Thursday, September 23, 2010

Week of September 24 to September 30 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Take a good look at the time schedule before heading down to the theater.

The Peggy Dow Theater is splitting its screen between THE EXPENDABLES and THE EXTRA MAN. The former is a rock ‘em, sock ‘em Sylvester Stallone written/directed story, with such as former Ultimate Fighting Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture (his real name) and Chinese martial arts Gold Medalist Jet Li helping Sly and his cameo buddies Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger as a team of mercenaries saving the world from guys like Wrestlemania star Stone Cold Steve Austin. Are you getting the picture?

Nothing could be further from Kevin Kline as THE EXTRA MAN. He’s a walker. Well, maybe not entirely different, because I guess you could say that he’s a kind of a mercenary, too, but a foppish one, saving rich women from loneliness. His buddy is a former prep-school English teacher (Paul Dano), bent on becoming a great novelist, but somewhat distracted by a penchant for donning women’s undergarments. (Why isn’t he named Randy Couture?) The two wind up sharing an apartment on New York’s upper-east side, with Kline trying to teach the naïve young Dano the ways of the world. Can’t get to New York this fall, this “whimsical, screwball ode to urban eccentricity” (New York Times) is a quick and easy visit.

The star of the week though is the splendid MAO’S LAST DANCER from the fine Australian director Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy). It's based on the autobiography of Chinese ballet dancer / political defector Cunxin Li, played by Chi Cao, himself a principal dancer with the Birmingham Royal Ballet. The extended ballet excerpts are a visual and musical treat, especially when seen on the Tropic’s big main screen, and the history that unfolds with the story adds a powerful dimension. Cunxin Li was plucked from a remote village by Mao’s talent scouts and made to become a dancer in service of the revolution. Yet when he finally grew to love his art, and a beautiful blonde ballerina, his personal revolt left the Chinese one behind.

Another story of a potential “defector” is CAIRO TIME. In this case it’s indie favorite Patricia Clarkson (Pieces of April, The Station Agent, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) in her first starring role. She’s an American wife stranded in Cairo alone when her UN-official husband gets stuck in Gaza and can’t get to her. He’s not in danger, but she is, until an Egyptian friend of his offers to show her around. He’s charming, he’s kind, and she’s appreciative. “Great to see Cairo depicted relatively accurately in the film and not overly-romanticized,” enthused the reviewer in Cairo 360 magazine. So come for the scenery, and enjoy the story.

To round out the program, EAT PRAY LOVE with Julia Roberts and the Spanish-made, but English-language, historical drama AGORA with Rachel Weisz are both held over.

Plenty to see.

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

Cairo Time (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Cairo Time
Canadian-Arab director Ruba Nadda helms the delicate romance "Cairo Time" with a subtle touch that is not without suspense. The film zeroes in on Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) who is supposed to be on vacation with her U.N. worker husband Mark (Tom Mcmanus). When the film opens Mark is delayed in Gaza. Juliette is a lonely echo adrift and floating in colorful robes: a curiously blonde shadow in an exotic setting.

Like a female character in an Albert Camus novel, Juliette watches with a curious mix of detachment and delight as life moves past her. Men sun themselves on shaded decks. Elegant sails drift by. A prayer call drifts through an open window like a riddle of sound. Juliette again waits for word on her absent husband and she is continuously informed with enigmatic secondhand information and Kafkaesque hearsay. When she goes to the hotel desk, the Internet is shut down without specific reason. Communication is lost. The camera moves with a slow meandering, in contrast to the ultra- sharp detail in showing the environs of Cairo.

Juliette wanders the streets as packs of Arab men attack her with carnal eyes. Suddenly she finds herself softly drawn to the kind and mild mannered chaperone played by Alexander Siddig. Siddig is sensitive and laconic and the romance is carried with soft implications, rather than lustful intent in keeping with official business.

Patricia Clarkson's character is a study in delicate, pained lament. When Juliette's face is secretly crestfallen as her rugged husband arrives, we feel the vacuum. The paintings of George Tooker possess the same visual power of isolation and regret among crowded cities and solitary hotel rooms. To see "Cairo Time" is to observe an existential romance with the voyeuristic gaze of a panoramic tourist; suddenly you are deep within Cairo's covert whispers not wanting to pull away from a door that is, ever so slightly, ajar.

