Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Week of July 2 to July 8 (Mann)

What’s Up at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

How about seeing a film that Roger Ebert calls “one of Michael Douglas’ finest performances?” Whether you like Douglas or not, you have to admit that he’s established a powerful persona as an immoral but nonetheless charming man – think Gordon Gecko in Wall Street. That role will be reprised next fall in a sequel, Wall Street Never Sleeps.

But you don’t have to wait until the fall, because he’s starring right now in SOLITARY MAN, which opens at the Tropic this week. Ben Kalmen (Douglas) is a man who once had everything – family, business success, professional acclaim – and managed to lose it all in a spiral of self-destructive actions that seem endlessly repeating. Like last year’s similarly named A Serious Man, this is a black comedy with some very dark moments. But the two Men could not be more different. The “Serious Man” was endlessly good, seeking an explanation for why his earthly rewards were not commensurate. The “Solitary Man” is almost endlessly bad, and reaps both the rewards and punishments that naturally accrue.

With a supporting cast of Mary Louise Parker, Susan Sarandon and Danny DeVito, the result is “a sharp, small-scale comedy of male misbehavior that turns out to be one of this dreary spring’s pleasant cinematic surprises.” (New York Times) Put it on your list.

A character like Douglas’s is one we sometimes call “a piece of work,” a remarkable, though not necessarily admirable, individual. For a real-life example, look no further than Joan Rivers, and that’s the title of her life-documentary JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK. The filmmakers, two women who previously made a documentary about Darfur, followed Ms. Rivers for almost a year on her hectic schedule of standup and show appearances, including a stint on Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice. As she says of herself at one point, “there’s nothing Joan won’t do” and by the end you believe it, maybe adding “there’s nothing she won’t say,” and “there’s no one she won’t attack.” If you’re ready for a rip roaring, politically incorrect hour and half, you’ve come to the right place.

Legendary filmmaker James Ivory and his long-time screenwriting collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala join again for THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION to bring us “as pure an example of the Merchant Ivory brand of upscale literary cinema as devotees of ‘Howards End,’ ‘A Room With a View’ and ‘The Remains of the Day’ could ask for.” (New York Times)

The setting is Uruguay, not England or France, but the place is a lush country estate populated by a cosmopolitan elite, the family of Jules Gund, a deceased (by suicide) writer. Caroline (Laura Linney) is his patrician widow, but also in residence are his gay brother (Anthony Hopkins), his girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as well as other family and quasi-family members. Into this mix comes, unannounced, an American graduate student seeking permission to write a biography of the late author, which he desperately needs to complete his thesis.

Can the Ivory-Jhabvala team (minus Ismail Merchant, who has died) work their period magic with a more contemporary story? “The answer is a resounding yes,” says Rex Reed in the New York Observer. “This is a typical James Ivory work, but more deeply wounding and emotionally involving than most. I was transfixed from beginning to end.”

The surprise hit ONDINE, is held over, and, on the summer fun front, the Jonah Hill comedy GET HIM TO THE GREEK moves in for laughable run.

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

Solitary Man (Rhoades)

“Solitary Man” Reunites Old Pals
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Talk about an odd couple, Michael Douglas and Danny Devito used to be roommates. The handsome leading man and the diminutive character actor. Both have done well in their Hollywood careers. Maybe being roomies added a comfort level that came across when they co-starred in “Romancing the Stone” and “Jewel of the Nile.” They’ve also appeared together in “The War of the Roses,” as comfortable as a pair of old shoes.

Now we have them again in “Solitary Man.” That’s Douglas in the title role as Ben Kalmen, a used car huckster down on his luck. He’s hoping for a big comeback, if only he doesn’t let his hubris take hold again. His ex-wife (Susan Sarandon) understands him, only too well. And his daughter (Jenna Fischer) has broken off relations since she found out he’s dating her school friend (Imogen Poots), who happens to be the daughter of his current girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker). Yes, his life is messy.

His pal (Devito) is watching it all from the sidelines, the way you can’t take your eyes away from the scene of an automobile accident. Or in this case, an accident that’s about to happen if our solitary man continues along his self-destructive path.

Douglas compares the storyline to the unpredictability of life. “I love digging a hole for a guy, and getting him way down, and saying, well, how you gonna get out of this predicament? And then sorta watching how somebody kinda rises out of it.”
It’s about middle-age crises. “Don’t call me grandpa,” he tells his daughter’s son.
“Aren’t you a little old for all this,” he’s asked. Maybe. After all, what’s a fiftysomething man doing dating his daughter’s classmate?

His ex-wife says, “You can’t cheat death, no matter how many nineteen-year-olds you talk into your bed.”

“Solitary man” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. This may be Michael Douglas’ best performance since “Wonder Boys” (based on a book by my Pulitzer Prize-winning pal Michael Chabon).

Douglas recalls the old days when he and Danny Devito shared an apartment on West 89th Street in New York. “Danny was sloppy,” he jokes. “No, really, he was a great roommate. It was a magical time. We were getting paid to act!”

“In the movie, Danny’s my oldest buddy,” he says. “It’s comfortable. It’s nice. I know why actors work with each other over and over again. You don’t have to go through all the introductions and feeling each other out. You just do it.”
[from Solares Hill]

The City of You Final Destination (Rhoades)

Is “City” Merchant Ivory’s Final Destination?

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Publish or perish, that’s the rule in the world of academia. That’s why Dr. David Sumner of Ball State co-authored a book on the magazine industry with me. In fact, he’s written several textbooks and treatises. I’ve written three college textbooks and I was only an adjunct professor at New York University.

So when a grad student named Omar (Omar Metwally) wins a grant to pen an authorized biography of a deceased Latin American novelist, the young academic is frustrated that the heirs turn him down. It’s hard to take no when his pushy girlfriend and a fellow egghead are urging him on. So he doggedly shows up on a doorstep in a remote region of Uruguay, hoping to change the family’s mind.

No go. The writer’s widow (Laura Linney, terrific as usual) adamantly refuses to give him her permission. She doesn’t want her husband’s suicide rehashed in print.

But there’s a glimmer of hope when the author’s greedy brother (Anthony Hopkins) opines that such a biography might stimulate future book sales.

Unfortunately, the dead writer’s mistress (Charlotte Gainsbourg) sides with the widow, blocking publication … until she falls for our boy Omar. That just might be a game changer.

