Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Week of May 28 to June 3 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

I know you'd like to take these sultry, summery days for a languorous loll about, but why not cool off at the Tropic?

If you don't want to think too hard, BABIES is the movie for you. It's just babies, babies and… more babies, four of the little ones, American, African, Japanese and Mongolian. If you love babies, you'll want to see it twice. Otherwise, once might be enough, but what's not to like? You don't have to change them, or deal with them crying all night, just watch them be and do the cutest things. Ooo, aaaw. Look at that. It “just might restore your faith in our perplexing, peculiar and stubbornly lovable species,” says the New York Times. If you don't like it, I hardly want to know you.

On the other hand, it's difficult to imagine that these innocent bundles of joy will grow up like the characters in A PROPHET, the gritty French prison saga featuring Malik, a skinny, illiterate French-Arab, sent to prison at age nineteen, who becomes socialized there. That is, if you take “socialized” in the literal sense of becoming adapted to your environment. In Malik's case it's a world ruled by a Corsican gang headed by one César. As an Arab, Malik's not of their world, but he's a malleable tool, who learns to murder as he learns to read.

This movie, which nailed nine French Oscars, the Grand Prix at Cannes, and an American Best Foreign Film nomination, has been called “the ultimate cell-block saga…. nearly three hours of shanking, squealing and surviving” (Time Out-New York). Compared by many to The Godfather, it's an extraordinary, epic movie, not for the faint-hearted, but a must for anyone who appreciates the power of film to transport us into another world.

A Prophet is the third of this year's Foreign Film nominees to come to the Tropic (after The White Ribbon and The Secret in Their Eyes), all powerful and moving in their own ways. This was one of the most hotly contested categories, and many thought A Prophet should have won. All I can say is that any movie that can hold its own in that competition shouldn't be missed.

The real sleeper of the week is HERE AND THERE, an English-language Serbian romantic comedy. Say what? Robert is a depressed, down-and-out American musician. He's so hard up he makes a deal with Branko, a Serbian immigrant who needs someone to marry his fiancé and bring her into the U.S. The complication is that Robert has to travel to Belgrade to finalize the marriage. There he meets the prospective bride's surly brother (“We don't live in Belgrade, we survive in Belgrade.”) and he is put up in the apartment of Branko's youthful mother, whose attractions he at first fails to note . The pacing is European, and the characters are more real than movie-star beautiful, but the story is true to the all-American rom-com tradition. Sweet.

And then there's HARRY BROWN. Michael Caine is the title character, an elderly former soldier, now living in a project dominated by youth gangs. If this one-sentence description alerts you to the Grand Torino-Death Wish plot potential, you'll be right on. Emily Mortimer, who's been getting a lot of screen time lately in a wide array of films - Shutter Island, City Island, and Pink Panther 2 - is a police detective in the area. But while she and her colleagues are inadequate to the job, vigilante Harry isn't. It's young director Daniel Barber's first film after a successful career in commercials, and Michael Caine's one hundred tenth. This juxtaposition has produced interesting, tense tribute to Caine’s boundless talent.

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

A Prophet (Rhoades)

“A Prophet” from Another Country
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Several months ago I saw the previews for “A Prophet” (French title: “Un prophète”) with my Syrian friend Tammer. He was eager to see it, for there aren’t a lot of films about Arabs.

Even director Jacques Audiard (“See How They Fall”) says he was trying to create “images for people who don’t have images in movies, like the Arabs in France.”

Let me tell you up front, this is not a political film about the Middle East. This intricate crime drama is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

“A Prophet” introduces us to Malik El Djebena (well played by Tahar Rahim) who is serving six years in a French prison. Inside the prison walls he falls under the control of the Corsican mob who uses him as an assassin, arranging leaves that allow him to go on missions for crime boss César Luciani (Niels Arestrup). But Malik is biding his time, waiting for the moment when he can take control of his own destiny, no longer Luciani’s hit man.

Malik becomes known as a prophet when he survives a car crash that had been foretold in a dream-like vision. And step-by-step, he learns the details of Luciani’s business and begins setting up criminal enterprises of his own. In short, it’s the familiar story of an underdog’s rise to power – but masterfully told.

Audiard got the idea for making a prison movie when one of his films was screened inside a prison and he saw the appalling conditions there. To ensure the authenticity of “A Prophet,” he hired former convicts as advisors and extras.

