Sunday, February 28, 2010

Week of February 26 thru March 4

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

The Oscar hit parade continues with more new award-nominated films joining a pack of holdovers.

THE LAST STATION takes us back to Russia in 1910. Leo Tolstoy, the Olympian author of War and Peace, and Anna Karenina, is 82 and in failing health. He has become a radical anti-church Christian, an anarchist pacifist, and a vegetarian ascetic -- an acknowledged inspiration to the then emerging Mohandas K. Gandhi. In an extreme action on his beliefs, Tolstoy wants to leave his vast estates and priceless copyrights to "the Russian people," rather than his family. This does not sit well with his wife of forty-two years, who has borne him thirteen children and served as his long-suffering amanuensis. (She is said to have recopied War and Peace six times.) A battle of wills rages.

The movie follows a trend this year of pairing Best Actor/Actress and Best Supporting Actor/Actress nominations. I've already talked about Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart, and George Clooney and Vera Farmiga or Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air. Now we have Helen Mirren as Sofya Tolstoy (Best Actress) and Christopher Plummer as Count Leo (Best Supporting Actor). David Denby in The New Yorker gushes that the movie is "like a great night at the theatre—the two performing demons go at each other full tilt and produce scenes of Shakespearean affection, chagrin, and rage." This independent German/Russian production (but entirely in English) is up for five Independent Spirit Awards, adding Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay to the acting categories.

On a smaller scale, but profound in their own ways, are the OSCAR-NOMINATED SHORT FILMS. There are ten of them, five live-action and five animated, and they're all showing this week.

Animations include a ghastly grandmother terrifying her grandaughter with a reading of Sleeping Beauty (Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty), a confrontation with the Grim Reaper (The Lady and the Reaper), and a new Wallace and Gromit story to charm all local fans of Cole's Peace (A Matter of Loaf and Death). Live-action shorts include a stories of two men moving into an apartment with a frightening history (The New Tenants), a young man living with his parents while developing his skills as a magician (Instead of Abracadabra), and an Indian boy seeking to break out of poverty (Kavi).

Each is a gem in its own way. The films run from six to thirty minutes, making a feature-length set of each group. The animation group and the live-action group will be shown alternately each day, with a separate ticket needed for each.

Just so you know, THE BLIND SIDE, CRAZY HEART, and BROKEN EMBRACES are held over.

The Special Events calendar is headed by a repeat performance by the famed father-son jazz piano duo of Dominique and Tristan Lofficial, TWO PIANOS, TWO TALENTS, AND JAZZ. As last year, two grand pianos will be brought on to the stage of the Carper Theater for a very special concert by these two internationally recognized performers. The concert is on Thursday at 8:00pm.

Monday Night Classic is JAMAICA INN (1939) starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara, based on a Daphne DuMaurier novel. Despite the title, the setting is the British coast of Cornwall, and the plot is full of smuggling, shipwrecks and pirates. Ooo, ooo, ooo!

Tuesday night brings a reprise of the La Scala performance of CARMEN, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. Key West's resident opera expert, Vincent Zito, will introduce the performance.

Full schedules and info at
Comments, please, to

Oscar Nominated Shorts 2010 (Rhoades)

“Oscar Shorts” Offer Brief Pleasures
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Every year about this time I enter an Oscar pool with a group of movie-buff friends. And I do darn good on my predictions of Best Picture, Best Actor, the big awards. But I lose when it comes to those lesser categories like short subjects – most of which the general movie-going public has never had the chance to see.

I suspect you have the same problem. Isn’t the winner of Best Foreign Language Film often the one that never played your local theaters?

Well, good news on the short subject front. This year’s nominations have been gathered into one showing, promoted under the group title of “Oscar Shorts 2010.” And these gems are currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Even if you’re not interested in the Academy Awards, you’ll find these to be entertaining in and of themselves.

There are two selections: Animation and Live Action.

During my recent travels I caught the animation collection, a bit of whimsy that’s perfect for a short attention span like mine.

“French Roast” is the 8-minute story of a man who cannot pay his bistro tab, a mini-drama involving police, beggars, waiters, and an elderly matron.

That’s followed by one of my favorites, “The Lady and the Reaper,” a delightful battle between the Grim Reaper and a doctor determined to save a little old lady at all costs. I found myself rooting for the Reaper.