That’s the proposition of “City of Your Final Destination,” currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Directed by three-time-Academy Award-nominee James Ivory (“The Remains of the Day,” “A Room With a View,” “Howard's End”), this quest film comes with a great pedigree. This is the first Merchant Ivory film produced without the late Ismail Merchant.

Filmed in 2006, “City of Your Final Destination” has had a checkered history and has just now been released.
First, Merchant passed away following surgery for abdominal ulcers. “Some very mysterious things happened,” Ivory says of producing a film without the help of his longtime partner. “Things to do with banks and loans. Financiers just disappeared. He was used to dealing with those kinds of events, and I had never had to before.”

Then Anthony Hopkins filed a lawsuit against Merchant Ivory claiming he had not been paid for his work on the film. “That all was taken care of,” says Ivory. “We couldn’t pay him. Nothing to hide. When we left Argentina, we were beginning to run out of money, and he had come to work and finished, and naturally he wanted to be paid, but we didn’t have any money to pay him with.”

Also veteran Merchant Ivory producer Richard Hawley filed a writ that his name had been forged to a contract reducing his fees and that he was ousted as the film’s producer. Ivory’s lawyer denied the allegations, saying the company would “vigorously defend the matter.”

Hopefully, Merchant Ivory’s money problems will go away if “City of Your Final Destination” finds an audience. Combustible Celluloid opines that the film clocks in as Ivory’s best movie in some time,” but Rotten Tomatoes calls it “dusty and dry.” Almost like an academic thesis.

Anthony Hopkins once asked the late Ismail Merchant where he found the money to produce films. “Wherever it is now,” he replied.

James Ivory take note.
[from Solares Hill]

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Rhoades)

Joan Rivers Is a “Piece of Work”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

“Age is the one mountain you can’t overcome,” says 77-year-old Joan Rivers in the new documentary about a year in the comedienne’s life, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.”

But the doyenne of plastic surgery seems to be attacking age like a mountain climber scaling the north face of the Eiger. Face iced over with makeup, filled out with Botox, nipped and tucked, she could pass for 60.

Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, she always knew she was funny.

Performing in numerous Greenwich Village clubs in the early ’60s, she eventually landed a guest appearance on The Tonight Show at the recommendation of Bill Cosby. “You might as well use Joan, she can’t be any worse than the guy you had on last night!” Coz said.

Doing regular stints on the show, she became known for her “brash manner, her loud, raspy voice with a heavy New York accent.” Her trademarked catchphrase “Can we talk?” gained popularity with the viewing public.

After 20 years on The Tonight Show, she was asked by Fox Television to host her own late-night talk show. But the price was high. Feeling betrayed by his protégé, Johnny Carson never spoke with her again. “Truly,” she groans of NBC, “I haven’t been allowed back on late night since I did a show opposite Carson. Naughty, naughty, naughty.”

And later when Fox fired both Joan and her producer husband Edgar Rosenberg, her hubby committed suicide, leaving her and daughter Melissa all but destitute.
Joan River’s show biz career has had more ups and downs than a roller coaster ride. Now she’s doing a reality TV show called “How’d You Get So Rich?” And recently proved her savvy by winning on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”

“I don’t wanna retire; I don’t wanna go sit in the sun; I don’t wanna garden,” she speaks of her still-hectic schedule of daily stand-up comedy appearances.

“There will be nail marks on that red carpet before she's through,” says her former manager Billy Sammeth.

"All stand-ups are innately insecure ... damaged,” says daughter Melissa, her frequent co-host in interviewing celebs on the Academy Awards’ red carpet.

“The only time when I’m truly, truly happy is when I’m on the stage,” Joan admits.

Directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (“The Devil Came on Horseback”), “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” is an incisive portrait of the raunchy comedy icon. It’s currently making audiences laugh at the Tropic Cinema.

What did Joan Rivers learn about herself from the film? “That I look fat. That I need a little lift under my chin. There’s a big scene in a taxi where I’m hearing the review of my show and I’m looking at my chin the whole time. That’s how I watch the movie. I think, Oh god, do I need to fix my chin.”
Just a little nip tuck does the trick.
[from Solares Hill]

Get Him To THE Greek (Rhoades)

“Get Him to the Greek” Is a Trip to Question

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I admit I must be missing a “laugh gene” because I have trouble finding British comedian Russell Brand funny. It’s not that I don’t like British humor. I grew up on Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan’s Goon Show, Terry Thomas, Beyond the Fringe, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Heck, I even “get” the cartoons in Punch.

Sure, I tolerated Russell Brand in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” because as Sarah’s new boyfriend he wasn’t a character you were meant to be rooting for.

Now here he is again, in his patented performance as a rock star extreme, co-starring in “Get Him to the Greek.” (Yes, he’s reprising his role as egocentric musician Aldous Snow from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”)
Pudgy Jonah Hill (“Superbad”) is the slub assigned to see that this off-his-rocker rocker makes it to a scheduled performance at the Greek Theater in Hollywood. The storyline is about Jonah getting hijacked by high living along the way, falling prey to the rock star’s lascivious lifestyle.

This show biz trifle tosses in guest appearances by Christina Aguilera, Pink, Lars Ulrich, Mario Lopez, Rick Schroder, Meredith Vieira, and Billy Bush. Rose Bryne (TV’s “Damages”) is also on hand. Kristen Bell reprises her role as the unforgettable Sarah Marshall. And Sean “P. Diddy” Combs walks away with the show as the exec who sends our boy Jonah on his wayward mission.

This Judd Apatow comedy is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. As you will recall, Judd has given us such laughetons as “40 Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” “Step Brothers,” “Pineapple Express,” plus the aforementioned “Superbad” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

So why am I griping about this latest giggle of a movie? Hm, maybe you just caught me on a bad day. Or maybe Russell Brand is not as funny as Judd Apatow thinks.
[from Solares Hill]

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Week of June 25 to July 1 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

This week brings another rich, many layered, story to the Tropic screen, MOTHER AND CHILD.
Annette Bening is a physical therapist, good at her job but without much of a life. She’s tied down caring for her mother, and hostile to everyone, even a new staff doctor who tries to strike up an acquaintance. The great tragedy of her life is that she gave up a child for adoption decades earlier, and she’s never really come to terms with it.

Kerry Washington is a young wife seeking an adoptive child, negotiating the shoals of an open adoption from a willful college student who is very aware that she’s the one with the power.

Naomi Watts is a very successful, very beautiful, and very cold, thirty-something lawyer, determined to use both her savvy and her sex to get ahead. She has no time for children (she even had her tubes tied as a young woman, just to make sure), or for unproductive relationships.

