Babylon A.D. - This is an ambitious, serious-minded sci-fi film that at times recalls such superior examples of the genre as Blade Runner and Children of Men. Based on the French novel Babylon Babies, Babylon A.D. feels as if large chunks of narrative are missing, leaving plot holes the producers tried to fill with poorly shot action scenes. And that's a shame, because there are parts of this movie that work and suck you in. Maybe the international cut, which is 15 minutes longer, will help somewhat. And with that in mind, I can only say that your best bet if you want to see this movie is to wait for the inevitable "special extended version" DVD. (Robert Ignizio)
Breathless (France, 1960) - To say Jean-Luc Godard's breakthrough of the French New Wave hasn't exactly aged like fine wine is, how you say, c'est la vie. Would you trash The Great Train Robbery with the same criticism? It's important to remember that popular film fare of the era - fluffy comedies, overblown musicals, stagy dramas - were the plat du jour in France, as well as in Hollywood, before Godard shook up the stylistic complacency via unsteady, handheld camerawork, natural light and purposefully ragged editing, bringing a breath of realism to the small-scale existentialist tale of a petty crook with a fixation on Humphrey Bogart (here, a self-consciously self-referential crime picture three decades before Tarantino) hiding from Paris police with his American girlfriend. Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg become icons in the lead roles, and, indeed, a bulk of the picture is just their long bedroom dialogue, which Godard shot indoors on high-sensitivity 35mm film that, according to legend, was only available to still photographers; his crew had to splice yards and yards of it together unexposed to create a viable reel. It's also said that after Breathless premiered, loads of young French directors scrambled back to their editing suites and put sloppy jump-cuts into their works-in-progress to duplicate Godard's jaunty off-rhythms. So it's talky and scratchy, and its technique became a much-parodied cliché of European art-house fare; 21st-century cineasts should pay homage anyway. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:50 p.m. Sat., Sept. 6 and 9:15 p.m. Sun., Sept. 7. (Charles Cassady)
College - This dim-witted movie follows three high-school seniors as they get their first college "experience." When they end up becoming the de facto pledges at a fraternity that's been banned because of its hazing rituals, they get more than they bargained for. The amount of underage drinking and gratuitous sex is enough to shock even liberal parents. But that's not the most revolting part of this film. Even though the frat house is one step removed from a strip club, the movie tries to pass itself off as a genuine coming-of-age story, something that's just as disgusting as the countless references to masturbation and flatulence. (Jeff Niesel) The Dark Knight - Writer/director Christopher Nolan took over the Batman franchise with 2005's Batman Begins, giving the character back the dignity he had lost in Joel Schumacher's execrable Batman and Robin. As the story begins, Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has been making some real headway in cleaning up Gotham City, thanks in part to the help of policeman Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who has more than just a working relationship with Wayne's ex, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). But with this success comes unintended consequences. The Joker (Heath Ledger), a dangerous new criminal, offers to help Gotham's crime bosses get rid of Batman. But perhaps the most interesting story arc belongs to the character of Harvey Dent. Dent is exactly the kind of decent man the Joker wants to corrupt, and Aaron Eckhart makes the most of the part. Co-writing the screenplay with his brother Jonathan, director Christopher Nolan has crafted a complex and thematically rich story that will bear up to repeated viewings long after the CGI thrills of lesser movies have dissipated. (Ignizio)
Death Race - With guns blazing, tires squealing and cameras convulsing, Paul W.S. Anderson's Mortal Kombat-on-wheels careens onto the screen like a motorized Running Man. The plot goes something like this: In the distant future, the most popular show is the internet-broadcast Death Race, where prison inmates drive gnarly speed machines and kill each other to win back their freedom. Loosely based on 1975's Death Race 2000, Anderson's Death Race won't surprise you with its man-wrongly-accused-of-murder-and-forced-to-race plot, but it might catch you off guard with its stunts, which were performed by real stuntmen in real cars (when every other film resorts to cruddy computer-generated effects). Unfortunately, Anderson's cinematographer shakes more than a speed junkie, and no shot lasts longer than 20 seconds. Blink and you'll miss the stunt team's hard-earned car crashes. (Jason Morgan)
Disaster Movie - For the quality of writing that gets written during a WGA writers strike, behold the latest - and unquestionably least - focus-free Hollywood spoof from parodists-for-dummies Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Meet the Spartans, Epic Movie, etc.), poking fun at, in no particular order or rationale, Juno, Enchanted, No Country for Old Men, Superbad, Armageddon, High School Musical, Night at the Museum, Amy Winehouse, Miley Cyrus, Jessica Simpson, Batman, Beowulf, the Chipmunks, etc. The non-plotline has a generic commitphobe dude (Matt Lanter) trying to reconcile with his sexy girlfriend while saving Earth from an asteroid pounding brought on by a crystal skull. Really, The Phantom of Liberty and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie had stronger narrative drives - and Luis Bu–uel could tell a joke better than Friedberg/Seltzer, who beat any punch line (even the few worthy ones) into the pavement through repetition. Premature "tributes" to 2008 duds like Prince Caspian, Hancock and The Love Guru suggest a double-entendre meaning in the title (that and the fact that the whole ragged mess was filmed in Louisiana). Some MADtv castmates pop up to remind us why such schtick is best confined to small-screen blackout sketches. With tighter editing, some individual bits might just pass muster as YouTube Movie. (Cassady)
