Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Week of October 29 thru November 4 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic

Since the current world seems so dystopian (etymology, from Greek: “bad place”) it’s only appropriate that we indulge ourselves in a little dystopian entertainment. It might make us feel a little better, since we haven’t gone as far into the dark world as the imaginations of novelists and filmmakers can take us.

NEVER LET ME GO, based on the multi-award winning novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, posits a world where human clones are raised to be organ donors. The novel, and its faithful movie adaptation, focuses on three of these special persons, played by Carey Mulligan (An Education), Keira Knightley (The Dutchess, Atonement), and Andrew Garfield (The Social Network). Some critics have complained: why do they accept this fate? But we might ask, why do people join the Army? That question may be an undercurrent in the movie, but it’s more about the humanity of these farm-raised creatures, and the manner in which they relate to their unusual lives.

A “poignant, troubling and altogether splendid new film.” (Time Magazine). This “meticulous and devastating adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's dystopian novel…. richly deserves the Oscar consideration it will surely receive.” (

Speaking of Oscars, THE SOCIAL NETWORK is the hottest prospect out there. Jessie Eisenberg (the boy from The Squid and the Whale) is Mark Zuckerberg, the socially inept Harvard student who founded the ubiquitous new mode of social interaction known as Facebook. Along the way he lost his own best friend and partner (Andrew Garfield - see above) as well ask a variety of others, but became filthy rich.

The striking thing about the buzz surrounding this film is how fundamentally uncinematic the story is. Its strength lies in the sharp dialog from writer Aaron Sorkin (West Wing), and our fascination with the characters in a movie populated with anti-heros in pursuit of a new order.

If all this makes you long for something traditional, LOVELY, STILL is the movie for you. Martin Landau (age 82; he was in North by Northwest in 1959) and Ellen Burstyn (age 77; sexy-she was in Tropic of Cancer in 1970), meet and fall in love. It shouldn’t be a surprise, these guys are lovely, still, and at the top of their games. Ms. Burstyn does three or four movies a year, and Landau has roles in five movies currently in production. Of course, it’s not all going to be smooth sailing, but I can’t tell you why.

Also opening this week is part two of the biopic about the French master criminal Jacque Mesrine. MESRINE: PUBLIC ENEMY #1 completes the story of his remarkable twenty-year career. What a guy. And what a film!

If you haven’t seen it yet, this week will be your last chance to see Woody Allen’s YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER.

Moving on to Special Events, the much underused Tropic stage will spring to life on Thursday with a performance by the Key West Contemporary Dance Company, accompanied by site-specific dance film and music. Tickets only $10, are available at the Tropic boxoffice or via the Tropic’s online ticketing system.

P.S. The Tropic will be closed all day on Saturday, Oct. 30, for Fantasy Fest. Hey, the staff deserves a little fun, too.

[from Key West, the newspaper -]

Never Let Me Go (Rhoades)

“Never Let Me Go” Holds Onto Bleak Future
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You’d think it was one of those oh-so-British Merchant Ivory films that lingers lovingly on the past. After all, “Never Let Me Go” was penned by Kazuo Ishiguro, the same author who gave us “Remains of the Day.” However, this story about three children at a boarding school takes place in the dystopian future.

Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth (played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley) attend Hailsham, an idyllic English boarding school where they students are told they are special. Yes, like Kobe beef.

They are being raised to become organ donors in this futuristic world that seems only a few degrees off today’s reality.

The story is narrated by Kathy, now grown, having left the school to become a “carer,” those who administer to donors. She recalls the love triangle between her and two schoolmates.

Told in parts, the film is directed by Chicago-born Mark Romanek. London-born Alex Garland wrote the screenplay based on Ishiguro’s novel.

Both have sci-fi DNA in their genetic makeup: Romanek credits seeing Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 A Space Odyssey” at the age of nine with inspiring him to become a film director. Garland wrote the screenplay for Danny Boyle's zombiefest, “28 Days Later.”

“Never Let Me go” was produced by DNA Films and Film4.

But it’s Kazuo Ishiguro’s macabre vision that drives the story. He wanted to write a book about a group of young people on a campus with a Seventies atmosphere. “They hung around and argued about books,” he says of the characters. “I knew there was this strange fate hanging over them, but I couldn’t work out exactly what it was.”

Only after listening to a radio program about biotechnology did the fate of his
students become clear to him.

His wife wasn’t impressed. She thought a “campus novel” was sufficiently horrifying in itself, forget about clones and harvesting organs.

Before the book was published in 2005, Alex Garland had already written a 96-page script for a possible film and passed it along to the producers.

The cast is superb. You’ve seen Carey Mulligan in “An Education” and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” Andrew Garfield was recently in “The Social Network” and is slated to become the next Spider-Man. Keira Knightley is the iconic young actress from “Atonement,” “Pride & Prejudice,” and those “Pirates of the Caribbean” adventures.

Best known for music videos, director Mark Romanek was eager to sign onto the project. “I knew I was going to be pointing my camera at British things. And what if I tried to have sort of a Japanese sensibility about it? So I learned about several Japanese concepts. One of them was this idea of ‘yugen’ which is the calm surface that belies the deep strong currents underneath. There’s a beautiful idea in yugen which comes from Noh theater, which is this idea of the kind of joyful acceptance of the basic sadness of life, which is, I feel like, where Kathy ends up at the end of the film, which is what’s so moving to me about it, and was so moving about the end of the book.”

Although Kazuo Ishiguro came to England at age 5, he was born in Nagasaki, Japan. So he knows that life can be strange and terrifying and not how we imagined it to be. Even at a fine old institution like Hailsham.
[from Solares Hill]

Lovely, Still (Rhoades)

“Lovely, Still”Is Still Lovely
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Although Thanksgiving is yet to come, I was in the mood for a sweet Christmas movie. “Lovely, Still” is that, a quiet holiday romance that plays well to older folks. But it’s more than that too.

Academy Award-winner Martin Landau (“Ed Wood,” “North By Northwest”) portrays a lonely guy named Robert Malone who encounters love for the first time in the form of Academy Award-winner Ellen Burstyn (“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” “Requiem for a Dream”).

Backup for the aging pair comes from Adam Scott (“Art School Confidential”) and Elizabeth Banks (“W.”).

However, this story is not so straightforward as it seems. There’s a twist that has been likened to M. Night Shyamalan.

First-time director Nicholas Fackler denies any influence. “I had some clues and ideas that might seem weird – something like a detective story with a twist, but also romantic which has never done before.”

Nik’s script was a “beautiful stew” that simmered up from his teenage years.

“In Omaha, my parents have this 50’s diner and when I would wait tables, it was my opportunity to do character study,” he explains. “And I met this old man once who had never fallen in love and at the time I was seventeen and falling in love and also wanted know how it would feel if my heart were broken. This old man had never been married, and was always alone his whole life and never had extreme happiness or extreme sadness so I was captivated by this man and had to write about him and that was the start of the character Robert Malone.”

Filmed on location in Omaha, the 6-week shoot took from November to Christmas Eve. Cinematographer Sean Kirby – with the help of twinkling holiday lights – captured an “old Hollywood look” for the film.

“All the background people and the community were happy to help,” Nik Fackler says of his tight-budget indie film. “Even the confetti was free.”

The 21-year-old director loved sharing his hometown with the 82-year-old actor. “Martin loved being on location there,” he recounts. “He stayed in Omaha for Thanksgiving and we had a big feast.”

“Lovely, Still” offers the illusion of Christmas fairytale, but about an hour into the film, there’s a seismic shift.

“The interesting thing about both my character and Ellen’s is that if you see it a second time, you see a different film,” says Martin Landau. “It’s not unlike ‘The Sixth Sense,’ in that you’ll see things and hear things that you missed. The trick, really, is not to give any of that away, and Ellen and I were basically acting on two levels at once.”

