AMELIA Hilary Swank stars in the role she was probably born to play, tousle-haired, tomboyish aviatrix Amelia Earhart, whose daring solo flights, unconventional lifestyle, and myserious disappearance have fascinated the world for nearly a century. Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor co-star as the men in her life. Mira Nair (The Namesake; Monsoon Wedding) directs. (PG) 111 minutes. Starts Friday.
ASTRO BOY A futuristic Pinocchio for a generation that grew up with the old Japanese cartoon series, this is a big screen adaptation of the story of a boy robot built by a lonely inventor who finds acceptance when he defends his city against a band of monster robots. Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, and Kristen Bell provide voices. David Bowers (Flushed Away) directs. (PG) Starts Friday.
CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT John C. Reilly stars as the vampire leader of a traveling freak show featuring a wolfman and other supernatural creatures in this first screen adaptation from the series of fantasy novels by Darren Shan. Chris Massoglia plays the small-town youth drawn into their world to serve as the manager’s apprentice. Salma Hayek, Ken Watanabe, and Orlando Jones co-star for director Paul Weitz. (PG-13) 108 minutes. Starts Friday.
COCO BEFORE CHANEL Reviewed this issue. (PG-13) 105 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen. Starts Friday.
MICHAEL JACKSON: THIS IS IT Culled from over a hundred hours of rehearsal footage, this feature film documents the performance the late star was preparing for his comeback world tour. Shot at the Staples Center in LA, between March and June, 2009, the film is directed by Kenny Ortega, who was also directing Jackson’s stage show. Here’s your chnce to see it on a big screen, for a limited two-week engagement. (PG) Starts Wednesday (Oct. 28)
SAW VI Series regulars Tobin Bell and Costas Mandylor return in yet another installment of the slice-and-dice horror franchise built around the sadistic Jigsaw. Kevin Gruetert directs. (R) 90 minutes. Starts Friday.
A SERIOUS MAN Joel and Ethan Coen have all the awards they need. With nothing more to prove, they can make movies to please themselves—which must have been the impetus for this strikingly deadpan, comic tragedy set in a suburban Jewish community in the northern Midwest ca. 1967. The setting couldn’t be more personal to the Coens (rumor has it they named the kids on a schoolbus in the movie after kids they went to school with), but the questions they raise about faith, tradition, family values, and the meaning of life are universal—however wickedly perverse the Coens’ perspective may be. Everyman Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a university math professor whose life is starting to unravel. His dour wife wants a divorce to marry the smarmy widower down the block. His kids don’t respect him, and his hulking, sweet-natured brother, Arthur (Richard Kind), who won’t move out of the house, may be psychotic. A Korean student on scholarship attempts to bribe him out of a failing grade, and he may be denied tenure due to anonymous letters accusing him of “moral turpitude.” Increasingly frazzled, yet ever accommodating, Larry’s crises seem to pile up in direct proportion to the ineffectuality of his responses. Turning to a series of rabbis to help him understand God’s plan in sending him so much grief, all he gets are half-baked analogies and pointless fables. Dripping acerbic wit, the film is a weirdly engrossing portrait of meltdown in the face of a chaotic universe over which there may not be any plan. The one piece of useful advice anyone gets in the movie (from a very unexpected source) slyly suggests the continuity with which humans try to provide comforting answers to imponderable questions from one generation to the next. (R) 105 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen. Starts Friday. Watch movie 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: ARMY OF DARKNESS This third installment of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series (from 1993) doesn’t make enough of its time-travel premise; as the American Yahoo battling zombies in medieval Britain, Bruce Campbell’s macho boorishness is the movie’s only joke. Campbell squeezes some laughs out of the big lummox anyway and some of the skeleton fx are well done (and some not). More jokey than witty, at least the movie doesn’t take itself at all seriously. (**) 81 minutes—Lisa Jensen. Fri-Sat midnight only. At the Del Mar.
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.