Bliss (Turkey/Greece, 2007) A Turkish teen takes his cousin to Istanbul, where he plans to perform an honor killing to atone for her rape. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10, and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11.
Cherry Blossoms (Germany/France, 2008) Winner of the audience award when it showed recently at the Cleveland International Film Festival, Doris Dörrie's film is a touching story about Trudi (Hannelore Elsner) and Rudi (Elmar Wepper), an elderly Bavarian couple who try to reconnect with their children. They first visit two of their kids, now grown up, in Berlin, but when it's apparent they're not welcome, they take a trip to the Baltic Sea. When Trudi unexpectedly dies, Rudi has to go back home by himself. He can't adjust to life without his wife, so he goes to Tokyo to see his son. That doesn't go so well either, but after he meets a young homeless Japanese girl, he suddenly gets in touch with his spiritual side. A loose retelling of the 1953 film Tokyo Story, the movie has compassion at its core and is beautifully shot, but it often opts for sentimental crutches (several heavy-handed metaphors) that seem forced. Cleveland Museum of Art. At 6:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)
Earth Days (U.S., 2009) This documentary chronicles the evolution of the modern environmental movement. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:20 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, and 9 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13.
Armored Ty (Columbus Short) is a decorated Iraq war veteran trying to take care of his younger brother (Andre Jamal Kinney). He works as a guard for an armored-car company, but his salary isn't enough to pay the mortgage. Ty's best friend Mike (Matt Dillon), also a guard, has a solution. On their next run, with the help of a few fellow guards (Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Amaury Nolasco and Skeet Ulrich), they will stage a robbery and take the cash for themselves. Ty is reluctant to go along, but as his personal situation worsens, the plan starts to look more appealing. Besides, Mike assures him, no one will get hurt. Right. The film's tone, measured pacing and straight-forward visual style hearken back to the mid-budget action films of the '80s, as does John Murphy's ominous synthesizer score. The script is nothing special and could easily have resulted in a mediocre film. Thanks to the strong cast and director Nimrod Antal's skill at generating suspense and tension, though, Armored manages to be a pretty enjoyable thriller. ***(Robert Ignizio)
The Blind Side The Blind Side belongs to "white-man's burden" movies like Dangerous Minds or The Soloist, in which benevolent whites heroically rescue underprivileged black people. Accordingly, there are moments in this movie, based on the life of Baltimore Ravens rookie tackle Michael Oher, that are cringingly uncomfortable, like when Sandra Bullock — as Leigh Anne Tuohy, an affluent Southern woman who has opened her home to Oher — sashays into the kid's rough Memphis neighborhood in tight skirt and heels to give a drug dealer a talking-to, warning him that she's packing heat. If this were fiction, it'd be as phony as Astroturf. But like those other movies, it's a true story, told with enough sensitivity to almost overcome the troubling sense of noblesse oblige. Bullock acts her heart out as the feisty Leigh Anne. Her performance makes a character that might have been repellent — privileged, pushy evangelical — rather endearing. ***(Pamela Zoslov)
Brothers Just before he's to be shipped to Afghanistan, Capt. Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) picks up his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) from prison. Tommy seems to be on a path of self-destruction that would take an earth-shattering event to right, and that event comes when Sam's helicopter goes down and he's presumed dead. Back home, Tommy is shaken straight and takes up handiwork around his brother's house and, eventually, playtime with Sam's kids. Meanwhile, Sam and a fellow soldier are being tortured in a prisoner camp in the caves of Afghanistan. Sam is put to the test with months of malnutrition and mental torment, and when his rescue comes, his menacing, gaunt expression and steely eyes tell us (and his grateful family back home) that something is amiss. Sam can't readjust to his old life, especially his daughters, and things spiral downward in raw, primal fashion. ***(Justin Strout)
A Christmas Carol Using the same performance-capture animation technique employed in 2004's Polar Express and 2007's Beowulf, Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol is another family friendly holiday feature by the veteran director of Back to the Future and Forrest Gump. Zemeckis doesn't mess with Charles Dickens' book much, quoting directly from it in the opening sequence, which finds Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) busting out a "bah humbug" when his nephew Fred (Colin Firth) arrives to wish him a "merry Christmas." Of course, Scrooge is in for a shock when he goes home and an apparition of his old boss Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman) arrives to warn him that he's going to be visited by three ghosts before the night is over. Though his recent attempts to show off his dramatic acting abilities have fallen short, Carrey is in good form here. He occasionally indulges in exaggerated facial gestures and slapsticky antics, but that's going to keep young viewers interested. That and the fabulous digital 3-D effects that make it look like snowflakes are falling in front of your face. ***(Niesel)
