Beeswax (U.S., 2009) Mumblecore auteur Andrew Bujalski continues his survey of the French New Wave he began with Funny Ha Ha and 2005's superb Mutual Appreciation. In the writer/director/actor's third feature, Eric Rohmer serves as Bujalski's guiding muse. Two sisters, responsible Jeannie (Tilly Hatcher) and free spirit Lauren (Maggie Hatcher), clash over the running of the vintage clothing store they're partners in. As usual in Bujalski films — and mumblecore projects in general — little of consequence transpires. Life, however, is lived in all of its fly-on-the-wall, warts-and-all boho-hipster glory. If the filmmaking wasn't so rigorously disciplined, the naturalness of the writing and performances (the Hatchers are actual twins) might lead you to believe that you're watching real lives unfold. Bujalski again proves that he's one of the most interesting young directors on the independent film scene. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:35 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28, and 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 30. *** 1/2 (Milan Paurich)
The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day Reviewed at clevescene.com.
Captain Abu Raed (Jordan, 2007) A janitor who claims to be an airplane pilot is the subject of this feature film, the first to be produced in Jordan in over 50 years. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28 and at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29.
Gogol Bordello Non-Stop(U.S., 2008) Margarita Jimeno's unfocused documentary about gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello has one thing going for it. It truly captures the manic energy that frontman Eugene Hutz and his band of merry pranksters bring to the stage. We see Hutz in several different contexts: DJing a basement party, performing on the street, opening for Manu Chao at large outdoor festivals. And each time, the guy doesn't disappoint, stage-diving and running around like he's possessed. Jimeno unearths rare footage from the early days, when the band was still formulating its theatrical stage show in small New York bars in the late '90s. And she interviews several musicians who have played in the band. But the film never develops a narrative, only occasionally touching on Hutz's background as a Ukrainian refugee. He's become such a notable movie star, you'd think at least a portion of the film would touch on that career too. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 2. *** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)
Juliet of the Spirits (Italy/France, 1965) Federico Fellini's phantasmagoria, his first film in color, is said by some to be the female version of his autobiographical classic 8 1/2. Fellini's wife, pixie-like actress Giulietta Masina, plays the title character, an affluent Italian housewife surrounded by a kaleidoscope of gurus, friends, memories, admirer/suitors, orgies and temptations, most of which are spirits raised by fears that her often-absent husband is having an extramarital affair with a younger woman. She wavers on hiring detectives to follow him while engulfed (like the indecisive, creatively blocked filmmaker-hero of 8 1/2) by surreal memories — in this case a Catholic-school girlhood, a scandalous father, and temptations and liberation symbolized by the sexpot next door. Any way you slice it, Juliet (or every other female in sight, real or imagined) just isn't very smart. So she'd be the last one to ask what-the-PMS-hell the cryptic ending means. Oh well, it's Federico's world; we're just visiting. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29, and 8:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 30. ***(Charles Cassady Jr.)
Malls R Us (France/Canada, 2009) This documentary begins with the premise that malls offer shopping "as a communal activity to fill the void." Not exactly a revelation. The film opens at the largest mall in North America, a sprawling 170-acre place in Edmonton, Canada. There are 840 stores to keep shoppers there as long as possible. Between clips from Dawn of the Dead and featuring interviews with infamous mall creators like Rubin Stahl and Sheldon Gordon, the movie provides a good overview of mall culture. There's even a segment with sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury, who discusses the disorienting nature of most malls. When it comes time to visit dying malls, the filmmakers head to Cleveland to see now-shuttered Randall Park Mall. You gotta admire the global perspective: The filmmakers go to India to see green space turned into retail and to Paris to interview shoppers. But too much of this film simply states the obvious. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29. ** 1/2 (Niesel)
Ninja Assassin Reviewed at clevescene.com.
