Film Capsules


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Film Ist. a Girl & a Gun (Austria/Germany, 2009) Gustav Deutsch's film starts with an old black-and-white image of a "girl and a gun" (a riff on the Jean-Luc Godard maxim about moviemaking) and then informs us that it's going to be "a creation story in five acts" with "classical texts of Hesiod, Sappho and Plato." Huh? Essentially a collage of early cinema images, the film has no dialogue and only occasional bits of moody music. The clips include everything from vintage porn to nature films and old newsreels. While artfully done and at times even stunning, the movie is too abstract. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 6:45 p.m. Thursday, April 15, and 9:35 p.m. Friday, April 16. ** (Jeff Niesel)

Flooding With Love for the Kid (U.S., 2009) In an audacious DIY cinematic tribute to the 1982 Hollywood-mutated literary property that ignited so much 1980s action-hero kitsch (the Reagan White House included), filmmaker Zachary Oberzan reshoots First Blood for less than $100, faithfully adapting David Morrell's novel, playing every role himself and using his New York City apartment for sets. Chintzy video graphics, makeup, canned sound effects, superimpositions and deliberately crude props (an office chair for a motorcycle) let the actor-director play scenes with himself, choreograph chases, and evoke Vietnam flashbacks and firefights, as the vagrant ex-Green Beret named Rambo is bullied by Texas cops until POW trauma and combat training snap him into lethal one-man-army attack mode. Like the concept itself, Oberzan's acting isn't so much good as sublimely, outrageously gutsy. The awkward framing reminds us one guy is doing all this, just as the movie's hapless Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy in the original flick) witnesses one "nothing kid" destroying his entire town and forms a weird warrior-bond with his enemy. You can't wholly argue this is "better" than the blockbuster starring Sylvester Stallone (respectfully thanked in the credits), but it certainly proves there was more substance to Rambo than met the eyes of critics, haters and fans. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 9 p.m. Saturday, April 17, and 6:45 p.m. Sunday, April 18. ***(Charles Cassady Jr.)

The Joneses David Duchovny and Demi Moore (both very good) are the "Joneses," a pretend married couple whose job as stealth marketers is to inspire conspicuous consumption — and sticker-price envy — among their friends and neighbors in an upscale suburban community. Until copping out with a too-pat ending, first-time writer-director Derrick Borte's surprisingly sharp, gratifyingly grown-up social satire provides much-needed succor for audiences burned out on cookie-cutter formula flicks. As a throwback to the type of sophisticated adult fare that Hollywood routinely produced back in the '70s — the halcyon days of Altman, Mazursky and Ashby — Borte's good-enough facsimile serves as a sweet reminder that not every movie has to be a 3D tent pole and/or franchise wannabe. Thank heavens. ***(Milan Paurich)

Killing Kasztner: The Jew Who Dealt with the Nazis During World War II, Rezso Kasztner helped more than 1,500 Jews escape on a train to Budapest. Yet after the war, Kasztner was blamed for allowing an even greater number of Jews to die in concentration camps. He was even put on trial after the war ended and migrated to Israel. Before his name could be cleared, a right-wing extremist murdered him at his Tel Aviv home. In this documentary, the assassin who shot him comes forward to discuss the reasons behind his actions. The film provides an extensive history lesson, as director Gaylen Ross covers the Kasztner controversy from all angles. She interviews countless survivors, some of whom consider Kasztner a traitor and others who think he's a savior. She even arranges for Kasztner's killer to have a conversation with Kasztner's daughter. Like the best documentaries, this one has drama built in to the storyline. Cedar Lee Theatre. ***(Niesel)

The Red Shoes (Britain, 1948) Michael Powell's best film (which he co-directed with Emeric Pressburger) is a luscious candy-colored valentine to the art of movement. Basically a ballet fantasy wrapped in a thin plot about a dancer torn between her career and her boyfriend, The Red Shoes celebrates both stage performance and cinema with its spacious palette. Moira Shearer plays Victoria, a ballerina who's sacrificed any semblance of a life for controlling mentor Boris (Anton Walbrook). When she falls for the young composer of "The Red Shoes" — the ballet Boris has commissioned to make Victoria a star — she must choose between her art and her heart. But the narrative is a mere catalyst for the directors, stars, and the rest of the cast and crew to dive into the world of dance like no movie has before or since. The centerpiece, which is based on a Hans Christian Andersen tale, is the titular ballet, a stunning piece of filmmaking by Powell and cinematographer Jack Cardiff. The movie was recently restored, so the old-school Technicolor virtually pops from the screen in this new print. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 5 p.m. Saturday, April 17, and 4 p.m. Sunday, April 18. *** 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)

Stingray Sam (U.S., 2009) David Hyde Pierce narrates this strange Western sci-fi odyssey about Stingray Sam, a guy who "does the things that folks don't do that need to be done." Divided into six parts, Cory McAbee's experimental film follows Sam (McAbee) and his partner the Quasar Kid (Crugie) as they set out to rescue a young child in distress. Sam has to be shrunk into a tiny robot to save the girl, but without any computer-generated graphics, his transformation doesn't look realistic. Even if its low-budget approach limits its appeal, the campy film has a charm to it and is good fun. And McAbee's band, the Billy Nayer Show, provides groovy lounge-oriented original music for each episode. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 7:35 p.m. Saturday, April 17, and 8:55 p.m. Sunday, April 18. ***(Niesel)

Syndromes and a Century (Thailand/France/Austria, 2006) Some foreign flicks make you want to grab Joe Sixpack and say, "Look here, you ignorant inbred yahoo — art-house cinema is terrific!" Others make you grab Real 3D glasses and pen fan mail to big-budget filmmaker Roland Emmerich. This lauded feature, alas, tends toward the latter. It helps to know that director Atichatpong Weerasethakul's parents were both doctors and that this film is a tribute to them. He based the first half of Syndromes and a Century on his mother's rural clinic, while the second half reflects his father's big-city hospital — only here it's the same hospital, staffed with lovesick healers and patients afflicted with chronic might-have-beens. Sometimes we see the same scenes replayed. Countryside-bound, they have a gentle, comedic quality, while the city versions feel more anxious, desperate and sad. That's kind of interesting. But the tranquilizer-paced narrative (which is really no narrative at all), slack dramatics and severely formal camera angles create something that's more objet d'art than compelling cinema. There are moments of exquisite beauty, if you can that stay awake for them. Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. At 8:40 p.m. Thursday, April 15, and 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 16. ** (Cassady)

Yes, Miss Commander! (Israel, 2009) In the opening scenes of Dan Setton and Itzik Lerner's documentary, we meet new recruits as they arrive at Israel's Havat Hashomer army base for training. Turns out they're a group of troublemakers from broken homes. Ironically, the commanders who have to whip them into shape are young women. As you can imagine, just getting the guys to wake up in the morning is a struggle. Filmed like a reality TV show, the movie has plenty of drama as the soldiers are constantly bickering with their commanding officers. And it's a frank look at how hard it is to become a good soldier. But there are too many scenes of conflict between the soldiers and their officers. You can only see so many examples of men behaving badly — and consequently getting court-martialed — before your patience wears thin. Cleveland Museum of Art's Gartner Auditorium. At 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 18. ** 1/2 (Niesel)

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