Automorphosis (U.S., 2008) An art-car documentary that Harrod Blank made in college spawned this film, a fascinating look at the people behind the cars. We meet Uri "Spoon Man" Geller, who has covered his car with utensils, and a German guy who drives around in a hamburger-shaped three-wheeler. "It's difficult to go against the grain," admits Blank, whose car is a Volkswagen Beetle painted bright colors, and covered outside and inside with knick-knacks. Oh yeah, it also makes a variety of chicken noises and has slogans on it ("stop apartheid," "safe sex"). "I grew up a little bit different from the other kids," admits Blank. His odd sensibilities come through loud and clear in this fine film. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 10. ***(Jeff Niesel)
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Nicolas Cage's weirdly hypnotic, Kabuki-like performance is the best thing about Werner Herzog's in-name-only re-imagining of Abel Ferrara's 1992 cult classic. Herzog borrows his source material's basic premise — an out-of-control, drug-addicted cop makes a mess out of his professional and personal lives — then pretty much makes it up as he goes along. Since Herzog is some kind of mad genius, it's safe to assume the flat, dingy, TV-style lighting and berserk performances are deliberate choices (berserk performances, after all, are something of a Herzog specialty). But you know that a movie is seriously bonkers when the dependably strange Brad Dourif comes across as the straightest character in the entire film. Cage fans can't afford to pass this one up, though: the Leaving Las Vegas Oscar winner hasn't been this entertaining or well-used by a simpatico director since Spike Jonze's great Adaptation. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** 1/2 (Milan Paurich)
Casablanca (U.S., 1942) Humphrey Bogart stars as a nightclub owner in this classic film, set in WWII Morocco. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14.
The Horse Boy (U.S., 2009) This documentary tracks the journey of a Texas couple to find a cure for their autistic six-year-old son. When medication doesn't work, they take him to see a group of shamans in Mongolia who perform a cleansing ritual. The shamans tell the parents a "black energy" entered the mother's womb during the pregnancy. The couple doesn't question this, and the child kicks and screams like a maniac while the shaman beat their drums in his face. "Did I really have his best interests at heart?" asks his father. Eventually, however, the young child finds a kind of serenity, helped by his love of animals, especially the Mongolian horses he meets in a remote region of the country. Shot like a home movie (and most of it is a home movie), the film doesn't look spectacular. But as a portrait of two parents whose love for each other is as deep as their love for their child, it works quiet well. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17 and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21. *** (Niesel)
Mine (U.S., 2009) A documentary about what happened to all the pets left behind in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Mine offers a sobering look at the attempts to rescue pets and the custody battles that ensued when they ended up with foster families and their original owners tried to get them back. Because neither hotels nor shelters would take pets, many owners left their animals behind when they evacuated the city, locking them indoors with food and water. When the flood hit, the pets that survived wound up homeless. Volunteers tried to find their owners and, if they were unable to do that, they placed the animals in foster homes. Mine provides a balanced look at the situation complicated by the fact that many of the abandoned pets were pit bulls that were used for dog fighting and raised by owners who mistreated them. In the end, some kind of justice gets doled out as many loving owners get their pets back while the negligent ones don't. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12 and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14. ***(Niesel)
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief Reviewed at clevescene.com.
Play It Again, Sam (U.S., 1972) The entertaining film version of Woody Allen's 1969 stage farce came to the screen with playwright-actor Allen as nudnik movie-magazine scribe Allan Felix, amicably abandoned by his wife for being boring. Trying to pull Allen/Allan out of the dumps and get him laid are his best friend Dick, a workaholic businessman (Tony Roberts, the most hilarious straight man this side of Bud Abbott) and Dick's own neglected spouse Linda (Diane Keaton). But lingering in the scenery is the celluloid spirit of Felix's screen idol Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy), who occasionally materializes to mentor the clumsy schlub in how to romance women, old-school Warner Brothers style. True, much of the humor was fresher in the glory days of the sexual revolution, and Allen would get better at writing female parts. But the wit (and love of cinema) is sharp throughout, and a great, Casablanca-inspired ending involves a plane leaving for a business conference in Cleveland. A strike in Manhattan compelled director Herbert Ross to relocate the setting to San Francisco, and more than one critic noted that this comedy doesn't overtly carry the East Coast "neighborhood filmmaker" baggage of most of Allen's subsequent comedies. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 6:45 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee Adapted by the estimable Rebecca Miller (Personal Velocity, The Ballad of Jack and Rose) from her own novel, this deliciously quirky American indie stars Robin Wright in the performance of her career as a middle-aged housewife/mother reflecting on her life and not particularly liking what she sees. The eccentric and eclectic cast (Keanu Reeves, Alan Arkin, Winona Ryder, Julianne Moore, Maria Bello, Monica Bellucci and Gossip Girl's Blake Lively as the teenaged Pippa) help make this one of the new movie year's most enjoyable, if largely unheralded, treasures. Although Miller has a difficult time finding a consistent tone and sticking with it, Pippa Lee has more life, vigor and heart than just about any other current release. Wright's beyond-brilliant star turn deserves to become the stuff of legend. Cedar Lee Theatre. *** 1/2 (Paurich)
Uncertainty (U.S., 2008) The fourth feature film by the once promising writing-directing team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel (Suture, The Deep End) is a fussy, needlessly convoluted head-scratcher that strands two good young actors (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins) in virtually unplayable roles. A coin toss on the Brooklyn Bridge helps Bobby and Kate decide which path to follow when she learns she's pregnant. One scenario involving a missing cell phone and a relentless gunman who chases them through the streets of Manhattan seems like it was spliced in from another movie. The scenes with Kate's Argentinean family in Queens aren't appreciably better. This quasi-metaphysical mishmash about fate, chance and destiny never settles down long enough to be emotionally gripping or even semi-coherent. Trying to make sense out of the artsy confusion is an exasperating and ultimately pointless experience in narrative dysfunction. Capitol Theatre. At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17. ** (Paurich)
Valentine's Day Reviewed at clevescene.com.
Wolfman Reviewed at clevescene.com.
The Yes Men Fix the World (France/Britain/U.S., 2009) The too few who saw Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story last year beheld the gadfly filmmaker declaring that, even in the wake of 2008's I-told-you-so economic collapse, he was too old for more media pranks against unregulated, amoral, monstrous multinationals. Fortunately, the Yes Men — anti-corporate pranksters Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno — are still on the job. This film follows 2004's The Yes Men, updating audiences on latter-day Yes Men hoaxes as duo pretend to be arch-capitalist shills or company spokesmen, issue phony press statements that subvert the plutocracy, launch fake websites and stage tasteless trade-show events (an Exxon plan to turn human bodies into a "Vivoleum" fuel, complete with tribute film to a company janitor who sacrificed himself; a Halliburton anti-terrorist survival suit, affordable only by the rich, that resembles a giant bloodsucking tick). Yes, corporate toadies are held responsible for Hurricane Katrina — the left beats that into the ground the same way the nutzo right pimps 9/11, and it's getting tired — and we learn nothing serious about Bichlbaum/Bonanno. But with Dow, AIG and even Bernie Madoff having enormous PR divisions and free-market think tanks defending their crimes, it's nice to know these two unfair, unbalanced characters haven't been downsized out yet. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:35 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, and 8:35 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14. *** (Cassady)