Friday, October 30, 2009

Week of October 30 to November 5 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

Take a deep breath. First you have to get through Fantasy Fest. To help you, the Tropic is going to be closed on Saturday (Oct. 31).But on Friday, and picking up again on Sunday, they’ve got a movie fun fest scheduled for this week. So sober up and sit down at 416 Eaton Street. Check out the new façade if you haven’t already, and get ready to laugh..

Let’s start with THE INVENTION OF LYING. Ricky Gervais (the Brit comic who “invented” The Office) is the writer/director/producer and star of this social satire comedy. The underlying idea is simple. Suppose there are no lies, not even socially smoothing white ones, and then someone discovers the concept and works it to his advantage. The Tropic sometimes seeks local businesses and organizations to sponsor its movies – like a restaurant to sponsor Julie and Julia or Reef Relief to sponsor The Cove. Who do you think would be appropriate for The Invention of Lying? Umm, just kidding. Anyhow, this is a hoot, “a remarkably radical comedy… [and] a sweet love story” says Roger Ebert. What more could you want?

Also in the comic realm is WHIP IT, which might be characterized as Little Miss Sunshine meets The Natural. Pert little Ellen Page (Juno) rebels against her mother’s attempts to make her Miss Bluebonnet and instead joins the Hurl Girls roller derby team as Babe Ruthless. With Saturday Night Live regular Kristen Wiig (Maggie Mayhem), Juliette Lewis (Iron Maven), and Drew Barrymore (Smashly Simpson) on her team, you better watch out. This is a directorial debut for the multi-talented Barrymore, and she has a deft touch with her winning cast. It’s “ridiculously, utterly entertaining” says the Miami Herald.

Speaking of Juno, that film’s writer Diablo Cody authored a new screenplay, which is opening this week. It’s JENNIFER’S BODY, starring Megan Fox (Transformers and No. 17 on the Maxim magazine Hot List) as a flesh-eating high school teen queen. It’s quite a combination, Cody’s great snarky dialogue and a hot horror script. “Wicked black comedy …one of the most purely pleasurable movies of the year,” says Slate.

THE INFORMANT starts off a bit more seriously. From director Steven Soderbergh, it stars Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre, a whistle-blower on his employer, agri-business giant Archer-Daniels-Midland. But then Whitacre gets carried away in his new role as an FBI wire-wearer, and the film segues into a “whimsical, semi-comedic romp” (ReelViews).
Michael Moore’s tragic-comedy documentary is held over for another week, completing an engaging full house of fun film.

IN SEARCH OF BEETHOVEN, is the only truly serious movie in the theater. It’s a fascinating documentary and bio-pic exploring the composer’s character and his music. Combining performances of the work, interviews with performers like Emanuel Ax who describe the challenges of playing it, and a narrative of Beethoven’s tormented life, the film is “a revelation to the uninitiated and a joy to music lovers” (L.A. Times). History buff? Music lover? It’s for you.

[from Key West, the newspaper -]

Jennifer's Body (Rhoades)

“Jennifer’s Body” Is Hot as Hell
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Diablo Cody used to be an ecdysiast. Of course, her stripping occurred before she won an Oscar for her “Juno” screenplay. So when her second script is titled “Jennifer’s Body,” I get excited.
Okay, I know I’m not going to see Diable taking it off, taking it all off. But when I hear that hot-chick Megan Fox is the star of “Jennifer’s Body,” I get excited all over again.

Boy oh boy, “Jennifer’s Body” is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Now for the cold shower: We don’t see all that much of Jennifer’s body.

This is actually a rather clever horror film. You see, Jennifer (as played by Fox) is a cheerleader who is possessed by a demon resulting from a Satanic ritual performed by a rock band in search of a record deal. The upshot is that demon-infested Jennifer starts offing high school boys. First seducing them, then sucking them up like a Succubus.

Her nerdy girlfriend known as Needy (Amanda Seyfried of “Mamma Mia!” fame) is determined to stop Jennifer from killing all her classmates. Else there won’t be enough guys left for a graduation photo.

“I thought you only murdered boys,” stutters Needy when threatened by Jennifer.
“I go both way,” she purrs.

Okay, it’s a bit tongue in cheek. But Diablo Cody writes comedy. The horror part is just a setting for showing off her sense of humor … rather than skin.
[from Solares Hill]

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The Informant (Rhoades)

Matt Damon Is Whistleblower in “The Informant!”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Liar, liar, pants on fire. That’s what you’ll say about Matt Damon’s character in “The Informant!” – an exec with an international agri-business company who agrees to bug his coworkers for the FBI. But the Justice Department starts getting nervous about their informant as his stories start changing with each new encounter.

This whistleblower dramedy is still playing at the Tropic Cinema.

“The Informant!” is based on the true story of Mark Whitacre, a Cornell-trained PhD who was an up-and-comer at Archer Daniels Midland, the biochemical company that manufactures a corn product called lysine. Seems the execs were engaged in price-fixing with their competitors around the world.

