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Friday, July 31, 2009

Judd Apatow raises the stakes with Funny People

Posted By on Fri, Jul 31, 2009 at 12:01 AM

d4d4/1248881755-funny_people.jpeg Funny People is intended to be Judd Apatow’s sophisticated comedy, the one where he grows out of dick jokes and makes a multifaceted movie about real people and real issues (not that 40-year-old virgins and one-night-stands that result in knocked-up women aren’t real issues). And in a way, it is a very grown-up movie. But there are still plenty of dick jokes and blatant displays of immaturity to keep Apatow fans happy (what do you expect with a cast that includes Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen?). Sandler plays George Simmons, a mega-popular comedian — and kind of an ass — who makes mega-crappy movies that sound a lot like the ones Sandler makes (my favorite: My Best Friend Is a Robot). George gets some bad news from his doctor in the very first scene: He has leukemia and might not have long to live. So he returns to his roots as a stand-up comic and taps struggling comedian Ira Wright (a svelte Rogen) to write jokes for him and to help out around his mansion. At nearly two and a half hours, Funny People sags a bit during the second half, when the movie takes a turn into Apatow’s usual messy-romance territory. It’s not as consistently funny as The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up, but it is a stronger movie and Apatow’s best film. The stellar supporting cast includes many Apatow regulars — including Jonah Hill as (what else?) Ira’s smartass roommate and Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife) as George’s ex-girlfriend — as well as tons of cameos by real-life comedians and musicians. And Sandler has never been better, pulling off funny and serious in the same breath. Funny People is sprawling and ambitious in its reach, which is even more remarkable as post-Apatow movies like The Hangover up the comedic ante. Leave it to Apatow — one of the smartest and funniest filmmakers working these days — to raise the stakes. *** 1/2

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Creep Show: A review of the Coraline DVD

Posted By on Thu, Jul 30, 2009 at 11:05 AM

b9df/1248966131-dvd-coraline.jpg Coraline is a stop animation film (think Rankin & Bass’s The Year without a Santa Claus or, more fittingly, Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas , which Coraline director Henry Selick also directed). Based on a book by Neil Gaiman, it’s the tale of a young girl who gets exactly what she wants and then some.

Coraline (voiced by the once omnipresent Dakota Fanning) moves to a new apartment in what’s dubbed the “Pink Palace.” With no friends around and her parents (Teri Hatcher and the “PC” guy from the Macintosh/PC commercials) totally preoccupied with a garden catalog they’ve been working on, Coraline is bored and a bit neglected. She finds a secret door to a parallel world where her “other mother and father” dote on her, fixing her up with fantastic gardens, homemade dinners and one-of-a-kind clothes. But, with some guidance from a talking cat that can travel between the two universes, Coraline quickly discovers not everything is what it seems. Not only is her second mom actually cruel and manipulative, but she’s also adamant that Coraline replace her own eyes with black buttons like the rest of the inhabitants in the alternative household.

I found Coraline to be a bit slow moving and hokey in parts, particularly when the ghosts of other children enticed through the passageway appear in the narrative. And children with button eyes and mouths sewn shut creeped me out in a way that wolves eating children in red riding hoods, insane chocolatiers threatening naughty children with trash compactors and a queen shouting “off with their heads” never did. But, if the glowing reviews compiled on Rotten Tomatoes and other sites are any indication, I am in the minority. The DVD version of Coraline comes in 3-D but, sitting in front of an HD flat screen in the dark with the cardboard glasses perfectly positioned, I can’t say the technology really translated. The colors seemed off, and the effects didn’t wow. The 2-D version (also included) would probably have sufficed.

Reviews of the Cinematheque's weekend films

Posted By on Thu, Jul 30, 2009 at 10:59 AM

The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is showing several great films this weekend. Here are our reviews of what's showing.

