Film, Times & Events: Week of Aug. 23rd

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New This Week

film apparitionTHE APPARITION Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan star as a young couple whose home is invaded by a malevolent force after a university parapsychology experiment goes awry. To save themselves, they turn to…Draco Malfoy? Tom Felton, that is, as a local exorcist. Todd Lincoln directs. (PG-13) 82 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

film harakiriHARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI Japanese pulp genre master Takashi Miike deconstructs the mythos of the classical samurai epic, then reinvents it in this lavishly mounted samurai tale of love, honor, sacrifice, corruption, and revenge. Ebizo Ichikawa stars. (Not rated) 126 minutes. In Japanese with English subtitles. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

film premiumrushPREMIUM RUSH Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a New York City bike messenger relentlessly pursued throughout the urban landscape by a homicidal crooked cop (Michael Shannon) during one terrifying day in this thriller from filmmaker David Koepp (Secret Window; Ghost Town). (PG-13) 91 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN film searchingIn the early 1970s, a soulful, funky-folk singer from Detroit called Rodriguez released two critically praised, but underperforming albums, then disappeared from sight. Presumed dead, his albums found a huge audience in South Africa, selling half a million copies and providing a soundtrack of toughness and survival for the last generation living under apartheid. Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul’s English-language doc explores the cult of Rodriguez with a tasty twist: the singer proves to be alive and well and ready at last to meet his enormous fan base. (PG) 86 minutes. Watch film trailer >>>

2 DAYS IN NEW YORKReviewed this issue. (R) 91 minutes. (★★★) Starts Friday.

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: STARSHIP TROOPERS Director Paul Verhoeven turns the Robert A. Heinlein space adventure into a nifty parable about galactic totalitarianism and its consequences, as a platoon of male and female American soldiers from a militaristic future wage war on a race of giant bugs whose planet they want to colonize. Caspar Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Jake Busey and Neil Patrick Harris star in this 1997 sci-fi epic. (R) 129 minutes. 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: AMERICAN GRAFFITI. (PG) 110 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen. Thursday only (August 23), 9 p.m., at the Cinema 9. 

CONTINUING EVENT: LET’S TALK ABOUT THE MOVIES Meets at the Del Mar mezzanine in downtown Santa Cruz. at 7 pm and admission is free. For more information visit www.ltatm.org.

Movie Times click here.

Now Playing

THE AWAKENING Rebecca Hall stars in this period ghost story/thriller as a professional debunker of phony mediums and spiritualists in the 1920s who’s invited to investigate some creepy goings-on at an English boarding school. Dominic West and Imelda Staunton co-star for rookie director Nick Murphy. (R) 107 minutes.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILDRarely has a coming-of-age story been told with such engrossing originality as in this remarkable first feature from Benh Zeitlin, infused with elements of fairy tale, folklore and magic realism. At it’s center is a tiny dynamo named Quvenzhané Wallis, the non-professional actress who stars as a philosophical six-year-old girl living with her volatile Daddy in the Southern Delta when a giagantic storm throws Nature out of balance. Wallis is onscreen in every scene, and we never get tired of her poignant, expressive little face. In a story brimming with themes and metaphors, it offers a compelling portrait of a marginalized lowland community coming together with quiet resolve in the face of catastrophe. But it’s the child’s viewpoint—an irresistible mix of awe, trepidation, and grit—that makes the film so special. (PG-13) 91 minutes. (★★★1/2) —Lisa Jensen. 

THE BOURNE LEGACYIt takes a while to get moving, but once it does, the film captures some of the magic found in the previous Bourne adventures. Out: Matt Damon. In: Jeremy Renner as a super soldier running for his life. Rachel Weisz lends him a hand against bad guys Edward Norton, Stacy Keach and Oscar Isaac. Bourne alums Albert Finney, Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Scott Glenn have cameos. (PG-13) 135 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer. 

