Friday, July 31, 2009

Week of July 31 to Aug. 6 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

If there's a theme this week, it's the run up to marriage. The immensely popular THE HANGOVER continues for another week. This is a buddy, frat-boy comedy about the so-called last night of freedom – the bachelor party. It's joined this week by THE PROPOSAL, a romantic comedy with a taming of the shrew theme. Sandra Bullock is Margaret Tate, a domineering publishing executive (think Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada), with a sweet male assistant Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds). But she's got a visa problem and is about to be deported (to Canada. What a plot point! Couldn't they have made it Iran or someplace interesting? Guess that's why it's a comedy.).

Her solution: Order her long-suffering assistant to marry her. You rom-com fans know where this is going. Couple hate each other, get thrown together, and fall in love. But as they say, the journey is more important than the destination. And Margaret and Andew have a pretty interesting and amusing trip, going from New York, to meet his parents in Sitka, Alaska, which turns out to be a sort of Key West of the north – lots of history, tourist attractions and fishing, with a relatively moderate climate. “A crowd-pleasing romantic comedy” says the New York Post.

For the kids, there's the new Warner animated hit, ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS. So the title's a non-sequitur. Did you think Warner was PBS? It's got cute squirrels (including the major female love interest, Scratté), awesome dinosaurs, and a heart-warming adoption of three T-Rex babies by a sloth. Did I say it's for kids? They'll love it.

If you missed the fabulous documentaries FOOD, INC. and EVERY LITTLE STEP, you've got another chance this week. Both have proven very popular and are held over.

The Monday Night Classic is THIS IS THE ARMY, a 1943 Irving Berlin musical starring two future politicians – George Murphy, later Senator from California; and Ronald Regan. It's a rousing good time, with musical hits including “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” “This Is The Army, Mr. Jones,” and “God Bless America” belted out by Kate Smith. Please don't get too teary at the final song, “This Is The Last Time.”

"Dressed up to win
We're dressed up to win
Dressed up for victory
We are just beginning
And we won't stop winning
Till the world is free.

We'll fight to the finish this time
And we'll never have to do it again.”

Yeah, sure.

While you're enjoying this summer film selection, the Tropic has some good deals for you. The Summer Sizzles promotion gets you a free movie pass for every ten shows you see. Just ask at the Box Office for a Sizzles card and get it stamped every time you come. No membership necessary.

But there's also a great deal on new memberships. Join as a Couple and get a $10 Gift Card that can be used for anything at the theater, from beer to tickets. The membership is a good deal anytime -- $60 for the year gets you $3 off on every movie ticket – but now it's even better. With three full-time movie screens, and a fourth on the way, there's always something to see and the visit is always a pleasure, with friendly staff, bargain concessions and comfy seats.

Speaking of the fourth theater, it's due to open next week. I'll tell you more then.

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

The Proposal (Rhoades)

“The Proposal” Reinforces Our Fantasies About Life

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Having been married three times, I’ve had a lot of practice at proposing. Luckily, third time’s the charm. This year my wife and I mark our 27th anniversary.

Besides, she says I’ve used up my quota.

Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds get engaged in “The Proposal,” the romantic comedy that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema. Or should I call it a non-romantic comedy? Because it’s an engagement of convenience, not love.

At least in the beginning.

Seems Bullock is a Canadian citizen with a high-powered publishing job in the US. But when our gal learns that she might get deported back to those cold climes, she forces her male assistant to claim that they’re getting married.

Talk about harassment in the workplace.

This high concept movie was probably pitched to the studio as “Green Card” meets “The Wedding Date.”

The fun begins when Reynolds takes her home to meet his folks. Mom and dad (Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson) are thrilled. They even let them share a room. A room with one bed and one bath. Gulp!

Here’s a couple of co-workers who have barely shared a pencil sharpener before, forced to pretend they’re soul mates. But you guessed it: Keeping up the façade of True Love leads to … True Love.

Sure, I’m giving away the ending, but – admit it – you knew this mismatched twosome was going to wind up together before you even bought your ticket.

Formula movies offer us a certain sense of reassurance that the universe is in its proper order. The promise of things turning out all right. That Living Happily Ever After can actually come true … at least, up there on the silver screen.

Ah, the stuff that dreams are made of.
[from Solares Hill]

The Proposal (Comments)

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Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (Comments)

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Food, Inc. (Rhoades)

“Food, Inc.” Will Change The Way You Look at Food

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My hometown in North Carolina is known for its chicken production. Concrete-block chicken houses dot the countryside, long low buildings where cows used to graze. One of the biggest employers in the county is Tyson Foods. If you don’t go to college you may wind up as a minimum-wage chicken catcher, going out in the wee hours of the night to capture sleeping chickens for transportation to the processing plant. Eventually, they will wind up on your plate as a fried chicken dinner.