Each has her story and, as you might imagine, they are destined to intersect… in unexpected ways. Each of the actors, and the characters they portray, is powerful. The movie packs a wallop. “The fine actors show how we bond to those not related to us by blood -- and also how we love,” says the Philadelphia Inquirer. Put it at the top of your list.

ONDINE is the latest from writer-director Neil Jordan, best-known for his breakthrough transgender film The Crying Game. In case you didn’t know it (I didn’t) ondines are mythological water nymphs, and like all such creatures, are surrounded by mysterious traits. Colin Farrell is Syracuse, an Irish fisherman, divorced and alone except for his devotion to his nine-year old daughter Annie who spends time with him. But then he hauls up a half-drowned woman in his net (Alicja Bachleda, Farrell’s real-life partner). Annie believes she is a “selkie,” an Irish ondine. Syracuse isn’t so sure, but certainly doesn’t mind her staying with him to recuperate. Is she or isn’t she? Director Jordan is always full of surprises.

SHREK FOREVER AFTER joins holdovers PLEASE GIVE, SEX AND THE CITY 2, and KILLERS on the theater’s summer fun calendar. Here’s an idea for a family outing. Dad takes the kids to see Shrek, while mom checks out Sex in the City. Or, should it be the other way around?

The Tropic has been unusually busy this summer, which of course is wonderful, but the staff is planning to take advantage of the slower season to undertake a major renovation of the lobby. They’ll be modifying the food service area to provide a second cash point and expand the self-service selection of treats, including new gourmet delectables. The hard tables and chairs will be replaced with comfy and congenial seating to encourage you to stop for a glass of wine and discussion after the film. Look for all this in a few weeks. But don’t worry, the theater will be running on all cylinders the whole time. Just be prepared to dodge a few obstacles.

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

Mother and Child (Rhoades)

“Mother and Child” Reveals Personal Past
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Here are three parallel stories, one of a mother who gave away her newborn daughter, another about the daughter who has never made contact with her mother. It’s also the story of a barren woman seeking to adopt a baby.

“Mother and Child” – a poignant little indie film about adoption and personal loss – is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Karen (Annette Bening) is a woman who doesn’t let people get close to her. She pushes away the guy at work (Jimmy Smit) who asks her out for coffee. She accuses her Hispanic maid’s daughter of stealing a necklace, only to discover it was a gift. Even by her own admission, she’s difficult.

This is because Karen’s tormented by the fact that she gave up her out-of-wedlock baby. A decision that sent her life reeling off course.

Meanwhile, her daughter (Naomi Watts) has grown up to be an ambitious young lawyer, not above seducing her boss (Samuel L. Jackson) or the husband next door. She seems to have trouble with relationships.

But what would happen to their lives if the mother and daughter met?

Not as easy as one might think, it can only happen by placing a letter in the adoption agency’s file in case the other party might be interested. Bureaucracy and poor filing and tragedy can intervene, even if the attempt is made.

When I screened this film with KONK-AM’s Michael Shields he was moved. Turns out, Michael was given up for adoption and never knew his real mother until he wrote a letter “just like the one in the film.”

“As the film progressed, the drama compelled me to confront my adoption circumstances, and the same unanswered questions resurfaced,” he says.

“Adoption is a stitched-together social fabric, masked in secrecy, to create and hold together lives and hopefully create a new family,” he continues. “It can also expose personal qualities, mostly compassionate, yet sometimes a revelatory underside of identity that is fraught with deep psychological doubts and can leave generational scars. The film closely follows this real-life script.”

He adds, “Bening, Watts, even Jackson, are each well-acted and portrayed. It could have been just another soap-opera, but this film skirted the suds, due to the fine perfs.”

Be sure to tune in to “Art Wave’s Film on Friday” which I co-host with Michael Shields each week on KONK-AM for our discussion of the latest movies headed for the Tropic and the Regal.
[from Solares Hill]

Ondine (Rhoades)

“Ondine” Offers a Fascinating Fish Tale
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

No, my favorite mermaid movie is not Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” Nor is it the Tom Hanks comedy “Splash.” Top of my list is that quirky cult film “Local Hero.”

“Ondine” – the new Neil Jordan fantasy-drama film that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema – is kinda like “Local Hero” in reverse. There, you had a woman who might indeed be a mermaid. Here, you have a mermaid who might just be a woman.

Starring Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachlada, the chemistry between the two is obvious. In fact, she just had a baby by Farrell in real life.

In “Ondine” he’s an Irish fisherman who hauls up a net filled with … a woman. He takes her home to recover from her undersea adventure. Although she tries to keep out of sight, his wheelchair-bound daughter (Alison Barry) discovers that the story her dad has been telling about a mermaid might be true.

After a few trips to the library, the girl decides her father’s houseguest is a selkie, a mythological sea creature who sings to sailors. After all, she’s been heard singing to the fish, insuring a good catch.

Her mom is not impressed, having dumped her hubby years ago for his drunken ways. A town joke, his nickname is Circus. As in “clown.”

But Circus may have the last laugh as he stands up to a gangster who has trailed the mermaid to the fisherman’s village.

Neil Jordan, the director who gave us “The Crying Game” and “Interview with the Vampire,” wrote this screenplay with Colin Farrell in mind. Even so, you’ll wish the film had subtitles, in that Irishman Farrell’s thick native tongue is often difficult to decipher.

A few weeks ago, local cinephile Jean Carper screened “Ondine” for a handful of her friends. One guest, Dr. Roger Westerlund, told us that there is a medical condition known as Ondine’s Curse (congenital central hypoventilation syndrome), where the afflicted can quit breathing during sleep and die. Not to worry, I guarantee that this fascinating fish tale will not put you to sleep.

It’s now my second favorite mermaid film.
[from Solares Hill]

Shrek Forever After (Rhoades)

“Shrek” Lumbers Out for Last Time
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I used to watch a young Eddie Murphy performing on street corners in New York City. Funny guy, he didn’t mind making an ass out of himself. That turned out to be a pretty good career move. Now the second highest grossing actor in motion picture history, Murphy has played the Donkey in all four “Shrek” animated fantasies.
The fourth – and final – film in this popular franchise, “Shrek Forever After” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Mike Myers (“Austin Powers,” “Wayne’s World”) once again voices the jolly green ogre called Shrek. Cameron Diaz (“What Happens in Vegas,” “There’s Something About Mary”) reprises her role as Mrs. Shrek, a former princess. And Antonio Bandaras (“Evita,” “The Mask of Zorro”) plays Puss in Boots.
Eddie Murphy (“Daddy Day Care,” “Beverly Hills Cop”) is the annoying, hip-talking miniature donkey that serves as Shrek’s sidekick. He’s known for such catchphrases as “I need a hug,” and following a disaster, “I think that went pretty well.”