Frozen River - First-time director and screenwriter Courtney Hunt's somber, contemplative drama centers on Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo), a struggling mom who works part-time at a dollar store and whose gambling-addicted husband has run off two days before Christmas with the money for their house payment. While searching for her husband, Ray meets Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham), a laconic young Mohawk woman who persuades Ray to help her smuggle Chinese and Pakistani illegals across the border in her car trunk. The danger of the enterprise provides some heart-racing drama as the women, driven to desperate measures by their love for their children, connive to elude the police. The film, which Hunt initially made as a short, presents a gritty portrait of lives lived at the margins and effectively dramatizes the cultural contrasts between Indians and whites, the peculiar intersections of tribal and state laws, the moral dimensions of immigration and the sacrifices inherent in motherly love. Leo (21 Grams, Law & Order) is almost painfully real as the tough-minded and less than fully sympathetic heroine. Although some of the plot developments are not quite plausible, the film is a serious-minded, deeply felt work by a promising talent. 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov)
Hamlet 2 - Why do so many of today's movies start brilliantly and then go nowhere? I think they're like certain romantic suitors: strong starters but poor finishers. The comedy Hamlet 2 is plagued by the same condition. This movie, directed and co-written by Andrew Fleming, has good ideas, among them the absurd notion of a sequel to Hamlet. What it lacks, unfortunately, is the stamina to successfully develop those ideas. The story is about a Tucson high school drama teacher, the improbably surnamed Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan), who directs a ridiculous musical in hopes of saving the school's drama program. When the school board, parents and community hear of the blasphemous play, they try to stop the production, until a publicity-hungry ACLU lawyer (Saturday Night Live's Amy Poehler) takes up the case. The first half-hour is filled with funny lines, most of them belonging to the flinty Catherine Keener, who plays Dana's frustrated wife, Brie. But the film outlasts its laughs by a long stretch, meandering into pointless subplots, which have no comic payoff. The movie tries to parody too many things, including inspirational-teacher movies like Mr. Holland's Opus and Dead Poets Society. The songs are mildly amusing, but the production is far too slick to be convincing as the work of high school students. Still, there is something sweet about Hamlet 2, just as there is about some of those ineffectual suitors. It is, like its hero, an endearing, well-meaning semi-failure. (Zoslov)
The House Bunny - Although it's refreshing to see Adam Sandler's Happy Madison production company make its first female-driven comedy, The House Bunny is as skimpy as Anna Faris' wardrobe. Orphaned as a child, the only home Shelley (Anna Faris) has ever known is the Playboy Mansion. After Hef boots her out following her 27th birthday (that's 59 in Bunny years), she winds up becoming the house mom of Zeta Alpha Zeta, a sorority full of socially inept girls who might lose their house. With some senseless inspirational words from Shelley and a major makeover, the group of misfits (played by Emma Stone, Rumer Willis and Katharine McPhee) soon become the sought-after girls on campus, discovering who they really are along the way. Written by the women behind Legally Blonde, The House Bunny is not nearly as smart. Faris has proved herself as a comedic actress, but pulling off an entire movie on her own is questionable. Although this is supposed to be Faris' breakthrough role, the real one to keep an eye on is Superbad's Emma Stone, who continues to impress with her witty personality. (Lauren Yusko)
The Long Shots - Based on a true story, this film about the first girl to play in a Pop Warner football super bowl is inspiring enough, I suppose. Jasmine (Keke Palmer) is the geeky bookworm that everyone at school picks on, and Curtis (Ice Cube) is her delinquent uncle living on the dole. When Curtis, a former standout high-school football player, has to watch over his niece, he learns she's got a rocket for a throwing arm and convinces the coach to give her a try. She makes the team, and it isn't long before she's got the starting job and is leading the guys to last-second victories. While the story is plenty believable, the transitions that both Jasmine and Curtis go through happen so suddenly, you have to think the filmmakers have taken some liberty with the narrative. And the film's countless platitudes about winning and having heart grow thin pretty quickly too. (Niesel)
The Magic Flute (Sweden, 1975) - Set to Mozart's enchanting opera, this highly acclaimed film follows the classic fairy tale about a prince who sets forth to rescue a princess from an ominous priest. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5 and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7.
