New This Week
GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE
Nicolas Cage returns as stunt motorcyclist-turned-supernatural vigilante Johnny Blaze for this second outing of the Marvel Comics hero. Hiding out in Eastern Europe, he tries to foil the Devil’s plan to inhabit the body of a young boy. Violante Placido, Ciaran Hinds, and Idris Elba co-star for directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (PG-13) 95 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
Reviewed this issue. (PG-13) 123 minutes. (★★★) Starts February 24th
THE SECRET WORLD OF ARIETTY
Japanese powerhouse animation outfit, Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away; Ponyo) does an anime-type version of Mary Norton’s popular “The Borrowers” series of children’s books about a family of tiny people who live under the floorboards in a country house who are befriended by an inquisitive little boy. Hiromasa Yonebayashi directs. Gary Rydstrom directs the English-language voice actors, who include Carol Burnett, Amy Poehler, and Will Arnett. (G) 94 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
AND THE OSCAR SHOULD GO TO… Join Wallace Baine, of the Sentinel, Bruce Bratton, of Brattononline.com, and yours truly, Lisa Jensen, at the Nickelodeon this Sunday (Feb 19) for a discussion of this year’s Academy Awards nominees. We’ll tell you about our favorite films of the year; let the critics know what YOU think! Discussion begins at 10 am, and is free and open to the public. Call 426-7500, or check Nickelodeon/Del Mar ad this issue for more information.
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 ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (PG) (★★★★)—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: PONYO . (G) 100 minutes. (★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen. Tonight (Thursday, February 16) only, 8 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
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ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATED SHORT FILMS, 2012 Where are the next generation of filmmakers and animators coming from? Find out in these two complete, separate programs of this year’s Oscar-nominated short films from around the world (five live-action and five animated), offered for theatrical release in advance of the Academy Awards on Feb 26. Astound your friends with your knowledge of these categories at your Oscar parties. And the Live-Action nominees are: PENTECOST (Ireland,11 minutes) An altar boy must choose between church duties and football. RAJU (Germany/India, 24 minutes) A German couple wants to adopt an Indian child. THE SHORE (Northern Ireland, 31 minutes) Ciaran Hinds stars as an expatriate Irishman bringing his American daughter back to Belfast. TIME FREAK (USA,11 minutes) A home-made time machine proves to have a few bugs. TUBA ATLANTIC (Norway, 25 minutes) A dying man has only six days to forgive his estranged brother across the ocean. (Not Rated) 107 minutes. And the Animated nominees are: SUNDAY/DIMANCHE (Canada,10 minutes) A typical Sunday in a small hamlet. THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE (USA,17 minutes) In this delicious homage to Buster Keaton silent comedy, The Wizard Of Oz, and the joys of reading, a hurricane transports a young man into a new life as caretaker of a magical library. LA LUNA (USA, 7 minutes) A boy learns the family trade out in a rowboat on a moonlit night. A MORNING STROLL (UK, 7 minutes) It’s man vs. chicken on a New York City street. WILD LIFE (Canada,13 minutes) An Englishman copes with life in the wilds of the Canadian frontier, ca 1909. Plus a couple of “Highly Commended” bonus films. (Not Rated) 79 minutes.
ALBERT NOBBS An odd mix of quaint and edgy, this is a modern-seeming tale of gender confusion and sexual identity dressed up like a Victorian melodrama. It’s a labor of love for producer, co-scripter and star Glenn Close, who brings heartbreaking rigor to the role of Albert, a middle-aged woman who’s been passing for male her entire adult life, now employed as a waiter at a swanky hotel in turn-of-the-century Dublin. Rodrigo Garcia’s film, based on a 1918 novella by George Moore, also features a knockout performance by Janet McTeer as a cheeky, cross-dressing lesbian. The conclusion of the story feels like a failure of the author’s imagination, but Close and company add a satisfying, ironic coda; the biting social commentary in this upstairs/downstairs milieu is well done, and a delicious cast of seasoned pros (Brendan Gleeson, Pauline Collins) keep this nuanced fable of gender, class, and identity percolating along. (R) 113 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
THE ARTIST To pay homage to Hollywood’s silent film era, not only did filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius shoot this backstage love story in vintage black-and-white, he dared to film the entire movie without audible dialogue, relying on only the occasional title card, music, and the actors’ expressiveness to tell the story. The results are utterly splendid, as Hazanavicius wields the classic storytelling tools of the silent era with fresh new exuberance. The wonderful Jean Dujardin and vivacious Berenice Bejo bring heart, humor and verve to their fame-crossed movie star lovers, in a shimmering production that captures every detail of Art Deco-era Hollywood. It may look and feel vintage, but this is one of the most original movies of the year. (PG-13) 100 minutes. (★★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
BIG MIRACLE Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski star in this family-friendly, true adventure tale of a Greenpeace volunteer and an Alaska news reporter who team up to save a family of gray whales trapped by ice in the Arctic Circle. Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, and Vinessa Shaw co-star for director Ken Kwapis. (PG) 107 minutes.
