Friday, December 25, 2009

Week of Dec. 25 to Dec. 31 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

They're deeply into holiday time at the Tropic, standing by for your viewing pleasure. The theater is open every day, Christmas included. It's a gift to you from the wonderful, dedicated staff and volunteer team. So get on down, see a movie, and give them the gift of your smiling presence.

There are plenty of reasons to come, most importantly four great, award-nominated films. The new show in town is UP IN THE AIR, which just opened this past Wednesday. Director Jason Reitman started development of this movie in the good old days before the Great Recession, but it couldn't be more mordantly well timed. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a professional downsizer, traveling across America firing people with a well developed patter: "I'm a wake up call. This is a rebirth." Seeing how his subjects suffer in direct proportion to their attachments, he resists commitment to anything except his frequent flyer mileage account. The subject is serious, but the tone is light, and the accolades are piling on.

Held over is PRECIOUS: from the novel Push by Sapphire. You've surely heard about this one, so I won't add anything except to say that it's worth seeing for the performance of Mo'nique as the abusive mother of Claireece "Precious" Jones alone.

Also held over are INVICTUS, Clint Eastwood's story of the molding of the new South African nation through rugby,; and FANTASTIC MR. FOX, Wes Anderson's animated rendition of the Roald Dahl tale of a devilish fox.

On the Special Events front, the Tropic will be hosting a visit by Aaron Wolff, the young man who played the Bar Mitzvah boy in A Serious Man. You'll see some clips from the movie, and then Aaron will be interviewed on stage and take questions. All of you who enjoyed this Coen brother's hit will want to meet Aaron. Free to members of the Film Society at 6:00pm on Monday, preceding the Monday Night Classic movie.

This week's classic is CHRISTMAS STORY. No, not the well-known "A Christmas Story" about the boy who wants a BB gun, but a new Finnish movie about how Santa Claus came to be the gift-giving marvel we all love so well. A record-breaking hit in Finland, now dubbed in English, it won the Audience Award at the Sarasota Film Festival. This special treat will be shown for kids (and accompanying adults) on Saturday at the 12:30pm kids matinee (free), as well as Monday night.

There's also another opera, this time COSI FAN TUTTE from the Salzburg Festival. It's a striking modern-dress production of this Mozart opera buffa about two men who, in disguise, seduce each other's fiancées. In movie speak, you might call it a romantic comedy. A great introduction to opera for newbies.

This is my last column of 2009, so I thought I should leave you with a list of my favorites for the year. I've excluded movies currently showing, limiting the list to ones that have passed into the great queue in the sky. Here, in roughly chronological order by release date, are ten movies I would go out of my way to see again:

Let the Right One In (Swedish vampires)
Julie and Julia (femme lib through cooking)
Inglourious Basterds
(boys will be boys)
Valentino (unless they're not)
Everlasting Moments (femme lib through photography)
Hurt Locker (male lib through exposure to death)
An Education (there's more than one way to learn)
A Serious Man (oy vey)
35 Shots of Rum (a slice of French working-class life)
Pirate Radio (just plain fun, with music)

La Danse (Rhoades)

“La Danse’ Performs Ballet in Opulent Setting
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Here in Key West we’ve been dazzled by local ballet diva Joyce Stohl’s version of “The Nutcracker.” In fact, you can view her colorful dance costumes now on exhibit at the Key West Art & Historical Society’s Custom House.

Those of you who appreciate ballet will also want to see “La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet” – a beguiling new film that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Director Frederick Wiseman devotes his 38th documentary to a visually stunning display of beautiful young dancers performing inside the Palais Garnier, an opulent 19th-Century Parisian castle that houses the Paris Opéra.

You’ll follow such brilliant young dancers as Nicolas Le Riche, Marie-Agnès Gillot, and Agnès Letestu as they rehearse throughout the castle. Whirling beneath the sparkling crystal chandeliers, doing arabesques within the maze of its underground chambers, and pirouetting under the Chagall-painted ceiling of its 2,200-seat theater. Dancers like ethereal ghosts flitting before our eyes in this otherworldly setting.

Much of the credit must go to cinematographer John Davey. His camera allows us intimate access to the dancers and the grand milieu within which they perform.

The film follows the rehearsals and performances of seven ballets: “Genus” by Wayne McGregor, “Le Songe de Medée” by Angelin Preljocaj, “La Maison de Bernarda” by Mats Ek, “Paquita” by Pierre Lacotte, “Casse Noisette” by Rudolph Noureev, “Orphée and Eurydice” by Pina Bausch, and “Romeo and Juliette” by Sasha Waltz.