As one farmer in “Food, Inc.” – the shocking documentary that’s playing at Tropic Cinema – says, “We’re not producing chickens; we’re producing food.”

It’s a film that will change the way you look at food. In fact, it might change the way you eat.
You’ll learn that four or five companies control the US food chain. Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms, Smithfield Foods, Monsanto Company, etc. They are the villains of the piece.

The film shows how technology has altered the way we grow food and raise livestock. Now farmers can produce a five-and-a-half pound chicken in seven weeks – half the time and twice the weight that it used to be.

Sniffing at the musky smell of chicken houses, a farmer in “Food, Inc. says, “It smells like money to me.”

According to Emmy Award-winning director Robert Kenner, everything we’ve done in agriculture is to grow it faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper.

It all comes back to corn. The documentary points out that 90 percent of the food in your supermarket contains something based on corn.

The average person eats 200 pounds of meat a year, all made possible by corn. We feed corn to chickens, pigs, cattle, even fish. The reason we feed them corn is because corn is really cheap and it makes them fat quickly.

Of course, in this commercialization of food, there are unintended consequences. Tainted meat, for instance. There used to be thousands of slaughterhouses in the US. Today there are only 13. Bigger food processing plants are ideal for the increased spread of pathogens. E. Coli, salmonella, all our deadly bacteria.

The documentary examines the case of a child named Kevin who contracted E. Coli from contaminated food. As his mother bemoans, “To watch this beautiful child go from perfectly healthy to dead in 12 days from eating food is unbelievable.”

To provide a higher standard of safety, advocates have tried to pass a bill called Kevin’s Law, an attempt to put tighter restraints on the food processing industry. But food lobbyists oppose it. Seven years since Kevin died, the law still hasn’t passed.

“We’re hardwired for three tastes – salt, fat, and sugar,” points out one expert in the film. “We’ve skewed our food system to the bad calories. They are from the commodity crops, those that are subsidized.”

Fact is, 1 in 3 young Americans now will contract early onset diabetes.

The thesis of “Food, Inc” is that major food companies’ livelihoods are based on “supplying cheap but contaminated food, the heavy use of petroleum-based chemicals (largely pesticides and fertilizers), and the promotion of unhealthy food consumption habits by the American public.”

Needless to say, Tyson, Perdue, Smithfield, and Monsanto do not like “Food, Inc.” An alliance of food production companies created a website called in response to the film. Monsanto established its own website to refute Kenner’s claims.

Kenner insists, “All we want is transparency and a good conversation about these things.”
His companion book to the film says it all in the title: “Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food Is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer – And What You Can Do About It.”
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, July 24, 2009

Week of July 24 to July 30 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

Highbrow or lowbrow? Which do you prefer?

Let's start at the bottom. NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN opened earlier this summer to universal critical distain, but held the no. 1 or no. 2 box office ranking for ten weeks, and has grossed over $200 million.

What's that tell us? That no matter what the critics say, or what anyone who appraises “film” may think, it must be a lot of fun. And it is. Ben Stiller is loose in the museum with the characters from the displays - including Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), and Albert Einstein (Eugene Levy) - all of whom do their thing. They're all about to be replaced with new exhibits, but they have one more night to shine, for you, and the kids you bring to the movie. Please do bring some kids. They'll understand and appreciate it a lot more than you.

Next up the ladder is THE HANGOVER, which shares a plot similarity. The characters here also have one night of freedom, in this case a bunch of dudes gone wild at their buddy's bachelor party. The locale isn't a regular museum, but Las Vegas, which is sort of a museum of contemporary sybaritica. And these guys are bent on finding out about any and all of it while the sweet, straight women wait back in Los Angeles for the return of the men from their overnight Odyssey. But it doesn't happen quite as neatly as any of them expect.

In an interesting cinematic twist -- where the mantra is always “show, don't tell” -- we see very little of the evening, but cut almost immediately to the aftermath. Thanks to a drug mix-up, no one remembers exactly how or why, but our boys' hotel suite is thoroughly trashed and inhabited by a Bengal tiger. (No, not a White one. This one belongs not to Sigfried or Roy but rather to Mike Tyson. But I digress.) The worst result of the lost evening is that the groom is gone, possibly abducted by some sinister Asian gangsters, or …. The possibilities are endless when everyone has total amnesia, and they're in Las Vegas. You've got to see The Hangover, if only because it's become a Hollywood phenomenon. With no movie stars or famous director, it has in a few short weeks become the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. Sure it's a frat-boy, gross-out comedy, but with quite a bit more sharpness than, say American Pie.

