Film, Times & Events: Week of May 3

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New This Week

film avengersTHE AVENGERS
Genre cult fave Josh Whedon (he created Buffy, Angel, and Serenity, among many other writing credits) takes the director’s reign for this massive Marvel mash-up of comic book superheroes teaming up to save the world from the forces of doom. Look for Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (the Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) in the forefront ffilm damselsdistressor the good guys. (PG-13) 142 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

Reviewed this issue. (PG-13) 99 minutes. (★★) Starts Friday.

A Best Foreign Language Film nominee at the 2012 Academy Awards, this French Canadian comedy-drama revolves around an Algerian immigrant hired in the middle of the school year to teach a class of grade schoolers. Their previous teacher has died suddenly, and tragically, and while the new teacher tries to navigate the unfamiliar bureaucracy of his new employers, he proves to have an empathetic and imaginative knack for helping shepherd the kids through their grief and back into the mainstream of life. French Algerian actor Mohammed Fellaq stars for director Philippe Falardeau. (PG-13) 94 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

Film Events

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 LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS Load up on double espressos for this second installment (2002) of Peter Jackson’s epic Tolkien trilogy (to be followed next week by the third and final installment). It’s an orgy of battles, blood and more battles, hobbits and heroes, wizards, dragons, elves, fairies and one spectacular Gollum, Viggo’s chiseled cheekbones, and Orlando’s long blond braids. (PG-13) 179 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen. Friday-Saturday 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: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS Tom Everett Scott stars as an American college graduate looking for a good time in Paris who falls under the spell of beautiful wolf-woman Julie Delpy in this belated 1997 sequel to the old John Landis film. Anthony Waller directs. (R) 105 minutes. Thursday (May 3) only, 8 p.m., at the Cinema 9.

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

BULLY Lee Hirsch’s gripping doc focuses on real-life teen heroes and heroines struggling (or failing) to survive the taunting, humiliation and abuse from their peers in middle/high school. Most heartbreaking are stories of kids who committed suicide rather than endure any more bullying, and their devastated families; most frustrating is the lack of any kind of effective intervention (from teachers, cops, bus drivers, clueless administrators, even parents) to stop it. It’s impossible not to empathize with these kids and what they go through every single day, but it would have been interesting had Hirsch also investigated some of the bullies. At least, with it’s new PG-13 rating, those who most need to see this film, can—bullied kids who need to know they’re not alone, and bullies and bystanders who need to see the consequences of their actions. (PG-13) 99 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

CHIMPANZEE Disneynature whisks us off to the rainforests of Tanzania in this narrative doc about an adorable baby chimp growing up within the support group of his community. Made in association with the Jane Goodall Institute, and directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, it provides an amazing glimpse under the rainforest canopy, from the minutiae of primate society to astonishing day-glo flora. The cutesy narration by Tim Allen provides some humor, although the attempt to give the chimps human-like personalities backfires when the tribe hunts smaller monkeys for food. A more informational narration might have worked better, but still a fascinating peek into the natural world. (G) 78 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

CORIOLANUS Ralph Fiennes makes his directing debut with a modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s brooding military drama about a Roman general driven out of the city by the starving populace who enters into a reluctant alliance with his sworn enemy to stage a coup. Fiennes stars in the title role; Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jessica Chastain co-star. (R) 122 minutes.

THE HUNGER GAMES The much-hyped film version of Suzanne Collins’ hit YA novel trilogy has winning moments, thanks to  Jennifer Lawrence, who morphs into teenager Katniss Everdeen (Kat) in a seemingly futuristic world. Kat takes her sister’s place in the lineup of a barbaric (and required) endeavor that places a boy and girl from each of the nation’s 12 districts to fight each other to the death until a sole survivor is deemed the winner. (Naturally, it’s filmed for Reality TV.) Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Willow Shields, Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson co-star for director Gary Ross (Big, Pleasantville, and Seabiscuit). The film never allows as to really know that deeply (thereby care for) the characters because it’s trying to pack in as much story and action as it can. Still, it’s an engaging ride and a sobering look at how the shakey morals of govenment can erode an entire culture. (PG-13) 142 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer.

Jason Segel and Emily Blunt star in this modern comedy as a long-engaged, two-career couple who just can’t seem to make time in their busy lives to set a date and get hitched. Segel and director Nicholas Stoller co-wrote the screenplay.  Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Mimi Kennedy, and Jacki Weaver co-star. (R)

Seann William Scott  stars in this sports comedy as an underachieving Boston bouncer who’s brawling ability lands him a spot on a semi-pro Canadian hockey team, and a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his excessively accomplished family. Jay Baruchel and Liev Schreiber co-star for director Michael Dowse. (This was a fan favorite at this year’s Secret Film Festival at the Del Mar.) (R) 90 minutes.

