INVICTUS Sports and politics mix in this true story of how restored South African president Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) joined with national rugby team captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to unite the country devastated by the aftermath of apartheid during the 1995 World Cup championship race. Clint Eastwood directs on location in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Based on the non-fiction book “Playing The Enemy,” by John Carlin. (PG-13) 133 minutes. Starts Friday.
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THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Disney finally enters the 20th Century with its first African-American cartoon princess heroine. This hand-drawn animated musical family film relocates the classic fairy tale to the Louisiana Bayou, ca. 1920s, where a young woman’s decision to kiss a talking frog and restore his humanity has unexpectedly comic results. Anika Noni Rose and Bruno Campos provide the lead voices; Keith David is the voice of the slick Voodoo witch doctor villain. Disney veterans John Musker and Ron Clements direct. Randy Newman wrote the tunes. (G) 97 minutes. Starts Friday.
SKIN (PG-13) 107 minutes. (★★★) Starts Friday. See Review by Lisa Jensen >>>
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 BIG SLEEP Bogart and Bacall team up with steamy and provocative results in Howard Hawks’ 1946 classic, based on the Raymond Chandler mystery novel. It’s one of the most incomprehensible plots in all of cinema, but who cares, with the leads vamping each other with such risqué glee, and fine, tart dialogue like Bogie’s caustic crack that a young nymphet, “tried to sit in my lap while I was standin’ up.” Film noir at its most entertaining. (Not rated) 114 minutes. (★★★★)—Lisa Jensen. 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 discuss current flicks with a rotating series of guest moderators. Discussion begins at 7 pm and admission is free. For more information visit www.ltatm.org.
AN EDUCATION Drenched in early ’60s atmosphere, and impeccably produced in every detail, Lone Scherfig’s adaptation of the Lynn Barber memoir tells a familiar story about a dewy-eyed young women and a worldly older man. The plot is never entirely believable onscreen, but the emotions involved are explored with honesty, insight, and humor. Newcomer Carey Mulligan plays the schoolgirl heroine with disarming girlishness, pert sophistication, and tart self-awareness. But Peter Sarsgaard is not a naturally irresistible charmer; as the older man, his emotional palette seems studied and insincere. That he worms himself so easily into her parents’ good graces is a credibility gap from which the film never recovers. (PG-13) 95 minutes. (★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
ARMORED Columbus Short stars in this action thriller about a new driver at an armored truck company coerced by his cohorts into joining them in a $42 million truck heist that goes awry. Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, and Laurence Fishburne co-star for director Nimród Antal (Kontroll) (PG-13) 88 minutes. Starts Friday.
A SERIOUS MAN Joel and Ethan Coen set this strikingly deadpan, comic tragedy in a suburban midwestern Jewish community ca. 1967. The setting couldn’t be more personal to the Coens, but the questions they raise about faith, tradition, family values, and the meaning of life are universal—however wickedly perverse the Coens’ perspective may be. Everyman Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a university math professor whose life is starting to unravel. Increasingly frazzled, yet ever accommodating, Larry’s crises seem to pile up in direct proportion to the ineffectuality of his responses. Turning to a series of rabbis to help him understand God’s plan in sending him so much grief, all he gets are half-baked analogies and pointless fables. Dripping acerbic wit, the film is a weirdly engrossing portrait of meltdown in the face of a chaotic universe over which there may not be any plan. The one piece of useful advice anyone gets in the movie (from a very unexpected source) slyly suggests the continuity with which humans try to provide comforting answers to imponderable questions from one generation to the next. (R) 105 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS Nicolas Cage stars as a drug-addicted rogue detective operating at the outer limits of the law while plying his righteous brand of justice in post-Katrina Nawlins. Eva Mendes co-stars as the prostitute he loves in this operatic morality play from the one and only Werner Herzog. (R) 121 minutes.
THE BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY Ten years after filmmaker Troy Duffy unleashed the original Boondock Saints, the cult action drama about Irish homeboys defending their turf in Boston, he finally gets the sequel up onscreen. Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus star as the McManus Brothers forced to return from Ireland when they learn they’ve been framed in Boston for the murder of a priest. Billy Connolly, Clifton, Collins Jr., Judd Nelson, and Peter Fonda co-star. (R) 115 minutes.
BROTHERS Tobey Maguire is the reliable older brother presumed dead in Afghanistan returning home from a POW camp. Jake Gyllenhaal is the ex-con younger brother who’s moved in on his brother’s wife (Natalie Portman) when she thought she was a widow. The great Jim Sheridan (In America) directs this adaptation from a Danish film by Susanne Bier. Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Clifton Collins Jr., and Carey Mulligan co-star. (R) 110 minutes
THE BLIND SIDE The real-life story of All-American football star Michael Oher is dramatized in this inspirational tale. Sandra Bullock stars as the neighbor woman who virtually adopts the homeless, neglected teenage Oher into her family and changes his life—and theirs. Newcomer Quinton Aaron plays Oher. Tim McGraw and Kathy Bates co-star for director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie). (PG-13) 126 minutes.
DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL It’s hard not to walk away impressed by his imaginative undertaking. Jim Carrey morphs into Charles Dickens’ Scrooge—as well as the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future—in this animated action retelling of the classic tale. Director Robert Zemeckis (The Polar Express) creates wonders here—see the 3D version. Meanwhile Gary Oldman delivers a winning turn as Bob Cratchit (as well as Marley’s Ghost). Colin Firth is nephew Fred; Bob Hoskins is Mr. Fezziwig. Great for the kids, but adults will relish all the savvy technical nuances here. Beyond the retelling of a classic, this is one masterful piece of art. (PG) (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer
EVERYBODY’S FINE Kirk Jones turns this Americanization of a 20-year-old Marcello Mastroianni film into a wistful drama of family dynamics and the lies we tell ourselves and our loved ones just to get by. Robert De Niro stars as a widower on a cross-country journey to reconnect with his far-flung kids. Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, and Drew Barrymore are the offspring who resort to occasionally too-desperate measures not to disillusion him. Although Jones doesn’t entirely resist the urge to tie things up in a neat package, the story mostly rises above easy sentimentality for a thoughtful look at parenting, expectations, and disappointment. (PG-13) 100 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
FANTASTIC MR. FOX Wes Anderson (of all people) directs this adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s story using vintage-style stop-motion animation techniques. George Clooney and Meryl Streep provide voices fo Mr. And Mrs. Fox, whose happy suburban life is threatened when Mr. Fox gives in to his animal instincts and endangers the entire animal community. Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wlson, and Michael Gambon also contribute voices. (PG) 88 minutes.
THE MESSENGER In Oren Moverman’s rigorous and insightful debut feature, Ben Foster gives a taut, quietly implosive performance as a wounded Iraq War vet serving out the rest of his tour back in the States, notifying loved ones that their sons, husbands and fathers have been killed in action. The film honors the sacrifices of servicemen and women and their families, while at the same time exposing the true cost of war, and the bitter reality beneath the patriotic hype and hoopla.Woody Harrelson plays the plummy role of Foster’s glibly profane partner/mentor with panache; Samantha Morton provides grace and heart as a new widow. (R) 105 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
MICHAEL JACKSON: THIS IS IT Culled from over a hundred hours of rehearsal footage, this feature film documents the performance the late star was preparing for his comeback world tour. Shot at the Staples Center in LA, between March and June, 2009, the film is directed by Kenny Ortega, who was also directing Jackson’s stage show. Here’s your chnce to see it on a big screen, for a limited two-week engagement. (PG) (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer
NINJA ASSASSIN Korean pop star Rain plays the title role in this contemporary martial arts action thriller about an orphan plucked off the streets and turned into a killing machine by a crime syndicate who goes rogue and turns against his mentors after the murder of a friend. Naomie Harris co-stars as a Europol agent on the trail of the syndicate who joins the assassin on his quest for revenge. Rick Yune co-stars for director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta). (R) 99 minutes.
OLD DOGS John Travolta and Robin Williams star in this family comedy as a couple of single, middle-aged buddies. (PG)
PIRATE RADIO This latest ensemble comedy from Richard Curtis (Love Actually) harks back to the late ’60s when rock ‘n’ roll was banned from the staid BBC airwaves, forcing an intrepid crew of renegade djs to broadcast The Who, The Stones, Cream, etc, from an oil tanker in the North Sea, just outside British jurisdiction. Real-life pirate radio stations (like Radio Caroline) were a fact of life in ’60s Britain; names have been changed to protect the notorious. Bill Nighy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Rhys Ifans star. (R) 120 minutes.
PLANET 51 Think of E.T. in reverse in this animated comedy about a U.S. astronaut who lands on a supposedly uninhabited planet. (PG) 91 minutes.
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. But Sidibe reveals the vibrant, questing self inside the character with grace and a fierce authenticity. Mo’Nique is incendiary as the girl’s toxic mother in this uncompromising, inventive and rewarding film. (R) 109 minutes. (★★★★)—Lisa Jensen
RED CLIFF Action director John Woo turns to the mystical martial arts spectacle with this vast, bloody epic of feudal warlords battling and out-foxing each other in 3rd Century China. The visual scale is humongous, the bloodletting frequent and exhausting. But the strategies are fascinating, and commanding actors (including Chinese superstar Tony Leung, and Sino-Japanese heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro) provide a soulful and spiritual underpinning to all the mayhem. (R) 148 minutes. In Mandarin with English subtitles. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
2012 You have to wonder about a movie that purports to be about the “survivors” after “the end of the world.” John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Thandie Newton are among those caught up in the aftermath of disasters following the end of part (although, evidently not all) of the world. (PG-13) 160 minutes.
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON Oy! Twilight. A brooding teenage gal who should be on some meds falls for an unavailable vamp, all the while avoiding the delicious advances of an available eco-sexual hunky-and-shirtless virgin teen werewolf. Yes. It’s a much more warped “Romeo & Juliet” for the texting generation. I just hate to see the therapy bills in 10 years. Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart get paid millions to moan and groan here but it’s Taylor Lautner that steals the show as a teen werewolf. Taylor meet Fame; Fame, meet Taylor. (And keep your shirt off.) Chris Weitz directs. (PG-13) 130 minutes. (★★)—Greg Archer