Films This Week
Check out the movies playing around town.
With reviews and trailers.
NEW THIS WEEK
ALICE IN WONDERLAND Hold on to your ears and whiskers! A 19-year-old Alice goes down the rabbit hole a second time to reunite with old friends and foes, and help save Wonderland from the tyrannical Red Queen, in Tim Burton’s luscious-looking sequel to the Lewis Carroll classic. Johnny Depp stars as the Mad Hatter; Helena Bonham Carter is the Red Queen. Anne Hathaway and Crispin Glover co-star. Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, and Christopher Lee head the voice cast. Newcomer Mia Wasikowska plays Alice. (PG) Starts Friday.
BROOKLYN’S FINEST Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, and Ethan Hawke star as NYPD cops in Brooklyn’s tough 65th Precinct heading for a showdown with destiny during one tumultuous week in this action drama from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day). Will Patton, Lili Taylor, and Ellen Barkin co-star. (R) 133 minutes. Starts Friday.
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THE GHOST WRITER Roman Polanski returns to the noir suspense format that made his Chinatown such a masterpiece with this political thriller about a ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) hired to punch up the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan). His predecessor on the project has met an untimely end, and the deeper the ghostwriter delves into the PM’s story, the closer he comes to secrets that could cost him his own life. Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Eli Wallach, and Tom Wilkinson co-star. (R) 109 minutes. Starts Friday.
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THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA: DANIEL ELLSBERG AND THE PENTAGON PAPERS Most of us who weathered the ’60s thought Richard Nixon was the most dangerous man in America. But in the Nixon White House, that nickname was bestowed (by Henry Kissinger) on Daniel Ellsberg, a mild-mannered employee of the military think-tank, the Rand Corp., who smuggled out the Pentagon Papers—detailing covert US skullduggery in Vietnam dating back to the Truman era—to the New York Times. The story of the principled man who risked life in prison to expose the truth is told by filmmakers Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith in this Oscar-nominated documentary. Not rated. 92 minutes. Starts Friday.
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NORTH FACE Reviewed this issue. Not rated. 126 minutes. In German with English subtitles. (★★★1/2) 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 MATRIX In the beginning, there was Neo (Keanu Reeves), a lowly computer hacker who gets a crash course in the nature of reality from the rebel underground in this mind-bending, 1999 fx thriller from Andy and Larry Wachowski. Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Hugo Weaving co-star. (R) 136 minutes. 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.
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 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
COP OUT Bruce Willis stars in this comedy about an NYPD police detective who recruits his partner (Tracy Morgan) to help him catch the perp when his rare, collectible baseball card is stolen. Adam Brody and Seann William Scott co-stars for cult director Kevin Smith (helming a script he didn’t write for the first time). (R) 110 minutes.
THE CRAZIES This latest remake of an old George Romero horror movie is an almost-but-not-quite zombie thriller in which a toxin starts turning the citizens of a sleepy Midwestern town into bloodthirsty homicidal maniacs. Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell star as the untainted sheriff and his wife struggling to survive. Joe Anderson and Danielle Panabaker co-star for director Breck Eisner. (R) 101 minutes.
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.
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.
THE LAST STATION Michael Hoffman’s lightly fictionalized account of Leo Tolstoy in his twilight years is a smart, gripping portrait of life and love in all their messy contradictions. Christopher Plummer is in fine form as the grandfatherly icon whose allegiance to the ideals of poverty, purity, and communal living put him in conflict with his privileged lifestyle. But the marvelous Helen Mirren as his wife, Sofya, is the spark who makes the story sizzle. Reviled as a greedy termagant by Leo’s pious followers (and as the only one who knows—and loves—the man he is inside) she’s refreshingly caustic about his premature “sainthood.” Paul Giamatti co-stars as her pompous antagonist in Leo’s inner circle; their battle for his soul never flags. (R) 112 minutes. (★★★1/2) Lisa Jensen.
POLICE, ADJECTIVE This police drama from Romania has a sly, black-comedy edge, depending more on the intensity of ideas than conventional action. A Bucharest detective on stake-out, following the case of a teenage boy who smokes dope with his friends, tries to figure out a way to obey the letter of the law without ruining the kids life by sending him to jail. A clever look at words, language and communication (a dictionary figures prominently in the story) that also considers the state of society in the aftermath of the Ceausescu dictatorship. Corneliu Promboiu directs. (Not rated) 113 minutes. In Romanian with English subtitles. (★★★) Lisa Jensen.
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.
SHUTTER ISLAND Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo star in this thriller as a pair of U. S. Marshals 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 von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, and Jackie Earle Haley co-star. (R) 138 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
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. .
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