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Capsule Reviews 

OPENING

Ballast (US, 2008) - When a poor black man commits suicide, his ex-wife (Tarra Riggs), son (JimMyron Ross) and twin brother (Micheal J. Smith Sr.) all have different ways of dealing with the tragedy. His twin withdraws, while his ex becomes enraged and fights to get the house and small storefront he owned put in her name. His son gets in trouble with a few local hoodlums and drops out of school. It's all very grim in Lance Hammer's minimalist film that won awards at last year's Sundance festival. While the film features strong, realistic performances, it's so slow-moving, it's virtually mind-numbing. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Thursday, March 5 and at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 7. (Jeff Niesel)

Blithe Spirit (Britain, 1945) - A novelist is haunted by his dead ex-wife in this David Lean film featuring an Oscar-winning script by Noel Coward. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 4.

The Catch (Japan, 1961) - Nagisa Oshima's first film, about a black American airman captured by Japanese villagers, shows in a new 35mm print. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 6.

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. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 8:55 p.m. Thursday, March 5 and at 9:40 p.m. Saturday, March 7. (Niesel)

The Man Who Left His Will on Film (Japan, 1970) - A young Japanese filmmaker commits suicide in this Nagisa Oshima film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 6:45 p.m. Sunday, March 8.

Night and Fog in Japan (Japan, 1960) - Nagisa Oshima's film about comrades who turn against each other during a wedding ceremony is an indictment of the Japanese left. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 8:40 pm. Sunday, March 8.

Two Lovers - Director James Gray (Little Odessa, We Own the Night) takes a break from his usual genre fare with this unexpectedly touching, beautifully played urban romance set in present-day Brooklyn. Joaquin Phoenix plays Leonard Kraditor, a bipolar young man who moves back in with his parents (Isabella Rossellini and Moni Monoshov) after getting dumped by his fiancée. While he's only too happy to play along with his folks' attempt to fix him up with the comely daughter (Vinessa Shaw) of a business associate, Leonard really has eyes for the blonde shiksa goddess (Gwyneth Paltrow) who just moved into their apartment building. The emotional tenor of the movie feels exactly right, and the performances are extraordinarily empathetic. This is Gray's most satisfying and mature work to date. Maybe he should give crime dramas a rest and concentrate on telling heartfelt people stories like this from now on. Cedar Lee Theatre. 1/2 (Milan Paurich)

Violence at Noon (Japan, 1966) - Two women fall in love with a serial killer in Nagisa Oshima's film about life in post-war Japan. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:30 p.m. Friday, March 6.

Wendy and Lucy - In a performance of such startling emotional clarity and directness that it takes your breath away, Michelle Williams plays Wendy, a young woman traveling from Indiana to Alaska with her only true friend, a terrier-retriever mix named Lucy. When bad things happen to Wendy - her car breaks down in a small Oregon town; she gets arrested for attempting to steal a can of dog food - it feels like the weight of the world has come crashing down on her shoulders. The second film from regional specialist Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy), Wendy and Lucy merits comparison with the works of France's Robert Bresson and Belgium's Dardennes Brothers. As a rigorous, artfully unadorned study of the depths to which America's disenfranchised middle class has sunk in today's Darwinian economic climate, Reichardt's humanist masterpiece couldn't be more timely or heart-wrenching. Cedar Lee Theatre. (Paurich)

ONGOING

Fanboys - Eric (Sam Huntington), Hutch (Dan Fogler), Linus (Chris Marquette) and Windows (Jay Baruchel) are four friends who grew up together worshipping the George Lucas epic Star Wars. They can recall trivia about the series that only the most hardcore fans know. In fact, they've remained such geeks that only Eric has gotten a real job (he sells cars for his dad); the other three, now in their early 20s, spend more time reading comics than working. When one of the four gets a terminal illness, they decide to embark on the trek they planned but never pursued as teens: They pile into Hutch's van and head to the Skywalker ranch where they intend to steal a copy of the not-yet-released Phantom Menace. The plot's rather flimsy and the Star Wars jokes grow tiresome by the end. But a slew of cameos (featuring everyone from Clerks director Kevin Smith to Star Trek's William Shatner), keep the film entertaining. Shaker Cinemas (Niesel)

Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience - A gimmicky, for-fans-only concert flick starring Disney Channel tweener sensations Kevin, Nick and Joe Jonas. Footage of Anaheim and Madison Square Garden arena shows are interwoven with the boys' (strictly G-rated) offstage antics for the chaste delectation of 12-year-old girls everywhere. The brothers themselves - albeit reasonably talented and likable enough - come across as so squeaky clean (each wears a "promise ring") that they make fellow Mouse House cash-cow Miley Cyrus, the previous subject of a 3D doc by director Bruce Hendricks, seem like Jenna Jameson. And Hendricks' labored attempt to recast the Jonases as some sort of nouveau Fab Four via a recurring homage to A Hard Day's Night feels like wishful thinking. But at a swiftly paced, blessedly brief 76 minutes, the movie is rarely dull, and it should have little trouble satisfying the Jonas faithful, even at an inflated 3D ticket price. (Paurich)

Madea Goes to Jail - Tyler Perry's latest film makes use of an obvious gimmick, as the writer-director dresses in drag to portray the loud-mouthed old woman who won't take no for an answer. And while a man in women's clothes always guarantees a laugh, there's something about the ugly and overweight Madea that makes you like her despite her obvious flaws (an uncontrollable temper, a propensity for troublemaking, etc.). Too bad the Madea plot (she's in trouble with the law - again) takes a back seat to the storyline about Joshua (Derek Luke) and Linda (Ion Overman), two lawyers in love. Filled with the kind of soap opera-like drama that's become a cliché of a Tyler Perry film (Josh wants to stay true to his roots, while Linda has become so obsessed with wealth and power that she could care less about what goes on in the ghetto), Madea Goes to Jail really gets bogged down by its polarizing politics. (Niesel) Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li - Based on the popular, long-running video game, this movie has the element of surprise on its side in that it's not nearly as terrible as you'd expect. Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) sets out to rescue her father and take down bad guy M. Bison (Neal McDonough). But before Chun-Li gets to the big boss, she'll have to make it past a series of henchpersons, including the bad-ass boxer Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan). The film mostly eschews CGI and overly complicated stunts in favor of old-school martial arts ass-kicking and wire work, which is kind of refreshing. Kreuk makes an appealing lead, McDonough is a thoroughly despicable villain and, with the exception of Chris Klein as police officer Charlie Nash, the entire cast is surprisingly good. It's nothing amazing or original. It's just a low-budget action film directed with competence and starring a cast of agreeable B-listers, but it's not without entertainment value. 1/2 (Robert Ignizio)

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