Thursday, November 26, 2009

Week of Nov. 23 to Dec. 3 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Here's a tip. Don't miss AN EDUCATION, now in its last week. This is one of the best movies of the year, and sure to get an Oscar nod for its star, the ingénue Carey Mulligan. She plays a coming-of-age high school girl who is swept off her feet by a rogue twice her age. It's funny, sharp and touching. The screenplay is by novelist Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity) and he shows the same deft touch, a cross between humor and regret, that has made his work so popular. The movie has already been nominated for all the top prizes at the British Independent Film Awards, and I'm taking bets that it wins Best Feature, Best Screenplay and Best Actress when they're announced on December 6. Check it out.

If you find this sort of seriocomic mix appealing -- and who doesn't -- it's also the mood of A SERIOUS MAN, the black comedy from the uniquely talented writer/director team of Joel and Ethan Coen. Larry Gopnick is the serious man, a hard-working professor at a small college, whose job, marriage and relationship with his children are all on the rocks. He's a modern Job, seeking solace from his Rabbi, who is too busy "thinking" to see him. The Coens can do deadly serious, as in No Country for Old Men, but they seem more at home when they can put smiles on our faces while we contemplate tragedy. Did I mention the dentist who finds coded messages on the back of a patient's lower teeth? Or the no-goodnik brother who sleeps on the couch and brings the cops to Larry's door? Or the stoner son, or the daughter who's filching money for a nose job? That's who populates the world of A Serious Man. You'll enjoy sharing it.

A Serious Man is set in the Minneapolis suburbs and time (1967) of the Coen's own youth. That's a period much in vogue. The comedy PIRATE RADIO, held over for a second week, is a musical tribute to that time, as was Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock, which showed last summer. The late 1960's were a time of angst and uncertainty, which seems to seed art. Maybe we can hope for something good to come out of our current miserable era.

One thing that's always in vogue is PARIS. And the new movie by that name takes full advantage of its locale. You'll feel almost Parisienne as you follow the story of Pierre as he bonds with his family while awaiting a heart transplant.

The Monday Night Classic seems to be catching on. It was sold out last Monday. Coming up this week is Bob Hope as an amateur gumshoe in MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE, a spoof on noir thrillers. As Bosley Crowther of the New York Times commented in 1947, "this is a wild and reckless rat-race in which Bob, the Boy Detective, becomes involved with a lady pursued by silky villains who seek a valuable map which she holds." The woman is Dorothy Lamour -- what a screen name!

No high culture this week, but get ready for twin events next week. On Sunday, December 6, you can see the Russian Mariinsky Ballet's performance of the classic Nutcracker. That will repeat every Sunday in December.

And then on Monday, December 7... ta da.. it'll be the grand opening of the La Scala opera season, direct from Milan, live in real time, via the Tropic's newly installed satellite. More details next week, but save the date.

A Serious Man (Rhoades)

Coen Brothers Get Serious With “A Serious Man”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Key West resident Karen Prince worked with the Coen Brothers on their first movie. She told me the other day that Joel and Ethan were “not what you’d call happy-go-lucky filmmakers.” Despite being known for their black comedies, they were very serious men.

“A Serious Man,” the new black comedy from the Coen Brothers, is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In it, a Midwestern college professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) finds his life unraveling as his wife threatens to leave him because his inept brother (Richard Kind) won’t move out of the house. Funny, huh?

Well, I said it was a black comedy.

Joel and Ethan Coen have a refined taste for the macabre, seasoned with a heightened sense of irony.

They started off with the Hitchcockian “Blood Simple.” And have gone on to give us a non-stop array of genres ranging from “Raising Arizona” and “Fargo” to “Millers Crossing” and “Burn After Reading.”

With “A Serious Man” we get a liberal helping of Jewish humor. Our seriously put-upon professor’s wife is having an affair with his colleague. His son is stealing money out of his wallet to buy pot. His daughter is stealing to finance a nose job. A student is blackmailing him. And a female neighbor insists on sunbathing in the nude.

Oy vey. He must seek advice from three rabbis to make sense of his muddled existence.

There are no “name” stars in the film. But the characters are based on people the Coen brothers knew growing up. “People that we were familiar with growing up, because he’s an academic, and my parents were both, y’ know, academics professionally, and so we met lots of people who were professors at universities and that sort of thing,” says Joel Coen. “He’s a middle aged Jewish father in a community not unlike the one we grew up with, where we met lots of, y’ know, middle-aged Jewish fathers.”

