Film » Film Capsules

Capsule Reviews of Current Releases

Opening

Arizona Dream (US/France, 1993) Johnny Depp stars in this film about a group of vagabonds who live outside of Tucson. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 24.

The Dead (Britain/Ireland/US, 1987) Angelica Huston and Donal McCann star as an Irish married couple with problems in John Huston's last movie. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 8:10 p.m. Friday, June 26, and 6:25 p.m. Saturday, June 27.

Dry Season (Chad/France/Belgium/Austria, 2006) Named Atim (or "orphan") because his father was killed before he was born, a teenager (Ali Bacha Barkai) sets out with a gun to avenge his father's death in this film about life in Chad during a period of political instability. When Atim finally meets his father's murderer, a baker named Nassara (Youssouf Djaoro), the man is handing out bread to the homeless. Atim starts working for Nassara and develops a relationship with him that's tantamount to that of a father and his son. Nassara even tells Asim he wants to adopt him. Even though Nassara shows that he cares for Atim and promises to turn him into a good baker, the man's got a temper and doesn't let Atim get away with anything. The resolution is hardly what you'd expect. The film really captures the country's beauty, as the shots of the city depict a vibrant, colorful place where people are surviving, despite harsh political realities. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Thursday, June 25 and 8:55 p.m. Sunday, June 28. *** (Jeff Niesel)

Guest of Cindy Sherman (US, 2008) As the host of a mid-'90s public access show called GalleryBeat, Paul H-O spent his free time hitting gallery openings in New York asking dumb questions ("What do you eat for breakfast?" is one of his favorites). After finding that photographer Cindy Sherman wasn't put off by his in-your-face approach, he becomes friends with her and eventually gets to interview her during a work in progress. He ends up hanging out with her in her studio loft and telling her, "You're the best-dressed person I know" and "You look really swell." Sherman eventually falls for him, and the two end up in love and living together. As much about the New York art scene (the film includes interviews with artists like Robert Longo, Julian Schnabel and Sean Landers), Guest of Cindy Sherman is an interesting self-portrait of Paul, who also directed the movie and doesn't shy from depicting his battles with depression and his feelings of inadequacy. You can't help but feel for the guy, even if the exploration of his relationship with Sherman comes off as a bit exploitative. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 1. *** (Niesel)

Hoppity Goes to Town (US, 1941) Imagine in a parallel universe where there's no Disneyland but rather, Fleischerland. Could have happened were it not for the conclusive box-office failure of this feature from Walt Disney's rival, the Max and Dave Fleischer animation factory (then overseen by Paramount), wellspring of Popeye, Superman and Betty Boop shorts. They made only two long-form cartoons — a moderately successful Gulliver's Travels and this much less-revived original fantasy (alternately known as Bugville and Mr. Bug Goes to Town), which foreshadows both Pixar's A Bug's Life and Japan's Twilight of the Cockroaches. The Fleischer team may have lagged some in the storytelling finesse and memorable character creation, but their visual marvels here could match (or exceed) the Magic Kingdom's. Set in a small, overgrown urban lot where a community of insects (and one pessimist snail, who speaks in doleful rhyme) are endangered by foot traffic from the gigantic "human ones" after a fence breaks, it revolves around an old-timey love triangle between the grasshopper hero, a villainous landlord beetle and a demure she-bee (named Honey, of course). Sentimental Hoagy Carmichael-Frank Loesser soundtrack songs aren't very catchy, but just soak up the visuals: painstakingly hand-drawn cityscapes, shifting perspectives that presage CGI, a spectacularly trippy scene in which Hoppity touches the ancestor of the Bug Zapper and the knockout closer of a skyscraper erection shown from the tiny protags' POV. Not a classic, but still a real find for animation addicts. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 26, and 4:45 p.m. Saturday, June 27. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

