Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Week of April 30 through May 6 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Two hot new movies open this week, GREENBERG, and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

The first is from writer/director Noah Baumbach, who gave us The Squid and the Whale, and Margo at the Wedding. In other words, he specializes in dysfunctional families whose maladroit or even malicious behavior leaves you wondering whether to laugh or cry, and often you wind up doing both. GREENBERG stays in the mold.

Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is more self-destructive than damaging to his family, but that's just because his family isn't around. He's been left house-sitting his brother's glamorous L.A. digs, where he spends his time being angry, unleashing his fury at targets ranging from Michael Bloomberg to his brother's young female assistant (Greta Gerwig).

We can't figure out whether to laugh at Greenberg, to hate him, to love him, or to pity him. The combination is "powerfully honest, insightful and poignant," says USA Today. Or maybe it's better to share a non-professional review I noted: "I recommend this film to any with OCD, anxiety, or anyone over 40 who asks 'what happened?'" It's the role that Ben Stiller was born to play.

A dysfunctional family is also at the center of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But, because this is a Swedish movie (yes, subtitles), the dys is of a different sort. In this case, someone in billionaire Henrik Vanger's family is suspected of killing his beloved niece. The dragon tattoo girl is pierced as well as inked. She's a genius Goth computer hacker somehow brought in to help solve the crime, along with a disgraced cop. Be prepared for a sinister thriller. But of course you and most of the world knows this from the New York Times #1 best-selling novel behind the film.

If you've read the novel, you'll be first in line at the box office. If not, well that's all the more reason to find out what the fuss is all about. The film has become the most successful movie in Swedish history. Take that Ingmar Bergman! Makes you wonder why all those right wingnuts are worried about Socialists. If their all-time favorite movie is just as full of action, violence, sex and perversion as anything Hollywood can turn out, why can't we match it with health insurance as good as theirs?

Just so you know, The Girl is 2-1/2 hours long, and while it's Not Rated in the United States, it carries the rough equivalent of an R rating in most of the world. But not Quebec, which only requires age 13. So if you're a kid who loved the book, you can hop a bus to Montreal.

Now that the summer season is drifting in, the Tropic will be resuming its policy of mixing in some low-brow hits. This week's offering is DATE NIGHT, starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey. It's just plain fun, as we see how a simple evening out for the suburban Fosters spirals out of control. The Neil Simon comedy, The Out-of-Towners, with a similar theme of ordinary folks lurching through a series of unplanned adventures, was so good they had to make it twice (1970 and 1999). Maybe you'll see another Date Night in 2029. Meanwhile, have fun with this one.

Comments, please, to pmann99@gmail.com
[from Key West, the newspaper - www.kwtn.com]

Greenberg (Rhoades)

Ben Stiller’s Poignant Humor in “Greenberg”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I remember watching comedians Stiller and Meara on the old Ed Sullivan TV show, chuckling at their Abby’s Irish Rose act, him Jewish, his wife Irish, me never thinking about their future impact on my funny bone.

Anne Meara went on to do some nice dramatic roles (“Awakenings,” “Another Harvest Moon”), but it was Jerry Stiller who made TV sitcom history as part of the “Seinfeld” ensemble.
But it’s their son Ben who has changed the face of Hollywood comedies.

A very bankable star, Ben Stiller has cranked out such hits as “There’s Something About Mary,” “Tropic Thunder,” and the “Night at the Museum” series. As a Tinseltown insider, he shows up at the Academy Awards to poke fun at an addled Joaquin Phoenix or wearing blue Na’vi makeup he spoofs “Avatar.”

Now, in a quirky little indie film called “Greenberg,” he tries something different. As the title character, he’s a guy who finds himself adrift in life, attempting to forge a connection with another lost soul.

This week “Greenberg” is sharing its poignant laughs at the Tropic Cinema.

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach (himself the scion of famous parents, novelist Jonathan Baumbach and Village Voice critic Georgia Brown), “Greenberg” also features Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans, Chris Messina, and Jennifer Jason Leigh (herself the daughter of a famous parent, the late actor Vic Morrow). Baumbach and Leigh co-wrote the script.

So this second generation entourage has delivered a film that is both funny and touching. A delicate balance.

In it, a 40-year-old loser named Roger Greenberg (Stiller) has no job and doesn’t plan on looking for one. He goes to Los Angeles to housesit for his brother while the family’s away on vacation. There he meets up with his brother’s assistant Florence (Gerwig), an aspiring singer whose greatest success is open-mike night at local clubs. A match made in Woody Allen’s neurotic heaven, perhaps.

A failed musician, Greenberg tries to reconnect with his former bandmate (Ifans) and an old flame (Leigh) but discovers they’ve moved on with their lives.

He describes his own life as “doing nothing,” an echo of his dad’s “Seinfeld” premise. But there’s only so much nothing you can do, and he sets out to explore a relationship with Florence, discovering they have more in common than caring for his brother’s dog. Perhaps – just perhaps – rather than continuing his life as a sharp-tongued misanthrope he might actually find a reason to be happy.

Baumbach is best known for “The Squid and the Whale,” a semi-autobiographical film about two boys in Brooklyn dealing with their parents’ divorce. Here, he again explores emotions that ripple just under the surface of our civilized façade. And Ben Stiller is the perfect avatar to play out this message.

Even Ben acknowledges his parents’ influential role in his pursuit of humor. “If my parents were, like, plumbers,” he says, “who knows what I would be doing?”

