New This Week
Reviewed this issue. (PG-13) 105 minutes. In German with English subtitles. (★★★) Starts Friday (March 15).
DEAD MAN DOWN
Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) star in this action thriller about a wronged woman who hires a New York City mob enforcer to kill the man who assaulted her—his own crime boss. Dominic Cooper, Terrence Howard, Isabelle Huppert and Armand Assante co-star for Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev (who directed Rapace in the original Tattoo). (R) 110 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
Tommy Lee Jones stars as General Douglas MacArthur, who assumes control of Japan at the end of World War II after the surrender of Emperor Hirohito. Matthew Fox plays General Bonner Fellers, an expert on Japanese culture trying to resolve the fate of the emperor and reconnect with the Japanese woman he loves (Eriko Hatsune) in Peter Webber’s postwar romantic drama. (PG-13) 106 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
The Israeli top secret security/spy agency, Shin Bet, is the subject of this documentary by Dror Moreh. Interviews with all six surviving former heads of the agency highlight a narrative that grapples with such thorny issues as friction between the agency and Israeli heads of state in matters of governance and security, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (PG-13) 95 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III
Charlie Sheen stars in this satire on celebrity by filmmaker Roman Coppola. Sheen plays a successful, large-living L. A. graphic designer whose life spirals into a world of fantasy and delusion after his swanky girlfriend walks out on him. Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, and Aubrey Plaza co-star. (R) 86 minutes. Stats Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
James Franco stars in this Disney prequel set in the Land of Oz before Dorothy arrived in her flying house. Franco plays the young wizard-to-be, a second-rate magician in a broken-down carnival who’s whirled to Oz on a cyclone, where he encounters actual magic, along with three seductive, but dangerous witches (Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, and Mila Kunis). Zach Braff co-stars, and look for the usual Bruce Campbell cameo from director Sam Raimi. (PG) 130 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
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: LA FINISTRA DI FRONTE (FACING WINDOWS) A woman trapped in a lifeless marriage, the man across the way with whom she starts to fall in love, and an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor who alters her perspective on life are the ingredients in this 2003 romantic drama from filmmaker Ferzan Ozpetek. (R) 102 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 (March 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: THE HUNGER GAMES En route to winning her Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence stars in Gary Ross’ adaptation of book one of Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster trilogy of futuristic YA novels. On the ultimate dystopian reality TV show, a boy and girl from each of the nation’s 12 districts are chosen to fight each other to the death. Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and Woody Harrelson co-star (PG-13) 142 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: INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM This 1984 prequel to Raiders Of The Lost Ark is Harrison Ford’s second outing as the two-fisted, whip-cracking archaeologist, this time facing a nasty cult of Thuggee villains, haunted artifacts, and monkey skull soup in the mystic Orient. (PG) 118 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen. Tonight only (Thursday, March 7), 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 pursue the elusive and ineffable meanings of cinema. Discussion begins at 7 pm and admission is free. For more information visit groups.google.com/group/LTATM.
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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.
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.
HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA Werner Herzog presents this Russian-made documentary about hardy villagers eking out an existence as their families have done for generations on the edge of the (mostly) frozen Siberian wilderness, called the “taiga.” Originally a four-hour TV documentary by filmmaker Dmitry Vasyukov, it’s been edited by Herzog, who also adds his own inimitable narration. It’s fascinating to watch the craftsmanship with which this village of mostly hunters and trappers perform their tasks, using methods handed down through the centuries. A bracing travelogue of a fiercely exotic locale that extols the rewards of lives lived in pursuit of community and purpose. (Not rated) 90 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
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.
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER Not as frenetic or over the top as the previews suggest, celeb du jour Nicholas Hoult headlines the latest big screen fairy tale makeover. The good news is that director Bryan Singer manages to create characters worth rooting for and the story successfully avoids spiraling into an abyss of predictability. The love story between Jack and the princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) is nicely underplayed and the ending plants the seed for another creative stalk to grow—although judging by box office reports, Jack did not deliver as many green stalks as the studio had hoped. Still, there’s enough to enjoy here. Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci and Eddie Marsdan star for director Bryan Singer (X-Men, X-2). (PG-13) 114 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer.
THE LAST EXORCISM PART II 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)
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.
LORE When their Nazi parents are arrested by the Allied forces occupying Germany at the end of World War II, a teenage girl and her three younger siblings navigate the changing landscape, hoping to reach their grandmother and safety. Along the way, she must come to terms wth her parents’ beliefs and trust a Jewish youth who my be their only chance at survival. Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland directs this adaptation of the Rachel Seiffert novel, The Dark Room. (Not rated) 109 minutes. In German with English subtitles. Starts Friday.
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)
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
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.
21 AND OVER 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.
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.
WEST OF MEMPHIS 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.
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.