Saturday, October 25, 2008

Week of October 24 to October 30 (Mann)

What’s On at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Did you think the Coen brothers were going all serious on you after seeing last year’s Academy Award winning No Country For Old Men? Not to worry. Their new film BURN AFTER READING, which opens at the Tropic today, is more arch than a Gothic cathederal.

One thing the Oscar did was cement their ability to attract almost any movie star to their projects. The ensemble cast of Burn After Reading includes Brad Pitt, George Clooney Tilda Swinton, and John Malkovich among the big names, along with the ever present Frances McDormand (wife of Joel Coen).

Malkovich is a CIA analyst who gets the boot in the opening scene and spends the rest of the movie floundering about, while being bedeviled by a couple of kookie personal trainers (McDormand and Pitt, playing totally against type), a nasty wife (Swinton), a philandering G-man (Clooney) and some moronic CIA officials. It’s a thriller as befits its CIA underpinnings, with Russian agents, multiple killings and other good fun.

The current project of the Coen team is another black comedy A Serious Man, about a professor whose wife is leaving him. And then they are signed on to adapt Michael Chabon’s bizarre bestseller, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, about a fictive Jewish colony in Alaska. Talk about topical!

After reading about this, and reflecting on the rest of the Coen oeuvre, maybe I misinterpreted No Country for Old Men. Was it really a spoof?

Anyhow, there’s more fun and games this week with the French romantic comedy, A GIRL CUT IN TWO. The new Gallic femme fatale, Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool, Moliere, A Secret) is a perky blonde TV weathercaster who has fallen for a famous, and famously womanizing, older writer. But she’s torn by the bold affections of a handsome, rich young man, who thinks he’s entitled to her. As Roger Ebert says, “it is comedic, in that macabre Hitchcockian way that takes a certain delight in the flaws of mankind.” It’s also a crime thriller.

Both these comedy thrillers are just the thing for a little not-to-serious break from Fantasy Fest. But if you’re really into the Halloween aspect, then the Monday Night Classic movie is the thing for you. This week it’s a revival of the original George Romero zombie film, THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Here’s a movie that could barely find a distributor when it was made in 1968, but has now been enshrined in the National Film Registry as a classic of American cinema. You know the plot: flesh eating ghouls stalk the earth, particularly a farmhouse in Pennsylvania.

Alert: The Tropic will be closed on Saturday night, so that the zombies (or is that the Tropic staff) can enjoy the Fantasy Fest parade. Check the schedule carefully for showtimes.

Full info at Comments to
[from Key West, the Newspaper -]

The Secret Life of Bees (Rhoades)

‘Secret Life’ Isn’t Really About Bees

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

No, “The Secret Life of Bees” is not a Discovery Channel documentary.

Nor is it a musical – despite starring Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson.

“The Secret Life of Bees” is a honey-of-a-movie (forgive the pun) about a young girl’s search for love and belonging in the turbulent times of 1964. The film is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

The plot is seemingly straightforward, yet the emotions are complex: 14-year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) and her nanny (Jennifer Hudson) flee the girl’s bad dad (Paul Bettany) and take refuge in a Pepto Bismol pink house in Tiburon, South Carolina, where the beekeeping Boatwright sisters reside. Named after months of the year, the sisters offer a dramatic range: August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) is the compassionate matriarch of the family, surrounded by keep-her-distance cello-playing June (Alicia Keys) and emotionally fragile May (Sophie Okonedo).

It’s no accident that Lily lands on their doorstep. But is she really running away from her abusive father … or searching for her dead mother’s memory?

When idealistic teenager Zachary Taylor (Tristan Wilds) expresses surprise that Miss August has taken in a white girl, Lily suggests, “Maybe she didn’t notice.”

But black and white are very separate worlds in this bittersweet time capsule: President Lynden Johnson has just signed the civil rights act, yet blacks are turned away at the voting booth. Movie theaters have separate entrances for “coloreds.” And danger lurks for those who ignore racial lines.

Hard to believe this divide existed within living memory – when America soon may be celebrating its first black president.

“The Secret Life of Bees” is indeed a memory, originally told in the bestselling book by Sue Monk Kidd.

Kidd got her start as a writer when a personal essay was published in Guideposts Magazine and reprinted in Reader’s Digest. She went on to become a contributing editor for Guideposts.
Familiar territory, for I was a vice president with Reader’s Digest and my wife does promotional writing for Guideposts.

Many people asked why a white woman chose to write a book about a family of black women.
“Because I grew up surrounded by black women,” she says. “I feel they are like hidden royalty dwelling among us, and we need to rupture our old assumptions and develop the willingness to see them as they are.”