Although the story involves a form of memory loss, that’s not really the point. “I never wanted this film to be about sickness or disease. It is a love story,” insists the director.
[from Solares Hill]

The Social Network (Rhoades)

“Social Network” Gets In Your Face

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Me and 27,944 other Facebook members indicated that we “like” the new film, “The Social Network.” It’s only one of the 137 things I’ve “liked” so far on Facebook.

Of Facebook’s half-billion members, I’m friends with only 500. That makes me feel like a hermit. Maybe I’m not very social.

“The Social Network” is being called the most anticipated film of the year. Maybe so. It’s about Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire Harvard dropout who created Facebook with a little help from his friends. But as the saying goes, with friends like these who needs enemies? The ambitious geek found himself engaged in a $600 million lawsuit.

“Everyone believes they are doing the right thing,” observes one of the film’s stars. “Everyone sees themselves as the good guy.”

“The Social Network” is currently friending new audiences at the Tropic Cinema.
Facebook – and social networking – is an interesting phenomenon. Friends and wannabe friends share their most mundane moments (”I’m having a cup of coffee”). Or their innermost feelings (“I hate my job. Will this day ever end?”). It serves as a public journal for participants.

One person out of every fourteen in the world belongs to Facebook.

At its core, “The Social Network” is the story of an outsider wanting to belong. Ironically, in creating this “largest engine of social interaction in the history of mankind,” friendships are lost and relationships break down.

Jesse Eisenberg (a talented young actor who’s had minor roles in “The Squid and the Whale” and “Solitary Man”) stars as Zuckerberg. He’s joined by Andrew Garfield (who will play the title role in the reboot of the “Spider-Man” franchise) as spurned co-founder Eduardo Saverin. Singer Justin Timberlake does well as the creator of Napster. And Rooney Mara (who has been tapped to play Lisbeth Salander in the Hollywood remake of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) is cast as Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend.

Director David Fincher (”Fight Club,” “Seven,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) says, “There’s an ironic story behind this thing that’s about friendship and the need to connect. The fact that it was Facebook brought an interesting context for this simple drama of acrimony.”

Based on Ben Mezrich’s book “The Accidental Billionaires,” the screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin (the wordsmith who gave us TV’s “West Wing” and penned the scripts for “A Few Good Men” and “Charlie Wilson’s War”).

Fincher and Sorkin were an odd combination to pair for a film. “What David is most known for is that he’s peerless as a visual director, and I write people talking in rooms,” acknowledges Sorkin.

More than just the story of a hacker who became the world’s youngest billionaire, producer Scott Rudin sees the film as dealing with such important social questions as “The nature of communication. What is friendship?

What is the nature of loneliness?”

Mark Zuckerberg has a more personal viewpoint. Not happy that “The Social Network” portrays him in a sometimes unflattering light, he says, “I just wished that nobody made a movie of me while I was still alive.”
[from Solares Hill]

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Week of October 22 through October 28 (Mann)

What's on at theTropic
by Phil Mann

Woody Allen is back again, now with YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER. For his fans, or anyone who appreciates a sophisticated diversion, it's always a pleasure to spend an hour and a half (more or less) with this unique cinematic maestro.

The cast, as usual, is an incredible collection of talent. Woody seems to be able to attract anyone he wants. So he has Anthony Hopkins (as an aging, long-married gent who thinks a new young woman will solve his problems), Gemma Jones (as Hopkins' discarded wife), Lucy Punch (as Jones' floosy replacement), Josh Brolin (as a failed, blocked novelist), Naomi Watts (as Brolin's long-suffering, financially supporting wife), Antonio Banderas (as a diversion for Watts), Freida Pinto (as a diversion for Brolin… she's the dusky beauty from Slumdog Millionaire). And there's also Roger Ashton-Griffiths (as a diversion for Jones).

You can probably see the plot evolving, except you can't know all the Allenesque touches that mark the film as his: Brolin is a Peeping Tom; Jones and her new beau are New Age devotees. All in all "it's a wicked and winsome comedy" (Phila. City Paper), an "inspired piece of misanthropy" (TimeOut NY). I'm not sure about the tall dark stranger. Everyone does meet someone, but only Freida Pinto qualifies as dark… and tall. Whatever. In Allen's nihilistic world, such details are hardly important.

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD tells a different kind of story. Basquiat was one of those shooting stars of the art world: brilliant at 23; dead of an o.d. at 27. This is already the second biopic devoted to him, after Julian Schanbel's first venture into filmmaking in 1996. Unlike Schnabel's narrative approach, director Tamra Davis has taken a straight documentary path here, drawing on footage of the artist himself, and interviews with his friends and art world insiders. It surprised me to learn that, despite his head of dreads and street style, Basquiat was born to a middle-class Brooklyn family. He ran away at 17, lived on the streets, self-promoted himself into fame in the hot 80's art world, and then flamed out.

HIDEAWAY (Le Refuge) from the great French director Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women) begins with an overdose death. Mousse (Isabelle Carré) and her wealthy boyfriend are shooting up. He O.D.'s and dies, but she survives, pregnant. The film then follows her, now somewhat reformed but still on methadone, drinking and smoking, as she waits out her pregnancy at a beach house, in the company of her deceased boyfriend's adopted, gay brother. The beach house is owned by a man she slept with at 16, possibly her father. There's a lot going on that's not politically correct, but it's all the tapestry which this very French exploration of family weaves.

Also opening this week is Ben Affleck's crime thriller THE TOWN. Held over are WALL STREET 2 and LET ME IN.

The latter has joined some distinguished company, having been nominated as Best Picture for the Gotham Independent Film Awards. This ceremony, taking place just after Thanksgiving, traditionally kicks off the award season. Pay attention: Last year's winner was The Hurt Locker, which went on to win the Oscar. Joining Let Me In on this year's list are two other films you should have seen at the Tropic – The Kids Are All Right and Winter's Bone.

[from Key West, the newspaper -]

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (Rhoades)

"Tall Dark Stranger" - A Tale Told by an Idiot
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

There was an arcade on the boardwalk of Jacksonville Beach with a fortune telling machine, a booth inhabited by a gray-haired gypsy woman who looked like a Madam Tussaud wax exhibit until you put a coin in the slot. Then she would mechanically come to life, spreading a hand of cards, eying you maliciously, and offering a witch's cackle. And then a card with your fortune printed on it would drop into the metal tray.

The messages were often smugly pessimistic.

That's what Woody Allen's films remind me of, an annual fortuneteller's card dropped on us by the director, filled with his metaphysical musings about the meaninglessness of life. As if we need to be reminded.

"You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" not only fits the bill, the title even bears a message delivered by the movie's wizened fortuneteller (played by Pauline Collins). This latest misanthropic outing can be found at the Tropic Cinema.

Don't take these observations as negative. I'm a longtime Woody Allen fan. I used to go watch him play his clarinet at Michael's Pub, a block from my apartment in New York City. He's like the Fool in a jester's hat who entertains the emperor's court, the only person in all the kingdom allowed to utter the truth under the guise of humor.

Allen gives us a clue, starting off "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" with a quote from Shakespeare about "sound and fury, signifying nothing." His usual nihilism. "A tale told by an idiot," the quote continues. Nudge, nudge – don't you get it?

For his 41st film, the director returns to London (scene of "Match Point," "Scoop," and "Cassandra's Dream"), the project fueled by Spanish financing (as was "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"). And he features an international array of stars, including Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Naomi Watts, and Josh Brolin, among others.

That is to say, this Woody Allen movie was not made in New York – the love affair with that city so brilliantly celebrated in "Manhattan," "Annie Hall," "Manhattan Melodrama," "Bullets Over Broadway," and "Broadway Danny Rose" now clearly over.

The famously neurotic director will tell you its because making films is so much cheaper in Europe these days. But it sounds kinda like that old breaking-up excuse, "It's not you, it's me."

