If they weren't baked, potheads across the country would think New Line, the studio behind Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, had missed a golden opportunity. Why? The movie comes out on April 25, but 4/20 would definitely have been the right day to open the first chronic-centric movie of the season, which might be dubbed the Summer of Smoke. Don't get the reference? Renew your High Times subscription.
H&K Escape picks up where the 2004 original, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, left off, with our heroes trying to get to Amsterdam to do some serious smoking. But a little ganja and a lot of racial profiling quickly land them at Gitmo with a special agent (Rob Corddry) doing his very best to keep them there. Look, it probably won't be as fresh as the original, but it's worth remembering that the first one was just good, clean stoner comedy that rocked because it operated on the premise that no matter your ethnicity, age or level of self-esteem, as the Dylan song goes, everybody must get stoned. And yes, Neil Patrick Harris reprises his role as himself.
Later in the summer, Sundance favorite The Wackness will feature Sir Ben Kingsley, who earned the Best Actor Oscar for Gandhi, taking some serious bong hits, and in August, Seth Rogen and James Franco will play a pothead and his dealer, respectively, in Pineapple Express. They're on the lam from corrupt cops and hitmen, rolling fatties every step of the way.—Anders Wright
Baby Mama: Making the jump from writer to SNL cast member to 30 Rock star to the big screen, Tina Fey is Kate, a single executive who hires low-class Amy Poehler to be a surrogate mother. The movie is terribly obvious but has its moments. Fey is the lead, but Poehler steals much of the show. Sigourney Weaver has some nice moments as the head of the surrogate agency, and Dax Shepard is hilarious as Poehler's dumb-ass common-law husband. Oh, and look for Steve Martin's extended cameo. The problem is, for a movie that's about women and babies, none of the women are particularly smart; each makes one bad decision after another, unable to see the forest for the babies.
Body of War: Tomas Young signs up for the Army on Sept. 13, 2001, is later shot and paralyzed after spending less than a week in Iraq and then becomes an anti-war advocate. This documentary puts a face on the human cost of war. Eddie Vedder contributed a pair of original songs for the film, and Ellen Spiro, who co-directed the film with Phil Donahue, will be on hand on Saturday, April 26, for the screenings at the Ken Cinema.
Deception: Mild-mannered accountant Ewan McGregor is introduced to a sexy, sexy sex club by asshole lawyer Hugh Jackman. Everything's awesome—until he's framed for murder and larceny. That's some serious coitus interruptus.
The Life Before Her Eyes: Fifteen years ago, Diana (Uma Thurman) survived a brutal school shooting. Now her perfect suburban life is unraveling as the event's anniversary approaches and she finds herself remembering what went down that day. Evan Rachel Wood plays Diana in flashbacks.
The Visitor: Tom McCarthy follows up his debut, The Station Agent, with this subtle look at immigration. Veteran character actor Richard Jenkins (the dead dad on Six Feet Under) is a burnt-out professor adrift in his life. Things change when he befriends a pair of illegal immigrants in New York, and when one of them is arrested and detained, he finally finds something to inspire him. This is another sweet, subtle film from McCarthy, who makes his points through people instead of politics. See our review on Page 42.
One time only
UCSD EarthWeek VidFest: Eleven short planet-friendly videos were created for UCSD's planet-friendly week, all aimed at raising awareness of the environment and sustainability. It doesn't hurt that the filmmakers are competing for more than $3,000 in cash prizes, so they're extra motivated to save the planet. The films roll at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, at the Price Center Theater on the UCSD campus. Free.
Amelie: Easily one of the most fun and inventive films of the last decade, Amelie introduced the world to Audrey Tatou, who plays an innocent young thing in Paris who sets out to make other people's lives, for the most part, better. It's whimsical and beautiful, with an amazing soundtrack and a visual style all its own. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who previously made Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, went in a completely new direction and made it work. If you or your sweetie has never seen Amelie, well, this is the date movie you've been missing. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Strange Culture: Thomas Jay Ryan of Henry Fool fame represents artist and professor Steve Kurtz, whose work, which involves live cultures, has earned him the attention of the FBI, which suspects him of being a homegrown bio-terrorist. The case is tragic—in 2004, Kurtz called 911 to report the death of his wife. When authorities found Petri dishes and biological equipment, he was arrested. Director Lynn Hershman-Leeson has created a unique sort of documentary, with reenactments by actors and interviews with the very real people they portray. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 24, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
Hula Girls: When a coalmine is closed in Japan in 1965, a small town loses its sole source of revenue and scrambles to stay afloat. After the establishment of a Hawaiian Center, aimed at luring tourists to a decidedly non-Hawaiian climate, several young girls take hula lessons and begin performing in the community, drumming up support for the center and giving the residents of their town something to believe in. Screens at 1 p.m. Friday, April 25, in Room 204 on the MiraCosta College's San Elijo campus, and at 7 p.m. in the Little Theatre on the college's Oceanside campus. Free.
