Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio (U.S., 2010) This documentary examines the life of architect Samuel Mockbee and his low-budget Rural Studio at Auburn University. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 5.
Delta (Hungary/Germany, 2008) A young man meets a sister he didn't know he had in Kornél Mundruczó's film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 6, and 5:30 p.m. Saturday, May 8.
Eclipse This wispy ghost story by acclaimed playwright Conor McPherson (The Seafarer) gets by on the strength of its performances and moody, picturesque Irish locales. The excellent Ciarán Hinds plays a mopey widower with two young children; he meets a celebrated novelist (Iben Hjejle from High Fidelity) during a literary festival in his wee hometown. The author's former flame — an alcoholic windbag amusingly played by Aidan Quinn — makes an attempt to pick up where they left off, but various factors, including some harmless ghosts and an unexpected visit from his long-suffering spouse, conspire against him. Hinds and Hjejle make a likable pair of semi-reluctant, middle-aged lovebirds, and McPherson knows how to create a pensive, melancholy atmosphere. Too bad there wasn't more dramatic heft to the storytelling, and a few more surprises (large or small) along the way. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** (Milan Paurich)
Five Easy Pieces (U.S., 1970) Jack Nicholson stars in this period piece about a piano prodigy who has left behind his former life to work on an oil rig. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:35 p.m. Saturday, May 8, and 6:45 p.m. Sunday, May 9.
Iron Man 2 Reviewed at clevescene.com.
Red Riding 1974 (Britain, 2009) Based on a series of British crime novels by David Peace, Red Riding ambitious triptych is remarkably consistent in overall quality. Stylistically, however, the films are all over the map. Red Riding 1974 (shot in Super 16 by Julian Jarrold), which shows this week, is the flashiest and pulpiest of the three films; the arty, noirish RR 1980 (directed by James Marsh) and Anand Tucker's gritty, digitally lensed RR 1983 screen later this month. As gripping, densely textured and addictive as James Ellroy's novels or HBO's The Wire — the cops are fatally flawed, journalists are beaten-down cynic-idealists, and politicos and business tycoons are the scum of the earth — the three movies stand alone nicely. While the thick-as-mud Yorkshire accents take some getting used to — subtitles would have been helpful — it's a safe bet that you'll be hooked from the opening scene of RR '74. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 8 and at 8:45 p.m. Sunday, May 9. **** (Paurich)
Still Bill (U.S., 2009) This documentary about '70s R&B star Bill Withers, who hasn't made an album in 25 years. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, May 7.
Waiting for Armageddon (U.S., 2009) A profile of evangelicals who believe the end of the world is coming soon. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 12.
The White Ribbon (Austria/Germany/France/Italy, 2009) Winner of the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival, the latest work to date by Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke (Caché, The Piano Teacher) is about the (possible) roots of Nazism. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 8:25 p.m. Thursday, May 6, and 7 p.m. Monday, May 10.
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 Back-up Plan For pet-shop owner Zoe (Jennifer Lopez), a "back-up plan" means having a baby even if she's not in a relationship. The Back-up Plan opens with Zoe in stirrups preparing to be artificially inseminated. Then she meets good-looking Stan (Alex O'Loughlin) on her way home from the doctor as they try to grab the same cab. And, predictably, the two fall in love. But when things get hot and heavy on a weekend getaway, Zoe has to tell Stan that she's pregnant with a mystery man's baby. Of course, Stan freaks out and the rest of this romantic comedy is about how they must learn to trust each other. Yawn. Looking particularly fit at 40, Lopez is as attractive as ever. And O'Loughlin has a shirtless sequence that suggests he's no slouch either. But the two have zero chemistry, and the film hits a real lull after they start dating. The movie has several subplots (Zoe joins the wacko group "Single Mothers And Proud") that don't go anywhere. This isn't the worst movie J. Lo has ever made, but it hardly qualifies as a comeback. ** (Jeff Niesel)
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)
Breaking Upwards When boredom sets in for a young New York couple (Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones, playing themselves), the two must devise ways to refresh their relationship. First, they spend certain days of the week away from each other, not even calling. That works, to a point. Daryl spends more time with his parents, and Zoe goes shopping whenever she wants. But trouble starts when they attend what's essentially a swingers' club and decide they should start seeing other people. Partly based on reality, the film comes off as an artsy reality-TV show in its attempt to play like a documentary. But its low-budget charm quickly wears thin, particularly because Wein's acting abilities don't match Jones'. ** 1/2 (Niesel)
