Across the Universe (US, 2007) Making creative use of several Beatles songs, Julie Taymor's (Frida, Titus) musical tells the story of a young man (Jim Sturgess) who leaves his dockyard job in England to go on a quest to find his father in the States. He falls in love with the sister (Evan Rachel Wood) of his friend Max (Joe Anderson) and ends up staying longer than he planned. Set in the '60s, the film makes countless references to the era's cultural touchstones (it's not hard to figure out who's supposed to represent Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady). The result, however, is a cultural hodgepodge that's a little dense to wade through, especially when the story itself isn't that compelling. Still, the choreography and photography are astounding, particularly during one colorful, drug-induced romp in the countryside. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:05 p.m. Saturday, June 20. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)
Arizona Dream (US/France, 1993) Johnny Depp stars in this film about a group of vagabonds who live outside of Tucson. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 24.
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.
Every Little Step The 2006 return of the Broadway musical A Chorus Line is the subject of this fine documentary that takes you behind the scenes of the revival's auditions, following the actors and actresses as they go through the various stages of nailing down their parts. An added twist is the way the filmmakers go back to the original Chorus Line production, including audiotapes of the initial brainstorming sessions. The back-and-forth between the revival and the original could be a cumbersome device, but it's handled nicely here. While the film certainly has elements of a bad reality show (some of the singing and dancing before the first round of cuts is atrocious), it does demonstrate just how tense the life of a struggling actor or actress can be. And by the film's end, you're not really even sure the play's producers gave the right part to the right person. But that's ultimately what makes the movie so intriguing. Cedar Lee Theatre. ***(Niesel)
The Merry Gentleman Michael Keaton directed and starred in this dreary film about Frank Logan (Keaton), a hit man who falls in love with a woman (Kelly Macdonald) struggling to get out of an abusive relationship. The twist, however, is that the woman is the one witness who saw him take out his last victim, though she saw him from so far away, she doesn't recognize him. Oh yeah, and predictably enough, there's one cop (Tom Bastounes) who has put the pieces of the puzzle together and is hot on Frank's trail, though his feelings for Frank's woman often get in the way. Set during Christmastime, the film feels out of place as a summer release. It doesn't help that the subject matter is so dark. Keaton is particularly detached, even as hit men go, and Macdonald doesn't come off as particularly sympathetic, either. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** (Niesel)
Moonfleet (US, 1955) Fritz Lang (Metropolis, M) used Cinemascope to film this adventure movie about a group of 18th century smugglers. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:15 p.m. Saturday, June 20, and 7 p.m Sunday, June 21.
Some Came Running (US, 1958) Frank Sinatra plays a writer who comes back to his small Indiana hometown after World War II. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Thursday, June 18, and 8:50 p.m. Sunday, June 21.
Time of the Gypsies (Britain/Italy/Yugoslavia, 1988) This film about the modern history of Yugoslavia won the top prize at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 19.
