Monday, September 28, 2009

It Might Get Loud (comments)

Did you see this movie? Add your comments below!

The Cove (comments)

Did you see this movie? Add your comments below!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Week of Sept. 25 to October 1 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

As you probably know, there are two aquatic species called “dolphin.” One is the marine mammal also known as porpoise, the Flipper of television and Sea World fame. The other is a finned fish, cousin of pompano. This fish is good eating, very good, but you can’t find it anywhere around town because every market and restaurant calls it by its Hawaiian name, mahi mahi.
Why? Because we love Flipper too much to contemplate chowing down on something that even sounds like him. It’s actually “her,” since the original Flipper was played by a series of females.

That’s one of the things that you’ll learn from the new movie THE COVE, opening at the Tropic today.

That’s sweet, but the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say, will scare the life out of you. Thanks to the amazing undercover work of a group of dedicated activists, led by Ric O’Barry, we learn of porpoise roundups in a small town in Japan. The technique resembles the corralling of wild horses, with an array of boats driving the creatures into shore with sonic probes.

The best of them go to petting pools and shows around the world, but that’s only a small fraction of those corralled. The rest have a less happy end. But you’ll have to see the movie to find out. The filmmaking team managed to install video cameras hidden in “rocks,” specially built for them by George Lucas’ Star Wars complex, Industrial Light and Magic. They planted these devices with the help of world-class free divers and a team using night vision and heat-sensitive cameras.

It’s all a great documentary thriller with amazing footage.

The other new film this week is also a documentary, but more for Guitar Hero lovers than dolphin fans. IT MIGHT GET LOUD, from Davis Guggenheim (best known for his collaboration with Al Gore on the Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth) has turned his cameras to something completely non-political. The subject is the electric guitar, told through the stories of three masters, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin; the Edge of U2; and Jack White, of the White Stripes.

Don’t worry; it’s not just talking heads. There’s plenty of playing and great jamming with all three together. A don’t miss musical education and entertainment. Rolling Stone of course loved it (“rock heaven”), but the New York Times agreed: “It Might Get Loud is more than a narrowly focused fan artifact. It gives those of us with tin ears and clumsy fingers a chance to linger in the presence of serious artists with formidable chops and big, if not always clearly expressed, ideas about what they do. And it will put you in the mood to listen.”

On the non-documentary side of things, the romantic comedy ADAM continues into its second week. Everyone who has seen this movie comes out laughing and crying. I’ve heard that some of you are avoiding it because the hero has Asperger’s syndrome. But it’s not a movie of the Rain Man genre, more a love story with a different spin. You might give it a chance.

And MOON is also continuing for a second week. This is a sci-fi buddy movie, where one of the buddies is a computer named GERTY, but voiced by Kevin Spacey. It’s “a superior example of that threatened genre, hard science-fiction,” says Roger Ebert.

Oh, and Jacques Tati is back in the Monday night classic with MON ONCLE. Now, that’s fun!

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

The Cove (Rhoades)

“The Cove” Will Leave You Shocked and Angry

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Years ago I used to be addicted to those “Mondo Cane” style documentaries. A sociological tour of bizarre customs around the world. There were dozens of them, each movie more shocking than the one before.

Strange delicacies. Odd rituals. Piles of skulls. Fingers severed by Asian gangs. Bulls decapitated. Species decimated. And buckets of blood. Watching these films was akin to the can’t-turn-your-eyes-away fascination you experience when passing the scene of an accident.

Today, I cannot understand how I endured these disturbing films. But some uncomfortable documentaries need to be seen.

“The Cove” – currently playing at the Tropic Cinema – is one such film.

National Geographic photographer Louis Psihoyos was determined to expose the slaughter of thousands of dolphins each year in a cove near Taiji, a small town in Wakayama, Japan.
Taiji is considered the birthplace of Japan’s traditional whaling industry. It’s also the site of dolphin drive hunting, a method of herding these mammals onto the beach with boats. There they are slaughtered in a vicious fashion for their meat.

Keep in mind, dolphins are among the most intelligent animals on the planet. Their brains are actually larger than humans’.

In terms of brain size to body weight, dolphins hold up well. They have an Encephalization Quotient (EQ) of 4 to 5, compared to humans at 6.5 to 7.5. And they can learn to understand complicated language-like commands (which is also true of the great apes).

Their cuddly appearance and friendly attitude have made them as popular to most people as teddy bears.

Dolphins also display culture, something long believed to be unique to humans and certain primates.

The Greek sage Plutarch observed: “To the dolphin alone, beyond all other, nature has granted what the best philosophers seek: friendship for no advantage.”

So it was with this viewpoint that Psihoyos took his film crew to Japan.
Getting the facts wasn’t easy. The hunters would stop at nothing to prevent an exposÈ of their practices. The film’s tagline says it well: “Shallow Water. Deep Secret.”

