Friday, January 30, 2009

Week of January 30 to Feb. 5 (Mann)

What’s On At the Tropic
By Phil Mann

The MILKman cometh! Starring Sean Penn, MILK is the story of former San Francisco City Supervisor and long-time gay rights activist Harvey Milk. Everyone knows the outlines of the story by now, how Milk ran for Supervisor three-times, eventually became (in 1977) the first openly gay man elected to significant public office, and then was assassinated within the year.

Like all biopics it has both the strength of a famous underlying story and the problem that the outcome is known and foregone. Faced with this challenge, Penn and director Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, To Die For, Good Will Hunting) have hit a home run. Vant Sant tested his skills with a biographical story in Last Days, a thinly disguised story of Kurt Cobain. But that was a slow, off-kilter kind of tone poem in keeping with its subject. In MILK, where the hero is solid, grounded and straightforward (though not straight), Van Sant has shifted appropriately. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, and Best Actor, this is a blockbuster movie.

It’s Penn’s fifth Best Actor nomination. His last major role was also as a politician, Willie Stark, the Huey Long-like hero in the remake of All the King’s Men. He didn’t quite pull off that earlier role, because we couldn’t help comparing him to Broderick Crawford in original. Crawford was Huey Long, so much so that it’s difficult to think of him as a historical figure apart from that actor. But now in MILK Penn has put his stamp on a character so completely it’s difficult to think of anyone else playing the Harvey Milk role.

MILK is history, but it’s also a tense and exciting story with great characters. Josh Brolin, playing the assassin Dan White, is up for an Oscar as Supporting Actor. Diego Luna (Michael Jackson in Mr. Lonely) suffers here as Harvey Milk’s boy-toy lover, and Emile Hirsch (who was the lost soul in Into the Wild) finds his place as a community organizer. The whole cast is fabulous. It’s one of this season’s don’t miss movies.

As usual, the Tropic rounds out its program with some alternative entertainment. This week it’s topped by the Australian Film Showcase, a collection of three prize-winning new Aussie films.
-- Showing on Friday through Sunday is THE HOME SONG STORIES starring the well-known Asian actress Joan Chen (Twin Peaks; Judge Dredd; Lust, Caution). Chen plays a singer who emigrates from Shanghai to Melbourne to marry an Australian sailor only to have the relationship unravel. The story is told through the eyes of her ten-year old son. Winner of eight Australian Oscars.
-- On Monday and Tuesday it’ll be KENNY, a huge popular hit down under about a big, cleverly quipping, deliverer of porti-potties. (Think John Goodman.)
-- The series ends on Wednesday and Thursday with UNFINISHED SKY, a drama set on an outback farm. The lonely and isolated farmer is stunned when a bruised and bloodied Afghani woman staggers onto his property. As he helps her, the story emerges. A touching love story, nominated for the Australian Oscar.

If you’re a film festival lover, make it your week to see all three.

You might also squeeze in time to see the Orson Welles' 1946 film THE STRANGER in the classic series on Monday at 8:00. And this is the week for the monthly TUESDAYS WITH ART series, showing two movies about the life of Dutch artist Theo Jansen, with follow-up discussion. That’s Tuesday at 5:30. Add the opera with the Salzburg Festival presentation of Otello on Wednesday at 7:00 and you might as well take up residence at the Tropic.

Catch a second viewing of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE while you’re twiddling your thumbs. Last chance for that hit because THE READER is lined up next week.

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

Milk (Rhoades)

‘Milk’ Biopic Takes Big Step Forward

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

There’s a new film called “Milk” – and it’s not brought to you by the American Dairy Council. This is a biopic about the late Harvey Milk, the first openly gay public official in California.
A few years back, when we were filming the documentary about the rainbow flag being unfurling on Duval Street (“Key West: City of Colors”), the flag’s creator Gilbert Baker reminisced with me about the late ’70s in San Francisco, when it looked like gays were making a foothold in mainstream politics with the election of Harvey Milk as San Francisco’s city supervisor. Then someone shot him.

Remember the “Twinkie Defense”?

Gilbert Baker had tears in his eyes as he recalled those fateful events.

Now California (along with Florida and other states) has voted to ban same-sex marriages. Two steps forward, three steps back.

Like a recent political cartoon said, “Imagine, a black man as President. It’s the end of discrimination in America!” And there in the background the cartoon shows separate drinking fountains marked “Straight” and “Gay.”


“Milk” – starring Sean Penn in the title role – is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Sean Penn portraying a gay man? No, I’m not going to argue that gay roles should be given to gay actors – the way Native Americans object to white guys playing Indians in cowboy movies. Or the way many Asians objected to Mickey Rooney playing (badly) a Japanese character in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

I’ll leave that argument for my gay friends to raise.

After all, “Milk” was directed by Gus Van Sant, the openly gay filmmaker who also gave us “My Private Idaho” and “Good Will Hunting.”

Maybe we should count it as progress that “Milk” got made at all. And I’m glad that a fine actor like Penn was willing to slim down and take on this challenging role. The casting of an actor of Penn’s stature lends a deserved level of importance to the story.

