Film, Times & Events: Week of Nov. 28

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BLACK NATIVITY Filmmaker Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou; Talk To Me) takes on Langston Hughes’ autobiographical gospel musical drama in which a teenager sent to spend the holidays with his estranged relatives in New York City decides to hightail it back to his single mom in Baltimore. Jennifer Hudson and Jacob Latimore star as mother and son; Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson, and Mary J. Blige co-star. (PG) 93 minutes. Starts Wednesday.

THE BOOK THIEF Newcomer Sophie Nélisse stars as the young girl sent to live with a foster family in Germany as World War II unfolds in this screen adaptation of the popular Markus Zusak novel. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson co-star as her foster parents, who also harbor another, more dangerous refugee as the Nazis take over the city. Downton Abbey veteran Brian Percival directs. (PG-13) 131 minutes. Starts Wednesday.

FROZEN Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen inspires this animated Disney family adventure comedy about an outcast princess whose powers trap a kingdom in eternal winter, and the loyal sister on a journey to find and help her, and save the kingdom. Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad lead the voice cast for directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. (PG) 108 minutes. Starts Wednesday.

HOMEFRONT Jason Statham stars as a widowed ex-DEA agent whose move to a small town to raise his little daughter turns into an escalating battle with local drug lord, James Franco. Winona Ryder and Kate Bosworth co-star. Sylvester Stallone wrote the script for director Gary Fleder, based on the Chuck Logan novel. (R) 100 minutes. Starts Wednesday.

NEBRASKA Bruce Dern won the Best Actor award at Cannes earlier this year for his performance as a cranky old coot who drags his son (Will Forte) along on a road trip from Montana to Nebraska to claim a million-dollar prize he thinks he’s won from Publishers’ Clearinghouse. A meditation on the Midwest, shot in black-and-white by the ever-original Alexander Payne (The Descendants; Sideways). (R) 115 minutres. Starts Wednesday.

OLD BOY Spike Lee helms this US remake of South Korean filmmaker Park Chanwook’s blisteringly intense, savagely funny psychological thriller/revenge gangster melodrama from 2005. Josh Brolin stars as the man who escapes years of imprisonment by an unknown captor and sets out to even the score. Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson and Sharlto Copley co-star. (R) 104 minutes. Starts Wednesday.

PHILOMENA Heartfelt and deep, and downright touching, it’s hard to beat the dynamic duo on screen here. Steve Coogan and Judi Dench (who can do no wrong it seems when choosing roles) offer a refreshing turn in this fact-based tale. The story revolves around a jaded, unemployed political journalist who takes on an unlikely human interest story about an elderly woman searching for the son she was forced to give up many years earlier. Dench disappears into the role and under the direction of Stephen Frears, wins you over. (PG-13) 98 minutes. Starts Wednesday. (★★★)—Greg Archer.

Film Events

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 pursue the elusive and ineffable meanings of cinema. Discussion begins at 7 pm and admission is free. For more information visit

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Now Playing

ABOUT TIME Director Richard Curtis (Love Actually; scriptwriter on Four Weddings and a Funeral) creates a curious outing here. Riddled with mixed reviews, you’d think film critics out there have absolutely lost touch with the fact that in an effort to explore deeper themes—in this case, embracing and living as if each moment was absolutely precious—that it’s quite OK to think outside of the box. Enter: Time travel. Now, don’t be frightened off. How does time travel mix into a romantic comedy like this? Well, quite nicely. Domhnall Gleeson (son of Brendan) stars as a hapless young man who discover from his pop (Bill Nighy) that he has the power to travel back in time, a gift he humorously uses to get his life in order back in the present. There are some glitches, of course. But overall, the film boasts some heart and nuance. Rachel McAdams delivers a fine turn here and and Tom Hollander co-stars. (★★★)—Greg Archer

ALL IS LOST Robert Redford’s one-man seagoing thriller is a gift to fans who want to see Redford in action. But it also feels like a gift from a grateful industry to Redford, a harrowing physical workout of a film that shows off what his 77-year-old body is capable of, while proving that Redford can still command the screen for 100 minutes all by himself. Written and directed by J. C. Chandor, the filmmaking drifts now and then, but Redford powers through on sheer strength of will. PG-13. 107 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

BAD GRANDPA Johnny Knoxville stars as an ornery octogenarian on a cross-country road trip with his impressionable 8-year-old grandson in this comedy from the brain trust behind the Jackass series. Jeff Tremaine directs. (R) 92 minutes.

THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY The original cast of Malcolm D. Lee’s 1999 comedy, The Best Man reunites for this (nearly) 15-year-later follow up about old rivalries and romances flaring up when old college pals get together over the Christmas holidays. Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Harold Perrineau, and Regina Hall head the cast for returning auteur Lee. (R)

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR Winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, this frank erotic drama from France tells the story of a 10-year love affair between a naive teenage girl (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and a provocative, slightly older woman art student (Léa Sedoux) with blue hair. Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, from the graphic novel by Julie Maroh. (NC-17) 179 minutes.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS This harrowing true story recounts the first incident of piracy against an American ship in 200 years when the unarmed US freighter Maersk Alabama was captured off the coast of Oman in 2009 by four trigger-happy Somalis with automatic weapons. It’s a bracing dose of recent history from director Paul Greengrass, told with his typical no-frills realism and escalating intensity. Tom Hanks’ vivid performance as the cargo ship’s captain is riveting, and Barkhad Abdi is excellent as the leader of the Somalis. The human cost of terrorism on all sides—no one emerges unscathed—is brilliantly conveyed. (PG-13) 134 minutes. (★★★ 1/2)—Lisa Jensen.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB Matthew McConaughey scores as a brash, profane antihero in the true story of Ron Woodroof. A coke-snorting, womanizing, blue-collar Texan, diagnosed as HIV-positive in the 1980s and given 30 days to live, he defied his death his sentence for years to become a pioneer in making “unapproved” drugs from out of the country available to his local AIDS community. Jean-Marc Vallée’s film unspools as a tale of bizarre alliances and unexpected heroism as pugnacious, yet affecting as its protagonist. Jared Leto is terrific as a feisty transvestite who becomes Woodroof’s business partner. (R) 117 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

DELIVERY MAN Vince Vaughn stars in this comedy about a maturity-challenged delivery truck driver whose discovery that he has fathered 533 children from sperm bank donations years ago sets him on an unexpected course of newfound responsibility. Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders and Jack Reynor co-star for director Ken Scott, who is remaking his 2011 French-Canadian comedy, Starbuck. (PG-13) 103 minutes.

ENDER’S GAME Asa Butterfield (last seen as Hugo) stars in this sci-fi adventure as a brilliant youth recruited by the military and trained in battle simulations to help defend Earth against an alien invasion. Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, and Ben Kingsley, co-star in this adaptation of the Orson Scott Card novel. Gavin Hood directs. (PG-13) 114 minutes.

ENOUGH SAID After the fuzzy motivations and unconvincing friendships of her recent films, writer-director Nicole Holfcener is back on track with this wry, engaging, life-sized romantic comedy. This time, she moves personal relationships to the forefront—romantic, parental, and marital—along with her trademark friendships between women. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is at her most appealing and least snarky, as a long-divorced single mom unexpectedly trying to navigate the dating game, and the late, beloved James Gandolfini charms in a rare romantic role. The reliable Catherine Keener co-stars in a cautionary tale about allowing our friends’ opinions to color (and possibly subvert) our own instincts. (PG-13) 93 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB Reviewed this issue. (R) 117 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

FREE BIRDS Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, and George Takei lend their voices to this animated family comedy. Veteran animator Jimmy Hayward directs. (PG) 91 minutes.

GRAVITY A couple of astronauts on a routine mission outside their spacecraft suddenly find themselves adrift in space, tethered to each other, and no longer in contact with mission control. Where can they go? What can they possibly do? The variety of answers may surprise you in this smart, lean, elegantly composed and utterly gripping edge-of-your-seat thriller from filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón. Neither sci-fi nor space opera—and far more than simply a star vehicle for appealing headliners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney—it’s more like a space procedural in which ordinary people pit their own human ingenuity against ever more incredible and daunting odds. Awesome on so many levels, it will put you in orbit. (PG-1). 90 minutes. (★★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE They’re back. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth go for another round in this robust offering, the  second screen installment of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling futuristic YA trilogy. Bold and dynamic, fans should appreciate the amped-up action as Hunger Games survivors Katniss and Peeta now have to tour the 12 districts. Donald Sutherland is also back. Woody Harrelson, Willow Shields, and Elizabeth Banks return as well. As for Lawrence, she’s in top form. Francis Lawrence (Water For Elephants) directs. (PG-13) 146 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer

KILL YOUR DARLINGS Reviewed this issue. (R) 104 minutes.

LAST VEGAS Robert DeNiro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline star as a quartet of 60-something pals who throw a bachelor party in Vegas for their last remaining single member. Jon Turtletaub directs. (PG-13) 104 minutes.

12 YEARS A SLAVE The mighty Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a haunting, nuanced, electrifying performance in filmmaker Steve McQueen’s blistering, unexpurgated portrait of what slavery was like in the pre-Civil War American South. Based on the true story of Solomon Northrup, a free black New Yorker abducted and sold into slavery in 1841, the film shows with heartbreaking precision how the loss of common humanity, even more than chains and beatings, is the true cost of slavery. McQueen has an unerring eye for the indelible image, both horrific and poetic, and the excellent supporting cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch as a relatively benign but ineffectual slave owner, Michael Fassbender in a bravura, willies-inducing turn as a belligerent psycho of a plantation owner, and the compelling Lupita Nyong’o as the unfortunate object of his desire. A film of rare courage that educates and mesmerizes. (R) 134 minutes. (★★★ 1/2)—Lisa Jensen.

THOR: THE DARK WORLD What elevates Alan Taylor’s sequel above dozens of other noisy, overproduced comic book movies with Doomsday scenarios? For one thing, the script rises above mere jokiness to achieve a refreshing degree of humor and wit as it goes along. Chris Hemsworth’s charismatic thunder god, Thor, delivers the eye candy, and Tom Hiddleston’s utterly delicious performance as Thor’s ne’er-do-well brother, the trickster god, Loki, seals the deal. PG-13. 112 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

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