Clean Slate (France, 1981) - This adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel about a French colonial township stars Philippe Noiret and Isabelle Huppert. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9 p.m. Friday, February 13.
Dr. Zhivago (US, 1965) - David Lean's epic film is about a Russian poet and doctor who live through the Bolshevik Revolution. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:15 p.m. Saturday, February 14.
Madeline (Britain, 1950) - David Lean's period drama set in Victorian Glasgow stars his then-wife Ann Todd as a woman accused of murdering her lover. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, February 18.
Shoot the Piano Player (France, 1960) - An ex-concert pianist gets involved with a bunch of crooks in this Fran�ois Truffaut classic. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, February 14 and 4 p.m. Sunday, February 15.
This Happy Breed (Britain, 1944) - Noel Coward wrote the screenplay for this David Lean film about a London family living in the between-war (1919-39) years. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 11.
Coraline - This animated adaptation of a Neil Gaiman book attempts to be something like The Nightmare Before Christmas, though the 3D doesn't pop with nearly the same magnitude. The storyline involves a young girl named Coraline (Dakota Fanning) who discovers a secret passage to an alternate version of her life where her parents actually listen to her and treat her like the queen she thinks she is. Turns out it's all a ruse by a wicked witch who's trying to steal her soul, and Coraline has to come up with an elaborate scheme in order to return to the real world. With its array of colorful foliage and talking animals, the film's fantasy world is certainly stunning. The story, however, has a few too many lulls and follows a pretty predictable trajectory. 1/2 (Niesel)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Director David Fincher bookends The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with two pieces of American history: U.S. troops fighting in World War I and the looming threat of Hurricane Katrina. In between, a timeline of historical and not-so-historical events plays out as one man grows up, or more accurately, becomes a boy. "There are no rules," Benjamin (Brad Pitt) says of his unconventional life. And the movie does play around with convention (foremost, there's that whole aging-in-reverse thing). Still, it's Fincher's most traditional film. He's never been so sentimental or aimed this high (not even in the rule-breaking Se7en, Fight Club or last year's under-seen but terrific Zodiac). He stages nearly every scene with an awe that mirrors Benjamin's. By the time he reaches his 20s, Benjamin has 60 years behind him. As a result, he never really feels like he belongs. This charming fantasy, however, fits right in with other end-of-the-year Oscar hopefuls. (Michael Gallucci)
Doubt - Playwright/screenwriter/director John Patrick Shanley's adaptation of his own stage drama is directed with Clint Eastwood austerity and set in a working-class Catholic parish and parochial school in 1964 NYC. There, schoolchildren are kept in line by stern principal Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep in a hedge-clipped Bronx accent), a flinty alpha female of the old ways, who disdains even putting sugar in her tea. Sister Aloysius' sore spot is jovial Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the popular boys' basketball coach. One of Flynn's altar boys, 12-year-old Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II), is the first black to be admitted to the school. Intuiting that Donald is friendless and vulnerable, Father Flynn takes a special interest in him. Soon Sister Aloysius launches into a personal investigation into Father Flynn, accusing him directly of being a calculating child molester. Doubt is a story intended to afflict the comfortable and, while the cast couldn't be better, it's hard not to discern the moments that worked electrifyingly well in the intimacy of a stage presentation that were somewhat lost in the translation to film. File this in Catholic-movie purgatory alongside that Jane Fonda version of Agnes of God. 1/2 (Charles Cassady)
Frost/Nixon - Ron Howard's intelligent drama, derived from the Peter Morgan stage play, aspires to history written with lightning, but Oliver Stone's majestically flawed 1995 Nixon was there first, with more fire and operatic flair. This one feels like history written as a People nostalgia piece. The subject is a series of ballyhooed 1977 TV interviews done by English chat-show host and satirist David Frost (easily impersonated by Michael Sheen), who wrangled a costly Q&A with the infamously resigned Richard Nixon (Frank Langella, in a characterization not unlike Stone's, a gifted and wily statesman toting a massive psychological burden because he never felt as loved and accepted as JFK). Some of this feeds into lofty themes about the limits of power, culpability and owning up - and some of it just reduces this Watergate epilogue to an American Idol popularity competition: Frost vs. Nixon, who looks better on TV? 1/2 (Cassady)