Other hot actors show up here too. James Franco (“Pineapple Express” and the “Spider-Man” movies) as Milk’s earlier lover. Diego Luna (you saw him in “Mr. Lonely”) as his later lover. And Josh Brolin (who channeled George Bush in “W.”) as Dan White, the disgruntled ex-city employee who shoots both Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

The Advocate listed Harvey Milk as third on its list of “40 Heroes of the Twentieth Century.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein said, “His homosexuality gave him an insight into the scars which all oppressed people wear. He believed that no sacrifice was too great a price to pay for the cause of human rights.”

Recently, a Key West friend was complaining that there weren’t many good films about gays. I cited “The Walker,” but he’d hated its weak storyline (and that the gay guy had been played by straight-as-a-stick Woody Harrelson).

Well, here’s one to like.
[from Solares Hill]

Kenny (Rhoades)

“Kenny” Adds Chuckles to Australian Film Showcase

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I used to read the British magazine Punch, puzzling over the cartoons. Sometimes Brit humor was hard to get.

You may face the same challenge with Australian humor, some jokes just too droll for brash American funny bones.

That said, “Kenny” – the Aussie comedy that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema as part of a 2009 Australian Film Showcase – still offers more than its fair share of laughs.

Directed by Clayton Jacobson and starring his brother Shane, this is the story of a Melbourne port-a-potty deliveryman by the name of (you guessed it) Kenny.

Told in a mockumentary style, you’ll soon forget that these are actors rather than real working class stiffs.

Kenny talks directly to the audience, humbly explaining his occupation, taking pride in his crappy job. After all, sewage is a serious business.

“It takes a certain kind of person to do what I do ... No one’s ever impressed; no one’s ever fascinated ... If you’re a fireman, all the kids will want to jump on the back of the truck and follow you to a fire. There’s going to be no kids willing to do that with me. So, I don’t do it to impress people – it’s a job, it’s my trade, and I actually think I’m pretty good at it,” Kenny Smyth tells us with the sincerity of a man who is No. 1 in a No. 2 business.

You’ll follow Kenny on his daily rounds, from local septic situations to the Melbourne Cup, and eventually all the way to the Pumper & Cleaner convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Kenny” doesn’t always go for the easy poo jokes, yet tosses out enough one-liners that you’ll be rolling in the aisles. Nonetheless, the irony is so subtle you suspect you’re missing a few dribbles of funniness. When he asks a potential client, “Are you serving alcohol, or any hot curries?” – you know there’s underlying potty humor to this straightforward question.

You’ll find Kenny likeable, a decent guy (or should we say bloke?) who faces life with optimism and an innate decency. His family is interesting, from ex-wife to miserable dad to intolerant brother.

A real-life family affair, actors Ronald Jacobson, Shane Jacobson, Clayton Jacobson, and Jesse Jacobson are in fact father, son, son, and grandson.

The amateur camerawork – wobbly hand-held shots, inches-away close-ups – adds a certain element of cinema verité.

Some moviegoers have mistaken “Kenny” for a genuine – albeit funny – documentary.

Ah, those droll Aussies.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, January 23, 2009

Week of January 23-January 29 (Mann)

What’s On At The Tropic
By Phil Mann

I expect you’ve seen SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE by now. I hope my badgering has succeeded. If not, you’ve got only yourself to blame. It’s the best film of the year, and it’s still playing, now entering a record-breaking sixth, and probably last, week at the Tropic.

Now let me give you a tip on something different, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, which has been held over for a second week. This is a horror movie, a vampire movie to be more specific. Let’s get that clear upfront. If you absolutely refuse to see movies with blood and scary things, skip this discussion.

But let me tell you, this is a different kind of horror movie. It’s true to the vampire myth – super speed and strength, and of course those two little holes at the victim’s jugular. Even the convention that a vampire cannot enter your home unless you permit it, provides a great plot point. However, despite the blood, and despite the gratuitous killing that is essential to the survival of the vampire-heroine – that’s her diet, after all – this is a sweet story. Oskar is a twelve-year old being bullied by some nasty fellow-students. His solace is a seemingly lovely twelve-year old who moves in next door.

But then she says she’s not really a “girl,” and she’s been twelve for quite a while. And her father is a serial killer – to help nourish his daughter, you understand. The twists on conventional good and evil are dazzling. And the story keeps you on edge and rooting for you don’t know whom. At the end, it’s just a love story. What can I say? If you’re ever willing to suspend skepticism and try out a vampire movie, this is the one. It’s in Swedish, but what the heck, the blood is red and poor Oskar is as innocent as they come. Winner of Best Narrative Film Award at the Tribeca Film Festival and Best Foreign Film from the Boston, Chicago, Toronto, Southeastern and Washington Film Critics, this is an extraordinary movie.

Don’t like mystical creatures who feast on blood? How about one who has the ultimate “fairy dust.” In WERE THE WORLD MINE, a gay fellow playing Puck in a high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream discovers that a sprinkling of his powder can turn the whole town to his liking. Besides that, it’s a rousing good musical. “An indie alternative to Disney's High School Musical franchise … a small, endearing film” says the New York Times, and it has been winning Audience Awards at festivals all over.

