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Film, Times & Events: Week of Jan. 24th

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Check out the movies playing around town.
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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) Starts Friday.

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) Starts Friday.

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 Maggie Smith stars as an aging opera diva whose arrival at a retirement home for musical performers—some her former singing partners, along with her ex-husband—throws things into droll upheaval in this comedy from Dustin Hoffman. Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, and Michael  Gambon have featured roles. (PG-13) 98 minutes. Starts Friday.


Film Events

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: THE GODFATHER PART II Beautifully textured and brilliantly acted by Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, and especially Robert De Niro (as the young Vito Corleone, in flashback), Francis Ford Coppola's superb 1974 sequel to his earlier blockbuster examines our collective national history through the fortunes of the Corleones, from dirt-poor immigrants to administrators of a powerful "business" empire. (R) 200 minutes. (★★★★)—Lisa Jensen. Tonight (Thursday, January 17) 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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Now Playing

ARGO It nabbed top honors at the Golden Globes—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 Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe star in this crime thriller about an ex-cop hired to tail the high-profile wife of the mayor of New York City, only to find himself embroiled in corruption, scandal and murder. Catherine Zeta-Jones , Jeffery Wright, and Kyle Chandler co-star; Allen Hughes (one half of the Hughes Brothers) goes solo in the director's seat. (R) 109 minutes.

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 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.

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.

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.

RUST AND BONE  Reviewed this issue. (R) 120 minutes. In French with English subtitles. (★★★)

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

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 shines here with an intelligent screeplay and actors who have the ability to make their characters seem belieavable. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann return from Apatow’s Knocked Up here. It’s a few years later and now, they are coping with kids, family, marriage—and aging. There are some brilliant scenes here and overall, the movie has the unique ability to lure you in and keep you invested. A refreshing surprise. Jason Segel, Megan Fox, Melissa McCarthy, and Lena Dunham co-star. (R) 134 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer.

WRECK-IT RALPH The Oscar-nominated CGI-animated Disney comedy wins points for its effective script and clever premise. Here,  the designated villain in a popular video game has a change of heart and decides he wants to be a good guy.  His journey through all the games in the arcade to try to become a hero is a hoot. John C. Reilly voices Ralph, with Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman, and Jack McBrayer coming along for the ride. Rich Moore directs. (PG)  (★★★1/2)—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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