Friday, April 24, 2009

Week of April 24 to April 30 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

I’m excited that the Tropic is bringing us TWO LOVERS, a very personal, almost classic American Jewish love story. Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) is a nice Jewish boy from outer Brooklyn, the son of immigrants who have made it in our land of opportunity. Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) is his female equivalent. The parents of both are in the dry cleaning business, and would like nothing more than a wedding to accompany the forthcoming merger of their businesses. But there’s Leonard’s struggle to find himself and escape his demons. And there’s Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), the echt shiksa, who’s loaded with tsuris to stir into his life – a drug habit, a married lover.

The critics have embraced this movie, calling it “an intense emotional drama, beautifully photographed and profoundly ambiguous” (, and “an exceptionally well-written and directed film…. one of the best films of 2009” (S.F. Chronicle). But most of the publicity has centered on Phoenix’s strangely non-communicative performance on the Letterman show, which became a bigger YouTube hit than the movie will ever be. Okay, he didn’t hype the movie like he was supposed to. The film’s director James Gray had the right reaction: “With the tiny marketing budget we have for the film, I was happy to see anyone talking about us at all.”

That’s a phenomenon worth reflecting upon. A movie like Two Lovers has a tremendous amount going for it. A great, and star-laden, cast. (There’s also Isabella Rossellini as Leonard’s mother.) A deeply affecting character-driven plot. A talented director and crew. (This is James Gray’s fourth movie, the last being the very well received We Own the Night, with Phoenix, Mark Whalberg and Robert Duvall.) What it’s lacking is a big promotional budget. We are so accustomed to an assault of full-page ads and TV commercials about a new movie that its absence makes the movie seem, well, “unimportant.”

And, of course, the big chains and multiplexes want no part of it, since they live off studio advertising budgets. Have you noticed that the Regal six-plex in Searstown has only one small ad in the local paper each week, while the Tropic has an ad in the daily paper every day, plus display ads in weeklies? That’s because a theater showing independent movies has to make its own publicity. It can’t just coast on the Hollywood studio-driven buzz.

So take a chance to escape from the herd and see a movie you may not have heard all that much about. The Tropic always has a couple of them. In addition to Two Lovers, they are holding over SUNSHINE CLEANING, a real woman’s film (by and about women, not a chick flick) about two sisters trying to make life work when things are going wrong.

And they have offbeat movies for more specialized tastes. HUNGER is the first feature film by the black British artist Steve McQueen, previously known for performance short films. This one is nothing less than a work of art. The subject is harsh. I.R.A. hunger strikers in 1981 Northern Irish prisons. And the scenes are dramatic and unforgiving. It’s not an easy movie to watch, but one not to miss if you’re interested in filmmaking, or in understanding a jihadist mentality. (How much do the I.R.A. and Al Quaida have in common? Is it significant that McQueen has recently completed a commission for the British postal service of stamps honoring soldiers killed in Iraq?)

And there’s much more. EXAMINED LIFE, a documentary about philosophers. Don’t ask; just see. Two Hitchcock revivals, the next in the Great Operas of Europe series, and the annual Songwriters’ Festival.

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

Examined Life (Rhoades)

“Examined Life” Is Philosophy 101

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Recently the Tropic Cinema showed “The Perverts’ Guide to Cinema,” an egghead’s look at the meanings behind movies as told by a Slovenian movie buff named Slavoj Zizek. Known for his showy personality, Zizek is also a respected philosopher and psychoanalyst.

In fact, a young Canadian-American filmmaker named Astra Taylor did a documentary about him that was immodestly titled “Zizek!” – exclamation point included.

Now Ms. Taylor comes back for another roll of the philosopher’s stone, delivering a second documentary that again features Zizek – along with seven other contemporary philosophers. “Examined Life” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

The film’s title comes from Plato, who observed in line 38A of his Apology that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Yet, this documentary offers an approach to philosophy that’s more in keeping with Aristotle, a philosopher who liked to walk around while lecturing.

