serial seducing college professor, played by Ben Kingsley, and how his life is turned upside down by a former student (Penelope Cruz) whom he finds himself falling for.
Hamlet 2: There's something to offend everyone in Hamlet 2, and Steve Coogan is terrific as Dana Marschz (last name intentionally unpronounceable), a failed actor turned drama teacher who writes, directs and then stars as Jesus Christ in a musical sequel to the greatest play ever written in the English language. See our review on this page.
House Bunny: Anna Faris is a Playboy bunny who gets tossed from the mansion only to wind up at a sorority house full of socially inept ugly ducklings. Just like in real life, it turns out the women of Zeta Alpha Zeta just need a really hot, skimpily clad chick around to make them feel good about themselves.
The Longshots: Family-friendly football film directed by—drum roll, please—Fred Durst. That's right, Fred “Did it all for the nookie” Durst. Fred “Sex tape on the Internet” Durst. And, apparently these days, Fred “Wholesome family man” Durst. Keke Palmer is Jasmine Plummer, in this true story of the first girl to ever play in the Pop Warner football tourney. Ice Cube's her dad.
Pretendiendo (Ugly Me): A Chilean film about a beautiful woman who takes on a homely alter-ego to be taken more seriously. When a co-worker takes an interest in both of her identities, she finds herself in a love triangle—with herself. This is the first of the San Diego Latino Film Festival's Cinema en tu Idioma Film Series, showcasing one film a month for the next four months. Ugly Me runs Friday, Aug. 22, through Thursday, Aug. 28, at the UltraStar Mission Valley. Tickets are $9.50, or a full series pass can be purchased at www.mediaartscenter.org. Writer/director Claudio Dabed will appear on Friday night.
One time only
Cirque du Soleil: Delirium: Those crazy French-Canadians are up to their old tricks—on the big screen! Four nights only, Wednesday, Aug. 20, through Sunday, Aug. 24—no show on Friday. Screens at 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, noon on the weekend, at AMC Mission Valley, Otay Ranch and Plaza Bonita; Horton Plaza; and Edwards Mira Mesa. $20 (which is, let's face it, cheaper than the live show).
The Gits: The Gits were one of Seattle's hottest post-grunge bands when charismatic frontwoman Mia Zapata was raped and murdered in 1993. Her death, which led to a conviction a decade later, sent shockwaves through the music community, and Kerri O'Kane's brave documentary is part music biopic, part history lesson and part murder mystery. It's a benefit for the San Diego Women's Film Festival, so organizers will be asking for a $5 donation. Screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, at Whistle Stop Bar in South Park.
Point Break: Who would have thought a surfer action movie starring Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze and Gary Busey would still be so awesome after more than 15 years? But Point Break remains a muscular classic, as FBI man Keanu is sent undercover into Swayze's gang of surfer/slackers who moonlight as bank robbers. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Seriously, you want us to do the time warp yet again? Only if you buy us nine beers. Which should be easy, since it screens at 9 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 20, at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido. Free.
A Good Year: Ridley Scott directed this film about a rich British investment banker—Russell Crowe—who inherits a French chateau and vineyard and learns to ease up a bit while drinking wine. It tanked at the box office, probably because no one really wants to see a really rich guy inherit even more awesomeness. Still, it makes for a nice end to the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library wine-movie series, as attendance includes a glass of nice French hooch. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21, at the Athenaeum in La Jolla. $17.
I.O.U.S.A.: Brutally humorous doc about how and why the economy is so fucked up. If we lived elsewhere in the country, the movie would be followed by a live simulcast discussion with Warren Buffett and some other guys who are much better with their money than the rest of us. Being on the West Coast, of course, it's tape-delayed. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21, at Mira Mesa, Otay Ranch, Mission Valley, Horton Plaza and La Jolla Village theaters. Tickets are $18 at Fathom Entertainment: www.fathomevents.com.
Bye Bye Birdie: Back in the 1960s, kids, we had this thing called the draft, which meant that the burden of military service was more evenly divided between the classes (um, student deferments notwithstanding). In this 1963 musical classic, struggling songwriter Dick Van Dyke is desperate to get a teen idol to sing one of his songs on The Ed Sullivan Show, just as the idol becomes the most famous draftee in American history. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21, at Screen on the Green in front of the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. Free.