[from Solares Hill]

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Rhoades)

“Dragon Tattoo” Brings Thriller to the Screen
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’ve read the book. Perhaps you have too. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has been a bestseller, the first in a trilogy written by Swedish author Stieg Larsson just before he died a few years ago.

The movie version – currently playing at the Tropic Cinema – is fairly faithful to the book. Okay, maybe Lisbeth Selander (the girl of the title) is not quite so anorexic, but I don’t mind.

In “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” Larsson takes two disparate story threads and weaves them together to present a sweeping puzzle: what happened to a 16-year-old heiress who disappeared from an isolated island some 40 years ago.

Out to solve this island version of a locked room mystery is disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist (well played by Michael Nygvist). Under the guise of writing a family history, he’s hired by industrialist Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taub) to identify the family member who’s responsible for this unresolved murder.

Joining him in the hunt is odd-duck researcher Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a computer hacker par excellence and certified social misfit. Punked out with tattoos, spiky hair, and miscellaneous body piercings, she’s a tough little cookie who poses as a slow-witted victim in order to keep the system off her back.

Together, they encounter myriad members of Vanger’s dysfunctional family, as well as lecherous legal guardians and demented neo-Nazis, overprotective security experts and watchdog lawyers, corrupt corporate execs and sadistic serial killers. Plus Blomkvist’s amorous gal-pal editor and Salander’s strange hacker cronies.

This unlikely pairing of middle-aged Blomkvist and twentysomething Salander fuels Larsson’s three mystery novels (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”) – as well as the trio of movies based on these books.

Larsson wrote the novels in evenings after work just for fun. He made little attempt to get them published. Like Blomkvist, he was employed by a magazine that did financial exposés. His death by heart attack at 50 was rumored to have been induced by enemies of his magazine, although there’s no evidence of that.

So far, I’ve only seen the trailers, but the film promises to capture the book visually – from the snowy Swedish winters to the parched Australian Outback to the stark Millennium magazine offices to Salander’s barren apartment.

Filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev directed “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” although in Scandinavia it’s titled “Män som hatar kvinnor” (which translates as “Men Who Hate Women”). Sure, this Yellow Bird film release has subtitles, but the original book was a translation too.

If you’re willing to wait for an English-language version (I’m not) a Hollywood remake is scheduled for 2012, supposedly starring Oscar-nominee Carey Mulligan as Lisbeth Salander.
However, I expect you’ll be eagerly joining me this week on the front row at the Tropic Cinema for a showing of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

As you know, I love hard-to-solve mysteries. And investigating a 40-year-old crime in the middle of a Scandinavian winter can certainly be described as a cold case.

[from Solares Hill]

Date Night (Rhoades)

“Date Night” Delivers A Funny Night Out
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

What an odd concept when you think about it, married couples going out on date nights. Don’t tell my wife about it.

A new comedy of that name – “Date Night” – is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

For a suburban couple named Claire and Phil Foster (Tina Fey and Steve Carell), even their special nights out have become routine. What do you do to put a little spice back in your humdrum married existence?

Well, Claire and Phil decide to dine at a very trendy New York café, see how the city’s upper crust enjoys life. Unfortunately, they don’t have a reservation and lines are long. So they fib and claim a no-show reservation as if it’s their own. Bad move.

Seems this innocent identity theft has put them in the gunsights of some very tough customers.

Claire: “Honey, if I’m gonna get whacked off, I …”
Phil: (snickers)
Claire: “What are you smiling about?”
Phil: “No, no, we might get bumped off. We’re not going to get whacked off.”
Claire: “I think we are!”

This name mix-up sends them on the run from a couple of corrupt cops, a mob boss, and a crazy cabdriver. So they turn to one of Claire’s acquaintances, a handsome security guard (Mark Wahlberg) who might help protect them. Good luck with that!

This date night-mare is peopled by a bad guy (Ray Liotta), a petty conman (James Franco), the conman’s wife (Mila Kunis), Phil’s best friend (Mark Ruffalo), Clair’s best friend (Kristen Wiig), the killer cops (Common and Jimmi Simpson), the cabbie (JB Smoove), and a determined DA
(William Frichtner). A great supporting cast.

Even so, it’s the Fosters who play hardest on your funny bone. Steve Carell (TV’s “The Office,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin) and Tina Fey (TV’s “30 Rock” and Saturday Night Live’s Sarah Palin look-alike) are two of the funniest people you’ll ever meet on a date night.

While theirs doesn’t turn out as smoothly as they’d hoped, your own date night at the movies will surely be a great one.

[from Solares Hill]

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Week of April 23 to April 29 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

There's something for all age groups this week.

Are you an adult?

How about a thrilling mountaineering movie. It's 1936 and the "death wall" of Switzerland's Eiger is the last unconquered climb in the Alps. NORTH FACE is based on a true story of a Nazi-driven attempt to send climbers on this quest for the glory of the Reich. But it becomes, like all such movies, a story of man against nature. Winner of cinematography awards, it's a "consistently thrilling, vertigo-inducing piece of cinema" (Npr.org), a combination of documentary footage with superb studio work. It's a narrative film, not a documentary, so there's a story line woven through the breath-holding, fist-clasping scenes of fraying ropes, slipped knots, ferocious weather, with men's lives literally hanging in the balance. Some reviewers have even suggested that it's ripe for a Hollywood remake. Catch the German version. They know how to do this stuff.

