Film » Film Features

FILM CAPSULES

comment
OPENING

Gertrud (Denmark, 1964) A middle-aged woman rejects a string of suitors in her quest for true love in this Carl Theodor Dreyer film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:05 p.m. Friday, May 8, and 7 p.m. Sunday, May 10.

Next Day Air This crime action-comedy directed by Benny Boom comes across like an African-American version of a Guy Ritchie caper (comically inept criminals, menacing masterminds, stylish cinematography and editing) crossed with Pineapple Express (criminal mix-up fueled by incessant pot smoking). While the level of violence — much of it implied and offscreen — might be aversive to some, the movie is a model of low-key humor and tense, economical storytelling (it runs a compact 84 minutes). Leo (Scrubs’ Donald Faison) is a Philadelphia delivery driver whose work performance is hampered by his copious pot smoking and whose exasperated boss is his mom (Debbie Allen). Stoned Leo delivers a package to the wrong apartment, allowing a pair of bumbling crooks, Brody and Guch (Mike Epps and Wood Harris) to get their hands on a huge shipment of cocaine. This sets off a series of dangerous events when they decide to sell the coke, while the vengeful dealer (Emilio Rivera) and intended recipients (Cisco Reyes and Yasmin Deliz) try to get it back. While it relies a little heavily on stereotypes (Latino characters named “Jesus,” “Chita” and “Bodega”), the movie maintains a nice balance of suspense and humor. The casual interplay between the characters, as written by Blair Cobbs, is a lot of fun. *** (Pamela Zoslov)

Our City Dreams (US, 2008) This new documentary profiles five contemporary female artists. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 13.

Sugar Miguel "Sugar" Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) is a hard-throwing pitcher from the Dominican Republic who finally gets a chance to play in the big leagues after a major-league team invites him to spring training. Sugar ends up on a farm club in the middle of Iowa, living with a devotedly Christian family and struggling to comprehend a foreign culture and language. While he maintains friendships with his Dominican Republic buddies who also end up on the team, the experience is rather disorienting. The film goes to great lengths to show just how uncomfortable Sugar is in his new environment, and as a result, he's so withdrawn and reticent, it makes it hard to sympathize with him, even after his pitching abilities begin to rapidly diminish and he's forced to rethink his choice to play in the U.S. Cedar Lee Theatre. 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)

Throw Down Your Heart (US, 2008) A profile of banjo man Bela Fleck as he travels to Africa in search of the banjo's roots. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, May 8.

Vampyr (France/Germany, 1932) An archival print of Carl Theodor Dreyer's vampire film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 8, and at 9:50 p.m. Saturday, May 9.

Waltz With Bashir (Israel/Germany/France, 2008) Can a cartoon be a documentary and vice versa? That's the question posed by Waltz with Bashir, the wildly acclaimed genre-bender from director Ari Folman that takes an impressionistic look at the experiences of Israeli soldiers during the 1982 Lebanon war. Bashir's visual style isn't too far removed from the rotoscoping technique employed by Richard Linklater in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. But unlike Linklater's trippy slacker chronicles, Folman uses animation to distance us from the horrors of war and bring us closer to the actual combat experience. Framed as a series of interviews that Forman conducted with his fellow veterans, the result feels so uncannily right, it's hard to imagine this material presented in a more conventional (and less poetic) format. The impenetrable — and unreliable — nature of memory lies at the heart of Folman's dense journalistic collage, and it probably explains why nothing is ever truly clear-cut here. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:15 p.m. Saturday, May 9, and 9:15 p.m. Sunday, May 10. *** (Milan Paurich)

