Film Capsules

In Theaters Now...

Devil (PG-13) — Co-produced and based on an original story by M. Night Shyamalan, this spooky, moderately successful little chiller about a group of strangers trapped in an elevator who discover that one of them is really — well, the title sort of gives it away, doesn't it? — is the type of stripped-down, glorified B-flick we don't see much these days. Props to Shyamalan for having the smarts to hire Quarantine helmer John Erick Dowdle to direct, and for lending his name and twists galore for marketing purposes. Devil won't necessarily haunt your dreams, but it's good enough for a few tingly "gotcha!" moments, and sometimes that's enough. The mostly unfamiliar cast (the biggest name here is Chris Messina, who played Amy Adams' hubby in Julie & Julia) adds to the suspense, since it's hard picking out the boogeyman when you don't recognize anybody. (Milan Paurich)In Theaters

Alpha and Omega (PG) — Humphrey (voiced by Justin Long) and Kate (Hayden Panettiere) are buddies in their wolf pack until Kate goes off to alpha training to become a future pack leader in this animated movie. Humphrey is an omega; his pack role is merely comic relief. The two classes traditionally never mix, but when Humphrey and Kate find themselves relocated from their Canada home to a park in Idaho, Humphrey shows he can be more than a joke as he helps Kate get home to fulfill her responsibility of marrying a rival pack's male alpha. Instead of facing conflict head-on and giving young audiences something real, Alpha and Omega sidesteps all its trials, creating a thin veil of suspense that is always quickly and conveniently wrapped up. (Laura Dattaro)

The American (R) — "You are American. You live for the present," says Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), a priest who befriends The American's enigmatic protagonist, a mystery man played by George Clooney who calls himself both Jack and Edward. Americans also like plenty of action in their thrillers, which director Anton Corbijn bravely ignores, reserving most of the gunplay for the movie's operatic last act. Corbijn — whose feature debut, Control, was a thoughtful biography of doomed Joy Division singer Ian Curtis — made his reputation as a photographer, so he has a rather static style. No surprise that The American often plays like a series of stunning and skillfully framed photographs. The movie is a little slow, but you may appreciate its contemplative mood. (Pamela Zoslov)

Dinner for Schmucks (PG-13) — Dinner for Schmucks plays more like a Hollywood multiplex comedy than a remake of a French art-house hit. That's either good news or bad news to fans of 1998's Le Diner de Cons. The jokes are broader here, and the cast is topnotch, but there's also a little too much catering to mainstream tastes to completely pull it off. The always likable Paul Rudd plays Tim, an eager financial analyst who's invited to a monthly dinner held by his snooty boss, who challenges his guests to bring the dorkiest person they can find to be ridiculed. Enter Steve Carell as Barry, an IRS auditor who builds dioramas with dead mice in his spare time (which he apparently has a lot of). The setup mostly works; getting there, not so much. But Dinner for Schmucks eventually becomes a lesson in friendship, and several jokes are artificially shoved into the script. The movie's awkward charm seems real enough though. (Michael Gallucci)

Easy A (PG-13) — In this comedy based on The Scarlet Letter, straitlaced Olive (Emma Stone) acquires her "filthy skank" reputation by accident: She invents an imaginary boyfriend and fake-confesses to her best friend that she lost her virginity to him. It's overheard by the school's Jesus-freak-in-chief, and soon rumors of Olive's loose ways spread like a text-message virus and she's approached by all manner of nerds, fat boys, and outcasts who want help acquiring a studly reputation. Suddenly awash in gifts and condemnation, virginal Olive decides to embrace her inner Hester Prynne. In real life, high school girls kill themselves over such scorn; in Easy A, Olive cuts up her conservative wardrobe and starts wearing sexy improvised bustiers (each adorned with a huge red letter "A"), strutting down school hallways and turning heads. These rather outlandish plot points are made tolerable by witty writing and a winning performance by Stone. (Zoslov)

Eat Pray Love (PG-13) — It is what it is, goes the cliché. And given that this is an adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling new-age chick-lit memoir starring Julia Roberts, it's about as good as could reasonably be expected. Faithful to Gilbert's intelligent confessional prose, Eat Pray Love finds our materially successful but spiritually empty N.Y.C. writer/heroine ditching her unfulfilling marriage and passionate rebound affair to undertake a yearlong odyssey living abroad and alone to find her "balance" via food (in Italy), ashram meditation (India), and true love (Bali). If you can avoid the fact that it all adds up to a story about a chic Manhattan woman who learns to reconcile her flaws only after she realizes that she is indeed the center of the universe, you'll discover a sweet, well-acted armchair travelogue and treatise about inner forgiveness. (Charles Cassady Jr.)

The Extra Man (R) — Kevin Kline heads a stellar cast (Paul Dano, Katie Holmes, John C. Reilly) in this comedy about a guy who escorts rich old ladies to fancy-ass gatherings so he can live the good life.