Or how about a philosophical cop drama, with a touch of irony, that won top prize at the Transilvania International Film Festival? POLICE, ADJECTIVE is "a simultaneously realistic and absurdist examination of police work" (Toronto Globe and Mail). Cristi is a cop who is assigned to follow and arrest a 16-year-old kid suspected of smoking dope. That's a crime carrying a sentence of seven years or more. Cristi doesn't want to do that. Are you hooked on car chases? Well, forget about it. In this movie, the excitement comes when they pull out a dictionary to solve an argument. What can I say? The movie scored a 100% rating on RottenTomatoes. I'm not a fan of these ratings, but 100%!? You owe it to yourself to see what it takes to become a unanimous top tomato.

And then there's the sexy thriller, CHLOE, held over for another week by popular demand.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the Tropic is opening the Dreamworks animation, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. "Deserving of the highest praise for a family film," says Michael Smith of the Tulsa World, and those guys out in Oklahoma are experts on family values. But don't be deterred. Even East Coast liberals say "lucky kids will find someone to take them this weekend. Even luckier adults will find someone to take." (Newark Star-Ledger)

A movie truly for everyone is Disneynature's new film OCEANS, opening on Thursday, April 22, in celebration of Earth Day, and continuing all week. This "hypnotically photogenic journey into the depths of the ocean" (Slant Magazine) is "Sublime. Astounding. Fantastic." (Quad City Times). By the way, it also gets a 100% tomato rating. I doubt that any movie theater in history has ever had two of these rare vegetables (fruits?) playing at the same time.

The Special Events calender includes two musical events. There's another live opera from Europe. This week it's Verdi's SIMON BOCCANEGRA, conducted by Daniel Barrenboim and starring Placido Domingo, a story of political/familial intrigue. The illegitimate daughter of the powerful Doge of Genoa is raised as the granddaughter of his rival, who has no knowledge of her paternity, until the whole thing is operatically sorted out.

And the annual SONGWRITERS' FESTIVAL is back at the Tropic for a two night stand, on Thursday, April 29 and Friday, April 30. The Thursday lineup includes Hugh Prestwood, Kelly Archer, Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird, Chuck Cannon, Shawn Mullins & Chuck Jones, all live on stage.

Full schedules, info and advance tix at TropicCinema.com (For the Songwriters' Festival go to www.kwswf.com)

North Face (Rhoades)

“North Face” Is Powerful Ascent
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Some years ago I stood on a glacier in the Swiss Alps and looked out in the direction of the Eiger, that great monolith that challenges mountain climbers. More than sixty climbers have died attempting the North Face, earning it the nickname of “death wall.”

Known as “the great last problem of the Alps,” the 5,900-foot North Face of the Eiger was still unconquered back in 1936 when two German mountaineers decided to climb it.

Bundle up. “North Face” (or “Nordwand” without its subtitles) – a German film about this attempt – at is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Based on a true story, we follow Andi Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz (athletically portrayed by Florian Lukas and Benno Fümann) as they compete with teams of French, Italians, and Austrians to reach the top.

“You and I could be the first ones up there,” says brash young Andi.

“That’s not what climbing is about,” mutters his partner Toni.

“Yes, it is,” insists Andi. “That’s exactly what it’s about.”

You see, Andi wants to prove “what I can do and who I am.” While Toni asserts, “I don’t have to prove anything. I climb for myself … for me alone.” But that’s not entirely true in this case.

Luise Fellner (Johanna Wokalek) is the childhood friend who joins them at Grindelwald to take photographs for a Berlin newspaper, but her heart is on the mountain with Toni. “They’ll scale anything tall,” Luise says of her chums. “It’s all they ever thought about as kids.”

Ulrich Tukur (recently seen in “The White Ribbon”) is Luise’s boss. “Die-hard climbers die easier than you think,” he remarks, looking for a juicy story.

Maybe, maybe not. Experienced mountain climbers do die – as we know from reading books like Jon Krakauers’s “Into Thin Air” – but not easily. And this movie spends 2 hours proving it as we watch Toni, Andi, and two Austrian climbers fight the elements. Hands blackened by frostbite, beet-red faces, cracked lips, it’s almost painful to see them traverse the rocky edifice, dangling by a rope,

The contrast between the onlookers in the comfortable lodges below, observing the ascent by telescope, dining and partying while the climbers shiver and avoid avalanches, allows us to reflect on the life-and-death events that are unfolding on the craggy cliffs. It makes for tense, nail-biting suspense.

Director Philipp Stölzl is best known for his work in music videos. But there’s no music for the most part in “North Face,” just the sound of wind moaning across the face of the Eiger.

Historical sticklers may quibble with the small licenses taken in the film, but the facts are essentially correct. “The North Face”: reminds us that vainglory leads to tragedy.

[from Solares Hill]

Oceans (Rhoades)

“Oceans” Cover The Earth
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

In celebration of Earth Day, the Tropic Cinema is showing an eye-candy documentary called “Oceans.” After all, oceans cover more than three-fifths of the earth.

This 100-minute tribute to our planet’s watery surface is mainly a collection of stunning visual images. Exotic undersea life, aquatic creatures such as whales, crabs, sardines, and even polar bears, are seen in dream-like sequences.

Pierce Brosnan narrates the English version of this international ecological study. Not a wordy rendition, but with a warning that we are negatively impacting sea life. Pollution, global warming, and commercial fishing are the named culprits.

