Beauty in Trouble This comedy-drama by Czech director Jan Hrebejk was made in 2001 and first released in 2006. Written by Petr Jachovský and inspired by a Robert Graves poem, the film tells the story of Anna Geislerová (lovely redheaded Marcela Cmolíková) who lives a frustrating life with her two children and husband Jarda (Roman Luknár), who runs a stolen-car chop shop, and with whom she shares a passionate sex life but little else. Anna and the children move in with her meddlesome mother (Jana Brejchová) and stepfather Richard (Jirí Schmitzer), who resents the intrusion and mentally terrorizes the children. Anna meets older, wealthy, kindhearted Evzen (Josef Abrhám) who whisks Anna and her children to his Tuscany estate. When Jarda is released from jail, Anna must choose between financial security with Evzen and returning to her husband. The film peers down some psychological dark alleys, and the acting is compelling — Schmitzer's sinister stepfather, by turns generous and sexually threatening, is especially chilling. But the story threads don't lead anywhere very interesting. The soundtrack's inclusion of English songs now recognizable from the film Once seems oddly out of place, and the irresolute ending may leave viewers wondering what all the fuss was about. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** 1/2 (Pamela Zoslov)
The English Surgeon (Britain, 2007) Since the early 1990s, English brain surgeon Dr. Henry Marsh has been making regular trips to the Ukraine in a quixotic attempt to provide much-needed health care for its citizens. Director Geoffrey Smith's BBC-produced documentary splendidly captures Marsh's indomitable spirit, amazing grace and remarkable good humor in even the most appalling of circumstances. While some of the operating room scenes are uncomfortably graphic and difficult to watch at times, Smith has made an indelible portrait of one remarkable man's attempt to make the world a better, more humanitarian place. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, May 15. ***(Milan Paurich)
Goodbye Solo The new film from Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop) opens with an awkward scene in which William (Red West), a surly white Southerner, tries to pay a Senegalese cabbie named Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) an exorbitant fare in order to act as his driver and eventually drop him off at a mountaintop outside the Winston-Salem area on a designated date. It’s a fitting intro for a film by Bahrani, who’s made a name for himself with his true-to-life style that exploits life’s grim realities. Despite their different ethnicities and a clear generation gap, Solo and William end up as friends of sorts in this slow-moving film, though Solo’s the far more sympathetic character. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)
Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (US, 2008) You don't have to be a football enthusiast to enjoy Kevin Rafferty's (The Atomic Cafe) terrifically entertaining documentary about the storied gridiron match-up between Harvard and Yale on November 23, 1968, that ended in a 29-29 tie after underdog Harvard scored 16 points during the game's final 42 seconds. Disarmingly candid, frequently hilarious interviews with many of the former players, including Crimson alumnus Tommy Lee Jones are interspersed with the footage of the game. By contextualizing the game within the political maelstrom that was 1968 — the two teams included SDS as well as ROTC members — Rafferty makes this more than just an amusing footnote in the annals of college sports history. As a time capsule of a recent period in American history, Harvard Beats Yale is both inspiring and profoundly moving. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Thursday, May 14. ***(Paurich)
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (US, 1985) Taxi Driver writer Paul Schrader's knotty biopic juxtaposes the life of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima with stories from three of his novels. It's a neat and sometimes confusing trick, since Mishima's books were mostly autobiographical affairs that explored his obsessions with beauty and death. Schrader does his best to juggle his ambitious film by framing the biographical narrative in black and white and the stories in color. It gets complicated at the conclusion, when Mishima's ritual suicide inside a military academy bleeds into one of his idealistic political tales. But Mishima makes its point: The line between art and real life is a thin one. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:15 p.m. Friday, May 15, and 6:45 p.m. Sunday, May 17. ***(Michael Gallucci)
Our City Dreams (US, 2008) Chiara Clemente's nonfiction feature is more like an omnibus of five short fine-arts documentaries, nicely conceived but the overarching theme it seeks never quite gels. The filmmaker interviews five relatively unsung, culturally diverse artists, starting with the 20-something guerilla-graphics-grrl from Daytona dubbed "Swoon," now a street-art darling, all the way up to octogenarian Cleveland native Nancy Spero, widow of international artist Leon Golub (a duo also profiled in 2005's Golub/Spero; she's the only one of the quintet to discuss couplehood and children). Yes, some of these well-spoken ladies of the gallery scene do seem just one song away from being characters in Rent. But we're privileged to make their acquaintance, even as the narrative wanders far afield of the Big Apple. Cairo-born Ghada Amer, a creator of erotically charged fiber-art who's horrified at the current dark-ages mindset of Islam, could fill a feature all by herself. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 13. ** 1/2 (Charles Cassady Jr.)
The Rise of Louis XIV (France, 1966) A realistic account of how the Sun King attained his power. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 20.
The Round-Up (Hungary, 1966) Austro-Hungarian troops round up a group of unruly peasants in Miklós Jancsó's breakthrough film. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, May 16, and 9:05 p.m. Sunday, May 17.
