Film Capsules


An American Journey: Revisiting Robert Frank's The Americans (France/U.S., 2009) In this documentary, filmmaker Philippe Séclier retraces the steps Robert Frank took some 50 years when he put together his photo collection The Americans. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20.

The Beaches of Agnes (France, 2008) Agnes Varda, the only female French New Wave filmmaker, looks back at her career in this documentary she directed herself. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Black Dynamite (U.S., 2009) A man goes to the nation's capitol to avenge his brother's murder in this blaxploitation spoof. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 10:05 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17.

The Book of Eli Written by Gary Whitta and directed by the Hughes Brothers, The Book of Eli does a good job of walking the middle ground between the pulpy entertainment of The Road Warrior and the more serious-minded vision of the end of the world seen in The Road. Its story revolves around Eli (Denzel Washington), who walks through a post-apocalyptic United States carrying with him the last surviving copy of the Bible. He believes he has been charged by God to deliver this book to a place where it will be safe, though he doesn't know where that might be other than to the west. Looking for supplies, Eli stops in a small town of survivors that's governed by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who has been looking for a copy of the Bible because he understands its power as a tool of social control. The two predictably come into conflict. Washington and Oldman are excellent, as expected. So is Mila Kunis as the film's female lead, proving she's just as adept at drama as she is at comedy. *** 1/2 (Robert Ignizio)

Bye Bye Birdie (U.S., 1963) The corpse of the 1950s was barely cold when this high-camp Hollywood adaptation of the Lee Adams-Charles Strouse Broadway (and high-school drama club) warhorse came out, in glorious, pastel-hued Panavision, with giddy parodies of Eisenhower-era obsessions like Elvis, TV, teens, Oedipus complexes, Soviets, even a subplot that appears to be about amphetamines. Yet the storyline is as close to insubstantial as musicals get. Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) is a Presley-like rock 'n' idol just drafted into the military. But his characterization is so neutered you wonder why they even bother to show the legendary dude at all. Instead, focus is on the mom-dominated songwriter (Dick Van Dyke) trying to get Birdie to sing his latest for a live on-air farewell on The Ed Sullivan Show, and the Columbus-area teen queen (the irresistible Ann-Margret) chosen to receive a symbolic "one last kiss" from Conrad. It's as fun as cotton candy and about as nourishing. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17. ** 1/2 (Charles Cassady Jr.)

Collapse (U.S., 2009) Chris Smith's (American Movie, The Yes Men) documentary is centered on a former LAPD officer who predicted the financial meltdown. Capitol Theatre. At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13.

That Evening Sun (U.S., 2009) Getting old is never easy, especially when you're tucked away in a dismal nursing home. That is what has happened to Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook), despite the fact that he seems perfectly capable of taking care of himself. So he escapes the nursing home one afternoon and returns to his old farm, only to find his son (Walton Goggins) has rented the place out to surly deadbeat dad Lonzo (Ray McKinnon) and moved all his furniture into the guest house. Abner is naturally upset and moves himself into the guest house, even though his son advises him to return to the nursing home. He eventually strikes up a friendship with Lonzo's daughter Pamela (Mia Wasikowska) and even tries to protect her from one of Lonzo's drunken tirades. Based on a short story, this film poignant, and Holbrook is terrific as a grumpy old man . His stubbornness doesn't dissuade you from taking his side, even as takes drastic measures to deal with Lonzo. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15 and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17. *** (Jeff Niesel)

Walt & El Grupo (U.S., 2009) This documentary retraces the 10-week trip Walt Disney took to Latin America in 1941. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 8:40 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14, and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15.

In Theatres

Avatar It's been a dozen years since king of the world James Cameron won a boatload of Oscars for Titanic. He apparently spent the downtime thinking about how to revolutionize movies with Avatar, his bloated and exhausting sci-fi epic about a tribe of tall, tailed and blue-hued creatures called Na'vi. It's also one of the most visually stunning movies ever made. The film is set in 2154 on the forest planet of Pandora, where wheelchair-bound marine Jake Scully (Terminator Salvation's Sam Worthington) is recruited for an ongoing project that fuses human and Na'vi DNA, resulting in "avatars" that look like Na'vi but retain human thoughts. It's all very scientific, confusing and geeky. With a new body capable of sprinting as fast as any animal on Earth, Jake's mission is to infiltrate the Na'vi so the military can mine the precious minerals their homes are built on (again, it's all very scientific, confusing and geeky). It doesn't take long for Jake to fall for one of the Na'vi (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek's Uhura) and rethink his assignment. Avatar is pure sci-fi hokum with one-dimensional characters, heavy-handed narration and an unsurprising love story. But you've never seen a movie like this before. ***(Michael Gallucci)

