Harmony and Me (U.S., 2009) Harmony (Justin Rise) is a real loser who works a dead-end job and can't seem to get over the fact that his girlfriend Jessica (Kristen Tucker) has dumped his sorry ass. But while (500) Days of Summer took a clichéd storyline and applied a twist, Harmony and Me stumbles to the finish line, never turning into anything the least bit compelling. When not venting to his best friend Carlos (Kevin Corrigan), Harmony is writing songs about Jessica's harsh treatment. The songs are just as bad as everything else in this slapped-together film, which doesn't benefit from writer-director Bob Byington's mumblecore aesthetics, like primitive set designs, amateur actors and actresses, and minimalist cinematography. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24. ** (Jeff Niesel)
The Horse Boy (U.S., 2009) This documentary tracks the journey of a Texas couple looking for 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 shamans 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 they meet 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)
The Man from London (France/Germany/Hungary, 2007) What might have been a conventional film noir is transformed into a typically gorgeous, wildly opaque objet d'art by Magyar auteur Béla Tarr (Satantango, Werckmeister Harmonies). Based on a little-known novel by Georges Simenon, Tarr's movie is less about plot (something involving a missing satchel filled with money, the unsuspecting railway worker who finds it and mysterious men attempting to retrieve its contents) than it is about how cool shadows look reflected on water and Tarr's Zen-like mastery of really long panning shots. The fact that most of the cast is dubbed into French only adds an extra layer of obfuscation (a Tarr specialty). In another movie that might have been fatal, but the vocal dislocation only heightens the existential dread. Oscar winner Tilda Swinton plays the railway worker's understandably crabby wife, and it's her real voice — speaking perfectly enunciated French — that we hear on the soundtrack. Cleveland institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, and 8:25 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21. *** (Milan Paurich)
Odd Man Out (Britain, 1947) James Mason is a wounded IRA gunman who stumbles through the streets of Belfast searching for help in this film-noir classic. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21.
Paradise (U.S., 2009) Because Michael Almereyda's experimental film has no consistent narrative, it's hard to make any kind of sense of it. We see a couple of Indian kids walking around a goldfish pond. One child falls in the water and is embarrassed that he slipped. In another scene, a group of guys playing cards wax eloquent about the meaning of life, and in another, a group of friends drive up a hilltop to watch a fireworks display. In yet another, a guy talks about the expensive Oriental rugs he's selling. While there's an eerie beauty to some of the scenes (particularly the fireworks clip, shot in black and white), it's difficult to say what it all means. Shot in nine countries over a 10-year period, the film is certainly ambitious. Maybe Almereyda, who will be on hand to introduce the movie and answer questions afterward, can explain it. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, February 19. ** (Niesel)
Shutter Island Reviewed at clevescene.com.
The Sun (Russia/France/Italy/Switzerland, 2005) A Japanese emperor surrenders to General Douglas MacArthur in Aleksandr Sokurov's acclaimed film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 8:40 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19.
Until the Light Takes Us (U.S., 2008) Penelope Spheeris apparently stopped releasing her aberrant rock-music documentaries after one flopped at Sundance. Here, as a substitute (rockumentary methodone, practically), is Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell's choppy, low-budget oral history of Norwegian satanic black metal that, in early 1990s Scandinavia, inspired serial church-burnings, homicides and band/musician names like Dead, Hellhammer and Darkthrone. Interviewed out of their face paint, the rockers, now in their 30s, speak of black metal as a heroic, melodious style (deliberately utilizing the worst mics and amps they could scrounge) that came hand-in-chainmail glove with an embrace of ancient Norse-pagan tradition and rejection of corporate consumerism (mainstream heavy metal included), NATO, MacDonalds and a Judeo-Christian tradition they claim to still consider alien and invasive after 10 centuries. Convicted murderer Varg Vikernes, resembling a healthy backpacker and cheerfully calling prison his "monastery," is lucid and interesting, until his spiel segues effortlessly into anti-Semitism and homophobia. No women are seen, though Saturday Night Live's Rachel Dratch is an uncanny look-alike for tattooed, black-metal elder statesman Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell, now a firebreathing multimedia performance artist. A lack of concert footage is a drawback ... or maybe not. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:50 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21. ** 1/2 (Charles Cassady Jr.)