My Sister's Keeper After six feature films in 13 years, it's safe to assume writer-director Nick Cassavetes will never be confused with his late father, indie pioneer/auteur John Cassavetes. If Cassavetes Senior's films were (deliberately) rough around the edges and seemingly improvised (even when they weren't), Cassavetes Junior occasionally errs on the side of slickness. Exxon Valdez oil spill slickness. Take My Sister's Keeper, Cassavetes' alternately moving and insidious adaptation of Jodi Picoult's bestselling novel. The story of an 11-year-old girl (Little Miss Sunshine cutie Abigail Breslin) who sues her parents for "medical emancipation," My Sister's Keeper has such a loaded, Lifetime Movie premise that it can't help but get under your skin. Conceived in vitro as a genetic match for older sister/cancer patient Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), Anna decides that enough is enough when she hires a lawyer (Alec Baldwin) to take her case. Because Kate will probably die if she doesn't get Anna's kidney, her parents (Jason Patric and Cameron Diaz, both very good) are understandably apoplectic upon hearing the news. By withholding the true reason behind Anna's decision until the courtroom climax, the movie is guilty of the most flagrant type of audience baiting. (The whole "medical emancipation" angle turns out to be a gimmicky red herring.) Also problematic is the use of five narrators (kid brother Jesse brings up the rear) to provide multiple perspectives when one coherently articulated point of view would have sufficed. (That literary device worked far better in Picoult's book.) The most troubling aspect of the film is the faint whiff of exploitation that lurks around the edges. Cassavetes shows courage in not soft pedaling the ravages of cancer: Kate's vomiting, nosebleeds, et al. Yet too often it feels like wallowing in misery strictly for the sake of hijacking our tear ducts. "Insidious" indeed. ** (Milan Paurich)

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (USSR, 1964) A film truly outside of time, Sergei Paradjanov's celluloid folk tale looks like nothing else made in 1964. Drawing on a rich heritage of Carpathian-Ukrainian myths, costumes, color and pageantry, the tapestry-like story starts off in Romeo-and-Juliet fashion but ultimately follows transfixingly unfamiliar roads, through birch-covered haunted mountains, with peasant boy Ivan falling in love with the daughter of the enemy who killed his father. The girl's accidental death sends the adult Ivan into a funk of hopeless grief, a wound of loss and yearning that not even time and marriage to another can heal, culminating in sorcery and revenge. For his art-crime of breaking radically with the official style of socialist realism to make this bold cinematic ballad, Paradjanov himself suffered professionally and personally under Soviet authorities, but the film stands as his masterwork. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:55 p.m. Saturday, June 27, and 7 p.m. Sunday, June 28. **** (Cassady)

Skills Like This (US, 2007) An affable, Denver-lensed shaggy-dog caper comedy about a group of twentysomething slacker types who impulsively embark upon a half-assed crime spree. First-time director Monty Miranda finds just the right tone here — bemused and affectionate without a whiff of smugness — to sell a premise that could have easily devolved into boorishness. As leader-of-the-pack Max, Spencer Berger (who wrote the film's clever screenplay) makes a most appealing protagonist and graciously cedes the movie's biggest laughs to Brian D. Phelan (a riot as Tommy, the group's resident screw-up). A romantic subplot in which Max courts the bank teller (Kerry Knuppe) who helped him get away with his first robbery is a sweet diversion from the boys-will-be-boys antics. Plenty of young American indie directors have aped Tarantino over the years, but few have finessed the job as charmingly — and with such a lightness of touch — as Miranda. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:55 p.m. Friday, June 26, and 8:10 p.m. Saturday, June 27. *** (Milan Paurich)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Nobody went to the first Transformers for Shia LaBeouf. Nobody went for Megan Fox either (well, maybe some of us did). Everybody who saw that summer blockbuster two years ago went for the robots - the shape-shifting, ass-kicking, totally awesome robots. In this overblown sequel, director Michael Bay wisely keeps the camera on the Autobots and Decepticons for most of the movie, shoving aside what little plot there is to make room for big, explosive set pieces where tons of shit blows up. This time around, the "story" has something to do with a reborn and revenge-minded Megatron returning to Earth to kidnap LaBeouf's Sam and then take over the planet. But who really cares? It's all about bigger and badder battles that span Sam's front yard to the Egyptian desert. At two and a half hours, there's plenty of time to get to know Revenge of the Fallen's bots, but Bay is more focused on big bangs, cheap laughs and having his metal heroes call opponents "punk-ass Decepticons." ** 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)

