The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Germany, 1926) - A Middle Eastern prince battles with an evil sorcerer in this, the first feature-length animated film. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 5.
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. 1/2 (Milan Paurich)
Baghead - Baghead is a clever, funny and suspenseful film about a group of low-level actors who decide to write their own movie in the hope of getting some attention. Chad (Steve Zissis) wants to use the movie to get closer to Michelle (Greta Gerwig), but Michelle has the hots for Matt (Ross Partridge), even though Matt's ex Catherine (Elise Muller) still has feelings for him. After Michelle dreams about seeing a man with a bag over his head, the group decides to use the dream as the basis for a horror movie. But as tensions in the group grow, they all begin to realize the horror movie they're writing just might be real. The suspense and soap-opera elements of the story are leavened with a fair amount of satire of indie-film clichés and stereotypes. Imagine something like Tropic Thunder making fun of self-absorbed indie-film types rather than self-absorbed Hollywood types, and you'd be pretty close to Baghead. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 8:55 p.m. Monday, Oct. 27. (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. (Michael Gallucci)
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. (Gallucci)
Burn Witch Burn (Britain, 1962) - A university professor discovers his wife is practicing witchcraft in this British thriller. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 8:55 p.m. Thursday, October 30 and at 9:20 p.m. Friday, October 31.
City of Ember - Bill Murray stars as a corrupt mayor in this fantasy-adventure flick that's probably more suited to young viewers than adults. The "city of ember" is an underground village where the only light comes from a power generator. When teenagers Lina (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon (Harry Treadaway) find a box that includes an emergency plan that will get them out of the quickly deteriorating city, they start to set their escape into motion, infuriating the mayor and his team of cronies. While the movie, an adaptation of a Jeanne DuPrau novel, is well-crafted, its story doesn't have quite the same magic as the Harry Potter movies or even the recent Spiderwick Chronicles. 1/2 (Niesel)
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. (Jason Morgan)
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 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. (Charles Cassady)
High School Musical 3: Senior Year - The last year of high school is when most teens are confronted by difficult decisions and often become sexually active and experiment with drugs. Not in the world of High School Musical where boyfriends and girlfriends kiss each other on the cheek and nobody ever swears. This squeaky clean flick centers on Troy (Zac Efron), a Renaissance guy who's the star on the basketball team and one of the top drama students, and his significant other Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), a drama major who just got a scholarship to Stanford. They're both committed to each other but have been accepted to colleges separated by 1,000 miles. That conflict, which the two address with all the maturity of young adults, provides the major tension (if you can call it that) in the movie. But these two goodie two shoes lead such perfect lives, they're not likely to elicit your sympathy. And when they break into sappy ballads or conventional pop tunes, they're more than likely to annoy the hell out of you. (Niesel)
Macario - This fantasy about a poor Mexican woodcutter was the first Mexican film nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 29.
Max Payne - Based on a popular video game character, this ultra-violent film starring Mark Wahlberg as vigilante cop Max Payne tries to be two things at once. On the one hand, it's a crime drama about a guy whose wife and child were killed during a robbery attempt. On the other, it's a sci-fi thriller about an experimental drug that will turn ordinary men into monsters with Hulk-like strength. Either way you take it, the convoluted plot takes so many twists and turns, it never really makes much sense, even as Max starts to get to the bottom of his wife's unsolved murder. (Niesel) 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. 1/2 (Paurich)
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. 1/2 (Niesel)
The Night of the Demon (Britain, 1957) - Sturdy British adaptation of Casting the Runes, a famous short story by M.R. James, one of the British Isle's greatest ghost-storytellers. Though oft-dramatized for British TV's "Christmas Ghost Story" series, James has been (mercifully) overlooked by mainstream Hollywood, with this notable exception. Yank actor Dana Andrews plays a skeptic investigating a self-proclaimed UK dark wizard called Karswell (it's said actor Niall McGinness' jovial villain's characterization here owes a lot to the notorious real-life Aleister Crowley). The American has to overcome his rationalist prejudices when Karswell hits him with a deadly hex. Quite against his wishes, director Jacques Tourneur was forced to actually show a drooling, dog-faced demon (for the time period, a pretty neat monster effect), and horror fans have argued for years if that was a better option than just leaving the supernatural entity to your imagination (as M.R. James did superbly), but the script is smart and suspensfully paced as it takes the old-school creature-feature material seriously.Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Thursday, October 30 and at 9:20 p.m. Friday, October 31. (Cassady)
Paris 1900 (France, 1947) - A documentary about Paris during "La Belle Epoque." Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 1:30 p.m. Sunday, November 2.