Here, Allen provides us with a triptych of romantic disasters. Roy (Josh Brolin) is a faltering novelist who's married to Sally (Naomi Watts). He and his shrewish wife live an upwardly mobile bohemian existence, the nirvana that Allen would have his characters strive for. Sally's mother Helena (Genna Jones) helps support the couple. Helena's ex-husband Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) is the poster boy for midlife crisis, having gone back to the gym and bought himself a trophy wife (Lucy Punch) with an array of furs, jewels, and a lavish apartment. Never mind that she's a former call girl with little class. His former wife Helena tries to meet someone new, but can't compete with deceased loved ones. The curse of old-age dating. Meanwhile Roy is ogling Dia (Freida Pinto), the dishy neighbor across the way who undresses for his amusement.

And the aforementioned tall dark stranger is none other than Sally's boss (Antonio Banderas in a typecasting coup for the Woodman).

We get the joke: What's it all about, Alfie? Where's Michael Caine ("Hannah and Her Sisters," "Alfie") when Woody needs him to help deliver this message about the meaninglessness of life?

At 75, Woody has quit acting in his films (since he's "too old to get the girl"). And they've quit being funny. Even in that's Fool's way of delivering an unpopular message. Maybe if this brilliant director would surprise us with a different message, he'd discover the secret to Clint Eastwood's longevity. You can't play Dirty Harry forever. Nor can you be the neurotic shlub for half a century without it starting to sound like a Borsch Belt routine you've heard before.

Sure, I enjoyed "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger." But truth is, I was looking forward to meeting someone who was so much more than a fortuneteller's cliché.
[from Solares Hill]

The Town (Rhoades)

“The Town” Is New Shot For Ben Affleck

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

There are more than 300 bank robberies a year in Boston, we’re told. And most of the participants live in an area known as Charlestown. Or “The Town,” for short.

I’ve been there. As well as been in many Boston banks. I even got arrested for carrying a gun there.

Never mind that it was a legally registered pistol in New York State. Massachusetts has a zero-tolerance gun law with a two-year mandatory prison sentence. Thanks to a helpful state cop, I didn’t join all those bank robbers in MCI - Cedar Junction at Walpole. But that’s another story.

In “The Town” – the crime thriller now playing at the Tropic Cinema – a team of bank robbers is being pursued by an FBI agent. The gang is hanging tight until one of them makes the mistake of falling for a bank manager they kidnapped in one of their heists.

Ben Affleck (“State of Play,” “The Sum of All Fears”) and Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”) are the two crooks at odds with each other. Jon Hamm (“The Day the Earth Stood Still,” TV’s “Mad Men”) is the special agent on their tail. And Rebecca Hall (“Please Give”) is the love interest caught in the middle.

You’ll also see Blake Lively (TV’s “Gossip Girl”) as a former gal pal. And Chris Cooper as the dad who “doesn’t get out much” because he’s serving time at Cedar Junction.

Not only does Ben Affleck star in “The Town” but he directs it as well.

That’s a slightly daunting prospect,” he said, “but we’ll see. I’m nervous but excited. It’s based on a book called ‘Prince of Thieves’ by Chuck Hogan. It’s based on a true fact that there is this neighborhood in Boston called Charlestown where there are more armed robbers per capita than anywhere else in the world. It’s about this group of guys who rob a bank and an armored car. Rather than a heist movie it’s very realistic. You see how the guys really operate and what they really do. It’s about their lives, the connection to one another, and the way that where they live is changing. It’s unusual and kind of complicated for a movie that has a conventional genre at its root.”

Yes, Affleck is looking for a game changer. His career has bounced around like a pinball, from his debut in the Oscar-winning “Good Will Hunting” to thrillers like “Armageddon” to indies like “Chasing Amy” to public embarrassments like “Gigli” to his acclaimed directing debut with “Gone Baby Gone.”

However, this is the first time since “Good Will Hunting” that Affleck has worked as both actor and filmmaker in a project. “It’s hard to disavow a movie when you’ve written, directed and acted in it,” says Affleck. “This is an emblem of the person I want to be going forward.”

Warner Bros. views this as a potential actor-director combo of the kind that’s made Clint Eastwood a perennial for them.

For Affleck, it’s not only a possible career reboot but also a chance to hang out in the city where he grew up. “The Boston ambience is as comfortable for Ben as New York is for Scorsese,” notes a Warner Bros. exec.

However, when pushed, Affleck will admit that he grew up in a law-abiding Boston neighborhood full of police officers and firefighters. So his introduction to the criminals of Charlestown came from hiring ex-felons as extras on the set.

“Insuring the ex-convicts,” he said, “was a problem. Even more difficult was persuading parole officers to let these consultants handle guns – even fake ones – in scenes.”

After all, you can’t rob a bank without a gun. Unless you’re Bernie Madoff.
[from Solares Hill]

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Week of October 15 through October 23 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann 

It's a convention of vampire lore that, despite the creature's otherwise supernatural powers, one can't come into your house until you allow it. Hence the title of the new film at the Tropic LET ME IN, faithfully based on the Swedish novel and film from a couple of years ago, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. Yes, this is about a vampire, in this case one who appears to be an innocent young girl (Chole Moretz from 500 Days of Summer and Kickass) and her/its relationship with a young boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee from The Road), but don't think you're in for a conventional horror film or (horrors!) something that evokes trashy teen fiction.

The girl Amy is a character who takes you into the heart of a vampire, that makes you feel her anguish at the state in which she finds herself, incapable of having a normal relationship, in thrall to her craving for blood, while marveling at her powers. The boy Owen is a classic loner-loser, friendless and bullied at school. The movie is set in the spare, architecturally grim town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, a place that seems to say "we're busy making bombs, so don't expect things to be pretty," maybe a metaphor for vampire life.

Amy lives with a man. He's not her father, we come to understand, but a hunter who tries to supply her needs, and when he fails she goes viciously out on her own. But even the worst evil can be turned to good.

If you saw the Swedish film in 2009, you'll surely want to come back for this American look, which is "more than a respectful remake, … quietly stylish and thoroughly chilling in its own right." (Wall St. Journal) And if you missed it before, here's your chance to see the vampire movie for people who don't like vampire movies…. and for those who do, as well. This "deeply moving, not to mention disturbingly accurate, portrait of youthful loneliness, peer brutality, and the stark, moment-by-moment hell that lies at the palpating heart of so many misfit kids' lives" (Austin Chronicle) is a very special Tropic event.

WALL STREET:MONEY NEVER SLEEPS, as you probably know is also about vampires, the investment banking ones that suck the life out of whole companies. That's what the notorious, Oscar-winning Gordon Geckko (Michael Douglas) did in director Oliver Stone's 1987 film Wall Street, until his machinations led him to jail. Now Gekko is out, prowling the streets and ostensibly trying to repair relations with his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan from An Education), but really as driven as ever. It's a very different time now, with the world economy collapsing, but Geckko is an alchemist manipulating people and secret Swiss bank accounts to get back to the top. Director Oliver Stone manages again to capture the dispirit of the times with a movie that the New York Times calls "by turns brilliant and dumb, naïve and wise, nowhere near good enough and something close to great."

MESRINE:KILLER INSTINCT shifts us from the world of white collar crime to that of down and dirty thuggery and bank robbery. Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) was a notorious figure in France, once voted the most popular man in the country, in the same way that John Dillinger achieved popularity here during the Depression. Mesrine robbed, he kidnapped, he famously broke out of jail four times and even broke back in one time to fetch his colleagues. All this has been captured in an accolade-gathering two part film. The second installment, Mesrine:Public Enemy No. 1 will be coming to the Tropic soon.

Quite a week!

Full info and schedules at or
Comments, please, to 

Freaks (Rhoades)

“Freaks” Will Freak You Out
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A few weeks ago we were talking about banned books. Being a film buff, I spoke up to say my favorite banned movie was Tod Browning’s “Freaks.” Banned in the United Kingdom for thirty years, Australia, and several states, this horror film was deemed too horrific because it used real sideshow freaks as actors.

