New This Week
THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD A moving coming-of-age drama, a cogent look at Old World values in a changing new world, and an elegant and scathing allegory about warfare and justice, this smart, engrossing film scores on all three counts. Directed by American filmmaker Johsua Marston (Maria Full of Grace), and set in modern-day Albania, it's about 17-year-old Nik (Tristan Halilaj), an ordinary kid who texts on his cell phone, helps his pal restore an old Vespa, and flirts with a girl at school. But his father's property dispute with a neighbor leads to a fatal stabbing; his uncle is arrested, but because Nik's father escapes to go into hiding, the village elders decree the other family has the right to demand blood in return. Nik (the likeliest target as the next eldest male) becomes a virtual prisoner in his own home. And since females are exempt from reprisals, Nik's straight-A student sister, Rudnia (Sindi Lacej) has to quit school to drive the bread delivery cart that supports the family. As complacent old men convene to dictate the archaic "rules" of the blood feud, the frustration of young people watching their futures die is devastating—while Nik's ultimate decision to challenge the old ways is heroic. (Not rated) 109 minutes. In Albanian with English subtitles. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
THE HUNGER GAMES Get in line now for the launch of the much-hyped Hollywood adaptation of the first book of Suzanne Collins' blockbuster trilogy of futuristic YA novels. Jennifer Lawrence stars as teenager Katniss Everdeen, who takes her sister's place in the lineup of a dystopian reality TV show where a boy and girl from each of the nation's 12 districts are chosen to fight each other to the death until a sole survivor can be named the winner. Josh Hutcherson plays Peeta Mellark; Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Willow Shields, Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson co-star for director Gary Ross (better known for gentler fare like Big, Pleasantville, and Seabiscuit). (PG-13) 142 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
IN DARKNESS The worst of unbridled human evil is on view, but it's counterbalanced by an indelible portrait of human compassion and empathy in Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland's harrowing World War II-era tale of the German occupation of the Polish city of Lvov. It's based on the true story of Leopold Socha, a Polish Catholic sewer worker who kept a handful of Jewish refugees hidden in the sewers until the liberation. While tough to sit through at times, its a gutsy film whose portrait of grassroots courage against alarming odds earned the film a well-deserved Academy Award nomination. Holland, as usual, achieves her dramatic effects not from sweeping, epic action, but in the accumulation of details as ordinary people make small daily choices about how to live their lives. (R) 145 minutes. In Polish, German, and Ukranian, with English subtitles. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN Reviewed this issue. (PG-13) 111 minutes. (★★★) Starts Friday.
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: TIM AND ERIC'S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE Cult TV comics Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim star in this feature comedy as a pair of nerds who get a billion bucks to make a movie, squander it all, and set out to try to repay their angry investors. Look for lots of comedy cameos. (R) 93 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: 3:10 TO YUMA Glenn Ford stars as a colorful captured outlaw and Van Heflin is the local rancher deputized to get him to the train for the county courthouse before his gang can spring him in Delmer Daves' original 1957 version of the Western-noir story by Elmore Leonard (more recently made into a Russell Crowe movie). (Not rated) 92 minutes. Tonight (Thursday, March 22) only, 8 p.m., at the Cinema 9.
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.
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ACT OF VALOR Actors star alongside a platoon of real-life, active duty Navy SEALS in this action drama. In a fictionalized account of realistic Navy SEALS operations, the plot revolves around a mission to recover a kidnapped CIA agent which leads to the discovery of (what else?) a heinous terrorist plot. Roselyn Sanchez, Alex Veadov, Jason Cottle, and Nestor Serrano star, alongside the real deal SEALS. Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh direct. (R) 105 minutes.
