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Film Caps

Capsule Reviews of Current Releases

Opening

Black Balloon (Australia/Britain, 2008) Winner of six Australian Film Institute awards (including Best Picture and Director), this soapy, clunky domestic drama stars the estimable Toni Collette as Maggie, a wife and mother valiantly struggling to keep it together in the outskirts of Sydney. Chief amongst her many challenges is teenage son Charlie (Luke Ford), whose autism is threatening to tear the family apart. Mostly told through the eyes of younger brother Thomas (Rhys Wakefield), the film is a disease-of-the-week movie, a coming-of-age chronicle (Thomas falls in love for the first time with a classmate at his new school) and a tragic case of method acting gone awry. Ford's showboating stunt of a performance is so undisciplined and wearying to watch that he detracts from the generally solid work of Collette, Wakefield, Erik Thomson as the dad and lovely Gemma Ward who plays Thomas' love interest. Cleveland Museum of Art. At 7 p.m. Friday, April 24, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 26. ** (Milan Paurich)

Earth This film takes an old-school, National Geographic-like approach to nature documentary. It's no An Inconvenient Truth, though it does mention global warming on more than one occasion. Narrated by James Earl Jones, the film starts at the Arctic as a couple of polar-bear pups are born. They slip and slide in the snow like a pair of toddlers (the film's constantly guilty of March of the Penguins, which perfectly paired entertainment with education. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)

Fighting This is like a cross between Rocky and Midnight Cowboy that's been watered down for easy consumption. Shawn (Channing Tatum), a naïve country boy trying to make it in the big apple, gets introduced to the world of underground fighting by self-proclaimed two-bit hustler Harvey (Terrence Howard). Evan (Brian White), a rival fighter has a past with Shawn, and, as the film's title implies, they brawl like brothers. On the plus side, director Dito Montiel makes good use of his New York locations to give the film a nice gritty feel, and Howard gives a fine performance in his supporting role. But that's not enough to compensate for the recycled plot and Tatum's bland lead performance. As for the fight scenes, they're okay, but if you just want to watch a couple of guys brutally beat the crap out of each other, you'd be better off ordering Ultimate Fighting on pay per view. ** (Robert Ignizio)

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (US, 2008) You don't have to be a football enthusiast to enjoy Kevin Rafferty's (The Atomic Cafe) terrifically entertaining documentary about the storied gridiron match-up between Harvard and Yale on November 23, 1968, that ended in a 29-29 tie after underdog Harvard scored 16 points during the game's final 42 seconds. Interspersed with archival footage of the game are disarmingly candid, frequently hilarious interviews with many of the former players, including Crimson alumnus Tommy Lee Jones. By contextualizing the game within the political maelstrom that was 1968 — the two teams included SDS as well as ROTC members — Rafferty makes this more than just an amusing footnote in the annals of college sports history. As a time capsule of a recent period in American history, Harvard Beats Yale is both inspiring and profoundly moving. At the Cleveland Museum of Art. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 29. *** (Paurich)

Just Another Love Story (Denmark, 2007) A playfully perverse and kicky Danish homage to classic Hollywood film noir, writer-director Ole Bornedal's improbably entertaining psychodrama tells the wild-and-woolly story of a happily married crime-scene photographer (Anders W. Berthelsen's Jonas) who experiences l'amour fou after falling for the comatose victim (Rebecka Hemse) of a nearly fatal car accident he was involved in. When the mysterious young woman finally awakens from her coma, Jonas somehow manages to convince her — and the girl's wealthy parents — that he's her long-lost fiancé Sebastian. Jonas' troubles begin in earnest, though, when the real Sebastian (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) turns up, and an increasingly sinister cat-and-mouse game develops. If Roman Polanski moved to Denmark and started making movies in the style of such previous Polanski keepers as Bitter Moon, The Tenant and Cul-de-sac, it would probably look something like Bornedal's grand jeté. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 24, and 9:35 p.m. Saturday, April 25. ***(Paurich)

