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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ANNA KARENINA In this luscious, epic misfire of a movie, Joe Wright has an audacious idea for adapting Leo Tolstoy's classic novel about an illicit love affair and its consequences in glittering Imperial Russian society: he stages almost the entire drama within the confines of an enormous theater set. This highlights the idea that St. Petersburg society is itself a kind of grand, public stage, its players on display before an audience of unforgiving viewers ready to pounce on anyone who doesn't act her assigned role to perfection. But the constant artifice of everything leeches the emotion out of the story; the drama feels as counterfeit, unreal, as everything else. Keira Knightley also feels too young, shallow, and modern in the title role; her entire arsenal of pouts and nervous grins never suggest the depth of feeling Anna must experience to make us care. (R) 130 minutes. (★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
ARGO Quite simply one of the best films of the year. Argo surpassses expectations and manages to do the unlikely job of morphing into both a political thriller and social commentary—and one that is oftentimes humorous. While most of the applause should go to Ben Affleck, who stars and directs this wonderfully executed fact-based tale about a covert CIA operation to rescue six fugitive American in Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, the screenplay pops. Everything from the dialogue to the pacing is simply pitch perfect. Written by Chris Terrio, based on a selection from “The Master of Disguise” by Antonio J. Mendez and the Wired magazine article “The Great Escape” by Joshuah Bearman, this is one film you should not miss. Watch how well both the screenwriter and Affleck draw us deep within the tale as the story chronicles the aftermath of Iranian militants seizing the U. S. embassy, taking 52 members of the U. S. diplomatic corps hostage. Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin may get Oscar noms for supporting roles. (R) 120 minutes. (★★★★)—Greg Archer.
CHASING MAVERICKS Curtis Hanson (L. A. Confidential) and Michael Apted direct this winning tale, bringing the story of local surf legend Jay Moriarty to life. Jonny Weston plays Jay and Gerard Butler moprhs into his mentor, Frosty. Take a life-building story filled with grief on both sides, mix in the right amount of teen angst and you find yourself in Chasing Mavericks, which also boasts a romantic storyline in which Jay meets his future wife Kim, all while learning the ropes to surf Mavericks. Sprinkle in the right amount of authenticity and you can see—perhaps feel—that Hollywood nailed it. Elisabeth Shue and Abigail Spencer co-star. (PG) (★★★1/2) —Danny Keith
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: WORLDS AWAY IN 3D The famed international live-performance sensation comes to the big screen in immersive 3D technology, thanks to visionary co-producer James Cameron and imaginative wrier-director Andrew Adamson (Shrek; The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe). A separated young couple must journey through the fantastical aerial, underwater, dance and comic realms of Cirque du Soleil to find each other again. (Not rated.) 91 minutes.
CLOUD ATLAS Asian and Caucasian, male and female, black and white actors switch roles throughout this ambitious, visionary saga of love, loss, greed, slavery, and redemption through the ages, co-written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. Based on the David Mitchell novel, it risks becoming a stunt movie, with Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, and many others appearing in multiple roles. (R) 172 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
DJANGO UNCHAINED Quentin Tarantino is back with more violence and mayhem in a historical setting, this time pre-Civil War era America. Jamie Foxx stars as an ex-slave-turned-bounty hunter, who's out to free his wife (Kerry Washington) from the corrupt plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) who bought her. Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Jonah Hill, Don Johnson, and Bruce Dern pop up in the supporting cast. Rating unknown. 165 minutes.
