Films This Week
Check out the movies playing around town.
With reviews and trailers.
PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYPMPIANS: 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—still very much present in the modern world—who involve him in one of their dangerous feuds. Look for Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, and Steve Coogan as various gods; Uma Thurman plays snake-haired Medusa. Chris Columbus directs.(PG) 119 minutes. Starts Friday.
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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. Starts Friday.
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THE WOLFMAN Dream casting or nightmare? You make the call. Benicio Del Toro stars in this update of the vintage Universal horror classic as Lawrence Talbot, an American called home to his ancestral family estate in Victorian England to help search for his missing brother, reunite with his estranged (and strange) father (Anthony Hopkins), and fall victim to the family lycanthropy curse. Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving co-star for director Joe Johnston. (R) 125 minutes. Starts Friday.
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THE WHITE RIBBON See Review by Lisa Jensen >>> (R) 140 minutes. In German with English subtitles. (★★★) Starts Friday.
CREATION See Review by Lisa Jensen >>> (PG-13) 108 minutes. (★★★) Starts Friday.
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: HIGH FIDELITY John Cusack (who also co-produced and co-wrote the script) is wry and winning in this savvy 2000 comedy, which relocates the Nick Hornby comic novel from London to Chicago. Cusack stars as the obsessively list-making proprietor of a vintage record (yes, vinyl) shop coping with romantic troubles and a nutball staff that includes Jack Black in his first breakout role. (R) 113 minutes. (HHH1/2)—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.
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKUEL In this second installment of the franchise, the animated rodent trio signs up for a battle-of-the-bands contest. (PG)
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.
BROKEN EMBRACES (LOS ABRAZOS ROTOS) Lust and obsession, storytelling and filmmaking, betrayal and redemption—all are whipped into a gorgeous and volatile froth in this spicy drama from Pedro Almodóvar, served with a side of wry. A blind filmmaker with a split identity, a powerful financier, and Penelope Cruz at her most vibrant and earthy, as the woman both love propel the plot that keeps us on edge and enthralled. But it’s Almodóvar’s love affair with the delirium of filmic storytelling (from his artfully fragmented narrative and beauteous visuals to sly comic homages) that make this a gift to be cherished by a master of the rapturous. (R) 128 minuutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. (★★★★) Lisa Jensen
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
DEAR JOHN Yet another bestselling Nicholas Sparks romance comes to the big screen. Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried play star-crossed young lovers who have to continue their relationship via love letters after he’s shipped back to combat in Iraq. Veteran literary adapter Lasse Hallstrom directs. (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. Logic and dignity go out the window as we’re invited to wallow in the character’s pain and worship our suffering, wrathful avenger. (R) 117 minutes. (★★). Lisa Jensen.
EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES Brendan Fraser is stalwart and heartfelt in this true story of a corporate idea man who leaves his job to found an independent research center in hopes of developing a treatment for a rare genetic disease in time to save the lives of his two kids. Harrison Ford is the brilliant, but cantankerous renegade biochemist who helps him.. (PG) 102 minutes. (★★1/2) 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, and Gilliam’s use of three other actors (Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell) to play aspects of Ledge’s character makes great narrative sense. As messy and imperfect as it often is, the movie scores points as a celebration of both the human imagination and the power of storytelling. (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.
IT’S COMPLICATED The ever-busy Meryl Streep teams up with Alec Baldwin for this romantic comedy for director Nancy Meyers. (R)
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. (★★★1/2) Greg Archer
LEGION Paul Bettany stars as the Archangel Michael in this apocalypse action fantasy in which a fed-up Allmighty sends his legion of angels to pull the plug on the humanity experiment.. (R).
THE LOVELY BONES Peter Jackson commits a sin of admission in his unwieldy adaptation of the bestselling Alice Sebold novel; he spends so much creative energy depicting the mind-blowing afterlife from which the murdered teenage heroine narrates the story that the intimate human drama that should make it all meaningful falls by the wayside.. (PG-13) 135 minutes. (★★) Lisa Jensen
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
SHERLOCK HOLMES How could such a great cast and clever idea go so horribly wrong? Ask director Guy Ritchie, perpetrator of this soulless reboot, which reduces the rich possibilities of the Holmes canon down to a boring, conventional, action buddy-bromance. Robert Downey Jr. is as fun to watch as ever as a younger Holmes so hypersensitive to stimuli, he can barely function outside his man cave, but he’s playing Downey, not Holmes. Jude Law provides stature as a much more martial, war-hero Dr. Watson, trying to break free to marry his fiancee (Kelly Reilly, with far too little to do), but he’s mosty stuck playing straight man. An aggravating disappointment. (R) 140 minutes. (★) Lisa Jensen
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 It’s one of the best films of 2009. 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
WHEN IN ROME Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel star in this silly, but harmless romantic comedy from Mark Steven Johnson about impossibly beautiful people destined to be together who keep throwing roadblocks into the path of love. Will Arnett, Dax Shepard. Jon Heder and Danny DeVito provide occasional fun as a quartet of spellbound suitors. Comedy veers from clever dialogue and cute references to other movies to tedious slapstick and beyond-stupid set-ups. Overall, this movie is like a fizzy Asti Spumanti; sweet and insubstantial. (PG-13) 91 minutes. (★★1/2) 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. Portia Doubleday plays the sexy new girl in town to whom Nick determines to lose his virginity. Steve Buscemi and Jean Smart are on board as his parents. 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