5284/1248707782-olivertwist.jpg Oliver Twist (Britain/Czech Republic/France/Italy, 2005) Roman Polanski’s gray version of the oft-filmed Charles Dickens classic has the noble implicit aim to rescue the iconic material from the Disneyesque overtones evoked by the upbeat musical Oliver! and getting back to Dickens’ original cry of anger over his society’s injustices and abuse of helpless children. Still, for all the talents involved, this is off-the-rack Masterpiece Theatre stuff, surprising only in that the screenwriter dispensed with Dickens’ complicated third-act revelations about Little Orphan Oliver's true parentage as a lost boy of noble London aristocracy, dumped into the brutish workhouse-orphanages of Victorian England and shanghaied into a pick-pocketing street gang. The much-told tale gets a little better as it goes along, thanks to Ben Kingsley’s performance as the criminal ringleader Fagin, part kindly granddad, part loathsome exploiter (the character’s infamous Jewish origins are never noted; at least Ron Moody had some soundtrack cues as giveaways). And yet, there’s little here that tops David Lean’s magnificently stark 1948 version or even Sir Carol Reed’s flavorful 1968 G-rated film of the musical, with its lavish production numbers, that grabbed the Best Picture Oscar away from 2001: A Space Odyssey. At 7 p.m. Friday, July 31. ** 1/2 (Charles Cassady Jr.)

3fd0/1248708069-shotinthedark.jpg A Shot in the Dark (US, 1964) Peter Sellers reprised his role as bumbling inspector Jacques Clouseau in this, possibly the best of the Pink Panther series, even its mention tends to get blank stares from casual moviegoers because of the studio’s failure to mention the “panther” the title (indeed, even Henry Mancini’s theme music is entirely different and quite good). A wordless pre-credit sequence, suggesting that director Blake Edwards was studying Jacques Tati at the time, is a complicated intrigue involved different men skulking around the estate, just avoiding each other. One is killed — the ex-lover (possibly also the rapist, we’re told) of the mansion’s blonde-bombshell maid Maria (Elke Sommer), who was found holding the gun but claiming no memory of the event. Hot on the trail, Clouseau is immediately smitten with Maria and defends her as an innocent being framed, even when other characters turn up slain left and right around her. This was the comedy that set up the elements that would become familiar in the Edwards/Sellers collaborations: disaster-causing inspector Clouseau, his wrathful chief Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), his attack-ready manservant Kato (Burt Kwouk). It works wonderfully, more remarkably because the source material was actually an unrelated stage comedy about a judge, retro-fitted to the Clouseau-niverse. At 9:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1, and 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2. **** (Cassady)

402d/1248708146-sleep_dealer_01.jpg Sleep Dealer (US/Mexico, 2008) Director Alex Rivera began exploring immigration issues when he took a good look at the life of his Peruvian father. Then, Rivera started to travel to the U.S./Mexico border and made a few documentaries about his experiences. He began to think about creating a science-fiction piece about border issues. The resulting film, Sleep Dealer, centers on the life of Memo Cruz (Luis Fernando Peña), a poor farmer who gets into a bit of trouble when his rigged radio transmitter intercepts a U.S. military transmission. As a result, his house is destroyed and his father is killed, so he moves north to the border where he gets a job working in a futuristic factory. There, he hooks himself into a computer and begins life as a virtual construction worker. By connecting to a mainframe via a series of nodes he’s had surgically embedded, he can help assemble a San Diego skyscraper located on the other side of the border. Without being overtly political, the film comments on life in the maquiladoras, the factories that line the Mexico/U.S. border. At 9:30 p.m. Friday, July 31 and at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1. *** (Jeff Niesel)

d248/1248708211-three_monkeys.jpg Three Monkeys (Turkey/France/Italy, 2008) Despite a slew of festival awards — including a Cannes Grand Jury prize for 2002’s Distant — and an exalted critical reputation, Nuri Bilge Ceylan has yet to make a sizable dent in the North American marketplace. Ceylan’s most accessible work to date, Monkeys is a gloss on classic noir tropes: his first “genre” film. The story involves corrupt politician Servet (Ercan Kesal) who bribes longtime chauffeur Eyüp (Yavuz Bingol) into taking the rap for him after a hit-and-run accident. Soon afterwards, the married Servet begins a not-so-clandestine affair with Eyüp’s wife (Hatice Aslan). Things become even more complicated — morally and otherwise — when Eyüp is released from jail. As oblique and deliberately paced as his previous movies — like Antonioni, Ceylan is a master of insinuation and alienation — Three Monkeys will never be confused with a James M. Cain potboiler. But Ceylan’s drily methodical approach to narrative and his uncanny flair for making “pure cinema” definitely have their rewards. Whether that’s enough to make him a household name outside the international fest circuit remains to be seen. At 7:05 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1 and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2. *** (Milan Paurich)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Country Teacher makes its local debut tonight at CMA

Posted By on Wed, Jul 29, 2009 at 4:48 AM

A film about a school teacher who's reluctant to tell anyone he's gay, The Country Teacher has its local premiere tonight at 6:45 at the Cleveland Museum of Art. If you miss tonight's screening, it shows again at 6:45 p.m. Friday, July 31. Here's our review.