In this remote cove, surrounded by barbed wire and “Keep Out” signs, the fishermen of Taiji engage in an unseen hunt under cover of night. Driven by the lucrative dolphin entertainment industry and a market for mercury-tainted dolphin meat, they capture and kill these gentle mammals in the most brutal manner.

Joined by the Ocean Preservation Society and former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry (TV’s “Flipper”), Psihoyos launched his undercover operation to photograph this off-limits cove. Assembling an “Oceans Eleven-style team of underwater sound and camera experts, special effects artists, marine explorers, adrenaline junkies and world-class free divers,” he used underwater microphones and high-definition cameras disguised as rocks to get the story. The result of this covert filmmaking unfolds like a gripping eco-adventure thriller.

You will be shocked by what you see. And as angry as a card-carrying PETA member.

Unlike those old “Mondo Cane” movies, this documentary is not intended to entertain or amaze. It’s a call to action that should be heeded. Here is a Rwanda-style “genocide” taking place in the sea.

What can you do? Sign the Facebook petition protesting this carnage at I did.
[from Solares Hill]

It Might Get Loud (Rhoades)

“It Might Get Loud” Does

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I remember when my son came home and told me he’d discovered this new group called The Beatles. Laughing, I replied that I’d lived the Beatles; he was merely recycling them.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so proprietary with my music. He started listening to Heavy Metal.
If you grew up on eardrum-assaulting highly amped music, you will definitely want to see (and hear) a new documentary called “It Might Get Loud.” This paean to the electric guitar is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

The electric guitar has been with us for more than half a century now, dominating the popular music scene. No longer are we shocked that Bob Dylan plugged in.

Director Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) says, “You might forget the incredible range of expression that the creation pioneered by Les Paul can achieve in the hands of masters.”

As my friend Bill Turner (one of Bill Hailey’s Comets) recently recalled, “Les Paul had the foresight to realize that every single step of the recording process needed to be re-invented ... from the construction design of the guitar; the pickups; the recording lathe/turntable (and soon after this, the tape recorder); the amplifier (though he was one of, if not the first, to record the guitar direct into the recorder, bypassing the amp).”

For “It Might Get Loud,” Guggenheim brings together three electric guitar virtuosos from different generations: Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, The Edge of U2, and Jack White of The White Stripes. The film weaves the trio of stories together to show how each of them developed their unique sound.

While most rock ’n’ roll documentaries focus on backstage drama, this “affectionate tribute to rock’s most distinctive instrument,” concentrates on the music, offering “intimate access to the creative process.”

As Davis Guggenheim promises, “The film might not affect how you play, but it will change how you listen.”
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, September 18, 2009

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

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

Sometimes I get annoyed at the Tropic for holding films too long. I’m like a junkie needing a new fix of my beloved cinema, and the pickings were thin last week. But we’ve got a tsunami starting today, with four new movies covering the gamut from innocent young love (ADAM) to sci-fi (MOON), with some things for art buffs (HERB & DOROTHY) and illicit lovers (THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE) in between.

Let’s start with ADAM. He’s a troubled young man (Hugh Dancy from The Jane Austen Book Club), brilliant at work but hopeless at life. He’s got Asperger’s syndrome. Into his apartment building comes Beth, a perfect young thing, but with an imperfect father. Those are the building blocks of a story that will have you laughing and crying. If this were a TV film, it would be about Adam’s condition. But this movie will surprise you with its broader perspective, and not quite so pat resolution. Adam is an engineer. He knows facts. But he’s never lived alone until his father dies suddenly. His only window on reality is his father’s old Army buddy (played by the wonderful Frankie Faison) who insists that he engage in a little “guy talk.” And the girl who just moved in downstairs is just the right subject, not only for guy talk but also a sweet movie.

MOON is a two character film. One is human: astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell). The other is the computer GERTY, seemingly a first cousin of HAL. Sam is stationed on the moon on a three-year contract, the sole occupant of a facility mining helium for shipment to the earth. Sam has a only a few weeks left on his contract. But things are not entirely as they seem. The only one who knows the real facts is GERTY, who’s a nicer guy than you can imagine despite the fact that his facial expressions are only emoticons – you know :) or :( etc. There are no Star Trek space ships and dramatic encounters in this sci fi world, only a human story in which the computer has a bigger heart than its corporate master.

Was there ever a good corporation in the movies? Why do people think we’re better off with profit-driven corporate health insurers than the government? GERTY would know better. But I digress.

HERB & DOROTHY is a documentary. The Vogels had ordinary Civil Service jobs as a postal clerk and librarian. But with a rent-controlled apartment and no kids, they weren’t living large. Instead they bought art, pieces small enough to fit into their one bedroom apartment and cheap enough to fit into Herb’s postal salarly. Starting in the 1960’s they accumulated over 4,000 pieces, many from later-to-become famed artists like Sol Lewitt, Julian Schnabel and Chuck Close. This collection has become one of the leading troves in America, and the understated duo the most-beloved collectors in the New York art world. Meet them -- still alive in their eighth and ninth decades -- and the artists who love them, and learn about the art world in this superb documentary.

