Film, Times & Events: Week of Jan. 9

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THE ADVENTURER: THE CURSE OF THE MIDAS BOX A teenage youth searches or his vanished family in a sinister Victorian-era underworld of steampunk devices and dark magic in this family fantasy adventure. Michael Sheen, Lena Headey (from Game of Thrones), Sam Neill, Ioan Gruffudd, and Aneurin Barnard star for director Jonathan Newman. Based on the Middle Grade novel by G. P. Taylor. (PG)

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (Reviewed this issue, page 32) (R) 130 minutes. Starts Friday.

HER (Reviewed this issue, page 32) (R) 126 minutes. Starts Friday.

THE LEGEND OF HERCULES Kellan Lutz stars in what purports to be the origin story of the legendary hero. Fathered by Zeus and sold into slavery by his stepfather, he battles his way through many trials to claim his destiny. Scott Adkins and Gaia Weiss co-star. Action director Renny Harlin takes the helm. (PG-13)

LONE SURVIVOR Mark Wahlberg stars in this military action thriller about four Navy SEALS whose covert mission against the Taliban goes awry when they are ambushed in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan. Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana co-star for director Peter Berg. (R) Starts Friday.

Film Events

SPECIAL EVENT THIS WEEK: MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Live stage show broadcast from London of the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical that charts the friendship of three friends over three decades in showbiz. Adapted from the original play by George S. Kaufmann and Moss Hart. (PG) 160 minutes. At the Del Mar, Thursday only  (January 9), 7:30 p.m. Encore performance Sunday only (January 12), 11 a.m. Admission: $15. Seniors, students, and Shakespeare Santa Cruz subscribers: $13.

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: FIGHT CLUB (R) 139 minutes. Fri-Sat midnight only. At the Del Mar.

CONTINUING EVENT: LET’S TALK ABOUT THE MOVIES This informal movie discussion group meets Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. in the Del Mar mezzanine in downtown Santa Cruz. Admission is free. Visit

Movie Times click here.

Now Playing

AMERICAN HUSTLE Come Oscar night, this film may very well win Best Picture. True, other pictures may be more deserving, but director David O. Russell’s provocative outing just has that Oscar feel to it. For one thing, he reunites with some of the actors he’s directed to Oscars (and Oscar noms for that matter) in a true-crime story set in 1970s New Jersey. Behild Christian Bale, who loses himself yet again in a role that finds him playing  a slick con man who is forced to team up with an ego-driven, entirely too anxious FBI hotshot played by Bradley Cooper. The goal: to pierce the super fab world of the mob elite. Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, and Jeremy Renner co-star but look for Lawrence to capture some Oscar buzz here. Provocative all around. (R) 137 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer

ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES It’s pretty obvious: Anchorman 2 is hardly News At 11. At least creatively. And sure, escaping to the movies is fun, but it would have been nice—if not fair to the audience—to pepper this forced tour du force with a little bit of intelligence. Will Farrell returns as mustachioed San Diego TV newsman Ron Burgundy and his band of misfites are in tow: Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, and David Koechner co-star. Christina Applegate is also on the bill for director Adam McKay. Bottom line: there’s a difference between comedy and simply creating an outing that, for the most part, comes across as a greedy indulgence for its lead players, chief among them Farrell. (PG-13) 119 minutes. (H1/2)—Greg Archer

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.

47 RONIN 18th Century Japan is the setting for this latest retelling of a classic samurai story (Japan’s national folk epic) about a blood feud between rival clans that leas to a meticulously planned act of revenge. Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Tadanobu Asano star for directior Carl Rinsch. (PG-13) 119 minutes.

FROZEN This Nordic entry in the animated “Disney Princess” franchise (very loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen) delivers two princesses, one handsome prince, and a roguish, wisecracking commoner. How these couples do (or do not) match up is part of the fun in this often surprising scenario cooked by scriptwriter Jennifer Lee and her co-director Buck Jones. (PG) 108 minutes.  (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

THE GREAT BEAUTY (LA GRANDE BELLEZZA) “Felliniesque” is the word being applied to this Italian extravaganza in which a jaded Roman journalist and gadfly (Toni Servillo)—who once wrote a popular novel that placed him permanently in the stratosphere of Rome’s glitterati—re-examines his personal la dolce vita of nightclubs, parties, and cafes when a shock from the past complicates his 65th birthday celebration. Paolo Sorrentino directs. (Not rated) 142 minutes. In Italian with English subtitles.

GRUDGE MATCH It’s Raging Bull vs. The Italian Stallion when Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone team up to star as two rival prize fighters coaxed out of retirement 30 years later. (PG-13) 113 minutes.

