Thursday, May 29, 2008

Week of May 30-June 5

What’s On At The Tropic

By Phil Mann

If you’ve seen the trailer, which has been running at the Tropic for weeks, you know what YOUNG @ HEART is about. This documentary follows the rehearsals of a chorus of older singers (average age 80, oldest 92) as they prepare for a rock concert. Implausible, yes. Inspiring, yes, yes, yes. As Rene Rodriquez says in the Miami Herald, “forget the rocking chairs, just rock!”

This unlikely movie, made for $60,000, has already grossed $2,000,000 and it’s climbing the charts every week. The reason is clear if you listen to viewer comments. “The premise for this movie sounds a little cloying and frankly wasn't a big draw for me, but I've just seen Young at Heart and I believe! This energetic bunch of septua-, octo- & nona- genarians dive into rock, punk, disco and more, and you'll be surprised what a goldmine they find” (from L.A.) “By the end of the movie you will find yourself on your feet and cheering as you choke back your tears. This movie is a brilliant testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.” (from Tacoma) “Several times I started to stand and applaud, only to realize that I was looking at a movie screen and wasn't actually a member of the concert audience.” (from Grand Junction, CO) “experience rock and roll in its purest form I've seen in a long time: aged yet wise, like a fine wine. One of the year's best.” (from New Jersey) “A foot stomping, hand clapping kind of thing… These elderly crooners are a blast to spend time with.” (from Buffalo, NY) “This is about the most fun I have had at a movie in a long time… I dare anyone to keep a dry eye during Dylan's "Forever Young" or not bust out a smile during Bowie's "Golden Years". (from Dallas) “I left the theater almost in a state of grace.” (From San Francisco) And so on… Since opening in April on a single screen, the movie is now up to 174. Watch it for an improbable crossover breakout this summer.

It must be feel-good week, because Helen Hunt’s directorial debut feature, THEN SHE FOUND ME, is another Audience Award winner. Hunt is also credited as the screenwriter, along with movie veteran Alice Arlen (Silkwood), and she stars in the film. She’s a middle-aged schoolteacher who, having lost her adoptive mother and broken up with her husband, is reunited with her birth mother, played by Bette Midler. Now how would you like to discover at 39 that Bette Midler was your mother, and have her become your life coach? True to Hunt’s roots from Mad About You the film has a comic edge, but it’s no sitcom.

If all this makes you feel too good, you could catch Peter Lorre starring in his career defining role as a serial killer in Fritz Lang’s M. This 1931 movie, being shown on Monday night in the Tropic’s new classic film series, was Lang’s first talkie. He became so famous that Hitchcock was originally known as “the American Fritz Lang.” But on Lang’s death in the 1970’s, his obits called him “Germany’s Hitchcock.” Sic transit gloria.

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Week of May 23-29

What’s On At The Tropic
By Phil Mann

Before we get to the main films, let me tell you about a couple of new programming initiatives at the Tropic. On Saturday mornings, the long-running Free Movies for Kids series has been joined by a regular weekly screening of the historic local classic, The Key West Picture Show. This is B.J. Martin’s 1977 travelogue parody that captures Key West in that raffish moment when the transition from Navy town to tourist mecca was only beginning. If you haven’t seen it, join the kids on Saturday, and see this adult movie at 12:45. Admission $5.

And on Monday night at eight, the Film Society begins a series of classic movies. This week it’s Gregory Peck starring in the film adaptation of the classic Harper Lee novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s the beloved American theme: solitary man stands up and risks all for principle, against the forces of darkness. There’s High Noon, Twelve Angry Men, and Atticus Finch defending a black man for rape in 1932 Alabama. Mark this series on your calendar. A different film every Monday night. Admission only $3.

This is also the week that the Tropic completes its 2008 Academy Award Trifecta. Back in January, they showed No Country For Old Men, the winner for Best Feature Film. Last week, they showed Taxi to the Dark Side, the winner for Best Documentary. And now it’s The Counterfeiters, winner for Best Foreign Film. Salomon Sorowitsch is a crook, but a very talented one, a counterfeiter of great ability. He’s also a Jew in a Nazi concentration camp, and the Reich needs cash to fund its war effort. Perhaps the greatest luxury in life is the ability to stand up for a principle you know is right. It’s not always easy, even in America, as Atticus Finch shows us, but can you imagine doing it in a concentration camp? A movie like The Counterfeiter enables us to confront that question, and be able to think about it, without the horror of having to live it.