These choreographers take their dancers through each step of rehearsal, perfecting minute movements, the point of a toe, the placement of an arm. In the end, they achieve a degree of graceful perfection that’s played out on the stage.

Brigitte Lefèvre, the troupe’s artistic director, chatters on in a grand French manner, explaining the workings of the rehearsal (there are subtitles, of course). But ignore the dialogue and feast your eyes on the sumptuous castle and the elegant dancers.

If you’re a ballet afficinado, you’ll enjoy this night at the opera.
[from Solares Hill]

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Up in the Air (Rhoades)

“Up in the Air” Is Down-to-Earth Funny
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Bet I travel more than you do. The way I afford to live in Key West is by flying out several times a month to service my consulting clients. I spend a lot of time in airports. And clock up a lot of bonus miles.

But nothing like George Clooney’s character in “Up in the Air,” the new dramedy that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Here Clooney is a man who travels around the country to terminate corporate employees – a hatchet man from the home office. This travel has put him within reach of ten million frequent flyer miles just when his company decides to ground him. Uh-oh, can he handle a stationary existence?

Anna Kendrick co-stars as the corporate whiz kid who threatens his happy-go-lucky lifestyle of living out of a suitcase. So he agrees to take her on one of his cross-country jaunts to show her just how important his job is. And how efficiently he handles it.

To him, downsizing is an art, not a science. And travel is a way of life.

Yes, they both learn something from their journey. And perhaps you will too.

Written and directed by Jason Reitman (the satiric genius who gave us “Thank You For Smoking” and “Juno”), this is only his third film. He has a way with protagonists who not only think they’re better than everybody else, but perhaps are. Even so, they end up discovering that karma has its comeuppances.

Reitman is the son of Ivan Reitman, the producer-director who gave us such classic comedies as “Ghostbusters,” “Stripes,” “Animal House,” and more recently “My Super Ex-Girlfriend”). His son is obviously a chip off the old funnybone (if we forgive “My Super Ex-Girlfriend.”)

The younger Reitman’s “Up in the Air” has already been cited as the year’s Best Film by the National Board of Review. George Clooney was named Best Actor and co-star Anna Kendrick was picked as Best Actress. And the film’s been nominated for a ton of Golden Globe awards.

“In one sense, it’s a movie about a man who fires people for a living,” says Reitman. “In another sense, it’s a movie about a man who collects air miles excessively. In another sense, it’s about a man who meets a woman who’s so similar to him that even though they both believe in the idea of living solo, they begin to fall in love.”

“Up in the Air” is based on a book by Walter Kirn. He got the idea from talking with a fellow passenger on a long airline flight.

“I’m a guy that you don’t want to sit next to on an airplane because I want to know your story and I want to tell you mine,” says Kirn. “I asked him where he’s from … and he said, ‘I’m from right here.’ I said, ‘What do you mean by that?’ He said, ‘Well, I used to have an apartment in Atlanta but I never used it and it just collected dust. Then I got a storage locker. I stay in hotels and I’m on the road three hundred days a year. So this is where I’m from and this is my family.’ He pointed to a flight attendant and he said, ‘I know her. I know her name. I know her kids names.’ I thought, ‘This is a new creature.’ I felt like an ornithologist discovering a new bird and when you’re a novelist and you discover a new creature and you discover a sort of new environment in which this creature is possible you have to write the book.”

And make a movie.

I wonder if I’ll see it again in-flight?
[from Solares Hill]

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Friday, December 18, 2009

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

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

The year-end award season is heating up, and the Tropic is sizzling, with three of this year's most talked about movies opening this week.

Leading the parade is PRECIOUS: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire. Yes, that mouthful is the official title, and that's not the only thing unusual about this movie. The eponymous Precious is possibly the most non-Hollywood character ever to lead a major motion picture. She's fat, black, illiterate, abused by her mother and pregnant at age 16 from a rape by her father. But Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry think enough of her to have jumped in big time to shepherd the film's distribution. And it's been nominated for Best Picture by almost everyone, including the Golden Globes, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Satellite Awards.

The movie takes you deep into the life of this troubled girl. You'll be struggling with her and rooting for the few people who try to help her (played by Mo'Nique, Paula Patton and Mariah Carey, all of whom prove themselves to be first-flight actors). Gabourey Sidibe, a first-time actress who gives the term ingénue new meaning, is so convincing as Precious that people are shocked to discover that she's really a dynamic and popular college student.

Put PRECIOUS on your must see list. It could well be the Slumdog Millionaire of 2010.