To Kill a Mockingbird: Knowing that the character of Dill in Harper Lee's novel was based on her childhood friend Truman Capote was a nice piece of trivia, but the rash of Capote biopics the last few years spoiled it. Gregory Peck deservedly won an Oscar as Atticus Finch, the greatest single dad of all time who struggles to raise his kids in the segregated south while he defends a poor black man wrongly accused of rape—all told through the eyes of his precocious daughter Scout. Both the novel and the film are American masterpieces. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 21 and 22, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
San Diego UnderSea Film Exhibition: This is the ninth year of films shot underwater, and for good reason. Many of the films are just gorgeous, and it's tough to find anything quite like it. Though it's considered an exhibition, the submission guidelines make it closer to a mini-festival—films are no more than five minutes long, and at least half of each of them is shot below the surface. It happens at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 22 and 23, at Qualcomm Hall in Sorrento Valley. $15. Details can be found at www.sdufex.com.
No End in Sight: North County Democratic Unity screens Charles Ferguson's Oscar-nominated debut, a terribly powerful film that explains how we got to where we are now in Iraq. It's an absolute must-see history lesson for America's collective short memory. When J. Paul Bremer wrote a New York Times commentary refuting the charges Ferguson made against him in the film, the filmmaker shot back with a short, scathing film that took Bremer to task. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 22, at the NCDU office (135 E. Grand Ave.) in Escondido. Free.
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. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 22, at the Market Street Plaza in Encanto. Free.
SD Children's Film Festival: The price is always right for the San Diego International Children's Film Festival: Free. This series consists of collections of shorts from around the world, shown throughout the day. A complete lineup, as well as a schedule, can be found at www.sdchildrensfilm.org, or you can just swing by the Central Library, Downtown, between 10:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 23. And remember—it's free.
A Hard Day's Night: Black-and-white classic day-in-the-life film of the Fab Four. Doesn't sound so exciting, but it still is, simply because it was groundbreaking at the time it was made. Plus, those guys still manage to rock (pop) out. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug 23 and 24, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Calavera Highway: This PBS P.O.V. preview is about two brothers who try to carry their mother's ashes to South Texas, piecing together their family history along the way, trying to sort out why their mom was forced out of the family and what might have happened to their father, who vanished in the notorious 1954 deportation program Operation Wetback. Screens at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 24, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Drugstore Cowboy: Matt Dillon may have been nominated for an Oscar for Crash, but he's never done better work than in Gus Van Sant's film about a small-time junkie forced into a life of crime to support his habit. It's tragic, it's hysterical, it's somewhat addictive and it's a classic. Screens at 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24, at Whistle Stop Bar in South Park. Free.
The Thin Blue Line: Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, are you listening? Lots of directors consider their films important, but Errol Morris' 1988 documentary is, literally, one of the most important documentaries of all time. Not only did it change the nature of what was acceptable in a doc—reenactments were pretty much verboten before this one—but it actually got a man off death row. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24, at Cafe Libertalia in Hillcrest. Free.
The Counterfeiters: Winner of this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, The Counterfeiters is about Operation Bernhardt, the Nazi attempt to counterfeit British and American currency in the waning days of World War II. It tells the story of Jewish master forger Sally Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), who heads up the detail of craftsmen whose lives are spared as long as they support the German war effort, knowing the entire time that if they do their job well, the war will continue on. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 25, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
The Mark of Zorro: The copyrights have expired on the 1920 Douglas Fairbanks classic, so p2p cinema, which gets its material from the Internets, is putting it on at 10 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 25, at the Tijuana Media Lab on Avenue B. Drinks, the other part of their mission, will be available. www.tijuanamedialab.org.
American Pie: Sure, when we think about this movie, the only thing that comes to mind is Jason Biggs fucking an apple pie. And something that happened one time at band camp. But there's actually something sweet and universal about the franchise's first (and only good) film. No, it's not the getting-laid part—it's the way all those guys are suffering through their last year of high school, terrified to leave their friends behind. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 27, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Transformers with Rifftrax: Got Shia? The folks at Stone have lined up all three Artists Formerly Known as Mystery Science Theater 3000 for this screening of last summer's monster Michael Bay explode-a-thon. That's awesome, because there wasn't really that much more than meets the eye to the movie. Kick back with eight beers and let Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett provide the running commentary. Screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 27, at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. Free.
