New This Week
JOHN CARTER Taylor Kitsch (from TV’s Friday Night Lights) stars as the Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp fiction hero, a Civil War vet transported to Mars who finds himself defending a princess from giant barbarian creatures. Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, and Samantha Morton co-star for veteran Pixar-turned-live action director Andrew Stanton (Wall-E; Finding Nemo). (PG-23) 132 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
FRIENDS WITH KIDS Reviewed this issue. (R) 100 minutes. (★★★) Starts Friday.
A THOUSAND WORDS Eddie Murphy stars in this comedy about a fast-talking literary agent who gets a karmic lesson in the consequences of loose talk when a magical Bodhi tree appears on his property; for every word he speaks, a leaf will fall, but after a thousand more words, his life will end. Cliff Curtis, Kerry Washington, and Allison Janney co-star for director Brian Robbins. (PG-13) 91 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN Tilda Swinton racked up plenty of year-end Best Actress awards from film critics societies for her bracing performance in this emotional thriller as an ordinary mother coping with increasingly disturbing and frightening behavior from her son as he ages from toddler to teen. John C. Reilly co-stars as her equally bewildered husband in director Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of the Lionel Shriver novel. Newcomer Ezra Miller stars as the malevolent teenage Kevin. (R) 112 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
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 BIG LEBOWSKI The Dude loafs again in this perennial midnight favorite. Jeff Bridges stars as the Venice Beach bowling bum who takes slacking to absurd new depths in this deadpan 1998 comedy from Joel and Ethan Coen. John Goodman and Steve Buscemi co-star. (R) 117 minutes. (★★1/2)—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: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Gregory Peck stars in Robert Mulligan’s beautifully made 1962 adaptation of the Harper Lee novel about a widowed, gentleman lawyer raising his two rambunctious kids in a small Southern town rife with racial tensions who dares to defend a black man charged with rape. Features the first screen appearance of the young Robert Duvall in a pivotal role. (Not rated) 129 minutes. (★★★★)—Lisa Jensen. (Thursday, March 8) 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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ACT OF VALOR Actors star alongside a platoon of real-life, active duty Navy SEALS in this action drama. In a fictionalized account of realistic Navy SEALS operations, the plot revolves around a mission to recover a kidnapped CIA agent which leads to the discovery of (what else?) a heinous terrorist plot. Roselyn Sanchez, Alex Veadov, Jason Cottle, and Nestor Serrano star, alongside the real deal SEALS. Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh direct. (R) 105 minutes.
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.
BULLHEAD Belgian filmmaker Michael R. Roskam scored a surprise Foreign Language Oscar nomination for this tough-minded drama about crime, consequences and retribution within the shady underworld of bovine hormone trafficking. Matthias Schoenaerts delivers a standout performance as a loner pumped up on steroids working for his uncle’s meat manufacturing business who starts to go over the edge when a dangerous new client involves them in a smuggling operation, bringing him into contact with an old flame and a sinister ghost from his own past. Less a crime melodrama than an exercise in emotional upheaval. (R) 124 minutes. In Dutch and French, with English subtitles.
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)
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.
DR. SEUSS’ THE LORAX Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, and Danny DeVito lend their voices to this updated animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ fanciful, ecological-themed story about a tree-loving creature trying to stop destructive humans from destroying the environment. Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda direct. (PG) 94 minutes.
GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE Nicolas Cage returns as stunt motorcyclist-turned-supernatural vigilante Johnny Blaze. (PG-13) 95 minutes.
GONE Amanda Seyfried stars in this thriller about a woman who was abducted by, but escaped from a serial killer two years earlier, who sets off for a final showdown when the same man kidnaps her sister. Jennifer Carpenter and Wes Bentley co-star for director Heitor Dhalia. (PG-13) 94 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.
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.
PINA 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.
PROJECT X It is what is and it doesn’t apologize for what it is. Fun, a bit outlandish yet surprisingly entertaining. (And … if you care to glimpse the kinds of individuals that could be running things in the future, this is the film to see.) So, what do we get. Two friends attempt to give one of their best buds the birthday bash of all birthday bashes—an “epic” event that will boost their status among their peers, among other things. Naturally, things get out of hand, but watch how well writers Matt Drake and Michael Bacall (based on a story by Bacall) manage to weave together their great premise with threads of humor. That, coupled with director Nima Nourizadeh’s expert pacing create a curious collage of intrigue as things spin horribly out of control during the monster bash that ultimately lures on thousands of people in a North Pasadena neighborhood. The credits note that the film is based on a true story, and the fascination here lies in a basic human urge to be out of of control—let loose as it were Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, and Jonathan Daniel Brown star. (R) 88 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer.
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.
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.
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.
A SEPARATION If you had to decide between keeping your family together under impossible circumstances, or emigrating alone to a new place with more opportunities to make a better life for your child, which would you choose? Such is the dilemma that fuels this absorbing, and powerful Iranian domestic drama. Filmmaker Asghar Farhadi constructs a nuanced, yet vivid mosaic of brewing conflict—between genders, classes, generations, and ideologies—in a way that makes all viewpoints comprehensible, and all choices freighted with consequence. There are no saints or villains here, only life-sized people trying to navigate a culture in transition, which makes this film the front runner for this year’s Foreign Language Academy Award. (PG-13) 123 minutes. In Persian with English subtitles. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
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)
WANDERLUST Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston star as a city couple temporarily detoured into a rural free-love commune straight out of Easy Rider. Although it seems like a haven at first, director David Wain strips away the veneer of grooviness to reveal the usual Hollywood clichés: hypocritical hippies, opportunism and self-righteousness. Wain also takes potshots at city life, but he doesn’t add much that’s fresh to his yuppies vs. hippies culture-clash encounters. Still, Alan Alda is fun as an irascible old lefty, and the movie provides a few mindless laughs delivered by its cast of pros. (R) 98 minutes. (★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
W./E. Madonna directs her version of the true story of American divorcee Wallis Simpson, who caused upheaval in Old Blighty when Edward VIII, King of England, gave up his crown to marry her in 1936. Andrea Riseborough and James D’Arcy star. Abbie Cornish and Oscar Isaac co-star in a modern-day bracketing story as a married woman in a scandalous romance with a Russian security guard. Santa Cruz native Arianne Phillips scored an Oscar nomination for her luscious period costumes. (R) 119 minutes.