“Occasionally people would ask, You’re not making fun of the Jews, are you,” chuckled brother Ethan.

Joel shakes his head. “From our point of view, it’s a very affectionate look at it.”

“A Serious Man” has been described as “very Hebrew.”

Yep, the Coen brothers tackle yet another genre. Existential Jewish humor.
[from Solares Hill]

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Paris (Rhoades)

The People of “Paris” Deserve a Nice Toast
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Sacré bleu! I’ve seen so many movies about Paris lately – “Paris, je t’aime,” “Paris 36” and the singularly titled “Paris” – that I feel a need for a return visit to the City of Lights.

“Paris” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

The film’s multidimensional storyline is held together by Pierre (Romain Duras), a dancer whose health has taken a turn for the worse. Awaiting a heart transplant, he’s confined to his Parisian apartment, forced to look out on the city (or more precisely, its inhabitants) from afar.

To complicate matters, his divorced sister Elise (Juliette Binoche) and her three kids have moved in to help look after him.

“Paris” is like a Gaelic game of Connect the Dots. Looking down from his balcony, Pierre spies a neighbor putting out the garbage, then going off to mail a letter to his brother in Cameroon, a baker who wants to come to Paris. The neighbor is a client of Pierre’s sister Elise who is a social worker. And Elise is trying to check out a student across the way who might make a good girlfriend for Pierre.

Mix-em-and-match-em: Academic Roland is attracted to the student himself. And is envious of his “normal” brother Philippe. But Philippe is having secret nightmares about his big architectural project. Meanwhile a motorcycle-riding vegetable market vendor named Jean is becoming attracted to Elise.

Before you know it, we’ve got a large all-but-unwieldy cast of characters, each with their own problems, loves, and messy lives.

Written and directed by Cedric Klapisch (“Un air de famallie”), it’s a tribute to our neighbor’s humanity.

Klapisch attended film school at New York University. And has served as a master teacher of film at the Columbia University, the City College of New York, and the School of Visual Arts. Not surprising he lists such New York centric directors as Marin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and John Cassavetes as his favorites.

But when it comes to filmmaking, this Frenchman’s love poem is to the city of his birthright, Paris.

And to those people who inhabit it – architects and social workers and historians and market clerks and ailing dancers. You’ll feel like toasting them after the movie with a nice glass of French chardonnay.
[from Solares Hill]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Paris (comments)

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Week of Nov. 20 to Nov. 26 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Everyone loves an ingénue, especially the Oscar committee. In recent years, you'll remember Abigail Breslin, who got a Best Actress nomination for her role as Olive in Little Miss Sunshine. And Ellen Page scored the same for playing Juno. This year, mark my words, it's going to be Carey Mulligan, for her role as Jenny in AN EDUCATION.

That is, unless the committee is frightened by the subject matter of the movie. Abigail's Olive was a young beauty pageant contestant... an innocent enough activity. Ellen's Juno was a smart kid knocked up by her kid boyfriend. Not so innocent, but kids will be kids.

But Carey Mulligan's Jenny is a high school student taking up with a grown man, double her age. And she's having a damn good time at it, smiling with her drop-dead dimples and giving sassy talk to her prissy headmistress, while flying off for weekends in Paris. If this was a major Hollywood release, we'd probably be hearing screams from the Family Research Council and such, who constitute America's moral policemen. But this is a British indie film, so it's under their radar.

Anyhow, to say it like a Brit, An Education is brill. Written by novelist Nick Hornby (About A Boy, High Fidelity) and starring Peter Sarsgaard as the older man (David), the film is a comedy, but with an edge. Sarsgaard does an amazing job at making his sleazy perv character into a loveable rogue. I'd put him down for an award, too, but they don't usually go to cads.

You'll love both Jenny and David. Mostly. 'Tis an education, indeed.

If you prefer your comedy more wild than wily, than maybe PIRATE RADIO is for you. Philip Seymour Hoffman heads the cast of frantic rock 'n roll lovers beaming their music to the BBC-afflicted British public in 1966. They're on a ratty refurbished tanker anchored beyond the twelve-mile limit, where they can play what they want, while the stiffs back on the mainland posture and pronounce. As Betsy Sharkey says in the L.A. Times, it's "a comedy that proves life really is better when it's set to a '60s soundtrack."

