Capsule Reviews


Big Man Japan (Japan, 2007) A bit of a slacker who lives in a small, messy apartment with a stray cat he doesn't call his own, Daisato (director Hitoshi Matsumoto) carries an umbrella with him, even if it's not threatening to rain. He rides around town on a small, beaten-up motorcycle. Yet Daisato is no everyday dude. When electrocuted, he transforms into Big Man Japan, a superhero who can fight off monsters. But there's a problem. Big Man Japan is a superhero at a time when superheroes have gone out of vogue. His TV ratings are dismal, and he's forced to accept sponsorships and perform publicity stunts to try to win over the disillusioned public. While the straightforward, documentary-style portions of Matumoto's film are funnier than the outlandish scenes in which Big Man Japan takes on his super-sized enemies, Big Man Japan is still a hoot. Though its low-budget battle scenes certainly won't be confused with those in Transformers, the lack of computer-generated effects is actually refreshing. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Thursday, July 16 and at 8:55 p.m. Friday, July 17. *** (Jeff Niesel)

Fados(Portugal/Spain, 2007) In Fados, eminent Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura pays non-narrative tribute to the distinctly Portuguese musical tradition of balladeering. As with Saura's earlier Flamenco, this is no PBS documentary, but rather a total-immersion experience in the art, with a series of fado song-and-dance numbers, performed on a simple yet spectacular stage festooned with vividly colored scrims and screens with apt projected images. Fadistas of all ages perform with some of the departed greats represented in archival clips For non-Portuguese viewers who mainly associate Maltese crosses with Snoopy fighting the Red Baron, Fados can be a cryptic but also a passionate, sensual and exhilarating experience, with the climactic "Casa di Fados" sequence a standout, as a mockup café of vocalists each take their turn in a sort of melodious dialogue. As with the blues, fado is adaptable indeed, and one is struck by the Pete Seeger-like tone of a fado political-protest song and an interesting attempt to blend fado and hip-hop in tribute to a street poet. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Friday, July 17 and at 9:20 p.m. Saturday, July 18. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

The Girl from Monaco When an attorney named Bertrand (Fabrice Luchini) goes to Monaco to defend a woman accused of murder, he ends up falling for Audrey, a stunning weather girl (Louise Bourgoin) who turns out to be a femme fatal of sorts, "a witch in the modern sense," as Bertrand puts it. Despite the best efforts of his bodyguard Christophe (Roschdy Zem) to dissuade him, she seduces Bertrand and even disrupts his ability to hold it together in the courtroom. Anne Fontaine's movie alternates between being a serious drama about a man who can't contain his desire for a gorgeous woman (and Audrey's skimpy dresses make it painfully clear how irresisible she is) and a Pink Panther-like comedy as Luchini comes off as a Closeau-like character at times. It all never quiet gels, though the French flick somehow garnered a couple of Cesar nominations after its overseas release last year. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** 1/2 (Niesel)

Perestroika (US, 2009) Set in Moscow in 1992, Perestroika follows astrophysicist Sasha Greenberg (Sam Robards) as he returns to the Soviet Union after living abroad for 17 years. Coming back in the wake of the fall of communism, he finds that things have changed dramatically, and he meets up with old and new flames, igniting an affair with a young filmmaker and even hooking up again with his ex-wife. He also reconnects with old friends, including a former teacher with whom he has many deeply philosophical (and rather boring) conversations. Sasha's visit triggers a series of flashbacks as he remembers being discriminated against because he was Jewish when he was trying to get into university. Director Slava Tsukerman (Liquid Sky) drew upon his own experiences for the film's narrative. But poor acting and shoddily constructed sets make the movie seem like the work of an amateur rather than seasoned filmmaker. The meandering plot is hard to follow, especially with all its references to advanced scientific theories and meaning-of-life-type stuff. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, July 17. ** (Niesel)

The Philadelphia Story (US, 1940) Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart star in George Cukor's romantic-comedy classic about a love triangle between divorced heiress Tracy Lord about to be married a second time, her ex-husband Grant, a reformed alcoholic who won't let her go that easily, and Stewart as a failed-novelist-turned tabloid reporter, trying to cover the elite event. They form a triangle of suitors (with another side, if you count Ms. Lords' clueless fiancé) that leaves you on the edge of your seat about which of the best men will win. Watch this in its black-and-white glory and see one of the few instances when the overused adjective "sparkling" really does apply to mainstream film. It was also remade as the unmemorable musicalization High Society, with Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby just not capturing the magic of the original (and those names were no slouches). Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:05 p.m. Saturday, July 18 and at 2:50 p.m. Sunday, July 19. ****(Charles Cassady Jr.)

