Appaloosa - A decent enough western in the old-school tradition, Appaloosa reunites Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen for the first time since 2005's A History of Violence. This time, Harris and Mortensen play hired Wild West lawmen instead of mobster adversaries. Their relaxed, easygoing camaraderie is the best thing in Appaloosa, giving it the timeless quality of a vintage buddy movie like Newman and Redford's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Based on the novel by Robert B. Parker, Appaloosa is less a revisionist western than a pastiche of tried-and-true genre classics (Rio Bravo, High Noon, you name it). When Virgil (Harris) and Everett (Mortensen) ride into Appaloosa, it's only a matter of time before they butt heads - and exchange bullets - with local bad guy Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons in a neat switch from his usual Brit aristocrat roles) and his gang of scruffy varmints. Throwing a temporary monkey wrench into Everett and Virgil's male-bonding is another recent Appaloosa arrival, widowed coquette Allison (Renee Zellweger). Last year's 3:10 to Yuma remake remains the more satisfyingly retrograde cowboy flick, but Appaloosa ultimately passes muster as a decent Saturday night popcorn movie. 1/2 (Milan Paurich)
Bangkok Dangerous - Joe (Nicolas Cage) is a hit man planning to retire after one last job in Bangkok. Along the way, however, he undergoes a transformation from cold and amoral assassin into a human being with a conscience. That change is brought about by two locals: Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm), a petty criminal Joe takes under his wing, and Fon (Charlie Young), a deaf girl Joe falls for. Cage, who can be over the top at times, is quite good here, as is Yamnarm. Directors the Pang brothers are equally adept at creating action set pieces or just setting the right somber tone of loneliness for Cage's character. There are some lapses in logic here and there, and Fon is more of a plot device than an actual character, but the film is engaging enough that those flaws didn't ruin it. It also helps that the movie wraps up with a satisfying, very un-Hollywood ending. (Robert Ignizio)
Battle in Seattle - Ray Liotta, Woody Harrelson and Charlize Theron star in this misguided dramatization of the 1999 protests of the World Trade Organization's meeting in Seattle. The tension in the film, which stems from the stand-off between protestors and police, is telegraphed right from the start. The drama in the documentary footage is so much more compelling than any of the dramatizations, it makes you wonder why the filmmakers didn't just make a straightforward documentary. (Jeff Niesel)
Beverly Hills Chihuahua - Disney has told this story Ð pampered pooch takes up with some dogs from the other side of the tracks and learns about true friendship Ð before. But Lady and the Tramp doesn't have a scene in which human stars Piper Perabo and Jamie Lee Curtis bark at each other on their cell phones. And unlike the 1955 animated hit, the live-action Beverly Hills Chihuahua has little charm, wit or subtlety. Spoiled, booty-wearing Chihuahua Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) gets lost during a trip to Mexico. Over the next 90 minutes, she's recruited into a dog-fighting club, befriends a tough but lovable German Shepherd (Andy Garcia), gets conned by a rat and iguana (Cheech Marin and Paul Ridriguez), and eventually finds her bark. The dogs are cute; the fact that they say things like "talk to the paw" isn't. (Michael Gallucci)
Choke - Based on Chuck Palahniuk's novel about a guy so starved for affection, he chokes himself in public places, Choke is just as twisted and disturbing as its source material. Protagonist Victor Mancini, a guy who works as a historical re-enactor at a Colonial Williamsburg theme park, is played perfectly in the film by madcap actor Sam Rockwell. A sexaholic who has a love/hate relationship with his dying mother (Anjelica Huston), Victor struggles with abandonment issues from his past and tries to break his sexaholic habits by attending weekly recovery sessions. But more often than not, he ends up hooking up with other sexaholics for cheap, meaningless sex. Victor's struggle is the central conflict in the film, which stays so true to the book, it doesn't alter its bleak ending and often takes passages directly from the novel for the running voiceover. (Niesel)
