Sunday, November 30, 2008

Week of Nov. 28 thru Dec. 4 (Mann)

What's On At the Tropic
By Phil Mann

This week's offerings are making me nostalgic. Next spring marks the tenth anniversary of the Key West Film Society. Back in the Society's first year, one of its first films was The Celebration, a very creative, but excruciating, movie about a family reunion that becomes a disaster when some family members bring up inconvenient truths. RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, now running at the Tropic, reminds me of that earlier film.

The Celebration was an experimental movie (Dogma 95, if you remember that), shot handheld with no supplemental lighting, and the Film Society showed it with rickety 16mm projectors and a sound system so bad the audience was happy that it was subtitled. RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, on the other hand, profits from the Tropic's A-level 35mm projection system and Dolby digital sound. It features a bona fide movie star, Anne Hathaway, and was directed by one of America's premier directors, Jonathan Demme. But it is also full of handheld shots, minimal lighting and an absence of background musical distraction.

And the story has a similar harrowing quality. We, the audience that is, join a family welcoming their errant daughter home on furlough from rehab to attend the wedding of her sister. We're at the rehearsal dinner and the wedding itself, squirming all the while as this troubled woman shows how vulnerable a family's dynamics are to the behavior of its least accommodating member. It is an event and a process with which we can all identify. Hathaway's performance is so real it's difficult not to jump to the screen and throttle her. She has come a long way from her origins in the Disney Princess Diaries, and is highly touted for an Oscar nomination.

More nostalgia. This spring will also be the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Tropic. Which brings to mind the early fund-raising parties when the founders set out a group of proposed theater seats and solicited patron preferences. Among the choices, tongue-in-cheek, was a wooden replica of an electric chair with straps and other essentials. It was really a prop from a local movie being shot in the empty warehouse that would become the theater. Well, that movie has finally made it to the screen, and it will premiere at the Tropic next Tuesday. LUCID is the project of local filmmakers Chris Shultz and Mike Marrero, and it was worth the wait. If you want to know the plot, check out You'll love the cast, with locals including Richard Grusin, Peter Downie, Robin Deck, Gordon Ross, George Murphy and Rock Solomon. And, trust me, you'll love the movie, too.

Also, premiering next week is the first in a series TUESDAYS WITH ART, movies about art and artists curated by Deborah Goldman and Joel Blair. The series is the offshoot of a day-long art-movie fest sponsored by Goldman at the Tropic last year. With the encouragement of the Film Society and some generous sponsorship, this series will run on the first Tuesday of every month throughout the winter season. This year's theme is kinetic sculpture, and it opens with two films about Alexander Calder. The series is free and open to the public, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. A social gathering and discussion will follow the screening.

More info and schedules at Comments to
[from Key West, the newspaper -]

Tuesdays with Art - Kinetic Sculpture (Rhoades)

Not Art Films, But Films About Art

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I have two colorful lithographs by Alexander Calder hanging in my family room amid an array of Haitian paintings. It’s amazing how well these pieces of modern art blend with the primary colors of those primitive paintings.

Of course, Calder is better known for his kinetic sculptures, particularly mobiles and other things that dingle-dangle in the name of art.

But don’t take my word for it. Go see “Kinetic Sculpture,” a pair of films about Alexander Calder that are playing this coming Tuesday at the Tropic Cinema. This is the first session of “Tuesdays With Art,” a six-month series of movies about notable artists.

Sponsored by the Key West Film Society, these films will be shown on the first Tuesday of the month through May 5, 2009. These movies start at 5:30 p.m., followed by a lively discussion about the movie and the artist, concluding with an informal social hour in the lobby of The Tropic.

Admission is free and open to the public.

The December 2 session features two films that cover Cirque Calder (“Calder’s Circus”) in the late ’20s, his invention of the mobile in the early ’30s, and his later creation of stabiles.
In addition to kinetic sculptures, Calder created toys, tapestries, jewelry, paintings, even carpets.
Known to his friends as “Sandy,” he represented the third generation of sculptors in his family, each of them named Alexander Calder.

Receiving a degree in 1919 from Stevens Institute of Technology, he worked in a number of engineering jobs before deciding to apply his drafting and hydraulics skills to art.
His public works became famous. His monumental stabile “La Grande Vitesse,” located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the first public work of art in the United States to be funded with federal monies.

His WTC Stabile (also known as “The Cockeyed Propeller”) that stood in front of 7 World Trade Center was destroyed during the 9/11 attack.

In 2003, nearly 30 years after his death, one of his sculptures was sold for $5.2 million at a Christie's auction in New York.

See, there will be lots to talk about after the movie.

[from Solares Hill]

Rachel Getting Married (Rhoades)

‘Rachel Getting Married’ Is Like a Wedding Video

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Years ago I used to have lunch in a little diner just off Mulberry Street near New York’s Little Italy, its walls festooned with posters paying homage to films by director Jonathan Demme, his nephew Ted, and Jim Jarmusch. These up-from-the-streets filmmakers often ate there when in the neighborhood. I’d sometimes see one or the other at the counter, chatting with the owners and waitresses about his latest movie.