Based on Kurt Eichenwald’s 2000 book, this film by Steven Soderbergh (”Oceans Eleven,” etc.) examines the wacky behavior of this would-be spy. Not only did Whitacre wiretap his coworkers, but while doing this seemingly noble deed – helping the government bust the biggest price-fixing scheme in American history – he also embezzled millions of dollars from ADM.
Scott Bakula and Joel McHale are the beleaguered FBI Special Agents handling the case. Melanie Lynskey is the naïvely loyal wife.

The film has been compared to both “The Insider” and “A Beautiful Mind,” which gave us two masterful Russell Crowe performances. But Matt Damon instead turned to Robert De Niro for advice. For this role, Damon – the buff star of those “Bourne Identity” action thrillers – had to pack on 30 extra pounds. So he consulted with De Niro, who’d gained 60 pounds for his classic turn in “Raging Bull.”

De Niro told him, “Well, the first fifteen pounds are really fun and then you have to go to work after that.”

Did Damon call the respected actor out of the blue? “No, I didn’t cold call him,” Damon quips. “Hi, is this Robert De Niro? Listen, I’m a young actor and I need some advice. Got a minute? Have you ever seen ‘Mystic Pizza?’ I’m in that, Ok? How about ‘School Ties?’”

Fortunately, the two had already worked together on a spy film called “The Good Shepard.”
Referring to De Niro’s Academy Award-winning performance as the overweight Jake La Motta, Damon jokes, “The only reason I did this movie is for an Oscar nomination, so I’m just going to come out and say it. Once Steven decided to take it in a more comic direction tonally, it became less important for all of us to do rigorous character studies of the actual people, more about having fun with this terrific script.”

He stuffed himself with fast food and dark beer. “It was very, very easy to gain the weight,” he reports with a grin.

A guy who was once chosen as People’s Sexiest Man Alive, Damon jokes that the magazine took back the title. “Now I’m the Sexiest Man Alive’s chunky cousin,” he laughs.
Soderbergh wanted him to look “doughy” for the role, a character with no hard or defined edges. Sporting glasses, a mustache, and the extra weight, he could pass for “your rich, flabby uncle that is fleeing the country to a secluded tropical island.”

Now Damon’s working hard to drop those 30 pounds in time to be svelte for the upcoming Paul Greengrass drama “Green Zone.” He says, “Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet when it comes to weight loss. It sucks.”

The real-life Mark Whitacre recalls, “When you’re working for three years undercover, you get to the point where you don’t know who you are. There was one point where my wife said to me, ‘Who do you work for now?’”

With the film’s running voice-over non-sequiturs, it becomes clear that Whitacre was a pathological liar, not totally in touch with reality.

Turns out, the guy was bipolar. But the sentencing judge didn’t see a connection between the mental condition and his embezzlement of two, uh five, uh nine, uh maybe eleven million dollars. How much money did Whitacre really take? Depends on when you ask him. Liar, liar – this guy could’ve used some asbestos pants!
[from Solares Hill]

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In Search of Beethoven (Rhoades)

“Beethoven” Examines Composer’s Life and Music
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My niece Patty is a concert pianist. She’d be the first to explain to me that Ludwig von Beethoven was the great German Composer who provided an important transition to the Romanic era in classical music.

“In Search of Beethoven” is both a music lesson and a biopic. This examination of “the greatest composer who ever lived” is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

The telling is a blend between documentary-style flashbacks utilizing old paintings, drawings, and historic street scenes combined with contemporary interviews and performances. Voiceovers are taken from the composer’s own writings.

Beethoven’s story unfolds amid musical excerpts. His father was a musician, but eventually he was taught composition by Christian Gottlieb Neefe. The boy gave his first concert at age 7.
As a teenager, Beethoven traveled to Vienna in hopes of studying with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but after two weeks he returned to Bonn when his mother became terminally ill.
In 1792 he met Joseph Haydn, who offered to tutor the 21-year-old prodigy. Returning to Vienna he found “a room, a piano, a wig, and new clothes.” As narrator Juliet Stevenson points out, he couldn’t have been in a better place at a better time.

He studied hard with Haydn, but his headstrong personality kept getting in the way. Caught in a musical scam, passing off his old compositions as new, he narrowly missed being recalled to Bonn.

“Beethoven unashamedly wanted to be as good as Haydn and Mozart, and then when he found that he was, he wanted to be better,” observes composer Roger Norrington.

At 24, Beethoven’s main source of income was one-off fees for publishing his compositions. Opus 1 was quickly followed by the publication of Opus 2. While other composers based their ideas on a classical symmetry, Beethoven’s works built up a dynamic tension.

Beethoven deliberately made his piano pieces complicated so his enemies would have trouble playing them. His compositions reflected bold new styles for different instruments. “The arrogance this guy must’ve had,” cellist Alban Gerhardt says of the pauses found in Opus 5 No. 2.

Beethoven wanted to write symphonies and operas, but he felt he had to keep writing piano sonatas because they generated money. So he composed piano sonatas for various young ladies, combining commercialism with romance.

At 29 he gave the first concert for his own benefit, premiering his Symphony No. 1. “I strongly believe the first chord … probably sounded as a shock to the audience,” observes conductor Gianandrea Noseda. It was declared a masterpiece.

