Sunday, December 5, 2010

Week of Dec. 3 to Dec. 9 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

What would you do if a loved one was charged with murder, and you thought he or she was innocent? You’d find the best lawyer you could afford, sure. And you’d take all the appeals you could, sure. But what if all that was for naught? What if there’s a conviction, a life sentence, and no more appeals?

Two movies at the Tropic suggest other possibilities. In THE NEXT THREE DAYS, Russell Crowe, an otherwise unassuming academic, puts on a metaphorical cape and busts his wife out of jail. Now there’s a solution!  I don’t know how good an idea it would be in real life, but it makes for one hellavuh of an exciting movie.

CONVICTION offers a less exciting, but no less dramatic alternative, which is to keep working your butt off. This, you see, is a true story rather than an excuse for a car chase. The incredibly versatile Hilary Swank, who has been a cross-dresser (Boys Don’t Cry), a boxer (Million Dollar Baby), and a daring aviatrix (Amelia), is Betty Anne Waters, a high-school dropout bartender, who decided to become a lawyer so she could find a way to save her brother from a life in jail. With a supporting cast of Sam Rockwell (Moon) as the brother, the underused Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) as her law-school buddy, and Melissa Leo (Frozen River) as a villainous cop, the acting talent is first rate. And the story will mess with your tear ducts.

NORA’S WILL has an unusual provenance. It’s a Mexican-Jewish black comedy that’s been winning awards at film festivals (including the Audience Award at last year’s Miami Film Fest) about a woman who arranges her death to bring her family together for a Passover Seder. It’s the first feature for filmmaker Maria Chenillo, and won her Ariel awards (Mexican Oscar) for Best Picture and Best Director last year. Like Kathryn Bigelow in the U.S., it was the first time a woman had gotten the Best Director prize. But unlike Ms. Bigelow’s mini-epic The Hurt Locker, this is a small budget, single-setting little movie, “a hugely enjoyable, low-key farce about family ties, suicide, recipes, rabbis, and Jewish burial traditions” (

The other new film this week is VISION: FROM THE LIFE OF HILDEGARD BINGEN, a documentary tribute to a visionary 12th-century Benedictine nun. Placed in the convent as a child (apparently as a religious offering from her parents), she managed to achieve a kind of greatness, overcoming in many cases powerful men who controlled her order. She did it in part through her “visions” of God and part through her inner strengths, teaching herself to read, write and even compose Gregorian chants. We view the film “with our imaginations, and realize that no matter what rules society lays down for women — for anyone — ways can sometimes be found to prevail on one’s own terms” observes Roger Ebert.

Don’t miss a couple of very Special Events. On Tuesday, the Tropic takes you Live to La Scala in Milan for the celebratory opening of the Italian opera season. The opera is Wagner’s DIE WALKURE. Conducted by Daniel Barenboim, sung in German, but with full English subtitles, the live performance will start at 11:00am (5:00pm in Milan). Opera lovers, call in sick on Tuesday!

Wednesday brings us a special screening of GASLAND, a new documentary about the emerging phenomenon of “fracking,” hydraulically cracking the subsurface to unlock pockets of natural gas. It’s a growing issue, and this is the time to learn about it. Filmmaker Josh Fox will join the audience for a live webcast, with Q & A after the film.

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