Underground (France/Yugoslavia/Germany/Hungary, 1995) A Grand Prize winner at Cannes, Emir Kusturica's shaggy, surreal tragicomic lament takes 167 minutes to sum up 50 years of Balkans insanity and absurdity, with tones ranging from Rabelaisian vaudeville shtick to horror (the latter especially, as the narrative leaps to the modern era of Bosnian genocide). The storyline follows the fates of two friends in the ersatz nation of Yugoslavia: crook Blacky and Communist Party hack Marko, both allied against the Nazis ("fascist motherfuckers!") in the underground resistance movement but who come to be romantic rivals for Natalija, an ambitious and fickle Belgrade actress. Marko hides a wounded Blacky (and a small army of partisans, a wedding band and a chimp) in a cellar near the close of WWII and finds it personally and politically expedient to dupe them all into thinking that the war is still going on for years afterward (nitpickers noted a slight resemblance to the obscure Alec Guinness 1965 dark comedy Situation Hopeless but Not Serious). Meanwhile in the Tito-dominated 1950s and '60s, the missing Blacky is proclaimed a peoples' hero and honored Marxist martyr. True, a lot of Kusturica goes a long way, and the effect is sometimes deadening (and you get the sense the Animal Protective League wasn't present on this set, nosiree). Still, this is one of the most important Eastern European films of the 1990s. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6 p.m. Friday, June 26. *** (Cassady)

In Theaters

The Hangover A pre-titles sequence sets the scene: Four men are stranded in the desert, all of them beaten, bruised and bloodied. One of them calls a bride-to-be on his cell, informing her that her wedding — just hours away — isn't going to happen. The groom is "lost." Flashback two days earlier, when four men — groom Doug (National Treasure's Justin Bartha), his best friend Stu (The Office's Ed Helms), buddy Phil (Bradley Cooper, who played Rachel McAdams' dick boyfriend in Wedding Crashers) and the bride's loser brother Alan (standup comedian Zach Galifianakis in a breakout performance) — are prepping for Doug's bachelor party in Las Vegas. They check into a $4,200-a-night suite, go to the roof for a celebratory drink and ... wake up the next morning, not remembering a thing. Including how a tiger got in their bathroom, why they now have a baby and where they left Doug. They spend the rest of the movie piecing together their forgotten night. It's one of the funniest movies of the past couple of years, with enough testosterone to power Caesars Palace. *** (Michael Gallucci)

Land of the Lost Sid and Marty Kroft's original Land of the Lost was by no means a shining moment in television history, but it was harmless enough fun for the Saturday-morning kiddie audience of the '70s. This big-screen version is based on that series' premise. While on an expedition, Marshall (Will Ferrell), Will (Danny McBride) and Holly (Anna Friel) are transported by a device of Marshall's design to a strange world inhabited by an ape man Cha-Ka (Jorma Taccone), dinosaurs and alien lizard men called Sleestaks. Unlike the show, however, the movie goes for intentional laughs with gratuitous breast fondling, gay jokes, dinosaur urine showers and a little light blasphemy. We're a long way from Saturday morning here, and none of the jokes are even remotely funny. Land of the Lost fails just as completely with its action-adventure elements. There's a CGI allosaurus chase scene and a few tepid struggles with the Sleestaks, but thrilling stuff it ain't. It doesn't even feel like there's a real script here. It's like the cast and crew went off with a rough idea for a movie written on a cocktail napkin and just made the rest up as they went along, figuring Ferrell and McBride's antics and some mid-level special effects would cover up any shortcomings. No such luck. This is just an awful movie and a strong contender for the year's worst. * (Robert Ignizio)