FANASTIC MR. FOX is quite a contrast. Director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited) has turned to animation to bring us an adaptation of a classic Roald Dahl children's story. It's not Disney/Pixar animation, but rather stop-action using custom-crafted puppets and miniature sets. The details are incredible, with the animators carefully tweaking elements like the direction of the fur on a fox as he moves. Oh, I forgot to mention that the lead characters are a family of nattily-dressed foxes, voiced by George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Jason Schwartzman. As puts it, "Anderson has pulled off the most elusive of goals: He's made a nonchalant masterpiece, a movie that feels dog-eared and loved before it's even reached our hands."

MR. FOX has been nominated as Best Animated Feature by almost everyone - including Annie Awards, Golden Globes, and Satellite Awards. Another must-see, but this is the one to see with your children. You'll enjoy it, too. Please note that the movie will be shown only on Friday thru Tuesday. On Wednesday and Thursday it moves out to make room for.....

UP IN THE AIR, another Oscar-bound hottie from director Jason Reitman (Juno). George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate hatchet man who travels around the country firing people for employers who are too craven to do it on their own. Bingham has no life. He's more concerned with accumulating Frequent Flyer miles than relationships. Will Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), a sexy female road warrior, change this? You'll have to see the movie to find out.

This flying saga has already won Best Film from the National Board of Review, and has nominations from the Globes and Satellites, as well as a bevy of acting and directing nods.

I guess you'll need two heads next week to catch all this. And don't forget that Tuesday brings another in the live-from-Europe opera series. This time it's Verdi's IL TROVATORE, from Barcelona. Live-live in the afternoon (2:00pm) and a delayed-live broadcast in the evening.

There's more, but I'm out of room. Check for full schedules and info.

Precious (Rhoades)

“Precious” Promises Oscar Nomination
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Not exactly a warm and fuzzy Christmas tale, unless you want to mutter “Bah! Humbug!” and compare this story of an obese, uneducated ghetto gal with Ebenezer Scrooge’s discovery that there is hope for a brighter future.

Best to take it for what it is: A story about overcoming all odds.

“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

We are introduced to Clareece Precious Jones, a 16-year-old Harlem homegirl with no prospects, and pregnant with her second child. Nonetheless she has dreams. “I want to be on the cover of a magazine. I wish I had a light-skinned boyfriend with good hair. But first I want to be in one of those BET videos,” she tells us in her halting dialect.

Escaping into fantasy is her only refuge from the hard, sad life she lives.
“Nobody loves me!” cries the girl.

Her teacher (Paula Patton) replies, “People do love you, Precious.”

“Don’t lie to me!” wails the girl. “Love ain’t done nothing for me! Love beat me down! Made me feel worthless!”

After all, her mother mentally and physically abuses her. And her father has impregnated her twice.

Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe gives a convincing performance as Precious. But it is Mo’Nique as her mother who might wind up with an Oscar.

In surprising dramatic roles are singers Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz.
I used to see Kravitz and his then-wife Lisa Bonet in the elevator when I visited a friend’s apartment on Christopher Street in New York’s East Village. Bonet was an actress, but he was merely a musician. This is his first feature film role.

As the title proclaims, the movie is based on a book by Sapphire. Born Ramona Lofton, she worked as an exotic dancer, a performance artist, and a social worker before immersing herself in writing poetry. “Push” is her first novel, a long unpublished manuscript until being discovered by a literary agent.

Director Lee Daniels says, “I read the book, and it just left me gasping for air. I couldn’t believe it. My mouth was open as I turned page after page. I was like, ‘What the [bleep]?’ And yet it was so truthful. I had never seen truth written in such a way. So, I had to have it. I became obsessed with it like a lover. I slept with it under my pillow.”

From his experiences of his own childhood, he identified with the abuse in the storyline. “It’s certainly something that I identify with,” Daniels says. “But through the abuse and through the darkness, I actually identify more with the sense of loving yourself, of finding self-love and ultimately loving yourself.”

Casting Gabby Sidibe was key. “I interviewed over 400 girls before I found her. She blew me away. Her smarts is what did it. She’s so smart!”

But comedian Mo’Nique’s performance was the mindblower.

Daniels recalls, “At the end of this thing, I said to Mo'Nique, ‘This is award-worthy.” He oughta know, having produced “Monster’s Ball,” which won an Academy Award for Halle Berry.
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for Best Drama. And supporting actress Mo’Nique was tapped for a Special Jury Prize.

As for that Oscar? The film is “presented by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry.” Can’t get a better endorsement than that.
[from Solares Hill]

Precious (comments)

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Séraphine (Rhoades)

“Séraphine” – an Angel In a Bridal Gown
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You never know the talents people hide. I’m acquainted with a clown who’s a great sculptor. A handyman who carves marvelous canes. A bartender who’s a gifted potter. A street person who writes lovely poetry.

