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Film, Times & Events: Week of July 25

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FRUITVALE STATION A powerful film and one that should not be missed. Fruitvale Station dramatizes the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, the real-life human who was infamously shot and killed by a transit police officer in the Bay Area a few years ago.The shooting of the 22-year-old by the jittery officer at a BART station come at a time when racial issues have escalating in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial. From beginning to end it sizzles with brooding, hypnotic intensity. Watch newcomer Michael B. Jordan as he looses himself in this role. Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz and Kevin Durand co-star for East Bay native/director Ryan Coogler. (R) 90 minutes. Starts Friday. (★★★★) —Greg Archer

THE HUNT Reviewed this issue. (R) 115 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen. Starts Friday.

THE TO-DO LIST Aubrey Plaza stars in this comedy about a studious class valedictorian who enlists a group of offbeat pals and relations to help her spend the summer before college catching up on all the fun stuff she missed out on in high school. Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, and Sarah Steele co-star for writer/director Maggie Carey. (R) Starts Friday.

THE WOLVERINE Hugh Jackman pops out the adamantium claws once again in what we all hope will be a more successful attempted spinoff of the popular character than X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  This time, Logan journeys to Japan to learn to discipline his powers, dabble in romance, and confront his demons as an epic conflict draws him into its vortex. Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee (as the Silver Samurai), Svetlana Khodchenkova (as Viper), and Rila Fukushima co-star. James Mangold (3:10 To Yuma; Walk the Line) directs. (PG-13) 126 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: ROMAN HOLIDAY A radiant young Audrey Hepburn won an Oscar for her first major screen role in this grown-up romantic comedy from 1953 about a European princess on an official state tour of Italy who sneaks off by herself to discover Rome and hooks up with dashing American reporter Gregory Peck. William Wyler directs in ravishing locations all over Rome. (Not rated) 118 minutes. (HHH)—Lisa Jensen. Tonight only (Thursday, July 25), 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 pursue the elusive and ineffable meanings of cinema. Discussion begins at 7 pm and admission is free. For more information visit groups.google.com/group/LTATM.


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Now Playing

BEFORE MIDNIGHT Brilliant from beginning to end, Before Midnight finds Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who also cowrote the script, reprising their roles as Jesse and Celine, whom audiences met in Before Sunrise some 20 years ago. A gem in that the script is sublime; the characters fully formed. If only more films boasted dialogue this realistic. Director Richard Linklater surpasses expectations in this postmodern romance and delivers an exquisite experience to round out the trilogy. Here’s hoping the film is remembered around Oscar season. (R) 108 minutes. (★★★★)—Greg Archer

THE CONJURING Oh, it’s a delight to see Emmy nominee Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel) here alongside Patrick Wilson in one of the more effective mystery/thrillers of late. The duo star as a team of paranormal investigators who meet their match in an unearthly presence haunting a farmhouse in the American South. James Wan (Saw; Insidious directs. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston co-star. Based on real-life events. (R) 112 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer

DESPICABLE ME 2 Steve Carrey returns as the voice of ex-super villain Gru, back for another adventure with his girls and his army of comic Minions in this 3D family comedy from Chris Renaud & Pierre Coffin. Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong, Steve Coogan, Moises Arias, and Al Pacino contribute voices. (PG)  98 minutes.

GROWN UPS 2 Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James and David Spade re-team for the sequel to their 2010 comedy about four childhood buddies who get back together after they have wives and kids of their own. Dennis Dugan returns to direct.  (PG-13) 101 minutes

GIRL MOST LIKELY Kristen Wiig stars in this edgy comedy as a New York playwright experiencing a decline in popularity who's forced to move back in with her mom (Annette Bening) and her kid brother back in Jersey. Darren Criss, Matt Dillon, and Christopher Fitzgerald co-star for co-director Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor). (PG-13) 103 minutes.

THE HEAT Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are wonderful comedic forces in this enjoyable romp. True, McCarthy often gets the best lines, but it’s nice to Bullock back in a light-hearted role that actually works for her. Like most films coming out of Hollywood these days—those designed for mass audiences—the script indulges in a number escapades that are played over the top when it isn’t necessary to do so. Still, this is a thoroughly fun outing as Bullock, an uptight FBI special agent, joins forces with McCarthry, a street-smart Boston cop, to take down a mysterious drug kingpin. Demian Bichir and Marlon Wayans co-star for director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) directs. (R) 117 minutes. (★★1/2)—Greg Archer