With the tagline “Philosophy is in the streets,” Ms. Taylor and her camera crew follow their subjects along city streets, through parks, and into the gleaming interior of an international airport. They often break the fourth wall, interacting with their subject, shown packing their cameras and sound equipment like a modern-day archaeological expedition.

This documentary is much like taking a stroll with your favorite professor, listening to his or her monologue, enjoying a classroom lecture outside the classroom. Peter Singer walks down Fifth Avenue, admiring expensive shoes in the window of Bergdorf Goodman, while discussing the ethics of consumerism. Judith Butler explores a San Francisco second-hand clothing store with a wheelchair-bound friend, talking about accessibility and gender issues.

Unfortunately, these eight philosophers – Cornel West, Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Hardt, Judith Butler, and Slavoj Zizek – don’t explore much new territory, seemingly content at “summarizing some of their main ideas or repeating riffs they’ve done before…”

It would’ve seemed best to evaluate “Examined Life” as a whole, but these diverse philosophical soliloquies don’t lend themselves to a thematic interpretation. The film is more like a Whitman’s
Sampler of current philosophical thinking.

Thus we’re left to pick at individual personalities. Noting Avital Ronell’s narcissistic arrogance, Cornell West’s “dazzling high culture jive talk,” or Zizek’s fidgety pronouncements that are obviously designed to provoke.

As Avital Ronell says early in the film, “We don’t know where this film is going to land, whom it’s going to shake up, wake up, or freak out, or bore…”

“Examined Life” doesn’t really examine life as much as it examines philosophy.
[from Solares Hill]

Hunger (Rhoades)

“Hunger” Is Harsh Irish Prison Drama

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Better have a sandwich before you read this review. “Hunger” is a movie about an Irish Republican Army protestor named Bobby Sands, who died in HM Prison Maze following a 66-day hunger strike in 1981. He was 27 at the time.

“Hunger” is showing at the Tropic Cinema.

Don’t confuse this film or its director Steve McQueen. He’s not the famed star of “Bullitt” and “Papillon.” Nor is this the 1983 vampire flick starring David Bowie, Susan Sarandon, and Catherine Deneuve.

Rather, this meticulous tale of slow starvation for a cause stars Michael Fassbender (“Band of Brothers,” “300”) as the fatalistic young IRA protestor.

Robert Gerard Sands joined the IRA during the Troubles of 1972. His political commitment put a strain on his marriage and his wife eventually left him.

After several bouts in prison for his support of the Republican cause, he was again convicted of gun possession in 1977 and sentenced to 14 years.

A forceful personality, he was chosen as commanding officer of the IRA prisoners at Long Kesh (as Maze Prison was called) and later elected a member of the United Kingdom Parliament during his hunger strike.

The prisoners’ rights strike centered around Five Demands:
• Not wearing prison uniforms;
• Not doing prison work;
• Free association with other prisoners;
• One visit, one letter, and one parcel per week;
• Restoration of any rights lost due to the protest.
Nine other IRA prisoners died from the hunger strike.

After Sands’ death, recruitment into the Irish Republican Army hit an all-time high.

This film by noted visual artist Steve McQueen focuses on the last six weeks of Bobby Sands’ life and the physical and mental impact of slow starvation on him. It’s a grim tale, replete with all the details: bleeding sores, kidney failure, stomach ulcers, and the inability to stand.
McQueen’s art films are typically projected onto walls of an art gallery rather than theater screens. Usually shot in black and white, Andy Warhol have been cited as the influence of these minimalist films.

“Hunger” is a more traditional Technicolor telling. McQueen won the prestigious Caméra d’Or award for first-time filmmakers at 2008 Cannes Film Festival.

The raw brutality of prison life is shown with unblinking starkness. In this era of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, you’ll watch this movie about the treatment of political prisoners in a new light.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, April 17, 2009

Week of April 17 to April 23 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

What a wonderful movie EVERLASTING MOMENTS is! It’s a sleeper. No stars, no publicity, no buzz. Not here, at least. But it swept the Swedish Oscars, and for good reason. Maria Larsson is a woman struggling with a sometimes kind -- but more often abusive and drunk – husband, and a seven-child-laden household. The time is early 20th century, when electricity and indoor plumbing are the exception, and the vaunted welfare state does not yet exist. But Maria has one outlet, taking photographs with a small camera.