Mao's Last Dancer (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Mao's Last Dancer  

"Mao's Last Dancer" is based on the autobiography by Li Cunxin. As the   film opens ballet dancer Cunxin (Chi Cao) arrives at the Houston   international Airport from Beijing China. The first thing he sees is a   bust of President Reagan as it is 1981. This is in direct contrast to   a flashback in China circa 1950, showing huge banners of Mao.  Alas,   both countries idolize its leaders with Pop Art celebrity.

As a young  dancer,  Li Cunxin was drilled to think that America was the center of   capitalist misery. Cut quickly to Li in 1980, dancing at a Houston   disco and the truth is revealed: America is freedom and you are free   to criticize your leaders.   Cunxin has trouble adjusting. He is left a stranger in a culture of   wanton consumption. He has little use for $150 suits and blenders   that make smoothies.  He is confused by the color TVs.

He is under the   wing of Ben Stevenson, director of the Houston Ballet, played by   Bruce Greenwood. Stevenson is obsessive, elitist and controlling. Only   later in the film is it revealed that Stevenson is a man of absolute control and his kindness and care for young Li, is warped into self- centeredness.

When Li falls in love with American dancer Liz (Amanda   Schull), Stevenson turns venomous and outraged. Li gets married to Liz  with the help of the legal wizardry of attorney Charles Foster (Kyle   Maclachlan). Li becomes plagued by nightmares of his parents being  shot, sacrificed for his American freedom.

"Mao's Last Dancer" is a compelling underdog story.  At times when Li Cunxin was being bullied by his teachers and working out with heavy  painful-looking leg braces, I was reminded of "Rocky" and the original   version of "The Karate Kid" and this is not a bad thing. The visual   impact is heartfelt and striking, especially in the "Rite Of Spring" sequence. Chi Cao, who maintains a Kafkaesque blend of suspicion and innocent surprise, suddenly leaps like a Pagan juggernaut from the  fiery earth in that routine and audiences will cheer. 

As Liz becomes whiny and insecure, Li marries dancer Mary Mckendry  (Camilla Vergotis) who has surprisingly little dialogue, but she moves   perfectly like a poetic echo to Cao's every step. The last image of Li and Mckendry poised like conquering rockets, speaks of the hope and promise of a new America.  When balanced against our current political climate of fear and unrest, the visual effect is as poignant and delicate as Chinese calligraphy.

Mao's Last Dancer (Rhoades)

“Mao’s Last Dancer” Gives Poignant Performance
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

As you await “Black Swan,” the new ballet thriller starring Natalie Portman, go see “Mao’s Last Dancer” if you want to see some thrilling ballet. Based on an autobiography by Li Cunxin, it chronicles his defection to America and subsequent career with the Houston Ballet and the Australian Ballet.

“Mao’s Last Dancer” is doing it pas de deux at the Tropic Cinema.

Born in an impoverished mountain village in China, Li Cunxin was selected as a child to train as a dancer in Beijing. In 1979, during a cultural exchange to America, he fell in love with a fellow ballet student, Elizabeth Mackey, causing him to defect. While that marriage didn’t last, he went on to dance down under, marrying Australian dancer Mary McKendry.

The adult Li is portrayed by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s principal dancer, Chi Cao. Amanda Schull and Camilla Vergotis play the respective wives. Kyle MacLachlan (“Sex and the City”) takes on the role of the Houston lawyer who helps the dancer defect. And Joan Chen (MacLachlan’s costar in TV’s “Twin Peaks”) joins the fray.
Veteran Australian director Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy”) gives us a two-hanky chick flick, a poignant examination of the difficult choices Li made as he gave up family and country for love.

But the dance sequences are worth the ticket price alone.
[from Solares Hill]

The Expendables (Rhoades)

“The Expendables” Might Not Be

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

As I get up in years, I like the idea of someone taking some of my old action heroes out of mothballs, dusting them off, and letting them show that we older guys still know how to kick butt.
That’s exactly what Sylvester Stallone does with “The Expendables.” He could have called it “Rambo V,” given its testosterone-driven plot.

