Friday, August 28, 2009

Week of August 28 to September 3 (Mann)

If you haven’t been asleep all summer you know it’s the fortieth anniversary of the most historic rock concert ever: Woodstock. How do you make a movie about this sprawling, out-of-control event, best described in the bumper sticker cliche: “If you remember Woodstock, you weren’t there.”

Well, polymath director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Hulk, The Ice Storm), who was 14 and living in Taiwan, surely wasn’t there. Neither was his longtime screenwriter-collaborator, James Shamus, who is five years younger. But drawing on a memoir written by Elliot Tiber, a Greenwich Village interior designer who was temporarily helping his parents run a crummy motel in the Catskills, and who stumbled into a pivotal role in making it all happen, these master filmmakers have fashioned TAKING WOODSTOCK. The movie opens nationally this week, with the Tropic Cinema bringing it to Key West.

The music is part of the film, with tracks from such as The Grateful Dead; Jefferson Airplane; Janis Joplin; The Doors; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Arlo Guthrie; and The Band; but as background to a story that’s more around, than in the middle of, the event. But, as one reviewer says: “One thing is for sure, life could never be the same after Woodstock. Ang Lee's film is a hypnotic carpet ride that allows us to understand that - close up and from afar.” Urban Cinefile

For something completely different, check out DEPARTURES. This Japanese film, winner of the 2009 Best Foreign Film Oscar, tells the story of a concert cellist who, after losing his orchestra job, finds himself employed as funeral home "encoffineer,” preparing bodies for burial. Oh, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have told you, because you’re probably put off. But don’t be. It’s “sometimes humorous, … the cinematography is perfectly framed and evocative, and the movie is uncommonly absorbing,” says Roger Ebert, or as NPR’s Bob Mondello puts it, the movie is a “sophisticated and elegant departure” from the typical noisy summer films.

And now for this week’s prizes. Real prizes. Wear your best Woodstock getup to the 6:45pm or 9:00pm shows today (Friday, Aug. 28) of Taking Woodstock, and win movie passes and popcorn.

Even better, the Restaurant Store is supplying a $25 gift certificates as door prizes today at 6:15pm and 8:30pm, to celebrate the Tropic’s opening of the cooking dream movie JULIE AND JULIA. You really shouldn’t need a prize to entice you to this film. Writer-Director Nora Ephron tracks the lives of two cooks, the great Julia Child (Meryl Streep) who revolutionized American cooking, and the not-very-great Julie Powell (Amy Adams) whose only claim to fame is that she prepared all 524 recipes in Julia’s masterwork over the course of a single year. You might not think there’s a movie in this, but you haven’t reckoned with the skill of Ms. Ephron (Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail) and her co-stars, both of whom are as delicious as the recipes. “One of the gentlest, most charming American movies of the past decade,” says the New Yorker. Book a great dinner after seeing it. You’ll be hungry.

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

Taking Woodstock (Rhoades)

“Taking Woodstock” Will Take You Back

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Were you at Woodstock, the 1969 musical lovefest in upstate New York? Lots of my friends were. Some even remember the experience.

Elliot Tiber does. So he wrote an autobiography called “Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life” which just got made into a movie.
“Taking Woodstock” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Oddly enough, the film about this seminal America experience was directed by Chinese-born Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain,” “The Hulk”). Go figure. Perhaps it takes an independent observer to truly capture this event.

This dramedy tells the story of Elliot, the kid who’s responsible for arranging that the festival be held in Bethel, NY. Seems his mom and dad owned a small motel in the Catskills, a business on the verge of collapse. But wait! – they also happen to hold the only musical festival permit in the entire county. Yowza! He can help those desperate promoters in search of a venue.

The “Aquarian Exposition” is replayed here. All the heart-pounding music, the legendary performers, the whiff of marijuana in the air, every little nuance. Yep, with plenty of mud, plenty of nudity. And the cast of characters is spot on, so much so they now seem stereotypical. You’ll meet the hippie couple, the guitar-playing wanderer, the recently returned Vietnam vet, the concert organizer, etc.
Demetri Martin is winning as Elliot, the kid through whose eyes we experience Woodstock. Martin is best known as a standup comedian and has a TV show called “Important Things With Demetri Martin” on Comedy Central.

