Appaloosa - A decent enough western in the old-school tradition, Appaloosa reunites Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen for the first time since 2005's A History of Violence. This time, Harris and Mortensen play hired Wild West lawmen instead of mobster adversaries. Their relaxed, easygoing camaraderie is the best thing in Appaloosa, giving it the timeless quality of a vintage buddy movie like Newman and Redford's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Based on the novel by Robert B. Parker, Appaloosa is less a revisionist western than a pastiche of tried-and-true genre classics (Rio Bravo, High Noon, you name it). When Virgil (Harris) and Everett (Mortensen) ride into Appaloosa, it's only a matter of time before they butt heads - and exchange bullets - with local bad guy Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons in a neat switch from his usual Brit aristocrat roles) and his gang of scruffy varmints. Throwing a temporary monkey wrench into Everett and Virgil's male-bonding is another recent Appaloosa arrival, widowed coquette Allison (Renee Zellweger). Last year's 3:10 to Yuma remake remains the more satisfyingly retrograde cowboy flick, but Appaloosa ultimately passes muster as a decent Saturday night popcorn movie. HH 1/2 (Milan Paurich)
Bangkok Dangerous - Joe (Nicholas Cage) is a hit man planning to retire after one last job in Bangkok. Along the way, however, he undergoes a transformation from cold and amoral assassin into a human being with a conscience. That change is brought about by two locals: Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm), a petty criminal Joe takes under his wing, and Fon (Charlie Young), a deaf girl Joe starts to fall for. Cage, who can be over the top at times, is quite good here, as is Yamnarm. Directors the Pang brothers are equally adept at creating action set pieces or just setting the right somber tone of loneliness for Cage's character. There are some lapses in logic here and there, and Fon is more of a plot device than an actual character, but the film is engaging enough that those flaws didn't ruin it. It also helps that the movie wraps up with a satisfying, very un-Hollywood ending. HHH (Robert Ignizio)
Beverly Hills Chihuahua - Disney has told this story Ð pampered pooch takes up with some dogs from the other side of the tracks and learns about true friendship Ð before. But Lady and the Tramp doesn't have a scene in which human stars Piper Perabo and Jamie Lee Curtis bark at each other on their cell phones. And unlike the 1955 animated hit, the live-action Beverly Hills Chihuahua has little charm, wit or subtlety. Spoiled, booty-wearing Chihuahua Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) gets lost during a trip to Mexico. Over the next 90 minutes, she's recruited into a dog-fighting club, befriends a tough but lovable German Shepherd (Andy Garcia), gets conned by a rat and iguana (Cheech Marin and Paul Ridriguez), and eventually finds her bark. The dogs are cute; the fact that they say things like "talk to the paw" isn't. HH (Michael Gallucci)
Blindness - Portuguese author José Saramago was reluctant to grant film rights to his 1995 novel about an epidemic of "white blindness" that strikes citizens of an unnamed country. Saramago worried about how the novel's violence, rape and degradation would be treated by the wrong filmmaker. The well-regarded Brazilian director Fernando Meiralles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) won the rights, on the condition that he set the film in an unrecognizable city (it was filmed primarily in S-o Paolo). Some of the author's fears, alas, were justified: Meiralles' film is a technically accomplished but often excruciating experience. Meiralles and screenwriter Don McKellar changed the setting from the 1930s or '40s to a contemporary period but retained its cast of allegorically named characters: Doctor (Mark Ruffalo), Doctor's Wife (Julianne Moore, who's excellent), Man With Black Eye Patch (Danny Glover), Bartender/King of Ward 3 (Gael Garc’a Bernal), Woman With Dark Glasses (Alice Braga). In the end, the characters' suffering (and, by extension, the audience's) feels unjustified and unredeemed. HH (Pamela Zoslov)
Body of Lies - The web of deceit in this taut political thriller tangles more than the CIA agent played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Everyone in the movie, all the way down to DiCaprio's seemingly throwaway love interest, is keeping secrets. All the double-crosses, lies and cagey spy stuff ultimately boil down to: Who's screwing whom? DiCaprio's Roger Ferris is a post-9/11 operative hopping from one Middle East battleground to another in search of bad guys with bombs. He's moved around by his boss (a frumpy Russell Crowe), who's thousands of miles away back home in the U.S., calling the shots on his cell phone as he drops off his kids at school. They try to weed out an Osama bin Laden-like terrorist leader by making deals, creating a fake terrorist group and engaging in some good old-fashioned shoot-outs. Director Ridley Scott stages the action scenes with the same explosive zip he brought to Gladiator, Blade Runner and Alien, while the top-notch cast (especially Mark Strong as the head of Jordanian intelligence) adeptly propels the story -- which thankfully isn't as convoluted as it could be, considering all the double-dealings going on. Despite a soggy ending that sorta goes against the film's main theme -- trust no one Ð Body of Lies is all about faith in a field that's fatally short on it. HHH (Gallucci)
Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story - This documentary about political advisor Lee Atwater shows the extent to which Republicans have become a "stealth party," as one pundit puts it, advocating on behalf of the common man and giving him nothing in return. Atwater, who influenced the nefarious tactics of Karl Rove and got the first Bad Bush into office, was the guy who did their dirty work, generating false rumors and slurring opponents' reputations. In fact, he even apologized to his victims as he laid on his death bad, suffering from a debilitating brain tumor. HHH (Jeff Niesel) Burn After Reading - The change of pace offered here from the Coen brothers, who cleaned up last year at the Academy Awards for their intense No Country for Old Men, is likely to leave many fans scratching their collective heads. A whimsical story about a woman (Frances McDormand) who discovers a CD-ROM of what she thinks are top secret C.I.A. files, Burn After Reading hardly has the depth of No Country. And yet it's worth seeing just for the performance by John Malkovich, who stars as the hot-tempered CIA agent whose life falls apart before our eyes as he loses both his job and his marriage in one fell swoop. HHH (Niesel)
Contempt (France/Italy, 1963) - Jean-Luc Godard's film is a great movie that's about moviemaking. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:05 p.m. Thursday, October 16 and 5 p.m. Saturday, October 18.
The Duchess - There are a lot of reasons to like this historical biography starring Keira Knightley as Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), an ancestor of Princess Diana. One of them has nothing to do with the movie itself: Knightley, whose modest bustline is highlighted by the movie's tightly corseted costumes, protested the studio's plan to digitally enlarge her breasts in the movie posters. We like her much better for that. Further, the movie, based on a book by Amanda Foreman and directed by Saul Dibb, is a dishy pleasure, all ravishing dresses, outlandish wigs, ornate sets and sex - especially sex. Although Georgiana was an active campaigner for the Whig Party and organizer of political and literary salons, she was better known, like her descendant Diana, for her trendsetting fashion and unusual marriage. The movie gives only cursory attention to Georgiana's political activities, thankfully preferring to focus on the sexier parts of her life. HHH (Zoslov)
Eagle Eye - It knows when you are sleeping. It knows when you're awake. It knows your weekend plans and what you're having for dinner because it's monitoring the plague of electronic devices in our pockets and purses. The Patriot Act-protected title character in Eagle Eye is a self-aware, anti-terrorism surveillance computer that goes rogue - deciding to assassinate the leaders of America to end the self-imposed state of terror. The all-seeing robot uses its gathered information and control of all things electronic to rope in two unsuspecting civilians - Jerry (Shia LaBeouf) and Rachel (Michelle Monaghan). Billy Bob Thornton is along for the ride as an FBI agent in pursuit of the pair. But good luck following the action - director D.J. Caruso's shaky shots are more disorienting than a 5-year old playing with a video camera. In the end, not even the snappy dialogue and charm of LaBeouf and Thornton can stop Eagle Eye's political nausea. HH (Jason Morgan)
The Express - The Express isn't just another sports movie. While it's ostensibly about the career of Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), the first black athlete to win the Heisman Trophy, and how his career was tragically cut short, it's about much more than that. The film stars Dennis Quaid as Ben Schwartzwalder, a former American soldier who took a no-nonsense attitude toward the football field. The movie's essentially a feel-good rags-to-riches story as it shows how Davis came from a small Pennsylvania mining town and slowly worked his way to the top of an already strong college football program, helping his team win a national title. While the tragic outcome of the story might have been better served with a simple postscript, the fact that the film's about 15 minutes too long isn't a huge detriment. HHH (Niesel)
Fireproof - Imagine a government bailout putting the Southern Baptists in charge of Fox Cable; then Rescue Me would look like this: Hotheaded Georgia firefighter Caleb (Kirk Cameron), an internet porn addict, turns to Jesus and a series of "love dares" (that's trademarked, evidently, judging by the book tie-ins being sold) to salvage his failing marriage to a hospital PR flack. Alas, winning the miserable bitch's ardor again is tougher than his lifesaving exploits. With production values of a circa 1980 (A.D.) TV movie, this second Christian-inspirational drama from filmmaker-pastors Alex and Stephen Kendricks (after Facing the Giants) has the wisdom to know it can't compete with Backdraft in the visuals, so don't expect inferno-level action. Indeed, close your eyes and you'll swear (well, no you won't; nobody swears here) you're hearing an evangelical radio soap opera on WCRF-FM, complete with community-theater acting and sermonizing dialogue. And there's an audience for that, OK, but verily, ye must be Born Again to fully enter into what amounts to an infomercial for the Bible-centered covenant-marriage movement. At least the script is pretty frank in acknowledging wedded bliss is a ... flaming turd. HH (Charles Cassady)
Flow: For the Love of Water (US, 2008) - This documentary chronicles the threat to freshwater. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:15 p.m. Friday, October 17 and 10 p.m. Saturday, October 18.