THE ARTIST To pay homage to Hollywood’s silent film era, not only did filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius shoot this backstage love story in vintage black-and-white, he dared to film the entire movie without audible dialogue, relying on only the occasional title card, music, and the actors’ expressiveness to tell the story. The results are utterly splendid, as Hazanavicius wields the classic storytelling tools of the silent era with fresh new exuberance. The wonderful Jean Dujardin and vivacious Berenice Bejo bring heart, humor and verve to their fame-crossed movie star lovers, in a shimmering production that captures every detail of Art Deco-era Hollywood. It may look and feel vintage, but this is one of the most original movies of the year. (PG-13) 100 minutes. (★★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
BEING FLYNN Paul Dano and Robert De Niro star in this fact-based tale about a young writer trying to establish his own identity and the flamboyant, if delusional alpha-male absentee father who crashes back into his life after 18 years. Paul Weitz directs this adaptation of the Nick Flynn memoir, "Another Bullshit Night In Suck City." (R) 102 minutes.
CASA DE MI PADRE Will Ferrell teams up with Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna for south-of-the-border laughs in this comedy about a man living on his father's ranch in Mexico whose life is complicated by his shady-dealing brother, his brother's sexy fiancée (Genesis Rodriguez), and a vengeful drug lord. Matt Piedmont directs. (R)
CHRONICLE It's every fanboy's dream in Josh Trank's horror thriller in which three high school buddies are granted superpowers after stumbling over a dark secret, then find themselves struggling to resist the pull of the dark side. Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan star. (PG-13)
DR. SEUSS' THE LORAX Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, and Danny DeVito lend their voices to this updated animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss' fanciful, ecological-themed story about a tree-loving creature trying to stop destructive humans from destroying the environment. Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda direct. (PG) 94 minutes.
FRIENDS WITH KIDS Two late-thirtysomething best friends, a man and a woman, decide to have a child together without all the messy complications that come with romantic couplehood. But in Jennifer Westfeldt's entertaining rom-com, the actors are so personable and the funny script so effective, there are moments when the whole crack-brained scheme seems almost plausible. Actress/filmmaker Westfeldt surrounds herself with an ensemble of real-life friends and colleagues who resonate as longtime friends onscreen, including co-star Adam Scott in a smart, funny, and tender crowd-pleasing performance. Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, and Jon Hamm are all excellent in supporting roles, but it's the quick-witted camaraderie and affection between Westfeldt and Scott that keeps the story on track. (R) 100 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
HUGO If you love silent movies as much as I do, you'll love Martin Scorsese's new family-friendly film, Hugo. And if you're a fan of the delightfully nutty, hand-made fantasy movies of early French film pioneer Georges Melies, you're in for a special treat: Scorsese's film concludes with a fabulous montage of vintage, hand-tinted Melies footage. The story of an orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) living in a Paris railway station, ca. 1930, who finds he has something in common with a grumpy toy seller who turns out to be Melies (Ben Kingsley) is intriguing and visually splendid. It takes too long to get going; there's too much slapstick comedy and too many 3-D objects lunging out of the screen. But the charm and exuberance of the scenes of Melies and company at work in their studio makes this celebration of early movie-making irresistible. (PG) 127 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME Jason Segel stars in this surprisingly effective yet offbeat comedy about a thirtysomething slacker. Jeff lives in his mother's basement and spends most of the time searching for signs from the Universe. His more grounded brother (a terrific Ed Helms) begins to unravel when he realizes his wife is cheating on him. And then there’s the remarkable Susan Sarandon, who co-stars as the guy’s Mom—she’s brilliant as usual. The entire work delivers a quirky look at how each of these people handle the sudden changes in perspective—about themselves, life, others—on one single day. This is a sweet, little gem. Written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass (Cyrus). (R) 83 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer.
JOHN CARTER Taylor Kitsch (from TV's Friday Night Lights) stars as the Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp fiction hero, a Civil War vet transported to Mars who finds himself defending a princess from giant barbarian creatures. Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, and Samantha Morton co-star for veteran Pixar-turned-live action director Andrew Stanton (Wall-E; Finding Nemo). (PG-23) 132 minutes.