Interesting casting is Liev Schreiber (the macho Sabretooth in the recent “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), here playing a transvestite named Vilma. And you’ll enjoy Eugene Levy (don’t you just love that guy?) as a local who owns the 600-acre dairy farm where the Woodstock Music and Art Fair takes place.

“Taking Woodstock” features songs from a score of ’60s musical icons including The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, and Country Joe and the Fish, as well as a new recording of “Freedom” from Richie Havens. But this is not a performance film per se. As Ang Lee says, the camera is on the crowd.

A timely remembrance for all us aging hippies? As a matter of fact, August 18 was the 40th anniversary of Woodstock.

If you’re part of the Woodstock generation, you’ll enjoy this return trip (that’s not a pun or is it?). If you’re younger, you’ll find this “ancient history” interesting. In any case, you’ll love the music.
[from Solares Hill]

Departures (Rhoades)

“Departures” Takes Off As Best Foreign Film

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My second cousin Ralph owned a funeral home. It seemed like an odd profession to me. He was always so somber, dressed in a dark suit, standing straight as a rod, hands clasped in front of him. But he took pride in his work, “helping families in their time of need,” as he described it.

That’s the theme of “Departures,” the Japanese motion picture that won the 2009 Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film. It’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In “Departures” (original title: “Okuribito”), you’ll meet a cellist named Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) who takes a job with a funeral service after his orchestra closes down. A bit embarrassed by his new profession, assisting people who have departed this life, he’s vague in describing this work to his wife, referring to it as the “ceremonial occasions industry.” She gets the idea he’s in the wedding business.
When everybody figures out Daigo’s true occupation, the reactions are harsh. His wife leaves him; his friends shun him.

Don’t worry, director Yôjirô Takita doesn’t leave you hanging there. The former cellist manages to redeem himself – and therein hangs the story.
Loosely based on a book called “Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician,” the film was long time in the making. The director attended funeral ceremonies to learn more about the “encoffinment” business. And Motoki, being a meticulous actor, both studied with a mortician and learned to play a cello. It took them ten years, and the effort paid off. In addition to the Oscar, the film won 31 other major awards.
“Departures” is a touching film about life and death. Its Japanese title literally means “the person who sees off.”

Maybe my cousin was really in the travel business.
[from Solares Hill]

Julie and Julia (Rhoades)

“Julie & Julia” Offers A Double Helping

Every kitchen should have both volumes of Julia Child’s classic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Although it’s the collaboration of three authors, the cookbook succeeded in catapulting Child into a long career as a television chef.

After working for the OSS during WWII, Julia Child married a US diplomat named Paul Cushing Child. A bon vivant with a fine palate, he introduced her to French cuisine when posted to Paris by the State Department. There she attended the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school as well as studying with several noted chefs, until finally (as her 1961 book put it) mastering the art of French cooking.

Later on, as a popular TV chef, her irrepressible personality and enthusiasm for food made her a household name.

You’ll learn about this in “Julie & Julia,” the new Nora Ephron comedy that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

As a matter of fact, you’ll get a double helping with this cinematic feast. Ephron based her script for the movie on not one, but two disparate sources. The first, of course, was Child’s biography, “My Life in France.” The second was a memoir by less-famous online blogger Julie Powell.

In 2002 Powell began a website that documented her attempt to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” This humorous experiment was published as “Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen,” but was re-titled as “Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously” for the paperback edition.

Director Nora Ephron adapted this into a screenplay. “Julie & Julia” is considered the first major motion picture based on an online blog.

The cast is marvelous: Amy Adams as Julie Powell, Meryl Streep as Julia Child, and Stanley Tucci as Julia’s husband.

Meryl Streep perfects the warbly voice and frizzy appearance of the film’s namesake. Seeing her go from being a svelte “Dancing Queen” in the recent “Mama Mia!” musical to the frumpy Child in “Julie & Julia” is a testament to her thespian range.