Ghost Town - Brit funnyman Ricky Gervais plays Dr. Bertram Pincus, an uptight, Scrooge-like dentist who's so misanthropic, he likes the fact that his patients are often too numb to speak. But when Pincus encounters some health problems, he has to make an emergency trip to the hospital and wakes up to find out he came close to dying during an operation. As a result, once he's revived, he can see dead people, and his life takes an abrupt turn. One of the ghosts that talks to him is a guy named Frank Herlihy (Kinnear), who'll only leave Gervais alone if he agrees to break off his his engagement to widow Gwen (Tea Leoni). Bertram acquiesces but not because he likes Frank. In fact, he can't stand him and ends up not only befriending Gwen but also the guy she plans to marry. As much as the movie's about a guy so mean-spirited, he won't even hold the elevator for anyone but himself, it's also got a pretty big heart. Gervais, who helped develop the character with ideas of his own, is terrific, even if he's not really good-looking enough for the part. HHH (Niesel)
A Girl Cut in Two - French director Claude Chabrol (Chocolat) delivers something like a Pedro Almodovar film with this drama that finds a famous author named Charles (Franois Berléand) and a rich businessmen named Paul (Beno”t Magimel) both vying for the attention of Gabrielle (Ludivine Sagnier), a vivacious newscaster who aspires to do more than weather forecasts. Neither suitor is particularly promising, however. Charles has been married for 25 years and tends to be condescending. Paul is a rich kid who doesn't take no for an answer, cavorting around town in a sports car that costs more than Gabrielle, who still lives with her mother, makes in a year. Eventually, Gabrielle marries Paul, but her heart still longs for Charles, and that's something the unstable Paul can't stand. Well-acted and superbly written, the film avoids its soap opera tendencies simply because it's so sophisticated, and the numerous tragic twists will constantly keep you guessing. Opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre. HHH (Niesel)
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People - Simon Pegg stars as Sidney Young, a curmudgeonly gossip writer who moves from England to New York with the hopes of establishing himself as a major player at an up-and-coming magazine. But his crude behavior and disdain for a power-playing publicist (Gillian Anderson) gets him into hot water with the publisher (Jeff Bridges) who tells him he needs to shape up or ship out. His only friend (Kirsten Dunst) is an aspiring author who's frustrated with her tabloid journalism career, but instead of cherishing his friendship with her, he lusts after a hot actress (Megan Fox) and ends up becoming the kind of sycophant he despises. There's not much chemistry between Dunst and Pegg, and the shoddily directed film feels more like something that was made for British television. HH (Niesel)
Igor - There isn't much to this CGI time-killer about a mad scientist's hunchbacked assistant who has aspirations of his own. So it's the little things that count: the title character (voiced by John Cusack), an Igor School grad with a Yes-Master degree who sounds like Boris Karloff when he's around others and like John Cusack when he's narrating the movie; his stitched-together creation, who mistakes Igor's "evil" orders for her name, Eva; and a pair of chatty inventions/sidekicks Ð a suicidal rabbit cursed with immortality (Steve Buscemi in full existential-angst mode) and a not-so-brilliant brain in a jar who accidentally scrawled "Brian" on the outside of his home in permanent ink. After his bumbling master's latest experiment ends fatally for the old guy, Igor gets the run of the lab and makes a monster, which he hopes will snag first place in the Evil Science Fair. Unfortunately, all the goodhearted Eva wants to do is act. The horror! HH 1/2 (Gallucci)
Kagemusha (Japan, 1980) - Co-produced by Francis Coppola and George Lucas, this Akira Kurosawa classic is about a thief spared execution. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:10 p.m. Friday, October 17 and 7 p.m. Saturday, October 18.
Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine (US, 2008) - Rather weak in narrative drive but ambitious enough on all other fronts, this documentary is like a cinematic coffee-table book on the Louise Bourgeois oeuvre, a vast one as the 96-year-old artist works in an amazing variety of materials, from walk-through architectural installations to a sort of doodle carved from the skin of a tangerine. Some pieces, ranging in size from whole rooms to things not bigger than a briefcase, have taken her 25 years to complete. It's the French-born artist's spiders (intro'ed quite late in the run time) that are best known, giant black eight-legged shapes erected in city thoroughfares around the world - including, a few years ago, downtown Cleveland (not that we made the cut in this movie). Rather like John McCain, Bourgeois claims to have been a maverick-outsider even while moving easily within artistic and creative circles. Because her sculpture leaned towards representation, not trendy abstract-expressionism, Louise did feel excluded from the contempo gallery scene. In a bizarre digression, two artsy feminists called "Gorilla Girls" (wearing, indeed, ape masks) talk about embracing Bourgeois as a persecuted sister in their struggle, even if Bourgeouis never labeled herself as part of their movement (feminism, I suppose, not gorilla-mask-wearers). The talkative old gal herself is pretty feisty; the filmmakers have no trouble depicting her as difficult and argumentative, even with them. She could probably have kicked Louise Nevelson's ass in a catfight. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17 and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 19. HHH (Cassady)
Miracle at St. Anna - Spike Lee's wildly ambitious, two-and-a-half-hour-plus WW II epic has so many interesting elements (including the heretofore unexamined role of African-American soldiers who served in the 92nd Infantry's Buffalo Soldiers division) that it's a shame the movie feels so unfocused, digressive and needlessly cluttered. Adapted by author James McBride from his same-named novel, Lee's film is part war flick set in 1944 Tuscany, part 1980s New York murder mystery, part travelogue and part maudlin tearjerker about the bond between a soldier (Omar Benson Miller) and the 7-year-old Italian waif (Matteo Sciabordi) he protects from harm's way. A terrific cast (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Derek Luke, Kerry Washington and John Turturro) tries valiantly to make an impression but mostly gets lost amid all the noise, confusion and competing storylines. HH1/2 (Paurich)
Momma's Man - When 30-something Mikey (Matt Boren) curls up in his bed in Momma's Man, it's like he's returning to the womb. Since Mikey has just canceled his return flight to L.A., where his wife and infant daughter await him, it's a safe bet that retreating into the cocoon is what his extended visit with Mom and Dad (Flo and Ken Jacobs) is all about. The longer Mikey stays at his folks' New York City loft, the more he regresses. He puts on a superhero cape from his childhood, picks up the guitar he hasn't played since high school and even retrieves a break-up letter from an old girlfriend that reignites long-suppressed emotions. As Mikey strums his guitar in the middle of the night (an original composition goes something like, "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck you; I hope you die too"), the look on his parents' faces as they lay in bed listening to his impromptu jam session is pricelessly funny. But writer-director Azazel Jacobs isn't interested in making an Apatow-ian comedy about boy-men in a state of arrested development. Instead, Jacobs, who cast his own parents as Mikey's mother and father, is more interested in a sort of billet-doux to parents in general, and to the lingering shadows they leave on the lives of their progeny. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Sunday, October 19. (Paurich)
My Best Friend's Girl - Nothing new in this predictable romantic comedy. The insufferable Dane Cook plays Tank, a good-looking but obnoxious guy who's such a bad date, his buddies get him to go out with their ex-girlfriends because they know they'll come back to them after one night with the guy. But when his best friend and roommate Dustin (Jason Biggs) enlists his help, the plan backfires. Tank is obnoxious as ever, but the feisty Alexis (Kate Hudson) doesn't mind and ends up falling for him. Tank discovers he has feelings for her, too, and thus the film heads down a familiar path as Tank must choose between his best friend and his best friend's girl. While Alec Baldwin has a nice turn as Tank's insensitive and over-sexed dad, the movie had little going for it, especially since Cook thinks his fast-talking stand-up skills translate to the big screen (they don't). And yes, the Cars' song from which the movie takes its name plays incessantly throughout the film. HH (Niesel)
Nazarin (Mexico, 1959) - Luis Bunuel's film is about a young priest who attempts to live a pure Christian life. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, October 22.