Now you have a chance to see it, for “Freaks” is the Monday Night Classic playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Set in a carnival, this is the story of an evil trapeze artist (Olga Baclanova) who marries the midget (Harry Earles) for his inheritance. But her avarice isn’t lost on his deformed friends, and at the wedding party they chant that she is “one of us, one of us!” By the end of the film they have made this true.

The cast was supposed to include Victor McLaughlin, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow, but these stars bowed out because they didn’t want to work with a group of human oddities – such as the Half-Boy, Living Skeleton, bearded lady, conjoined twins, Human Torso, or the pinheads Zip and Pip.

The 1932 film so shocked test audiences that MGM edited it down to two-thirds its original length and tried to give it a happier ending. Eventually it was shown under assorted names like “Forbidden Love” and “Nature’s Mistakes.”

Although based on a short story titled “Spurs,” Browning had worked with a traveling circus as a young man and drew on his own experiences. Rather than exploiting these so-called freaks, he had a compassion for them.

Tod Browning is best known as the director of “Dracula,” the classic starring Bela Lugosi. Although he’d already directed 57 films, “Freaks” derailed his career, and he only did four more films afterwards. He died as a recluse. He is remembered in David Bowie’s song “Diamond Dogs.” The album’s cover art features Bowie as a freak, half-man and half-dog.
[from Solares Hill]

Let Me In (Rhoades)

“Let Me In” Comes Knocking
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’m fond of the children of the night … in all their cinematic incarnations. After all, I grew up watching Hammer horror films, especially those Dracula movies starring Christopher Lee.

Now Hammer gives us a new vampire tale called “Let Me In.” It’s currently frightening people at the Tropic Cinema.

Not a hammy Transylvanian tale or a modern-day teen romance, “Let Me In” is a remake of a haunting little Swedish film called “Lat den Ratte Komma In” (translation: “Let the Right One In”).

However, director Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”) claims it’s not really a remake, just that both films are based on the same John Ajvide Lindqvist novel.
Tomas Alfredson, the guy who directed “Lat den Ratte Komma In,” sees it a bit differently. “If one should remake a film, it’s because the original is bad. And I don’t think mine is,” he grouses.

He’s right about that last part – the original is a gem of a movie. But so is this new version.

This chilling horror tale stars Kodi Smit-McPhee (the kid from last year’s, “The Road”) as an alienated 12-year-old who faces bullies at school. Things aren’t going too well for him until he befriends a mysterious new girl who moves into his building with her father. Chloe Moretz (Hit Girl from “Kick-Ass”) plays his strange acquaintance.

Owen and Abby (they were called Oskar and Eli in the Swedish version) strike up an uneasy friendship. Then, the boy comes to discover that this oddball, sexually ambiguous girl is actually a vampire. “I need to feed on blood,” she explains as casually as declaring a preference for hot dogs or burgers cooked rare.

She lives with an older man known simply as the Father (played by the terrific Richard Jenkins) whose purpose is to kill people for her daily diet of hemoglobin. But when he gets in an accident, the girl must fend for herself.

Police are baffled by the spate of killings in this small New Mexico town. (For this American version, the setting has been moved from the suburbs of Stockholm where author Lindqvist grew up.)

“Well, it was my first novel,” says Lindqvist, “and I wanted to reject all romanticized notions about vampires, or what we’ve seen earlier of vampires, and just concentrate on the question: If a child was stuck forever in a 12-year-old existence and had to walk around killing other people and drink their blood to live – what would that child’s existence really be like? And then it struck me when I wrote the book that it would be an absolutely horrible existence. Miserable, gross and lonely.”

The film explores the idea of feeling powerless in the world. The schoolyard bullying is so extreme that the boy is filled with anger, close to becoming a monster himself. “Then he meets this real monster who pulls him back from the edge.”

A lot of the story’s angst comes from Lindqvist’s own childhood. “What I say at the end of the book, that everything in it is true, just that it happened in another way. And I probably longed for the same type of rescue as he gets.”

Matt Reeves could identify. “I read the book and was really intrigued how personal the story felt,” says the new director. “I wrote Lindqvist and told him that it wasn’t just that I was drawn to the story because it was a brilliant genre story – which it is – but also because of the personal aspect of it. It really reminds me of my childhood.”

Vampire movie? The genre is incidental. What we have here is a tale of adolescent longing and loneliness, cloaked as a provocative thriller.
[from Solares Hill]

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Rhoades)

“Wall Street” Up to Old Tricks
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You almost say their name in the same breath: Michael Milken, Kenneth Lay, Bernie Madoff, Gordon Gekko. Those symbols of greed.

Of course, Gordon Gekko is not real, merely a figment of filmmaker Oliver Stone’s trenchant imagination. He introduced Gekko in the form of a hair-slicked-back, fast-talking Michael Douglas in the seminal 1987 film “Wall Street,” an examination of all that’s wrong with capitalism.

Now, 23 years later, Stone brings Gordon Gekko back in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” obviously feeling that the American public needs a reminder. Michael Douglas reprises his Oscar-winning role, this time giving us a repentant Gekko, just released after serving his prison term. Now he’s a celeb, having written a book titled “Is Greed Good?”

“Somebody reminded me I once said greed is good,” Gekko says. “Now it seems it’s legal. Because everybody’s drinking the same Kool-Aid.”

If “greed” was the premise of the first film, Stone says the tagline of this one should be “More.”

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is playing at the Tropic Cinema. It’s a must-see for those of us trying to survive the Great Recession.

Instead of Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) as the naive protégé being led astray, we have Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) as the kid engaged to Gekko’s daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Dear ol’ dad-to-be invites him into the family business in return for his help in repairing the estranged relationship with his daughter.

“Gekko plays an ambiguous role in this – because Shia uses Gekko to try to break the lock on the bank,” says Stone. “But Gekko’s using the kid to try to make his money back. [Laughs.] It’s more complex than the original.”

Despite Jacob’s fiancée’s warning about her father’s motives, the young trader proceeds in this unholy alliance, hoping to alert the financial community to a coming doomsday, while also trying to discover who murdered his old mentor (Frank Langella).

This time around the villain is Bretton James (Josh Brolin), a hedge fund manager that Jacob suspects of being involved in his friend’s death. “Josh becomes the new Gekko,” says Stone. “A sexy, handsome, but devastatingly dangerous man.”
Even so, times have changed. “Gordon Gekko couldn’t manipulate the markets like he did back then,” he says. “It’s so big, so huge, that to be a minor player, you need to be a major bank.”

He adds, “In the movie, you’ll see the bankers are playing every end. They’re bookies. They play long and short – like any good gambler. Their profits are going to come from trading for themselves. What interest do they have in society?”
Susan Sarandon is seen as Jacob’s mom. Eli Wallach hobbles out as an older banker.
Charlie Sheen does a walk-on as his character Bud Fox from the original “Wall Street,” providing a sense of continuity. And contrast.

Stone explains, “In the other movie, Charlie Sheen is corrupt at the beginning and he finds a path to integrity. In this movie, it starts out the other way. Shia and Carey are idealists. And their idealism is being threatened.”

