Film, Times & Events: Week of Aug. 18

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THE ATTACK A well-off Israeli-Palestinian physician living in Tel Aviv has his world turned upside down when his wife is involved in a terrorist attack. On a mission to find the people who recruited her, he begins to face difficult questions about his own beliefs and identity. Ziad Doueiri directs. (R) 102 minutes. In Hebrew with English subtitles. Starts Friday.

THE BUTLER An all-star cast populates this true story of Eugene Allen (Forest Whitaker), who served eight US presidents over 30 years of social upheaval as chief butler of the White House. Look for Robin Williams as Eisenhower, James Marsden as Kennedy, John Cusack as Nixon, and Alan Rickman as Reagan; Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Lenny Kravitz, Melissa Leo and Vanessa Redgrave co-star for director Lee Daniels (Precious). (PG-13) 132 minutes. Starts Friday.

IN A WORLD Actress Lake Bell wrote and directed this comedy in which she stars as a vocal coach trying to break into the big time who runs afoul of an egotistical and vengeful star she beats out of a job. Fred Melamed, Rob Coddry, and Demetri Martin co-star. (R) 93 minutes. Starts Friday.

JOBS Ashton Kutcher stars as Steve Jobs, the mercurial college drop-out who founded Apple and helmed the business into an international phenomenon. Josh Gad co-stars as founding partner Steve Wozniak. J. K. Simmons and James Woods head the supporting cast for director Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote). (PG-13) 122 minutes.  Starts Friday.

KICK-ASS 2 Aaron Taylor-Johnson returns as the self-made masked crusader, with Chloë Grace Moretz on board again as his intrepid sidekick, Hit Girl, in this follow-up to the 2010 superhero satire. Jim Carrey joins the cast as an ex-mobster turned street vigilante for justice called Colonel Stars and Stripes; Christopher Mintz-Plasse returns as vengeful villain Red Mist, out to destroy the good guys. Incoming director Jeff Wadlow takes over from original director Matthew Vaughn. (R) 113 minutes. Starts Friday.

PARANOIA Liam Hemsworth stars in this business espionage thriller as a corporate drone blackmailed by his ruthless boss and CEO (Gary Oldman) into spying on his corporater rival (Harrison Ford) to gain the edge in a high-stakes business deal. Amber Heard co-stars for director Robert Luketic (21). (PG-13) Starts Friday.)

THE SPECTACULAR NOW From the writers of 500 Days of Summer comes this contemporary love story about a charming teen with no future plans who lives for the moment and his unlikely romance with a “nice girl” who doesn’t date, reads sci-fi, and dreams of the future. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) star for director James Ponsoldt (Smashed). (R) 95 minutes. Starts Friday.

Film Events

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

BLACKFISH The foolishness of capturing wild orcas (“killer whales”) and training them to perform in sea parks is explored in Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s cautionary doc. Following the story of the performing orca, Tilikum, who has been responsible for the deaths of three people, including a professional whale trainer, Cowperthwaite exposes the danger and severe cruelty of enslaving wild and sentient animals in captivity for the idle amusement of paying customers. (PG-13) 83 minutes.

BLUE JASMINE In Woody Allen’s latest, Cate Blanchett shines in one of the best performances of her career. It’s also one of Allen’s best films. Set in San Francisco, this dynamic drama—with touches of comedy—revolves around the a depressed and privileged East Coast socialite (Jasmine) whose fall from grace is hard and messy. Jasmine finds refuge in her sister’s apartment in San Francisco but soon, other dramas unfold. Watch how well Allen, who also wrote the outing, uses flashback to illuminate such a tighty-wound, unforgettable individual. Sally Hawkins also stars (as Jasmine’s sister) alongside. Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C. K., Bobby Cannavale, and Andrew Dice Clay. (PG-13) 98 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer

THE CONJURING Oh, it’s a delight to see Emmy nominee Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel) here alongside Patrick Wilson in one of the more effective mystery/horror thrillers of late. The duo star as a team of paranormal investigators who meet their match in an unearthly presence haunting a farmhouse in the American South. James Wan (Saw; Insidious) directs. This could be one of the most haunting and well-executed horror films of the decade. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston co-star. Based on real-life events. (R) 112 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer

CRYSTAL FAIRY Michael Cera stars as a druggy, sarcastic American running amok in Santiago, Chile, where he recruits three Chilean brothers to help him track down a legendary psychedelic cactus. Gaby Hoffmann co-stars as a New Age neo-hippie who inserts herself into the quest in this partially improvised road comedy from filmmaker Sebastián Silva. (Not rated) 100 minutes.

