Friday, July 24, 2009

Week of July 24 to July 30 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

Highbrow or lowbrow? Which do you prefer?

Let's start at the bottom. NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN opened earlier this summer to universal critical distain, but held the no. 1 or no. 2 box office ranking for ten weeks, and has grossed over $200 million.

What's that tell us? That no matter what the critics say, or what anyone who appraises “film” may think, it must be a lot of fun. And it is. Ben Stiller is loose in the museum with the characters from the displays - including Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), and Albert Einstein (Eugene Levy) - all of whom do their thing. They're all about to be replaced with new exhibits, but they have one more night to shine, for you, and the kids you bring to the movie. Please do bring some kids. They'll understand and appreciate it a lot more than you.

Next up the ladder is THE HANGOVER, which shares a plot similarity. The characters here also have one night of freedom, in this case a bunch of dudes gone wild at their buddy's bachelor party. The locale isn't a regular museum, but Las Vegas, which is sort of a museum of contemporary sybaritica. And these guys are bent on finding out about any and all of it while the sweet, straight women wait back in Los Angeles for the return of the men from their overnight Odyssey. But it doesn't happen quite as neatly as any of them expect.

In an interesting cinematic twist -- where the mantra is always “show, don't tell” -- we see very little of the evening, but cut almost immediately to the aftermath. Thanks to a drug mix-up, no one remembers exactly how or why, but our boys' hotel suite is thoroughly trashed and inhabited by a Bengal tiger. (No, not a White one. This one belongs not to Sigfried or Roy but rather to Mike Tyson. But I digress.) The worst result of the lost evening is that the groom is gone, possibly abducted by some sinister Asian gangsters, or …. The possibilities are endless when everyone has total amnesia, and they're in Las Vegas. You've got to see The Hangover, if only because it's become a Hollywood phenomenon. With no movie stars or famous director, it has in a few short weeks become the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. Sure it's a frat-boy, gross-out comedy, but with quite a bit more sharpness than, say American Pie.

At the other end of the cultural scale, the Tropic being an art house after all, is the mesmerizing documentary EVERY LITTLE STEP. Filmed in 2006 while Broadway producers were casting a revival of the classic 1975 musical A Chorus Line, the movie follows several of the aspiring hopefuls, some looking to augment a career and some to start one, but all sharing a heartbreaking desire to make it and get that chance to perform. The depth and scope of their talent is breathtaking. They have an athleticism to rival any Olympian, coupled with acting ability to match that of any straight Broadway performer, and singing skills that might support a career on its own. The competition is fearsome. The willingness of these singularly talented people to put their everything on the line makes you wish all of them could prevail. In a way, it's like American Idol, but every contestant is a major leaguer. It's not just a game but their professional lives, and the story is all the more powerful because of it. Don’t miss it, especially if you love Broadway musicals, have tapped with Bruce Moore or even sung in the shower. It’s a winner.

Also opening this week is the much-acclaimed FOOD, INC., an exposé of the American food industry. It's got plenty of stuff to make you want to give up eating, but much hopeful information as well. You owe it to yourself to find out. Full info and schedules at
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