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE is something completely different. Steven Soderbergh, an inexhaustible source of original filmmaking ideas, turns to the world of the call girl in this latest offering. Chelsea is a high-priced plum, a sexual entrepreneur running her own business without a pimp, who thinks she can keep her job separate from her life with a live-in boyfriend. The star (Sasha Grey) is an actress of sorts: her prior roles are in porn films. So she has a feel for the subject. The film is relatively short (77 minutes) and has vérité quality as it follows Chelsea from work to home. Makes for an interesting bookend to ADAM, in that it’s another look the travails of young lovers. Leave it to Soderbergh to keep giving us new insights into the world.

Full info and schedules at
Comments, please, to
[from Solares Hill]

Adam (Rhoades)

Autistic “Adam” Finds His Eve

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

No, it’s not “Rainman Falls in Love.” But the kid next door in this sweet little film suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a type of autism. Today’s statistics show that 1 child in 150 is likely to be autistic.

However, the chances of a pretty girl like Beth falling for a boy like Adam are closer to 1 in a million. This is the story of that million-to-one romance. “Adam” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Writer-director Max Mayer says, “Autism spectrum I think has become a much more prominent issue.” Asperger’s causes those affected to struggle with social interaction and they often engage in repetitive behavior.

Our plot: When brainy writer Beth moves into her new apartment, she encounters an odd-duck boy who lives downstairs. She finds his awkward behavior perplexing, but likes his gentle nature.
The title role is played by Hugh Dancy, a young actor you’ve swooned over in “The Jane Austin Book Club.” And thrilled over as Galahad in “King Arthur.”

Beth is played by Rose Bryne, the lovely young star of TV’s “Damages,” an actress capable of holding her own against Glenn Close in that show.

Seems that Hugh Dancy has become something of an expert on Asperger’s syndrome. Portraying Adam led the actor to want to find out more about the condition.

“The script arrived without any covering note or description – all I knew was the title, so I didn’t know what I was reading,” he recalls. “So the first thing I thought was, some way in, I was seeing this character was there and I was really hoping there was going to be a concrete reason for his behavior. What I mean by that is that you’ll see a lot of independent scripts – particularly American scripts – with these kind of young men who are a little weird or a little off somehow and they’re kind of special but they’re going to teach us something. And they’re the ‘holy fool’ character, which I find can be really quite mawkish.”

Instead, he found a character with a very real medical condition. “Starting from a place of total ignorance as I was, naturally the first thing I did was type ‘Asperger’s’ into Google. That keeps you busy for a week.”

Asperger’s manifests itself in many ways, including an inability to look people in the eye when speaking to them. This presented a challenge for the actors. “You feel very odd doing that,” Dancy says. “We only had 22 days to make the movie and it takes quite a while to feel comfortable doing that. All the things you rely on as an actor, with a camera anyway, it tells a lot just by looking at your face, the idea that you’re always going to be essentially distracted in a way, you’re never going to be able to be direct is tough.

“Initially, I didn’t quite know how to do it and Max at one point said, ‘You’re looking a bit like a blind person.’ Because, I guess, you’re looking around without intent. But, eventually I like to think as it made more sense for me, it probably became more easy for Rose than difficult. Because presumably the more genuinely confused she was, the more helpful it would be for her performance.”

Rose Byrne credits a good script. “The script was so well-structured. You have the initial superficial attraction, and then becoming friends, and at one point you think they’re not going to get together… It’s very organic. By the time it happens, it’s very true. I never had a problem believing this could happen, because of the structure of the script.”

“Adam” is at times funny. And there’s an unusual courtship between Beth and Adam at play here. But that doesn’t quite explain it. “This movie isn’t, ultimately a romantic-comedy,” Hugh Dancy insists.

He sees it more as a character study. “The truth is, if you screen this movie in front of a big audience of the general public, you are screening it to people with Asperger’s or at the very least people who live with people who have Asperger’s because it’s that common.”
[from Solares Hill]

Adam (viewer comments)

Did you see this movie?
To leave a comment, just click on "Post A Comment" below.

Herb & Dorothy (Rhoades)

“Herb & Dorothy” Collect Art

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My late father-in-law was a postal worker. So is my brother. Neither of them was wealthy enough to collect fine world-class paintings.

Nor were Herbert Vogel and his wife Dorothy. Herb worked at the post office while his wife stacked books at the library.

But in 1992 Herb and Dorothy donated more than a million dollars worth of world-class minimalist art to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

How they did this is the subject of “Herb & Dorothy,” an interesting little documentary by that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema. In it, filmmaker Megumi Sasaki demonstrates “you don’t have to be a Rockefeller to collect art.

No, Herb or Dorothy didn’t have a secret trust fund. Neither were they Thomas Crown bandits. The couple simply had a good eye for talent and bought the paintings dirt-cheap from unknown artists before they got famous.

