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. (Robert Ignizio)
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. (Jeff Niesel)
Dante's Inferno (US, 2007) - A modernized version of the classic work of literature, this animated film features a hand-drawn puppet of Dante (voiced by Dermot Mulroney), who visits the nine circles of hell. Along the way, he encounters a familiar cast of contemporary characters. Some of the jokes are rather clever - you do go to hell for downloading Metallica, for example - but the numerous references to political figures and scandals past and present get rather tedious by the end. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 6:50 p.m. Sunday, September 28. (Niesel)
Death Race - With guns blazing, tires squealing and cameras convulsing, Paul W.S. Anderson's Mortal Kombat-on-wheels careens onto the screen like a motorized Running Man. The plot goes something like this: In the distant future, the most popular show is the internet-broadcast Death Race, where prison inmates drive gnarly speed machines and kill each other to win back their freedom. Loosely based on 1975's Death Race 2000, Anderson's Death Race won't surprise you with its man-wrongly-accused-of-murder-and-forced-to-race plot, but it might catch you off guard with its stunts, which were performed by real stuntmen in real cars (when every other film resorts to cruddy computer-generated effects). Unfortunately, Anderson's cinematographer shakes more than a speed junkie, and no shot lasts longer than 20 seconds. Blink and you'll miss the stunt team's hard-earned car crashes. (Jason Morgan)
Disaster Movie - For the quality of writing that gets written during a WGA writers strike, behold the latest -- and unquestionably least -- focus-free Hollywood spoof from parodists-for-dummies Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Meet the Spartans, Epic Movie, etc), poking fun at, in no particular order or rationale, Juno, Enchanted, No Country for Old Men, Superbad, Armageddon, High School Musical, Night at the Museum, Amy Winehouse, Miley Cyrus, Jessica Simpson, Batman, Beowulf, the Chipmunks etc. The non-plotline has a generic commitphobe dude (Matt Lanter) trying to reconcile with his sexy girlfriend while saving Earth from an asteroid pounding brought on by a crystal skull. Really, The Phantom of Liberty and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie had stronger narrative drives -- and Luis Bu–uel could tell a joke better than Friedberg/Seltzer at this point, who beat any punch line (even the few worthy ones) into the pavement through repetition. Premature "tributes" to 2008 duds like Prince Caspian, Hancock and The Love Guru suggest a double-entendre meaning in the title (that and the fact that the whole ragged mess was filmed in Louisiana). Some MADtv castmates pop up to remind us why such schtick is best confined to small-screen blackout sketches. With tighter editing, some individual bits might just pass muster as YouTube Movie. (Charles Cassady)
Elegy - Philip Roth's novella The Dying Animal is a strange choice for a movie adaptation. A brief coda to Roth's Professor of Desire series about the sex-obsessed David Kepesh, it's basically a monologue in which college professor Kepesh recalls his affair with a Cuban American student 38 years his junior. Director Isabel Coixet apparently saw a tender romance in this slender phallocentric story and has made it into a glossy drama with the unusual casting choice of Ben Kingsley as Kepesh. Kingsley is a fine actor, but making Kepesh an Englishman is a bad idea, as he sounds a bit awkward at times. Penélope Cruz is lovely as Consuela Castillo, the object of Kepesh's desire, though she doesn't quite evoke the voluptuous siren whose breasts drove Roth's Kepesh into an erotic frenzy. The supporting roles fare better: Peter Sarsgaard is intense as Kepesh's resentful son, Patricia Clarkson is fine in the small role of Kepesh's longtime bedmate and Dennis Hopper is delightful as Kepesh's friend, poet George O'Hearn. The cinematography is beautiful and the soundtrack is filled with tasteful classical music, but there isn't enough story to sustain a feature film. 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov)
Encounters at the End of the World - Yes, there are penguins in director Werner Herzog's latest documentary made for the Discovery Channel. But they're not the cuddly, fuzzy anthropomorphic cuties from March of the Penguins or Happy Feet. Shot on location in the Antarctic, the film serves up an amusing cross section of science wonks, headquartered at the bottom of the world, that ponder the impenetrable mysteries of, well, life. If the movie weren't so gosh-darn beautiful -- some extraordinary undersea creatures, many never before captured on film, are the dazzlingly surreal highlights -- all of the doomsday talk about meteorological climate shifts and the depleting ozone layer might seem like a downer. The fact that the ultimate effect is less depressing than buoyant, and even curiously hopeful, is a testament to Herzog's uncanny ability to treat the (probable) encroaching apocalypse as just another wild and woolly day on Planet Earth. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25 and at 9:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26. (Milan Paurich)
The Family That Preys - Director Tyler Perry's latest movie about middle-class African Americans offers the usual quotient of interracial affairs and illegitimate offspring. The story here surrounds a greedy son (Cole Hauser) who tries to wrest the family business out of the hands of his aging-but-obstinate mother (Kathy Bates), a wealthy white woman who would rather spend her time slumming with an African-American diner owner (Alfre Woodward). The set-up is all initially believable and Woodward and Bates have great chemistry. But at a certain point midway through, the movie crosses into soap-opera territory and resorts to the kind of drama you'd expect out of General Hospital, albeit with a bit more ethnic diversity. (Niesel)
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. (Niesel)
Hamlet 2 - Why do so many of today's movies start brilliantly and then go nowhere? I think they're like certain romantic suitors: strong starters but poor finishers. The comedy Hamlet 2 is plagued by the same condition. This movie, directed and co-written by Andrew Fleming, has good ideas, among them the absurd notion of a sequel to Hamlet. What it lacks, unfortunately, is the stamina to successfully develop those ideas. The story is about a Tucson high school drama teacher, the improbably surnamed Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan), who directs a ridiculous musical in hopes of saving the school's drama program. When the school board, parents and community hear of the blasphemous play, they try to stop the production, until a publicity-hungry ACLU lawyer (Saturday Night Live's Amy Poehler) takes up the case. The first half-hour is filled with funny lines, most of them belonging to the flinty Catherine Keener, who plays Dana's frustrated wife, Brie. But the film outlasts its laughs by a long stretch, meandering into pointless subplots, which have no comic payoff. The movie tries to parody too many things, including inspirational-teacher movies like Mr. Holland's Opus and Dead Poets Society. The songs are mildly amusing, but the production is far too slick to be convincing as the work of high school students. Still, there is something sweet about Hamlet 2, just as there is about some of those ineffectual suitors. It is, like its hero, an endearing, well-meaning semi-failure. (Zoslov)
The House Bunny - Although it's refreshing to see Adam Sandler's Happy Madison production company make its first female-driven comedy, The House Bunny is as skimpy as Anna Faris' wardrobe. Orphaned as a child, the only home Shelley (Anna Faris) has ever known is the Playboy Mansion. After Hef boots her out following her 27th birthday (that's 59 in Bunny years), she winds up becoming the house mom of Zeta Alpha Zeta, a sorority full of socially inept girls who might lose their house. With some senseless inspirational words from Shelley and a major makeover, the group of misfits (played by Emma Stone, Rumer Willis and Katharine McPhee) soon become the sought-after girls on campus, discovering who they really are along the way. Written by the women behind Legally Blonde, The House Bunny is not nearly as smart. Faris has proved herself as a comedic actress, but pulling off an entire movie on her own is questionable. Although this is supposed to be Faris' breakthrough role, the real one to keep an eye on is Superbad's Emma Stone, who continues to impress with her witty personality. (Lauren Yusko)
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! 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)
J'accuse (France, 1919) - Two Frenchmen love the same woman but are sent off to war in this anti-war drama. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, September 24.
Lakeview Terrace - Samuel L. Jackson is Able Turner, a police officer and single dad. Turner's got a few issues about race, and when an interracial couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) moves in next door he becomes the neighbor from hell. That premise could have made for an entertaining guilty pleasure in the vein of early '90s thrillers like Unlawful Entry, or it could have been the set-up for a serious drama about race relations and suburban rage. Unfortunately, Lakeview Terrace can't seem to make up its mind about which it wants to be. This is a movie that cloaks itself in an aura of false relevance but lacks the courage to address the issues it raises in any meaningful way. It's too bad because Abel Turner is an interesting character. He isn't a one-dimensional bad guy, and Jackson does a great job of humanizing him. Sadly, that effort is undermined every time the movie goes into standard thriller mode, culminating in a cheap and pointless ending. Lakeview Terrace is neither fun nor thought-provoking. It's just bad. (Ignizio)
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. (Niesel)
Pineapple Express - Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) has got it good. He might drive around in a beater car and wear a dingy, decidedly unfashionable brown suit, but he dates a hot high-school chick (Jeanetta Arnette) and holds down a job that doesn't require too much effort (he serves subpoenas). Hell, he spends half his day getting stoned. So when his drug dealer, Saul (James Franco), offers him a blend of weed called "pineapple express," he goes for it. It's at this point that the trouble begins in Pineapple Express, a stoner caper produced by the ubiquitous Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin). In the end, the chemistry between Rogen and Franco overcomes the movie's flaws, bringing to life the quips and banter (Rogen co-wrote the script) in such a way that the film's likely to become the kind of thing you'd watch again and still find something worth laughing at. (Niesel)
The Pirates of Penzance (Britain/US, 1983) - Kevin Kline, Angela Lansbury and Linda Ronstadt star in the comic operetta. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:45 p.m. Friday, September 26 and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, September 27.