The highlight of “Oscar Shorts 2010” was a 30-minute Claymation starring Wallace and Gromit. Called “A Matter of Loaf and Death,” it tells of a Bake-Lite lady who is killing off bakers. And, of course, Wallace and his dog Gromit run a bakery offering “Dough to Door Delivery.”

“Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” is a terrifying fairytale in granny’s telling.

And Pixar steps in with a computer-animated skit about a stork who delivers baby crocodiles and porcupines and electric eels … at his own peril.

The end piece called “Logorama” is a testament to the intellectual properties that surround our lives, offering up a brief story about two Michelin Men cops chasing a Ronald McDonald villain.

You pick the winner. I don’t have time. Life (like these films) is too short.
[from Solares Hill]

The Last Station (Rhoades)

Tolstoy Stops at “The Last Station”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Have you ever read “War and Peace”? I’m not talking about the Cliffs Notes version. The 1000-page epic was cited by Newsweek as one of the World’s 100 Greatest Books.

Heavy reading. My self-imposed project for one summer in college.

This masterful work by Russian author Leo Tolstoy explores the human condition during the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Tolstoy himself described it as “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less an historical chronicle.”

Tolstoy was the most famous writer in Russia, perhaps the world. Later in life, he was revered as a saint-like figure, the icon of the so-called Tolstoyan Movement. His literal interpretations of the teaching of Jesus put him at odds with the Orthodox Church. His pacifist views influenced both Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

A film about the last days of his life – “The Last Station,” beautifully directed by Michael Hoffman – is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. Its stars Christopher Plummer and Dame Helen Mirren have both been nominated for Academy Awards in this year’s Oscar race.
Plummer, replete with bushy white beard, is outstanding as Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. And Mirren matches his performance barb-for-barb as the irrepressible Countess Sofya.

This biographical tale is seen through the eyes of Valentin Bulgakov, a private secretary sent to spy on the Tolstoy household. Behind this espionage is the manipulative Vladmir Chertkov. A trusted follower of Tolstoyan philosophy, Chertkov is conniving to get the author to change his will, leaving his copyrights to the Russian people. Needless to say, Tolstoy’s wife does not like this idea of being cut out.

James McAvoy (“Atonement” “The Last King of Scotland”) is picture perfect as the devoted follower who doesn’t relish all this palace intrigue. After all, he’s a Tolstoyan who is worshipful of the great writer. Both a virgin and a vegetarian, his purity is challenged by a lustful young woman. And his loyalties are challenged by Countess Sofya.

Paul Giamatti (“Sideways,” “American Splendor”) is the mustache-twirling Chertkov, a worthy nemesis for the Countess.

But it’s Christopher Plummer (“Sound of Music,” “A Beautiful Mind”) who prances and struts on center stage, a man trying to balance fame and fortune with a non-materialistic philosophy. And Helen Mirren (Oscar-winner for “The Queen”) is a wife fearful of losing her husband to the world. Or to his sycophants who treat him like a Christ.

What we have here is a portrait of a troubled marriage, captured by note-taking secretaries and flash-powder photographers. After nearly half a century together, the Russian aristocrat and his headstrong wife are coming to a parting in their relationship. No more cock-a-doodle-doo. No more acceptance of differing viewpoints. No more battles to be waged over Tolstoy’s last will.

The scenery is lush, setting the mood for this tale of turn-of-the-century Russia. But it all comes down to “the last station,” a train depot at Astapovo where the great writer died.

No it’s not an epic drama like “War and Peace.” More a tragedy like “Anna Karenina.”
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, February 19, 2010

Week of February 19 thru February 25 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

I'm stoked for the opening of BROKEN EMBRACES, the new film from that most unusual, most insightful, most thought-provoking of directors, Pedro Almodovar. The Tropic's unbroken embrace of Almodovar began with a major fund-raiser in 2000 -- a showing of All About My Mother at the San Carlos -- when the Tropic was no more than a gleam in anyone's eye.

I remember watching the reaction of the octogenarian ex-Mayor of Monroe County Wilhelmina Harvey. Invited as a celebrity guest and expecting a proper motherly movie, as she cringed before Almodovar's plot about a deceased child, a transvestite father and a pregnant nun.