Sitting there amid posters and memorabilia for “Silence of the Lambs,” “Philadelphia,” “Something Wild,” “Beautiful Girls,” and “Mystery Train,” I’d order a fat meatball sandwich and eavesdrop on their conversations. Mostly small talk about actors and studios and fans.
Jonathan Demme’s latest film – a slice-of-life drama called “Rachel Getting Married” – is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

‘Rachel Getting Married’ is not really about Rachel. It’s more about her sister Kym who comes home during the weekend of Rachel’s wedding. Kym is the Prodigal Daughter (to adjust the phrase) who’s been estranged from the family for years while wrestling with her own personal demons. Fresh out of rehab, she flits into the Connecticut household with the subtly of a tornado. Her return throws off the precarious balance of family dynamics with both heartbreaking and hilarious results.

At one point she sarcastically refers to herself as “Shiva the Destroyer.” It’s an apt metaphor.
No, Ann Hathaway isn’t a Disney princess in this movie, as she adroitly tries on the skin of self-destructive sister Kym. It’s been called “a breakthrough performance.”
Rosemarie DeWitt makes a great Rachel, exhibiting an understandable sense of resentment as her outrageous sister steals the spotlight from the impending nuptials.

Debra Winger is the film’s surprise casting, playing against type to give us a remote mother who is emotionally disconnected from her family.

With “Rachel Getting Married” Demme uses a home-video style that at first seems appropriate for this family drama – but after a while you long for the polished professionalism of a Hollywood cinematographer with a steadicam.

The script by Jenny Lumet displays insight into the relationships between sisters. Jenny is the daughter of acclaimed director Sidney Lumet. And as sister of sound editor Amy Lumet, she’s got some experience with this subject matter.

The film’s interracial marriage is hardly an eyebrow-raiser these days, audiences long past the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” era. And it’s not a surprising plot element, considering that Lumet’s grandmother is legendary Lena Horne.

Demme has said he’d rather do documentaries than work with actors. An odd attitude for a guy who has directed seven Oscar-nominated performances – with four wins (Jodie Foster, Mary Steenburgen, Anthony Hopkins, and Tom Hanks).

In “Rachel Getting Married,” Hathaway, DeWitt, and Winger each give memorable performances. Although brief, Winger’s role is particularly mesmerizing.

This movie is like watching a home movie about a dysfunctional family. Being a wedding video, you know it’s a big occasion for everyone involved. However, sitting through “Rachel Getting Married” is vaguely uncomfortable, like watching family members fight in front of you.
[from Solares Hill]

Lucid (Rhoades)

‘Lucid’ Offers Devil of a Premiere at Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A devilish problem for moviemakers: There’s a Bible Belt out there that hates Halloween, eschews “Harry Potter” because it’s about witches, and boycotts movies that have satanic themes.

Years ago when I was launching Cricket, a literary magazine for kids, I could count on getting tons of reader complaints whenever I ran a classic story like Stephen Vincent Benét’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster.”

Sure, there have been some successful devil movies – from “Rosemary’s Baby” to “Damn Yankees” – but actor-director Alec Baldwin found out the hard way when he tried to produce a movie version of “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” with Anthony Hopkins as ol’ Daniel and Jennifer Love Hewitt as a beautiful Devil. No, you’ve never seen it, because the production ran out of money and nobody would pony up the funds for a devil movie.

Undaunted by such red-states mentality, Key West writer/director Michael Marrero, producer Christopher Shultz, and writer/actor John Crawford spent seven long years bringing their devil-themed movie to the big screen.

You can catch a world premiere showing of “Lucid” next Tuesday night at the Tropic Cinema. The screening starts at 8 p.m. but you’ll want to get there an hour or so earlier to meet members of the cast and crew. No, Lucifer himself won’t be there, but the actor stand-in will be!

Filmed entirely in Key West, the cast includes such familiar faces as Richard Grusin, George Murphy, Michael “Gigzy” Fisher, Robin Deck, Michael “Champ” Jolly, and Rob Edaragin, among many others.

Despite all those years in the making, the arrival of “Lucid” is well timed – immediately following the US presidential elections – for the film is about an election between God and the Devil, each vying for the title of Ultimate Supreme Being.

In this alternate universe where God and the Devil are competing for your vote, a man called Pope (ably played by local bartender Justin Bowden) is busily collecting souls in order to ransom back his comatose wife’s life.

Like any proper election, “Lucid” opens with a debate between the two candidates. Political issues range from euthanasia to capital punishment.

“Thou Shall Not Kill,” says God

“An Eye for an Eye,” counters the Devil

“Lucid” features several films within the film, campaign promos where the candidates deliver “paid” messages, either pro-abortion or anti-killing depending on which deity is approving the message.

Co-scripted by Mike Marrero and John Crawford, with an assist by Chris Shultz, “Lucid” went through more than a dozen rewrites. The film was completely reshot more than once, with only 10 seconds of the original production remaining in this final version.

