Film, Times & Events: Week of June 20

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THE BLING RING A quartet of celebrity-obsessed teens in Beverly Hills get their kicks robbing the rich and famous in this edgy drama from writer-director Sofia Coppola. Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Taissa Farmiga and Emma Watson star. Based on a true story, as profiled in a Vanity Fair magazine article.(R) 90 minutes. Starts Friday.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY This prequel to mega-hit Monsters Inc. envisions the early days of Mike and Sulley—before they became best buds—when both were hopeful undergrads in training for the coveted career of Scarer at Monsters U. Billy Crystal and John Goodman return to lead the voice cast that also includes Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, and Sean Hayes. Dan Scanlon directs.(G) Starts Friday.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Who else but Joss Whedon could pull this off? A contemporary romantic comedy full of wit and wordplay that transfers the famed William Shakespeare play to modern-day LA—and is shot in black-and-white? Whedon stock company stalwarts Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, and Fran Kranz head the cast. (PG-13) 107 minutes. Starts Friday.

WORLD WAR Z Brad Pitt really wants you to see this movie. He kept popping up, unannounced, at preview screenings across the country last week to get audiences properly revved up about this action thriller in which he stars as a former UN investigator who finds himself thrust onto the front lines of the global zombie apocalypse. Based on the Max Brooks novel. Mirielle Enos and Jamed Badge Dale co-star. Marc Forster directs. (PG-13) Starts Friday.

Film Events

SPECIAL EVENT THIS WEEK: NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE It’s a new season for Britain’s acclaimed National Theatre of London, broadcasting highlights from its Spring 2013 Season digitally, in HD, to movie theaters worldwide. Live performances will be broadcast one Thursday evening a month, in the Grand Auditorium of the Del Mar, with encore performances the following Sunday morning. This week: THE AUDIENCE Helen Mirren reprises her Oscar-winning role as Queen Elizabeth II onstage, in something completely different. This new play by Peter Morgan (who also wrote Mirren’s film, The Queen) centers on the private audience Elizabeth has had with her current Prime Minister every week during the 60 years of her reign. From Churchill to Thatcher, from Blair to Cameron, the heavy hitters of modern British history parade in and out of Buckingham Palace for their private weekly interview with Her ever-inscrutable Majesty. Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot; The Hours) directs. Broadcast from London’s Gielgud Theatre as part of the National Theatre Live program. At the Del Mar, Final Encore performance Thursday (June 20), 7:30 p.m. Admission: $15. Seniors, students, and Shakespeare Santa Cruz subscribers: $13.

CONTINUING SERIES: FLASHBACK FEATURES Oldies and goodies on Thursday nights at the Cinema 9, presented by your genial host, Joe Ferrara. $5 gets you in. This week: THE THING John Carpenter’s gory 1982 shocker about an Antarctica research team trying to destroy the shape-shifting alien in its midst isn’t as scary as the 1951 Howard Hawks classic (loosely based on the same pulp story). But effective ensemble acting and deadpan humor keep it going. Carpenter’s clever homages to Hawks define this as a canny continuation of the original, not its rival. (R) 109 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen. Tonight only (Thursday, June 20), 9 p.m., at the Cinema 9.

CONTINUING EVENT: LET’S TALK ABOUT THE MOVIES This informal movie discussion group meets at the Del Mar mezzanine in downtown Santa Cruz. Movie junkies are invited to join in on Wednesday nights to pursue the elusive and ineffable meanings of cinema. Discussion begins at 7 pm and admission is free. For more information visit

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Now Playing

AFTER EARTH A thousand years after cataclysmic upheaval has forced human life to abandon the planet for a distant star, a decorated general and his untested teenage son (Will Smith and Jaden Smith) crash-land on Earth. It’s up to the boy to outwit bizarre mutant animals and an alien menace to try to save his injured father and get them home again. M. Night Shyamalan directs. (PG-13) 100 minutes.