Man on Wire - On the morning of August 7, 1974, New Yorkers watched in awe as an unstoppable Frenchman by the name of Philippe Petit pirouetted on a tightrope between the magnificent Twin Towers without a net. Inspired by an article about the towers when they were still under construction, Petit, a juggler and tightrope walker, made it his goal to journey between what would be the two tallest buildings in the world. Directed by James Marsh, the documentary focuses mainly on the obsessive planning of Petit and his accomplices. It includes actual footage, black-and-white reenactments and intimate interviews. Man on Wire is a fearless example of following one's dreams and facing the ultimate obstacle in life, and unveils a gripping story about a mad genius and exactly how he made it to the top of the World Trade Center without any detection. At times, listening to him recount his stunt is like watching the heist in Ocean's Eleven unfold. Yeah, the story drags on and the introduction of different characters is confusing, but the adventure is continuously intriguing. Only a small portion of the film is dedicated to actual tightrope walking, but images of Petit 1,350 feet above ground are priceless: He spends 45 minutes in the air, lying down, kneeling and saluting. A photograph of Petit with an airplane flying above is equally eerie. Although 9/11 is never once mentioned, watching Petit dance on top of the world becomes a beautiful and emotional memorial. (Yusko)
Mirrors - Mirrors starts off promisingly enough, with Kiefer Sutherland as a recovering alcoholic ex-cop forced to take a job as a security guard in a creepy, burned-out department store. The first third of the movie may be fairly standard-issue ghost-story stuff, but it creates an effectively creepy atmosphere. As the movie goes along, however, the viewer's suspension of disbelief gets strained to the breaking point as the film gets more and more ridiculous and Sutherland's performance starts to veer into William Shatner territory. This was co-written and directed by Alexandre Aja, who previously directed High Tension and the remake of The Hills Have Eyes. As in those two films, Aja shows that he has great visual style but could care less about logic and believability. And yet, as truly bad as this movie is, I had a hoot watching it. Probably not for the reasons Aja intended, but a hoot nonetheless. (Ignizio)
Pineapple Express - Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) has got it good. He might drive around in a beater car and wear a dingy, decidedly unfashionable brown suit, but he dates a hot high-school chick (Jeanetta Arnette) and holds down a job that doesn't require too much effort (he serves subpoenas). Hell, he spends half his day getting stoned. So when his drug dealer, Saul (James Franco), offers him a blend of weed called "pineapple express," he goes for it. It's at this point that the trouble begins in Pineapple Express, a stoner caper produced by the ubiquitous Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin). In the end, the chemistry between Rogen and Franco overcomes the movie's flaws, bringing to life the quips and banter (Rogen co-wrote the script) in such a way that the film's likely to become the kind of thing you'd watch again and still find something worth laughing at. (Niesel)
The Rocker - In his first starring role, The Office's Rainn Wilson plays Robert "Fish" Fishman, a drummer in an awful '80s hair-metal band who gets the boot right before the group strikes it rich. Twenty years and many crappy cubicle jobs later, Fish joins his teenage nephew's pop-punk band and finally realizes his rock 'n' roll dreams. Like Will Ferrell's stable of clueless and often naked misfits, Wilson's Fish is one of those guys who screws up about a dozen times before he finally learns his lesson. The Rocker eventually settles into a believe-in-yourself, feel-good studio comedy, but there are some genuine laughs sprinkled throughout, especially when Fish unleashes two decades' worth of horndog partying around his underage bandmates. Arrested Development's Will Arnett, Curb Your Enthusiasm's Jeff Garlin and Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis provide stellar support. Best of all for Clevelanders, our city makes a grand appearance in the movie. Look for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a stretch of Euclid Avenue and even a copy of Scene as Fish and his bandmates begin their climb to backstage parties and hotel-trashing. 