Since then, the Tropic has shown everyone of his films -- Talk to Her in 2003, Bad Education in 2005, and Volver in 2007, plus a retrospective of all his older films two years ago. Pedro Almodovar may not be the King of American cinema, but he's unquestionably one of the Princes of the Art House world.

As always, his films are hard to describe. As in Talk to Her, a horrific accident incites the plot, in this case an auto crash that blinds the hero. And, as in All About My Mother and Volver, the female lead is Penélope Cruz. I won't say more, except that BROKEN EMBRACES "is irresistible." (New York Magazine). "It ravished me," says Roger Ebert.

The Academy Awards draw nigh. The big night is Sunday, March 7, just a little over two weeks away. The newspaper advertising spreads (if you are addicted to a real-world newspaper, as I am) seem to be struggling single-handedly to overcome the financial woes of print media, and the interviews with actors and directors fill the airwaves. It's the thinking-man's March Madness, with a final ten instead of four.

The Tropic's Oscar Gala this year will be in the main Carper Theater. Party with all your Tropic friends as the ceremonies unwind on the big screen, from beginning (7:00pm) to end. Tickets on sale now at the box office or online.

You can also buy Tropic Oscar ballots to test your cinema acuity. Fill out as many ballots as you like, for $5 a pop. Win free movies for a year, or a bunch of free passes. The ballots are available now at the theater, and must be turned in before the first award is announced on Sunday night.

Two of the ten Best Picture nominees continue at the Tropic, THE BLIND SIDE (Best Picture and Best Actress-Sandra Bullock) and AN EDUCATION (Best Picture, Best Actress-Carrie Mulligan and Best Screenplay-Nick Hornby). They're joined by two others of the Oscar anointed -- CRAZY HEART (Best Actor-Jeff Bridges and Best Supporting Actress-Maggie Gyllenhaal) and THE LOVELY BONES (Best Supporting Actor-Stanley Tucci). So you can hone your knowledge with a few screenings.

The Tropic, by the way, has shown 8 out of 10 Best Picture nominees, 4 out of 5 named in the Best Director category, all 5 named for Best Actor, 4 of 5 from the Best Actress category, 3 of 5 Best Supporting Actor films, and all 5 Best Supporting Actress films. As always, it's the place to come for winners.

It's also a place that honors local talent. Two short films made by local filmmakers and set in Key West follow their celebratory opening last Wednesday with a full week run starting Friday, February 19. That's THE NEWCOMER, the saga of Key West's first gay mayor and early AIDS casualty Richard Heyman; and AUDIENCE WITH THE QUEENS, a backstage look at Sushi and her cohorts at 801 Duval. Both filmmakers will be on hand for Q & A at selected screenings.

Comments, please, to
[from Key West, the newspaper -]

Broken Embraces (Rhoades)

“Broken Embraces” Explores Blind Man’s Abandoned Past
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever wished you were somebody else? The Spanish film “Broken Embraces” (“Los abrazos rotos”) explores that theme. It’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

The plot is a complex mixture of past and present: Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar) had once-upon-a-time lived a double life. Under his own name he was known as a popular film director, but under the nom de plume of Harry Caine he wrote bestselling novels. However, that all changed fourteen years ago when he was blinded in an automobile accident. Not only did he lose his eyesight, he also lost his livelihood as a director. But much worse, he lost his beloved Lena in that car crash.

So he “kills” off the identity of Mateo Blanco, as if he’d died in that crash too. With the help of his former production manager Judit (Blanca Portillo) and her son Diego (Tamar Novas), the blind man continues on as Harry Caine, writing movie scripts.

When Diego is hospitalized with a drug overdose, he asks visiting Harry about his former life. Although taken aback, Harry reveals the story. The tale that unfolds is “dominated by fatality, jealously, the abuse of power, treachery and a guilt complex.”

Director Pedro Almodóvar presents “Broken Embraces” as a hardboiled neo-noir film, despite its bright colors.

Notably, Penelope Cruz appears in flashbacks as the lost girlfriend Lena. This is her fourth film with Almodóvar. In light of her Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for “Nine,” you’ll want to see Penelope Cruz shine in this very different role.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, February 12, 2010

Week of February 12 thru February 18 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

In THE LOVELY BONES mega-director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) brings mega-best-selling author Alice Sebold's novel to the screen. Despite a great cast, led by young Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) and Stanley Tucci -- who's got a Best Supporting Actor nod -- Jackson has his work cut out for him adapting a novel narrated by a murdered 14-year-old girl.