Co-directed by Jacque Perrin and Jacque Cluzaud, this is the French team who gave us the sky version of this, 2001’s “Winged Migration.” An actor turned filmmaker, Perrin is familiar to audiences as the movie-loving director in the classic paean to movies, “Cinema Paradiso” (1988).

Worth taking a plunge in honor of Earth Day.

[from Solares Hill]

How to Train Your Dragon (Rhoades)

“Dragon” Is Well Trained
Review by Shirrel Rhoades

I had quite a time trying to train my dog when he was a young pup. Finally I gave up and called a dog trainer. Curiously, the trainer spent more time “training” me and my wife than Champ. Go figure.

So when it comes to training a dragon (assuming you have one as a pet) you can imagine what challenge that might entail – flames bellowing, fangs gnashing, talons flashing. What’s more, learning to fly one is quite difficult I’m told.

Source of my information about dragons is the new DreamWorks animated movie aptly titled “How to Train Your Dragon.” It’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

More an entertaining story about a boy who befriends a ferocious young dragon than an actual training manual, it was based on a 2003 children’s book of the same name.

Set in the time of Vikings, the story introduces us to a teenager who lives on an island where fearsome dragons abound. Doing battle with these fire-breathers is a way of life for its Norse inhabitants.

But all that changes when brainy young Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III. (voiced by Jay Baruchel) comes across an affectionate dragon that he names Toothless. His brawny father (Gerard Butler) and fellow tribesmen don’t understand Hiccup’s plea that humans and dragons can live together in peace … and they declare war on the menacing beasts.

That doesn’t go quite the way they expect.

Sure, there’s a moral here. But you’ll enjoy the animated ride almost as much as your kids will.
You’ll recognize Jay Baruchel’s voice as the nerdy guy from the recent comedy “She’s Out of My League.” And Gerard Butler from the recent comedy “The Bounty Hunter.”

America Ferrera (“TV’s “Ugly Betty”) is the boy’s love interest. Craig Ferguson (TV’s “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”) is a grumpy warrior. And Jonah Hill (“Superbad”) steps in as the smelly, mean-spirited competition for the girl.

There’s plenty of action in this made-for-3D charmer. You’ll come away believing in dragons.
And wish you had one to train.

[from Solares Hill]

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Week of April 16 to April 22 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

It's a week for music lovers at the Tropic.

Heading the bill is THE RUNAWAYS, the story of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie's mid-70's teen-girl rock band. Directed by music video legend Floria Sigismondi, it's "a portrait of excess, including lots of sex, drugs and rampaging groupies. But its bigger focus is on the transformative powers of rock 'n' roll." (Salon.com).

It stars the Twilight duo of Kristen Stewart (The Yellow Handkerchief) and Dakota Fanning (The Secret Life of Bees) as Joan and Cherie. They do their own singing, and have music like Cherry Bomb to keep the scene hopping. If you were there, then, it's a chance to recapture your youth. But come on, you young'uns, too, to the Tropic for a rocking good show, and maybe learn a little about the underside of the music biz. It's on every day, all week.

And then there are two very special music events.

Saturday night brings us THE GRATEFUL DEAD: CRIMSON, WHITE AND INDIGO. It's a three hour live concert performance, a newly remastered mix, in 5.1 surround sound, of their July, 1989 concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. The three-DVD set will be released next week, but you can see it big and bold with your buds (friends, not flowers, that is). One show only starting at 8:00pm.

If your tastes are more classical, the next in the Tropic's live operas from Europe is Mozart's THE ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO. This performance is delivered live from the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona at 2:00pm on Wednesday (8:00pm in Spain), with an encore broadcast at 7:00pm that night. Sung in German, with English subtitles, this innovative modern-dress production runs over three hours, plus two intermissions.

It's your choice. Three hours of Mozart, or of Jerry Garcia. Name your pleasure.

There are regular movies, too, from biopic to comedy to thriller.

CREATION is a "moody, and strangely moving, vignette" (Phila. Inquirer) about Charles Darwin's struggle with the implications of his work. The defining event of the movie is not his scientific discoveries but the early death of his daughter, and how that affected his faith and that of his wife. The real-life husband and wife team of Paul Bettany (The Young Victoria, Master and Commander) and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Reservation Road) portray the Darwins.

MID-AUGUST LUNCH is an Italian comedy-drama about a cheerful gent of a certain age saddled with the job of entertaining a passel of elderly mamas. "The movie glows," says the New York Times about these Golden Girls and their cuddly escort.

The thriller is TERRIBLY HAPPY, a Danish delight that the New York Times calls a "diabolical comedy" as well as an "expertly constructed psychological thriller," all the while being "wickedly entertaining." Like The White Ribbon, it's set in a rural European town full of secrets that the hero, a reassigned cop from Copenhagen, must uncover. The title is ironic; the setting is a grim boggy land; and the characters could easily find homes in a David Lynch film.

If you haven't yet seen it, ALICE IN WONDERLAND with Johnny Depp is held over, along with THE GHOST WRITER and CHLOE.

Not enough? You want more? How about the new Disney nature epic OCEANS? The successor to last year's Earth, it opens as a special presentation for Earth Day, April 22. Filmed by the team that made Winged Migration, it's full of incredible footage of the watery world, including interspecies battles and majestic aquatic athleticism. The Tropic is doing special shows for school classes. Call Lori at 294-5857 for information.

