Capsule Reviews

If It's In The Theaters, It's Reviewed Here

All in This Tea (U.S., 2007) - Ethnographer Les Blank travels to China to explore the cultivation of tea. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, October 3 and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, October 4.

Battle in Seattle - Ray Liotta, Woody Harrelson and Charlize Theron star in this misguided dramatization of the 1999 protests of the World Trade Organization's meeting in Seattle. The tension in the film, which stems from the stand-off between protestors and police, is telegraphed right from the start. The drama in the documentary footage is so much more compelling than any of the dramatizations, it makes you wonder why the filmmakers didn't just make a straightforward documentary. Opens Friday at Shaker Square Cinemas. (Jeff Niesel)

Burn After Reading - The change of pace offered here from the Coen brothers, who cleaned up last year at the Academy Awards for their intense No Country for Old Men, is likely to leave many fans scratching their collective heads. A whimsical story about a woman (Frances McDormand) who discovers a CD-ROM of what she thinks are top secret C.I.A. files, Burn After Reading hardly has the depth of No Country. And yet it's worth seeing just for the performance by John Malkovich, who stars as the hot-tempered CIA agent whose life falls apart before our eyes as he loses both his job and his marriage in one fell swoop. (Niesel)

Cairo Station (Egypt, 1958) - CIA professor Maureen Kiernan introduces this film by the late Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, who died this past July. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:35 p.m. Saturday, October 4.

Eagle Eye - It knows when you are sleeping. It knows when you're awake. It knows your weekend plans and what you're having for dinner because it's monitoring the plague of electronic devices in our pockets and purses. The Patriot Act-protected title character in Eagle Eye is a self-aware, anti-terrorism surveillance computer that goes rouge - deciding to assassinate the leaders of America to end the self-imposed state of terror. The all-seeing robot uses its gathered information and control of all things electronic to rope in two unsuspecting civilians - Jerry (Shia LaBeouf) and Rachel (Michelle Monaghan). Billy Bob Thornton is along for the ride as an FBI agent in pursuit of the pair. But good luck following the action - director D.J. Caruso's shaky shots are more disorienting than a 5-year old playing with a video camera. In the end, not even the snappy dialogue and charm of LaBeouf and Thornton can stop Eagle Eye's political nausea. (Jason Morgan)

The Family That Preys - Director Tyler Perry's latest movie about middle-class African Americans offers the usual quotient of interracial affairs and illegitimate offspring. The story here surrounds a greedy son (Cole Hauser) who tries to wrest the family business out of the hands of his aging-but-obstinate mother (Kathy Bates), a wealthy white woman who would rather spend her time slumming with an African-American diner owner (Alfre Woodward). The set-up is all initially believable, and Woodward and Bates have great chemistry. But at a certain point midway through, the movie crosses into soap-opera territory and resorts to the kind of drama you'd expect out of General Hospital, albeit with a bit more ethnic diversity. (Niesel)

Fireproof - Imagine a government bailout putting the Southern Baptists in charge of Fox Cable; then Rescue Me would look like this: Hotheaded Georgia firefighter Caleb (Kirk Cameron), an internet porn addict, turns to Jesus and a series of "love dares" (that's trademarked, evidently, judging by the book tie-ins being sold) to salvage his failing marriage to a hospital PR flack. Alas, winning the miserable bitch's ardor again is tougher than his lifesaving exploits. With production values of a circa 1980 (A.D.) TV movie, this second Christian-inspirational drama from filmmaker-pastors Alex and Stephen Kendricks (Facing the Giants) has the wisdom to know it can't compete with Backdraft in the visuals, so don't expect inferno-level action. Indeed, close your eyes and you'll swear (well, no you won't; nobody swears here) you're hearing an evangelical radio soap opera on WCRF-FM, complete with community-theater acting and sermonizing dialogue. And there's an audience for that, OK, but verily, ye must be Born Again to fully enter into what amounts to an infomercial for the Bible-centered covenant-marriage movement. At least the script is pretty frank in acknowledging wedded bliss is a ... flaming turd. (Charles Cassady)