Tokyo Sonata (Japan/Netherlands/Hong Kong, 2008) When fortysomething Ryuhei (Teruyuki Kagawa) loses his middle-management job, he's too ashamed to tell his wife (a touching Kyoko Koizumi) and kids. Ryuhei's deception ultimately proves the undoing of both his marriage and his mental equilibrium. Until turning all soft and squishy in the final act, cult director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's brilliant drama is a provocative statement on the effects of corporate downsizing in today's dog-eat-dog economic climate. Über-stylist Kurosawa brings along many of the same disorienting visual tropes of his J-horror flicks (Pulse, Cure) to eerie and sometimes hauntingly beautiful effect. Think of it as a Japanese companion piece to Laurent Cantet's great 2001 French film Time Out, which also depicted a middle-aged salaryman's existential crisis after getting pink-slipped. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Friday, June 19, and 9:45 p.m. Saturday, June 21. *** 1/2 (Milan Paurich)
Year One Zed (Jack Black) is an inept primitive hunter forced to leave his tribe after he gets caught eating from the tree of knowledge. Zed’s friend Oh (Michael Cera) tags along, and as the two wander through the ancient world they encounter various biblical characters including Cain (David Cross) and Isaac (Christopher Mintze-Plasse). Eventually, a plot of sorts begins to emerge. Zed and Oh learn that their former tribes-people, including a couple of girls (Juno Temple and June Diane Raphael) for whom they have the hots have been sold into slavery and taken to Sodom. So the hapless duo set out on a rescue mission. Directed and co-written by Harold Ramis, Year One definitely has the feel of a movie from the guy who wrote Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack and Stripes. Like those films, this follows the tried-and-true formula of casting strong comedic leads as loveable losers who get beaten down but ultimately come out on top. The movie slips a little when it reaches beyond just trying to make us laugh to insert a half-assed message about people making their own destinies. Still, Year One is a reasonably entertaining film with a generous number of laughs. *** (Robert Ignizio)
Angels and Demons Director Ron Howard's 2006 Da Vinci Code adaptation relieved the book of its one saving grace: briskness. Critics panned the movie as bloated and contrived. Stung by the reviews, Howard rethought his approach before adapting Brown's Angels and Demons (which was published before Da Vinci, but which Howard treats as a sequel). With writers David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman, he condensed the plot and made things less stagy, using the handheld camera techniques he employed in Frost/Nixon. Tom Hanks reprises his role as Harvard professor Robert Langdon, who's summoned to the Vatican to investigate a plot to kill four cardinals and destroy St. Peter's Basilica with a stolen anti-matter device, whose developer, physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), teams up with Langdon. There's a lot of dashing about, some ghastly killings, a possibly murdered pope, ominous pseudo-Carmina Burana choral music and a visually impressive scene involving an airplane. Hanks seems strangely detached, even though he's the central character. The movie lacks even the frisson of the forbidden. The Vatican isn't protesting it, as it did The Da Vinci Code, since the story is more or less pro-church. What fun is that? *** (Pamela Zoslov)
Drag Me to Hell Sam Raimi, who made the Evil Dead series before moving on to mainstream success with movies like Spider-Man, effortlessly blends scares, laughs and thrills in Drag Me to Hell. It's a film that should satisfy fans waiting for Evil Dead 4, as well as general audiences looking for a summer roller-coaster ride. We're given believable characters we actually care about, and there's even some thematic depth concerning the idea that a good person can commit one misdeed and wind up in a living hell. But mostly this movie just wants to entertain. Raimi uses plenty of his trademark gross-outs, slapstick gags and creative camera moves to that end, but those elements never overwhelm the film. Where the Evil Dead series was the work of a raw but talented newcomer, Drag Me to Hell shows a mature and assured directorial hand that knows exactly what buttons to push with an audience while still telling a decent story. *** 1/2 (Robert Ignizio)
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 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. For the record, Coward's play was previously filmed by a pre-"Master of Suspense" Alfred Hitchcock in a virtually forgotten 1928 silent version. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** 1/2 (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)
