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. Starts Friday.
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ANTICHRIST Expect the worst from Lars von Trier in this raw, controversial drama about a woman (Charlotte Gainesborough) driven to ever more humiliating acts of desperation while grieving over the death of her son. Willem Dafoe co-stars. (Not rated) 104 minutes. Starts Friday.
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, as predicted by an ancient Mayan calendar. Roland Emmerich directs. (PG-13) 160 minutes. Starts Friday.
AN EDUCATION Reviewed this issue. (PG-13) 95 minutes. (★★1/2) 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: THE DARK CRYSTAL This handsome adult-oriented 1983 feature from Muppet-maestro Jim Henson comes to life when the oddball fantasy creatures are well-done, like the reptilian villains. (The ineffectual elf-like heroes pale in comparison.) Brian Froud’s lavish production design combines fairy tales, nightmares and surreal humor, and there’s enough offbeat wit to please most genre fans most of the time. (PG) 93 minutes. (**1/2) —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.
AMELIA Hilary Swank stars in the role she was probably born to play, tousle-haired, tomboyish aviatrix Amelia Earhart, whose daring solo flights, unconventional lifestyle, and myserious disappearance have fascinated the world for nearly a century. Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor co-star as the men in her life. Mira Nair (The Namesake; Monsoon Wedding) directs. (PG) 111 minutes.
THE BOX Cameron Diaz and James Marsden star as a couple who discover a mysterious box on their doorstep that confers instant wealth on whoever opens it—but only at the cost of someone else’s life. Based on the Richard Matheson story, “Button, Button.” Frank Langella co-star for director Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko). (PG-13) 115 minutes
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.
COCO BEFORE CHANEL The rise of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel from impoverished orphan to one of the most influential of 20th Century fashion designers is perfect for the big, lush biopic treatment. Still, Belgian filmmaker Anne Fontaine brings something extra to the mix; every lovely frame of her thoughtful film is informed by a resonant empathy for Chanel as a stylist, a woman, and an outsider hungry to succeed on her own terms. Audrey Tatou is a fine, piquant, caustic Coco. The excellent Benoit Poelvoorde and Alessandro Nivola are the men in her life, but the real love story is between Coco and her own evolving sense of personal style. (PG-13) 105 minutes. In French with English subtitles. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
COUPLES RETREAT Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau team up again for this comedy they co-wrote about four couples on vacation at a lush tropical resort . (PG-13) 107 minutes.
THE DAMNED UNITED Michael Sheen turns in another beautifully calibrated performance as a real-life character from recent British history: legendary 1970s soccer manager Brian Clough, notorious in Britain for his ego, his gift of gab, and his skill in shepherding hopeless Third Division teams from the north of England into stunning and impossible championships. Director Tom Hooper navigates the story’s fragmented time frame with skill and clarity, while scriptwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen; Frost/Nixon) delivers a bracing, near-epic drama of supreme hubris, profound vindication, and dazzling chutzpah. But mostly this witty and merrily profane film rackets along on the charismatic brio of Sheen, who is marvelous fun to watch throughout. (R) 97 minutes. (★★★1/2) —Lisa Jensen
DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL Jim Carrey gets the motion-capture treatment from director Robert Zemeckis (The Polar Express) in this animated action retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic tale about an old miser shown the error of his ways on Christmas Eve. Carrey plays Ebenezer Scrooge, and all three Christmas spirits. Gary Oldman appears as Bob Cratchit and Marley’s Ghost; Colin Firth is nephew Fred; Bob Hoskins is Mr. Fezziwig. (PG)
THE FOURTH KIND Milla Jovovich stars in this paranormal thriller as an investigator who uncovers a mother lode of videotaped evidence of 40 years of alien abductions in Nome, Alaska. Elias Koteas and Will Patton co-star for director Olatunde Osunsanmi. (PG-13)
THE HORSE BOY When Rupert and Kristen Isaacson’s son, Rowan, is diagnosed autistic, they begin an unorthodox odyssey to try to forge a bridge into his inner world. Noticing Rowan becomes calm, happy, and communicative on a neighbor’s horse, the Anglo-American couple invites filmmaker Michel O. Scott along on a journey across the Mongolian steppes that will involve shamans, ritual cleansings, nomadic sheepherders, and the healing powers of reindeer. It all sounds touchy-feely, but what emerges is a graceful, remarkable portrait of the Isaacson’s love and courage, fighting not to “cure” what’s “wrong” with Rowan, but to find a new way to appreciate what’s special about him and help him out of his isolation. It’s also an intriguing comparison of the different ways Western and more traditional cultures treat the “others” in their midst. (Not rated) 93 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
LAW ABIDING CITIZEN Gerard Butler stars in this crime thriller as a man imprisoned for taking the law into his own hands after the murder of his wife. (R) 108 minutes.