Rounding out the week's new movies is AMREEKA. Despite the title (which is America in Arabic) this is a mostly English language movie set in the suburbs of Chicago. Muna and her son Fadi are Palestinian immigrants who had the good luck to win the green card lottery, but the bad fortune to arrive just as the Iraq War begins. It's never easy being a newcomer to high school, but being an Arab named Fadi takes the ordeal to a new level. But instead of wringing her hands about it, the Arab-American writer/director Cherien Dabis succeeds in turning this into a comic look at the ever-repeating story of hostility to new immigrant groups entering our melting pot, making it a light-hearted and entertaining directorial debut.

For those who have missed them, AMELIA and NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU are held over for another week, and there's an encore performance of the opera DIE WALKURE.

Monday Night's Wild and Wonderful Women Classic features Mae West in SHE DONE HIM WRONG. When this movie, which got a Best Picture Oscar nomination, opened in New York at the Paramount in 1933, Mae West accompanied it with a live stage performance. Now that would be something wouldn't it? "Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?" says Mae in the movie. Can't you just hear it coming from Christopher Peterson?

An Education (Rhoades)

“An Education” Recalls Loss of Innocence

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Fellow journalist Lynn Barber has written her memoirs. I had friends in common back when she worked for Vanity Fair. She’s known for her tougher-than-nails interviews. I never asked to be introduced.

A part of her autobiography has been made into a movie. “An Education” is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

The film tells us about a British schoolgirl named Jenny (charmingly portrayed by Carey Mulligan) who meets an older man. This guy David (played by Peter Sarsgaard) introduces her to a sophisticated grown-up world filled with “concerts, jazz clubs, and take trips away at weekends.”

Smitten, she turns a blind eye to her older boyfriend’s bad habits. Like burglary and swindling people out of their apartments (er, make that “flats”).

The final straw comes when she discovers the rascal is married with children.

Yep, it’s an education in the ways of the world.

And true. Lynn says she jumped into the affair to give her life some excitement and “impress the little squirts of Hampton Grammar.” And, as it turns out, the then-16-year-old girl did it with the complicity of her parents.

“You don’t need to go to university if you’ve got a good husband,” her mother encouraged her, not knowing this suave roué was already married.

“I know I’ve done a bad thing,” says Lynn about calling her now-in-their-nineties parents to task in her book. “But I also think I’ve been a dutiful daughter for 65 years and I’m going to be a bit undutiful now.”

Nevertheless she credits her youthful affair for the skepticism that makes her a good journalist today. “I lost innocence,” she says.

Lynn must have learned something from the ill-begotten relationship. She later published a book titled “How to Improve Your Man in Bed.”
[from Solares Hill]

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Pirate Radio (Rhoades)

“Pirate Radio” Rocks the Boat
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

On Fridays I co-host a radio program on KONK AM (1680 on your dial) with Michael Shields, a segment called Film on Fridays. Community radio at its finest. It reminds me of the freedom of expression we enjoy.

Back in the ’60s our friends in England didn’t have it so simple. The BBC preferred soothing music, not the raucous sounds of rock ’n roll. The solution to this was so-called pirate radio stations, illegal transmissions sent from ships anchored offshore in the Black Sea.

That era (and its music) is recalled in a new film appropriately titled “Pirate Radio.” This comedy is currently broadcasting its story at the Tropic Cinema.

The ensemble cast is led by Phillip Seymour Hoffman as The Count, a raucous American DJ. He’s joined by Tom Wisdom as Midnight Mark, Nick Frost as Dr. Dave, Chris O’Dowd as Breakfast DJ Simon, Rhys Darby as Angus “The Knut” Knutsford, Rhys Ifans as DJ Gavin, and Ralph Brown as DJ Smooth Bob.

The decrepit old ship is helmed by veteran actor Bill Nighy, well cast as the station’s tenacious boss. And Tom Sturridge is on board as his godson Carl.

The posters promise “One Boat. Eight DJs. No morals.”

Every story has a bad guy. Their nemesis is a government minister, wryly portrayed by Kenneth Branagh. His aim is to shut them down. Passing a law known as the Marine Offences Act, he sends an armada of boats out to arrest the malefactors.