Is the story true? “I will also confess that small nuggets from my actual life did sometimes pop up and insert themselves into the story,” says Kidd. “Like the fact that bees really did live in the walls of my house when I was growing up. There was also the similarity that I, like Lily, had a nanny. But did she ever get thrown into jail? Did I break her out? Did we run away together? Of course not. The bits and pieces of my life that did manage to slip into the novel were only little springboards that helped me to leap to much larger, more vivid ideas and visions.”
Kidd adds, “Ultimately the story and the characters are not based on me and my life, but the work does reflect many of my convictions ... It is deeply affected by my particular life in the South, by my own intimacy with … the empowering bonds between women, not to mention my ideas about the transcendence of love, and what constitutes goodness.”

Think: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” With Dakota Fanning as Scout and Queen Latifah as a matriarchic Atticus Finch. There’s no courtroom drama, but the dramatic tension is palpable, especially when Miss August’s godson is taken away by bigots who object to his familiarity with Lily. And a family member decides life is just too heavy a burden to bear.

Director and screenwriter Gina Prince-Blythwood approaches it from the other end of the spectrum. An African-American filmmaker, she balances the movie’s delicate sensibilities, making sure this is not just a white woman’s view of blacks.

Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith played a key role in bring the story to the screen.
The film – like the novel – is filled with metaphor: Just as a queen rules the beehive, females dominate the Boatwright household. Miss August is the “wise head of this female hive.” And a Black Madonna statue in the living room (and featured on their jars of honey) symbolizes a universal mother figure. While the backdrop is the Civil Rights Movement, the true theme is female empowerment.

Here in the Boatwright household Lily learns more about the mother she lost, discovers what it’s like to have a family, and finds many new mother figures who love her.
Dakota Fanning effortlessly makes the transition from child star to teen ingénue, holding her own among a cast where every performance is both strong and moving.

As an aside, Dakota Fanning came close to appearing in a Key West film called “All God’s Children” – the screenplay written by former resident Talmadge Heyward. Sean Connery’s son Jason was signed to star along with Diane Ladd. Dakota’s mom wanted her to join the cast of this indie production that I was helping executive produce, but financing fell apart during preproduction. Oh well, maybe later.

As for “The Secret Lives of Bees,” this honey-filled movie may be too sweet and syrupy for hardcore action fans. But it has a message worth hearing. As Queen Latifah sums it up when talking about bees (but not really): “Every little thing wants love.”
[from Solares Hill]

Burn After Reading (Rhoades)

‘Burn After Reading’ Is Idiotic Spy Comedy

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You’d think this was the casting for Oceans Fourteen or Fifteen – a movie featuring both Brad Pitt and George Clooney. But actually it’s “Burn After Reading,” the latest genre-bending outing by the omnipresent Cohen Brothers.

Directors Ethan and Joel Cohen deny they consider genres in picking their movie projects. But their filmography reads like a movie buff’s tour of Blockbuster’s shelves.

“Blood Simple” was an homage to Hitchcock suspense films. “Raising Arizona” was a slapstick comedy. “Miller’s Crossing” was a great gangster film. “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” was a modern Greek classic. “Intolerable Cruelty” was a romantic comedy. “The Man Who Wasn’t There” was a black-and-white look at film noir. “Fargo” was an award-winning crime drama. “No Country for Old Men” was an Oscar-honored neo-noir thriller.
And “Burn After Reading” – which opens today at the Tropic Cinema – is a spy story. Albeit, a funny one.

Seems a disc containing the memoirs of a CIA agent falls into the hands of two doofuses who attempt to sell it. Bad move.

The Coen Brothers have assembled a great cast here. In addition to Pitt (“Mr. And Mrs. Smith”) and Clooney (“Good Night, and Good Luck”), you’ll encounter John Malkovich (“Being John Malkovich”), Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”), and Frances McDormand (“Fargo”). All of them either Oscar winners or nominees.

Malkovich takes on the role of a disgruntled CIA agent and Swinton is his soon-to-be-ex wife. Personal trainer Pitt and gym manager McDormand find the agent’s memoirs and hatch a cockamamie blackmail scheme. Clooney is an oversexed federal marshal who gets drawn into the plot because he’s both sleeping with the CIA agent’s wife and having an online affair with the gym manager.

As Joel Coen explains it, “The film is about the culture of the Central Intelligence Agency and the culture of physical fitness in Washington, D.C., and what happens when those two worlds collide.”
Clooney says, “I’m a guy that goes around killing people. It looks really fun. This will be my third idiot. The Coens call it my trilogy of idiots.”

