Film, Times & Events: Week of July 18

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New This Week
THE CONJURING Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson star as a team of paranormal investigators who meet their match in an unearthly presence haunting a farmhouse in the American South in this horror chiller from director James Wan (Saw; Insidious). Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston co-star.(R) 112 minutes. Starts Friday
GIRL MOST LIKELY Kristen Wiig stars in this edgy comedy as a New York playwright experiencing a decline in popularity who’s forced to move back in with her mom (Annette Bening) and her kid brother back in Jersey. Darren Criss, Matt Dillon, and Christopher Fitzgerald co-star for co-director Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor). (PG-13) 103 minutes.
Starts Friday. (
ONLY GOD FORGIVES Ryan Gosling reunite with his Drive director, visual stylist Nicolas Winding Refn, for an action thriller about crime and punishment in Bangkok, where drug-smuggler Gosling is sent out by his mother to avenge his brother’s murder. Kristin Scott Thomas co-stars. (R) 90 minutes. Starts Friday.
RED 2 Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich return as the retired CIA black ops honchos called back into action in the first Red movie, now joined by Anthony Hopkins in a new caper involving a missing nuclear device. Mary-Louise Parker, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Byung-hun Lee join the fun for incoming director Dean Parisot.  (PG-13) 116 minutes. Starts Friday.
R.I.P.D. Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges team up in this paranormal action comedy about a recently deceased cop killed in the line of duty who finds himself recruited to an elite undead police force in the afterlife, working to solve murders and lay the dead to rest for the Rest In Peace Department. Kevin Bacon and Mary-Louise Parker co-star. Robert Schwentke directs. (PG-13) Starts Friday.
THE WAY WAY BACK Reviewed this issue. (PG-13) 102 minutes. Starts Friday.

Film Events
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 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA This 1943 version of the oft-told tale is distinguished by the great Claude Rains’ sensitive performance as the scarred ex-musician obsessed with a dewy young singer, and the luscious Technicolor production. (Not rated) 92 minutes. Tonight only (Thursday, July 18), 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

Movie Times click here.

Now Playing
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. A gem in that the script is sublime; the characters fully formed. If only more films boasted dialogue this realistic. 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
BYZANTIUM To call Neil Jordan’s eerie new film a “vampire movie” doesn’t begin to suggest the lush and disturbing depths and subtle textures of this provocative and atmospheric tale. Told from a refreshingly female perspective, with a time-traveling narrative and a rich subtext about storytelling and its consequences, it revitalizes the notion of what a vampire movie can be. Brash Gemma Arterton and moody Saoirse Ronan are both great fun. A bit slow-going at first, but it does finally get somewhere, and its weirdly romantic payoff is its own reward. (R) 118 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
DESPICABLE ME 2 Steve Carrey 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.
GROWN UPS 2 Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James and David Spade re-team for the sequel to their 2010 comedy about four childhood buddies who get back together after they have wives and kids of their own. Dennis Dugan returns to direct.
 (PG-13) 101 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
A HIJACKING There’s no yo-ho-ho-ing in this tense Scandinavian thriller in which modern Somali pirates capture a Danish freighter, a situation that grows ever more volatile when the CEO of the shipping company in Copenhagen tries to bluster his way though
negotiations from half a world away. Written and directed by Tobias Lindholm. (R) 99 minutes. In Danish, Swedish, and English.
THE LONE RANGER Gore Verbinski and his PotC scriptwriters have no idea how to maintain a consistent tone, tell a coherent story, or develop characters we care about; they ought to be making amusement park rides, not movies. Armie Hammer is stuck playing a dull-witted, square-jawed prig. Johnny Depp can be fun as Tonto, if you tune out the overcooked plot about ruthless railroad men vs. vicious outlaws vs. noble Indians and view his performance as an homage to the deadpan physical slapstick of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. But these characters dislike and mistrust each other, and the juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy is not well integrated, so the movie doesn’t feel more resonant, just schizoid. Heartless, overlong and crammed with gigantic stunts, this isn’t a thrill ride, it’s an endurance test. (PG-13) 149 minutes. (★)—Lisa Jensen.
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 Part frat house comedy, part Hunger Games, with a soupcon of Hogwarts, this prequel to the Pixar/Disney 2001 animated blockbuster, Monsters Inc., delivers some engaging messages with a very light touch. We meet plucky little green cyclops, Mike (Billy Crystal) and big, shambling fur-ball, Sulley (John Goodman) as rival students in their college “Scarer” program, in a family-friendly tale of friendship, destiny, diversity, and higher education, told with maximum humor and heart. Best new character is Dean Hardscrabble, a centipede-like reptile with enormous red dragon wings and a fine, chilly voice provided by Helen Mirren. (G) 104 minutes. (★★)—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.
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.
PACIFIC RIM When a race of giant aliens invade the Earth, science invents gigantic robots driven by teams of human pilots to fight them off. This action thriller sounds like Transformers on steroids, except it’s co-written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), so who knows? Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, and Ron Perlman star. (PG-13) 131 minutes.
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.
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)
TURBO A garden snail dreams of racing in the Indy 500 in this family cartoon adventure from DreamWorks Animation. Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Maya Rudoph and Samuel L. Jackson provide voices. David Soren directs. (PG)
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.
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.

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