August Evening (US, 2007) - Chris Eska's slice-of-life approach in this simple film (its budget was well under a half million dollars) helped it win the John Cassavetes Award at 2007's Independent Spirit Awards. And while it does have the look and feel of indie features such as You Can Count on Me, it just doesn't resonate on the same level. Pedro Castaneda plays a middle-aged migrant farm worker forced to take an early retirement from the chicken farm where he works. So destitute he doesn't even have enough money to properly bury his recently deceased wife, he goes to live with his children. When that doesn't work out, he has to rely on his widowed daughter-in-law for support. At two-plus hours, the film ultimately takes a toll, particularly when the impoverished patriarch turns to alcohol to numb his senses. Its dreary themes and slow pace detract from an otherwise solid script. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 11. (Jeff Niesel)
Brief Encounter (Britain, 1945) - David Lean's movie about two middle-class Brits who fall in love and contemplate adultery features a screenplay by Noel Coward. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 11.
The Human Condition Part I: No Greater Love (Japan, 1959) - A young Japanese pacifist is sent to work as a mine supervisor in Part I of Masaki Kobayashi's film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8 and at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 10.
The Human Condition Part II: Road to Eternity (Japan, 1959) - The movie's hero enters the Japanese army and tries to reform its brutal treatment of young recruits in Masaki Kobayashi's film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 10.
The Human Condition Part III: A Soldier's Prayer (Japan, 1959) - The war has ended and the film's protagonist escapes a Soviet labor camp and heads home in Masaki Kobayashi's film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 10.
I.O.U.S.A. (U.S., 2008) - This documentary, which commences with footage of presidents from the past several decades talking about impending economic crises, takes a long, hard look at the current state of turmoil. Former Controller General David Walker likens the growing 8.7 trillion dollar national debt (as of February 2007) to "fiscal cancer," and the film systematically shows just how we got into this jam, outlining four serious deficits (budget, savings, balance of payments and leadership) along the way. The movie has a rather pedantic method of presenting information, using graphs and charts to make its point, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. This stuff is so complicated you almost need to take that approach to make sense of it. Interviews with billionaire Warren Buffett, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill provide a balanced point of view and make a compelling argument about a situation that's becoming yet another inconvenient truth. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 9. (Niesel)
Ivan the Terrible, Part 1 (USSR, 1944) - Sergei Eisenstein's WWII-propaganda epic was first part of an uncompleted trilogy about the 16th-century czar(Nikolai Cherkassov, the iconic star of Eisenstein's earlier Alexander Nevsky) who united all Russia. It's a monumental work in more ways than one; baleful actors pose and are lit like looming public statues in Socialist Peoples' Plaza, and the performances are just as stiff. But dig the ornate sets and costumes, as fantastic as any sci-fi plot. And note the nightmare message for Stalin-era audiences: that the ruler of their nation is surrounded by enemies and must necessarily be pitiless in crushing all who might oppose him, too bad about your family, comrade. An important piece of cinema despite its craven function as apologia for tyranny. Music by Profofiev. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 7. (Charles Cassady Jr.)
