New This Week
After American Pie 2, and American Wedding, the original cast from the first American Pie reconvene for this fourth installment of the comedy franchise. At their high school reunion in East Great Falls, Michigan, Jim, Oz, Stifler and the gang catch up with each other and unravel a few tangled threads. Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Seann William Scott, Tara Reid and Natasha Lyonne head the cast for co-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg. Rated R. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
Set in 1984, this coming-of-age comedy/drama from New Zealand revolves around a young Maori boy who adores Michael Jackson on a collision course with his own dreams. Growing up with his kid brother and assorted cousins in the ramshackle rural home of their grandmother, the boy gets a dose of reality when the absentee father he idolizes bounces back into his life, a petty thief and con-man trying to put his life back together after a stint in prison. Maori writer-director Taika Waititi also stars as the prodigal rogue father. James Rolleston has the title role. (Not rated) 87 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI
If you can't get enough of the loving preparation of food—even if you don't like sushi—prepare to be seduced by this drool-worthy doc about an 85-year-old master sushi chef. Jiro Ono operates a 10-seat sushi bar in a Tokyo subway station—the first such humble establishment to ever earn 3 stars in the Michelin Guide. Filmmaker David Gelb follows Jiro and his eldest son, heir, and partner, Yoshikazu, on their daily rounds from home to fish market to kitchen, as the elder Ono philosophizes about the search for perfection in life, work, and sushi, while his dutiful and talented son faces the ever-mounting pressure of living up to his father's legacy.(PG) 81 minutes. In Japanese with English subtitles.(★★★)—Lisa Jensen. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
You know the story: boy meets girl. Ship goes down. Girl loses boy, but her heart will go on (and on and on). Now it's all been digitally remastered in 3D so James Cameron can rack up another few billions (unless spending that last hour on board the sinking Titanic proves to be a little too immersive an experience). Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet star, as if you didn't know. (PG-13) 194 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen. Watch film 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: SPICE WORLD England’s pop music sensation of the '90s, the Spice Girls, star as themselves in their 1997 movie debut. Join Ginger, Baby, Scary, Posh and Sporty in a musical adventure full of wild and wacky clothes, big hair and even bigger platform shoes. (And that's just the audience.) (PG) 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: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK Producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg's deliriously action-packed 1981 pulp adventure stars Harrison Ford in his first appearance as globe-trotting archaeologist Indiana Jones. It's got action, laughs, Karen Allen as the tough-talking, hard-drinking heroine, and affectionate references to the old Saturday matinee cliffhangers that inspired it. (PG) (★★★)—Lisa Jensen. Thursday (April 5) 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)
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)
CHICO & RITA Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba's buoyant, brooding animated musical is a cool, spicy salsa of love, jealousy, politics, betrayal, and fame. It pulsates with glamorous images, sensual yearning, vintage cars and non-stop music in a sprawling romantic drama of sex, drugs, and Bebop jazz that stretches from pre-Revolutionary Cuba to Broadway, Hollywood, Paris, Las Vegas, and finally back again to the Cuba of Castro. A collaboration between Trueba and Spanish artist/illustrator Javier Mariscal, this exotic whirlwind of a movie was nominated this year for Best Animated Feature, and for sheer visual artistry, it deserved the prize. Prepare to be swept up in its irresistible rhythms. (Not rated) 94 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
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.
THE HUNGER GAMES The much-hyped film version of Suzanne Collins' hit YA novel trilogy has winning moments, thanks to Jennifer Lawrence, who morphs into teenager Katniss Everdeen (Kat) in a seemingly futuristic world. Kat takes her sister's place in the lineup of a barbaric (and required) endeavor that places a boy and girl from each of the nation's 12 districts to fight each other to the death until a sole survivor is deemed the winner. (Naturally, it’s filmed for Reality TV.) Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Willow Shields, Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson co-star for director Gary Ross (Big, Pleasantville, and Seabiscuit). The film never allows as to really know that deeply (thereby care for) the characters because it’s trying to pack in as muc story and action as it can. Still, it’s an engaging ride and a sobering look at how the shakey morals of govenment can erode an entire culture. (PG-13) 142 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer.
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 (that hunk from Friday Night Lights) headlines this provocative and engaging tale playing the Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp fiction hero—he’s a Civil War vet transported to Mars. Yes, Mars. there, he suddenly finds himself defending a beautiful princess from evil sorcerers and giant barbarian creatures. This is one hot mess of a movie—so much to explain, so little time to get it all, surprising considering the already long running time—but the film grabs you unexpectedly and it manages to allow you to become invested in John Carter’s plight. (There’s an Indiana Jones Lite feel to it.) And much of that has to do with the effectiveness of Kitsch, who morphs into one of the year’s best action stars nobody saw coming. Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, and Samantha Morton co-star for Andrew Stanton in this surprisingly well down adventure. (Wall-E; Finding Nemo). (PG-23) 132 minutes. ★★★)—Greg Archer
MIRROR MIRROR Reviewed this issue. (PG) 102 minutes. (★★1/2)
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.
SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN Ewan McGregor stars in this clear-headed, yet open-hearted romantic comedy-drama about impossible dreams and unlikely alliances. It's directed by Lasse Hallstrom with his usual touch of warm fuzziness, spiced up with a dash of political satire, and a frisson of cross-cultural utopianism. But the themes never intrude too deeply on the film's sneaky sense of fun. McGregor and the winsome Emily Blunt are Westerners helping a wealthy, visionary sheikh who wants to create a greenbelt complete with cold-water salmon in the Yemeni desert. Amr Waked is terrific as the philosophical sheikh; Kristin Scott Thomas is a riot as a wisecracking PR liaison. (PG-13) 111 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
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)
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.
THIN ICE Greg Kinnear, Billy Crudup, and Alan Arkin star in this twisty crime comedy-drama. Set in arctic Kenosha, Wisconsin, it's about a button-down insurance salesman looking to get out of the frozen Midwest who's sweet-talked by a nutball locksmith into stealing a rare violin from the home of a local farmer. Expect things to go awry. Jill Sprecher (Thirteen Conversations About One Thing) directs, from a script she co-wrote with sister Karen Sprecher. (R) 93 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.
WRATH OF THE TITANS The Titans clash once again in this new installment of the sword-and-sorcery franchise in which Olympian gods battle each other like punch-drunk gladiators for control of the earth and the souls of mankind. Sam Worthington returns as warrior hero Perseus, Liam Neeson is Zeus and Ralph Fiennes is the duplicitous Hades. Rosamund Pike and Bill Nighy co-star for director Jonathan Liebesman. (PG-13) 99 minutes.
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