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars - In the Star Wars universe, the Clone Wars were a three-year skirmish involving the Republic and the burgeoning Empire that filled the gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Back in 2003, Dexter's Laboratory mastermind Genndy Tartakovsky created a 25-episode series that became a cult hit and remains a more satisfying experience than any of the later Star Wars movies. The new Clone Wars isn't quite that stellar. Tartakovsky's anime-style drawings are replaced by sleek CGI videogame-like images. Characters are rail thin, with heads too big for their bodies, but the terrific battle scenes benefit from the angular design. The story sidetracks to smaller adventures featuring Anakin Skywalker, his protégé and a dual-lightsaber-wielding female baddie named Asajj Ventress, while many old faves appear throughout the movie. Like the live-action films, The Clone Wars doesn't really offer a tidy ending. Some of that has to do with the lack of narrative; some of that has to do with the fact that a new TV series based on the movie will be launching in the fall. Still, fans will have fun spotting all the new droids, ships and characters that buzz through the action, but George Lucas' knack for finding ways to milk a series peaked a long, long time ago. (Gallucci)
Tell No One - On the eighth anniversary of his wife's yet-unsolved murder, pediatrician Alex Beck (an excellent Francois Cluzet) begins receiving weird e-mails. After clicking a webcam link, Alex sees a woman in surveillance camera footage who bears an eerily uncanny resemblance to his late wife, Margot (Marie-Josée Croze). Since the police still consider him a prime suspect in Margot's death and because Alex remains Vertigo-obsessed with his late wife nearly a decade after her murder, he begins searching for the mystery lady on the video. Alex's sleuthing eventually uncovers a vast conspiracy that shakes him to his very foundations and nearly costs him his own life. Adapted from Yank novelist Harlan Coben's 2001 bestseller, this diabolically crafty French-language thriller manages to be quintessentially Gallic while still retaining the best and pulpiest qualities of American dime-store fiction. Director Guillaume Canet has made a psychological nail-biter so lip-smackingly satisfying that Hitchcock himself would be green with envy. (Milan Paurich)
Tosca (Italy/France/Britain/Germany, 2001) - In Giacomo Puccini's tragic romance, a crooked police chief plots to tear apart a singer and a painter in love, as this heartbreaking opera translates to film. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 10.
Tropic Thunder - While shooting on location in the jungles of Vietnam, the cast and crew of a "Rambo"-esque adventure movie are attacked by a real band of guerrilla fighters/heroin dealers. The ensuing stand-off between the feral Flaming Dragons and the clueless, girly-man actors is a meta-hoot, even when (especially when) it's spurting enough blood to keep Count Dracula in plasma for several lifetimes. Only the fourth movie directed by Ben Stiller in the past 14 years, this acid-tinged valentine to Hollywood sends up a particular mind-set of Tinseltown player to a fare-the-well. Not since Borat has a comedy been so eager to make you cringe - and chuckle - at the same time. The mostly terrific cast includes Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. as an Aussie Method actor who undergoes a pigment dye job to play an African American soldier. In an extended cameo appearance, a foul-mouthed, prosthetics-laden Tom Cruise generates the film's biggest laughs playing a studio boss equivalent to Austin Powers' Fat Bastard. (Paurich)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Vicky Cristina Barcelona finds director Woody Allen in a lighter mood, telling the story of two friends: dark-haired, sensible Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and blond, impulsive Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), who share a summer vacation - and a lover, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) - in Barcelona. After a weekend trip to Oviedo, Juan Antonio, to Vicky's disappointment, takes up with Cristina, who moves in with him. Vicky resigns herself to marrying the ambitious and reliable Doug (Chris Messina), who seems, by contrast, hopelessly dull. Cristina and Juan Antonio's romantic idyll is interrupted when he is forced to rescue his suicidal ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), who moves into the house. After some initial mistrust, the three fall into a comfortable ménage. Later, Vicky tries to reignite the flame with Juan Antonio, resulting in an absurd twist of fate. It's a mere wisp of a movie, but the clever, talky script and fine cast make it go down like a cool glass of limonada. (Zoslov)
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