A word of warning. You might wonder how the Tropic team manages to fit so much into a four-screen theater. It's all in the scheduling, which can get complex, and varies from day to day. So check your showtimes calendar carefully. And thank Matthew, Lori, Scot and Patricia for reintroducing the spreadsheet calendar at www.TropicCinema.com/calendar.html, and for all their hard work.

Comments, please, to pmann99@gmail.com

The Runaways (Rhoades)

Joan Jett’s Early Days With “The Runaways”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Yeah, I love “Cherry Bomb” and “Born to Be Bad,” songs by the Runaways, that early-on band of rockers Joan Jett and Cherie Currie.

“The Runaways” – a biopic about the first all-girl band – is playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Twilight’s vampire lover Kristen Stewart takes on the role of Jett, while now-grown-up Dakota Fanning is her band mate Currie.

A fan who caught the screening at a Sundance Film Festival event reports: “There’s a lot of two things in ‘The Runaways,’ drugs and sexual references, but really what can you expect from a movie about a ’70s rock band?”

As for the performances: “You don’t see even a glimpse of Bella in Kristen’s portrayal of Joan Jett. Having seen Joan Jett live, Kristen really captured her essence. Dakota Fanning was noticeably a better actress then Kristen Stewart, Dakota was Cherie and stole the show hands down.”

The real-life Cherie Currie was present in that screening audience. Our report continues: “When the real Cherie Currie did a Q and A after the movie was over I got to see just how perfectly Dakota mastered even her personality.”

Even Curry agrees. “All I can say is that the actresses did an incredible job. I couldn’t be happier with the performances, and I love the soundtrack.”

The movie is based on Cherie Currie’s 1989 memoir “Neon Angel.” While the script doesn’t stick strictly to the true story, Currie’s happy with the final results. “Every time I see the movie it’s just another major feeling of just being in awe. It’s really the greatest honor to have a movie about your life and things that you had done.”

When barely 15, Currie rocketed to stardom as lead vocalist of the Runaways, singing about being a “blond bombshell ready to explode.” With her red jumpsuit, cherry tattoo, and glitter-painted face, she toured with the band for nearly two years. “I lived in that red jumpsuit,” she says. “I loved it.”

Finally, in 1978, Cherie Currie quit, burnt out, realizing she had to change her life to survive. Joan Jett pursued a solo career, going on to sell over 6-million albums. Currie tried her hand at acting, married and divorced Robert Hays (star of the “Airplane!” movies), and is today a sculptress.

How did Dakota Fanning like playing Currie? “I think everybody has that inner part of themselves that wishes they could perform and be on stage. I’ve definitely had that. I think doing this movie and performing ‘Cherry Bomb’ and doing the performance scenes is the closest I’ll ever get to those dreams.”

Currie was thrilled to be portrayed by the young star. “Literally, I almost passed out, because she is my favorite actress out there.”

Dakota Fanning notes, “Playing a real person – I’ve never done that before. But the biggest difference was realizing that it’s someone's life that you have now, and it’s your job to relive it again. And of course, the subject matter was something different than what I’ve done. I was drawn to it for those reasons.”

In the film, Riley Keough (Elvis Presley’s granddaughter) plays Currie’s twin sister Marie. Tatum O’Neal (“Paper Moon”) steps in as her self-consumed mother. Scout Taylor-Compton (“Halloween”) is the band’s lead guitarist, Lita Ford. And Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road,”) portrays abusive manager Kim Fowley.

“The Runaways” is not so much about the loss of innocence as it is about preserving yourself. “I don’t regret any of it,” Currie says.

[from Solares Hill]

Creation (Rhoades)

“Creation” Theorizes Darwin’s Conflicts
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

At one point in my youth I wanted to become a paleontologist. I took graduate courses in historical geology. I collected fossils. Today, a Connecticut nature center has an outstanding fossil exhibition – dinosaur eggs, triceratops cowl, trilobites, petrified bones, theropod footprint preserved in stone, an assortment of hadrosaur teeth, and a keichousaurus skeleton – that I donated.

So you can deduce that I believe in evolution.

Evolution is a theory put forth by Charles Darwin that explains how species evolve over time through a process of natural selection. It has been called “the most explosive idea in history.”
“Creation” – a new biopic at the Tropic Cinema – is the story of Darwin and his battle between faith and reason.

Fifteen years after returning from his voyage on the Beagle to the Galapagos Islands, he’s still trying to write “Origin of the Species,” the book putting forth his ideas about evolution. But the work is coming slowly because he doesn’t want to upset his religious wife Emma. She opposes his ungodly theory, fearful that she’ll go to heaven and he won’t.

Following the death of his 10-year-old daughter, Darwin finally publishes his work, barely beating out similar concepts by biologist Alfred Russel Wallace. But his relations with Emma are strained. Can this marriage survive its own extinction?

British actor Paul Bettany (“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”) plays atheist Charles Darwin, a very different role from the Opus Dei religious fanatic he portrayed in “The Da Vinci Code.” American actress Jennifer Connelly (“Requiem For a Dream,” “Blood Diamond”) is Darwin’s wife Emma. Bettany and Connelly are married in real life too. They met on the set of “A Beautiful Mind,” where she won an Academy Award.

Martha West is daughter Annie, the character around which much of the story is built. A ghostly figure that haunts the anguished Darwin.

Directed by Jon Amiel (“Entrapment,” “Sommersby”), the film is more about a marriage than science.