Zac Efron stars as a young veteran just back from Iraq searching for the real-life version of a woman whose photograph was his “lucky charm,” keeping him alive in the war. Taylor Schilling and Blythe Danner co-star in this romantic drama from the prolific pen of Nicholas Sparks, directed by Scott Hicks (Shine). (PG-13) 101 minutes. minutes.

While Marley bio docs abound, the first-person retelling of intimate moments earns this film bragging rights as the definitive Bob Marley documentary. The film succeeds because, with Marley’s oldest son, Ziggy, on board as a producer, director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) enjoyed unprecedented access to Marley’s closest friends, family members and colleagues. The resulting film delivers a lush, layered and deeply personal portrait, including a number of photos, recordings and film footage never before released on a mass scale. (PG-13) 145 minutes. (★★★★)
—Laurel Chesky.

Did you hear the one about Snow White and the Seven Stooges? That’s the prevailing sensibility in this fractured fairy tale from the sometimes-brilliant director Tarsem Singh. He injects plenty of visual pizzazz and a nifty grrrl power element, but the emphasis on campy slapstick is almost as fatal as a poison apple to the project. Julia Roberts is a skilled comedienne; she gets the most out of every acidic aside as the Evil Queen, but she’s never sinister, just catty. And without at least some attempt at dramatic tension at its core, the movie plays out as one big joke. Still, kudos to Tarsem for casting authentic dwarf actors in the roles; their diverse individuality keeps their part of the tale intriguing, despite the low-comedy script. And their relationship to banished princess Snow White (Lily Collins)—they’re highwaymen who teach her cunning, swordfighting, and survival—is the most interesting part of the story. (PG) 106 minutes, (★★1/2)
—Lisa Jensen.

Reviewed this issue. (PG) 87 minutes. (★★★)

RAMPART After the quiet authority of his first film, The Messenger, Oren Moverman presents his sophomore effort, but the ingredients don’t quite gel in the same way. Woody Harrelson delivers a mammoth performance as a hardcore veteran LAPD cop battling a police brutality charge; he’s tough, perverse, sarcastic, haunted, but since he’s onscreen every nanosecond, also a little exhausting. Murky themes and random storytelling from Moverman and co-scriptwriter James Ellroy keep the viewer at a distance, but the real problem is this is a character study in search of a story. Worse, Harrelson’s character has no emotional arc; he behaves with the same smug sense of entitlement throughout, making this stagnant case history that never evolves into a drama. (R) 108 minutes. (★★)—Lisa Jensen.

THE RAVEN John Cusack stars as Edgar Allen Poe, famed author of the macabre, in this period thriller. When a string of serial murders based on Poe’s most horrific works rocks Victorian-era Baltimore, a young police detective (Luke Evans) enlists the author himself to help him stop the reign of terror. Alice Eve and Brendan Gleeson co-star. James McTeigue (V For Vendetta) directs. (R) 110 minutes.

SAFE Jason Statham stars in (surprise!) another action thriller, this time playing a tough-guy ex- cage fighter defending a young Chinese girl with a priceless numerical code committed to her memory from the Forces of Evil who want to get their hands on it. Catherine Chan and Chris Sarandon co-star for director Boaz Yakin. (R) 94 minutes.

Ewan McGregor stars in this clear-headed, yet open-hearted romantic comedy-drama about impossible dreams and unlikely alliances. It’s directed by Lasse Hallstrom with his usual touch of warm fuzziness, spiced up with a dash of political satire, and a frisson of cross-cultural utopianism. But the themes never intrude too deeply on the film’s sneaky sense of fun. McGregor and the winsome Emily Blunt are Westerners helping a wealthy, visionary sheikh who wants to create a greenbelt complete with cold-water salmon in the Yemeni desert. Amr Waked is terrific as the philosophical sheikh; Kristin Scott Thomas is a riot as a wisecracking PR liaison. (PG-13) 111 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

THINK LIKE A MAN Four men decide to strike back when their women start psyching them out, romance-wise, following the advice in the popular book “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man,” by comedian Steve Harvey. Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, Jerry Ferrara, Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union, and Regina Hall star for director Tim Story (Fantastic Four; Barbershop). (PG-13)

UNDEFEATED  Like the underprivileged, rural southern high school football team it depicts, this doc by Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin came from out of nowhere to crush the competition for this year’s Best Documentary Feature Oscar. The film follows one season in the lives of the hard luck Manassas Tigers, from North Memphis, Tenn., under the incisive, character-confirming guidance of volunteer coach Bill Courtney. Football doesn’t “build character,” he tells his team early on. “Football reveals character.” The interwoven stories of three young players in particular make this a dramatic and entertaining ride. (PG-13) 113 minutes.

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