BEFORE MIDNIGHT Brilliant from beginning to end, Before Midnight finds Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who also cowrote the script, reprising their roles as Jesse and Celine, whom audiences met in Before Sunrise some 20 years ago. Before Sunrise was a rare theatrical gem in that allowed its conversations and scenes to linger. You didn’t feel as if you were watching a film; more like dropping in on some engaging converstaions these two were having as the two strangers explored Paris together for a bit. The film won raves—and became a cult hit. Hawke and Delpy were reunited in Before Sunset and in this outing they have, at last, become a bona fide couple facing the real-life ups and downs of being in a relationship. This time around, we’re given a day in Greece, where Jesse and Celine have been vacationing—they have twin daughters and Jesse has a son from his previous marriage. Also new, are several other characters and/or couples vacationing in an artists/writers retreat. The script is sublime; the characters fully formed. If only more films boasted dialogue this realistic. But alas, it may frighten people off. Movies are for escape, right? Still, director Richard Linklater surpasses expectations in this postmodern romance and delivers an exquisite experience to round out the trilogy. Here’s hoping the film is remembered around Oscar season. (R) 108 minutes. (★★★★)—Greg Archer

THE EAST Brit Marling (Another Earth) stars as a private intelligence agent who goes undercover inside an activist group working to expose corporations involved in covert criminal activity. But under the influence of activist leader Alexander Skarsgard, she starts to question her own moral choices. Ellen Page, Shiloh Fernandez, and Patricia Clarkson co-star for director Zal Batmanglij (whose last collaboration with Marling was Sound of My Voice). (PG-13) 116 minutes.

EPIC Chris Wedge (one half of the brain trust on the Ice Age franchise) directs this animated family adventure about a teenage girl (voice of Amanda Seyfried) transported into a magical forest realm where she leads a battle of the meek and good against the forces of Evil. Josh Hutcherson, Beyonce Knowles, Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Chris O’Dowd and Steven Tyler contribute voices. (PG) 102 minutes.

FRANCES HA Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) directs this wonderful cinematic love letter to his partner and muse, Greta Gerwig, who also stars in this postmodern comedy. Like a feather floating from one thing to the next, Frances can’t seem to find a place to land. She’s an Ivy League grad but her ambitions to morph into a dancer are still vague. Mickey Sumner (daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler) plays her best girlfriend but things change when a relationship enters the picture. Co-scripted by Baumbach and Gerwig and shot in stylish black-and-white, the film offers a charming and comical look at that in between place we sometimes find ourselves in life—neither here nor there yet distinctly aware of our cravings to feel both free and anchored to something at the same time. This film is beautfully shot, wonderfully written and superbly executed. (Not rated) 86 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer

THE INTERNSHIP Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn team up in this comedy about a couple of mid-life salesmen trying to jump-start new careers in the intern program at Google, where they face tough competition from a crop of bright young nerd-geniuses. Rose Byrne and John Goodman co-star for director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum; Date Night). (PG-13) 119 minutes.

IRON MAN 3 The secret weapon in this franchise has always been Robert Downey Jr., whose ironic, deadpan aplomb in the face of utter chaos has fueled more memorable series moments than an entire army of jet-propelled suits. What makes this installment such an entertaining load of hooey is incoming director Shane Black giving Downey plenty of room to deliver his special brand of crisp, pungent commentary. Sure, it’s too long, and too full of random stuff blowing up, but Black keeps the focus on the character of Tony Stark, creating ample opportunity for Downey to rise to the occasion as Stark loses his invincibility and has to literally pick himself up and rebuild his equipment and his psyche from scratch. (PG-13) 130 minutes. (★★★) —Lisa Jensen.

KON-TIKI Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s epic 4,300-mile journey across the Pacific in a balsa wood raft in 1947 is the subject of this new fiction film from Norse directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg. The story concerns Heyerdahl’s Herculean efforts to secure funding and a fearless crew to prove his theory that prehistoric South Americans could have colonized Polynesia, along with the incredible journey itself. (PG-13) 118 minutes.