“A Prophet” was France’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film in the 82nd Academy Awards competition. Although it lost to “The Secret in Their Eyes,” it garnered the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Film Not in the English Language at the 63rd British Academy Film Awards. Additionally, it won 9 Césars, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor.

Not for the squeamish, this is a violent gangster movie told in a style that has been called “New French Extremity.” You’ll want to flinch, but you can’t make yourself look away.

The film shows the conflict among ethnic groups with brutal honesty. As one Middle Eastern observer said, “If you don’t know at least the basics of Islam or some of its myths then maybe the movie might go over your head.” He added, “Even if you might not ‘get it,’ it should be thoroughly enjoyable … every scene flows seamlessly into the next.”

My friend Tammer will get it.
[from Solares Hill]

Babies (Rhoades)

“Babies” Crawls Into Your Heart
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I was sitting a few seats over from the deputy film editor from The New York Times as I watched a special screening of “Babies,” a paean to newborns around the world. But it wasn’t Ann Kolson’s reaction I was watching. Another viewer had brought along her barely walking granddaughter and I kept cutting my eyes back and forth between the movie and the tot playing in the aisle next to me. I don’t know about The New York Times, but the tiny youngster seemed to like it just fine, giggling and staring at the images of babies that filled the screen.

“Babies” – or “Bébé(s)” as it’s titled in French – is playing patty cake at the Tropic Cinema.

This Focus Films-Canal Studio-Chez Wam collaboration takes us around the world, following the birth of four babies – in Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo, and San Francisco.

We meet Ponijao, Bayar, Mari, and Hattie at the moment of birth and observe them during the first year of their lives.

Told without a single word of dialogue, this visual presentation is indeed a film editor’s triumph (Reynald Bertrand and Craig McKay get the joint credit here). And Thomas Balmes directs.

Scene by scene we follow those first moments as the babies laugh, cry, nurse, and greet the world. It goes to prove no matter how different we are, we’re all the same. Giving truth to that sentiment we celebrate here in Key West: One Human Family.

We observe these babies crawling through the African sand. Across the grassy Mongolian plains. Or scooting along a polished hardwood floor in San Francisco. Until they stand and take those first teetering steps.

And then they are babies no more.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, May 21, 2010

Week of May 21 to May 27 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Its not usual for the Tropic to devote its main screen to a foreign film, but THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES has well-earned that right. Winner of this year’s Foreign Language Academy Award (and thirteen, yes 13, Argentine Oscars), this movie has everything that American audiences love: a brutal rape-murder, a sinister villain, a sexy female D.A., a quiet, methodical good guy, corrupt police officials, a dramatic CGI-enhanced chase scene, and tricky plot twists that leave you wondering where the story is going. No wonder; the Argentine director Juan José Campanella has honed his craft on American television, directing seventeen episodes of Law and Order and five of House, M.D.

Benjamin (Ricardo Darin) is a long-retired police investigator who is writing a novel about an unsolved murder that occurred twenty-five years earlier. The case has haunted him, and he hopes the novel will bring him closure. It doesn’t hurt that he also has an unfulfilled crush on his former boss Irene, whom he must visit to discuss the story. She’s the lovely Soledad Villamil, about whom I share Roger Ebert’s opinion: “she’s my idea of a woman.”

As the story unfolds, we move back and forth in time, back to the original events and forward to the current time, and we struggle along with Benjamin to figure out what really happened. The result, says David Denby in the New Yorker, is “a powerfully and richly imagined genre-busting work that successfully combines the utmost in romanticism and the utmost in realism.”

It’s headed for an All-American remake, maybe with Campanella as the director, but why wait? It’s a very visual movie, so the subtitled Spanish is hardly a problem, and you don’t want to miss Soledad Villamil.

On the other hand, if you really need to hear English, there’s KICK ASS, picked up by the Tropic under its summertime policy that seems to be based on the theme “into each life some brain must fail.” Chole Grace Moretz (the cute younger sister in 500 Days of Summer) is the eleven-year-old action hero Hit Girl who, with her father Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) wantonly kills bad guys in satirically over-the-top violence. They’re inspired by a hopeless nerd parading around in a lame Kick Ass costume (Aaron Johnson), who has achieved fame from a video that has gone viral.