The script’s based on “Annie’s Box,” a biography of Charles Darwin written by his great-great grandson Randal Keynes. He attributes the theory’s debut to the supportive influence of his great aunt (Annie), although that is historically unlikely.

But better to argue over the nuances in a screenplay than the more controversial topic of creation versus evolution.

[from Solares Hill]

Terribly Happy (Rhoades)

“Terribly Happy” Is Terribly Xenophobic
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My nephew is a small-town deputy sheriff and he tells me they have off-the-books ways of handling some problems. Justice reconfigured to fit local social mores.

His darkly funny stories remind me of a terrific little Danish film called “Terribly Happy” (or “Frygtelig lykkelig”) that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema. Part black comedy, part psychological thriller, part nouveau noir, it was Denmark’s entry as Best Foreign Language Film in this year’s Academy Awards competition.

In it, a Copenhagen policeman is punished for an inappropriate use of his firearm by being exiled to a small village in South Jutland, a marshy area with a high water table and a bog into which many local problems disappear. Like a two-headed cow or an abandoned truck or an occasional miscreant.

You see, this village has its own ways of doing things – from how to hang your shirts on a clothesline to the proper method for disciplining kleptomaniac kids. As someone says of the villagers, “They like to handle things themselves.”

Robert Hansen, our policeman, is a by-the-book guy, one who follows the rules. No matter that his predecessor imbibed in a beer or two at the local bar, he orders soda. No matter that a swift cuff is the traditional punishment for bad boys, he administers a stern warning instead.

Fact is, he’s an outsider. And his refusal to serve as the fourth hand in a weekly card game with the doctor, pastor, and a shopkeeper underscores his refusal to conform to the village’s way of life.

Like him, a pretty blonde named Ingerlise is an outsider, even though she’s married to the town bully. The doctor is used to patching up the cuts and bruises she suffers at the hands of her jealous husband. And when she asks the new policeman to take her away from Jørgen’s abuse, it doesn’t help matters at home.

In “Terribly Happy” horrific accidents go undetected … or do they?

As with small towns, everybody knows what going on. They know that when Ingerlise’s daughter takes her dolly for a walk in the stroller, Jørgen is smacking her mom around. Or when Robert comes close to kissing Ingerlise, it’s the talk of the bar. Or when someone dies under mysterious circumstances, it’s murder rather than the coronary arrest as pronounced by the doctor.

Despite Robert’s determination to play by the rules, he is slowly seduced into the village’s ways just as surely as he’s being seduced by Ingerlise. Next think you know, our cop’s ordering a beer, smacking a delinquent kid, going along with the doctor’s convenient verdict, and looking to the bog as a solution to his problems.

This austere little film plays with genres in a way that’s mindful of the Coen Brothers (but with subtitles). As dark as “No Country for Old Men,” as bleak as “Blood Simple,” as ironic as “Fargo,” you’ll be mesmerized by Robert Hansen’s transformation into being “our man now.”

Director-writer Henrik Ruben Genz deserves accolades for this little gem of a film that, despite Coen Brothers comparisons, is uniquely his own.

The casting is spot-on. Jakob Cedergren is stoic as our policeman in peril. Lene Maria Christensen is flirtatious as the troublesome wife. And Kim Bodnia is menacing as the cowboy-hat-wearing husband. But it’s the villagers who look like they could be extras from “Harvest Home” or the original version of “The Wicker Man.”

The nearby bog serves as the film’s metaphor, a quagmire that sucks in its victims just as surely as our errant cop is slowly sucked in by the clannish villagers.

[from Solares Hill]

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Week of April 9 through April 15 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Director Atom Egoyan's portfolio of movies is as varied as his background. Born in Egypt to Armenian parents and raised in Canada, his films range from the Academy Award nominated The Sweet Hereafter (children killed in tragic bus accident) to the Adult Video Award winner Exotica (set in a "gentleman's club") to the Political Film Society Human Rights Award winner Ararat (about the Turkish-Armenian genocide). He's been nominated for the top award at Cannes four times.

Egoyan customarily writes his own screenplays, but for his new film CHLOE, he has turned to a young writer Erin Cressida Wilson, best know for the quirky sex in her screenplays (Secretary, Fur). I remember reading in the trades that Disney had commissioned her to write a screenplay based on a Judy Blume book. What were they thinking!

But it's clear that Egoyan knew what he was getting into with Chloe. It's right up Ms. Wilson's alley, a dark place that you wouldn't want to wander into alone at night, and it makes good use of his Exotica-honed skills. In other words, this is one sexy movie. Julianne Moore suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) of cheating on her. But rather than confront him, or hire a private detective, she finds the beautiful young prostitute Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce him and see how he reacts.

Egoyan has commented that he booked Ms. Seyfried for the role before she appeared as a cute young thing in Mamma Mia, and that he's not sure he would have appraised her the same way had he seen that first. But then again, he also hadn't seen her in Jennifer's Body. Anyhow you'll see plenty of her, and of Ms. Moore, too, in this very R-rated show.

I'm not going to tell you how it plays out, but I can tip you that most reviewers throw around Fatal Attraction references.

Don't think THE ART OF THE STEAL is a heist thriller. It's a documentary about an art "theft" on an almost unimaginably high level. Documentarians seem to love art as a subject, maybe because they're artists themselves, or maybe because the subject is so beautiful. We've recently seen Herb and Dorothy, which related the saga of an ordinary couple who became two of the most important collectors in the world, and Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? about the manner in which an elite, of curators and experts, exercises draconian control over the validation of provenance.

