New This Week
Sean Penn stars as Brooklyn-born mobster Mickey Cohen, running amok in 1949 Los Angeles, and Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling are the LAPD outsiders who team up to stop him in this fact-based crime melodrama from director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland). Emma Stone and Giovanni Ribisi co-star. (R) 113 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
A HAUNTED HOUSE
Marlon Wayans co-wrote and stars in this Paranormal Activity satire about a couple who move into a haunted house, whose unnatural denizens soon possess the wife (Essence Atkins). Nick Swarsdon and Cedric the Entertainer co-star for director Michael Tiddes. (R) Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
ZERO DARK THIRTY
Kathryn Bigelow has figured out that the only way for a woman to win a Best Director Academy Award is by directing a gritty, guy-oriented action movie. Her follow-up to the Iraqi War drama, The Hurt Locker, is this fact-based dramatic recounting of the ten-year hunt across Afghanistan and Pakistan for al-Qaiida terrorist leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden—resulting in his execution by Navy SEAL. Team 6 in May, 2011. Controversy is already brewing over the filmmaker's access to classified government information in researching and writing this story. Chris Pratt, Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, James Gandolfini, and Mark Duplass are featured in the cast. (R) 157 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
SPECIAL EVENT THIS WEEK: FALL ITALIAN FILM SERIES The Dante Alighieri Society of Santa Cruz returns with its monthly series of Italian films (one Sunday a month) to promote Italian culture and language. The new theme for the Fall/Winter season is "Set in Rome Over Five Decades." This Week: LA DOLCE VITA Federico Fellini titillated the world and scandalized the Vatican in 1960 with this tragi-comic exposé of “the sweet life” in modern-day Rome as an existence crowded with heady, meaningless activity and ripe sexuality, but short on spiritual or emotional satisfaction. Marcello Mastroianni stars as the sad-eyed gossip columnist with jet-set contacts who's looking for more out of life than the next big scoop. Anouk Aimee and Anita Ekberg co-star. (Not rated) 167 minutes. In Italian with English subtitles. Film professor and author Dr. William Park will introduce the film and conduct an after-film Q&A. At Cabrillo College, VAPA Art History Forum Room 1001, Sunday only, 7pm. Free.
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 7pm 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.
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.
DJANGO UNCHAINED Raw, raunchy and rowdy. Quentin Tarantino returns. There’s violence—a lot of it—and plenty of humor set against a backdrop of pre-Civil Wa- era America. Jamie Foxx—brilliant—stars as an ex-slave-turned-bounty hunter, who's out to free his wife (Kerry Washington) from the nasty plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) who bought her. DiCaprio shines here, but it’s Christoph Waltz who manages to steal as many scenes as Samuel L. Jackson—Jackson delivers another career-defining performance as the major-domo to DiCaprio’s slick plantation boss. Jonah Hill, Don Johnson and Bruce Dern make brief but memorable turns, and the scene involving a KKK round-up is truly some of the best conceptualized work Tarantino has offered in some time. In fact, this is the writer-director’s best outing since Jackie Brown. Rated R. 165 minutes. (★★★1/2) —Greg Archer
THE GUILT TRIP Oh, how sweet this film is. And that’s a big surprise, considering by the previews it looked as inane as Parental Guidance. The good news is that it’s not, and Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand make for a dynamic duo in this road trip film—it also hearkens back to some of Streisand’s engaging comedies from the ’70s, which makes you think that it’s one of the reasons she decided to return to the screen in a lead role for the first time in decades. Rogen plays a guy struggling to sell his product to a big corporation. He decided to bring his mother on a cross-country road trip, not because he wants to truly bond with her, but for other, more noble reasons, which I will not reveal here. It’s that premise that offers this film heart. And, ultimately, its saving grace, because, we find ourselves watching a well-crafted “relationship” movie about the ties that bind, the serendipity that keeps us on our toes and the past that we have to let go of. Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses; The Proposal) directs. A fine trip indeed. (PG-13) (★★★) —Greg Archer
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)—Greg Archer.
