All About Steve Reviewed at clevescene.com.
... And God Created Woman (France/Italy, 1956) When Roger Vadim's sinful drama first premiered in the U.S., it was banned in Philadelphia and denounced by clergy, conservative politicians and even film critics. In truth, star Brigitte Bardot shows a soupçon more skin than a Jennifer Jones or Carroll Baker would have in an equivalent movie. Setting is sunny St. Tropez (practically a character in itself), where Juliette (Bardot) is a naturally sensuous, curvy nymph from the lower classes, burdened with a sluttish reputation. A suitor wants to marry her and spare her the sneers and exploitation of lustful men. The dynasty disapproves, naturally. The big secret: Worldly older brother Eric is the same cad who slept with Juliette in the first place. Ultimate, the unabashedly sexist question is whether Michel will get the nerve to "tame" Juliette and prove his manhood in bedroom and boardroom alike. Give Vadim credit for helping broaden the U.S. market for "hot" European productions — including ones by Fellini and Bergman — even if they were peddled as softcore sleaze for the grindhouse element. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, and 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 6. ** 1/2 (Charles Cassady Jr.)
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I Can See You (US, 2008) Graham Reznick's film has been described as a "psychedelic campfire tale," and that's a pretty apt description for this disjointed movie about a group of guys who work for a Brooklyn commercial design firm struggling to come up with an ad campaign for a toxic, all-purpose cleaning solution called Claractix. To find some inspiration, the crew take their laptops and digital cameras into the woods for a weekend of "total fuckin' immersion." Everything appears to be going according to plan, and one of the guys even meets a cute hippie chick while hanging out at a bonfire. But the trip turns into a nightmare of Lynchian proportions when a boogeyman starts torturing the guys. Poorly acted but visually striking, the film is a real mixed bag. It's preceeded by a showing of Reznick's "The Viewer," a 3-D short about an interrogation procedure that has mind-altering repurcusions. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 2. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)
Ice People (France/U.S., 2008) While beautifully filmed, this documentary about four geologists looking for fossils in Antarctica doesn't have any real drama. Sure, the crew weather a snowstorm or two and on occasion have to climb to the top of a wind generator to fix a turbine, but it's all pretty dull stuff. We mostly see them digging holes and pulling out fragments of ice and particles that we can only assume have some kind of scientific signifiance. We get to know the subjects (one is a avowed Christian, even though he admits it clashes with his science background, and another guy figured moving 10,000 miles away from his ex-wife wasn't such a bad idea), but Anne Aghion's film is nothing more than a slice of life, albeit in an exotic setting that's like no other. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9. ** (Niesel)
O'Horten (Norway/Germany/France, 2007) Norwegian minimalist Bent Hamer's (Kitchen Stories, Factotum) whimsical, near-silent comedy about the misadventures of a newly retired railroad engineer (the splendid Baard Owe) learning to deal with a life that doesn't revolve around timetables, is a charming respite from Hollywood's heavy-breathing summer blockbusters. With his omnipresent pipe and jaunty chapeau, the aptly named Odd Horten cuts a distinctly Monsieur Hulot-like figure, although the humor here is even drier than in a typical Jacques Tati movie. Borderline precious perhaps, but it's so good-natured and drolly witty that you can't help but smile at the gentle absurdity of O. Horten's Candide-like odyssey. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:20 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4, and 7:25 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5. *** (Milan Paurich)
Tetro Francis Ford Coppola's follow-up to his virtually unwatchable 2007 debacle Youth Without Youth is the 70-year-old director's finest work in almost two decades. Working from Coppola's first original screenplay since 1974's The Conversation, this grandly operatic tale of two siblings (a remarkably, impressively restrained Vincent Gallo and sensational newcomer Alden Ehrenreich) with daddy issues (Klaus Maria Brandauer plays their imperious orchestra-conductor father) is both loving homage to the heady days of the French New Wave and a glorious throwback to the kind of tempestuous Oedipal dramas Hollywood vets Nicholas Ray and Elia Kazan made back in the 1950s. Spectacularly shot in widescreen, cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr.'s high-contrast, black-and-white digital video images are a feast for the senses. Co-starring Y Tu Mamá También's Maribel Verdú (terrific as Gallo's pragmatic common-law wife) and Almodóvar diva extraordinaire Carmen Maura, it's a self-contained film festival. Anyone who cares about the state of world cinema can't afford to miss it. Cedar Lee Theatre. ****(Milan Paurich)
