New This Week
AMERICAN ULTRA Since 1953 the government has been running a top-secret project to control soldiers planted in civilian life. Now, agent Howell has been activated: only, he doesn’t really know it yet because he is wayyy too high. Jesse Eisenberg plays the convenience store cashier who discovers a set of lethal skills he never knew he had when he kills some carjackers with a spoon. “There’s a chance I may be a robot,” he tells his girlfriend Phoebe, played by Kristen Stewart—brilliantly cast, as side by side the couple looks like versions of each other. Stewart might even crack that face with some more facial expressions than usual in what looks like a hilarious action comedy. Nima Nourizadeh directs. Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Connie Britton co-star. (R) 95 minutes.
GRANDMA You know you’ve made a comeback when Miley Cyrus tweets about you—and thankfully 2015 has thus far been Lily Tomlin’s year. With her amazing peyote-tripping, free-thinking role in Grace and Frankie, she is through and through a comedic powerhouse with just the right amount of grandma-ness to make us want a hug. Teaming up with young indie darling Julia Garner, who was hauntingly brilliant in her role as a Lolita-esque face in Fox’s The Americans, Tomlin plays a feisty grandma who helps her granddaughter Sage on the search for money when she finds out she’s pregnant. Rounded out by the gorgeous Laverne Cox as a broke tattoo artist, the versatile Nat Wolff as Sage’s deadbeat boyfriend, and the hilariously acerbic Marcia Gay Harden as Lily Tomlin’s daughter—who both grandmother and granddaughter fear, this film looks like a perfect break from Juno with all the right players and all the right feels. Paul Weitz directs. (R) 79 minutes.
HITMAN: AGENT 47 It’s funny because this looks like the serious version of American Ultra; Agent 47 is a genetically engineered super agent with a perfectly shaped head and a face that never smiles. Oh, he’s also been hired by that guy from Heroes to kill some lady but it turns out she’s just like him! A film where people say things like “He’s here … to kill you,” with dramatic pause, and “Pretty crazy, huh?” and characters have “subdermal titanium body armor”—leaving you to wonder if all the good lines have already been taken … but all sarcastic nitpicking aside, Hitman does look like a pretty decent kickass action flick. We hope the Homeland bad boy can deliver as leading gentleman, but if not Hannah Ware looks tough enough for the both of them. Aleksander Bach directs. Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto co-star. (R) 96 minutes.
KAHLIL GIBRAN’S THE PROPHET: When you decide to animate one of the most important pieces of poetry of the twentieth century, the stakes are high. Since its publication in 1923 The Prophet has proved timeless across generations and continents with more than 100 million copies selling worldwide. It’s a statement on life, love, spirituality, and humanness—a tricky path for animators to go on without dipping too far into the sappy subset of moral guide. But, with Lion King’s director at the helm, The Prophet may surprise adult and kid audiences alike with original music from Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, Gabriel Yared, and Yo-Yo Ma and Gibran’s original verse. Liam Neeson and Salma Hayek provide voice to the tale of exiled artist Mustafa and his housekeeper’s daughter, brought to life by a small army of illustrators who have created a stunning ensemble of varying illustration techniques melded into a truly unique piece of cinematic art. Roger Allers and others direct. Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek, Quvenzhané Wallis co-star. (PG) 84 minutes.
CONTINUING EVENT: LET’S TALK ABOUT THE MOVIES Film buffs are invited Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. to downtown Santa Cruz, where each week the group discusses a different current release. For our location and discussion topic, go to: https://groups.google.com/group/LTATM.
AMY The story of Amy Winehouse is a tragic one, of dark genius and tortured soul—and in case her untimely death and all-too-public struggle with fame didn’t break your heart enough, here’s a new look at her life that will devastate and inspire all at the same time. An homage to her talent as a singer and songwriter, the talent that swiftly enthralled an entire industry, this documentary features unseen archival footage and unheard tracks in a tapestry that has been called “a rush of joy and grief.” Asif Kapadia. Amy Winehouse, Mitch Winehouse, and Mark Ronson co-star. (R) 128 minutes.
ANT MAN For those who didn’t grow up reading the Marvel comic, the idea of a guy with the ability to shrink to the size of an ant sounds like the opposite of what you’d want to have happen in the middle of a scuffle with an evil villain, and at the risk of sounding trite, with Paul Rudd as the leading superhero? OK, maybe non-Comicon goers won’t understand till they see it, but hopefully Rudd’s comic relief ability will round out his backstory as a cunning con man and complement Corey Stoll as his nemesis, Yellowjacket, and Michael Douglas playing his guru, Dr. Hank Pym. (PG-13) 117 minutes.
