Film, Times & Events: Week of Feb. 20

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IN SECRET Emile Zola’s novel, Therese Raquin, is the source material for this period drama set in 19th Century Paris. Elizabeth Olsen stars as a young woman maneuvered into an unhappy marriage by her scheming aunt (Jessica Lange), whose passions are awakened by her husband’s reckless childhood friend (Oscar Isaac, from Inside Llewyn Davis). Tom Felton co-stars as her sickly, spoiled young husband. Charlie Stratton directs. (R) 107 minutes. Starts Friday.

POMPEII Kit Harrington (Jon Snow in Game of Thrones) gets to warm up in sunny ancient Rome as a First Century gladiator battling his way through the streets to save the woman he loves before the erupting Mount Vesuvius volcano destroys the city. Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland, and Carrie-Anne Moss co-star for director Paul W. S. Anderson. (PG-13) 105 minutes. Starts Friday.

3 DAYS TO KILL Kevin Costner stars in this action thriller as an international spy about to retire to rebuild ties to his estranged family who’s tasked with hunting a ruthless terrorist while trying to look after his alienated teenage daughter. Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard and Connie Nielsen co-star. McG directs. Starts Friday.

WALKING THE CAMINO: SIX WAYS TO SANTIAGO Reviewed this issue. (Not rated) 84 minutes. Starts Friday. (Q&A with filmmaker Lydia B. Smith Friday evening at the Nickelodeon. See ad this issue for details.)

Film Events

SPECIAL EVENT THIS WEEK: FALL ITALIAN FILM SERIES The Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz returns with its monthly series of Italian films (one Sunday a month) to promote Italian culture and language. The theme for the Winter 2014 season is “The Journey.” Please visit for information on this month’s film. In Italian with English subtitles. Logan Walker, film studies lecturer at SJSU, will introduce the film and conduct an after-film Q&A. At Cabrillo College, VAPA Art History Forum Room 1001, Sunday only (February 23), 7 pm. Free.

SPECIAL EVENT THIS WEEK: PAGAN FILM SERIES Community Seed, a self-described “non-denominational” organization serving the Santa Cruz pagan community, teams up with the Guerrilla Drive-In pop-up movie theatre collective to present this four-month (one screening per month) series of films featuring pagan-related themes. This week: AGORA The seeds of genuine tragedy lurk in the story of Hypatia, a female scholar and teacher in 4th Century Alexandria martyred for the cause of reason and learning in an era of faith-based zealotry. Director Alejandro Amenábar’s 2010 film is overly melodramatic, but Rachel Weisz is lovely and the film shows the futility of religious warfare. (Not rated) 127 minutes. (HH1/2)—Lisa Jensen. Saturday only (Feb 22), 8 p.m. at SubRosa, 703 Pacific Avenue. Free.

CONTINUING SERIES: MIDNIGHTS @ THE DEL MAR Eclectic movies for wild & crazy tastes plus great prizes and buckets of fun for only $6.50. This week: SCOTT PILGRIM vs. THE WORLD Michael Cera stars in this 2010 adaptation of the Bryan Lee O’Malley comic book series about a guy who has to cope with his new girlfriend’s seven ex-boyfriends. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, and Anna Kendrick co-star. Edgar Wright directs. (PG-13)  Fri-Sat midnight only. At the Del Mar.

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

ABOUT LAST NIGHT This sort-of update of the old ’80s Brat Pack romcom stars Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, Michael Early, and Joy Bryant as two fledgling couples who go from bar to bed, and then have to decide how to construct real relationships. Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine) directs. (R) 100 minutes.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts command the screen in Tracy Letts’ screen adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. The all-star cast—Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney—come along for the ride and offer some memorable moments to this dysfunctional family outing set in rural Oklahoma where the Weston clan has gathered after the disappearance of its family patriarch. As pill-popping, chain-smoking Violet, Streep chews the scenery like nobody else. Roberts turns in the best performance of her career. Still, there’s a tendency to feel assualted by the rolling waves of dysfunction here rather feeling enough empathy for it. True, few screen adaptations of brilliant stage works transition well onto the screen, but in Letts’ brooding theatrical setting, he allowed for the tempo to build. Director John Wells may have had too much of a hands-off approach on his actors here. Regardless, the film packs a punch and Streep, once again, proves she can disappear into any character. (R) 130 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer.