THE CAMPAIGNThis election-year comedy that never quite gets out of its own way and if often played over the top when it doesn’t need to do so. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis star alongside. John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, and Brian Cox for director Jay Roach. (R) 85 minutes. (★★)—Greg Archer. 

CELESTE & JESSE FOREVERA hip, young married couple and longtime best buds are getting a divorce, yet continue to live life joined at the hip, enjoying themselves and each other hugely. Um, why exactly are these guys breaking up? The short answer is, to create conflict so the scriptwriters will have something to write about, but it causes some problems in the context of the story for writers Rashida Jones and Will McCormack. Still, beyond its romantic complications, their script is so funny and their characters so engaging, it’s worth suspending one’s disbelief. Co-star Jones’ caustic one-liners and Andy Samburg’s deadpan goofy sweetness in the title roles keep things in high gear, and the satire on pop culture is often hilarious. Chris Messina, Elijah Wood, and Emma Roberts provide nifty support under the direction of Lee Toland Krieger. (R) 91 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen. 

THE DARK KNIGHT RISESIn this final installment of Christopher Nolan’s brooding bat opera, Christian Bale is still worth watching; as conflicted Bruce Wayne, he regains the will to restore honor and heroism to the Bat legacy, and save a besieged Gotham City—whether they like it or not. Anne Hathaway is a wry, sassy Catwoman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is terrific as a smart young beat cop who rekindles Bruce’s tarnished idealism, and Michael Caine, as loyal butler Alfred, infuses his scenes with warmth and intelligence. But Tom Hardy’s Bane is a ho-hum villain, a bald, masked brute with inexplicable motives and indecipherable dialogue (we miss the intense danse macabre between Batman and Heath Ledger’s magnificent Joker over the thin line between good and evil, hero and villain), and the usual chaotic vehicle chases, extreme shootouts, and massive explosions weigh things down. But a great kicker, plotwise, and a satisfying coda ends things on a high note. (PG-13) 164 minutes. (★★★) —Lisa Jensen. 

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS Zachary Gordon returns as Greg the beleaguered young hero of the title in this third installment of the franchise. Taking place during summer vacation, this one is based on the third and fourth books in Jeff Kinney’s popular tween series, “The Last Straw” and “Dog Days.” Devon Bostick (as brother Roderick) and Steve Zahn (as father Frank) co-star for director David Bowers. (PG) 94 minutes.

THE EXPENDABLES 2 Break out the ear plugs; almost the entire team from the first film is back in this tomfoolery about a secret squad of paramilitary ops composed entirely of aging Hollywood action stars creating havoc in some distant, volatile region of the world. Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Jean-Claude van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, even Chuck Norris surface in the cast. Simon West (Con Air) directs. (R) 102 minutes..

FAREWELL MY QUEEN German-born actress Diane Kruger stars as Austrian-born Marie Antoinette, dutiful wife of France’s extravagant Louis XVI, who sees her life of privilege threatened in the early days of the French Revolution in this opulent historical drama from filmmaker Benoit Jacquot. The story unfolds from the feminine viewpoint of Marie and her ladies-in-waiting and attendants. Léa Seydoux (Midnight In Paris) and Virginie Ledoyen co-star. (R) 100 minutes. In French with English subtitles.

HIT & RUN Dax Shepard wrote and co-directed this road comedy in which he stars as a former getaway driver who breaks out of the witness protection program. Kristin Bell, Tom Arnold and Bradley Cooper co-star. David Palmer co-directs. (R) 100 minutes.

HOPE SPRINGSA wonderfully underplayed gem. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are the long-married couple who venture off to an intensive, week-long couples retreat in hopes of recapturing the sizzle their relationship once had. Streep is stellar here; Jones even better as her reluctant husband. The film is believable and embraceable.. Steve Carrell co-stars as a famous couples therapist in this comedy from David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada). (PG-13) 100 minutes. (★★★) —Greg Archer 

THE INTOUCHABLES In this cross-cultural French comedy drama, a wealthy, middle-aged Frenchman rendered quadriplegic in a paragliding accident hires a younger man from a different race, culture, and neighborhood to be his caretaker. Francois Cluzet (Tell No One) and Omar Sy star for directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. (R) 122 minutes. In French with English subtitles.

