The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is showing several great films this weekend. Here are our reviews of what's showing.
Oliver Twist (Britain/Czech Republic/France/Italy, 2005) Roman Polanski’s gray version of the oft-filmed Charles Dickens classic has the noble implicit aim to rescue the iconic material from the Disneyesque overtones evoked by the upbeat musical Oliver! and getting back to Dickens’ original cry of anger over his society’s injustices and abuse of helpless children. Still, for all the talents involved, this is off-the-rack Masterpiece Theatre stuff, surprising only in that the screenwriter dispensed with Dickens’ complicated third-act revelations about Little Orphan Oliver's true parentage as a lost boy of noble London aristocracy, dumped into the brutish workhouse-orphanages of Victorian England and shanghaied into a pick-pocketing street gang. The much-told tale gets a little better as it goes along, thanks to Ben Kingsley’s performance as the criminal ringleader Fagin, part kindly granddad, part loathsome exploiter (the character’s infamous Jewish origins are never noted; at least Ron Moody had some soundtrack cues as giveaways). And yet, there’s little here that tops David Lean’s magnificently stark 1948 version or even Sir Carol Reed’s flavorful 1968 G-rated film of the musical, with its lavish production numbers, that grabbed the Best Picture Oscar away from 2001: A Space Odyssey. At 7 p.m. Friday, July 31. ** 1/2 (Charles Cassady Jr.)
A Shot in the Dark (US, 1964) Peter Sellers reprised his role as bumbling inspector Jacques Clouseau in this, possibly the best of the Pink Panther series, even its mention tends to get blank stares from casual moviegoers because of the studio’s failure to mention the “panther” the title (indeed, even Henry Mancini’s theme music is entirely different and quite good). A wordless pre-credit sequence, suggesting that director Blake Edwards was studying Jacques Tati at the time, is a complicated intrigue involved different men skulking around the estate, just avoiding each other. One is killed — the ex-lover (possibly also the rapist, we’re told) of the mansion’s blonde-bombshell maid Maria (Elke Sommer), who was found holding the gun but claiming no memory of the event. Hot on the trail, Clouseau is immediately smitten with Maria and defends her as an innocent being framed, even when other characters turn up slain left and right around her. This was the comedy that set up the elements that would become familiar in the Edwards/Sellers collaborations: disaster-causing inspector Clouseau, his wrathful chief Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), his attack-ready manservant Kato (Burt Kwouk). It works wonderfully, more remarkably because the source material was actually an unrelated stage comedy about a judge, retro-fitted to the Clouseau-niverse. At 9:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1, and 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2. **** (Cassady)
Sleep Dealer (US/Mexico, 2008) Director Alex Rivera began exploring immigration issues when he took a good look at the life of his Peruvian father. Then, Rivera started to travel to the U.S./Mexico border and made a few documentaries about his experiences. He began to think about creating a science-fiction piece about border issues. The resulting film, Sleep Dealer, centers on the life of Memo Cruz (Luis Fernando Peña), a poor farmer who gets into a bit of trouble when his rigged radio transmitter intercepts a U.S. military transmission. As a result, his house is destroyed and his father is killed, so he moves north to the border where he gets a job working in a futuristic factory. There, he hooks himself into a computer and begins life as a virtual construction worker. By connecting to a mainframe via a series of nodes he’s had surgically embedded, he can help assemble a San Diego skyscraper located on the other side of the border. Without being overtly political, the film comments on life in the maquiladoras, the factories that line the Mexico/U.S. border. At 9:30 p.m. Friday, July 31 and at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1. *** (Jeff Niesel)
Three Monkeys (Turkey/France/Italy, 2008) Despite a slew of festival awards — including a Cannes Grand Jury prize for 2002’s Distant — and an exalted critical reputation, Nuri Bilge Ceylan has yet to make a sizable dent in the North American marketplace. Ceylan’s most accessible work to date, Monkeys is a gloss on classic noir tropes: his first “genre” film. The story involves corrupt politician Servet (Ercan Kesal) who bribes longtime chauffeur Eyüp (Yavuz Bingol) into taking the rap for him after a hit-and-run accident. Soon afterwards, the married Servet begins a not-so-clandestine affair with Eyüp’s wife (Hatice Aslan). Things become even more complicated — morally and otherwise — when Eyüp is released from jail. As oblique and deliberately paced as his previous movies — like Antonioni, Ceylan is a master of insinuation and alienation — Three Monkeys will never be confused with a James M. Cain potboiler. But Ceylan’s drily methodical approach to narrative and his uncanny flair for making “pure cinema” definitely have their rewards. Whether that’s enough to make him a household name outside the international fest circuit remains to be seen. At 7:05 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1 and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2. *** (Milan Paurich)