Valentino: The Last Emperor (U.S., 2008) In a documentary spiced with unimaginable glamour, no single image speaks to wealth's fantasyland on Earth quite as powerfully as the sight of a pack of five pugs being led onto a private jet. These pampered pets proceed to take up two seats on the plane, compelling the flight crew to politely ask couturier Valentino Garavani if the dogs can be moved to make room for human passengers. Valentino — the single name has branded his image, line and lifestyle since 1960 — doesn't comply himself, but the situation is handled. And, as captured in Vanity Fair special correspondent Matt Tyrnauer's documentary debut, it is the strategy by which most of the Italian designer's life and career has been maintained. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 6. *** (Bret McCabe)
World's Greatest Dad A scabrously funny, take-no-prisoners dark comedy from stand-up-comic-turned-auteur-director Bobcat Goldthwait (Sleeping Dogs Lie) that wears its myriad artistic influences (Todd Solondz, Wes Anderson, even the late John Hughes) with panache. Robin Williams (restrained and very good here) plays Lance Clayton, a milquetoasty high-school English teacher and failed author whose obnoxious 15-year-old son Kyle (Daryl Sabara, all grown up from the Spy Kids movies) accidentally kills himself during a bout of autoerotic asphyxiation. Fudging a suicide note, Lance watches in stunned amazement as Kyle becomes a local cult hero despite having been dismissed as a flake and weirdo while he was alive. After penning a faux-sensitive journal he credits posthumously to Kyle, Lance turns into a James Frey-type celebrity, doing the talk show rounds and being courted by avaricious publishers. Deeply cynical and in the worst possible taste (not that there's anything wrong with that), Goldthwait's provocation is as shocking as it is (almost) profound about the various stages of grief. Cedar Lee Theatre *** (Paurich)
Adam In the opening scenes of writer-director Max Mayer's drama about a man with Asperger's syndrome, Adam (Hugh Dancy) is at his father's funeral. While we never see his dad, we get the sense that Adam's going to be lost without him. After all, this is a guy who eats the same thing every day (bran for breakfast, mac and cheese for dinner) and keeps his brownstone apartment in meticulous order. Asperger's is a mild form of autism that makes it difficult for Adam to communicate, even though he's physicist-smart. So when he meets his lovely brunette neighbor Beth (Rose Byrne), he has trouble telling her how much he likes her, though at one point he blurts out that he's sexually aroused. And yet, the two begin a relationship that goes along smoothly until, in predictable fashion, Adam has one of his fits, forcing Beth to break up with him. Of course, in the next scene, Adam overcomes his fear of outside world and pursues Beth. He tries to convince her to help him with his new job at an observatory, which requires that he move to California. The film's trajectory is more that of a made-for-TV special than a theatrical release, and its subplot concerning Beth's fraudulent father (Peter Gallagher) is completely extraneous. While Dancy and Byrne have decent chemistry, the whole thing is pretty schmaltzy. ** (Niesel)
District 9 On the surface, District 9 is about aliens. But its subtext is pretty clear to anyone familiar with segregation. District 9 is about oppression. And standing up for rights. And wanting to go home. It's a rebel movie, but the rebels are aliens who have been crammed into a South African slum for more than 20 years. Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp (from a short film he made in 2005), District 9 came together after he and producer Peter Jackson couldn't get their Halo movie off the ground. And in a way, the kinda creepy and totally bloody District 9 plays a lot like Halo, with some very awesome guns capable of blasting the hell out of anything that gets in their way. But District 9 is more subtle than the hit videogame franchise, building conflict and a sense of confinement before turning into a limb-severing showdown between military pricks, displaced aliens and a good-guy researcher who's slowly transforming into one of the creatures. The movie's handheld-camera, documentary- style approach is played out by now, but it serves District 9's narrative, even if it sorta breaks the rules during the movie's final act. By the end, the big-ass weapons come out, and District 9 swerves a little into popcorn-movie territory. But not even a ginormous robot suit can divert from the film's undertones of what it means to be an alien in a place where you've lived for so long. ***(Michael Gallucci)