Bottle Shock: A terrific premise that is sadly more schlock than shock. Bill Pullman is the winemaker who could, the man whose Chardonnay beat out the French in a blind 1976 tasting, putting Napa wines on the map. But the dialogue is trite, and his relationship to his slacker son, Chris Pine, just never feels real. It's like a bottle opened too soon. Alan Rickman is great, though, as the Englishman who puts the event together. Like a fine wine, Rickman just gets better with age.
Fly Me to the Moon: This is the first animated film made specifically in the new 3D, and word is that they got it right. Still, it's a cartoon about three young houseflies that stow away in the Apollo 11 moon flight. Take the kids, and then explain to them that it's Buzz Aldrin, and not Buzz Lightyear, voicing Buzz Aldrin.
Frozen River: It's about time Melissa Leo got a leading role. Best known as a cop on TV's Homicide and for being harassed by ex-beau John Heard, Leo dropped off the map for a while, but she returns in this intense little drama. She's a single mother who teams up with an Indian to smuggle immigrants on the reservation between the U.S. and Canada. The film earned Grand Jury Prize honors at Sundance.
Henry Poole is Here: Want to get away? Just ditch your girl and your career and buy a crappy house in the crappy suburban neighborhood you grew up in. That's what a depressed Luke Wilson does, and it works just fine, until his neighbors see Jesus in a water stain in his stucco.
Mirrors: Keifer Sutherland moves from his super secret agent on 24 to a mall cop, charged with making sure nothing goes down in an abandoned mall. Too bad it's haunted by scary mirrors.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2: Three years after their first film, the Sisterhood, including Amber Tamblyn and Ugly Betty's America Ferrera, is back, transitioning into a time when young women go through new changes in their lives. That's right, college. As in, keggers, sororities, the freshman 15. They stay connected via their amazing pair of magic pants, which—now that the girls are older—have college boys trying to figure out how to get inside them.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Force goes animated. The new film—really the pilot for an ongoing show on the Cartoon Network—doesn't capture the awesomeness of the 1977 original. But it's still better than the last three movies.
Tropic Thunder: Ben Stiller directed and stars in this monster comedy about a bunch of spoiled actors dropped into a real war zone. The thing is, they think it's a movie set, but the guerrillas they're up against are the real deal. Jack Black stars as the funnyman taking on a serious role, and Robert Downey Jr. is the award-winning actor who dyes his skin to play the part of the unit's black sergeant. Like most of Stiller's stuff, it's really dumb and kinda funny. Oh, and in this case, it's rated R, so it's also really violent.
Vicky Christina 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.
American Teen: Have you ever watched The Breakfast Club and cringed at its portrayal of high-school archetypes? Here's your chance to watch the lives of five very different Midwestern teenagers play out in real life. OK, it might not be entirely real; the film has been criticized as a large-scale facsimile of reality television. But it's presented with enough verve by director Nanette Burstein to keep viewers engaged, even if it seems like the filmmakers might be nudging these kids in a questionable direction.
Man on Wire: James Marsh directs this compelling documentary about Frenchman Philippe Petit, who illegally tightrope-walked between the World Trade Center towers in 1974. Man on Wire explores Petit's obsessive and meticulous plotting, and how he convinced a group of wild-eyed young adventurers to assist him. Drawing on gorgeous archival footage and charming the audience with vivid storytelling, it's an imaginative, entertaining riff on heist movies.
Pineapple Express: Seth Rogen and James Franco play buddies Dale and Saul, whose possession of some ultra-rare weed leads them into compromising situations with the police, thugs, drug dealers and a Chinese crime syndicate. Yeah, it's as dumb as it sounds. It's also hilarious and hugely entertaining, with a star-making performance by Danny McBride as Red. Keep an eye out for the absurd props, which provide some unexpected laughs.
Brideshead Revisited: The latest version of Evelyn Waugh's pre-WWII novel is brought to life by director Julian Jarrold and a cast of distinguished Brits, including Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon. If you like Atonement and Merchant Ivory productions, this should be right up your alley. The rest of us may be caught nodding off from time to time.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: It's hard to imagine there were fans begging for a second sequel in The Mummy franchise, but Brendan Fraser is back for this trilogy-capping finale, co-starring Maria Bello and Jet Li. Chances are Fraser will deliver a lot of dumb catchphrases, Bello will look hot and Li will, um, kick people in the face.