Ivan the Terrible Part 2 (USSR, 1946/1958) - The 1945 middle chapter of Sergei Eisenstein's incomplete Ivan trilogy is an even stranger and more baroque film than its predecessor, with a Bible-based musical number (in blackface!) and hellish "Sovcolor" sequences, shot using chromatic Agfa film stock the Red Army had just captured from Germany as spoils of war, the only opportunity Eisenstein had to direct in color. The narrative is more of the villainous-looking Czar Ivan IV, facing the treachery of the boyars (Russian aristocracy) in his own family scheming to overthrow him. Ivan uses terror and guile to stay in power even though he knows it costs him the few friends he has. Despite its bootlicking aspects, there was enough self-criticism here for Joseph Stalin to order the movie banned until 1958. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14. (Cassady)
Kenny (Australia, 2006) - Mockumentary-style comedy from Australia that was a sleeper hit Down Under and insinuates some nice blue-collar insights using the same comic techniques employed in The Office. The title character is an unpretentious, hardworking, divorced bloke who services and maintains toilets, usually portable ones. Kenny is treated like scum by his brother, his customers and his hateful ex-wife, but he speaks with pride about his archetypically dirty job and comes up a winner in the end. Some credit should go to the MPAA, which gave this a PG-13 rating despite the use of the s-word in all possible variations. But shame on the distributor for putting English subtitles on the Australian-accented but clearly enunciated dialogue that any normal viewer in the U.S. would have no trouble understanding. Or do they believe we're as dumb as Kenny's clients believe he is? Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:15 p.m. Friday, Jan. 9. (Cassady)
A Thousand Years of Good Prayer (U.S., 2007) - Adapted from a Yiyun Li short story, this Wayne Wang (Joy Luck Club) film is a modest affair that explores issues of assimilation as Mr. Shi (Henry O), a widower from Beijing, travels to the States to stay with his recently divorced daughter (Yu Feihong). While Mr. Shi maintains he'll never meet another woman after his wife's death, he eventually strikes up a friendship with an Iranian woman (Vida Ghahremani) he meets at the park one day. Nothing comes of it, as the woman is sent to an old folks' home before the relationship can go anywhere. But the fact that they could communicate, even though neither spoke particularly good English, suggests how immigrants in Wang's world have a connection that goes beyond language. That Mr. Shi finds it more difficult to communicate with his withdrawn Chinese-fluent daughter is the film's great irony. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 9 and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 11. 1/2 (Niesel)
Twilight - Twilight, the film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's best-selling young-adult vampire novel, tells the story of Bella (Kristen Stewart), a 17-year-old girl who moves to the small town of Forks, Washington to live with her father (Billy Burke). Forks is also where a vampire named Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) lives with his surrogate "family" of nice vampires. They survive on animal rather than human blood and do their best to pass as normal. So the ageless Edward is hard at work on what is probably his 20th high-school diploma when Bella is assigned the seat next to him in biology class. At first, Edward gives Bella the cold shoulder, not because he doesn't like her but because he likes her so much he can barely keep himself from tearing her throat out and drinking her blood. Vampire love is kind of strange that way. Edward manages to get a grip on himself and the two become an item, but trouble is lurking in the background in the form of three not-so-nice vampires. James (Cam Gigandet) catches a whiff of Bella's scent and decides to make her his next victim. The horrific and overtly sexual aspects of vampirism are downplayed in favor of romantic fantasy, which is understandable considering its target market of tweens and teens. More problematic are characters lacking depth, the shaky performance of lead actress Stewart and a plot full of ridiculous contrivances. (Ignizio)
Valkyrie - Writers Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun) and Nathan Alexander went to great lengths to make sure everything in this Bryan Singer film about an attempt to assassinate Hitler was as close to accurate as possible. Based on the true story of German Resistance fighter Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), who led an attempt to overthrow Hilter on July 20, 1944, the film has an undeniable air of authenticity. The assassination attempt led by Stauffenberg also included several key soldiers, including Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh), Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy), Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp), Erich Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard) and Otto Ernst Remer (Thomas Kretschmann). The supporting cast is one of the film's strong points as Cruise simply brings too much of a Top Gun/Few Good Men feel to his character. 1/2 (Niesel)
Yes Man - Amusing return to 1990s form for manic funnyman Jim Carrey that should please his fans, after a string of not terribly popular non-comedic roles. As with Carrey's 1997 film Liar Liar, it's a simple-to-digest gimmick, as the star plays Carl, a Los Angeles bank-loan officer in a personal and professional slump, shunning commitments to friends and family and clients. Carl attends a feel-good seminar led by a self-help guru (Terence Stamp, who had a similar role as a quasi-Scientologist in Bowfinger), admonished to turn his life around by saying "yes" to everything asked of him. Reluctantly at first, then with greater and greater joie de vivre and Carrey-okie zaniness, Carl unconditionally says yes to panhandlers, bank customers, internet-spam ads and, most crucially, a free-spirited West-Coast Boho chick (Zooey Deschanel) who begins to overcome the hero's divorce-bred fear of romantic commitment. Some third-act complications arise, more than anything else to satisfy a facile demand for third-act complications, but all ends happily. L.A. looks like a crazy-quilt multicultural wonderland where the sun always shines and anything is possible, and even being homeless could be loads of fun. Ah, if only life were like this. HHH (Cassady)