“I never saw myself back here doing this,” says Charlie Sheen, now the star of TV’s “Two and a Half Men.” “I think the timing is really good for a film like this. This one is extremely topical as far as the economic tailspin that this country is in.”
Oliver Stone agrees. “What’s going on now is legal. It’s legal robbery.”
[from Solares Hill]

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Brockway)

Mesrine: Killer Instinct
Review by Ian Brokway

"Mesrine: Killer Instinct" is the first of a two part epic, detailing the life of super criminal, Jacques Mesrine. Mesrine was billed as "the man of 100 faces" given his penchant for disguises. He was a French celebrity criminal killer on par with Dillinger who his life resembles. "Mesrine" the film, is DePalmaesque. Split screens are frequent along with Pop Art saturations of vivid lighting, turning
most everyone into Warhol portraits of violence. When the film begins, Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassell) is a soldier in the French army during the Algerian war. He is ruthless. He kills people. Returning home he is bored by the staid family life. Mesrine's father is practically catatonic and Mesrine himself is an aggressive sociopath, seeming to breathe violence. Mesrine has a hair trigger. His whole body is wired for volatility. He is a callous brute with a movie star face and the rules don't apply to him. He matures in his egotistical bravado and grows ever more vicious.

"Mesrine" is stylish, tough and hardboiled. The director Jean-Francois Richet has an eye for plush imagery and the history of cinema. At certain moments, the film quotes classic styles from "Alien" or "The Clockwork Orange". Yet most strongly, the film owes a debt to Arthur Penn's picaresque "Bonnie and Clyde." Despite
these references, it is the hip cinematography and magazine style gloss, that sets the story apart.

With his Matinee looks and split second escapes by either brutal punch or smirking pistol, Mesrine can be seen as a homicidal Houdini or Indiana Jones. Mesrine's crimes span the globe from France, Canada,Arizona, and off to parts unknown until the next chapter. The end teaser even ends with a Cliff hanger: "As for Jacques Mesrine---The End: Part One."

I myself cannot wait for the next visual canto in this gripping criminal history.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Week of October 8 through October 14 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

A secret of life is learning to take pleasure in small things. I’m proud that I once climbed the highest mountain…. in Southern Western Australia. It was only a slog up a big hill, but on an effort to reward scale it rates pretty high - a few hours, no advance planning or particular anticipation; to get a spectacular view, pleasurable fatigue, and interesting companions on the trail.

I mention this because the Tropic has a couple of such pleasures this week, movies that you haven’t heard much about – certainly not in TV advertising , but that you should be willing to give a shot because you know that Scot and Jeff (who select the Tropic’s films) usually come up with something worth your time. (But there’s never any guarantee in matters of taste!)

JACK GOES BOATING marks the directorial debut of the multi-talented Philip Seymour Hoffman, who also stars in the movie. He’s the eponymous Jack, a socially inept livery cab driver, who’s looking for love without any idea how to go about it. But Clyde -- his best friend, his wingman and social guide -- manages to set him up with his wife’s co-worker, and the foursome evolves in ways I can’t tip off. But Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle gets it right: “Jack Goes Boating is a successful work of art. To see this movie is to feel that you've lived it…. [It] won’t exactly change your life, but, in a small but definite way, it will expand your experience.”

ANIMAL KINGDOM may sound like a National Geographic channel special, but don’t be fooled. The allusion is to the predatory world of a jungle, which is where 17-year-old Josh finds himself when his mother O.D.’s on heroin. The jungle is the Melbourne (Australia) underworld, home of his diabolical grandmother and sinister uncles, a pathological crime family, who make Tony Soprano and his gang look almost peaceable. “A distinctive, ominous and hypnotic work of cinema” (, Animal Kingdom is talked of as the Australian Goodfellas.

Get ready for Mesrine, coming soon, about a French gangster known as Public Enemy No. 1. Everybody, all over the world, loves a gangster thriller.

If you haven’t seen CAIRO TIME yet, this will be your last chance to catch this little gem about a stranded American tourist (Patricia Clarkson) and an Egyptian coffee bar owner who becomes her guide. Another simple pleasure.

Rounding out the schedule is a passel of the big budget movies that fill in the Tropic’s program during the summer/early fall season: SCOTT PILGRIM V. THE WORLD (slacker kid must defeat rivals for his new love); EASY A (innocent high school girl turns false rumors about her loss of virginity into an asset); THE AMERICAN (George Clooney is an American hit man trying to do his last job); and TAKERS (Matt Dillon as the good cop in a slick heist movie).

Isn’t it great how they can show seven different movies on only four screens? And that’s not all.

On Monday, the Movie Classics series resumes with a Cult Horror Month. This week it’s Ed Woods’ PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE, which has been called a “masterpiece… one of the most significant films of its era” (, as well as ”an absolute, incomprehensible mess” ( You decide.
And Wednesday brings the first in the new Live Opera series, with a new production of Bizet’s CARMEN direct, as it happens, at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona.


Comments to
[from Key West, the newspaper -]

Animal Kingdom (Brockway)

Animal Kingdom
Review by Ian Brockway

"Animal Kingdom" portrays Australia at its most ferocious. It centers on a young man, J Cody, (James Frecheville) who loses his mother and becomes plunged into a criminal family run by his acidic, sarcastic and  domineering grandmother (Jacki Weaver) The grandmother would make the late Divine of "Pink Flamingos" run for cover; she is a real life representation of "The Filthiest Person Alive".

Weaver relishes her role. Like all the best scary villains, Janine Cody intimidates under the guise of maternal warmth, sugaring suggestions of torture and death. In the film, she frequently makes pancakes while having the murder of her own grandson on her mind. Not since Minnie Castevet in "Rosemary's Baby" has there been such a diabolical character conveyed by the surface of domesticity.

J Cody enters a literal animalistic world of violence and meat as soon as he enters the house. There are cheap lithographs of lions on the wall and ceramic figurines of beasts adorn the door, the television and the shelving. The men of the roost hurl angry profanity at each other for sport and even their wrestling at play looks harsh and mean-spirited. Again and again there are repeated symbols of meat, lions and the savannah. The uncles wear jungle-print shirts, depicting palms or trees. Their biceps are tattooed with beasts of prey and the shower curtain depicts the African Savannah.  While the house itself is rich in foliage, its windows are barred like a locked cage.

One uncle in particular named Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) paces back and forth, perpetually moving like a Great White Shark in human form. He vows revenge due to his brother's brains being splattered against a car windshield, thereby initiating a police killing spree. Pope smiles anemically. Fish-faced and stubbly, he only comes alive when he is killing. The rest of the time he is drunk and hazy watching soccer or old MTV music videos.

The watch-ability of this film is in its little details: the bestial gazes of the characters and close-ups of the eyes, which are as menacing as any lion, even when someone is telling a joke. The musical score alone, comes in seductively soft with easy listening bits of Air Supply or Jimmy Cliff, only to abruptly morph into sinister monotone chords reminiscent of the soundtrack from "Scarface".

Newcomer James Frecheville gives a wonderfully truthful and dazed performance. He may intend to be good but sits passive, literally drugged by the carnal amorality of his new family.  The local Victoria police are predators themselves. White shirted and pin-striped, they resemble pilot fish in a gore-soaked sea. When they appear seemingly out of nowhere, there is no comfort in their bearing.  They are bloodline cousins of the police from Hitchcock's "Psycho".  When the final climax is upon us and the young J. Cody puts down the gun with a fresh relative kill, there is hot dog meat in the remaining uncle's mouth. As a young cub, J couldn't be any other way. Such is the law of the kingdom.

Jack Goes Boating (Rhoades)

“Jack Goes Boating” At the Tropic Cinema
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever been boating in New York’s Central Park? I did once, a pleasant enough outing if you don’t mind rowing like a galley slave. I should have taken a tip from other Sunday seafarers and just let the boat drift.

A similar boat ride is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s aim in “Jack Goes Boating,” the new indie film playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Jack (Hoffman) is a lonely NYC limo driver with vague ambitions. He likes reggae music and begins a half-hearted attempt to grow his blond curls into dreadlocks. With nothing going on in his life, he hangs out with a fellow limo driver Clyde (John Ortiz) and his wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega).

However, Jack’s view of life begins to change when his friends introduce him to Connie (Amy Ryan), Lucy’s co-worker at a Brooklyn funeral home.

Thus begins an awkward courtship. The new relationship inspires Jack to learn to cook, pursue a new career, and take swimming lessons so he can take Connie on a romantic boat ride.

