New This Week
ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATED SHORT FILMS, 2013 Where are the next generation of filmmakers and animators coming from? Find out in these two complete, separate programs of this year’s Oscar-nominated short films from around the world (five live-action and five animated), offered for theatrical release in advance of the Academy Awards on Feb 24. Astound your friends with your knowledge of these categories at your Oscar parties. And the Live-Action nominees are:
ASAD (South Africa/USA, 18 minutes) A Somali boy must choose between piracy and an honest life in Bryan Buckley’s coming-of-age drama.
BUZKASHI BOYS (Afghanistan/USA, 28 minutes) Shot on location in Kabul, Sam French’s drama involves two Afghani youths struggling to rise above the strife in their homeland. CURFEW (USA, 19 minutes) Shawn Christensen directs this story of a down-and-out guy asked to babysit his niece for one evening.
DEATH OF A SHADOW (Belgium/France, 20 minutes) Tom Van Avermaet directs this dramatic fantasy about a man who collects the shadows of the dead.
HENRY (Canada, 21 minutes) A famed concert pianist’s life alters the day the love of his life disappears in Yan England’s drama. 114 minutes.
And the Animated nominees are: HEAD OVER HEELS (UK, 10 minutes) Aardman Animation alumnus Timothy Recart’s wry stop-motion tale of a marriage that’s lost its equilibrium.
MAGGIE SIMPSON: THE LONGEST DAYCARE (USA, 5 minutes) The Simpsons veteran David Silverman directs a story about little Maggie’s quest to be classified with the intellectually gifted pre-schoolers.
PAPERMAN (USA, 7 minutes) Pixar veteran John Kahrs’ black-and-white romance about a mid-Century office worker trying to woo the girl of his dreams. FRESH GUACAMOLE (USA, 2 minutes) Surreal food fun from video/pop artist Adam Pesapane.
ADAM AND DOG (USA, 16 minutes) Disney veteran Minkyu Lee considers what happened on Eden to make the dog man’s best friend. (Program also includes three bonus animation shorts.) 88 minutes. (Not rated) Starts Friday.
New This Week
Jason Bateman stars as a button-down Denver accounts rep with one week to reclaim his stolen credit card and identity from Miami shopaholic Melissa McCarthy in this comedy from director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses). Jon Favreau and Amanda Peet co-star. (R) Starts Friday.
There’s skullduggery in the pharmaceutical industry when a psychiatrist (Jude Law) finds himself implicated in a murder involving his patient (Rooney Mara) who’s being treated with a highly experimental anti-anxiety drug. Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones round out the cast for director Steven Soderbergh. (R) 106 minutes. Starts Friday.
SPECIAL EVENT THIS WEEK: FALL ITALIAN FILM SERIES The Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz returns with its monthly series of Italian films (one Sunday a month) to promote Italian culture and language. The new theme for the Fall/Winter season is “Set in Rome Over Five Decades.” This Week: A SPECIAL DAY (UNA GIORNATA PARTICOLARE) Left behind when her large, noisy brood goes off to cheer on Il Duce, drab housewife Sophia Loren unexpectedly bonds with aging homosexual neighbor Marcello Mastroianni on the day in 1938 when Hitler comes to Rome to meet with Mussolini. Ettore Scola directs this sensitive 1977 morality play. (Not rated) 105 minutes. In Italian with English subtitles. Logan Walker, film studies lecturer at SJSU will introduce the film and conduct an after-film Q&A. At Cabrillo College, VAPA Art History Forum Room 1001, Sunday only (Feb 10), 7 pm. Free.
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: PINEAPPLE EXPRESS Slacker Seth Rogen and James Franco as his laid-back dealer go on the lam when Rogen witnesses a murder and the bad guys track them down by their select brand of weed. David Gordon Green directs this 2008 stoner comedy. (R) 112 minutes. Fri-Sat midnight only. At the Del Mar.
CONTINUING SERIES: FLASHBACK FEATURES Oldies and goodies on Thursday nights at the Cinema 9, presented by your genial host, Joe Ferrara. $5 gets you in. This week: FATAL ATTRACTION Glenn Close is dazzling as the personification of unsafe sex in this lurid 1987 marital infidelity melodrama-turned-slasher movie. Michael Douglas is the straying Yuppie husband. Adrian Lyne directs. (R) 119 minutes. (HH1/2)—Lisa Jensen. Tonight (Thursday, February 7) only, 9 p.m., at the Cinema 9.
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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AMOUR Michael Haneke’s excellent new film is not for the faint-hearted; it may look like a domestic drama about a long-married couple rattling around their tiny Paris apartment, but it packs a wallop as Haneke confronts his ferocious and devastating themes—the inevitability of aging, and the nature of commitment. Two icons of French cinema, 82-year-old Jean-Louis Trintignant and 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva, fearlessly act their age in a pair of mesmerizing, award-worthy performances. Haneke doesn’t fritter away their talents in some faux-inspirational tale about finding courage and dignity in old age. Rather, he portrays the end of life—much like the rest of life—as a minefield of choices. The struggle to understand and define oneself continues right up to the lovely exit Haneke orchestrates for his characters after all their trials in a fitting finale to this brave, affecting film. (PG-13) 127 minutes. In French with English subtitles. (HHH1/2) —Lisa Jensen.
