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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Reviews of the Cinematheque's weekend films

Posted By on Tue, Jan 19, 2010 at 4:19 AM

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

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Act of God (Canada/Britain/France, 2009) This artistic documentary looks at a variety of people who have been struck by lightning and gives them a forum to discuss the experience. The film includes numerous shots of lightning-filled skies, but director Jennifer Baichwal (Manufactured Landscapes) doesn’t entirely overlook the human dimension. She interviews a poor Mexican woman who saw several of her children die after they were struck by lightening and visits a Canadian guy who gives a very graphic account of his brother’s death, which he witnessed firsthand. Novelist Paul Auster opens the movie by recounting the time he was almost struck at age 14. “It’s deeply implanted in all the work I’ve done,” he says. His reading of the story he wrote about the experience comes at the film’s conclusion, providing a nice bookend for the film. At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22. *** (Jeff Niesel)

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Afterschool (U.S., 2008) This remarkably accomplished debut feature by 24-year-old Antonio Campos bears the unmistakable stylistic imprimatur of both Michael Haneke (Caché) and Gus Van Sant’s “death trilogy” (particularly Elephant), yet still manages to impress with its freshness of vision and rigorous modus operandi. Set in an elite prep school where two students — twin sisters, no less — have died from drug overdoses, the film follows the attempts of loner underclassman Robert (Ezra Miller, superb) to make a commemorative video celebrating their lives. While arguably not for all tastes (some will find its minimalist visual style hypnotic; others may consider it ponderous and affected), Afterschool marks Campos as a distinctive, important new voice in American independent cinema. Look for A Serious Man star Michael Stuhlbarg as a sympathetic, if ineffectual teacher. At 9:10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, and 6:45 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24. *** 1/2 (Milan Paurich)

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(Untitled) “His concepts are OK, but I hate all of his work.” That’s the deadly assessment of a persnickety music critic after attending avant-garde composer Adrian Jacobs’ (Adam Goldberg) latest concert in director/writer Jonathan Parker’s amusingly titled (Untitled). Rather than be chastened or even bummed out by that review, Adrian barrels full steam ahead. Who cares whether anyone wants to listen to his “sound art” or not? (Buckets, smashed wine glasses and popping bubble wrap are Adrian’s tools of trade rather than conventional musical instruments). To him, it’s all about the “process.” Parker’s entertaining send-up of the modern-art scene wittily contrasts Adrian with his more successful painter brother Josh (Eion Bailey), whose blah canvases adorn the walls of corporate offices, hospitals and municipal buildings. An additional layer of sibling rivalry stems from the fact that Adrian has started seeing Chelsea gallerist Madeleine (a terrific Marley Shelton), Josh’s art dealer and longtime unrequited crush. For her part, Madeleine is perfectly willing to exploit cash-cow Josh in order to keep her struggling gallery afloat. But she’s too embarrassed by the blatantly commercial nature of his work to give him a proper show. Hypocrisy comes in all shapes and sizes. As snobbish as he is about his atonal compositions, Adrian snarkily turns up his nose at some of Madeleine’s more, uh, outré artists. Parker, whose best known previous film was the pitch-black 2001 Melville adaptation Bartleby starring Crispin Glover, doesn’t cut very deep here. Yet if every one of Parker’s self-absorbed characters is ultimately exposed as some kind of fraud, he stops short of vilifying them. Even smarmy Josh isn’t portrayed as a total creep. He’s just a yuppie careerist aching to find meaning in both his art and his superficial, albeit pretty darn cool life. That doesn’t make him a bad guy — just an obscenely wealthy “unrealized” one. At 7:10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, and 8:55 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24. *** (Milan Paurich)

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