The old tub that headquarters Radio Rock is not up to evasive maneuvers and begins to sink. Will the minister’s boats save the offensive rockers? Will listening fans be horrified? Will Phillip Seymour Hoffman sink beneath the seas like a stone?

Hey, it’s only rock ’n roll to me. Go see for yourself.

Written and directed by Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Love Actually”), this British production was originally titled “The Boat That Rocked.”

Bill Nighy has been here before with Richard Curtis. Although Nighy had been a working actor for 40 years, it was his portrayal of an aging rock star in Curtis’ “Love Actually” that put his career on the map.

“Whatever else the film might be,” says Nighy, “it was mainly an excuse for Richard to play all the songs from that period, the Who, the Small Faces, the Kinks. He is a slave to them. It’s funny but at the time, 1966, I just accepted that there was all this good music around. I thought that was the norm but, in retrospect, I realize that it was an extraordinary time for music. Extraordinary.”

Nighy remembers the pirate radio stations of the ’60s. “Radio Caroline was seen as a threat and was chased all over the seas. The best thing about them was they had a good signal. Radio Luxembourg was great but it would always drift off the signal. I would listen to it on a beautiful old wireless that I kept by my bed ... My dad just shook his head. It was beyond his comprehension.”

Pirate radio ended. But the battle was won. Today, there are 299 music radio stations across the UK playing rock and pop music 24 hours a day.

Rock on!
[from Solares Hill]

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Week of Nov. 13 to Nov. 19 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

There's a line my partner uses on me: "You're very seldom right, but this time you're wrong."

That's what I wanted to shout at the mass of movie critics when I saw AMELIA, the bio-pic of famed aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, now going into its second week at the Tropic. A common critical complaint seems to be that the movie "just tells the story" of her life. Well, duh, with a life like hers that's more than enough.

A girl from Kansas who would rather wear pants than a wedding ring, she became the first woman to solo across the Atlantic and the nation's sweetheart. Her life is the stuff of legends, and Director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair) and Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) capture it dramatically. If you want the real scoop, just ask one of the hundreds of locals who have seen it over the past week. The movie has been enough of a hit for the Tropic to move it into the big Carper Theater auditorium. So now Amelia and her Lockheed Electra are swooping across an even bigger screen.

Also continuing its run is another bio-pic, COCO BEFORE CHANEL, the story of the early life of the fashion icon. Coco's life may not have had the winged drama of Amelia's, but the two were sisters in spirit, both strong-willed and committed to making their mark in a world that offered little room for such women.

Maybe it's a coincidence, but the theme that Craig Wanous has chosen for this month's Monday Night Movie Classics is "Wild, Wonderful Women." Joining Amelia and Coco on Monday night will be Mamie Van Doren as a Venusian woman in the sci-fi/spoof film VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN. Mamie, for those of you too young to remember, started her movie career with great promise as Universal Studios tried to do with her what 20th Century Fox had done with Marilyn Monroe. But that was in the '50s. By 1968 Mamie was off on Venus wearing a clam shell bra over her 38DD pair. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, who would hit the big time with The Last Picture Show three years later, it's quite a combination of talents.

Have you been to the new Peggy Dow theater yet? It's still lacking a few cosmetic touches, but this new space has quickly become my favorite of the Tropic's four screening rooms. This week it's showing a wonderful little film, NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU. Ten well-known directors each made an eight minute short about love and marriage in New York City. Mira Nair (Amelia) features Natalie Portman as a Hasidic woman about to marry and, as required by her religion, cut off her beautiful hair. There's Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman as a quarrelsome married couple, and Orlando Bloom and Christina Ricci as young lovers . Some segments are great, others not so, but if you're bored you can always look around and admire the beautiful new theater for eight minutes until the next one starts.

Looking for something more serious? FLAME AND CITRON is a Danish World War II noir political thriller. The eponymous leads are part of the resistance who murder traitors to their cause as well as the Gestapo. Based on a true story of two men who became Danish national heroes, it is reputedly the most expensive Danish movie ever made. That shows in a very stylized, and stylish production to accompany the tense events on screen. The critics have loved this one. I think this may be one of those seldom cases where they're right.

[from Key West, the newspaper -]

New York, I Love You (Rhoades)

New York, I Love You” Echoes Parisian Love Poem
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Do you have one of those souvenir T-shirts that reads I Y New York? Sure you do, if you’ve ever been to NYC.