Being “an incompetent businessman who is bad at arithmetic,” he sold the rights in his music. So his future earnings had to come from new work. “But my wretched health has put a nasty spoke in my wheel,” he complained. “My ears hum and buzz day and night. I lead a miserable life.”

He was facing deafness. “In my profession,” he noted, “it is a terrible handicap.”

His hearing loss sent him into solitude. “I must live like an outcast,” he wrote. Suffering a breakdown, he considered suicide.

Inspired by Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power, he began to compose again. Then when Napoleon declared himself a dictator, he was horrified. He angrily renamed his Bonaparte Symphony as the Heroic Symphony.

Ludwig von Beethoven’s output was tremendous: 9 symphonies, 9 concerti, an opera, 2 masses, 32 piano sonatas, 10 violin sonatas, 5 cello sonatas, and a sonata for the French horn. Not counting numerous occasional pieces and other short musical forms.

The opening of his Fifth Symphony would become “the most famous notes of all time.”

Does “In Search of Beethoven” succeed in finding the elusive composer? Yes, for me, it did. The message: His compositions are as difficult and complex as his life.
[from Solares Hill]

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Whip It (Rhoades)

Ellen Pages Knows How to “Whip It”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

That cute little 22-year-old Ellen Page (star of “Juno”) will likely be playing teenagers for the next ten years.

In “Whip It” – the new roller derby comedy that’s making its rounds at the Tropic Cinema – Page is once again cast as a misfit girl with a funny name (Bliss).

Instead of being the beauty queen of her mother’s dream, Bliss becomes enthralled by those roller derby divas she discovers in nearby Austin, Texas. An awkward klutz, Bliss can barely stand on skates until one of the derby babes teaches her the basics. After practice, practice, practice, she gets pretty good – so good that she decides to join the roller derby team while telling her mom that she’s studying for her SAT test. You can take it from there.

Marcia Gay Harden portrays Bliss’s mom. Daniel Stern is her dad. Kristen Wiig is her skating mentor. Drew Barrymore is a wacky teammate. And Juliette Lewis is the meanie on the other team.

As it happens, “Whip It” marks the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore. Scion of the famous Hollywood dynasty, Drew first appeared in an advertisement when she was eleven months old. We’ve loved Drew from “E.T.” to “50 First Dates.” And she flexed her producing muscles with the “Charlie’s Angels” franchise. So it’s not any surprise that she’s trying her hand at directing.

“Whip It” is based on Shauna Cross’s 2007 YA novel “Derby Girl.” Herself a skater for the Los Angeles Derby Dolls, Cross adapted her story to the screen. Maybe she’s no Diablo Cody, but the film is witty and with it.

Roller derby is an American-invented contact sport on wheels. It’s particularly big in Austin and LA.

Ellen Page exclaims, “I love going to the games. First game I went to, I went to with Drew and my mind was totally blown.”

She gushes with a newfound excitement. “Here’s an atmosphere where women first of all can be really aggressive and that’s okay. And have this outlet to be aggressive and athletic and strong. But also have the sense of camaraderie, you know. Beat the crap out of each other, but then go have beers afterward and laugh about it.”

Page trained three months for the movie. Bruises? “Really not that bad,” she insists. “I grew up playing sports … My brain goes, Oh, I wanna go faster.”

The Canadian actress began her show biz career at age 10. You might also recognize her as Kitty Pride in “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Or that tough little cookie in “Hard Candy,” a Lorena Bobbitt wannabe. She’s currently filming a sci-fi film called “Inception.”

In addition to the theatrics of roller derby, she likes the punk culture that permeates roller derby. The players all have derby names. “I was calling myself Hurt Vonnegut,” laughs Page. “Kurt Vonnegut’s one of my favorite authors. Drew gave me the nickname Small Newman. And still calls me Small. And very rarely calls me Ellen. I love it.”

You will too.
[from Solares Hill]

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Invention of Lying (Rhoades)

“Invention of Lying” Is Truthfully Funny
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I find it hard to image a world where there’s no lying. My second cousin was a notorious liar. My first wife didn’t always stick to the truth. A couple of my business competitors spoke with forked tongues. And didn’t Rep. Joe Wilson recently shout, “You lie!” at the President of the United States?

The new Ricky Gervais comedy deals with the subject of prevarication. “The Invention of Lying” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. Honest.

Trust me when I tell you the plot’s the reverse of that 1997 Jim Carrey film, “Liar Liar.”
In “Liar Liar,” a lawyer cannot lie for 24 hours due to his son’s birthday wish, while in “The Invention of Lying” a writer tells the world’s very first fib.

You guess it: “The Invention of Lying” takes place in an alternate universe. And British comedian Ricky Gervais portrays this original fibber. In a world where politicians and advertising agencies speak truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth, he discovers that it’s easy to get ahead when you have the ability to lie. With the entire populace hanging onto your every whopper, you can have anything you want. Except the woman you love (in this case, Jennifer Garner).

Written and directed by Gervais, he finds lying funny. But ol’ Ricky can afford to be philosophic about it. He has a degree in philosophy.