And the couple made the purchases on Herb’s postal clerk salary while living on Dorothy’s librarian wages.

When their one-bedroom New York apartment became crowded floor-to-ceiling with their burgeoning collection, they gave the paintings all away and started over. Lucky museum.

When I was on the board of the Key West Art & Historical Society, my favorite part was serving on the Collections Committee. The committee’s job was to review proposed donations to see if the objects – paintings, historic documents, period silverware, you name it – might fit the museum’s mission to preserve the history and art of Key West.

Key West has it’s own Herb and Dorothy’s. Many KWAHS donations come from generous, but not wealthy people, who donate art to the museum in order to share it with the rest of the Key West Community. Some of the wonderful Mario Sanchez paintings on display at the Custom House and Fort East Martello Museums were donated by locals. Most of these donors could have sold their Sanchez works for a healthy profit, but chose to keep these paintings in the community. Bravo!

Go to our local museums to see these collections. And meanwhile “Herb & Dorothy” will give you a hint about the passion – and obsession – of art collectors.
[from Solares Hill]

Herb & Dorothy (viewer comments)

Did you see this movie?
To leave a comment, just click on "Post A Comment" below.

The Girlfriend Experience (Rhoades)

Was “Girlfriend Experience” as Good for You as It Was for Me?

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Philosophically, I don’t have anything against prostitution. As a consultant (my day job) I sell my mind. So what’s wrong with someone selling her body?

As the trailer for “The Girlfriend Experience” puts it: The perfect relationship has a price.
Or as a john in the movie observes, “You get to date a gorgeous woman and when it’s done it is done.”

“The Girlfriend Experience” is turning tricks at the Tropic Cinema.

Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh (he gave us “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” and “Traffic” as well as those “Ocean Eleven” movies) chose to hire non-actors and improvise their dialogue in his new film. The one pro he hired was Sasha Grey, a porn star. After all, this is a film about sex. Among her more than 175 videos are “Sasha Grey Superslut” and “Swallow This 12.”

This is the story of a high-priced escort who specializes in giving her clients what she calls “a girlfriend experience,” a pseudo relationship with no strings attached. A guy’s fantasy, right?
Chelsea (Sasha Grey) is a Manhattan call girl who figures she has it made. She’s self-employed, makes $2,000 an hour, and has a boyfriend who accepts her lifestyle.

This low-budget indie covers five days in the life of Chelsea, just prior to the 2008 Presidential election. Shot in an artistic cinema veritÈ style, the camera allows us to play voyeur while Chelsea meets with clients and interacts with her boyfriend. And as the film’s promo says, “When you’re in the business of meeting people, you never know who you’re going to meet.”
So why did a big-deal director like Soderbergh do a movie about an upscale hooker? “I think it was just an opportunity to explore some ideas about how we define pleasure,” he says. “Why does kissing require an incredible surcharge in the sex industry? What is that about? That’s the thing that GFE’s do that prostitutes don’t … Here, you’re paying top-dollar to be able to make-out, and I think that’s interesting.”

Don’t expect to see actual sex. “I decided to just focus on … this fantasy that you are in an actual relationship for those two hours, or for that night.”

How did Soderbergh come to cast an adult film star in the lead role? “I saw the article in Los Angeles Magazine about her, which was published in the summer of ’06,” he says. “And, the way she talked about herself, her reasons for getting into the adult industry, and the way that she planned to navigate the adult industry didn’t seem typical to me. I’d never really heard anybody like her talk about the business that way.”

Sasha Grey’s performance is getting lots of good buzz. Is she a great actress? Or was it just typecasting?
[from Solares Hill]

The Girlfriend Experience (viewer comments)

Did you see this movie?
To leave a comment, just click on "Post A Comment" below.

Moon (Rhoades)

“Moon” Madness At the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

We recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon. (Can it have been a half century ago that we took one giant step for mankind?) So perhaps it’s time to revisit the moon in sci-fi films ….

Sam Rockwell does that in “Moon,” the new space opera playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Space opera may not be an accurate description, but “Moon” is somewhat retro in its approach to this man-on-the-moon adventure. A small movie with a limited cast (Sam Rockwell, Sam Rockwell, and Sam Rockwell … plus Kevin Spacey voicing the robot), it’s more of a psychological thriller than an Armageddon-style SFX extravaganza.

Rockwell is a miner working on the dark side of the moon, a company man coming to the end of his three-year contract. He job is to extract a form of helium from the lunar soil, a product that is required to keep earth’s power sources humming. A lonely occupation, allowing only intermittent communication with his wife and child back on terra firma.

In this respect, it’s mindful of that little-known science fiction classic, “Silent Running.” Man alone in space with his robot(s).

But a few weeks before his scheduled return to earth, he starts seeing things – a teenage girl wandering the lunar surface. Impossible, right? He’s certain that he’s all alone up here, other than his watchdog robot.