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.

ELYSIUM Director Neill Blomkamp, won raves with District 9 back in 2009 and he infuses some of that same grit in this near-futuristic thriller in which the top 1 percent live a privileged life of beauty and ease on a posh man-made habitat in the sky. Meanwhile everyone else subsists in poverty on the ruins of Earth below. Matt Damon nails his performance as a factory drone led into a scheme to break into the habitat to bring equality to all. The film unravels with gripping intensity and you are invested in the outcome of the characters. Oddly, Jodie Foster never quite gives a convincing performance—that accent, those mannerisms! But with the remainder of the supporting cast (William Fichtner, Sharlto Copley and Diego Luna are just as riveting as Damon here. (R) 102 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer

FRUITVALE STATION A powerful film and one that should not be missed. Fruitvale Station dramatizes the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, the real-life human who was infamously shot and killed by a transit police officer in the Bay Area a few years ago. The shooting of the 22-year-old by the jittery officer at a BART station come at a time when racial issues have escalating in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial. From beginning to end it sizzles with brooding, hypnotic intensity. Watch newcomer Michael B. Jordan as he looses himself in this role. Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz and Kevin Durand co-star for East Bay native/director Ryan Coogler. (R) 90 minutes. Starts Friday. (★★★★)

—Greg Archer

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. (★★★)—Greg Archer

THE HUNT A child’s remark brings lives to the brink of ruin in Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg’s complex drama, set in the fascinating twilight zone between acute moral responsibility and witch-hunting. Not a lot happens in the narrative except ordinary people going about their lives, but because the focus is on the ever-unpredictable vagaries of human nature, the film plays like a compelling, edge-of-your-seat thriller. The great Mads Mikkelsen gives a performance of astonishing force and subtlety as the wrongly-accused protagonist, while Vinterberg’s plot takes many unexpected detours as the story plays out, engrossing to the very end. (R) 115 minutes. In Danish with English subtitles. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.

THE TO-DO LIST What a fun turn for Aubrey Plaza. The young star headlines this effective comedy that feels a bit like American Pie Meets Porky’s infused with estrogen. Still, somehow it works on you and manages to evoke some real heart. Plaza stars as a studious class valedictorian who enlists a group of offbeat pals to assist her in amping up her sexual prowess the summer before college. Prim and proper as she was in school, seems she missed out on a lot of fun the others were having in the exploration department. The film takes place in 1993 and writer/director Maggie Carey peppers it with bits of humor that befit the day—the arrival of “electronic mail” and such. Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, and Sarah Steele make up some of the fine supporting cast. The film could have used another five to 10 minutes to infuse even more heartbut overall, it’s refreshing to see a comedy about females capable of taking charge and running the show. (R) (★★1/2) —Greg Archer

LOVELACE Reviewed this issue. (R) 92 minutes.

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.

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.

PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS Logan Lehrman returns in the title role from Rick Riordan’s popular YA series as an ordinary kid who discovers he’s the son the sea god, Poseidon. In this intallment, he and his offbeat crew of demigod friends have to search for the mythical Golden Fleece in order to prevent an evil force from running amok in the world. Alexandra Daddario, Brandon T. Jackson, and Nathan Fillion co-star for director Thor Freudenthal. (PG) 106 minutes.

PLANES It’s Cars in the sky as the Walt Disney animation gurus continue their fixation with motor vehicles. This one is about a lowly crop-duster who’s afraid of heights, yet still longs to compete in a famous aerieal race. Val Kilmer, Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Drefuss and Dane Cook head the voice cast. Klay Hall directs. (PG) 92 minutes.

