Friday, March 27, 2009

Week of March 27 to April 2 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

Completing its screening of the top Academy Award nominees, the Tropic opens FROST/NIXON this week.

The movie is a fascinating character study of two faded men, both trying to resurrect their careers. David Frost (Michael Sheen, who was Tony Blair in The Queen) is a sometimes popular, but never profound, television host who manages to nail a lengthy multipart interview with Richard Nixon (Frank Langella, of Dracula fame), only four years after Nixon’s ignominious departure from the Presidency.

For Frost, who’s almost broke and reduced to rustling up money with vague promises and half-truths, the interviews are a chance to leap back into the limelight… or fall flat on his face. For Nixon, it’s a chance to put his spin on the Watergate story and remind the public of what a great man they tossed in the ashcan.

The two actors both play unlikeable characters, but we can’t help rooting for Frost as he tries to transcend his less-than-overwhelming interviewing skills to best the still-Presidential Nixon. The plot builds as Frost puts together an investigative team of liberal journalists. They revel in the opportunity to provide the public with the “trial” that Nixon avoided by quitting before impeachment.

The movie becomes a tense thriller as the confrontation unrolls to a dramatic conclusion. FROST/NIXON had five Oscar nominations, including Best Director (Ron Howard), Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Morgan) and Best Actor (Langella), as well as Best Picture.

WALTZ WITH BASHIR was also an Academy Award nominee this year, for Best Foreign Language Film. Get ready for something completely different. This is an animated film, but as far as you can get from Disney. Israeli Filmmaker Ari Folman is a documentarian and has used almost realistic, graphic-novel-like, animation to probe a tragedy that many Israelis would like to forget. During his country’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, there was a massacre at a Palestinian refugee camp. The killers directly responsible were Christian militia, but whether or not there was Israeli complicity has never been determined. Taking a viewpoint of a friend of his who was involved in the invasion, Folman pursues the question that has become a contemporary moral staple: when is passivity complicity? As the Japanese proverb puts it, “To know and not to act is not to know.” Maybe the Israelis are ready to know. The movie swept this year’s Israeli film awards with seven prizes, including Best Picture and Best Director. Sort of like a movie about Abu Ghraib or Gitmo winning the American awards.

Special events this week include Shostakovich’s ballet BOLT performed by the Bolshoi Theater, and two film classics, CHARADE starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, and Robert Ryan in the boxing drama THE SETUP.

Save the date: Saturday, April 4, for the Tropic’s Gala Fifth Birthday party. Free movies, a special information meeting for Key West Film Society members, groundbreaking ceremonies for the new fourth theater space, and a celebratory party. Check the Special Events page at for details, or come back to this column next week.

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

Frost/Nixon (Rhoades)

‘Frost/Nixon’ Is A Great Debate

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Remember when an opportunistic British talk-show host named David Frost thought he could make a quick buck by holding a series of televised interviews – debates, as it were – with dethroned US President Richard M. Nixon. And Tricky Dick thought he could pocket a quick six-hundred grand by agreeing.

Nixon felt he was crossing swords with a lesser opponent, and perhaps he was. But the 37th President of the United States didn’t recognize his own hubris – ego, greed, heavy drinking, and the imperious belief that “when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.”

Frost himself was a cool customer, maintaining a reassuring grin even when TV networks were turning him down and sponsors were balking at the absurdity of an entertainer conducting a serious political interview. He didn’t break sweat, even knowing that everything he owned was on the line with this foolhardy venture.

This 1977 real-life event is brilliantly reflected in “Frost/Nixon,” the docudrama that opened on Friday at the Tropic Cinema.

Frank Langella (once a handsome leading man best known for portraying the suave vampire in “Dracula”) gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Richard Nixon. Right down to the voice, the nuances, the physicality, the essence of the man.

And English actor Michael Sheen (he made a great Tony Blair in “The Queen”) comes off well as David Frost.

Rounding out the cast is ever-present Kevin Bacon as Col. Jack Brennan, Nixon’s loyalist aide de camp; Oliver Platt as Frost’s chief researcher; Sam Rockwell as James Reston Jr., the writer who turned up the smoking-gun memo; Matthew Macfadyen as Frost’s nervous producer; and Rebecca Hall as the talk-show host’s new girlfriend.

“Frost/Nixon” was based on a well-received stage play, but the film is presented with a documentary style that makes you forget these are actors mouthing the famous lines and not a newsreel.