“Shrek Forever After” went through numerous title changes – ranging from “Shrek 4,” to “Shrek Goes Fourth” to “Shrek 4Ever After” to “Shrek: The Final Chapter.”

Like the first three “Shrek” films, this one’s based on fairy tale themes. Here Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) sends everyone into a discombobulated version of Far Far Away, where Shrek’s wife Fiona is hunted, Donkey doesn’t know him, and Puss in Boots has grown fat and lazy. It’s up to Shrek to set things right again.

Along the way you’ll encounter Rapunzel (Maya Rudolph), Snow White (Amy Poehler), Cinderella (Amy Sedaris), Sleeping Beauty (Cheri Oteri), Pinocchio (Cody Cameron), Merlin (Eric Idle), Captain Hook (Ian McShane), and Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). To name a few.

Based on William Steig’s picture book, the film series has been produced by DreamWorks Animation. The original “Shrek” ranked as the eighth best animated film in an American Film Institute poll.
Will this final outing rate as well? Time will tell. (Or should that be Once Upon a Time?)
[from Soalers Hill]

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Week of June 18 to June 24 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

As filmgoers we view a steady stream of “romantic comedies” -- movies about a couple in a relationship that starts off on a bad foot, but follows an arc to a better place. The genre’s path is so well trodden that it’s tough to be original. Witness The Joneses and Killers, two perfectly entertaining but ultimately clichéd rom-coms that have played the Tropic in recent weeks.

And then a movie like PLEASE GIVE comes along and we remember what it is that makes Tropic movies so special. Writer- Director Nicole Holofcener has had a string of subtle, gentle winners – Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing, Friends With Money. She got her start working as an apprentice on a couple of Woody Allen films, and that influence shows in her quirky characters and angst-driven plots. Also like Allen, she knows how to put together an ensemble cast of talented actors.

Her consistent on-screen ace is Catherine Keener, who may be the second-greatest female actor in America. Think of her range, from Harper Lee in Capote to Trish in The Forty-Year-Old Virgin. This time she’s Kate, a liberal bleeding heart who deals in furniture bought from decedent’s estates, but agonizes over profiting from other’s misfortunes. Her husband and business partner Alex (Oliver Platt) has no such qualms, about that or any other moral issue. Anyhow, they have contracted to buy the abutting apartment of their elderly, curmudgeonly neighbor when she dies. In the meantime, they develop an odd friendship with the woman’s grandchildren –Rebecca, a plain, kindly mammography technician (Rebecca Hall) and Mary, a too-pretty, artificially tanned salon facialist (Amanda Peet). Rounding out the group is Kate and Alex’s funny, acne-struck daughter Abby (Sarah Steele). The brilliance of the film is that the humor comes from everywhere. Everything from tits to zits is fair game for Ms. Holofcener’s wits in Please Give, as the characters struggle to resolve their conflicting and overlapping relationships. It’s her best work yet. Give yourself a treat.

LOOKING FOR ERIC is just the movie for World Cup month. This being from writer director Ken Loach its characters are UK or Irish working class, in this case a pack of Brit Post Office workers. But the theme is more comic than political. Eric Bishop is a mail carrier whose life has gone awry. He’s lost the love of his life because of bad decisions, and now he’s struggling as the solo parent to a couple of troubled, unruly teen boys. His only solace is his mates at the P.O., and a life sized poster of football (soccer, that is) star Eric Cantona that hangs in his bedroom. The name doesn’t mean anything to us Yanks, but Cantona really was a legendary player in the 1990’s, and there are plenty of great highlight clips in the movie that prove it.

But it’s not just the clips. Cantona materializes as a real person to advise and console his fan, and therein lies the story. With a coach like that there’s no stopping Eric and his buddies.

There’s a lot more on the screen all week long. SEX AND THE CITY 2 joins the held-over IRONMAN 2, LETTERS TO JULIET and KILLERS on the Tropic’s mainstream summer flick menu. And HANDSOME HARRY tells the story of a group of Korean war vets trying to come to terms with a terrible anti-gay act they committed in the pre-DADT days.

Add to all that the Father’s Day special, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN LONDON CALLING. It’s Bruce and The Band live from the Hyde Park Festival last year. Take your dad, or your husband, or your kid, and rock together! Three shows only, Friday, Saturday, Sunday nights.

And a new Cult Classics series starts this week with MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. It’s the 35th anniversary of the Terry Gilliam goof-a-thon. Join your Monday night host Craig Wanous for all the fun.

Comments, please to

Please Give (Rhoades)

“Please Give” to Catherine Keener
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’m coming to think of Catherine Keener as America’s answer to Cate Blanchett. A fine actress, comfortable in any role she tries on, wearing it like a second skin.

In “Please Give,” she’s a second-hand furniture dealer, who along with her hubby (Oliver Platt), buy up kitsch household items when someone dies and mark them up for resell in their little NYC shop.

Like birds of prey, they are keeping their eye on the apartment next door, not only so they can scoop up the estate of cranky old Andra (Ann Guilbert), but because they’re grabbing the apartment itself in order to knock a connecting door through to their own.

If only the old bag would give up the ghost.

Andra’s granddaughters are no help, one (Rebecca Hall) a dutiful dweeb and the other (Amanda Peet) a self-centered bitch.

“Please Give” is about that tug-of-war between guilt and greed.

This is the fourth film that Keener and writer-director Nicole Holofcener have made together. In addition to “Please Give,” they’ve done “Walking and Talking,” “Lovely and Amazing,” and “Friends with Money.”
You’ve seen Keener in such films as “Being John Malkovich,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Capote,” “The Soloist,” and “Where the Wild Things Are.”

“Well, for one thing,” she says, “I like being a supporting actress. I like to come and go in the film. The interesting characters are very few if you want to be the lead, and they depend on you being beautiful. Since I’m not interested in those parts, the pressure’s off, in a way. I’m not cast for my physicality. I find that playing so many characters in so many films is a way to be in the moment.”