RED 2 In a trend that does not seem to be waning Bruce Willis tends to pack pistols than real intelligence in his movie choices of late. Here, alongside  Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich, the troika return as the retired CIA black ops called back into action in the first Red movie. Now, they’re 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 director Dean Parisot.  (PG-13) 116 minutes. (★★)—Greg Archer

R.I.P.D. Exhausting and unnecessary. Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges team up in a paranormal action comedy about a recently deceased cop killed in the line of duty who suddenly finds himself recruited to an elite undead police force in the afterlife. Rehashed plots from other films mar this endeavor. These actors are better than this. Kevin Bacon and Mary-Louise Parker co-star. Robert Schwentke directs. (PG-13) (★1/2)—Greg Archer

THE SMURFS 2 When an evil wizard kidnaps Smurfette because she knows a magic spell, it’s up to the rest of the boys in blue to reunite with their human friends from the first movie and follow her trail to Paris, France. Raja Gosnell directs this live action/animated family comedy. Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, and Brendan Gleeson head the human cast; Katy Perry, Christina Ricci, and the late Jonathan Winters voice various Smurfs.(PG) 105 minutes.

STILL MINE Wonderful performances from veteran actors James Crowmwell and Genevieve Bujold highlight this wry and tender drama of love, bureaucracy, and stubborn independence from Canadian filmmaker Michael McGowan.Trouble brews when New Brunswick farmer Cromwell decides to build a new, smaller house on his own land when his wife starts having memory issues. As this plot unspools, what’s most engaging about the film is its portrait of people in their elder years who are crusty, but never corny or cute. Octogenarian love stories are rare enough onscreen, especially infused with this much grace, humor, and compassion. (PG-13) 102 minutes. ★★★—Lisa Jensen.

20 FEET FROM STARDOM Captivaitng and educational from beginning to end, 20 Feet spotlights some of the greatest, yet unsung background vocalists in rock. Filmmaker Morgan Neville wonderfully captures these creative creatures—not only by bringing out their humanity but also showing us just how dynamic and instrumental they actually were in the music world. Feast your eyes (and ears) on Merry Clayton (whose soaring vocals made the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” a classic), Darlene Love, Tata Vega, and Judith Hill, to note but a few. Actually, the doc winds up turning much of the spotlight on Love, showcasing her unique journey and experiences within the music industry. By doing so, the filmmakers add heart to the tale they want to tell. But all of those featured here resonate a wonderful grace and humility. Guest commentaries from Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler, and Sting are a nice touch. Beyond that, there’s, plenty of performance footage. Unforgettable. (PG-13) (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer.

2 GUNS Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg star in this action thriller as members of a narcotics syndicate who mistrust each other, but are forced to go on the lam together when a drug deal goes bad. What they don’t realize is that they are both undercover government ops from competing federal agencies. Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Fred Ward, James Marsden and Edward James Olmos co-star for director Baltasar Kormákur. Based on the graphic novels by Steven Grant. (R) 109 minutes.

WASTELAND After serving time in prison, an ex-con tries to rekindle an old romantic flame while plotting to rob the money-laundering business of the drug lord who set him up in this crime thriller set in Yorkshire, England. Luke Treadaway, Timothy Spall, and Vanessa Kirby star for rookie director Rowan Athale. (Not rated) 106 minutes.

WE’RE THE MILLERS In this drug comedy, a dealer trying to move a shipment of pot from Mexico into the states recruits an unlikely group of strangers to pretend tio be an innocent American family. Ed Helms, Jennifer aniston, Emma Roberts and Jason Sudeiks star for director Rawsomn Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball). (R)  110 minutes.

THE WOLVERINE Hugh Jackman pops out the adamantium claws once again in a punchy action adventure that successfully revitalizes our favorite X-mutant as franchise material (after the debacle of X-Men Origins: Wolverine). It works because director James Mangold sticks close to the tormented psyche of Jackman’s brooding Logan as he copes with everlasting life, unsettling dream appearances by deceased lover Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and coming to terms with his responsibility to the world; stunts and CGI effects, while impressive, are secondary to the human story. The setting is Japan, where, after a nifty prologue set in WWII Nagasaki, Logan has been summoned to the deathbed of a powerful tycoon whose life he once saved. Soon, he’s in the middle of a war between the Yakuza, Ninja assassins, and the evil schemes of sexy mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova). His romance with Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the tycoon’s granddaughter, falls a bit flat; we root for him to hook up with plucky warrior girl Yukio (Rila Fukushima). And it’s too bad they don’t give Jackman better dialogue—especially when delivering a coup-de-grace to some villain. (“Go f**k yourself, pretty boy,” is not exactly in the same league as, say, “Make my day.”) But the action is fairly inventive, from a fight atop a speeding bullet train to self-inflicted open heart surgery, and Jackman has presence enough to make us care. (PG-13) 126 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

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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