Farewell (NR) — Two actor-directors deliver the controlled performances that hold this subtle thriller together. Guillaume Canet's Pirre Froment is a French engineer working in 1981 Moscow who becomes the reluctant middle man in a disillusioned KGB agent's efforts to leak information to France's DST counterintelligence agency. Sergei Gregoriev (played by Serbian director Emir Kusturica) — a character inspired by real-life KGB spy Vladimir Vertov, who leaked more than 4,000 secret documents to the West in the early 1980s — tells Pierre that he doesn't want to defect; he just wants life in Russia to get better for future generations. What makes director Christian Carion's Farewell — the code name DST gives Sergei — so refreshing is how it focuses on the mundane lives of its spies, average and flawed husbands and fathers who might as well be put-upon middle-management Americans in an Arthur Miller play. But credit Kusturica for any gravitas Farewell sustains: His hangdog face and thousand-yard stare suggest Sergei knows exactly what kind of unpleasantness his decisions are eventually going to bring him. (Bret McCabe)

Going the Distance (R) — Drew Barrymore plays Erin, a 31-year-old graduate student and intern at a New York City newspaper who bonds over 1980s music and arcade games with Garrett (Justin Long), an indie record-company employee freshly dumped by his girlfriend. Six weeks into this romantic idyll, Erin must return to California to finish school, leaving Garrett to his goofy pals (Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) and his unrealistic music-industry job. Despite being a real-life couple, Barrymore and Long generate little charisma or erotic heat. And since they're less interesting than the supporting characters — the funny Sudeikis and Day, plus lovely Christina Applegate as Erin's sister, who's saddled with the sole unfunny trait of being a hygiene freak — our emotional investment in Erin and Garrett is limited. Overlong and meandering, Going the Distance has trouble maintaining a consistent tone. (Zoslov)

I'm Still Here (NR) — Actor Joaquin Phoenix is either a total nutjob or an annoyingly pretentious "artist" who thinks he's making a big, bold statement about Hollywood in this documentary directed by his pal (and brother-in-law) Casey Affleck. It's hard to tell which side he falls on, since the Phoenix we see in I'm Still Here comes off a combination of both. After watching it, you still won't know whether Phoenix has lost his mind or if his batshit-crazy behavior (and this movie) is just one big hoax. Much is made of his 2008 "retirement" from acting, which takes everyone by surprise. Over the course of the movie, we see him snort coke, check out online porn, cavort with a pair of prostitutes, make an infamous appearance on Letterman, and get in a fight at one of his concerts. How real is I'm Still Here? The movie never lets on, and it doesn't quite deliver as self-mocking parody or true-life portrait. But you'll watch and cringe anyway. Phoenix's onscreen breakdown could very well be real. But I doubt it. Is that "written by" end credit a hint? Either way, it's a performance as self-consciously mannered as it is disturbing. (Gallucci)

The Last Exorcism (R) — Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is a former evangelist who used to perform phony exorcisms, but now he wants to expose the ritual as a potentially dangerous sham. So he and a film crew visit a rural family that's looking for some divine intervention. Cotton expects something he's seen dozens of times, but he winds up with a lot more than he bargained for. Even when the spooky stuff starts, The Last Exorcism (shot documentary style with handheld cameras and iffy lighting) keeps the audience guessing: Are demonic forces really at work? Or is it just the dark side of human nature taking over? The Last Exorcism's influences are obvious, but there's enough here to keep it from being just another pea-soup-spewing rip-off. (Ignizio)

Machete (R) — In his first starring role, veteran character actor Danny Trejo earns his place among the hallowed hall of action heroes as he slices and dices his way through a series of bad guys, led by none other than Steven Seagal. Trejo (whose quarter-century career includes everything from Maniac Cop 2 to voiceover work in one of the Grand Theft Auto games) plays Machete, a former Mexican police officer who turns vigilante against the men who left him for dead. There are hints of racial politics and some social commentary here, but what you're really going for are the action-packed fight scenes, fiery explosions, multiple dismemberments, and gratuitous nudity. In short: everything you could possibly want from an ultraviolent Mexploitation flick. (Ignizio)

Takers (PG-13) — The "Takers" are a group of criminals who drive Porsches and live in high-rise condos. They pick and choose heists with discretion. So when old pal Ghost (played by ex-con rapper T.I.) returns from prison with a plan to hijack an armored truck, they're a bit suspicious. But because Ghost used to be part of their crew before he got nabbed during a bank robbery, they decide to go along with him. Not so surprisingly, things don't go exactly as planned — especially since a relentless cop with anger-management issues (Matt Dillon) is hot on their tail. Dillon gives the only credible performance, but even he has trouble breaking his character from stereotype. (Jeff Niesel)

The Town (R) — Ben Affleck proves that Gone Baby Gone, his sensational 2007 directorial debut, wasn't a fluke with this equally impressive — if a tad more conventionally plotted — follow-up. Based on an acclaimed crime novel by Chuck Hogan, the film examines what happens when Beantown bank robber Doug MacRay (Affleck, very good here) falls for his former hostage (Rebecca Hall). (Conveniently, she doesn't recognize him from the heist because the thieves were all wearing masks.) With the FBI (led by a steely Jon Hamm of Mad Men) breathing down his neck and hotheaded criminal cohort Jem (The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner) itching to pull the trigger on any potential witnesses — including his buddy's new girlfriend — Doug's decision to go straight runs into some perilous roadblocks. Once again shooting on location in some of Boston's least-touristy working-class neighborhoods, Affleck brings a startling degree of verisimilitude and white-knuckle intensity to pulp-fiction material that might have seemed like just another standard-issue Hollywood cops-and-robbers flick in the hands of a lesser director. The performances — including an unrecognizable Blake Lively from Gossip Girl and Oscar winner Chris Cooper as Doug's convict dad — are beyond reproach. (Paurich)

Scroll to read more Movie Reviews & Stories articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.