Friday, September 19, 2008

Week of September 19 to September 25 -- Phil Mann

What’s On At The Tropic
By Phil Mann

It must be official Ben Kingsley week at the Tropic. In TRANSSIBERIAN he’s a sinister ex-KGB agent become narcotics detective. In THE WACKNESS he’s a marijuana puffing American psychiatrist.

That’s not all you’ll see of Sir Ben at the Tropic this month. Upcoming in a week or two is Elegy, where he’s womanizing college professor. Kingsley has been a Polish Jew being rescued from the holocaust (in Schindler’s List), a brutal British thug (in Sexy Beast), an immigrant Iranian businessman (in House of Sand and Fog), a crafty American Jewish gangster (in Bugsy), and the father of Anne Frank (in Anne Frank: The Whole Story). Since winning the Best Actor Oscar in 1982 for Gandhi, he’s been nominated three more times, and been knighted by Queen Elizabeth. He comes to this range of ethnic characters naturally. Born as Krishna Banji to an Kenyan-Indian Muslim father and an English model of partial Jewish descent, he changed his name thinking it would advance his career, but ironically achieved his breakthrough success playing the Mahatma, the quintessential Indian.

It’s interesting that, despite his stellar acting credentials, in neither of this week’s movies is he the star. For that, you’ll have to wait for Elegy.

The leads in TRANSIBBERIAN are Woody Harrelson, playing a Christian missionary, and Emily Mortimer, as his formerly bad-girl wife. They are on their way home from a mission trip to China, taking a decidedly unglamorous (forget the Orient Express) six-day rail journey from Beijing to Moscow. With Kingsley lurking and companions who aren’t what they first appear, it’s an edge-of-the seat thriller (“one hell of a thriller,” says Roger Ebert) that works a classic theme.

THE WACKNESS features Josh Peck (from TV’s Drake and Josh) and Olivia Thirlby (the girlfriend in Juno) He’s Luke Shapiro, a loser slacker who finds himself dealing dope in Central Park as a summer job after high school graduation. She’s Stephanie, the class hottie who’s hanging out before going off to college. They hook up because of , or maybe in spite of, the fact that her stepfather, the shrink Dr. Squires (Kingsley), is one of Luke’s best customers. The two are trading marijuana for counseling. For Dr. Squires, the dope seems to be counseling as he and Luke go stoned cruising together, meeting such as Mary-Kate Olsen, who’s another of Luke’s clients. The theme here is obviously coming-of-age, but the setting is a now-nostalgic 1990’s Manhattan newly under the sway of Rudy Guiliani.

Speaking of Manhattan, this is the week of the annual Manhattan Short Film Festival. Each year the MSFF team screens hundreds of shorts, choosing a dozen finalists that are shown in selected theaters all over the world. Theater-goers vote for the winner, which will be announced on September 28th in New York. Entries range from the animated TEAT BEAT OF SEX, a humorous take on first kiss and first sex, from a woman’s viewpoint; to THE GAME, a dark story of surreal board game involving matters of life and death. The full set of shorts will be shown twice, on Wednesday and Thursday at 8:00pm. You can vote at either showing.

More info and full schedules at
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