Now we have another saga of about the evils of the art elite. This time it's the manner in which they managed to get the fabled Barnes collection moved from its relatively isolated suburban location to a new venue in downtown Philadelphia. It's a story of the conflict between ars gratia artis and art as a financially important commodity, and how political power and money trump the wishes of an art connoisseur and revered collector.

Also opening this week at the Tropic is Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND. The little girl and her adventures have been done on film many times. There was a Paramount production in 1933 starring Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle, Gary Cooper as the White Knight, and W.C. Fields as Humpty-Dumpty (perfect!); and a sappy Disney animation in 1951 billing Alice as a "heroine of fiction" following in the footsteps of Snow White and Cinderella.

Well, that's not the take of Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Sweeny Todd). It's from Disney again, but this time in a combination of live action and CGI. (There's also 3D up on the mainland, but not down on our little island, yet.) This is a serious big bucks feature which has already grossed 3/4 of a billion dollars. See it now. You will eventually, and you might as well catch it on a big screen.

Comments, please, to pmann99@gmail.com
[from Key West, the newspaper - www.kwtn.com]

Chloe (Rhoades)

“Chloe” Concocts Erotic Case History
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Don’t you just love a titillating erotic thriller? That delicious blend of mystery and sex is a combination to rival chocolate and peanut butter.

Director Atom Egoyan brings us one called “Chloe.” It’s a remake of a French movie “Nathalie,” which was loosely based on a Sigmund Freud case history called “Homosexuality in a Woman.”
“Chloe” is seducing audiences at the Tropic Cinema.

Amanda Seyfried (the pretty young actress from “Mama Mia” and “Dear John”) takes the title role, a call girl who is hired by a married woman to have an assignation with her wandering husband.

Julianne Moore (“A Single Man”) is Catherine, the suspicious wife who is worried about her hubby’s fidelity. Liam Neeson (“Taken”) is said spouse, a music professor named David.
Shocking, you say? A wife hiring a call girl to describe sexual encounters with husband. That’s the erotic part.

But as wife and call girl get together for these reports, there’s an attraction. Next thing you know, the two women are having an affair. That’s the erotic part too.
So where’s the mystery? Well, maybe the call girl isn’t what she seems to be. Maybe there’s an element of … untruth in her reports.

Why would a woman engage a prostitute to flirt with her husband and report back rather than hire a private investigator?

In answer, Atom Egoyan hints at the Freudian underpinnings. And he revels in the plot twist his story unveils. “As Chloe says in the beginning, she prides herself on how the client wants to be touched, or what they want to hear. But even in how well-versed this character is, this is a very unusual situation that she’s facing.”

The film’s shocking ending (no, I won’t give it away) has audiences divided. Some hate it; some think it perfect. However, be forewarned that the outcome of this tragic tale differs from the original French version.

Other parts of the script were rewritten on the fly to accommodate Liam Neeson’s absence from the filming when his wife Natasha Richardson died in a skiing accident.

So “Chloe” stands on its own. Not quite like the French film. Not quite like Freud’s case study. Not quite like director Egoyan’s original vision.

But if you like erotic thrillers …

[from Solares Hill]

The Art of the Steal (Rhoades)

“The Art of the Steal” Is About Legally Stealing Art
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

As a former president of the Key West Art & Historical Society, I couldn’t help being drawn to a documentary about how a “treasure trove of the modern art of America, and of the world” was confiscated by the city of Philadelphia against the wishes of its original owner.

It’s been called “the greatest act of cultural vandalism since World War II.”

“The Art of the Steal” – now playing at the Tropic Cinema – chronicles how the wishes of noted art collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes were overturned in the years following his death. “This is the scandal of the art world in modern America,” says Julian Bond, chairman of the board of NAACP and a family friend of Dr. Barnes.

Today the Barnes collection contains more Cézannes than found in the entire city of Paris, 181 wall-to-wall Renoirs, 59 paintings by Matisse, 46 Picassos, 7 Van Goghs, and more. “The concentration of works by these particular artists is unrivaled,” says art historian Robert Zaller. “The Louvre doesn’t have it, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, they don’t have it.”

Dr. Barnes is often dismissed as a bizarre curmudgeon, but in fact he created one of the greatest collections of early modern art in the world. A working class man from Philadelphia, he boxed to pay his way through medical school. He amassed his wealth by coming up with a product to stave off venereal disease.

In 1923 Barnes was introduced to art by a Central High friend and was soon going off to Paris to buy paintings. Way ahead of his time, he collected some of the best art in the history of the world – long before the big museums were competing for it.

Barnes wasn’t interested in a mass experience; he was interested in a quality experience. He abhorred the idea of rich people “using art as upholstery for their homes.” He wanted to avoid that, so he built a large building five miles outside of Philadelphia where the paintings were put on display for students, organized not by artist or period, but by the aesthetic experience.
He considered it a school, not a museum. Paintings were hung for didactic purposes, not exhibition. “The Barnes Foundation is the only sane place to see art in America,” said Henri Matisse.

Barnes was a misanthrope who had little regard for Philadelphia’s high society. He described the city as “a depressing intellectual slum.” In turn, his nemesis Walter Annenberg threatened to “crush the Barnes.”

In 1951 Albert Barnes crashed his roadster while traveling between his home and country place. He was instantly killed. His will left control of his art to Lincoln University, a small black college. A way of poking his finger in the eye of Philadelphia’s stuffy establishment.