Rounding out this week’s schedule is a continuing run of Daniel Craig in DEFIANCE.

The Monday Night Classic stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in CHARADE. If you haven’t sampled the classic series, this romantic/comic/thriller is a perfect start. Enjoy the movie and Mary Sparacio’s witty discussion.

And there’s also another performance of the opera ROMEO ET JULIETE, rescheduled after a technical glitch last week. That’s 7:00pm on Wednesday.

Coming next week: MILK, starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the heroic San Francisco gay activist.

Full info and schedules at Comments to

Were The World Mine (Rhoades)

“Were the World Mine” Is Midsummer Musical

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

For the past two summers, local dance impresario Joyce Stahl with the help of Java Studios has thrown a terrific Midsummer Night party, complete with faux fauns and fairies, men on stilts, musicians, artists, and jubilant partygoers.

This summer solstice celebration, of course, harkens back to William Shakespeare’s play where the nighttime woods become a magical fairyland.

Hollywood did it right in 1933 with Max Reinhardt’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a movie populated with a dream cast: Olivia de Havilland, Dick Powell, James Cagney, Joe E. Brown, Victor Jory, Anita Louise … and Mickey Rooney as Puck.

Hollywood tried again in 1999, this time “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” with Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett, Christina Flockhart … and Stanley Tucci as Puck.

Even so, I was partial to Woody Allen’s 1988 take-off, “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” featuring Mia Farrow, Jose Ferrer, Julie Hagerty, Tony Roberts, Mary Steenburgen … and Woody himself. As expected, this heterosexual romp pays homage to the bard while making a statement about Woody Allen’s view of the uneasy relationship between men and women.

Now we have a gay version called “Were the World Mine” -- now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Inspired by “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” director-writer Tom Gustafson gives us a 2008 musical fantasy about a kid who discovers a magic potion that turns most of the townsfolk gay.

There’s a lesson to be learned as they walk, uh, prance in his footsteps.

Timothy (engagingly played by Tanner Cohen) has been cast as Puck in a high school production of the Bard’s famous romantic comedy, but the movie is more about his own musical fantasies than quoting Shakespeare.

Gustafson based this feature-length movie on his own award-winning short film called “Fairies.” I don’t think it’s about pixies.

The cast is great. David Becker plays well with star Tanner Cohen. Wendy Robie (better known as crazy Nadine on TV’s “Twin Peaks”) is the drama teacher. You’ll also encounter Broadway star Judy McLane, soap opera legend Jill Larson, and Zelda Willams from House of D.

The music is lovely, but used sparingly. It offers a contemporary Broadway feel.

You’ll be humming it as you step out of the theater into the night. Perhaps in search of magic.
[from Solares Hil]

Charade (Rhoades)

Cary Grant Is Suave Spy in “Charade”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Cary Grant was suave. Suave when being chased by biplanes with Eva Marie Saint in “North By Northwest.” Suave when thwarting spies with Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious.” Suave when driving along the winding roads of the French Riviera with Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief.”
That suave manner – once described as “high comedy with polished words” – was the trademark persona of a British vaudeville performer born as Archibald Alexander Leach.

Once when an interviewer observed, “Everybody would like to be Cary Grant,” the actor replied, “So would I.”

Thus it will come as no surprise that Cary Grant is suave in “Charade,” the romantic spy suspense thriller comedy that is this week’s selection for Monday Classic Movies, Mary Sparacio’s weekly series at the Tropic Cinema.

Paired in “Charade” with elegant Audrey Hepburn, Grant is at his comedic best as a double – no, make that quintuple – agent on the trail of stolen gold. Turns out, there are also a number of other shady characters after the same loot. And all of them are plying their duplicitous tradecraft on poor Audrey Hepburn, whose murdered husband supposedly stole the missing fortune.
This pack of are-they-good-or-bad guys includes Walter Matthau, James Coburn, Ned Glass, and George Kennedy.

It’s a cat-and-mouse game that keeps you (and Hepburn) guessing. Who can she trust?
Grant is morally ambiguous up till the end – something he deftly accomplished in an early Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece called “Suspicion.”

“Charade” can certainly be described as Hitchcockian. Although directed by Stanley Donen (“Singin’ In the Rain,” “Two for the Road,” “Arabesque”), it has been referred to as “the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made.”

Grant knew how to play Hitchcockian characters, having starred in four movies directed by the Master of Suspense.

Despite Alfred Hitchcock’s reputation for disliking actors, he once remarked that Grant was “the only actor I ever loved in my whole life.”

Peter Stone did the screenplay for “Charade,” liking it so well that he used his own pen name of Peter Joshua as one of Cary Grant’s identities in the film. And when Stone’s original story was later remade as a movie called “The Truth About Charlie,” Mark Wahlberg’s character is called Joshua Peters.

A strong plot, other films have been based on “Charade.” There’s a Hindi movie titled “Chura Liyaa Hai Tumme” that is adapted from Stone’s screenplay, as well as a Bengali movie called “Kokhono Megh.”

