Thursday, June 11, 2009

Week of June 12 to June 18 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic

By Phil Mann

Let's start with ANGELS AND DEMONS. There are some movies that seem to be begging the reviewer to make fun of them. I mean, what can you say about a film that takes Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) to Rome where he has to dash back and forth across the city, accompanied by a gorgeous female physicist (Ayelet Zurer), following obscure clues to save the Vatican City from being blown up by an anti-matter capsule with the explosive power of an A-bomb?

Well, first of all, don't think about the plot, which makes STAR TREK (which is alternating this week on the same screen) seem like a plausible documentary. Just sit back and enjoy the action, which unfolds at breakneck speed. Try to figure out who the bad guy is. Not Tom Hanks, of course. But is it his lady physicist sidekick (who created the bomb while playing around with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN), the sneering head of the Swiss Guard (Stellan Skarsgard), the imperious Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the innocent young priest (Ewan McGregor), or one of the many lurking minions?

And enjoy the Roman scenery, most of which is real, and some of which is from a set created at the Hollywood Park race track. Rome wasn't built in a day, but St. Peter's Square at Hollywood Park, made it in a month or so.

The whole movie is just a goof. You'll be on the edge of your seat and have a great time.

Meanwhile, back in the real Rome, we have VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPEROR, a documentary that takes us deep into the world of Italian fashion. It would be an understatement to say that I'm an alien here, but I was fascinated by the backstage look at what goes into couture, the painstaking handcrafting that is required to shape raw cloth into inspired and beautiful garments. I was charmed by the story of Valentino himself and his life-partner/business manager Giancarlo Giametti. I was enthralled by the business machinations of corporate philistines who reshaped Valentino's creative world into one of franchising and branding. And I was amazed at the ability of the filmmakers to capture unguarded moments that revealed more than the principals may have wished. A good documentary shows you something you hadn't seen before and teaches you about it. A great documentary combines that with a story arc - beginning, middle and end. VALENTINO does both, and it's a feast for the eyes as well. Don't miss.

Also “truly unmissable” (Rolling Stone) and “must-see” (NY Observer) is THE CLASS. This French film follows an inspired teacher and his working-class students through a school year. Based on a true story, the movie won the Palm D'Or at Cannes, was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar here, and has compiled an almost-unheard of 100% rating from top critics on The writer-director Laurent Cantet had the smarts to cast the actual teacher as his lead and to work for a year with a group of students to develop a rapport that enables the film to have a cinéma vérité quality.

A rich film feast, indeed. Come down, cool off, and take advantage of the Tropic's Summer Sizzles promotion - see ten movies and get your eleventh free.

Details and schedules at
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[from Key West, the newspaper -]

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