Thursday, March 11, 2010

Week of March 12 thru March 18 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Last summer the Tropic Cinema brought you a hot new independent film riding a wave of critical acclaim. But it was summertime, and the movie was about Iraq, so hardly anyone came.

Now that movie has just won six Oscars, including Best Picture of the year. And the Tropic's giving you another chance to see it, all this week. I'll just recycle my comments from last August with a few parenthetical updates.

Welcome to THE HURT LOCKER. That's urban slang for a place where bad things happen, and it's the title of the tense, intense new film from indie filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow (Best Director winner) that's already generating Oscar buzz. It's the final 38 days of an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) squad's tour of duty. Each day brings a new confrontation with the precariousness of mortality, and each man deals with it in his own way. Meanwhile, thanks to the verisimilitude produced by Ms. Bigelow's use of multiple hand-held cameras in a real Middle Eastern location, we are drawn into their world and out to the edges of our seats.

The team leader, Staff Sgt. William James (Best Actor nominee), is the man who has to don a 140 lb. blast suit and go mano-a-mano with the bomb itself. His support team has to cover him, watching out for snipers or for the concealed bomb maker about to activate the device with a cell phone. The movie is not really about the Iraq war, but about these men, what goes on in their heads and why they might be doing this. EOD specialists are volunteers. Every branch of the military has them, because they have an essential role to play in contemporary mine-field, improvised-explosive-device, warfare.

I kept asking myself why would someone choose to do this? My first reaction on leaving the movie was to think it would discourage anyone from joining such a unit. But then I did a bit of Internet trolling, and learned quite the opposite. If you're the kind of person who is unlikely to join such a unit, the movie will reinforce your reluctance. But if you're the kind who finds the thrill and challenge appealing, it's a recruiting tool. It's all in the epigraph that opens the movie: “War is a drug.”

Maybe so, but I'll get my fix via a movie. And The Hurt Locker mainlines it. A must-see.

THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE is at the other end of the life-experience spectrum. The title character is a woman who thought she had found peace and security in her intellectual Manhattan marriage after years of youthful dalliance, only to fine it all unraveling when her thirty-year-older husband Herb drags her to a Connecticut retirement village.

Written and directed by Rebecca Miller (daughter of Arthur Miller), starring Robin Wright Penn as Pippa and Adam Arkin as her husband, and featuring Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Maria Bello, Shirley Knight and Princeton professor Cornel West, the movie would be worth seeing for its cast alone. But it's a "wry, acutely observant drama" (New York Times), a "soap–meets–Woody Allen smart-set comedy" (Entertainment Weekly).

Writer-Director Miller will participate in a live video Tropic Talk via Skype at 5:00pm on Saturday, following the afternoon show. If you've got any questions, come and ask her on the spot.

AVATAR, THE MESSENGER, CRAZY HEART and THE LAST STATION, all Oscar winners or nominees, continue their runs in this star-studded week.

But, in the midst of it all, the thing that has me most excited is the Monday Movie Classic. True to the March theme of Murder, it's one of the great films of all time, H.G. Clouzot's DIABOLIQUE (1955), the movie that famously did for bathtubs what Psycho did for showers. I can't say more. Mmmm, March Murder Madness.

[from Key West, the newspaper -]

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