The movie captivates on two levels. First there is the story of the time and place, of labor turmoil and war, of working class hardship, and also of the early days of photography. No digital imagery here, but single shots on separate plates that she learns to process herself. When Maria first starts using the camera she has only three plates, that is, only three pictures that she can take.

But there is also the family story, narrated by Maria’s eldest daughter, who has her own troubles when she is hired out as a servant to a wealthy family. The central figure, however, is always Maria, her pains to keep the family together, her feelings for the photo studio owner who helps her, and her wonderful photographs.

Everlasting Moments is subtitled of course, and it has a mood and feeling we’ve come to associate with Swedish film, but there’s nothing obscure or convoluted about it. Just gloriously photographed, emotionally moving, cinematic story telling. Don’t miss it on the big screen.

SUNSHINE CLEANING, on the other hand is thoroughly modern. Rose (Amy Adams from Doubt and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) and Norah (Emily Blunt from Jane Austen Book Club and the forthcoming Young Victoria) are two sisters who start an odd janitorial business – cleaning crime scenes. With this odd premise and Alan Arkin playing the same character-type as he did in Little Miss Sunshine, this time as the women’s father, there’s plenty of humor, but also a serious plot about the emotional impact of dealing with the ample blood and gore of the job. The L.A. Times calls is “a smartly done morality tale that couldn't be more in sync with these troubled times.” With that and humor, who could ask for anything more?

The hot ticket on the Special Events calendar is HOORARY FOR HOLLYWOOD: Music from the Movies, Bruce Moore and Bobby Nesbitt’s singing and dancing tribute to movie musicals. Featuring clips from great films, and the first-ever use of the Carper Theater’s new wooden dance floor, it’s time to see this if you missed the sellout shows last summer. Or to see it again. One performance only at 2:00pm on Sunday.

Last week’s DUPLICITY and LAST CHANCE HARVEY are held over, and there are three revival screenings for you nostalgic edification.

At Saturday matinee you can catch Janet Leigh and Tony Perkins in Alfred Hitchcock’s all-time classic PSYCHO or Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in THE ROAD TO MORROCO.

Or, if you prefer a foreign film, that comes on Monday night with the 1967 Oscar-winning Czech movie, CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS. You may have seen writer-director Jirí Menzel’s latest effort, I Served the King of England, which showed at the Tropic earlier this year. In its 1966 review of Closely Watched Trains, the New York Times observed that “the charm of his film is in the quietness and slyness of his earthy comedy, the wonderful finesse of understatements, the wise and humorous understanding of primal sex.” If you liked Menzel’s new movie, you’ll surely like this one, too.

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

Everlasting Moments (Rhoades)

“Everlasting Moments” Is Not a Kodak Moment

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Those Swedes, they all want to be Ingmar Bergman.

But in “Everlasting Moments” – the true story of photographer Maria Larsson – director Jan Troell settles for delivering a fine biography.

Here’s a working class woman who wins a camera in a lottery, and goes on to become a famous photographer. The story is told through the eyes of her daughter Maja.

Maria Heiskanen does a nice turn as Larsson, appearing charmingly touched when one of her photographs is published in the newspaper. A series of young actresses portray her daughter at various ages.

Troell’s wife co-scripted the film, basing it on interviews she conducted with Larsson’s real-life daughter. During her research she came across a cache of Maria Larsson’s pictures, and used them as inspiration for the images seen in the film.

Set in the early1900s, the cinematography has the look of a fading color photo. First shot in 16mm, the film was blown up to 35 mm. “Then you get a little grainy picture that fits the turn of the century era and also relates to the early silent cinema. I have deliberately kept the colors down and used similar sepia tones as those in for example Victor Sjöström’s films,” says Jan Troell.