“The Expendables” is currently wreaking havoc at the Tropic Cinema.

Barney Ross (Stallone) leads a team of mercenaries on a mission to South America to overthrow a ruthless dictator. Expect plenty of bullets, explosions, and he-man derring-do.

Assembled for this action extravaganza are Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Jet Li, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Randy “The Natural” Couture, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, and Jason Statham. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis turn up for uncredited appearances.

Tough guys have to stick together.

If “The Expendables” seems like a flashback, that’s deliberate. “Yes, it's a 1980s movie with today’s technology,” admits Stallone. “But in those days, the female leading character was a helpless girl, waiting to be rescued by the hero. Now we have a very strong female character that evolved to this form while I was writing the script. But except for this, yes, it's a 1980s movie.”

The lasses in this outing include Charisma Carpenter, whom you’ve seen kicking supernatural butt in TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and Gisele Itié, a Mexican-born Brazilian actress (whom Stallone describes as “the tough one who likes to fight”).

As for himself, looking a bit doughy at age 64, Stallone says, “I don’t fight no one. (laughs). I just fight in my movies, never in real life. I’m getting too old for that, hurting myself all the time.”

Some of his co-stars remain scrappers. “What I’m trying to do,” says Sly, “is show you that, like a good fighter, in the ring is where they are most comfortable. Outside the ring, they’re actually floundering around. They cannot master their own life. So what I try to do with these men who look invulnerable is that every one of them has a view to play. I don't care how much muscle you have, you can still have that flaw, that human touch. That thing that makes us all want to be liked.”

How did Stallone recruit so many big-deal action heroes who have never before appeared on screen together? “You try to write parts that interest them and appeal to their sense of competition,” he says. “You just have to get their interest, that's all.”

However, getting them to work together was “unbelievably difficult.” Stallone is quick to point out, “You have five or six action men. They all have to be served; they all need their equal time. And that’s very, very consuming.”

Almost as if describing a last hurrah, Stallone turns philosophical. “Action heroes have gone through this metamorphosis. After World War II there was a sense of ‘We now have to find the new kind of man, the John Wayne kind of character, the Lee Marvin, the post war kind of guy – strong, silent, having been somewhat brutalized by the situation. Then you went to Dirty Harry, which became more of an urban situation, not so much having gone through some kind of turmoil and the government that is war.
“Then my generation came along, which are kind of the action guys, but they are not really affiliated with anything, maybe Vietnam, so they all have a complex. They’re America’s outcasts. Then you have the new action hero, which is subject to technology and CGI.

“Now the pendulum has swung around, where you are rediscovering the very physical alpha male. But all the baggage that comes along with trying to deal in a PC world. Let’s say we just dug up the Wild Bunch. Gave them one more shot. These guys don’t fit in this kind of world; they are the Expendables, that is why they are called that.”

The movie’s tagline describes them as “The Toughest Crew of the Century.” To nostalgic action fans, they just might be.
[from Solares Hill]

Cairo Time (Rhoades)

“Cairo Time” Is a Jewel

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

As I get older, I find myself less engrossed in watching teen comedies or coming-of-age films. They’re starting to feel like a relic of my past. Just as teenyboppers no longer attract me, my gaze turns to more mature women. No wonder AARP keeps sending me all those mailings.

So at my age it’s nice to see a romantic film that features a fiftysomething woman and a man of similar seniority. That’s what we find in “Cairo Time,” the story of an unexpected love affair that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Written and directed by Ruba Nadda, “Cairo Time” won Best Canadian Feature Film” at last year’s Toronto
International Film Festival.

Nadda’s childhood visit to the idiosyncratic, frantic city of Cairo stuck with her, luring her to return, inspiring her to create this film.

Nadda saw the character Juliette in her mind’s eye. “She was arriving at the airport in Cairo, and in turn an Arab man was meeting her and they were supposed to fall in love,” she says. “So I pocketed those images together and turned it into a movie.”

In “Cairo Time,” a Canadian magazine editor named Juliette (the wonderful Patricia Clarkson) travels to this faraway port of call in Egypt for a three-week vacation with her husband Mark who works for the UN (Tom McCamus). However, when Mark is detained in Gaza, he asks his Egyptian friend Tareq (Alexander Siddig) to show her the sights of the city.

