THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON More trouble brews for star-crossed teens Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire soulmate, Edward (Robert Pattinson) in this second installment of the megahit Stephanie Meyers YA series. The would-be lovers are separated when Edward’s concerned family moves him out of town, leaving Bella to grow closer to her werewolf buddy, Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Chris Weitz directs.(PG-13) 130 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch movie trailer >>>
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. Starts Friday.
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PLANET 51 Think of E.T. in reverse in this animated comedy about a U.S. astronaut who lands on a supposedly uninhabited planet only to find it occupied by mild-mannered green-skinned people in a culture much like the American 1950s, for whom he’s the scary “alien” invader. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, and John Cleese provide voices. Jorge Blanco directs. (PG) 91 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch movie trailer >>>
PRECIOUS Reviewed this issue. (R) 109 minutes. (★★★★) Starts Friday.
WOMEN IN TROUBLE Girls go wild, and then some, in this almost all-female, Almodóvar-inspired comedy melodrama from filmmaker Sebastian Gutierrez. Porn stars, sex-workers, a therapist, a bartender, and masseuse, and a high-flying stewardess are among the ten women whose paths cross during one wild day in and around Los Angeles. Carla Gugino, Connie Britton, Marley Shelton and Adrienne Palicki head the cast. (R) 92 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch movie trailer >>>
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: BRAZIL Terry Gilliam’s imagination goes amok in this Orwellian nightmare played for wicked laughs. It’s full of noisy explosions and hysterical babble, but the retro-40s futurist look is amazing, complemented by sly dialogue and witty visual gags. Jonathan Pryce stars as an anxious little bureaucrat whose lyrical, increasingly spooky fantasies take on an ominous life of their own. (R) 140 minutes. (HHH)—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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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
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.
THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS the good news? This is a dream cast. George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey. What can go wrong? Not al lot—but enough. This clever Cold War comedy based on the non-fiction bestseller by Jon Ronson finds Ewan McGregor as a reporter suddenly befriended by a Special Ops agent (Clooney offering a terrific turn). Apparently Clooney’s character is part of an experimental U. S. military unit that’s all about developing psychic warfare. Bridges plays the founder of the unit; Spacey is his nemesis. There are some fine comedic moments here but the film never really shines the way it could. True, the nuttiness of the premise automatically suggests the filmmakers will never really dive deep enough for us to really know the characters, but at the very least, you’d love to walk away caring about what happens to them. That really doesn’t happen (enough) here. Directed by Grant Heslov (R) 93 minutes. (★★1/2)—Greg Archer
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.
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.
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.
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.