Cherry Blossoms (Germany/France, 2008) Winner of the audience award when it showed recently at the Cleveland International Film Festival, Doris Dörrie's film is a touching story about Trudi (Hannelore Elsner) and Rudi (Elmar Wepper), an elderly Bavarian couple who try to reconnect with their children. They first visit two of their kids, now grown up, in Berlin, but when it's apparent they're not welcome, they take a trip to the Baltic Sea. When Trudi unexpectedly dies, Rudi has to go back home by himself. He can't adjust to life without his wife, so he goes to Tokyo to see his son. That doesn't go so well either, but after he meets a young homeless Japanese girl, he suddenly gets in touch with his spiritual side. The beautiful film, a loose retelling of the 1953 film Tokyo Story, has compassion at its core, but it often opts for sentimental crutches (several heavy-handed metaphors) that just seem forced. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:05 p.m. Saturday, May 2, and 3:45 p.m. Sunday, May 3. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)
Dillinger Is Dead (Italy, 1969) This deservedly obscure early work by Rabelaisian provocateur Marco Ferreri (The Grand Bouffe) is getting the sort of bells-and-whistles revival treatment usually accorded forgotten (or largely unseen) masterpieces by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Melville. Too bad the movie isn't better. The wonderful Michel Piccoli plays some sort of industrial designer who discovers a carefully concealed gun in his apartment that might have been owned by legendary American gangster John Dillinger. Since most of the action is played in real time, we get to watch Piccoli cook (and eat) dinner, play with his new handgun, flirt with a live-in maid (Annie Girardot) and behave rudely to his sleeping beauty of a wife (former Rolling Stones muse Anita Pallenberg). Ferreri completists might want to check it out as a 1960s time capsule/curio, but it's unlikely to win the late Italian director any new fans. Now if only some enterprising distributor would reissue Ferreri's great The Last Woman from 1976, which has been unavailable in this country since its original theatrical release more than three decades ago. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:10 p.m. Thursday, April 30, and 5:15 p.m. Saturday, May 2. ** (Milan Paurich)
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past This diverting bit of nonsense blends romantic comedy with A Christmas Carol in a blatant ploy for feminine hearts: the lead is swoon bait Matthew McConaughey, and the story is a sharp rebuke against womanizing. McConaughey plays Connor Mead, a successful magazine photographer who uses and discards women like Kleenex, even breaking up with three on a conference call. On the eve of the wedding of his younger brother (Breckin Meyer), Connor makes a cynical speech denouncing love, and that night the ghost of his idolized, swinging Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas, having a grand time), appears, warning Connor not to end up as he did, old and alone. The ghost tells him he’ll be visited by Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Present and Future, who take Connor on a journey to confront the origins and consequences of his caddish behavior. Connor predictably realizes he’s missed out on true love with childhood sweetheart Jenny (Jennifer Garner), who now regards him with pity and contempt. This labored conceit plays better than it sounds, since the script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Four Christmases) has enough funny, acid dialogue to compensate for absurdities like the bride’s middle-aged militarist dad, described as a Korean War vet, which would make him around 80. *** (Zoslov).
Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (US, 2008) You don't have to be a football enthusiast to enjoy Kevin Rafferty's (The Atomic Cafe) terrifically entertaining documentary about the storied gridiron match-up between Harvard and Yale on November 23, 1968, that ended in a 29-29 tie after underdog Harvard scored 16 points during the game's final 42 seconds. Interspersed with archival footage of the game are disarmingly candid, frequently hilarious interviews with many of the former players, including Crimson alumnus Tommy Lee Jones. By contextualizing the game within the political maelstrom that was 1968 — the two teams included SDS as well as ROTC members — Rafferty makes this more than just an amusing footnote in the annals of college sports history. As a time capsule of a recent period in American history, Harvard Beats Yale is both inspiring and profoundly moving. At the Cleveland Museum of Art. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 29. ***(Paurich)
Hunger More gallery installation than movie, British visual artist Steve McQueen's highly praised, extravagantly stylized account of the last months in the life of IRA figurehead Bobby Sands (decently played by Michael Fassbender) is so grueling an experience that watching it borders on masochism. While McQueen is to be commended for jettisoning the standard docudrama approach (Jim Sheridan's In the Name of the Father told a fictionalized version of Sands' story in a far more compelling, albeit conventional fashion), his clinical objet d'art treatment never remotely engages the audience on an emotional level. By (literally) stripping Sands and his fellow prisoners down to slabs of quivering meat, McQueen robs them of their humanity. It's one of those impossible-to-love critics' darlings that's more interesting to discuss — and even argue about — than it is to watch. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** (Milan Paurich)
Ordet (Denmark, 1955) This Danish film examines a rural farm family's crisis of faith. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 6:45 p.m. Thursday, April 30 and at 9:10 p.m. Friday, May 1.