Everybody's Fine This melancholy movie, based on Giuseppe Tornatore's Stanno tutti bene, finds Robert De Niro playing Frank, a widower retired after 30 years manufacturing coatings for telephone wires. While Frank prepares for a reunion with his grown children, they each call to say they can't make it. Impulsively, Frank boards a train to pay surprise visits to his children scattered across the country. Onboard, he shows off a photo of his successful brood: David, the artist; Amy (Kate Beckinsale), the ad executive; Robert (Sam Rockwell), the orchestra conductor; and Rosie (Drew Barrymore), the Vegas dancer. On his first stop, New York, Frank finds David missing from his rundown apartment. He heads to Chicago, where Amy conceals the truth about her marriage. In the Northwest, Frank discovers Robert isn't a conductor but a percussionist. Rosie, too, is keeping secrets. Phone conversations, set against a landscape of telephone lines echoing Frank's career, reveal that David's in trouble, and the siblings have agreed not to tell Dad. There are poignant scenes, as when a lost David "appears" at his ailing father's bedside. But mostly the movie clicks along on a predictable track, punctuated by sappy pop songs. ** 1/2 (Zoslov)
Fantastic Mr. Fox Based on a Roald Dahl story, this dark farmland fable about a group of foxes that wages war against weapon-packing farmers centers on Mr. Fox (George Clooney), who makes a promise to his wife (Meryl Streep) to stop stealing birds for a living and becomes a newspaper columnist. After two years (which is actually 12 in fox years), he's bored with the lifestyle and the fact that nobody reads his column. So he buys a new tree for his family and gets back in the chicken-killing game for one or two (or three) last scores. When things don't work out like Fox plans and he puts a bunch of friends (including a rabbit, badger and an opossum) in danger, he must use his natural leadership skills to save them. There's no mistaking director Wes Anderson's touch in Fantastic Mr. Fox: The dialogue, the way the actors read the dialogue and the movie's pacing bear his trademarks. And the old-school stop-motion animation is an exhilarating break from today's CGI crop. But a great-looking movie means nothing if there isn't a story attached to it. Anderson's film not only expands on Dahl's book, it's really funny. *** 1/2 (Gallucci)
Old Dogs Veteran actors Robin Williams and John Travolta show no shame in hamming it up incessantly in this insipid Walt Becker (Wild Hogs) comedy about two pals whose friendship is tested when Dan (Williams) is recruited to babysit two kids he didn't realize were his. The slapstick humor gets some easy laughs but usually doesn't involve anything more than a swift kick in the crotch. The flimsy plot: Dan's ex (Kelly Preston) has to serve a two-week prison term for protesting an environmentally irresponsible company and enlists Dan to take care of her 7-year-old twins, revealing that they're actually his and she never bothered to tell him. But Dan and Charlie (Travolta) are trying to take their sports agency to the next level and are in the middle of signing the "biggest deal ever" with a Japanese company. Oh yeah, and Charlie has an old dog that hangs around the office, peeing on everything because it's so old. It's no surprise that by the end of the movie, we realize Dan and Charlie are like two old dogs, loyal to the core, even though they sometimes bark at each other. ** (Niesel)
Transylmania Arriving two months late and many dollars short for the easy-to-please Halloween juvenile demographic, this atrocious lowbrow spoof concerns a bunch of sex-drugs-party U.S. college students who attend a university in Romania (shot on location, evidently) so one nerdy horndog can hook up with the comely Transylvanian wench he's met and masturbated to on the web. The young Americans tangle with assorted gothic-horror and teen-idiocy clichés — a dwarf-mad-scientist dean, a vampire coven, possession by an ancient sorceress, reality-TV shows, horse farts, sex manuals, a gay student in deep denial, etc. If any movie in particular seems parodied, it's Van Helsing, and nobody can deny that one doesn't deserve a stake-through-the-heart skewering. Some of this crap might have been funny if the filmmakers had some finesse with comedic timing, milieu or storytelling. As it is, the best joke is about MapQuest, and if you blink you'll miss it (blink twice and you'll miss Transylmania's very limited release). Stick with Mel Brooks or Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. * (Charles Cassady Jr.)