Bigger than Life (US, 1956) A new print of Nicholas Ray’s movie about a family man who becomes a monster after he develops an addiction to cortisone. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:40 p.m. Saturday, April 18, and 7 p.m. Sunday, April 19.
Boy (Japan, 1969) In this Nagisa Oshima film, the parents of a young boy try to extort drivers who run into their son, whom they’ve trained to fake getting hit by cars. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:35 p.m. Friday, April 17, and 5 p.m. Saturday, April 18.
Crank: High Voltage Jason Statham reprises his role as anti-hero Chev Chelios, still alive despite falling thousands of feet from a helicopter at the end of the first Crank. In that film, Chev had to keep his adrenaline level high to prevent a deadly poison from reaching his heart. In this film, said heart has been removed by organ harvesters and replaced with an artificial one. When Chev realizes what organ they plan on taking next he escapes, and the movie becomes a nonstop barrage of brawls, bullets, blood and boobs, seasoned liberally with profanity and black humor. Also returning from the first film are the writing and directing team of Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor, who shoot with a style that makes Quentin Tarantino seem laid back by comparison. The freshness of the original is missing, though, and despite some fun moments, the whole thing feels thrown together. ** 1/2 (Robert Ignizio)
Death by Hanging (Japan, 1968) Inspired by a true story about a Korean student who raped two girls, Nagisa Oshima’s film is a savage black comedy. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 8:40 p.m. Thursday, April 16, and 7:15 p.m. Friday, April 17.
Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (Japan, 1968) A young man is caught shoplifting in this Nagisa Oshima film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 6:45 p.m. Thursday, April 16, and 8:55 p.m. Sunday, April 19.
Everlasting Moments Don’t be fooled by the treacly Hallmark Hall of Fame-sounding title. Veteran Swedish director Jan Troell’s (The Emigrants, The New Land) triumphant comeback vehicle is a vibrantly humanistic work brimming with richly drawn characterizations and compelling drama. Set in early-20th-century Sweden, the film tells the moving story of budding feminist Maria Larsson (the superb Maria Heiskanen), who embarks upon a midlife career as a portrait photographer to help support her six children and wastrel husband (an equally fine Mikael Persbrandt). Narrated by Maria’s grown daughter Maja (Callin Ohrvall), this minor masterpiece combines the narrative density of an epic novel with Troell’s typically exquisite production values. The result is a feast for the senses — the magnificent cinematography, using mostly natural lighting, is by Troell and Mischa Gavrjusjov — as well as the soul. Cedar Lee Theatre. **** (Milan Paurich)
Lumumba (France/Germany/Belgium/Haiti, 2000) Filmmaker Raoul Peck had previously dramatized the career of slain Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba in documentary form. This respectful but stolid scripted version paints an equally heroic portrait of the martyred statesman. Lumumba is introduced as a Congolese Nationalist Movement activist (and beer salesman) in the 1950s, agitating for independence from Belgium and, for many, embodying the progressive “new” Africa. But after the Congo’s 1960 liberation, Lumumba and his infant parliamentary democracy are beset by enduring tribal feuds, separatists in Katanga, scars of colonial genocide and the Cold-War meddlings of France, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Lumumba practically signs his own death warrant by not selling out to a corporate superpower (unlike his pragmatic onetime cohort, the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who came to power in 1965), and CIA agents are there to oversee the resulting coup and execution. The drama, most of it in flashback, unreels in drably efficient socialist-realism style, with a dynamic (dare one say, Obama-esque) lead performance by Eriq Ebouaney, a renowned international actor who otherwise surfaces for Western white-devil audiences from time to time in supporting parts in stuff like Femme Fatale and Transporter 3. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 15. ** 1/2 (Charles Cassady)
17 Again The premise of this supernatural comedy — an adult is magically transformed into his teenage self and goes back to high school — is so much like countless other movies that just reciting the plot elicits groans. Yet director Burr Steers and writer Jason Filardi bring some freshness to the old fable. In 1989, Mike O’Donnell (teen heartthrob Zac Efron), a high-school basketball star, forfeits a scholarship to marry his girlfriend. Twenty years later, Mike has grown (improbably) into a disappointed Matthew Perry. He’s been passed over for a promotion, his wife Scarlett (lovely Leslie Mann) is divorcing him, and he’s living with his sci-fi nerd buddy Ned (Thomas Lennon). A mysterious school janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray) grants Mike a second chance. Now a teenager again, Mike enrolls at the old school, where he endures generational culture shock and tries to protect his son (Sterling Knight) from bullies, his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) from a loutish boyfriend and win back Scarlett, who’s confused by the appearance of Mike’s teenage doppelgänger. The movie is silly in places and flirts with squeamish incest ideas, but it’s winsome and well played. Efron is surprisingly deft, never letting us forget he’s a grown man living in a teenage body. *** (Pamela Zoslov)