All the effort – the rewrites, the reshoots, the shouting matches, and near-fistfights – paid off. “Lucid” is a highly original film.

The acting is quite good, the parts well cast. John Crawford plays God with the zeal of a tent-show revivalist, while Jennifer Cohen portrays the Devil as a smiling dark-eyed temptress. Justin Bowden, with his short-cropped hair, engaging British accent, and commanding physicality, makes a perfect protagonist, a man beleaguered by his soul-collecting mission. Jed Sloe is convincing as a Bible-thumping minister. Gordon Ross is smooth-as-silk as the moderator of the election debates. Thirteen-year-old Hannah Holbrook proves herself a natural as a precocious blonde orphan. And Chris Shultz delivers an enthusiastic cameo as Dr. Giggles, a bloodied popeyed agent of the Devil.

“The film doesn’t fall into any one genre,” Mike Marrero told me as we chatted at the White Tarpon where Chris Shultz bartends as a day job.

True enough. You’ll at times be reminded of “Angel Heart” or “Jacob’s Ladder” or “Barton Fink.” Yet its sense of humor and streaks of irony give it a deliberate “Evil Dead” tone.

In addition to writing and directing duties, Marrero also served as the film’s cinematographer, proving to have a good eye for composition, a talent for lighting, and a sure-fire sense of the grotesque.

David Berman, a film school pal of Chris Shultz, edited “Lucid” with a professional hand, a final cut that often startles the audience with the juxtapositioning of sinister and comical sequences.

The original score was composed by Harry Pierce and Rock Solomon, fortified with such old standards as “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea.”

“Lucid” is Marrero’s third outing as a filmmaker, his first two films being shorts called “Southernmost Point” and “Square Grouper.” This is Shultz’s first feature film.

The two thirtysomethings are products of their generation – Steven Spielberg fans. Despite diverse backgrounds – Mike a born-in-Key-West Conch of Cuban heritage, Chris a Nordic type from Minnesota – both grew up watching “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” films.

Having studied photography at FSU, Marrero describes himself as a filmmaker, painter, and writer. Sitting there at the White Tarpon, wearing a porkpie hat and checkered shirt, he has a jovial air about him, relaxed amid these familiar surroundings. On the other side of the bar is Shultz, slender and blond, a graduate of Emerson College where he received a degree in film. And there in spirit was the long-absent Crawford, the New Orleans-based engineer who co-scripted the film with Marrero and plays the role of God.

The boys admit that during the film’s production tension among them was palpable. According to production notes, “it is learned that while Shultz has a temper, it is no match for the thick head of Marrero.”

The blow-by-blow description of making the film can be found at: – an interesting read in itself.

While some movies carry a disclaimer stating no animals were injured in the making of the film, Mike and Chris point out that eight friends, one chicken, and two dogs died during their seven years of producing “Lucid.” You’ll see them remembered in the film’s credits.

The end credits also acknowledge that the film’s creators “may have damaged brain cells during making of this movie.” Like I said earlier, you’d have to be crazy to make a devil movie.

Was it worth it? “You bet,” says Mike Marrero.

Was the final film anything like he expected? “Not a chance in hell,” he shakes his head wryly. “The film directed itself.”

Hey, I expected him to say the devil made him do it.

[from Solares Hill]

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Week of November 21 to November 27 (Mann)

What’s On At The Tropic
By Phil Mann

Things are really revving up at the Tropic for the coming holiday season. Thanksgiving turns the cinema world topsy-turvy with new films opening next week on Wednesday rather than the usual Friday. So you’ve got to pay careful attention to the schedule if you don’t want to miss some great entertainment.

Okay, let’s go. Today (Friday, Nov. 21) is opening day for two new comedies. HAPPY-GO-LUCKY is director Mike Leigh’s latest. This British filmmaker is best known for more serious fare. Secrets and Lies starred Brenda Blythen as a working-class white woman whose past is exposed when a baby she gave up for adoption years early traces her down. The grown child is a successful black woman. Vera Drake starred Imelda Staunton as a beneficent abortionist (in the pre-legal days) whose life and family is torn apart when the police close in. I mention this background because it reminds us of how Leigh has a history of getting spellbinding performances from actors playing “ordinary” women. Vanity Fair has called him the "the bearded bard of social realism" In HAPPY-GO-LUCKY he continues his string with a comic turn. Sally Hawkins (who had a small role in Vera Drake) plays a cock-eyed optimist who cheers everyone around her, even such persons as a driving instructor who channels his road rage against her when she is his student. She’s just what we all need today. As the Baltimore Sun reviewer says, “it’s the first great comedy for our new depression.” It’ll be running through December 4.

