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Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Crazies remake is still relevant

Posted By on Sat, Feb 27, 2010 at 1:21 PM

Although The Crazies is a remake of a 1973 George Romero movie, it didn’t need to update the original premise much to remain relevant. With the imagery of hurricane Katrina still fresh in the American consciousness and the threat of the H1N1 virus constantly in the news, the horrors this movie deals with are all too believable. As the film commences, the residents of a small Iowa town inexplicably start going crazy, and not just a little crazy, but full-on homicidal crazy. Sheriff Dutton (Timothy Oliphant) and his physician wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) appear to be unaffected by whatever is causing this outbreak of insanity, but they still must survive attacks by former friends and neighbors. A government response team is eventually sent in, but they seem more concerned with containment than rescue. The film starts strong, taking time to develop characters, build suspense and make the audience wonder just what the hell is going on. Unfortunately, it falters in the final stretch with an extended action sequence at a truck stop that goes on way too long. ** 1/2

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Friday, February 26, 2010

They Came to Play has its local premiere at CMA

Posted By on Fri, Feb 26, 2010 at 4:06 AM

A documentary about an annual pian competition, They Came to Play makes its local premiere tonight at 7 at the Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. It screens again at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28. Here is our review of the film.

They Came to Play (U.S., 2008) The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amatuers is an annual competition that lures novice players from around the world. As this documentary makes clear, it solicits a motley group of characters whose back stories make for more interesting footage than their actual performances (which, thankfully, we don’t see in their entirety). We get to meet a few of the participants, including an ophthalmologist from Alabama, an AIDS patient living on disability, a divorcee from Paris who has spent her retirement practicing piano and a former cocaine addict, all of whom talk about how much the competition means to them. While the competition itself isn’t very dramatic, the performers life stories are. *** (Niesel)

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reviews of the Cinematheque's weekend films

Posted By on Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 6:35 AM

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

Brighton Rock (Britain, 1947) Adapted from a Graham Greene novel, this 1947 British gangster film was quite a shocker in its day (Mutilated bodies! Gangland warfare! Double-crossing snitches!). It’s still a solid piece of filmmaking by director John Boulting, even if some of the onscreen violence seems a bit tame by modern standards. After rackets runner Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough) murders a rival, a boozy barfly (Hermione Baddeley) who was hanging out with the victim right before he was killed begins snooping around. Meanwhile, Pinkie tries to get his small-time gang some respect on the street and cozies up to a young, innocent waitress (a radiant Carol Marsh), who’s inadvertently connected to the crime. The script (co-written by Greene) is tough. So are the characters. Pinkie is ruthless, at one point tossing one of his cronies off a balcony. The film is also quite suspenseful, particularly during the long opening scene when thugs pursue an unfortunate victim through Brighton’s daylight streets and into a dark carnival funhouse. This brutal British noir is grittier than many of its contemporaries in the U.S, where it was originally known as Young Scarface. That title is earned. Brighton Rock’s lineage can be traced all the way to modern mob classics like The Godfather, Scarface and GoodFellas. At 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27 and at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28. *** 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)

Disengagement (Germany/Italy/Israel/France, 2007) The main storyline in this film by veteran Israeli director Amos Gitai concerns Ana (Juliette Binoche), a French woman who, in the wake of her father’s death, leaves her husband and goes to the Gaza Strip with her half-brother (Liron Levo) to find the child she gave up for adoption years ago. It takes some time before she starts her journey, however, as we first see a couple harassed by a customs agent as they’re traveling on a train. Though a bit slow-going at times, the film is exquisitely shot and well acted. Set during the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip, it accurately captures the tension of the period. And the 45-year-old Binoche — who has aged quite gracefully — is superb as a lonely but likeable woman attempting to come to terms with her past while simultaneously dealing with overwhelming political upheaval. At 9:35 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28. *** (Jeff Niesel)

