Film, Times & Events: Week of Dec. 22nd

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New This Week
film artist
Reviewed this issue. (PG-13) 100 minutes. (★★★★) Starts Friday (Dec 23).

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Filmed on location in Russia, this sci-fi thriller involves five young people in Moscow battling the first wave of an alien invasion of Earth. Emile Hirsch, Rachael Taylor, Olivia Thirlby, and Max Minghella star for art director-turned-director Chris Gorak. (PG-13) 89 minutes. Starts Sunday (Christmas Day). Watch film trailer >>>

film warhorseWAR HORSE
Steven Spielberg directs this sweeping adaptation of the Michael Morpurgo novel about a boy and his horse. Newcomer Jeremy Irvine stars as Albert, a rural British youth on the edge of manhood; when his beloved horse is dragooned into the army during World War I, Albert enlists too, and travels to war-torn Europe to find him. Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Emily Watson, and David Thewlis co-star. (PG-13) 146 minutes. Starts 

film zooSunday (Christmas Day). Watch film trailer >>>

Matt Damon stars in this family comedy as a young father who moves his kids to the Southern California countryside to renovate a small, failing zoo and its animals. Scarlett Johansson co-stars in this adaptation of the Benjamin Mee memoir, directed by Cameron Crowe. (PG) Starts Friday. (Dec 23) Watch film trailer >>>

Film Events
Special Christmas Eve onscreen presentation of the San Francisco Ballet’s esteemed production of the venerable Christmas ballet, music by Tchaikovsky, choreography by Helgi Tomasson. Presented in state-of-the-art High Definition picture and sound in the Grand Auditorium at the Del Mar. Saturday only (Dec 24), 6:45 p.m.

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

The beloved European comic book adventurer gets his firs big-screen outing, courtesy of producer Peter Jackson and director Steven Spielberg. The young hero and his faithful pooch buy a replica pirate ship at a market stall and are quickly swept up in a globe-trotting adventure involving pirates, lost treasure, and a centuries-old mystery. Jamie Bell (as Tintin), Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig and Simon Pegg head the cast, providing character voices and movement in this motion-capture animation extravaganza. (PG) 107 minutes.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIP-WRECKED It may not be everyone’s idea of fun to be trapped on a deserted tropical isle with the Chipmunks and the three distaff “Chipettes” (singing Lady GaGa, yet!), but that’s what they’re offering up in this third installment of the kiddie franchise. Jason Lee and Alyssa Milano head the humanoid cast; Mike Mitchell directs. (G) 87 minutes.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS From Aardman Studios, the deliciously nutty outfit behind the Wallace and Gromit movies, and Chicken Run, comes this sweet, sly animated family comedy that views the seasonal festivities from an insider’s perspective—that of Arthur, Santa Claus’ number-two son. When one child’s present goes astry in Santa’s high-tech Chrismas Eve operation, it’s up to sweet, klutzy Arthur (James McAvoy) and his rascally Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) to set things right. Full of funny sight gags, with a generational family saga delivered with wit and affection, and a core of wonder for the magic of the season. (PG) 97 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

THE DESCENDANTS George Clooney once again proves himself one of the most watchable and subtle of actors in Alexander Payne’s incisive, entertaining, tender and life-sized family drama. He plays a Hawaiian-born lawyer trying to reconnect with his wayward daughters after an accident puts their mom in a coma, while also trying to decide whether to sell off pristine, generations-old family property to developers. Shot on location in the luscious Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Kauai (with haunting, slack-key guitar music playing under every scene), it’s a resonant tale of a family in crisis, a culture in flux, and the issue of legacy between the generations, told with wry humor and honest emotion. (R) 115 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO David Fincher directs this Hollywood remake of the first film in the exceptional Swedish trilogy based on the bestselling mystery/crime novels by Steig Larsson. The story is still set in Sweden, but Daniel Craig takes over the role of crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Relative newcomer Rooney Mara (she played the coed who wisely ditches Jesse Eisenberg at the beginning of The Social Network) attacks the legendary role of computer hacker/avenger Lisbeth Salander. Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, and Joely Richardson head the supporting cast. (R) 158 minutes.