No, Catherine, you are so beautiful in your roles.
[from Solares Hill]

Handsome Harry (Rhoades)

“Handsome Harry” Searches His Past
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever had a secret in your past, something you were ashamed of? Yeah, we all have a few.

In “Handsome Harry,” an electrician named Harry Sweeney (Jamey Sheridan) gets a call from a dying friend (Steve Buscemi) who fears he’s going to hell for something that happened back in their days in the Navy. This sets Harry on a journey into his past as he calls on the men he served with, trying to reconstruct the event that scarred them all.

One of their mates, a seaman named David Kagan (Campbell Scott) had been a promising pianist until he was injured in a brawl. And a code of silence has hung over that hate crime for years.

You see, Kagan was gay. Not a popular situation in those pre- Don’t Ask Don’t Tell days. And homophobia was the status quo. Those memories haunt Harry, just as they prey on his old shipmates. Few remember the details of that drunken encounter. Some (Aidan Quinn) deny even being there. Others have failed lives as a result.

You’ve seen Jamey Sheridan in 111 episodes of TV’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” Steve Buscemi is everyone’s favorite character actor (but don’t blink or you’ll miss him here). Aidan Quinn is known for his stage work as well as such fine little films as “The Playboys.” Campbell Scott has appeared in movies ranging from “Music & Lyrics” to “The Spanish Prisoner.” And John Savage has been in such classics as “The Deer Hunter” and “The Onion Field.” A great cast.

As for Handsome Harry, he admits that his life has been a failure. Choices not made. Social pressures adhered to. Things that didn’t work out.

A sad movie in many ways. One of guilt and responsibility. And paths not taken.
[from SolaresHill]

Looking for Eric (Rhoades)

“Looking for Eric” Is Fantasy Football
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My college advertising professor compared my writing to James Thurber’s. Turns out, Thurber had worked for him, writing advertising copy. We all have to make a living.

Thurber was noted for his witty cartoons and humorous short stories, the most notable being “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” It dealt with fantasy and the sometime need to escape from our humdrum day-to-day existence.

“Looking for Eric” – the British footballer film that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema – has a similar theme.
Football, in this case, is soccer. And a postman named Eric is a fanatic of the sport.

This, despite the fact that his life is falling apart. He shares a small apartment with his teenage children, a son with connections to gangsters, another who is disrespectful, and a daughter with a squalling child. His ex-wife leaves him feeling like a failure. He’s been humiliated by an embarrassing posting on YouTube. He contemplates suicide.

But then he turns to a poster on his wall, a promotion featuring footballer Eric Cantona. His hero. This international soccer champion is known for his philosophical utterances. And in a moment of hallucination Eric Cantona steps out of the poster and into our dweeb’s life.

His new fantasy friend advises him to surprise himself. And he does. Turning the table on the gangsters, exacting some YouTube revenge of his own, and picking up a few nifty soccer moves, our postman redeems himself.

Eric Cantona stars as himself. He has a bit of the acting bug, it seems. And Steve Evets, former bassist with The Fall, shows his own acting chops as the fantasizing postman.

Written by Paul Laverty (and directed by Ken Loach), “Looking for Eric” is a darker vision than might have flowed from the pen of James thurber. But the theme is the same: sometimes the imagination must save us from ourselves.
[from Solares Hill]

Sex and the City 2 (Rhoades)

“Sex and the City 2” Wraps Up Carrie’s Love life

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Recently, in my Solares Hill movie column, I gave you a list of the Top Chick Flicks that guys will also like. You may have noticed that “Sex and the City” was not on my list. Well, turns out that Zach Dionne, a writer for Pop Eater, disagrees with me. “I'm not trying to be ironic,” he writes. “I'm not trying to be proud. I'm not even trying to score points with the ladies. And I'm certainly not apologizing. I'm just saying I'm a (straight) man, I've seen and enjoyed all of ‘Sex and the City,’ dug the movie and I'm psyched for the sequel. And I feel like I'm the only one.”

Not so, Zach. An AOL poll shows that 73 percent of its respondents think the “Sex and the City” sequel – now showing at the Tropic Cinema – is suitable for both guys and gals.

But let’s face it: New York City girls are a different breed. They live in an asphalt environment where they prowl the uptown streets and downtown nightspots like cats in a zoo. Cougars, that is.

We’re speaking here of Carrie Bradshaw, Miranda Hobbs, Charlotte York, and Samantha Jones, those four gal pals from HBO’s fondly remembered “Sex and the City” TV show. They made a return visit two years ago in a movie version of “Sex and the City,” where this sexually aggressive foursome was still looking for love.

Did Carrie ultimately find it with Mr. Big?

Well, if you really wanna know the answer, you’ll find it in their latest cinematic outing called “Sex and the City 2.” Sarah Jessica Parker is back as Carrie (who else could wear those fantastic haute couture costumes?). Joining her again are Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, and Kim Cattrall. Also, Chris Noth returns as the aforementioned Mr. Big.

Expect cameo appearances by Miley Cyrus, Penelope Cruz, and Liza Minnelli, among others.
In this sequel, Carrie finds her life with Big “somewhere between wild sex and a baby.” Alas. “Big and I are getting a little too Mr. and Mrs. Married,” she declares.

What to do?

“I think we need some glamour,” bemoans Carrie.

So the girls go off to Abu Dhabi. Where Carrie meets a man. “Something happened,” she confesses to Big.
“Sex and the City 2” poses the question: What happens after you say I do?

Maybe we each have to work out that answer for ourselves. But as Samantha says to her BFF’s, “We made a deal ages ago – men, babies, we’re soul mates.”
[from Solares Hill]

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Week of June11 to June 17 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

The Tropic has been busy this week with a couple of wide-release movies -- KILLERS and SPLICE - that are bit of a change of pace from the usual fare. Both are getting raves from locals. SPLICE, in particular, seems destined for cult movie fame. These two are being held over, now joined by two other popular films, assuring that there will be plenty of cool entertainment for the hot weather.

LETTERS TO JULIET stars Amanda Seyfried (Chloe, Mamma Mia!) as a young American romantic bent on helping an older British woman (Vanessa Redgrave) find her long-lost Italian love. The terrain is Tuscany, the search is exciting, and even if we know how it's going to turn out, who doesn't enjoy another trip to Italy?

