Bolt - The first Disney CGI 'toon produced since Pixar major domo John Lasseter took creative control of Walt Disney Animation Studios, Bolt has something of a cobbled-together, Chinese-menu feel. Its story of a dog that must travel across country to find his way home inevitably recalls classic live-action Disney fare like 1963's The Incredible Journey (and the less incredible 1993 remake, Homeward Bound). The movie's superhero elements - Bolt is a pampered pup who plays an invincible Rin Tin Tin-like superdog on a popular TV series - hearkens back to Pixar's The Incredibles. But like last year's Meet the Robinsons, Bolt is out in both "flat" and digital 3-D versions. If you can find a theater near you that offers the latter option, it's definitely worth it. Movies may be getting worse these days, but the bells and whistles are better than ever. 1/2 (Milan Paurich)
A Christmas Tale - Despite that treacly title which makes it sound like a Very Special Hallmark Hall of Fame TV flick, A Christmas Tale upends virtually every cliché known to connoisseurs of holiday-themed fare. For starters, it's the first "Christmas" film inspired by a treatise on organ transplants (La greffe by psychoanalyst Jacques Ascher and hematologist Jean-Pierre Jouet). Ho-ho-ho indeed. The extended family of Junon Vuillard (Catherine Deneuve) gathers round the yule log, trying to figure out who would make the most compatible bone-marrow transplant donor. Another pall cast over the festivities is the looming shadow of youngest Vuillard child Joseph who died at age seven from lymphoma. Nothing says holiday cheer like a dead child and a dying mother, right? But by the time it's over, you feel like an honorary member of the Vuillards as you get to know each and every one of them. (Paurich)
Le Plaisir (France, 1952) - Director Max Ophuls tells three different stories about fleeting happiness in this classic film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29 and at 4:15 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30.
Let the Right One In - This Norwegian vampire movie is a love story as much as it's a horror flick, and Tomas Alfredson's movie is so beautifully shot, the scenes of bloodsucking are almost transcendent. The story concerns Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a shy 12-year-old who's regularly bullied at school. When it turns out his new 12-year-old neighbor Leni (Lina Leandersson) is also a loner, he falls in love with her, taking her advice to "hit back" when he's attacked. Oskar starts hitting the weights and the next time the bully comes to get him, he's ready. But Leni is soon the scourge of the town after several witnesses see her attacking her victims. When she's forced to leave, Oskar has to decide if he should follow. The young characters in this film are well-defined and its tragic story is compelling, you'll find it compelling even if you're not a fan of the genre. Opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre. (Niesel)
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa - Escape 2 Africa picks up where the other Madagascar left off. The four animals - lion Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (Chris Rock), giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) and hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), who were raised in captivity and pampered in a New York City zoo all their lives - are still stranded in the wild and want to go home. With the help of cross-dressing, egomaniacal lemur King Julien (Borat's Sacha Baron Cohen in full off-the-hook mode), a pair of uppity monkeys and a bunch of straight-talkin', take-charge penguins, the stars board a broken-down plane bound for New York. The movie dispenses with Julien's "I like to move it, move it" signature showstopper early, leaving him plenty of time to dress in drag, plot his takeover of New York and arrange an impromptu volcano sacrifice. Escape 2 Africa pops during these scenes. The rest of the time it merely diverts the kids with the usual throwaway jokes about boogers and big butts, while Mom and Dad smirk knowingly at the Planet of the Apes and Twilight Zone references. 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)
My Father, My Lord (Israel, 2007) - Very little happens in My Father, My Lord, and because the film's major plot device - the death of a lead character - is telegraphed in the opening scene, we spend a good chunk of its running time waiting for the other shoe to drop. As arty and pokily paced as it is, first-time writer-director David Volach's labor of love does provide a valuable corrective to Hollywood's reductionist (and often flat-out silly) portrayal of Hasidic Jews. Orthodox Rabbi Abraham Eidelman (Assi Dayan), the film's titular protagonist, runs his household with an iron fist. Wife Esther (Sharon Hacohen-Bar) and young son Menahem (Ilan Griff) barely seem to register on Abraham's antenna. They're merely corporeal appendages to his faith. When Menahem begins to tentatively rebel against the rigid strictures of his father - e.g., questioning dogma or bringing home a foreign postcard that a schoolmate gave him as a gift - the boy is sternly reprimanded for his perceived transgressions. Too bad nothing that transpires over the course of 74 very protracted minutes truly engages us. Perhaps Volach's slender tale might have worked better as a short instead. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:25 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30. 1/2 (Paurich)