Klimt (Austria/France/Germany/Britain, 2006) John Malkovich sneers, mumbles and sleepwalks his way through a pretentious, incoherent, historically fallacious fantasia on the life of Gustav Klimt, the Viennese symbolist painter of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whose erotically charged images helped define the art nouveau style — and whose famous painting "The Kiss" has adorned many dorm-room walls. The movie, rather than illuminating Klimt's art, strives to be artistic, with dizzying camera work and annoying attempts at David Lynch-like nightmare imagery. The boorish Malkovich is a terrible casting choice for a Viennese painter, especially one capable of creating works of fin de siècle elegance. The painterly cinematography, by Ricardo Aronovich, is the film's only saving grace, but it is scarcely enough to make it endurable. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:05 p.m. Saturday, April 25. * (Pamela Zoslov)

Obsessed “A lot of these single gals see the workplace as their hunting ground,” warns co-worker Ben (Jerry O’Connell) when Lisa (Ali Larter), a pretty blonde temp, shows up at the office one day. Derek (Idris Elba) says he has no trouble staying loyal to his wife Sharon (Beyoncé Knowles) and his young son Kyle (Nathan Myers). So when the temp throws herself at him at the company Christmas party, he refrains from reciprocating. But hell hath no fury like a secretary scorned, and it’s not long before Lisa starts stalking Derek, showing up unannounced at a company retreat and sending him sexy photos from her e-mail account. It’s all rather preposterous (the film would have been much more effective if it kept the harassment more realistic) and predictable, though the movie deserves props for not making race an issue (Derek is African-American and Lisa’s white). It’s not giving too much away (you can see it coming from the start) to say that it all culminates in a vicious catfight that finds the petite white girl outmatched by big, bad Beyoncé. * (Niesel)

Of Time and the City (Britain, 2008) A poetic, supremely moving memento mori to his hometown of Liverpool, Terence Davies' first film in eight years is also his strongest overall work since 1992's masterful The Long Day Closes. More essay than documentary, Davies uses the standard tropes of nonfiction filmmaking — archival footage, voiceover narration — to create a sort of living requiem not only for Liverpool, but for anyone who's ever experienced the yin-yang, love-hate dynamic of being pulled back, spiritually and/or spatially, to the place of one's birth. Davies proves that you can never really leave "home," and that chilling realization is a source of both profound awe and abject terror. Running a fleet 77 minutes, there isn't a wasted moment here. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 25, and 4:15 p.m. Sunday, April 26. ***(Paurich)

The Soloist With this immensely satisfying movie about a columnist who discovers that a homeless man playing Beethoven on the streets of L.A. is a trained musician fallen on hard times, director Joe Wright finds an ideal vehicle for his talent. Wright’s glossy, slightly eccentric style, predictably suitable for English drawing-room fare like Atonement, is delightfully unexpected for a movie about “the people of the abyss.” The story, based on Steve Lopez’s Los Angeles Times columns, casts Robert Downey Jr. as Lopez, who finds a compelling subject in Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), who is serenading traffic with a two-stringed violin. Lopez learns that Ayers studied at Juilliard and pieces together his story. He was raised in Cleveland (some scenes were filmed here), and his talent took him to Juilliard, where he was a promising cello student sidelined by schizophrenia. Foxx ably depicts the sometimes lucid, sometimes nonsensical speech patterns of schizophrenia, and his symptoms are illustrated with terrifying vividness. Lopez’s efforts to help Ayers — giving him a donated cello, arranging an apartment — are by turns rewarding and frustrating. Susannah Grant’s screenplay is deeply sympathetic to the struggles of the homeless, and Seamus McGarvey’s brilliant cinematography gives the human landscapes the look of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. **** (Zoslov)

Taboo (France/Britain/Japan, 1999) An androgynous recruit creates a stir when fellow Samurai warriors start to lust after him in this Nagisa Oshima film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 26.