And Amy Adams offers a plausible and funny Julie. A fine acting job that reaffirms she can do humor (“Sunshine Cleaning” or “Night at the Museum 2”) as well as heavy drama (“Doubt”).

What did the real Julie Powell think of Adams’ performance?

“Julie Powell in the movie, she’s a fictional character. She’s much softer than I am, and she doesn’t curse nearly as much as I do, and – this is a nitpicky thing – perhaps doesn’t have the sense of self-awareness that was key to the blog and the book. Amy Adams is lovely, and I’m happy with it. She (the main character) is just not me. You have to go into it thinking, this is a Nora Ephron movie – not my book. Then you can enjoy it.”

Okay, fair enough. But moviegoers won’t know they softened the real-life Julie’s character, I promise you. You’ll laugh and be inspired and want to go out to a fine French dinner.

And what did the late Julia Child think of Powell’s little cooking experiment?

“I’d written her a letter,” says Powell. “The letter that I received back was cordial, and, I’m sure, typed up by her secretary. She was glad that she had been an inspiration to me, and that I was trying to learn to cook, and suggested an organization for aspiring chefs . . . It was kind of her to acknowledge my letter. She didn’t address the project ... but it meant so much more to me than learning to cook. It taught me a great deal about what I was capable of, how I could turn my life around.”

Julie Powell’s next book is called “Cleaving,” a chronicle of her six-month stint working in an upstate New York butcher shop. If Hollywood options it for a movie, let’s hope they don’t (are you ready?) butcher it.

[from Solares Hill]

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Hangover - week 5 (comments)

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Public Enemies (comments)

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The Hurt Locker (comments)

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Week of August 21 to August 27 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

As kids we used to play a game: What's the worst job in the world? I always thought guard inside the Holland Tunnel rated top. But I now have a new candidate. Member of an Iraq-based military EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team. These guys have to disarm bombs, which is bad enough in itself, but imagine doing it in 100+ degree heat, in a hostile environment where snipers and booby traps lurk around every corner.

Welcome to THE HURT LOCKER. That's urban slang for a place where bad things happen, and it's the title of the tense, intense new film from indie filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow that's already generating Oscar buzz. It's the final 38 days of an EOD squad's tour of duty. Each day brings a new confrontation with the precariousness of mortality, and each man deals with it in his own way. Meanwhile, thanks to the verisimilitude produced by Ms. Bigelow's use of multiple hand-held cameras in a real Middle Eastern location, we are drawn into their world and out to the edges of our seats.

The team leader, Staff Sgt. William James, is the man who has to don a 140 lb. blast suit and go mano-a-mano with the bomb itself. His support team has to cover him, watching out for snipers or for the concealed bomb maker about to activate the device with a cell phone. The movie is not really about the Iraq war, but about these men, what goes on in their heads and why they might be doing this. EOD specialists are volunteers. Every branch of the military has them, because they have an essential role to play in contemporary mine-field, improvised-explosive-device, warfare.

I kept asking myself why would someone choose to do this? My first reaction on leaving the movie was to think it would discourage anyone from joining such a unit. But then I did a bit of Internet trolling, and learned quite the opposite. If you're the kind of person who is unlikely to join such a unit, the movie will reenforce your reluctance. But if you're the kind who finds the thrill and challenge appealing, it's a recruiting tool. It's all in the epigraph that opens the movie: “War is a drug.”

Maybe so, but I'll get my fix via a movie. And The Hurt Locker mainlines it. A must-see.

The legendary bank robbers John Dillinger, Pretty-Boy Floyd and Baby-Face Nelson were another breed of thrill-seekers, pumped up by the action of looting banks and outwitting the law. PUBLIC ENEMIES is their story, dramatized by director Michael Mann (Heat, Miami Vice, Last of the Mohicans). The focus is on Johnny Depp as Dillinger and Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis, the FBI man who hunted him down. It was the thirties, when movies and bank robberies were the public's favorite forms of entertainment. J. Edgar Hoover would be launching the F.B.I. and his own career as America's favorite crime-buster. But, like the public back then, we can't help rooting for Dillinger. He's better-looking, he's bolder, he's got beautiful molls. He just went to one-too-many movies.

