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