The Hangover A pre-titles sequence sets the scene: Four men are stranded in the desert, all of them beaten, bruised and bloodied. One of them calls a bride-to-be on his cell, informing her that her wedding — just hours away — isn't going to happen. The groom is "lost." Flashback two days earlier, when four men — groom Doug (National Treasure's Justin Bartha), his best friend Stu (The Office's Ed Helms), buddy Phil (Bradley Cooper, who played Rachel McAdams' dick boyfriend in Wedding Crashers) and the bride's loser brother Alan (standup comedian Zach Galifianakis in a breakout performance) — are prepping for Doug's bachelor party in Las Vegas. They check into a $4,200-a-night suite, go to the roof for a celebratory drink and ... wake up the next morning, not remembering a thing. Including how a tiger got in their bathroom, why they now have a baby and where they left Doug. They spend the rest of the movie piecing together their forgotten night. It's one of the funniest movies of the past couple of years, with enough testosterone to power Caesars Palace. *** (Michael Gallucci)
Imagine That This Nickelodeon family comedy about an executive who finds answers to his business troubles in his young daughter's imaginary world has a lot going for it, especially Eddie Murphy's likable, 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 its 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)
Land of the Lost Sid and Marty Kroft's original Land of the Lost was by no means a shining moment in television history, but it was harmless enough fun for the Saturday-morning kiddie audience of the '70s. This big-screen version is based on that series' premise. While on an expedition, Marshall (Will Ferrell), Will (Danny McBride) and Holly (Anna Friel) are transported by a device of Marshall's design to a strange world inhabited by an ape man Cha-Ka (Jorma Taccone), dinosaurs and alien lizard men called Sleestaks. Unlike the show, however, the movie goes for intentional laughs with gratuitous breast fondling, gay jokes, dinosaur urine showers and a little light blasphemy. We're a long way from Saturday morning here, and none of the jokes are even remotely funny. Land of the Lost fails just as completely with its action-adventure elements. There's a CGI allosaurus chase scene and a few tepid struggles with the Sleestaks, but thrilling stuff it ain't. It doesn't even feel like there's a real script here. It's like the cast and crew went off with a rough idea for a movie written on a cocktail napkin and just made the rest up as they went along, figuring Ferrell and McBride's antics and some mid-level special effects would cover up any shortcomings. No such luck. This is just an awful movie and a strong contender for the year's worst. *(Ignizio)
My Life in Ruins Talented Simpsons writer Mike Reiss wrote this original screenplay, which is based on his travel experiences. Nia Vardalos, creator and star of the 2002 sleeper hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, refashioned it as a vehicle for herself. Directed by Donald Petrie (Miss Congeniality), the result is a pallid romantic comedy that tries to recapture Big Fat Greek's magic, but without its humor or charm. The formula is similar: Vardalos plays Georgia, an introverted Greek-American woman dealing with the exasperating eccentricities of her compatriots while looking for love. You needn't be psychic to know that by movie's end, Georgia will let her hair down. The film offers rare views of the Acropolis, Delphi and Olympia. But its travelogue appeal is diminished by the nattering silliness of Vardalos' script. **(Zoslov)
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian The original Night at the Museum basically ran on the premise of "What happens at the museum after the doors are locked for the night?" Apparently, it's some wacky stuff. Lock Ben Stiller in there with all the historic artifacts, and you'll get even more wackiness. This CGI-heavy and pop- culture-speckled sequel to the 2006 hit is more of the same. This time, Stiller's former night watchman Larry — now a successful entrepreneur behind a bunch of infomercial crap, including a glow-in-the-dark flashlight — must save his old natural history museum pals from an evil resurrected pharaoh (played by a lisping Hank Azaria) who's stolen the magic tablet that brings them to life. Adding to that otherworldly problem, most of the museum's artifacts have been packed away and shipped to the Smithsonian for storage. All of the first film's characters return: Owen Wilson's cowboy, Robin Williams' Teddy Roosevelt, the talking Easter Island statue, the monkey. The Smithsonian adds a bunch of new historical and pop-culture icons to the mix, including Amelia Earhart (a peppy and excellent Amy Adams), General Custer, Ivan the Terrible, Darth Vader and Oscar the Grouch. This Museum is also loaded with cameos by various Office stars, Saturday Night Live alum and Jonah Hill, who plays an overzealous guard who squares off against Larry in one of the movie's funniest scenes. But a few new twists — classic paintings and photographs now come to life — can't hide the blah plot, which is pretty much an excuse to trot out some clever sight gags. Some of them are funny; some of them are spectacular in a CGI kinda way. Too bad the story is neither. ** 1/2 (Gallucci)