Righteous Kill - Righteous Kill offers the kind of mild entertainment you'd expect from a straight-to-video crime thriller. You know, it's the sort of film that makes for a pleasant enough evening in front of the TV with a six-pack, but you wouldn't really want to plunk down 10 bucks to see it. Normally, you wouldn't expect a movie like this to star Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. Nonetheless, here they are. DeNiro and Pacino have been in films together before (Heat, The Godfather 2), but this is their first true co-starring vehicle. The supporting cast - Carla Gugino, Donnie Wahlberg, John Leguizamo and 50 Cent - is good, too. Director/producer John Avnet delivers a polished and professional looking film, but it's hard not to feel like you've seen this all before. Written by Russell Gerwitz (Inside Man), Righteous Kill thinks it's smarter and cleverer than it really is. As DeNiro and Pacino try to solve a series of vigilante murders, the script works so hard to misdirect the audience that it actually had the opposite effect on me. I still enjoyed the performances, and Gerwitz does give the actors a few good lines, but that doesn't entirely make up for the by-the-numbers plot. 1/2 (Ignizio)
The Rocker - In his first starring role, The Office's Rainn Wilson plays Robert "Fish" Fishman, a drummer in an awful '80s hair-metal band who gets the boot right before the group strikes it rich. Twenty years and many crappy cubicle jobs later, Fish joins his teenage nephew's pop-punk band and finally realizes his rock 'n' roll dreams. Like Will Ferrell's stable of clueless and often naked misfits, Wilson's Fish is one of those guys who screws up about a dozen times before he finally learns his lesson. The Rocker eventually settles into a believe-in-yourself, feel-good studio comedy, but there are some genuine laughs sprinkled throughout, especially when Fish unleashes two decades' worth of horndog partying around his underage bandmates. Arrested Development's Will Arnett, Curb Your Enthusiasm's Jeff Garlin and Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis provide stellar support. Best of all for Clevelanders, our city makes a grand appearance in the movie. Look for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a stretch of Euclid Avenue and even a copy of Scene as Fish and his bandmates begin their climb to backstage parties and hotel-trashing. 1/2 (Gallucci)
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. Alex's sleuthing eventually uncovers a vast conspiracy that shakes him to his very foundations and nearly costs him his own life. 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. 1/2 (Paurich)
Transsiberian - Brad Anderson's (Next Stop Wonderland, The Machinist) thriller has plenty going for it. Beautifully shot and filmed on the train that runs from Beijing to Moscow, it throws so many curveballs into the mix, it's nearly impossible to know what's coming next. The plot surrounds an American couple (Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer) that meets another couple (Eduardo Noriega and Kate Mara) as they're traveling through some of the most remote parts of Russia. The Americans, however, soon find themselves in the middle of an investigation headed up by a Russian cop (Sir Ben Kingsley) who can't be trusted. Well-acted and suspenseful, Transsiberian is yet another excellent film from a director who continues to exceed expectations. 1/2 (Niesel) Tropic Thunder - While shooting on location in the jungles of Vietnam, the cast and crew of a "Rambo"-esque adventure movie are attacked by a real band of guerrilla fighters/heroin dealers. The ensuing stand-off between the feral Flaming Dragons and the clueless, girly-man actors is a meta-hoot, even when (especially when) it's spurting enough blood to keep Count Dracula in plasma for several lifetimes. Only the fourth movie directed by Ben Stiller in the past 14 years, this acid-tinged valentine to Hollywood sends up a particular mind-set of Tinseltown player to a fare-the-well. Not since Borat has a comedy been so eager to make you cringe - and chuckle - at the same time. The mostly terrific cast includes Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. as an Aussie Method actor who undergoes a pigment dye job to play an African American soldier. In an extended cameo appearance, a foul-mouthed, prosthetics-laden Tom Cruise generates the film's biggest laughs playing a studio boss equivalent to Austin Powers' Fat Bastard. (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. (Zoslov)
A Woman is a Woman (France, 1961) - A Parisian stripper (Anna Karina) decides she wants to have a child in Jean-Luc Godard's third film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9 p.m. Thursday, September 25 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, September 26.
The Women - "It's All About Men!" That was the slogan on the poster for The Women, the 1939 movie version of Clare Boothe Luce's catty, all-female Broadway play. Directed by George Cukor, the movie starred Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford. Diane English, who created TV's Murphy Brown, makes her feature debut with a remake starring Meg Ryan (who also produced). The result isn't as bad as you might expect, but far less funny than you might hope. Ryan plays Mary Hanes, a Connecticut wife who discovers her husband is having an affair. Her friends (Annette Bening, Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith) rally around her and scope out the "other woman," a gold-digging Saks perfume clerk played by Eva Mendes. Though many of English's jokes fall flat, she offers a more sympathetic view of women than Luce, who cracked that the women who inspired her play "deserved to be smacked across the head with a meat ax." 1/2 (Zoslov)