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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Reviews of the Cinematheque's weekend films

Posted By on Thu, Sep 17, 2009 at 10:45 AM

The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is opening several great movies this weekend. Here are our reviews of some of them.

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Alien (U.S., 1979/2003) Ridley Scott’s 1979 gothic space chiller is not as original as its trendsetter status would suggest; Scott and writer Dan O’Bannon borrowed liberally from a clawful of other sci-fi movies (Planet of the Vampires, It! The Terror From Beyond Space), and after this film’s monetary success, a quiet payout went out to offended author A.E. Vogt. But the Alien-ators polished their takings to a high gloss, with designs inspired by Métal Hurlant illustrators Moebius and Phillip Druillet, and, most famously, Swiss surrealist of macabre tech, H.R. Giger. The decidedly unoriginal monster-on-the loose plot has a group of blue-collar astronauts aboard a vast, deep-space refinery ship, diverted to investigate a derelict spacecraft of nonhuman origin. Soon their gigantic craft is invaded by a fast-evolving, ferocious parasite creature with acid for blood, whose biomechanical shape allows it to blend in fiendishly with the ship’s labyrinthine tubes, wires and knobs, to pop out from the shadows and seize the dwindling cast. At 7:20 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19, and 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

Aliens (U.S., 1986) The hit sequel to Alien is bigger, faster and more amped up than the moody, cramped original. If it errs, it does so when director James Cameron insists on squeezing out every last cliffhanger and goes over the line with the manipulation, putting a screaming little orphan girl in hideous peril every time the opportunity arises and conniving to make sure that opportunity always does. At a time when gun-fetish actioners set the pace for the 1980s, Aliens won fans on both sides of the aisle, from the action freaks to the horror/sci-fi geeks who read profound feminist meaning into Sigourney Weaver as a butt-kicking female action heroine (back before that become tiresome). At 9:35 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19. *** (Cassady)

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Examined Life (Canada, 2008) Five minutes into her documentary, filmmaker Astra Taylor is asked on camera by one of her interview subjects what the movie is about. Taylor answers that she wants to make a film about deep thinkers who wax philosophical on the meaningful life in 10 minutes or less. (Examined Life’s title springs from a Plato quote: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”) A bunch of eggheads you never heard of are paraded in front of the camera to discuss subjects like ethics and revolution. But most of them motormouth their way through such hazy and plodding insights, you’ll find yourself drifting to other things onscreen, like frolicking dogs, a bustling Times Square and mountains of garbage. Some philosophers come off as arrogant and pretentious blowhards (Avital Ronell), some are likably pretentious blowhards (Kwame Anthony Appiah), and Cornel West manages to bring the blues, Charlie Parker and Curtis Mayfield into his segment. It’s a heady film, but as you can imagine, it’s not a very fun one. Does Taylor manage to boil down modern philosophical musings into a 90-minute film? Maybe. It’s hard to tell with all the blah-blah-blah going on. At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18, and 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19. ** 1/2 (Gallucci)

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The Room (U.S., 2003) Among film hipsters on the West Coast, cult notoriety has been conferred upon writer-director-producer-star-mogul Tommy Wiseau's tragic psychodrama. Wiseau, who kinda seems (in more ways than one) like Fabio crossed with Ed Wood, plays the lead role (no surprise there) of Johnny, a nice-guy San Francisco banking exec whose idyllic life starts to fall apart a month before his planned nuptials. Fiance Lisa secretly doesn't love him anymore (we are told this about four or five times) and is carrying on an affair with Mark, Johnny's "best friend" (we are told this about 400-500 times). With English-as-a-second-language dialogue, characters that awkwardly entrez and exeunt, laughable love interludes and from-hunger acting, the world may now be laughing at Mr. Wiseau, not with him. But grant The Room this much: It's not an amateur Tarantino/Lucas/Spielberg/Romero genre clone, like so many turkeys, but bravely blazes its own way, à la Wood's singular Glen or Glenda. At 9:10 p.m. Saturday, July 25. ** 1/2 (Cassady)

Suspiria (Italy, 1977) Dario Argento’s stylish shocker takes place in a storm-tossed dance academy in the wilds of Europe. The great atmosphere is set by the febrile cinematography and a chime-heavy soundtrack, as an young American exchange student (Jessica Harper) arrives at the sinister school only to find the place steeped in sadistic murders. It turns out the institution was allegedly founded in the 1880s by the “Black Mother,” a dreaded Greek witch. Argento creates a tangible atmosphere of unseen malice and lurking wickedness, even when the plot’s logic is loose at best. The filmmaker later built on the mythology by making this part one of a trilogy on three ancient and monstrous witches, continuing with Inferno and Mother of Tears; this one is probably the best of the lot. At 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20. *** (Cassady)

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