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Check out bite-sized reviews of current releases

Opening

Carmen & Geoffrey (US, 2005) Dancers/choreographers/actors Carmen de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder first met in 1954 on a production of Truman Capote's House of Flowers. Already established members of the dance community, they became fast friends and ultimately married. Directed by Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob, this documentary explores their relationship by utilizing a mix of present-day interviews and archival footage. With its constant references to choreographers and dancers, the movie's more intended for dance enthusiasts than general filmgoers, something that comes out as Lavallade's biographer discusses things like the place the two hold in the history of the art world. Still, they are colorful enough as characters (especially the tall, deep-voiced Holder) that the documentary more or less holds your interest for its 85-minute running time. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 8. *** (Jeff Niesel)

Cheri Set in 1912 Paris, Chéri is the story of Léa de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer), a retired courtesan who takes up with beautiful, spoiled playboy Fred (Rupert Friend), 19, nicknamed "Chéri" by Léa, whom he calls "Nounoune." Their affair lasts six years, until Chéri's mother, mercenary ex-courtesan Madame Peloux (heartily played by Kathy Bates), marries him off to the wealthy young Edmée (Felicity Jones). Both Léa, who worries about her fading beauty, and Chéri, who cares little for anyone but himself, realize too late that theirs was a genuine, if impossible, love. The movie's Belle Epoque settings are lovely: art nouveau furnishings and ravishing costumes, enhanced by Darius Khondji's fine cinematography. But it's hard to look past the casting of Pfeiffer, possibly the last actress you would think of for a French courtesan. Pfeiffer emotes valiantly, but her slender California beauty and disturbingly unlined forehead do not suggest a voluptuous, aging concubine, or a Frenchwoman of any kind. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov)

Explicit Ills (US, 2008) With its extended pans of city streets and interweaving storylines, this Mark Webber-directed drama has elements of a Jim Jarmusch flick. That's probably why Jarmusch signed on as an executive producer. Explicit Ills, however, is hardly up to Jarmusch standards. Though beautifully filmed, it has so many meandering storylines that by the time they come together at the end, you probably won't care. The film centers, for the most part, on Babo (Francisco Burgos), a precocious young kid with a struggling single mother (Rosario Dawson). Babo befriends Rocco (Paul Dano), and the two start playing chess together on a regular basis, until Babo suffers an asthma attack that sends him to the hospital. The other storylines revolving around a starving artist and a pair of drug addicts seem so unrelated that by the time they're woven together at the film's end, it just seems forced. Cleveland Musuem of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, July 3. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)

Guest of Cindy Sherman (US, 2008) As the host of a mid-'90s public access show called GalleryBeat, Paul H-O spent his free time hitting gallery openings in New York asking dumb questions ("What do you eat for breakfast?" is one of his favorites). After finding that photographer Cindy Sherman wasn't put off by his in-your-face approach, he became friends with her and interviewed her during a work in progress. He ended up hanging out with her in her studio loft and telling her, "You're the best-dressed person I know" and "You look really swell." Sherman eventually fell for him, and the two ended up in love and living together. As much about the New York art scene as a relationship gone bad (the film includes interviews with artists like Robert Longo, Julian Schnabel and Sean Landers), Guest of Cindy Sherman is an interesting self-portrait of Paul, who also directed the movie and doesn't shy from depicting his battles with depression and his feelings of inadequacy. You can't help feel for the guy, even if the exploration of his relationship with Sherman comes off as a bit exploitative. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 1. *** (Niesel)

Mr. Hulot's Holiday (France, 1953) French comic filmmaker, mime artist and actor Jacques Tati scored an international hit in 1953 with this thinly plotted farce about a trudging, klutzy bachelor named Hulot and the small-scale disasters that seem to follow him when he vacations at a seaside resort. There's so little dialogue, it doesn't matter whether you understand French or not; the comedy arises out of the little visual gags and even sound effects that Tati planned with meticulous precision. Still, it's disjointed to the extreme, and despite the universal embrace by film critics everywhere, Tati would more fully realize the Hulot character in a handful of comedies he made over ensuing decades. A strong inspiration for Mr. Bean's Holiday, n'est-ce pas? Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 2, and 1:15 p.m. Sunday, July 5. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

Sin Nombre (Mexico/U.S., 2009) The debut feature of Cary Fukunaga, Sin Nombre (Nameless) was a sensation at Sundance, where it won prizes for direction and cinematography, and earned Fukunaga a development deal with Focus Features. The story of a Mexican gang that preys on immigrants who ride trains headed for the U.S., the movie is impressively made. Fukunaga researched the film by riding the rails himself and mastering the difficult art of shooting on a moving train, and the talented cinematographer Adriano Goldman graces the film with haunting Mexican landscapes. It brings together Wily (Edgar Flores), nicknamed "El Casper," a member of a brutal, elaborately tattooed gang in Tapachulas, Chiapas, Mexico, and a Honduran girl, Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), who joins her estranged father on a journey to the U.S., where she dreams of living. Willie, forced to escape from the gang — a group so vicious they kill their enemies and feed them to their dogs — saves Sayra from an attack and is reluctantly bound to her for the rest of the perilous trip. For all its visual beauty and technical brilliance, the movie is unsentimental to the point of emotional flatness, offering insufficient sweetness to offset the horrifying violence. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 2, and 3:05 p.m. Sunday, July 5. *** (Zoslov)

