Film, Times & Events: Week of May 10

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New This Week

film marigoldhotelTHE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL Reviewed this issue. (R) 102 minutes. (★★★) Starts Friday.

film darkshadowsDARK SHADOWS Tim Burton and Johnny Depp continue to rob the graves of vintage projects—literally, in this case, with a campy revival of the old early ’70s horror soap opera about a 200-year-old vampire revived to take his place at the head of the current generation of his dysfunctional family. Depp stars as vampire Barnabus Collins, Michelle Pfeiffer plays clan matriarch Elizabeth Collins, Helena Bonham Carter plays conniving Dr. Julia Hoffman, and Eva Green is on board as vengeful witch Angelique. Jackie Earle Haley, Chloe Grace Moritz, and Bella Heathcote co-star. (PG-13) 120 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

film dictatorTHE DICTATOR Sacha Baron Cohen tries out a new persona, this time as the heavily bearded strongman of a small, backward nation in this socio-political satire. Larry Charles directs. (R) Starts Wednesday (May 16). Watch film trailer >>>

film soundvoiceSOUND OF MY VOICE Brit Marling (Another Earth) co-wrote this drama in which she stars as the charismatic leader of a mysterious cult whose group is infiltrated by a couple of documentary filmmakers hoping to expose her. Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius co-star for director/co-writer Zal Batmanglij. (R) 85 minutes. 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 RETURN OF THE KING Load up on double espressos for this final installment (2003) of Peter Jackson’s epic Tolkien trilogy. It’s one last 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) 201 minutes. (HHH)—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: THE AFRICAN QUEEN Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn merge their distinctive personas in this classic 1951 adventure from director John Huston. He’s the cantankerous captain of a leaky old rustbucket of a riverboat in East Africa during WWII. She’s a spinster missionary with a zeal for justice. Together they take on the elements, the Nazis, and each other in this highly entertaining adaptation of the C. S. Forester novel. (Not rated) 105 minutes. (HHHH)—Lisa Jensen. Thursday only (May 10), 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.

Movie Times click here.

Now Playing

THE AVENGERS It takes a while to gain its momentum, but The Avengers manages to deliver a nice balance of thrills in a plot you can embrace. Moviegoers dig it—it made over $200 million in its opening weekend, smashing all records. So, what we get is cult titan Josh Whedon’s (Buffy, Angel, and Serenity) take on the Marvel comic book heroes trying to fight a war lauched by Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) bitter bro. Watch how well Robert Downey Jr. (as Iron Man) elevates the film with his witty bon mots—he’s given the best lines. But kudos to Chris Evans (Captain America) for holding his own here, too. Mark Ruffalo (the Hulk) is expertly cast as Dr. Bruce Banner. Meanwhile Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) round out the cast. This is pure summer movietime fun. Have a ball. (PG-13) 142 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer.

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.

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.

Whit Stillman deserves kudos for persisting in making films that are distinctly his, far outside the mainstream studio system. But although he returns here to a hermetically-sealed East Coast Ivy League school (similar to the setting of his wry, cult first film, Metropolitan), Stillman’s sense of irony and purpose, let alone pacing, have not sharpened in the intervening 20+ years; his characters are even more pretentious, their talk is twice as mannered, the comic timing is completely off, and the dialogue is rarely witty, just peculiar. If Stillman is setting up deliberately silly, unrealistic characters in order to satirize them, what’s the point? If, on the other hand, he intends his characters to disarm us with their cute eccentricities, it doesn’t work. (PG-13) 99 minutes (★★)—Lisa Jensen.

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.

THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT 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)

GOON 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.

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.

MONSIEUR LAZHAR 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.

THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS “It’s only impossible if you stop to think about it!” As a call to action, this line captures both the exuberant silliness and the sly, throwaway gaggery in this stop-motion animation comedy adventure from Aardman studios, those cheerfully nutty folk responsible for the Wallace and Gromit series. Scripted by Gideon Defoe, from his series of slim comic novellas, it’s a swashbuckler stretching from the West Indies to Victorian London. Hugh Grant (voicing the Pirate Captain) leads a terrific voice cast, but the fun is in all the visual details, so abandon rational thinking (that old killjoy) and enjoy the ride. (PG) 88 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

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.

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN 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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