“This is the greatest movie ever made,” he says. I’m sure he’s telling the truth.

Actually, his favorite film is Christopher Guest’s classic mockumentary “This Is spinal Tap.” And – what do you know! – Guest plays a role in this silly film. You’ll also find cameos by Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Bateman, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Ed Norton. Patrick Stewart serves as the film’s stentorian narrator.

Gervais himself would never lie – much. “I’m a lot taller than I look on television and younger … I wear a fat suit under my shirt and trousers. Really I’m about 25 and about 6’ 1” tall. So that’s probably why you don’t recognize me in the street,” he says.

Sure, that must explain it.

Tickets to “The Invention of Lying” are free. Popcorn too. Okay, you caught me; I’m lying about the free tickets and popcorn.
[from Solares Hill]

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Week of October 23 to October 30 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

Jane Campion, the writer/director of BRIGHT STAR is hard to pin down. The movie that made her reputation was The Piano (1993). That was a period piece set in 19th century New Zealand. Her last film was In the Cut, a very contemporary crime-drama in which Meg Ryan tried to escape her reputation as a good girl.

In her new film, Campion turns to historical drama, with a presentation of the brief love affair between John Keats and his neighbor, Fanny Brawne. This is Romance in the purest sense. Keats is, of course, the idealization of the ethereal, passionate poet. And Fanny is the quintessential headstrong 18-year old girl who knows she has found her true love. The setting is the beautifully photographed lush English countryside. But their love relationship is doomed by two of the terrors of Georgian-Regency England, a lack of money and tuberculosis. Keats has both.

Like all good movie romances, the two don’t hit it off immediately. Fanny is a bit too fascinated by clothes and style to suit the serious Mr. Keats and his pal, while he is too shy and bookish to captivate her at first. But true love e’re finds its way. And the poetic pen of Mr. Keats finds its way into love letters that no girl can resist.

It didn’t last for long. Keats was sent off to Italy on doctor’s orders, and soon perished. But oh, those three years until it ends! As puts it, “an unfussy, passionate and gently erotic love story, …. Bright Star burns, and it glows.”

EARTH DAY, a documentary about the founding of the environmental movement is, as the New York Times says, “less a rousing call to action than a bittersweet stroll down memory lane.” Whether you date the movement from the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, or the first Earth Day in 1970, it’s very recent and yet so long ago. The movie focuses on several pioneers who are still around to tell their stories about the days when being “green” was being weird rather than being President.

You’ll learn a lot – can you believe that Richard Nixon started the EPA? You’ll enjoy meeting Steward Udall, Paul Ehrlich, Steward Brand, Stephanie Mills and others. You’ll be encouraged at how far we’ve come and discouraged at how far we’ve got to go, and you’ll be enthralled by the beauty of the footage.

If you insist on a rousing call to action, Michael Moore’s CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY continues its popular run for another week.

This week’s Monday Night Classic is in the spirit of Fantasy Fest. An over-the-top horror double feature: ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES (1959), produced under the watchful eye of trashmaster Roger Corman, and THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933). The latter stars Fay Wray and was made in the same year as her famed King Kong. She made eleven feature films that year, proving that if you try often enough you’re likely to succeed.

[from Key West, the newspaper -]

Bright Star (Rhoades)

“Bright Star” Makes Poetic Appearance
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Okay, I’m going to mix my college course in English Romanticism Poetry with pop culture – something not many film critics are apt to do. But this new film about poet John Keats reminds me of Episode 31 of TV’s “Star Trek,” a story titled “Who Mourns for Adonais?”

That title is a literary reference derived from line 415 of a pastoral poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats.”

Keats died of tuberculosis at the age of 25, following a hard life, poor reception to his poems, and a failed love affair. Bummer.

“Bright Star” – a romantic drama based on the last three years of Keats’ life – is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. It depicts the secret love affair between the poet and his next-door neighbor Fanny Brawne.

Written and directed by Jane Campion (she won an Academy Award for “The Piano”), the film takes its name from a line in a sonnet that Keats that wrote about his muse: “Bright star, would I were as steadfast as thou art.”

Ben Whishaw (“Layer Cake,” “I’m Not there”) stars as Keats. Abbie Cornish (“Elizabeth: The Golden Age”) co-stars as Fannie. An unlikely pair, we might not have known much about this awkward love affair if it weren’t for 31 letters that Fannie wrote to Keats’ sister.

The relationship was cut short when doctors advised the consumptive poet to move to Italy for its warmer climate. Percy Bysshe Shelley invited Keats to join him and his wife Mary at Pisa, but the ailing man elected to take a house in Rome with his friend John Severn. Ironically, the abode would later become a museum known as the Keats-Shelly Memorial House.

Despite the social rebuff, Shelley remained a fan of Keats works. He said, “I am aware indeed that I am nourishing a rival who will far surpass me….” Upon Keats death in 1821, Shelley penned the “Adonais” elegy, considered one of his finest poems. And when Shelley drowned a year later, a copy of Keats’ poetry was found in his pocket.