But Jackson brings an apt background to the task. His first major writing-directing effort was Heavenly Creatures, based on a true story of two teen-aged New Zealand girls who killed one of their mothers when she tried to break the pair apart. And he followed that with The Frighteners, a sci-fi horror flick about a psychic exorcist. So he's really returning to his roots with Lovely Bones. Staying true to the novel, Susie, the deceased girl, remains the center of the movie, sometimes in reality and sometimes in dream/fantasy, as she watches her father, her sister, and a cop try to catch her killer.

Perhaps it's because I didn't read the book, but I agree with a critic who observed that the movie is "soulful, respectful, masterful, horrifying, rending and emotionally true. It may not be the Lovely Bones that you have in mind, but it’s a fine and powerful one. " (Portland Oregonian)

THE BLIND SIDE and IT'S COMPLICATED both are major Hollywood releases that the Tropic has brought back for local filmgoers who may have missed them earlier. A dark horse favorite for the Best Picture Oscar, The Blind Side is a surprise hit, and its star Sandra Bullock is a favorite for Best Actress. In case you haven't heard, the movie is based on an inspirational, uplifting true story of a white family who take in a homeless black teenager and turn his life around, while he develops into a football player who's now made it in the NFL.

On the other hand, there's nothing the least bit inspirational about It's Complicated. Maybe that's why Meryl Streep's performance as a woman playing hanky-panky with her remarried ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) didn't succeed in grabbing her sixteenth Oscar nomination. (Instead they gave it to her for Julie and Julia.) You've got to love the scenes between beefy Baldwin and stunning Streep. They've got all the best lines, leaving traditional funnyman Steve Martin to provide the serious relief as Meryl's more-appropriate lover.

Counterpoint to all this is THE FOUR SEASONS LODGE, a documentary from the legendary Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens) shot at a Catskills bungalow colony occupied by a group of 80-to-90-year old Polish émigrés, all orphaned survivors of the holocaust. They created "a family from our friends," as one woman puts it, and they're still a family more than a half-century later. Survivors all, they have something to teach us about life.

The big Special Event this week is a double feature of two short documentary films made by local directors about local events. THE NEWCOMER is an eye-opening tale about Richard Heyman, the first gay Mayor in America, and an amazing politician to boot. The Key West we know came of age during his terms as Commissioner and Mayor (1979-85, 1987-89) and rudely entered the AIDS era as Heyman himself died from the disease in 1994. AUDIENCE WITH THE QUEENS is right out of contemporary Key West, a backstage peek at the life and lives of drag queens, starring the justly-famous Sushi, and featuring a bevy of other 801 Duval habitués. Both John Mikytuck, Producer-Director of The Newcomer, and Robbie Hopcraft, Producer-Director of Audience With the Queens, will be on hand for Q & A after their films.

Comments, please, to
[from Key West, the newspaper]

The Newcomer (Rhoades)

“The Newcomer” Profiles Former Key West Mayor
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

If you live in Key West, you need to see this film to understand the island’s recent history. This is a documentary about Richard Heyman, America’s first openly gay mayor.

Elected mayor of Key West in 1983, he was a candidate who challenged local Conch politicians. Although he’d been living in Key West for ten years he was still considered a newcomer.

“The Newcomer” – a film directed by Emmy Award-winner John Mikytuck – is being shown at the Tropic Cinema as a double feature with “Audience with the Queens.”

Using filmed interviews, newsreel footage, and old photographs, Mikytuck stitches together a crazy quilt of Heyman’s mayoral campaign and years in office.

This was a time when AIDS was beginning to affect gays living in Key West. The threat of the disease being used as a political pawn loomed over Heyman’s campaign. But he refused to take the bait.

“The issue here is not someone’s sexual preference,” he said. “The gay issue is a smokescreen and the media is playing into the hands of the corruptors of politics and government in Key West.”

Against all odds, he won the race.

Suddenly thrust into the national spotlight, Heyman appearing on TV’s Nightline described Key West as “a potpourri of people from all over. It’s a very tolerant place. It’s very laid back. It’s very casual. And the beauty of Key West itself is reflected by the beauty of the people who live there.”