THE LONE RANGER Gore Verbinski and his PotC scriptwriters have no idea how to maintain a consistent tone, tell a coherent story, or develop characters we care about; they ought to be making amusement park rides, not movies. Armie Hammer is stuck playing a dull-witted, square-jawed prig. Johnny Depp can be fun as Tonto, if you tune out the overcooked plot about ruthless railroad men vs. vicious outlaws vs. noble Indians and view his performance as an homage to the deadpan physical slapstick of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. But these characters dislike and mistrust each other, and the juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy is not well integrated, so the movie doesn't feel more resonant, just schizoid. Heartless, overlong and crammed with gigantic stunts, this isn't a thrill ride, it's an endurance test. (PG-13) 149 minutes. (★★)—Lisa Jensen.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY Part frat house comedy, part Hunger Games, with a soupcon of Hogwarts, this prequel to the Pixar/Disney 2001 animated blockbuster, Monsters Inc., delivers some engaging messages with a very light touch. We meet plucky little green cyclops, Mike (Billy Crystal) and big, shambling fur-ball, Sulley (John Goodman) as rival students in their college "Scarer" program, in a family-friendly tale of friendship, destiny, diversity, and higher education, told with maximum humor and heart. Best new character is Dean Hardscrabble, a centipede-like reptile with enormous red dragon wings and a fine, chilly voice provided by Helen Mirren. (G) 104 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES Ryan Gosling reunite with his Drive director, visual stylist Nicolas Winding Refn, for an action thriller about crime and punishment in Bangkok, where drug-smuggler Gosling is sent out by his mother to avenge his brother's murder. Kristin Scott Thomas co-stars.(R) 90 minutes.

PACIFIC RIM When a race of giant aliens invade the Earth, science invents gigantic robots driven by teams of human pilots to fight them off. This action thriller sounds like Transformers on steroids, except it's co-written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), so who knows? Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, and Ron Perlman star. (PG-13) 131 minutes.

RED 2 Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich return as the retired CIA black ops honchos called back into action in the first Red movie, now joined by Anthony Hopkins in a new caper involving a missing nuclear device. Mary-Louise Parker, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Byung-hun Lee join the fun for incoming director Dean Parisot.  (PG-13) 116 minutes.

R.I.P.D. Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges team up in this paranormal action comedy about a recently deceased cop killed in the line of duty who finds himself recruited to an elite undead police force in the afterlife, working to solve murders and lay the dead to rest for the Rest In Peace Department. Kevin Bacon and Mary-Louise Parker co-star. Robert Schwentke directs. (PG-13)

THIS IS THE END Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson head a cast of celebrities playing themselves in this self-referential apocalypse comedy written and directed by Rogen and Evan Goldberg; they're all holed up together at Franco's fortress-like mansion when the end of the world occurs out beyond the gates. (R) 107 minutes.

20 FEET FROM STARDOM Captivaitng and educational from beginning to end, 20 Feet spotlights some of the greatest, yet unsung background vocalists in rock. Filmmaker Morgan Neville so wonderfully captures these creative creatures—not only by bringing out their humanity but also showing us just how dynamic and instrumental they actually were in the music world. Feist your eyes (and ears) on Merry Clayton (whose soaring vocals made the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" a classic), Darlene Love, Tata Vega, and Judith Hill, to note but a few. Actually, the doc winds up turning much of the spotlight on Love, showcasing her unique journey and experiences within the music industry. By doing so, the filmmakers add heart to the tale they want to tell. But all of those featured here resonate a wonderful grace and humility. Guest commentaries from Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler, and Sting are a nice touch. Beyond that, there’s, plenty of performance footage. Unforgettable. (PG-13) (★★★1/2)—Greg Archer.

TURBO A garden snail dreams of racing in the Indy 500 in this family cartoon adventure from DreamWorks Animation. Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Maya Rudoph and Samuel L. Jackson provide voices. David Soren directs. (PG)

WORLD WAR Z Good but not great. Suspenseful but plagued with its own distractions. What World War Z could have used more of—and it only required just a little bit more—is depth. Brad Pitt is a former UN investigator who finds himself thrust onto the front lines of the global zombie apocalypse. That’s a great premise and we, as an audience, initially connect to Pitt’s diemma—stay with his family or help save the world. But the beleaguered film, whose budget shot beyond $200 million and had so many behind-the-scenes brouhahas, mostly with the script, never manages to allow Pitt’s character to fully evolve. Knowing more behind some of his motivations and seeing even more of his humanity would have provided the balance this project needed. Because you want to like it. It’s just that after a TV show like The Walking Dead has permeated the culture—a show that so aptly delivers on the emotonal front—this fails in comparison. Still, there’s plenty to savor and some of the scenes with the zombies are brilliantly orchestrated. Based on the Max Brooks novel. Mirielle Enos (The Killing) and Jamed Badge Dale co-star. Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) directs. (PG-13) 116 minutes. (★★★)—Greg Archer.

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