AMERICAN HUSTLE This film may very well win Best Picture. True, other pictures may be more deserving, but director David O. Russell’s provocative outing just has that Oscar feel to it. For one thing, he reunites with some of the actors he’s directed to Oscars (and Oscar noms for that matter) in a true-crime story set in 1970s New Jersey. Behild Christian Bale, who loses himself yet again in a role that finds him playing  a slick con man who is forced to team up with an ego-driven, entirely too anxious FBI hotshot played by Bradley Cooper. The goal: to pierce the super fab world of the mob elite. Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, and Jeremy Renner co-star but look for Lawrence to capture Oscar buzz. (R) 137 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB Golden Globe-winner Matthew McConaughey scores as a brash, profane antihero in the true story of Ron Woodroof. A coke-snorting, womanizing, blue-collar Texan, diagnosed as HIV-positive in the 1980s and given 30 days to live, he defied his death his sentence for years to become a pioneer in making “unapproved” drugs from out of the country available to his local AIDS community. Jean-Marc Vallée’s film unspools as a tale of bizarre alliances and unexpected heroism as pugnacious, yet affecting as its protagonist. Jared Leto won a Supporting Actor Golden Globe as a feisty transvestite who becomes Woodroof’s business partner. (R) 117 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

ENDLESS LOVE Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde star as a reckless boy and a privileged girl who embark on a forbidden love affair made more alluring when their parents try to keep them apart in this update of the 1979 novel (and 1981 film). Shana Feste directs. (PG-13)

FROZEN This Nordic entry in the animated “Disney Princess” franchise (loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen) delivers two princesses, one handsome prince, and a roguish, wisecracking commoner. How these couples do (or do not) match up is part of the fun in this  surprising scenario cooked by scriptwriter Jennifer Lee and her co-director Buck Jones. (PG) 108 minutes.  (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

GLORIA Here’s something you don’t see in the movies every day: a mature (as in over 50) adult woman with a functioning sex life at the center of a film. This lively Chilean film is powered by a dynamic performance from Paulina Garcia, as a woman who refuses to give up on life, even though she’s divorced and her kids are grown. Director Sebastian Lelio trusts Garcia to provide his film with its life force, and she does not disappoint. As her character searches for ways to spice up her days and nights, we empathize with her quest for fun, love, dignity, and respect. (R) 110 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

HER Set in the near future, Joaquin Phoenix upgrades his personally stylized OS (Operating System), voiced by Scarlett Johansson, and, over time, the two develop an intimacy that neither saw coming. The Os is even given a name—Samantha. Watch how well director Spike Jonze, who also penned the tale, paces this film and allows for some of the deeper, rich and complex issues of “relationship” to play themselves out. Amy Adams, who just nabbed a Golden Globe for American Hustle, co-stars. But it’s Phoenix who stands out. 126 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer.

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN Ralph Fiennes directs this tale which is, perhaps, one of the most compelling period pieces on Victorian novelist Charles Dickens (with Fiennes in the role). But the biographical period drama centers more on the character of Nelly Ternan, a young English stage actress who met Dickens in the height of his career. Terman eventually became Dickens’ secret mistress for the rest of his life. Watch how well Felicity Jones (Like Crazy; The Tempest) handles her role as the naive and often emotionally destaught Nelly. She’s a gem to witness on screen and elevates this film into one of the more memorable outings of the season. Kristin Scott Thomas and Tom Hollander (as Wilkie Collins) co-star. (R) 111 minutes. (★★★1/2) —Greg Archer

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT This origin story borrows elements from Tom Clancy’s well-known Jack Ryan canon, but updates and reassembles them for the modern world. CIA analyst-turned-op Ryan gets a face-lift (or should I say youth potion) in Chris Pine, who plays the role with a nifty balance of humor and intensity. Director Kenneth Branagh makes a sleek, efficient thriller out of the material, and co-stars as a sinister Russian spy with a Napoleon complex. Kevin Costner is good as Ryan’s CIA recruiter, an Branagh’s epic sense of drama and full-bore theatricality keeps the story percolating along. (PG-13) 105 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

THE LEGO MOVIE What an imaginative romp this is—and somewhat of a big reveal at the end, too. Expect sequels. But first, expect to be thoroughly entertained in one of the most inventive, big-screen outings of—what?— America’s favorite construction toy? It all works quite nicely. Heroic LEGO minifigures band together to stop an evil tyrant here. Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, and Morgan Freeman lend their voices for co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs).It’s a spirited, entertaining family outing, but adults will dig the humor and other pop culture references. A nice balance indeed. But what stands out, beyond the concept—one would think it implausible—is the clever plot and writing itself. That, perhaps, is the biggest surprise of all. (PG) 94 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer

LONE SURVIVOR Mark Wahlberg stars in this military action thriller about four Navy SEALS whose covert mission against the Taliban goes awry. (R)

THE MONUMENTS MEN George Clooney co-wrote and directed this fact-based story in which he stars as the leader of an unlikely team of art professionals (curators, historians, etc.) on a mission to rescue a treasure trove of European art masterpieces stolen by the Nazis. Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, and Cate Blanchett co-star. (PG-13) 119 minutes.