Gran Torino - In Gran Torino, the 78-year-old Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired Detroit autoworker mourning his recently deceased wife. Walt's hatreds are many: He grumbles at his teenage granddaughter's belly ring, the doting attention of his son and daughter-in-law (Brian Haley and Geraldine Hughes), the Asian family next door ("Damn barbarians!"), and at Father Janovich (Christopher Calrey), the round-faced young priest who urges Walt to come to confession. Walt is an unapologetic racist, trading ethnic jokes and scurrilous insults with his barber. He's also, for the sake of drama, hiding some unspecified, coughing-up-blood illness. There's considerable interest in the way the movie incorporates Eastwood's pet themes: the hero with the dark past he's trying to forget, and the gulf between mythologized heroics and ugly reality. With its unholy mix of cultural tolerance, racial stereotypes and gun violence, Gran Torino mirrors the contradictions of its director/star, a vegan, pro-gun pacifist who likes George Bush, hates the Iraq War and once threatened to kill Michael Moore. 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov)
He's Just Not That Into You - Director Ken Kwapis (License to Wed, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) assembled an all-star cast to film this unfilmable book of anecdotes about why men treat women badly even when they like them. While the acting is generally solid across the board, the movie, much like the book, has only moments of inspiration. The intertwining relationships - Janine (Jennifer Connelly) is married to Ben (Bradley Cooper) who's having an affair with Anna (Scarlett Johansson), who's been in and out of a relationship with Conor (Kevin Connolly), who's just blown off Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), who now seeks comfort from Conor's friend Alex (Justin Long) - seem a bit too fabricated here, making the setting (a very spruced-up Baltimore) seem more like some kind of small town. Still, Goodwin is terrific as the frightfully insecure Gigi and the always solid Connelly (not the typically smug Connolly) is excellent as a woman who'll do anything to save her marriage. 1/2 (Niesel)
I've Loved You So Long - Kristin Scott Thomas brings such a flinty, coiled intensity to her role as a middle-aged woman newly released from prison after serving a 15-year sentence in I've Loved You So Long that she damn near burns a hole through the screen. Cautiously navigating the particulars of an outside world she left long ago, Scott Thomas' Juliette almost seems like an alien being when kid sister Lea (the excellent Elsa Zylberstein) picks her up at the airport at the start of the film. For a while, most of Juliette's overdetermined actions - making small talk with her young nieces, interviewing for a job she's clearly overqualified for, just getting through the day like normal folk do - seem to take place in slo-mo. But by the time Juliette reveals the whole truth behind her incarceration, it's like a splash of cold water in the face, and one of the year's great movie moments. 1/2 (Milan Paurich)
The Pink Panther 2 - This time around, a master thief called the Tornado is swiping famous ancient artifacts, like the Shroud of Turin. A "Dream Team" of detectives - Andy Garcia as an Italian lothario, Alfred Molina as a blustery Brit and Yuki Matsuzaki as a Japanese tech whiz - from around the globe is called in to investigate. They're accompanied by a Tornado expert, played by Bollywood beauty Aishwarya Rai. Meanwhile, Clouseau (Steve Martin) is handing out parking tickets, when his shocked superior (John Cleese, replacing the first film's Kevin Kline, who wisely bowed out of this mess) informs him he'll represent France in the all-star detective team. There isn't much plot here, just a series of sight gags (involving wine bottles, a flamenco troupe and the pope) mixed with Clouseau's unintelligible French. The whole thing rides that thin line between childish and stupid. 1/2 (Gallucci)
Push - Basically a superhero movie without the costumes. Nick (Chris Evans) can move objects with his mind, and Cassie (Dakota Fanning) can see the future. The two are on the run from "Division," a top secret U.S. government agency run by Carver (Djimon Hounsou), a man who can put thoughts into people's minds. There's also a super-powered Hong Kong crime family in the mix; its members have the power to bug out their eyes and scream really loud. All these parties are after Nick's girlfriend Kira (Camilla Belle) and the power-boosting syringe in her possession. On the downside, the plot's convoluted, and audience suspension of disbelief is stretched to the breaking point at times. On the plus side, the film strikes a good balance between characterization and action. Excellent performances from Evans and Fanning, as well as Paul McGuigan's capable direction, also help Push rise above mediocrity. (Ignizio)
Taken - After years of work as a "preventer," as he puts it, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is putting his life back in order. He's moved to Los Angeles to be close to his 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), of whom he's very protective, even though she now lives with her mother (Famke Janssen). So when Kim tells her dad she's going to Paris to vacation with a girlfriend, he worries about her safety. When she's abducted by a group of scumbag Albanians who turn unsuspecting tourists into prostitutes, he does what any father with a background in espionage and intelligence affairs would do: He sets out to find the bastards and kill them. Like James Bond or even Jason Bourne, Bryan Miller gets himself in and out of one improbable situation after the other, hotwiring cars, posing as a French policeman and eluding the bad guys in an intense off-road chase along the way. Neeson, though more than up for the role's physical requirements, isn't quite as charismatic as a Daniel Craig or Matt Damon. Still, the movie's suspenseful enough and packs plenty of action into its lean 90-minute running time. 1/2 (Niesel)
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