Movies & Film Events: Week of Jan. 7

film_crazy_on_the_outsideCRAZY ON THE OUTSIDE  Tim Allen makes his directing debut in this comedy in which he also stars as an ex-con who causes havoc when he moves in with his sister (Sigourney Weaver) and her family. Ray Liotta. Kelsey Grammer, and Jeanne Triplehorn co-star. (PG-13) Starts Friday.
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film_daybreakersDAYBREAKERS In the near future when a rampant virus has turned most of the earth’s population into the bloodsucking undead, biologist Ethan Hawke races to find a cure to restore humanity in this Australian vampire thriller from filmmaking brothers Michael and Peter Spierig. Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill co-star. (R) 98 minutes. Starts Friday.

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film_imaginarium_of_doctor_parnassusTHE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS  Reviewed this issue. (PG-13) 122  minutes. (★★★) Starts Friday.
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film_leap_yearLEAP YEAR En route to Ireland to propose to her longtime boyfriend on Leap Day (according to an old Irish custom), American Amy Adams is rerouted to the Welsh countryside, where she meets simpatico innkeeper Matthew Goode, in this romantic comedy. Anand Tucker directs. (PG) Starts Friday.
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film_youth_in_revoltYOUTH 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; M. Emmett Walsh also co-stars for director Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck). (R) 90 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 IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS  (PG-13) 122 minutes. This week only: Thurs-Fri-Sat midnight. Also: YOUTH IN REVOLT This week only: Thurs-Fri-Sat midnight. 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.


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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 to earn cash for a school music program, but find themselves in competition with a girl-group called the Chipettes. Live-action co-stars include Jason Lee, Zachary Levi, and Drew Barrymore. Betty Thomas directs. (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

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 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. (★★★)

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. (PG) 88 minutes.

IT’S COMPLICATED The ever-busy Meryl Streep teams up with Alec Baldwin for this romantic comedy: they’re divorced, he’s remarried a younger woman, and they confuse everybody by falling into an illicit affair after their son’s wedding. Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Rita Wilson, and Hunter Parrish co-star 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)

ME AND ORSON WELLES Richard Linklater directs this entertaining period piece in which a young drama student (Zac Efron) in 1937 New York City stumbles into a part in what will become the landmark Mercury Theatre production of Julius Caesar, directed by then-22-year-old enfant terrible Orson Welles. Christian McKay is absolutely extraordinary in a towering portrayal that captures Welles in all his arrogance, charm, and genius. Clare Danes is the gal Friday who shows the newbie the ropes; Ben Chaplin delivers a splendid, scene-stealing turn as acidic classical actor George Coulouris. (PG-13) 109 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS A dream cast headlines this nutball Cold War comedy based on the non-fiction bestseller by Jon Ronson. Ewan McGregor plays a reporter befriended by a mysterious Special Ops agent (George Clooney)  who claims to be part of an experimental U. S. military unit developing psychic warfare to control the enemies’ minds. Jeff Bridges is the out-there founder of the unit; Kevin Spacey is a rival psychic with his own personal militia. Directed by Grant Heslov (who co-wrote Good Night And Good Luck with Clooney). (R) 93 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. (★★1/2) —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. 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

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG It’s taken the folks at Walt Disney more than seven decades to create their first African-American cartoon heroine, and when they finally do, she spends most of the movie green when a fairy tale kiss goes awry. But this movie is so much fun, and culturally rich, with its New Orleans/Louisiana bayou setting, there’s not much else to quibble about. Anika Noni Rose provides the lovely voice of the spirited heroine, and Bruno Campos oozes charm, wit, and joie de vivre as one of the funniest, most appealling heroes ever in a “Disney princess” movie. Lively songs by Randy Newman, and gorgeous hand-drawn cel animation make this one of the most entertaining Disney cartoon features since The Lion King. (G) 97 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.

THE ROAD Author Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic tale of a father and son journeying across a devastated landscape warns what might happen if Nature suddenly turned as savagely self-destructive as the humans who inhabit it. Viggo Mortensen is a ferocious force of nature unto himself as the haggard scavenger father keeping his son alive. (R) 119 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

SHERLOCK HOLMES Robert Downey Jr. plays a wisecracking younger, more physical Holmes than we’re used to, and Jude Law is his snarky, adversarial Dr. Watson in this reboot from Guy Ritchie, which lands the legendary sleuths in the middle of an action comedy full of explosions. Rachel McAdams co-stars as Irene Adler, the one woman to ever get the better of Holmes, and the beloved Kelly Reilly completes the quartet. Trust in the cast, try to forget Van Helsing and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and hope for the best. (R) 140 minutes.

UP IN THE AIR Critics are raving over George Clooney’s performance in this comedy-drama about a business exec who spends all his time on the road, racking up frequent flyer miles and gold-card perks, yet develops a latent hankering for stability in his peripatetic life. Vera Farmiga is the fellow traveler with whom he begins to consider a life on the ground; Jason Bateman and Anna Kendrick co-star. Jason Reitman (Juno) directs and co-wrote this adaptation of the Walter Kim novel. (R) 109 minutes.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book comes to the screen in dark, rich and spooky, live-action from director Spike Jonze and co-scriptwriter Dave Eggers. Max Records plays Max, a lonely little boy whose fits of rage propel him to the magical island of the wild things, who make him their king. Most of the wild things represent a part of Max himself, and while the story works onscreen as an adventure (although a sometimes sad, wistful one), in its deeper subtext, it understands that childhood is not always a happy place; it’s riddled with fear, anxiety, nameless anger, and uncontrollable urges that can have dire, scary consequences. Not exactly a flm for the kiddies, it nevertheless sticks to its own dark, lyrical sense of truth that is also quite moving in the end. (PG) 101 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, and the ever-watchable Rupert Friend is charmingly soft-spoken and thoughtful as her groom-to-be, Albert. How coltish young Victoria  figures out how to resist manipulation, place her trust where it’s deserved, and blossom into the woman and monarch she needs to become give this handsome and entertaining history lesson a modern edge. (PG) 100 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

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