In 1976, Englishman Steven Spurrier left his Parisian wine shop for Napa County, where he picked up several bottles of wine from the fledgling California industry. He planned to put together a blind tasting, by French wine professionals, against the best their nation had to offer, but what he didn't count on was that the French would actually select a chardonnay from a small Napa vineyard over their own, thereby casting the spotlight on California wines that continues to shine today.
This is terrific fodder for a movie. Sadly, Randall Miller's new film, Bottle Shock, isn't. Instead, it's trite, saddled with a clunky script and painfully bad dialogue. Bill Pullman is Jim Barrett, the little winemaker who could, struggling to keep his tiny operation afloat and his wayward son Bo (Chris Pine) out of trouble. Bo is saddled with bad writing and a crappy wig and given a hot intern (Rachael Taylor), apparently only as a way to drive a wedge between Bo and his friend Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez, who always brings something to the tasting table). The project feels like a young wine that hasn't aged enough, which is a tragedy, considering how good the story really is. Still, Alan Rickman, as the Englishman who puts the competition on, is at his snooty best. Like a true fine wine, he just gets better with age.—Anders Wright
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.
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired: This is a not-to-be-missed doc about the legendary director, who has endured an extraordinary amount of hardship in his long life. Surviving the Holocaust only to have his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, murdered by Charles Manson's Family, and eventually going on the lam from U.S. authorities for having sex with a minor. And, of course, making all those brilliant movies along the way. A hit on the festival circuit, the movie's ending was changed after authorities featured in the film insisted they wouldn't go after him if he decided to return to America.
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. See our review on this page.
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.
Water Lillies: It's all about the many romantic misunderstandings that can occur—both hetero and same-sex—among members of an all-female synchronized swim team. No, no, this isn't Cinemax at night; it's French. And come on. Those bathing suits! Those muscles! Those accents! Who can blame them?
One time only
Chariots of Fire: You probably remember only two things about this film: the synth-driven theme song by Vangelis and the dudes running barefoot on the beach. What it's really about is two runners in post-World War I Britain who overcome various difficulties to race in the 1924 Olympic games. It's the Dive-In Theatre “Olympics Edition” and screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life: Probably the weakest of Monty Python's feature films, but, then again, average Python is better than most comedy troupes' best material. Made up of several vignettes each documenting an “answer” to one of life's perplexing questions, some of the shorts are gross, but almost all of them elicit a few laughs. You'll never have a “wafer-thin mint” after a large meal again. Screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13, at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido. Free.
Zorba the Greek: Remember how much wine Anthony Quinn drank as the crazy writer Zorba? That's what makes it perfect for this series of wine-and-film nights. Both red and white Mediterranean wines will be served by wine pro Barbara Baxter. Drink up—Zorba did. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 14, at Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla. $17 for non-members. Reserve a space: 858-454-5872.
The Parent Trap: Um, no, not the Lindsay Lohan version. This is the 1961 original starring Hayley Mills as both Sharon and Susan, twin girls who live with different parents. After meeting at summer camp, they switch places in the hopes of getting Mom (Maureen O'Hara) and Dad (Brian Keith) back together. Perfect stuff for Screen on the Green. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 14, in front of the Museum of Art in Balboa Park. Free.
Bell, Book and Candle: The same year they made Vertigo, James Stewart and Kim Novak teamed up for this rom-com that went on to spawn Bewitched. He's a busy publisher, and she's a witch who puts him under her spell. But will he still love her when that old black magic wears off? Includes a terrific little performance by a very young Jack Lemmon. Sure, it's slight, but also a lot of fun. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 14 and 15, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Over the Hedge: Was this the moment that animated films about animals truly jumped the shark? Bruce Willis voices a conniving raccoon who takes advantage of the simple forest folk to get his paws on a bunch of suburban food. There's some decent commentary about our desperate need to consume, but it ain't no Wall*E. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15, at the Market Street Plaza in Encanto. Free.
Sir! No Sir!: North County Democratic Unity presents this documentary, which focuses on the wartime efforts of soldiers and vets to bring the issues of the Vietnam conflict to the public, via mutinies, underground publications or even full-fledged protests back at home. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15, at the NCDU Office in Escondido. Free.
The Real Dirt on Farmer John: The first entry in the Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Co-op film series is this terrific doc about a freaky farmer who makes art, grows organic and, naturally, makes his neighbors suspicious 'cause he's a weirdo. Required viewing for organic artsy types. Screens at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16, at the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest. Free.
Sex, Lies and Videotape: Steven Soderbergh's little indie ushered in the American independent movement of the early- to mid-'90s with an incredibly strong Sundance showing. Andie MacDowell is a sexually repressed woman whose husband, Peter Gallagher, is getting some on the side with her sister, Laura San Giacomo. But something changes when hubby's strange friend, an awkward James Spader, comes by for a visit, armed with little more than his video camera. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 16 and 17, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Best Fest America: This is the 10th time the annual competition of student films has been held, and it's divided into seven different sessions, the first of which comprises the films made in the signature 48-Hour Madness event. There are more than 50 films on display, from as far away as Australia and as close as SDSU. It runs from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 16 and 17, at the Jewish Community Center in La Jolla. $10 per screening session, $60 for the whole enchilada, and half that for students or teachers.
Like Water for Chocolate: Instead of marrying Pedro, Tita (Lumi Cavazos) watches him marry her older sister while Tita stays home to take care of her mother and becomes an extraordinary chef. Gorgeous, epic love story that will make you hungry for more than food. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17, at Café Libertalia in Hillcrest.
The Wizard of Oz: We're off to see the Wizard. And the San Diego Symphony. It's two great tastes that taste great together, as the Symphony will actually accompany the film. The only thing better would be if they played Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. It happens at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17, at Embarcadero Park South. Tickets are $15 to $75.
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 muscled 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.
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.
Quentin Tarantino presents Hell Ride: Gnarly biker dudes Vinnie Jones, Michael Madsen and Dennis Hopper ride around, act tough and hurt each other. There's lots of naked chicks and debauchery, too, and Tarantino is on board as executive producer. That pretty much says it all.
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.
Swing Vote: Kevin Costner stars in this presidential-election comedy, playing a lazy, beer-drinking everyman who, through some no-doubt-plausible chain of events, becomes the one man whose vote will decide who becomes the next president of the United States. There's a whole mess of other household names, including Nathan Lane, Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper as the Democratic Party candidate.
Bustin' Down the Door: Surfing doc about the summer of 1975, when a crew of shredders from South Africa and Australia descended on Hawaii, changing the sport forever.
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 X-Files: I Want to Believe: Is the truth still out there? It's been more than half-a-decade since Mulder and Scully went on the run and The X-Files went off the air. The new movie, directed by series creator Chris Carter, revisits the iconic characters, giving them another case that'll test their mettle and, perhaps, their faith.
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.
The Wackness: Terrific coming-of-age story about a young pot dealer in NYC in 1994 trying to get to college, listen to phat beats and get with his shrink's stepdaughter (played by Juno's BFF, Olivia Thirlby). Oh yeah, and the shrink is the pot-smoking, pill-popping Ben Kingsley, going through a midlife crisis and delivering a performance that's equal parts tragic and hilarious. Don't miss his make-out scene with Mary-Kate Olsen.
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.
Get Smart: Do 20-something hipsters today even know what Get Smart is? OK, primer time: This is a film based upon a Mel Brooks-created spy-spoof show that ran for five years, starting in 1965, starring the very funny Don Adams. Someone, somewhere, decided that a remake would make a good vehicle for Steve Carell.
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.