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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Laughs are few and far between in When in Rome

Posted By on Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:06 AM

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It’s never a good sign when a movie uses the tired old “he’s standing right behind me, isn’t he,” gag within its first five minutes. When that’s immediately followed by a “food stuck to the teeth” joke, you know you’re in for one seriously unfunny comedy, which is the case with When in Rome. In it, Beth (Kristen Bell) is a young assistant curator at a modern art museum. Her career is going well, but she’s unlucky in love because women who look like Kristen Bell always have a hard time finding dates. While at her younger sister’s wedding in Rome, she takes a handful of coins from a fountain of love. This causes the men who threw those coins into the fountain to fall madly in love with her. The rest of the movie is kind of like There’s Something About Mary with a magical plot device and minus the laughs. The guys are all ludicrous caricatures, of course, with John Heder’s Chris Angel impression being especially grating. Bell and Josh Duhamel are bland in the leads, and Mark Steven Johnson directs the film with all the flair of a bad sitcom. This is nothing but formulaic product for undiscriminating audiences. *

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reviews of the Cinematheque's weekend films

Posted By on Wed, Jan 27, 2010 at 12:07 PM

The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is showing several great films this weekend. Here are our reviews of just a few of them.

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Araya (Venezuela, 1959) This Venezuelan documentary, unreleased in the U.S. for 50 years, plays like a meditation on the history of an ancient land populated by poor salt miners and fishermen. There are many gorgeous black-and-white images here: Director Margot Benacerraf shoots in close-up and from the ground up. Occasionally she peers at the workers from above, viewing them as an army of ants, methodically and ritualistically delivering their bounty to the mountains of “white gold.” There are also some soothing sounds, as miners silently push their boats out to the gently waving sea. But the over-poetic narration (“Salt and sweat, sweat and salt, until the end of time”) is often intrusive; Araya says plenty without the nonstop voiceover (does the narrator really need to tell us a dozen times that everything the villagers eat comes from the sea?). You’ll learn a few things — conquistadors paid their soldiers in salt! — even if we never quite figure out where the salt comes from before the miners pull it from the sea and where it goes after they pile it up on the shore. Mostly, though, you’ll be awestruck by the elegant, tranquil images of a land and people that haven’t changed much since time began. At 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31. *** (Michael Gallucci)

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The Box (U.S., 2009) In The Box, a married couple (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) are given a box with a large red button by a mysterious disfigured man (Frank Langella). Langella tells the couple that if they press the button, they will be given a million dollars. At the same time, someone “they don’t know” will die as a result. Set in 1976, The Box takes great pains to accurately reflect the era and its films, right down to its excellent retro orchestral score. The film is based on Richard Matheson’s short story “Button, Button,” which was a simple and elegant dark fantasy tale whose twist ending packed a wicked punch of social commentary. It’s a great story, but there’s not really enough there for a feature film. So for better or worse, writer-director Richard Kelly has expanded on and changed the source material considerably. Kelly’s adaptation is too long and piles on so much weirdness that it threatens to overwhelm the story at times. His ending also lacks the bite of Matheson’s original. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating and uncompromising film that will no doubt attract the same sort of cult following as Kelly’s Donnie Darko. At 8:50 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30 and at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31. *** (Robert Ignizio)

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The New World (U.S., 2007) Filmmaker Terence Malick's lyrical, trance-like historical reverie about the 1607 founding of the Jamestown colony is a tactile portrayal of tragic native-vs.-western first-contact, as well as a fresh take on the Pocahontas legend, with the full scoop on her on-off romantic relationship with John Smith (Colin Farrell), practically symbolic of the fertile North American landmass and its/her deflowering by European profiteers. Drawbacks are a ponderous pace (you feel every minute of the two-and-a-half hours) and Malick's politically-correct flower-child mindset of the “naturals” (Indians) as healthful, Edenic, unspoiled unselfish, non-denominationally spiritual, while Anglos are shifty, diseased, Bible-demented and encased in clunky conquistador armor. Characters seem more iconic than real, and they mutter their sparse, haiku-like dialogue frequently into the ground (and what's up with Farrell not even buttoning up his shirt when he's in the frozen North? Dude must've been auditioning for Twilight). Still, you get a sense of wonder at pre-Colonial America, back when white males were not the top of the food chain and had only the most tenuous foothold on the untamed soil. At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28 and at 9:25 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

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Too many subplots spoil Edge of Darkness

Posted By on Wed, Jan 27, 2010 at 11:58 AM

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Most of the problems with Edge of Darkness, a remake of a 1985 British TV show of the same name are the byproduct of trying to turn a six-hour miniseries into a feature film that also has to function as a star vehicle for Mel Gibson. It makes sense to focus on Gibson’s grieving police officer as he investigates the shooting death of his daughter. This is the kind of edgy hero Gibson plays well, and most of his scenes work. But there are just too many subplots and characters for a two-hour movie, especially one with such a convoluted central mystery. As a result, the film never picks up any momentum or manages to build much suspense. It’s too busy trying to cram necessary exposition into the mouths of its characters to ever get into any kind of flow. Ray Winstone is fun in a supporting role, but his character really doesn’t do anything for most of the movie, ultimately acting as a deus ex machina in the film’s coda. This either needed to be about a half hour longer so it could take its time and flesh out the details or else pared down to its essentials as a lean 90-minute revenge flick. As it stands, it’s just not very gripping. **