KILLER JOE Veteran director William Friedkin (The Exorcist; The French Connection) returns to the screen with this violent, blackly comic tale about a slick Texas lawmen (Matthew McConaughey) who moonlights as a hitman-for-hire. He’s retained by a scalawag son (Emile Hirsch) looking to off his mom for the insurance money, involving his entire dysfunctional family in the messy business. Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, and Juno Temple co-star. Based on the play by Tracy Letts. (NC-17) 103 minutes.

MOONRISE KINGDOMThis could be Wes Anderson’s (Rushmore; Fantastic Mr. Fox) to date. it’s a quriky little love story revolving around two 12-year-olds and boy, does it have a lot of heart. Set in 1965 in a sleepy New England coastal community, the two young ones run off together. Meanwhile, the entire town is tossed into an upheaval trying to find them. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman all co-star. Willis plays the island cop; Norton a troubled scout master and Murray/McDormand the young girl’s mother. Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward so beautifully inhabit their roles that you don’t want them to leave the screen. Anderson also co-wrote this outing, which, could turn into one of the summer’s more memorable offerings. (PG-13) 97 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer. 

THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton star in this fanciful Disney family comedy about a young small-town couple whose dream of starting a family is answered when a magical boy shows up on their doorstep. Dianne Wiest, Ron Livingston, M. Emmet Walsh and newcomer CJ Adams co-star for director Peter Hedges (Dan In Real Life; What’s Eating Gilbert Grape). (PG) 100 minutes.

PARANORMAN In this stop-motion animated horror comedy, an outcast boy who can talk to the dead gets his chance to be a hero when his town is invaded by zombies. Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, and John Goodman head the voice cast. Sam Fell and Chris Butler direct. (PG) 101 minutes.

RUBY SPARKSSuppose an author was so in love with his fictive heroine that she emerged as a flesh and blood person in the midst of his real life? Such is the miracle—and the dilemma—at the heart of this offbeat, savvy and charming new romantic comedy from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine). Paul Dano is the blocked writer freaked out—then delighted—when his creation comes to life. Scriptwriter Zoe Kazan writes herself a plummy role as his dream girl, feisty enough to start wanting a life of her own beyond the typed page. As movies about writing go, this is no Wonder Boys. But it’s not really about writing; it’s about finding the balance of power in a relationship, and finding a place for love to root and flourish in the twilight zone between control and free will. (R) 104 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen. 

SPARKLELike the original film, which was released in 1976 and starred Irene Cara, the script tends to drag, but this re-imagined Sparkle does offer one of the best acting performances from the late Whitney Houston. (She could even get a nod during awards season.) American Idol alumna Jordin Sparks does a decent job but ultimately, she is unbelievable in as the strong force of nature her character requires her to be by the end of the film. There’s great casting here: Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter play Sparkle’s sisters—the gals want to make it big as an all-girl singing group.. Derek Luke, Mike Epps and Cee-lo Green co-star for director Salim Akil. (PG-13) (★★1/2) —Greg Archer 

TOTAL RECALLColin Farrell does his best in this reboot that orginally starred Arnold Schwarzenegger but nothing feels that new or inspired here. The plot, from the classic Philip K. Dick story, “I Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” mirrors much of the 1990 film with a few tweaks added but the script relies too much on swear words and big explosions, and Len Wiseman’s (the Underworld series) direction seems only to copy the cookie cutter big budget blockbusters Hollywood seems to love producing. An A for over-acting goes to and Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston and Jessica Biel. Still—and surprisingly—Farrell delivers the most grounded performance here. (PG-13) 118 minutes. (★1/2) —Greg Archer

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