Thus sparks a surprise romance. “With ‘Cairo Time’ I was trying to say that this is a grand, epic romance,” says the director. “It’s not a film about immediate gratification where the two heroes get together in the first twenty minutes. It’s not a music video. I appreciate the subtlety of it because I feel like that kind of patience is lost in modern day cinema. It’s why I went to Patricia Clarkson because I knew that she possessed that subtlety and ‘regalness’. I just feel like audiences can relate to that, I really do.”

“This part required very different things of me,” observes Clarkson. “It's a very revealing character. I loved the character as much for what she didn’t say as what she did say.”

There’s an innocence to this brief affair. A cordial relationship that turns to love over the course of two people sharing the city of Cairo for a magical moment in time.

To be clear, this is as much a love affair with an exotic city as with an exotic man. Juliette marvels at the narrow streets, the aroma of hashish in the air, the markets, the men-only cafes, the White Desert outside the city, the serpentine expanse of the Nile.

“Ruba Nadda and I have become great friends,” declares Clarkson. “She’s like the little sister I never had. She is quite beautiful and very charismatic. She got us into places that no one’s ever shot in Cairo

A government censor was assigned to oversee the film’s production. “There were all these locations that no one had ever been allowed to shoot in. I was obsessed,” Nadda recalls. “I had to constantly play these games to lose her so she wouldn’t tell me that I couldn’t shoot something!”

Although Canadian-born, Nadda has a Syrian and Palestinian heritage. “When I was given a hard time I would always say, ‘Well, I’m an Arab. You have to let me shoot here.’ I was saying that in Arabic and in the end they would!”

Patricia Clarkson smiles wistfully. “I think Ruba has captured real Cairo, with all of its beauty and a little of its underbelly.”

One moviegoer called it “an exquisite feast for the eyes, ears and eventually, the heart.” Yes, a love story for grownups.
[from Solares Hill]

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Agora (Rhoades)

“Agora” Sparks Public Debate
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Did anyone witness the spectacular confluence of Mars and the Moon on August 27th when the red planet looked as large as a second moon? No? That’s because those email notices you received were a hoax. The actual event took place in 2003, when Mars came within 35 million miles of earth, making it appear 6 times its size and 85 times brighter than normal.

Astronomy can be confusing for the gullible or uninitiated.

Think what it was like back in the 4th Century when philosophers debated “the motions of the Sun, the Moon, the five known Wanderers (planets) and the stars.” The Christian church did not always agree with scientific viewpoints.

In “Agora” – the historical drama now playing at the Tropic Cinema – we meet one such dissident, a mathematician and scholar named Hypatia of Alexandra. She argued a heliocentric view of the Solar System. In the end it got her killed.

In this telling, these early scholars are challenged by the upstart Christians. A teacher in the Platonic School, Hypatia (Oscar-winner Rachael Weisz) is content to educate future leaders and contemplate the universe. Sure, being an attractive woman, she has her suitors, ranging from a pupil (Oscar Isaac) to her slave (Max Minghalla), but she rejects their love in favor of remaining an independent scientist. This works for and against her in the end.

As Christianity grows, a zealous group lays siege to the Library of Serapeum, where Hypatia and her pagan cronies take refuge among the scrolls containing all the knowledge of classical antiquity. This leads to a confrontation with her former slave, now a convert for political reasons.

Later, a religious leader tries to force Hypatia to accept Christianity, but she refuses. Despite the intervention of her former pupils, now in high places, this doesn’t go down well and she’s sentenced to be stoned. But her former slave offers an alternative.

Rachael Weisz liked portraying Hypatia of Alexandra. “Really, nothing has changed,” she says. “I mean, we have huge technological advances and medical advances, but in terms of people killing each other in the name of God, fundamentalism still abounds. And in certain cultures, women are still second-class citizens, and they’re denied education.”