But these subsequent remakes pale when compared to Cary Grant’s masterful performance in the original.

Ian Fleming said he partially modeled his fictional spy James Bond on Cary Grant. In fact, Grant turned down the 007 role in “Dr. No,” believing himself too old at 58 to play the character.
The following year when he took the role of the spy in “Charade,” he felt he was too old to play the love interest for Audrey Hepburn, who was 26 years younger than him, insisting that the script be changed to show she was pursuing him and not vice versa. He even added a number of jokes about their difference in age.

Odd that only two years later he married Dyan Cannon, who was 33 years his junior.
When Grant retired the following year, he never worked in movies again, despite valiant attempts by Stanley Kubrick, Howard Hawks, and Billy Wilder to lure him back.
Cary Grant was ranked #2 on The Greatest Screen Legends actor list by the American Film Institute. Bogey got the #1 slot.

But suave? No one has ever done it better.

As director Howard Hawks said, “Grant was so far the best that there isn’t anybody to be compared to him.”
[from Solares Hill]

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Week of January 16 thru January 22 (Mann)

What's On At the Tropic
by Phil Mann

I'm going to try to refrain from talking excessively about the media tsunami of awards, all building up to the Academy Award ceremony in Hollywood. But I can't resist noting that SLUMDOG MILLIONARE, which swept the Golden Globes (Best Dramatic Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score) is playing at the Tropic right now. I've been pushing the movie for several weeks now. Listen up! This is an incredibly original film, a fairy tale of young love layered on top of a harsh story of life in the slums of Mumbai, and is not to be missed.

Also, while we're on the subject you might mark your calendars for the Tropic's annual Oscar gala, with its own Key West red carpet special added to the full broadcast from Hollywood. More info to come, but hold the date: Sunday, February 22 from 7:00 until it ends.

Opening this week is DEFIANCE, another of this season’s hot films. This is another in the spate of Nazi movies we’ve been seeing, but unlike Valkyrie which featured both good and bad Germans, Defiance shows hardly any Teutonic figures except in a few battle scenes. The characters who populate this movie are a group of Polish-Jewish resistance fighters who escape from the ghetto to the forest, fight off attempts at capture, and manage to hide out for the duration of the war. Starring Daniel Craig (James Bond), it’s based on the true story of the Bielski brothers who are credited with saving over 1,000 people. Both Valkyrie and Defiance explore aspects of internal resistance to the Nazi regime, by dissident German officers and upstart Jewish partisans, respectively. Neither film is especially subtle, but both are stirring tales of good against evil.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is the Tropic’s answer to Twilight. That’s right, it’s a vampire movie. Thirteen-year-old Oskar is a victim of bullies, until a new girl moves in next door. She’s strange, because she’s a .... you got it. Do yourself a favor and check out the reviews of this Swedish movie. It’s “a spectacularly moving and elegant movie” (Washington Post), “one of the great horror films of recent years” (Portland Oregonian) and “a magnificent film” (FilmThreat Weekly). At the Tropic for one week only.

This coming week the world's best sailors will be in town for Acura Key West Race Week, and the Tropic will join the action with a special screening of the Disney-produced MORNING LIGHT. This gorgeously photographed documentary follows a team of young sailors, selected in an American Idol-like competition, as they attempt to win the 2000+ mile TransPac ocean race from California to Hawaii. It's a wild ride, just right for all the sailors in town, both domestic and imported. One show only on Wednesday at 8:30pm. Tickets are only $10, and it's a fund raiser for Shake-A-Leg, the Miami-based organization that provides watersports training for kids and handicapped adults.

Full details and schedules at Comments to

See you at the Tropic!

[from Key West, the Newspaper -]

Beauty and the Beast (Rhoades)

‘Beauty and the Beast’ Is Surrealistic Fairy Tale

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Back in college I saw Jean Cocteau’s 1946 surreal classic “La Belle et la Bête” for the first time. That’s “Beauty and the Beast” to you non-French-speaking plebeians out there. Even then, it had achieved cult status, a film that appealed to art students, potheads, and French majors alike.

“Beauty and the Beast” is Mary Sparacio’s selection for tomorrow night’s Monday Classic Movie Series – a weekly program at the Tropic Cinema. And let’s be clear, we’re not talking about the animated Disney version.

Jean Cocteau was a French poet, novelist, playwright, designer, boxing manager, and filmmaker. Although Cocteau sometimes denied being a surrealist, he clearly influenced the movement. In fact, the word “surrealism” was coined to describe a ballet he’d designed. He produced two great surrealist films: “Le Sang d’un Poete” (“The Blood of a Poet”) as well as the subject of this review, “La Belle et la Bête.”

The familiar story of a beautiful girl who falls in love with an ugly beast is based on a French fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont (which was itself influenced by an earlier story of the same name by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve).

We’ve seen the theme repeated again and again. Most directly in the aforementioned Disney film, stage show, and on-ice productions. In the Philip Glass opera. Or by reference in Merian C. Cooper’s classic giant-ape thriller “King Kong.”

However, no version comes close to the poetry and surrealistic beauty found in the Cocteau film.