But then he encounters another worker … who looks familiar.

Co-scripter and first-time director Duncan Jones says he intended “Moon” to be an homage to those sci-fi films of his youth like “Aliens” and “Outlander,” hard-edged stories that are unlike “E.T.” or “Star Wars” or “Star Trek.”

In some ways it reminds me of a Ray Bradbury fantasy, like a lost chapter from “The Martian Chronicles” or “The Golden Apples of the Sun.”

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of working with Bradbury, a Fiction Advisor to The Saturday Evening Post. At 89, recovering from a stroke, I deal mostly through his daughter Alexandra. I think he’d enjoy this movie.

You’ll enjoy the twists and turns, too. The screenplay was written with Sam Rockwell in mind. He makes the movie his own. But that’s not hard when you’re practically the only guy in the cast.
[from Solares Hill]

Moon (Viewer comments)

Did you see this movie?
To leave a comment, just click on "Post A Comment" below.

Friday, September 11, 2009

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

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

UNMISTAKEN CHILD is about a search to find the child who is the reincarnation of a deceased monk. It’s an incredible story.

Before I get started, I must offer full disclosure. I’m skeptical about religion. Personally, I think the Egyptians had it right, worshipping the Sun. But it is fascinating to see how caught up people get in their beliefs, whether it’s Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or… Buddhist.

There’s no question that the central character in this documentary film, a young man named Tenzin Zopa, deeply believes in the literal truth of reincarnation. He has spent almost his entire life as a disciple of the lama Geshe Lama Konchog, and when the lama passes away at 84, Zopa is lost. The lama was a revered figure who lived alone in a cave for decades, reportedly without food other than the nourishment that he could gather from the air. For background see

But then the Dalai Lama gives Zopa the mission of finding the child who is the reincarnation of his lost master. Nati Baratz, an Israeli filmmaker who has Buddhist leanings, was there in Nepal at the time, and somehow secured permission to follow Zopa on his quest. And he did so for four years, enabling us to watch as omens are read from the direction of smoke from the lama’s funeral pyre, a remote consultation takes place with a Taiwanese astrologer, and a long trek follows from village to village in the Nepalese Tsum Valley, until Zopa succeeds in his quest. The film has won awards all over, including Best Feature Documentary at the prestigious Full Frame Documentary Festival.

It’s beautiful. It’s fascinating. Maybe it’s even true.

Coming back down to Western earth, Friday and Saturday nights bring the lesbian comedian Dana Goldberg to the Tropic. She’s one of the five funniest lesbians in the country according to Curve magazine. I’ve always thought the Tropic was a great venue for stand-up. Let’s hope this starts a trend. Two shows only. Tickets are at, not at the Tropic box office.

The Saturday Kids matinee continues this week at 12:30pm with such delights as the Swan Princess and Hiawatha. It’s all free, for kids and accompanying adults, thanks to the sponsor, Southernmost Photography. This week there’s a special treat: a drawing for a free bicycle. No purchase necessary. Just be there and see a free movie. Now that’s Zen!

And coming up on Monday night for the weekly classic revival, is THE FALLEN IDOL (1948), directed by Carol Reed from a script by Graham Greene. They are, of course, the team that brought us The Third Man, which is better known, but according to the Village Voice, The Fallen Idol is a superior psychological drama. Long unavailable, it’s just been released in a newly restored print.

I hope that this, along with the still running JULIE AND JULIA and TAKING WOODSTOCK will keep you busy. Meanwhile, get ready for the long overdo opening of the new Peggy Dow Theater at the Tropic. This new fourth screen has been ready for projection for over a month, but the opening has been held up by some technical details. It might even be ready next week. I’ll let you know.

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

Unmistaken Child (Rhoades)

“Unmistaken Child” Is a True-Life Religious Quest

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My friend Donna has become a Buddhist. She’s found an inner peace that has transformed her life. She says she’s gained an insight into the ultimate nature of reality. She believes in reincarnation.

I think she’d like “Unmistaken Child,” the new documentary that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema. It’s a film about a Tibetan monk, reincarnation, and the search for the “unmistaken child.”

In it, we follow a Tibetan monk named Tenzin Zopa as he’s sent by the Dali Lama on a quest to find the child who is the reincarnation of Tenzin’s recently deceased spiritual master.
It’s a ritual that has repeated itself over the centuries. But this time the monk is sporting a modern backpack, traveling in part by helicopter, and being filmed by an Israeli filmmaker.

Director Nati Baratz became interested in this real-life event when he and his wife attended a talk by Tenzin Zopa, who at the conclusion asked everyone to pray for his success in locating the reincarnation of his master Geshe Lama Konghog. The world-renowned Tibetan master passed away at age 84 in 2001.

“Tenzin really touched me in a profound way,” says Baratz. “He has a huge heart, and he’s very smart. And when I heard that he’s looking for the reincarnation of his master, I thought this is a movie I must make. I was obsessed with the idea. I couldn’t even sleep. I went to Tenzin and I said that I really respect him, but I don’t know how I feel about reincarnation, and I really want to make this movie, I must make this movie about his trying to find the child.”

