Film Capsules

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Amarcord (Italy, 1973) A newly restored version of Federico Fellini's Oscar-winning film that's loosely based on his childhood days when he lived in a small seaside village. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 10.

Amreeka (US, Canada, 2009) Hoping to find a better life in the United States, single mom Muna (Nisreen Faour) flees Palestine with her teenage son Fadi (Melkar Muallem), and moves in with her sister's family. Things don't go as planned, however. College-educated and fluent in five different languages, Muna can't find a job and is forced to work at a fast-food joint, something she hides from her sister. And the kids at school pick on Fadi, who eventually starts to fight back and gets into trouble as a result. Set in post-9/11 America, the movie is a statement of sorts on racial politics. But because it's so pedantic, it doesn't entirely work. Faour is the film's saving grace. As the self-consciously overweight, well-meaning mother of a rebellious son, she makes her character more complex than the others. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 8:40 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 7, and 6:45 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 10. ** 1/2 (Jeff Niesel)

Badlands (US, 1974) Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek star as troubled young lovers in Terrence Malick's directorial debut. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 6:45 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 7, and 9:35 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8.

The Beaches of Agnes (France, 2008) Agnes Varda, the only female French New Wave filmmaker, looks back at her career in this documentary she directed herself. Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. At 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Broken Embraces Former Spanish enfant terrible Pedro Almodóvar returns with yet another sumptuously crafted, gorgeously lensed valentine to movies, moviemaking and Penélope Cruz. The Oscar-winning actress plays Lena, a secretary and part-time call girl who dreams of becoming a film star. After landing the leading role in hotshot director Mateo Blanco's (Lluis Homar) latest project, things take an increasingly sinister turn when the auteur and the bombshell fall in love. Almodovar again plays winking homage to his twin gods of Sirk and Hitchcock, and his diabolically clever original screenplay keeps you guessing every step of the way. Some of the most entertaining scenes are devoted to the making of Mateo's movie (a candy-colored opus called Girls and Suitcases), which looks a lot like Almodovar's first American arthouse smash, 1988's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Cruz, currently stealing scenes from Daniel-Day Lewis in Nine, has never been more voluptuously and incandescently diva-ish. Cedar Lee Theatre. *** (Milan Paurich)

Collapse (US, 2009) Chris Smith's (American Movie, The Yes Men) documentary is centered on a former LAPD officer who predicted the financial meltdown. Capitol Theatre. At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Passing Strange (US, 2009) With his indie-rock band the Negro Problem, frontman Stew put out several albums that reveled in his wry sense of humor. They got critical acclaim but never attracted more than a cult following. His transition to playwright didn't come as a shock, since his literary sensibilities proved to be well-suited to the stage. His play Passing Strange garnered Tony Award nominations during a Broadway run, and Spike Lee filmed its last show, the basis of this film. But what worked onstage doesn't necessarily work on film. The sparse stage and weighty pronouncements ("Only the slums of America could produce such pain!") don't translate well, as we follow a young black man (Daniel Breaker) who dreams of starting a punk-rock band and traveling to Amsterdam and Berlin. The songs are noisy, rambunctious and fun, and the play has a good energy too. But Lee's conventional rendering comes off as the filming of very good play. ** 1/2 (Niesel)

The Tree, the Mayor and the Mediatheque (France, 1993) Pascal Greggory stars as the major of a small town trying to get the funding to build an arts center in this Eric Rohmer film that was never commercially released in the States. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:25 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9.

In Theaters

Avatar It's been a dozen years since king of the world James Cameron won a boatload of Oscars for Titanic. He apparently spent the downtime thinking about how to revolutionize movies with Avatar, his bloated and exhausting sci-fi epic about a tribe of tall, tailed and blue-hued creatures called Na'vi. It's also one of the most visually stunning movies ever made. The film is set in 2154 on the forest planet of Pandora, where wheelchair-bound marine Jake Scully (Terminator Salvation's Sam Worthington) is recruited for an ongoing project that fuses human and Na'vi DNA, resulting in "avatars" that look like Na'vi but retain human thoughts. It's all very scientific, confusing and geeky. With a new body capable of sprinting as fast as any animal on Earth, Jake's mission is to infiltrate the Na'vi so the military can mine the precious minerals their homes are built on (again, it's all very scientific, confusing and geeky). It doesn't take long for Jake to fall for one of the Na'vi (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek's Uhura) and rethink his assignment. Avatar is pure sci-fi hokum with one-dimensional characters, heavy-handed narration and an unsurprising love story. But you've never seen a movie like this before. *** (Michael Gallucci)

Sherlock Holmes Guy Ritchie directs a Holmes that casts Robert Downey Jr. as the cerebral Victorian sleuth, re-imagined as a surly, bare-knuckle-brawling bounder. Setting aside the heresy against the sacred Holmes canon, casting Downey was this misbegotten movie's first mistake. The next error was rendering insignificant Holmes' friend and chronicler, Dr. Watson (Jude Law), who spends most of his screen time complaining about Holmes' violin playing, pistol shooting and experimenting on Watson's bulldog (the movie's most charming actor). The film serves up a mixed stew of Holmes bits, featuring the evil Dr. Moriarty and Holmes' female nemesis, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, dreadful). Overlong and a little unappetizing, this Holmes is unlikely to endear itself either to Holmesians or action-movie fans. Nevertheless, Ritchie is busily at work on a sequel. ** 1/2 (Zoslov)

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