CHRONICLE It’s every fanboy’s dream in Josh Trank’s horror thriller in which three high school buddies are granted superpowers after stumbling over a dark secret, then find themselves struggling to resist the pull of the dark side. Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan star. (PG-13)
CONTRABAND Mark Wahlberg stars in this psychological action drama as an ex-smuggler who goes to Panama in search of counterfeit cash to save his brother-in-law from a bad drug deal. Giovanni Rbisi, Kate Beckinsale, and Ben Foster co-star for Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur. (R) 110 minutes.
A DANGEROUS METHOD It’s Carl Jung vs. Sigmund Freud in this talky drama of ideas from David Cronenberg. Jung (Michael Fassbender) treats patient Sabine Spielrein (an overwrought Keira Knightley), using Freud’s radical “talking cure,” en route to Sabine becoming his mistress, and a doctor in her own right. Freud (a marvelously wry Viggo Mortensen), anoints Jung as his “heir” in the field, but the two men finally split over method. Personal relationships are not Cronenberg’s strong suit; what’s missing is an emotional center to sustain viewers through all the theoretical debates (and perfunctory sex). Christopher Hampton’s screenplay, adapted from both his stage play and a non-fiction book, feels rushed and fragmented. But Vincent Cassel is terrific in a few brief scenes as bad-boy analyst/patient, libertine, and agent provocateur Otto Gross. (R) 99 minutes. (★★1/2)—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 GREY It’s man vs. wolf in the Alaskan wilderness when a crew of oil drillers survive a plane crash only to be hunted by a territorial pack of grey wolves. Liam Neeson and Dermot Mulroney star, but I’m still rooting for the wolves. Joe Carnahan (The A-Team; Smokin’ Aces) directs. (R)
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.
THE IRON LADY It’s not as much fun as playing Julia Child, but Meryl Streep’s performance is just as absorbing as Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first (and only) female Prime Minister, and a conservative stalwart of the 1980s. The problem of making Thatcher a palatable heroine for a dramatic film is addressed by director Phyllida Lloyd and scriptwriter Abi Morgan by keeping the focus on Thatcher’s enduring relationship with her beloved husband, Denis, portrayed throughout most of the film by the irrepressible Jim Broadbent. The movie is also persuasive in positioning Margaret as a pioneer woman in a man’s world, although Lloyd’s often surreal storytelling runs out of steam as Thatcher’s policies become more draconian. Still, the marvelous pairing of Broadbent and Streep is well worth watching. (PG-13) 105 minutes. (★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND in 3D Josh Hutcherson returns as the teen protagonist from the recent Jules Verne update, Journey To the Center of the Earth; this time he sets out on a new adventure with a new father-figure (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) on a mission to answer a distress signal from an unchartered island that time forgot.
ONE FOR THE MONEY Katherine Heigl gets the plum role—Stephanie Plum, that is— the wisecracking bail bondswoman heroine of the popular Janet Evanovich mystery series, in what may be the first installment of a movie franchise. (PG-13)
PINA The late, legendary German dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch is the subject of this utterly thrilling cinematic tribute by Wim Wenders. “You always felt more than just human, working with Pina,” recalls one of her dancers, and this is more than just a documentary, or a dance film, or a memorial. Shooting in 3D, and often staging dances outdoors, in the “real” world, Wenders crafts an extraordinary plunge into the mystery of the creative process, a visionary concept film that reinvents the way dance is viewed onscreen, and a wildly invigorating expedition into the soul of an artist. (PG) 103 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
SAFE HOUSE Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds star as a fugitive being held captive in a safe house and the CIA op guarding him who are forced to flee together when gunmen come after them both.. (R) 115 minutes.
STAR WARS: EPISODE 1 — THE PHANTOM MENACE 3D This new 3D conversion of George Lucas’ first, 1999 prequel to his original Star Wars trilogy will surely enhance the film’s alien landscapes, spaceships, robots, hardware, extravagant sets, battles galore and armies of computer-generated creatures. But it probably won’t restore the swashbuckling exuberance that made the original Star Wars so much more fun. Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman bring stature and presence to their roles, but they are figures in a landscape, deployed like props for visual effect, and we have little stake in their story. Even in 2D, this was a movie only a droid could love. (PG) 136 minutes. (★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
THIS MEANS WAR Rival CIA agents Chris Pine and Tom Hardy go ballistic when they find out they’re both dating the same woman (Reese Witherspoon) in this action comedy from director McG. Til Schweiger and Chelsea Handler co-star. (R) 98 minutes.
THE VOW When a car crash wipes out the memory of a newlywed bride (Rachel McAdams), her husband (Channing Tatum) determines to woo and win her all over again. (PG-13)
THE WOMAN IN BLACK Daniel Radcliffe is effective in this Gothic tale, playing a widowed young Victorian-era lawyer. He finds himself uncovering secrets in an old house in a remote country village. The fright and terror build slowly, evenly, and most importantly, effectively her.e (think Ghost Story). (PG-13) 95 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer