Film » Film Capsules

Film Capsules

Opening

Chloe Based on Anne Fontaine's superb 2004 French drama, Canadian maverick Atom Egoyan's (The Sweet Hereafter, Exoticawish he'd left well enough alone. The cast (Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson and Dear John/Mamma Mia! ingenue Amanda Seyfried as the young seductress) is certainly up to the challenge, but Egoyan made the perversely wrong-headed decision to turn his movie into a lesbo Fatal Attraction. While stylishly made and nicely acted, this is really nothing more than a tawdry melodrama disguised as an art flick. It's not clear why Egoyan's unintentionally campy potboiler is being released by the tony Sony Classics instead of Screen Gems, parent company Sony Pictures' exploitation division. ** 1/2 (Milan Paurich)

Hot Tub Time Machine Reviewed at clevescene.com.

House (Japan, 1977) This Japanese horror movie was made more than 30 years ago, and while it's now become a cult classic, Nobuhiko Obayashi's film doesn't hold up. Even by B-movie standards, the special effects are cheesy, and the acting is generally shoddy. The story surrounds Oshare (Kimiko Ikegami), a young Japanese schoolgirl who recruits six screeching friends to go on vacation with her to her aunt's house in the countryside. Of course, the place turns out to be haunted, and it's not long before an angry ghost comes after them. The ghost chops off one girl's fingers when she plays the piano and and hurls pillows at another girl, suffocating her. The campy film is more strange than scary and shouldn't be confused with all the contemporary Japanese horror movies that have received much-deserved stateside attention. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 8:45 p.m. Friday, March 26, and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 27. ** (Jeff Niesel)

How to Train Your Dragon Reviewed at clevescene.com.

La Danse — The Paris Opera Ballet (France/U.S., 2009) A behind-the-scenes look at Paris Opera Ballet. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 28.

Reefer Madness (U.S., 1936) Produced by a church group as Tell Your Children, this hysterical anti-marijuana tract (with a little carnival-sideshow sex and sleaze on the side subsequently inserted by barnstorming producer Dwain Esper) went on to be a perennial at college film groups across the country, with many a freshman toking in its honor. Even viewers who value their sobriety won't be able to stifle a giggle at the Squaresville enactment of a deadly dope ring that ensnares a bunch of Archie-and-Jughead type "teenagers," luring them to a bad girl's apartment and transforming the hapless youth into maniacs/murderers. The utilitarian scare show inspired the Paula Abdul-choreographed Broadway musical and Showtime feature Reefer Madness, but, unlike those spin-offs, this knew enough to wrap up in a little over an hour — so the traveling filmmakers could welcome in the next carnival tentful of rubes. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 10:30 p.m. Friday, March 26, and 8:45 p.m. Saturday, March 27. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

Reel Injun (Canada, 2009) "The only thing more pathetic than Indians on TV is Indians watching Indians on TV," a character tells his Native American friends in a clip from 1998's Smoke Signals at the start of this documentary, which covers 100 years of Native Americans in movies. Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond begins his trek in the Black Hills, where he attempts to debunk myths about Crazy Horse, an icon who allegedly killed General Custer. He visits his descendents, who live on one of the poorest reservations in the country, and goes to the old building where Crazy Horse was imprisoned and stops at a summer camp for suburban kids where Native American rituals are reenacted. Diamond then explores the transformation from "noble Injun" to "brutal savage." He visits Navajos who were extras on old John Wayne movies and translates their lines for the very first time, discovering that they often improvised and added insults directed at their white co-stars. There's a happy ending, however, as actors like Will Sampson (Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) reclaim stereotyped Native American characters, triggering yet another shift in Hollywood. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 5:15 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 31. *** (Niesel)

Sita Sings the Blues (U.S., 2008) In this low-budget, high-imagination cartoon, writer-director Nina Paley wryly retells the Ramayana from the viewpoint of its heroine, the wronged wife of a mighty monarch. Commentary and flavor are added by musical numbers from 1920s jazz vocalist Annette Hanshaw, who "stars" in the film posthumously. Paley also interweaves the sad-absurd story of her own marital breakup. Brilliant minimalism-is-more graphics, music, satire, cross-cultural odysseys, heartache, revenge against an ex — it's all here. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Friday, March 26, and 10:15 p.m. Saturday, March 27. *** (Cassady)

In Theaters

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. *** (Michael Gallucci)

The Bounty Hunter She hasn't starred in a good movie since, oh, 2002's The Good Girl. So why is Jennifer Aniston Hollywood's second highest-paid actress (just behind romantic rival Angelina Jolie)? You might ponder this during the dull spots in her latest, The Bounty Hunter. Despite her Architectural Digest house and compulsively sculpted face, she has an appealing regular-girl charm, amply in evidence in this shambling screwball comedy directed by Andy Tennant. Aniston plays New York Daily News reporter Nicole Hurley, the kind of journalist found in no newsroom on earth, pursuing hot leads while wearing skin-tight miniskirts and six-inch spike heels. Arrested after a police scuffle, Nicole jumps bail to follow a lead on a murder case. Her ex-husband Milo (Gerard Butler), an ex-cop turned bounty hunter, gets the job of apprehending her. They set off on an acrimonious road trip through Atlantic City that involves Milo locking Nicole into a car trunk, vengeful bookies gunning for Milo, murderous tattoo artists gunning for Nicole, and Milo and Nicole fighting, flirting and contemplating a reunion. The plot gears grind rather sluggishly, and there are few real sparks generated between Aniston and the Scottish Butler, whose American accent makes him sound like he's from nowhere. Yet, like Aniston, the movie has a redeeming amiability. Sarah Thorp's screenplay furnishes some laughs, and the zesty supporting cast includes Christine Baranski as Nicole's mom, a bawdy casino singer; Jason Sudeikis as the nerdy reporter in love with Nicole; and Cathy Moriarty as a ruthless bookie. ** 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov)

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 (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)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid "This is a journal, not a diary," says scrawny, undersized Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) at the start of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, an adaptation of Jeff Kinney's popular illustrated novel series. As it turns out, that's the least of his problems. As Greg starts middle school, he becomes obsessed with being liked and is suddenly aware of the fact that his portly pal Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron) isn't the hippest kid to have as a best friend. And then there's the fact that his older rock-star-wannabe brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) is constantly picking on him. His parents (Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn) aren't any help either and don't always support his decisions. So in an attempt to be cool, Greg tries out for the wrestling team. When that doesn't go so well, he auditions for the school play. He can actually carry a tune, but when he gets a role as a singing tree, it doesn't help his self-esteem. In making Greg a flawed hero who struggles with his selfish impulses, director Thor Freudenthal (Hotel for Dogs) stays true to the book's spirit. *** (Niesel)

Green Zone Some Iraq war veterans have voiced complaints over the accuracy in Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker. You can only imagine their response to Green Zone, which takes even more liberties. Most likely, they'll be too busy howling with laughter to mount a protest. The idea of U.S. Army officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) abandoning his mission of searching for Iraqi WMDs to suddenly go rogue and morph into a Jason Bourne-type character might work if this were merely a liberal variation on the sort of action movies Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris made back in the '80s. Unfortunately, the trademark documentary style of director Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum) and the film's constant proselytizing indicate that we're supposed to take this nonsense seriously, and that's just not possible. "Inspired by" the Rajiv Chandrasekaran book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, the film merely cherrypicks a few facts and observations, and shoehorns them into a dunderheaded action-movie script. Even if you agree with the politics, it's hard not to be embarrassed by the way it goes about imparting its message. Greengrass does stage a few gripping action scenes early on, but the film is so relentlessly over-the-top that it eventually just wears on you. * (Robert Ignizio)

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 black, 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)

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)

Remember Me Terrible things happen to people in this romantic drama starring Twilight teen-throb Robert Pattinson and Lost's Emilie de Ravin. A mother is gunned down in the New York subway in front of her young daughter. A marriage falls apart after a son's suicide. A young woman's father slaps her, splitting her lip. But none of this prepares the viewer for the gratuitous final twist, an epic spoiler already revealed on several movie-review sites. Pattinson plays Tyler, a sort of Holden Caulfield by way of James Dean: brooding, poetic, cigarette-smoking, dotes on his clever little sister, idolizes his dead brother and, in rebellion from his rich family, lives in a squalid flat and aimlessly audits college classes. He also has an explosive temper that leads him into, among other things, fights with policemen. He meets Ally (de Ravin), the pretty daughter of the cop (Chris Cooper) who arrested him. They fall in love and, just like Romeo and Juliet, must contend with parental issues: her protective father distrusts delinquent Tyler, and Tyler's distant dad (Pierce Brosnan) neglects Tyler's cherished 11-year-old sister (Ruby Jerins). Its unrelieved mournfulness overshadows the movie's better qualities: Will Fetters' clever dialogue, a strong cast and brisk direction by Allen Coulter, known for high-quality television work. But for the Twilight devotees who are likely its target audience, this brutal, often manipulative melodrama is probably too grim. At an early screening, while the credits rolled, one girl lamented, "I didn't know it was gonna be so sad!" ** 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov) .

Repo Men No, this isn't a sequel to the cult '80s film Repo Man. Both films feature protagonists who work in the collections business, but in this movie, artificial organs get repossessed. Jude Law and Forest Whitaker play a pair of repo men who are especially ruthless and especially good at their jobs. But when Remy (Law) has an accident at work that results in him needing an artificial heart, he suddenly has a new perspective on his job. Law and Whitaker are good in their roles, as are supporting players Alice Braga and Liev Schreiber. Early on, the script delivers some satisfyingly dark comic moments, but eventually Repo Men loses its sense of fun and degenerates into just another typical violent sci-fi action film. Anyone familiar with 2008's cult musical Repo! The Genetic Opera will find the premise here very familiar. There's also a fair bit of Total Recall in the mix. Rip-offs are nothing new in Hollywood, but if you're going to make one, it's better to learn from a master like Roger Corman who knows to keep it fun and cheap. He also wouldn't try to stretch 80 minutes worth of recycled garbage to two hours. ** (Ignizio)

She's Out of My League She's Out of My League deceptively begins as your typical nerd-meets-girl romantic comedy. When Kirk (Jay Baruchel), an airport security official (essentially one step above a mall cop), first meets Molly (Alice Eve), a beautiful blonde girl that his friends describe as a "hard 10," he thinks he has no chance with her. After all, Kirk is skinny and weird-looking, and the buxom Molly has curves that never quit. But when Molly's friend Patty (Krysten Ritter) tells Kirk that her gal pal has a thing for him, he starts to think otherwise. The film follows a predictable path as Kirk and Molly start dating, hit a rough patch and eventually try to find a way to resolve their differences. Many of the jokes will remind you of other comedies. In one funny scene that recalls the shaving scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Kirk decides to prune his pubic hair. In another awkward moment, which seems inspired by There's Something About Mary, he literally creams his jeans when he and Molly are getting hot and heavy. What makes the film work is its great cast of characters. Baruchel plays the good-natured nerd with enough charm to make his character heroic despite his flaws. His pals Stainer (T.J. Miller), Devon (Nate Torrence) and Jack (Mike Vogel) are well-rounded and deliver plenty of good lines that make them essential to the film's unrelenting humor. *** (Niesel)

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)

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