12 The trial of a Chechen teenager accused of killing his Russian step-father provides the set-up for this fine drama, a sensation on the film festival circuit for the past year. Initially, 11 of the 12 jurors agree the boy is guilty. But after one juror (Sergei Makovetsky) objects, the members on the panel, assembled in an old gymnasium where they all spend the night deliberating, soon realize things aren't as simple as they once appeared. They slowly piece together the actual crime (flashbacks help illustrate the reenactment of the crime as well as the boy's war-torn childhood) and along the way each juror has a soliloquy in which he talks about his own troubles. A loose remake of 12 Angry Men, the film comes off as a Russian Usual Suspects. It's suspenseful and thrilling even if you can't completely comprehend the references to contemporary Russian social issues (the movie is reportedly pro-Putin). Cedar Lee Theatre. *** (Niesel)

Ongoing

Adventureland It's the summer of 1987 and recent college graduate James (Jesse Eisenberg) finds his plans for a European vacation put on hold when his father gets demoted at work. Worse yet, it looks like James' parents won't have enough money to send him to the grad school of his choice. There's only one hope: Get a job to help cover the bills. But with no work experience, the only job James can get is running rigged games of chance at an amusement park. It's a crappy job, but at least James hits it off with cute coworker Em (Kristen Stewart), and the two start to date. But not so fast. Things are actually kinda complicated. Em is also carrying on an affair with married maintenance man Mike (Ryan Reynolds), while James finds it hard to resist the charms of another park employee, Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva). Writer-director Greg Mottola, whose previous film was the teen sex comedy with a heart, Superbad, should have made this film into something fresh and funny. Rather than really explore its carnie milieu, Adventureland wastes most of its time with a tired "coming of age" plot and romantic-comedy clichés. ** (Ignizio)

Crank: High Voltage Jason Statham reprises his role as anti-hero Chev Chelios, still alive despite falling thousands of feet from a helicopter at the end of the first Crank. In that film, Chev had to keep his adrenaline level high to prevent a deadly poison from reaching his heart. In this film, said heart has been removed by organ harvesters and replaced with an artificial one. When Chev realizes what organ they plan on taking next he escapes, and the movie becomes a nonstop barrage of brawls, bullets, blood and boobs, seasoned liberally with profanity and black humor. Also returning from the first film are the writing and directing team of Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor, who shoot with a style that makes Quentin Tarantino seem laid back by comparison. The freshness of the original is missing, though, and despite some fun moments, the whole thing feels thrown together. ** 1/2 (Ignizio)

Fast & Furious This sequel to The Fast and the Furious starts out firing on all cylinders as Dom (Vin Diesel) and his gang, including girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), pull off a daring fuel truck heist. That's followed by a foot chase in which FBI Agent Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) smashes through at least two windows and the roof of a parked car in order to get his man. A surprising early twist reunites these old adversaries, as well as Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). Justin Lin's direction remains confident throughout, especially in the action scenes, and the film also benefits considerably from the screen presence of its stars. But as it goes along, it gets bogged down by a convoluted plot and never quite lives up to the promise of its early scenes. As a mindless popcorn movie about fast cars it's not bad, but it felt like it had the potential to be better. ** 1/2 (Ignizio)

Gomorrah Winner of the Grand Prix award at last year's Cannes Film Festival, director Matteo Garrone's adaptation of Roberto Saviano's 2006 international best-seller is a no-holds-barred expose of the Camorra, Italy's most notorious mob cartel (their profits are estimated at $233-billion per year). Five intersecting storylines describe how the trickle down effects of organized crime affect the lives of ordinary Neapolitan citizens in southern Italy. With its multiple protagonists and dueling narrative arcs, Garrone's impressionistic mosaic is a lot closer to HBO's Dickensian-dense The Wire than it is to the gritty, hyper-romanticism of, say, The Sopranos. If the film's wealth of sociological detail takes some getting used to — the first half hour may seem needlessly confusing if you aren't familiar with the Saviano source material — the artistry and rigor of Garrone's dispassionate, yet harrowing vision is its own reward. Cedar Lee Theatre. **** (Paurich)

Hannah Montana: The Movie Hannah/Miley (Miley Cyrus) is out of control. Well, as out of control as a Disney diva can get. After a good old-fashioned shoe fight with Tyra Banks, she shows up late for her best friend's birthday party and doesn't make it to her brother's going-away get-together. But dad (Billy Ray Cyrus) has a plan to get her back on track. He takes her back to her Tennessee home so she can get in touch with her true self. Predictably enough, Miley learns that "you can always find your way back home," as she puts in a syrupy song. Teens and tweens will hyperventilate as Miley makes mistakes and then quickly learns from them. But between the predictable plot and the god-awful songs (all of which are rather poorly lip-synced), this movie is simply dreadful. *(Niesel)