Troell usually serves as his own DP, his lyrical cinematography placing him in the ranks of such modern Swedish directors as Bergman and Bo Widerberg.

He started off as Widerberg’s director of photography, but soon began making his own films. You are likely familiar with “The Emigrants” and “The New Land,” Troell’s epics featuring Max von Sydow in the lead role.

He seems to gravitate to films with a working-class theme. And they often fixate on real role models. “As White as in Snow” (“Så vit som en snö”) tells of Swedish aviatrix Elsa Andersson. “Everlasting Moments” (“Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick”) gives us photographer Larsson. And even in his seventies, Troell is working on a film about publicist Torgny Segerstedt.

This subtitled 2008 film won the Gulbagge Award as Best Film and was nominated as Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes.

The characters are sometimes not so appealing, but the depiction of Maria Larsson’s life is much closer to truth than “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus,” that entertaining but spurious biopic about another famous female photographer.
[from Solares Hill]

Sunshine Cleaning (Rhoades)

Will “Sunshine Cleaning” Clean Up at Box Office?

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

“CSI,” “CSI Miami,” and “CSI New York” are among today’s most popular TV shows. We love those murder mysteries with all their gory forensic details. Viewers have learned a grad student’s textbook about DNA, bullet trajectories, and blood-spatter patterns.

We love those F/X graphics that show bursting arteries, grisly knife wounds, and icky bodily fluids.

But in real life someone has to clean up the mess.

Cleaning up the mess: That’s the humorous plot of “Sunshine Cleaning,” the indie dramedy that just opened at the Tropic Cinema.

This is the story of two sisters who decide to clean up (yes, that was a deliberate pun) by getting into the “lucrative” business of crime scene clean-up. Rose (played by Amy Adams) is a thirtysomething single mom who has been supporting herself by cleaning houses. Her slacker sister Norah (Emily Blunt) reluctantly joins her in this spic-and-span enterprise. Finding a new purpose in life, as well as stirring up memories of their dearly departed mother, they bumble into this new career.

You saw Amy Adams recently in “Doubt,” a role that garnered her an Academy Award nomination. And Emily Blunt was outstanding as the sycophant assistant in “The Devil Wore Prada.”

“Sunshine Cleaning” was produced by Big Beach, the same independent film company that gave us “Little Miss Sunshine.” So it’s not surprising to find Alan Arkin in this film’s cast too. After all, he picked up an Oscar last time around.

But let’s be clear: This is not another CSI clone. It’s the quirky story of those not-so-glamorous behind-the-scenes clean-up crews, in this case a couple of oddball sisters trying to clean up their own lives.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, April 10, 2009

Week of April 10 to April 16

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

It’s going to be an exciting week at the Tropic, with two big new movies, two opera shows, two classic films, and the annual Robert Frost Poetry Festival special event.

Heading the program is DUPLICITY, a spy-thriller, full of witty banter and double-dealing between co-stars Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. David Denby nails it in his New Yorker review: it’s “an enormously enjoyable hybrid, a romantic comedy set at the center of a caper movie.” Roberts is a former CIA agent, now into corporate espionage. Owen is out of the Brit equivalent, MI6, also trying to make a dime (more like $40 million) in the corporate game. The plot is convoluted, tense and full of surprises, thanks to the skills of writer-director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, the Bourne screenplays). This film was booked into that other movie theater in town for a week or two, but they let it go early. No surprise. Duplicity is clever, sophisticated and intelligent. The Tropic is where it belongs. I’ve had some people tell me they had trouble following the plot. You know what? Don’t worry. Just kick back and enjoy the crackerjack dialogue, the great locales (Dubai, Miami, Zurich, the Bahamas, London, Cleveland, New York and Rome) and have a glass of wine with your friends in the lobby afterward to figure out what was going on.

