Film, Times & Events: Week of March 21st, 2013

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Tina Fey and Paul Rudd team up in this comedy-drama based on the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz. She’s a straight-arrow admissions officer for Princeton University, and he’s her former college classmate, now an unorthodox principal at an alternative high school with a secret to share about the gifted, eccentric student she wants to recruit. Michael Sheen, Wallace Shawn, and Nat Wolff co-star for director Paul Weitz. (PG-13) 110 minutes. Starts Friday.  Watch film trailer >>>

film croods
A prehistoric family sets out to find a new home when their idyllic primordial homeland is threatened in this animated family adventure from DreamWorks. Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, and Catherine Keener provide voices. Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders direct. (PG) 98 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

film loveanhonor
Liam Hemsworth and Teresa Palmer star in this retro wartime romance about a young soldier in Vietnam who finds out his girlfriend back home has dumped him and goes AWOL to go get her back. Aimee Teegarden and Austin Stowell co-star for director Danny Mooney. (PG-13) Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

film olympus

Morgan Freeman is the President in jeopardy after a terrorist attack traps him in the White House. Gerard Butler is a “disgraced former Presidential guard” and Aaron Eckhart is a national security honcho who team up to get him out in this action thriller from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day). (R) Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

film ontheroad
Reviewed this issue. (R) 124 minutes. (HH1/2) Starts Friday. (Special Opening Night Event: Q&A with Santa Cruz locals Jami Cassady Ratto and John Allen Cassady to discuss their father, Neal Cassady, the legacy of On The Road, and the influence of the Beat Generation in the Santa Cruz art scene. At the Del Mar, Friday, only, following the 7 p.m. showing of ON THE ROAD.) Watch film trailer >>>

film placeattable
This documentary by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush explores hunger in America and speculates on what can be done about it. Jeff Bridges, and famous foodies like Tom Colicchio and Marion Nestle are among those interviewed. (PG) 84 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

film warwitch
In this Oscar-nominated drama from the Republic of Congo, a 12-year-old girl is abducted by African rebels and forced into a life of guerrilla warfare in the jungle. Promoted to “war witch,” leading the rebels into battle, she clings to visions that help her survive her brutalizing life, and seizes her one chance to escape. Young star Rachel Mwanza won many Best Actress awards on the festival circuit. Kim Nguyen directs. In French and Lingala with English subtitles. (Not rated) 90 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

Film Events
It’s a new season for Britain’s acclaimed National Theatre of London, broadcasting highlights from its Winter 2013 Season digitally, in HD, to movie theaters worldwide. Live performances will be broadcast one Thursday evening a month, in the Grand Auditorium of the Del Mar, with encore performances the following Sunday morning. This week: PEOPLE Veteran stage actress and Olivier Award-winner Frances de la Tour stars in a wry new comedy from Alan Bennett (The History Boys) about an upper crust woman in possession of a crumbling, but stately old home who decides to allow The Public onto the grounds for an attic sale. Linda Bassett co-stars for director Nicholas Hytner. At the Del Mar, Thursday only  (March 21), 7 p.m. Encore performance Sunday only (March 24), 11 a.m. Admission: $15. Seniors, students, and Shakespeare Santa Cruz subscribers: $13.

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: NAPOLEON DYNAMITE Love it or hate it, it was the undisputed cult/sleeper hit of 2004. Jon Heder dons the Bozo wig and Goodwill disco suit for this whining, unaffecting plunge into clueless adolescence from director Jared Hess. (PG) 86 minutes. (★★)—Lisa Jensen. 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: BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S See Audrey Hepburn in one of her signature roles—lovable eccentric Holly Golightly—in this 1961 adaptation of a Truman Capote story. George Peppard is the perplexed, adoring young writer led on a merry chase all around New York City in this sophisticated comedy-drama from director Blake Edwards. (Not rated) 115 minutes. Tonight only (Thursday, March 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 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..

Movie Times click here.

Now Playing
BARBARA Grand heroic dramas are often made about the quest for freedom from political repression. At first glance, it looks like this Christian Petzold film is going to be one of them. Set in Communist East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the story concerns a female doctor from Berlin banished to a backwoods medical clinic for political reasons. But as it plays out, this quiet, personal, deftly nuanced little drama turns into something far more affecting than the expected political thriller. Nina Hoss makes a formidable heroine as her choices become ever more complex. PG-13. 105 minutes. In German with English subtitles. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen

BLESS ME, ULTIMA Carl Franklin directs this adaptation of the controversial, but popular Rudolfo Anaya novel (a perennial favorite in high school classrooms) about a young Hispanic boy growing up in New Mexico during World War II, whose bond with a grandmotherly, spiritually powerful curandera begins to challenge his faith in the Catholic church. (PG-13) 106 minutes.

THE CALL Halle Berry headlines this surprisingly effective thriller that manages to pull viewers in and keep them interested. Berry plays a 911 operator who, after spending six months getting over a traumatic call gone bad, once again becomes the only lifeline for another young woman who has been abducted. Of course, one must suspend belief as the film unravels, especially and when Berry decides t search for the missing girl herself. Still, despite its flaws, Berry is exquisite—although you wonder why she’s being given these roles, especially after nabbing an Oscar more than a decade ago. Evie Thompson, Abigail Breslin, and Morris Chestnut co-star. Brad Anderson (The Machinist; Transsiberian) directs. (R) (★★1/2) —Greg Arcger

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

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.

EMPEROR 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.

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.

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE Steve Carrell and Steve Buscemi star in the comedy as a team of celebrity magicians, headliners on the Vegas strip, facing not only the erosion of their longtime friendship, but challenges from a hip, urban “street magician” (Jim Carrey) whose outrageous stunts are making their show-bizzy act look stale. Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, and James Gandolfini co-star for director Don Scardino (30 Rock). (PG-13) 101 minutes.

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.

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.

NO A powerful and dynamic film with Gael Garcia Bernal as the helm. This dramatized true story revolves around Rene Saavedra, an ambitious Chilean ad man who was recruited in 1988 to spearhead a crucial ad campaign designed to oust dictator Augusto Pinochet—with a “no” vote at the polls. It’s a compelling outing from beginning to end and also includes television and other film foortage from the era. Pablo Larraín directs. (R) 118 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer.

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL Sam Raimi’s lavish prequel imagines the witches and the wizard of Oz in their heedless youth, its mood and texture heavily influenced by the beloved 1939 MGM film. James Franco is fun as the cheesy carnival magician destined to become the wizard (and savior) of Oz, although his superficial character never takes enough of a journey. Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams are three delectable young witches. Despite some slow-going, dubious plotting, and an unresolved strain of moral ambiguity, the cheeky dash of Raimi’s film, and his affection for the source, makes for a mostly entertaining trip down the yellow brick road. (PG) 130 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

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. 

STOKER Eery, creepy, provocative and just downright “out there,” Stoker is relentless if not successful in its ability to keep you captivated. The Gothic thriller from Korean director Park Chan-wook (Old Boy) finds Mia Wasikowska as a friendless teen whose world shifts siginifcantly after her father dies and a myseterious uncle moves in with her greiving mother (Nicole Kidman). Matthew Goode plays the uncle to winning ends—charming, swarmy, sexy and devious, you can’t quite take your eyes off of him. Take note of the cinematography here—it’s wonderfully creative and hypnotic. (R) 98 minutes.  (★★★) —Greg Archer

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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