Whatever Works Casting about for an idea, Woody Allen dusted off a script he wrote in the'70s for Zero Mostel. The great Zero being long dead, we have Larry David as Boris Yellnikov, a misanthropic ex-physicist who rants against everything from religion to love and dismisses most humans as "incompetent morons" and "inchworms." The persona is as familiar as a cranky old friend, and while Woody still inhabits it best, David is far from the worst fit. The story is a funny, often hilarious farce centering on this hypochondriacal hermit who spends his days waxing philosophical with his friends (Michael McKean, Adam Brooks, Lyle Kanouse) and teaching chess to children, whom he insults mercilessly. One night, Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood), a pretty Southern teenage runaway, appears at the doorstep of his dismal apartment. Boris reluctantly takes her in and schools her in his cynical attitudes. As always in Allen's romances, the young girl wearies of her neurotic older mate, and several un-couplings and re-couplings occur. The redemptive finale, reminiscent of Hannah and Her Sisters, is unexpectedly uplifting. *** 1/2 (Zoslov)

In Theaters

Away We Go In the opening scene of Away We Go, Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are in bed going at it. Burt has his head under the covers and is clearly, um, pleasuring Maya, while he tries to keep up a conversation at the same time. It's a funny if awkward scene that sets the tone for the whimsical film, a much lighter movie than director Sam Mendes' previous effort, Revolutionary Road. A road movie of sorts, Away We Go follows Burt and Verona as they traipse across the country, visiting friends and acquaintances to find a place where they can live and raise their child. They embark on their trip after Burt's parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) inform him they're moving and won't be around once Verona, several months pregnant, gives birth. No longer tied down, Burt and Verona go first to Phoenix, where they meet one of Verona's former colleagues (Allison Janney). Then they're off to Tucson to visit Verona's sister (Carmen Ejogo). After stops in Wisconsin, Montreal and Miami, they decide their friends don't have any answers about where to live and how to raise children. Written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, the movie avoids most of the usual romantic comedy clichés and offers a fresh approach to the genre. *** (Niesel)

The Hangover A pre-titles sequence sets the scene: Four men are stranded in the desert, all of them beaten, bruised and bloodied. One of them calls a bride-to-be on his cell, informing her that her wedding — just hours away — isn't going to happen. The groom is "lost." Flashback two days earlier, when four men — groom Doug (National Treasure's Justin Bartha), his best friend Stu (The Office's Ed Helms), buddy Phil (Bradley Cooper, who played Rachel McAdams' dick boyfriend in Wedding Crashers) and the bride's loser brother Alan (standup comedian Zach Galifianakis in a breakout performance) — are prepping for Doug's bachelor party in Las Vegas. They check into a $4,200-a-night suite, go to the roof for a celebratory drink and ... wake up the next morning, not remembering a thing. Including how a tiger got in their bathroom, why they now have a baby and where they left Doug. They spend the rest of the movie piecing together their forgotten night. It's one of the funniest movies of the past couple of years, with enough testosterone to power Caesars Palace. *** (Michael Gallucci)

My Sister's Keeper After six feature films in 13 years, it's safe to assume writer-director Nick Cassavetes will never be confused with his late father, indie pioneer/auteur John Cassavetes. If Cassavetes Senior's films were (deliberately) rough around the edges and seemingly improvised (even when they weren't), Cassavetes Junior occasionally errs on the side of slickness — Exxon Valdez oil-spill slickness. Take My Sister's Keeper, Cassavetes' alternately moving and insidious adaptation of Jodi Picoult's bestselling novel. Cassavetes displayed his tearjerker chops with 2004's The Notebook, and Keeper proves that he hasn't lost his touch at wringing emotions. But Notebook worked because the lead performances by star-crossed lovers Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams were so classy you could (almost) forgive the crass manipulations of the icky Nicholas Sparks source material. Cassavetes' latest borders on Hallmark porn ("Let's all feel good about feeling bad"). Or maybe it's just that the directorial hand is so heavy this time. The story of an 11-year-old girl (Little Miss Sunshine cutie Abigail Breslin) who sues her parents for "medical emancipation," My Sister's Keeper has such a loaded, Lifetime Movie premise that it can't help but get under your skin. The most troubling aspect of the film is the faint whiff of exploitation that lurks around the edges. ** (Milan Paurich)

