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Film, Times & Events: Week of Aug. 1

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Check out the movies playing around town.
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New This Week

CRYSTAL FAIRY Michael Cera stars as a druggy, sarcastic American running amok in Santiago, Chile, where he recruits three Chilean brothers to help him track down a legendary psychedelic cactus. Gaby Hoffmann co-stars as a New Age neo-hippie who inserts herself into the quest in this partially improvised road comedy from filmmaker Sebastián Silva. (Not rated) 100 minutes. Starts Friday.

THE SMURFS 2 When an evil wizard kidnaps Smurfette because she knows a magic spell, it's up to the rest of the boys in blue to reunite with their human friends from the first movie and follow her trail to Paris, France. Raja Gosnell directs this live action/animated family comedy. Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, and Brendan Gleeson head the human cast; Katy Perry, Christina Ricci, and the late Jonathan Winters voice various Smurfs.(PG) 105 minutes.

STILL MINE Reviewed this issue. (PG-13) 102 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen. Starts Friday.

2 GUNS Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg star in this action thriller as members of a narcotics syndicate who mistrust each other, but are forced to go on the lam together when a drug deal goes bad. What they don't realize is that they are both undercover government ops from competing federal agencies. Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Fred Ward, James Marsden and Edward James Olmos co-star for director Baltasar Kormákur. Based on the graphic novels by Steven Grant. (R) 109 minutes. Starts Friday.

WASTELAND After serving time in prison, an ex-con tries to rekindle an old romantic flame while plotting to rob the money-laundering business of the drug lord who set him up in this crime thriller set in Yorkshire, England. Luke Treadaway, Timothy Spall, and Vanessa Kirby star for rookie director Rowan Athale. (Not rated) 106 minutes. Starts Friday.

WE'RE THE MILLERS In this drug comedy, a dealer trying to move a shipment of pot from Mexico into the states recruits an unlikely group of strangers to pretend to be an innocent American family. Ed Helms, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts and Jason Sudeikis star for director Rawsom Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball). (R) 110 minutes. Starts Wednesday (August 7)


Film Events

SPECIAL EVENT THIS WEEK: REBELS WITH A CAUSE Bay Area filmmakers Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto wrote, produced and directed this environmental doc, a portrait of how a coalition of concerned, committed, ordinary citizens battled to preserve open space and protect agriculture and wildlife, leading to the establishment of the Point Reyes National Seashore, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Center. Both a celebration of ecological success and an inspiring call to action. Narrated by Frances McDormand. (NR) 72 minutes. Q & A with filmmakers Kelly and Yamamoto will follow the screening. Tonight only (Thursday, August 1), 7 p.m., at the Nickelodeon.

SPECIAL EVENT THIS WEEK: ONE TRACK HEART: THE STORY OF KRISHNA DAS This doc from filmmaker Jeremy Frindel  follows the transformative true story of Long Islander Jeffrey Kagel. This close to a career fronting the rock band Blue Oyster Cult ca. 1970, he disappeared instead into the Himalayas, where the former drug addict reinvented himself as renowned vocalist and chant master Krishna Das. (Not rated) 72 minutes. One night only, Monday, August 5, 7 p.m. At the Nickelodeon.

SPECIAL EVENT: NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE @ THE DEL MAR Britain's acclaimed National Theatre of London broadcasts highlights from its Winter/Spring 2013 Season digitally, in HD, to movie theaters worldwide. This week: THE AUDIENCE Helen Mirren reprises her Oscar-winning role as Queen Elizabeth II onstage, in something completely different. This new play by Peter Morgan (who also wrote Mirren's film, The Queen) centers on the private audience Elizabeth has had with her current Prime Minister every week during the 60 years of her reign. From Churchill to Thatcher, from Blair to Cameron, the heavy hitters of modern British history parade in and out of Buckingham Palace for their private weekly interview with Her ever-inscrutable Majesty. Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot; The Hours) directs. Encore performances at the Del Mar, Saturday-Sunday only, August 3 and 4, 11 a.m. Admission: $15. Seniors, students, and Shakespeare Santa Cruz subscribers: $13.

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: JAWS Nature runs amok in Steven Spielberg's nail-biting 1975 thriller in which cop Roy Scheider, scientist Richard Dreyfuss, and piratical shark-hunter Robert Shaw face off against a "mindless eating machine" in the coastal waters off a touristy New England island during the 4th of July weekend. (PG) 124 minutes. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen. Tonight only (Thursday, August 1), 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.


Movie Times click here.


Now Playing

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/horror 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. This could be one of the most haunting and well-executed horror films of the decade. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston co-star. Based on real-life events. (R) 112 minutes. (★★★1/2)—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.

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

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. (★★★)—Greg Archer

THE HUNT A child's remark brings lives to the brink of ruin in Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg's complex drama, set in the fascinating twilight zone between acute moral responsibility and witch-hunting. Not a lot happens in the narrative except ordinary people going about their lives, but because the focus is on the ever-unpredictable vagaries of human nature, the film plays like a compelling, edge-of-your-seat thriller. The great Mads Mikkelsen gives a performance of astonishing force and subtlety as the wrongly-accused protagonist, while Vinterberg's plot takes many unexpected detours as the story plays out, engrossing to the very end. (R) 115 minutes. In Danish with English subtitles. (★★★1/2)—Lisa Jensen.

THE TO-DO LIST What a fun turn for Aubrey Plaza. The young star headlines this effective comedy that feels a bit like American Pie Meets Porky’s infused with estrogen. Still, somehow it works on you and manages to evoke some real heart. Plaza stars as a studious class valedictorian who enlists a group of offbeat pals to assist her in amping up her sexual prowess the summer before college. Prim and proper as she was in school, seems she missed out on a lot of fun the others were having in the exploration department. The film takes place in 1993 and writer/director Maggie Carey peppers it with bits of humor that befit the day—the arrival of “electronic mail” and such. Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, and Sarah Steele make up some of the fine supporting cast. The film could have used another five to 10 minutes to infuse even more heartbut overall, it’s refreshing to see a comedy about females capable of taking charge and running the show. (R) (★★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)

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) (HHH1/2)—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)

THE WOLVERINE Hugh Jackman pops out the adamantium claws once again in a punchy action adventure that successfully revitalizes our favorite X-mutant as franchise material (after the debacle of X-Men Origins: Wolverine). It works because director James Mangold sticks close to the tormented psyche of Jackman's brooding Logan as he copes with everlasting life, unsettling dream appearances by deceased lover Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and coming to terms with his responsibility to the world; stunts and CGI effects, while impressive, are secondary to the human story. The setting is Japan, where, after a nifty prologue set in WWII Nagasaki, Logan has been summoned to the deathbed of a powerful tycoon whose life he once saved. Soon, he's in the middle of a war between the Yakuza, Ninja assassins, and the evil schemes of sexy mutant Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova). His romance with Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the tycoon's granddaughter, falls a bit flat; we root for him to hook up with plucky warrior girl Yukio (Rila Fukushima). And it's too bad they don't give Jackman better dialogue—especially when delivering a coup-de-grace to some villain. ("Go f**k yourself, pretty boy," is not exactly in the same league as, say, "Make my day.") But the action is fairly inventive, from a fight atop a speeding bullet train to self-inflicted open heart surgery, and Jackman has presence enough to make us care. (PG-13) 126 minutes. (★★★)—Lisa Jensen.

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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