Quantum of Solace - Casino Royale, the first Bond film to star the brooding Daniel Craig as the debonair spy, borrowed heavily from the Bourne franchise and did some reinventing of its own. And it goes way deeper than the leaps and bounds of the breathtaking chase scene. Bond killed men with his bare hands (just like Bourne!), he relied on brains rather than some high-tech thingamajig to get out of jams (just like Bourne!) and it all ended on a downer note (yep, just like Bourne). That's where Quantum of Solace, the 22nd James Bond film, picks up. Immediately after the death of his girlfriend at the hands of the enigmatic Quantum organization, Bond speeds through Italy's winding mountain roads - in a gripping pre-titles sequence - with one of the group's masterminds tied up in his trunk. But before Bond and his secret-service colleagues (including boss M, played by a stern Judi Dench) have a chance to question the shadowy Mr. White, he escapes with the help of a Quantum mole. While Quantum of Solace features a typically convoluted Bondsian plot, it's mostly personal this time, as Bond and a new gal pal (Olga Kurylenko) set out for revenge. (Gallucci)
Repo! The Genetic Opera - Repo! The Genetic Opera, a gothic-rock musical and midnight-movie hopeful, shows what can happen when a person with no musical talent locks himself in a room with the soundtracks to Phantom of the Opera, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Moulin Rouge, and decides, "Hey, I can do that!" No words yet exist to describe how wretched this movie is. It originated as a play by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich about a graverobber in debt to an organ-repossession man. For some reason, the play was successful enough to be made into this unwatchable movie, an all-singing gore-fest replete with vivisections, oozing intestines and music that, if used to compel terrorist confessions, would violate the Geneva convention. The film targets young viewers, who may find something entertaining about it and don't insist that songs have such things as melodies. But the movie has no discernible point. Is it a satire about the modern mania for easy credit and plastic surgery? A warning about a future corporate-controlled dystopia? Both, or nothing at all? (Zoslov)
The Scarlet Empress (US, 1934) - Josef Von Sternberg's baroque biopic of Catherine the Great of 17th-century Russia is one of the most visually-arresting and inventive Hollywood spectacles before Citizen Kane. Marlene Dietrich plays the aristocratic German girl sent in an arranged marriage to the grinning, immature lunatic Grand Duke. Intrigues of the inbred Russian royals (dwelling in shadowy splendor amongst looming gargoyles and outsized ikons) help to corrupt once-innocent Catherine into a power-hungry diva. This suffered at the box-office, some say, because of competition from another Catherine the Great drama coincidentally in theaters that same year, but this has gone on to be considered by posterity to be the far more noteworthy. Dietrich's own real-life daughter plays the future ruler in early scenes as a child. And no, the real-life Catherine did not die in a romantic incident with a horse - though note the kinky torture scenes here, showing more nudity than Janet Jackson did in the Superbowl. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 28 and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30. (Charles Cassady)
Twilight - Twilight, the film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's best-selling young-adult vampire novel, tells the story of Bella (Kristen Stewart), a 17-year-old girl who moves to the small town of Forks, Washington to live with her father (Billy Burke). Forks is also where a vampire named Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) lives with his surrogate "family" of nice vampires. They survive on animal rather than human blood and do their best to pass as normal. So the ageless Edward is hard at work on what is probably his 20th high-school diploma when Bella is assigned the seat next to him in biology class. At first, Edward gives Bella the cold shoulder, not because he doesn't like her but because he likes her so much he can barely keep himself from tearing her throat out and drinking her blood. Vampire love is kind of strange that way. Edward manages to get a grip on himself and the two become an item, but trouble is lurking in the background in the form of three not-so-nice vampires. James (Cam Gigandet) catches a whiff of Bella's scent and decides to make her his next victim. The horrific and overtly sexual aspects of vampirism are downplayed in favor of romantic fantasy, which is understandable considering its target market of tweens and teens. More problematic are characters lacking depth, the shaky performance of lead actress Stewart and a plot full of ridiculous contrivances. (Ignizio)
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