Were the World Mine (US, 2008) While rehearsing the role of Puck in a private boys' school production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Timothy (likable newcomer Tanner Cohen) accidentally discovers a magic potion that makes people fall helplessly in love with the first person in sight. Since Timothy is gay and a bit of a practical joker, he uses this newfound power to teach his town's nastiest homophobes a lesson. Director Tom Gustafson's charming, micro-budgeted high-school musical — with original songs by Jessica Fogle and Cory James Krueckeberg, who co-wrote the witty screenplay with Gustafson — has the feel of a future cult movie. Even the occasional directorial misstep seems oddly endearing within the context of such a gay-positive agenda. As Frankie, Timothy's "hetero-flexible" tomboy friend, Zelda Williams (Robin's daughter) handily steals every scene she's in. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 6. ***(Paurich)

IN THEATERS

Battle for Terra Originally called just Terra, this movie was made in plain old 2D and converted to 3D, providing the illusion that winged whales, spaceships and snowflakes are flying into your lap. The 3D isn't integral to the story, but it's a pretty cool novelty and no doubt fun for kids to experience. The modest, independently made movie is technically impressive — nicely detailed CG animation, a talented voice cast and an amusing crablike robot sidekick voiced by the funny David Cross. But what's most remarkable is the movie's explicit antiwar theme. Director Aristomenis Tsirbas, who wrote the script with Evan Spiliotopoulos, wanted to tell a story like H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, but from the aliens' point of view. And so Battle for Terra became something uncommon among sci-fi battle movies: a plea for humanity that asks us to identify with an "alien" population threatened with imperialist invasion. ***(Pamela Zoslov)

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, his 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 and Brian Taylor, who shoot with a style that makes Quentin Tarantino seem laid back. The freshness of the original is missing, though, and despite some fun moments, the whole thing feels thrown together. ** 1/2 (Robert Ignizio)

Duplicity Julia Roberts and Clive Owen play a pair of über-competitive corporate spies who fall in love (sort of) while attempting to pull a multi-million dollar scam. Or maybe they're just scamming each other. It's hard to tell who's on the level in writer-director Tony Gilroy's screwy follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton. Gilroy plays so many tricks with point of view and jumbles the chronology in such a seemingly random, pell-mell fashion that you could get a migraine just keeping track of all the glamorous locales (New York, London, Miami, the Bahamas, Rome, Dubai) fleetingly glimpsed along the way. Two actors who can class up any joint (Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, reuniting following their roles as John Adams and Ben Franklin in HBO's John Adams miniseries) contribute a few stray moments of welcome mirth as Roberts and Owen's conniving bosses, but Gilroy's stubborn refusal to tell his story straight makes this more of an exercise in frustration than the larkish screwball romp he seems to think it is. ** (Paurich)

Earth This film takes an old-school, National Geographic-like approach to nature documentary. Though it does mention global warming on more than one occasion, it's no An Inconvenient Truth. 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 anthropomorphism). The movie might have had more narrative structure if it had simply followed the cubs as they became bears. But instead, it sidetracks, heading south to sub-Saharan desert to follow a herd of elephants and then stop at tropical rainforests before returning to the Arctic to check back in on the polar-bear family. Beautifully filmed, the movie serves as a decent educational tool, depicting the sudden changes that come with the seasons and the delicate balance required to keep life on Earth alive. But it's pretty dry stuff compared to something like March of the Penguins, which perfectly paired entertainment with education. ** 1/2 (Niesel)

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)

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 OK, 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. **(Ignizio)

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past This diverting bit of nonsense blends romantic comedy with A Christmas Carol in a blatant ploy for feminine hearts: The lead is swoon bait Matthew McConaughey, and the story is a sharp rebuke against womanizing. McConaughey plays Connor Mead, a successful magazine photographer who uses and discards women like Kleenex, even breaking up with three on a conference call. On the eve of the wedding of his younger brother (Breckin Meyer), Connor makes a cynical speech denouncing love. That night, the ghost of his idolized swinging Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas, having a grand time), appears, warning Connor not to end up as he did, old and alone. The ghost tells him he'll be visited by Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Present and Future, who take Connor on a journey to confront the origins and consequences of his caddish behavior. Connor predictably realizes he's missed out on true love with childhood sweetheart Jenny (Jennifer Garner), who now regards him with pity and contempt. This labored conceit plays better than it sounds, since the script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Four Christmases) has enough funny, acid dialogue to compensate for absurdities like the bride's middle-aged militarist dad, described as a Korean War vet, which would make him around 80. ***(Pamela Zoslov)