At the other end of the cultural scale, the Tropic being an art house after all, is the mesmerizing documentary EVERY LITTLE STEP. Filmed in 2006 while Broadway producers were casting a revival of the classic 1975 musical A Chorus Line, the movie follows several of the aspiring hopefuls, some looking to augment a career and some to start one, but all sharing a heartbreaking desire to make it and get that chance to perform. The depth and scope of their talent is breathtaking. They have an athleticism to rival any Olympian, coupled with acting ability to match that of any straight Broadway performer, and singing skills that might support a career on its own. The competition is fearsome. The willingness of these singularly talented people to put their everything on the line makes you wish all of them could prevail. In a way, it's like American Idol, but every contestant is a major leaguer. It's not just a game but their professional lives, and the story is all the more powerful because of it. Don’t miss it, especially if you love Broadway musicals, have tapped with Bruce Moore or even sung in the shower. It’s a winner.

Also opening this week is the much-acclaimed FOOD, INC., an exposé of the American food industry. It's got plenty of stuff to make you want to give up eating, but much hopeful information as well. You owe it to yourself to find out. Full info and schedules at
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The Hangover (Rhoades)

“The Hangover” Hangs Around for Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

What’s the worst night you ever had? Hard to beat the four guys who go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party in “The Hangover,” the everything-goes-wrong comedy that’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Doug (Justin Bartha) is getting married, so his pals take him for a What-Happens-in-Vegas-Stays-in-Vegas night out. Phil (Bradley Cooper) is a Matthew McConaughey look-alike schoolteacher with a ho-hum marriage. Stu (Ed Helms) is a straight-laced doctor … uh, dentist … with a fiancé from Hell. And along comes bearded Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the bride’s not-too-bright brother.

This is a road trip movie, and yes I’ll admit one of the funniest ever.

The story begins in Memento style on the morning after, when Phil, Stu, and Alan awake with one helluva hangover. Seems someone slipped them roofies and they have no memory of the night before. And bridegroom-to-be Doug is missing.

So most of the 100 minutes is spent looking for Doug, which means figuring out what happened the night before.

As a starting point the guys woke up with a strange baby in their Caesars Palace suite, a tiger in the bathroom, Stu missing a tooth, and Phil wearing a wristband that indicates he’s been in the hospital. Oh my.

Enter Asian gangsters, Mike Tyson (playing himself), a pretty hooker (Heather Graham), a quickie wedding chapel, and a stolen police car. Other than that, things are fine.

Phil calls Doug’s bride-to-be to tell her about the wedding: “That’s not gonna happen,” he breaks the news.

But it does … and the movie details all the obstacles that must be overcome. Painfully funny.
Sure, “The Hangover” had a run at the Regal. But if you missed it, here’s your second chance for a belly laugh. And if you didn’t, you may want to see it again. I know I’m taking my friends.
Come to think of, rather than the worst night of their life, “The Hangover” turns out in many ways to have been the guys’ best night ever!
[from Solares Hill]

Night at the Museum 2 (Rhoades)

Smithsonian Exhibits Come Alive In “Night at the Museum” Sequel

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

As a former president of the Key West Art & Historical Society, which oversees the Custom House, the Lighthouse, and the East Martello museums, I couldn’t wait to see “Night at the Museum: Battle of Smithsonian,” the new Ben Stiller comedy that’s playing at Tropic Cinema.
Watching the exhibits in Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum come to life, with Stiller’s character acting as a one-man ground control trying to keep all the rockets and aircraft from crashing into each other, was like a modern-day Lucy in the Pie Factory.

I wondered how much of it had actually been filmed inside the real Smithsonian Museum.
Turns out, Carey Winfrey, the editor-in-chief of Smithsonian Magazine, is my neighbor here in Key West. So I asked him about it.

Carey chuckled. “Your question reflects a common misconception; that the Smithsonian is a museum. It in fact comprises some 28 museums, plus research facilities, labs etc.”
Having set me straight, he continued on about the movie: “It was filmed both onsite in Washington and on a soundstage in Vancouver, Canada.”

Hm, I wanted to know more, so Carey directed me to other sources of information:
“One of the fun things for viewers will be trying to guess which parts of the movie were shot in the real DC in the real Smithsonian buildings and which parts were shot on soundstages and green screen and sets because it’s fairly seamless and I think our production design team did an exceptional job creating a seamless blend of reality and fiction,” explains Shawn Levy, the film’s director.

