Film, Times & Events: Week of Feb. 28th, 2013

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New This Week
film happypeople

Reviewed this issue. (Not rated) 90 minutes. (★★★) Starts Friday.

film jackgiant

Nicholas Hoult stars in this latest big screen fairy tale makeover as a poor young farmhand who grows a beanstalk that accidentally opens a portal between two worlds and rekindles an age-old enmity between humans and a race of giants. Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci and Eddie Marsdan star for director Bryan Singer (X-Men, X-2). (PG-13) 114 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

film exorcism
Ashley Bell returns to the role of Nell Sweetzer, a young woman still plagued by demons after her first “last” exorcism (in the 2010 film that launched the horror series). Ed Gass-Donnelly directs. (PG-13) Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

film phantom
Ed Harris is a Cold War Soviet nuclear submarine captain with a shaky grip on reality, and David Duchovny is a rogue KGB agent who wants to seize the ship’s nuclear missile in this claustrophobic undersea thriller from director Todd Robinson. (R) Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

film 21over
It’s boys gone wild when a straight-A college student is persuaded to go out on the town for his 21st birthday with his two best buds, on the eve of his interview for med school. Justin Chon, Miles Teller, and Skylar Astin star; Jon Lucas and Scott Moore direct. (R) 93 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: HOT TUB TIME MACHINE When four middle-aged party animals pass out in a hot tub in the present day, they wake up in 1986 with a second chance to sort out their disappointing adult lives. John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and Clark Duke star in this 2010 comedy for director Steve Pink (High Fidelity). (R) 92 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: TROPIC THUNDER Actors in a war movie being shot in Southeast Asia don’t realize their manic director (Steve Coogan) is sending them ever deeper into the jungle against real-life armed guerrillas because their funding has dried up back in Hollywood. Ben Stiller (who also directs) is the action movie star, Jack Black is the bad-boy comedian, and Robert Downey Jr. earns a real-life Oscar nomination as an Aussie actor so pretentious he has his skin dyed black for his role in this irreverent 2008 action comedy. (R) 107 minutes. 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

AMOUR Winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. Michael Haneke’s excellent 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 the Best Picture award at the Oscars—surpassing expectations all around, considering Lincoln was an early Oscar hopeful. Ben Affleck was overlooked for an Oscar nom for Best Director, but the movie managed to hold everybody’s interest. It’s one of the best films to come out of the last decade. It also does 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 also stars and directs this wonderfully executed tale (culled from the real-life story) 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.

DARK 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)

DJANGO UNCHAINED Raw, raunchy and rowdy,. Quentin Tarantino won an Oscar for Best Screenplay and star Christoph Waltz took home the gold for Best Supporting Actor.. 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

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.

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.

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, who took home the Oscar for Best Director. 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 Oscar-winner 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 Nicholas Sparks surpasses expetations here in film that is as sweet as it is alluring—sometimes thrilling. Branching off from his standard romantic fair a bit, Sparks dlelivers an emrbraceable tale about a young woman running from her pas—and right into the arms of hunk/widower Josh Duhamel. He’s the father of two kids living in a quiet seaside town in North Carolina. Watch for some suprrises (more than one) toward the end of the film. What makes the entire package work is how well director Lasse Hallstrom manages to evoke just the right emotion and interest from stars Julianne Hough—typically dead wood on screen—and Duhamel. The film boasts and undeniable sweet vibe and find yourself drawn to the tale and rooting for its characters. Which is not often the case in all of Sparks’ films. (PG-13) 115 minutes. (★★1/2) —Greg Archer

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. Kudos to Jennifer Lawrence on her Oscar win. David O. Russell (The Fighter) directs. (R) 122 minutes. (★★★) —Greg Archer

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.

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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