The Triplets of Belleville (France/Belgium/Canada/Britain, 2003) You don't have to speak French (or any language) to be drawn into Belleville, the dazzling animated first feature by Sylvain Chomet and a brief rally (hopefully not the last hurrah) for singularly eccentric hand-drawn cartoons. The sublimely imaginative plot concerns a diminutive, mute, indominatable grandma of a would-be Tour de France bicyclist. After her grandson is kidnapped, the heroine (with faithful hound Bruno) pursues the square-shouldered perpetrators all the way to distant Belleville, a sprawling metropolis - named for, but not resembling, a district of Paris. The titular Triplets are three key allies she meets along the way, 1930s star night-club entertainers (à la the Andrews Sisters) now living in reduced circumstances as an occasional stage novelty act but persevering in happy subsistence on an all-frog diet. Yes, some of the absurd riffs on French stereotypes and culture here would probably bring a smile to Dr. Goebbels' face, but don't let that prevent you from enjoying Chomet's fantastical flights of whimsy, sound and vision. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 15, and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 16. *** 1/2 (Cassady)
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past This diverting bit of nonsense blends romantic comedy with A Christmas Carol in a blatant ploy for feminine hearts: The lead is swoon bait Matthew McConaughey, and the story is a sharp rebuke against womanizing. McConaughey plays Connor Mead, a successful magazine photographer who uses and discards women like Kleenex, even breaking up with three on a conference call. On the eve of the wedding of his younger brother (Breckin Meyer), Connor makes a cynical speech denouncing love. That night, the ghost of his idolized swinging Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas, having a grand time), appears, warning Connor not to end up as he did, old and alone. The ghost tells him he'll be visited by Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Present and Future, who take Connor on a journey to confront the origins and consequences of his caddish behavior. Connor predictably realizes he's missed out on true love with childhood sweetheart Jenny (Jennifer Garner), who now regards him with pity and contempt. This labored conceit plays better than it sounds, since the script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Four Christmases) has enough funny, acid dialogue to compensate for absurdities like the bride's middle-aged militarist dad, described as a Korean War vet, which would make him around 80. ***(Zoslov)
Monsters vs. Aliens Even though Monsters vs. Aliens incorporates new characters to the talking-animal genre (actually, Pixar got there first eight years ago with the otherworldly creatures of Monsters, Inc.), it's still the same mix of animated elements. The opening scenes set up the plight of Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), a bride hit by a piece of space junk on her wedding day. She soon begins glowing and growing. The government tosses her into a cell with other imprisoned oddities: Dr. Cockroach, an oversized, lab coat-wearing roach (Hugh Laurie); a fish-man called the Missing Link (Will Arnett); Insectosaurus, a ginormous bug; and B.O.B., a jumbo blob of blue Jell-O that sounds like (and is) Seth Rogen. When a four-eyed, tentacled alien attacks Earth, the monsters are recruited to save the planet from the imminent invasion. Monsters vs. Aliens certainly makes good on its promise of the titular creatures. And it looks great (be sure to see it in 3D — the sci-fi spectacle leaps off the screen). But there isn't much of a story here. ** 1/2 (Gallucci)
Next Day Air This crime action-comedy directed by Benny Boom comes across like an African-American version of a Guy Ritchie caper (comically inept criminals, menacing masterminds, stylish cinematography and editing) crossed with Pineapple Express (criminal mix-up fueled by incessant pot smoking). While the level of violence — much of it implied and offscreen — might be aversive to some, the movie is a model of low-key humor and tense, economical storytelling (it runs a compact 84 minutes). Leo (Scrubs' Donald Faison) is a Philadelphia delivery driver whose work performance is hampered by his copious pot smoking and whose exasperated boss is his mom (Debbie Allen). Stoned Leo delivers a package to the wrong apartment, allowing a pair of bumbling crooks, Brody and Guch (Mike Epps and Wood Harris) to get their hands on a huge shipment of cocaine. This sets off a series of dangerous events when they decide to sell the coke, while the vengeful dealer (Emilio Rivera) and intended recipients (Cisco Reyes and Yasmin Deliz) try to get it back. While it relies a little heavily on stereotypes (Latino characters named "Jesus," "Chita" and "Bodega"), the movie maintains a nice balance of suspense and humor. The casual interplay between the characters, as written by Blair Cobbs, is a lot of fun. ***(Zoslov)
Obsessed "A lot of these single gals see the workplace as their hunting ground," warns co-worker Ben (Jerry O'Connell) when Lisa (Ali Larter), a pretty blonde temp, shows up at the office one day. Derek (Idris Elba) says he has no trouble staying loyal to his wife Sharon (Beyoncé Knowles) and his young son Kyle (Nathan Myers). So when the temp throws herself at him at the company Christmas party, he refrains from reciprocating. But hell hath no fury like a secretary scorned, and it's not long before Lisa starts stalking Derek, showing up unannounced at a company retreat and sending him sexy photos from her e-mail account. It's all rather preposterous (the film would have been much more effective if it kept the harassment more realistic) and predictable, though the movie deserves props for not making race an issue (Derek is African-American and Lisa's white). It's not giving too much away (you can see it coming from the start) to say that it all culminates in a vicious catfight that finds the petite white girl outmatched by big, bad Beyoncé. * (Niesel)