Levy also directed the original “Night at the Museum,” which was set in New York’s Museum of Natural History. Moviegoers laughed at Ben Stiller – along with Owen Wilson and Robin Williams – being chased by a T Rex through the halls of that venerable institution to the tune of $575 million in worldwide box office receipts.

So it’s not a big surprise that Levy and his production team focused on another famous museum for this sequel.

“When we came up with the notion of the Smithsonian as an idea for the script I came to DC and I scouted it and I was thrilled to see that the real Smithsonian was cooler than what it was in my head,” says Levy. “So in fact I came back to Los Angeles having scouted out the Smithsonian and rewrote the script including a lot of super cool stuff that I’d seen in real life that I couldn’t have possibly have imagined.”

Particularly enthralled by the gothic Castle (the Smithsonian Institution’s original building, now an office complex and information center), Levy re-imagined it as an evil fortress where a villainous Egyptian pharaoh (Hank Azaria) sits on a throne (Archie Bunker’s chair) atop a pile of looted museum treasures.

Dwight Blocker Bowers, curator of entertainment for the National Museum of American History, was horrified by the very idea of iconic artifacts piled in a heap.

But when Shawn Levy and his film crew descended on the National Mall for four days and nights in May 2008, he and the other curators played along. “I hope it shows that we have a sense of humor," says Bowers.

Amy Adams (an actress who has received two Academy Award nominations, most recently for her role as a young nun in “Doubt”) co-stars in “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” as Amelia Earhart.

At the heart of this comedy is a love story featuring Stiller’s character and America’s most famous aviatrix. Thus, much of the action takes place at the Air and Space Museum. Her Lockheed Vega, which is on exhibit there, became a central element of the movie.

“We did our shooting in the Air and Space Museum at night, which allowed me to have an intimate experience with the exhibit,” says the director. “When you see how small her plane was, you really understand her fortitude.”

Along for this return trip are a miniature cowboy named Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson) and rough-riding Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams). Also back are a historical array of Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), Octavius (Steve Coogan), Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek), and winsome Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck).

Add Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Al Capone (Jon Bernthal), Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabat), and General George Armstrong Custer (Bill Hader) to complete the zaniness.
Jake Cherry reprises his role as Stiller’s young sidekick, a kid for all those preteens in the audience to identify with.

How accurate are these historic personages and museum exhibits? “I think all the characters, etc. are based on actual artifacts or exhibits – there’s at least some correlation,” says Carey Winfrey.

“The Smithsonian is the largest museum complex in the world,” Carey points out. No major movie has been shot inside the Smithsonian until now.

Aside from all the funny stuff, this is a movie about a guy who has lost his way and no longer enjoys what he does every day. Ironically, it’s his friendship with Amelia Earhart – famous for having gotten lost -- that “helps him find his way back to his better self.”
[from Solares Hill]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Hangover (Comments)

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Food, Inc. (Comments)

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Every Little Step (Comments)

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Night At The Museum 2 (Comments)

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Week of July 17 to July 23 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

CHÉRI in French is of course just a term of endearment -- “darling” or “sweetie.” But what a difference context makes. One of our local French artists has a younger wife who always calls him “chéri” and her meaning is clear. But when a woman uses the term for a much younger man, the implications become more complicated. In the new film from the prolific director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity, The Grifters, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid), it’s the sobriquet used by the aging courtesan Léa de Lonval (Michelle Pfieffer) to refer to the son of her good friend and fellow courtesan Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates).

When he’s just a boy, and the lovely Léa is in her twenties, it means one thing. But the movie takes place a couple of decades later, when she’s 49 and he’s 24, and chéri is another matter entirely. (Since the given name of the young man is Fred, it’s a good thing that he picked up the nickname. Neither the movie, nor the Colette novels on which it is based would have worked very well with the title “FRED.”)

Charlotte asks Léa to look after Fred…. er, Chéri… and teach him the ways of the world. Since he’s grown up to be quite the sultry hunk (Rupert Friend, who’s destined to break a lot of hearts), it doesn’t seem a very onerous task for a woman of Léa’s accomplishments. But this is a Colette novel meant to explore the implications of true love, which transcends mere mortal elements, like age difference. So one thing leads to another.

It may be difficult for us today to be shocked by the idea of a 49-year-old woman falling for a 24-year-old man, especially when Ms. Pfieffer and Mr. Friend are up there on the screen. But this is Belle Époque France, when conventions were different. And that is the charm of the movie. It’s beautiful; the sets are beautiful; the actors are beautiful. The reflected glow from the screen will make you beautiful, too. “Like the exquisite costumes, the scenery is as gorgeous as most of the cast, providing the perfect backdrop for some unabashed escapism.” (New York Daily News)

Much less pretty are revelations in the documentary OUTRAGE. From documentarian Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated), this new movie is a political shout out against polititicans who spout conservative, anti-gay, “family values,” while living closeted gay lives. You might say they’re chewing what they should be eschewing. There has been much controversy over the appropriateness of exposing personal lives. The moviemakers assert that they are going after no one except politicians who are misleading voters with hypocrisy. You can decide for yourself. But be warned: our very own Governor Crist has a part in the film.