Sin Nombre The debut feature of Cary Fukunaga, Sin Nombre (Nameless) was a sensation at Sundance, where it won prizes for direction and cinematography and earned Fukunaga a development deal with Focus Features. The story of a Mexican gang that preys on immigrants who ride atop trains headed for the U.S., the movie is impressively made. Fukunaga researched the film by riding the rails himself and mastered the difficult art of shooting on a moving train, and the talented cinematographer Adriano Goldman graces the film with haunting Mexican landscapes. The story brings together Willie (Edgar Flores), nicknamed “El Casper,” a member of a brutal, elaborately tattooed gang in Tapachulas, Chiapas, Mexico, and a Honduran girl, Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), who joins her estranged father on a journey to the U.S., where she dreams of living. Willie, who is forced to escape from the gang — a group so vicious they kill their enemies and feed them to their dogs — saves Sayra from an attack and is reluctantly bound to her for the rest of the perilous trip. For all its visual beauty and technical brilliance, the movie is unsentimental to the point of emotional flatness, offering insufficient sweetness to offset the horrifying violence. Cedar Lee Theatre. *** (Zoslov)
State of Play Based on a BBC miniseries, State of Play aspires to be something along the lines of All the President’s Men but doesn’t quite get there. The drama centers around Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), a renegade Washington reporter who’s trying to do a good old-fashioned exposé about an international mercenary company attempting to privatize American law enforcement so that it can make billions of dollars. He’s assisted by his former college roommate Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), a former grunt who’s now a congressman conducting an investigation into the company’s dirty dealings. But when Collins himself gets involved in a scandal involving one of his pretty female aides, the case gets even more complicated. The movie’s thrilling for the first half, but when conspiracy theories turn into actual conspiracies, it loses a good deal of its credibility. Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman round out the fine supporting cast. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)
Adventureland It’s the summer of 1987 and recent college graduate James (Jesse Eisenberg) finds his plans for a European vacation put on hold when his father gets demoted at work. Worse yet, it looks like James’ parents won’t have enough money to send him to the grad school of his choice. There’s only one hope: Get a job to help cover the bills. But with no work experience, the only job James can get is running rigged games of chance at an amusement park. It’s a crappy job, but at least James hits it off with cute coworker Em (Kristen Stewart), and the two start to date. But not so fast. Things are actually kinda complicated. Em is also carrying on an affair with married maintenance man Mike (Ryan Reynolds), while James finds it hard to resist the charms of another park employee, Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva).Writer-director Greg Mottola, whose previous film was the teen sex comedy with a heart, Superbad, should have made this film into something fresh and funny. Rather than really explore its carnie milieu, Adventureland wastes most of its time with a tired “coming of age” plot and romantic-comedy clichés. ** (Ignizio)
Dragonball Evolution Despite its flashy special effects and kung fu fight scenes, this adaptation of the popular Japanese comic book and cartoon is almost wholly devoid of excitement. The plot is standard issue stuff as an unlikely hero (Justin Chatwin) with a destiny bands together with a quirky supporting cast to save the earth from an evil alien warlord (James Marsters), learning a valuable lesson about being true to himself along the way. In the ’70s and ’80s, a movie like this would have been shot on the cheap with cheesy special effects, bad acting, a ridiculous script and plenty of rough edges showing. It most assuredly would have been bad, but it wouldn’t have taken itself too seriously and might even have been kind of fun. Dragonball Evolution may be better than that on a technical level, and the cast is at least blandly competent, but the end result is still a bad movie. Only with all the rough edges smoothed over, the fun is gone as well. * (Ignizio)