Big Daddy is a Batman ripoff, right down to the Bruce Wayne voice, but the real ass-kicking is done by Hit Girl, the cutest little trash-talker you ever saw. You’ll either love or hate this R-rated gory goof of a superhero satire. There’s no middle ground on this one. (The rating seems to come from the fact that little Miss Sundown utters the “c” word. I don’t see any other reason, unless it’s all the murder and mayhem.)

Nic Cage has just been quoted as saying he eats only animals that have sex in a “dignified” way. Apparently that includes birds and fish, but not pigs. That’s a quote from real life, not this movie, but it would have fitted right in. Has he ever watched our chickens do it? Go Nic!

The very popular CITY ISLAND starring Andy Garcia is held over, as are THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, and THE JONES, all of which I’ve covered earlier.

Comments, please, to

The Secret in their Eyes (Rhoades)

“The Secret in Their Eyes”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I saw the original Broadway production of “Evita,” where Patti LuPone sang the showstopper, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” Being a film critic, that memory recently set me to thinking that Argentina’s film industry has nothing to cry about, because it’s the only Latin American country to ever win an Oscar. In fact, two of them.

First time was 1985’s “La historia official.” And last year it snagged the golden statuette for Best Foreign Language Film for an intriguing murder mystery titled “El secreto de sus ojos” – or as we call it in English “The Secret in Their Eyes.”

The Tropic Cinema continues its tradition of bringing us the best films from abroad as well as important indie films and occasional mainstream blockbusters. “The Secret in Their Eyes” is currently playing there in its main Carper auditorium.

The film uses the technique of flashbacks (also called analepsis) to tell the story about a long-ago murder of a young woman that haunts Buenos Ares civil investigator Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darín). Now ready to retire, he tries to come to terms with the unsolved 1974 crime by writing a novel about it.

Espósito along with his alcoholic assistant Pablo (Guillrimo Francella) had pursued a man named Gómez (Javier Godino) without success. Espósito promised the murdered woman’s grief-stricken husband (Pablo Rago) that he would solve the crime – and in the end he sorta does.
Amid more killings, Espósito tries to deal with unresolved feelings for his boss, an attractive lawyer (Soledad Villamil) who might just share his romantic notions.

This is director-writer Juan José Campanella’s fourth feature length movie, for he mostly directs such American TV series as “Law & Order,” “House,” and “30 Rock.”

His star Ricardo Darín has worked with Campanella in three films. And third time’s the charm, winning an Academy Award for “The Secret in Their Eyes.”

This Argentine-Spain co-production also won the Goya Award for Best Spanish Languish Foreign Film. Although born in Buenos Ares and working in America, Juan José Campanella is a Spanish citizen.

But he’s adding to the film culture … down Argentine way.
[from Solares Hill]

Kick Ass (Rhoades)

“Kick-Ass” Turns Everyman Into Superhero
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Those of you who regularly read this column know that I used to be publisher of Marvel Comics so I know something about the subject of superheroes. In fact, I’ve written two college textbooks about the subject. So when we get a movie about Spider-Man or Iron Man, I know what I’m talking about.

At Marvel we had a “character wheel” that defined a new superhero. To qualify, the character had to have a unique name, unique costume, and unique superpowers.

Now along comes a new movie called “Kick-Ass” that turns the idea of superheroes upside down. As the teenager of this tale (played by Aaron Johnson) muses, why has no one has ever decided to become a real-life superhero like those found in the comic books? So what if one has no superpowers!

Coming up with a homemade costume, our hero sets out to fight crime. However, his first attempt lands him in the hospital – having been beaten, stabbed, and hit by a car. No, it didn’t go too well.

His injuries require metal to hold his bones together, making him as impervious as, uh, Wolverine. And his damaged nerve endings make him resistant to pain. So his next outing as a superhero is more successful, turning him into an Internet sensation, a crime fighter known as Kick-Ass.

Add to this mix a retired cop (Nicholas Cage) who has trained his feisty daughter to become a superhero called Hit-Girl (Cloe Moretz) and before you know it, the streets are crawling with costumed do-gooders.

Yes, it’s a comedy based on the Marvel comic book of the same name, drawn by my old pal John Romita, Jr. and written by Mark Millar.

The film rights were sold before the first issue was even published. Director Matthew Vaughn (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) notes that working with Mark Millar on the film was “a labor of love.” He explains, “We wrote the script and the comic at the same time so it was a very sort of collaborative, organic process.”

