Four Seasons Lodge (U.S., 2008) Andrew Jacobs' feel-good documentary about a group of Holocaust survivors who gather each year in the Catskills at a resort called Four Seasons Lodge profiles the survivors and the bond that keeps them together. A mixture of new interviews and footage from earlier reunions that took place after the survivors sought each other out upon arriving in the U.S., the film focuses on what everyday life is like for the retirees and how they cope with what will potentially be their last summer at the lodge, which is about to be sold. One man is caring for his wife who has Alzheimer's, but most of the survivors have fared quite well. "The best thing in the world is to eat, drink and enjoy yourself," says one particularly lively survivor. The film isn't too flippant either. "It would be easier to just live and not to remember all the time," admits one woman who lost her entire family. But in showing the way these survivors have become family to each other, Four Seasons Lodge depicts the human spirit's ability to triumph in the face of tragedy. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 12, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 14. *** (Jeff Niesel)
Green Zone Reviewed at clevescene.com.
Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight (U.S., 2009) When he was a kid, Milton Glaser discovered that he could draw just about anything — even "naked ladies" — upon request. "There was a short transition between that beginning and what eventually became my career," admits Glaser, who went on to co-found New York magazine and create the "I NY" logo, which he conceived while riding in the back of a taxi. Various talking heads dicuss his "mixture of talent, play and intelligence" in this straightforward documentary that includes an extensive look at Glaser's work, including pieces for both private (Brooklyn Brewing) and public (Stony Brook University) entitites. Though nostalgic, some of the stories about behind-the-scenes dramas at New York magazine in the '60s are interesting, and Glaser is certainly articulate as he talks about his craft, something that broadens the film's appeal. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 5:30 and 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, March 10. *** (Niesel)
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (U.S./Germany, 2009) Ostriches, midgets and a sinister bowl of Jell-O figure prominently in this whatzit? collaboration between (director) Werner Herzog and (producer) David Lynch. A career low for both veteran auteurs, this impenetrable, insufferable hodgepodge of "true crime" pulp-fiction clichés and connect-the-dots Rorschach inkblots — most of them cobbled together from Herzog and Lynch's combined oeuvres — will test the patience of even the most ardent fan. Nobody in the estimable cast (which includes dependably out-on-a-limb types like Michael Shannon, Chloe Sevigny, Willem Dafoe, Grace Zabriskie, Brad Dourif and Euro kinkmeister Udo Kier) is seen to their best advantage here. "What have ye done" indeed. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 12, 9:15 p.m. Saturday, March 13, and 8:40 Sunday, March 14. * 1/2 (Milan Paurich)
Our Family Wedding Meet the Parents with an ethnic twist, Our Family Wedding makes light of the cultural differences that come to the fore when Lucia (America Ferrera) and Marcus (Lance Gross) tell their parents they plan to marry. She's Hispanic and he's African-American, but even though they both come from minority backgrounds, their parents overreact to their engagment. The film commences with an awkward dinner, during which Lucia's father Miguel (Carlos Mencia) and Marcus' father Brad (Forest Whitaker) trade insults and make a scene. From there, it's on to an equally awkward backyard barbeque where cultures collide as wedding plans are hashed out with input from various family members. Soon, the fathers come to fisticuffs, pummeling each other during a softball game. They eventually bond after a night of drinking, and even though Lucia and Marcus hit a rough patch, you know they'll reconcile too. Despite a strong cast, Rick Famuyiwa's film deals in caricatures rather than characters and employs too many familiar tropes to move beyond novelty. ** 1/2 (Niesel)
Remember Me Reviewed at clevescene.com.
She's Out of My League Reviewed at clevescene.com.