If all this excitement is too much for you, two comedies continue their runs. THE HANGOVER is the summer's biggest comedy hit, grossing over $400 million to date. Never has the term “grossing” been more apt. And for those of you who like your laughs with a limey flavor, the Brit political satire IN THE LOOP, is just the thing.

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

The Hurt Locker (Rhoades)

“Hurt Locker” Is Explosive Story

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I sometimes refer to action films as “bang-bang boom-boom movies,” a reference to the shoot-em-ups and explosions that have become so familiar to audiences. Well, here’s one that can certainly be described as “boom-boom.”

“The Hurt Locker” is about a military bomb squad. It’s exploding this week at the Tropic Cinema.

There have been movies before about men whose job it is to defuse bombs. One memorable example was “Blown Away,” starring Jeff Bridges as a bomb squad cop out to catch an IRA bombmaker.

In “The Hurt Locker,” three members of the Army’s elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad are assigned to disarm roadside bombs near Baghdad.

The trio is played by Jeremy Renner (“The Assassination of Jesse James”), Anthony Mackie (“Half Nelson”), and Brian Geraghty (“Jarhead”). Ralph Fiennes (“The Reader”), David Morse (“John Adams”), Evangeline Lilly (“Lost”), and Guy Pearce (“Memento”) also do cameos.

As the story goes, Bravo Company is a small counterforce specifically trained to handle homemade bombs (known as Improvised Explosive Devices). These IEDs account for more than half of all hostile deaths of American soldiers in Iraq.

The message here is that personal relationships are just as explosive as bombs. When a new staff sergeant (Renner) takes over the team, he’s seen as a cowboy with a reckless disregard for protocol and basic safety measures. With only 39 days left on their tour, two of the soldiers (Mackie and Geraghty) try to avoid disaster at the hands of a leader who doesn’t seem to know the difference between bravery and bravado.

“The Hurt Locker” is based on the first-hand experiences of journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal. On an embed in Iraq, he got to duck shrapnel as bomb squads exploded homemade IEDs.

Katherine Bigelow brought it all to the screen. She’s a terrific director, capable of handling quirky subjects. Like her classic “Point Blank.” Or the vampire film, “Near Dark.” Or the sci-fi thriller, “Strange Days.”

Seeking greater authenticity, Bigelow filmed in Jordan, less than three miles from the Iraqi border. Her cast attests to its accuracy. “They were throwing rocks. We got shot at a few times while we were filming,” Renner said. “When you see it, you’re gonna feel like you’ve been in war.”

“I wanted you to walk out of the theater and wipe the sand off your pants,” agrees Bigelow. “There’s a real visceral, raw, immediate immersion into a day in the life of a bomb tech.”

Bigelow says she wanted “The Hard Locker” to be “a combat film, not a re-integration to the home front, not an overt commentary on the war. It’s really meant to be reportorial.”

What she’s delivered is more a psychological profile of the men who disarm bombs in Iraq than a typical bang-bang boom-boom action film. “When you’re laying on your belly and you’re five inches away from the bomb, there’s no blast suit or helmet that’s going to protect you,” she says. “You’re intimate with an object that could spread your DNA into the next county if you make a mistake. There’s no margin for error.”

She obviously admires these brave soldiers. And it shows. “The Hard Locker” has already been called “a near-perfect movie about men in war….”

[from Solares Hill]

Public Enemies (Rhoades)

“Public Enemies” Wins Over the Movie Public

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

John Dillinger was a bank robber. And a ladies man. His penchant for pretty women in red dresses got him gunned down by the Feds in front of Chicago’s Biograph Theater in 1934.

Legends grew up around this famous outlaw. That it was a double who’d been killed (yeah, and the real Dillinger’s hanging out with Elvis). That he had a humongous sex organ that’s on display in a jar in the Smithsonian (I couldn’t find it on my last visit). That he could clear out a safe in “one minute and forty seconds … flat” (it takes longer than that for a teller to simply hand over the money).

