Friday, December 12, 2008

Week of December 12 thru December 18 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

It’s a clean sweep at the Tropic this week with new movies on all three screens.

Heading the bill is THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS, a British film that gives us a different, child’s-eye view of Nazi horror. Bruno is the eight-year-old son of a German concentration camp commandant. He is very proud of his officer father and loves his life, school and friends in Berlin. When he and his family are transferred to a new post in the countryside he has no idea of his father’s duties. Housed in a beautiful home, he invents explanations for things he can’t understand.

The place on the other side of the woods – which he catches a glimpse of – is a “farm.” On learning that family’s cringing house servant used to be a medical doctor but is now peeling potatoes, he thinks “adults make strange choices.” As to the barbed wire fence that separates him from the boy he eventually meets during unauthorized explorations: it must be “to keep the animals” from straying. The boy’s striped outfit and serial number is surely “part of a game” they are playing on the farm.

So the movie unspools as a fable about childhood innocence that must inevitably be crushed by grim reality. Young Bruno is a metaphor for all who saw and heard things during that time, and conveniently explained them away, not only Germans but other Europeans and even Americans. Some critics have complained that the approach trivializes the events. Others see it as a powerful message that needs the ultimate evil to make its point.

Though set in Germany, with only German characters, the movie is entirely in unaccented (well, British-accented) English. The same is true about another Nazi movie coming to the Tropic in a few weeks, the Tom Cruise vehicle Valkyrie. The effect, I think, is to make us identify more with the characters, as unpleasant as that experience may be.

CHANGELING is an entirely American movie, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie. But in a way, it’s about Nazis, too, in this case a corrupt Los Angeles Police Department that does whatever it wants to the citizenry, and tolerates no dissent. Perfectly set in the late 1920’s, the movie tells the true story of Christine Collins, a woman who faced down the department when it tried to “solve” the problem of her missing child by putting a replacement in her home. The L.A.P.D. saw it as a way to gain favorable press for great police work. Its response to Collins’ refusal to cooperate should have been devastating to resourceless single woman like her. But think Erin Brockovich. And think film noir, in its Los Angeles homeland with fedora-clad police detectives. Ms. Jolie has already received a Best Actress nomination from the first of the annual round of ceremonies, the Satellite Awards. She’s probably in store for more.

STRANDED, the third film of the week has no Nazis in it. But that’s not to say it’s got light-hearted subject matter. This documentary revisits the famed Andean plane crash of a Uruguayan ruby team in 1972, previously the subject of the Piers Paul Read book and Ethan Hawke movie Alive. The new element is revealing interviews with the surviving members of the team, woven in with dramatic restagings of the events. Despite its subject matter, this “intimate, terrifying and positively riveting documentary…. is the most optimistic film about human nature I have seen in years” says Andrew O’Hehir in Salon. Sometimes uplift comes in odd packages.

If you need something lighter for Christmas, stay tuned. Slumdog Millionaire, coming next week, is the gosh-darnedest crowd pleaser of the year.

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

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