Parents among you will be happy to know that the Saturday Kids Matinee series has been revived after a brief interlude. Two movies every Saturday, with one for younger kids and one for older. This week the little ones get a STUART LITTLE animation, while those 8 to 12 are in store for GOOSEBUMPS: RETURN OF THE MUMMY. Ummm.

The Monday night classic is the 1966 Oscar Winner for Best Foreign Film: THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET. This Czechoslovak film “knocked us out of our seats” said the New York Times reviewer, “a human drama that is a moving manifesto of the dark dilemma that confronted all people who were caught as witnesses to Hitler's terrible crime.”

The films are always hot at the cool Tropic. More info and details at
Comments, please, to
[from Key West, the newspaper]

Friday, July 17, 2009

Outrage (Rhoades)

Come Out to See “Outrage” at Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A couple of weeks ago I signed a petition in support of Lt. Dan Choi, urging the abolition of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military guideline. Chou, as you will recall, is the Iraq war veteran and West Point grad, who is being discharged for admitting he is gay.

I was wondering how effective the petition might be when a screener for this little documentary came along.

Titled “Outrage,” the film just as easily could have been called “Hypocrisy.” However, “Outrage” aptly expresses the director’s angry viewpoint about secretly gay politicians who vote against LGBT rights. The title’s also a double-word double entendre.

Worth 90 minutes of your time, “Outrage” is playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.
Director Kirby Dick’s documentaries often deal with the theme of secrecy and hypocrisy. He was nominated for an Academy Award for 2005’s “Twist of Faith,” a story about a man who was abused by a Catholic priest as a teenager.

I first became aware of his work with 2006’s “This Film Is Not Rated,” an examination of how the Motion Picture Association of America’s secretive ratings board works. Originally, this film was rated NC-17, but Dick ultimately choose to release it without a rating as a political statement.

“This Film Is Not Rated” took the position that the MPAA often turns a blind eye to violence while going out of its way to censor homosexuality.

Thus it’s not surprising that “Outrage” takes on those two-faced politicians who ignore gay rights. Even to the point of promoting anti-gay legislation.

As Washington DC city councilmember David Catania says early in the film, “Very often those self-hating gay people who in the closet are the most vicious towards other gays and lesbians, there’s a way to kinda deflect attention away from their own orientation.”

Yes, you will meet a rainbow array of politicos – from gay-as-a-goose Barney Frank to in-denial Larry Craig of toilet stall fame. Among those examined are NJ’s former governor Jim McGreevey and New York’s former mayor Ed Koch. Others who speak up are openly gay Tammy Baldwin (a Democratic Congresswoman) and Jim Kobe (a Republican Congressman).

Dick Cheney’s daughter is taken to task for supporting the Bush-Cheney ticket while disagreeing with its stance on gay right. “I’m completely unimpressed that she doesn’t agree with President Bush or her father Dick Cheney,” says Elizabeth Birch, former executive director of Humans Rights Campaign, “when in fact she worked, she was a paid operative, to get them elected and then re-elected.”

And 2004 Bush/Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman is outted by politically incorrect Bill Maher on The Larry King Show. When King asked, “Why would someone who is gay take public anti-gay positions, why would you do that?” Maher responded, “Hating yourself is the greatest love of all.”

Many politicians are outted, or at least accused. For example, the film claims that Florida’s governor Charlie Crist leads a privately gay lifestyle while opposing same-sex marriage and adoption in public. You will hear his accusers and see them on camera. “The closet, particularly in the mist of a cultural war, suffocates the integrity of decent people,” comments Patrick Guerriero, former executive director Log Cabin Republicans.

So how do so many politicians remain in the closet? Kirby Dick describes the reluctance of the news media to delve into this subject as “a form of institutionalized homophobia” that results in self-censorship.

If you are reading these words, you’ll know that this review was not censored by this newspaper.
[from Solares Hill]

Chéri (Rhoades)

“Chéri” Turns Stereotypes Upside Down

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I know I’m getting old when Michelle Pfeiffer – she who played one of the high-school teenyboppers in “Grease 2” – takes a role as a Woman of a Certain Age.
In “Chéri,” the Belle Époque film playing at the Tropic Cinema, Pfeiffer portrays an aging courtesan

An adaptation of two slim books by the French novelist Colette, “Chéri” chronicles the end of a six-year affair between Léa de Lonval (Pfeiffer) and a younger man known as Chéri (Rupert Friend). As Pfeiffer observes, “It seems that my leading men just keep getting younger the older I get.”