Meanwhile, the AIDS epidemic raged on the island. Over one thousand gay men, almost 50 percent of the population living here at the time, died of AIDS. In 1994, Heyman himself succumbed of AIDS-related pneumonia. The film ends with a listing of our friends and neighbors who were lost to the disease.
[from Solares Hill]

The Lovely Bones (Rhoades)

“Lovely Bones” Finds Its Voice Out of Violence
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Recently we’ve been reading in the Key West Citizen about acts of violence, rape and muggings. Not the stuff we’d talk about in front of tourists.

Random acts, we say. But there’s nothing random about the way they affect the victim.
Sometimes coming to terms with such a horrific event takes a creative turn. Take, for example, author Alice Sebold. When she was an 18-year-old freshman at Syracuse University she was attacked, beaten, and brutally raped. Months later, while walking down a street near the campus, she recognized her rapist and pointed him out to police. Convicted, he received the maximum sentence.

Sebold needed to deal with her experience, and eventually wrote a book about it, a memoir ironically titled “Lucky.”

However, her subsequent attempts at writing a novel failed. “I felt the burden of trying to write a story that would encompass all rape victims’ stories and that immediately killed the idea of this individual character in the novel. So (my attempts) tended to be kind of fuzzy and bland ....”
Finally she got it right with a novel called “The Lovely Bones.” Written with a dash of magical realism, it tells the story of a 14-year-old girl who is raped, murdered, and dismembered – but continues to watch over her family from heaven as she comes to terms with her death.

Meanwhile, the killer goes undetected, planning another murder.

“I was motivated to write about violence because I believe it’s not unusual. I see it as just a part of life, and I think we get in trouble when we separate people who’ve experienced it from those who haven’t. Though it’s a horrible experience, it’s not as if violence hasn’t affected many of us.”
So she turned her memories and emotions into a fictional murder mystery.

Director Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings” trilogy) personally optioned the novel for a movie. His version of “The Lovely Bones” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Newcomer Saoirse Ronan stars as the tween victim. Jackson picked her because she reminded him of a young Cate Blanchett. “I can see her having the sort of career and making the types of films that Cate has been making,” he muses.

Mark Walhberg and Rachel Weicz play the girl’s parents. Rose McIver is the girl’s sister. And Susan Sarandon steps in as a member of the family.

Proving his diversity as an actor, Stanley Tucci takes on the role of the serial killer. We’ve seen him as the gay fashionista in “The Devil Wears Prada.” And as the boorish but supportive husband in “Julie & Julia.” Now he gets to do creepy. Nice range.

Susan Sarandon and her partner Tim Robbins lived near me when I had a home in Westchester County, NY. They recently broke up. But a few years ago you’d see Tim and Susan having coffee at the Starbucks in New Canaan. A friendly couple, they would nod hello.

She’s now making the rounds – Late Nite with David Letterman, Rachel Ray – promoting this film. Hard to believe, but she plays the grandmother in “Lovely Bones.” Again, nice range.

Here we have a murder mystery seen from the viewpoint of the victim. Perhaps disturbing for tweens and sensitive viewers. But well handled by the director who produced the third highest grossing film of all time (behind “Titanic” and “Avatar”). Indeed, lovely bones.
[from Solares Hill]

Four Seasons Lodge (Rhoades)

“Four Seasons Lodge” Site of Holocaust Reunion
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My step-dad Frank is a WWII vet. And every year his battalion got together, hosted by one, then another, to acknowledge their common experience during the War. Frank and my mom would drive off in their RV to some distant part of America for this annual pilgrimage, then continue on to vacation at the Grand Canyon, Newfoundland, or Alaska. The vets stopped doing this reunion last year because the 300 or so original members had dwindled down to three.

So it’s not surprising to hear about a small band of WWII Holocaust survivors who gathered each summer at the Four Season Lodge in New York’s Catskills to “dance, cook, fight, flirt, and celebrate their survival.”

A documentary about that gathering titled “Four Seasons Lodge” is playing out this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Directed by Andrew Jacobs, he and cinematographers Albert Maysles (“Gimme Shelter”) and Justin Schein (“No Impact Man”) joined these old-timers faced with dwindling numbers and old age for their final get-together at Four Seasons Lodge. The reunion is lovingly filmed, capturing the subtle nuances of loss, longevity, and an enduring lust for life.