The Final Destination While at a racetrack, Nick (Bobby Campo) has a premonition that one of the cars will crash into the stands, causing considerable death and mayhem. He makes a scene, and along with his friends and a few other spectators, leaves the track just in time to miss seeing the vision come true. Any relief is short lived, however, as the survivors soon begin dying in various grisly ways. Sound familiar? If you've seen any of the previous Final Destination films, you've seen this one. The only difference is this latest installment is playing in 3-D at selected theaters. Since director David Ellis doesn't do much with the technology, that's not much of a selling point. The acting is bad, there's no suspense and the premise is feeling awfully tired at this point. As is par for the course with the series, there are at least a few inventive kills. One death involving a swimming pool drain and another in an escalator are particularly nasty, but even gore fans have to be getting bored with this series by now. *(Robert Ignizio)
Halloween 2 Halloween 2 starts with an explanation of the symbolic meaning of a white horse, which immediately raises a red flag that director Rob Zombie is taking himself too seriously. However, the sequence that immediately follows — essentially a condensed remake of the original Halloween II — offers up some pretty effective moments. That is, until it all turns out to have been a dream. It's hard to say which is more numbing: the relentless brutality, the heavy-handed symbolism, the overabundance of dream sequences and flashbacks, or the seemingly endless stream of scenes and ideas lifted from other films. Zombie even goes so far as to steal the endings of both Psycho and Night of the Living Dead, because apparently one plagiarized ending that calls attention to a better film just isn't enough. There are some good performances and even a few decent scenes scattered about in Halloween II, but it's not worth having to sit through the rest of the movie to get to them. *(Ignizio)
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra A group of terrorists, led by arms dealer McCullen a.k.a. Destro (Christopher Eccleston), plot to take over the world. The only thing that can stop them is G.I. Joe, an elite team of international soldiers. But it's the subplot about Joe member Duke (Channing Tatum) and his star-crossed romance with femme fatale the Baroness (Sienna Miller) that gives the movie its heart. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Arnold Vosloo turn in fine performances as bad guys Zartan and "The Doctor," respectively. Most of G.I. Joe still consists of people shooting at each other and blowing stuff up, but director Stephen Sommers and his writers at least tried to make an actual movie rather than just string together a bunch of action scenes. G.I. Joe is a little long and a whole lot of silly, but it's also a lot of fun and not nearly as obnoxious or bloated as this summer's other toy-based blockbuster. ***(Ignizio)
The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard Don Ready (Jeremy Pivens), leader of a team of hard-partying mercenary salesmen (Ving Rhames, David Koechner and Kathryn Hahn), is hired to keep a used-car dealership out of bankruptcy. Don becomes attracted to a woman (Jordana Spiro) already engaged to the town's biggest douchebag (Ed Helms). Because as everyone knows, smart and attractive young women in the movies always face a shortage of decent guys who want to date them, so it's either marry a loser or become an old maid. But maybe, just maybe, Don will overcome the tragedy from his past and not only save the dealership, but also find a way to win the girl. That's pretty much the extent of the formulaic plot. Luckily, this is a comedy, so while plot does matter, jokes matter more. And in that respect, The Goods has the goods. Some of the humor falls flat, but there are still an awful lot of laughs here. The excellent supporting cast helps a lot too. ** 1/2 (Ignizio)
Inglorious Basterds Opening with a "Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France" intro, Inglourious Basterds' first chapter (yes, Tarantino divides his film into episodes again) introduces a couple characters — an SS colonel and a Jewish girl whose family he kills — who weave in and out of the movie. It's 1941, and Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt, with cocked eyebrows, a Tennessee accent and Clark Gable's mustache) recruits eight Jewish-American soldiers to "kill Nazis." But because Aldo is descended from Native Americans, his gang doesn't just kill Nazis; they scalp them too. Aldo's warriors eventually hook up with a German spy (National Treasure's Diane Kruger), and they hatch a plan to take out most of the Third Reich's top tier, including Hitler and Goebbels. Even though Tarantino isn't on rapid-fire here, there are parts of Inglourious Basterds that are every bit as accomplished as Pulp Fiction. He still gets a kick making movies, and the evidence is onscreen. *** (Gallucci)