She turned 51 in April. Friend is only 28.

This costume drama wasn’t difficult for them, for both have had ample cinematic practice. Pfeiffer starred in “Dangerous Liaisons” and “The Age of Innocence.” Friend made his film debut in “The Libertine,” followed by “Pride & Prejudice” and more recently “The Young Victoria.”
In “Chéri,” Madame Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates) turns over her wastrel 19-year-old son to Léa for training in the ways of love. And love is what happens.

Six years later, when Madame Peloux decides to marry off her son to the daughter of another courtesan, everything unravels. Chéri retreats into a realm of fantasy, refusing to grow up. And Léa realizes she cannot stay young forever. The final scene of the film is memorable.
Filmed in France, this German co-production is directed by an Englishman. Stephan Frears (“Dangerous Liaison,” “The Queen”) gives us an opulent Paris of the Belle Époque – that lavish period between the late 19th century and World War I.

Considered one of France’s more venerable writers, Colette (1873 - 1954) wrote some fifty novels (including “Gigi,” which became the famous Lerner and Loewe musical). This lusty lady married three times and entertained many lovers … including her own stepson. So this December-May romance has a basis in actual experience.

Michelle Pfeiffer found the book sad. “It’s the tragedy of nobody really saying what they’re feeling and following their heart and their passions, and allowing the social taboos of the time to ruin their lives, really. And when it would have been so easy not to. And I think we can all relate to that. I think that we’ve all made choices in life that because it was the appropriate thing to do, and it was the socially acceptable thing to do.”

Is Pfeiffer living her role? “I was shooting this film on my 50th birthday. And I thought, well, isn’t that ironic? I am really heading into the eye of the storm here.”
However, she’s quick to point out, “My situation is different than Léa’s, but I have to tell you … if I didn’t have my family, if I didn’t love my life the way that I do, I didn’t have my health, I didn’t have all these things to be grateful for. This would be tough. This would be a tough b’day to have.”

Instead Michelle Pfeiffer embraces her age. “If you think hitting 40 is liberating,” she observes, “wait till you hit 50 – and I was surprised at how liberating it was.”

Hey, wait till she hits 60.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, July 10, 2009

Week of July 10 to July 16 (Mann)

What's on at the TropicBy Phil MannDave Eggers burst on the literary scene in 2000 with his tongue-in-cheekly titled memoir, "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," which quickly rose to #1 on the New York Times best-seller list. In other words, he knows how to get a reader's attention. In the years since he's been busy running his own offbeat publishing company (McSweeney's), setting up a nationwide series of tutoring/writing projects for inner-city youth (826 Valencia projects) and publishing a couple of novels including the striking story of a Somali immigrant, "What Is The What." None of this has anything to do with movies, but when Eggers turns his attention to a screenplay, with his wife Vendela Vita (also a novelist), you know it's going to be a force to be reckoned with.
It's titled AWAY WE GO, and, as if to prove my point, they nailed Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) to direct, and Maya Rudolph of Saturday Night Live fame and John Krasinski from The Office to star. The movie is, contrary to what you might expect, a romantic comedy, the story of a young couple expecting their first child and traveling around the country looking for a place to settle down. Make that a road-movie/romantic comedy. Their adventures are peopled with a collection of outrageous comic characters led by Allison Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who shows us she can do light comedy as well as she does dark characters.

Some reviewers have sniffed at the movie because the lead characters are too good to be true, but who cares? They take us on a rollicking adventure, and even make us think a little. So what else do you want?

Maybe some heavy metal? Then check out ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL, a movie Entertainment Weekly calls “a hilarious, and unexpectedly moving, documentary about the greatest metal band you've probably never heard of.” Who else should I quote? Peter Travers in Rolling Stone, who called it “the heart of rock and roll,” or at the other end of the spectrum The New Yorker, who called it “the most stirring release of the year.” This is not a story of triumph. Anvil is a failed band. They had a brush with success in the early 80’s but now they draw 174 people to an arena holding 10,000. But they’re together and they’re doing their thing, so it’s no downer but “one of the sweetest, funniest films” of the year. (Boston Globe) Give it a shot.

Meanwhile, you’ve got another chance this week to catch Woody Allen’s new comedy, WHATEVER WORKS. Key West is full of Woody Allen fans, and with Larry David in the starring role, it’s just the movie for all of you.

