New This Week
(PG-13) 127 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Starts Friday. (★★★1/2)
BULLET TO THE HEAD
Sylvester Stallone stars in this graphic novel-inspired action thriller about a New Orleans hitman (with a code of honor, natch) who teams up with a D.C. detective to get the crime lord responsible for the murders of both their partners. Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi, Jason Momoa, and Christian Slater co-star for veteran director Walter Hill. (R) 92 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
STAND UP GUYS
Reunited after a lengthy prison term, aging Mafiosi buddies-since-childhood Christopher Walken and Al Pacino team up with a third cantankerous pal (Alan Arkin) for one last spree—before one of them has to carry out the order to whack the other. Julianna Margulies co-stars in this offbeat crime comedy; Fisher Stevens directs. (R) 94 minutes. Starts Friday. Watch film trailer >>>
It's Romeo and Juliet with zombies as a boy and girl scheme to be together in this new undead horror comedy romance from director Jonathan Levine (50/50). Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton, and John Malkovich star. (PG-13) 97 minutes. Starts Friday. 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: TROPIC THUNDER Actors in a war movie being shot in Southeast Asia don't realize their manic director is sending them ever deeper into the jungle aginst real-life armed guerrillas because their funding has dried up back in Hollywood. Ben Stiller (who also directs) is the action movie star, Jack Black is the bad-boy comedian, and Robert Downey Jr. earns a real-life Oscar nomination as an Aussie actor so pretentious he has his skin dyed black for his role in this irreverent 2008 action comedy. (R) 107 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: RUNNING WITH SCISSORS Annette Bening stars as the crazed mother in this 2006 adaptation of Augusten Burroughs' sensational bestselling memoir of a childhood spent bounced between his bipolar mom and the highly eccentric family of her psychiatrist. Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, and Gwyneth Paltrow co-star for director Ryan Murphy. (R) 116 minutes. Tonight (Thursday, January 31) only, 9 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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ARGO It nabbed top honors at the Golden Globes and recent SAG Awards—a good thing, considering director Ben Affleck was overlooked for an Oscar nom. 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 Affleck, who stars and directs this wonderfully executed fact-based tale about a covert CIA operation to rescue six fugitive Americans 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.
BROKEN CITY How many more films can Mark Wahlberg star in, playing the same character? This time around, he morphs into an ex-cop hired to tail the high-profile wife of the mayor of New York City. Corrpuption and scandal ensue. Russell Crowe plays the mayor and turns in a fitting performance as an ominous figure who seemingly has control over everyone and everything within his reach. Catherine Zeta-Jones—always nice to see—seemes wasted here, but the scenes that she is in, come to life. Jeffery Wright, and Kyle Chandler co-star. Allen Hughes (one half of the Hughes Brothers) directs. While the film offers some nice twists and turns, it never really fully rises to the occasion. This could be Wahlberg’s doing—often, his performances are wooden that you never really can warm up to his characters. Still, the film is an intriguing ride, nonetheless. (R) 109 minutes. (★★1/2)—Greg Archer.
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 War- 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
GANGSTER SQUAD 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.
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are the smokin' sibs in this horror action comedy fantasy in which they've become vigilantes-for-hire—until their past threatens to catch up with them. Peter Stormare co-stars for director Tommy Wirkola. (R)
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)
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 Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona's intense drama is based on one family's true story of survival in the wake of the ferocious Asian Pacific tsunami of December, 2004. It plunges the viewer smack in the middle of utter chaos when a rogue wall of water rises up out of nowhere and turns a beachfront resort in Thailand into a churning, muddy apocalypse of water. Oscar nominee Naomi Watts (in an incredibly physical performance) and Ewan McGregor are deeply affecting, and young Tom Holland is terrific as the eldest of three boys as the family struggles to find each other while navigating a harrowing milieu of loss and displacement. (PG-13) 114 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
THE LAST STAND Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to action movie mode with a vengeance as a small-time sheriff in a desert border town who's the last obstacle between an escaping drug cartel overlord and asylum in Mexico. Eduardo Noreiga, Forest Whitaker, Rodrigo Santoro and Johnny Knoxville co-star for Korean director Kim Jee-Woon. (R) 107 minutes.