The pop culture lesson? Even celebs have idols.
[from Solares Hill]

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Terror at the Tropic (Rhoades)

“Terror at the Tropic” Prepares for Halloween
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

With Halloween coming up – the date sliding about on our calendars like liquid goo – you should make note of the scary films playing Monday nights at the Tropic Cinema. Not the slick, modern fare I’ve covered in the other reviews in today’s column, but some old classics that make you smile at how simple horror used to be.

Local crypt keeper Craig Wanous is hosting this oldies-but-goodies fright fest under the banner of “Terror at the Tropic.” Tomorrow night’s gonna be a double creature feature – “The Vampire Bat” and “Attack of the Giant Leeches.”

The granddaddy of the pair is “The Vampire Bat,” a 1933 tale of murder and mayhem starring Lionel Atwell and Fay Wray. This time around, our gal Fay’s being threatened by bloodsuckers instead of a giant ape.

The more modern feature (if a 60-year-old movie can be described as modern) is the 1959 Roger Corman cheapie called “Attack of the Giant Leeches.” A story about nature running amuck, it stars blonde damsel-in-distress Yvette Vickers. One of those sci-fi movies inspired by cold war fears, “Leeches” posits that radiation from nearby Cape Canaveral has mutated these slugs into threatening giant annelidan monsters.

What more do you need to get in the mood for Halloween? Trick or Treat candies?
[from Solares Hill]

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Big Fan (Comments)

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Big Fan (Rhoades)

Giants Cast Very Big Shadow on “Big Fan”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I don’t know a lot about sports, so when I play Trivial Pursuit my friends trip me up with questions about football. Some of them eat and sleep the game. In fact, one dogged pal camps out at Giants Stadium a day before each game, assuring that he’s among the first in line.
I didn’t even do that for the Beatles.

The lead character in “Big Fan” – the new indie film playing at the Tropic Cinema – reminds me of that pal, a die-hard Giants fan.

“Big Fan” gives us Paul, a not-very-ambitious parking lot attendant who lives with his mother on Staten Island. He’s a guy obsessed by Giants football games. Known as “Paul from Staten Island” on a local sports call-in radio program, he often rails against “Philadelphia Phil,” a big Eagles fan. One night when Paul actually encounters a Giants player, his fandom gets him into a violent confrontation that forever changes his view of the game and pits him against Philadelphia Phil for real.

This self-proclaimed “world’s biggest New York Giants fan” is enthusiastically portrayed by Patton Oswalt, an actor-comedian best known as the voice of the rat in Disney’s “Ratatouille.” And his Eagles opponent is played by omnipresent Michael Rapaport (TV’s “Boston Public,” “My Name Is Earl,” “Prison Break,” and more than 20 films).

This study in sports fanaticism was written and directed by Robert D. Siegel, the guy who penned “The Wrestler,” the acclaimed comeback hit for Mickey Rourke. Before he turned to screenwriting, Siegel was editor-in-chief of The Onion, a noted satirical newspaper. He intended for “Big Fan” to be a comedy, but the story unfolded as a drama when he wrote it.

Patton Oswalt was pleased, for he didn’t want to get typecast as a funny guy. Instead, he may get the reputation of being a sports nut.
[from Solares Hill]

Capitalism: A Love Story (Rhoades)

“Capitalism” Is Worth The Price of a Ticket
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Michael Moore’s films earn more money than any other documentaries. So I guess that makes him a capitalist.

In fact, his current film is called “Capitalism: A Love Story.” It’s currently raking in the bucks at the Tropic Cinema.

Contrary to the film’s title, Moore doesn’t seem to be in love with capitalism (even though it’s been very, very good to him). Go figure.

“Well, yes, I guess it’s ironic if I were saying it,” he comments on the film’s title. “But it’s actually a true statement because it’s about the wealthy who love their money – and they not only love their money, they love our money too.”

Known as “the most feared filmmaker in America,” Moore’s previous documentaries have taken hard (and satiric) looks at social issues. His first film was “Roger & Me,” where he tried to chase down Roger Smith, then-CEO of General Motors, to confront him about the plant closings in Flint, Michigan.

Later films ranged from the Academy Award-winning “Bowling For Columbine,” a look at violence in schools, to “Sicko,” an indictment of America’s healthcare system. And, of course, his Bush-bashing “Fahrenheit 9/11” got him lots of attention.

Now he takes on the financial world. Focusing on the 2008 financial crisis and the resulting Wall Street bailout, he goes after both the government and big banks.

With Michael Moore’s usual hijinks, we see him standing in front of a bank, holding an open bag, demanding, “We’re here to get the money back for the American people. I’ve got more bags. The ten billion probably won’t fit in here.”

And he shows up “to make a citizen’s arrest of the board of directors of AIG.”

He’s concerned about the bailout money. And maybe he should be. When he confronts Elizabeth Warren, the congressional oversight officer, he asks, “Where’s our money.” Incredibly, she replies, “I don’t know.”

He charges, “By spending just a few million dollars to buy Congress, Wall Street’s getting billions.”