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Monday, January 25, 2010

A Q & A with Surrogates director Jonathan Mostow

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2010 at 4:50 AM

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Much like the Terminator films, the sci-fi thriller Surrogates imagines a futuristic world taken over by machines. In fact, humans have become addicted to letting their surrogates do everything for them, whether it’s having sex or going to work. But when things begin to go haywire (as they always do in these kinds of flicks), a lone detective (Bruce Willis) has to take matters into his own hands and find out who is trying to take control of the surrogate technology. The film, which comes out tomorrow on DVD and Blu-ray, isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem. The Blu-ray edition, for example, features “A More Perfect You: The Science of Surrogates,” a short documentary that suggests Surrogates has more in common with reality than you might think. Director Jonathan Mostow recently participated in a virtual roundtable discussion with reporters to discuss the film and answered questions submitted via a chat session. Here’s what he had to say.

I really enjoyed listening to your audio commentary on the DVD. Talk about your approach to it. You even kept talking even as the credits were rolling.
Thanks for the compliment. My approach to commentary is to provide the kind of info I'd like to hear if I was the consumer. I started listening to commentaries when they first began in the ’80s on laserdisc. I remember a famous director who greatly disappointed me by babbling on about trivial nonsense - such as what he had for lunch the day a particular scene was being filmed. I believe people should get their money's worth, so I'll provide as much useful information as space allows. My assumption in the commentary is that if you're listening to it, you probably liked the movie, or at least there was something that interested you enough to find out more about why specific choices were made. So I try to tailor my comments for that audience. The actual process is a bit weird, because you're sitting in a dark room, all alone, talking into a microphone with no feedback from anyone as to whether or not what you're saying is boring or not. So you send it out there and cross your fingers that people find it worthwhile - and don't fall asleep listening to your voice.

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A Q&A with The Boys are Back producer Greg Brenman

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2010 at 4:05 AM

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Based on journalist Simon Carr's memoir, The Boys are Back didn’t break any records during its limited theatrical run last year. But it deserved better. Clive Owen gives a great performance as Joe Warr, a guy who finds himself thrust into parenting mode after his wife suddenly dies. Unable to discipline his two sons, he practically lets them run wild, even leaving them at home to fend for themselves one weekend when he has go out of town to cover the Australian Open. With plenty of bonus material (including an interview with director Scott Hicks), the film makes its way onto DVD tomorrow. Its producer Greg Brenman phoned in from Los Angeles to talk about the movie’s long gestation period (it was seven years in the making).

How did you end up getting involved in this project?
We were approached by Simon Carr, who wrote the original memoir, about seven years ago. He was a great friend of the chairman of our company and at the time, we didn’t know about his book. He told us he’d written a book and needed some advice because a group of people wanted to option it as a movie. I read the book and told him he should let us make it. That’s how we got involved. The book is a series of anecdotes and memoirs about bringing up two boys from two different marriages when his second wife tragically dies from cancer. Once we had the rights, it was the usual process of finding the right writer and director and star.

Continue reading »

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Even angel-on-angel action can't redeem Legion

Posted By on Fri, Jan 22, 2010 at 5:36 PM

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Legion starts with a bang as Michael (Paul Bettany) drops from the sky and proceeds to cut off his wings and pick up whatever ammunitions he can. The film quickly takes a detour to a small diner (appropriately named Paradise Falls) in the middle of the Mojave Desert where a yuppie couple (Jon Tenney and Willa Holland) is waiting for its Beemer to get fixed and diner owner (Dennis Quaid) is arguing with his eight months pregnant waitress Charley (Adrianne Palicki). All this small town drama is rather dull and slows the pace of the film. It’s not long, however, before things pick back up. Michael shows up at the diner and tells everyone he’s a fallen angel who was sent to kill Charley’s baby. Instead, he’s disobeyed God and now wants to protect her and her child, who is destined to lead humankind out of darkness. Michael and crew fend off numerous attacks, and it’s not long before we get some angel-on-angel action as God sends Gabriel (Kevin Duran), who, it turns out, is one mean son of a bitch, to finish off everyone. While the whole angel thing is a good twist, as far as apocalypse films go, Legion is nothing special. The various subplots are so corny, they don't effectively give the film the kind of pathos it seeks and you're more likely to find the cartoonish violence to be unintentionally funny. **

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Disgrace makes its local premiere tonight at CMA

Posted By on Fri, Jan 22, 2010 at 4:42 AM

A film about life in post-apartheid South Africa, Disgrace makes its local premiere at Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall at 6:45 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22 and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24. Here's our review of the film.

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Disgrace (Australia/South Africa, 2008) This adaptation of a J.M. Coetzee novel commences as a drama about David Lurie (John Malkovich), a Cape Town professor forced to resign after having an affair with one of his students. Kicked out of the university, David moves to the countryside to live with his daughter Lucy (Jessica Haines), and his life takes a sharp turn for the worse. And so does the film. A trio of thieves attacks the couple. They rape Lucy, shoot her dogs and pour lighter fluid on David, burning the side of his face. Things only get grimmer as Lucy decides to stay at her rural home, even though she fears the criminals may return, and David takes a job helping the local vet with her euthanasia duties. Originally shown at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, the film never got wide distribution, and it’s easy to see why. While it takes a candid look at race relations in post-apartheid South Africa, its bleak outlook and gruesome images of animal cruelty make it difficult to watch. ** 1/2

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