By the time he died, Orson Welles had been reduced to a corpulent corporate shill for cheap wine. But he was easily one of the most important creative artists of the last century, a massive personality who dominated the stage, the airwaves and the screen. He himself has been portrayed by plenty of other actors, including Vincent D'Onfrio (Ed Wood) and Liev Schreiber (RKO 281). British actor Christian McKay takes him on in Richard Linklater's new film, Me and Orson Welles, and comes up with the best version of Welles to date, as well as one of the best supporting performances of the year.
The film centers on Richard Samuels, played by Zac Efron, clearly dying to break out of the High School Musical mold. He's cast in a small but crucial role in the 1937 Mercury Theater production of Julius Caesar, which Welles both directed and starred in, and has to go head-to-head with the dominating personality on a regular basis, eventually competing with him for the affection of Sonja (Claire Danes), another up-and-comer who specializes in being in the right place at the right time.
Efron's perfectly fine in the role, and Linklater nicely captures the feel of New York in the 1930s, even if some of the period dialogue feels heavy-handed. Still, the movie absolutely cooks whenever McKay's in it. The guy captures both the bluster and the talent of Welles without ever going too far. It ends up being a nice ensemble piece, but McKay's performance is just so interesting that the film flags when he's not on screen.
Me and Orson Welles is nice enough, but Orson Welles by itself would have been terrific.
Collapse: Of all the depressing movies this holiday season, this might be the heaviest. The feature-length interview with Michael Ruppert, a former cop turned investigative reporter, is tough to take, but his worldview is fascinating. If you don't think he's a crackpot, start stocking up on gold and seeds.
Dave Matthews in 3D: Larger Than Life: In 3D theaters, these guys will almost “Crash” into you. Ha ha.
Invictus: You might think Morgan Freeman would be the perfect guy to play Nelson Mandela in a film directed by Clint Eastwood about how the South African rugby team, led by Matt Damon, united the country shortly after the end of Apartheid. You'd be wrong.
The Princess and the Frog: Two notable facts here: 1) Disney has returned to 2-D animation and 2) the new film, set in jazz-era New Orleans, features an African-American heroine. Both are admirable, but the new movie doesn't live up to the Golden Age of Disney films.
Serious Moonlight: When Meg Ryan learns hubby Timothy Hutton is stepping out on her, she duct-tapes him to the toilet. Directed by Cheryl Hines of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Up in the Air: George Clooney is at his charmiest (charm + smarmy) as Ryan Bingham, flown in to fire employees at companies he has nothing to do with and aspiring to little more than more frequent flier miles. He's a lock for a Best Actor nomination.
One time only
Tokyo Sonata: The San Diego Asian Film Festival presents this look at a Japanese family that slowly implodes after the father loses his job and his pride won't allow him to tell his wife and kids. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9, at UltraStar Hazard Center.
Best in Show: Though not quite as fresh as Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show might be the funniest thing Fred Willard's ever done. Woof. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
The Law of Human Gravity: Local filmmaker Dave Sims presents his feature to the public for the first time. It's a dramedy about a former WWII fighter pilot who never met a POW camp that could hold him. But he can't escape from the nursing home he's currently in. Screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9, at Whistle Stop Bar in South Park. Free.
Line Shot: Artist Matthew Richie's new animated feature is described as “Fantasia for physicists.” For details, see Page 11. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla location.
Quicksilver: Kevin Bacon, complete with feathered hair, is a finance whiz reduced to working as a bike messenger in San Francisco. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10, at the Ken Club in Kensington. Save a buck on admission by riding your bike.
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, they're belting out songs from The Clash and Ramones. Screens at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Navidad, S.A.: The North Pole is melting away, and Santa's got to find a way to show kids the true meaning of Christmas. Presented by the San Diego Latino Film Festival, there's a slim chance this'll stop your kids from begging for that iPod Touch. Screets at 3 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 12, at AMC Palm Promenade. Free.
Casi Divas: Musical comedy from Mexico about four women setting out to become big stars. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Deliver Us From Evil: Just in time for Christmas, catch this documentary about a priest whom the Catholic Church continually moved around to cover up his habit of molesting children. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15, at Lestat's West in Normal Heights. Free.