But “Public Enemies” – the John Dillinger movie that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema – is meant to be entertainment, not a documentary.

This biopic stars Johnny Depp as the handsome Public Enemy No. 1. And Christian Bale (sans Batman cowl and cape) is his nemesis, FBI Bureau Chief Melvin Purvis. Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard plays Dillinger’s love interest Billie Frechette, while Branka Katic is cast as Anna Sage, the infamous lady in red.

You’ll find the good-looking bank robber surrounded by other good-looking criminals: Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) and Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham). You may start feeling like this is a gangster version of “Young Guns.”

But Johnny Depp is a chameleon worth watching. He sucks up a role and oozes that character out through his very pores. And Bale may not have the same range, but he’s charismatic nonetheless.

Depp admits he identified with the part. “It has to do with my family and my upbringing,” he explained. “My grandfather, who I was very close to as a kid, had run moonshine into dry counties like Robert Mitchum in that movie ‘Thunder Road,’ and my stepfather also had been a bit of a rogue and done burglaries and robberies and had spent some time in Statesville Prison in Illinois where we ended up shooting some of the film.”

While doing research for the film, Depp discovered a mug shot of his stepfather in the files at the Statesville maximum-security prison.

“The fact that Dillinger was born and raised about 60 or 70 miles from where I was born and raised, was the moment that I could hear his voice, that was the moment when I knew what he sounded like, I knew what he acted like, I knew that confidence, that strut, because I’d seen it in my grandfather, I’d seen it in various men I’d known all my life, my stepfather.”

Christian Bale as the square-jawed FBI agent opines that America is fascinated by these gangster stories of the ’30s because the period was like “the dying days of the Old West.” This from the star of “3:10 to Yuma.”

Although “Public Enemies” is directed by Michael Mann, you’ll be reminded a bit of Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables.” Same city. Same time period. Same crooks, almost.

I’d still give De Palma’s film the higher marks. But that’s not to take anything away from Michael Mann. I’ll still choose Mann’s “Manhunter” over Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs.”

And let’s not forget Depp’s smooth performance. Or his appeal to young women who might not otherwise venture into a shoot-em-up crime movie.

One online blogger described it well: “A first rate gangster flick, steadily filling the screen with a barrage of machinegun bullets, almost to the point that you can smell the gunpowder from the fifth row.”

Sniff, sniff. Is that gunpowder I smell? Or the sweet smell of box-office success?

[from Solares Hill]

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bruno (Comments)

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In the Loop (Comments)

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Week of August 14 to 20 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

IN THE LOOP may be the most blurbable movie of the year. “The audience ... is likely to die laughing... line by filthy line, scene by chaotic scene, by far the funniest big-screen satire in recent memory.” (New York Times) “Devilishly clever.... deserves to be a sleeper hit.” (Rolling Stone) “Hands down the funniest movie I've seen all year and also the smartest.” (Christian Science Monitor) And that's just a sample.

Now it's not for everyone. The language is atrocious. The humor is British, because it's a Brit film based on a popular political satire on the BBC. But if potty-mouth political satire is your cuppa, then come running. The plot involves high level British and American foreign policy types all twisted up about what to say about an impending invasion of an unnamed Middle Eastern country. So it's topical in a way, but the movie is not about plot. It's about lines like “He's as useless as a marzipan dildo.” It's about scenes like an American general (played by James Gandolfini) counting up troop strength on a children's toy.

If that doesn't get you laughing, then BRUNO might. I've been a fan of Sasha Baron Cohen ever since I discovered Da Ali G Show on television, but I never thought he could keep working his bizarre, non-sequitor spouting, ambush-interviewing shtick. I was wrong. Ali G begat Borat who begat Bruno. This time Sasha is a gay celebrity-baiting Austrian TV reporter who will do anything for publicity, including exchanging an iPod for a baby. What can be next?

But neither of these is the funniest film at the Tropic this week. That title, in my humble opinion, goes to the Monday night classic, the 1953 MR. HULOT'S HOLIDAY. If you've never seen this Jacques Tati masterpiece, you've missed some of the great moments on film. Neither Charlie Chaplin nor Marcel Marceau have anything on the wordless antics of M. Tati, as he travels to Brittany in his bicycle-wheeled car for a beach vacation.