ARGO It nabbed top honors at the Golden Globes and recent SAG Awards—a good thing, considering director Ben Affleck was overlooked for an Oscar nom. Argo surpassses expectations and manages to do the unlikely job of morphing into both a political thriller and social commentary—and one that is oftentimes humorous. While most of the applause should go to Affleck, who stars and directs this wonderfully executed fact-based tale about a covert CIA operation to rescue six fugitive Americans in Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, the screenplay pops. Everything from the dialogue to the pacing is simply pitch perfect. Written by Chris Terrio, based on a selection from “The Master of Disguise” by Antonio J. Mendez and the Wired magazine article “The Great Escape” by Joshuah Bearman, this is one film you should not miss. Watch how well both the screenwriter and Affleck draw us deep within the tale as the story chronicles the aftermath of Iranian militants seizing the U..S. embassy, taking 52 members of the U.S. diplomatic corps hostage. Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin may get Oscar noms for supporting roles. (R) 120 minutes. (HHHH) —Greg Archer.
BULLET TO THE HEAD Sylvester Stallone stars in this graphic novel-inspired action thriller about a New Orleans hitman (with a code of honor, natch). (R) 92 minutes.
DJANGO UNCHAINED Raw, raunchy and rowdy,. Quentin Tarantino returns. There’s violence—a lot of it—and plenty of humor set against a backdrop of pre-Civil War- era America. Jamie Foxx—brilliant—stars as an ex-slave-turned-bounty hunter, who’s out to free his wife (Kerry Washington) from the nasty plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) who bought her. DiCaprio shines here, but it’s Christoph Waltz who manages to steal as many scenes as Samuel L. Jackson—Jackson delivers another career-defining performance as the major-domo to DiCaprio’s slick plantation boss. Jonah Hill, Don Johnson and Bruce Dern make brief but memorable turns, and the scene involving a KKK round-up is truly some of the best conceptualized work Tarantino has offered in some time. In fact, this is the writer-director’s best outing since Jackie Brown. Rated R. 165 minutes. (HHH1/2) —Greg Archer
GANGSTER SQUAD Sean Penn stars as Brooklyn-born mobster Mickey Cohen, running amok in 1949 Los Angeles, and Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling are the LAPD outsiders who team up to stop him in this fact-based crime melodrama from director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland). Emma Stone and Giovanni Ribisi co-star. (R) 113 minutes.
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are the smokin’ sibs in this horror action comedy fantasy in which they’ve become vigilantes-for-hire—until their past threatens to catch up with them. Peter Stormare co-stars for director Tommy Wirkola. (R)
A HAUNTED HOUSE Marlon Wayans co-wrote and stars in this Paranormal Activity satire about a couple who move into a haunted house, whose unnatural denizens soon possess the wife (Essence Atkins). Nick Swarsdon and Cedric the Entertainer co-star for director Michael Tiddes. (R)
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY The much-anticipated prequel to the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy has its moments. But ultimately, The Hobbit suffers from the one thing that made LOTR so embraceable: heart. Martin Freeman is a suitable Bilbo Baggins, but the script doesn’t quite offer enough moments to really warm up to the character as easily as we did with Frodo (Elijah Wood) in LOTR. The same applies to Richard Armitage’s Thorin, the chief dwarf leading a posse of his own kind to reclaim their home in The Loney Mountain in Middle Earth. Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf and his presence grounds the film. Cate Blanchett also has an extended cameo. There’s plenty of spectacle—Orc battles, wizard magic, lush landscapes—but the film suffers by not establishing more clearly the characters’ central mission or what’s at stake if that mission doesn’t get fulfilled. Still, it’s hard to resist director Peter Jackson’s visual masterpiece. You just walk away wishing you connected to the characters more. PG-13. 170 minutes. (HH1/2)—Greg Archer.
THE IMPOSSIBLE Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona’s intense drama is based on one family’s true story of survival in the wake of the ferocious Asian Pacific tsunami of December, 2004. It plunges the viewer smack in the middle of utter chaos when a rogue wall of water rises up out of nowhere and turns a beachfront resort in Thailand into a churning, muddy apocalypse of water. Oscar nominee Naomi Watts (in an incredibly physical performance) and Ewan McGregor are deeply affecting, and young Tom Holland is terrific as the eldest of three boys as the family struggles to find each other while navigating a harrowing milieu of loss and displacement. (PG-13) 114 minutes. (HHH)—Lisa Jensen.
