Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Week of April 2 to April 8 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

It's difficult not to be dismayed by the current state of American politics. We need more than pundits to help us understand it, and where it might be going. You might study a little history of movements like the Know Nothings of the 1850's, or McCarthyism in the 1950's, or even the otherwise honorable John Adams' support for the Alien and Sedition Acts in the early days of our republic, to see how fear and insecurity have always stood ready to captivate the public.

Or you might see a film like THE WHITE RIBBON. The time and place is a Germanic village just before World War I, a traditional, stable town. But strange and terrible things are happening. The town doctor is nearly killed in a riding accident caused by a maliciously planted trip wire, and children are abused and mutilated. Where does it all lead, and why?

You may recall Austrian director Michael Haneke's last film, Caché, a provocative thriller about a family terrorized by someone putting them under video surveillance and sending them the tapes. Like that previous film, The White Ribbon is a troubling puzzler that sends you out of the theater debating with your friends about what you have just seen. It is one of the most honored films of the past year, winner of the Palm d'Or at Cannes, the European Film Award, and nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscar. Simply stated, it's a great movie, "stark, contemplative and hauntingly brilliant." (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Don't be confused by the similarity in the title of THE YELLOW HANDKERCHIEF. This is a very different animal, an all-American road movie, populated by an alienated teenaged-girl (Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame), a young misfit (Eddie Redmayne), and an ex-con drifter (William Hurt). They're thrown together in a convertible cruising through post-Katrina Louisiana, with nothing in common except a desire to hit the road. But the drifter has had a life, with his ex-wife (Maria Bello), and therein lies the Yellow Handkerchief heart of the movie. Bring one, of any color.

THAT EVENING SUN brings us Hal Holbrook in a movie that has swept up awards at film festivals across the South -- Atlanta, Austin, Birmingham, Memphis, Nashville, Sarasota. It's adapted from the novel "I Hate To See The Evening Sun Go Down," which sort of sums up the theme of the movie. Abner Meecham (Holbrook) is facing the sunset of his life in a nursing home and doesn't like it. So he hies himself back to his old homestead, only to find it leased out to a former neighbor whom he despises. The grudge match that ensues produces an "achingly memorable star performance" (L.A. Times) by Holbrook, and an interesting take on the acting abilities of Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) as the nubile daughter of the hated interloper.

The Monday Movie Classic this week is ALGIERS (1938), featuring the inimitable Charles Boyer as Pepe Le Moko, the master criminal who rules the "native quarter" known as the Casbah. He falls for a beautiful Parisienne (Hedy Lamarr) who he can follow only by leaving the security of his Casbah domain. Nominated for four Oscars, including Best Actor (Boyer) and Best Cinematography (the famed James Wong Howe - nine nominations and two wins, for The Rose Tattoo and Hud). By the way, Boyer didn't say "come with me to the Casbah" in this movie; that was his cartoon-skunk successor Pepe Le Pew in For Scent-imental Reasons (1945).

[from Key West, the newspaper -]

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