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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reviews of the Cinematheque's weekend films

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2009 at 7:10 AM

The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is showing several great movies this weekend. Here are our reviews.

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Duck Soup (US, 1933) The Marx Brothers’ comic masterwork wasn’t a success in its era. In fact, there was some doubt the team would do another movie after the film laid an egg at the box office (it was indeed the last time Zeppo Marx appeared onscreen with the troupe). Only in the 1960s, with the Marx Brothers re-appraised and appreciated by rebellious college students for their anti-authoritarian antics, was Duck Soup elevated to the realm of classic, warped and surreal humor. The film is set in mythical Freedonia, a place so poor that financial existence depends on the charity of rich widow Margaret Dumont. She’s smitten with the disreputable Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho), and he’s put in charge of the government. Never mind that Firefly still insults her and everybody else with rapid-fire verbiage. Neighboring country Sylvania wants to take over Fredonia, and inept spies Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo) follow Firefly, who arbitrarily leads Freedonia into war against Sylvania. By the time Groucho has Chico on trial for treason, simultaneously trying to convict and defend him, whether a serious point is being made in all the foolishness is purely moot. Just laugh and enjoy. At 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, and 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30. **** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

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Hana (Japan, 2006) Set in 18th-century Japan, Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s parody is something like an Asian Year One. But without comedic talents like Jack Black and Michael Cera, the humor doesn’t really resonate. That, and the fact that you should probably know a thing or two about samurai traditions to really get something out of the flick. The plot revolves around Soza (Junichi Okada), a young warrior who must avenge his father’s death. Problem is, he’s notoriously shy and is more interested in reading and writing than fighting. In fact, he’d rather help the city slaves do menial tasks than pick up his sword and kill the man who offed his dad. And yet, he still tries to keep some semblance of the samurai lifestyle, even if he can’t pay his rent. While some of the double entendres and jokes are really clever, the movie’s better as a period piece than a comedy. At 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)

It’s a Gift (US, 1934) The W.C. Fields classic comedy from 1934 won’t win any awards for fancy scriptwriting — it’s literally a handful of Fields’ well-remembered sketch routines from the vaudeville stage (one of them named after key line “It’s the old army game”), just charm-braceleted together into the loosest imaginable plotline, about a downtrodden and henpecked shopkeeper (Fields), his awful family and his eventual California windfall. Still, screen comedy and culture wouldn’t have been the same without any of these great bits. One simple yet beautifully timed routine concerns Fields’ inability to even catch an afternoon nap without being troubled by every disturbance conceivable. The sidesplitting sequence/sketch of blind-deaf Mr. Muckle obliviously wreaking havoc in Fields’ grocery store found an admirer in none other than Alfred Hitchcock, who appreciated the exquisite suspense in the basic dilemma of what was about to get smashed next. At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, and 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30. *** 1/2 (Cassady)

Oblivion (Netherlands, 2008) Dutch filmmaker Heddy Honigmann’s nonfiction feature essay is a sort of Peoples’ History of 20th-Century Peru. Average Yankee-imperialist-pig audiences may wonder at first what the point is of these elusive interludes with faraway Lima’s aged headwaiters, unemployed hoteliers, street performers and vendors, tinkers, tailors and sad shoeshine boys. But eventually the sense comes through of the too-oft-invisible permanent underclass in a dysfunctional capital city. These are the resilient bit players in a much larger drama — Peru’s series of social convulsions, economic collapses, terror strikes and counter-strikes (to the point that it’s impossible to tell who’s committing the atrocities — troglodyte Maoists or police death squads). They are folks like the clothier behind the manufacture of the presidential sash, threatened due to a sartorial misunderstanding, or the ever-smiling bartender who finally gets his little shot at revenge on the highest in the land. These are great stories of the powerful — none interviewed here — and the ostensibly powerless hanging on with determination. At 8:25 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27, and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28. *** (Cassady)

Pontypool (Canada, 2008) Pontypool is an effectively eerie Canadian horror flick by cult director Bruce McDonald (The Tracey Fragments) about a radio talk-show host (the terrific Stephen McHattie) whose early-morning program is disrupted by reports of a zombie invasion. Things come to a boil when an army of the undead shows up at the station and begins banging on the windows. Despite a shoestring Canuck budget, McDonald’s terse little chiller has more smarts — and visual panache — than most Hollywood movies costing 100 times as much. Anyone who’s ever listened to Rush Limbaugh and his fascistic ilk will dig the film’s sociopolitical subtext about the devaluation of language in today’s townhall-meetings-gone-amuck cultural climate. At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27, and 9:25 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28. *** (Paurich)

Sügisball (Estonia, 2007) Veiko Ounpuu’s film (the title translates as “Autumn Ball”) about a group of apartment dwellers that struggle to find love and happiness portends to be something like an Estonian version of Crash. Beautifully shot, it chronicles the lives of a handful of people, each despondent in his or her own way. The intersecting stories involve a young writer who lives alone because his wife left him for a friend of his, an architect who gets pissed off when his friends criticize his extravagant lifestyle and a doorman who has aspirations of leaving his lowly job and making money investing in trash-removal machines. It’s all rather bleak, particularly since just about everyone appears to have a drinking problem. While the narratives don’t ever come together into a coherent whole, the film is beautifully shot and has several poetic moments. At 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30, and 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 31. *** (Niesel)

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