Two other comedies also continue their runs: THE HANGOVER (frat-boy frenzy) and (500) DAYS OF SUMMER (sweet young romantic comedy). Both have been very popular, with different crowds, I suppose. Both are date movies, with the guys dragging the chicks to the first, and the girls responding with the latter. Mars and Venus, you know.

I guess the Tropic staff is in a good mood to celebrate the news they just got. Florida Monthly's annual Best of Florida issue, coming out next month, will proclaim the Tropic as the Best Cinema in Florida. Feature that! No need to leave the rock.

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

In the Loop [Rhoades]

In the Loop” Satirizes Politics

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

What if someone made a movie about the US President and the British Prime Minister conspiring to have a war in the Middle East? A documentary, you say? No, a satire actually.

“In the Loop” -- a BBC Films and UK Film Council co-production – is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Actually a spinoff from the BBC-TV show “In the Thick,” director Armando Iannucci sets out to show how tangled communications inside government departments can lead to dire consequences. Like war.

Remember “Wag the Dog”? That was the 1997 Barry Levinson film where a spin doctor (Robert DeNiro) wages a fictitious war on Albania for political purposes? This is kinda the same, but the potential war here isn’t fictitious.

“In the Loop” recounts the thrust-and-parry of politics, where some government officials are hawks and others are quivering doves. It follows an entourage of mid-level policymakers and their PR flacks as war talk flares after a British cabinet minister misspeaks during a radio interview.

Classical actor Tom Holland plays Simon Foster, the inept minister who sets off all the war brouhaha. Will he have to resign?

“So this all gonna spin along from here,” whines Simon. “We’re gonna have a vote and we’re gonna go to war and we gonna fight them and we’re gonna kill them and our children are gonna get killed. And this is exactly the sort of thing I didn’t wanna do when I went into politics, this is the opposite of what I wanted to be doing.”

“Well, that’s exactly why you have to stay in government, so you can influence things,” argues the spin doctor. “In here you can influence things, you can delay things.” But isn’t this just another example of his manipulative spins?

Chris Addison joins the fray as Toby, the minister’s hapless new aide, a kid willing to take one for the team when it comes to a pretty American aide. “Did you just say that you had sex to stop the war, an anti-war shag?” his girlfriend challenges.

Anna Chlumsky pops up as Liza Wells, the American aide, in her first role since her childhood turn in the movie “My Girl.”

David Rasche steps up as Linton Barwick, the US Assistant Secretary, Policy. A Donald Rumsfeld-like politician who sets up a “Future Planning Committee” as a euphemism for his intended War Committee. And he blithely doctors committee minutes to “not be a reductive record of what happened to have been said, but should be a more full record of what was intended to have been said.” Perfect political double speak.

And “The Sopranos” star James Gandolfini wears a well-stuffed uniform covered with medals as General George Miller, a senior military assistant at the Pentagon who opposes war. “General Flintstone,” some call him.

Front and center is the spin doctor. Peter Capaldi reprises his TV role as Malcolm Tucker, the Prime Minister’s foul-mouthed enforcer who is struggling to control the situation. Every other word is an expletive, language so salty the Morton’s umbrella girl would blush.

The hatchet-faced actor does a (blank)ing masterful job as the aggressive communications chief. As one moviegoer observed, Peter Capaldi “steals the show with his relentlessly scathing superhuman vulgarity ridden wit.”

Director Iannucci says, “I deliberately didn’t want it to be about Iraq. I didn’t want it to mention who the president was, the prime minister, what the country was. I’m kind of looking at the underlings, the people who are always there in government. I wanted to show how government generally works, as well as taking a specific moment in time. And how actually, it’s not just the big important people and their decisions, it’s the actions of everyone, whether they decided to pass on something or stand up.”

Iannucci once observed there really are no evil politicians, that they’re just people like you and me who in some cases are able to meet the challenge. “Well that’s just it,” he confirms his viewpoint. “I wanted to not show politics as good or evil, like these are the good guys and these are the bad guys. I kind of wanted it to feel much more real.”