The other new comedy is I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND. Don’t be misled. This Czech film has nothing to do with the King of England, or indeed England at all. Jan is a restaurant server whose peripatetic career takes him to a luxury bordello-hotel that turns into a breeding ground for Aryans during WW II, and on from there. It’s got subtitles, but don’t let that discourage you. With much of the humor visual, you’ll recall Chaplin or Jacques Tati as you watch this Oscar-nominated confection. ALERT: You’ve only got five days to see it, because its running until next Tuesday.

On Wednesday, this Czech comedy makes way for an American one, WHAT JUST HAPPENED, starring Robert DeNiro as Ben, a harassed Hollywood producer whose wife is leaving him and whose new leading actor, Bruce Willis (playing himself), is freaking out. With Catherine Keener as a vicious studio head, John Turturro as Willis’ agent, and Sean Penn as the star of Ben’s last, and failed, film; the cast has the indie film cred to skewer the industry, and it does. Barry Levinson is the director here, expanding his comedy oeuvre after Wag the Dog. The reviewers have been mixed on it, but I have to agree with the San Francisco Chronicle: What Just Happened “makes Hollywood look like a very expensive, lethal version of high school, but lots of fun from a safe distance.”

Also opening on Wednesday is RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, with Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries, Becoming Jane, The Devil Wears Prada) as a young woman on a weekend furlough from alcohol rehab to attend… and mess up… her sister’s wedding. This is an acting breakthrough role for Hathaway, generating much buzz about a Best Actor nomination. It’ll be playing for a while, so I’ll save it for next week’s column. But you’ve been tipped off; Oscar is looking on.

Full schedule and details at Comments to
[from Key West, the newspaper -]

Happy-Go-Lucky (Rhoades)

‘Happy-Go-Lucky’ Is More Happy Than Lucky

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Remember that orgiastic scene in “When Harry Met Sally” where the woman at the next table said, “I’ll have whatever she’s having”? Well, that’s the way I felt about Poppy, the irrepressibly optimistic Londoner in “Happy-Go-Lucky” – the delightful comedy that’s opening today at the Tropic Cinema.

If they could bottle her enthusiasm, I’d take a case or two.
Poppy may as well have been named Pollyanna, for she’s the most optimistic gal to hit the screens since Halley Mills.

This new Mike Leigh film follows a goofy 30-year-old primary school teacher over a two-week period during which time she learns to drive, takes dancing lessons, encounters a homeless man, and has an affair with a social worker.

This is not so much a story as a personality sketch, a portrait of, well, a happy-go-lucky young woman.

You may find Poppy a bit much in the beginning. She’s loud, boisterous, makes awful jokes, and is so bubbly that you want to strangle her. She’s got a laugh that will drive you crazy … until you find yourself laughing with her.

Sally Hawkins delivers a star-turn performance as Poppy. She won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival. And there’s Oscar buzz.

You’ve probably seen her in previous Mike Leigh films, “Vera Drake” and “All or Nothing.” His other biggies was “Secrets & Lies.” None of those offer the lighthearted comedy that he gives us with “Happy-Go-Lucky.”

The film won Mike Leigh a Bringer of Joy Award at the Norwegian International Film Festival, an honor bestowed by theater owners. All the more satisfying because you don’t generally think of him as making happy films.

And truth be told, under the surface, “Happy-Go-Lucky” is a somewhat depressing film. Leigh likes to get his social digs in, particularly in portraying the middle class as “grasping, shallow, materialistic snobs.” And Poppy’s bubbly spirit is really a fun-house mirror that reminds us of 
our own innate cynicism.

Some moviegoers have compared “Happy-Go-Lucky” to “Amelie,” another film about an upbeat, eccentric young lady who manages to charm the audience. But everybody doesn’t agree. There a blog about “Happy-Go-Lucky” that is titled “Most Annoying Film Character Ever ….”
Love her or hate her, Poppy displays an exuberant personality. The secret here is that you come to discover that she’s more than a mindless buffoon. She’s caring, kind, and has a sadness all her own. Just like you and me.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, November 14, 2008

Week of November 14 to November 20 (Mann)

What’s On At The Tropic
by Phil Mann

When is a movie theater not a movie theater? When it’s an opera hall. When it’s a ballet stage. When it’s a rock venue. That’s the Tropic.

Last Wednesday saw the opening of the new Tropic opera season with the Teatro La Fenice production of Rossini’s BARBIERE DI SEVIGLIA, with the sexy Rinat Shaham as Rosina. That opera will return for an encore matinee next Wednesday at 2:00pm. It’s only the first of a series from the great opera venues of Europe – including La Scala, the Glyndebourne Festival and the Salzburg Festival, all specially filmed in high definition with surround sound, and all with English subtitles.

You’ll shortly be hearing of the winter ballet season, with dance from the Kirov and Bolshoi companies, among others. So dust off your tux for some high culture on Eaton Street.

But if your taste runs to the other end of the music spectrum, how about THE WHO, live in concert from Gaumont State Theater in Kilburn, North London in December, 1977. Filmed in connection with the making of the documentary The Kids Are All Right, it was one of the last performances of the original group. Drummer Keith Moon died the next year. The footage was never edited for release until now, when a new DVD has been prepared for sale later this month. Thanks to the Tropic’s partnership with Emerging Pictures, they’re able to present this preview showing on the big screen in the Carper. It’s Roger Daltry, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon, in high def and surround sound, larger than life. One show only at 10:00pm on Saturday.