FLIGHT Robert Zemeckis directs an emotionally charged film headlined by Denzel Washington as an alcoholic pilot whose heroic efforts save the lives of passengers in a mid-air catastrophe. But did his drinking and drug use cause the crash? Unlikely. What makes Flight work so well is the fine balance Zemekis executes in a script that has just the right amount of levity as it ultimately unravels into a story of unrelenting addiction and the painful road to redemption. Melissa Leo, John Goodman, and Don Cheadle co-star (R) (★★★1/2) —Greg Archer
THE GUILT TRIP Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand star in this comedy about a guy embarking on a cross-country road trip who's finagled into taking his demanding mother along for the ride. Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses; The Proposal) directs. (PG-13)
HITCHCOCK Anthony Hopkins has guts to spare—as it were—stepping into the familiar persona and famed portly silhouette of the movies' grand master of the macabre, Alfred Hitchcock. From the lugubrious voice and eccentric diction to the baleful bloodhound gaze, there's not a second when we're not watching Hopkins play Hitch, but the entertaining spectacle of Hopkins' performance is its own reward in a film that never takes itself too seriously. Director Sacha Gervasi turns Stephen Rebello's non-fiction book on the making of Psycho, into a larky pastiche that's part backstage Hollywood memoir and part character study of the peculiar dynamic between mercurial Hitch and his long-suffering, but briskly loyal wife and longtime creative partner, Alma Reville, played with sense and sensibility by the ever-wonderful Helen Mirren. (PG-13) 98 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY The much-anticipated prequel to the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy has its moments. But ultimately, The Hobbit suffers from the one thing that made LOTR so embraceable: heart. Martin Freeman is a suitable Bilbo Baggins, but the script doesn’t quite offer enough moments to really warm up to the character as easily as we did with Frodo (Elijah Wood) in LOTR. The same applies to Richard Armitage’s Thorin, the chief dwarf leading a posse of his own kind to reclaim their home in The Loney Mountain in Middle Earth. Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf and his presence grounds the film. Cate Blanchett also has an extended cameo. There’s plenty of spectacle—Orc battles, wizard magic, lush landscapes—but the film suffers by not establishing more clearly the characters’ central mission or what’s at stake if that mission doesn’t get fulfilled. Still, it’s hard to resist director Peter Jackson’s visual masterpiece. You just walk away wishing you connected to the characters more. PG-13. 170 minutes. (★★1/2)
JACK REACHER Tom Cruise stars as the ex-military investigator protagonist of novelist Lee Child's bestselling mystery thriller series, delving into the sordid truth beneath a seemingly open-and-shut killing spree. Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog and Robert Duvall co-star. Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie) directs. (PG-13) 130 minutes.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY It’s all about the money. Ultimately, that’s what this clever film is trying to tell us about America today. It does that via Brad Pitt, who stars a professional hit man hired by a local mob titan to kill three crooks who stole money at a Mob-protected card game. Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, and Ray Liotta co-star. Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) directs. Look for how well the filmmakers weave the economic crisis into the mix—via radio and TV reports—as the action takes place. (R) 97 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer.
LES MISERABLES Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Russell Crowe get to show off their singing chops in this lavish screen adaptation of the long-running stage musical. Adapted from the Victor Hugo novel, it's the story of a runaway convict, the officer who pursues him relentlessly, an orphaned child, and the collective thirst for justice that ignites the French Revolution. Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne co-star, with guest appearances by Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen. Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) directs. (PG-13) 157 minutes.