Julie Johnson: Lili Taylor is the title character, a terribly smart but very unhappy housewife, mother and high-school dropout who wants more from her life. After years of her husband holding her back, she gives him the boot and embraces herself by starting up a relationship with her best friend, played by Courtney Love. But two women raising a family in a suburban town doesn't sit so well with the neighbors. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, April 25, at the Center in Hillcrest. Free.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Terry Gilliam directed this twisted take on Hunter S. Thompson's seminal piece of gonzo journalism. Johnny Depp is appropriately freaked out on a serious pharmaceutical cocktail as he drives to Vegas, with his borderline sociopath lawyer (Benecio del Toro) in tow, in an ill-fated attempt to cover a sporting event. You'll never look at drugs quite the same way again. Screens at midnight Friday and Saturday, April 25 and 26, at Landmark's La Jolla Village Cinemas.
Fallbrook Film Festival: The first film fest in Fallbrook includes dozens of movies shown over three days in three venues. A number of workshops will also be held for aspiring filmmakers, as well as several gala parties and a closing-night awards ceremony. Anchorman director Adam McKay will be on hand for a lifetime achievement award, and one highlight has got to be The Flyboys, a $2 million picture that stars serious washouts Stephen Baldwin and Tom Sizemore. The whole thing kicks off Friday, April 25, and runs through Sunday, April 27. Single screenings are $10, and various pass options are available. A complete lineup, along with showtimes and tickets, can be found at www.fallbrookfilmfestival.com.
Lars and the Real Girl: The residents of the small town in which poor, repressed Lars lives become somewhat sappy after he buys Bianca, a RealDoll, and begins introducing her as his girlfriend. But Ryan Gosling is so good and tragic and likeable as Lars that you might find it in your heart to forgive them. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 28, at the Downtown Central Library. Free.
Anyone and Everyone: Director Susan Polis Schutz interviews parents from different ethnic backgrounds and religious faiths, all of whom have a gay child. Each parent discusses what it was like when their kid came out and how their environments impacted the way they were able to come to terms with their child's sexuality. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, at the SDSU Scripps Cottage northwest of the SDSU Library. Free.
Made in L.A.: UCSD continues its month-long celebration of César Chávez with this documentary, which follows the low-income garment workers who spent three years organizing workers in hopes of earning basic labor rights. One of the activists, Joann Lo, will lead a post-screening discussion. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, in Room 105 in Center Hall on the UCSD campus. Free.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Ang Lee's martial-arts madness earned Best Picture and Best Director Oscar nominations, eventually winning Best Foreign Language Film honors and three others back in 2000. Crouching Tiger came out of nowhere to astonish American audiences with its high-flying acrobatics, gorgeous landscapes and epic drama. And it stars the always-awesome Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 30, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed: Ben Stein—former Nixon speechwriter and game show host and the “Anyone? Anyone?” teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off—stars in this anti-science treatise in favor of Intelligent Design. Stein, also a former law professor, is a very intelligent guy, but he's also the embodiment of the differences between intelligence and smarts.
Zombie Strippers: Truth in advertising. Horror legend Robert Englund owns the strip club where porn queen Jenna Jameson plays the first of several zombie strippers whose lap dances absolutely kill their customers. Literally. But what's funky about Zombie Strippers isn't so much the undead naked pole dances; it's the political satire, the fact that it's based on the classic Ionesco play The Rhinoceros and that it's peppered with Nietzsche. This thing is actually kind of brainy. Of course, many of those brains are smeared across the stage the girls dance on.
88 Minutes: Al Pacino is a professor who spends his off-hours working as a forensic shrink for the FBI, until the day he gets a phone call telling him he has just 88 minutes to live. So he spends his last hour-and-a-half trying to sort out which of his enemies is to blame.
The First Saturday in May: This doc includes pre-fame footage of the horse Barbaro as it tracks a half-dozen horses on their way to the 2006 Kentucky Derby, offering up insight into the racing community previously only seen by horse people. Question—is it still too soon to make Barbaro jokes?