Real or not, “In the Loop” teaches us many great truths about politics. One being: “We don’t need any more facts. In the land of truth, my friend, a man with one fact is the king.”

[from Solares Hill]

Brüno (Rhoades)

“Brüno” Showcases British Prankster

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Of all places, I frequently go to Tyler, Texas (I have a client near there). Checking into my hotel room, I tune to the local television station, KETK-TV. Great programming: Local news, religion, and gun shows. East Texas is straight-laced cowboy country, not the kind of place you’d expect to encounter a flamboyant over-the-top anything-goes fashion reporter from Austria.

Nevertheless, KETK-TV news director Neal Barton and sports director Danny Elzner were interviewed in July 2008 by just such a fashionista. They expected to talk about small-town news, but this guy named Brüno steered the interview toward such discomforting subjects as (gasp!) homosexuality.

Ha! They were punked. For Brüno was none other than British prankster Sacha Baron Cohen, best known for his mockumentary, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

This phony-baloney interview with the Tyler TV folks was intended to become a segment in Cohen’s latest silly film, but much hit the cutting room floor.

This “eponymous flamboyant gay Austrian fashion journalist” is a character originally created by Cohen for his HBO program, “Da Ali G Show.”

One gossip blog called this new film “Brüno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt.” That pretty much sums it up.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Brüno” is currently camping it up at the Tropic Cinema.

The Tyler TV station was not the only one to get fooled by this fake fashion maven.

“American Idol” hostess Paula Abdul was tricked into doing an interview with the fictional Brüno. “I was told I got the Austrian/German ‘Entertainer of the Year Award.’ I thought ‘Wow! That’s pretty fantastic,’” she explained.

Invited to a house devoid of furniture, she met with a “weird, tall, skinny, creepy looking dude” who was “dressed like Captain Nemo” – Sacha Baron Cohen in his Brüno guise.

During the faux interview Cohen coaxed her into sitting on human furniture. “He goes, ‘Immigrants! Immigrants’ and … these two Mexican gardeners come into the house,” Abdul recalls. “He tells them to drop on all fours and for me to sit down on them. I said, ‘I’m not gonna do that!’ and he goes, ‘Just sit!’”

Paula sat, but made her getaway from the bizarre interviewer as quickly as she could. It took her a while to figure it out. A year later she woke up “in a pool of sweat at two o’clock in the morning, going ‘Ahhh! Oh my god, they got me.’ I had no idea (at the time) it was Sacha Baron Cohen.”

While some people have filed lawsuits against the British comedian, Abdul shrugs and says, “I think it’s hysterical.”

In a stunt at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards, Sacha Baron Cohen was set to present the award for Best Male Performer. Appearing as a winged angel in a jockstrap and white go-go boots, his Brüno flew over the audience on wires. However, before making it to the stage, he fell onto Eminem. The rapper let loose with a string of expletives before storming out of the auditorium. (It was later revealed Eminem was in on the joke, having rehearsed it with Cohen beforehand.)

As another prank, Brüno stormed the catwalk during an Agatha Ruiz de la Prada fashion show in Milan. He got only a few steps down the runway before security guards dragged him away.

“Brüno” was produced and co-written by star Sacha Baron Cohen and directed by Larry Charles. Don’t confuse it with a 2000 film of the same name directed by Shirley MacLaine.

The question is, when millions of people have seen the “Borat” film and “Da Ali G Show,” how do you trick people without being recognized? Sometimes you don’t. In November 2008, Cohen (dressed as Brüno) was spotted at a Los Angeles rally in support of Proposition 8. Once recognized, he had to be whisked away by his film crew before reporters could interview him.

Online bloggers are having a field day with “Brüno.” One heading proclaimed: “Does anyone else think this guy is REALLY annoying?” Another said, “I spent the entire movie alternating between HUGE belly laughs and covering my eyes in disbelief.”