What’s surprising about this documentary is the absence of maudlin reminiscences of horror and tragedy at the hands of the Nazis. Instead, it’s funny and heartwarming as the so-called Lodgers come together in convivial celebration, old friends by now, with a common legacy. Each with numbers tattooed on their aged arms.

One online blogger disagreed. “Unfortunately a promising topic was turned into a sentimental and overwrought drama… I watched this with some survivor relatives and they could not relate at all. They knew the clichés and shook their heads hearing them once again….”

Maybe you, like me, haven’t heard all the clichés. No, I didn’t regret attending this last visit to “Four Seasons Lodge.”
[from Solares Hill]

The Blind Side (Rhoades)

“Blind Side” Catches Our Emotions Unaware
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Growing a bit too old to be America’s sweetheart, and not content to do comedy roles, Sandra Bullock gives us “The Blind Side,” a heart-tugging story of a tough-minded Southern woman who takes in an oversized illiterate black kid. Bring your hankies.

“The Blind Side” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Bullock has broken the glass ceiling, with this movie ranking as the highest grossing film featuring a female lead. As a result, she’s been nominated for Best Actress in the upcoming Academy Awards presentation (March 7th).

Quinton Aaron portrays a giant teenager with an outer shell that’s as hard as black onyx. Homeless, undereducated, the boy doesn’t have much hope. Yet with the help of his adopted family, he goes on to become an All-American offensive left tackle.

Based on Michael Lewis’ book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game,” this is the true story of Michael Oher, now in his first season with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.

However, as fate would have it, “The Blind Side” is actually a case of life imitating art imitating life. Not only does Sandy Bullock play the real-life woman named Leigh Anne Tuohy who impacted Oher’s life, but she’s trying to do that in her own off-screen life too.

Those who follow Hollywood gossip know that Bullock is currently involved in a child custody battle against the ex-wife of her chopper-riding husband Jesse James.

James has a five-year-old daughter from an earlier marriage with a porn star named Janine Lindemulder. Bullock has been playing mommy while Lindemulder served a prison term for tax evasion.

Bullock wants to keep he kid. She’s told the courts she can provide a safe environment for the child that keeps her away from “pornographers, drug addicts, guns and firearms, felons and other unsafe environments.”

Lindemulder has responded that Bullock wants her child because the actress is unable to have children of her own. Bullock has replied that the assertion “couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
Bullock adds, “I know the term ‘stepmother’ carries many connotations, one of them being ‘glorified babysitter.’ My commitment and responsibility to [Sunny] ... goes beyond that.”

Despite having three new movies released this year, the actress says, “I myself have stopped working like I used to in order to be here with Jesse and the kids.”

Maybe we can take a line from Bullock’s new movie. In “The Blind Side,” someone says to her, “You’re changing that boy’s life.” To which she responds, “No, he’s changing mine.”
[from Solares Hill]

It's Complicated (Rhoades)

“It’s Complicated” Really Isn’t
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

As I look at my friends’ Facebook pages, I’m seeing more and more descriptions of Relationship Status designated as “It’s complicated.” Check out my friend Pam Grier’s Facebook page, for example. Or Heather Hunter’s.

I can’t help wondering, is this a commentary on modern middle-age dating?
You’ll find the answer in a new romantic comedy called (no surprise here) “It’s Complicated” – currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In it, Jake (Alec Baldwin) is divorced from Jane (Meryl Streep). But he still loves her. So what’s a guy to do? Try to woo her back, of course.

Problem is, another guy (Steve Martin) is vying for her affections too. And Jake now has a young wife (Lake Bell) who’s eager to have her first child. Jane herself is dealing with impending empty nest syndrome.

This contemporary commentary on today’s complicated relationships is pretty predictable. Dad wants mom back and will go to any wacky lengths to return to the family fold. Mom is hesitant, knowing her hubby for the jerk he is. The three kids are caught in the middle, having difficulty with the idea of their parents reuniting. And, yep, there are plenty of laughs thrown in for good measure.

Guess how it turns out?

Truth is, this formulaic plotline plays okay with today’s audiences, for it offers us an archetypal reassurance about the way the world works. Even if it’s an overly simplistic viewpoint when it comes to complex relationships. Truth is, we prefer the benign lie – no matter how naïve and unrealistic.

Baldwin, Streep and Martin are a great triangle of talent. You’ll love their sparring in this Grimm’s Fairytale for Grownups.