Or come on Monday night for the most off the wall movie ever shown in the weekly classics series, TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE. I don’t know what to say about this one. It’s one of those so-bad it’s good. If classic refers to standout achievement, this is classically bad and classically low-budget ($20,000, they say). Calling all John Waters fans.

More info and schedules at
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[from Key West, the newspaper -]

Anvil: The Story of Anvil (Rhoades)

“Anvil!” Rocks as It Chases Success

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My great-grandfather was a blacksmith, a powerful man. They say he could lift an anvil in each hand and clap them together.

Talk about heavy metal.

However, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” – the music documentary playing this week at the Tropic Cinema – is about a different kind of Heavy Metal.

The Canadian group called Anvil was the granddaddy of all Heavy Metal bands. It influenced Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and many others. Appropriately, this film opens with testimonials from some of the biggest bands of all time, Guns n’ Roses to Metallica.

Robb Reiner and Steve “Lips” Kudlow were childhood friends who at 14 vowed to “rock together forever.” Forming a band called Anvil, Robb was lead guitarist and Lips was drummer. They were good.

In the early 80s the boys were rocking. They shared the stage with Jon Bon Jovi and Whitesnake, success almost within their grasp. But it didn’t happened.
Now in their 50s, the members of this legendary heavy-metal band set off to record their 13th album in one last bid for fame.

Director Sacha Gervasi has made a wonderful little film that documents this fleeting attempt to fulfill their boyhood dreams. It’s both poignant and hilarious. You’d think you were watching “Spinal Tap” if you didn’t know it was all for real.

Gervasi’s camera follows them on a disastrous European tour, records their arguments and emotional outbursts. Lips is mercurial, his violent temper followed by lip-quivering apologies. Robb is calm, discomforted by his buddy’s off-the-wall antics. Yet, the two have their dreams in common.

As a prelude to making the film, Gervasi joined the band as a roadie on a tour of Canadian hockey arenas, where he intimately got to know their day-to-day lives, their financial problems, and their ever-supportive families.

“Anvil! The Story of Anvil” is a chronicle of determination, the two musician’s refusal to give up on their dreams. Regarded as “demi-gods of Canadian metal,” they refuse to accept obscurity.
The cinematography is spectacular. Poetic moments: A window with a black cat sitting inside. Flowers growing in a yard. A band member walking through a field with a storm whipping at foliage and waves crashing in the background.

The music is ear-splitting, sounds that inspired a generation of successful musicians. Heavy Metal as it began.

Take this journey with Robb and Lips. You’ll root for them, even if you know it’s a lost cause.
[from Solares Hill]

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Week of July 3 to July 9 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann
WHATEVER WORKS brings the indie favorite Woody Allen back to the Tropic, not on screen this time, but as writer-director. His persona is assumed by Larry David, of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fame.
Woody Allen is a genius, but he’s got a schtick – a beleaguered, insecure narcissist -- and we mostly love it. Larry David is also a genius with a schtick – an obnoxious, overbearing narcissist -- and we mostly love it. (If you don’t, best to skip this movie.) So what have we got? A beleaguered, insecure, obnoxious, overbearing narcissist. For a while, it’s a little much to take, but in the end, the genius shows through.
When I saw the movie, at a theater on the Upper West Side of New York, the audience was laughing all the way -- especially when Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley, Jr., join the action as a couple of Southern Baptists about to lose their innocence. And the full house was clapping at the end. If skewering religion and homophobia, condoning a relationship between a dewy-eyed charmer (Evan Rachel Wood) and an old fart (Larry David), and treating attempted suicide with a light touch, is your cup of tea, this is the movie for thee. (Note to Liberty and Brigham Young Universities: Protect your students from this film. Note to Key West: Come on down!)
TULPAN comes from a place where cups of tea are the norm, Kazakhstan. This is the vast, landlocked former Soviet republic, which was satirized in the movie Borat. It’s refreshing to see something of the real thing. Asa has returned to his homeland after a stint in the Soviet Navy, bent on finding a wife and settling down. But there’s only one eligible woman, the lovely Tulpan (Tulip). Asa’s an upbeat fellow and pursues his traditional courtship, which involves passing muster with the woman’s parents and negotiating a bride price, with enthusiasm. The result, sort of “Borat meets Mongol” is a joy to watch. “I swear to you that if you live in a place where this film is playing, it is the best film in town. You'll enjoy it, not soon forget it, and you’ll tell your friends about it and try to persuade them to go,” says Roger Ebert, echoing the universal praise for Tulpan. Winner of Best Picture awards at the Tokyo, India, and Montreal International Festivals, among others, this has got to be a must-see for anyone except slow readers who can’t deal with subtitles.
What have we got for the Woody Allen/subtitle hating audience? Your best bet is the Disney-Pixar animation, UP, held over for another week, and still the best PG-rated movie in town. And LITTLE ASHES, the possibly-true story of a 1922 love affair between Salvador Dali and Frederico Garcia Lorca, when both were students in Madrid, has also been held over. (Despite the setting, this is an English-language flick.)
This week’s Monday night classic is SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake. From director Preston Sturges, it’s a road comedy with a serious heart. Acclaimed movie director John Sinclair (McCrea) takes to the road dressed as a bum to explore the underside of life. And oh, what a set of adventures he has before reaching the Zen-insight conclusion. Selected by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time and one of the 100 Funniest Movies as well.
Full info and schedules at
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Whatever Works (Rhoades)