Julie and Julia This movie is based on a book by Julie Powell, a real-life cubicle drone who decides to change her life by cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child's famous cookbook. Julie and Julia never meet, yet their stories crisscross, intersect and feed each other throughout the film, which opens with juxtaposing scenes of the women moving into their respective new homes (Julie in 2002 NYC, Julia in 1949 France). Julie — played by Amy Adams, less spunky and more puffy than usual — has a reputation for never finishing what she starts. So she sets a deadline for herself: one year to cook the entire content of Child's cookbook, posting blog entries about every dish she makes. Meanwhile, Child (Meryl Streep, overstating) is an American living overseas with her State Department-employed husband. She begins taking cooking classes to keep busy. Director and co-screenwriter Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail), a chick-flick vet who's never shied away from pouring on the glop, dispenses plenty of it in Julie & Julia. ** 1/2 (Gallucci)
Post Grad Ryden Malby (Alexis Bledel) is that girl you hated in college. An attractive straight-A student who participated in all the right extracurricular activities, she's the one who seems destined for success and is set on working at the city's biggest and best publishing house. But a funny thing happens on the way to the publishing house. She doesn't get the gig. Rival Jessica Bard (Catherine Reitman) is hired instead, sending Ryden into a tailspin. Complicating matters is the fact that Ryden leans so heavily on her best friend Adam (Friday Night Lights' Zach Gilford). He's clearly in love with her, but she'd rather keep the relationship platonic and falls for the hunky guy-next-door (Rodrigo Santoro) instead. While the film's not as quirky as, say, Juno, it does go for a similar vibe, particularly when it comes to Ryden's family. ** 1/2 (Niesel)
Shorts While Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, the Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl) makes kids' flicks that aren't necessarily smart enough to appeal to adults, they're a step above the kind of stuff that usually passes for family entertainment. Shorts centers on the trials and tribulations of one Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett), a defenseless kid who gets picked on at school by the daughter and son of Mr. Black (James Spader), the town's power hungry millionaire who's devised a contraption that transforms from cell phone to toaster (but doesn't, thankfully, have Transformers-like powers). When Toe discovers a secret rock that enables its owner's wishes to come true, everyone from his mother and father (Leslie Mann and Jon Cryer) to his germophobic neighbor (William H. Macy) tries to get his or her hands on the thing, sending the small suburban community into an uproar. Toe tells his story out of sequence (hence the "shorts" title), and Rodriguez often lets the story spiral out of control. But it's good, campy fun that never has to rely too heavily on special effects to make its point that self-discovery is key. ***(Niesel)
Taking Woodstock Director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, The Ice Storm) used Elliot Tiber's memoir as the basis for a film that follows Tiber (Demetri Martin) — a young, closeted gay Jewish kid — as he helps bring the music festival to Bethel, New York. As he tries to help his parents (Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton) keep their tiny Catskills motel from foreclosure, Elliot sees a newspaper article about the cancelation of a nearby concert and contacts organizer Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) and puts him in touch with Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), who owns an enormous dairy farm down the road. The two work out a deal and the concert is scheduled, though Elliot (and everyone else, for that matter) has no idea about the scope of what's about to take place. As more and more people start arriving on the site, Elliot befriends a cross-dressing Marine (Liev Schreiber) and a half-psychotic Vietnam vet (Emile Hirsch) who open his eyes to a larger world. While the movie includes nearly a dozen snippets of songs that were played at Woodstock, you never see a single live performance. ***(Niesel)
The Time Traveler's Wife Told out of sequence, The Time Traveler's Wife begins with the death of young Henry's mother, who's killed in a horrible car accident. But Henry, in the back seat at the time of the accident, manages to live, thanks to his ability to travel through time. Flash forward a few years and Henry (Eric Bana) is all grown up, working in a library. When Clare (Rachel McAdams) approaches him, she realizes she knows him. Turns out an older Henry befriended a much younger Clare on his time travels, and they would meet regularly in a large field on the property where Clare grew up. Confusing, yes, but the filmmakers go to great lengths to simplify things. The two get married, and everything is going smoothly until they try to have a baby. It turns out the fetus is a time traveler too, and one miscarriage follows another until they get some help from a somewhat skeptical doctor (Stephen Tobolowsky). While the time-traveling sequences are artfully done (thanks to some nifty digital effects, Henry simply fades away on the screen), the love story is the film's focus. Much like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the film is about a couple who have to fight against the odds so they can be together. The movie definitely falls into the chick-flick realm, but don't hold that against it. ***(Niesel)