Forbidden Kingdom: An American kid who is, like, seriously into kung fu finds himself transported back to ancient China, where he hooks up with a group of warriors to free the jailed Monkey King. Those monkeys. Always making trouble. Instead of going down as the first film to really tie together the problems with monkey rule, Forbidden Kingdom will be remembered as the first (and perhaps only) collaboration between Jet Li and Jackie Chan.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall: Jason Segel of Freaks and Geeks and How I Met Your Mother wrote and stars in this sweet rom-com, playing Peter, a composer dumped by his TV-star girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). When he heads to Hawaii to clear his head, he finds he's staying at the same resort as her and her hunky new rock-star boyfriend. Both heartfelt and raunchy, Sarah Marshall has plenty of full-frontal nude scenes—and all of them are of Segel.
My Blueberry Nights: Yes, it's Norah Jones' big-screen debut, but My Blueberry Nights also marks the Chinese auteur Wong Kar-Wai's first English-language film. Jones is a New York girl who goes on an Americana road trip to mend her broken heart, staying in touch with café owner Jude Law (at his Jude Lawiest) via postcards. Along the way she runs into the likes of unhappy cop David Strathairn (who delivers another terrific performance) and skimpily clad gambler Natalie Portman. Like all Kar-Wai's films, it's gorgeous to look at, even if the storyline is a little thin.
Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?: The title is a question no one seems to be asking. Except for Morgan Spurlock, that is. The Super Size Me guy is doing W.'s work for him, heading to the Middle East in search of the 9/11 mastermind. By simply asking around after Osama, Spurlock finds more than perhaps he should, casting light and explaining the hatred many folks in that part of the world feel about the United States.
Young@Heart: The average age of the Young at Heart Chorus is 80, which means some of them are old enough to have told kids to stop playing the devil's music when rock 'n' roll was young. Still, that doesn't stop this crew of senior citizens from performing tunes by the likes of The Clash, James Brown, Coldplay and The Ramones. File this one under “Uplifting” or “Rock 'n' Roll Ain't Noise Pollution.”
Priceless (Hors de Prix): Jean (Gad Elmaleh), a young bartender, is mistaken for a rich dude by gorgeous, web-spinning succubus Irene (Audrey Tatou), who seduces him, only to find that he really just pulls drinks. So she ditches him—but he won't ditch her. Suddenly, the hunter is the hunted, and everywhere Irene turns, there's Jean trying to win her heart. The question is, will his love be enough to win over a woman who is interested only in money? We're not telling, but we definitely ™ Audrey Tatou.
Prom Night: Poor Brittany Snow. An insane sadistic killer from her past is slaughtering her friends and, like, totally ruining prom.
Smart People: There's a fine line between intelligent and smart in this Sundance fave. Dennis Quaid is a brilliant asshole of a college professor, Ellen Page (in her first big post-Juno role) is his straight-laced, type-A daughter and Thomas Haden Church is the black-sheep adopted brother who chauffeurs Quaid after the latter loses his license. Sarah Jessica Parker, a onetime student of Quaid's, plays the ER doctor who treats the professor, both on and off the job, after an accident. Both dad and daughter are so intelligent they're insufferable, and while Haden Church may not be a scholar, he's smarter than everyone else when it comes to how people tick.
Street Kings: Plotted by L.A. crime-fiction king James Ellroy, Street Kings is another intricately drawn portrayal of crooked cops and dirty deeds, set in present day with Keanu Reeves as tortured detective Tom Ludlow. The movie is smart and cynical, but unlike its natural predecessors—L.A. Confidential (based on Ellroy's novel) and Training Day (written by director David Ayer), Kings isn't blessed with a star who has the chops to pull it all off.
Caramel: This sweet and subtle Lebanese chick flick examines five women whose lives revolve around a beauty parlor in Beirut. It's a window into life in the Middle East—one woman is forced to show proof of marriage to get a hotel room; another is hassled by an overzealous soldier for sitting in a car with her fiancé. These women aren't worried about bombs or guns; they're worried about the same basic issues women across the globe are concerned with: love, happiness, respect. It's a refreshing change of pace that shows that, deep down, we're not really all that different.
Leatherheads: George Clooney stars in and directs this romantic comedy set in the early days of football, playing Dodge Connelley, who's determined to bring the game into the mainstream. John Krasinski (The Office) is an Ivy League war hero who brings new tactics to the game, rivaling Clooney's authority and battling him for the affections of sports reporter Renee Zellweger. Think Bull Durham, with pigskin.
Nim's Island: This adaptation of Wendy Orr's novel finds Abigail Breslin as Nim, a young girl who imagines the island she lives on is magical, based on the fictional adventurer Alex Rover in her favorite books. But when her dad goes missing, Nim teams up with Alex Rover's author (Jodie Foster) to track him down. Gerard “This. Is. Sparta!” Butler plays Nim's dad and Alex Rover.