Using existing movie technology to evoke a feeling of magic and enchantment, he conjured up haunting images as he spun this story of romance, beauty, and unrequited desire. I promise you’ll never forget the hallway scene, the passageway illuminated by torches held aloft by disembodied human hands. Like something you’d encounter in a nightmarish dream.
Jean Marais, Josette Day, Marcel Andre, and Mila Parely star in this fairy tale. Cocteau’s collaborator and muse, Marais is credited with suggesting that he create this mesmerizing film.

If you’ve never seen Jean Cocteau’s “La Belle et la Bête” – or haven’t seen it since college – go! 

It’s a requirement in any quest for film literacy.
[from Solares Hill]

Defiance (Rhoades)

“Defiance’ Inspires While Defying Historical Details

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The writer Ambrose Bierce once said “History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.”
In the case of “Defiance” – the new WWII film playing at the Tropic – that’s only partly true.
Or do I mean partly false?

Written and directed by Edward Zwick (“Blood Diamond,” “The Last Samurai”), “Defiance” tells the story of a group of Polish Jews opposing the German occupation of their homeland. Known as the Bielski partisans, they took up residence in a forest in eastern Poland (now West Beleras), banding together for mutual protection from Nazis.

The main organizers of this act of, well, defiance were the Bielski brothers – played in the movie by Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, and George MacKay. Having escaped from the Nazis, they set out to rescue fellow Jews. Sort of a “Schindler’s List” at the grassroots level.
Daniel Craig, as all you action fans know, is the current 007, although this role as a sweaty, determined Polish partisan is a far cry from the suave “shaken, not stirred” superspy.

Liev Schreiber isn’t a big household name, but you’ll recognize him from the “Scream” movie trilogy as well as numerous indie films. More recently he guest starred on TV’s “CSI” and will be appearing in this summer’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”

Jamie Bell is an actor best known for his starring turn in “Billy Elliot.”

And young actor George MacKay has worked mostly in British TV.

Based on an adaptation of Nechama Tec’s book, “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans,” the story is inspiring. This ragtag citizen’s army makes mincemeat of occupying German forces while at the same time rescuing more than 1,000 Jews.

However, the film has come under fire itself, with the Polish journal Gazeta Wyborcza claiming that the real-life partisans didn’t actively fight the German military. None of the explosions and shoot-outs you’ll find in the movie really happened.

And now historians have weighed into the fray, arguing that there is some evidence that Bielski partisans participated in the Naliboki Massacre, helping Soviet fighters kill a number of Polish peasants and suspected resistance members. Although there’s no mention of this in the film, it has been criticized – particularly in Poland – for glorying people who might have been responsible for the massacre.

Other historians defend the Bielski brothers, claiming the partisans were not even in the area at the time.

Thus, the above quote by Ambrose Bierce came to mind. Sifting the truth from the sands of history is tricky.

Movies about history have long had trouble reconciling themselves with actual facts. Did Alexander Graham Bell invent the telephone in the same manner as Don Ameche? Did the Alamo fall precisely as shown by John Wayne? Did Oliver Stone take any liberties with “W.” or “JFK”?

History’s watchdogs have pointed out other inaccuracies in “Defiance.” Such as mixing the birth order of the Bielski brothers. Or the fact that ampicillin was not developed until the 1960’s.
Telford Taylor, the Brigadier General who served as chief American prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials, has complained that “historical misrepresentations could leave the uninformed viewer with an inaccurate historical record about what a movie is depicting.”

He’s right, of course. Hollywood seems to act on the old adage that one shouldn’t let facts get in the way of a good story.

As a film critic, as well as the former president of Key West Art and Historical Society, I face conflicts on this subject. Historical accuracy is an important goal. But movies as a form of entertainment can’t rely on history to deliver perfect storylines.

Is “Defiance” an accurate historical document? Probably not. But if you want to spend 137 minutes watching an action yarn set in World War II, one with an inspiring story about human survival, a little latitude is in order.
[from Solares Hill]

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Week of January 9 thru January 15 (Mann)

What’s On At The Tropic
by Phil Mann

Calling all Czechs! Calling all Czechs! Did you know the Tropic is your local native language theater? Last month they showed I Served the King of England. an oddly-titled and just as oddly-plotted film from the Czech Republic that had nothing to do with England and had everything to do with wartime Czechoslovakia and Chaplinesque comedy.

Opening today (Friday, Jan. 9) is BEAUTY IN TROUBLE, another difficult-to-classify Czech film that has the critics raving. Which would you choose, a rich and kind gentleman or a worthless, abusive but hot, hot, hot lover? That’s a question I’m sure every woman asks herself (yeah, sure, in your dreams) and it’s the supposed dilemma of Marcela in this tragicomedy. We’ve seen director Jan Hrebejk at the Tropic before. His Up and Down, about an abandoned Indian baby found by a couple of Czech smugglers, had the same kind of comedy-from-tragedy quality. That’s what’s so appealing about these Czech films. The actors aren’t scrubbed-clean beauties, their lives are a mess, and their problems are ones we can understand. If you speak the language, it’s a must see, but if not, don’t worry about the subtitles, the story is universal. Listen to Roger Ebert: “This is the kind of film that achieves one simple but difficult thing: It pleases you.….for two hours you feel you have chosen wisely and not wasted your time, and you smile a lot.”