Others argued, “Isn’t it just a Zoolander rip-off?” After pointing out that Cohen’s Brüno character predated Ben Stiller’s fashion send-up, someone explained the difference: “One is a scripted film in which a moronic male model is brainwashed to assassinate someone. The other is a mostly improvised film in which an Austrian fashion reporter attempts to break up America.”

No, “Brüno” is not a film everyone will love. Sacha Baron Cohen recently appeared on the cover of Attitude Magazine in an attempt to appease angry members of the gay community who felt his character promoted homophobia.

Love him or hate him, you’ll agree that Brüno is outrageous.

[from Solares Hill]

Friday, August 7, 2009

Rudo Y Cursi (Comments)

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Afghan Star (Comments)

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(500) Days of Summer (comments)

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Week of August 7 to August 13 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

It's the battle of the rom-coms this week. Romantic comedies, that is.

In the red trunks, from Hollywood, U. S. A. we have Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in one of this summer's sleeper hits -- The Proposal -- held over for another week. They've got the classic Tracy-Hepburn moves down pat. A most unlikely couple, thrown together by unlikely circumstance, find true love. In this case it's a bitch boss and her seemingly lame assistant.

In the blue trunks, opening this week from Indie Film Land, we have (500) Days of Summer. The differences could not be more apparent. Instead of caricatures, we have characters. Instead of a linear story we have flashbacks and twists. The director comes from the world of music videos, this being his first feature, and that background shows through with musical interludes.

Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) is smitten with Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) from the moment he sees her. She likes him, too, and they hook up as sweet young people are wont to do in this day and age. But she doesn’t want to make a big commitment. Because this is a modern indie movie, and not a formulaic one, we are never really sure where the story is going or how it’s going to get there, except that it’s going to take almost two years (500 days) to play out. Meanwhile, as Rolling Stone puts it, “the sublimely smart-sexy-joyful-sad (500) Days of Summer hits you like a blast of pure romantic oxygen.”

For those of you who have been worried that the Tropic has lost its alternative film mojo, there’s a lot more than (500) Days to reassure you this week.

Rudo Y Cursi is a new film from Mexico starring Gael Garcia Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries, Bad Education) and Diego Luna (Milk, Y Tu Mama Tambien). They play brothers whose lives surge from rural peasant farming to big money soccer stars when a scout discovers them. Needless to say, the going isn’t smooth, but it’s fun for the audience in this light-hearted buddy comedy that’s “lively and engaging.” (New York Times) The name of the new production company formed to make this movie is a tipoff to its tone – Cha Cha Cha.

And on the documentary front, you can see Afghan Star, for an amazing insight into the new Afghanistan. From the days of Taliban rule with singing banned and women wrapped in burquas, the country is now home to the Asian version of American Idol, with millions following, and voting on, female as well as male televised performers. The movie follows four contestants who are immensely popular, but also at risk of their lives, as they sing their hearts out.

With this selection, it’s a good week to beginning filling up your Summer Sizzles card. See ten movies before November 1, and the next one is free. Just ask for a card at the box office.

[from Key West, the newspaper -]

(500) Days of Summer (Rhoades)

To Every Thing There Is a “Summer”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever loved somebody who didn’t love you back? I mean rather than a your fantasy about a movie star or celeb. Sure you have.
So does Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in “(500) Days of Summer,” the quirky new romance that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In this hot little indie film, Tom meets the girl of his dreams, the new secretary at the greeting card company where he works. Her name is Summer (yes, the title refers to a girl, not the season). And Tom is smitten. He babbles to his friends about her, he manufactures excuses to see her, he can’t think about anything else.

At an office party, he gets a little drunk and has a philosophical exchange with Summer (Zooey Deschanel) about love. He argues that love is real; she says not.

You’d think that would have been a hint.

Tom spends 500 days in an awkward love affair with Summer. But don’t pull out your calendar. The story isn’t told in chronological order.

So will this relationship work out? Don’t bet on it.

And as for their argument over whether love is real … well, sometimes both sides find they’re wrong about that.

Back in my single days I found the best remedy for heartbreak was finding a new girlfriend. There’s always a new season. As the Book of Ecclesiastes says, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance ….”

You can be sure that Autumn follows Summer.

[from Solares Hill]