Did I mention that both these shows will be projected with the Carper Theater’s new $25,000 Panasonic 3-chip DLP projector, which blasts a brighter image with blacker blacks and richer color on the 25-foot screen? It’s a fact.

Meanwhile, on the 35mm movie front, the new-classic western APPALOOSA brings Ed Harris and Vigo Mortensen to the screen as iconic Western figures, a team of itinerant lawmen hired to take on a corrupt and rapacious rancher, played by Jeremy Irons. Do you need to know more? Okay, there’s also Renee Zellweger as the femme who turns Harris’ eye, to the bemusement of his buddy. Based on a novel by Robert B. Parker, which supplies much of the snappy dialogue as well as the plot, this is a movie for anyone who loves the genre. As Variety might put it, it’s an “old-school oater,” with the clash between obvious good and evil, shootouts, tough guys of both ilks, and a pretty girl. And it’s all beautifully photographed, and directed with cool economy by Harris. As the Baltimore Sun puts it, “the tang of good old-fashioned Westerns only improves with time. Appaloosa, a story of two lawmen who clean up the title town at some personal cost, goes down like a single-malt aged for 25 years.”

For Mary Sparacio’s Monday night classic, she’s picked WILD STRAWBERRIES, one the trio of films from the fifties (along with Smiles of a Summer Night and The Seventh Seal) that established Ingmar Bergman as a master. From the time it was released, just over fifty years ago, critics have always seen parallels in the film to Bergman’s own life. With his death last summer, it’s an appropriate time for another viewing.

Full details and info at Comments to
[from Key West, the newspaper -]

The Who (Rhoades]

Who Wants to Hear ‘The Who’? – I Do!

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Every Monday night, that popular TV show “CSI: Miami” blasts out its theme song – “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Old rock ’n rollers will recognize it as a ’70s anthem by The Who.
The Who consisted of guitarist Pete Townshend (he wrote “Won’t Get Fooled Again”), drummer Keith Moon, bassist John Entwistle, and lead singer Roger Daltrey. This Brit band was known for its energetic live performances, which often included smashing guitars on stage. For years they were listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for giving the “loudest concert ever” – 126 dB, measured at a distance of 32 meters from the speakers at a 1976 concert.

The Who has sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide. In 1990 they were voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I once asked my old pal Terry Stewart, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, about The Who, the group having reformed in 1999 as a five-piece band with John “Rabbit” Bundrick on keyboards and Zak Starkey (Ringo’s son) on drums. Terry just shook his head and muttered, “It sure ain’t the seventies.”

If you weren’t part of the ’70s music scene, you missed some memorable performances by The Who. And those endless reunion tours just aren’t the same, for Keith Moon died of an overdose in 1978 and drugs got Pete Entwistle in 2002.

As close as you’ll come to reliving those glory days is by catching a special showing of “The Who at Kilburn: 1977” this Saturday night at the Tropic Cinema.

This never-before-released concert footage was shot for Jeff Stein’s documentary “The Kids Are Alright,” but sat unused in The Who’s vault for 30 years.

At the time, the off-and-on band had been on hiatus for more than a year, but were persuaded to reassemble at the Gaumont State Theatre in North London on December 15, 1977. Filmed before a live audience, it has been described as Keith Moon’s “penultimate live performance.”
Townshend is a crazy man here, bouncing around the stage, banging his head with his Les Paul, wrapping himself in his guitar cord, and going off on a guy who dares to touch his guitar picks during the rendition of “My Wife.”

Shot with six cameras on 35mm, the angles jump around a bit (but so do the performers). The good news: this vintage footage has been digitally restored and the audio tracks have been completely remastered. Ear blasting!

And if you like the Tropic’s presentation, the DVD will be released on November 18th.
“The Who at Kilburn: 1977” features such favorites tunes as “Behind Blue Eyes,” “My Generation,” “Happy Jack,” “Dreaming From the Waist,” “I’m Free,” “Pinball Wizard,” … oh yes, and that familiar “CSI: Miami” theme song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
[from Solares Hill]

Appaloosa (Rhoades)

‘Appaloosa’ Gallops Into the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Being that I’m a big fan of writer Robert B. Parker, one year my wife scoured scores of used book dealers and presented me with a full set of first editions of all his books. Many were signed, but some weren’t. So when we heard that Parker was making an appearance at New York’s Mysterious Bookshop we showed up with a shopping bag of unsigned books in hand.
A big mustachioed man with a few too many pounds around his middle, he eyed my stack of books and whispered, “I’m only supposed to autograph my new mystery, but if we hurry maybe the store won’t notice.”

He signed them all.