LES MISÉRABLES Can it really be as awful—or as great—as everybody says? Yes and no.The Golden Globe winner gives us Hugh Jackman in a towering performance as Jean Valjean, singing with clarity and gusto, giving the movie a pulse. Anne Hathaway is a raw and heartbreaking Fantine; her ragged “I Dreamed A Dream” is the film’s one great song. Also good is—yes—Russell Crowe, whose workmanlike singing voice is exactly right for rough-hewn Inspector Javert. But the operetta-style, exposition-heavy music is difficult to sing or remember, and for all director Tom Hooper’s clever filming tricks and techniques, he can’t sustain a level of engagement for the film’s entire exhausting length. (PG-13) 157 minutes. (HH1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
LIFE OF PI Yann Martel’s bestselling novel about a teenage boy and a Bengal tiger shipwrecked together in a small lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific becomes a magnificent-looking film by director Ang Lee. With careful attention to Martel’s core theme—the search for God (in whatever guise) through astounding adversity—Lee turns the material into a visually rapturous and ecstatic spiritual journey that’s also a breathtaking adventure saga. Newcomer Suraj Sharma is terrific as the resourceful boy, and despite a bit too much talky theology in the bracketing story, cinematographer Claudio Miranda’s stunning visuals make for a hypnotic film experience. (PG) 127 minutes. (HHH1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
LINCOLN The beauty, and genius, of Steven Spielberg’s massive Civil War-era epic is the way it defies analogy to any specific statesman, party, or era, providing a cogent glimpse into the American political process itself, a view into the contentious state of American democracy, then as now, as timeless as it is fascinating. But the film’s greatness comes from Daniel Day-Lewis’ extraordinary performance in the title role, no ordinary statesman, but a moral visionary who musters the courage to prevail against impossible odds for the good of the nation. Hal Holbrook, Sally Field, David Strathairn and a delicious Tommy Lee Jones lead a sterling supporting cast, but Day-Lewis provides the film’s heart and soul. His Lincoln is savvy enough to wield great power, yet never loses the common touch, and Spielberg and company impress us with what a rare and laudable gift that is. (PG-13) 150 minutes. (HHH1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
MAMA After disappearing for five years, two little orphaned sisters are found alive and relocated to the home of their uncle and his girlfriend. (PG-13) 100 minutes.
MOVIE 43 Twelve comedy directors and an A-List cast conspire to present this series of vaguely connected sketch comedies. (R).
PARKER Jason Statham stars—once again—as a tough guy with a vendetta against the former associates who betrayed him. Jennifer Lopez is the woman who lends a hand. Michael Chiklis, Clifton Collins Jr. and Nick Nolte pop up in the supporting cast. Taylor Hackford directs. (R) 118 minutes.
QUARTET As charming as it is poignant, Dustin Hoffman’s first directing efforts wins points for its heart—and Maggie Smith As an aging opera diva, her arrival at a retirement home for musical performers (some of them her former singing partners and one, her ex-husband) creates a curious ripple effect and plenty of pondering—about life, the way things were, how they could have been, and accepting what is. Look for the delightful Pauline Collins (remember Shirley Valentine?) to steal many of the scenes playing one-fourth of the quartet that Smith’s character belonged to. Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline and Michael Gambon are on board, too. Smith, who seems to do no wrong these days, delivers another believable performance as a faded star facing new fears and emotional challenges in last phase of her life. Take note: Some noted opera performers play bit roles there.(PG-13) 98 minutes. Starts Friday. (HHH) Greg Archer
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK Oh, Bradley Cooper … methinks you may be miscast here, but somehow this dramatic comedy works. Cooper morphs into an unstable former teacher, recently released from an institution after a bad break-up from his wife. He meets a young gal (Jennifer Lawrence, who can do no wrong these days) who is just as quirky as he is. Love, intimacy and moving on are the themes. If only Cooper—or is it his character?—weren’t so grating on the nerves. Cooper lacks believability here and you get the sense he was handed the script as a means to make a quirky Bradley Cooper caper. David O. Russell (The Fighter) directs. (R) 122 minutes. (HHH) Greg Archer
STAND UP GUYS Reviewed this issue.(R) 94 minutes. (HHH)
WARM BODIES It’s Romeo and Juliet with zombies as a boy and girl scheme to be together in this new undead horror comedy romance. (PG-13) 97 minutes.
ZERO DARK THIRTY How much torture should we the people condone by our government in pursuit of political ends? That’s the question at the core of Kathryn Bigelow’s exhaustive drama about the CIA’s 10-year hunt for terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. And how much torture should we the audience endure onscreen in the name of entertainment? Although based on classified CIA documents, this is not a documentary; Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal make dramatic choices on how to present the material. They’ve said their film is not pro-torture, and it’s interesting to note how little information is actually obtained from torture in the film. It might almost serve as a subtle cautionary tale against the use of torture—if not for all the action-movie cowboy posturing that dominates the second half of the film as relentless CIA bulldog Jessica Chastain pursues her quarry. Still, while difficult to watch at times, it offers a window into what kind of skullduggery our government is perpetrating worldwide in our name. (R) 157 minutes. (HH1/2)