Film, Times & Events: Week of Feb. 21st, 2013

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New This Week
film darkskiesDARK SKIES
Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton star in this old-fashioned Gothic horror thriller as ordinary suburbanites whose lives are turned upside down when they discover a deadly supernatural force is after them. J. K. Simmons co-stars as the ghosthunter they hire to help their family escape its clutches. Dakota Goyo (Real Steel) co-stars; Scott Stewart (Priest; Legion) directs. (PG-13) Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

film snitch
Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson stars in this action drama as a man who goes undercover for the DEA to take on the drug lords who set up his son to go to prison in a bad drug deal. Jon Bernthal, Harold Perrineau, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Susan Sarandon co-star for director Ric Roman Waugh. (PG-13) 112 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

film westofmem
The horrific 1993 murder of three little boys in an Arkansas town, and the subsequent trial of three teens suspected of the crime (called the West Memphis Three), is the subject of Amy Berg’s investigative documentary. Chipping away at the ever-more-bogus scenario proposed by the prosecution, exposing face-saving lies of politicos and lawmakers involved, and delving into the true facts of the case to find a far more plausible perpetrator, Berg (along with co-producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh) create an indelible portrait of corruption in high places and a jaw-dropping miscarriage of justice. (R) 147 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

Film Events
Eclectic movies for wild & crazy tastes plus great prizes and buckets of fun for only $6.50. This week: ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY Will Ferrell dons bad hair and leisure suits in this 2004 comedy about a pompous, 1970s-era San Diego TV newscaster who feels threatened when he’s assigned a female co-anchor (Christina Applegate) with feminist ideas. Steve Carrell costars for director Adam McKay. (PG-13) 91 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: HAROLD & MAUDE The ultimate cult movie, Colin Higgins’ charmingly loony 1971 love story stars Ruth Gordon as an 80-year-old with a zest for life, and Bud Cort as a 20-year-old obsessed with death. (PG) 91 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen. Tonight only (Thursday, February 21), 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.

Movie Times click here.

Now Playing
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) 

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. (★★★1/2) —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. (★★★★)—Greg Archer. 

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES The next big YA novel-based fantasy film franchise is launched with this screen rendering of the popular book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. It’s a Southern Gothic time-traveling, paranormal teen romance about a small-town boy yearning to get out of his backwoods hamlet and the mysterious new girl in town whose destiny is linked to his. Newcomers Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert play the leads; Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, and Viola Davis head the supporting cast. Richard LaGravenese directs. (PG-13) 124 minutes. 

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. (★★★1/2) —Greg Archer

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)

ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Alba, Ricky Gervais, and Sofia Vergara lend their voices to this animated comedy about a heroic astronaut from a far-off planet who flies to the rescue when he receives an SOS from Planet Earth. Veteran storyboard artist Cal Brunker directs. (PG)

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD I seem to have misplaced 97 minutes of my life. Oh wait—Bruce Willis took it. Long, overbearing and poorly written, director John Moore turns Willis’ iconic John McClane into a cartoonish figure. They really should have stopped making these sequels after the first one—although Part Four was not that bad. But this … oh, why must you die so hard?(R) 97 minutes. (★1/2)—Greg Archer.

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. . PG-13. 170 minutes. (★★1/2)—Greg Archer.

IDENTITY THIEF Here’s another example of a Hollywood film that is written and played way too over the top when it does not have to be. True, we seem to becoming a society that needs to be smacked upside the head in order for us to wake up and turn our attention away from our Wii games and iPhones, but we’re not The Walking Dead (yet)—really, less is more. That said, Identity Thief has its surprises in that it manages to boast some heart in between all the shenanigans and far-fetched plot. Jason Bateman morphs into a Denver accounts rep who has one week to reclaim his stolen identity. For that, we turn to Miami’s finest crook, Melissa McCarthy. This is McCarthy’s movie from beginning to end and she offers some of her most hilarious and, on a few occasions, heartfelt work to date on screen. Still, the filmmakers, no doubt hoping to please everybody, can’t seem to decide what kind of film they want to offer—a no-hold-barred Three Stooges type comedy or something more embraceable like, say, Bridesmaids. Still, it’s a fun romp and, thank goodness, the previews shown on TV and trailers, don’t give away the entire plot. Directed by Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses). Jon Favreau and Amanda Peet co-star. (R) (★★1/2)—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. (★★★)—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. (★★1/2)—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. (★★★1/2)—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. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.

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. (★★★) Greg Archer

SAFE HAVEN Yet another romantic Nicholas Sparks outing. This time about a young woman running from her past and a hunky young widower with two small children whose destinies cross in a sleepy North Carolina town. But there’s buzz about the surprise ending. Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel star. Lasse Hallstrom directs. (PG-13) 115 minutes.

SIDE EFFECTS Obfuscation is the name of the game in Steven Soderbergh’s intricate and twisty new thriller. This dark tale of sex, lies, and pharmaceutical skullduggery is a masterpiece of misdirection, artfully calibrated so that the viewer—like the film’s overly medicated characters—often has no idea what may or may not be going on. Jude Law gives a fine, supple performance in the pivotal role of a psychiatrist drawn into a murder scandal after prescribing an experimental drug to a patient (the equally dexterous Rooney Mara).  And beyond the thriller plot, Soderbergh delves with relish into the larger milieu of a society in which external medication is promoted as the answer to every problem—real or imagined. (R) 106 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

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. Worse—you feel as if he doesn’t believe the performance. Otherwise, a compelling cast and plot brighten the story.  David O. Russell (The Fighter) directs. (R) 122 minutes. (★★★) —Greg Archer

STAND UP GUYS You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and why should you, when the old tricks work as well as they do in Stand Up Guys? The pleasure of watching three veteran actors do what they do best is its own reward in this wistful crime comedy from director Fisher Stevens. Plotwise, it may look like nothing special, but the combined one-two-three punch of co-stars Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin turn it into an entertaining, funny, and surprisingly moving morality play on aging, friendship, and what it means to do the right thing. (R) 94 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

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. (★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.

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