And the way the film unfolds the storyline will keep you on the edge of your chair, even if in the back of your mind you already know the historic outcome – Nixon trapped into an admission of his own guilt on national television, his blind hopes for a political return forever dashed by a man he’d underestimated.

You are reminded of bits of history that may have slipped your mind: That TV’s Diane Sawyer was then working for the Nixon camp. That legendary Hollywood agent Swifty Lazar was handling Nixon’s book and interview deals. That Nixon brought an end to the Viet Nam War.
One moment of irony is when Frank Langella (who at one time dated Whoopi Goldberg) speaking as Nixon expresses shock that Frost had nearly married black actress Dianne Carroll.

Why should we be surprised that this is a superb little film? It was directed by Ron Howard, the former child star who has made his mark behind the camera with such memorable movies as “A Beautiful Mind,” “Apollo 13,” “The DaVinci Code,” “Splash,” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Peter Morgan did the screenplay based on his own play. You’ve seen his writing in such films as “The Queen,” “The Other Boleyn Girl,” and “The Last King of Scotland.” He’s been ranked as Number 28 in the London Telegraph’s 2008 list of Most Powerful People in British Culture.

This film accomplishes the near-impossible: portraying Richard Nixon not just as a disgraced president, but turning him into a (albeit flawed) human being. Langella’s performance is spot-on; Howard’s directing is even-handed; and Morgan’s writing immaculate.

Langella’s Nixon brims with “dyspeptic melancholia, aggression, and self-pity.” Sheen’s Frost is a subtle mix of glibness, cockiness, and a pseudo self-confidence.

As the Village Voice put it , this was “a prize fight between two come-back hungry veterans, only one of whom could win.”

Some 400 million television viewers turned in to watch the Frost/Nixon interviews. It will be interesting to see if “Frost/Nixon” can approach that worldwide audience as a film. More likely, it will remain a little gem.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, March 20, 2009

Week of March 20 to March 26 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

The long-awaited screen version of DOUBT finally makes it to the Tropic this week. For those of you who saw the great Waterfront Playhouse production last month, the Joy Hawkins role is being played by Meryl Streep, the David Black role by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the Elena Devers role by Amy Adams. Too bad Miramax couldn’t have gotten some really good actors. Of course, all these movie actors did manage to get Academy Awards nominations for their performances, so they can’t be too bad.

But seriously, DOUBT is a real actors' vehicle, calling for craft in walking the line between being a good guy/gal or a bad one. If you haven’t seen or read about it, Sister Aloysius (Streep) is head of a Catholic school who suspects teacher-priest Father Brendan (Hoffman) of untoward behavior with one of the students. She goes after him like a prosecutor. But did he? That’s the doubt that gives the play its title, and the actor’s task is to make you wonder who’s the hero and who’s the villain.

The one undoubted hero of the production is writer-director John Patrick Shanley. He started his film career in 1987 with an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay – for Moonstruck -- but when he turned to writing-directing three years later, the result was the poorly received Joe Versus the Volcano. He shifted to a Broadway and Off-Broadway career as a playwright until his play Doubt won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Awards in 2005. Now he has triumphed with the movie. And he’s a sweet guy. Congrats to John Patrick Shanley.

The other new movie this week is the oddly-named THE PERVERTS GUIDE TO THE CINEMA. First off, this has nothing to do with perverts… don’t you wish. Instead we have a Slavic film critic and his top several dozen films with great clips from each and, may I say, original, commentary. Cinema is the ultimate perversion, host Slavoj Zizek says, because it “doesn’t give you what you desire, it tells you what to desire.” I don’t what know that means, but it’s interesting. Zizek covers movies from Hitchcock (The Birds, Vertigo) to David Lynch (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive) to Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Alien Resurrection) to Ingmar Bergman (Persona) to Victor Fleming (Wizard of Oz) with his idiosyncratic analysis. Like it or not, you’ll leave the theater knowing one hellava lot more about film than you ever thought you could know. Film critics love it, giving it a 100% RottenTomatoes rating, A unique Tropic experience. But fair warning: it’s 2 ½ hours long. Since it’s split into three parts, you might break your viewing experience up. Ask the friendly folks at the Tropic if you can do split sessions.

Last chances to see THE WRESTLER this week. I know, I know, you think it’s too violent, too down-and-dirty. I can’t say it’s a walk in the park, but everything is for a purpose, and the story and Mickey Rourke’s wrestler are priceless. Take a chance.