“George loves to play idiots for us,” Ethan Coen elaborates. “We called wrap on George’s last shot and he said, ‘All right, that’s it. I’ve played my last idiot.’ So we told him it was sad that he wouldn’t be working with us anymore.”

Brad Pitt didn’t escape the idiot fate either. “I think that’s pretty safe to say, yeah, it’s a dueling idiots movie,” laughs Joel Coen.

As Pitt tells it, “I said to them, ‘I don’t know how to play this, I mean, he’s such an idiot.’ And there was a pause and then Joel goes, ‘You’ll be fine!’”

Malkovich adds, “No one in this film is very good. They’re either slightly emotionally or mentally defective. Quirky, self-aggrandizing, scheming. Nobody’s particularly bad in it, but the guy I play just has a very bad drinking problem. He’s an analyst in the CIA, fired because he has a drinking problem. It’s a good cast, funny people, everybody has a good part and kind of unexpected ones.”

Ethan and Joel Coen work so closely together they are known as “The Two Headed Director.” The brothers are one of only two collaborating director teams to ever win an Academy Award for Best Directing (the other being Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for “West Side Story”).
And Joel is the only person ever to direct his wife in an Academy Award performance (Frances McDormand in “Fargo”).

Raised in a suburb of Minneapolis, older brother Joel saved money from mowing lawns to buy a Vivatar Super 8 camera, and together they remade movies they saw on television. Thus, Cornel Wilde’s “The Naked Prey” became “Zeimers in Zambia,” featuring a neighborhood kid named Mark Zimering in the title role and Ethan as a spear-carrying native.

Joel spent four years in the film program at NYU while Ethan got a degree in philosophy at Princeton.

Their first film together was “Blood Simple,” a suspense tale about a man hiring a shady detective to kill his wife. Filmed in Texas, my friend Karen Prince (now a ranger at Key West’s Wildlife Center) worked on the film, building sets, fetching lunch, and serving as an extra.
As she remembers the experience, “The Coens had no money, none. I’d walk across the scene wearing one shirt, then walk back wearing another shirt, so it looked like we had more people in the movie.”

Budgets are bigger these days, but the Coens haven’t changed all that much. Film crews say you get the very same answer no matter which brother you ask.

The next genre they plan to tackle? Coming up is “Hail Caesar,” a period comedy about a theater troupe that’s putting on a Shakespeare play – not to be confused with “Hamlet 2.” And despite his grumblings about idiot roles, George Clooney is set to star in this one too.

Also in the works is a spaghetti western. “We’ve written a western with a lot of violence in it,” says brother Joel. “There’s scalping and hanging ... Indians torturing people with ants, cutting their eyelids off. It’s a proper western, a real western, set in the 1870s. It’s got a scene that no one will ever forget because of one particular chicken.”

Maybe in that one Clooney will be playing the chicken instead of another idiot? That’d be a cackle.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, October 17, 2008

Week of October 17 to October 23 (Phil Mann)

What’s On At The Tropic
by Phil Mann

It isn’t often that you’ll see Queen Latifah at the Tropic. But the “First Lady of Hip-Hop,” strides with gusto into the lead role in THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES. She already has one Oscar nomination, for her supporting role in the musical Chicago. But Secret Life is a very different pot of honey. Though blessed with a triumvirate of songsters -- Alicia Keys and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, along with Ms. Latifah -- Secret Life is not a musical, but a black-dominated drama set in South Carolina in 1964. The main white character is fourteen-year-old Dakota Fanning.

Based on the bestselling novel by Sue Monk Kidd, it’s the story of Lily (Fanning), who is running from an abusive father, accompanied by her caregiver (Hudson). She seeks out the hometown of her deceased mother, where she is taken in by the Boatwright sisters -- Latifah, Keys and Sophie Okonedo (Oscar nominee for Hotal Rwanda) -- who raise bees and, despite the time and place, dominate their landscape. Through them Lily learns the meaning of love. The civil rights issues are there, earning the novel a place on many school reading lists next to To Kill A Mockingbird, but the message about what it takes to make a family is universal.

The Oscar buzz has already started for several of the film’s cast. The director Gina Prince-Bythewood is also young and African-American, following up her Independent Spirit Award winning Love and Basketball. In interviews cast members talk about how Prince-Bythewood brought them together out of devotion to the novel, getting them to slash their salaries to make it happen. The director describes their feeling when Obama won the South Carolina primary while they were in the midst of filming in North Carolina. They realized, she says, that they “weren't just making a movie about a girl and the nurturing women who aided her,” they were "making a film about a time when the world was changing, at a time when the world is changing."