72c3/1248706707-country-teacher.jpg The Country Teacher (Czech Republic/France/Germany, 2008) When a smart prep-school teacher (Pavel Liska) leaves Prague to go to a countryside school, the locals suspect there was something in his past that made him flee the big city. They’re right, though it takes them some time figure out what. We get our first clue when a farm woman (Zuzana Bydzovská) makes advances toward him, and he shuns her for no particular reason. It’s not long before we find out he’s gay, something that comes to the fore when he becomes fixated on the farmer’s teenage son (Ladislav Sedivy). The longer the teacher stays in the closet, the more uncomfortable things get in this compelling drama. Written and directed by Bohdan Sláma, The Country Teacher juxtaposes big city and rural values, and ultimately shows that humanity can be possible for both. *** (Jeff Niesel)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Another Food Inc. panel discussion

Posted By on Mon, Jul 27, 2009 at 6:37 AM

66e3/1248381515-food_20inc.jpg The Food, Inc. panel discussion held earlier this month at the Cedar Lee Theatre was such a success, the theater is doing it again. After the 8:45 p.m. screening on Tuesday, July 28, Executive Director of the New Agrarian Center Brad Masi, Snowville Creamery Dairy Evangelist from Snowville Creamery Warren Taylor, Whole Foods Market Associate Produce Team Leader Elisabeth Willmott and Network Weaver at Entrepreneurs for Sustainability and founder of LocalFoodCleveland.org Peter McDermott will break down the documentary, which addresses increasingly urgent issues about food production. Tickets to the discussion are required, but they’re free and are available at the Cedar Lee box office beginning at 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 28. Find more info at clevelandcinemas.com.

Loud and Bobnoxious Cult Movies: Girl on a Motorcycle

Posted By on Mon, Jul 27, 2009 at 4:57 AM

girlonamotorcycle.jpg Recently issued on DVD by Redemption video, the 1968 film Girl on a Motorcyclecertainly lives up to its title. A significant portion of its running time consists of young, black leather clad Rebecca (Marianne Faithfull) riding her bike through Europe to visit her lover Daniel (Alain Delon), possibly leaving husband Raymond (Roger Mutton) behind for good. We get the inside scoop on Rebecca’s love life via flashbacks and the occasional trippy dream sequence, not to mention her running voice over of practically every thought that pops into her head.

The film is directed by Oscar winning cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and the best thing about the movie is its photography. Whether it’s the German and Swiss countrysides zipping by or the warmly lit interior of a ski lodge, the movie looks beautiful. It’s also pretty dull as it tries to stretch a thin premise to feature length. Marianne Faithfull certainly looks iconic in the lead role, but her flat performance further drags the movie down. Kitsch fans can take some enjoyment from the solarized photography, groovy fashions, fondue parties, and lounge-delic soundtrack, but the film’s free love philosophizing is taken so seriously it starts to make celibacy seem more appealing. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the movie is its ending. It’s not handled particularly well here, but there are some definite similarities between this and Easy Rider, which came out the following year.

Maybe in the context of the time it was made, Girl on a Motorcycle would have seemed edgy and important, but that impact has faded with time, leaving the film’s flaws more evident. It isn’t quite good enough or quite bad enough to recommend, but it might be worth a look if you’re interested in the era. I imagine most viewers won’t make it to the end of the ride, though. **1/2

Friday, July 24, 2009

Burma VJ has its local premiere tonight at CMA

Posted By on Fri, Jul 24, 2009 at 9:37 AM

Cobble together from footage taken by an collective of underground video journalists, Burma VJ has its local premiere tonight at 7 at the Cleveland Museum of Art as part of the Museum's "Friday Night First-Runs" series. Here's our review.

1638/1248219717-burmavj.jpg Burma VJ (Denmark, 2008) The amazing thing about Anders Østergaard's film is the way it's able to construct a cohesive narrative out of nothing more than underground footage and re-enactments of political strife in Burma. But the English voiceover (with subtitles, since the narrator has a heavy accent) does more than a capable job of walking you through the political unrest in Burma. The film starts with the 2007 uprising in Myanmar and shows how the government used force to put it down, even beating and imprisoning monks. Some of the footage is quite graphic. But the movie is out to show the power that a small group of video journalists have. Their footage makes its way out of the country and onto the international news circuit, helping bring attention to the plight of the Burmese people. *** (Jeff Niesel)

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