As a guy who lived in New York and its environs for 25 years, I can tell you it’s a city that’s easy to love.

Nearly a dozen directors do exactly that in “New York, I Love You,” the new film that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

You know what to expect if you saw “Paris, je t’aime,” that love poem to the City of Lights. Same here with the City That Never Sleeps, an anthology of stories about love in Bloomberg land.

These tales of love take us from Tribeca to Central Park, a journey of the heart. Actors include Bradley Cooper, Shia LaBeouf, Natalie Portman, Orlando Bloom, Hayden Christensen, Christina Ricci, Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, James Caan, John Hurt, Julie Christie, Andy Garcia, and Robin Wright – to name only a handful.

Emmanuel Benbihy and Tristan Carné get credit for the idea (both the Paris and New York versions). The directors here are Faith Akin, Yvan Attal, Allen Hughes, Shunji Iwai, Wen Jiang, Shekhar Kapur, Joshua Marston, Mira Nair, Natalie Portman, Brett Ratner, and Randall Balsmeyer.

By the way, even if you’ve never ever been to New York, you’ll love this movie if you’re a romantic at heart.
[from Solares Hill]

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Week of November 6 to November 12 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

I don’t know why, but we seem to be in the era of fashion films. First there was The Devil Wears Prada, and in just the past few months we’ve had The September Issue (Vogue magazine) and Valentino: The Last Emperor. All were outstanding films. Now it’s COCO BEFORE CHANEL, starring Audrey Tatou, and the winning streak continues. This is the back story of poor Gabrielle Chanel who went from orphan to chanteuse to mistress before becoming an iconic designer. “Coco Before Chanel has it all -- striving, sensuality, romance and a bittersweet ending that turns out to be just the beginning” says Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post.

Well, maybe not all, since it doesn’t tell the rest of the story. Not to worry. Coco and Igor, the story of Mlle. Chanel’s passionate affair with Stravinsky, premiered at Cannes last spring, and is slated for early release. But you’ve got to see COCO BEFORE CHANEL to get ready. Francophiles, fashionistas and film fans unite!

While Coco Chanel is famous for her accomplishments, Amelia Earhart’s fame is mostly attributable to her startling disappearance at the height of her powers. AMELIA, the new bio-pic from director, Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake) keeps the flame alive. Amelia was beautiful, a pre-feminist feminist, the first woman to solo across the Atlantic. She was mentored by, and later married to, a publicity savvy publisher; and she was there in the 1930’s to bring cheer to America, when there was so little to be cheerful about. Her story has been told many times, including two TV movies (1976 and 1994), the most recent starring Diane Keaton. Why not? It’s the stuff of legends, and endlessly versatile Hilary Swank proves perfect for this role. She looks like Earhart, and she’s already played a boy (Boys Don’t Cry) and a prizefighter (Million Dollar Baby), which seems a perfect prelude to being a boyish-looking adventurer. “Most of all, Earhart wanted to be able to fly free as a bird above the clouds, and director Nair and star Swank make her quest not only understandable but truly impressive.” (Hollywood Reporter)

If Amelia is about a woman who refused to be a homebody, THE BOYS ARE BACK is about the opposite, a man who is thrust into that role. Australian Director Scott Hicks (Shine, Snows Falling on Cedar) has adapted the true story of a sportswriter who became an active single-parent to two boys. Just when the mother of his six-year old son died, a 14-year old son from a prior marriage decided to live with his dad. Clive Owen (Children of Men, Duplicity) performance as the father has picked up Oscar buzz.

It’s remarkable that this set of facts, so common for the other sex, should be deemed worthy of a movie. But rules in this testosterone-laden household depart drastically from those in the more-common female-supervised landscape. It’s more permitting than parenting, but the love is there as they all struggle with loss. Who’s to say what’s right? And the movie is “an intimate drama told with humor and emotion” (USA Today), “polished yet authentically moving” (Variety).

Parenting is also the theme of THE HORSE BOY, a documentary about the extraordinary journey of the Issacson family from Britain -- father, wife and five-year-old son – through Mongolia. They’re seeking help for the autistic boy, believing that it might be provided by Mongolian shamans. It’s “a deeply intimate and endlessly inspiring look at” autism (Austin Chronicle), which won the Audience Choice Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival.