Get ready for free movies on April 4 at the Tropic’s Fifth Birthday Party. Plus cake and good cheer. Get a preview of the new construction, which is well underway. And join up just in time for an open membership meeting. Details coming next week.
More info and schedules at
Comments to

Doubt (Rhoades)

“Doubt” Casts Its Flickering Shadow at the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My wife went to Catholic school, a strict regimen where the penguins were quick to rap you across the knuckles with a ruler and give you three Hail May’s if you didn’t behave properly. Times were simpler then. Nuns and priests were beyond suspicion. No one questioned their behavior with young students and alter boys.

“Doubt” – the film that garnered Meryl Streep her 15th Oscar nomination – is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Those of you who enjoy live theater saw a recent performance of “Doubt” at the Waterfront Playhouse. This film is based on the play, and in addition to Streep it offers Philip Seymour Hoffman as the priest under scrutiny and Amy Adams as the young nun wrestling with her conscience.

The plot is right out of today’s headlines. Not long ago, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles concluded a $660 million settlement -- the largest single payout related to the Church’s sexual abuse crisis. An additional $615 million was spent by the Catholic Church on sexual abuse cases in 2007 alone.

As Time Magazine noted, “Since the issue exploded in 2002 with the scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston, it has been difficult to force the Vatican to respond directly … since, according to the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, the Holy See is outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.”
But within the walls of the Bronx diocese in the film, Sister Aloysius (Streep) is not about to let abuse go unchecked, even if there are doubts as to the facts of the matter.

Joseph Foster plays the young boy receiving special attention from the priest. And Viola Davis portrays his mother, a shower stopper with her one-scene performance that has been called "a near-miraculous level of believability.”

The film received five Academy Award nominations. In addition to Ms. Streep’s well-deserved nod, Hoffman, Adams, and Davis were recognized for their moving performances. And playwright/screenwriter John Patrick Shanley’s script was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

As for the film’s theme, this is not an indictment of the 1.1 billion members of the Roman Catholic Church, but rather a dramatic examination of how we approach our belief systems.
Keep in mind, the film is called “Doubt,” not “Faith.”
[from Solares Hill]

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema (Rhoades)

“Pervert’s Guide” Plays Peeping Tom at Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Sorry to disappoint you, but “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” is not about X-rated movies. No hot-pillow action from Jenna Jameson. No looking back at Linda Lovelace’s gastronomical feats.

Instead, we have a cinephile’s tour of some famous and ultimately mystifying movies by Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky, the Marx Brothers, and many others – in effect a film critique that decodes the hidden meaning within some of your big-screen favorites. And in doing so, uncovers what movies can tell us about ourselves.

Hosted by a bearded Slovenian geek named Salvo Zizek, “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” started off as a British television series called “Art Shock.” Director Sophie Fiennes helped Zizek turn the series into a movie about movies.

“The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Zizek describes himself as a “philosopher and psychoanalyst” And that’s not a bad description of this highbrow movie buff. He bases his analysis of films on the writings of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.

One of the most significant figures in psychoanalysis since its founding by Sigmund Freud, Lacan’s theories extend beyond treating neurotic patients – classifying all mental activity into three functions: the Imaginary Order, the Symbolic Order and the Order of the Real.

The Imaginary refers to the process by which the ego is created in infants (the process through which an alien humanity comes to colonize the body, if you want to put it into sci-fi terms).

The Symbolic is the impersonal framework of society – and includes all social structures from language to the law. As such, it’s what we usually call “reality.”

The Real is the world before language and the rest of the Symbolic Order have carved it up.
Complex? “My big obsession is to make things clear,” says Zizek. “I can really explain a line of thought if I can somehow illustrate it in a scene from a film.”

Following this triptych philosophy, “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” is divided into three parts.
The first looks at the workings of the unconscious in Andy and Larry Wachowski's “The Matrix” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

The second explores the intersection of fantasy and reality in David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” and Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”

And the third tackles the subject of illusion versus reality in “The Wizard of Oz” and “Alien Resurrection.”

Zizek is sometimes called “the philosopher of the Real” because he discusses “real” topics, such the dialectical-materialist philosophy behind Keanu Reeves films, the toilet bowl in “The Conversation,” and the absurd paternal figures in David Lynch’s films (Frank in “Blue Velvet,” Baron Harkonnen in “Dune,” and Mr Eddie in “Lost Highway”).

Overly intellectual? Perhaps, but Zizek presents his lofty thoughts with the flair of a showman, shooting scenes at original locations and on replica sets, creating “the uncanny illusion that Zizek is speaking from within the films themselves.”