Maybe it’s time now for all of us to go see it.

Race is also at the core of the documentary, TROUBLE THE WATER. Amateur videographers Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her husband Scott covered Hurricane Katrina with a cheap camera bought on the street, and a sensibility bred from watching TV news shows. With this pair and their footage at the center, documentarians Carl Deal and Tia Lessin (Fahrenheit 911) have fashioned a movie that says “captures a tale of courage, heroism and tragedy more thrilling than any Hollywood spectacle.” Some of the Wilma-esque hurricane footage will be all-to-familiar to Key Westers. The movie however is also about the aftermath and resurgence in the black Ninth Ward, making it “a powerful political argument, backed by evidence provided by the shaming indifference of the government, that to be poor and black in America is to be an exile,” according to the New York Times. It’s like “we lost our citizenship,” Ms. Roberts says.

On the Special Events calendar, Hitchcock’s NOTORIOUS is the Monday night classic. And the GLCC is conducting a free Breast Cancer Awareness Forum on Wednesday night. THE DUCHESS also continues her crowd pleasing run for those hooked on British historical drama.

It’s going to be quite a week at the Tropic.

Full details at Comments to
[from Key West, the Newspaper -]

Notorious (Rhoades)

Grant and Bergman Remain ‘Notorious’

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Alfred Hitchcock loved spy stories, in that they formed a perfect framework for his suspenseful movies. Just think about such Hitchcock classics as “Secret Agent,” “Lady on a Train,” “The 39 Steps,” “Sabotage,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” and “North by Northwest.”

Another was “Notorious,” the 1946 spy thriller starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman that’s the next entry in Mary Sparacio’s Monday night film series at the Tropic Cinema.

Here Grant is a suave spy seducing a fragile Bergman in order to trap her Nazi-sympathizer husband. Just as in an earlier Hitchcock outing called “Suspicion,” we find Grant portraying a morally ambiguous hero. Does he love her, does he not? Is he just using her to catch bad guy Claude Rains or does he really care?

The film features a “famous kissing scene,” where Hitchcock flaunted the censors by allowing Grant and Bergman to osculate for more than the limited few seconds. A notable film history moment!

The MacGuffin (a term Hitchcock applied to whatever device set the plot in motion) in this case was uranium hidden in wine bottles. The studios were nervous about this reference to a highly sensitive war material, so he offered to change it, saying it was unimportant what motivated Grant to go after Rains. In the end, the uranium stayed in the script.

Hitch and screenwriter Ben Hecht visited Nobel Prize winner Dr. Robert Millikan to ask how to build an atomic bomb. The physicist refused to tell them, but admitted uranium was the principal ingredient and that a wine bottle could hold enough to create such a weapon.

There’s a terrific (and highly suspenseful) moment in “Notorious” in the wine cellar when we’re on the edge of our seats as Grant’s tampering with the wine bottles might be discovered. Whew!
Although Hitch never won an Oscar for his directing, he was voted “The Greatest Director of All Time” by Entertainment Weekly. However, he did win an Irving Thalberg Memorial Award at the 1967 Oscars.

Entertainment Weekly’s “100 Greatest Films of All Time” includes more films directed by Hitchcock than by any other director (four in all). “Notorious” ranked #66.

When asked why his films were so popular, his answer was: “Everybody likes to be scared.”
He also said, “I am scared easily, here is a list of my adrenaline-production: 1. Small children, 2. Policemen, 3. High places, 4. That my next movie will not be as good as the last one.”

Trouble the Water (Rhoades)

‘Trouble the Water’ Offers No Bridge

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Here in Key West, we’re no strangers to hurricanes. But fortunately we have a grotto to protect us. Not so lucky was New Orleans.

Survival: that’s the topic of “Trouble the Water” – a documentary about street people surviving hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. It opens today at the Tropic Cinema.

The title “Trouble the Water” is an ironic usage, for the film is as troubled by the fate of the people as by the state of the waters. And moreover it’s a commentary on the US government’s failure in protecting its marginal citizenry.

This Zietgeist release is not a slickly made film, even though directors Tia Lessin and Carl Deal were producers for Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Bowling for Columbine.”
I’ve commented in recent film reviews about this YouTube Age where everybody with a camcorder or cell phone can become a filmmaker, claiming his or her Warholian 15 minutes of fame.

