Friday, September 18, 2009

Week of Sept. 18 to Sept. 24 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

Sometimes I get annoyed at the Tropic for holding films too long. I’m like a junkie needing a new fix of my beloved cinema, and the pickings were thin last week. But we’ve got a tsunami starting today, with four new movies covering the gamut from innocent young love (ADAM) to sci-fi (MOON), with some things for art buffs (HERB & DOROTHY) and illicit lovers (THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE) in between.

Let’s start with ADAM. He’s a troubled young man (Hugh Dancy from The Jane Austen Book Club), brilliant at work but hopeless at life. He’s got Asperger’s syndrome. Into his apartment building comes Beth, a perfect young thing, but with an imperfect father. Those are the building blocks of a story that will have you laughing and crying. If this were a TV film, it would be about Adam’s condition. But this movie will surprise you with its broader perspective, and not quite so pat resolution. Adam is an engineer. He knows facts. But he’s never lived alone until his father dies suddenly. His only window on reality is his father’s old Army buddy (played by the wonderful Frankie Faison) who insists that he engage in a little “guy talk.” And the girl who just moved in downstairs is just the right subject, not only for guy talk but also a sweet movie.

MOON is a two character film. One is human: astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell). The other is the computer GERTY, seemingly a first cousin of HAL. Sam is stationed on the moon on a three-year contract, the sole occupant of a facility mining helium for shipment to the earth. Sam has a only a few weeks left on his contract. But things are not entirely as they seem. The only one who knows the real facts is GERTY, who’s a nicer guy than you can imagine despite the fact that his facial expressions are only emoticons – you know :) or :( etc. There are no Star Trek space ships and dramatic encounters in this sci fi world, only a human story in which the computer has a bigger heart than its corporate master.

Was there ever a good corporation in the movies? Why do people think we’re better off with profit-driven corporate health insurers than the government? GERTY would know better. But I digress.

HERB & DOROTHY is a documentary. The Vogels had ordinary Civil Service jobs as a postal clerk and librarian. But with a rent-controlled apartment and no kids, they weren’t living large. Instead they bought art, pieces small enough to fit into their one bedroom apartment and cheap enough to fit into Herb’s postal salarly. Starting in the 1960’s they accumulated over 4,000 pieces, many from later-to-become famed artists like Sol Lewitt, Julian Schnabel and Chuck Close. This collection has become one of the leading troves in America, and the understated duo the most-beloved collectors in the New York art world. Meet them -- still alive in their eighth and ninth decades -- and the artists who love them, and learn about the art world in this superb documentary.

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE is something completely different. Steven Soderbergh, an inexhaustible source of original filmmaking ideas, turns to the world of the call girl in this latest offering. Chelsea is a high-priced plum, a sexual entrepreneur running her own business without a pimp, who thinks she can keep her job separate from her life with a live-in boyfriend. The star (Sasha Grey) is an actress of sorts: her prior roles are in porn films. So she has a feel for the subject. The film is relatively short (77 minutes) and has vérité quality as it follows Chelsea from work to home. Makes for an interesting bookend to ADAM, in that it’s another look the travails of young lovers. Leave it to Soderbergh to keep giving us new insights into the world.

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[from Solares Hill]

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