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt? It works. This fictionalized account of a weekend in 1939 when FDR invites the visiting King and Queen of England to his country home in upstate New York, costars the resilient Laura Linney (as FDR's neighbor and mistress). The premise revolves around the arrival of The Royals, who seek U.S. support for their upcoming war. The film manages to maneuver through the complexities of the Roosevelt household—from his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams in fine form) and outspoken mother (Elizabeth Wilson). The film could have benefited from another 15 minutes, but overall, director Roger Michell (Persuasion; Notting Hill) evokes enough emotion here for audiences to remain invested in his characters. (R) 95 minutes. (★★★) —Greg Archer
THE IMPOSSIBLE Reviewed this issue. (PG-13) 114 minutes. (★★★)
JACK REACHER Oh, Tom Cruise, you have what it takes, but you were given a script that seemed to come out of the vault of ’80s TV. Cruise plays—or, rather, perfectly, “underplays”—an ex-military investigator here, a character from Lee Child's bestselling mystery thriller series. He sets out to find the truth beneath a seemingly open-and-shut mass killing. Rosamund Pike is the best thing in the film, playing an attorney, aiding Cruise’s Reacher. Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog and Robert Duvall co-star. Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie) directs. (PG-13) 130 minutes. (★★1/2) —Greg Archer
LES MISÉRABLES Can it really be as awful—or as great—as everybody says? Yes and no. Hugh Jackman gives a towering performance as Jean Valjean, singing with clarity and gusto, giving the movie a pulse. Anne Hathaway is a raw and heartbreaking Fantine; her ragged "I Dreamed A Dream" is the film's one great song. Also good is—yes—Russell Crowe, whose workmanlike singing voice is exactly right for rough-hewn Inspector Javert. But the operetta-style, exposition-heavy music is difficult to sing or remember, and for all director Tom Hooper's clever filming tricks and techniques, he can't sustain a level of engagement for the film's entire exhausting length. (PG-13) 157 minutes. (★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
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.
NOT FADE AWAY David Chase, longtime veteran of TV's The Sopranos, plunders his own youth in this tale of a bunch of teens in New Jersey during the 1960s chasing the rock 'n' roll dream by starting their own band. John Magaro, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, and James Gandolfini star. (R) 112 minutes.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE Oy. For starters, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler do not make the most believable married couple on screen. This film is another example of what Hollywood does all wrong—over-sensationalize everything. When you have talent as good as Crystal and Midler, and even Marisa Tomei for that matter, its best to give them a decent script. Sadly, these fine actors were given writing so watered down, it’s embarassing. The premise: a couple (Crystal and Midler) helps their daughter care for their “thoroughly modern” grandkids. All of these characters seem to morph into severe cliches and many of the scenes are played over the top when they really do not need to be played that way. True, society these days needs more stimulation, but we’re not that numb. (Well ...) Andy Fickman (You Again) offers some reprieve during the film’s final act, when some genuineness is milked out of the script, but, by that point, you’re exhausted by all the manipulations that preceeded it. (PG) 104 minutes. (★1/2)—Greg Archer
PROMISED LAND Corporate greed and environmental urgency collide in this new drama from Gus Van Sant. Matt Damon and John Krasinski wrote the script in which they star as a hotshot oil company salesman and a slick environmental activist embroiled in a battle to woo the citizens of a dying rural town over the issue of selling drilling rights to their land. Frances McDormand, Hal Holbrook, and Rosemarie DeWitt co-star. (R) 106 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 ... methinks 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 it’s 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) —Lisa Jensen.
TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D Not a sequel, exactly, of the oft-remade, updated and reimagined horror gore-fest, this new version purports to explore what happens in town after the initial killing spree when an innocent young woman arrives to claim a family inheritance. Alexandra Daddario, Tania Raymonde, and Scott Eastwood star for director John Luessenhop. (R) 92 minutes.
THIS IS 40 Director Judd Apatow spawns another winning tale with this follow-up to Knocked Up. Here, he revisits the lives of the supporting characters played in that movie—Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. It’s several years later and the couple is coping with kids, family, marriage, and, of course, aging. There’s a wonderful blend of humor here, but what works so well is how the script manages to offer us fully imagined characters. Russ and Mann are at the top of their game, too, and Jason Segel, Megan Fox and hot-star-that-can-do-wrong-at-the-moment, Melissa McCarthy, comes along for ride. Look for HBO’s Lena Dunham (Girls) in a small role, too. The film wanders longer than your typical film but you never seem to mind. Apatow’s craftsmanship takes us along one of those spirited filmmaking journeys you don’t really want to end. (R) 134 minutes. (★★★) —Greg Archer.
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