Oddly enough, Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar got the idea for this biopic from thinking about extraterrestrial life among the stars. Having finished filming “The Sea Within,” he retreated to Malta for some needed R&R. At night he gazed at the Milky Way and began to get interested in astronomy and the possibility of life on other star systems. He came across Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” which introduced him to such early thinkers as Ptolemy, Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo. But he found the story of Hypatia the most interesting.

“We realized that this particular time in the world had a lot of connections with our contemporary reality,” says Amenábar. “Then the project became really, really intriguing, because we realized that we could make a movie about the past while actually making a movie about the present.”

The film’s title comes from the Greek word meaning an open place of assembly. The psychological term “Agoraphobia” refers to a fear of public situations and open spaces. Right now, Alejandro Amenábar is probably wishing he wasn’t in a public bulls eye. Even though he had his film reviewed for accuracy by the Vatican, some critics are calling it anti-Christian in the same way Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was viewed as anti-Jewish.

Hard to win when it comes to history.
[from Solares Hill]

Let It Rain (Rhoades)

“Let It Rain” Falls Mainly In Provence

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’m writing this review as I watch the screener DVD on a rainy day in August. The movie takes place on a rainy day in August too. Its title is “Parlez-moi de la pluie” (Translation: Let’s Talk About the Rain). For American audiences, the title has been shortened to “Let It Rain” and the film has subtitles to help those of us challenged in speaking French.

This comedy about middle-class French life has made its way to the Tropic Cinema.

A collaboration of director Agnès Jaoui and her husband Jean-Pierre Bacri (collectively dubbed “Jabac” by fellow filmmaker Alain Resnais), “Let It Rain” gives us a story about a woman (played by director Agnès Jaoui) who returns to her childhood home in the south of France to help her younger sister (Pascale Arbillot) tidy up affairs after their mother’s death. A filmmaker (played by Jaoui’s real-life husband Bacri) wants to make a TV documentary about her because she’s a celebrated feminist writer. In the French tradition, this task is complicated by the fact that he’s having an affair with her married sister.

This family ensemble is engaging and well played. And true to its title, the story unfolds on a rainy season in August.

Agnès Jaoui got the inspiration for the film while listening to the song “L’orage” by Georges Brassens which opens with the lines “Parlez-moi de la pluie, et non pas du beau temps.”

But it’s not really the rain they are talking about in this intriguing little film.
[from Solares Hill]

Eat Pray Love (Roades)

Julia Roberts’ Advice On “Eat Pray Love”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My wife often wakes me up at 3 in the morning to ask me the Meaning of Life. She gets philosophical at early hours. I’ve recently taken to answering, “More sleep.”

Once I screened “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life” for her, but the movie’s funny visage of the Grim Reaper didn’t satisfy her query. Perhaps I’ll take her to see the new Julia Roberts film.

Julia Roberts sets off to discover the Meaning of Life in “Eat Pray Love,” the new romantic drama that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. Hm, maybe the title is a giveaway to her answer?

Based on the 2006 memoir “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia,” it chronicles author Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey around the world after a divorce and what she learned during her travels.

In the Julia Roberts movie version, it includes falling in love with Felip, a character played by fellow Academy Award-winner Javier Bardem.

“I was a little terrified to be around him after ‘No Country for Old men,” Julia confesses. “I said to him near the end, ‘You know, I thought you’d be so intense and weird, and I’d have to be like, handling you, but you’re just so sweet and funny, and it’s just so easy!’ And he said, ‘I’m not like that normally. I just wanted to try it once to see how it worked!’”

She laughs at his jest. “It was like deciding to get a puppy,” she describes working with Bardem. “You have everything in your house worked out, and then the puppy comes in, and you’re like, I’m way too tired to have a puppy. He came in with all this gusto and enthusiasm and he wanted to read the scenes and go over some stuff. And then you realize no, this is getting good, let’s have lunch, let’s go over scenes, let’s look over the stuff! And his excitement was so contagious.”

“Eat Pray Love” also stars Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, and James Franco. Billy Crudup plays the former husband.

The filming was not without some mishap. Hindu leaders insisted on spiritual consultants to make sure “Eat Pray Love” did not mis-portray life in an Ashram. And Balinese officials were upset that few Balinese actors were used in the movie.