Old Dogs Veteran actors Robin Williams and John Travolta show no shame in hamming it up incessantly in this insipid Walt Becker (Wild Hogs) comedy about two pals whose friendship is tested when Dan (Williams) is recruited to babysit two kids he didn't realize were his. The slapstick humor gets some easy laughs but usually doesn't involve anything more than a swift kick in the crotch. The flimsy plot: Dan's ex (Kelly Preston) has to serve a two-week prison term for protesting an environmentally irresponsible company and enlists Dan to take care of her 7-year-old twins, revealing that they're actually his and she never bothered to tell him. But Dan and Charlie (Travolta) are trying to take their sports agency to the next level and are in the middle of signing the "biggest deal ever" with a Japanese company. Oh yeah, and Charlie has an old dog that hangs around the office, peeing on everything because it's so old. It's no surprise that by the end of the movie, we realize Dan and Charlie are like two old dogs, loyal to the core, even though they sometimes bark at each other. ** (Niesel)In Theaters
The Blind Side The Blind Side belongs to "white-man's burden" movies like Dangerous Minds or The Soloist, in which benevolent whites heroically rescue underprivileged black people. Accordingly, there are moments in this movie, based on the life of Baltimore Ravens rookie tackle Michael Oher, that are cringingly uncomfortable, like when Sandra Bullock — as Leigh Anne Tuohy, an affluent Southern woman who has opened her home to Oher — sashays into the kid's rough Memphis neighborhood in tight skirt and heels to give a drug dealer a talking-to, warning him that she's packing heat. If this were fiction, it'd be as phony as Astroturf. But like those other movies, it's a true story, told with enough sensitivity to almost overcome the troubling sense of noblesse oblige. Bullock acts her heart out as the feisty Leigh Anne. Her performance makes a character that might have been repellent — privileged, pushy evangelical — rather endearing. ***(Pamela Zoslov)
A Christmas Carol Using the same performance-capture animation technique employed in 2004's Polar Express and 2007's Beowulf, Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol is another family-friendly holiday feature by the veteran director of Back to the Future and Forrest Gump. Zemeckis doesn't mess with Charles Dickens' book much, quoting directly from it in the opening sequence, which finds Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) busting out a "bah humbug" when his nephew Fred (Colin Firth) arrives to wish him a "merry Christmas." Scrooge is in for a shock when an apparition of his old boss Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman) arrives to warn him that he's going to be visited by three ghosts before the night is over. Though his recent attempts to show off his dramatic acting skills have fallen short, Carrey is in good form here. He occasionally indulges in exaggerated facial gestures and slapsticky antics but that's going to keep young viewers interested. Well, that and the fabulous digital 3-D effects that make it look like snowflakes are falling in front of you. ***(Niesel)
Precious Don't let the Oprah and Tyler Perry imprimatur scare you off. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire confounds expectations (prejudices?) at every turn. A remarkably accomplished sophomore outing by director Lee Daniels, Precious tells the story of morbidly obese 16-year-old Harlem teenager Claireece "Precious" Jones (knockout newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) forced to deal with a second unwanted pregnancy after her first baby was born with Down's Syndrome. Compounding Claireece's dire predicament is an abusive mother (sitcom diva Mo'Nique in a fearless, take-no-prisoners performance that seems destined to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar) battling formidable demons of her own. Despite the unrelenting bleakness and gut-wrenching despair of its no-exit milieu and dead-end characters, Precious is leavened with flights of magic realism as captivating as they are emotionally cathartic. ****(Paurich)
The Twilight Saga: New Moon Ten minutes into this sequel to 2008's Twilight, Bella (Kristen Stewart) celebrates her 18th birthday at the home of boyfriend Edward (Robert Pattison) and his vampire family, where she gets a paper cut that causes one of the bloodsuckers to lose control. Worried that Bella won't be so lucky next time, Edward and company leave town. This sends Bella into a depression that lifts somewhat thanks to dangerous behavior and spending more time with her Native American friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who happens to be a werewolf. A better film than its predecessor, New Moon is an entertaining romantic fantasy with a stronger visual look and better action scenes, while still keeping the focus on the central love triangle. Stewart's acting has gotten better, and while Pattison has a smaller role this time, Lautner more than ably picks up the slack. The problem with focusing so much on Bella's dalliance with Jacob is that when the story brings Edward and the vampires back, the conclusion feels rushed. Also, with its assumptions that the audience knows what came before, New Moon doesn't stand on its own very well. ***(Ignizio)
2012 When Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) goes to India to see a colleague's research at a copper mine, he discovers that, thanks to giant solar eruptions, Earth's core is heating up, something that will trigger tectonic plate movement and devastating earthquakes. Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a struggling sci-fi writer who can't quite cut it as a single dad, stumbles upon similar evidence on a crappy campy trip with his kids in Yellowstone. There, he meets wackjob conspiracy theorist Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who warns him that a huge volcano is about to erupt. Jackson races back to California to get his ex-wife and her boyfriend, and they barely make it out before the state slips into the ocean. The special effects are amazing. Landmarks like the Santa Monica Pier slip into the ocean, and luxury hotels in Vegas disintegrate. And Cusack is great as the lovable loser who has to dig deep to redeem himself during a time of crisis. But at 158 minutes, the movie is too long (the protracted ending is particularly torturous), and there are too many subplots (most involving strained relationships between parents and siblings) that don't really amount to anything. ** 1/2 (Niesel)
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