Star Trek J. J. Abrams' much-anticipated remake/reboot/prequel/sequel to Paramount's Star Trek series isn't your father's Star Trek, not by light years. It's more like your snotty little iPod-plugged nephew's. The plot: In the 23rd century, Starfleet up-and-comer George Kirk is killed with his ship when a time-space warp materializes a gang of nasty, vengeful Romulans from 127 years in the future, piloting their own enormous Death Star (more like a Death Squid, given the production design). George's wife gives birth to a nervy punk named James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), who grows up a motorcycle delinquent around the space-shipyards of Iowa. Meanwhile on Vulcan, planet of serene logic and repressed emotion, the persecuted half-human prodigy Spock (Zachary Quinto) grows up with a mild anger-management problem. It's a good thing this is so entertaining, because the eventual return to deep-space naval battle with the Romulan Death Squid (the villains just conveniently disappear from the narrative for a quarter-century) is hardly stuff Where No One Has Gone Before. ***(Cassady)
The Taking of Pelham 123 Walter's (Denzel Washington) having a typical day at his job — bullshitting with coworkers, maneuvering subway trains throughout the city — when a group of machine-gun-toting bad guys (led by a mustachioed John Travolta) takes over one of the cars. They stop the train (the Pelham 1 2 3 of the title) on the tracks, in the middle of a tunnel, and demand $10 million in exchange for 19 hostages. Travolta's Ryder gives authorities one hour to deliver the ransom. If he doesn't receive it, he'll kill one passenger for every minute it's delayed. Unfortunately, family guy Walter takes the hijackers' call and becomes Ryder's go-to man in this remake of a 1974 film. Washington brings his usual stately cool to Walter, slowly transforming him from a downgraded desk jockey to a button-down-shirt-and-tie-wearing action hero. Meanwhile, Travolta gives his most intense and showy performance in years as the foulmouthed and tattooed Ryder. It all culminates in an underground-to-street showdown, making it a helluva thrilling ride. ***(Gallucci)
Terminator Salvation Arriving on the heels of Star Trek, a film that successfully re-launched a franchise that had grown tired and stale, Terminator Salvation isn't going to seem as inventive as the J. J. Abrams flick. Directed by McG, a former music-video guy who's successfully made the jump to the big screen, the film commences in 2003 as a prisoner named Marcus (Sam Worthington) decides to give his body to science right before he's executed. Flash forward to 2018, and John Connor (Christian Bale this time around) heads up a group of resistance fighters who are taking on the "machines" dead-set on wiping out the human race. The explosive opening battle scene sets the tone for the movie. It's one loud, vicious fight that finds the red-eyed Terminator machines and an arsenal of spaceships giving the humans all they can handle. As far as sequel/prequels go, Terminator Salvation does the trick. Bale is terrific as the steely John Connor, and Worthington is solid as the half-human Marcus. It's just too bad it has to compete with the superior Star Trek. ***(Niesel)
Up Up is an eyes-wide-open fantasy about Carl Fredricksen (voiced by the always-cranky Edward Asner), whose lifelong dream of being a globe-trotting adventurer has been halted every step of the way. He marries his childhood best friend, a girl who shares his dreams and quest for adventure. Over the years, they live and love and try to scrape up enough cash to visit Paradise Falls, a mythical wilderness in South America. After his wife dies, Carl — now an old man with a bad back and an even worse temperament — spends his days in his ramshackle house, which stands in the middle of a construction site (Carl refuses to sell, even as high-rises go up around him). After he assaults a worker on his property, the court orders him to a retirement community. So Carl hatches a plan to escape to Paradise Falls by attaching hundreds of balloons to his house. Surprisingly, it works, and he sets sail serenely above the city streets. All goes well until he hears a knock at the door and finds Russell, an overweight and chatty Wilderness Explorer (it's like a Boy Scout) who needs one more badge to advance to the next level. A brutal storm steers Carl and Russell miraculously in the middle of Paradise Falls' outlining forest. And then Carl's real adventure begins. Unlike the meditative WALL-E, Up is filled with thrilling action scenes and colorful set pieces. Like WALL-E, it's a stunning visual work with an eco-friendly message. *** 1/2 (Gallucci)