The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is showing several great films this weekend. Here are our reviews of just a few of them.
Creation (Britain, 2009) Decorous, stately and a just a wee bit dull, director Jon Amiel's (The Singing Detective, Sommersby) lugubrious biopic about Origin of Species author Charles Darwin can't seem to make up its mind which story it wants to tell. Told in flashbacks and flash forwards that confuse rather than enhance the narrative, Amiel and screenwriter John Collee devote more time to Darwin's various family traumas (including the death of his beloved daughter, Annie, at age 10) than it does to his revolutionary theories. Neither Paul Bettany nor a wan Jennifer Connelly inject much life, or even charisma, into their lackluster portrayals of Charles and Emma Darwin, and the film is stolen by an orangutan named Jenny who delivers the only truly memorable performance. While Creation might have sufficed as one of HBO's lesser historical dramas (e.g., last year's drowsy Brendan Gleeson/Winston Churchill flick, Into the Storm), it seems curiously out of place on the big screen. No wonder its theatrical release stalled out after flopping in a few big-city art houses earlier this year. At 7:10 p.m. Saturday, May 1 and at 8:55 p.m. Sunday, May 2. ** (Milan Paurich)
Gigante (Uruguay/Argentina/Germany/Spain, 2009) Imagine Seth Rogen's subversive dark comedy Observe and Report with all the "pervy" parts (and most of the violence) left out, and you'll have a good idea of the considerable charms of Uruguayan writer-director Adrian Biniez's appealing debut effort. Roly-poly, painfully shy supermarket security guard Jara (Horacio Camandule, terrific) develops a crush on comely co-worker Julia (Leonor Svarcas), and like mall cop Paul Blart before him, does everything within his (limited) powers to impress her, and draw her attention away from less, er, deserving suitors. As self-effacing and sweetly earnest as Jara himself, Gigante is easy to over-praise for all the things it's not (e.g., crude, overblown or mean-spirited). Yet Biniez's deft, understated touch and two excellent lead performances make it pretty hard to resist his neo-realist inflected urban fairy tale. At 8:45 p.m. Thursday, April 29 and at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 30. *** (Milan Paurich)
The North Face (Germany/Austria/Switzerland, 2008) Based on a true story of a 1938 climb, during which a group of mountaineers tried to scale the "Murder Wall" in the Swiss Alps, Philipp Stölzl's docudrama is a faithful recreation that follows the efforts of a German duo — Toni (Benno Fürmann) and Andi (Florian Lukas) — as they try to make the treacherous ascent. Initially, things go well; they make good progress after a single day of climbing. But when a blizzard sets in, things go horribly wrong. Luise (Johanna Wokalek), an aspiring young journalist, and Toni and Andi's childhood friend, is sent to report on the attempted climb but soon decides she can't objectively cover their attempt when it becomes apparent that they might not even survive. You won't confuse The North Face with a Hollywood film like Cliffhanger the extensive climbing scenes are incredibly realistic and stay true to the techniques of the day. And to the filmmakers' credit, the love story that emerges never becomes too corny. At 9:20 p.m. Saturday, May 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, May 2. *** (Niesel)