Okay, let’s move on to feel-good. In Under the Same Moon a Mexican boy tries to join his mother who is working in the US without… you know what. Under the Same Moon is about immigration, of course, but it’s also a great human story… mother and son seeking to unite. If you think this country’s immigration policy sucks, you’ll love the film on all counts. But even if you’re Tom Tancredo you might enjoy having your heart strings tugged a little as Carlitos and Rosario try to find each other.

It’s interesting that Under the Same Moon is opening while The Visitor is still playing. Both films try to put a human face on the immigration issue and come out sympathetic to the immigrants. How about a movie where INS agents are the heroes, protecting us from sinister villains who are trying to find work, and without whom the American economy would nosedive? Umm, why don’t they make that movie?

Let me have your thoughts.
[originally published in Key West, The Newspaper -]

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Week of May 16-22

What’s On At The Tropic
By Phil Mann

It’s quite interesting to see a film through many eyes, especially one with as many facets as THE VISITOR. At core it’s a human drama, the story of a college professor whose aimless drifting through life is brought up short when he meets and becomes involved with some undocumented immigrants. But it’s also part comedy, part love story and part political lesson wrapped in a music-themed package. The director Tom McCarthy will be known to you if you saw The Station Agent, his touching film starring Peter Dinklage in the role of his career, along with Patricia Clarkson. That’s McCarthy’s way: come up with a good story, people it with actors who are perfect for the roles, and draw us into their lives. With The Visitor he’s added another dimension, the hot-button politics of immigration. For varying points of view on the issues from McCarthy and his actors, check out the set of clips and interviews at No matter what your position is on the immigration question, you will care about the characters brought to life by this ensemble cast. As the Minneapolis Star-Tribune puts it, this is “a delicate, human reminder of why independent films matter.”

TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, doesn’t tiptoe around its political issue… torture and what it’s doing to the American soul. Filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) has prepared what amounts to a devastating investigative report that tracks, step-by-step, how our policies evolved, who is responsible for them, and how they operate in practice. The title comes from a video clip of V.P. Cheney on Meet the Press – “we’re going to the dark side… to use any means at our disposal” – and the detailed story of an innocent Afghani cab driver killed in detention. The victims include not only detainees, but also American soldiers led to this netherworld with ambiguous guidelines that demanded results but enabled higher-ups to evade responsibility. “Sometimes I feel that I should have gone with my own morality more than what was common,” says one, “but it was us against them… I didn’t want to appear to be going against my fellow soldiers,” explains another. The evil-doers are… you decide. Our only solace is that it doesn’t include anyone now running for President, from either party. Help is on the way. I’d say it’s your patriotic duty to see this movie.

Phew. You’ll be ready for something to restore your faith in humanity. Try NOTE BY NOTE, the story of the construction of a Steinway concert grand. It’s an inspiring tribute to the craftsmen and their craft. Or how about Wong Kar Wai’s first English language movie. MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS is an eye-candy-filled American road movie, starring Norah Jones, supported by Jude Law and Natalie Portman.

The Special Event of the week is a one-time screening of EUGENE WALTER: LAST OF THE BOHEMIANS, the true story of an American writer, puppeteer, chef, editor, costume designer, raconteur and bon vivant. Wednesday night at 7:00pm. Tickets $9, but free to Film Society members, even those joining that night.

[Originally published in Key West the Newspaper -]

Friday, May 9, 2008

Week of May 9-15

What’s On At The Tropic
by Phil Mann [reprinted from Key West the Newspaper,]

In America we always focus on the “big” thing, and it’s no different for movies at the Tropic. “What’s the new movie in the Carper Theater?” you want to know. But meanwhile there are gems slipping by in The George, mostly movies that play there for only a week. They don’t have name stars (like Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker and Ellen Page, from last week’s big movie Smart People) or even well-know actors (like Patricia Clarkson, Chris Cooper and Pierce Brosnan in this week’s big movie Married Life). No, these are alternative films, often foreign, and the Tropic takes great pride in selecting and bringing them to you. The big films are its bread and butter, but these are its pride and joy, to mix metaphors.

You may have seen Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day with Frances McDormand, but did you see Paranoid Park, a searing story about teen skateboarders with undiscovered first-time kid actors, from acclaimed director Gus Van Sant? You may have seen The Other Boleyn Girl with Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman, but did you bother with Live and Become, the moving story of an Ethiopian child refugee relocated to Israel? And speaking of Israel, did you see The Band’s Visit? This movie, which has just closed after a two week run, was a true One Human Family story about an Egyptian police band that gets lost in Israel and has to depend on the kindness of Jewish strangers.