Parker is best known for his Boston-based Spencer private eye novels. He sees himself as carrying on the tradition of Raymond Chandler. I even have a copy of Parker’s college dissertation – “The Violent Hero, Wilderness Heritage and Urban Reality,” an examination of the writings of Raymond Chandler. And he was chosen by the author’s estate to complete “Poodle Springs,” an unfinished Chandler novel.

Surprisingly enough, Robert B. Parker has also written a handful of light Westerns. Filled with sparse Hemingwayesque dialogue, short in length, but capturing a certain essence of the Old West, they’re good reads.

One of them – “Appaloosa” – caught the imagination of actor Ed Harris. He liked the book because “it was constructed like a classic Western, but included crime themes still relevant to contemporary society.” No Clint Eastwood revisionist Westerns for Harris, he liked those old classics like “My Darling Clementine” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

He passed the book to Viggo Mortensen, whom he’d enjoyed starring with in “History of Violence,” and asked him to play the buddy role. Mortensen liked the “relationship dynamic between the two characters” and said yes.

Harris decided to direct, his second time at a film’s helm (first being his award-winning “Pollock”). He assembled a strong cast that included Lance Hendrickson and Diane Lane. But the production stalled when studios checked the numbers, citing few Western hits in recent years.

The success of HBO’s “Deadwood” series and the remake of “3:10 to Yuma” turned things around, but by then Diane Lane had dropped out and Renée Zellweger had signed on.
A classic story, “Appaloosa” tells about two friends who hire on as lawmen committed to taming an unruly 1880s cowboy town. The murderous bad guy is played by Jeremy Irons.
Harris gives a good Gary Cooper-ish performance, Mortensen is super cool, and Henriksen (to quote one reviewer) is a “god amongst men.”

This is a traditional Western, a satisfying return to yesteryear for those of us who grew up on such movies as “High Noon” and “Rio Bravo” and the original “3:10 to Yuma.”

Yes, for an eastern tenderfoot, Robert B. Parker spins a pretty good Western yarn.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, November 7, 2008

Weekof November 7 to November 13 (Mann)

What’s Up At The Tropic
By Phil Mann

You know Bill Maher from his long-time Comedy Central talk show, Politically Incorrect. That show was cancelled in 2002 following a brouhaha over Maher’s disagreement with the President’s labeling the 9/11 terrorists as “cowards.” The administration warned that people like him “had to watch what they say,” presaging the Bush-Cheney general disdain for civil liberties. But he was back on the air a few months later with a new HBO show (Real Time with Bill Maher) and now he has brought his irreverence to the big screen with RELIGULOUS. Thank God for the First Amendment.

Let’s make one thing very clear. The Bush-McCain-Palin base would not approve of this movie. But God must be a good sport, because the movie skewers him (her/it?) worse than a Tina Fey impersonation of Governor Palin. The format is simple. Maher travels around the world meeting with religious figures, mostly quirky types, while drilling them on the error of their ways. The interviewees range from Jesus – as played by a young man at the Holy Land Experience amusement park in Orlando – to a dissident priest at the Vatican – who reminds me of Father Guido Sarducci. Maher covers Christians, Muslims and Jews, the holy non-Asian trio, with equal contempt. He didn’t make it to Hindu or Buddist lands, but there’s not much doubt they would fare no better, because the theme is clearly anti-deist… and very funny in Bill Maher’s unique way. It’s just the thing to celebrate last Tuesday’s election-bashing of the religious right.

If you’re looking for more-serious fare, check out FROZEN RIVER, the richly rewarding story of two down-and-out single mothers struggling to make a life in the bleak winter-cold of northern New York. Desperation and events lead them into smuggling immigrants across the frozen border river from Canada. The plot is inherently tense, and the characters – Melissa Leo (21 Grams, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) and Misty Upham – are real. This is the kind of slice-of-life movie that only independent filmmakers produce. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. See it.

This week also marks the relaunching of the Tropic’s opera season, with a classic crowd-pleaser, THE BARBER OF SEVILLE. It’s a new production from the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, specially filmed in high definition with surround sound. Opera-lovers need no intro, but if you’re interested in a taste of opera on the big screen, this would be a good one to try. It’s relatively brief (2 ½ hours), has a comic twist, and of course contains some of the world’s best-known music. All sung in the original Italian, but fully subtitled in English for the American audience. Get a little culture! Note, by the way, that the opera series has been moved to Wednesdays. There will be an evening performance at 7:00 on November 12 in the Carper Theater, and an encore matinee in The George on November 19.

Talking about culture, get ready for next weekend at the Tropic. THE WHO is coming on Saturday, November 15 at 10:00pm in a never-released live concert film from their 1977 concert at Kilburn, England. Tickets on sale now at

More info and tickets at
[from Key West, the Newspaper -]

Frozen River (Rhoades)

‘Frozen River’ Thaws Hearts At the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Here’s a Christmas movie that’s about as bleak as a Charles Dickens carol gone bad.