On the other hand, if you'd prefer to travel all over the world encased in a metal suit, IRONMAN 2 is the movie for you. (Can someone tell me why it isn't IRONMAN II? If ever a movie called for the self-important escalation of Roman numbers, this would seem to be it.) Anyhow, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, II) is back in his XXI Century armor, doing battle with adversaries that include the Russian scientist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke). It's all a CGI festival, but with the human enhancement of these great actors. Just plain fun.

But there's also plenty for serious Tropic habitués.

In the face of government censorship and repression, an underground arts movement persists in Iran. Several film directors have been jailed, and others have chosen to continue to work in exile. Director Bahman Ghobadi shot his film in secret over 17 days inside the country, knowing that the subject matter would never be approved. NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS is the story of a group of young Iranian musicians trying to get passports and visas to perform at a concert in London. They have to rehearse in basement rooms, insulated with walls covered in egg cartons. The only source of travel documents is a black market forger who promises he can produce anything from an Iranian passport to an American green card.

The movie takes us inside Tehran, into the cellars, and through the streets on motor bikes. It weaves the music throughout -- Iranian indie rock, Iranian rap, and even traditional Iranian music, all with a political message. I guess they're all "Persian cats."

Ghobadi got out of Iran and was able to premier his film at Cannes last year. He can't go back. But his film will get you as close as you're likely to get.

EVERYONE ELSE also takes us to Italy, but to the island of Sardinia, much wilder and more remote than the Tuscan mainland. A pair of German vacationers, Chris and Gitti, are given the opportunity to explore the extent of their love while alone at Chris' parent's vacation villa. But a couple of dinners with a more established neighboring couple confuse the situation. It "might not be perfect, but so much is right and true in this lovely, delicate work that it comes breathtakingly close," says Manhola Dargis in the New York Times. Or listen to Kevin Lee in Slant Magazine, a publication that loves to be contrary: "Not only is Everyone Else an instant contender for the pantheon of breakup movies, its manifold splendors evoke entire periods of great cinema." It's not usual to get these critics on the same page.

On the Special Events calendar, the Tropic is joining with The Studios of Key West and the Coffee Mill in a Modern Dance Festival revolving around a visit to Key West by Mauricio Nadal and Daniel Fetecua Soto. principal dancers of the Martha Graham and Jose Limon Dance Companies. They'll be teaching a course at the Mill and giving a talk at the Studio... and screening a couple of documentary films at the Tropic. A unique opportunity.

Comments, please, to

Everyone Else (Rhoades)

“Everyone Else” Is The Yardstick
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Someone suggested this would be the kind of story Jane Austen might write if she lived today. Maybe, if instead of writing romantic fiction set among the gentry she’d focused on a dull German couple in the throes of coming to terms with their relationship.

Gitti (Briget Minichmayr) and Chris (Lars Eidinger) are a happy couple who happen to bump into Sana (Nicole Marischka) and Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner) while vacationing on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. This foursome invites comparison, causing Gitti and Chris to question their own fragile relationship.

After all, Gitti is more outgoing, easily expressing her love for Chris. But her partner is more reserved, hesitant to dance with her, evasive in his feelings.

“Sometimes I think I’d like to be different,” she says.

But Chris is a man wallowing in his lack of success as an architect, not eager to face change. His or hers.

Are the underpinnings of this relationship sound? This intimate examination has been described as a “two-hour squirmathon.”

“Everyone Else” (or “Alle Anderen” in German) is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Writer-director Maren Ade (“Hotel Very Welcome”) offers us plenty of “sex, fighting, affection, and insults.” She shows it to us from a woman’s viewpoint. A relationship measured – as the title says – against everyone else.
[from Solares Hill]

No One Knows About Persian Cats (Rhoades)

“Persian Cats” Wanna Rock
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My wife – an animal lover – was disappointed when she discovered that “No One Knows About Persian Cats” isn’t about cats. At least, not the feline variety.

Persia, as those of you who saw the recent “Prince of Persia” know, is the ancient name for Iran.
A country of many repressions, it’s true that in Iran there is a ban on cats and dogs in public. (Even Key West got its act together and recently approved dogs dining with their owners at outdoor restaurants.)

However, this semi-documentary by Kurdish-Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi is about another repression: Iran’s opposition to secular music.

No, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn’t rock.

Even so, Tehran has an active underground music scene that enjoys rock, hip-hop, heavy metal, and jazz. So you might call this an underground film. It was co-written by Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-Japanese-American journalist who was imprisoned in Iran last year on espionage charges.

The story tells us about a young couple who want to flee the country so they can start a band. We follow them as they try to convince other musicians to come with them.

Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad of the alt-rock group Take It Easy Hospital play characters very much like themselves. Just released from prison, they hire a fast-talking huckster named Nader (Hamed Behdad) to help them get phony documents so they can go to Europe. But first, they want to give a farewell performance.

“No One Knows About Persian Cats” (or “Kasi az Gorbehaye Irani Khabar Nadareh” in the film’s native language) is now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Director Ghobadi is best known for “Marooned in Iraq,” a film that explored the plight of female musicians. You see, women are banned from performing music in Iran, even traditional Persian music, in front of mixed-gender audiences.

Guess Madonna’s next worldwide tour won’t include a stopover in Tehran.
[from SolaresHill]

Ironman 2 (Rhoades)

“Iron Man 2” Flying High
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

In the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Iron Man’s armor is described as having a repulsor plasma generator, three-axis steering magnet array, and a thermo-electric energy converter. In addition, this 15-volume reference that I kept within reach on my bookshelf when I was publisher of Marvel Comics features technical drawings of Iron Man’s armor, Spider-Man’s web-shooters, and other characters’ equipment.

Important to know. After all, Iron Man’s superhero abilities come from this high-tech metal suit that allows him to fly, lift 100 tons, shoot down missiles, and repulse bomb blasts.

Acclaimed as the world’s greatest human fighting machine, Iron Man is actually the alter ego of industrialist Anthony Edward “Tony” Stark. A complex comic book character, he’s “the playboy, the genius inventor, the philanthropist, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., the futurist, the hero.”

The Marvel website depicts Tony Stark as a “cool exec with a heart of steel.” lists him as #10 on its compilation of the fifteen wealthiest fictional characters, citing a net worth of US $6 billion.

Yes, “Iron Man” signifies big bucks, Especially for Marvel.

The 2008 “Iron Man” movie did more than half-a-billion in its worldwide gross. And “Iron Man 2” – now playing at the Tropic Cinema – will easily top that.

No wonder Disney recently paid $4 billion to acquire Marvel Entertainment, the company that publishes all those Iron Man comic books and produces these blockbuster superhero movies.