That’s the case here, when a wannabe rapper and her streetwise husband foolishly await hurricane Katrina’s arrival in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. What we have are home movies that have been interspersed with newsreel footage by savvy directors who know a politically engaging documentary when they come across one.

Make no mistake about what to expect: This is jerky hand-held footage. And the subjects of this documentary aren’t movie stars, but rather poor people, street corner hustlers, druggies, and other “disposable people.”

However, this obvious amateurism gives the film its sense of you-are-there verité.
Switching on her new video camera to record the approaching storm, Kimberly Rivers Roberts gives us smiling faces, laughter, and excited chatter as her Ninth Ward neighbors brace for the coming storm. Unable to leave, they are storing up food supplies, hunkering down, pulling out umbrellas as it begins to rain. Little realizing the terror and hardships that Mother Nature is about to inflict on their modest homes and their simple unpresupposing lives.

Then things go horribly bad.

Knowing what we know now, armed with hindsight, you’ll find yourself asking: Are these folks crazy, staying behind to risk life and limb in this greatest natural disaster in America’s history? But many of them didn’t see an alternative.

The film focuses on Kimberly Roberts and her husband Scott, their neighbors, local street people, hangers-on, and various lowlifes left behind to face the busted levies and rising floodwaters. For this couple, it was a lark that turned into a life-and-death struggle. For others, it became a testimony of abandonment by an uncaring government.

Yes, the film has a decided point of view. Marchers are seen carrying signs that say, “Stop the Killing of Black People.” And statistics are flashed across the screen, noting that “Most African-Americans Have Not Returned, While Most White Residents Have.”
In the end, this is a heartbreaking story.

The doc has picked up four awards so far, including the prestigious Grand Jury Prize at 2008’s Sundance Film Festival. No small feat.

“Trouble the Water” features an original musical score by Neil Davidge and Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack, as well as the music of Dr. John, Mary Mary, Citizen Cope, John Lee Hooker, TK Soul, the Free Agents Brass Band … and Black Kold Madina.

Black Kold Madina I’m told is the stage name of our videographer cum rapper Kimberly Rivers Roberts. So maybe something good can be salvaged from the devastation of the storm.
[from Solares]

Friday, October 10, 2008

Week of October 10 to October 16

What’s On At The Tropic
by Phil Mann

The Duchess has it all. There’s the house, if you can call it a house when it’s bigger than a grand hotel, overcoming the era’s lack of elevators by splaying its bulk across the countryside. For the Duke of Devonshire, his seat is Chatsworth, a pile that has appeared in the 1986 film Lady Jane and in the WGBH-TV series Jane Eyre, before taking on its true role in this one. Then, there are the costumes. One of the Duchess’ dresses, which had to be made up in triplicate, used forty feet of silk for each one, all hand-decorated with gold lace. And there are the rules of society, with the men so in charge they could lawfully beat their wives… so long as they used a rod smaller than a thumb.

The film is based on a true story. When spirited seventeen-year-old Georgiana Spencer (yes, the same Spencer family that later produced Princess Di) married the Fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1874, she was off to Chatsworth, as well as to the Duke’s eight other abodes in Ireland, London and about. It must have been very comfortable for Keira Knightley playing Georgiana, because she had been to the house before as Elizabeth Bennet, when it stood in for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. But it wasn’t very pleasant for the real Duchess who found her husband (played by Ralph Fiennes) cold, philandering, and altogether unpleasant. He doesn’t beat her in the movie, though he probably did so in real life. But he uses and abuses, rather than loves, her as he seeks to sire a male heir. Meanwhile he adds a mistress to the household to create a long-term ménage à trois, much against her will. She cannot escape, but she can and does build a life as an icon of fashion, a campaigner in reformist Whig politics, and a devotee of the gambling tables.

The movie is more about her suppression than about the independent role she found. I would have preferred seeing more of the latter. But if British historical drama is your cuppa, The Duchess has it all.

A Secret, this week’s other new film, is also based on a true story. Athletic and handsome Maxime and Tania Grimbert, formerly Jewish Grinbergs, have more than a change of religion in their past. It is told through the eyes of their very non-athletic son François, who copes with his failure to measure-up by inventing a life, until an aunt-like family friend reveals the full truth to him. Just as much as in The Duchess, the settings and the photography recreate for us a time past, wartime and post-war France in this case. The Holocaust plays a role, but not a central one. There are no grand houses or costumes to get in the way of the action. Instead the beautifully realized central characters played by the well-known French singer Patrick Bruel (reminiscent of Yves Montand) and the stunning Cécile De France (Avenue Montaigne, L’Auberge Espanole) carry the film. Nominated for eleven César Awards (French Oscar), A Secret has special meaning for the French who are only a generation or so removed from the actual events. I can’t tell you more, but I can vouch that it is a wonderful, compelling movie for anyone interested in a very real human drama of people struggling to control their passions, while dealing with a life that has not turned out as they wished it.