NEBRASKA A marvelous turn for Bruce Dern, who won the Best Actor award at Cannes for his role as a cranky gent who forces his son (Will Forte in surprisingly good role) along on a road trip to claim a million-dollar prize the he insists he’s won from Publishers’ Clearinghouse. Watch how wonderfully Dern disappears into this role, which assures him an Oscar nod. And relish how well Dern and Forte play off of each other. Shot in shot in black-and-white by Alexander Payne (The Descendants; Sideways) it stands out as one of the year’s best. (R) 115 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer

THE NUT JOB A squirrel ousted from his park habitat and forced to survive on his own in the city rallies his buddies in a plot to rob a nut shop in this animated 3D family comedy. Will Arnett and Katherine Heigl head the voice cast. Pete Lepeniotis directs. (PG) 86 minutes.

OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS, 2014 Where are the next generation of filmmakers and animators coming from? Find out in these two complete, separate programs of this year’s Oscar-nominated short films from around the world (five live-action and five animated), offered for theatrical release in advance of the Academy Awards on March 2. Highlights of the Animation program are the deliriously steampunk Mr. Hublot from France, and the larky British stop-motion storybook tale Room on the Broom. Live-action standouts include the hilarious The Voorman Problem, about a prison inmate who thinks he’s God, and the tender Danish fable Helium. Astound your friends with your knowledge of these categories at your Oscar parties! Not rated. Animated Program: 110 minutes. (HHH1/2) Live Action Program: 113 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

PHILOMENA Steve Coogan plays a jaded, unemployed journalist opposite the divine Judi Dench in a story based on the real-life events of a British woan searching for the son she was forced to give up when she was very young. The duo create some wonderful chemistry here in a tale that also manages to offer enough surprises to keep you both invested in the journey and each of the characters’ emotional evolution. There’s a lovely bit of serendipity in the real-life tale and director Stephen Frears does a nice job weaving those elements in without provoking a major roll of the eyes. And Dench can do no wrong. (PG-13) 98 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer

RIDE ALONG It’s Training Day with laughs with Kevin Hart as a security guard-turned police recruit spending 24 hours in the passenger seat with tough cop Ice Cube, patrolling the streets of Atlanta, to prove that he’s worthy to marry the veteran cop’s sister (Tika Sumpter). John Leguizamo and Laurence Fishburne co-star. Tim Story (Think Like A Man) directs. (PG-13)

ROBOCOP In another reboot that didn’t exactly cry out to be remade (because the original was so much fun), Joel Kinnamon stars as a critically injured Detroit policeman of the near-future upgraded with robotic body parts by a sinister corporation—which doesn’t expect its new toy to have a mind of his own. Jose Padiha directs; Abbie Cornish and Gary Oldman co-star. (PG-13) 110 minutes.

12 YEARS A SLAVE The mighty Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a haunting, nuanced, electrifying performance in filmmaker Steve McQueen’s blistering portrait of what slavery was like in the pre-Civil War American South. Based on the true story of Solomon Northrup, a free black New Yorker abducted and sold into slavery in 1841, the film shows with heartbreaking precision how the loss of common humanity, even more than chains and beatings, is the true cost of slavery. McQueen has an unerring eye for the indelible image, both horrific and poetic, and the excellent supporting cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch as a relatively benign but ineffectual slave owner, Michael Fassbender in a bravura, willies-inducing turn as a belligerent psycho of a plantation owner, and the compelling Lupita Nyong’o as the unfortunate object of his desire. (R) 134 minutes. (HHH1/2)—Lisa Jensen.

THAT AWKWARD MOMENT Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan star in Tom Gormican’s modern comedy about three best buds trying to figure out where their respective dating relationships are headed. Imogene Poots and Mackenzie Davis co-star. (R) 94 minutes.

VAMPIRE ACADEMY Richelle Mead’s series of best-selling YA novels inspired this potential new franchise.. (PG-13) 104 minutes.

WINTER’S TALE Mark Helprin’s densely layered novel of lush prose and metaphysical pondering on destiny, good and evil, and the meaning of life, is reduced to a corny angels vs. demons scenario in screenwriter and first-time director Akiva Goldsman’s unfortunate adaptation. The love story between Irish thief Colin Farrell and plucky consumptive heiress Jessica Brown Findlay in turn-of-the-20th-Century New York City—and the winged horse who brings them together— is quite charming. But the present-day part of the story makes no sense, even in magic-realism terms; whatever might have given these scenes romantic or philosophic resonance (let alone narrative cohesion) in the book has been distilled out. All we get is Russell Crowe chewing up the scenery as a demonic crime boss with an exploding face, and Farrell looking perplexed. (Who can  blame him?) Still, Michael Kaplan’s exquisite period costumes are worth a look. (PG-13) 118 minutes. (★★)—Lisa Jensen.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET Leonardo DiCaprio teams up with director Martin Scorsese in this tale, based on real-life endeavors. DiCaprio plays hotshot stockbroker Jordan Belfort, whose unlikely success on Wall Street in the mid-1990s comes crashing down when the Feds expose his securities scheme as a fraud. Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, and Jean Dujardin come along for the ride. The bad news? It’s just hard to warm up to this tale of excess. It’s even more challenging to care much about the outcome. .(R) 179 minutes. (★★)—Greg Archer

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