To do the film he had to ask permission from a very senior lama. He waited four months while the monks thought about it and in the meantime found out everything about him. “They really checked me out,” Baratz says. “I even passed their astrology check.”

The story is a true-life religious quest that’s “profoundly meaningful and inherently mysterious.” The filming stretched out five and a half years because it took that long for Tenzin to find the child and determine that he was the true reincarnation. The first time we see the child, he’s one and a half years old. By the end of the film, he’s four and a half.

Does Baratz believe in reincarnation? “I think it doesn’t matter what I believe,” he replies quickly. “The point is that Tenzin believes it … so, the focus was for me not whether they found the reincarnation in the child, but the chance to watch Tenzin, and see how he was changing while he was looking for the child, and when he found the child.”

From Tenzin’s perspective, this child will not only become a great teacher, he’s actually Geshe Lama Konghog – incorporating both the master’s past karma and all his knowledge.
In the documentary Baratz shows the child behaving like child, sometimes happy, other times cranky. Crying while getting his head shaved, whining that he’s all alone when his parents leave him at the monastery and return to their village. “If Tenzin had made the film, I don’t think he would have shown that,” says Baratz. “He doesn’t object to the way the film is, but he would have made a much more holy film.”

Even so, the resulting documentary is very mindful and contemplative, allowing us to observe the Tibetan way of life in that faraway land where people live much as they did centuries ago.

Baratz says, “I moved with my wife and two year old daughter to India, just to give you an example of my commitment. It was great for her to live in the monastery and to play with the reincarnated child … We were really fortunate that they agreed to allow us to enter into the most private and hidden part of their life and tradition.”
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, September 4, 2009

Week of September 4 to September 10 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Time for a rant. How do we overcome the “curse of the subtitle?” Last week the Tropic showed a great little Japanese movie, winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Everybody who saw it loved it, but there weren’t very many of those. Of course it didn’t have big name stars (unless you think Masahiro Motoki is a big name) and it didn’t have a media-saturated TV promotion, but it did have those little words creeping across the bottom of the screen.

Now, I start with the assumption that people who come to the Tropic can read. And that they can walk and chew gum at the same time. We’re deeply into a world of multi-tasking, and CNN has a crawl that looks suspiciously like subtitles. Hell, the crawl isn’t even about the same thing as the screen visual. So what’s up with subtitle animus?

The reason I mention this is that one of this week’s new films, O’HORTEN, is a subtitled Norwegian movie. It has the unique distinction of a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. To paraphrase the old Sara Lee slogan, “Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like O’Horten.” The dialogue doesn’t really matter all that much, because it’s a weirdly comic film, dependent mostly on visual humor. The lead character, the aptly named Odd Horten, has retired after a forty-year career driving trains. Unleashed from the schedule and routine that have defined his life, he wanders into a world of mini-adventures. It’s not broad humor, and it’s not fast-paced. It’s been compared to Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati, full of the slow, droll, deadpan scenes that quietly tickle your funny bone.

If you’re game for some of that, give it a shot, and expand your multi-tasking capabilities.

Topping the Special Events calendar is the personal appearance of former Cagney and Lacey star Sharon Gless, here to present a pre-release premiere of her movie HANNAH FREE in connection with WomenFest. The movie will be shown at 6:30 and 9:00pm on Wednesday and Thursday only. Ms. Gless, along with the movie’s director Wendy Jo Carlton and WomenFest coordinator Karin Wolf, will be there for a Q & A after the early show on Wednesday. Carlton and Wolf, but not Ms. Gless, will do the same on Thursday.

Meanwhile, two popular new movies continue their runs: Nora Ephron’s JULIE AND JULIA starring Meryl Streep, and Ang Lee’s TAKING WOODSTOCK. They’re joined by a kid named HARRY POTTER, whose HALF-BLOOD PRINCE will be shown in daily matinees all week.

Streep’s portrayal of Julia Child is amazing. I’ve heard that Streep and Ephron (whose professional relationship dates back to the making of Silkwood in 1983) ran into each other in Central Park last year. When Streep heard that her friend was making a movie about the legendary cook and author, the actress immediately and spontaneously dropped into a dead-on Julia Child persona. You can be sure that the casting was never in doubt. JULIE AND JULIA is a sure bet for Best Actress nomination, if not more. Talent shows!

TAKING WOODSTOCK doesn’t have the same acting dynamite. It’s a surprisingly small film about a very big event. But I have to admit that I left the theater laughing and smiling. The warm glow of “three days of peace and love” is there. That’s what the movie is about: the feeling of Woodstock. We all need more of it.