Step Brothers: An excuse for Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly to act like 14-year-old boys. Both are 40-year-olds who still live at home. When their parents get hitched, they suddenly find they have to get in each other's faces. Yes, it's scatological and raunchy—it's so over-the-top that Step Brothers benefits from its R-rating. Still, it feels like it's a movie for 15-year-old boys who will have to sneak in.
The Dark Knight: It's finally here, and yes, Christopher Nolan's new Batman movie is everything you hoped it would be. An epic two-and-a-half-hour crime drama that examines the complicated nature of good, evil and heroism and simply must be seen on an Imax screen to be believed. Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhard are all well-served by a tense, taut script, but it truly is Heath Ledger's movie, as he plays Batman's nemesis, The Joker, with a shambling malevolence that's terrifying and intense.
Mamma Mia!: The hit Broadway musical consisting of nothing but Abba tunes is turned into a big, fat Hollywood movie. But this one's got Meryl Streep as an overbearing mother. Her daughter Sophie is getting married, but she doesn't know who her dad is. So she invites all of mom's exes—Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård—to the wedding.
Space Chimps: Andy Samberg plays a chimp—not a stretch—who's the grandson of the original space-bound monkey. He and his cohorts end up on a strange planet that is, sadly, not the Planet of the Apes. But it is ruled by nasty overlord Jeff Daniels. Oh, yeah, it's animated. In case you weren't sure.
Tell No One: A French doctor, whose wife was murdered years ago, finds that the police have reopened the case and that he's a suspect once again. Worse, he gets an e-mail that links to a video clip that suggests that perhaps his wife is actually still alive.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army: Guillermo del Toro and his big-fisted, solid-rock superhero are back for a rematch with the supernatural. This is a good thing. We got the origin story out of the way in the first movie, so del Toro should be freewheeling and fancy-free when it comes to this story, which has something to do with Hellboy saving Earth from the demon hordes. There is no director working today with such command over visual imagery, and Ron Perlman makes for a great Hellboy.
Journey to the Center of the Earth: Kids won't have to be too tall to ride the undoubtedly forthcoming theme-park ride based upon this 3D re-envisioning of the Jules Verne classic, because it is decidedly PG. It's not bad, necessarily, just somewhat bland and inoffensive. Brendan Fraser is the laughingstock of the scientific community who takes his nephew and a hot Icelandic mountain guide down into, well, the center of the earth. Where there are T-Rexes and all sorts of other dangers, all of which conveniently throw themselves directly at the camera. The 3D effect is OK, but the movie's appeal is going to fall off dramatically on DVD.
Hancock: In Peter Berg's dark new picture, Will Smith is Hancock, something of a quintessential American superhero—powerful as a locomotive, generally drunk and surly, often doing far more harm than good in a world of good intentions. But things change when he saves the life of idealistic publicist Jason Bateman, because the new guy decides to remake Hancock's public image, and because his wife—Charlize Theron—is way hot.
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl: Abigail Breslin stars as a precocious young reporter. It's got a seriously high-profile supporting cast, but if you're the target demo, you shouldn't be reading CityBeat.
Wanted: The real star of this summer actioner isn't poor-loser-turned-assassin James McAvoy or seriously MILFy Angelina Jolie—it's Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, who goes to town with his massive Hollywood budget and his R-rating.
Wall*E: Our hopes are high for the cute li'l titular robot, whose trailers are enough to make us both laugh and cry. It's hundreds of years in the future, and Wall*E's been cleaning up our mess since we left. And along the way, he's gotten lonely. Sure, we already get the An Inconvenient Truth messaging, but Pixar has yet to do us wrong.
Mongol: It's like the early life and times of Genghis Khan. Nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar last year, this biopic is epic and bloody, as young Genghis is lowered to less than nothing. Of course, he then proceeds to kick everyone's ass until he unites the tribes, rules Mongolia and waits for Part 2 of the planned trilogy to be filmed.
Sex and the City: The Movie: The big-screen version of the hit HBO show. Insert your own “women go cuckoo for this” joke here.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: It's great to have Harrison Ford back in his trademark fedora, even if the convoluted script feels more like just another sequel than a reinvention. Still, Indy 4 is easy-going entertainment and will easily be one of the biggest box-office earners of the year.
Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man. Da na na na na Nah na na na na na Nah na na nah! Has he lost his mind? Da na na na na Nah na na na na na Nah na na nah!
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 and Mysteries of Egypt are some of the rotating films shown each Friday at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center's IMAX theater where, for only $7.50, you can catch four flicks. 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.