The Go-Getter - A cookie-cutter indie off the Sundance assembly line, The Go-Getter muddles along, taking forever to make its intentions - hell, even its fuzzy narrative arc - clear. Man-child Mercer (Lou Taylor Pucci from Thumbsucker, a slightly more ingenious assembly-line Sundance alumnus) impulsively steals a car and goes on a road trip to locate his estranged half-brother Arlen (Jsu Garcia). Mercer hopes that by telling Arlen their mom is dead he can finally end the grieving process and get on with his life. But scumbag Arlen isn't easy to find. Accordingly, Mercer's Candide-like journey takes him from Eugene, Oregon, to Nevada, California and eventually Ensenada, Mexico. Because it's an ostentatiously quirky indie, he naturally meets all sorts of colorful, or just plain odd, characters along the way. Writer-director Martin Hynes displays some talent; his film is nicely acted, and it's beautifully shot by Byron Shah. Unfortunately, the material is just too darn precious for comfort. Cleveland Museum of Art Cinematheque. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, October 6 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, October 7. (Milan Paurich)

I Served the King of England - Part fairy tale and part historical overview, Czech director Jiri Menzel's (Closely Watched Trains) film starts out as a lighthearted story about Jan Dite, an ordinary guy who's just gotten released from jail, where he served a 15-year sentence. The film's told in flashback mode with Dite reflecting back on his life as a waiter (and then proprietor). The message of Menzel's film is made explicit at the end, when Dite says going through tragedy and hardship is what makes us human. That's clear throughout the movie, which seamlessly incorporates Czech history into the story of how a simple man like Dite ended up behind bars. Ivan Barnev is terrific as the young Dite, playing the character with a Chaplin/Keaton-like affinity for slapstick, with a good bit of pathos mixed in. Oldrich Kaiser is also excellent as the older (and more subdued) Dite, a guy who fondly remembers the past yet looks optimistically to the future, even though everything around him seems quite bleak. An adaptation of a novel by Czech writer Bohumil Hrabel, the film can sometimes be too flippant about things such as the Holocaust. That said, it doesn't ignore the fact that Dite, as na•ve as he might be at times, understands the ways he's complicit with Nazism. And it's that balance of humor and drama that puts King of England nearly on the same level as the Oscar-winning Closely Watched Trains. (Niesel)

Igor - There isn't much to this CGI time-killer about a mad scientist's hunchbacked assistant who has aspirations of his own. So it's the little things that count: the title character (voiced by John Cusack), an Igor School grad with a Yes-Master degree who sounds like Boris Karloff when he's around others and like John Cusack when he's narrating the movie; his stitched-together creation, who mistakes Igor's "evil" orders for her name, Eva; and a pair of chatty inventions/sidekicks Ð a suicidal rabbit cursed with immortality (Steve Buscemi in full existential-angst mode) and a not-so-brilliant brain in a jar who accidentally scrawled "Brian" on the outside of his home in permanent ink. After his bumbling master's latest experiment ends fatally for the old guy, Igor gets the run of the lab and makes a monster, which he hopes will snag first place in the Evil Science Fair. Unfortunately, all the goodhearted Eva wants to do is act. The horror! 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)

Lakeview Terrace - Samuel L. Jackson is Able Turner, a police officer and single dad. Turner's got a few issues about race, and when an interracial couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) moves in next door, he becomes the neighbor from hell. That premise could have made for an entertaining guilty pleasure in the vein of early '90s thrillers like Unlawful Entry, or it could have been the set-up for a serious drama about race relations and suburban rage. Unfortunately, Lakeview Terrace can't seem to make up its mind about what it wants to be. This is a movie that cloaks itself in an aura of false relevance but lacks the courage to address the issues it raises in any meaningful way. It's too bad because Abel Turner is an interesting character. He isn't a one-dimensional bad guy, and Jackson does a great job of humanizing him. Sadly, that effort is undermined every time the movie goes into standard thriller mode, culminating in a cheap and pointless ending. Lakeview Terrace is neither fun nor thought-provoking. It's just bad. (Robert Ignizio)

Louvre City (France, 1990)/La Jetee (France, 1962) - CWRU English professor Ray Watkins introduces these two French films set in museums. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 7. The Lucky Ones - This low-key "dramedy" about three Iraq soldiers on leave is something of a problem child for its studio, Lionsgate, which dithered for a year over how to market an Iraq war movie to audiences that have rejected every single movie that even mentions Iraq. Iraq-phobia isn't the movie's only problem, however; it's just not very good. Director and co-scenarist Neil Burger, whose last film was the attractive period fable The Illusionist, says this movie was inspired by The Last Detail, the profane 1973 Hal Ashby film starring Jack Nicholson and Otis Young as sailors escorting a petty thief to prison. The Lucky Ones is a much more PG-rated affair starring Tim Robbins, Michael Pe–a and Rachel McAdams as soldiers on an eventful cross-country road trip. The movie has some good moments, but it's hard to get past the script's wild improbabilities. (Pamela Zoslov)