And a German art collector named Wilhelm Uhde had a cleaning lady who painted beautiful pictures.

That’s the subject of “Séraphine,” a biopic about French artist Séraphine Louis that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In 1914 Uhde (portrayed by Ulrich Tukar) moves to a village just outside of Paris, hoping to get away from the hustle and bustle of his life in the city. The small room he rents comes with a cleaning lady, a middle-aged woman who is an object of derision by locals for her eccentricities. She scavenges odds and ends from the roadside, toting them away while the curious look on.

Turns out, she uses these scraps for paintings that she does at night by candlelight.
When Uhde discovers that crazy Séraphine (veteran actress Yolande Moreau) is a talented neo-primitive artist, he tries to encourage her work, but she’s suspicious of his patronizing attitude.

The film traces their relationship “through war and peace and Depression and madness.” They are separated during World War II when the gay art collector must flee for his life. Thinking that she died during the war, he’s surprised on his return to France to discover her paintings exhibited in a local gallery. Even so, she’s still living an impoverished life as a housekeeper. He tries to become her benefactor, but it’s difficult because the Depression thwarts his plans. And Séraphine is spiraling into greater madness.

After roaming the streets in a white bridal gown and hearing voices of angels, she’s interred in a psych ward. Ironically, her paintings have started to sell for big money. Wilhelm Uhde is frustrated in his attempt to help her, this sad woman with a hidden talent.

This 2008 French-Belgian production was directed by Martin Provost, best known for “Le ventre de Juliette” which won the Prix Tournage at the Avignon Film Festival. “Séraphine” won Best Film at the César Awards and the Newport Beach Film Festival.

But let’s not overlook the subject of the film, Séraphine. In addition to creating this faithful biography, Provost has tried to do what Uhde couldn’t – organizing a recent Musée Maillol exhibition of Séraphine’s work to preserve the memory of her naïve talent.
[from Solares Hill]

Seraphine (comments)

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Fantastic Mr. Fox (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” from Foxy Wes Anderson
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

These days I’m acting as editorial director for The Saturday Evening Post. Going through its archives, in the August 1, 1942, issue, I came across the first fiction ever published by Roald Dahl. As you may recall, Dahl wrote such children’s classics as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach.”
Dahl also penned “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” an animal story that has been turned into a delightful film by director Wes Anderson.

This stop-motion animated film tells the story of a chicken-stealing fox who after a narrow escape vows to give up his old ways. Bu a few years later he relapses, using the excuse that he’s just a wild animal. Three local farmers decide to trap the varmint, but Mr. Fox digs his den deeper, linking his family up with other underground denizens. As things gets dicier, Mr. Fox and his gang raid the three farms, taking all the chickens, geese, and turkeys.

As you can imagine, the farmers redouble their efforts to trap the arrogant fox, bringing in such armament as guns, hoses, and bulldozers. But who will win – farmers or fox?

George Clooney lends his voice as Mr. Fox. A greater use of his talent than when he was billed on early episodes of TV’s “South Park” in the non-speaking role of Sparky the Dog.

Meryl Streep steps in as Mrs. Fox, the vixen who wants her husband to settle down.
And no Wes Anderson film would be complete without a couple of his regular actors: Jason Schwartzman (“I Heart Huckabees”) is the Foxes’ son. Bill Murray (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”) is the Badger, a lawyer. Owen Wilson (“The Darjeeling Limited”) is Coach Skip. Wallace Wolodarsky (“Rushmore”) is Kylie the Opossum. And Wes’s brother Eric Chase Anderson is cast as the Foxes’ nephew.

Also heard are the voices of Michael Gambon (the “Harry Potter” films) as one of the farmers, Jarvis Cocker (frontman for the band Pulp) as Petey, and Willem Dafoe (“Antichrist”) appropriately as the Rat.

If you like the cinematic eccentricities of Wes Anderson, you’ll love the inventive wit of “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” And everyone eight and over will enjoy the moral: What makes you different is what makes you special.

Just as true for people as for foxes.
[from Solares Hill]

Fantastic Mr. Fox (comments)

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Week of Dec. 11 to Dec. 17 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Okay, sport fans, your time has come. For the first time in living memory, the Tropic is opening two new sports movies in one week. Awesome. Suit up and leave the sports bars behind, I'd say. These are both football movies, America's favorite!

Except, darn it, we're talking about armor-less football --rugby and soccer , so you'll have to expand your horizons somewhat. But the timeless, sport-transcending subjects remain the same.