Mammoth (Sweden/Denmark/Germany, 2009) When Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson burst onto the art-house scene a decade or so ago, he seemed like one of the brightest new lights in contemporary cinema. Films like Show Me Love, Together and Lila 4-Ever were deeply humanistic, yet rigorously unsentimental evocations of life as we know/live it. Moodysson stumbled with 2005’s ghastly, well-nigh unwatchable A Hole in My Heart, though, and he continues his precipitous slide with the nearly as bad Mammoth, his first English language effort. Yet another “We-Are-the-World” collage movie from the globe-spinning Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, Amores Perros) playbook, Mammoth is so banal and fussily over-determined that it almost makes Valentine’s Day seem profound by comparison. In the opening scene, New York City yuppies Leo (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Ellen (Michelle Williams) make such a fuss over their bratty eight-year-old daughter Jackie (Sophie Nyweide) that you just know they’re overcompensating for something. Because both parents are workaholics (she’s an emergency room doctor; he’s some kind of internet mogul) most of Jackie’s life is spent in the care of her saintly Filipino nanny Gloria (Marife Necesito). At 7:10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, and 8:45 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28. * 1/2 (Milan Paurich)

Night and Day (S. Korea, 2008) Considering that most of South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo’s films (Turning Gate, Woman on the Beach and the deliciously titled Woman Is the Future of Man) have been so informed by French New Wave directors like Eric Rohmer, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, it’s only fitting that his 2008 film Night and Day was actually filmed in Paris. Not surprisingly, the cosmopolitan setting feels like going home again for the prolific Hong. After a minor drug bust, thirtysomething painter Sung-nam (Kim Yeong-ho) impulsively hops a plane to Paris. During his extended sabbatical in the City of Light, Sung-nam does a lot of moping and flirting when he’s not chatting long distance with his wife (Hwang Su-jeong) back in Seoul. Because Sung-nam is apparently irresistible to the opposite sex — at least to attractive Korean expats like himself — flirting becomes his primary activity while waiting to fly home. (His wife gives him regular updates on his legal status.) There’s a pair of comely art students (Park Eun-hye and Seo Min-jeong), as well as ex-girlfriend Min-seon (Kim Yu-jin) who’s now living in Paris with her (never-seen) French husband. The charming scenes between a clearly still besotted Sung-nam and the phlegmatic Min-seon recall Rohmer's Six Moral Tales at their most exquisitely verbose, and Sung-nam even begins to physically resemble Truffaut (and Godard) muse/alter ego Jean-Pierre Léaud by the film’s midpoint. As always with Hong, it’s the subtle undercurrent of melancholy lurking beneath nearly every exchange that ultimately makes his characters so moving and relatable. Sung-nam may be nothing more than a South Korean Peter Pan, but his amorous adventures in the scintillating Neverland of Paris put most contemporary romantic comedies (particularly American rom-coms) to shame. Why Hong still hasn’t become as cherished a fixture on the domestic art house front as, say, Pedro Almodovar is as mystifying as it is sad. At 8:10 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, and 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26. ** 1/2 (Milan Paurich)

Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden/Denmark, 1922/1968) This is the truncated, 76-minute 1968 re-release of the 104-minute silent documentary re-enactment of medieval-European views of the devil and all his works, with filmmaker Benjamin Christensen as a fat, long-clawed and tongue-lolling Satan, corrupting lust-afflicted clergy and wives in the 15th and 16th centuries. Christensen's intent was not to promote superstition but to debunk it, showing quivering old village crones and defenseless girls victimized by churchmen and baseless gossip; modern-science psychology explains it all in the end. But what sticks is imagery that depicts the primal fear and torture-forced confessions that fueled witch-hunt hysteria. Witches soar on broomsticks, cutout monsters chew sinners, some stop-motion and strikingly costumed demons throw convents into chaos, all like medieval woodcuts come to nightmare life. Nudity and morbid violence (actually quite mild on both counts) inspired this film's frequent banning, though this ’68 version, with narration by William S. Burroughs (neatly replacing long minutes of explanatory title cards) and a jazz soundtrack featuring the violin of Jean-Luc Ponty, borders on being more of “head” film than a hard-headed skeptical expose of the occult. Recall that the “Age of Aquarius” was in full swing, the Church of Satan was booming in San Francisco, and Parker Brothers Ouja boards outsold Monopoly. So much for irony as a teaching tool. At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25 and at 11:45 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cop Out successfully blends action and comedy