His protégé Violette De Mazia took over, maintaining the school until she died. But afterwards, all bets were off.

An ambitious lawyer and a tourism promoter played roles in the events that thwarted D. Barnes express wishes and turned the prize art collection over to the Philadelphia cultural mavens. With the urging of local moneymen and their foundation, and with the stroing support of then-governor Edward G. Rendell, Lincoln University stepped aside to allow the Barnes to be moved to downtown Philly.

It’s about who controls $25 billion worth of art, accuses the film.

“A theft in broad daylight,” Robert Zaller called it. Protest signs said “Robbery in Progress.”
“Who speaks for the art, who speaks for the legacy of Dr, Barnes,” the film asks.

As it turns out, no one. The Dr. Albert C. Barnes art collection is due to be installed in its new facility by 2012.

[from Solares Hill]

Alice in Wonderland (Rhoades)

“Alice In Wonderland” Provides Phantasmagorical Showcase for Johnny Depp
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a British mathematician who loved riddles, puzzles, and word play, so who better than mathematician Martin Gardner to write three books annotating “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” the classic children’s fantasy that Dodgson wrote in 1865 under the pen name of Lewis Carroll.

According to my old chum Gardner, “Children today are bewildered and sometimes frightened by the nightmarish atmosphere of Alice’s drama. It is only because adults – scientists and mathematicians in particular – continue to relish the Alice books that they are assured of immortality.”

Disney would argue the point.

Even if you’ve never actually read the original book, you still know the story from having watched Disney’s 1951 animated version about a dozen times. A young girl named Alice follows an impatient rabbit to Wonderland, a strange upside-down, inside-out world ruled by the Queen of Hearts.

Now along comes former Disney animator Tim Burton to tell us a somewhat different story, this time using modern CGI effects to create the phantasmagorical world that Alice found at the bottom of a rabbit hole.

In Burton’s new version, 19-year-old Alice returns to the magical world of her childhood, reuniting with her madcap old cronies … only to discover that the Red Queen still oversees Wonderland in a reign of terror.

Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” is offering a reprise of its LSD-like tripping at the Tropic Cinema

Mia Wasikowska (“Amelia,” “Defiance”) takes on the role of Alice, but it’s Johnny Depp (“Pirate of the Caribbean,” “Public Enemies”) as the Mad Hatter who is the star.

“He loves doing oddballs,” Burton says of Depp. “That’s never a problem. He doesn’t like to be the same way twice. That’s good, it always keeps it fresh and all.”

Burton’s wife Helen Bonham Carter (The Harry Potter movies, “Sweeney Todd”)”) rails as the Red Queen, the tyrant who rules Wonderland. Ann Hathaway (“Valentine’s Day,” “The Princess Diaries”) shows up as the White Queen, the pacifist younger sister of the Red Queen. Crispin Glover (“Back to the Future,” “Beowulf”) joins the deck of cards as the Knave of Hearts, head of the Red Queen’s army. Stephen Fry (“V Is for Vendetta,” “Gosford Park”) grins it up as the Cheshire Cat. And Michael Sheen (“The Queen,” “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”) hops in as the finicky always-late White Rabbit.

This story takes place ten years after Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and its sequel “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.”

True to Lewis Carroll logic – uh, illogic perhaps – Alice has completely forgotten her previous visits to Underland (as Wonderland is known here). As a secret member of the Underland Underground Resistance movement, the White Rabbit has been sent by the Mad Hatter to fetch her back. And this time down the rabbit hole she learns her true calling, to overthrow the Red Queen.

The screenplay by Linda Woolverton presents a rite of passage for young Alice. Describing her as someone “who doesn’t quite fit into Victorian society,” the writer has made Alice just the opposite of how young women of the time were expected to behave, evolving her into a strong-willed and empowered heroine.

Just the opposite? How very Lewis Carroll-like.

Depp with flaming orange hair (a reference to mercury poisoning, a common affection among hatters of that era) plays the Mad Hatter as Alice’s demented ally.

“They have an understanding about each other,” says Mia Wasikowska. “They both feel like outsiders and feel alone in their separate worlds, and have a special bond and friendship.”
Using a combination of live action and animation, the characters are squeezed, stretched, and molded into fantastic shapes. Helen Bohnam Carter’s head is enlarged three times its actual size. Matt Lucas (playing both Tweedledum and Tweedledee) is seen as a mixture of animation and real actor.

“The story is obviously a classic with iconic images and ideas and thoughts,” says Burton. “But with all the movie versions, well, I’ve just never seen one that really had any impact on me. It’s always just a series of weird events.” His goal was to “try to make an engaging movie where you get some of the psychology.”

“In recent years the trend has been toward psychological interpretation,” Martin Gardner grumbles. “We are all amateur headshrinkers. We do not have to be told what it means to tumble down a rabbit hole or curl up inside a tiny house with one foot up the chimney. The rub is that any work of nonsense abounds with so many inviting symbols that you can start with any assumption you please about the author and easily build an impressive case for it.”

He adds, “The point here is not that Carroll was not neurotic (we all know he was), but that books of nonsense fantasy for children are not such fruitful sources of psychoanalytic insight as one might suppose them to be.”

Burton isn’t swayed. “I’m exciting about making it a new version but also have the elements that people expect when they think of the material.”

I’m reminded of lines from the book:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

”How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Does that apply to the audience too?

[from Solares Hill]