Hey, you might fall overboard.

This fledgling romance is contrasted with Clyde and Lucy’s marriage, which is beginning to disintegrate. As the movie’s promo promises, this is “a tale of love, betrayal, friendship and grace.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of our best indie actors, known for his quirky character roles. He won an Academy Award for his spot-on portrayal in “Capote.”
You’ve seen John Ortiz in “American Gangster.” Daphne Rubin-Vega is recognized from Broadway’s “Rent.” And Amy Ryan appeared in Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone.”
“Jack Goes Boating” was originally produced on stage by LAByrinth Theater Company in New York City, where Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Ortiz served as co-artistic directors for more than ten years.

This screen version marks Hoffman’s directorial debut of a feature film. Dip your oars in the water and see how he does.
[from Solares Hill]

Animal Kingdom (Rhoades)

“Animal Kingdom” Is Ferocious Crime Drama
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Once I was shooting a photo essay of zoo animals. Not having a telephoto lens with me, I asked the zookeeper if there was any way I could get closer to the denizens of the lion pits. Sure, he said, ushering me through a series of tunnels, eventually leading me into a cage occupied by a snarling 400-pound jungle cat.

Get your shot, he said, tossing the big cat a hunk of meat and waving him back with a broomstick.

You bet I was nervous. Jungle animals can’t help being dangerous.
Criminals are like jungle creatures, according to “Animal Kingdom,” the Australian crime thriller that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

The story is narrated by 17-year-old J Cody (newcomer James Frecheville). J goes to live with his grandmother after his mum OD’s. But steely-eyed, lion-maned Smurf Cody (Jacki Weaver) is no sweet little old granny. She’s a latter-day Ma Barker, heading a vicious crime family in the suburbs of Melbourne.

Her gang consists of three miscreant sons – baby-faced Darren (Luke Ford), tattooed Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and half-crazy Pope (Ben Mendelsohn). She loves her boys, to the point that her motherly kisses linger a little too long for comfort.
The clan’s warfare with the police has escalated to a new level of violence due to the shooting of Baz (Joel Edgerton), a trigger-happy sociopath who was a family friend.

Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce) is a sergeant assigned to Melbourne’s armed robbery squad. He thinks J is the weak link, a punk he can break with his relentless interrogation. Maybe, maybe not.

This neo-noir film builds a sense of fear and dread with incisive characterizations rather than relying on car chases and non-stop gun battles.

Some moviegoers have described it as Australia’s answer to “Goodfellas.” But first-time writer-director David Michôdis is no Scorsese – and “Animal Kingdom” has some rough spots. Yet it doesn’t fail to deliver a frightening portrait of criminal life.

Well titled, “Animal Kingdom” turns Melbourne into a jungle-like setting where Smurf Cody watches over her ferocious brood like a mama lion. But as J observes, “Crooks always come undone, always, one way or another.”

Beware, keep your hands behind the bars.
[from Solares Hill]

Easy A (Rhoades)

“Easy A” Goes For Easy Laughs
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

There’s a new teen comedy called "Easy A," about a high school virgin who pretends to be promiscuous. In it, she makes the wry comment, “Judy Blume never prepared me for this.”

“Yeah, we’ve seen that,” chuckles Judy’s husband, George Cooper. “A good laugh!”
In this high school farce, Olive (Emma Stone) helps out her gay pal by pretending to have sex with him, replete with ooo’s and ahh’s and creaking bedsprings, to allow him to stay in the closet. Problem is, now everybody thinks she’s a teenage slut. Oh well.

“Easy A” is up to its sexual high jinks at the Tropic Cinema. The double entendre of the movie’s title refers to school grades as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” After studying it in class, a mean girl suggests Olive should wear one. Next thing you know she’s flaunting a bright red letter A on her black bustier, wearing her new rep proudly. Or at least with her head held high.

Emma describes it this way: “This rumor gets started about her that she’s promiscuous. She decides not to squash the rumor, but to just go with it and see where it leads. And it just spirals completely out of control. She starts being ostracized by all these people and decides to sew an A on her clothes. She kind of makes a show out of it and it starts going really bad really quickly.”

You’ve seen Emma Stone in the tongue-in-cheek “Zombieland.” And heard her voice as a character in “Marmaduke.” Although she’s known as a redhead, her natural hair color is brown. Producer Judd Apatow suggested she dye it red for her role in “Superbad” and she kept it.

Also in “Easy A” is Amanda Bynes as one of Olive’s nemeses. You may remember her from such films as “Hairspray” and “She’s the Man.” Also on board is Thomas Haden Church, who was nominated for an Oscar in “Sideways.” The great Patricia Clarkson as Rosemary. Plus Lisa Kudrow (famous for being one of TV’s “Friends”). And Malcolm McDowell as the school principal.

Director Will Gluck (“Fired Up”) says of the teen comedy, “I’m very influenced by John Hughes, and I tried to make a movie that he wouldn’t be embarrassed to watch. I also like doing movies with a female protagonist, so I tried to marry the two. Hopefully, it’s influenced by both.”

It wasn’t a movie he expected to make. “I swore after ‘Fired Up!’ I would never do a high school comedy again, but this script came in and it was special. This movie is about reputation, and that never goes away.”

He adds, “Frankly, most of the people going through that are in high school, so I always wanted it to be PG-13 and I rewrote it to broaden its appeal. There’s no reason for it to be R — it’s a movie about sexuality with no sex. Also, I always like pushing the envelope with stuff, and when it’s R, there’s no envelope.”
So is this a pro-abstinence movie? “I say, no, not at all,” insists Gluck. “This movie is a pro mind-your-own-business movie. Do your own thing, just don’t make it define you.”

The film’s message? “Have sex when it’s on your own terms, and don’t tell everybody about it.”
[from Solares Hill]

Scott Pilgrim v. The World

Does “Scott Pilgrim” Reinvents Movies?
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

What’s the recipe for director Edgar Wright’s new approach to moviemaking? Toss a simple love story into a blender, add some Mortal Combat video games, sprinkle in a few garage band YouTube riffs, mix in visual sound effects from the Batman TV show, then top off with a six-volume graphic novel by Brian Lee O’Malley titled “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” – and what you get is a movie of that same name aimed at a Generation Y audience.

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is now entertaining slackers, geeks, and comic book fanboys at the Tropic Cinema.

Scott Pilgrim (perfectly played by Michael Cera of “Juno” and “Superbad” fame) is a twenty-two-year-old bassist in a not-so-good band who has been dealing with his depression from being dumped by a hot-chick rocker by “fake dating” a naïve young high school student (Ellen Wong). But all that changes when he meets a mysterious punker with purple hair named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

He dreams of her – or is it real? He approaches her in his fumbling manner, asking her to hang out with him. And we’re not sure why, but she accepts.

However, in order to win her as his girlfriend he discovers he must defeat in battle Ramona’s Seven Evil Ex’s, a lineup of guys and gals who are way cooler than that dweeb Scott Pilgrim.

These include Chris Evans (“Fantastic Four,” the upcoming “Captain America”) as a skateboarding movie star; Brandon Routh (“Superman Returns”) as a Vegan rock star; Mae Whitman (“Hope Floats”) as a bi- experiment; twin musicians who conjure up dragons; a magician who dresses like a pirate; and Jason Schwartzman (“Rushmore,” “I Heart Huckabees”) as a self-centered rock promoter.

But our plucky protagonist is determined to persevere, taking on each Evil Ex with kung fu fighting that might have been programmed for a video game. You even see the on-screen scores being tallied.

Yes, it’s CGI-flashy. Music visibly pulses with Jack Kirby radiation lines. Boxes appear on screen to describe each of the characters. Dick Tracy tags identify items in Scott’s miniscule apartment. Sound effects (“KABAM!”) are spelled out in big letters as if appearing in a comic book.