In “Iron Man 2” Tony Stark’s identify as Iron Man is known and the US government tries to force him to turn over his armored suit. But he refuses, declaring, “The suit and I are one.”
“Our priority here is to have you turn over the Iron Man weapon to the American people,” demands a senator.

“Well, you can forget it,” snaps Stark. “We’re safe. America is secure. You want my property – you can't have it!”

So the government enlists Tony’s main rival, a company called Hammer Industries, to build a competing suit. Hammer joins forces with a baddie known as Whiplash. And a battle between Iron Man and Whiplash is inevitable.

Robert Downey Jr. returns as Iron Man/Tony Stark. And Gwyneth Paltrow is again on hand as his sexy assistant Pepper. Don Cheadle takes over the role of his pal James Rhodes. Sam Rockwell pops up as his rival, a creep named Justin Hammer. Bigger than life is muscle-bound Mickey Rourke as Whiplash. And a redheaded Scarlett Johansson is the latest femme fatale in this second installment in the “Iron Man” movie franchise.

Conceived by Stan Lee in 1963, Iron Man was intended to be an exploration of Cold War themes – technology’s role in fighting Communism. Today, the focus has shifted to corporate crime and terrorism.

Stan’s model for Iron Man was Howard Hughes. Not only was he a symbol of American individualism, he was a defense contractor who built weapons. “Howard Hughes was one of the most colorful men of our time. He was an inventor, an adventurer, a multi-billionaire, a ladies’ man and finally a nutcase,” says my ol’ colleague Stan.

Like many of Marvel’s characters, Iron Man was flawed. Outside, he was impervious, but Tony Stark has a bad ticker that forced him to rely on the metal suit.

And he was an alcoholic, a substance abuser. So what better casting than Robert Downey Jr. in the Iron Man role? His own brushes with the law for substance abuse are legendary. Part of the plot for “Iron Man 2” comes from a comic book storyline called “Demon in a Bottle.”

This tale of a modern-day knight in high-tech armor is directed by Jon Favreau (he helmed the first “Iron Man” film). He also does a cameo as Happy Hogan.

And Stan Lee does his traditional cameo too, this time a parody of Larry King. In typical bombastic form, Stan says, “Everybody’s gonna wanna know, what’s that ridiculous thing Stan’s doing in that movie? I’ve gotta see it!”

Nuff said. I’ll be sitting in the front row.
[from SolaresHill]

Letters to Juliet (Rhoades)

“Letters to Juliet” Is Special Delivery
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Did you ever write a love letter? I don’t mean a Valentine’s card or a wish-you-were-here note; I’m talking about a passionate missive where you pour your heart onto the very paper itself. The kind of letters that your beloved saves with a ribbon tied around them.

A little embarrassing when your children stumble across them in the attic.
Even worse when found by a stranger.

But that’s not necessarily bad if it’s a letter that was never delivered, and the young girl who finds it decides to track down the now-aged lovers who disconnected all those years ago.

That’s the plot of “Letters to Juliet,” the romantic drama that’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

It stars Amanda Seyfried, the wholesome young woman you encountered in “Mamma Mia!” and “Dear John.” You also saw another side of her acting persona in the recent erotic thriller “Chloe.”

Here she’s a romantic American named Sophie, who visits Verona, the city in Italy that’s ascribed as the site of William Shakespeare’s “Rome and Juliet.” Among the scores of letters that people leave in the courtyard for the fictional Juliet, she discovers a love note written back in 1957 by someone named Claire to her lost soul mate. So Sophie locates Claire and convinces her to set off to find him.

Yes, romance is in the air for everyone involved – Claire and her old flame, as well as Sophie and Claire’s skeptical grandson.

The casting coup is pairing Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero, real-life husband and wife, as the long-separated lovers. The two met on the set of 1967’s “Camelot” where she was Guinevere and he was her Sir Lancelot.

Gary Winick (“Bride Wars”) directed this sweet little film, taking advantage of the beautiful Italian scenery – Verona, Tuscany, and the medieval city of Soave.

Based on a book by Lise and Ceil Friedman, it recounts the phenomenon of the thousand of letters written each year to Juliet by lovelorn women begging for sympathy and advice. A volunteer group known as the Secretaries of Juliet answers many of them. This has been going on since Victorian times.

If Shakespeare were alive today, he would tell you star-crossed lovers is always a good theme for a play … or a chick flick.
[from Solares Hill]

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Week of June to June 10(Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Have you ever gone to a sneak preview? Well here's your chance. THE KILLERS, a new romantic spy-comedy opening at the Tropic this week is a super-sneak. It hasn't even been shown to critics. All anyone knows is that the movie stars Katherine Heigel (Grey's Anatomy, Knocked Up) and Aston Kutcher (What Happens in Vegas, Canon camera commercials), and that the couple's attempt to lead a normal life in the suburbs is being thwarted by an international team of assassins out to get Kutcher. Seems he offended someone with a long memory when he worked as an international spy hit-man a few years back.

Of course, it's a comedy, so more Austin Powers than James Bond. I have checked out a few clips and they look promising. But be your own critic. Let me know what you think.

As you might have guessed the Tropic is well into its "summertime and the livin' is easy" mode. That means a few movies like The Killers and also SPLICE, a sci-fi thriller. Clive (Adrien Brody of The Pianist and The Brothers Bloom) and Elsa (indie film favorite Sarah Polley, the writer-director of Away from Her) are a team of bio-researchers investigating the potential of DNA manipulation to create new drugs. But then they decide, against orders, to mix in a little human DNA. You see where this is going, I suppose. No you don't. Believe me, this movie goes places no man, woman or clone has ever gone before. Did I mention that it's really a horror flick? Yes, it is. Also a monster movie.

Splice was a popular favorite at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Salon was impressed by its "slick, enjoyable, black-comic monster movie... with its sleek surfaces, terrific special effects and disturbing sexiness," and the Philadelphia City Paper said it "balances the mundane and the mythic with as much grace as Steven Spielberg in his prime."

If you'd like something a bit more sedate, check out BREAKING UPWARDS. Daryl (first-time writer-director Daryl Wein) and Zoe (Zoe Lister-Jones) are a Gen-Me couple in Brooklyn who decide to undertake a trial breakup. An interesting twist on the usual movie formula, where people meet and fall in love, this one has them falling the other way. Or will they? Light comedy.