Full info and schedules at
Comments, please, to
[from Solares Hill]

O'Horten (Rhoades)

“O’ Horten” Is Odd Little Film

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Norwegian director Bent Hamer wasn’t thinking in English when he decided to make a film about a 67-year-old railway conductor facing retirement. His main character is named Odd Horten. But this seemingly descriptive appellation wasn’t meant to reflect the man’s eccentric habit-bound nature. It was merely a serendipitous accident between languages. Odd is a fairly common name in Norway, it turns out.

The contraction of first and last name gives us the film’s title, “O’ Horten.” It’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Admittedly, this is more of a character study than anything else. “O’ Horten” has been described as “a movie without a strong plot or a clear chronology.”

On his next-to-last day at work, our man Odd fussily prepares for his final run between Oslo and Bergen, saying goodbye to old friends. But things go awry when he gets locked outside a surprise farewell party and winds up in the wrong room where a small boy asks him to stay until he can get to sleep. Dozing off himself, Odd finds that when he awakens his familiar trains-must-run-on-time life has been thrown off schedule.

The Fellini-esque sequences that follow give you a glimpse into the psyche of a man whose very existence is about to be changed by retirement. His senile mother awaiting death in an old age home. A favorite tobacconist who has just died. The misadventures that come with trying to dispose of his boat. Losing his shoes at a swimming pool. A new friend who turns out to be less permanent than expected.

Typical of Hamer’s films, the themes here are loneliness, old age, and the courage to take chances.

BÂrd Owe does a convincing job as Odd Horten. After making 30 movies in Scandinavia, this is his first leading role.

Espen Skjÿnberg stands out as Odd’s new friend. In fact, he was awarded a prestigious Amanda Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

“O’ Horten” itself received the Un Certain Regard nod at the Cannes Film Festival.

In a time when America’s Healthcare is being debated as a plan to “kill grandma” and Medicare is running out of funding, when Social Security is at issue and baby boomers are facing retirement, “O’ Horten” offers us an uncomfortable crystal ball.
[from Solares Hill]

Hannah Free (Rhoades)

“Hannah Free” Brings Sharon Gless to Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I just got off the phone with Sharon Gless, the star of a new film called “Hannah Free.” Wow, I’ve been a longtime fan. She was the blonde half of the popular “Cagney & Lacey” TV cop show. And later the mother on “Queer As Folk.”

Now she’s a co-star on “Burn Notice,” the hot action series found on the USA Network. “I feel like I just fell into a pot of jam,” Sharon laughs raucously. “It’s the number one show on cable television.”

She’s a big-hearted lady, easy to like, both funny and fun. I could chat with her for hours on end, pausing every now and then to let her light up another cigarette. Her character on “Burn Notice” is a chain-smoker. “I’ve got a cigarette in my hand right now as we talk,” she admits the similarity.

But what we’re really discussing is her visit this week to Key West. Her latest film – a poignant lesbian love story called “Hannah Free” – makes its Florida premiere at the Tropic Cinema on Wednesday night. It’s a centerpiece of this year’s Womenfest Key West celebration.
Sharon Gless will be on hand for the screening, along with producer Tracy Baim and director Wendy Jo Carlton.

“Hannah Free” is the story of two women at the end of their days, after a lifelong on-and-off love affair. Now Hannah is tucked away in a convalescent hospital recuperating from a fall. And in another wing is Rachel lying in a coma. Keeping Hannah from saying goodbye to her friend and lover is Rachel’s uptight daughter, ashamed of the unconventional relationship between the two women.

Then a student shows up to interview Hannah about living through the Depression. Greta’s as feisty as Hannah is crusty. When she learns about this separation of two old friends, she offers a nighttime excursion past nurses and cleaning crew to take Hannah to Rachel’s bedside.
With a touch of magical realism, this interplay is observed by the spirit of a 30-year-old Rachel, an image conjured up by the grieving Hannah.

This present-day drama frequently gives way to flashbacks: the two children kissing in the barn, the young adults exploring their sexual relationship amid war years, Rachael’s short marriage, Hannah’s wanderlust and infidelities, both growing older.

First-time director Wendy Jo Carlton handles these time-shifts smoothly, delivering a first-rate film. And the script by Claudia Allen, based on her play, is strong on message without seeming so.

The acting – mostly Chicago stage veterans – is a cut above many gay indie films. Bring your handkerchief unless you’re too butch to admit the emotions.

Kelli Strickland (adult Hannah) looks enough like a younger Sharon Gless to be her kid sister. In truth, she’s a director and acting teacher at Loyola University, no Hollywood credits to her name. Quite a find.

Anne Hagemann (adult Rachael) does double duty, appearing in the flashbacks as well as materializing as the spirit in the older Hannah’s recovery room.

Taylor Miller (Rachael’s daughter Marge) is a more experienced television actress, perfectly capturing the conflicts of a conservative woman in denial about her mother’s lover.
Jacqui Jackson (Greta) gives a strong performance as the mysterious student who has come to visit “Grandma Hannah.”

Maureen Gallagher (older Rachel) has less to do, being in a coma much of the movie. But her scenes with Gless are touching.