So if not capitalism, what system does Moore recommend? “Well, I'm not an economist, so I don’t know. I’m kind of bored with the discussion of capitalism versus socialism – it’s the 21st century, we need to come up with an economic model that’s best for us right now.”

Moore has urged that no one who sees the movie should use actual currency to do so, but instead barter for tickets in order to help erode the capitalist system. Even so, the Tropic prefers cash.
[from Solares Hill]

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Week of October 9 to October 15 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Did you ever wonder how George Hamilton became a Hollywood icon? No? Well never mind, it’s still a damn good story.

It’s the basis for MY ONE AND ONLY, coming to the Tropic today. Renée Zellweger stars as George’s mother Annie Deveraux, a lovely, flighty Southern belle, and Kevin Bacon is his father, Dan Deveraux, a womanizing band leader. (The Hamilton stage name came later.)

Zellweger is really the centerpiece of the movie, which is a mother-son road trip across America in a powder-blue 1953 Cadillac convertible, the fin-ist car ever made. Annie has left her husband, for reasons that you might guess, and lit out with their teenage sons, George and his brother Robbie.

What is it about road movies? Seems like the participants always have fun, or at least adventures. When you’ve got a ditzy blonde and two creative boys on Route 66, it’s bound for glory. George, you might be surprised to learn, is the serious one. He wants to be a writer. His favorite book is Catcher in the Rye. He’d like to settle in one place and make friends. But the tug of mom is too strong, and there’s never a dull moment with her as she searches for a
replacement husband/sugar daddy.

It’s “a completely appealing, beautifully preserved memory piece... a great story and a great crowd-pleaser,” says the San Francisco Chronicle. Hit the road to Eaton Street yourself.

The Quentin Tarantino - Brad Pitt vehicle, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, that spell-checking nightmare, stays on for another week. Like most Tarantino movies, it bears a second watching. I was surprised to find that, compared to his other movies, this one is not long on gore. In an opening scene (and in the movie trailer), Aldo Raine (Pitt) brags about killing Nazis, and I expected to see lots of their blood. But the driving force of the film is not violence but tense confrontations, and an inventive – entirely ahistorical – plot. I’d say it’s more wacky than wacking, if you know what I mean.

Also held over are two delightful documentaries about strong women and their creative works.

In THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE it’s Anna Wintour and Vogue magazine.You probably noticed in this week’s news that Conde Nast is closing down Gourmet magazine. After seeing The September Issue you might wonder if Vogue is next in line.

Molly Berg’s TV sitcom, the subject of the fascinating YOO HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG, is, of course, long gone. But the sitcom concept that she mothered lives on.This week will be your last chance to catch this piece of history.

The Monday night classic series for October is “Terror at the Tropic.” This week it’s the goofy mashup ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948). Joining Bud and Lou are Lon Chaney Jr. as Dracula, and Bela Lugosi as Wolfman. It’s an All Star monster cast, and a rare comedy/horror gem.

[from Key West, the newspaper -]

My One and Only (Rhoades)

“My One and Only” Is George Hamilton’s Story
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Actor George Hamilton wasn’t always tall, toothy, and perpetually tanned. He was once a little boy.

“My One and Only” – the Renee Zellweger comedy now playing at the Tropic Cinema – tells the somewhat-true story of little Georgie, his brother, and their wacky mother.

This is an Auntie Mame-like tale about a real-life woman named Anne Potter Hamilton Hunt Spalding (but she’s called Anne Deveraux in the movie) and her picaresque life on the road with her two kids.

After being betrayed by her bandleader hubby, Anne sets off with her teenage children in tow to find a wealthy new breadwinner. But she chooses poorly time after time. These losers range from married men to thieves. But she pluckily continues in her pursuit of Mr. Right. But it all goes wrong.

This is supposed to be a comedy. And Renee Zellweger makes a pathetically funny mom. But here’s a case that would set Child Services on a four-alarm alert.

Logan Lerman plays 15-year-old George. Mark Rendall has the role as his older half-brother.
The not-so-great men who pass through their life are portrayed by a number of familiar faces: Kevin Bacon, Chris Noth, Nick Stahl, Steven Weber, and Eric McCormack.

“My One and Only” is based on stories of George Hamilton’s childhood that he told to the late Merv Griffin. His autobiography “Don’t Mind If I Do” was published last year.

Hamilton says, “Fame is interesting. If you get the kind of fame that maybe 10 actors have now, it’s exhausting because you don’t have a private moment. If you get kind of fame I’ve had — ‘Hey, George, how ya doin’?’ ‘Hi, garbage man, cab drivers, cops, how’s it going?’ That’s like being a mayor! It’s the greatest.”

His mom would be proud.
[from Solares Hill]

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Week of Oct. 2 to Oct. 8 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Heading the bill this week is INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, a movie that renowned critic Roger Ebert calls the “best picture of the year.” Bad boy director Quentin Tarantino brings us his vision of World War II. It’s delightful in its way. The Jews are beating up on the Nazis, beautiful women are slinking around, and Hitler and Churchill make cameos.