Every studio turned the movie down, so Vaughn was forced to come up with private financing. “We made this for probably half the money a studio would have made this for. Which is good, though, because it makes you think out of the box. There are a lot of things I wanted to do which we couldn’t afford and then you come up with better ideas and how to actually execute it.”
When Vaughn presented the movie at last year’s Comic-Con International, the big comic book convention in San Diego, the movie “really lived up to its name.” It received a standing ovation from jaded fanboys.

“Kick-Ass” is now waging its battle against crime at Key West’s Tropic Cinema.

Be forewarned that the movie contains a lot of profanity and violence. One spokesman for a family group grumbled, “The language is offensive and the values inappropriate – without the saving grace of the bloodless victory of traditional superheroes.”

Vaughn counters, “I think the superhero films that Hollywood has been churning out have had their day and I think ‘Iron Man,’ ‘The Dark Knight,’ ‘Watchmen’ and now ‘Kick-Ass’ are moving it away from, ‘Hey, I’m a superhero. I’m going to save the world, and … some Hollywood crap.’ I think the genre is changing and it has to change.”

Heck, I’m not shocked that comic book movies are targeting older audiences. When I was publisher of Marvel Comics back in the mid-90s, research told me my average reader was already 26 years old.
[from Solares Hill]

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Week of May 14 to May 20 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

I kept a boat on New York’s City Island for a while, so I know the place. If you can imagine Key West uprooted and dropped alongside the Bronx, you might have an idea. The old, raffish Key West, that is. The new movie CITY ISLAND, set on this geographical oddity, is a family story, about a family full of people with secret lives that would feel right at home on our southernmost island.

The father Vincent Rizzo (Andy Garcia) is a corrections officer (don’t say “prison guard”) who really wants to be an actor. His son Vince, Jr. (Ezra Miller) has unusual sex fantasies, while his daughter Vivian (played by Garcia’s own daughter Dominik García-Lorido) isn’t exactly the college student her parents think she is.

But those aren’t the only secrets in this family. Vincent has an even bigger one, and it’s the core of this serio-comic working-class story. No spoilers here, but it involves a handsome hunk of an ex-con (Steven Strait, buff and bold from 10,000 B.C.).

Writer-director Raymond De Fellita has begun to make a modest name for himself with quiet domestic dramas. City Island, a real crowd-pleaser that won the Audience Award at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, may be his breakthrough movie. Producing company Paradigm Productions is said to have put De Fellita and Andy Garcia together. It’s a great arranged marriage.

Though you wouldn’t expect it, there’s even a bit of humor in LOURDES, a narrative film about Christine, a girl with MS who seeks a cure at the fabled French shrine. Sylvia Testud is wonderfully appealing as Christine. You’ll remember her as Edith Piaf’s sidekick Mômone in La Vie En Rose. Lourdes is not a film that tries to explain, investigate, or debunk the healing claims, but rather an“intelligent, rigorously thoughtful, somewhat sly film” (New York Times), “a cosmic black comedy that bumps up against the metaphysical” (Time Out New York). Guess you’ll have to see it to know.

That’s probably not for the kids, but THE SECRET OF KELLS most definitely is. From the production team that gave us the wonderful The Triplets of Bellville, this animated film was nominated for the 2010 Academy Award by some folks who appreciated an alternative to the Disney-Pixar style. There’s a real Book of Kells, a famous medieval illustrated manuscript in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. The movie is the story of a young monk, Brendan, and his adventures to help complete the book. The kids will love the quest adventure, and you’ll marvel at the majestic, illuminated-manuscript-inspired art. A treasure.

And, as they say, last but not least, is a documentary about The Doors and Jim Morrison, WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE. It’s not a talking heads doc, full of interviews. This is an unvarnished Music doc, full of all The Doors music and archival footage, including clips from a movie that Morrison made of himself. “A trippy, fascinating documentary… a mesmerizing, behind-the-music glimpse at a crucial and bizarre moment in rock history. Damn! This shit is powerful, dude.” ( Come on baby, Light My Fire!

[from Key West, the newspaper -]

City Island (Rhoades)

“City Island” - An Isle of Familial Lies
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

When I lived in New York I’d occasionally drive out to City Island for seafood. Despite being within a stone’s throw of New York City, it’s a separate culture. This 252-acre spit of land is technically a part of the Bronx, but has the look of a New England fishing village. Its 4,520 residents operate some 30 restaurants, assorted antique shops, two supermarkets, a gas station, a pharmacy, and a bank. Notable residents have ranged from silent film actor Harry Carey to Lucchese crime family underboss Salvator Santoro.