LES MISÉRABLES Can it really be as awful—or as great—as everybody says? Yes and no.The Golden Globe winner gives us Hugh Jackman in 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.
MAMA After disappearing for five years, two little orphaned sisters are found alive and relocated to the home of their uncle and his girlfriend—who begins to suspect they've invited another, unseen presence into their home. Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau star in this supernatural thriller from director Andy Muschietti, executive-produced by Guillermo del Toro. (PG-13) 100 minutes.
MOVIE 43 Twelve comedy directors and an A-List cast conspire to present this series of vaguely connected sketch comedies grouped around the plotline of three kids searching the Internet for the most banned movie of all time. Elizabeth Banks, Rusty Cundieff, Peter Farrelly (who also co-produces), and Brett Ratner are among the directors; Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Richard Gere, Halle Berry, Gerard Butler, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Jackman—among many others—have small bits in the large cast. (R).
PARENTAL GUIDANCE Billy Crystal and Bette Midler fall flat here in a “comedy” that relies too heavily on gimmick. Many of the scenes are played over the top when there really is no reason to do so. In the film, Crystal and Midler play grandparents who answer a cry from their befuddled daughter (Marisa Tomei). The result finds them babysitting her three children. Andy Fickman (You Again) directs but you never really are drawn to care much about the people you are watching. Worse, the film just isn’t that funny. (PG) 104 minutes. (FGB) (★1/2)—Greg Archer.
PARKER Jason Statham stars—once again—as a tough guy with a vendetta against the former associates who betrayed him. Jennifer Lopez is the woman who lends a hand. Michael Chiklis, Clifton Collins Jr. and Nick Nolte pop up in the supporting cast. Taylor Hackford directs. (R) 118 minutes.
QUARTET As charming as it is poignant, Dustin Hoffman’s first directing efforts wins points for its heart—and Maggie Smith As an aging opera diva, her arrival at a retirement home for musical performers (some of them her former singing partners and one, her ex-husband) creates a curious ripple effect and plenty of pondering—about life, the way things were, how they could have been, and accepting what is. Look for the delightful Pauline Collins (remember Shirley Valentine?) to steal many of the scenes playing one-fourth of the quartet that Smith’s character belonged to. Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline and Michael Gambon are on board, too. Smith, who seems to do no wrong these days, delivers another believable performance as a faded star facing new fears and emotional challenges in last phase of her life. Take note: Some noted opera performers play bit roles there.(PG-13) 98 minutes. Starts Friday. (★★★) Greg Archer
RUST AND BONE French filmmaker Jacques Audiard is best known for his stylish thrillers, but his engrossing new film is a departure. While it percolates with suspense, even dread, it's not exactly a thriller, and the love story that slowly wends its way to the surface avoids the trappings of conventional romance for something darker, deeper, and ultimately more satisfying. Marion Cotillard limns a wonderful portrait of a whale trainer in a French coastal Marineland park who decides to be fearless after a horrific accident. She is beautifully partnered by Matthias Schoenaerts as a tough-tender immigrant trying to support his little son on the illegal street fighting circuit; theirs is an intricate, delicate mating dance that fuels this dynamic film. (R) 120 minutes. In French with English subtitles. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.
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
ZERO DARK THIRTY How much torture should we the people condone by our government in pursuit of political ends? That's the question at the core of Kathryn Bigelow's exhaustive drama about the CIA's 10-year hunt for terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. And how much torture should we the audience endure onscreen in the name of entertainment? Although based on classified CIA documents, this is not a documentary; Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal make dramatic choices on how to present the material. They've said their film is not pro-torture, and it's interesting to note how little information is actually obtained from torture in the film. It might almost serve as a subtle cautionary tale against the use of torture—if not for all the action-movie cowboy posturing that dominates the second half of the film as relentless CIA bulldog Jessica Chastain pursues her quarry. Still, while difficult to watch at times, it offers a window into what kind of skullduggery our government is perpetrating worldwide in our name. (R) 157 minutes. (★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.
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