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG Breathe a sigh of relief. Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel continues—and, it’s an improvement from last year’s initial outing. Martin Freeman returns as Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who’s off on another part of his journey with the Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and a gaggle of warrior Dwarves, hoping to retrieve their kingdom from the clutches of an evil dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).Why the entire caper needed to stretched out for three outings is still puzzling—dollar in the bank, perhaps—but for now, let’s just relish what we have here.  Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, and Luke Evans co-star, along with Orlando Bloom (as elf archer Legolas). (PG-13) 161 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer

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.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS Positively teeming with yearning, vintage-sounding music that might very plausibly have come from that era, Joel and Ethan Coen’s musical drama follows a down-on-his-luck, would-be folk singer struggling against all odds to get a foothold in the Greenwich Village folk music scene ca. 1961. Oscar Isaac brings fleeting moments of poignancy and tenderness to the title role, and he’s a terrific singer, but the character is written as all angsty exterior with no emotional arc. But the movie comes alive in the music (kudos to music producer T Bone Burnett), and the depiction of the era, moments to remember in an ambitious, but uneven film. (R) 105 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM The inspirational true story of the life and lifelong activism of the late Nelson Mandela is told in this biographical drama from filmmaker Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl). Based in part on Mandela’s own autobiography, the film follows his childhood in a small, rural village, his youth as an anti-apartheid crusader, his 27-year jail sentence and, finally, his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Idris Elba scored a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination in the title role. Naomie Harris co-stars as Winnie Mandela. (PG-13) 139 minutes.

NEBRASKA A marvelous turn for Bruce Dern, who won the Best Actor award at Cannes for his role as a cranky gent who forces his son (Will Forte in surprisingly good role) along on a road trip to claim a million-dollar prize the he insists he’s won from Publishers’ Clearinghouse. Watch how wonderfully Dern disappears into this role, which assures him an Oscar nod. And relish how well Dern and Forte play off of each other. Shot in shot in black-and-white by Alexander Payne (The Descendants; Sideways) it stands out as one of the year’s best. (R) 115 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES More demonic entities wreak havoc on surviving members of the hidden camera horror franchise in this fifth installment of the series. Molly Ephraim (the daughter from Paranormal Activity 2), Andrew Jacobs, Richard Cabral, and Crystal Santos star, with longtime franchise scriptwriter Christopher Landon at the helm. (R) 84 minutes.

PHILOMENA Steve Coogan plays a jaded, unemployed journalist opposite the divine Judi Dench in a story based on the real-life events of a British woan searching for the son she was forced to give up when she was very young. The duo create some wonderful chemistry here in a tale that also manages to offer enough surprises to keep you both invested in the journey and each of the characters’ emotional evolution. There’s  a lovely bit of serendipity in the real-life tale and director Stephen Frears does a nice job weaving those elements in without provoking a major roll of the eyes. A good thing. And Dench—the woman can do no wrong. Charming, uplifting and worthy of your attention. (PG-13) 98 minutes. (★★★) —Greg Archer

SAVING MR. BANKS What a joy this film is. Tom Hanks as Walt Disne? it works. And Emma Thompson as the prickly British novelist P.L. Travers, who visits Los Angeles, all the while scoffing that Disney is coaxing her into selling him the rights to her childrens’ book series featuring Mary Poppins? All the better. It’s nice to see Thompson back in a headlining role—and one deserving of the Screen Actors Guild nod she received. But take note: this is more than the backstory of how Mary Poppins became a motion picture. It’s actually the story one woman coming to terms with her troubled past—as best she can. And that, actually, elevates this tale far beyond our expectations. True, it smacks of Disney-made, but don’t let that deter you. it’s one of the season’s best. Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, and Jason Schwarztman co-star for director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side). (PG-13) 125 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY Actor-director Ben Stiller manages to grab you here—just enough.There are some fine moments In this update of the classic James Thurber story (and vintage Danny Kaye movie) about an ordinary guy with a hyperactive fantasy life; a timid Time Magazine employee who is suddenly shoved into a whirlwind globe-trotting adventure. You can see the movie that this movie wants to be—something that captures your heart and gives you hope. It nearly succeeds in those efforts but gets lost in all of the creative inertia it exerts to get from Point A to Point B. Visually stunning and a fine modern-day premise pique interest but  a curious sense of hollowness runs throughout.Kristen Wiig and Adam Scott co-star; Sean Penn and Shirley MacLaine pop up in featured roles. (PG) 114 minutes. (★★1/2)—Greg Archer

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.

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS Expect a kind of prehistoric Lion King in this CGI-animated family tale of an awkward young dinosaur who has to rise to greatness  (PG) 87 minutes.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET The good news: The performances here are superb. Leonardo DiCaprio once again teams up with director Martin Scorsese in this tale, which is based on real-life endeavors. DiCaprio plays hotshot stockbroker Jordan Belfort, whose unlikely success on Wall Street in the mid-1990s comes crashing down when the Feds expose his securities scheme as a fraud. Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, and Jean Dujardin come along for the ride. The bad news? It’s just hard to warm up to this tale of excess. It’s even more challenging to care much about the outcome for DiCaprio’s character. That said, it seems that director, star and screenwriter Terence Winter are asking quite a bit from their audience. True, not all stories that emerge out of Hollywood are feel-good tales, but there must have been a way to tweak this outing just enough to evoke something positive or thought-provoking. You know how you tire of the excess and self-centeredness of, say, Keeping Up With The Kardashians? It’s a little like that here. What we’re left with, really, is how to best measure acting talent and direction. Those two elements seem to save the film from completely plummeting like a bad stock market share..(R) 179 minutes. (★★)—Greg Archer  

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