Are you a veteran or on active military duty? Here’s your chance for a perk. Free popcorn all day on November 11. It’s Red Cross Veterans’ Day at the Tropic.

She Gods of Shark Reef (Rhoades)

“She Gods” Extols Wild, Wonderful Women
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’m a big fan of Roger Corman, the cheapie movie producer who reminisced about his career in a book accurately titled “How I Made A Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.”

Of course, he never spent a dime in making them. At least, that’s what you’d think after watching a number of his low-budget productions.

He once joked that he could make a film about The Fall of the Roman Empire with two actors and a sagebush.

However, the secret of his success was more than just pecuniary tightfistedness. It was also his knack for picking up-and-comer actors and assistants. Among them: Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Peter Bogdanovich, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Jonathan Demme, John Sayles, Peter Fonda, and Robert De Niro. An impressive group of protégées.

No such luck in “She Gods of Shark Reef,” the Roger Corman film that’s showing tomorrow night at the Tropic Cinema. November’s theme for these Monday night classics is Wild, Wonderful Women.

This 1958 B-movie was directed by Corman himself. And it stars such unknowns as Bill Cord and Don Durant.

Cord and Durant play two brothers who escape to an uncharted South Seas island after one of them kills two men in a botched heist. As fate would have it, the isle is inhabited by beauteous female pearl divers.

The good brother falls for one of the wild, wonderful women (Lisa Montell). The bad brother seeks to escape before a Navy ship comes to their rescue – and arrest. They eventually make off in a rickety island boat, but let’s not forget the sharks in the film’s title.

You’ll hoot, you’ll holler, you’ll enjoy the campy adventures of this Roger Corman flick. If it’s not so great, give Corman some slack: he made 8 bargain-basement films that year alone.
[from Solares Hill]

Amelia (Rhoades)

“Amelia” Flies Into Movie Theaters
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Writer Gore Vidal was a guest at this year’s Key West Literary Seminar. A boyish version of the acerbic writer appears as a minor character in the new film “Amelia.” Seems his father Gene Vidal had an affair with aviatrix Amelia Earhart.

As we all know, Earhart went missing in 1937 while attempting to fly around the world. Her disappearance was a bigger deal than if Christopher Columbus had sailed off the edge of the world. The American public had bought into her dream, the belief that an independent woman could do the same things as a man. Today, she’s considered a feminist icon.

This may seem like an somewhat antiquated concept, a woman having to prove herself as good as a man, but three-quarters of a century ago “liberated women” were not so common.

Among Amelia Earhart’s aeronautic accomplishments:

· Held the woman’s world altitude record: 14,000 ft (1922).

· First woman to fly the Atlantic (1928).

· Speed records for 100 km (and with 500 lb (230 kg) cargo) (1931).

· First woman to fly the Atlantic solo (1932).

· First woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross (1932).

· First woman to fly non-stop, coast-to-coast across the U.S. (1933).

“Amelia,” the slick new biopic about Amelia Earhart, is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. This is the story of her relationship with her supportive husband George Putnam, sort of a grownup romance with aerial thrills.

Shut your eyes and you’d think it is Katherine Hepburn’s voice. But instead it is two-time Academy Award-winner Hillary Swank playing the famous aviatrix. Her Earhart is portrayed as “a shyly charismatic feminist/tomboy.”

Swank says, “I cut my hair off, I became blonde. She had freckles. Understanding how she carried herself is a big part of playing Amelia. The cadence in which she spoke, her accent -- for eight weeks I studied 16 minutes of newsreel on Amelia, which was really difficult. I think her accent was the most challenging accent that I've ever done in my career of accents. It was hard for me to get.”

Richard Gere co-stars as her husband. Christopher Eccle takes on a supportive role as her co-pilot Fred Noonan. And Ewan McGregor materializes as Gore Vidal’s amorous dad.

“I think Amelia was George’s beloved,” observes Swank. “And he really allowed her to have this life that she dreamed of. She did finally recognize what a gift that was on her final flight and, which she didn't know at the time was her final flight, of course. I think that that's so moving in life when you finally are aware of the meaning of life in a deeper way.”

Indian director Mira Nair (“Salaam Bombay,” “Mississippi Masala”) was determined to make the film accurate. The script by Ronald Bass was based mainly on the acclaimed books “East to the Dawn” by Susan Butler and “The Sound of Wings” by Mary S. Lovell.