LIFE OF PI Yann Martel's bestselling novel about a teenage boy and a Bengal tiger shipwrecked together in a small lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific becomes a magnificent-looking film by director Ang Lee. With careful attention to Martel's core theme—the search for God (in whatever guise) through astounding adversity—Lee turns the material into a visually rapturous and ecstatic spiritual journey that's also a breathtaking adventure saga. Newcomer Suraj Sharma is terrific as the resourceful boy, and despite a bit too much talky theology in the bracketing story, cinematographer Claudio Miranda's stunning visuals make for a hypnotic film experience. (PG) 127 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
LINCOLN The beauty, and genius, of Steven Spielberg's massive Civil War-era epic is the way it defies analogy to any specific statesman, party, or era, providing a cogent glimpse into the American political process itself, a view into the contentious state of American democracy, then as now, as timeless as it is fascinating. But the film's greatness comes from Daniel Day-Lewis' extraordinary performance in the title role, no ordinary statesman, but a moral visionary who musters the courage to prevail against impossible odds for the good of the nation. Hal Holbrook, Sally Field, David Strathairn and a delicious Tommy Lee Jones lead a sterling supporting cast, but Day-Lewis provides the film's heart and soul. His Lincoln is savvy enough to wield great power, yet never loses the common touch, and Spielberg and company impress us with what a rare and laudable gift that is. (PG-13) 150 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE Billy Crystal and Bette Midler team up as a couple who take in their thoroughly modern grandkids when their workaholic daughter and her spouse go out of town on business. Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott co-star in this family comedy from director Andy Fickman (You Again). (PG) 104 minutes
PLAYING FOR KEEPS Gerard Butler ditches his Chasing Mavericks wetsuit for cleats in this romantic comedy about a former football star who tries to get a grip on his life and find redeem his unsavory past by coaching his son's school soccer team. Jessica Biel, Dennis Quaid, and Catherine Zeta-Jones co-star for director Gabriele Muccino (Seven Pounds). (PG-13)
RED DAWN A young Marine, just back from Iraq, his teenage brother and their pals defend their hometown, Spokane, against a sneak attack by North Koreans in this action movie reboot. ( PG-13) 114 minutes.
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS When an evil genius plots against humankind, it's up to a brotherhood of legendary heroes—Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Jack Frost—to save the day, in this CGI family comedy. (PG) 97 minutes.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK Oh, Bradley Cooper ... me thinks you may be miscast here, but somehow this dramatic comedy works. Cooper morphs into an unstable former teacher, recently released from an institution after a bad break-up from his wife. He meets a young gal (Jennifer Lawrence, who can do no wrong these days) who is just as quirky as he is. Love, intimacy and moving on are the themes. If only Cooper—or is it his character?—weren’t so grating on the nerves. Cooper lacks believability here and you get the sense he was handed the script as a means to make a quirky Bradley Cooper caper. David O. Russell (The Fighter) directs. (R) 122 minutes. (★★★) Greg Archer
SKYFALL A dynamic performance from Daniel Craig, and sterling work from incoming director Sam Mendes conspire to make this one of the best James Bond films ever. This is a more vulnerable Bond, a man who has himself been shaken and stirred a few too many times and is no longer in peak condition, a man who's begun to question if its all worthwhile. Yet he's also a reinvented, revitalized Bond who puts the series right back in the game. Factor in a mesmerizing performance of grinning dementia from the great Javier Bardem as the chief villain, and you've got a ripping E-Ticket of a movie that pretty much never lets up. (PG-13) 143 minutes. (★★★1/2)
THIS IS 40 Director Judd Apatow returns to the fertile territory of his big hit, Knocked Up, in this sort-of sequel that revisits the lives of the supporting characters played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, a few years later, as they cope with kids, family, marriage, and the march of time. Jason Segel, Megan Fox, Melissa McCarthy, and Lena Dunham co-star. (R) 134 minutes.
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN— PART 2 Twihards should reslish this fitting conclusion to the film franchise. Ironically, Kristen Stewart—as newly turned vamp Bella—has never looked and acted more alive.. (PG-13) 115 minutes. (★★1/2)—Greg Archer.
WRECK-IT RALPH This CGI-animated Disney comedy is one of the year’s most refreshing surprises—and a downright hoot to boot. Clever writing, a tight script and some brilliant CGI all merge together nicely here in a story the chronicles a villain in a popular video game who decides he wants to chuck convention, go against the grain and be something other than what he was programmed to be. Adults may see the metaphor and symbolism throughtout. John C. Reilly is the voice of Ralph. Strong supporting players include Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman, and Jack McBrayer. Rich Moore directs this charming video game-themed delight. (PG) (★★★1/2)
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