Capsule Reviews Of Current Releases 

OPENING

Alexander Nevsky (USSR, 1938) - Grandiose epic depicts 13th-century feudal prince Alexander rallying the downtrodden masses in what will be the future Soviet Union, to lead a proletarian peasant army in battle against implacable Teutonic (German) invaders. This enemy is so heavily armored as to be utterly dehumanized (and dig their ghoulish Catholic spiritual advisors in a nod to Marxism's tilt to atheism). But the spirit of solidarity prevails, as Alexander's troops fearlessly engage the foe on the surface of a frozen lake, a famous climax of waving ax-blades. Comic-relief subplot concerns two of Alexander's warriors competing to show bravery on the battlefield to win the hand of a maiden they both love. Otherwise the proganda intent is pretty clear: To make sure Stalin's target audiences got the message, Alexander exhorts all good subjects to fearlessly fight and die for Mother Russia. Nonetheless, Stalin had this movie pulled from theaters, then put back again, depending on what non-aggression pact he'd signed with the Third Reich that particular week. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21. 1/2 (Charles Cassady)

Che - An epic-scaled biopic without a single conventional biopic moment, Steven Soderbergh's staggeringly ambitious Che breaks most of the rules of commercial cinema while achieving near greatness on its own sui generis terms. Split into two parts of roughly 135 minutes apiece, Che demands to be seen from start to finish - preferably with a bathroom/smoke break in between. The film's first half is the more classically structured, as it follows Che (Benicio del Toro) from his first meeting with Fidel Castro (a superb Demian Bichir) in 1955 to his key role in the Cuban Revolution that began a year later. Part two is devoted exclusively to Che's failed Bolivian expedition of 1966-67 that fittingly ends with his execution at the hands of the Bolivian army. The end result is a self-contained film festival that's unquestionably the cinematic event of the winter season. Find a longer version of this review online at clevescene.com. (Milan Paurich)

Dalai Lama Renaissance (US, 2007) - A documentary about a meeting between many of the world's most innovative thinkers and the Dalai Lama. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25.

The Godfather Part 2 (1974) - The Corleone empire starts to crumble in Francis Ford Coppola's sequel. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25.

The Godfather (US, 1972) - Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan and Robert Duvall star in this Francis Ford Coppola classic. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23, and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24.

The Sound Barrier (Britain, 1952) - In this David Lean feature, a man is so obsessed about developing a new jet airplane, he's willing to sacrifice the lives of pilots. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25.

ONGOING

Defiance - There's a scene in Defiance - the true story of a group of Jews who take refuge in the woods of Poland during World War II - where a Soviet army commander tells star Daniel Craig "Jews don't fight." Craig, as one of the four Bielski brothers who form the woodland community, snaps back, "These Jews fight." And that's pretty much what Defiance comes down to: Jews with guns who retreat to the Polish woods to avoid a Nazi invasion. This relatively small and untrained group of Jews seems to kill more Nazis during its time in the woods than all of France managed in the entire war. In the end, the Bielski brothers learn something about brotherhood and their bond. We learn that if every Jew had a gun, Hitler wouldn't have stood a chance. 1/2 (Gallucci)

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)

Last Chance Harvey - While en route to London for his daughter's wedding, New York music-jingle composer Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) learns that he's about to be phased out of his ad agency. Already depressed, Harvey soon discovers that his daughter (Liane Balaban) has asked stepdad Brian (James Brolin) to walk her down the aisle. Ouch! Deciding to skip the post-nuptial reception and make a quick getaway after the ceremony, Harvey makes the acquaintance of fortysomething singleton Kate Walker (Emma Thompson at her most deliciously imperious) at an airport lounge. Although Kate has no patience at first for the gregarious, supremely needy American tourist, Harvey ultimately wins her over during an impromptu lunch. So slight and winsome that it's liable to be dismissed by hard-hearted cynics, Last Chance Harvey is as refreshing as a tart lemon soufflé served after a groaning board of overcooked holiday leftovers. 1/2 (Paurich)