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2010 at 9:57 AM

Former indie director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) didn’t write the screenplay for Cop Out, the cop-buddy action comedy starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as hapless NYPD cops; it was written by Robb and Mark Cullen. But you would never know it: the movie is landscaped with Smith’s brand of laid-back, affectionately profane male banter. Remarkably, in his first foray into this well-worn genre, Smith achieves what many have failed to do: blend action successfully with comedy. Even the most tired cop-movie tropes (the police captain exasperated with the team’s unorthodox methods, the divorced cop dealing with his ex-wife) feel refreshed here. Willis is veteran cop Jimmy Monroe, whose childlike partner, Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan) is prone to giving Jimmy sentimental anniversary cards and intimidating suspects by reciting dialogue, badly, from famous cop movies. Paul worries about his wife (Rashida Jones) cheating on him, while Jimmy frets about how to pay for his daughter’s wedding. Jimmy’s plan to sell a valuable baseball card is foiled when obnoxious robber Dave (Seann William Scott, very funny) steals it, leading Jimmy and Paul into an underworld of violent Mexican drug dealers. The action plot is beside the point; the comic byplay is the heart of the movie, which, like most of Smith’s films — and unlike most action movies — is funny, humane and rather sweet. *** 1/2

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Harmony and Me screens tonight at CMA

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2010 at 7:24 AM

A film about a sad sack who can't seem to get over an ex-girlfriend, Harmony and Me makes its local debut tonight at 7 at the Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. Here's our review of the movie.

Harmony and Me (U.S., 2009) Harmony (Justin Rise) is a real loser who works a dead-end job and can’t seem to get over the fact that his girlfriend Jessica (Kristen Tucker) has dumped his sorry ass. But while (500) Days of Summer took a clichéd storyline and applied a definitive twist, Harmony and Me stumbles to the finish line, never turning into anything the least bit compelling. When not venting to his best friend Carlos (Kevin Corrigan), Harmony is writing songs about Jessica’s harsh treatment. The songs are just as bad as everything else in this slapped-together film, which doesn’t benefit from writer-director Bob Byington’s mumblecore aesthetics, like primitive set designs, amateur actors and actresses, minimalist cinematography. **

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Oberlin College's Sight Lines series makes its debut

Posted By on Mon, Feb 22, 2010 at 6:49 AM

An experimental filmmaker from New York, Jennifer Reeves hand-painted her most recent film, 2008's When it was Blue, a 16mm nature film about the world’s various ecosystems that includes footage from around the globe. A veteran filmmaker who started making movies 20 years ago, Reeves teaches film part-time at Bard College's Milton Avery School of the Arts, The Cooper Union, Millennium Film Workshop and the School of Visual Arts in the Photography and Related Media MFA program. She is in town today to give a guest lecture at 10 a.m. as part of professor Brett Kashmere’s film class. The lecture takes place at Mudd 443 (the Shooting Studio), which is on the fourth floor of Mudd Library. Reeves will then present her movie at a screening at 8 tonight at Oberlin College’s West Lecture Hall (Science Center, Room A 162, 119 Woodland St.). Both events are free and open to the public. This screening marks the first installment of SIGHT LINES: Dialogues in Film and Media, an Exhibition Practices Initiative, a multi-media series that's part of Oberlin’s Cinema Studies program.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Paradise makes its local debut at CMA

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 6:36 AM

An experimental film that was shot over a ten-year period, Paradise makes its local debut tonight at 7 at the Cleveland Museum of Art Lecture Hall. Director Michael Almereyda will be on hand to introduce the movie and take questions afterwards. Here's our review of his film.

Paradise (U.S., 2009) Because Michael Almereyda’s experimental film has no consistent narrative to it, it’s rather hard to make any kind of sense of it. In one clip, we see a couple of Indian kids walking around a goldfish pond. One child falls in the water and is embarrassed that he slipped. In another scene, a group of guys playing cards wax eloquence about the meaning of life and in another a group of friends drive up to a hilltop to watch a fireworks display. And in yet another, a guy talks about the expensive Oriental rugs he’s selling. While there’s an eerie beauty to some of the scenes (particularly the fireworks clip, which is shot in black and white), it’s difficult to say what it all means. Shot in nine different countries over a ten-year period, the film is certainly ambitious. **

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