Xanadu: Olivia Newton John is a Greek goddess who helps a dreamer create the first roller disco. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16, at the Birch North Park Theatre.
Rifftrax LIVE: Christmas Shorts-stravaganza: The Artists Formerly Known as Mystery Science Theater 3000 team up with Weird Al Yankovic to offer running commentary on already-weird Christmas shorts. Visit www.rifftrax.com if you want to see the live show or www.ncm.com for big-screen details. In any case, it happens Wednesday, Dec. 16. For more on RiffTrax, see our feature story.
Scrooged: Before he got all serious, Bill Murray made his own version of A Christmas Carol. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Armored: Laurence Fishburne, Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, and their buddies pull an inside job at an armored car company.
Brothers: When Marine and solid family man Tobey Maguire is presumed dead in Afghanistan, his black-sheep brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps in to look after his wife (Natalie Portman) and kids. That can't end well.
Everybody's Fine: If Bob Dylan can make a Christmas album, Robert De Niro can make a Christmas movie.
Oh My God?: Documentary examines the existence of an omnipotent, omnipresent being by interviewing celebrities.
The Strip: When one of their numbers gets married, the low-level employees of a low-end electronics store have to decide whether to stay young and fun or actually grow up.
Transylmania: Finally, a raunchy vampire comedy with boobies.
Fantastic Mr. Fox: Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic story, which features stop-motion animation and performances from George Clooney and Meryl Streep, really is fantastic.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: Werner Herzog has been making weird and wonderful movies for more than three decades. This revamp of Abel Ferrera's definitive film, starring Nicolas Cage as a drug-addled workaholic New Orleans cop, is no different.
Ninja Assassin: The team that created V for Vendetta eschews a real plot for serious slicing-and-dicing.
Old Dogs: Robin Williams and John Travolta really haven't learned any new tricks.
Red Cliff: John Woo's epic look at Chinese history has been trimmed considerably for international audiences.
The Road: The last time someone made one of Cormac McCarthy's books into a movie, No Country for Old Men won the Best Picture. And this one, about a man and his son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic U.S., won the Pulitzer.
The Blind Side: The book this is based upon is about the economics of football and an enormous, poverty-stricken young black man—adopted by a white family—who has the potential to be a highly paid professional athlete. So, of course, they turned it into a Sandra Bullock movie.
The Messenger: Ben Foster shines as a young veteran assigned to the casualty-notification department after his return from Iraq. The scenes in which he and Woody Harrelson deliver the bad news are devastating.
Planet 51: Animated flick about invading aliens. The catch is that the aliens are us, in the form of Dwayne Johnson.
Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire: Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry helped produce this film about an obese Harlem teen in the 1980s, which is being talked up as a Best Picture possibility.
Twilight: New Moon: Either you dismiss the Twilight franchise as being for tweens and their moms or you've been drinking the blood-red Kool-aid.
2012: The guys who blew up the world in Independence Day take us down again.
Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day: The sequel to the cult classic. This time, with more guys getting shot!
Pirate Radio: Even with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, this look at DJs spinning tunes from a ship off the English coast during the '60s is all soft rock.
Disney's A Christmas Carol: Robert Zemeckis gives Dickens' classic the animated, 3-D treatment and hands the lead role to Jim Carrey.
The Men Who Stare at Goats: Even though it's got all the right ingredients, like George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey, this dark comedy about secret psychic warfare loses track of itself (which means it's not psychic, right?).
An Education: Nick Hornby of High Fidelity fame wrote the script and does a 180 by writing about a girl who desperately wants to grow up and thinks she may have found a shortcut in a good-looking charmer twice her age.
A Serious Man: The Coen brothers offer up an examination of faith that moves in mysterious ways.
Couples Retreat: Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell make a dumb romantic comedy.
Paranormal Activity: The buzziest horror film of late, touted as the next Blair Witch Project, was shot in San Diego on a shoestring budget by a first-time director.
Zombieland: Woody Harrelson. Zombies. Rated R. 'Nuff said.
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center Space Theater: After undergoing significant renovations, the Fleet is re-opening its dome Imax theater, complete with a kick-ass new screen. Films vary week-to-week. Showtimes and prices can be found at www.rhfleet.org.
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.