Duplicity Julia Roberts and Clive Owen play a pair of über-competitive corporate spies who fall in love (sort of) while attempting to pull a multi-million dollar scam. Or maybe they’re just scamming each other. It’s hard to tell who’s on the level in writer-director Tony Gilroy’s screwy follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton. Gilroy plays so many tricks with point of view and jumbles the chronology in such a seemingly random, pell-mell fashion that you could get a migraine just keeping track of all the glamorous locales (New York, London, Miami, the Bahamas, Rome, Dubai) fleetingly glimpsed along the way. Two actors who can class up any joint (Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, reuniting following their roles as John Adams and Ben Franklin in HBO’s John Adams miniseries) contribute a few stray moments of welcome mirth as Roberts and Owen’s conniving bosses, but Gilroy’s stubborn refusal to tell his story straight makes this more of an exercise in frustration than the larkish screwball romp he seems to think it is. ** (Paurich)
Fast & Furious This sequel to The Fast and the Furious starts out firing on all cylinders as Dom (Vin Diesel) and his gang, including girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), pull off a daring fuel truck heist. That’s followed by a foot chase in which FBI Agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) smashes through at least two windows and the roof of a parked car in order to get his man. A surprising early twist reunites these old adversaries, as well as Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). Justin Lin’s direction remains confident throughout, especially in the action scenes, and the film also benefits considerably from the screen presence of its stars. But as it goes along, it gets bogged down by a convoluted plot and never quite lives up to the promise of its early scenes. As a mindless popcorn movie about fast cars it’s not bad, but it felt like it had the potential to be better. ** 1/2 (Ignizio)
Gomorrah Winner of the Grand Prix award at last year's Cannes Film Festival, director Matteo Garrone's adaptation of Roberto Saviano's 2006 international best-seller is a no-holds-barred expose of the Camorra, Italy's most notorious mob cartel (their profits are estimated at $233-billion per year). Five intersecting storylines describe how the trickle down effects of organized crime affect the lives of ordinary Neapolitan citizens in southern Italy. With its multiple protagonists and dueling narrative arcs, Garrone's impressionistic mosaic is a lot closer to HBO's Dickensian-dense The Wire than it is to the gritty, hyper-romanticism of, say, The Sopranos. If the film's wealth of sociological detail takes some getting used to — the first half hour may seem needlessly confusing if you aren't familiar with the Saviano source material--the artistry and rigor of Garrone's dispassionate, yet harrowing vision is its own reward. Cedar Lee Theatre. **** (Paurich)
Hannah Montana: The Movie Hannah/Miley (Miley Cyrus) is out of control. Well, as out of control as a Disney diva can get. After a good old-fashioned shoe fight with Tyra Banks, she shows up late for her best friend’s birthday party and doesn’t make it to her brother’s going-away get-together. But dad (Billy Ray Cyrus) has a plan to get her back on track. He takes her back to her Tennessee home so she can get in touch with her true self. Predictably enough, Miley learns that “you can always find your way back home,” as she puts in a syrupy song. Teens and tweens will hyperventilate as Miley makes mistakes and then quickly learns from them. But between the predictable plot and the god-awful songs (all of which are rather poorly lip-synced), this movie is simply dreadful. * (Niesel)
The Haunting in Connecticut Sara Campbell (Virginia Madsen) rents a house so her family can be near the hospital where teenage son Matt (Kyle Gallner) is undergoing experimental cancer treatments. The rent is cheap, and with good reason — the house used to be a mortuary, and if that’s not enough, séances were once conducted there. One such séance led to the deaths of several people, and the disappearance of the young medium conducting it. Considering the movie’s title, it should come as no surprise that this place is haunted. Spookiness ensues, and, given the PG-13 rating, the scares are surprisingly creepy and effective. Dramatic license has been taken with the alleged “true story” this is based on, but does that really matter? As a movie, this is a gripping, well-acted ghost story in the vein of Poltergeist or the original Amityville Horror that delivers chills and thrills without all the gore and sleaze of most modern horror flicks. *** (Ignizio)
I Love You, Man I Love You, Man isn’t a Judd Apatow production; it was directed by John Hamburg (Along Came Polly), who wrote the script with Larry Levin. But it pays homage to the formula, and stars Apatow alumni Paul Rudd and Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Rudd plays Peter Klaven, an L.A. realtor who has just proposed to Zooey (Rashida Jones, The Office), whose parents apparently named her in a fit of Salinger worship. Peter is a dream boyfriend: handsome, ambitious but not aggressive, talented in the kitchen and bedroom, and a man who enjoys an evening watching Chocolat with his fiancée. But he has, in Apatovian terms, a problem: he’s a “girlfriend guy.” He has no close male friend who can be his best man. Quelle horreur! The movie advances the notion that men can enjoy greater intimacy with men than with women, though of course, they’re not gay. Wobbly premise aside, the movie, while not raucously hilarious, has a breezy likeability, mainly owing to the charismatic Rudd, whose character spends much of the movie trying to master the art of casual banter. *** (Zoslov)