As he says in his thick Eastern European accent, “Cinema is the ultimate pervert’s art. It doesn’t give you what you desire. It tells you how to desire.”

No, we're not back to Jenna Jameson.

The director admits “the film’s title is something of a MacGuffin – just a way to get you into this network.” It refers to the voyeuristic nature of films.

This movie is to cinema what “What the #$*! Do We Know!?” was to quantum physics.
[from Solares Hill)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Week of March 13 to March 19 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

It's another special-filled week, led by return screenings of the Edith Piaf biopic, LA VIE EN ROSE -- with the heart-wrenching singing voice of Jil Aigrot -- starting on Monday, March 16. This is a nice little cooperative venture with the Tennessee Williams fine Arts Center, which is bringing Mme. Aigrot for a live performance the following week. Members of the Film Society can even win a free pair of orchestra tickets to the live show by introducing a new Patron-level member for the Society.

For fishing enthusiasts, local fishing guide and filmmaker Will Benson presents the local premiere of the FLY FISHING FILM TOUR. It's fly fishing's answer to surfing's Endless Summer, taking you to incredible destinations around the world. That's Tuesday at 7:00pm

For balletomanes, the new Saturday matinee series offers PHAROH'S DAUGHTER performed by the Bolshoi, in hi def. The theme of this classic is the hallucinations of an Englishman tripping out on opium smoked in an Egyptian pyramid. Welcome to Key West.

Prefer opera instead? Wednesday evening brings Shostakovich's LADY MACBETH to the screen, direct from the Teatro del Maggio Musicale in Florence. Sung in Russian, but, as always, with English subtitles.

Want a classic film? Vittorio De Sica's MIRACLE IN MILAN. Made in 1951, the movie is appropriate to 2009, since it's the story of slumdogs (from Milan rather than Mumbai) and their fairy-tale triumph over narrow-minded capitalists. It won the Grand Prize at Cannes in its day.

Oh, regular movies. I almost forgot. Mickey Rourke continues to dazzle in THE WRESTLER and
Kate Winslet in THE READER. Both are stories of ways in which events take control of life. There are no fairy tales for either of these characters, who surely wish that they could have pushed the rewind button on reality. I sometimes carp at the Tropic for holding movies too long, but if it gives you a chance to see either of these, take advantage of it.

Another guy who could have benefitted from a career rewind was Che Guevara. In Part Two of CHE he moves on from triumph in Cuba to tragedy in Bolivia. Or maybe not. The Che we know is an icon, a photograph, a legend. Could he have survived as a bureaucrat in Cuba? Like Mickey Rourke's wrestler, he did what fate had created him for. If you missed Part One of CHE it's being rerun in the afternoon daily.

The big story at the Tropic this week is not on the screen but in the lobby, where you'll see a floor-to-ceiling wooden partition shutting off the Sussman Lounge from construction work next door. When it's all finished, by summer, you'll have a double-wide lobby and a fourth movie screen, raising the Tropic from a triplex to a quadplex. I'll have a fuller report on that soon, but in the meantime, be warned that some of the bike racks have been removed to accommodate a construction barrier. You've probably heard as well that the Post Office has started to crack down on evening parking, so allow a bit more time to locate a spot unless you're on foot.

Save the date, Saturday, April 4, for the Tropic's Fifth Birthday Gala. Free movies, groundbreaking ceremony for the new expansion, and general festivities, from noon to 8:00pm. Details to come.

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

Friday, March 6, 2009

Week of March 6 to March 12 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

It's never clear what makes a film -- or a book or play -- great, but one criterion might be that it changes the way you think about something. THE WRESTLER did just that for me.

I've never been a WWF fan, and the movie won't change that. But it has changed the way I see the sport and the players. Okay, it's not “real” in the sense that the participants are vying to defeat each other. The proper comparison is rather to choreographed performance art. That's what comes out of the movie. Randy “The Ram” Robinson, The Ayatollah, and Lex Lethal, may not be Greco-Roman champions, but they are accomplished athletes doing tricky and even dangerous work. As they assume roles over time as the good guy and the villain, their acts take on a story line that the fans follow. It's not difficult to see how satisfying that can be.

Let's not get carried away. Don't get the wrong idea. The movie isn't “about” any of this. It's about an over-the-hill, broke and bummed-out wrestler who never really saw a big payday even when things were good. It's about his broken-down body, the end-product of violent hits, pain-killer drugs, and a generally shitty touring life with no respite. That's Mickey Rourke in his Oscar-nominate role as as The Ram, and he nails it. And it's about his attempts at a comeback as a wrestler, as a father, and as a lover.