WENDY AND LUCY is very different, from the Frozen River indie slice-of-live school of filmmaking. Wendy is on the road to Alaska, in need of a job. Lucy is her dog. And, as you might guess, the trip doesn’t go well as Wendy confronts more than her share of the troubles which build into a life you wish you could just rewind. Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain) got an Independent Spirit nomination for her portrayal of Wendy, and the movie was featured at Cannes and the New York Film Festival. But don’t worry, this movie didn’t get any screen time at the Regal. Thank you, Tropic Cinema for bringing it in.

The operas are Tchaikovsky’s EUGENE ONEGIN performed by the Bolshoi Theater, and featuring Tatyana Monogarova and Mariusz Kwiecien (Saturday matinee), and RIGOLETTO from Parma’s Verdi Festival, starring Leo Nucci and Nino Machaidze (Tuesday matinee). Both are part of this year’s Great Operas of Europe series.

This week’s classic films are the 1950 CYRANO DE BERGERAC (Saturday matinee) and Hitchcock’s 1935 masterpiece, THE 39 STEPS (Monday evening). I’m pleased to report that local film buff and TV impresario Mary Sparacio is again leading discussion of the Monday night classic.

The featured special event of the week is ROBERT FROST GOES TO THE MOVIES, on Wednesday evening. This is the kickoff event for the five-day Robert Frost celebration. Starting at 8:00pm, featured poets Michael Wyndham Thomas from England, Charles Trumbull, Lee Gurga, Rosalind Brackenbury, Richard Grusin and Annette Basalyga will read from their own work and famous Key West poets from the past. A film on poets and poetry will follow. Details are still evolving, but check for more information.

And get ready for the return of Bruce Moore and Bobby Nesbitt’s HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD:MUSIC FROM MOVIES, coming on Sunday, April 19. Bruce and Bobby sing and dance (on the wooden dance floor newly laid on the Carper Theater stage) along with clips from great movies. One show only at 2:00pm. Tickets on sale now and going quick at the box office or

As always, check for full schedules and info.
Comment, please, to

[from Key West, the Newspaper -]

Wendy and Lucy (Rhoades)

“Wendy and Lucy” – the Story Of a Woman and her Dog

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My wife loves animals, in particular our old dog Glitch. He was dropped off by our son for a two-week stay some ten years ago. After about three months she emailed him: “The statute of limitations has run out. You’re not getting your dog back. If you try to claim him, the next time you’ll see him will be on the side of a milk carton with my picture.”

Sure, she was kidding (I think). But she had fallen in love with this big yellow hunk of half-lab, half-retriever. He was a longtime member of our family, succumbing to old age two years ago.
So I wasn’t surprised when she cried while watching my screener copy of “Wendy and Lucy” – the story of a woman and her dog – now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

It’s a touching tale of a woman-on-the-verge who sets out for Alaska with her sweet yellow pooch. She’s hoping for a job in a fishing cannery, one of those dreams of a happier future, like Steinbeck’s characters extolled in “Of Mice and Men.”

However, the message here is that life isn’t easy and Wendy faces a series of tribulations: Her car breaks down, she gets arrested for shoplifting dog food, a robber besets her, and – worst of all – Lucy goes missing.

“Wendy and Lucy” is sad little movie. Things don’t ever seem to pan out. Despite the kindness of a security guard (Wally Dalton), she must deal with an officious supermarket worker (John Robinson), an unhelpful pound employee (Ayanna Berkshire), and a cranky garage mechanic (Will Patton).

Wendy is superbly played by Michelle Williams (yes, the Academy Award-nominated actress who has a child by the late Heath Ledger, her co-star in “Brokeback Mountain). Lucy the dog plays herself.

Based on Jonathan Raymond’s short story “Train Choir,” director Kelly Reichardt has crafted a minimalist movie that captures the emptiness and angst of those people who fall through the cracks in our society.