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 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)

Hunger More gallery installation than movie, British visual artist Steve McQueen's highly praised, extravagantly stylized account of the last months in the life of IRA figurehead Bobby Sands (decently played by Michael Fassbender) is so grueling an experience that watching it borders on masochism. While McQueen is to be commended for jettisoning the standard docudrama approach (Jim Sheridan's In the Name of the Father told a fictionalized version of Sands' story in a far more compelling, albeit conventional fashion), his clinical objet d'art treatment never remotely engages the audience on an emotional level. By (literally) stripping Sands and his fellow prisoners down to slabs of quivering meat, McQueen robs them of their humanity. It's one of those impossible-to-love critics' darlings that's more interesting to discuss — and even argue about — than it is to watch. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** (Paurich)

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)

The Informers Based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel, Gregor Jordan's film starts with a sudden car crash that kills a young could-be-a-Calvin Klein-model. The narrative, however, doesn't center on the dead guy at the party. Rather, it follows several different storylines. There's Bryan Metro (Mel Raido), the rock star who sleeps with underage girls and has a drinking problem. There's Les (Chris Isaak) and his son Tim (Lou Taylor Pucci) who are vacationing in Hawaii in an attempt to get away from the craziness of L.A. And there's the bellboy (Brad Renfro) whose trouble-making friend (Mickey Rourke) just won't leave him alone. If the film has a center, it's the relationship between William (Billy Bob Thornton) and his wife Laura (Kim Basinger). An estranged couple that keeps trying to reconnect with its fucked up kids, William and Laura might have more problems than their delinquent offspring. But what any of this means isn't clear. After making such an impressive comeback with The Wrestler, Rourke must be kicking himself that he ever signed on to have a role in this inconsequential film. **(Niesel)

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)

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)

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)

Paris 36 Things go from bad to worse for a sad sack named Pigoil (Gérard Jugnot) in this period piece that uses a vaudeville theater as a microcosm for life in Paris in 1936. When the theater closes, Pigoil's wife leaves him, and he subsequently loses custody of his accordion-playing child JoJo (Maxence Perrin), whom he adores. But Pigoil doesn't despair; rather, he gathers a group of two-bit actors and actresses and "improvises a revolution," re-opening the theater. A lovely young girl named Douce (Nora Arnezeder) is the saving grace, drawing big crowds and turning the venue into a money-making business. Not quite as good as 2007's La Vie En Rose, the film's an emotional roller-coaster ride that's alternately tragic and comic, sad and happy. Cedar Lee Theatre. ***(Niesel)

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)

The Soloist With this immensely satisfying movie about a newspaper writer 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)

 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 on 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 old 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 is 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. *** 1/2 (Zoslov)

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Everyone's favorite mutton-chopped mutant, Logan a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), takes center stage in this X-Men prequel. Beginning in 1845, the story centers on the relationship between Logan and his brother Victor a.k.a. Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber). The two eventually become part of a Special Forces unit led by Stryker (Danny Huston), but as the unit's activities turn increasingly violent, Logan goes his own way. He settles down with schoolteacher Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), but the couple's domestic bliss is short-lived. The story frankly feels pedestrian at times, and the plot gets cluttered trying to shoehorn in too many characters from the X-Men canon. And yet Jackman and Schreiber, who both seem to have a great time without condescending to the material, deliver great performances. Fans of the series should enjoy this, but for those already overdosed on superhero films, it's unlikely Wolverine will renew their appetite for the genre. ** 1/2 (Ignizio)

Add a comment