Films This Week
Check out the movies playing around town.
With reviews and trailers.
FISH TANK British filmmaker Andrea Arnold won the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival with her feature debut, this provocative drama about a 15-year-old girl living with her single mum in a gritty Essex housing project whose wary experience of the world begins to alter when her mum brings home an enigmatic new boyfriend. Young star Katie Jarvis has been wildly praised in her acting debut; Michael Fassbender plays the unpredictable boyfriend. (Not rated) 123 minutes. Starts Friday.
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THE LAST STATION Reviewed this issue. (R) 112 minutes. (★★★1/2) Starts Friday.
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SHUTTER ISLAND Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo star in this thriller as a pair of U. S. Marshalls in 1954 Boston investigating the escape of a murderess from a hospital for the criminally insane located on a remote island off the New England coast. Skullduggery ensues. Martin Scorsese directs from the novel by Dennis Lehane. Ben Kingsley, Max vonSydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, and Jackie Earle Haley co-star. (R) 138 minutes. Starts Friday.
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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: THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (★★★★) (PG) —Lisa Jensen. Fri-Sat midnight only. At the Del Mar.
CONTINUING EVENT: LET’S TALK ABOUT THE MOVIES Discussion begins at 7 pm and admission is free. For more information visit www.ltatm.org.
AVATAR James Cameron proves he still has some mojo in this wildly fascinating, often compelling new sci-fi epic. The story revolves around a US military unit sent to a tropical planet whose cultured, indigenous warrior population will do anything to keep their land intact. Sam Worthington takes the lead role here, offering an impressive turn as a young war vet technologically altered to resemble native people–he’s sent in as a scout. Zoe Saldana is the indigenous tribeswoman. Sigourney Weaver also costars alongside Michelle Rodriguez. A riveting unforgettable ride with a powerful message that doesn’t feel overly preachy. (PG-13) 150 minutes. (★★★1/2) Greg Archer
THE BOOK OF ELI It’s getting crowded out there in the post-apocalypse. After 2012, and The Road, now it’s Denzel Washington fighting his way across the ravaged landscape in this action drama from the Hughes Brothers, protecting the secret he carries, the only hope for the survival of humankind. Gary Oldman, Jennifer Beals, and Michael Gambon co-star. (R) 118 minutes.
THE BLIND SIDE Based on the real-life story of All-American football star Michael Oher is dramatized in this inspirational tale. Bullock is the woman who virtually adopts the homeless, neglected teen into her family and changes his life–and theirs. Newcomer Quinton Aaron plays Oher. Tim McGraw and Kathy Bates co-star. (PG-13) 126 minutes. (★★★) Greg Archer
CRAZY HEART Jeff Bridges is an actor of such wry, thoughtful subtlety who makes it all look so effortless, some viewers might miss the exquisite craftsmanship of his performance in Scott Cooper’s adaptation of the Thoman Cobb novel. Bridges plays broken-down country singer, “Bad,” with all the cantankerous brio and slightly shopworn charm of a hard life lived on the road. Plotwise, it’s a road we’ve all been down before, but happy surprises include the grown-up sensuality of Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Colin Farrell as a glitzy, but good-hearted country superstar. Songwriters Stephen Bruton and T Bone Burnett craft a beautiful repertoire of music for Bad, a song cycle essential to the storytelling that furthers plot and enhances character, which Bridges performs with ragged authority. (R) 111 minutes. (★★★1/2) Lisa Jensen
CREATION The subject is Charles Darwin, but don’t expect high seas adventure on board the Beagle. Director Jon Amiel delivers a mild-mannered, yet moving period drama about the effect of Darwin’s radical theories of evolution on his family life, and vice versa. Scripted by John Collee, from the biographical book by Darwin descendant Randal Keynes, the film focuses on the writing of Darwin’s groundbreaking book, “On The Origin Of Species.” Paul Bettany is a thoughtful Darwin, still ill with grief over the death of his young daughter, along with a more fearsome malaise over the divisive repercussions his scientific observations on natural selection will have on a society based on obedience to “God’s plan.” The division has already begun in Darwin’s own household, as his wife (Jennifer Connelly) retreats further into religious faith. Amiel dresses up this domestic drama with some artfully eerie sequences, and a poignant encounter with an orangutan in the London Zoo, while daring to suggest that rational thought deserves a place in any evolved society. (PG-13) 108 minutes. (★★★) Lisa Jensen
DEAR JOHN Yet another bestselling Nicholas Sparks romance comes to the big screen. Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried play star-crossed young lovers. (PG-13) 105 minutes.
EDGE OF DARKNESS Mel Gibson is terse and contained as a Boston police detective searching for the murderer of his eco-activist daughter in Martin Campbell’s efficient political thriller. Clues mount up, suspense builds, the action is fast, visceral and violent, and Ray Winstone is highly entertaining as a philosophical hit man. But it all devolves into The Passion of the Mel, when Gibson launches into full Christian martyr mode—betrayed, brutalized and imprisoned in a sepulcher. (R) 117 minutes. (★★). Lisa Jensen
FANTASTIC MR. FOX Roald Dahl’s droll children’s book get a wry, edgy adaptation from Wes Anderson and. done in fabulously retro stop-motion.. (PG) 88 minutes. (★★★1/2) Lisa Jensen
THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS Terry Gilliam’s epic fantasy (does he make any other kind?) ought to be better than it is: the pacing is off, his handling of actors can be erratic, and posing imagination as the opposite of evil makes for a slippery plot device. But the movie’s scruffy pleasures are in the details–from the tawdry, retro fun-house charm of the carnival sideshow that inspires the title, to some lovely moments provided by the marvelous Tom Waits as a purring, deadpan Devil. Heath Ledger is both delicious and bittersweet in his last film role as a mystery man who takes to the carny’s life with silky finesse. (PG-13) 122 minutes. (★★★) Lisa Jensen
FROM PARIS WITH LOVE Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a lowly intelligence agent with the U. S diplomatic corps who gets involved with a loose-cannon undercover op (John Travolta) who’s in Paris to stop a terrorist attack. Pierre Morel directs this action thriller from a story by Luc Besson; their last collaboration was the jet-propelled Taken. (R) 92 minutes.