City Island This movie is named for a small nautical community located just beyond the Bronx, where Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia), a prison guard and aspiring actor, lives with his family. Everyone is hiding a secret — ranging from the trivial (smoking) to the shocking (a secret love child). All secrets come to the surface after Vince brings home Tony (Steven Strait), a recently paroled car thief. Amusingly, Tony is the most innocent member of the motley family, which includes smart-mouthed teen Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller), who's privately obsessed with fat girls; daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido), secretly working as a stripper; and Vince, who hides the fact that he's taking an acting class, where he befriends Molly (adorable Emily Mortimer), leading his hard-edged wife Joyce (Julianna Marguiles) to suspect he's being unfaithful. It scarcely matters that not every story element is entirely believable (the handsome Garcia as a working-class schlub, for one), because writer and director Raymond De Felitta's screenplay is sensitive, sweet, and often poetic, and the performances are just about perfect. *** 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov)
Clash of the Titans Like a clunky old classic car, the analog 1981 Clash of the Titans is still more fun than this remake. The plot is the quest of fashionably glum hero Perseus (Sam Worthington) to hack his way through a bunch of Todd McFarlane-style monsters to find out how to defeat Lord of the Underworld Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and his gigantic ultimate-weapon creature, the Kraken. The twist is that the ancient Aegeans have evidently been reading evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and the recurring theme is man's revolt and rejection of the capricious gods, even more-or-less benevolent creator Zeus (Liam Neeson). Half-god son of the lusty Zeus, Perseus suppresses his Olympian superpowers most of the time. Even so, the likely audience for this is Gamepro subscribers, with CGI-frantic action scenes that look like cut-and-pastes from Transformers or Pirates of the Caribbean. ** 1/2 (Charles Cassady Jr.)
Date Night Directed by Shawn Levy, this likeable comedy has a lot of the right stuff: the ingenious pairing of Tina Fey and Steve Carell as a married couple from New Jersey; a fairly funny screenplay by Josh Klausner; and a delightful supporting cast featuring Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, James Franco, Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg. The story centers on Phil and Claire Foster (Carell and Fey), a tax lawyer and his realtor wife, who are bored with their workaday lives. Even their occasional "date night" has become routine, so they try to recapture some excitement with dinner at an overpriced Manhattan bistro. They steal another couple's reservation, which plunges them into a perilous misadventure involving rogue cops, blackmail and a corrupt D.A. The fluid rapport between the leads, sexy-smart Fey and diffident semi-nerd Carrel, is the movie's most appealing element. They're jokey, affectionate and irritable, just like a real couple. Comedically, there are as many misses as hits, and the action plot, climaxed by a high-decibel car chase, at times threatens to overwhelm the humor. But the movie offers a high quotient of laughs: Claire, fleeing two gunmen with Phil, screeching, "I don't want the kids to live with your mother! She's awful!"; Phil desperately begging a hunky, habitually bare-chested security expert (Wahlberg) to, for the love of God, put on a shirt. Be sure to stay for the closing-credits outtakes. *** (Pamela Zoslov)
Death at a Funeral After his ill-fated Wicker Man revision, once cutting-edge filmmaker Neil LaBute remakes another British property, and the good news is that humor here is intentional. It's a so-so Americanization of the 2007 Death at a Funeral, an ensemble farce of escalating disaster and humiliation at an upscale funeral held in a plush home, in which the wrong corpse delivered at the outset is the least that goes wrong. Following the Frank Oz original nearly scene for scene, this has a largely black cast — Chris Rock, replacing Matthew McFayden, as an eldest son staging the affair, suffering sibling competition from his hotshot novelist brother (Martin Lawrence, replacing Rupert Graves), as well as the blackmail demands of a gay dwarf (Peter Dinklage, repeating his 2007 role), secret lover of the deceased. There's also a loose-cannon container of designer drugs making folks hallucinate, nasty old Uncle Russell (local union hero Danny Glover), and, yes, the bare-ass nudity and projectile-excrement gags retained (fortunately not at the same time). Rock and Lawrence play off each other well, though the picture paradoxically goes out of its way to be colorblind in its interaction of black and white characters. More acknowledgment of the race change might have lent some extra juice. ** 1/2 (Cassady)