But don’t think you’re in for any history, or even for a war movie. Basterds is rather a Tarantino fantasy, almost a fairy tale, and a bit of a hokey goof. It’s told through a series of set pieces, any one of which could stand on its own as a brilliant piece of filmmaking. Each “chapter,” as they are dubbed with on-screen cards, has its own tension and drama -- the Nazi SS questioning a French farmer suspected of hiding Jews, a confrontation between a Gestapo officer and some of the good guys masquerading as Germans. Each has a surprising conclusion, until we build to the final, most dramatic and most surprising final episode. The movie is long – 2 ½ hours – but Tarantino’s style of ratcheting us up chapter-by-chapter almost dares you to take your eyes off the screen.

There’s some buzz for an Oscar nomination for Basterds, and almost a sure one for the leading Nazi SS man, played as a sinister charmer by Christoph Waltz.

Following in the tradition of The Devil Wears Prada and Valentino comes THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE, a behind the scenes look at the making of the single largest magazine issue in history, the 840 page issue of Vogue for September, 2007. This is different from those other films, because it’s a straight documentary devoted to showing what goes into putting a magazine like this together. Full of fashion photo shoots and interviews with not only the Queen of the magazine, Anna Wintour, who rules it with an iron hand, but also her grumbling editors who roll their eyes at some of her decisions. My favorite shot is an interview with Ms. Wintour where she notes that her three siblings are all doing left wing things like working for union rights, and says that they are “amused” by what she does. I was, too.

I’m certainly not a fashionista. My idea of style is making sure my socks match… in color at least. But nonetheless I find movies about it fascinating, as I do movies about aborigines and Wall Street bankers. There’s no better, and safer, way to immerse yourself in a strange culture than to watch a good movie about it.

The other documentary opening this week, YOO HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG, is also about a powerful creative woman who controls her project totally. Back in the early fifties, when television was black and white and had screens about the size of a mini-laptop computer, there was a dynamo named Gertrude Berg who created the TV sitcom format. You know, a living room with the main characters center stage and various others popping in and out from the sides. The show based on a ordinary family, which happened to be Jewish, was probably the first time much of middle America learned about the “Jewish mother,” who has become such a staple of comedy. Ms. Berg wrote every episode, directed and produced them, and starred as well. The filmmaker Aviva Kempner who previously made The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg is a master documentarian who knows how to find archival material and combine it with contemporary interviews to tell an absorbing story.

Full schedules and info at
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from Key West, the newspaper (

Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg (Rhoades)

“Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” Recalls First TV Sitcom
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A few weeks ago, Solares hill editor Mark Howell interviewed Ed Asner on KONK AM. The “Mary Tyler Moore” co-star is a good friend of Key West.

That’s why I enjoyed the recent Pixar animated film “Up,” with the little old man who ties balloons to his house voiced by Asner. And why I got an extra kick out of “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg,” the documentary about old-time actress Gertrude Berg that features comments by Ed Asner.

For those of you who are old enough to remember this popular television pioneer – like Ed Asner and I do – “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. Heck, it’s worth seeing even if you don’t remember her. She’s been called “The Most Famous Woman in America You’ve Never Heard Of.”

Born Tilly Edelstein in 1898, she gained the Berg name by marriage. While producing comedy skits for her father’s Catskills resort, she developed a semi-autobiographical character called Molly Goldberg, an archetypical bighearted Jewish matriarch.

In 1929 she created and starred on a daily radio show called “The Rise of the Goldbergs.” Later shortened to “The Goldbergs,” it told the adventures of a lower-middleclass Jewish family in New York City.

Gertrude Berg became a big star, earning $2,000 a week at the height of the Great Depression. Polls placed her as the most beloved woman in the United States, second only to Eleanor Roosevelt.

After writing and starring in more than 5,000 radio episodes, as well as a Broadway adaptation, Berg brought the concept to television in 1949, creating the very first character-driven domestic sitcom. Winner of the first Best Actress Emmy in history, she broke new ground for women in the entertainment industry.

German-born filmmaker Aviva Kempner (“Today I Vote for My Joey”) has captured the meteoric career of Gertrude Berg in “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg.” In addition to Ed Asner, the documentary features interviews with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actress Viola Harris, Radio Hall of Famer Susan Stamberg, and TV producer Norman Lear.
Kempner funds her films through the Ciesla Foundation, an organization that educates people about the Holocaust. However, the Foundation has expanded its mission to include broader topics. Like Gertrude Berg.

Early on, Kempner produced and co-wrote “Partisans of Vilna,” a documentary about Jewish resistance against the Nazis. She also wrote the narration for “Promises to Keep,” the Academy Award-nominated documentary on the homeless.

Her best-known film is “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” a documentary about the Detroit Tigers first baseman who fought anti-Semitism in the 1930’s and 40’s.

While Kempner likes to say she investigates “non-stereotypical images of Jews in history,” Gertrude Berg was herself the basis of a stereotypical view of Jewish-American mothers. With her heaving bosom and meddlesome nature, Molly Goldberg was described as “a woman with a place in every heart and a finger in every pie.”

Ed Asner, who grew up Jewish in Kansas City, says his family wasn’t crazy about the show. “Molly Goldberg with her accent interfered with our ‘blending,’” he grumbles.