Full info and schedules at Comments to

The Duchess (Rhoades)

‘The Duchess’ Holds Court at Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Long before Princess Diana, England had another royal beauty who captured the imagination of her countrymen – Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire. As a matter of fact, Princess Diana was a direct descendant of this glamorous 18th Century lady.

Now you can get a fascinating history lesson about “The Duchess,” thanks to a new film starring beautiful Keira Knightly that opens today at the Tropic Cinema.

Knightly is adept at playing in costume dramas. Among her film credits are “Pride and Prejudice,” “King Arthur,” and “Atonement” – not to mention that popular “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy. Her roles seem to hop, skip, and jump along historic timelines.
In “The Duchess” she plays a real-life royalty who was famous for her beauty and fashion, infamous for her gambling and love affairs. She was known as both a clever political manipulator and a darling of the common people.

Among Georgiana Spencer’s scandals was a doomed affair with Earl Grey (a British viscount, not the tea) and a ménage à trois with her husband and best friend.

Ralph Fiennes (“The English Patient,” the “Harry Potter” films) portrays the randy husband, William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire.

Hayley Atwell (“Brideshead Revisited”) plays her libidinous best friend, Lady Bess Foster.
Charlotte Rampling (“The Night Porter,” “Babylon A.D.”) is on hand as the matriarch, Lady Spencer.

One reviewer summed it up: “Keira Knightley squeezes into a corset again, and pulls off another worthy performance in this sumptuous and emotional period drama.”
This period piece was directed by Saul Dibb. Some thought him an odd choice, considering his last film was a crime drama called “Bullet Boy.”

Dibb disagrees. “If you think about the themes of both, they’re quite similar,” he counters. “Both films are about young people on the cusp of adulthood trying to find their freedom in a world that’s got everything planned for them.”

To be fair, one shouldn’t forget that Dibb directed a TV adaptation of the Alan Hollinghurst novel “The Line of Beauty,” a tale in the mode of “Brideshead Revisited.”

“The Duchess” is based on a bestselling biography by Amanda Foreman, a work that grew out of her doctoral thesis at Oxford (“The Political Life of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, 1757-1806”). As it happens, her father was the famed American screenwriter Carl Foreman, who was blacklisted in Hollywood during the McCarthyism era and moved to England to work.

“This story didn’t feel like it was in the Jane Austen realm, for instance, or the more safe and polite territory that some period dramas can operate in,” comments Dibb. “Maybe that’s because it’s about real events. In many ways, it felt like a feminist tragedy.”

Just like Princess Di’s.
[from Solares Hill]

Tulsa (Rhoades)

Movie Madness Gushes Over ‘Tulsa’

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Not long ago Rick Dreys and his director and producer were bantering back and forth, trying to decide which bad film to show for the next taping of Rick’s Midnight Movie Madness, an event which takes place on the second Friday of each month at the Tropic Cinema and is then replayed on local WGAY-TV.

Film candidates varied from “Planet of the Prehistoric Women,” a sci-fi farce starring MM-wannabe Mamie Van Doren, to “Tulsa,” a (mid)western melodrama starring fiery Susan Hayward.

Seems that “Tulsa” won the toss – and will be shown tonight from 10 to midnight. And you and your friends can attend the taping, becoming in effect the TV program’s raucous back-talking studio audience.

But most of the wisecracks will be coming from Rick, as he sits on the edge of the stage in a comfortable plush theater seat, a table nearby to hold his stash of bottled water and Reece’s Pieces.

“Tulsa” (1949) is a tale about oil wildcatters during the early days of Oklahoma’s boom. After a villainous oil company is involved in her father’s death, Cherokee “Cherry” Lansing (Susan Hayward) decides to bring in her own wells and she calls on petroleum expert Brad Brady (Robert Preston) and childhood pal Jim Redbird (Pedro Armendáriz) for help. The film offers plenty of black gold gushing up from the ground and numerous clashes with the nefarious Tanner Oil Company.

Believe it or not, this film has an underlying message about conservation of our oil resources, a sentiment well ahead of its time. And it’s more than a mindless action yarn, with the plot built around our star’s conflict: starting off to avenge her dad’s death, but in the end becoming the personification of greed that she’d set out to oppose.