In Courtney Hunt’s directing debut, she takes us to the edge of the frozen St. Lawrence River where illegal immigrants are smuggled across the ice in the winter. Hence, the film’s title: “Frozen River.” It opens today at the Tropic Cinema.

“Frozen River” focuses on two trailer-trash single moms -- one white and the other Mohawk – involved in secreting aliens across an unsecured border point between a New York Indian reservation and Quebec. Things are tough, with families living on popcorn and powdered juice, worrying that the rent-to-own TV is about to be repossessed, and facing a Christmas without presents for the kids.

Melissa Leo (“Mr. Woodcock,” “Righteous Kill”) takes on the role of an abandoned fortysomething woman with little prospects, other than being a minor cog in an underground railway transporting illegals into the US. Her performance is getting Oscar buzz.
From the opening scene – a straight-on shot of her face registering Grapes-of-Wrath depression – you know this is going to be a memorable film.

“Frozen River” won the Grand Jury Prize at 2008’s Sundance Film Festival. And has picked up six other festival wins so far.

Missy Upham (“Skins”) chopped off her waist-length hair and gained 40 pounds to portray the second woman, a Native American who has an even tougher life. A new widow with a one-year-old child she steals a car abandoned by the first woman’s runaway husband and gets her involved in the smuggling racket rather than give it back.

Determined to close down this human contraband route is Trooper Finnerty, a dogged Javert ably played by Michael O’Keefe (“The Glass House”).

Where did director-writer Courtney Hunt come up with this off-the-beaten-track story? “My husband comes from a little town up in that region of the world,” she says. “Smuggling has been going on there since Prohibition … liquor, cigarettes, at this point illegals. And then I learned women where involved in it and I thought that was kinda crazy. So I went and met some women smugglers and talked to them about how they did it and why the did it, and kinda went from there.”

Hunt elaborates: “It’s a pretty bold thing to do, to drive across a mile-wide frozen river that’s probably a hundred feet deep with a fast moving current y’know in your car. So that alone, it says daring. And you think more of men smugglers doing that. I don’t necessarily think of women doing that, but that they did I think is kinda interesting.”

“Frozen River” explores the cultural differences of two diverse women stuck inside a car together. “It’s an awkwardness we’ll feel more and more as the world gets smaller,” she observes. “Americans are so insular, but so are the Mohawks.”

Ultimately what connects the characters is their motherly instincts. “Probably the most important thing that’s happen to me in my life is that I had a baby.” Observes Hunt. “When you have a child everything shifts.” She feels this is true of every culture and every person, a commonality that can bring us together.

The director’s message? That we should look beyond assumptions about other people. “When we drive down the road outside New York City and we see trailers and you think you know who lives inside,” she says. “I think we all feel like, oh, I know, they didn’t quite get the money thing together, maybe there’s a little addiction going on, you make these assumptions … I guess I wanted the film to show, yeah, that may be true, but it doesn’t mean that’s all for the people, the working poor, that are living in these trailers. There’s heroism there, there’s grace there, there’s compassion there, and it may come in a little bit of a funny package but that doesn’t make it any less valuable.”

Because this is a grim and gritty Christmas Carol, the film ultimately offers redemption for these two desperate housewives. Some hard-hearted critics reject the film’s happy ending, preferring to see the characters crash in a downward spiral of despair.

Not me. I like to hold out hope for the human spirit, no matter how small.
[from Solares Hill]

Monday, November 3, 2008

Religulous (Rhoades)

‘Religulous’ Proudly Offends the Pious

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Bill Maher is still politically incorrect. This time, having the audacity to question (gasp!) religion.

In these conservative times, with red states embracing that Ol’ Time Religion, it takes a pair of brass, uh, monkeys to take on God, Allah, Buddha, et al. in one acerbic documentary. Nary a world religion is safe from Maher, a self-declared atheist.

Maher’s documentary “Religulous” opens today at the Tropic Cinema. Viewers might want to wear asbestos underwear in case they are struck down by lightning as they exit the theater.
Yes, funnyman and political satirist Bill Maher skewers religions one by one like a Don Quixote seeking out pious dragons. Watchers of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” will not be surprised, for his show is rife with rants against organized religion – which he blames for everything from wars to warts.

With an Irish Catholic father and a Jewish mother, Maher can cast stones with a certain degree of accuracy. Although raised as a Catholic, he quickly got over it.

While attending Cornell University, he gave stand-up comedy a try. After becoming a regular at Catch a Rising Star in New York, he was invited to do his routine on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” That led to his own show – aptly called “Politically Incorrect” – on Comedy Central. This roundtable of political observations was so successful that ABC picked up the show in 1997. However, after making controversial remarks about America and 9/11, his show was abruptly cancelled “for low ratings.” Fortunately, HBO was waiting in the wings.
The title “Religulous” is supposedly a play on the word “ridiculous.” One evangelistic website referred to it as “The How Much Blasphemy Can We Place in One Movie, Movie.” Deeply offended True Believers call Maher’s message “The Gospel of Atheism.”

To counter, Maher describes “Religulous” as a “nonfiction film about the greatest fiction ever told.”

