New This Week
G.I. JOE: RETALIATION
Bruce Willis, Dwayne Johnson, and Channing Tatum power this testosterone frenzy where the elite fighting force not only faces its mortal enemy, Cobra, but battles sinister forces within its own government. Jon Chu directs. (PG-13) 110 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
GINGER & ROSA Reviewed this issue. (PG-13) 90 minutes. (HHH) Starts Friday.
It could be Invasion of the Bodysnatchers for teens in this first adaptation of a new book series by Stephanie Meyer (the Twilight Saga), in which a plucky teen girl romances two hot guys while trying to outwit a sinister force that robs people of their memories and takes over their bodies. Saoirse Ronan, Max Irons, and Jake Abel star for director Andrew Niccol. (PG-13) Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE
Iranian-born filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami directs this thoughtful character study, set in Japan, about an elderly retired professor, and a young sociology student who moonlights as a high-class call girl; thrown together by destiny or random chance, they spend an unexpected evening together. Acclaimed veteran Japanese stage actor Tadashi Okuno and Rin Takanashi star. (Not rated) 109 minutes. In Japanese with English subtitles. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess play star-crossed lovers in this interplanetary sci-fi romance about a young man and woman battling government and social class restrictions, and the opposing gravitational pull of the twin planets they live on, to try to be together. Juan Solanas directs. (PG-13) 103 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
SPECIAL EVENT: BEST OF BRITISH THEATRE PRESENTS GREAT EXPECTATIONS Opening night of Jo Clifford’s brand new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ coming-of-age classic (captured live on February 7 of this year) will be broadcast world-wide, direct from London’s West End, as part of the ongoing international celebration of Dickens’ 200th birthday. Clifford’s adaptation, a sellout when it toured England en route to London, is the first ever staging of the material in the West End. Chris Ellison, Paula Wilcox, and Paul Nivison star; Graham McLaren directs. This broadcast also includes red carpet arrivals and backstage footage. (Not rated) 145 minutes. At the Del Mar, Thursday (March 28) only, 7:30 p.m.
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: MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO Japanese anime for kids in Hayao Miyazaki’s sunny story of two children exploring the worlds of nature and fantasy during a summer in the country. (PG) 86 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: THE GREAT GATSBY Robert Redford plays the mysterious millionaire, and Mia Farrow is the lost love his money can’t buy in this lavish 1974 adaptation of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s epic Jazz Age romance. Francis Ford Coppola wrote the script; Jack Clayton directs. (PG) 144 minutes. Tonight only (Thursday, March 28), 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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ADMISSION The good news is this comedy about a straight-arrow admissions officer for Princeton University stars Tina Fey, one of the sharpest and most personable of screen comediennes. The bad news is, she didn’t write the script. Based on the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, it hits all the expected plot points from goofy to heartwarming as Fey’s character faces her disappointing life, her feminist nutball mother (a funny Lily Tomlin), and a bright young applicant (Nat Wolff) who may be the son she once gave up for adoption. Paul Rudd is appealing, as usual, as the alternative high school honcho sponsoring the boy, but never is it suggested that this bright, self-motivated kid might be better off NOT going to stuffy, preppy Princeton, so the story misses the chance to take an innovative turn. Paul Weitz directs. (PG-13) 110 minutes. (HH1/2) —Lisa Jensen.
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. (HHH)—Lisa Jensen
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) (HH1/2) —Greg Arcger
THE 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.
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.
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) (HH1/2)—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. (HHH)—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. (HHH1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
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. (HHH1/2)—Greg Archer.
ON THE ROAD There are about 45 minutes of a great movie in Walter Salles’ adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s famed beat odyssey: in the very beginning and the end, when we hear snippets of Kerouac’s dynamic “bop” prose. In between lies an increasingly frantic and pointless gallop back and forth across North America; it successfully mimics the characters’ headlong pursuit of sex, drugs, jazz, and alcohol, but without the transformative power of Kerouac’s words, we’re stuck watching repetitive scenes of frenzied partying, which soon pales as a spectator sport. Still, actors Sam Riley, Garret Hedlund, and Tom Sturridge (fictional surrogates for Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Allen Ginsberg) work hard, and Viggo Mortensen steals his scenes as the others’ profane patron saint (read: Willam S. Burroughs). (R) 124 minutes. (HH1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN 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)
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. (HHH)—Lisa Jensen.
A PLACE AT THE TABLE Provocative and insightful, this documentary by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush dives into hunger issues in America and speculates on what can be done about it. Jeff Bridges, and food titans like Tom Colicchio and Marion Nestle are among those interviewed. (PG) 84 minutes. (HHH)—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. (HHH)—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. (HHH)—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.
SPRING BREAKERS Girls go wild in this new comedy from the ever-idiosyncratic Harmony Korine (Mr. Lonely) about four college coeds who ditch their boring campus and commit a robbery to finance their spring break in Florida—bringing them into the orbit of a dubious rapper/criminal/drug-dealer (James Franco) with an agenda. Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine star. (R) 94 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. (HHH) —Greg Archer
WAR WITCH 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.