Furry Vengeance Brendan Fraser plays Dan Sanders, a nature-loving executive for a supposedly "eco-friendly" development company. Dan has moved his reluctant family — schoolteacher wife Tammy (Brooke Shields) and sulky cyber-junkie teenage son Tyler (Matt Prokop) — from Chicago to the Oregon wilderness to live in a model home for a new subdivision. Headed by a raccoon, the animals learn of the company's plan to build on their forest and launch an all-out war against Dan. The creatures' assault garners less sympathy than it should because Dan is really a nice fellow who is goaded by his sleazy boss (Ken Jeong) into replacing the forest with a shopping mall. As the animals wreak escalating havoc on Dan, forcing him into embarrassing situations, his strange behavior alarms his family and co-workers. Fraser and Shields acquit themselves gracefully amid the movie's impossibly silly slapstick. ** (Zoslov)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Late Swedish author/journalist Stieg Larsson's posthumously published novel gets a competently gripping adaptation in director Niels Arden Oplev's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The movie takes its time in entangling a reporter-turned-investigator and hacking punkette into its central multigenerational family mystery, but once it gets there it becomes a solid old-fashioned slab of detective fiction. When the movie opens, investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) has just lost a libel case filed by a wealthy Swedish businessman, causing Blomkvist to leave his publication in disgrace and await his prison sentence. Freshly unemployed, he's contacted by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), an elderly member of the Vanger family that operates the Vanger Company industrial empire. Back in the 1960s, Vanger's favorite niece Harriet went missing, and he presumes she was murdered. Blomkvist agrees, but doesn't think he'll turn anything up, though he catches a break when Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), computer-hacking investigator, enters his life. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first of a trilogy, and all three have been made into Swedish movies starring the dynamite duo of Rapace and Nyqvist that have already been released in their home country. It doesn't aspire to reinvent the crime flick; it merely delivers the genre. But, goddamn, does it deliver. **** (Bret McCabe)
Hot Tub Time Machine There are those who will laugh at a good projectile-vomit gag, and then there are those who do not believe there is such a thing as a good projectile-vomit gag. Which side of that divide you fall on should be a fair indicator of whether or not you'll enjoy Hot Tub Time Machine, which manages to include gags involving just about every bodily fluid and function imaginable. As for plot, there's a hot tub, and it's a time machine. Old friends Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry), along with Adam's nephew Jacob (Clark Duke), get into the hot tub and wind up inadvertently transported back to 1986. Once in the past, the characters encounter a standard "snobs vs. slobs" conflict, engage in lots of alcohol and drug use, and indulge in a hearty helping of sex and nudity. It's like a cross between Back to the Future and Hot Dog — The Movie. The talent and likeability of the cast helps a lot, and you get the feeling the filmmakers have a genuine love for the much-maligned genre of '80s teen sex comedies. *** (Ignizio)
How to Train Your Dragon At a time when 3D/CGI 'toons are not only ubiquitous but virtually inescapable, How to Train Your Dragon, the latest release from DreamWorks' animation house is actually pretty decent Saturday matinee fare. Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois — the team responsible for Disney's underrated Lilo and Stitch — this boy-and-his-dragon charmer is great-looking and mercilessly bereft of the snarky attitude that makes so many "all-ages friendly" entertainments an endurance test for anyone over the age of 10. Inspired by Cressida Cowell's eight-volume kid-lit series, it tells a classically structured adventure story in expedient fashion and uses its 3D imagery judiciously, minus the usual cheap carny tricks. Jay Baruchel (She's Out of My League) provides the voice for Hiccup, the nerdy Viking teenager who adopts an injured dragon named Toothless, becomes an accidental hero and earns his alpha-male father's respect in the process. The insufferable Gerard Butler — using his authentic Scottish burr instead of his fingernails-on-a-blackboard "American" accent — voices Hiccup's dad, and he is relatively easy to take for a change. Nobody's reinventing the wheel here, but you could do a lot worse. *** (Paurich)