HAPPY FEET TWO George Miller returns to direct this sequel to his popular animated penguin comedy of a few years back. Elijah Wood once again voices the dancing Emperor Penguin, Mumbles, trying to regain the respect of his own, non-dancing son while helping the wild creatures of Antarctica resist a threat to their habitat. Robin Williams, Hank Azaria, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon pop up in the voice cast. (PG) 100 minutes.

HUGO If you love silent movies as much as I do, you’ll love Martin Scorsese’s new family-friendly film, Hugo. And if you’re a fan of the delightfully nutty, hand-made fantasy movies of early French film pioneer Georges Melies, you’re in for a special treat: Scorsese’s film concludes with a fabulous montage of vintage, hand-tinted Melies footage. The story of an orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) living in a Paris railway station, ca. 1930, who finds he has something in common with a grumpy toy seller who turns out to be Melies (Ben Kingsley) is intriguing and visually splendid. It takes too long to get going; there’s too much slapstick comedy and too many 3-D objects lunging out of the screen. But the charm and exuberance of the scenes of Melies and company at work in their studio makes this celebration of early movie-making irresistible. (PG) 127 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.

IMMORTALS Nobody could be more appalled than I am at this grueling endurance test of blood, gore, murder, torture, blatant warmongering, and more blood, masquerading as Greek mythology, from gifted visual stylist Tarsem Singh. It adulterates several myths for a largely invented tale of Theseus (Henry Cavill) vs. a brutal warlord (Mickey Rourke) who mows down everything in his path in his quest to overthrow the gods of Olympus. The gods and heroes look godly indeed, and the visuals are often splendid, but we keep getting dragged back to another battle or torture scene. Most depressing is the excessive carnage among the Olympians themselves. What a disappointment. (R) (110 minutes. (★★) —Lisa Jensen.

INTO THE ABYSS Werner Herzog explores the world of crime and punishment in his new documentary, which follows the incarceration of convicted murderer Michael Perry, his experiences on Death Row, and the consequences of his crime. While pondering a judicial system that punishes killing by killing, Herzog calls his film, “a gaze into the abyss of the human soul.” (PG-13) 107 minutes. Starts Friday.

J EDGAR Clint Eastwood’s wonderfully woven biographical drama on the social and political undercurrents that made up the iron fist of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, arrives—but not with a big bang. But not with a whimper, either. Leonardo DiCaprio deserves attention—his J. Edgar Hoover is spot on in a performance that should usher in an Oscar nom. The film itself floats back and forth through time as Hoover preps a book about his life and times. Armie Hammer comes along for the ride—to winning ends—playing Hoover’s longtime associate, and suspected lover. This part of the tale is noteworthy because it offers some of the film’s best scenes—emotional ones that offer a glimpse into who the man really was (or could have been) and the personal sacrifices he had to make to forge ahead. The acting here is stellar but the pacing of the film suffers at times as Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) make their valiant attempt to shed light on a complex soul. Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas and Judi Dench co-star. (R) 137 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer

JACK AND JILL If you’d rather pay good money to NOT see Adam Sandler in drag, then this comedy may not be for you. Sandler stars as an LA adman and his own flamboyant twin sister, whose annual Thanksgiving visit drives her brother nuts. Katie Holmes co-stars. Dennis Dugan directs. (PG)

Tom Cruise returns to action thriller mode in this new MI sequel, in which his character, undercover agent Ethan Hunt, leads a new team in a secret, guerrilla mission to clear their name after being falsely implicated in a terrorist bombing. Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, and Lea Seydoux join returning co-star Ving Rhames in the new unit. Brad Bird directs. (PG-13) 133 minutes.

THE MUPPETS Sweet and charming. It’s hard not to like The Muppets and in this spirited return to the big screen—one of few real “family” comedies f the year—Muppet fans Jason Segel, Amy Adams, and Walter, who’s a Muppet, himself, track down Kermit and the gang to save the beleaguered Muppet Studios from a menacing developer who want the oil underneath the theater. Miss Piggy is back in fine form, as is Fozzie Bear and all the who clan. Fun inside jokes keep things afloat but many of the musical numbers—including “Rainbow Connection” liven up this enjoyable tale. Fun, fun, fun. James Bobin directs. (PG) (★★★)—Greg Archer