The Ruins: A terrific argument against sightseeing. Four young, hot American tourists in Mexico hook up with a morose German who takes them on an expedition to an ancient Mayan temple. Bummer for them, since there's an ancient evil beastie thing hiding out there, and it loves nothing more than feasting on young, hot American tourists. Guess they should have stayed at the hotel bar. Jena Malone is in on the creepiness.
Shine a Light: Martin Scorsese directed this Rolling Stones concert film, shot in two nights at New York's venerable, 2,800-seat Beacon Theatre in 2006. Jack White, Christina Aguilera and Buddy Guy all came out to play with them, and the Clintons were in the audience. Man, that must've been a tough ticket.
Stop Loss: Kimberly Peirce's first film since Boys Don't Cry examines the human effects of the U.S. military's policy of unilaterally extending the contracts of servicemembers. Ryan Phillippe is Brandon King, a decorated sergeant who lost men toward the end of his Iraq tour. So just imagine his surprise when Uncle Sam tells him he has to go back. Instead, he hits the road—with Abbie Cornish, the girlfriend of his best buddy, Tatum Channing. Though flawed, Stop Loss takes on an important topic and manages to be a war film without being an Iraq War film.
21: Utterly formulaic adaptation of Ben Mezrich's great little airport read, Bringing Down the House, about the MIT card-counting team that took its act to the Vegas blackjack tables and made a ton of money.
Superhero Movie: Finally, someone in Hollywood has the stones to stand up to the comic-book geeks and make a parody of the superhero movies. Men wear tights. Leslie Nielsen cameos. Hilarity ensues. Maybe.
Under the Same Moon: Following the death of his grandmother, 9-year-old Carlos works his way across the border and heads for L.A. to find his mother, armed only with the description of the street corner she has called him from for the last four years.
Drillbit Taylor: The latest entry into the Jud Apatow family of comedies finds three high-school freshmen advertising for a mercenary to defend them against a bully. These boys need someone strong, crafty and wise. Instead, they get Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson), a soldier of fortune (of sorts) who has hit the skids.
Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!: You probably wouldn't attend without a kid in tow, but if you have a carpet monkey you have to take, you'll have a decent time. Gorgeous animation keeps things Seussical, and the celeb voices—Jim Carrey and Steve Carell, mainly—don't overshadow the premise. Plus, the movie's message of tolerance and anti-conformity is a decent one for kids of all ages.
Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk: Robert Redford narrates this new Imax journey, following environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr. as he rafts his way through the Grand Canyon, on the Colorado River, along with anthropologist Wade Davis, as the two document new efforts to conserve water and restore the river. Music is provided by the Dave Matthews Band. Grand Canyon Adventure plays only at the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Never Back Down: Take the new-kid-in-school side of The Karate Kid, add it to the underground thrashings of Fight Club, multiply it by the Ultimate Fighting Championship's Octagon and divide it all by The O.C. That's Never Back Down.
10,000 B.C.: Roland Emmerich's first film since The Day After Tomorrow could be subtitled “The Day Before Yesterday.” It follows a young mammoth hunter who takes on sabertooth tigers and a nasty dominant civilization. The effects look terrific, and everyone speaks English, which totally comes in handy when it comes to those unfortunate time-machine accidents.
The Bank Job: Jason Statham and his buddies are amateur crooks who hit the big time in this gritty, '70s-style flick that also stars Saffron Burrows as the hottie who cons Statham and Co. into pulling a bank heist. But it's only after they've got the loot that they find themselves in serious danger, as vengeful politicians, angry pornographers, crooked cops, pissed-off black militants and even MI-5 want to get their hands on what the robbers got away with. Very loosely based on the then-infamous “Walkie-Talkie Robbery,” The Bank Job is a slow boil with more class than most of Statham's recent action-thrillers.
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.
The Other Boleyn Girl: So, you're Henry VIII and you look just like Eric Bana. Nice. You can have your pick of the English birds, but you're drawn to the Boleyn sisters, who look remarkably like Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. Now, this isn't historically accurate in any way, shape or form, but it seems like a win-win for Henry, even if he eventually beheads the sister he ends up with.
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.
In Bruges: Noted playwright Martin McDonagh's dark comedy finds Colin Farrell as a killer with a conscience—a return to the charismatic, small-film style of acting that got him all those big crappy movies. Brendan Gleeson is, as always, great as his mentor, and Ralph Fiennes swears a whole hell of a lot.
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.
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, Grand Canyon Adventure 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.