The Proposal Even with the age difference (she's 44; he's 32), Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds make a darn cute couple in The Proposal, a high-concept romantic comedy that sizzles more than it fizzles. Directed by Anne Fletcher, who helped turn Katherine Heigl into a bona fide rom-com princess in last year's 27 Dresses, The Proposal might very well restore Bullock's title as America's (blue-collar) Sweetheart. Bullock plays Margaret Tate, a book editor who strikes fear into her cowering staff just by entering the building. After learning that she faces deportation, the boss-from-hell blackmails her executive assistant Andrew (Reynolds) into marrying her. Realizing that he's suddenly got the upper hand, Andrew somehow convinces "Satan's Mistress" to fly to Alaska to meet his (what else?) quirky family. It's only a matter of time before Margaret and Andrew realize that they sort of, kind of, actually dig each other. Fletcher again displays a deft touch with even the most obvious of comic situations. And hiring veteran cinematographer Oliver Stapleton (The Cider House Rules, Restoration) ensures The Proposal has more visual élan than Fletcher's dowdy-looking Dresses. *** (Paurich)

The Taking of Pelham 123 Walter's (Denzel Washington) having a typical day at his job — bullshitting with coworkers, maneuvering subway trains throughout the city — when a group of machine-gun-toting bad guys (led by a mustachioed John Travolta) takes over one of the cars. They stop the train (the Pelham 1 2 3 of the title) on the tracks, in the middle of a tunnel, and demand $10 million in exchange for 19 hostages. Travolta's Ryder gives authorities one hour to deliver the ransom. If he doesn't receive it, he'll kill one passenger for every minute it's delayed. Unfortunately, family guy Walter takes the hijackers' call and becomes Ryder's go-to man in this remake of a 1974 film. Washington brings his usual stately cool to Walter, slowly transforming him from a downgraded desk jockey to a button-down-shirt-and-tie-wearing action hero. Meanwhile, Travolta gives his most intense and showy performance in years as the foulmouthed and tattooed Ryder. It all culminates in an underground-to-street showdown, making it a helluva thrilling ride. *** (Gallucci)

Up Up is an eyes-wide-open fantasy about Carl Fredricksen (voiced by the always-cranky Edward Asner), whose lifelong dream of being a globe-trotting adventurer has been halted every step of the way. He marries his childhood best friend, a girl who shares his dreams and quest for adventure. Over the years, they live and love and try to scrape up enough cash to visit Paradise Falls, a mythical wilderness in South America. After his wife dies, Carl — now an old man with a bad back and an even worse temperament — spends his days in his ramshackle house, which stands in the middle of a construction site (Carl refuses to sell, even as high-rises go up around him). After he assaults a worker on his property, the court orders him to a retirement community. So Carl hatches a plan to escape to Paradise Falls by attaching hundreds of balloons to his house. Surprisingly, it works, and he sets sail serenely above the city streets. All goes well until he hears a knock at the door and finds Russell, an overweight and chatty Wilderness Explorer (it's like a Boy Scout) who needs one more badge to advance to the next level. A brutal storm steers Carl and Russell miraculously in the middle of Paradise Falls' outlining forest. And then Carl's real adventure begins. Unlike the meditative WALL-E, Up is filled with thrilling action scenes and colorful set pieces. Like WALL-E, it's a stunning visual work with an eco-friendly message. *** 1/2 (Gallucci)

Year One Zed (Jack Black) is an inept primitive hunter forced to leave his tribe after he gets caught eating from the tree of knowledge. Zed's friend Oh (Michael Cera) tags along, and as the two wander through the ancient world, they encounter various biblical characters, including Cain (David Cross) and Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Eventually, a plot of sorts begins to emerge: Zed and Oh learn that their former tribespeople, including a couple of girls (Juno Temple and June Diane Raphael) for whom they have the hots, have been sold into slavery and taken to Sodom. So the hapless duo set out on a rescue mission. Directed and co-written by Harold Ramis, Year One definitely has the feel of a movie from the guy who wrote Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack and Stripes. Like those films, this follows the tried-and-true formula of casting strong comedic leads as lovable losers who get beaten down but ultimately come out on top. The movie slips a little when it reaches beyond just trying to make us laugh to insert a half-assed message about people making their own destinies. Still, Year One is a reasonably entertaining film with a generous number of laughs. *** (Ignizio)

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