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.
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
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY Buzz is huge and still building over Oren Peli’s no-budget horror thriller, after two sold-out preview weekends as a midnight show at the Del Mar. It’s about a young couple who think their new house is haunted; they set up a video camera in their bedroom to record any malevolent activity—and boy, does it ever. Don’t see it alone.
PARIS French filmmaker Cedric Klapisch is best-known for his beloved L’Auberge Espagnole, a buoyant look at international students sharing a flat in Barcelona. In this new ensemble piece, he attempts a similar intersection of viewpoints, cultures, and sexual adventures, but with less success. Most of the new characters pale next to the magic and magnitude of one of the most beguiling cities on Earth. Still, Romain Duris, as a dancer sidelined with a heart defect, and Juliette Binoche, as his loyal older sister, create a wry, touching relationship in the center of the film. And the city of Paris enchants throughout. Fabrice Luchini, Francois Cluzet, and Melanie Laurent co-star. (PG-13) 130 minutes. In French with English subtitles. (★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.(R) 99 minutes.
SAW VI Series regulars Tobin Bell and Costas Mandylor return in yet another installment of the slice-and-dice horror franchise built around the sadistic Jigsaw. Kevin Gruetert directs. (R) 90 minutes.
A SERIOUS MAN Joel and Ethan Coen set this strikingly deadpan, comic tragedy in a suburban midwestern Jewish community ca. 1967, 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. 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. A weirdly engrossing portrait of meltdown in the face of a chaotic universe over which there may not be any plan. (R) 105 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
UNTITLED The tension between true artistic value and hype, steak and sizzle, is the theme of Jonathan Parker’s wry satire on contemporary culture. Set in the rarefied milieu of new music and postmodern art, it deftly exposes the preciousness of young wannabe aesthetes desperately trying to impose the shock of the new and make their mark on an already jaded and overcrowded cultural landscape. Adam Goldberg is well cast as a wary, curmudgeonly new music composer determined not to be “popular.” Marley Shelton nails the uber-art gallerista who believes in art for notoriety’s sake. (R) 96 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book hits the screen, thanks to the noteworthy direction of Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich)—Dave Eggers is co-scriptwriter. The bottom line? This a film you’ll either truly be captivated by or not all interested in. Jonze creates a powerful, often emotional landscape here, and newcomer Max Records aptly morphs into the troubled protagonist, Max, the little boy who suddenly finds himself in an imaginary—although you could question that— world of “wild things” that soon make him king of their world. But this live-action film works best when it wanders deep in the psychology of dear Max—there are some touching, real moments. Catherine Keener and Mark Ruffalo co-star; Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, and Forest Whitaker offer the character voices. (PG) 101 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer
ZOMBIELAND Poor Jesse Eisenberg just can’t seem to get off the boardwalk. First, he starred in Adventureland, and now, in this new zombie horror comedy, he plays a self-confessed coward forced to team up with macho Woody Harrelson in shepherding a group of refugees to a distant amusement park. Ruben Fleischer directs. (R) 83 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 Flannery 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