Out of Africa (US, 1985) Meryl Streep and Robert Redford star in Sydney Pollack's award-winning adaptation of an Isak Dinesen novel. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 1.
Paris 36 Things go from bad to worse for a sad sack named Pigoil (Gérard Jugnot) in this period piece that uses a vaudeville theater as a microcosm for life in Paris in 1936. When the theater closes, Pigoil's wife leaves him, and he subsequently loses custody of his accordion-playing child JoJo (Maxence Perrin), whom he adores. But Pigoil doesn't despair; rather, he gets together a group of two-bit actors and actresses and "improvises a revolution," re-opening the theater. A lovely young girl named Douce (Nora Arnezeder) is the saving grace, drawing big crowds and turning the venue into a money-making business. Not quite as good as 2007's La Vie En Rose, the film's an emotional roller-coaster ride that's alternately tragic and comic, sad and happy. Cedar Lee Theatre. ***(Jeff Niesel)
Wendy and Lucy (US, 2008) In a performance of such startling emotional clarity and directness that it takes your breath away, Michelle Williams plays Wendy, a young woman traveling from Indiana to Alaska with her only true friend, a terrier-retriever mix named Lucy. When bad things happen to Wendy — her car breaks down in a small Oregon town; she gets arrested for attempting to steal a can of dog food — it feels like the weight of the world has come crashing down on her shoulders. The second film from regional specialist Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy), Wendy and Lucy merits comparison with the works of France's Robert Bresson and Belgium's Dardennes Brothers. As a rigorous, artfully unadorned study of the depths to which America's disenfranchised middle class has sunk in today's Darwinian economic climate, Reichardt's humanist masterpiece couldn't be more timely or heart-wrenching. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 1, and 8:45 p.m. Sunday, May 3. *** (Milan Paurich)
Were the World Mine (US, 2008) While rehearsing the role of Puck in a private boys' school production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Timothy (likable newcomer Tanner Cohen) accidentally discovers a magic potion that makes people fall helplessly in love with the first person in sight. Since Timothy is gay and a bit of a practical joker, he uses this newfound power to teach his town's nastiest homophobes a lesson. Director Tom Gustafson's charming, micro-budgeted high-school musical — with original songs by Jessica Fogle and Cory James Krueckeberg, who co-wrote the witty screenplay with Gustafson — has the feel of a future cult movie. Even the occasional directorial misstep seems oddly endearing within the context of such a gay-positive agenda. As Frankie, Timothy's "hetero-flexible" tomboy friend, Zelda Williams (Robin's daughter) handily steals every scene she's in. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 6. *** (Paurich)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine Everyone’s favorite mutton-chopped mutant Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) takes center stage in this X-Men prequel. Beginning in 1845, the story centers on the relationship between Logan and his brother Victor aka Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber). The two eventually become part of a Special Forces unit led by Stryker (Danny Huston), but as the unit’s activities turn increasingly violent, Logan goes his own way. He settles down with school teacher Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), but the couple’s domestic bliss is short lived. The story frankly feels pedestrian at times, and the plot gets cluttered trying to shoehorn in too many characters from the X-Men canon. And yet Jackman and Schreiber, who both seem to be having a great time without condescending to the material, deliver great performances. Fans of the series should enjoy this, but for those already overdosed on superhero films, it’s unlikely Wolverine will renew their appetite for the genre. ** 1/2 (Ignizio)