I used to watch Alec Baldwin and his brothers play baseball in East Hampton. Charity ballgames in the summer. He wasn’t a bad player.

Baldwin is enjoying resurgence thanks to his TV role on “30 Rock.” And he’s delighted to have another shot at movies with this new comedy written and directed by Nancy Myers.
“Nancy’s a wonderful writer,” Baldwin says in his gravelly voice. “I was a big fan of the films that she wrote like ‘Private Benjamin’ and ‘The Parent Trap,’ and she did ‘The Father of the Bride’ movies, obviously. But ‘What Women Want’ and ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ are two movies I really, really love. I thought that they were wonderful films. And her movies are relationship movies really – adult relationship movies, you should say.”

Baldwin oughta know. His acrimonious relationship with his ex-wife Kim Basinger and well-publicized harangue with his daughter prove that he understands “the trouble that adult people get themselves in with their relationships.”

“It’s Complicated” certainly delivers humorous insights into midlife relationships. Perhaps Nancy Myers is becoming the Nancy Friday of film. That’s not such a complicated concept, is it?
[from Solares Hill]

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Week of February 5 thru February 11 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

CRAZY HEART has already won two Golden Globes -- Best Actor for Jeff Bridges and Best Song for T-Bone Burnett, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor. And we've still got Independent Spirit Awards and the Big Kahuna of the Academy Awards to go. No less a critic than Roger Ebert predicts Bridges is a "virtual certainty to win his first Oscar."

"Bad" Blake (it's not his real name, but "I was born Bad. My tombstone will have my real name. Until then, I'm going to stay Bad.") is a too-hard-drinking, too-hard-living, too-hard-loving country singer. Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a woman young enough to be his daughter, with a four-year-old son, is the good woman who wants to give the lie to that Badness. She's also got an Oscar nomination.

It's not the first time this iconic story has been told. It's a country song rolled up in a screenplay. But this time it has those ineffable qualities that make for a hit. With an 92% rating on and an 83% rating on, "it's a mesmerizer," says Rolling Stone.

Come for the acting. Stay for the music. And enjoy a " a well-done, adult American movie—that is to say, a rarity." (Village Voice)

I'm pleased to see that the Tropic is bringing back AN EDUCATION, which had a brief run early last Fall before any buzz had built about it. It's now got three major Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress. First-time screenwriter Nick Hornby crafts a script with the clever, engaging plot and dialogue we've known in his novels (About a Boy, High Fidelity). Carey Mulligan is Jenny, a prep school senior who discovers there's more to life than aceing your A-levels and getting into Cambridge, when she meets David, a forty-something bon vivant.

In an odd coincidence, David, who's seducing this young woman, is played by Peter Sarsgaard, the real-life husband of Maggie Gyllenhaal, the one who's captivating an older man in Crazy Heart. Everyone's talking about Carey Mulligan for Best Actress, but my own acting nod would go to Sarsgaard, who does an amazing job of making his sleazy perv character into a loveable rogue.

Held over are a bevy of Oscar-nominated hits, NINE (4 nominations), THE YOUNG VICTORIA (3 nominations), A SINGLE MAN (1 nomination), and UP IN THE AIR (6 nominations), so there's plenty to see for those of you who have been ignoring your movie-going pleasures.

On the Special Events front. the Tropic Talks Series features Peter Schweitzer, producer of THE EDGE OF NEVER, the true story of 15-year-old Kye Petersen, who, under the wing of a "tribe" of big mountain skiers, took on the challenge of skiing the Alpine run that his extreme-skiing father died on. Schweitzer, a senior producer for CBS's 48 Hours, took a crew to Chamonix to document young Kye's confrontation with the mountain that took his father. The location is breathtaking. The story is jaw-dropping. Following a special screening of the movie, you'll have a chance to meet Schweitzer by live, interactive video feed. That's Wednesday night.

The Monday Night Classic is ETERNALLY YOURS, starring David Niven as magician who charms Loretta Young into deserting her rich fiancé and marrying him. But the film's title is ironic, I think. Find out Monday night.

And don't forget Verdi's FALSTAFF, from the Belgian Royal Opera on Sunday afternoon.

