Carry It On (US, 1970) Arrested by federal marshals for dodging the draft, peace activist David Harris was the rare radical who could speak eloquently about revolution and heroism. No wonder folk singer Joan Baez, his wife at the time, was drawn to him. This film documents Baez's concert tour in the wake of his arrest. Singing staples like "We Shall Overcome," Baez was as articulate as her husband when it came to speaking about social change. The film collects numerous performances as well as behind-the-scenes footage of Baez at home and preparing for a spot on The Joey Bishop Show. What the film lacks, however, is a clear narrative, and it comes off as a rather haphazard collection of old home movies, albeit ones that feature several inspiring musical performances. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, August 5. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)
The Country Teacher (Czech Republic/France/Germany, 2008) When a smart prep-school teacher (Pavel Liska) leaves Prague to go to a countryside school, the locals suspect something in his past made him flee the big city. They're right — it takes them some time to figure out what it is. We get our first clue when a farm woman (Zuzana Bydzovská) makes advances toward him, and he shuns her for no particular reason. It's not long before we find out he's gay — something that comes to the fore when he becomes fixated on the farmer's teenage son (Ladislav Sedivy). The longer the teacher stays in the closet, the more uncomfortable things get. Written and directed by Bohdan Sláma, The Country Teacher juxtaposes big city and rural values and ultimately shows that humanity can be possible for both. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, July 29, and 6:45 p.m. Friday, July 31. ***(Niesel)
Funny People Reviewed at clevescene.com.
Oliver Twist (Britain/Czech Republic/France/Italy, 2005) Roman Polanski's gray version of the oft-filmed Charles Dickens classic has the noble implicit aim to rescue the iconic material from the Disneyesque overtones evoked by the upbeat musical Oliver! and get back to Dickens' original cry of anger over society's injustices and abuse of helpless children. Still, for all the talents involved, this is off-the-rack Masterpiece Theatre stuff, surprising only in that the screenwriter dispensed with Dickens' complicated third-act revelations about Little Orphan Oliver's true parentage as a lost boy of noble London aristocracy, dumped into the brutish workhouse-orphanages of Victorian England and shanghaied into a pick-pocketing street gang. The much-told tale gets a little better as it goes along, thanks to Ben Kingsley's performance as criminal ringleader Fagin, part kindly granddad, part loathsome exploiter (the character's infamous Jewish origins are never noted; at least Ron Moody had some soundtrack cues as giveaways). And yet there's little here that tops David Lean's magnificently stark 1948 version or even Sir Carol Reed's flavorful 1968 G-rated film of the musical, with its lavish production numbers that grabbed the Best Picture Oscar away from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Friday, July 31. ** 1/2 (Charles Cassady Jr.)
A Shot in the Dark (US, 1964) Peter Sellers reprised his role as bumbling inspector Jacques Clouseau in this, possibly the best of the Pink Panther series. Its mention tends to get blank stares from casual moviegoers because of the studio's failure to mention "panther" in the title (indeed, even Henry Mancini's theme music is entirely different and quite good). A wordless pre-credit sequence, suggesting that director Blake Edwards was studying Jacques Tati at the time, is a complicated intrigue involved different men skulking around the estate, just avoiding each other. One is killed — the ex-lover (also possibly the rapist, we're told) of the mansion's blonde-bombshell maid Maria (Elke Sommer), who was found holding the gun but claiming no memory of the event. Hot on the trail, Clouseau is immediately smitten with Maria and defends her as an innocent being framed, even when other characters turn up dead left and right around her. This was the comedy that set up the elements that would become familiar in the Edwards/Sellers collaborations: disaster-causing Clouseau, his wrathful chief Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), his attack-ready manservant Kato (Burt Kwouk). It works wonderfully, more remarkably because the source material was actually an unrelated stage comedy about a judge, retro-fitted to the Clouseau-niverse. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:15 p.m. Saturday, August 1, and 1 p.m. Sunday, August 2. **** (Cassady)
G-Force You could do worse than this for a generally OK summer kiddie frolic, an alliance between Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney. There's barely any breathing room in the CGI-dependent, Ritalin-deficient, action-spazz narrative about a team of superspy guinea pigs, rodents and bugs trained by an eccentric scientist to talk and act as a secret-agent task force. Imagine Spy Kids' Pets as an alternate title, although — refreshingly — there are few child characters. The wonder critters, a.k.a. G-Force, try to expose a standard spy-flick bad-guy-with-a-suave-British-accent (Bill Nighy, out from under his Pirates of the Caribbean makeup), who has household appliances around the world timed to detonate with an evil mystery chip. Not to spoil things too much, but shape-shifting "Transformer" robots are getting pretty stale as plot devices. That said, you're in for visual treat if you go to the 3D version. ** 1/2 (Cassady)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince As the penultimate story in the series, The Half-Blood Prince plays a lot like The Two Towers, the middle part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In a way, it's just a stepping stone between exposition and climax. But it's also a crucial part of the tale — perhaps the most important link, the chapter that tidies up some past questions and opens up a crapload of others. In The Half-Blood Prince, evil Voldemort's presence lurks in the corridors of Hogwarts, even though he's MIA in the movie. Something bad is definitely brewing, and grand old wizard Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) wants to make sure Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his trusty schoolmates, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), are prepared. Harry, Hermione and Ron's relationships — with each other and with various other young wizards and witches — take up a sizable chunk of the movie's narrative. Much is made of these budding romances; the horny teens' raging libidos fuel much of the onscreen tension. The movies and actors have gotten more assured over the years. It helps that The Half-Blood Prince is one of the best Potter books, but this is also one of the best films — assertive, thrilling and funny. *** (Michael Gallucci)
The Ugly Truth At this late date in movie history, it seems almost unnecessary to provide detailed narratives, since the tropes are so familiar. Case in point: this romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl as a lovelorn TV producer and Gerard Butler as the crass misogynist her station hires to boost ratings. The audience can recite the formula (hate at first sight turns to love), so the movie can largely ignore plot development and just revel in the charisma of its leads. Fortunately, it's blessed with genuinely appealing players (unlike, say, The Proposal). Heigl is an Amazonian beauty with comedic flair, and Butler, a Scotsman known chiefly for kicking ass in 300, displays a twinkling Clooney/Crowe charm. He plays Mike, host of a ribald cable-access show debunking feminine notions of romance, who's recruited over the objections of Abby (Heigl) to salvage her sagging morning-news program. He also helps salvage her sagging love life in a sort of reverse Pygmalion: transforming her from strong woman into cleavage-baring Barbie doll. Director Robert Luketic's track record is spotty (Legally Blonde, Monster-in-Law), but this one benefits from an amusing, if uneven, screenplay by Nicole Eastman and Karen McCullah Lutz that's innocuously raunchy — a combination you might not have thought possible. ***(Pamela Zoslov)