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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reviews of the Cinematheque's weekend films

Posted By on Wed, Apr 14, 2010 at 6:50 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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Film Ist. a Girl & a Gun (Austria/Germany, 2009) Gustav Deutsch’s film starts with an old black-and-white image of a “girl and a gun” (a riff on the Jean-Luc Godard maxim about moviemaking) and then informs us that it’s going to be “a creation story in five acts” with “classical texts of Hesiod, Sappho and Plato.” Huh? Essentially a collage of early cinema images, the film has no dialogue and only occasional sparse bits of moody music. The clips include everything from vintage porn to nature films and old newsreels. While artfully done and at times even stunning, the experimental film is simply too abstract, though the folks at Time Out New York somehow called it “completely mesmerizing.” At 6:45 p.m. Thursday, April 15, and 9:35 p.m. Friday, April 16. ** (Jeff Niesel)

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Flooding With Love for the Kid (U.S., 2009) In an audacious DIY cinematic tribute to the 1982 Hollywood-mutated literary property that ignited so much 1980s action-hero kitsch (the Reagan White House included), filmmaker Zachary Oberzan reshoots First Blood for under $100, faithfully adapting David Morrell’s novel, playing every role himself and using his New York City apartment for sets. Chintzy video graphics, makeup, canned sound effects, superimpositions and deliberately crude props (an office chair for a motorcycle) let the actor-director play scenes with himself, choreograph chases, and evoke Vietnam flashbacks and firefights, as the vagrant ex-Green Beret named Rambo is bullied by Texas cops until POW trauma and combat training snap him into lethal one-man-army attack mode. Like the concept itself, Oberzan’s acting isn’t so much good as sublimely, outrageously gutsy. Even awkward framing reminds us one guy is doing all this, just as the movie’s hapless Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy in the original flick) witnesses one “nothing kid” destroying his entire town and forms a weird warrior-bond with his enemy. You can’t wholly argue this is “better” than the blockbuster starring Sylvester Stallone (respectfully thanked in the credits), but it certainly proves there was more substance to Rambo than met the eyes of critics, haters and fans. At 9 p.m. Saturday, April 17, and 6:45 p.m. Sunday, April 18. *** (Charles Cassady Jr.)

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The Red Shoes (Britain, 1948) Michael Powell’s best film (which he co-directed with Emeric Pressburger) is a luscious candy-colored valentine to the art of movement. Basically a ballet fantasy wrapped in a thin plot about a dancer torn between her career and her boyfriend, The Red Shoes celebrates both stage performance and cinema with its spacious palette. Moira Shearer plays Victoria, a ballerina who’s sacrificed any semblance of a life for controlling mentor Boris (Anton Walbrook). When she falls for the young composer of “The Red Shoes” — the ballet Boris has commissioned to make Victoria a star — she must choose between her art and her heart. But the narrative is a mere catalyst for the directors, stars, and the rest of the cast and crew to dive into the world of dance like no movie has before or since. The centerpiece, which is based on a Hans Christian Andersen tale, is the titular ballet, a stunning piece of filmmaking by Powell and cinematographer Jack Cardiff. The movie was recently restored, so the old-school Technicolor virtually pops from the screen in this new print. At 5 p.m. Saturday, April 17, and 4 p.m. Sunday, April 18. *** 1/2 (Michael Gallucci)

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Stingray Sam (U.S., 2009) David Hyde Pierce narrates this strange Western sci-fi odyssey about Stingray Sam, the guy who “does the things that folks don’t do that need to be done.” Divided into six parts, Cory McAbee’s experimental film follows Sam (McAbee) and his partner the Quasar Kid (Crugie) as they set out to rescue a young child in distress. Sam has to be shrunk into a tiny robot to save the girl, but without any computer-generated graphics, his transformation doesn’t look realistic. Even if its low-budget approach limits its appeal, the campy film has a charm to it and is good fun. And McAbee’s band, the Billy Nayer Show, provides groovy lounge-oriented original music for each episode. At 7:35 p.m. Saturday, April 17, and 8:55 p.m. Sunday, April 18. *** (Niesel)

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Syndromes and a Century (Thailand/France/Austria, 2006) Some foreign flicks make you want to grab Joe Sixpack and say, “Look here, you ignorant inbred yahoo — art-house cinema is terrific!” Others make you grab Real 3D glasses and pen fan mail to big-budget filmmaker Roland Emmerich. This lauded feature, alas, tends toward the latter. It helps to know that director Atichatpong Weerasethakul’s parents were both doctors and that this film is a tribute to them. He based the first half of the film on his mother’s rural clinic, while the second half reflects his father’s big-city hospital — only here it’s the same hospital, staffed with lovesick healers and patients afflicted with chronic might-have-beens. Sometimes we see the same scenes replayed. Countryside-bound, they have a gentle, comedic quality, while the city versions feel more anxious, desperate and sad. That’s kind of interesting. But the tranquilizer-paced narrative (which is really no narrative at all), slack dramatics and severely formal camera angles create something that’s more objet d’art than compelling cinema. There are moments of exquisite beauty, if you can that stay awake for them. At 8:40 p.m. Thursday, April 15, and 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 16. ** (Cassady)

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