Disaster Movie - For the quality of writing that gets written during a WGA writers strike, behold the latest -- and unquestionably least -- focus-free Hollywood spoof from parodists-for-dummies Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Meet the Spartans, Epic Movie, etc), poking fun at, in no particular order or rationale, Juno, Enchanted, No Country for Old Men, Superbad, Armageddon, High School Musical, Night at the Museum, Amy Winehouse, Miley Cyrus, Jessica Simpson, Batman, Beowulf, the Chipmunks etc. The non-plotline has a generic commitphobe dude (Matt Lanter) trying to reconcile with his sexy girlfriend while saving Earth from an asteroid pounding brought on by a crystal skull. Really, The Phantom of Liberty and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie had stronger narrative drives -- and Luis Bu–uel could tell a joke better than Friedberg/Seltzer at this point, who beat any punch line (even the few worthy ones) into the pavement through repetition. Premature "tributes" to 2008 duds like Prince Caspian, Hancock and The Love Guru suggest a double-entendre meaning in the title (that and the fact that the whole ragged mess was filmed in Louisiana). Some MADtv castmates pop up to remind us why such schtick is best confined to small-screen blackout sketches. With tighter editing, some individual bits might just pass muster as YouTube Movie. (Charles Cassady)
Elegy - Philip Roth's novella The Dying Animal is a strange choice for a movie adaptation. A brief coda to Roth's Professor of Desire series about the sex-obsessed David Kepesh, it's basically a monologue in which college professor Kepesh recalls his affair with a Cuban American student 38 years his junior. Director Isabel Coixet apparently saw a tender romance in this slender phallocentric story and has made it into a glossy drama with the unusual casting choice of Ben Kingsley as Kepesh. Kingsley is a fine actor, but making Kepesh an Englishman is a bad idea, as he sounds a bit awkward at times. Penélope Cruz is lovely as Consuela Castillo, the object of Kepesh's desire, though she doesn't quite evoke the voluptuous siren whose breasts drove Roth's Kepesh into an erotic frenzy. The supporting roles fare better: Peter Sarsgaard is intense as Kepesh's resentful son, Patricia Clarkson is fine in the small role of Kepesh's longtime bedmate and Dennis Hopper is delightful as Kepesh's friend, poet George O'Hearn. The cinematography is beautiful and the soundtrack is filled with tasteful classical music, but there isn't enough story to sustain a feature film. 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov)
Flash of Genius - Not sure what would compel someone to want to make a movie about the guy who invented the intermittent windshield wiper. Sure, he came up with the idea and then big automakers stole it from him. And yes, he took them on against all the odds and had to defend himself in court because no lawyer in his right mind would take the job once they realized he wasn't looking for a settlement as much as he wanted an admission of guilt. But, c'mon, we're talking about a windshield wiper. That said, Greg Kinnear is quite excellent as Robert Kearns, a university professor who has a "flash of genius" and realizes an intermittent wiper might do a better job of increasing visibility in the absence of something short of a downpour. There's an inherent drama here in the film's David vs. Goliath storyline, and the film does a reasonable job of recreating the look of the '60s, but the two-hour movie probably goes on for about 20 minutes too long. 1/2 (Niesel)
Ghost Town - Brit funnyman Ricky Gervais plays Dr. Bertram Pincus, an uptight, Scrooge-like dentist who's so misanthropic, he likes the fact that his patients are often too numb to speak. But when Pincus encounters some health problems, he has to make an emergency trip to the hospital and wakes up to find out he came close to dying during an operation. As a result, once he's revived, he can see dead people, and his life takes an abrupt turn. One of the ghosts who talks to him is a guy named Frank Herlihy (Kinnear), who'll only leave Gervais alone if he agrees to break off his his engagement to widow Gwen (Tea Leoni). Bertram acquiesces but not because he likes Frank. In fact, he can't stand him and ends up not only befriending Gwen but also the guy she plans to marry. As much as the movie's about a guy so mean-spirited, he won't even hold the elevator for anyone but himself, it's also got a pretty big heart. Gervais, who helped develop the character with ideas of his own, is terrific, even if he's not really good-looking enough for the part. (Niesel)
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People - Simon Pegg stars as Sidney Young, a curmudgeonly gossip writer who moves from England to New York with the hopes of establishing himself as a major player at an up-and-coming magazine. But his crude behavior and disdain for a power-playing publicist (Gillian Anderson) gets him into hot water with the publisher (Jeff Bridges), who tells him he needs to shape up or ship out. His only friend (Kirsten Dunst) is an aspiring author who's frustrated with her tabloid journalism career, but instead of cherishing his friendship with her, he lusts after a hot actress (Megan Fox) and ends up becoming the kind of sycophant he despises. There's not much chemistry between Dunst and Pegg, and the shoddily directed film feels more like something that was made for British television. (Niesel)