Comments, please, to
[from Key West, the newspaper]

Oscar Predictions (Rhoades)

Oscars Nods Invite Predictions
by Shirrel Rhoades

I’m excited. How about you? The Oscar nominations are in and winners will be announced at the March 7th Academy Awards presentations. You’ll want to gather at the Tropic Cinema to watch the live telecast, I’m sure.

But the question at hand: Who will win? Given my role as your faithful movie companion, everybody asks me whom I think will snag that little golden statuette. Fair enough.
My disclaimer is that Oscars are often political (i.e. based on who deserves to win this year, not necessarily the best performance). So with that in mind, here are a few of my picks and backup guesses.

Best Picture. This year the category has been opened up to 10 nominations. I’ll pick “Up in the Air,” George Clooney’s paean to loneliness and modern times as he portrays a corporate hatchet man who travels a lot. A near-perfect movie except for a needed tweak at the end. But “Avatar” might well get it for sheer overwhelming blockbuster success.

Best Director. An interesting race between James Cameron (“Avatar”) and his ex-wife Katherine Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”). She deserves it, but he might again become King of the World.

Best Actor. Hands down, Jeff Bridges for “Crazy Heart,” an ode to a broken-down old country western singer. See my accompanying review. But let’s acknowledge that George Clooney did a good job in “Up in the Air.”

Best Actress. I’ll go with Sandra Bullock, who broke a glass ceiling with her schmaltzy sports movie, “The Blind Side.” But don’t count Meryl Streep out for her channeling of chef Julia Child in “Julie & Julia.”

Best Supporting Actor. I liked Woody Harrelson in “The Messenger,” but Christoph Waltz has a good shot for “Inglourious Basterds.”

Best Supporting Actress. Both Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart” and “Anna Kendrick in “Up in the Air” deserve it, but Mo’nigue in the painful-to-watch drama “Precious” may walk away with the little man.

Best Animation. The voice of our old friend Ed Asner made “Up” my pick, but Wes Anderson fans will go for “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

Okay, you take it from here. When it gets down to the Best Foreign Language Comedy Short Subject (or whatever), my crystal ball grows cloudy.

Crazy Heart (Rhoades)

“Crazy Heart” Is Career-Affirming Role for Jeff Bridges
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Yes, I think Jeff Bridges should get the golden statuette for Best Actor in this year’s Academy Awards race. Not for his humorous turn in the satiric “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” but for his soul-bearing performance as a down-and-out country singer named Bad Blake in a melancholy but sweet little film called “Crazy Heart.”

This sharply etched portrait is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Hard to believe this was originally intended to be a direct-to-video throwaway flick. But Bridges’ performance transcended the genre.

The story is not a new one: A singer-songwriter who never made the big time, despite his legendary reputation. Instead his protégé, a country star named Tommy Sweet (well played by Colin Farrell), gets the stadium tours and big bucks. Meanwhile, our old-timer travels the southwest in his oil-burning old clunker, playing his songs in bowling alleys and bars, lost an ever-present alcoholic haze.

Along the way he meets a young reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a single mother who knows better than fall for on old reprobate like Bad Blake, but does so anyway. Will it end badly? Even with the helping hand of an old friend (Robert Duvall), Bad Blake is not a guy who’s likely to keep on the straight-and-narrow.

Duvall, along with real-life songwriter T-Bone Burnett, helped produce this musical journey. T-Bone wrote the movie’s songs, but Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell do their own singing.
If the story seems familiar, maybe it’s because Duvall already plowed this ground in 1983’s “Tender Mercies,” where he played a down-on-his-luck country singer wooing a wary-but-good woman.

Director Scott Cooper started off wanting to do a biopic about country music legend Merle Haggard, but discovering that the film rights were too expensive settled on a fictional character from a book by Thomas Cobb.

Bridges gives a performance that has been called “half Big Lebowski, half Urban Cowboy meets The Wrestler.”

His film persona has been described as “rambling, reckless, rascally and usually unpredictable.” Bad Blake fits that mold, as if all the others roles were merely rehearsals for this career-affirming performance.

The son of veteran actor Lloyd Bridges and brother of character actor Beau Bridges, Jeff has been nominated four times for an Academy Award but never won. First time was for his semi-debut film role in “The Last Picture Show.”

Obviously, that wasn’t Jeff Bridges’ last picture show. Now seventy-some movies later, this may be the one that plays the right tune.
[from Solares Hill]

Crazy Heart (comments)

What did you think of Crazy Heart?