A skilled director, Edgar Wright resurrected zombie flicks with his satiric “Shaun of the Dead” and took a shot at cop movies with “Hot Fuzz.” But here he seems to be trying to reinvent moviemaking by marrying the media of today’s youth with the old cinematic art form. What he gets is a film with more style than substance.
Steve Bunch, a comic book geek who worked for me at Marvel Entertainment, posted his opinion on FaceBook: “I found it kinda boring and repetitive.”

Even so, Kieran Culkin (“Igby Goes Down”) steals every scene as Scott’s gay roommate. And Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air,” “The Twilight Saga”) is spot-on as Scott’s bitchy sister. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Live Free or Die Hard”) remains a bit of a cipher, her character not revealing much depth, but she’s cool nonetheless. And Michael Cera may as well apply for a patent on his pathetic-yet-lovable loser shtick.
And so the movie zaps along with its quirky, surreal logic, all that glitz delivering a very simple message: Every relationship comes with a certain amount of baggage to overcome.

Bottom line: I liked it, but “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is not for everyone. As the end credits rolled, a 50+ moviegoer in a seat near me muttered, “What did I just see?”
[from Solares Hill]

Takers (Rhoades)

“Takers” Will Take Your Money
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You’ve probably been reading about the recent art heist in Paris, where a thief made off with $120 million worth of modern masterpieces, including works by Picasso and Matisse. Reminds you of “The Thomas Crown Affair,” doesn’t it?
I attended the world premiere of “The Thomas Crown Affair,” the first one. Yes, I got to hang out with Steve McQueen.

So you can see I’m a longtime fan of heist movies.

Such a movie called “Takers” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. This is a better title than its original, “Bone Deep.” Robbers, no matter how much we romanticize them, are takers of that which does not belong to them.

In “Takers,” Matt Dillon (“Armored,” “Crash”) is the cop who stands between a group of bank robbers and a $20 million heist. Nice to see him in a role on this side of the law.

The takers are played by an ensemble cast that includes Idris Elba (“American Gangster,” “The Losers”), Michael Ealy (”Miracle of St. Anna,” “Seven Pounds”), Chris Brown, (”Stomp the Yard,” “This Christmas”), Paul Walker (“Fast & Furious,” “Flags of Our Fathers”), Hayden Christensen (“Star Wars II, III, and IV”), and Zoö Saldaña (“Avatar,” “Star Trek”). These professional thieves are pulled into one last job by smooth-talking T.I. (“ATL,” “For Sale”).

Elba is the leader, Ealy the gunman, Brown the flashy younger brother, Walker the bagman, Christensen the builder, and Saldaña what we used to call a moll.

This crime thriller was directed by John Luessenhop based on a screenplay by him and a handful of other writers. It’s what one online blogger called “a solid popcorn flick.”

I admit the film exudes a certain verisimilitude, considering that singer T. I. (a/k/a Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr.) is an indicted felon who served time on federal weapons charges. And R&B singer Chris Brown is under five-years probation after pleading guilty to beating his then-girlfriend Rihanna.

A historic event, “Takers” is the first film approved by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for futures and option trading based upon box-office returns in the United States. So it’s determined to steal you money one way or another.
[from Solares Hill]

The American (Brockway)

The American
Review by Ian Brockway

Anton Corbijn is known for his music video work of U2, The Joy
Division and Nirvana. In "The American" he shows his versatility,
presenting an apprehensive and haunting film under the guise of a
mainstream thriller.

George Clooney plays Jack, a hitman that wants out of the killing
game. Clooney is all Cary Grant with hard square edges. He is pensive,
edgy and paranoid. Yet abruptly he turns as rapid as the Autobahn and
his emotions are smooth and even. Quite a gift.
Indeed, as Jack takes refuge atop the cliffs of Italy, among a cluster
of winding white settlements that resemble angry dominoes, the film
owes much to Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" and European suspense
films like "Blow-Up".

As Jack moves from house to house, he peers along endless chalky
walkups. He suspiciously eyes businessman, flower peddler and priest
alike. No one knows his name and he spends hours looking out the
window, knitting his dark brows with old Hollywood glamour and
assembling a rifle with the precision of Superman.
The sound of the film alone is intimate with an affection for
naturalism: the sound of loose gravel on scuffed leather shoes or the
fumbling click of a gun, as rich and exotic as a cricket on a summer
night. The surprise and shock of sound arises as it happens in life
and nothing is ommited. Corbijn knows that the best suspense is often
from organic elements.

The cinematography is also expansive and as luscious as a "W"
magazine fashion spread. Huge closeups are paired with Hitchcockian
shots of Clooney's Grant-like brows and the back of his V-shaped
haircut as he does military style pull ups.

When Jack meets Father Bennedetto, (Paolo Bonacelli) his laconic
remarks seem like an echo of Albert Camus for the 21st century.
Enigmatic, silent and stressed, Clooney is an anti-hero with a long
tradition of apprehension.

There are no amphetamine-driven whirring punches here as in "The
Bourne identity" films. Where Jason is all crash and bash, Jack
meditatively trots, shoulders hunched, indecisively waiting among the
rock gardens of the mountain tenements. Much of his life is a checker
game of coffee and waiting. And one actually feels the silence.
The film is in itself an existential call for the wonder of understated filmmaking.
Even in its movie poster which echoes retro design, "The American" is proof
that The Master of Suspense can still
be spoken of and whispered softly.

Le Concert (Brockway)

Le Concert
Reviewed by Ian Brockway

Radu Mihaileanu has often said that Charlie Chaplin as a comic and a
filmmaker, has always been important to him. This is evident in his
new film "Le Concert", a French film with a Russian slant. Or is it a
Russian film with a French slant? In this director's case, it does not
seem to matter; it is the mixing of cultures and the diverse musical
goulash that these cultures produce that is important to Mihaileanu as
seen in films like "Train of Life" and "Live and Become".

"Le Concert" commences with former famed conductor, Andrei Flipov
(Aleksei Guskov) now working as a janitor for the Bolshoi Orchestra.
Filipov causes a ruckus and is reprimanded severely by his boss. He
sent away to scrub the office floor. This has elements of Kafka as
well as Chaplin. I even thought of Cinderella as he is badgered and
harrassed by manager and audience member alike. Suddenly he hears the
beep of a fax. It is from the Theatre du Chatelet. They want to invite
the Bolshoi to perform. Filipov gets a Eureka! moment with the apropos
disheveled hair: he will get a symphony together and impersonate the

What follows is a Russian "Blues Brothers" tale blended with a Hal
Roach slapstick pace. Filipov together with his sidekick Sacha
Grossman (Dimitri Nazarov) who resembles Oliver Hardy, attempt to
assemble a classical symphony. They get into a tussle with a Communist
party chief complete with some old school face-squishing. They visit
an asthmatic trumpet player that insists he actually plays BETTER
with asthma. He is endearing and humbling, clearly played for comic

The band gets bigger little by little. They need a fiddle player and
some drums and about thirty passports, so they visit a band of gypsies
by a settlement to get that bit of nefarious business done.
The first part of the film echoes a musical Terry Gilliam film. Such
motley chaos enfolds upon this rag-tag band of characters. So much
farce and rushing about would make Mel Brooks himself dizzy in one
particular hotel mob scene.

By the second half of the film though, the film gets serious. Filipov
is obsessed and rightly so. His most famous and notorious attempt at
achieving harmony through Tchaikovsky was ruined by Communist
uprising. Guskov plays it well, brooding with a Depardieu-like angst
and he seldom smiles. He arranges to meet Superstar violinist Anne-
Marie Jacquet (Melanie Laurent) who is a Hitchcockian cypher part ice,
part sunshine. Laurent's portrayal is perfect in blending professional
rigidity with sudden gushing warmth.