Susan Hayward – an actress known to friends as “Red” due to her flaming tresses – looks great in Technicolor. Alas, although she later won an Oscar for “I Want to Live,” you’ll find little evidence of such talent in this overblown melodrama.

Robert Preston provides one corner of a love quadrangle – with him, the Indian friend, and the oil baron all vying for Red’s affection. Preston would later star in “The Music Man,” a musical about a charlatan who promises a town he can teach their children to play in a band.

And although you may not recognize his name, co-star Pedro Armendáriz appeared in some 100-plus films, including 007’s “From Russia With Love.”

Chill Wills (later the voice of Francis the Talking Mule) serves as the film’s narrator, offering up an “aw shucks” Will Rogers impression.

Director Stuart’s other films included “The Glass Key” with Alan Ladd, “Along Came Jones” with Gary Cooper, and “Tokyo Joe” with Humphrey Bogart – but his career ended with him working mainly on TV shows.

“Tulsa” itself ends with a spectacular oil field fire. The film received an Oscar nod for its special effects, but lost out to the giant ape adventure, “Mighty Joe Young.”
In these tough economic times – with Exxon Mobil posting windfall profits and gasoline costing north of $4.00 a gallon – oil companies make a perfect villain.

Rick is sure to pick up on that fact as he delivers his typically high-octane comments to accompany tonight’s “Tulsa” showing.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, October 3, 2008

Week of October 3 to October 9

What’s On At The Tropic
By Phil Mann

Everyone knows that Argentina is a cool place to go. You can’t beat a European ambiance and a weak currency. And they make some great films. Did you see the con-game thriller Nine Queens, which the Film Society showed in its old San Carlos days? This week you have a chance to catch the nominee for five Silver Condors (the Argentine Oscar), ELSA AND FRED, a romantic love story about people of a certain age.

It’s described as a December-December romance, which should give you the idea. Fred is an uptight recent widower, ready to draw into his shell. Elsa is a free spirit. Let the games begin.

Speaking of games, there’s nothing like the French director Catherine Breillat for sexual game playing. Her THE LAST MISTRESS takes up the story, based on a novel, of a 19th century French gentleman who tried to be loyal to his wife, but was irresistibly drawn to a ‘bad” woman. Mlle. Breillat’s films are notorious for their explicit sexuality. Romance eschewed getting a rating, because an “unrated” was more marketable than an XXX one. She’s quoted as saying “I am the pariah of French cinema. … Some people refuse even to read my scripts. But it also makes me very happy because hatred is invigorating. All true artists are hated. Only conformists are ever adored.” Yet The Last Mistress is far from porn, and is much loved by the establishment, even getting nominated for a Golden Palm at Cannes. What it is, is a lush period piece on the subject of male sexual obsession, that family-destroying urge that gives men a bad name. I don’t know how many of you are following the hit television series Mad Men, but the male lead in The Last Mistress is really treading the same path as the hero of that series. Some things never change.

As if to prove that point, the Tropic is also continuing its run of ELEGY, the Philip Roth-Ben Kingsley-Penélope Cruz vehicle about a womanizing professor brought down by a November-April affair. Like The Last Mistress, it’s directed by a European woman and features Goya-esque nude images. What’s going on there? Are these directors demonstrably flaunting the power that they have over (straight) men?

Also held over are Werner Herzog’s documentary on Antarctica, ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, and the hugely popular mystery thriller TRANSSIBERIAN, featuring Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer on a train ride almost within sight of Alaska. The Monday night classic this week is an ultra-classic, 8 ½, Fellini’s inside-outside look at filmmaking. And, of course, the Kids Movie series continues every Saturday morning at 12:30, with free films for the young and their older escorts.

Six different movies, from filmmakers in Argentina, France, Italy and America, with settings in Russia, Spain, and the South Pole as well as their own countries. Stories of old love, young love and the bridge between. Documentaries, classics, kids’ movies, and narrative films. What a place! Every day there’s a Film Festival at Key West’s own Tropic Cinema.

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[from Key West, the Newspaper -]

8 1/2 (Rhoades)

“8 1/2” Scores a 10

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Sure, the great surrealist artist Salvador Dali was involved in a few films: He helped Bruñuel with “Un Chien Andalu” (“The Andalusian Dog”). He designed the dream sequence in Hitchcock’s “Spellbound.” He collaborated with Disney on a short animation titled “Distino.” He came up with the drunken fantasy in the old film noir “Moontide.” He was even set to co-star in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s version of “Dune.”
Quite the cinemaphile, that Dali!

I’m a big Dali fan. I have an extensive collection of signed Dali etchings and lithographs on my walls here in Key West.