INVICTUS is the latest from that most American of directors, Clint Eastwood, but the setting is South Africa in 1995, just as Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is elected as the first President in the now apartheid-free country. Looking for a healing symbol that might unite the nation, he seizes on the Springboks, the national rugby team beloved by whites and despised by blacks when it was a symbol of white supremacy. But if he can make it a symbol of triumphant unity.....

The key is the Afrikaner team captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon). He must be converted to the cause, and, more difficult, to make it work against the hated, and usually victorious, New Zealand squad, for the World Cup. It's a down-under donnybrook, with the spirit of a new nation hanging in the balance.

It's all a true story. When I told a local South African friend the movie was coming, he went teary, telling how he had sat rapt at the TV as the final match unfolded.

Did I say "irresistible?" You don't have to be South African to be captivated.

THE DAMNED UNITED is not so uplifting. Another true story, this one based on the legendary downfall of a storied soccer manager. When Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) moved up from successfully manging a minor league team to the same job at top level United Leeds, he went from being a victorious leader to being a one man wrecking crew. His brief tenure at United is still infamously known to UK fans as "the 44-days."

Sheen, whose last two roles have been as the TV interviewer David Frost (Frost/Nixon) and Prime Minister Tony Blair (The Queen) again manages to marvelously inhabit his role.

Don't worry that the movie's sport is soccer, says, "If you simply start watching it without prejudice you'll have a ridiculously good time."

35 SHOTS OF RUM has nothing to do with sport. Rather it is one of those small gems that can make French films such treasures. From director Claire Denis (Chocolat), it's the story of Lionel, a French-African metro train driver and his college-student daughter Josephine, who share an apartment. The movie takes us into a world of middle class housing and life that is worlds apart from the elegance that so often dominates French filmmaking.

Lionel and Josephine lead a comfortable middle-class existence, but life is not simple, as each attempts to develop a relationship outside the home, leading to tension within. The pacing is French, but this is a film to savor, with fully-developed, fascinating characters.You'll be sorry to see them fade away just because the movie is over.

Rounding out the feature film program are continuing runs of the DiNiro vehicle EVERYBODY'S FINE, and the incredibly popular PIRATE RADIO, going into its fourth rocking week.

And there are three Christmas treats to celebrate the season.

-- Each afternoon all week long, there's a special matinee of Disney's new animated A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

-- On Sunday only, at 1:00pm, you can catch an encore performance of the classic NUTCRACKER performed at the Mariinsky Theater in Russia.

-- On Monday evening, the weekly classic movie is the romantic comedy CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945) starring Barbara Stanwyck and Sydney Greenstreet.

Fa, la, la, and get ready for Fantastic Mr. Fox and Precious, both coming for the holiday season.

[from Key West, the newspaper]

35 Shots of Rum (Rhoades)

“35 Shots” Makes An Interesting Toast
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever compared the subways of the world? I always get lost on New York City’s MTA subway system, even after living there more than 25 years. London’s Underground is confusing. Japan’s Metro is fast and efficient. But I best love the trains-run-on-time regularity of the Paris Metro.

A new film at the Tropic Cinema – “35 Shots of Rum” – gives you an interesting ride on the Metro subway of Paris.

This quiet little family drama by French director Claire Denis will introduce you to a subway motorman named Lionel (Alex Descas) and his pretty student daughter Joséphine (Mati Diop) who live quietly together in a Parisian suburb. Other tenants in their building – almost an extended family – include female taxi driver Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue) and cat-loving Noé (Grégoire Colin).

The plot is echoed by the retirement of fellow train motorman Ruben (Jean-Christophe Folly), a change in the status quo.

This carefully paced movie is about people facing change. Lionel realizes his comfortable existence with his daughter is about to undergo a transition as he watches her dance with Noé at a late-night bar.

Yes, the train line serves as symbol of the movie’s orderly theme. All aboard for a journey through life.
[from Solares Hill]

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The Damn United (Rhoades)

“The Damned United” Delivers Touchdown
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’m not much of a football buff, but sports fans will join me in praising this British film about Brian Clough, coach of the Leeds United Association Football Club (commonly referred to as Leeds United). Even though this is the English version of professional football, you will find yourself rooting for the West Yorkshire club as if it were the Indianapolis Colts.

I travel to Indy once a month, and stay across from the Lucas Oil Stadium, and can attest to the screaming fans when the Colts recently beat the Patriots.

Here, Clough (played by Michael Sheen) takes over as coach of Leeds – a team that he previously faced when he was coaching Derby. He gets off to a rough start when he tells the United that they may as well throw away all their medals and trophies because “you never won any of them fairly.” Not exactly enduring.

