New This Week
DESPICABLE ME 2 Steve Carrell returns as the voice of ex-super villain Gru, back for another adventure with his girls and his army of comic Minions in this 3D family comedy from Chris Renaud & Pierre Coffin. Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong, Steve Coogan, Moises Arias, and Al Pacino contribute voices. (PG) 98 minutes. Starts today (Wednesday,
FILL THE VOID In this contemporary Israeli drama from filmmaker Rama Burshtein, a young woman must balance her own dreams against family duty when her mother tries to arrange her marriage to her recently widowed brother-in-law in order to raise his infant son. (PG) 90 minutes. In Hebrew with English subtitles. Starts Friday.
THE LONE RANGER Armie Hammer stars as lawman John Reid-turned-masked avenger for justice, but Johnny Depp gets the plum role of his sidekick, er, Captain Jack Tonto. (With what looks like an entire dead crow as part of his headdress, he obviously gets the cooler wardrobe too.) The reunion of producer Jerry Bruckheimer with PotC director Gore Verbinski and screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio almost guarantees another bombastic triumph of slapstick over substance, but, hey, let’s hope for the best. (PG-13) 149 minutes. Starts today (Wednesday, July 3)
100 BLOODY ACRES A pair of backwoods Australian brother try to save their ailing organic fertilizer business by adding some unusual ingredients to the compost in this gruesome gore comedy from Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes. Damon Herriman, Angus Sampson, and Anna McGahan star. (Not rated) Starts Friday.
STORM SURFERS (3D) Here’s your chance to experience the thrill of big wave surfing without actually getting wet—or risking life and limb. In Justin McMillan and Chris Nelius’ you-are-there 3D surfing extravaganza, veteran Aussie surf pros Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones spend the Australian winter months of 2011 tracking storms across the southern oceans predicted by surf forecaster Ben Matson in search of their “holy grail”—new, undiscovered waves that have never been surfed before. After tow-surfing breaks off the west coast of Australia and Tasmania, their final reckoning comes 75 km offshore on gigantic swells above Australia’s continental shelf, a reefy spot “out in the middle of nowhere” called Turtledove Shoals. The nutball machismo of these nearing-50-year-old “boys” can be a bit much at times (especially in 3D), but their wave-riding is majestic, and the surfing footage looks great. (PG) 95 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen. Starts Friday.
20 FEET FROM STARDOM Some of the greatest, er, unsung background vocalists in rock get their share of the spotlight in this music doc from filmmaker Morgan Neville. Merry Clayton (whose soaring vocals made the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” a classic), Darlene Love, Tata Vega, and Judith Hill are profiled, with guest commentary from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler, and Sting, plus plenty of performance footage. (PG-13) Starts Friday.
UNFINISHED SONG Veteran players Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp star as a long-married couple in this gentle comedy-drama. She’s got a new lease on life singing in an offbeat community choir; he’s a curmudgeon who resists change. Gemma Arterton co-stars as the young choir director who tries to coax him into the group. Written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams. (PG-13) 93 minutes. Starts Friday.
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: BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY The true story of Ron Kovic, the disabled Vietnam vet who became an outspoken anti-war activist, is more tragic, powerful, and courageous than anything filmmaker Oliver Stone could invent is his earlier film, Platoon. Tom Cruise plays Kovic with heartbreaking conviction in Stone’s moving 1989 Vietnam-era drama. (R) 145 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen. Tonight only (Thursday, July 4), 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 groups.google.com/group/LTATM.
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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 BLING RING Fun, playful and totally a summer guilty pleasure. A quartet of Berverly Hills celeb-obsessed teens rob 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. (★★★)—Greg Archer
DIRTY WARS Digging into a story about a US night raid in a remote part of Afghanistan, investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill uncovered the tip of a much bigger story on the secret military organization called the Joint Special Operations Command, and the terrorism it inflicts worldwide in the name of the American War on Terror. Documentary filmmaker Rick Rowley follows Scahill on his rounds in places like Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Washington DC, piecing together the story in the words of those who have experienced it on the ground. (Not rated) 90 minutes.
THE HEAT Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are wonderful comedic forces in this enjoyable romp. True, McCarthy often gets the best lines, but it’s nice to Bullock back in a light-hearted role that actually works for her. Like most films coming out of Hollywood these days—those designed for mass audiences—the script indulges in a number escapades that are played over the top when it isn’t necessary to do so. Still, this is a thoroughly fun outing as Bullock, an uptight FBI special agent, joins forces with McCarthry, a street-smart Boston cop, to take down a mysterious drug kingpin. Demian Bichir and Marlon Wayans co-star for director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) directs. (R) 117 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.
THE KINGS OF SUMMER A trio of teenage boys decide to declare their independence by building themselves a cabin in the forest and living off the land for the summer. Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, and Moises Arias star in this coming-of-age comedy from Jordan Vogt-Roberts, an audience favorite at Sundance. (R) 93 minutes.
MAN OF STEEL When director Zack Snyder keeps his focus small, this Superman reboot is persuasive and rewarding. The boyhood and young manhood of Clark Kent (the supernaturally handsome Henry Cavill), is told in beautifully integrated flashbacks as he drifts though itinerant odd jobs searching for his destiny. Russell Crowe, the voice of reason, wisdom, and restraint, and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer are wonderful as Superman’s birth parents. But when Kryptonian supervillain General Zod (Michael Shannon), starts laying waste to Earth in a series of demolition derby grudge matches against our hero, the movie loses its credibility and heart. Loud, aggressively ugly action sequences obliterate the memory of everything that was good about the movie. (PG-13) 143 minutes. (★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY A spirited and quite funny prequel to mega-hit Monsters Inc. Billy Crystal and John Goodman are back as the voice talent, which also includes Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, and Sean Hayes. Dan Scanlon directs.(G) (★★★) —Lisa Jensen
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Who else but Joss Whedon could pull this off? Not only does he set William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, original Elizabethan-era wit and wordplay intact, in modern-day Santa Monica, he shoots it in black-and-white—a visual detail that suggests the sparkling vintage screwball comedies of the 1930s more than the Elizabethan stage. It’s an impudent idea for a movie realized with great charm and affection by a master craftsman and his devoted repertory company of players. Alex Denisof and Amy Acker are splendid as the bantering couple too busy trading witticisms to realize they’re in love. (PG-13) 107 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
WHITE HOUSE DOWN Channing Tatum stars in this action thriller as a DC cop taking his daughter on a tour of the White House who becomes a default first-responder when paramilitary invaders come gunning for the President (Jamie Foxx). Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, and Garcelle Beauvais co-star for director Roland Emmerich. (PG-13) 131 minutes.
WORLD WAR Z Good but not great. Suspenseful but plagued with its own distractions. What World War Z could have used more of—and it only required just a little bit more—is depth. Brad Pitt is a former UN investigator who finds himself thrust onto the front lines of the global zombie apocalypse. That’s a great premise and we, as an audience, initially connect to Pitt’s diemma—stay with his family or help save the world. But the beleaguered film, whose budget shot beyond $200 million and had so many behind-the-scenes brouhahas, mostly with the script, never manages to allow Pitt’s character to fully evolve. Knowing more behind some of his motivations and seeing even more of his humanity would have provided the balance this project needed. Because you want to like it. It’s just that after a TV show like The Walking Dead has permeated the culture—a show that so aptly delivers on the emotonal front—this fails in comparison. Still, there’s plenty to savor and some of the scenes with the zombies are brilliantly orchestrated. Based on the Max Brooks novel. Mirielle Enos (The Killing) and Jamed Badge Dale co-star. Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) directs. (PG-13) 116 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer.