Anvil! The Story of Anvil It's the summer of 1984, and a heavy-metal tour featuring the Scorpions, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and Anvil has hit Japan. All the bands would go on to have multi-platinum success. Except for Anvil. After an introduction that includes footage from that tour, along with testimonials from Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash, Motorhead singer Lemmy and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, The Story of Anvil commences with footage of what the ballyhooed Canadian rockers have become. Drummer Robb Reiner has a job in construction, and singer-guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow works for a catering company. "For all this horrible shit I have to go through, I have Anvil that gives me my happiness," says Kudlow. "It could never be worse than it already is." The guys still get together to play and perform at a crappy sports bar one night to celebrate Lips' 50th birthday before leaving for a European tour. The ill-conceived tour includes stops in Prague and Munich before the "Monsters of Transylvania" concert, which draws a crowd of 174 to an arena with a capacity of 10,000. When no label shows any interest in signing the band after it spends borrowed money to make a new album, the guys decide to self-release the disc. A loveable loser whose passion far outweighs his intelligence, Ludlow makes a compelling anti-hero with whom you can't help but sympathize. Cedar Lee Theatre. *** (Jeff Niesel)
The Barefoot Contessa (US, 1954) A title that calls to mind a fluffy Doris Day or Sophia Loren pastry is actually a tart-tongued Hollywood-insider tragedy from illustrious writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Ava Gardner plays a Spanish dancer “discovery” of 1950s Hollywood, scoped out in Madrid by a control-freak movie mogul (Mankiewicz denied he used actual celebrities as his models, but the joyless tycoon is said to be based on Howard Hughes) and turned into an overnight sensation on celluloid, not dissimilar from Loren, Anita Ekberg, Brigitte Bardot or any number of international sex-goddess icons. Despite the jet-set lifestyle, the heroine remains seemingly aloof from romantic love, and it’s an ill omen that we’re watching this all in flashback at her funeral, narrated by three key men in her life (Humphrey Bogart playing the foremost, an alcoholic director and father-confessor figure). It’s full of memorably rueful (if thickly overwritten) wise-guy dialogue that sometimes sounds like “Mank” talking to himself. One could do a lot worse for Algonquin roundtable-type entertainment, and Gardner is they-don’t-make-them-like-that-anymore breathtakingly gorgeous. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Thursday, June 11, and 9 p.m. Friday, June 12. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)
Charuga (Yugoslavia, 1991) A former World War II soldier tries to bring a revolution to Croatia. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 17.
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 movie, a loose retelling of the 1953 film Tokyo Story, has compassion at its core and is beautifullly shot, but it often opts for sentimental crutches that just seem forced. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 4 p.m. Sunday, June 14. ** 1/2 (Niesel)
Easy Virtue In this loose adaptation of Noel Coward's 1924 stage hit, Jessica Biel plays a widowed American race-car driver whose impetuous marriage to a young British aristocrat (Ben Barnes) results in a somewhat labored, if intermittently amusing, fish-out-of-water comedy when she goes home to meet her new in-laws (Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas). Directed in surprisingly starchy fashion by Stephan Elliott of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert fame, the movie rarely ignites into the fizzy, jazz-age farce you're expecting. The performances, however, are mostly top-drawer, particularly by old pros (and English Patient costars) Scott Thomas and Firth, who make you believe every spiteful remark and wounded glance. The lightweight Biel acquits herself surprisingly well under the circumstances, yet it's too bad that a real actress didn't get a crack at the role. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** 1/2 (Milan Paurich)
The Girlfriend Experience Porno starlet Sasha Grey goes mainstream — or at least arthouse-indie — in Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh's Godardian treatise on the sex trade in present-day Manhattan. Grey plays top-of-the-line escort Chelsea whose specialty is making men believe that she's more than a hooker (dinner and a movie is usually part of the "date"). When she begins experiencing real girlfriend feelings for a new client, her live-in boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos) predictably blows a gasket. But since Chris is currently marketing himself as a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market (he's a high-priced physical trainer for Wall Street yuppies), his WTF moment falls on deaf ears. Semi-improvised and shot on digital video, it's more intellectual exercise than conventional narrative drama. Soderbergh uses his film's highly aestheticized sheen as a kind of auto-critique, while engaging the audience in a dialectical debate on the current global economic crisis. In a role that's mostly surface, Grey impresses as Soderbergh's Anna Karina manqué. Cedar Lee Theatre. *** 1/2 (Paurich)
Imagine That Imagine That, the Nickelodeon family comedy about an executive who finds answers to his business troubles in his young daughter's imaginary world has a lot to recommend it, especially Eddie Murphy's likeable, naturalistic performance as Evan, the beleaguered businessman, and his chemistry with Yara Shahidi, the exquisite little actress who plays his daughter, Olivia. Evan, a Denver investment banker and divorced dad finds his career threatened by a rival, a faux Native American New Age bullshitter (Thomas Haden Church). Evan has little time for Olivia, who has retreated into an invisible kingdom populated by fiery dragons and benevolent princesses. Olivia draws her dad into her world, where the princesses give accurate investment advice rendered in little-girls' language (one company is "a big, dumb showoff"). Evan bonds with Olivia but becomes too dependent on her oracle, creating a crisis that's tidily resolved by movie's end. The movie is an endearingly low-key showcase for Murphy's comic and dramatic talents. Its mild satire of the cutthroat corporate world is amusing, though the unquestioning embrace of the capitalist creed is disheartening. The conclusion suggests that happiness, for an overstressed workaholic who has neglected his family, lies in aspiring to a higher rung on the corporate ladder. *** (Pamela Zoslov)
Mock Up on Mu (US, 2008) The "not untrue story" about the lives and times of jet-propulsion lab man Jack Parsons, sci-fi writer and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, beatnik artist and New Age spiritualist Marjorie Cameron, and the world's largest military contractor Lockheed Martin, culture-jammer Craig Baldwin's outlandish sci-fi story is told through a series of collages that are simply mind-numbing. Through the use of both original and found footage, the film attempts to show how all its players are related (in reality, Hubbard ran off with Parsons' paramour, Cameron). While conspiracy theories abound (including one that maintains Parsons faked his death), the real thrill of his film comes from the way the images are spliced together. At one moment, Baldwin's pulled footage of "fabulous" old Las Vegas, the next, he's set a scene in a groovy postmodern lounge. It might not be entirely comprehensible, but Baldwin's vision is surely singular. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 10. *** (Niesel)
The Party (US, 1968) This enjoyable, if not terribly profound comedy, was one of those slapstick marathons (along with the later Pink Panther sequels) that gave Peter Sellers the reputation as a master of pratfalling. That’s rather a pity, since the actor’s true genius lay in mimicry and characterization, rather than knockabout Three Stooges stuff. The simple setup — practically a throwback to the two-reelers of silent-comedy days (undoubtedly an influence on director Blake Edwards) — has Sellers as a friendly but disastrously clumsy “Bollywood” actor, somehow employed in Hollywood as an extra, who is accidentally invited to a house party by the studio tycoon who hates him. The well-intentioned Indian stumbles from one calamity to another in the high-tech, tricked-up mansion of his trendy host and hostess. An Anglo actor doing this blackface bit today would draw protests; back then even filmmaker Satyajit Ray thought Sellers convincing enough to solicit him for such roles. And the outdated 1960s “groovy” atmosphere is laid on pretty thick. Still, we defy you not to laugh or feel like saying “birdie num-nums” at inappropriate moments for weeks afterwards. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Friday, June 12, and 9:20 p.m. Saturday, June 13. *** (Cassady).
Virtual J.F.K.: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived (US, 2008) A potentially irresistible parlor game of a movie ("What would have happened if JFK hadn't been assassinated?") is rendered borderline tedious, thanks to a dry, academic approach and director Koji Masutani's lack of cinematic imagination. Inspired by British historian Niall Ferguson's concept of "counterfactual" history, Watson Institute visiting fellow Masutani takes a cursory glance at the major crises of Kennedy's abbreviated presidency (the Cuban Missile Crisis; the building of the Berlin Wall; et al.) to buffer his theory that the war in Vietnam might never have escalated if Kennedy had lived — thanks to the young politico's hard-nosed pragmatism. Despite some admittedly fascinating archival clips of combative Kennedy press conferences (and you thought Rush Limbaugh was hard on President Obama!) and an interesting attempt at portraying Hubert Humphrey as an unsung hero of the 1960s anti-war movement, Virtual J.F.K. is a bit of a slog, even with its relatively brief 80-minute running time. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, June 12. ** 1/2 (Paurich)
The Window (Argentina/Spain, 2008) The latest feature from Argentine director Carlos Sorin (El Perro, Intimate Stories) opens with a dream in which Antonio (Antonio Larreta) imagines meeting the young woman and remembering her face some 80 years later. He wakes up to find himself bed-ridden, awaiting a visit from his son Pablo, with whom he hasn’t spoken in years. To prepare for his visit, he has the piano tuned (Pablo is a world-class pianist), gets a haircut and tries to take a walk on his estate. That proves to be a mistake as he’s just not healthy enough for it and he collapses, shortly before his son’s arrival. He revives just in time to speak briefly to his son, but it’s clear he doesn’t have long to live. Filmed on the Patagonia countryside, The Window is a beautiful movie that never becomes too sentimental, thanks to Larreta’s fine performance as a cranky-yet-loveable old man. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, June 13, and 7 p.m. Sunday, June 14. *** (Jeff Niesel)