My Bloody Valentine - Praise the horror movie gods! My Bloody Valentine 3D makes murder and mayhem fun again, proving not all remakes have to suck. The script, while by no means Oscar caliber, is a reasonably engaging "whodunit" that actually spends a little time on character development. The film also boasts a solid cast, including genre veteran Tom Atkins in a nice supporting role. This is an unapologetically violent film, and it also has a completely gratuitous nude scene. But unlike Saw and the so-called torture-porn horror of recent years, you won't feel like you need to take a shower after you leave the theater. Obviously, if you can't understand why anyone would want to watch a movie where eyeballs come flying out of the screen on the end of a pickaxe, this isn't for you. Horror fans should eat this one up like a box of chocolates, though. (Robert Ignizio)

Not Easily Broken - Directed by Bill Duke and based on a T.D. Jakes novel, Not Easily Broken features Muscular heartthrob Morris Chestnut, who plays Dave Johnson, a former high school athlete who works construction and can't please his wife, Clarice (Taraji P. Henson, so good in Benjamin Button). Their marriage is strained by Clarice's materialistic ambitions and Dave's unfulfilled desire to have kids. Clarice, who sells real estate, is jealous of the time Dave spends with "his boys," which include not only his buddies, but also the Little League team he lovingly coaches. The Johnsons have forgotten the words of the Bishop (Albert Hall), who married them and told them they were bound by three unbreakable cords, the third of which is God. The Almighty steps in with a car accident that seriously injures Clarice and prompts her mean, meddlesome mom (Jennifer Lewis) to move in and drive the couple apart. When many black-oriented films still patronize audiences with noisy pratfalls, a spiritual drama isn't a bad thing. The movie is thoughtful and sympathetic, with many moments of emotional power. 1/2 (Zoslov)

Notorious - Raised by his single mom (Angela Bassett), the young Christopher Wallace (played by Wallace's real-life son) is a straight-A student who becomes disenchanted with his grade-school education and starts hustling drugs at an early age to show he's not just "the kid on the stoop." After he grows up, he starts rapping as the Notorious B.I.G. (Jamal Woolard) and cuts a demo that eventually catches the attention of young record exec Sean "Puffy" Combs (Derek Luke) who aspires to make the portly rapper into a star and does, even though it ends up costing Notorious his life. While it's not a particularly strong performance, Woolard is quite good at conveying Biggie's natural charm, especially during his interactions with the various women in his life. It's too bad this film, as much as it's an accurate portrayal of Biggie's life, doesn't spend a bit more time developing a character who as a kid was told he was "too fat, black and ugly" to amount to anything. 1/2 (Niesel)

Paul Blart: Mall Cop - The climate of low expectations that made some commentators twist themselves into pretzels insisting Bush was a fine president also makes movie comedies like Paul Blart: Mall Cop seem pretty darn good. And in truth, Mall Cop isn't nearly as bad as it ought to be, given its shopworn plot (misfit who lives with his mom becomes an unlikely hero) and unexceptional lead, King of Queens' Kevin James. Directed by Steve Carr (Are We Done Yet, Daddy Day Care) and written by James with Nick Bakay, it earns a passing grade for being agreeable, fitfully amusing and considerably less offensive than most movies of its type. Find a longer version of this review at clevescene.com. 1/2 (Zoslov)

The Unborn - In The Unborn, writer/director David S. Goyer delivers something like the Jewish version of The Exorcist. He isn't above stealing random scenes from just about every other horror movie he can think of, as well. The basic plot concerns college student Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman), who discovers that a nasty spirit called a Dybuk is trying to take possession of her. For some reason not quite explained, this is hard for the demon to do even though it has no problem possessing other cast members, some of whom have their heads spin around just like Linda Blair. You'll feel like your head is about to spin around, too, as you try to make sense of this mess. Not only is the screenplay bad, but Goyer's direction is also flat and the performances are horrible. Even the normally reliable Gary Oldman seems like he's trying to blend into the background in a vain effort to avoid embarrassment. (Ignizio)

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