FANTASTIC FOUR While the film trailer for Fantastic Four leaves little in the way of actual plot summary, there is at least a lot of epic music with big special effects, crazy looking Sci Fi fight scenes mixed in with the Marvel super-crew who are, of course, four outsiders who teleport to another universe which totally messes with their body chemistry and now they have to vanquish their former friend-turned-foe. This set of supers (Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B.Jordan, and Jamie Bell—all the most obvious choices for their respective roles … right?) reads like a generational update to the 2005 go-around with Jessica Alba and Chris Evans—does this mean they’re old now? Someone please implement a rule in Hollywood that there must be at least 10 years between remakes; are they running out of screenplays over there? Josh Trank directs. (PG-13) 100 minutes.
INFINITELY POLAR BEAR Writer/director Maya Forbes‘ directorial debut and arguably Mark Ruffalo’s most complex, beautifully layered role to date, Infinitely Polar Bear explores the inarguable difficulty of living as a manic depressive man in a time when it still wasn’t openly discussed—and making the decision to be a stay-at-home dad when it was socially unheard of. Ruffalo plays a father of two girls who agrees to stay home while Zoe Saldana pursues her dream at Columbia University in an artful look at mental disorders and the ins and outs of being a dad. Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, and Imogene Wolodarsky co-star. (R) 90 minutes.
JIMMY’S HALL One man’s refuge is another man’s Antichrist, as Jimmy’s Hall chronicles in the story of Jimmy Gralton—an Irishman who returns to his home after 10 years of exile in the U.S. and decides to open a dance hall to revive his community. In the classic adage of new versus old, the Church doesn’t take kindly to Gralton (played by Barry Ward) stirring things up. When they get the law on their side, things quickly move from scandalous to deadly. Ken Loach directs. Barry Ward, Francis Magee and Aileen Henry co-star. (PG-13) 109 minutes.
KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK: Rock docs about tortured, devastating artistic geniuses seem to be a thing this year, and this one looks as inspiring and heartbreaking as Amy—the Montage of Heck documentary offers a blend of animated recreations, archival footage, and Cobain’s art pieces mixed in with interviews with friends and family. It’s an intimate look at the young grunge icon thrust from an unhappy, awkward childhood to a troubled, complicated fame. Brett Morgen directs. Aaron Burckhard, Chad Channing, and Don Cobain co-star. (TV-MA) 145 minutes.
MINIONS Jon Hamm said recently on The Daily Show that minions are just as appealing to adults as they are to children because “they look like capsules, they look like pills”—and he might be right, sort of. Who can possibly resist the googly-eyed, squishy yellow minions whose shape is somewhat … comforting? Finally, the makers of children’s films have figured it out—that, and the sly adult jokes that in the minion nonsensical garble, which somehow makes perfect sense and no sense at all, are completely hilarious. This time around it’s the origin story of the adorable single-celled yellow organisms, seeking their evil villain leader from the dinosaur age to the present where they find Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) who, with her husband Herb Overkill (Jon Hamm), hatch a plan to steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown—and then take over the world, naturally. Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin direct. (PG) 91 minutes.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE- ROGUE NATION At this point, audiences might be thinking it’s Tom Cruise in another of these franchise films that is truly impossible (did they get him in a lifetime deal with the devil?), although, as far as action franchises go, needing to eradicate a rogue international organization with equally skilled agents sounds creative enough. At least all the characters surrounding Cruise—from Simon Pegg’s unflinching wit to the best British pout of 2015 (we’re looking at you Rebecca Ferguson) to the incandescence of Alec Baldwin’s face—make up for the tired resurrection of Ethan Hunt. Christopher McQuarrie directs. Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, and Jeremy Renner co-star. (PG-13) 131 minutes.