How about something for college football fans? HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29 may not be the big BCS game, but it’s got a charm all its own. You know the score from the start, but the how and why tale of this documentary is suspenseful and fascinating. The year was 1968, and both teams were Ivy-league powerhouses (unless that’s an oxymoron). Tommy Lee Jones is billed as the star of the film: he played for Harvard. And the roommates of both George W. Bush (Yale) and Al Gore (Harvard) were on the team. Like all good documentaries, it’s full of interviews and insights from the now 60-ish participants, and it’s got drama. It’s “preposterously entertaining” says Manhola Dargis in the New York Times.

Meanwhile, two big hits, VALKYRIE and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE continue to bring in crowds. Slumdog is proving to be the crossover hit of the year, holding at eighth place in the national box office rankings with only 612 theaters showing it. The box office leaders are on 3,000 screens, so Slumdog has a long way to go. If you haven’t seen it yet, treat yourself. Don’t wait for Netflix. This is a big screen spectacle, and the Tropic has moved it back to its big Carper Theater.

Special events this week are led by a feature from the Tropic’s Visiting Filmmaker Series, a screening of the documentary memoir HEIR TO AN EXECUTION, to be introduced by Director / Producer / Cinematographer Ivy Meeropol, the granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Don’t’ miss this joint project of the Film Society and the Key West Literary Seminar at regular movie prices on Sunday night.

By the way, places are available for the second session of the Literary Seminar on Jan. 15-18, featuring William Kennedy, Marilynne Robinson, Madison Smartt Bell, Russell Banks and Joyce Carol Oates. More info on the seminar at or call 888-293-9291.

Full info and schedule for the theatre at Comments to

[from Key West, the newspaper -]

Beauty in Trouble (Rhoades)

‘Beauty in Trouble’ Is Adult Fairy Tale

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Those of you who loved the music of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova in the film “Once,” here’s a return engagement. No, not a sequel, but as part of the soundtrack for a Czech film called “Beauty In Trouble” (or “Kráska v nesnázích”).

The title is based on a poem by Robert Graves. It begins, “Beauty in trouble flees to the good angel/On whom she can rely.” Pretty much the theme of this movie directed by Czech wunderkind Jan Hrebejk.

This adult fairy tale gives us a sensual Beauty (Anna Geislerová) who is married to a loser husband (Roman Luknár), but has a chance for happiness when a wealthy Prince (Josef Abrham) takes her for his own.

Alas, there’s one small fly in the ointment: Our Beauty is still sexually attracted to her bad boy hubby. More than once their two kids have to cover their ears and turn up the TV to drown out the bed-knocking noise coming through the apartment’s thin walls.

So Beauty has a choice: Either the benevolent and kind man who introduces her to sushi and how to drink wine and presents her with a book about Tuscany, where he owns a lovely villa. Or her good-in-bed car-thief lout of a husband.

Which do you think she’ll ultimately choose?

Do nice guys finish last? Are women attracted to the wrong kind of men, those cads who treat them like dirt and leave them begging for more?

You can find out the answer for yourself. “Beauty in Trouble” is playing at the Tropic Cinema on Eaton Street.

This film won the Czech Lion Award for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor. And director Jan Hrebejk won the Special Jury Prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the Krzysztof Kieslowski Award at the Denver International Film Festival.
Along with Glen Henson, Ales Brezina provides the musical score. And the cinematography by Jan Malir is as lush and beguiling as a lovers’ tryst.

This love triangle is a familiar movie theme. In “Indecent Proposal” we were waiting to see if Demi Moore chose Woody Harrelson or Robert Redford. Or which suitor Ingrid Bergman would end up with in “Casablanca.”

But set in Prague, and directed by Hrebejk, “Beauty in Trouble” is a telling with a style of its own.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, January 2, 2009

Week of January 2 thru January 8 (Mann)

What’s On At The Tropic
By Phil Mann

Time for this columnist to throw in his choices for Best Movies of the year. As a kind of cheat sheet I’ve been reading the lists of others. I might say that I’m amazed by some of the choices. So I won’t be troubled if you don’t agree with my list. This is a year with no standout favorites, and a striking divergence of opinions.

My favs, in alphabetical, not number, order:

Burn After Reading - The Coen Brothers revert to mad form after last year’s No Country For Old Men. You’ve got to love how they get guys like Brad Pitt and George Clooney to go goofy. This is a spy comedy with an edge, of sorts, that should teach the makers of lame things like Get Smart a few things

In Bruges and The Bank Job - Two great British crime movies, the first about hit men and the second about bank robbers, that combine tense plots with humor that comes out of the action and characters rather than being laid on them like a silly sauce.

Elegy – Thanks to Philip Roth for a novel that gives us a sympathetic aging Lothario. And thanks to Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz for bringing this unlikely couple to life.

Man On Wire – This is the documentary of the year in my book. An action-adventure story. A true triumph of the human spirit, and body. The images of Philippe Petit on the high wire between the now-vanished twin towers still echoes in my head.