Paris 36 Things go from bad to worse for a sad sack named Pigoil (Gérard Jugnot) in this period piece that uses a vaudeville theater as a microcosm for life in Paris in 1936. When the theater closes, Pigoil's wife leaves him, and he subsequently loses custody of his accordion-playing child JoJo (Maxence Perrin), whom he adores. But Pigoil doesn't despair; rather, he gets together a group of two-bit actors and actresses and "improvises a revolution," re-opening the theater. A lovely young girl named Douce (Nora Arnezeder) is the saving grace, drawing big crowds and turning the venue into a money-making business. Not quite as good as 2007's La Vie En Rose, the film's an emotional roller-coaster ride that's alternately tragic and comic, sad and happy. Cedar Lee Theatre. ***(Niesel)
The Soloist With this immensely satisfying movie about a newspaper writer who discovers that a homeless man playing Beethoven on the streets of L.A. is a trained musician fallen on hard times, director Joe Wright finds an ideal vehicle for his talent. Wright's glossy, slightly eccentric style, predictably suitable for English drawing-room fare like Atonement, is delightfully unexpected for a movie about "the people of the abyss." The story, based on Steve Lopez's Los Angeles Times columns, casts Robert Downey Jr. as Lopez, who finds a compelling subject in Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), who is serenading traffic with a two-stringed violin. Lopez learns that Ayers studied at Juilliard and pieces together his story. He was raised in Cleveland (some scenes were filmed here), and his talent took him to Juilliard, where he was a promising cello student sidelined by schizophrenia. Foxx ably depicts the sometimes lucid, sometimes nonsensical speech patterns of schizophrenia, and his symptoms are illustrated with terrifying vividness. Lopez's efforts to help Ayers — giving him a donated cello, arranging an apartment — are by turns rewarding and frustrating. Susannah Grant's screenplay is deeply sympathetic to the struggles of the homeless, and Seamus McGarvey's brilliant cinematography gives the human landscapes the look of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. ****(Zoslov)
Star Trek J. J. Abrams' much-anticipated remake/reboot/prequel/sequel to Paramount's Star Trek series isn't your father's Star Trek, not by light years. It's more like your snotty little iPod-plugged nephew's. The plot: In the 23rd century, Starfleet up-and-comer George Kirk is killed with his ship when a time-space warp materializes a gang of nasty, vengeful Romulans from 127 years in the future, piloting their own enormous Death Star (more like a Death Squid, given the production design). George's wife gives birth to a nervy punk named James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), who grows up a motorcycle delinquent around the space-shipyards of Iowa. Meanwhile on Vulcan, planet of serene logic and repressed emotion, the persecuted half-human prodigy Spock (Zachary Quinto) grows up with a mild anger-management problem. It's a good thing this is so entertaining, because the eventual return to deep-space naval battle with the Romulan Death Squid (the villains just conveniently disappear from the narrative for a quarter-century) is hardly stuff Where No One Has Gone Before. *** (Cassady)
Sugar Miguel "Sugar" Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) is a hard-throwing pitcher from the Dominican Republic who finally gets a chance to play in the big leagues after a major-league team invites him to spring training. Sugar ends up on a farm club in the middle of Iowa, living with a devotedly Christian family and struggling to comprehend a foreign culture and language. While he maintains friendships with his Dominican Republic buddies who also end up on the team, the experience is rather disorienting. The film goes to great lengths to show just how uncomfortable Sugar is in his new environment, and as a result, he's so withdrawn and reticent, it makes it hard to sympathize with him, even after his pitching abilities begin to rapidly diminish and he's forced to rethink his choice to play in the U.S. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** 1/2 (Niesel)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine Everyone's favorite mutton-chopped mutant, Logan a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), takes center stage in this X-Men prequel. Beginning in 1845, the story centers on the relationship between Logan and his brother Victor a.k.a. Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber). The two eventually become part of a Special Forces unit led by Stryker (Danny Huston), but as the unit's activities turn increasingly violent, Logan goes his own way. He settles down with schoolteacher Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins), but the couple's domestic bliss is short-lived. The story feels pedestrian at times, and the plot gets cluttered trying to shoehorn in too many characters from the X-Men canon. And yet Jackman and Schreiber, who both seem to have a great time without condescending to the material, deliver great performances. Fans of the series should enjoy this, but for those already overdosed on superhero films, it's unlikely Wolverine will renew their appetite for the genre. ** 1/2 (Robert Ignizio)
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