Avatar It's been a dozen years since king of the world James Cameron won a boatload of Oscars for Titanic. He apparently spent the downtime thinking about how to revolutionize movies with Avatar, his bloated and exhausting sci-fi epic about a tribe of tall, tailed and blue-hued creatures called Na'vi. It's also one of the most visually stunning movies ever made. The film is set in 2154 on the forest planet of Pandora, where wheelchair-bound marine Jake Scully (Terminator Salvation's Sam Worthington) is recruited for an ongoing project that fuses human and Na'vi DNA, resulting in "avatars" that look like Na'vi but retain human thoughts. It's all very scientific, confusing and geeky. With a new body capable of sprinting as fast as any animal on Earth, Jake's mission is to infiltrate the Na'vi so the military can mine the precious minerals their homes are built on (again, it's all very scientific, confusing and geeky). It doesn't take long for Jake to fall for one of the Na'vi (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek's Uhura) and rethink his assignment. Avatar is pure sci-fi hokum with one-dimensional characters, heavy-handed narration and an unsurprising love story. But you've never seen a movie like this before. *** (Michael Gallucci)
Dear John Set in Charleston, South Carolina, Dear John targets young adults with the story of a soldier, John Tyree (GI Joe's Channing Tatum), an erstwhile roughneck who falls in love, while on leave, with Savannah, a pretty, virginal college student (Amanda Seyfried) he considers "too good" for him: She doesn't drink or smoke, and she builds houses for the poor. Savannah and John become inseparable and vow to write letters every day during his deployment. Fate intervenes in the form of 9/11, and John feels duty-bound to reenlist. The waiting proves too much for Savannah, who soon writes the titular "Dear John" letter saying she's engaged to another man. Devastated, John decides to stay in the Army and, years later, performs a selfless act to help Savannah's dying husband. Writer Nicholas Sparks is fixated on old-fashioned tropes like diaries and letters, and so John's Army resembles a 1940s war movie, without the Internet and with heavy mail sacks. The story, altered somewhat from the book, is fairly ridiculous, but it pushes emotional buttons (soldiers, patriotism, terrorism, cancer), and will likely trigger some audience sobs. Viewed as a collection of individual, lovely sequences, however, Dear John isn't half bad.** 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov)
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief You'd think a best-selling book series about kids with mythical powers would at least try to divert attention from the inevitable Harry Potter comparisons for its initial turn on the big screen. But The Lightning Thief, the first film based on Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson & the Olympians books, is directed by Chris Columbus, the same guy who helmed the first two (and most undeveloped) Harry Potter movies. There are some differences between American Percy and Brit Harry — most significantly, Percy's roots are in Greek mythology instead of budding wizardry. But like Harry, Percy takes two friends (yep — one's a boy, the other's a girl and both are demigods) along on his adventures. Turns out teen Percy (Logan Lerman) is the son of Poseidon. After Zeus' lightning bolt is stolen, Percy and his pals go on a quest to get it back. Columbus directs to entertain rather than impress, so a lot happens in The Lightning Thief, but not much sticks with you. The CGI beasts and action scenes get special attention, but there's not much development in mood or character (Percy is dyslexic and has ADHD — interesting facets to his personality that are barely explored). At least the grown-up stars seem to be having fun with their brief roles, especially Pierce Brosnan as a mentoring centaur, Rosario Dawson as a bitchy Persephone and Uma Thurman, hamming it up as Medusa. But the movie, like the first Harry Potter film, plays like a slightly entertaining but uninspired introduction to a franchise that could ripen over the years (there are five Percy Jackson books so far). But unlike Harry, which wraps up its run in theaters next year, Percy's possibilities are still untapped. ** 1/2 (Gallucci)
Valentine's Day Never has the importance of opening weekend been more obvious than with the release of this one-day holiday movie, whose success hinges on the idea that women will drag their romance-challenged menfolk to a V-Day comedy. The movie, directed by 75-year-old Garry Marshall (Happy Days, Pretty Woman), is a labored, wheezing affair, with an all-star cast more populous than It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. The idea is a roundelay of L.A.-set relationship stories, but there are so many plots, interchangeable actors (Topher Grace, Ashton Kutcher) and people in half-written parts (Queen Latifah as a sports agent, Taylor Swift as a cheerleader, Jessica Biel as, unbelievably, a wallflower) that the result is eye-crossing confusion rather than amusement. The most developed stories have Jennifer Garner as a schoolteacher in love with a caddish doctor (Patrick Dempsey), while her florist pal (Kutcher) secretly yearns for her, and Anne Hathaway as a phone-sex worker whose naughty career repels her straitlaced suitor (Grace). Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine show up as long-married grandparents, and Julia Roberts plays an Army captain who bonds with Bradley Cooper aboard an airplane. Katherine Fugate's script furnishes too many situations and too few laughs, though the movie gets points for the surprising gay twist in a macho character's story. ** (Zoslov)
The Wolfman A remake of a 1941 horror film, The Wolfman follows the broad outlines of the original. Lawrence Talbot (Benecio del Toro) returns to his ancestral home upon learning that his brother has been killed. There, he reunites with his father (Anthony Hopkins) and promises his brother's fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt) that he will get to the bottom of this tragedy. The locals point the finger at a troupe of gypsies camped nearby, and Lawrence visits the camp looking for answers. He arrives just in time to witness a violent attack by a werewolf. During the attack, Lawrence is bitten but survives, which means he too is doomed to transform into a monster when the moon is full. With such a good cast and a simple, classic story, what could go wrong? Plenty. This film has no confidence in its ability to hold the audience's attention. It's constantly making noise and moving the camera, inserting special effects into mundane scenes that don't require them, and rushing through character development and story to get to another gory werewolf attack. But the biggest problem is that there's no pathos in Del Toro's portrayal of Talbot. But Rick Baker's update of the classic monster makeup is impressive. * 1/2 (Robert Ignizio)