Julia concentrated on the first part of the title: eating. Her favorite food from around the world? “Italy, I mean, really I have to say, they did go to great elaborate pains to make food that I had to eat endlessly in the heat. So there was this one plate of pasta that was simple spaghetti. It was delicious.”

Director Ryan Murphy claims she gained 10 pounds. “It was a little less than that,” she insists. “But I loved every pound, and everyone said it was going to drop right off in India, and that didn't happen. I didn’t get that memo.”

As for the second part of the title, Julia Roberts confirms her conversion to Hinduism after experiencing a spiritual awakening while shooting in India.

Some observers point out that Julia Roberts’ production company is called Red Om Films, a sacred symbol in Hinduism. But it’s actually her husband’s name spelled backwards. Maybe that covers the third part of the movie’s title.

So what are Julia Roberts’ personal thoughts on the Meaning of Life? “Talk to your mother,” she says wisely. “Get your mother to tell you what she really knows, and don't take advice from actors. We don’t know anything.”
[from Solares Hill]

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Week of September 10 to September 16 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

The September doldrums are upon us. Restaurants are closed down to give their staffs a break, and tourism is in that awkward stage between child-driven summer travel and adult-inspired Key West fun (think Fantasy Fest). But the Tropic continues to hum along, your all-season, all-times place for a night (or afternoon) out.

The lobby renovation is not quite complete, but all services are available, from movies to Merlot. Two new films open this week, both comedies, though you may wonder about one of them.

The comedic sure thing is THE OTHER GUYS, a big-budget boffo blast starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as a mismatched team of cops who don’t exactly do things the usual way. The usual way being the mode of another team made up of Dwayne Johnson-Samuel Jackson, who Ferrell-Wahlberg want to emulate. LOL

Now, you know this movie has got to be a big hit. Ferrell’s salary is listed at $20 million, Wahlberg gets $10 million, Johnson $15 million and Jackson $6 million. At least that’s what it says on the internet. You can’t necessary believe it, because the same source says that the salary of Michael Keaton, who’s boss of the precinct in the movie, is $100. (No typo. Just two zeros.) But there’s no doubt that each of these guys is expected to deliver some real entertainment, and they do. “So hilarious that even longtime Ferrell haters (me) can't resist it,” says the Miami Herald reviewer.

LIFE DURING WARTIME does not sound like the title of a comedy. The characters, including a pedophile just released from prison who’s trying to track down his children who think he’s dead, don’t seem comic. But like everything, it just depends on how you take it.

Writer/director Todd Solondz says, "There's good laughter and bad laughter. As long as they're not laughing at the expense of any of these characters, it's OK. My films are comedies, but they're sad comedies and this is the saddest of all." I’ve heard of black comedy before, but never “sad comedy,” which may be why Solondz is considered one of the most creative filmmakers currently working. His last film Happiness, which was about anything but the title, was praised by Roger Ebert as exemplifying “the emerging genre of the New Geek Cinema, films that occupy the shadowland between tragedy and irony.” That, rather than “sad comedy” may be a better definition of his work.

It’s certainly the other end of the cinematic world from The Other Guys, so see them both and stretch your mind.

Speaking of mind-stretching, this weekend marks the opening of the Tropic’s new live opera season. The rooftop satellite, which brought us operas from the European continent last season, has expanded its scope to include London’s Covent Garden and the Globe Shakespeare Theater. The first of the Royal Opera company’s live performances will be on Friday, September 10, with the performance of Mozart’s Così fan Tutte genuinely “live” at 2:00pm EDT (7:00pm London time), with an encore “delayed live” showing at 7:00pm EDT. It’s a striking modern-dress presentation, with a set design from director Jonathan Miller, and costumes by Giorgio Armani. Fans out in Scottsdale AZ say they’re going to have a tailgate party before
the live show, which airs at noon out there. Now, that’s an idea!

If your brow is a bit lower, another special event on Saturday brings Leonard Cohen in concert performance to the Tropic screen. Both the opera and the Cohen shows will be making use of the new digital projector in The George theater, with images four times as bright as last year.

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

Life During Wartime (Rhoades)

“Life During Wartime” Offers Depressing Comedy

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I actually have an app on my iPhone that locates registered sex offenders and maps the ones living nearby. Disturbing, I have to admit.