Milk – More than just “based on a true story,” it really tracks the history of how Harvey Milk revolutionized San Francisco, and American, politics. Sean Penn is uncanny as Milk, and the story is richly developed.

Sex and the City – It’s not easy to go from a novel to a movie, but even more difficult to do it via a hit television series. The trick seems to be to use the same actors and take them to a new stage in their lives. The movie does it wonderfully. But you had to like what went before, or you’ll tear your hair out.

Slumdog Milliionaire – A brilliantly original combination of a love story, a political documentary, a thriller and a magic-realism fairy tale, all set in Mumbai, India. Go for the story; go for the scenes of Mumbai; go for the sheer entertainment of it. This is a sleeper hit, with no stars or big studio money behind it. But it’s a dark horse for the big prize. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in luck because it’s playing at the Tropic right now.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona – In some of my aimless TV watching I’ve stumbled on to the old Woody Allen classics recently – Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters. IMHO (in my humble opinion) this year’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the first movie by Woody in decades that can stand up to those great ones.

And finally, not one film but a declaration of 2008 as the Year of World War II (again). The war ended 63 years ago, but I don’t think we’re ever going to run out of its dramatic possibilities. One somewhat new element this year was an attempt to humanize Germans. The central characters in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas were a death-camp commandant and his family. In Valkyrie (still playing at the Tropic now) it’s heroic officers trying to bring down Hitler. The Reader (coming to the Tropic in a few weeks) is about the love affair between a young German and and an older woman who turns out to have a dark past. But the old figures of ultimate evil haven’t gone away. Last summer we had The Secret, about French Jews trying to avoid the Nazis, with a surprising twist. The rapers in the documentary The Rape of Europa are Nazis who looted art collections. Coming to the Tropic later this month is Daniel Craig leading a pack of Jews in Defiance who are escaping you know whom. Last summer Spike Lee discovered WWII in Miracle of St. Anna. Etc., etc.

Let’s hope it never ends, because the only thing that will displace it is an even worse catastrophe.

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

How About You (Rhoades)

How About Seeing ‘How About You’?

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Before you get out of the Christmas mood, there’s a fine little film called “How About You” that’s still playing at the Tropic Cinema.

It’s the story of four residents of an assisted living retirement home in Ireland, a group of curmudgeons so disruptive they are collectively known as “the hardcore.”
The home is struggling to keep its doors open, because the grumpy behavior of the hardcore foursome discourages newcomers.

Kate Harris (Orla Brady) runs the retirement home, an old estate that she poured her life savings into. Joining the staff is her younger sister Ellie (Hayley Atwell), a college dropout who needs a place to live for a while. Ellie had rather smoke pot than worry about a bunch of olds geezers, but here she is, as lost as the home’s elderly residents.

This holiday season all the oldsters have gone off to visit their families – except for the hardcore: Donald Vanston (Joss Ackland), once a judge before alcoholism forced him off the bench. Georgia Platts (Vanessa Redgrave), a former movie star who has dropped out of society in grand Garbo style. Hazel Nightengale (Imelda Staunton) and her sister Heather (Brenda Fricker), two spinster sisters who can’t cope with life – or each other.

Things take a dramatic turn when Kate is suddenly called away, leaving Ellie in charge of the retirement home and its gang of four. When they try to pull their spiteful routines on her, the young caregiver shakes off her apathy and … you guessed it … reminds them what living is all about.

In the end, the film delivers a simple message: that loneliness is to be avoided and you shouldn’t stop living until you have taken your last breath.

Directed by Dublin-born Anthony Bryne, the storyline is predictable, but in a comforting way. One online blogger described it as being like “a Hallmark Movie of the Week ... only with a really nice cast.” Is that a bad thing?

You’ve seen Hayley Atwell in such costume dramas as “The Duchess” and “Brideshead Revisited.” Getting the acting bug after appearing in a 2005 Pringles TV commercial, she landed her first feature role opposite Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell in Woody Allen’s “Cassandra’s Dreams.”

In addition to 26-year-old Hayley Atwell, “How About You” features a great cast of seasoned veterans.

Vanessa Redgrave needs no introduction, an illustrious member of the Redgrave family of actors. Her films have ranged from “Camelot” to “Blowup,” from “A Man for All Seasons” to “Julia” (for which she won an Academy Award).

Another familiar face, Brenda Fricker picked up her Academy Award for “My Left Foot.”
You’ll recognize Imelda Standon as bad witch Dorothy Umbridge in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”

And Joss Ackland has appeared in over 130 films, not to mention TV shows. You’ll remember him as the villain in “Lethal Weapon 2.”

Also notable is the late Joan O’Hara, movingly portraying a woman on the verge of death in what turned out to be her last role.

“How About You?” is based on a short story by popular Irish writer Maeve Binchy, best known for her novel “Circle of Friends” (which was made into a movie starring Chris O’Donnell and Minnie Driver).