In Search of a Midnight Kiss - Alex Holdridge's low-budget romance aspires to be something like Before Sunset. It falls way short of the mark, however, as two desperate singles (Scoot McNairy and Sara Simmonds) meet through ads they've posted on the internet and spend a wild New Year's Eve on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. He's an aspiring screenwriter who can't get anyone to call him back, and she's trying to dump her persistent cowboy boyfriend that followed her from Texas. In the end, they find out they have more in common than they initially thought, but the film's acting is so second-rate and its story so predictable, it's hard to sit through. (Niesel) The Lucky Ones - This low-key "dramedy" about three Iraq soldiers on leave is something of a problem child for its studio, Lionsgate, which dithered for a year over how to market an Iraq war movie to audiences who have rejected every single movie that even mentions Iraq. Iraq-phobia isn't the movie's only problem, however; it's just not very good. Director and co-scenarist Neil Burger, whose last film was the attractive period fable The Illusionist, says this movie was inspired by The Last Detail, the profane 1973 Hal Ashby film starring Jack Nicholson and Otis Young as sailors escorting a petty thief to prison. The Lucky Ones is a much more PG-rated affair starring Tim Robbins, Michael Pe–a and Rachel McAdams as soldiers on an eventful cross-country road trip. The movie has some good moments, but it's hard to get past the script's wild improbabilities. (Zoslov)
Miracle at St. Anna - Spike Lee's wildly ambitious, two-and-a-half-hour-plus WW II epic has so many interesting elements (including the heretofore unexamined role of African-American soldiers who served in the 92nd Infantry's Buffalo Soldiers division) that it's a shame the movie feels so unfocused, digressive and needlessly cluttered. Adapted by author James McBride from his same-named novel, Lee's film is part war flick set in 1944 Tuscany, part 1980s New York murder mystery, part travelogue and part maudlin tearjerker about the bond between a soldier (Omar Benson Miller) and the 7-year-old Italian waif (Matteo Sciabordi) he protects from harm's way. A terrific cast (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Derek Luke, Kerry Washington and John Turturro) tries valiantly to make an impression, but mostly gets lost amid all the noise, confusion and competing storylines. 1/2 (Paurich)
My Best Friend's Girl - Nothing new in this predictable romantic comedy. The insufferable Dane Cook plays Tank, a good-looking but obnoxious guy who's such a bad date, his buddies get him to go out with their ex-girlfriends because they know they'll come back to them after one night with the guy. But when his best friend and roommate Dustin (Jason Biggs) enlists his help, the plan backfires. Tank is obnoxious as ever, but the feisty Alexis (Kate Hudson) doesn't mind and ends up falling for him. Tank discovers he has feelings for her, too, and thus the film heads down a familiar path as Tank must choose between his best friend and his best friend's girl. While Alec Baldwin has a nice turn as Tank's insensitive and over-sexed dad, the movie had little going for it, especially since Cook thinks his fast-talking stand-up skills translate to the big screen (they don't). And yes, the Cars' song from which the movie takes its name plays incessantly throughout the film. (Niesel)
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist - This film takes place over the course of one wild night. Set in New York's Lower East Side, it references the many clubs that exist in that part of town, as the teens hop from the Bowery Ballroom to the Mercury Lounge in search of a secret show by their favorite band, Where's Fluffy. Along the way, Nick (Michael Cera), the guitarist in a crappy queercore band, meets Norah (Kat Dennings), the daughter of a famous music producer, and she enlists him to be her boyfriend for the night, just to keep her superficial friend Tris (Alexis Dziena) from making fun of her. When it coincidentally turns out that Tris is the girl for whom Nick has been making mix disc after mix disc in the hopes of winning her back after she abruptly broke up with him, Norah has to rethink her whole plan. Nick is still hung up on Tris, and that's an obstacle Norah can't seem to overcome. Along the way, Norah's friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) gets so drunk, she wanders off, and Norah and the guys in Nick's band go out looking for her. The plot is a bit stagnant (think of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry and his friends can't find their car in the parking structure), and the only thing that (barely) holds the film together is its terrific soundtrack. 1/2 (Niesel)
The Pearl (Mexico, 1947) - Emilio Fernandez directs this movie about the life of a poor Mexican fisherman. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, October 15.