How will Clough fare as the new coach of his old rival? That’s what the movie is about.

Based on the book “The Damned Utd” by David Pearce, the movie was originally scheduled to be directed by Stephen Frears. As you will recall, Frears has given us such entertaining films as “Dangerous Liaisons,” “The Grifters,” “Dirty Pretty Things,” and “The Queen.”

He tapped his “The Queen” star (Michael Sheen who had played Prime Minister Tony Blair) to take on the role of Coach Clough in “The Damned United.” When he first suggested his friend play the part, Sheen “rolled his eyes and burst into a wonderful impersonation” of Clough. It was a done deal.

Then Frears pulled out, turning the director’s chair over to Tom Hooper. Although a film novice, Hooper had enjoyed a distinguished career as a television director. You’re probably familiar with his “John Adams” mini-series or “Elizabeth I.”

Michael Sheen was a perfect choice. Aside from his various portrayals of Tony Blair and several bloodsucking vampires (most recently in “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”), Sheen has also given us a spot-on performance as the talk-show host in “Frost-Nixon.”

Gotta admit, I’m a fan of Michael Sheen. I’ll watch anything Sheen appears in. Including a sports film.
[from Solares Hill]

THE DAMN UNITED (comments)

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Invictus (Rhoades)

“Invictus” Makes Casting Look Easy
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

While having lunch yesterday with some publishing friends, commiserating about a maddening day at work, we starting joking about a movie version of our zany little group. The conversation turned to which actor would play whom among us.

With my silver beard, someone suggested I should be portrayed by Derek Jacobi – the benign Derek Jacobi from “Gladiator,” I was told, not the evil scissor-wielding Jacobi from “Dead Again.”

Darn. I was hoping for, say, Sean Connery.

Who would you pick to play you in a movie about your life?

Well, former South Africa president Nelson Mandela suggested that only Morgan Freeman should play him in a movie. Good choice, an Academy Award-winning actor beloved by audiences worldwide.

Mandela’s an interesting character study. Before his presidency (1994 – 1999), he was an anti-apartheid activist who had served 27 years in prison. Following his release in February 1990, he became the country’s first president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Perhaps his major accomplishment, he helped lead South Africa to become a truly multi-racial society.

John Carlin wrote a book about Mandela’s role in bringing blacks and whites together. Titled “Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela And The Game That Changed a Nation,” it detailed his early years as South Africa’s president and how he used the country’s love of rugby to pull its people together.

That story comes to the silver screen under the title “Invictus,” a Latin word meaning invincible or unconquered. And as Mandela had hoped, it stars actor Morgan Freeman as the South Africa leader.

“Invictus” – the latest film from venerable director Clint Eastwood – is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Another Academy Award-winner, popular Matt Damon, joins the party as Francois Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks national rugby team who Mandela taps to assist in turning the apartheid tide. If only the small African nation could win the 1995 Rugby World Cup, everybody would be pulling together.

And miracle of miracles, the underdog team actually wins the tournament, upsetting the New Zealand favorites by 15–12 in the final.

Yes, this is more an inspiring sports story than a Nelson Mandela biopic. And that’s just fine, under the sure-handed direction of Eastwood.

An uplifting true story.

And perfectly cast.
[from Solares Hill]

INVICTUS (comments)

What did you think of Clint Eastwood's latest?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Week of Dec. 4 to Dec. 10 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

"How are you?" It's a tic. It's what we say when we meet. And the answer, unless you want to get into a long discussion is "fine." Well, everybody's not fine in EVERYBODY'S FINE, except the actors, that is. Robert DiNiro, as an aging widower who has lost touch with his grown children, and Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell, as three of the children, are fine, DiNiro especially, who got the Best Actor Award at the recent Hollywood Film Awards. When Frank (the DiNiro character) can't get his kids to come to a reunion, he goes to visit them, one by one. Hardly anything is as he hoped and expected, but life's challenge is how you handle bad news, and that's what the movie is about. Accepting the pleasure of good news is easy, and does not make a movie. Written and directed by Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine, Nanny McPhee) Everybody's Fine is "a terrific choice for those who want something more in-depth from their Xmas viewing than tinsel and tired sentimentality," says the Hollywood Reporter.

If you are really aching to get beyond, beyond everything you could imagine, maybe Lars von Trier's ANTICHRIST is the movie for you. Talk about controversial! Either the movie "has the power to haunt beyond words.... a piece of staggeringly pure cinema" (Ty Burr, Boston Globe) or it's "a joke, a toxic cocktail of banal psychobabble, laughably arty slo-mo flourishes and unmotivated sexual violence" (Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York). But no one can deny the brilliance and beauty of its images, and the power of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem DaFoe, its only two actors. Guess you'll have to see for yourself.