Sharon Gless (older Hannah) proves she’s a pro, holding the drama together like glue. Hannah’s is the story that’s being told – the happiness, the tears, the faults, the infidelities, the adventuresome nature, the love lost and found.

But at the core of Claudia Allen’s script is the pain (and love) in letting go.

“I’m very proud of the film,” says Sharon Gless. “It was a labor of love. Thirty percent of the crew worked for nothing. I worked at the lowest SAG (Screen Actors Guild) minimum that you’re allowed to, but I would’ve done it for nothing.”

Gless is a strong advocate for gay and lesbian causes. She was recently chosen “Gay Icon of the Year.”

“The truth is, the gay community and lesbian community have been so wonderful to me, so supportive of me throughout my career,” says Gless.

“I proudly walked with my gay granddaughter in San Francisco’s parade,” she tells me.
Now she goes on to her next project, a play based on the book “A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance.” Having optioned the rights eight years ago, it will open in San Francisco. “It’s very out there,” Sharon told me. “I get to have an orgasm on stage.”
But she can’t help returning to the subject at hand, “Hannah Free.”

“It’s a lovely little film,” she muses to me over the phone.

Yes, I had to agree.
[from Solares Hill]

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Rhoades)

“Harry Potter” Works Its Magic at the Box Office

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

When I was a group publisher at Scholastic, we knew we had to keep the pipeline filled with new ideas. At the time The Baby-Sitters Club was our bread-and-butter book series. Later on, it was the Goosebumps books. And then, Harry Potter. Now that the last volume of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books has been published, the hunt is on at Scholastic for another bestselling concept.

Not so for the movies. Hollywood has a few more Harry Potter books to go. The film that’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema – “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” – is merely number six. (And the seventh and final book will be divided into two movies in order to stretch out the box-office bonanza for this blockbuster series.)

Even if you’ve read the book, there has been a number of changes in this fantasy adventure film about young wizards and their battle against the evil Death Eaters. In particular, the ending has been altered and such scenes as Dumbledore’s funeral and the climactic battle have been removed.

There’s bonus footage too. Scenes of the Death Eaters terrorizing the community – only mentioned in passing in the book – have been added. And there’s an expanded subplot surrounding Dumbledore's wand.

“We’ve kind of altered our story to make sure we don’t tread on the toes of what comes in ‘Deathly Hallows,’” admits director David Yates (who also did the last movie and is working on the final two).

Yet, Hogwarts Castle and its students and teachers remain visually faithful to the books and earlier films. “We’ve established a world and it’s a parallel world to our own,” says producer David Heyman. “We’re quite strict about making sure we don’t … stray off into the realm of the fantastical as opposed to the magical.”

Although aging before our very eyes, the three stars return. Daniel Radcliffe, with round spectacles and lightning bolt scar on his forehead, is forever our hero Harry Potter. Redheaded Rupert Grint is Harry’s buddy Ron Weasley. And blossoming Emma Watson is Hermione Granger, the boys’ BFF.

You also see the return of the half-giant Hagrid (Robby Coltrane), smarmy Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), bad witch Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), motherly Minerva McGonagall (Dame Maggie Smith), fatherly Albus Dumbledore (Sir Michael Gambon), and dastardly Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Figuring prominently in this story is Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent).

This time around the wizardry school is under attack by the Death Eaters. And knowing that Horace Slughorn holds vital information needed to defeat Lord Voldemort’s minions, Headmaster Dumbledore lures the former potions professor back to the school “with promises of more money, a bigger office, and the chance to teach the famous Harry Potter.”

Harry steps up to the task. “His want – or his need – in this film is basically to kill Voldemort, and he realizes that the way in which he’ll do this is to become Dumbledore’s favorite foot soldier,” says Radcliffe. “That’s the role you’ll see him gradually moving toward in this film.”
Also, love is in the air, as thick as mustard gas, with Harry smitten on Ron’s sister Ginny and Ron falling into the romantic clutches of Lavender Brown to Hermione’s dismay. As one moviegoer aptly puts it, “Teenage hormones rage across the ramparts.”

Despite J. K. Rowling’s revelation that she envisioned Albus Dumbledore as being gay, the film maintains an ambiguous don’t-ask-don’t-tell approach to the character. The news about Dumbledore’s sexuality prompted Michael Gambon to playfully “camp it up” around the set, but his on-screen performance is spot-on in a role he took over from the late Richard Harris.
And despite threats of quitting, weary Emma Watson was talked into returning simply because she “could not bear to see anyone else play Hermione.”

Translated into 65 languages, the last four Harry Potter books have consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history. “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” sold nine million copies in the first 24 hours after its release, a record only broken by its sequel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Harry Potter is now a global brand worth an estimated $15 billion. The last film in the series by itself did just under a billion dollars in worldwide ticket sales.

So there’s nothing magic in my prediction that this movie will conjure up a big summer box office.
[from Solares Hill]