Nonetheless, “The Goldbergs” offered a positive view of Jewish family life. As one educator put it, “This series has done more to set us Jews right with the goyim than all the sermons ever preached by the Rabbis.”
[from Solares Hill]

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The September Issue (Rhoades)

“The September Issue” Humanizes a Devil
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Think of it as the real-life version of “The Devil Wears Prada.” This documentary focuses on Anna Wintour, the infamous editor in chief of Vogue, who was in fact the model for Meryl Streep’s movie character.

Here you’ll see Wintour as she oversees the famous September issue of Vogue, a five-pound 840-page package of advertising and haute couture.

This is the magazine’s big fall-fashion issue, so the film is simply titled “The September Issue.” It’s playing at the Tropic Cinema for all of you fashionistas out there.

I occasionally saw Anna Wintour at publishing functions, hiding behind her dark bangs and even darker sunglasses. But she’s more often found front row at Milan or Parisian catwalks, taking in the latest fashion shows by the big-name designers.

With lots of power in the fashion world, Wintour is a make-it-or-break-it arbiter of trends and taste. What she features in her magazine sets the style around the world. For the past twenty years she has ruled the roost at this Condé Nast publication, having wrested control from its previous editor Grace Mirabella.

Director R. J. Cutler was given unprecedented access as Wintour and her staff put together the 2007 September issue, offering an insider’s look at how a magazine comes together. One in eight American women purchased that particular issue.

At times, the star of the doc seems to be Vogue’s creative director Grace Coddington. Although Wintour’s a notorious ice queen, Coddington makes her look downright cuddly by comparison. Coddington’s pronouncements that “fashion has no mercy, dahling!” and “Nobody is perfect, but models are” form the film’s central theme.

But Wintour holds her own. “I think she enjoys not being completely approachable,” says Coddington. “Just her office is very intimidating, right? You have to walk about a mile into the office before you get to her desk and I’m sure it’s intentional.”

The relationship between Wintour and Coddington is rumored to be a difficult one. Whisperings that Wintour might retire have been refuted by Condé Nast.

Dropping out of school at 16, British-born Wintour began her career in fashion with a training program at Harrods. Later she took a few classes, but soon dropped out, saying, “You either know fashion or you don’t.”

She entered the world of fashion journalism in 1970 as an editorial assistant at Harper’s & Queens. Even back then, she let co-workers know it was her ambition to edit Vogue.

“The Devil Wears Prada” was authored by Lauren Weisenberger, Wintour’s one-time personal assistant. Neither Vogue nor any other Condé Nast publication reviewed the book. However, Wintour attended the movie premiere, commenting it made fashion “entertaining and glamorous and interesting.”

“The September Issue,” released three years later, was seen as a ploy to tell her side of the story.

“For the past year or so, she’s been on the media warpath to win back her image,” explains Slant Magazine. She hoped it would “humanize” her.

When I’ve bumped into Anna Wintour at publishing gatherings, she was surrounded by assistants and sycophants, appearing unapproachable. Maybe it’s like one of her friends said, “Anna doesn’t do small talk.”
[from Solares Hill]

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Inglourious Basterds (Rhoades)

“Inglourious Basterds” Is Hair-raising War Story
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Is Jennifer Aniston writing movie posters these days? I just saw one that proclaimed: “Brad Pitt Is a Basterd.”

That’s the promo for a funny war movie called “Inglourious Basterds,” currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In it, Brad takes on a thick hillbilly accent to portray First Lieutenant Aldo Raine (a/k/a “Aldo the Apache”), the leader of a group of Jewish-American soldiers who escape from their scheduled executions and embark on a mission to help the Allies by killing Nazis, then desecrating their corpses in order to strike terror into the hearts of German soldiers.

“This is my spaghetti western,” claims director Quentin Tarantino. He spent more than a decade polishing the script. It wound up the length of three movies, but he forced himself to trim it back to 222 pages.

A former video store worker, Tarantino knows his genres. In addition to spaghetti westerns, he also pays homage here to a style of Italian war film known as “macaroni combat.” You’ll even sense a touch of French New Wave too.

He admits the premise began as a western, then evolved into a World War II version of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” set in Nazi-occupied France.

The title was stolen from a 1978 film by Enzo Castellari, but there are no plot similarities. There, a group of military prisoners are conscripted to rob a German train. Here, a bunch of renegade soldiers scalp the enemy like a bunch of Apaches on the warpath.

Stealing the title seems fair. That 1978 film was originally titled “Quel maledetto treno blindato” (translation: “That Damned Armored Train”), but was released as “Inglorious Bastards.” Tarantino at least spelled his differently.

He sees this film as his “epic masterpiece,” the best thing he’s ever written. But in truth it’s no match for “Reservoir Dogs” or “Pulp Fiction,” his true masterpieces.

Pitt does a good acting job, determined these days to prove he’s more than just a pretty boy with a pretty wife and a pissed-off ex-wife. Yep, he’s indeed an “Inglourious Basterd.”
[from Solares Hill]

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