As Binchy tells us on her website: “‘How About You’ was a short story originally called ‘The Hard Core,’ which appeared in the original collection ‘This Year It Will Be Different.’ Then Ferndale Productions made this delightful film, which has a great script and a marvelous cast which includes Vanessa Redgrave and Hayley Atwell. I do hope you will all enjoy it.”
Apparently everyone isn’t a fan. One blogger sighed, “Yet another Maeve Binchy movie.” Another called it “lame and predictable.”

Others declared the movie to be “touching and heartwarming.” I agreed with them.
In a recent interview co-star Joss Ackland called some of his previous films “awful” and “embarrassing.” But “How About You” didn’t fall into that category. He admits he likes the film’s message.

Who knows, he says. Maybe we can all learn to live a little while we’re waiting to die.
[from Solares Hill]

Top Ten of the Year (Rhoades)

Do My Top 10 Movies Match Yours?

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

This is the time of year that most film critics offer up their Top Ten Movies of 2008 and – bowing to that tradition – I will do the same.

But such a list imposes some problems, because many of last year’s favorites that I saw at Key West theaters were not in fact 2008 releases.

For example, the very best film I saw at the Tropic Cinema was “The Band’s Visit,” a jewel of a story about an Egyptian band stranded overnight in a small Israeli town. The storyline was simple, but the nuances of the actors, the lessons in tolerance so well (and subtly) delivered, you’ll be surprised it didn’t win Best Foreign Language Film in 2007 (the year it was actually released). Only the high preponderance of English spoken in the film kept it from being nominated in that category.

Another Top Movie for me was “Roman de Gare,” a 2007-released cat-and-mouse thriller by French director Claude Lelouch. Also I’d add the other 2006 French thriller “Tell No One,” based on a book by American author Harlan Coben. Plus “The Kite Runner” offered me a touching look at boyhood in the Middle East. And I’ll admit that I enjoyed the surreal visuals of “The Fall,” a 2006 fantasy film by Tarsem Singh.

For you calendar purists, here are my personal choices for the Top Ten Movies of 2008 (not in any order):

• “Slumdog Millionaire” A surprise hit about a street kid in Mumbai who wins the 20-million-rupee grand prize in the Indian television version of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” But this is not really about the quiz show; it’s a dazzling array of flashbacks that tell a tale of lifelong love … and the events that destine the couple will be together.

• “Iron Man” – My old alma mater Marvel Comics really got this one right, Robert Downey Jr. as a besotted industrialist who decides to do good while wearing his high-tech iron suit.

• “Hellboy II” – The second of three great comic-book movies this year, this one from the director who gave us “Pam’s Labyrinth.” Guillermo del Toro brings the same masterful storytelling techniques to this latest adventure of a devil who solves paranormal crimes.

• “The Dark Knight” – Christian Bale’s second turn as Batman, a retelling that echoes Frank Miller’s grim-and-grittier presentation of the Caped Crusader as a psychotic vigilante. And Heath Ledger’s final performance as The Joker proves the rule that a superhero is only as good as the villain he faces.

• “Happy-Go-Lucky” – Perhaps a little on the sappy side, this “Amelie” wannabe is the story of an eternally blissful young woman. Its Pollyanna theme is an audience-pleaser.

• “Secret Life of Bees” – Forgive me for adding this Southern soap opera, but this parable about the queen bee of a hive (uh, I mean a black matriarch who watches over her family – both black and white) is a truly heartwarming story. And Dakota Fanning proves she’s an amazing actress either as a child or a grown-up.

• “Seven Pounds” – You’ll shed a tear at the goodness of man (and the need for redemption) in this end-of-the-year Will Smith drama. This was my wife’s favorite.

• “Twilight” – You might think this simply a silly teen drama, or after it gets rolling realize that it’s a scary vampire tale … and it is. But adults as well as teenage girls will enjoy this modern-day reinvention of those bloodsucker myths wrapped in a Romeo and Juliet storyline.

• “Trouble the Water” – An amateur video of the flooding of New Orleans’ Ninth District, with some archive newsreel footage thrown in, turning it into a first-class documentary about the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.

• “Frost/Nixon” – The only film on my list that hasn’t played Key West … yet. But don’t miss this one when it comes. This docudrama about the televised debates between British talk show host David Frost and dethroned US President Richard M. Nixon is mesmerizing. You’ll follow Nixon’s final downfall as a foppish Brit nails him in an edge-of-the-chair interview that demonstrates how pride cometh before the fall.

That’s ten. But I’ll add a guilty pleasure, “Wanted.” Not a great film but one that was entertaining in its comic-book premise about secret assassins and the hero lurking inside even the most unlikely dweeb. Plus it had sexy Angelina Jolie.

And I’d probably add Frank Miller’s comic-book-inspired “The Spirit” if I’d seen it yet. The buzz is that if you liked “Sin City” you’ll like this one too.

Okay, there you have it – my imperfect list.

Which ones did I forget? “Body of Lies”? “Charlie Wilson’s War”? “Tropic Thunder”? “Wall-E”? “Man on Wire”? “A Christmas Tale”?

You’ll find my email address below. Let me know which of your Top Ten Movies I left off the list … and why you liked it!
[from Solares Hill]