We root for Wendy. But she’s symbolic of all the Americans who have lost their jobs, and perhaps any hope of ever achieving that elusive American dream, disenfranchised, yet moving painfully forward toward a mythological Alaska without any chance of arriving intact.
[from Solares Hill]

Duplicity (Rhoades)

“Duplicity” Is Spy vs. Spy

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Back in 1968 I was Steve McQueen’s guest at the world premiere of “The Thomas Crown Affair.” The movie’s use of split screen images was dazzling, quite innovative for the time. Director Norman Jewison utilized these multiple images to build suspense and create a sense of excitement in this classic twists-and-turns caper film.

Watching “Duplicity” – the Clive Owen-Julia Roberts caper film that’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema – I had a sense of déjà vu as I watched its use of split screens.

This is a spy vs. spy storyline, where a CIA agent and an MI6 operative join forces to scam the corporate world out of $35 million, instigating a complex scheme to steal a top-secret cosmetic formula.

The plot can be confusing if you blink, flashing back and forth in time sequence, a cinematic device to keep you guessing. You practically get whiplash trying to keep up.

“Duplicity” is a good description of this tale of double and triple agents.

Something of a cross between “Mr. And Mrs. Smith” and “Swordfish,” it plays out like one of those “Oceans Eleven” movies.

Owen and Roberts don’t seem much different than their co-starring turn in “Closer.” He’s stoic, but flappable. She grim, but loveable. However, the question lingers: Who’s playing whom in this cat-and-mouse game?

So how was the movie? A little too clever perhaps. But I have to confess I enjoyed the ride.
Written and directed Tony Gilroy, the same guy who gave us “Michael Clayton,” this is a movie whose watchword is to trust no one. Perhaps not even film critics.
[from Solares Hill]

Last Chance Harvey (Rhaodes)

“Last Chance Harvey” Gets Lucky at Last

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Dustin Hoffman has gone full circle: In the beginning of his career he was “The Graduate,” the lucky kid seduced by Mrs. Robinson. Now, here he is, in his 70’s and can’t get a date.
Well, he kinda gets one in “Last Chance Harvey,” the sweet little romance that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In this small movie that’s likely to get overlooked, he’s Harvey Shine, a jingle writer on the downside of his career, lonely, estranged from his family. Something of a loser, you might say. Then, while in London for his daughter’s wedding, he meets a nice single lady at Heathrow Airport named Kate (Emma Thompson, as it turns out) who happens to be lonely too.
Both are socially awkward – he an embarrassment to his family, she chained to an elderly mother. Not exactly catches either of them. But as the old saying goes, every pot has a lid.
After a chance conversation leads to lunch and then to spending the day together, Kate convinces Harvey to attend his daughter’s wedding reception (he’d planned on flying back to New York, because she’d asked her step-father instead of him to give her away).

Harvey reluctantly agrees, as long as Kate comes along. And next thing you know, life is looking up.

Yes, you could write the script blindfolded. But it’s not the oh-so-predictable story that wins you over; it’s the way Hoffman and Thompson handle their roles, with nuanced performances that show you the humanity of this not-as-odd-as-might-you-think couple.

Written and directed by British filmmaker Joel Hopkins, this movie seems to have been especially created with an audience of aging baby-boomers in mind.

No, this is not a mindless teen comedy or a hot twentysomething steamer. Rather it’s a gentle tale of love between two more-than-middle-aged characters. You’ll feel like you need to show an AARP card to buy a ticket. But if you’re 50-plus you’ll walk out of the theater with a smile on your face, pleased with the knowledge that there’s still romance left for senior citizens.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, April 3, 2009

Week of April 2 to April 9 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

Tomorrow is the big day. The Tropic turns five years old. It’s hard to believe for those of us who have been around for a while. It seems just yesterday that local film fans were sitting in Old City Hall trying to understand movie dialogue in a room where the sound ricocheted off more hard surfaces than those of a diamond solitaire. It’s hard enough to understand the Commissioners, but try to get what an Irish actor is saying. We used to pray for subtitled films, except that the sight lines were so bad you had to keep ducking around to read them.

But for the past five years (since April, 2004) Key West has been privileged to see movies in a theater with impeccable acoustics and fabulous sight lines, plus the best popcorn in the state (with real butter), and great wine. If you don’t like the movie selection, have a few glasses; trust me, the movie will get better.