Pierrot Le Fou (France/Italy, 1965) - A doomed romance is at the center of this Jean-Luc Godard film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:10 p.m. Saturday, November 1 and 6:45 p.m. Sunday, November 2.
The Pool (US, 2007) - A young man from a rural village becomes obsessed with a hillside swimming pool in this feature by Chris Smith (American Movie, The Yes Men). Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, November 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday, November 2.
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. 1/2 (Ignizio)
Rachel Getting Married - Rachel may indeed be getting married, but the real lead character is her recovering addict kid sister Kym (Anne Hathaway in a terrific performance that deserves a better vehicle), who gets a furlough from her stint in rehab to attend the festivities. Cue woozy high-def digital video camerawork, dizzying streams of Altman-esque overlapping dialogue and more family dysfunction than you can shake a stick at. The only scenes that truly work are ones featuring screen veteran Debra Winger (brilliant) as Kym and Rachel's mother. A searingly intense confrontation between Winger and Hathaway is the film's emotional highpoint and hints at the movie Rachel might have been if director Jonathan Demme had toned down his tortuous politically correct schtick and Dogme 95 affectations. (Paurich)
The Secret Life of Bees - The subject matter of this movie, which is set in segregated South Carolina in the '60s, isn't exactly kids' stuff. Raised by an abusive father, Lily (Dakota Fanning) runs away from home with her caretaker Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) and eventually ends up meeting the honey-making Boatwright sisters, an African-American family led by the matriarchal August Boatwright (Queen Latifah), a proud woman whose thriving beekeeping business has given them an usual amount of autonomy. August and her sisters June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo) struggle to protect Lily from her abusive father as well as from the racist locals who don't like the fact that a white girl is living with an African-American family. Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball), who also adapted the book, went to great lengths to make sure the film was realistic. And it shows. The film works equally well as chick flick and period piece. (Niesel)
Sex Drive - I was wondering when the remorseless wheels of the remake mill were going to grind up The Sure Thing, Rob Reiner's well-remembered rutting-teen-comedy-with-a-brain starring John Cusack as the youth going cross-country to rendezvous with a sexy golden girl; would he or wouldn't he figure out that the demure brunette accompanying him was his soulmate instead? Well, the new Sex Drive claims a basis in some novel I'd never heard of but otherwise seems awfully like Reiner's film, updated with an internet twist and scriptwriter's eyes gazed crotchward. Sex Drive scores as lowbrow entertainment, opening with a pre-credit gag about slipping on sperm-soaked underpants, closing with a scrotum shot, as nice-guy Ian (Josh Zuckerman), a nebbish everyteen working a Mcjob at the mall food court, remains a love-starved virgin at the unspeakable age of 18. There's a bit of creativity in the plot mechanics. Seth Green has an amusing supporting role, and I can't totally hate a movie that includes the Broken Hearted Robot figure among the egregious product placements. (Cassady)
W. - If W. were the raucous satire its preview trailer suggested, it might be cathartic to watch. But director Oliver Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser (Wall Street) have taken Bush's life - the stuff of low comedy - and painted it as tragedy. Weiser's conception of Bush (played by Josh Brolin) relies heavily on caricature - Bush yellin' and whoopin' Texas-style, driving drunk, dancing atop a roadhouse bar. In reality, making fun of Bush's cowboy style went out of fashion the minute he invaded Iraq. He was no longer a joke but a horror. Reproducing, as the movie does, his malapropisms ("Is our children learning?") also doesn't address the abiding mystery of whether Bush is more intelligent than his public persona suggests. If he really were the dumb lout portrayed in W., could he have graduated from Harvard business school or won the heart of smart, bookish Laura (Elizabeth Banks)? The movie recites a litany of sins: "enhanced interrogation techniques," media blackouts on flag-draped coffins, Bush visiting horribly mangled soldiers and giving them patriotic T-shirts. To be effective, though, W. needed to tie the personal and political into a strong, coherent statement. 1/2 (Zoslov)