Though the film at times seems to be in two parts, they indeed make a
whole. In our age of political polarization "Le Concert" gives a happy
lesson: every diverse background is a vital part of the universal
score and it is only through cooperation that our well-being is
maintained---musical or otherwise.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Concert (Rhoades)

Surprise Performance For “The Concert”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

It reminds me of one of those ’40s comedies, with clever musicians thwarting the Nazis. However, “The Concert” is a more modern telling, a story about outcast Jewish musicians pulling a fast one on the Russians who sidetracked their orchestral careers.

Audience love to see turn-about justice.

Here a once-famous conductor (Alexei Guskov) is reduced to working as a janitor at the Bolshoi, having lost his position for refusing to fire his Jewish musicians during one of Brezhnev’s anti-Semitic purges. Vodka offers what little solace there is to be had…… until one day he intercepts an invitation from the Theatre du Chatelet inviting the Bolshoi Orchestra to play in Paris.

In this fairy-tale film our conductor hatches a plan to call together his old orchestra, the musicians now working in similarly menial positions, and pass them off as the Bolshoi troupe sent to perform Tchaikovsky’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.”

He even convinces the Party official responsible for his ruination (Valeri Barinov) to be the manager of the fake orchestra, accompanying them to the City of Light. Hey, even staunch Commies want to see Par-ee.

As it happens, the conductor has mysterious request for his Gallic hosts, that the orchestra be allowed to perform with a celebrated French violinist (Melanie Laurent). A secret to be revealed.

To prepare for her role, Laurent spent two months studying violin with Sara Nemtanu of the Orchestre National de France. The film’s original score was composed by Armand Amar, with one (“Le Trou Normand”) written by the film’s director. In addition to works by Mozart and Maher, the finale features the Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 35 by Tchaikovsky.

A movie about second chances, “The Concert” was written and directed by Romanian-born Radu Mihaileanu (“Train of Life”). It pokes fun at “power, ambition and even failure.”

Mihaileanu presents Russia as a land of people wearing outdated clothes in decrepit surroundings. “I’ve spent a lot of time doing research for all the films I’ve shot,” he says. “For this one, I spent many weeks in Moscow in order to get close to a reality that, as often happens, is stronger than fiction.”

The director admits he was a bit nervous when “The Concert” played in Moscow. “I was terrified, especially about the line that the director of the Parisian theatre says: ‘Russians are like mules, to make them keep moving you have to hit them over the head.’ But the audience laughed a lot.”

Also receiving a critical tweak was the Bolshoi. “The film doesn’t criticize it,” insists Mihaileanu. “I just wanted to pay homage to the great tradition of Russian music. I know that snobbish critics don’t love Tchaikovsky because they consider the emotions to be too vulgar. But I think he’s the very soul of Slavic sensibility and of my film.”

Notice Mihaileanu’s cinematographic style used in distinguishing East versus West: In Russia, everything is shot with a hand-held camera, while a fixed camera pictures the French as “elegant but staid.”

But the witty plot will remind cinephiles of such old-time classics as “To Be Or Not to Be.”
[from Solares Hill]

Soul Kitchen (Rhoades)

“Soul Kitchen” Good for the Soul

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My son has edited such television cooking shows as “Emeril Green,” “The Paula Deen Show,” and “Big Daddy’s Kitchen.” As a result he’s learned to cook like a chef.

But no way does he plan to open a restaurant. Too many problems to deal with in the food service business. If you doubt that, go see “Soul Kitchen” – the new film at the Tropic Cinema about a discombobulated restaurant owner.

Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) is a young Greek who has a restaurant in Hamburg. But things aren’t going well. Customers don’t like the menu of his new gourmet chef (Birol Ünel). His back hurts. And his girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) has dumped him and moved to China.

He can fix the first problem by revamping the culinary selections at Soul Kitchen. He can even survive the pain of his slipped disc with the help of a pretty physiotherapist named Anna (Dorka Gryllus). But to get his girlfriend back, he’ll have to fly to Shanghai.

And the only person he can get to watch the restaurant while he’s gone is his unreliable brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu). Uh-oh, a bad choice.

As we might expect in a farcical comedy of errors, everything goes wrong – both with the restaurant and with Zinos’ love life.

Can he and his ex-con bro quit fighting long enough to set things right?

Although “Soul Kitchen” is a film about a restaurant, the title doesn’t refer to soul food so much as it does to soul music. Thanks to a waiter with a stolen DJ mixing console, the Soul Kitchen becomes a local hot spot for music.

Writer-director Fatih Akin’s love for American soul music permeates the film. “I was looking for the right sound, the right soundtrack. It was not like it was just my favorite music and I wanted to share that with people, it was also really dependent on the material. The idea was to do a film about Hamburg, and Hamburg is really very much a soul place. There is a huge club scene for soul music there, much more than in other cities.”

He adds, “Another reason we decided to use soul was that people in East Germany often have this strong identification with African American culture. In a way it’s because they are a minority so they identify with other minorities. This identification expresses itself in the music these people are into, the soul music from the ’60s and ’70s.”

Akin describes the film as personal and nostalgic. “I wanted to portray the city, and I wanted to share the city with people outside, but at the same time I always knew that people in Hamburg, in my hometown, would see the film, too. I had to be careful not to be too realistic,” he says. “I was looking for places which had a history for me personally. It was a chance to preserve something, to hold them in time, like a photo album. It is a bit like time traveling, or archeology.”

Or going down a musical memory lane.
[from Solares Hill]

The American (Rhoades)

The American” Finds George Clooney in Italy
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Last time I was in Italy, I was re-reading Frederick Forsyth’s “The Day of the Jackal,” a novel about a hitman entering France through the Italian Riviera. Each page I turned was set on the very spot I was traveling. It was like being in the middle of a thriller.

In “The American,” George Clooney’s new movie that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema, he’s an assassin holed up in the Italian countryside after a botched job in Sweden. This one’s based on a 1990 novel “A Very Private Gentleman” by Martin Booth, not Frederick Forsyth.

That said, in some ways it will remind you of the Colin Ferrell movie “In Bruges,” also about a hitman hiding out in a medieval Italian city. Such great scenery, it was almost a travelogue.

So’s “The American.” That’s because director Anton Corbijn (“Control”) happens to be an accomplished photographer, known for his portraits of musical groups like U2, Nirvana, and Joy Division. Here, he and cinematographer Martin Ruhe display picture-postcard perfection. The filming took place at such picturesque locales as Castel del Monte, Abruzzo, Rome, and Östersund, Sweden.

The comparison between the two films comes even closer, for Clooney’s co-star is Thekla Reuten, the Dutch actress who also appeared in “In Bruges.”

Mathilde (Reuten) is a customer who convinces Jack (Clooney) to take one last assignment, a hit that requires the construction of a special weapon.

Meanwhile, he befriends a local priest (Paolo BonaCelli) and falls into a relationship with a prostitute (Violante Placido). Always a mistake for killers on the q.t.

Despite the movie’s action-oriented poster, showing George Clooney running, this “thriller” moves along at a leisurely pace, always interesting, but not packed with car chases and explosions. Like director Sergio Leone (you’ll see “Once Upon a Time in the West” flickering on a TV set in the background of one scene in acknowledgement), Anton Corbijn believes in “telling by showing.” With the film’s strong close-ups, panoramic long shots, and choice of music, you will watch as his roots in photography and music videos emerge to control the story.

Moviegoers have had mixed expectations. One blogger moaned, “This movie is going to be awful ... George Clooney playing George Clooney in Italy!”

Another blogger chimed in, “At first I didn’t really know if I wanted to see it (George Clooney didn’t hit me as the hitman type actor) but once I saw the first trailer and saw Anton Corbijn was doing this I got really excited.”

“Me too,” said a third. “Anton Corbijn is talented like you wouldn’t believe ... and George Clooney is always awesome.”

Hey, don’t worry about the story. Enjoy the scenery. A movie ticket is cheaper than airline fare to Italy.
[from Solares Hill]