Kick-Ass Given that Superman debuted in 1938, you'd think by now someone would have been impressionable enough to attempt to emulate his or her comic hero in real life. What would happen if they did? Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) decides to find out by donning a green wetsuit and christening himself Kick-Ass. Unknown to Dave, he's not the only one playing dress-up. Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his 11-year-old daughter, Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), are playing for keeps too. They've got an arsenal that would make Rambo jealous, and they intend to use it to bring down crime boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong). Also getting in on the costume party is D'Amico's son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who goes by the name Red Mist. At times, the character of Kick-Ass feels almost like a supporting player in his own movie, but that's fine because there's such a strong ensemble cast. Moretz damn near steals the movie as Hit Girl, and in Big Daddy, Cage has found another role as perfectly suited to his fearless acting style as last year's The Bad Lieutenant. This is a gleefully violent and offensive movie, filled with gore, profanity and stuff that's just plain wrong. *** 1/2 (Ignizio)
The Last Song The Last Song is about a rebellious New York teen named Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) whose mom (Kelly Preston) brings her and her weepy little brother (Bobby Coleman) to spend the summer with Dad (Greg Kinnear) at his Windswept Beachfront House in Tybee Island, Georgia. Dad has little to do but tinker at making a stained-glass window for a church that burned down under suspicious circumstances. Under Dad's tutelage, Ronnie was a piano prodigy at age five, but since her parents' divorce, she hasn't played a note. Nonetheless, she has been accepted into Juilliard without even having to audition. Dressed in black and wearing combat boots on the beach, sullen Ronnie meets Will (real-life boyfriend Liam Hemsworth), a handsome, WASP-y volleyball player who takes an inexplicable shine to her, to the chagrin of his rich, uptight mom. Will volunteers at the aquarium, where he takes Ronnie swimming in the fish tanks. Through Will's transformative love, Ronnie opens her heart, rescues some baby sea turtles, plays some bad new-age piano music, wears a frilly dress to Will's sister's fancy wedding and grows closer to her dad. The movie may raise lumps in the throat among those susceptible, but its appeal is probably limited to young Miley Cyrus fans and diehard devotees of Nicholas Sparks. *1/2 (Zoslov)
The Losers The Losers is more or less a variation on The A-Team, also due for a big-screen treatment this summer. A super bad-ass special-forces team consisting of Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Roque (Idris Elba), Jensen (Chris Evans), Cougar (Oscar Jaenada), and Pooch (Columbus Short) run afoul of rogue CIA agent Max (Jason Patric) when they refuse to carry out a mission that would have resulted in the deaths of several innocent children. Max tries to kill the team and has them smeared as bad guys for good measure, but they survive and go underground. Eventually, the sexy and mysterious Aisha (Zoe Saldana) shows up and offers them a chance to get revenge and get their lives back. This is an enjoyable enough action flick with a few moments of inspired lunacy, and the cast is likeable, especially Morgan and Elba. But director Sylvain White goes overboard with the style and attitude, constantly reminding us how hip, cool, and edgy his movie is, with its slow-motion visual style and unnecessary jump cuts. ** 1/2 (Robert Ignizio)
Nightmare on Elm Street Jackie Earle Haley stalks the dreams of high-school students as razor-gloved killer Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Haley plays the role made famous by Robert Englund in the original 1984 low-budget horror film and its many sequels, and his performance is excellent, bringing back a real sense of menace and sadism to a character that had grown increasingly silly over time. That's about it for the positives, though; everything else about this new Nightmare is mediocre. It has the usual tendency of horror films to sacrifice character development for action. Aside from Freddy, none of the characters are even remotely interesting. Rooney Mara's Nancy mumbles and stumbles her way through the movie, never becoming an engaging heroine, and the rest of the cast is just as forgettable. Director Samuel Bayer is competent as a visual stylist, but he's got no feel for the rhythm of this kind of film, throwing one loud scare after another at the audience until it just becomes annoying. As for the stuff nightmares are made of, you won't find it here. **(Ignizio)
Why Did I Get Married Too? Conspicuously absent from this tiresome sequel — in which the same four couples from Tyler Perry's 2007 gabfest spend a week in the Caribbean dissecting their marital woes ad nauseum — are originality, wit, pathos, nuance and decent performances. Even old pros like Louis Gossett Jr. and Cicely Tyson look like rank amateurs under Perry's inept tutelage. After writing, directing and starring in 10 films since 2005, Perry's cinematic oeuvre has become so formulaic, dull and yes, "minstrelly," that you might think they were mass-produced from an assembly line in his Atlanta studio. Until Perry hires a real director (and writer), maybe it's time to call for a moratorium on these self-indulgent ego trips masquerading as movies. An African-American Douglas Sirk he ain't. * 1/2 (Paurich)