PAPER TOWNS Although Cara Delevingne’s eyebrows were the first to make a name for the young fashion model, now on virtually every surface—magazine, billboard, music video—the storyline for Paper Towns gleans interesting enough (with the Fault In Our Stars writer behind it all, we expect some tear jerking) for the coming-of-age teenage romcom. Popular and mysterious, Margo (Delevingne) is the quintessential adolescent fantasy who, after barging into Quentin’s (played by Nat Wolff) window and wheedling him into her devious revenge plans, disappears altogether. The search to find missing Margo holds promise, although likely not due to Delevingne’s smoldering stare—but rather the young cast with Wolff at the helm. Jake Schreier directs. Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, and Austin Abrams co-star. (PG-13) 109 minutes.
PIXELS The promotional poster for Pixels features a giant Pac-Man eating San Francisco; props for creativity? Oh, it gets better—Adam Sandler plays Brenner, former Pac-Man video game champion, who must use his gamer skills to save the world after aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic games as a declaration of war. Let’s allow that to sink in. “We got this—if we don’t, the world ends,” says Sandler, and although the cast offers some comic potential to the science fiction action comedy (Peter Dinklage with a mullet? We accept.), the jury is still out on whether this is a clever parody of itself or seriously a movie about Donkey Kong and Tetris ending human civilization. Chris Columbus directs. Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and Michelle Monaghan co-star. (PG-13) 105 minutes.
RICKI AND THE FLASH Meryl Streep is the queen of cinema: what other actress can play a self-righteous nun, a famous chef, the Iron Lady, and a totally badass fulltime rocker—all with the sincerity and ease of someone folding their socks? She’s magic: deniers can shoo. We’ll try to keep the swooning at a minimum … but with Streep at the helm of this cast—boasting forever favorite Kevin Kline, Streep’s own offspring Mamie Gummer—and Juno creator, writer Diablo Cody, as the one behind the rock ’n’ roll momma’s story, it is so, so hard. Jonathan Demme directs. Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and Sebastian Stan co-star. (PG-13) 102 minutes.
SHAUN THE SHEEP From the claymation masters who brought us the genius of Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit comes another installation in Shaun’s epic story of lambish mischief and farm-to-city adventures. The lovable, goofy side-mouthed goons who are timelessly plasticine and innocently hilarious can do no wrong, even if they’re not Pixar-made. This time it’s sneaky Shaun the sheep who decides to take a day off from the farm, but after a mix-up with the farmer, the whole flock is off to the city in an attempt to get everyone back home safely before anyone is made mincemeat. Mark Burton and Richard Starzak direct. Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, and Omid Djalili co-star. (PG) 85 minutes.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON “Speak a little truth and people lose their minds”—not everyone was ready for what N.W.A. had to say when the young Compton rappers hit the scene in the late ’80s. Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella rapped about living with one eye open and the daily realities of hood politics. Played here by Ice’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, Aldis Hodge and Neil Brown Jr., their story as perhaps the most controversial and outspoken hip-hop group in history has reached mythic status. But the film picks and chooses how it wants to remember these icons—conspicuously erasing, for instance, Dre’s history of violence against women. F. Gary Gray directs. (R) 147 minutes.
SOUTHPAW While Jake Gyllenhaal’s impressive physical transformation into boxer Billy Hope has been the subject of most talk show hosts’ line of questioning, the actor’s dedication to the roles that require an obsessive level of intensity is worth the oohs and aahs (although his abs are too). With a more dominating physical presence than ever before, Gyllenhaal plays the hopelessness of Hope with a rattling intensity—an intensity that has director Antoine Fuqua’s penchant for raw thrillers written all over it, but with slightly more nuance than past works. Rachel McAdams plays Hope’s wife, and Oona Laurence his young daughter, bringing softness to an otherwise bristly storyline. Kurt Sutter directs. Rachel McAdams, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Forest Whitaker co-star. (R) 123 minutes.
THE GALLOWS For those of us who can stand to watch scary movie trailers with the volume on, this looks like one of those horror films that offers exactly what it says it will: throwback Blair Witch-ish style hand-held camera shots following a group of teenagers who explore a small-town school in an attempt to resurrect a failed show twenty years after a “horrific accident.” Students try to honor the dead on the anniversary of the school tragedy, but they apparently learn that some things are better left alone—kind of like Blair Witch wannabe remakes. Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing direct. Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, and Ryan Shoos co-star. (R) 81 minutes.