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN The 2012 Best Actress Oscar race begins with this miraculous performance by Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, an alchemical transformation of the always intelligent and gutsy Williams into that most dreamy, luscious, needy, and yet valiant of all Hollywood screen goddesses. Directed with grace and economy by TV veteran Simon Curtis, it’s based on a backstage memoir by Colin Clark, a young production assistant, on the filming of the 1957 romance The Prince and the Showgirl, starring Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). Eddie Redmayne is terrific as fresh, eager young Colin, ripe for losing his heart, and Judi Dench is superb as gracious, no-nonsense actress Dame Sybil Thorndike. But it’s Williams’ Marilyn— fragile, irresistible, terrified, and often humorously, startlingly self-aware—that leaves one breathless. (R) 107 minutes. (★★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

NEW YEAR’S EVE What are a nice bunch of Oscar winners (and nominees) doing in a movie like this? Director Garry Marshall and screenwriter Katherine Fugate from last year’s popular romantic ensemble comedy Valentine’s Day, reunite for this retread; not a sequel, it’s just the same formula transplanted from L. A. to New York, in which an interconnected group of folks try to realize their holiday expectations. Formulaic, too, is the quality of the storytelling. Despite a jaw-dropping array of Hollywood A-listers (Halle Berry, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Hilary Swank, etc, etc), this well-meaning, eager to please affair amounts to little more than a collection of sitcom gags, predictable romance, and inspirational speeches about love, hope, and second chances. (PG-13) 118 minutes. (★★)—Lisa Jensen.

PUSS IN BOOTS Hail great storytelling. You’ll find it here. Antonio Banderas returns as the voice of the orange swashbuckling cool cat he made so popular in the Shrek films. The good news? There’s plenty to appreciate in director Chris Miller’s animated prequel about Puss’ life before he teamed up with Shrek and Donkey. Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Sedaris and Billy Bob Thornton lend supporting voices but it’s the story that really shines. Puss, apparently, had a stellar friendship with Humpty Dumpty—they become like “brothers” in an orphanage. Later in life, when they’re reunited, Humpty convinces Puss to help him steal some magic beans (a la Jack and the Beanstalk) from Jack and Jill and … Oh, go see it for yourself. An enjoyable ride from beginning to end with clever twists. (PG) 90 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return as Holmes and Watson in Guy Ritchie’s first sequel to his high-octane 2009 blockbuster. Who knows what the plot is about, but here’s the cast: Rachel McAdams (returning as Irene Adler), Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes, and Jared Harris as the dreaded nemesis, Professor Moriarty, along with a featured role for fine Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). (PG-13) 129 minutes.

THE SITTER Jonah Hill stars as a college student on suspension who makes his life even more chaotic when he accepts the babysitting job from Hell. Sam Rockwell and Max Records (last seen as young Max in Where the Wild Things Are) co-star for director David Gordon Green. (R) 81 minutes.  

TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 1 I’m glad Stephanie Meyers’ teen melodramas have made her one rich lady. Here we are, nearly at the end of the Twilight saga—in film form. This is the first of a two-part romp. Twihards are rejoicing. The rest of us—not so much. The story thus far: Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire honey, Edward (Robert Pattinson) finally marry and consumate their relationship. Bella is suddenly with child—but what kind of child (or beast) will she birth. Everybody is all flutte. Taylor Lautner returns as hunky werewolf Jacob—shirtless the first five minute. Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) delivers a solid ride, but unless you’re a Twihard, it’s hard to evoke any compassion or caring for this crew, especially Stewart, who, perhaps, is one of the worst actresses of her generation. (PG-13) 117 minutes. (★★) —Greg Archer.

A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS John Cho and Kal Penn return as the luckless slacker buddies, facing grown-up, holiday season responsibilities with typical immaturity, in this third installment of their misguided adventures. Neil Patrick Harries, Paula Garces, and David Krumholtz co-star for incoming director Todd Strauss-Schulson. (R) 90 minutes.

YOUNG ADULT Charlize Theron stars as a maturity-challenged YA (young adult) novelist who goes home to Minnesota after her divorce to wreak havoc in the life of an ex-boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) in this comedy written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman. (Their last collaboration was Juno.) Patton Oswalt and Elizabeth Reaser co-star. (R) 94 minutes.

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