A SERIOUS MAN and PIRATE RADIO are held over. You definitely shouldn't miss the former, which is already generating award talk.

The biggest news this week is on the culture front, with two shows from the Tropic's Opera and Ballet in high def series. On Sunday at 1:00pm, the Tropic presents the NUTCRACKER, in this case the classic ballet performed at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, the place where it premiered in 1892. This show will repeat each Sunday throughout the month. Of course, we in Key West have our own version of the Nutcracker, created by Joyce Stahl's Paradise Ballet, but that's not being performed this year. Bring the kids to see the classic, and get ready for the hoped-for return of the Paradise Ballet next year.

Then, ta da, on Monday, the opening night of Milan's La Scala opera season comes to the Tropic live via a newly installed satellite dish. Since this is a live broadcast from Italy, the preshow will begin at 11:30am with the actual performance at noon. If you're a European opera fan, this will be like attending the Oscar ceremonies, with glittering celebs. The opera is CARMEN, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, with an international cast including the young Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili as Carmen. If you can't make the live matinee, there will be an encore Monday evening at 7:30pm, but the buzz is for the original live performance. This is the first of six live operas from La Scala and the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona coming over the course of the 2009-2010 season.

Another live performance... in this case live In Person, will be the Swami Beyondananda comedy show, WAKE UP LAUGHING, on Saturday night. This is a fund raiser sponsored by Keys to Peace. What's that? Check Tickets are available at the Tropic box office or website.

[from Key West, the newspaper]

Everybody's Fine (Rhoades)

With “Everybody’s Fine,” stanno tutti bene
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

When I worked in New York, I often had lunch at the Tribeca Grill, tucked away in that part of Lower Manhattan known as “the triangle below Canal Street.” Actor Robert De Niro owns the popular eatery, its brick walls decorated with abstract expressionist paintings by his late father, painter-sculptor Robert De Niro Sr.

Being a good son of Italy, De Niro has highest regards for his late dad. In fact, he cites that as one of his main reasons for doing his current film, a sentimental family dramedy called “Everybody’s Fine.”

He admits that the “father theme” reminded him of his past relationship with De Niro Sr. It was his father who encouraged him to follow his dream to become an actor. Not a likely pastime for a skinny guinea kid growing up in New York’s Little Italy.

But with two Academy Awards and iconic roles in such memorable films as “Raging Bull,” “Taxi Driver,” “Goodfellows,” and “The Godfather Part II,” Robert De Niro can settle back and choose his roles on a whim. Like such hit-or-miss choices as “Meet the Parents,” and “Stardust.” Or “Everything’s Fine.”

You can catch De Niro in “Everything’s Fine,” now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

If this story of a widower taking a whimsical trip to reconnect with his grownup children seems familiar, that’s because it’s a remake of Guiseppe Tornatore’s 1990 Italian film, Stanno tutti bene,” a comedy starring Marcello Mastroianni. (Don’t forget that Tornatore gave us that classic paean to the love of movies, “Cinema Paradiso.”)

De Niro confesses that another reason he signed on is because Mastroianni was one of his favorite actors growing up.

Plus the fact he loved writer-director Kirk Jones’ new script. That’s quite a compliment for a young filmmaker with only “Waking Ned Devine” and “Nanny McPhee” under his belt.

“I like Kirk Jones, the director,” De Niro says. “I think everything he does will be special. Good directors can bring certain things out of you, with their intensity or gentleness or sensitivity or understanding. They can make an actor feel he can do no wrong.”

This story (this time around) follows Frank Goode, a widower who expects his four adult children to come home for Christmas. But when the kids opt out on flimsy excuses, he decides to ignore his doctor’s advice and make a surprise call on each of them – traveling by Greyhound to their respective residences in New York, Chicago, Denver, and Las Vegas.

Upon his arrival, Frank Goode asks each of his children the same poignant question: “Are you happy?”

Don’t expect a Christmas-y comedy or holiday yuckfest. This is more of a heartfelt story, weighty with dysfunctional family emotions and yuletide sentimentality.

De Niro proves himself a masterful performer despite the clichés of the storyline. And Drew Barrymore as the Daddy’s Girl who dances in Vegas, Kate Beckinsale as the overachieving ad exec, Katherine Moenning as the off-kilter daughter, and Sam Rockwell as the musician seeking his father’s approval do a decent job playing the four offspring whose lives are a bit messy after all.

“I related to Frank, obviously, and drew on my own experiences,” says De Niro. “You draw on whatever’s relevant to the part you’re playing. It makes it more personal. And there was a lot here. I have five children, two grandchildren.”

