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.

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