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
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[from Key West, the Newspaper -]

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