Thursday, November 19, 2009

Week of Nov. 20 to Nov. 26 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Everyone loves an ingénue, especially the Oscar committee. In recent years, you'll remember Abigail Breslin, who got a Best Actress nomination for her role as Olive in Little Miss Sunshine. And Ellen Page scored the same for playing Juno. This year, mark my words, it's going to be Carey Mulligan, for her role as Jenny in AN EDUCATION.

That is, unless the committee is frightened by the subject matter of the movie. Abigail's Olive was a young beauty pageant contestant... an innocent enough activity. Ellen's Juno was a smart kid knocked up by her kid boyfriend. Not so innocent, but kids will be kids.

But Carey Mulligan's Jenny is a high school student taking up with a grown man, double her age. And she's having a damn good time at it, smiling with her drop-dead dimples and giving sassy talk to her prissy headmistress, while flying off for weekends in Paris. If this was a major Hollywood release, we'd probably be hearing screams from the Family Research Council and such, who constitute America's moral policemen. But this is a British indie film, so it's under their radar.

Anyhow, to say it like a Brit, An Education is brill. Written by novelist Nick Hornby (About A Boy, High Fidelity) and starring Peter Sarsgaard as the older man (David), the film is a comedy, but with an edge. Sarsgaard does an amazing job at making his sleazy perv character into a loveable rogue. I'd put him down for an award, too, but they don't usually go to cads.

You'll love both Jenny and David. Mostly. 'Tis an education, indeed.

If you prefer your comedy more wild than wily, than maybe PIRATE RADIO is for you. Philip Seymour Hoffman heads the cast of frantic rock 'n roll lovers beaming their music to the BBC-afflicted British public in 1966. They're on a ratty refurbished tanker anchored beyond the twelve-mile limit, where they can play what they want, while the stiffs back on the mainland posture and pronounce. As Betsy Sharkey says in the L.A. Times, it's "a comedy that proves life really is better when it's set to a '60s soundtrack."

Rounding out the week's new movies is AMREEKA. Despite the title (which is America in Arabic) this is a mostly English language movie set in the suburbs of Chicago. Muna and her son Fadi are Palestinian immigrants who had the good luck to win the green card lottery, but the bad fortune to arrive just as the Iraq War begins. It's never easy being a newcomer to high school, but being an Arab named Fadi takes the ordeal to a new level. But instead of wringing her hands about it, the Arab-American writer/director Cherien Dabis succeeds in turning this into a comic look at the ever-repeating story of hostility to new immigrant groups entering our melting pot, making it a light-hearted and entertaining directorial debut.

For those who have missed them, AMELIA and NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU are held over for another week, and there's an encore performance of the opera DIE WALKURE.

Monday Night's Wild and Wonderful Women Classic features Mae West in SHE DONE HIM WRONG. When this movie, which got a Best Picture Oscar nomination, opened in New York at the Paramount in 1933, Mae West accompanied it with a live stage performance. Now that would be something wouldn't it? "Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?" says Mae in the movie. Can't you just hear it coming from Christopher Peterson?

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