I know reviewers are supposed to talk about what’s coming, not what’s gone, but my point is that part of the joy in having a theater like the Tropic in town is the richness of the offerings it presents. It always warms my heart to get emails from former Key Westers gone off to the real world, who send back messages like this week’s “no Tropic equivalents... or even close... here in Brisbane.” Damn. Brisbane has almost two million people; it’s got a gorgeous subtropical climate and great beaches... but it doesn’t have the Tropic. The New York times just had an article about some folks who are trying to start a similar theater in Tulsa. They don’t have one in that metro area of almost one million.

This week is a good one to sample the alternative fare, with two very different movies sharing the screen in The George. The Singing Revolution is a documentary about the fall of Soviet rule in Estonia. Like the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia, this change occurred peacefully, but was propelled by huge gatherings of citizens singing patriotic songs. There was more to it than that, of course, and the film is “a wonderful exploration of that still little-understood period, from the mid-1980s through 1991, when the empire of Soviet communism rapidly collapsed...., [viewed] from the perspective of a tiny, intensely patriotic country.” ( Conch Republic anyone? This is an American-made movie narrated by Linda Hunt.

Very different is The Year My Parents Went On Vacation, a narrative film about a twelve-year old boy who is left behind with relatives when his left-wing parents have to go underground in 1970. It swept the Brazilian Oscars this year with thirteen nominations and three wins, including Best Picture. A soulful coming-of-age comedy about a boy obsessed by, what else, girls and Pele, the movie is familiar in a way, but at the same time gives us a window on another world.

See you at the Tropic.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Week of May 2-8

What's On At the Tropic
by Phil Mann [reprinted from Key West the Newspaper,]

If movies were thoroughbreds the handicapping for the Tropic’s new movie Smart People would be off the charts. Starring Hollywood Walk of Fame actor Dennis Quaid (The Big Easy, Far From Heaven) and Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex in the City on TV, the original runs of Annie and Sylvia on the New York stage), plus Ellen Page (Juno) and Thomas Haden Parker (Sideways). Did I mention that the plot reminds me of The Squid and the Whale and Little Miss Sunshine?

Quaid plays a pompous, pedantic English professor, a character (reminiscent of the fathers in Squid and Little Miss) whose life is thrown into turmoil by his ne’er-do-well (and immensely likeable) brother (Church); his wise-cracking, Republican teen daughter (Page); and an affair with a former student (Parker). Like Juno, the script is from a first-time screenwriter with an ear for sharp dialogue. All the characters work through their issues and even change… though not in a Hollywoody absurd way.

Can’t miss, right? Well some reviewers think so. Rex Reed in The Observer says he “just loved this movie” because “it’s witty, intellectual without being pretentious, and filled with characters who are logically stressed and anxious to connect to a world outside of themselves.” A.O. Scott in the New York Times lauds it as a “frisky comedy” with an “excellent script” and great performances all around. David Denby in The New Yorker praises first-time director Noam Murro for his precision and comic touch. But overall the Tomatometer at RottenTomatoes gives it a score of 50%, the ultimate “mixed” review rating.

So we’ve got the dilemma of the smart moviegoer. Do we accept the dictates of review consensus, or do we take a chance with our few bucks and find our for ourselves? For myself, I’ve been following movies and reviews for enough years to know that I disagree with the critic-ocracy as often as I agree. Let’s make this a challenge. If you go, let me know what you think of Smart People, and I’ll publish its Conchmeter rating.

Meanwhile, if you’re a RottenTomato disciple, the Tropic is offering The Band’s Visit (“A clever slice-of-life comedy, and poignant cross-cultural exploration” Tomatometer 98%!), The Bank Job (“a thoroughly entertaining British heist thriller” Tomatometer 78%), and Shine the Light (“Martin Scorsese's document of the Rolling Stones' live show” Tomatometer 86%). You can let me know what you think about those ratings, too.

Oh, yes. There’s also La Scala’s production Il Trittico, from that guy Puccini, showing on Tuesday. Tomatometer rating unknown.

The free Saturday kids movie series is featuring Knights of the South Bronx, starring Ted Danson as an inner-city teacher who captivates his kids with chess. Danson was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild award for best actor in this made-for-TV film. Well worth the price of admission.

See you at the Tropic.