The Proposal Even with the age difference (she's 44; he's 32), Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds make a darn cute couple in The Proposal, a high-concept romantic comedy that sizzles more than it fizzles. Directed by Anne Fletcher, who helped turn Katherine Heigl into a bona fide rom-com princess in last year's 27 Dresses, The Proposal might very well restore Bullock's title as America's (blue-collar) Sweetheart. Bullock plays Margaret Tate, a book editor who strikes fear into her cowering staff just by entering the building. After learning that she faces deportation, the boss-from-hell blackmails her executive assistant Andrew (Reynolds) into marrying her. Realizing that he's suddenly got the upper hand, Andrew somehow convinces "Satan's Mistress" to fly to Alaska to meet his (what else?) quirky family. It's only a matter of time before Margaret and Andrew realize that they sort of, kind of, actually dig each other. Fletcher again displays a deft touch with even the most obvious of comic situations. And hiring veteran cinematographer Oliver Stapleton (The Cider House Rules, Restoration) ensures The Proposal has more visual élan than Fletcher's dowdy-looking Dresses. *** (Milan Paurich)

The Taking of Pelham 123 Walter's (Denzel Washington) having a typical day at his job — bullshitting with coworkers, maneuvering subway trains throughout the city — when a group of machine-gun-toting bad guys (led by a mustachioed John Travolta) takes over one of the cars. They stop the train (the Pelham 1 2 3 of the title) on the tracks, in the middle of a tunnel, and demand $10 million in exchange for 19 hostages. Travolta's Ryder gives authorities one hour to deliver the ransom. If he doesn't receive it, he'll kill one passenger for every minute it's delayed. Unfortunately, family guy Walter takes the hijackers' call and becomes Ryder's go-to man in this remake of a 1974 film. Washington brings his usual stately cool to Walter, slowly transforming him from a downgraded desk jockey to a button-down-shirt-and-tie-wearing action hero. Meanwhile, Travolta gives his most intense and showy performance in years as the foulmouthed and tattooed Ryder. It all culminates in an underground-to-street showdown, making it a helluva thrilling ride. *** (Gallucci)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Nobody went to the first Transformers for Shia LaBeouf. Nobody went for Megan Fox either (well, maybe some of us did). Everybody who saw that summer blockbuster two years ago went for the robots — the shape-shifting, ass-kicking, totally awesome robots. In this overblown sequel, director Michael Bay wisely keeps the camera on the Autobots and Decepticons for most of the movie, shoving aside what little plot there is to make room for big, explosive set pieces where tons of shit blows up. This time around, the "story" has something to do with a reborn and revenge-minded Megatron returning to Earth to kidnap LaBeouf's Sam and then take over the planet. But who really cares? It's all about bigger and badder battles that span Sam's front yard to the Egyptian desert. At two and a half hours, there's plenty of time to get to know Revenge of the Fallen's bots, but Bay is more focused on big bangs, cheap laughs and having his metal heroes call opponents "punk-ass Decepticons." Sam is in college now, giving Bay the opportunity to cause some major property damage on campus. He also introduces a horny coed who's a literal man-eater. It all spills over into one of the movie's best scenes. But too much of Revenge of the Fallen is loud, plodding and totally obnoxious. ** 1/2 (Gallucci)

Up Up is an eyes-wide-open fantasy about Carl Fredricksen (voiced by the always-cranky Edward Asner), whose lifelong dream of being a globe-trotting adventurer has been halted every step of the way. He marries his childhood best friend, a girl who shares his dreams and quest for adventure. Over the years, they live and love and try to scrape up enough cash to visit Paradise Falls, a mythical wilderness in South America. After his wife dies, Carl — now an old man with a bad back and an even worse temperament — spends his days in his ramshackle house, which stands in the middle of a construction site. After he assaults a worker on his property, the court orders him to a retirement community. So Carl hatches a plan to escape to Paradise Falls by attaching hundreds of balloons to his house. Surprisingly, it works, and he sets sail serenely above the city streets. All goes well until he hears a knock at the door and finds Russell, an overweight and chatty Wilderness Explorer (it's like a Boy Scout) who needs one more badge to advance to the next level. A brutal storm steers Carl and Russell miraculously in the middle of Paradise Falls' outlining forest. And then Carl's real adventure begins. Unlike the meditative WALL-E, Up is filled with thrilling action scenes and colorful set pieces. Like WALL-E, it's a stunning visual work with an eco-friendly message. *** 1/2 (Gallucci)

Year One Zed (Jack Black) is an inept primitive hunter forced to leave his tribe after he gets caught eating from the tree of knowledge. Zed's friend Oh (Michael Cera) tags along, and as the two wander through the ancient world, they encounter various biblical characters including, Cain (David Cross) and Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Eventually, a plot of sorts begins to emerge: Zed and Oh learn that their former tribespeople, including a couple of girls (Juno Temple and June Diane Raphael) for whom they have the hots, have been sold into slavery and taken to Sodom. So the hapless duo set out on a rescue mission. Directed and co-written by Harold Ramis, Year One definitely has the feel of a movie from the guy who wrote Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack and Stripes. Like those films, this follows the tried-and-true formula of casting strong comedic leads as lovable losers who get beaten down but ultimately come out on top. The movie slips a little when it reaches beyond just trying to make us laugh to insert a half-assed message about people making their own destinies. Still, Year One is a reasonably entertaining film with a generous number of laughs. *** (Robert Ignizio)

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