To celebrate the big day, the Tropicans are offering free movies on all three screens from noon to three, open to everyone. There’s Frank Sinatra and Sterling Hayden in the 1954 thriller Suddenly; Rob Reiner’s classic fairy tale The Princess Bride; and the quintessential romantic comedy His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Your choice, all gratis.

Then at three there will be a special informational meeting, for Film Society members only. Learn all about how the Tropic works, how the films are booked, and what is planned for the future. Limited seating, but if you want to come you can join for $35 bucks right there and get yourself the added benefit of 1/3 off the price of your movie tickets for a year.

Finally, Mayor McPherson will show up at 4:30 for a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Tropic’s fourth screen and expanded lobby. That will kick off the party with free cake and popcorn until seven. The theater staff is offering tours of the expanded space currently under construction, and also the engine room of the theater – its projection booth.

By seven you should be ready for some real movies, and the regular film program will resume running. The lead movie this week is the romantic comedy LAST CHANCE HARVEY, starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, both of whom were nominated for Golden Globes for their performances. As one reviewer observed, “it’s Before Sunrise for the over-45 set…. a surprisingly tender and appealing love story.” They may be an odd couple – Hoffman is 71 and 5’5”, while Thompson is 49 and 5’8 – but the magic of movies and great actors make for a charming twosome.

Also opening is the multi-award winning GOMMORAH, hailed as the “real” Mafia movie. This Italian film, which graphically depicts the workings of the Neapolitan Camorra – the continent’s largest and most brutal crime syndicate -- is essential viewing for fans of The Sopranos or The Godfather. Even Tony Soprano knew that to get the job done you sometimes had to bring in a guy from the old country. This is where they all came from.

But the high spot of the week may be the next in the Tuesdays With Art series. This month it’s TIRES, WIRES AND FIRES. THEN, LYRICAL MOVEMENTS, exploring the kinetic sculpture of Peter Fischli, David Weiss and George Rickey. This free series, brought to you by the Film Society thanks to a generous donation from Mike Dively, and curated by Deborah Goldman and Joel Blair, is a real treat. Movies plus intelligent discussion. Check it out on Tuesday at 5:30.

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

Amarcord (Rhoades)

Fellini’s Childhood Memories Are Funny and Poignant

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Solares Hill editor Mark Howell is a big fan of director Frederico Fellini, so I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t grab a front row seat at the Tropic Cinema’s Monday night showing of “Amarcord.”
This surreal Fellini autobiography won an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film in 1975.

A mishmash of political, personal, religious, and sexual memories, this disjointed story takes place in the fictional Italian village of Borgo, a stand-in for Fellini’s real-life hometown of Rimini. The oddball characters and comic situations are his way of commenting on the “perpetual adolescence” of him and his fellow villagers back in the Fascist Italy of the 1930s.

The title comes from a Romagnolo phrase (“a m’arcòrd”) that translates as “I remember.”

The cast is wonderful, if largely unknown to American audiences. Bruno Zanin takes on the role of Titta, the teenage boy we come to identify with. This coming-of-age film shows us Titta's “education” … and at the same time Italy’s incapacity to accept moral responsibility.

“Amarcord” has been called “too crowded, too loud, too vulgar, too bawdy, and too self-indulgent.” Perhaps that’s true, but it’s still one of my favorite Fellini films (along with “La Strada,” “La Dolce Vita” and “8 1/2”).

The film parades forth an array of fools, playboys, politicos, and firecracker-wielding schoolboys – while at the same time skewering Mussolini and the Catholic Church.

As Fellini explained the point of his film, “…What is still most interesting is the psychological, emotional manner of being a fascist … a sort of blockage, an arrested development during the phase of adolescence … this remaining children for eternity, this leaving responsibilities for others, this living with the comforting sensation that there is someone who thinks for you (and at one time it’s mother, then it’s father, then it’s the mayor, another time Il Duce, another time the Madonna, another time the Bishop, in short other people): and in the meanwhile you have this limited, time-wasting freedom which permits you only to cultivate absurd dreams – the dream of the American cinema, or the Oriental dream concerning women … the same old, monstrous, out-of-date myths that even today seem to me to form the most important conditioning of the average Italian.”

