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 -]

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