“It’s certainly a doubter’s view,” he clarifies.

Directed by Larry Charles (“Borat,” TV’s “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), the documentary’s working title was “A Spiritual Journey.” One rightwing wag suggested that the journey Mr. Maher should make is straight to hell.

“We went everywhere,” laughs Maher. “We went to everyplace where there’s religion. We went to Vatican City, we went to Jerusalem, and we went to Salt Lake City. You know I think we’ve insulted everybody.”

When my son helped film an educational video starring Bill Maher, he was taking on everybody on the set. He yelled at his assistant for not bringing him a fat-free muffin. He growled at the cameraman for getting a bad angle of his nose. He insulted the assistant director by referring to her as “babe.” He’s a take-no-prisoners kind of guy.

Some people are comparing “Religulous” to such Michael Moore documentaries as “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko.” Although flattered, Maher coyly shrugs off the compliment. “I’d never compare myself to Michael Moore, ’cause first of all he’s a genius,” says the comedian. But when people see this documentary, he points out, “they laugh so hard because the topic of religion is just so inherently funny”

Perhaps a better comparison for Maher’s doc would be Ben Stein’s “Expelled,” a look at the exclusion of creationist thought in public schools. Seeing how Stein made a bundle promoting a religious viewpoint, Maher figured he might do just as well taking the opposite side: putting down religions.

If you go to the movie’s website, you’ll see Maher’s face burnt onto a piece of toast, just like one of those “miracle images” that bring big bucks on eBay. And appropriately enough, you’ll find a link to a website called

Larry Charles describes the movie this way: “We talk to clergy, extremists, scholars, politicians, ex-cons, the man on the street and even the man upstairs (that’s right, we interview God).”

How’s that for marquee value?

“I wanted to make a documentary, and I wanted it to be funny,” says Maher. “In fact, since there is nothing more ridiculous than the ancient mythological stories that live on as today’s religions, this movie would try to be a real knee slapper.”

He adds, “Unless, of course, you’re religious, then you might not like it.”
[from Solares Hill]

The House of Adam (Rhoades)

“House of Adam” Is Mysterious Place

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Jorge Ameer’s film “The House of Adam” is a murder mystery. No, it’s a romance. No, it’s a ghost story.

This gender bender indie – which opens today at the Tropic Cinema – defies classification. So does its director. When questioned about his gay-themed movies, he quietly describes himself as “sexual.”

If you force Jorge to describe “The House of Adam,” he’ll call it a “romantic thriller,” but you can tell he hates putting tags on his films.

Ask him yourself: Jorge will be here on Sunday and Monday to introduce his film and answer questions from the audience. (To give you some background for this Q&A, read the accompanying interview I did with Jorge.)

Also, keep in mind that tonight’s opening is a fundraiser benefiting GLCC of Key West.
As for “The House of Adam,” it’s a small-town drama set in the mountainous terrain of Big Bear, California. The scenery is spectacular – lakes and forests and log cabins. But Jorge wants you to know that bigotry lurks in even the most idyllic of places.

Here a young guy named Adam (played by Jared Caldwell) works in a local diner, his sexual orientation often challenged by neighborhood bullies. The diner’s owner (Thomas Michael Kappler) discovers that money is missing from the company’s account, so he calls in his son Anthony (John Shaw) to check up on his young employee. That undercover investigation sets the plot in motion.

You see, the son has been going to detective school on the q. t. -- and is able to solve the pilfering puzzle before he’s even on the case. And later on when he becomes a police dick (no pun intended) he’s called on to solve a grisly murder even closer to home.

When Anthony goes under cover this second time, he’s posing as a caretaker at the very house he grew up in, a way of searching for a missing body and clues to the killers’ identities.
Suspects are easy to come by, for the little community is rife with gay bashers and religious zealots. “They do bad things to other people but feel vindicated because the Bible says so,” the director explained his theme to me.

Our detective is assisted in his quest by a nice young couple who now live in the house. Look for the real estate agent who sells them Anthony’s family homestead, a cameo by none other than Jorge Ameer.

“I started off to be an actor before I became a filmmaker,” he shyly admits.
The film’s murder mystery gets resolved thanks to the intervention of the victim’s ghost. “I love dark subject matter,” says Jorge. “Like what happens after death.”

He also likes his stories to be unpredictable. And this film has a few twists and turns you don’t see coming – like who actually stole the diner’s money or an unexpected screen kiss between two guys or a brutal murder that was unplanned.

Jorge both writes and directs his own films, considering himself an auteur, in control of the entire creative process. “I conceived the film out of an article I read in The Advocate,” he says. “It was the story of a gay man’s relationship with a small-town deputy. That alone I thought would be fascinating.”

What the audience will find even more fascinating is a first-hand conversation with a dedicated filmmaker who likes to explore gay themes and the quality of the human condition. “They are an integral part of my existence,” Jorge Ameer affirms.

Welcome to his house.
[from Solares Hill]