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (U.S., 2009) Emily and Sarah Kunstler directed this documentary about their father, the "radical lawyer" famous for defending the "Chicago Seven" and consequently serving hard time for contempt of court (a conviction that was eventually overturned). Kunstler, who led a quiet life in Westchester County before entering the spotlight, initially worked on house closings and defending people hurt in car accidents. But he grew tired of being a traditional lawyer and eventually joined the ACLU, taking on one controversial trial after another and becoming a celebrity of sorts. Kunstler was in the middle of several major political conflicts, including the Attica prison riots and the Wounded Knee standoff, both chronicled in this film. Using old news clips and home movies, the film puts his career in perspective. As much as it pays tribute to Kunstler, it also provides a lesson in U.S. political history. At 7 p.m. Friday, March 12, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 14. *** (Niesel)
Alice in Wonderland Tim Burton's psychedelic 3-D take on Lewis Carroll's timeless fantasy picks up 10 years after Alice first fell down the rabbit hole. When the all-grown-up Alice (Mia Wasikowska) tumbles down to Wonderland again, she finds the evil Red Queen (a scene-stealing Helena Bonham Carter, sporting a humongous CGI-enhanced head) in charge. She also discovers some old pals: a talking rabbit, a disappearing cat, a smoking caterpillar and Johnny Depp as the maddest hatter you've ever seen. The movie is a visual delight, with Wonderland's sumptuous images popping from the screen (even without 3-D glasses). Burton flashes some of his gothic humor (the Red Queen uses a flamingo as a croquet mallet), and he goes wild with the talking animals and colorful scenery, undoubtedly inspired by a palette that isn't filled with the usual dark and brooding tones. But like many of Burton's films, Alice in Wonderland feels a bit distant at times, as if the director can't do genuine without a twist of ironic detachment. Alice could use a little heart. Still, this is an adventure that's worth a trip down the hole. *** (Gallucci)
Brooklyn's Finest Screenwriter Michael C. Martin's success story is the kind that makes entertainment writers salivate and less successful screenwriters gnash their envious teeth. The film student and former subway worker wrote the script for this cop movie while recovering from a car wreck. He entered it in a contest, and it was picked up by an L.A. producer and bought by Millennium Films, which hired the talented Antoine Fuqua, director of Training Day, which this resembles in theme and casting. The movie also has a terrific cast, including Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Training Day's Ethan Hawke and the long-absent Wesley Snipes. The story traces the fates of three cops confronted with the temptations of corruption: Clarence (Cheadle), working undercover and longing for a desk job, offered at the cost of sacrificing a drug kingpin (Snipes) he's befriended; Sal (Hawke), a cash-strapped, devoutly Catholic family man lured by piles of confiscated drug money; and Eddie (Gere), a burned-out cop nearing retirement. The parts are meaty enough to show off the excellent cast, and Fuqua's techniques are impressive. Unfortunately, the extreme bloodiness and predictable, derivative screenplay — Gere's canoodling with a prostitute he wants to take away from it all provoked preview-audience titters — compromises his best efforts. ** 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov)
Cop Out Former indie director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) didn't write the screenplay for this cop-buddy action comedy starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as hapless NYPD cops; Robb and Mark Cullen wrote it. But you would never know it: The movie is landscaped with Smith's brand of laid-back, affectionately profane male banter. Remarkably, Smith achieves what many have failed to do in this well-worn genre: successfully blend action with comedy. Even the most tired cop-movie tropes (the police captain exasperated with the team's unorthodox methods, the divorced cop dealing with his ex-wife) feel refreshed here. Willis is veteran cop Jimmy Monroe, whose childlike partner, Paul Hodges (Morgan), is prone to giving Jimmy sentimental anniversary cards and intimidating suspects by reciting dialogue, badly, from famous cop movies. Paul worries about his wife (Rashida Jones) cheating on him, while Jimmy frets about how to pay for his daughter's wedding. Jimmy's plan to sell a valuable baseball card is foiled when obnoxious robber Dave (Seann William Scott, very funny) steals it, leading Jimmy and Paul into an underworld of violent Mexican drug dealers. The action plot is beside the point; the comic byplay is the heart of the movie, which, like most of Smith's films — and unlike most action movies — is funny, humane and rather sweet. *** 1/2 (Zoslov)