Séraphine (France/Belgium, 2008) Slated to open later this summer at the Cedar Lee Theatre, Martin Provost's new film about the life of self-taught artist Séraphine Louis shows in this special sneak preview. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 22.

Treeless Mountain (US/South Korea, 2008) Shot in her native South Korea, writer-director So Yong Kim's follow-up to 2007's acclaimed In Between Days tells the touching, semi-autobiographical tale of two young sisters who get shuttled from relative to relative when their mother goes off in search of her absentee husband. More classical in style (think Ozu or Bresson) than Kim's slightly punkish debut effort, the film has an unhurried, even contemplative rhythm that de-emphasizes melodrama in favor of naturalism and restraint. Kim also draws terrifically naturalistic performances out of her pint-sized stars (6-year-old Hee-yeon Kim and 4-year-old Song-hee Kim) that are practically Truffaut- or Spielberg-worthy. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:15 p.m. Saturday, July 18 and at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 19. ***(Milan Paurich)

In Theaters

Brüno The movie's tagline claims "Borat was so 2006." And in a way, Sacha Baron Cohen's follow-up to his hit comedy about a horny Kazakhstanian on a U.S. road trip is a little different. But in so many other ways, Brüno is a lot like the wildly hilarious Borat. For one thing, Cohen and director Larry Charles take their camera into the real world, capturing real people's reactions to the very real things happening in front of them. Last time Cohen brought a bag of his feces to the dinner table; this time he has his anus bleached while fielding a phone call from his agent. Cohen plays super-gay Austrian TV fashion-show host Brüno, who heads to L.A. to become famous — "the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler," he says. Like Borat, he manages to dupe and get under the skin of various homophobes, celebs and pretentious assholes. And like Borat, there's more set pieces than plot here. Thought Borat's wrestling scene was too much? Wait till you see Brüno's. And while Cohen takes it kinda easy on a minister who promises to make the flamboyant Brüno straight, his hunting trip with a bunch of Southern good ol' boys is uncomfortably brilliant. *** 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs Ray Romano, Denis Leary and John Leguizamo all return here as the voices behind Manny, Diego and Sid, a motley group of animals who've become a "herd." Manny the mammoth has settled into domestic bliss with Ellie (Queen Latifah), who's expecting a baby. Manny's so excited, in fact, he's built a playground for the yet-unborn child. But all isn't well with Diego and Sid. Diego feels he's losing his ferocity and thinks it might be time for him to move on, and Sid's feeling like he needs to find a mate and start a family of his own. So when Sid stumbles upon a set of dinosaur eggs, he goes against Manny's wishes, waits for them to hatch and adopts the babies. As can be predicted, mama dinosaur isn't too happy that some sloth has stolen her babies and eventually tracks them down and whisks them (and Sid) back to her underground home. Manny, Ellie and even Diego all realize they need to help Sid, even if it means endangering their own lives. So they head underground to the land of the dinosaurs where they encounter an adventure-loving weasel named Buck (Simon Pegg), who offers to help them save their friend. There aren't any surprises here, and the whole dinosaur thing is rather random. But Romano, Leary and Leguizamo have all given their respective characters real personality and Latifah, who joined the franchise with the second film, 2006's Meltdown, is terrific as well. ***(Niesel)

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. ***(Paurich)

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." LaBeouf and Fox are back (our first glimpse of her is a slow-mo shot of her cut-offs-clad ass); so are Bumblebee, Optimus Prime and a bunch of little Gremlin-like Transformers. 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)

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