But for all that, my favorite surrealist filmmaker by far is Frederico Fellini, the Italian director who gave us such masterpieces as “La Strada” and “La Dolce Vita.”

His surrealist classics are, of course, “Juliet of the Spirits” and “8 1/2.”

Turns out, “8 1/2” is showing this Monday night at the Tropic, the latest entry in Mary Sparacio’s series of movies we want to remember.

Like many Fellini films, “8 1/2” is semi-autobiographical. The great Marcello Mastroianni fills Fellini’s shoes, dressed in sunglass and black hat, traditional props associated with the director.

However, Fellini’s friends recount how he often manufactured his own memories “simply for the pleasure of narrating them in his films.” That said, his youthful experiences do play an important role in such films as “I Vitelloni,” “Amarcord,” and “8 1/2.”

The title of “8 1/2” is a reference to this being the 8 1/2 film that Fellini had directed (short films and collaborations rating 1/2 point each).

The plot centers on a Fellini-esque movie director who is suffering from “director’s block,” having trouble finishing an autobiographical film due to burnout and a crumbling marriage. Much of the film consists of flashbacks and dreams that are intertwined with reality. These images take on a baroque quality – worthy of a Sigmund Freud trying to analyze a Dali. Throughout the film we encounter a bizarre parade of dwarfs and ballerinas, old ladies and an angry producer.

Because Fellini himself was suffering from a creative block during the production, “8 1/2” becomes a metafilm, where the story is about the film itself and the audience is privy to an insider’s viewpoint. Other cinematic examples of a metafilm are François Truffaut’s “Day for Night,” Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom,” and Spike Jonze’s “Adaptation.”

“8 1/2” won two Academy Awards and is usually ranked in the top echelons of best-film-ever polls.

Despite the serious nature of the storyline (a creative crisis of a film director), Frederico Fellini is said to have taped a note to himself below the viewfinder on the camera that said, “Remember, this is a comedy.”

[from Solares Hill]

The Last Mistress (Rhoades)

‘Last Mistress’ Teases at Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

When watching a screener DVD of “The Last Mistress” – a costume drama about love and intrigue in 18th Century France – my guests were quite taken with the androgynous looks of the lead actor, a startlingly beautiful young man with the facial symmetry of a Calvin Klein model and the puffy lips of a male Angelina Jolie.

“The Last Mistress” opens today at the Tropic Cinema. The French title is actually “Une Vieille Maîtresse,” therefore some references call the movie by its more literal translation, “An Old Mistress.”

At the screening, both my women and gay friends were enthralled with the lead actor’s looks – although I found it a bit disconcerting that the actor was so much prettier than his co-star.
Newcomer Fu’ad Ait Aattou is cast as the handsome roué about to marry a chaste noblewoman after having squandered his fortunes on a fiery Spanish mistress. This mistress is intensely portrayed by Asia Argento (daughter of Italian horror director Dario Argento).

Based on Jules-Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly’s scandalous 19th-century novel, “The Last Mistress” is actually a story within a story. This notorious libertine confesses to his wife-to-be’s grandmother all the sordid details of his ten-year affair with his mistress. This, we are given to understand, is done to assure her that his wanton ways are behind him – but as he describes the tempestuous relationship with his mistress it becomes clear that he will never quite escape the power of her magnetic pull.

Falling for the Spanish-born wife of a local aristocrat upon first meeting, he pursues her until he’s shot in a duel by her jealous husband, and then finds the spitfire throwing herself at him.
French director Catherine Breillat is known for her distinctively personal films dealing with sexuality, gender trouble and sibling rivalry.

The Breillat touch is perhaps most visible in “The Last Mistress” in the graphic love-making scenes between libertine and mistress, typically featuring “much nudity and specificity of physical detail.”

Her film’s theme offers a familiar mantra. One of the characters puts it this way: “In love, the first to suffer has lost.”

As for her handsome young star, she found him sitting in a Parisian restaurant and invited him to audition for the lead in “The Last Mistress.” As she recalls the encounter, “I needed someone who represented an ideal of male beauty, someone who looked like a Renaissance painting. At the moment when I despaired of ever finding him, I saw a young man in a crowded cafe, and knew immediately that he was the one.”

Ait Aattou hopes that “The Last Mistress” will lead to other acting roles. But he worries that his modeling will be held against him, that he won’t be considered “a real actor” because of it.
Maybe, maybe not.

But I suspect there’s an audience out there who will attend his movies just to feast on his ethereal good looks.
[from Solares Hill]