Religulous - If satire is what closes on Saturday night, does that mean that Larry Charles and Bill Maher's scattershot satirical documentary Religulous will throw in the towel after its first Saturday matinee? While too hit-and-miss to be considered a success, I sincerely hope that Religulous (the title means just what you think it does) sticks around a lot longer than that. At a time when right-wing hockey mama Sarah Palin is hogging all of the spotlight, a thoughtful, well-considered and sometimes laugh-out-loud movie that dares to take gleeful potshots at organized religion of every persuasion is to be cherished. I only wish that Religulous wasn't so meandering and - at 103, stuffed-to-the-gills minutes - overlong. With some judicious editing, it could have made a killer HBO special. 1/2 (Paurich)
Righteous Kill - Righteous Kill offers the kind of mild entertainment you'd expect from a straight-to-video crime thriller. You know, it's the sort of film that makes for a pleasant enough evening in front of the TV with a six-pack, but you wouldn't really want to plunk down 10 bucks to see it. Normally, you wouldn't expect a movie like this to star Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Nonetheless, here they are. De Niro and Pacino have been in films together before (Heat, The Godfather 2), but this is their first true co-starring vehicle. The supporting cast - Carla Gugino, Donnie Wahlberg, John Leguizamo and 50 Cent - is good, too. Director/producer John Avnet delivers a polished and professional looking film, but it's hard not to feel like you've seen this all before. Written by Russell Gerwitz (Inside Man), Righteous Kill thinks it's smarter and cleverer than it really is. As De Niro and Pacino try to solve a series of vigilante murders, the script works so hard to misdirect the audience that it actually had the opposite effect on me. I still enjoyed the performances, and Gerwitz does give the actors a few good lines, but that doesn't entirely make up for the by-the-numbers plot. 1/2 (Ignizio)
The Story of a Cheat (France, 1936) - Film critic and teacher Robert Horton introduces this movie about a thief who recounts his career through a voiceover narration. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Monday, October 13.
Tell No One - On the eighth anniversary of his wife's yet-unsolved murder, pediatrician Alex Beck (an excellent Francois Cluzet) begins receiving weird e-mails. After clicking a webcam link, Alex sees a woman in surveillance camera footage who bears an eerily uncanny resemblance to his late wife, Margot (Marie-Josée Croze). Since the police still consider him a prime suspect in Margot's death and because Alex remains Vertigo-obsessed with his late wife nearly a decade after her murder, he begins searching for the mystery lady on the video. Alex's sleuthing eventually uncovers a vast conspiracy that shakes him to his very foundations and nearly costs him his own life. Adapted from Yank novelist Harlan Coben's 2001 best seller, this diabolically crafty French-language thriller manages to be quintessentially Gallic while still retaining the best and pulpiest qualities of American dime-store fiction. Director Guillaume Canet has made a psychological nail-biter so lip-smackingly satisfying that Hitchcock himself would be green with envy. 1/2 (Paurich)
Two or Three Things I Know About Her (France, 1966) - A suburban housewife secretly works as a prostitute in this Jean-Luc Godard film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Thursday, October 9 and 5:30 p.m. Saturday, October 11.
Yella (Germany, 2007) - Until derailing midway, courtesy of a series of impenetrable, jargon-laden business meeting scenes as dry as CSPAN's coverage of Wall Street's recent financial meltdown, Yella is a fairly gripping psychological thriller. Writer-director Christian Petzold claims that his film was inspired by the goose-bumply cult classic Carnival of Souls, in which a woman who may or may not have drowned is stalked by an eerie, phantom-like figure. While Yella bears some unmistakable plot similarities to that 1962 Herk Harvey curio (particularly in the possible drowning death of a main character and her phantom stalker),Petzold downplays the chills in favor of metaphysical murk. The movie opens like gangbusters. On her way to the train station, Yella (the striking Nina Hoss) gets involved in a car accident when her estranged husband Ben (Hinnerk Schonemann) drives his SUV off a bridge and into the Elbe River. Is Yella really dead? Is everything that happens after she first gets into the car with Ben a dream? Or are the events that transpire in Hanover supposed to be some kind of near-death hallucination? Petzold finally tips his hand in the final scene, but not even that skillfully engineered moment is enough to salvage a film that never makes up its mind whether it wants to be a John Grisham corporate thriller or an M. Night Shyamalan spookfest. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:25 p.m. Saturday, October 11 and 8:40 p.m. Sunday, October 12. 1/2 (Paurich)