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist - This film takes place over the course of one wild night. Set in New York's Lower East Side, it references the many clubs that exist in that part of town, as the teens hop from the Bowery Ballroom to the Mercury Lounge in search of a secret show by their favorite band, Where's Fluffy. Along the way, Nick (Michael Cera), the guitarist in a crappy queercore band, meets Norah (Kat Dennings), the daughter of a famous music producer, and she enlists him to be her boyfriend for the night, just to keep her superficial friend Tris (Alexis Dziena) from making fun of her. When it coincidentally turns out that Tris is the girl for whom Nick has been making mix disc after mix disc in the hopes of winning her back after she abruptly broke up with him, Norah has to rethink her whole plan. Nick is still hung up on Tris, and that's an obstacle Norah can't seem to overcome. Along the way, Norah's friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) gets so drunk, she wanders off, and Norah and the guys in Nick's band go out looking for her. The plot is a bit stagnant (think of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry and his friends can't find their car in the parking structure), and the only thing that (barely) holds the film together is its terrific soundtrack. HH 1/2 (Niesel)
Nights in Rodanthe - Nights in Rodanthe tells the story of Adrienne (Diane Lane), a middle-aged mother of two whose husband left her for another woman but now wants to return. Adrienne decides to think it over during a trip to look after a beachfront inn in North Carolina's Outer Banks owned by her friend, lively artist Jean (Viola Davis). The only guest at the inn is Paul Flanner (Richard Gere), a doctor with a troubled past. Having just left his marriage, Paul has come to coastal Rodanthe to talk to an old man named Torrelson (Scott Glenn), who is suing Paul over the death of his wife on his operating table. Paul and Adrienne strike up a friendship, which turns passionate after a hurricane pummels the bizarrely vulnerable inn. What's remarkable about the movie is the wide gulf between the skill of cast and crew and the banality of the material. HH (Zoslov)
The Pearl (Mexico, 1947) - Emilio Fernandez directs this movie about the life of a poor Mexican fisherman. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, October 15.
Quarantine - Quarantine is a remake of a Spanish film ([Rec]) that was itself influenced by the documentary style of The Blair Witch Project and the basic premise of 28 Days Later. A TV news crew tags along with the fire department on a routine call to help a sick old lady in an apartment building. Turns out she's infected with a fast spreading disease that turns its victims into homicidal maniacs. Infected and uninfected alike are barricaded inside when the CDC arrives on the scene with military backup and a cover story. The movie isn't going to win any awards for originality, but sometimes all you want from a horror flick are a few good scares and characters who don't act too painfully stupid. In that respect, Quarantine delivers. It's by no means a classic, but Quarantine should please most serious horror fans, as well as those just looking for a fun scary flick for date night. Just try to avoid seeing the trailer beforehand. It gives away some important scenes, completely ruining their effect. HH 1/2 (Ignizio)
Religulous - If satire is what closes on Saturday night, does that mean that Larry Charles and Bill Maher's scattershot satirical documentary Religulous will throw in the towel after its first Saturday matinee? While too hit-and-miss to be considered a success, I sincerely hope that Religulous(the title means just what you think it does) sticks around a lot longer than that. At a time when right-wing hockey mamma Sarah Palin is hogging all of the spotlight, a thoughtful, well-considered and sometimes laugh-out-loud movie that dares to take gleeful potshots at organized religion of every persuasion is to be cherished. I only wish that Religulous wasn't so meandering and - at 103, stuffed-to-the-gills minutes - overlong. With some judicious editing it could have made a killer HBO special. HH 1/2 (Paurich)
Tell No One - On the eighth anniversary of his wife's yet-unsolved murder, pediatrician Alex Beck (an excellent Francois Cluzet) begins receiving weird e-mails. After clicking a Web-cam link, Alex sees a woman in surveillance camera footage who bears an eerily uncanny resemblance to his late wife, Margot (Marie-Josée Croze). Since the police still consider him a prime suspect in Margot's death and because Alex remains Vertigo-obsessed with his late wife nearly a decade after her murder, he begins searching for the mystery lady on the video. Adapted from Yank novelist Harlan Coben's 2001 best seller, this diabolically crafty French-language thriller manages to be quintessentially Gallic while still retaining the best and pulpiest qualities of American dime-store fiction. Director Guillaume Canet has made a psychological nail-biter so lip-smackingly satisfying that Hitchcock himself would be green with envy. HHH 1/2 (Paurich)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Vicky Cristina Barcelona finds director Woody Allen in a lighter mood, telling the story of two friends: dark-haired, sensible Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and blond, impulsive Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), who share a summer vacation - and a lover, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) - in Barcelona. After a weekend trip to Oviedo, Juan Antonio, to Vicky's disappointment, takes up with Cristina, who moves in with him. Vicky resigns herself to marrying the ambitious and reliable Doug (Chris Messina), who seems, by contrast, hopelessly dull. Cristina and Juan Antonio's romantic idyll is interrupted when he is forced to rescue his suicidal ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), who moves into the house. After some initial mistrust, the three fall into a comfortable ménage. Later, Vicky tries to reignite the flame with Juan Antonio, resulting in an absurd twist of fate. It's a mere wisp of a movie, but the clever, talky script and fine cast make it go down like a cool glass of limonada. HHH (Zoslov)