MUD Jeff Nicholls’ hypnotic tall tale simmers with danger, disillusion, humor, and heart, and Matthew McConaughey’s star performance radiates all of the above. Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland are astonishingly good as two 14-year-old boys growing up on the banks of the Mississippi in rural Arkansas who get involved in the crazed romantic schemes of a disheveled desperado called Mud. Filmmaker Nicholls infuses the movie with a shrewd sense of place, and McConaughey’s Mud maintains the tension between dangerous and fascinating, while also making the character convincingly lovelorn and vulnerable. It’s a lovely piece of work, in an entertaining yarn of fathers, sons, and surrogates. PG-13. 130 minutes. (★★★1/2) —Lisa Jensen.

MAN OF STEEL Reviewed this issue. (PG-13) 143 minutes. (★★1/2) —Lisa Jensen.

NOW YOU SEE ME Fun, playful and clever, this engaging little romp never takes itself too seriously—and you shouldn’t take it that seriously either. Leaps of faith (a theme that moves throughout) are required and, at times, it can feel as if the biggest disappearing act is the plot, but this film about a team of slick stage illusionists who pull off bank heists in the middle of their performances works, overall. It moves quickly, too, as the gang is pursued by FBI and Interpol agents. Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Dave (brother of James and boasting more “movie star” allure) Franco, and Woody Harrelson are the magicians. Morgan Freeman and Melanie Laurent costar. Michael Caine pops up. But watch how well Mark Ruffalo manages to take on his role, playing the FBI hotshot who continues to get fooled. (PG-13) (★★★) —Greg Archer.

THE PURGE In a crime-riddled society of the near-future, one 12-hour period each year is devoted to an experiment in survival-of-the-fittest eugenics, where murder and other self-regulating actions can be committed without fear of punishment. Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) star in this thriller as a couple facing an intruder on the night of the annual lockdown. James DeMonaco directs. (R) 85 minutes.

SHADOW DANCER Andrea Riseborough (last seen in Oblivion) and Clive Owen star in this dramatic thriller about an Irishwoman involved with the IRA in 1990s Belfast who’s blackmailed into supplying information to the British to protect her son. Gillian Anderson co-stars for director James Marsh (Man On Wire). (R) 96 minutes.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS Riveting and ambitious, director J.J. Abrams continues to impress—and surprise—in this new Star Trek caper, the second in the official movie franchise reboot. Fortunately, the reboot has legs—or, in this case, warp speed. Loaded with a wild array of special effects, this film takes off and keeps going, unrelenting in its action and visual breadth. Lucky for us, all of that doesn’t detract from the main story, which finds Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine in fine form) and his Enterprise crew (Zachary Quino as Spock still steals many scenes) attempting to hunt down a dangerous villian (Benedict Cumberbatch) after a brutal terrorist attack. Many surprises await, and it’s nice to see that the filmmakers continue to weave in the new reality that this Trek lives in—which is a slightly altered timeline from which the original Trek characters existed.  (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer.

STORIES WE TELL Canadian actress-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley directs this glorified home movie about the filmmaker’s family and a potent secret buried for years in its collective past. In circling around her quarry, a family rumor, a joke, really, that she decides to investigate, Polley attempts to give her subject universal appeal by stressing the theme of communal family storytelling, and the places where family story and true history collide. And the story she tells certainly has dramatic impact, yet we wonder if this story really needed to be told outside her immediate clan. Poignant and wryly humorous at times, the film mostly plays like an evolved episode of reality TV. (PG-13) 108 minutes. (★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.

THIS IS THE END Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson head a cast of celebrities playing themselves in this self-referential apocalypse comedy written and directed by Rogen and Evan Goldberg; they’re all holed up together at Franco’s fortress-like mansion when the end of the world occurs out beyond the gates. (R) 107 minutes.

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