Family is important to De Niro. After his father passed away in 1993, he asked his mother to write down what she remembered of earlier generations, but she died without getting around to it.

So perhaps he’s creating his own pseudo-family history with “Everything’s Fine.” Because if you ask him, he’ll agree that stanno tutti bene.”
[from Solares Hill]

Everybody's Fine (comments)

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AntiChrist (comments)

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Antichrist (Rhoades)

“Antichrist” Tortures Audiences As Well as Its Co-Stars
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

“Abandon hope all ye who enter here” warned Dante in his allegorical epic poem about visiting the realms of the dead. The first cantica describes a journey to the Inferno (Hell). In college I read the brilliant translation by John Ciardi, a longtime Key West resident. Later, I spoke with Ciardi when producing a record album of poets and writers reading their own works.

You might ask what this has to do with “Antichrist” – the startling new horror film that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema? Because this admonition might easily be applied to the characters in Lars von Trier’s bleak cinematic poem.

Essentially a two-person passion play, “Antichrist” begins with a black-and-white prologue that graphically depicts its stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg having sex in slow motion, an act that’s juxtaposed with images of a child falling out of a window into a snowy courtyard.

The death of a child. Tragic, huh? That’s just the beginning.

Told in four chapters, sandwiched between the prologue and epilogue, the film details acts of “lustful cruelty.”

Switching to muted color, Chapter 1 of “Antichrist” introduces us to the grieving mother (Gainsbourg) and her therapist husband (Dafoe). Inconsolable over her dead child, she wants to die too.

“Grief, it’s not a disease,” Dafoe’s character says. “It’s a natural healthy reaction.”

He adds, “Nothing hurts more than to see the one that you love subjected to mistakes and wrongs. No therapist can know as much about you as I do.”

So he takes over his wife’s treatment, weaning her off medication and subjecting her to his own ministrations. They make a list of things she’s afraid of. He takes her through mental journeys. Melting into the grass. Letting fear come.

Intent on treating her himself, he takes her to a rundown cabin in the woods. “Eden,” he calls this sylvan retreat. However, in the end it’s the landscape of their destruction.

Painfully, we watch her wrestle with the anguish. Dreams, nightmares, recriminations, memories. Dry mouth, distorted hearing, trembling, heavy breathing, fast pulse, nausea – these are the symptoms.

“Help me,” she pleads.

“That’s what I’m doing,” he replies.

Attempting a role-playing game, her husband becomes Mr. Nature, who wants “to hurt you as much as I can.” Later, when they are making love, she begs for him to hit her.

One must give credit to the actors, undertaking a film of such challenging violence, full nudity, explicit sex, and mental anguish.

Willem Dafoe has always been a fearless actor, with career highs like “Platoon” (the 1986 Oliver Stone masterpiece) and lows like “Body of Evidence” (the 1993 eroticism with Madonna). And you may remember Charlotte Gainsbourg from “21 Grams” (the 2003 Sean Penn film) or “I’m Not There” (the 2007 Bob Dylan biopic).

With “Antichrist,” writer and director Lars von Trier cements his rep as the “the most ambitious and visually distinctive filmmaker to emerge from Denmark.” You’ll recall his film “Dancer in the Dark,” starring singer Björk. Or “Breaking the Waves.” However, in Denmark he’s best known for “Riget” (translation: “The Kingdom”), a TV soap opera that blended hospital drama, ghost stories, and surrealism. Good practice for “Antichrist,” a surrealistic film that cannot be shown on television.

The “von” in his name is phony, an artifice adopted while in film school. He described it as an homage to director Josef von Sternberg.

“A film should be like a rock in the shoe,” Von Trier has said of his craft. If irritant is his goal, “Antichrist” comes close. He gives us gory images and fearful thoughts that will unsettle your mind for days to come.

You will debate whether the film is overtly misogynistic or subtly feminist. Despite all the violence involving scissors, pliers, and drills, this isn’t quite the “torture porn” you find in current splatter films like “Saw” or “Hostel.” But close. “Antichrist” intentionally tortures the audience.

Bloggers are heatedly debating the film’s merits. “Without a doubt the most unpleasant and despairing movie I’ve ever watched,” rants one viewer. Another begs, “PLZ help me understand this movie.” Yet others rave, “It’s beautiful, sad, poetic, horrific and in the end, oddly uplifting. A genre masterpiece. A must see.”

Early on in “Antichrist,” Willem Dafoe says, “This place leads nowhere.” Decide for yourself. Maybe it’s one of the realms of Dante’s Inferno.

[from Solares Hill]