I Love You, Man I Love You, Man isn't a Judd Apatow production; it was directed by John Hamburg (Along Came Polly), who wrote the script with Larry Levin. But it pays homage to the formula, and stars Apatow alumni Paul Rudd and Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Rudd plays Peter Klaven, an L.A. realtor who has just proposed to Zooey (Rashida Jones, The Office), whose parents apparently named her in a fit of Salinger worship. Peter is a dream boyfriend: handsome, ambitious but not aggressive, talented in the kitchen and bedroom, and a man who enjoys an evening watching Chocolat with his fiancée. But he has, in Apatovian terms, a problem: he's a "girlfriend guy." He has no close male friend who can be his best man. Quelle horreur! The movie advances the notion that men can enjoy greater intimacy with men than with women, though of course, they're not gay. Wobbly premise aside, the movie, while not raucously hilarious, has a breezy likeability, mainly owing to the charismatic Rudd, whose character spends much of the movie trying to master the art of casual banter. *** (Zoslov)

Knowing In this sci-fi thriller, a time capsule is unearthed containing a sheet of paper predicting every major disaster of the last 50 years. Three dates and locations remain, including one that portends the very end of the world. Can John Koestler (Nicholas Cage) find a way to avert destruction? Cage is in full over-the-top mode here, at times literally tearing apart the scenery in his efforts to sell the simplest of scenes. But then, he's only following the lead of director Alex Proyas, who seems more interested in CGI destruction than exploring human nature in the face of armageddon. Knowing is a film that has nothing of substance to say, despite its weighty subject. Even its vision of the apocalypse seems calculated to be as inoffensive as possible, as it awkwardly blends elements of the Christian rapture, new-age "space brothers" mythology and dubious science. And lest anyone say they just want to be entertained, there's precious little in the way of fun here, either. * (Ignizio)

Monsters vs. Aliens Even though Monsters vs. Aliens incorporates new characters to the talking-animal genre (actually, Pixar got there first eight years ago with the otherworldly creatures of Monsters, Inc.), it's still the same mix of animated elements. The opening scenes set up the plight of Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), a bride hit by a piece of space junk on her wedding day. She soon begins glowing and growing. The government tosses her into a cell with other imprisoned oddities: Dr. Cockroach, an oversized, lab coat-wearing roach (Hugh Laurie); a fish-man called the Missing Link (Will Arnett); Insectosaurus, a ginormous bug; and B.O.B., a jumbo blob of blue Jell-O that sounds like (and is) Seth Rogen. When a four-eyed, tentacled alien attacks Earth, the monsters are recruited to save the planet from the imminent invasion. Monsters vs. Aliens certainly makes good on its promise of the titular creatures. And it looks great (be sure to see it in 3D — the sci-fi spectacle leaps off the screen). But there isn't much of a story here. ** 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)

Observe and Report Writer-director Jody Hill specializes in deluded, self-important antiheroes (The Foot Fist Way), and in this movie, he casts Seth Rogen as Ronnie Barnhardt, a volatile, bipolar mall security guard who lives with his doting mom, lusts after a pretty cosmetics clerk (Anna Faris) and dreams of becoming a real cop. If you think you've seen this before, know that this is the evil twin of Paul Blart: Mall Cop: same basic story, funnier but with the violence cranked up to 11. The story is about Ronnie's plan to catch a flasher and thereby seize his chance at law-enforcement glory. His inept efforts pit him against an ambitious police detective (Ray Liotta). Rogen is always enjoyable, but he is defeated by Hill's wobbly screenplay, which hasn't decided whether Ronnie is a psychotic gun nut or a sweet, well-intentioned slob. The movie is replete with funny lines, and the scenes between Ronnie and his alcoholic mom (Celia Weston) are brilliant. It's hard to understand, then, why Hill found it necessary to include so much ugly mayhem. You can't just throw a lot of shooting into your movie and call it a "dark comedy." Generally speaking, comedy and serious gun violence are a queasy mix. ** 1/2 (Zoslov)