Daybreakers This vampire film's old-school European sensibility comes through in its dialogue-free opening scene, which follows our bloodsucking hero Dr. Dalton (Ethan Hawke) as he goes to work, driving a black high-tech vehicle that protects him from the sun's harmful rays. Directed by Ed Dalton in Peter and Michael Spierig (Undead), the film has a good twist. Vampires have overtaken the world, and humans are such a minority that a crisis has ensued. It seems the vampires are running low on blood, and Dalton is trying to find a blood substitute. Dalton, however, is more sympathetic to humans than his vampire peers, particularly his money-loving, human-hating boss Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) and his human-hunting brother Frankie (Michael Dorman). So when Dalton has a chance encounter with a group of refugee humans led by a guy named Elvis (Willem Dafoe), he decides to help them out, especially since they have seemingly found a way to transform vampires back into humans. While the film's bloodbath finale doesn't entirely add something new to the genre, the Australia movie has a unique look and feel to it. ** 1/2 (Niesel)

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus The sensation of watching fabulist extraordinaire Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is akin to devouring an entire pound bag of M&Ms in one sitting. While you're absorbed in their chocolatey goodness, you can't stop eating them. But when the bag is finally empty, all you're left with is a massive belly ache. Or, in the case of Doctor Parnassus, a doozy of an Excedrin headache. Better known as the late Heath Ledger's final film (he died in the middle of production, necessitating a quick rewrite by Gilliam and co-writer Charles McKeown), Doctor Parnassus is a smorgasbord for the senses. The cinematography, art direction and costumes are to die for. Yet the movie never engages you on an emotional level. It's all mind-numbing spectacle with precious little substance to back up Gilliam's wacky flights of fantasy. Unfortunately, Gilliam hasn't given anyone an actual "part" to play. They're mostly just interchangeable chess pieces to be moved about at whim on Gilliam's Candyland-style set. ** 1/2 (Milan Paurich)

Leap Year Directed by the estimable Anand Tucker (Shopgirl, Hilary and Jackie) in a somewhat lighter mode than usual, the film owes a huge debt of gratitude to its pixie-ish leading lady, two-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams. As Anna, a Boston real-estate sharpie who travels to Ireland just so she can propose to her yuppie doctor boyfriend (Adam Scott) on February 29th, the adorable Adams makes a fairly pedestrian script by husband-and-wife writing team Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont (Made of Honor, Can't Hardly Wait) seem far brighter, smarter and wittier than it really is. Very little of what transpires in this featherweight romantic comedy is remotely surprising or fresh, yet Adams keeps you happily glued to your seat from start to finish. Helping matters considerably is Tucker's deft and blessedly restrained hand while tackling even the hoariest rom-com conventions (the meet-cute scene, the tacky motel-room It Happened One Night moment, etc.). ***(Paurich)

Up in the Air Intelligently adapted by Ivan Reitman and Sheldon Turner from Walter Kirn's 2001 novel, Air stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a freelance "corporate downsizer" (a.k.a. hatchet man) who flies around the globe firing pink- slipped employees for their chickenshit employers. Proud of his footloose and fancy-free ways (he spends 322 days of the year on the road) and lack of emotional attachments, Ryan is flying right into the path of an oncoming storm — a crisis of conscience. He just doesn't know it yet. The remarkable supporting cast includes Vera Farmiga as an equally career-obsessed Chicago business executive who's instrumental in derailing Ryan's flight plans (literally and figuratively), and the wonderful Anna Kendrick (Camp, Rocket Science) as Ryan's eager-beaver second-in-command who learns a life lesson or two of her own along the way. As splendidly written and brilliantly directed as Up in the Air is, the movie probably wouldn't have worked nearly as well with a different leading actor. Clooney, however, delivers a career performance here, one that definitively pegs him as the premier American screen actor of his generation. ***(Paurich)

Youth in Revolt While on a family vacation in Ukiah, California, Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) meets jaded, decidedly non-virginal hipster chick Sheeni (Portia Doubleday). The two bond over their mutual boho tastes and disdain of parents. After returning home, Nick devises what he thinks is a foolproof plan to get his mom (Jean Smart) to let him return to Ukiah (and Sheeni). One of the most amusing features is the alter ego Nick adapts in his bid for emancipation. Gallic-accented Francois Dillinger is a real hoot (and a nice stretch for Cera, who seems to be having a ball playing a bad boy), as well as an extremely bad influence on poor Nick. Arson and grand theft auto are just a few of the crimes he gets talked into committing by tres debonair Francois. Adapted by Charlie Bartlett scenarist Gustin Nash from the first three books in C.D. Payne's six-tome series, Youth in Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp, the film does a nice job of making Nick thoroughly likable. ***(Paurich)