Capsule Reviews of Current Releases (5-27-09)

Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet (Switzerland, 2005) The subject of Angry Monk is so compelling, he transcends the unimaginative, off-the-rack style of this documentary. Tibet's Gendun Choephel (1903-1951) was a brilliant and intellectually curious youth who enrolled at a lamasery in Lhasa at a period when Tibetan society was stagnant and conservative, ignoring the outside world and its mid-20th-century upheavals of war and revolution. After traveling extensively throughout Tibet to set down the land's history using long-neglected ancient texts, Choephel sallied through Gandhi's India, a country looking toward modernization in a way that Tibet wasn't. Choephel began writing for a Tibetan-Indian newspaper and translating Indian literature into written Tibetan — most notoriously, the Kama Sutra. Choephel was hardly the expected austere, ascetic type of monk. He smoke, drank and whored with gusto. His widow, interviewed here, says he more or less drank himself to an early grave, after having been arrested and imprisoned in Lhasa, charged with being a Communist stooge. In fact, Choephel was trying to warn his countrymen about the ascent of Mao, and he lived just long enough to see his Cassandra-like prophecies come true, as Chinese troops swarmed into Tibet in 1950, sending the Dalai Lama into exile. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 7 p.m. Friday, May 29. ** 1/2 (Charles Cassady Jr.)

Brothers Bloom A couple of orphans, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) learn at an early age that they have a knack for conning people. It all starts when they trick their classmates into thinking there's a monster in a cave, and they charge their fellow students admission to see the monster — really just one of the brothers. They get caught on a regular basis and move from foster home to foster home. Flash-forward a few years. Stephen and Bloom, now young adults, have figured out how to pull off heists without getting caught. They've partnered with Bang-Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), an Asian woman who doesn't speak, and pulled off one lucrative job after another. They could retire on their earnings, but they decide to do one last con and find an heiress, Penelope (Rachel Weisz), who could easily be bilked of her millions. Problem is, Bloom falls in love with her. Much like Wes Anderson, director Rian Johnson (Brick) relies on quirky characters and distinctively colorful cinematography to create an alternate, anachronistic universe. While the film predictably blurs the lines between what's a con and what's not, its intriguing narrative holds it together. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)

Katyn (Poland, 2007) The 1940 Soviet massacre of 15,000 Polish soldiers in the Katyn forest is the jumping-off point for veteran director Andrzej Wajda's (Ashes and Diamonds, Danton) provocative and compelling new historical drama. Told largely through the gut-wrenching stories of a group of slain Polish officers and their survivors, Wajda dispassionately exposes a Communist-engineered cover-up of the genocide for which Hitler was officially blamed. The 83-year-old Wajda remains Poland's greatest, most poetic chronicler of that country's 20th-century political upheavals and domestic traumas. A 2007 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, Katyn screened twice at the 2008 Cleveland International Film Festival. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:25 p.m. Friday, May 29, and 7:05 p.m. Saturday, May 30. ***(Milan Paurich)

Lemon Tree After the Israeli defense minister (Doron Tavory) moves into a new house on the border between Israel and the West Bank, he begins fortifying the place. He implements security measures, installing video surveillance cameras and putting up barbed-wire fences. He also offers Palestinian widow Salma (Hiam Abbass) compensation for her lemon grove, which he plans to uproot. She wants to keep her lemon trees, however, and hires a lawyer to keep the defense minister from cutting them down. Though the Israeli court rules against her, she takes her case to an international court, determined to keep her grove. Complicating matters is the fact that the defense minister's wife Mira (Rona Lipaz-Michael) ends up on Salma's side. Based on a true story involving olive trees, Eran Riklis' film is thankfully less about politics and more about personal choices and relationships. Cedar Lee Theatre. ***(Niesel)

Silence and Cry (Hungary, 1967) A Miklós Jancsó drama about a Red Army refugee. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, May 30, and 7 p.m. Sunday, May 31.

Slap Shot (US, 1977) Paul Newman stars as a struggling minor league hockey coach in this comedy. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7 p.m. Friday, May 29, and 8:35 p.m. Sunday, May 31.

Two Lovers (US, 2008) Director James Gray (Little Odessa, We Own the Night) takes a break from his usual genre fare with this unexpectedly touching, beautifully played urban romance set in present-day Brooklyn. Joaquin Phoenix plays Leonard Kraditor, a bipolar young man who moves back in with his parents (Isabella Rossellini and Moni Monoshov) after getting dumped by his fiancée. While he's only too happy to play along with his folks' attempt to fix him up with the comely daughter of a business associate (Vinessa Shaw), Leonard really has eyes for the blonde shiksa goddess (Gwyneth Paltrow) who just moved into their apartment building. The emotional tenor of the movie feels exactly right, and the performances are extraordinarily empathetic. This is Gray's most satisfying and mature work to date. Maybe he should give crime dramas a rest and concentrate on telling heartfelt people stories like this from now on. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 30. *** 1/2 (Paurich)

Tyson James Toback's new documentary is a fascinating look at the former heavyweight champ who's had one of the most notoriously controversial careers of anyone who's ever entered the ring. Essentially an extended interview with its subject, the movie pulls no punches in recounting Tyson's life, starting with a troubled youth going in and out of juvenile detention centers and ending with his evolution into the proud father who maintains he's a new man now that he leads a quiet life in the suburbs just outside of Las Vegas. Not yet 20, Tyson found a much-needed mentor in trainer Cus D'Amato, who not only taught him how to win but also instilled a sense of discipline, fleeting as it was. From that point, Tyson became one of boxing's most menacing fighters. The film touches upon all the controversy: the Robin Givens abuse charges, which Tyson still denies; the ugly, ear-biting fight with Evander Holyfield, which Tyson says he can't recall because he blacked out; and the now-strained relationship with promoter Don King, about whom Tyson has nothing good to say. Almost apologetic, the soft-spoken (albeit with that distinctively high-pitched voice) Tyson certainly doesn't gloss over any of this. And yet the film's point of view is purely one-dimensional; we never hear from Givens, Holyfield or King. All we get is Tyson on Tyson. And that limitation keeps a good movie from becoming a great one. Cedar Lee Theatre. ** 1/2 (Niesel)

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