17 Again The premise of this supernatural comedy — an adult is magically transformed into his teenage self and goes back to high school — is so much like countless other movies that just reciting the plot elicits groans. Yet director Burr Steers and writer Jason Filardi bring some freshness to the old fable. In 1989, Mike O'Donnell (teen heartthrob Zac Efron), a high-school basketball star, forfeits a scholarship to marry his girlfriend. Twenty years later, Mike has grown (improbably) into a disappointed Matthew Perry. He's been passed over for a promotion, his wife Scarlett (lovely Leslie Mann) is divorcing him, and he's living with his sci-fi nerd buddy Ned (Thomas Lennon). A mysterious school janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray) grants Mike a second chance. Now a teenager again, Mike enrolls at the old school, where he endures generational culture shock and tries to protect his son (Sterling Knight) from bullies, his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) from a loutish boyfriend and win back Scarlett, who's confused by the appearance of Mike's teenage doppelgänger. The movie is silly in places and flirts with squeamish incest ideas, but it's winsome and well played. Efron is surprisingly deft, never letting us forget he's a grown man living in a teenage body. ***(Zoslov)

Sin Nombre The debut feature of Cary Fukunaga, Sin Nombre (Nameless) was a sensation at Sundance, where it won prizes for direction and cinematography and earned Fukunaga a development deal with Focus Features. The story of a Mexican gang that preys on immigrants who ride atop trains headed for the U.S., the movie is impressively made. Fukunaga researched the film by riding the rails himself and mastered the difficult art of shooting on a moving train, and the talented cinematographer Adriano Goldman graces the film with haunting Mexican landscapes. The story brings together Willie (Edgar Flores), nicknamed "El Casper," a member of a brutal, elaborately tattooed gang in Tapachulas, Chiapas, Mexico, and a Honduran girl, Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), who joins her estranged father on a journey to the U.S., where she dreams of living. Willie, who is forced to escape from the gang — a group so vicious they kill their enemies and feed them to their dogs — saves Sayra from an attack and is reluctantly bound to her for the rest of the perilous trip. For all its visual beauty and technical brilliance, the movie is unsentimental to the point of emotional flatness, offering insufficient sweetness to offset the horrifying violence. Cedar Lee Theatre. *** (Zoslov)

State of Play Based on a BBC miniseries, State of Play aspires to be something along the lines of All the President's Men but doesn't quite get there. The drama centers around Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), a renegade Washington reporter who's trying to do a good old-fashioned exposé about an international mercenary company attempting to privatize American law enforcement so that it can make billions of dollars. He's assisted by his former college roommate Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), a former grunt who's now a congressman conducting an investigation into the company's dirty dealings. But when Collins himself gets involved in a scandal involving one of his pretty female aides, the case gets even more complicated. The movie's thrilling for the first half, but when conspiracy theories turn into actual conspiracies, it loses a good deal of its credibility. Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman round out the fine supporting cast. **1/2 (Niesel)

Sunshine Cleaning This bittersweet comedy about two sisters who launch a crime-scene cleanup business was produced by the team responsible for Little Miss Sunshine, which it resembles in its mordant affection for its hard-luck characters and the casting of Alan Arkin as an eccentric grandpa. Amy Adams is Rose, an Albuquerque ex-cheerleader who cleans houses and is having an affair with a married cop (Steve Zahn), who tells her there's money to be made cleaning up after murders and suicides. Rose, who needs to pay for private school for her imaginative young son (Jason Spevack), recruits her hapless sister Norah (Emily Blunt) and plunges into the messy business. The sisters, who along the way meet a gentle, one-armed janitorial-supply salesman (Clifton Collins Jr.), are affected by the tragedies they encounter, particularly Norah, who's so moved by a dead woman's family photos that she tries to befriend the woman's daughter (Mary Lynn Rajskub). Eventually, the sisters begin to heal the wounds left by their mother's premature death. Some situations are strain credulity, and Megan Holley's script wanders a bit, yet the movie achieves moments of sublime poignancy. The acting is superb, and the mood artfully balanced between sadness and hope. Cedar Lee Theatre. *** 1/2 (Zoslov)

 

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