Hillary Swank is counting on this film to generate her third Oscar. But if this doesn’t do the trick, she has “Betty Anne Waters,” an Erin Brokovich kind of film, in the works.

Hm. Better count on “Betty Anne Waters.”
[from Solares Hill]

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The Horse Boy (Rhoades)

“The Horse Boy” Searches for Cure
By Shirrel Rhoades

What would you do if your child were diagnosed as autistic? Take him or her to John Hopkins? Hire a therapist? Fly off to a clinic in Europe? Explore alternative medicine? Pray? Attempt to learn more about the neurological anomaly?

This strange wiring in the brain affects about 2 out of every 1,000 children. Victims of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit impaired social interaction, among other symptoms. It usually manifests itself in children before they reach the age of three.

Journalist Rupert Isaacson and his wife Kristen have an autistic child, a five-year-old who is subject to uncontrollable fits of screaming and crying and acting out. Rowan is a child in need of a cure.

Giving up on traditional medicine, Isaacson and his wife choose to pursue an unusual course of action. Noting that Rowan seems calmer when around an old horse that belongs to a next-door neighbor, Isaacson gets the idea of taking his son to visit a shaman in Mongolia. After all, Mongolian tribesmen are good with horses.

Hiring a young cinematographer to document the trip, the family sets out on the long journey. “The Horse Boy” – as young Rowan has come to be known – is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

First-time director Michel O. Scott deserves credit for a good cinematic eye, his Hi-Def video camera capturing the beauty of the Mongolian Plains. You’ll marvel at the rugged, untamed countryside, almost making you wish this were a travelogue rather than a film about autism.

Trekking to a remote corner of the world, Rupert Isaacson is clearly in his element. In the past, he has written about the plight of Australian Bushmen and other unfamiliar cultures, so a trip to the far reaches of Mongolia seems almost normal to his journalistic view of life.

However, as we take this arduous journey with the Isaacson family, we come to understand the burden of having an autistic child. Young Rowan is difficult, given to fits and often incontinent. The film graphically shows it all.

You can’t help but wonder about Rupert Isaacson’s motivation. Is this truly a quest to help his child? A hare-brained adventure? A greedy ploy to produce a film (and book) about the experience?


But you will come away with no doubt of the Isaacsons’ love for their child and their saint-like devotion.

This inside look at the healing rituals of Mongolian shamans is interesting in itself – like a National Geographic expedition. The primitive life, the horsemanship, the holistic folk beliefs, you will find fascinating.

Undoubtedly, you will go to see the film asking did this mission help the child? I’ll let you share the Isaacson’s journey and determine that answer for yourself. But to be sure, there is something magical about this story.
[from Solares Hill]

The Horse Boy (comments)

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Coco Before Chanel (Rhoades)

Coco Before Chanel” Channels the Fashion Diva
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My mother used to spritz a little Chanel No. 5 behind her ear for special occasions. You’d think it was Love Potion No. 9. My dad seemed to like it.

This potent perfume was perfected by fashion maven Coco Chanel. Her signature fragrance was the first to have a designer’s name attached to it.

Although Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel was born in a poorhouse in 1883, she rose to the ranks of high society as head of a major fashion empire. Trained as a seamstress, she opened her own millinery shop. With the backing of several rich lovers, the modern-minded French femme parlayed this into clothing designs and jewelry and scents.

She once told Harper’s Bazaar that “simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.” Her haute couture was a symbol of this design philosophy.

Chanel’s impact was so great, she was the only person from the field of fashion listed on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.

“Coco Before Chanel” – a biopic about this designing woman – is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Audrey Tautou stars as Coco. You’ll remember the French actress from her delightful turn in the film “Amélie.” And her more serious appearance in “The Da Vinci Code” with Tom Hanks.

Here, she makes a convincing Coco Chanel. “Coco Before Chanel” (or “Coco avant Chanel” as it was titled in French) tells us of the young Coco. The affairs, the drive, the fashion sense.

As it turns out, she never married. “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster,” she once explained. “There is only one Chanel.”

The company must have liked the film. Audrey Tautou is now the official spokeswoman of Chanel S.A. You might call it a commercialized reincarnation of Coco.
[from Solares Hill]

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