You may not come away loving wrestling, but I'll bet The Ram will punch a hole in your heart. And you'll have been backstage at a wrestling match, several of them. When else will you get that chance?

CHE was a very different kind of fighter. This epic two-part series by famed director Steven Soderbergh and starring Benicio Del Toro (Traffic, 21 Grams) picks up the life of Che Guevara in Cuba where he is fighting alongside Castro. There's no need for a back story because we all know it, and that ground was covered in Motorcycle Diaries. Part One of CHE, showing this week carries through the overthrow of Batista and Castro's assumption of power. Part Two, scheduled for next week, picks up Che in Boliva, where he went for a second – and as we know, failed -- attempt at revolution. There's a trajectory here, from turmoil to triumph to tragedy. It is, says A.O. Scott in the New York Times, “a master class in filmmaking.”

The high points on the Special Events calendar are two music programs. Tuesday evening brings a live jazz concert by the Isle of Bones Bones. With four trombones and a rhythm section, it's a unique sound, featuring local artists Joe Dallas, Sr. and Jr., and Harry Schroeder. And on Wednesday, in high definition and surround sound, Emerging Pictures brings us a TRIBUTE TO PAVAROTTI, with an all-star cast ranging from Placido Domingo to Sting performing at the historic Jordanian ruins of Petra.

You might also want to catch two new Saturday matinee series (replacing the Kids Matinees which are suspended). Spanning the cultural spectrum, on the high side there is an opera from the Tropic's Great Operas of Europe series – a performance of Wagner's DAS RHEINGOLD conducted by Zubin Mehta (from the Valencia opera). And on the low end, a light classics movie series opens with David Niven starring in the romantic comedy, THE LADY SAYS NO. These two themes will be repeated with new selections every Saturday.

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

The Wrestler (Rhoades)

“The Wrestler” Goes for the Count

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

When I was a teenager I used hang around an old warehouse where a local wrestling federation maintained a ring, watching those muscle-bound athletes practice their moves. Each throw or pin carefully choreographed. The outcome of every bout decided in advance.
They showed me how they stomped the floor with each blow to make it sound more dramatic. How they chomped down on chicken bladders to cause blood to trickle from their mouths. How they spit out kernels of corn, pretending these were teeth.
Show biz, they explained.

You get a similar behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of this “sports entertainment” (as WWE’s Vince McMahon once termed it) in “The Wrestler” – the Academy Award-nominated film that’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Mickey Rourke is perfectly cast as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an aging professional wrestler who’s now reduced to “an old broken-down piece of meat.” Estranged from his daughter, unable to pay his rent, and hooked on painkillers, he had little going on in his life except for his self-esteem as a once-popular pro wrestler.

His grueling bouts, physically challenging even when reduced to practiced moves, have taken their toll. The old ticker isn’t up to the abuse. Retirement is facing him, a bleak future of working in a supermarket deli rather than entertaining his ragtag fans in seedy high school gyms and community centers.

Marisa Tomei is on hand, nominated for a second Oscar for her portrayal of a commitment-phobic stripper. You get a good view of her epidermis as well as her thespian abilities.
Rourke is in great shape as the muscled-up protagonist, biceps bulging, abs only slightly soft.
His long blonde hair reminiscent of a Gorgeous George or Ric Flair.

The success of this film is tied to Rourke, somewhat in the same way that the success of “Iron Man” can be attributed to casting Robert Downey Jr. as a substance-abusing superhero. Art imitating life.

We’ve followed Rourke’s career from quirky supporting roles (“Body Heat”) to dramatic leads (“The Pope of Greenwich Village”) to soft porn (“Nine 1/2 Weeks”) to a turbulent marriage to model/actress CarrĂ© Otis (whom he may have “accidentally” shot) to an abortive boxing career and bad plastic surgery. Now his return to public attention in “The Wrestler” parallels the fictional career of Randy “The Ram” Robinson.

We rooted for Rourke at the Academy Awards, knowing he was a lost cause. But damn, what a magnificent lost cause.

Maybe he didn’t walk away with a golden statuette, but when Best Actor winner Sean Penn acknowledged Rourke as “my brother” we all had a sense of pride for his Phoenix-like rise from the ashes.

Maybe Mickey Rourke didn’t win an Oscar, but he bought a dog after the ceremony and named him Oscar. Gotta love this train wreck of a man.

And his comeback movie.
[from Solares Hill]