PINA Dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch is the subject of this utterly thrilling cinematic tribute by Wim Wenders. "You always felt more than just human, working with Pina," recalls one of her dancers, and this is more than just a documentary, or a dance film, or a memorial. Shooting in 3D, and often staging dances outdoors, in the "real" world, Wenders crafts an extraordinary plunge into the mystery of the creative process, a visionary concept film that reinvents the way dance is viewed onscreen, and a wildly invigorating expedition into the soul of an artist. (PG) 103 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
PROJECT X It is what is and it doesn’t apologize for what it is. Fun, a bit outlandish yet surprisingly entertaining. (And ... if you care to glimpse the kinds of individuals that could be running things in the future, this is the film to see.) So, what do we get. Two friends attempt to give one of their best buds the birthday bash of all birthday bashes—an “epic” event that will boost their status among their peers, among other things. Naturally, things get out of hand, but watch how well writers Matt Drake and Michael Bacall (based on a story by Bacall) manage to weave together their great premise with threads of humor. That, coupled with director Nima Nourizadeh’s expert pacing create a curious collage of intrigue as things spin horribly out of control during the monster bash that ultimately lures on thousands of people in a North Pasadena neighborhood. The credits note that the film is based on a true story, and the fascination here lies in a basic human urge to be out of of control—let loose as it were Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, and Jonathan Daniel Brown star. (R) 88 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer.
THE SECRET WORLD OF ARIETTY Japanese powerhouse animation outfit, Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away; Ponyo) does an anime-type version of Mary Norton's popular "The Borrowers" series of children's books about a family of tiny people who live under the floorboards in a country house who are befriended by an inquisitive little boy. Hiromasa Yonebayashi directs. Gary Rydstrom directs the English-language voice actors, who include Carol Burnett, Amy Poehler, and Will Arnett. (G) 94 minutes.
A SEPARATION If you had to decide between keeping your family together under impossible circumstances, or emigrating alone to a new place with more opportunities to make a better life for your child, which would you choose? Such is the dilemma that fuels this absorbing, and powerful Iranian domestic drama. Filmmaker Asghar Farhadi constructs a nuanced, yet vivid mosaic of brewing conflict—between genders, classes, generations, and ideologies—in a way that makes all viewpoints comprehensible, and all choices freighted with consequence. There are no saints or villains here, only life-sized people trying to navigate a culture in transition, which makes this film the front runner for this year's Foreign Language Academy Award. (PG-13) 123 minutes. In Persian with English subtitles. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
SILENT HOUSE Elizabeth Olsen (last seen in Martha Marcy May Marlene) stars as another gal in a jam. This time she's trapped incommunicado in her parents' remote, lakeside house in the woods as malevolent forces close in on her. Adapted from a recent Uruguayan thriller by Gustavo Hernández. Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau. (R) 85 minutes.
21 JUMP STREET The most memorable thing about the old '80s TV cop show was that it launched the career of teen heartthrob Johnny Depp. Tough to imagine how it will be retooled as an action comedy for stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum; nevertheless, they play undercover cops somehow passing as high school students on the trail of a drug ring. Hill conceived the story; Phil Lord and Chris Miller direct. (R) 110 minutes.
A THOUSAND WORDS Eddie Murphy stars in this comedy about a fast-talking literary agent who gets a karmic lesson in the consequences of loose talk when a magical Bodhi tree appears on his property; for every word he speaks, a leaf will fall, and after a thousand more words, his life will end. Cliff Curtis, Kerry Washington, and Allison Janney co-star for director Brian Robbins. (PG-13) 91 minutes.
WANDERLUST Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston star as a city couple temporarily detoured into a rural free-love commune straight out of Easy Rider. Although it seems like a haven at first, director David Wain strips away the veneer of grooviness to reveal the usual Hollywood clichés: hypocritical hippies, opportunism and self-righteousness. Wain also takes potshots at city life, but he doesn't add much that's fresh to his yuppies vs. hippies culture-clash encounters. Still, Alan Alda is fun as an irascible old lefty, and the movie provides a few mindless laughs delivered by its cast of pros. (R) 98 minutes. (★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN A chilly, emotional thriller with Tilda Swinton at the helm as an ordinary mother trying to cope with the increasingly disturbing if not frightening behavior from her son as he grows into a seemingly calm, cool collected teen with far too much brewing underneath. John C. Reilly co-stars in director Lynne Ramsay's take of the Lionel Shriver novel. Newcomer Ezra Miller stars as the teenage Kevin and offers one of the best under-played performances to hit the screen in some time. (R) 112 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer.
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