NINE Try to follow along: Rob Marshall (Chicago) directs this musical film based on the popular stage musical that was inspired by the Fellini film classic, 8 1/2. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as a befuddled film director. Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, and Sophia Loren (as the director’s mother) are the women in his life. Hudson , Cotillard, Cruz and Dench all stand out and the production numbers are often riveting. The problem? Day-Lewis is miscast. You never warm up to him or care about his evolution. (PG-13) 118 minutes. (★★) Greg Archer
PRECIOUS Lee Daniels’ masterful film, adapted from the 1996 novel, “Push,” by poet-turned-author Sapphire, shows how the tiniest flicker of compassion can transform a life of complete degradation into something triumphant. Gabourey Sidibe gives an astounding, adjective-defying performance in the title role, a wary, mountainous, hard-luck Harlem teenager who has learned to hide her spirit beneath protective layers of flesh and silence. (R) 109 minutes. (★★★★) Lisa Jensen
PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF With the Harry Potter film franchise winding down, Hollywood looks to this series of YA novels by Rick Riordan to deliver the magic. Logan Lerman stars as a troubled high schooler (a bit older than he was in the book) who discovers he’s related to the Greek gods of Mt. Olympus. (PG) 119 minutes.
A SINGLE MAN Colin Firth gives a marvelously controlled, yet yearning performance as a quietly closeted gay expatriate British college professor in sunny L. A., grieving over the loss of his longtime patner, who no longer fits into his well-tailored life. Adapted from the Christopher Isherwood novel by rookie director Tom Ford, this spare, elegant study on the naturte of grief charts the disruptive course of renegade feelings in a life constructed around keeping feelings in check. The early ’60s era is cannily evoked, while Julianne Moore (in full diva mode) and the always excellent Matthew Goode are terrific in support. (R) 99 minutes. (★★★) Lisa Jensen
TOOTH FAIRY Dwayne Johnson stars in this kiddie comedy as a tough minor-league hockey player. (PG).
UP IN THE AIR . Watch and relish how this clever film wins you over and keeps up interested in its characters from beginning to end. George Clooney headlines this comedy-drama about a business exec who spends all his time on the road. Vera Farmiga is a fellow traveler and soon the two frolic during layovers. (No pun intended.) Jason Bateman and Anna Kendrick co-star as Clooney’s coworkers in a company that helps other companies lay off their employees. Jason Reitman (Juno) directs and co-wrote this adaptation of the Walter Kim novel. Not to be missed. (R) 109 minutes. (★★★1/2) Greg Archer
VALENTINE’S DAY Comedy veteran Garry Marshall directs this ensemble romantic comedy about intersecting lives during one fateful Valentine’s Day in Los Angeles. Think of it as Crash, with roses and chocolates. Jennifer Garner, Ashton Kutcher, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, Patrick Dempsey, Julia Roberts, Queen Latifah, Jessica Alba, Topher Grace, Bradley Cooper, Kathy Bates, Shirley MacLaine, Taylor Lautner, and a bunch more people I’m probably forgetting star. (PG-13) 117 minutes. .
WHEN IN ROME Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel star in this silly, but harmless romantic comedy from Mark Steven Johnson. (PG-13) 91 minutes. (★★1/2) Lisa Jensen.
THE WHITE RIBBON Filmmaker Michael Haneke’s disturbingly beautiful drama imagines life in a remote German village in the generation before Hitler’s rise to power. More complex than a simple parable, it’s a stately piece of dramatic fiction with the dread-generating intensity of a horror movie. (R) 140 minutes. In German with English subtitles. (★★★) Lisa Jensen
THE WOLFMAN As a Victorian-era Shakespearean actor caught up in sinister doings at his ancestral estate, the ever-persuasive Benicio Del Toro doesn’t have a character to grow; he’s just woebegone, as director Joe Johnston (onetime ILM fx wizard) ladles on the blood, gore, entrails, and dismembered body parts. In 1941, when a were-bitten Lon Chaney Jr. wolfed out and killed one innocent bystander in a bestial frenzy, that was tragedy. When Del Toro rampages through London, slaughtering dozens upon dozens of victims, we don’t feel his pain in quite the same way. Finally, this version gives us two werewolves who, of course, have to face off against each other in a hysterically funny finale of macho posturing. (R) 125 minutes. (★★) Lisa Jensen
THE YOUNG VICTORIA Jean-Marc Vallee’s sumptuously mounted historical drama offers an intriguing glimpse of the lonely, fatherless, inexperienced 18-year-old girl thrust onto the throne of England (and destined to give her name to an entire age) before and after her succession to the crown. The radiant Emily Blunt is a graceful, yet piquant Victoria. (PG) 100 minutes. (★★★) Lisa Jensen
YOUTH IN REVOLT Michael Cera stars as both Nick Twisp, precocious hero and would-be sexual adventurer of the tart series of YA novels by C. D. Payne, and Nick’s suave fantasy alter-ego, Francois Dillinger. Screenwriter Gustin Nash does a fine job, given the challenges of whittling down Nick’s immense, imaginative universe from the literary adventures, and director Miguel Arteta gives this amusing romp a genuine liveliness not often seen in teen comedies. (R) 90 minutes. (★★★) Greg Archer