Woody Allen Tries“Whatever Works”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
You’d think it would be a movie pairing made in Hollywood heaven – those famous comedic misanthropes, filmmaker Woody Allen and TV guru Larry David. Being quintessential grumpy old men, Allen and David have each made a career out of celebrating Losers.

Look at Woody’s humorous persona, a nebbish who spends his life on a psychoanalyst’s couch questioning his uneasy relationships. And what bigger loser than his Virgil Starkwell in “Take the Money and Run,” a crook who can’t even spell the note right for a bank robbery (i.e. “gub”).

Even in Allen’s more sophisticated films like “Manhattan,” he gives us a guy who turns loser in the end, letting love pass him by.

And what about Larry David? His self-parody on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” gives us a curmudgeon we can barely bare to watch, an advanced sufferer of Foot In Mouth Disease.

However, David’s pièce de résistance of misanthropy was “Seinfeld,” one of the most celebrated sitcoms ever to flicker on American television sets. We all enjoyed the misadventures of these lovable pre-“Friends” friends.

But wait! When you stop to examine it more closely, Jerry’s kids were a bunch of losers. Kramer never held a job. George couldn’t find work. Elaine was always on the verge of being fired. And Jerry was a narcissist suffering from a Peter Pan complex, always eating cereal and talking about Superman.

Yet, we have to admit, Allen and David made losers funny. And in showing us their characters’ foibles, they held up a mirror to our own shortcomings. Sort of like undergoing surrogate psychoanalysis. Now we have “Whatever Works” – a Woody Allen film starring Larry David – currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

The title itself should give you a hint of the duo’s laissez-faire attitude toward success. Larry David (as a Woody Allen stand-in, now that Allen’s too old to star in his own movies) is cast as a former physicist who specialized in Quantum Theory. No, I’m not kidding … but perhaps Woody is. He meets up with a waif from Alabama in the typical Woody Allen older man - younger woman scenario. Turns out, the girl (Evan Rachel Wood) is as dumb as the washed-up physicist is smart. Her Bible-thumping parents (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr.) follow her to New York City, but thanks to their daughter’s new mentor and the magic of Manhattan they are converted to happy perverts.

In art-imitates-life fashion, Allen’s … I mean, Larry David’s … character marries the girl who is 40 years his junior. All Woody Allen films are fused with a neurotic auteur’s philosophy. In this film it’s that “life is short so he might as well enjoy himself.” Not all that far from Allen’s real-life pronouncement that “the heart wants what the heart wants.”After four films made in Europe, Allen returns to familiar stomping ground, his beloved NYC. It seems like a return from exile. But with “Whatever Works,” he didn’t take any big chances on his homecoming. This is a script dug out of his trunk, written in the 70’s for the late Zero Mostel. So if it seems a little retro, don’t be surprised. Reviews have been mixed. Should we blame it on a mediocre script? Or that Woody’s just running out of steam? Or the obviously tight budget that forced the film to take shortcuts.

When I lived in New York, I used to go listen to Woody Allen play clarinet on Monday nights at Michael’s Pub. He loves music and his films are often infused with it. His earlier “Manhattan” was an ode to Gershwin. But here the music is skimpy, recycling several tunes from earlier films. As you’ll note, I started off this review by calling “Whatever Works” misanthropic. Woody Allen defends himself against this appraisal: “I never think of it as misanthropic even though that sounds funny because that is the source of the humor. But, it seemed to me, that it’s a realistic appraisal of life. Life is quite terrible and you can see by what goes on. So, this is fiction and it can be read as misanthropic and being interpreted that way but I don’t think it is; I think it’s simply realistic.”

Hm, I rest my case.People are always saying they liked Woody Allen better back “when he was funny.” Well, here’s a dusty time capsule for your entertainment. Maybe a little shopworn, but like he says, “Whatever Works.”
[from Solares Hill]