Knowing In this sci-fi thriller, a time capsule is unearthed containing a sheet of paper predicting every major disaster of the last 50 years. Three dates and locations remain, including one that portends the very end of the world. Can John Koestler (Nicholas Cage) find a way to avert destruction? Cage is in full over-the-top mode here, at times literally tearing apart the scenery in his efforts to sell the simplest of scenes. But then, he’s only following the lead of director Alex Proyas, who seems more interested in CGI destruction than exploring human nature in the face of armageddon. Knowing is a film that has nothing of substance to say, despite its weighty subject. Even its vision of the apocalypse seems calculated to be as inoffensive as possible, as it awkwardly blends elements of the Christian rapture, new-age “space brothers” mythology and dubious science. And lest anyone say they just want to be entertained, there’s precious little in the way of fun here, either. * (Ignizio)
Monsters vs. Aliens Even though Monsters vs. Aliens incorporates new characters to the talking-animal genre (actually, Pixar got there first eight years ago with the otherworldly creatures of Monsters, Inc.), it’s still the same mix of animated elements. The opening scenes set up the plight of Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), a bride hit by a piece of space junk on her wedding day. She soon begins glowing and growing. The government tosses her into a cell with other imprisoned oddities: Dr. Cockroach, an oversized, lab coat-wearing roach (Hugh Laurie); a fish-man called the Missing Link (Will Arnett); Insectosaurus, a ginormous bug; and B.O.B., a jumbo blob of blue Jell-O that sounds like (and is) Seth Rogen. When a four-eyed, tentacled alien attacks Earth, the monsters are recruited to save the planet from the imminent invasion. Monsters vs. Aliens certainly makes good on its promise of the titular creatures. And it looks great (be sure to see it in 3D — the sci-fi spectacle leaps off the screen). But there isn’t much of a story here. ** 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)
Observe and Report Writer-director Jody Hill specializes in deluded, self-important antiheroes (The Foot Fist Way), and in this movie, he casts Seth Rogen as Ronnie Barnhardt, a volatile, bipolar mall security guard who lives with his doting mom, lusts after a pretty cosmetics clerk (Anna Faris) and dreams of becoming a real cop. If you think you’ve seen this before, know that this is the evil twin of Paul Blart: Mall Cop: same basic story, funnier but with the violence cranked up to 11. The story is about Ronnie’s plan to catch a flasher and thereby seize his chance at law-enforcement glory. His inept efforts pit him against an ambitious police detective (Ray Liotta). Rogen is always enjoyable, but he is defeated by Hill’s wobbly screenplay, which hasn’t decided whether Ronnie is a psychotic gun nut or a sweet, well-intentioned slob. The movie is replete with funny lines, and the scenes between Ronnie and his alcoholic mom (Celia Weston) are brilliant. It’s hard to understand, then, why Hill found it necessary to include so much ugly mayhem. You can’t just throw a lot of shooting into your movie and call it a “dark comedy.” Generally speaking, comedy and serious gun violence are a queasy mix. ** 1/2 (Zoslov)
Sunshine Cleaning This bittersweet comedy about two sisters who launch a crime-scene cleanup business was produced by the team responsible for Little Miss Sunshine, which it resembles in its mordant affection for its hard-luck characters and the casting of Alan Arkin as an eccentric grandpa. Amy Adams is Rose, an Albuquerque ex-cheerleader who cleans houses and is having an affair with a married cop (Steve Zahn), who tells her there’s money to be made cleaning up after murders and suicides. Rose, who needs to pay for private school for her imaginative young son (Jason Spevack), recruits her hapless sister Norah (Emily Blunt) and plunges into the messy business. The sisters, who along the way meet a gentle, one-armed janitorial-supply salesman (Clifton Collins Jr.), are affected by the tragedies they encounter, particularly Norah, who’s so moved by a dead woman’s family photos that she tries to befriend the woman’s daughter (Mary Lynn Rajskub). Eventually, the sisters begin to heal the wounds left by their mother’s premature death. Some situations are strain credulity, and Megan Holley’s script wanders a bit, yet the movie achieves moments of sublime poignancy. The acting is superb, and the mood artfully balanced between sadness and hope. Cedar Lee Theatre. *** 1/2 (Zoslov)