After all this, you'll probably appreciate something serious. That would be AJAMI, an Israeli film nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Co-written and directed by an Israeli Arab and an Israeli Jew, you know the film's heart is in reconciliation. But this is no liberal bleeding-heart story. Set in the mean streets of Tel Aviv, amidst gangs and drug dealing, the plot involves a mistaken killing and a cycle of vengeance fed by the underlying tribalism of Israeli society. The plot structure is reminiscent of Crash, with multiple story lines you know are destined to converge... but how? After two plus hours, says the New York Times, "You emerge from “Ajami” moved and also a little worn out, but mostly grateful for the heart, craft and intelligence the movie has shown."

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

Ajami (Rhoades)

“Ajami” Examines Middle-Eastern Life
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Want to know how the other half lives? The other half of the world, that is. “Ajami” – the title of a new Jewish-Arab crime film that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema – is a small neighborhood in the Jaffa section of Tel Aviv where Arabs, Palestinians, Jews, and Christians live together in an uneasy microcosm of the Middle East.

The film paints a stark portrait of this embattled community by giving us a close-up look at several of its residents:

Omar, an Israeli Arab, who is trying to save his family from a vengeful gang of extortionists. Hadir, a pretty Christian girl being courted by Omar. Malek, an illegal Palestinian worker willing to deal drugs to help his sick mother. Dando, a burly Israeli cop searching for his missing brother. And Binj, a laid-back Arab stoner who likes the dance clubs and Jewish girls.

All of them live in a violent world. In the first minutes of the film, we witness a drive-by shooting, gunfights, and brutal retaliations.

“It’s a jungle,” says one of the characters. “The strong eat the weak.”

This is the first film by writer-director Scander Copti and the second for his partner Yaron Shani. If it seems to have a sense of authenticity, that’s because Copti is himself an Israeli Arab who grew up in Ajami. Not really a documentary, but the film’s non-professional actors give it a doc-like feel. Think: “City of Gold.” Or “Accattone.”

“Ajami” is the first predominantly Arabic-language film to be submitted by Israel for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film. However, it lost its Oscar bid to “The Secret in Their Eyes,” which you recently saw at the Tropic Cinema.

The film’s message: Religious freedom doesn’t mean a peaceful co-existence in Ajami.
[from Solares Hill]

Killers (Rhoades)

“Killers” Seems Slightly Familiar
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

They say there are no new plots, and “Killers” – the new Katherine Heigl - Ashton Kutcher action comedy – proves it true. This is simply another telling of the “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” movie. Or “True Lies.”

You know how it goes: A spouse discovers that her hubby is actually a spy.
You’ll be entertained, even if Heigl and Kutcher don’t have the falling-in-love-on-screen chemistry of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Or the pithy panache of Jamie Lee Curtis and the Governator.

“Killers” is knocking ’em dead at the Tropic Cinema.

Yes, after three years of a predictable suburban marriage, Jennifer (Heigl) discovers that her husband Spencer (Kutcher) is a professional assassin. How did she miss this minor fact? I don’t think I could hide that kind of career secret from my wife even if I socked away all the bullets in my sock drawer.

Worse news for our mismatched couple, a gaggle of competing hitmen is out to kill them. You can take it from there, keeping in mind this movie’s played for laughs.

As much as I adore Katherine Heigl, I’d have rather seen Kutcher paired with real-life wife Demi Moore. But in my twist, Demi’s the assassin to her hubby’s befuddled surprise. However, Bob DeRosa and Ted Griffin wrote this wacky screenplay, not me.

Maybe they hadn’t seen “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” or “True Lies.”

Australian-born director Robert Luketic (“Legally Blonde,” “Monster-in-Law”) knows how to do funny movies. And he’s directed Heigl before (in “The Ugly Truth”).

Toss in a supporting cast of Ton Selleck, Catherine O’Hara, and Martin Mull and you’ll automatically start chuckling.

Katherine Heigl knows what her audience likes “I’ve obviously been doing a few romantic comedies,” she says, “and what I loved about this particular romantic comedy was that it had the added element of action, so it was a slightly different take on the formula.”

Ashton Kutcher adds, “I had been looking for a movie like this, a fun, entertaining action comedy … and then, when I read this script, I realized that this kind of movie hadn’t been made in awhile.”

Well, not since …
[from Soalres Hill]

Splice (Rhoades)

“Splice” Provides Sci-Fi Spice
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A chimera is a mythological creature with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. However, real-life chimeras occur when a mutation or embryonic fusion causes genetically different tissue to occur in the same organism. Also it can be caused by DNA manipulation in a laboratory.

That is the plot of “Splice,” the new sci-fi thriller that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. It’s that age-old story, typified by Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” of man trying to play God.

Hotshot genetic engineers Clive (Oscar-winner Adrian Brody) and Elsa (Canadian actress Sarah Polley) have managed to splice together the DNA of different animals, creating genetic hybrids. But they have bigger ambitions. What if they blended human DNA with an animal’s?

They propose this experiment to the pharmaceutical company that funds their research, but given society’s ethical and legal boundaries their request is turned down.

“If we don’t use human DNA now, someone else will,” argues Elsa to her lab partner. That dusty old rationalization. So they proceed with the experiment on their own.
Think: H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” Or Jeff Goldblum when he comes of the transporter half-human and half-fly. And consider that the names Clive and Elsa come from the classic horror film, “Bride of Frankenstein.”

Clive and Elsa’s human hybrid turns out to be highly intelligent. In fact, she’s quite human-like, if you ignore the sleek feline form with bird-like haunches and serpentine tail. They name her Dren.

Writer-director Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”) says, “I think in reality Dren could exist. It’s just a question of whether people choose to do an experiment like that or not. I felt it was important with this film to just try and stay on a human scale and not go over the top with the creature design.”

Creating the hybrid creature employed, uh, a hybrid of special effects techniques. “We just used everything,” says Natali. “We threw in the kitchen sink. She’s a puppet sometimes, sometimes she’s an actress, and sometimes she’s fully digital.”
The moral of the film? “It really is not about whether were going to do this, it’s really about how we’re going to do it. I think that’s the question the film asks. How do you deal with something like this? It’s a very loaded topic.”

In “Splice” our hapless scientists grow perhaps too fond of Dren (partly played by exotic Delphine Chaneac). But remember this is at heart a horror flick. Will they face the consequences of their folly as Dren develops into a deadly, winged monster?
Vincenzo Natali prophetically says, “Yeah, I hope this is a movie that gets under your skin.”
[from Solares Hill]