Thursday, July 9, 2009

Week of July 3 to July 9 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann
WHATEVER WORKS brings the indie favorite Woody Allen back to the Tropic, not on screen this time, but as writer-director. His persona is assumed by Larry David, of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fame.
Woody Allen is a genius, but he’s got a schtick – a beleaguered, insecure narcissist -- and we mostly love it. Larry David is also a genius with a schtick – an obnoxious, overbearing narcissist -- and we mostly love it. (If you don’t, best to skip this movie.) So what have we got? A beleaguered, insecure, obnoxious, overbearing narcissist. For a while, it’s a little much to take, but in the end, the genius shows through.
When I saw the movie, at a theater on the Upper West Side of New York, the audience was laughing all the way -- especially when Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley, Jr., join the action as a couple of Southern Baptists about to lose their innocence. And the full house was clapping at the end. If skewering religion and homophobia, condoning a relationship between a dewy-eyed charmer (Evan Rachel Wood) and an old fart (Larry David), and treating attempted suicide with a light touch, is your cup of tea, this is the movie for thee. (Note to Liberty and Brigham Young Universities: Protect your students from this film. Note to Key West: Come on down!)
TULPAN comes from a place where cups of tea are the norm, Kazakhstan. This is the vast, landlocked former Soviet republic, which was satirized in the movie Borat. It’s refreshing to see something of the real thing. Asa has returned to his homeland after a stint in the Soviet Navy, bent on finding a wife and settling down. But there’s only one eligible woman, the lovely Tulpan (Tulip). Asa’s an upbeat fellow and pursues his traditional courtship, which involves passing muster with the woman’s parents and negotiating a bride price, with enthusiasm. The result, sort of “Borat meets Mongol” is a joy to watch. “I swear to you that if you live in a place where this film is playing, it is the best film in town. You'll enjoy it, not soon forget it, and you’ll tell your friends about it and try to persuade them to go,” says Roger Ebert, echoing the universal praise for Tulpan. Winner of Best Picture awards at the Tokyo, India, and Montreal International Festivals, among others, this has got to be a must-see for anyone except slow readers who can’t deal with subtitles.
What have we got for the Woody Allen/subtitle hating audience? Your best bet is the Disney-Pixar animation, UP, held over for another week, and still the best PG-rated movie in town. And LITTLE ASHES, the possibly-true story of a 1922 love affair between Salvador Dali and Frederico Garcia Lorca, when both were students in Madrid, has also been held over. (Despite the setting, this is an English-language flick.)
This week’s Monday night classic is SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake. From director Preston Sturges, it’s a road comedy with a serious heart. Acclaimed movie director John Sinclair (McCrea) takes to the road dressed as a bum to explore the underside of life. And oh, what a set of adventures he has before reaching the Zen-insight conclusion. Selected by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time and one of the 100 Funniest Movies as well.
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