Despite this weighty message, “Amarcord” displays a poetic nature, established early-on in the scene where puffballs swirl magically in the air, marking the end of winter, with schoolboys dancing around trying to catch them, a young woman happily watching them as she hangs clothes on a line, and the village idiot reciting a poem about spring.

That night there’s a traditional bonfire to welcome the changing season. Here you meet an assortment of familiar Fellini characters: A blind accordion player, a lusty blonde trollop, a cocky motorcyclist, a gun-toting Fascist, a buxom tobacconist, aging aristocrats, black-clothed women, and a lawyer on a bicycle.

You also get to know Titta’s family: the working-class dad, protective mother, sponging uncle, and feisty grandfather who has fantasies about the maid.

And there are more townsfolk to encounter: local Lotharios following a carriage filled with prostitutes, a sexy math teacher and myopic religion instructor, a dwarf nun, and a street vendor who is an inveterate liar.

You can’t make up characters like this … well, yes, you can. And Fellini did it under the guise of memory.

I gave Mark Howell a documentary about Fellini that summed it up nicely. The bio was titled “Fellini: I’m a Born Liar.”

Nonetheless, when we take memories and pervert them into a fanciful story in order to make a point, we call that fiction. And this is fiction at its finest.

Why would Fellini with his bizarre characters and dreamlike landscapes appeal to Mark Howell? As an editor living in a town populated by eccentric people and a surreal lifestyle why wouldn’t it?
[from Solares Hill]

Gomorrah (Rhoades)

“Gomorrah” is Address For Italian Crime Drama

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Up until 1957 J. Edgar Hoover maintained that there was no such thing as organized crime in the United States. We now know that the Mafia was in fact alive and well, a serious business competitor to the US government. It used extortion instead of taxes. Bookies instead of state-controlled OTB parlors. Bolitas instead of state-run lotteries. Speakeasies instead of ABC stores. Bullets instead of electric chairs.

Don’t believe me. Just turn on a TV rerun of “The Sopranos.”

Whether you call them Mafia, Black Hand, Cosa Nostra, or Murder Incorporated, they’ve been around since Italian immigration of the ’20s.

(Hey, I don’t want to hear from the Italian Defamation League on this. My wife’s maiden name is Martellotti, so I’ve got a right.)

Turns out, the crime cartels in Italy go by many names also. In a new film called “Gomorrah” – now playing at the Tropic Cinema – we examine half-a-dozen men whose lives have fallen under the shadow of the Camorra, a powerful Mafia-like confederation that originated in the city of Naples. It is said to be the oldest organized criminal group in Italy.

The Camorra specializes in drug trafficking, extortion, protection, and racketeering. Even today, these activities engender a high number of homicides in the Campania region.

Instead of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra’s pyramid structure, the Camorra utilizes a more horizontal configuration. With individual clans acting independently, there tends to be more feuding among its members.

In “Gomorrah,” we meet a bagman who distributes money to families of gang members who are in prison. A 13-year-old kid who is initiated into the gang. A tailor who is intimidated by Camorra hit men. A waste management worker who becomes disgusted by illegal toxic dumping. Two wannabe gangsters who learn first-hand about the Camorra’s idea of gun control.

Directed by Matteo Garrone, this film is based on a bestselling book by Roberto Saviano. Following its publication, Saviano was threatened by several Neapolitan “godfathers,” which encouraged the Italian Minister of the Interior to grant him a permanent police escort.

This genre of storytelling has been described as the New Italian Epic, a style that produces UNOs, or Unidentified Narrative Objects.

Call it what you will, you will walk away from the theater convinced that organized crime exists in Italy. “Gomorrah” has been called “surely the most truthful gangster movie yet.”

[from Solares Hill]