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Short Takes: Female Trouble 

Angel, A Single Man, and Days of Heaven

Angel***

Based on a tome by British writer Elizabeth Taylor (not that Elizabeth Taylor), François Ozon's (Swimming Pool, 8 Women) yummy retro fairy tale about the meteoric rise and cataclysmic fall of a female novelist in Edwardian England is the ultimate in guilty pleasure treasures. Bratty schoolgirl Angel Deverell (Romola Garai, best known as Keira Knightley's duplicitous kid sister in Atonement) will stop at nothing to achieve literary success, and thanks to the efforts of a sympathetic publisher (Sam Neill) and her selfless-bordering-on-masochist personal secretary (Lucy Russell), she realizes her dream. The only thing standing between Angel and true happiness, though, is struggling painter Esmé (Michael Fassbender from Inglourious Basterds), the Rhett Butler-like rogue who becomes her eventual undoing. Ozon's witty deployment of deliberately phony matte backdrops and swelling, syrupy orchestral music are Golden Age of Hollywood stuff, and Angel could have been one of Bette Davis or Joan Crawford's signature roles. But it's doubtful whether even George Cukor or Douglas Sirk could have made a movie as ornately, exquisitely gilded or sublimely entertaining as this.

Milan Paurich

Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque.

At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16 and 8:20 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17

Days of Heaven****

A must-see — considered by many to be one of the American movie masterworks of the 1970s and perhaps of all time — this 1978 drama depicts with mythological magical realism a love triangle on the prairies circa 1918, amid golden wheat fields, threshing machines and rootless immigrant-worker communities. A young, hot-tempered migrant laborer (Richard Gere) lets his lover marry a young, semi-invalid landowner (Sam Shepard) in hopes that the two of them will inherit the sickly man's wealth when he finally dies. Child actress Linda Manz narrates the tragedy in a timeless old-young voice. The apocalyptic locust swarm is one of the many unforgettable sights and sounds (including immortal soundtrack No. 234 or so from Ennio Morricone) that proves there was more to Hollywood in those days than disco and disaster pics. Terrence Malick waited (and taught in academia) for two decades before directing another commercial feature. One likes to imagine he was boycotting the medium until the Police Academy sequels ceased coming out.— Charles Cassady Jr.

Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque.

At 6:45 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14, and 9:40 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15

A Single Man ***

Based on a novel by the late Christopher Isherwood, fashion maven Tom Ford's stunningly assured directorial debut hearkens back to '90s "New Queer Cinema" classics like Todd Haynes'Poison and Tom Kalin's Swoon. The film poignantly describes an impactful day in the life of British expatriate college professor George Falconer (Colin Firth), who is contemplating suicide after the accidental death of his longtime companion (Matthew Goode). Set in 1962 Los Angeles, the painstaking period recreation is Mad Men perfection, with a tip of the hat to Wong Kar-wai's über-fetishized mise en scene. Firth delivers a career performance that won him the Best Actor award at last summer's Venice Film Festival, and, as George's loyal friend and fellow Brit expat, Julianne Moore hasn't been this terrific in years. The film is a masterpiece of remarkable style and great, tender feeling. — Paurich

Opens Friday areawide

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