Masculine Feminine (France, 1966) - Once rated adults-only, even in permissive France, for its acknowledgments of abortion and homosexuality (and, just as likely, prevalent leftism), Jean-Luc Godard's mordant feature is cited as a dividing-line, the last time the cinematic new-wave icon did a narrative with more or less scripted characters and beginnings/middles/endings. Hereafter, he jumped into pure symbolism, sloganeering and agit-prop. Not that those elements aren't present here, in the opposites-attract story (suggested by writings of de Maupassant) concerning a young Marxist slacker (Jean-Pierre Leaud) attracted unaccountably to a shallow, small-time pop starlet (gamine singer-actress Chantal Goya was a sort of Gallic Britney Spears of the era, except her teen marriage actually lasted), while he ignores overtures by the girl's more thoughtful roommate. With French presidential elections as a backdrop, Godard considered the film a semi-documentary on cosmopolitan Parisian youth, and indeed much cryptic Q&A dialogue is actually Godard using miniature earphones to whisper queries for his largely non-pro cast to use on each other and test their reactions. When the same generation rioted in the streets a few years latter, Godard was judged a prophet, although his "masculine" comrades here seem doomed to political impotency despite their high ideals, while the "feminine" ones are materialist. Watch especially for the arcade scene, a standout in the annals of continuous-take sequences. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, October 4 and 4 p.m. Sunday, October 5. 1/2 (Cassady)

Miracle at St. Anna - Spike Lee's wildly ambitious, two-and-a-half-hour-plus WW II epic has so many interesting elements (including the heretofore unexamined role of African-American soldiers who served in the 92nd Infantry's Buffalo Soldiers division) that it's a shame the movie feels so unfocused, digressive and needlessly cluttered. Adapted by author James McBride from his same-named novel, Lee's film is part war flick set in 1944 Tuscany, part 1980s New York murder mystery, part travelogue and part maudlin tearjerker about the bond between a soldier (Omar Benson Miller) and the 7-year-old Italian waif (Matteo Sciabordi) he protects from harm's way. A terrific cast (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Derek Luke, Kerry Washington and John Turturro) tries valiantly to make an impression but mostly gets lost amid all the noise, confusion and competing storylines. 1/2 (Paurich)

The Mummy (US, 1932) - CWRU film studies professor Robert Spadoni introduces this horror classic that stars Boris Karloff. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Sunday, October 5.

My Best Friend's Girl - Nothing new in this predictable romantic comedy. The insufferable Dane Cook plays Tank, a good-looking but obnoxious guy who's such a bad date, his buddies get him to go out with their ex-girlfriends because they know they'll come back to them after one night with the guy. But when his best friend and roommate Dustin (Jason Biggs) enlists his help, the plan backfires. Tank is obnoxious as ever, but the feisty Alexis (Kate Hudson) doesn't mind and ends up falling for him. Tank discovers he has feelings for her, too, and thus the film heads down a familiar path, as Tank must choose between his best friend and his best friend's girl. While Alec Baldwin has a nice turn as Tank's insensitive and over-sexed dad, the movie has little going for it, especially since Cook thinks his fast-talking stand-up skills translate to the big screen (they don't). And yes, the Cars' song from which the movie takes its name plays incessantly throughout the film. (Niesel)

Nights in Rodanthe - Nights in Rodanthe tells the story of Adrienne (Diane Lane), a middle-aged mother of two whose husband left her for another woman but now wants to return. Adrienne decides to think it over during a trip to look after a beachfront inn in North Carolina's Outer Banks owned by her friend, lively artist Jean (Viola Davis). The only guest at the inn is Paul Flanner (Richard Gere), a doctor with a troubled past. Having just left his marriage, Paul has come to coastal Rodanthe to talk to an old man named Torrelson (Scott Glenn), who is suing Paul over the death of his wife on his operating table. Paul and Adrienne strike up a friendship, which turns passionate after a hurricane pummels the bizarrely vulnerable inn. What's remarkable about the movie is the wide gulf between the skill of cast and crew and the banality of the material. (Zoslov)

Vertigo (US, 1958) - CWRU music professor Daniel Goldmark introduces this Alfred Hitchcock thriller. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Monday, October 6.

A Woman in Love (Mexico, 1946) - Emilio Fernandez' film has been called a south of the border Taming of the Shrew. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, October 1.

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