Former “Godfather III” star Andy Garcia recently spent time on City Island, filming a dark comedy called … what else? … “City Island.” In it, he plays the patriarch of a dysfunctional family that finds it easier to bend the truth than walk a straight line.

“City Island” is currently showing at the Tropic Cinema. One moviegoer described it as “a character film that’s masquerading as a situation comedy.”

Vince Rizzo (Garcia) is a frustrated prison guard who longs to be an actor, so he’s secretly taking lessons. His wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) knows he’s lying about this so-called poker night, and suspects him of having an affair. His daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) claims she attending college, but instead is working as a stripper. Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller) is pursuing a sexual fetish that involves a 300-pound neighbor. And a mysterious ex-con (Steven Strait) who has been befriended by Vince seems to have a hidden past that Joyce is determined to sniff out.
Yet there’s hope for the Rizzo family as an angel-like acting-class partner (Emily Mortimer) helps set Vince straight, and layers of familial deception are slowly pealed away.

“We are all scared of what everyone thinks of our dreams and the process of exposure is so painful,” observes writer-director Raymond de Felitta.

A native New Yorker, de Felitta knows his subject. “These are the Italians in the outer boroughs that I grew up around,” he says. “So I know how they speak and where they’re from, so for me it’s natural and the easiest thing to write.”

For some reason, Cuban-born Andy Garcia winds up playing Italians in a lot of movies (“The Untouchables,” “Hoodlum,” “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead,” etc.). There’s nobody to blame but himself for the role in “City Island,” for he co-produced the low-budget indie film.

“Originally, because Vince is an Italian-American, I thought either Robert DeNiro or James Gandolfini,” admits de Felitta. “But they were not available … then my agent came up with Andy and I thought, Andy is like an honorary Italian – he is in ‘The Godfather’ so he is an Italian. He is an everyman.”

In addition to Garcia, “City Island” offers a cast of very familiar faces. You know Julianna Margulies from her 135 episodes of TV’s “ER” and her 42 episodes (so far) of the hit CBS show “The Good Wife.” Steven Strait starred as that handsome caveman in “10,000 B.C.” Oscar-winner Alan Arkin took a small role as a favor to his pal Andy Garcia. And Dominik Garcia-Lorido is Andy’s real-life daughter, voted one of 2005’s Fifty Most Beautiful People by People Magazine.

“The characters were so unique, so quirky,” says Andy Garcia, “it reminded you of home.”

Well, his home maybe. Mine’s dull by comparison.
[from Solares Hill]

Lourdes (Rhoades)

Holy Pilgrimage To “Lourdes”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’ve never been to Lourdes, but I once visited Fatima, the holy shrine located in Portugal. Like at Lourdes, the Virgin Mary was sighted there, marking it as a place of miracles. Thousands journey to this religious destination each year seeking cures. These prayerful pilgrims approach the cathedral on their knees.

The shrine has been commercialized. Shops sell effigies of the Blessed Virgin and colorful candles and fancy prayer books. I was tempted to order a McJesus at a local hamburger restaurant.

“Lourdes” tells a similar story, that of a crippled supplicant named Christine (played by Sylvie Testud) who travels to the iconic shrine in the Pyrenees Mountains seeking a miracle cure for her multiple sclerosis.

“Lourdes” is working its cinematic miracles this week at the Tropic.

While displaying empathy for the tenets of Catholicism, director Jessica Hauser does not hesitate to turn her eye (and lens) onto the circus-like trappings of Lourdes. Amid this “theme park of piety” atmosphere, we witness a miracle. But wondrous cures do not come to everyone. And so at heart of this documentary-like film is the question of “Why her and not me?”

However, if you’re waiting for an answer, “Lourdes” offers no epiphanies. The film leaves your degree of belief up to the strength of your own faith.
[from Solares Hill]

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Week of May 7 to May 13 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Hollywood loves a high concept movie. It’s the way the system works, with hotshots pitching ideas to busy executives. The simpler the concept, the pithier the presentation, the more likely it is to get a reaction.