The Crazies Although The Crazies is a remake of a 1973 George Romero movie, it didn't need to update the original premise much to remain relevant. With the imagery of hurricane Katrina still fresh in the American consciousness and the threat of the H1N1 virus in the news, the horrors this movie deals with are all too believable. As the film begins, the residents of a small Iowa town inexplicably start going crazy, and not just a little crazy, but full-on homicidal crazy. Sheriff Dutton (Timothy Oliphant) and his physician wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) appear to be unaffected by whatever is causing this outbreak of insanity, but they still must survive attacks by former friends and neighbors. A government-response team is eventually sent in, but they seem more concerned with containment than rescue. The film starts strong, taking time to develop characters, build suspense and make the audience wonder just what the hell is going on. Unfortunately, it falters in the final stretch with an extended action sequence at a truck stop that goes on way too long. ** 1/2 (Robert Ignizio)
Crazy Heart "I used to be somebody, but now I'm somebody else," has-been country crooner Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) says with just the slightest tinge of irony at the beginning of this C&W variant on The Wrestler. Writer-director Scott Cooper's debut feature borrows a page or two from such previous twangy sudsers as Tender Mercies and Payday without ever quite finding an identity of its own. Of course, Bridges' majestic, stunningly lived-in performance is more than enough reason to see this modestly compelling sleeper. And as a Tim McGraw-esque country superstar determined to help Blake stage his big comeback, Colin Farrell is equally impressive. Their emotionally charged, exquisitely moving scenes together are the best parts of the film. The only weak link in an otherwise nonpareil cast (which includes Mercies star Robert Duvall as a friendly saloon keeper) is Maggie Gyllenhaal as the single mom/alt-weekly reporter who has a tough-to-swallow May-December fling with daddy surrogate Blake. Cedar Lee Theatre. *** (Paurich)
The Ghost Writer Two recent events — former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's testimony in the U.K.'s Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq invasion and director Roman Polanski's arrest on a 1970s rape charge — create an excited curiosity about this movie, based on Robert Harris' novel and completed by Polanski in prison. While not among Polanski's best, the film contains his familiar themes: an innocent's descent into evil and identification with the fugitive by a director who fled the Nazis as a child and U.S. law as an adult. The story concerns a writer (Ewan McGregor), called the Ghost, hired to complete the autobiography of Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a charismatic former British P.M. based on Blair. The previous ghostwriter has died mysteriously in a ferry accident near Martha's Vineyard, where the Ghost travels to work with Lang, his shrewd wife, Ruth (Olivia Williams), and Lang's assistant/mistress, Amelia (Kim Cattrall). The story raises important issues, but remains firmly at the shallow end and unfolds in a dullish manner that matches the film's muted color palette. Nonetheless, the acting is mostly excellent and the production values impeccable, with beautifully composed shots, breathtaking coastal atmospherics and a lovely, understated Alexandre Desplat score. *** (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. ** 1/2 (Gallucci)
Shutter Island With Shutter Island, director Martin Scorcese has made a spectacular return to the suspense-thriller genre he last tackled in 1991's Cape Fear. Both films veer close to horror at times, but while Cape Fear traded in more visceral shocks, Shutter Island is psychological and atmospheric. It centers on U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man haunted by his past. As a soldier, he witnessed the horrors of the Dachau concentration camp. Then, after returning home from the war, he lost his wife (Michelle Williams) in a fire. Along with his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), Teddy has been sent to investigate the disappearance of an inmate from Shutter Island, a foreboding hospital for the criminally insane. That anyone could have escaped seems impossible. Even stranger, the marshals find their investigation blocked at every turn by the very people who asked for their help — head doctors Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Naehring (Max Von Sydow). It soon becomes apparent that the missing patient is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. **** (Ignizio)