THE GIFT For most people, high school was a period of embarrassment, exploration, and angst—many of us would love to take revenge on the purveyors of our teenage torment, but living in a morally bound society and all, we generally let things go. Not Gordo. Gordo (we can only assume he was named after Lizzie McGuire’s best friend from the Disney show) is a creepy dude with a chip on his shoulder who, after 20 years since high school, comes back into Simon’s life with a more sinister plan than the gift he brings to dinner. Interestingly, Joel Edgerton (who plays Gordo) not only stars but also makes his debut as writer/director in this mystery thriller flick. Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton co-star. (R) 108 minutes.
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. This Cold War-era action-comedy reads James Bond-ish parody with just the right amount of eye candy and CIA/KGB cross-over bravado—all with perfectly chiseled chins which, since it does harken back to the 1964 original, we’ll forgive. Guy Ritchie directs. Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander co-star. (PG-13) 116 minutes.
THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT In the twenty or so years after WWII, psychology, among other fields, was dominated by an almost obsessive need to study what conditions must exist for the average person to believe so fully in a radical rhetoric that they would commit horrible atrocities—are people inherently evil or can their environment change them? So, in 1971 an ambitious Stanford University professor by the now infamous name of Philip Zimbardo drafted an experiment to see what would happen when 24 male students were randomly sorted into role of guard and prisoner for a prison simulation. What ensued shocked and horrified him, the students, and the entire world in what has become one of the most critical and hotly critiqued studies of the twentieth century. Kyle Patrick Alvarez directs. Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, and Billy Crudup co-star. (R) 122 minutes.
THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVET Describing himself as “a gifted scientist,” T.S. Spivet has a passion for cartography and scientific inventions, so it’s little surprise when he receives a call from the Smithsonian museum saying he’s been awarded the Baird prize for his invention of the perpetual motion machine. Except that T.S. Spivet is 10 years old. In typical fashion for the son of a beetle-obsessed mother (the brilliant Helena Bonham Carter) and a full-time cowboy born a few decades too late (Callum Keith Rennie), T.S. sets out to claim his award by way of freight train, commercial RV, and produce truck. Jean-Pierre Jeunet directs. Kyle Catlett, Helena Bonham Carter, and Judy Davis co-star. (PG) 105 minutes.
TRAINWRECK Amy Schumer said on a recent episode of BBC’s Graham Norton Show that when she wrote Trainwreck she assumed they’d cast some skinny, blonde model type for the lead; thank the goddesses they did not. Schumer brings her own completely bawdy brand of crass dudeness and uncensored shenanigans that only she could. Playing herself, she systematically takes down one gender stereotype after the next as she tries to escape a “real relationship” with Bill Hader despite their obvious chemistry. The classic roles of “player” and “sensitive-type” are reversed as Hader’s character attempts to pin Schumer down, with the help of LeBron James as what we can only assume is the best BFF ever. (R) 125 minutes.
UNEXPECTED A Juno for the inner-city reality, Unexpected is a look into the joys and pitfalls of an unplanned pregnancy—both for a middle-class teacher and for her tough-as-nails high school student. On opposite sides of the motherhood spectrum, the roles of mentor and mentee oscillate as an unlikely friendship between Samantha (Cobie Smulders) and her most promising student, Jasmine (Gail Bean) grows. Going one layer deeper than the comedic relief of Anders Holm (who plays John and most notably associated with his role in Workaholics) the film unpacks what societal norms and pressures hold for two women from very different backgrounds. Kris Swanberg directs. Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, and Gail Bean co-star. (R) 90 minutes.
UNITY Narrated by a dizzying 100-person lineup of what seems like just about everyone in Hollywood—from Selena Gomez to Marion Cotillard and Sir Ben Kingsley to Dr. Dre—Unity is a documentary that focuses on the many ways in which society has historically torn itself apart. In one way, technology and science have been heralded as “shrinking” the world and bringing us together, but Unity unpacks how some of humankind’s greatest achievements have also severed animal from man, man from Earth. Shaun Monson directs. 99 minutes.
VACATION Speaking of tired revivals … It’s Rusty Griswold and the family on a trip to “Walley World!” Is the first one really so old that it’s already time to make a remake? Poor Chevy Chase. That must smart. This family road trip stars Ed Helms as Russell Griswold, son of the infamous Clark played by Chevy Chase in the first round of early ’80s National Lampoon’s classics. But with Christina Applegate at his side playing Debbie Griswold there may be a point to digging this one out of the ground—let’s hope they achieve even half of the bawdy absurdity that Chase and the ol’ gang delivered with effortless sincerity. John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein direct. Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo co-star. (R) 99 minutes.