Try to explain a layered family story that develops complex characters in a sentence or two. Not so easy. Then try “Marketing firm assembles fake family, and moves them into a suburb where they can surreptitiously hype products.” Then add,”Demi Moore and David Duchovny are the leads.”

Bingo! Meet THE JONESES opening at the Tropic today (May 7).

But a pitch isn’t a movie. I had a friend who was a pitchmaster. He made a good living in L.A. getting projects into development, but nothing ever made it to the screen. The real creative challenge comes in figuring out what to do with the concept -- how to create a story that holds the audience, maybe charms them, or entertains them, or compels them, or terrifies them, or whatever.

Writer-director Derrick Borte has done a pretty good job with The Jones. It’s a little off-putting at first to see how perfect that Jones’ family is – mother Demi (Kate Jones), father David (Steve Jones), and a teen-age son and daughter, each beautiful and charismatic. But of course that’s the premise. It’s a marketer’s dream assemblage of folks with whom you’d like to keep up.
As you may know, Duchovny has had some personal problems of the Tiger Woods genre, too much sex with too many women, while being married to merely one. Seeing him turn on the charm in The Joneses, it’s not difficult to see why the women lined up.

But, getting back to the movie, he’s the good guy, somewhat conflicted about what they’re doing. And she’s the cold, all business, “it’s just a job” counterpoint. The movie has a message, I suppose, that we’re all too much into things, but that’s so obvious it’s hardly important. Why the movie works is that it doesn’t take that message too seriously. At heart, it’s a traditional romantic comedy. Will the real Kate and Steve please stand up, and work it out?

If you’re up for something light, you’ll enjoy finding out. And hang on for the after-credits. There’s a final joke.

Held over from last week are THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, GREENBERG, DATE NIGHT, and OCEANS. It’s been fun stopping by the theater in the morning and see hordes of little tykes oooing and aaahing at the aquatic marvels in Oceans. It’s unlikely that any of these will be held over for another week, so be advised.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to be in the loop for the latest bulletins and special announcements from the Tropic, it might be worth it to sign up for Facebook or Twitter feeds. You can find “Tropic Cinema” on Facebook or “tropiccinema” on Twitter.

Facebook is a bit more of a commitment to a social network, with people chasing you to be their “friends,” and elaborate personal pages. Twitter is simpler and more low-key. Just 140 character bulletins. Take your choice. The Tropic is going to start a free ticket contest on both networks. I’ll let you know more soon. But meanwhile, sign up and get your account at or

[from Key West, the newspaper -]

The Joneses (Rhoades)

Keeping Up With “The Joneses”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Hm, what if your neighbors are not who you think they are. Witness protection program, you say? No, more insidious. What if they are actually a faux family, a marketing team sent to convince you and your friends to buy certain products?

That’s the premise of “The Joneses,” the satiric dramedy that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Demi Moore and David Duchovny make a picture-perfect mom and dad, with Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth as their phony children. Homeowners in this gated community filled with McMansions think of them as “The Joneses,” the privileged family with all the latest gizmos and electronic gear, the ones to keep up with. But alas, they are merely a marketing team assembled by a large conglomerate testing stealth marketing techniques.

Duchovny is a smooth operator, appearing to be a successful businessman with a beautiful wife, big house, and all the toys any adult could hope for. Moore is beautiful as always, the model wife that men in any neighborhood would long for. And the two youngsters are, of course, the coolest kids in school.

But it’s all a sham.

Gary Cole, Chris Williams, Catherine Dyer, and Glenne Headly join the neighborhood cast. And Lauren Hutton is KC, head of the marketing company. Jacob G. Akins adds a funny bit as a furniture mover.

First-time director-writer Derrick Borte gives us a social commentary on our consumerist society, as sharply etched as a Hogarth engraving, as perceptive of human frailties as a Chaucerian tale.

Borte admits he’s guilty of consumerism himself. “It started when I was about seven years old, my first pair of Puma Clyde tennis shoes. Somebody wore them to school and I wanted them. So I am definitely not immune to this phenomenon.”

It’s a disease, he jokes. Even giving it a name – “affluenza, wanting to have what other people have because of the perceived effect it has on them.”

While billed as a drama, much of “The Joneses” is very funny. One moviegoer described it, “Like ‘Truman Show’ meets ‘American Beauty.’” I would agree with that, but I’m worried that he may have been an undercover marketer trying to influence my opinion of this funny, biting, satiric film.
[from Solares Hill]