But you don’t need the app. Just go to a Todd Solondz film if you want to encounter a friendly pedophile. The writer/director made a name for himself with a little indie picture called “Happiness” (1998). The title shows his sense of irony, for this black comedy about three New Jersey sisters and their miserable sex lives was anything but happy. In fact, having a sympathetic pedophile as a main character caused quite a stir, but earned “Happiness” an International Federation of Film Critics prize for its “controversial contemporary themes, richly-layered subtext, and remarkable fluidity of visual style.”

Now Todd Solondz returns to the screen with a sequel called “Life During Wartime.” It was originally titled “Forgiveness,” for the legacy of child molestation still lingers in this follow-up story about the same three sisters and their screwed-up families.

Oddly enough, different actresses play the sisters in the two films.

First time around the sisters – Helen, Trish, and Joy Jordan – are portrayed by Lara Flynn Boyle (“Men in Black II”), Cynthia Stevenson (“Jennifer’s Body”), and Jane Adams (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”). Trish’s pedophiliac husband is chillingly played by Dylan Baker (“Spider-Man III”). And Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote”) is a neighbor who makes obscene phone calls.

This time, the sisters are portrayed by Ally Sheedy (“Short Circuit”), Allison Janney (“Juno”), and Shirley Henderson (“Trainspotting”). Ciaràn Hinds (“Race to Witch Mountain”) takes on the role of the sex offender who has now been released from prison. Paul Reubens (better known as Peewee Herman) is a boyfriend who committed suicide. And Charlotte Rampling (“Swimming Pool”) is a one-night-stand who describes herself as a “monster.”

In “Life During Wartime” ten years have passed since the shocking revelations of “Happiness” and the sisters face dilemmas that stir up sad memories, ghosts, and questions about forgiveness. It’s a complex film about a dysfunctional family, three separate stories that merge. The sins of the father haunt the sons, causing Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) to cast false suspicion on his mother’s beau (Michael Lerner). And the father seeks to connect with his other son (Chris Marquette) to make sure the boy will not turn out like dear ol’ dad.

Solondz has become a cult director, known for his examination of the “dark underbelly of middle class American suburbia,” inspired by his own boyhood in New Jersey. “Some people will of course accuse me of misanthropy and cynicism,” he says. “I can’t celebrate humanity but I’m not out to indict it either. I just want to expose certain truths.”

“Life During Wartime” has been described as “an utterly hilarious exploration of the boundaries of forgiveness, family, and love.” And at one level I suppose it is a comedy. But you’ll more likely find it shocking and filled with an underlying sense of despair. Todd Solondz’ sense of humor decidedly is an acquired taste.
[from Solares Hill]

The Other Guys (Rhoades)

“The Other Guys” Are Also Funny
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

We all know the “Good Cop-Bad Cop” routine, right? And in “The Other Guys” – the comedy action buddy cop movie that’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema – we see Will Farrell confuse that as “Bad Cop-Badder-Cop.”

Nevertheless, there are good cops to be seen … and then there are the other guys.

The other guys are bad. Not bad, as in mean. Bad, as in incompetent.

First up, we meet the mean-but-good cops, a couple of derring-do heroes personified by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. They always get their man. Everyone looks up to them.
As Jackson puts it, “All the car chases, all the sex we don’t wanna have with women but we have to, are all due to what you guys do. And we’d do it again and again.”

They are the Top Cops in the toughest city in the world.

But we (the audience) are saddled with the other guys. Frustrated Mark Wahlberg as a policeman who wants to let his inner peacock fly (no, peacocks don’t fly) and simpleton Will Farrell with his wooden gun. Being number two, they have to try harder. (Wait, make that number three or four.)

These mismatched cops don’t even get along. “I don’t like you,” snarls Wahlberg to his partner. “I think you’re a fake cop. If we were in the wilds I’d attack you. If I were a lion and you were a tuna I would swim out in the middle of the ocean and eat you.”

“First off, a lion swimming in the ocean?” retorts Farrell. “Lions don’t like water. If you’d placed it near a river or some sort of fresh water source, that’d make sense. But you find yourself in the ocean, with a twenty-foot wave, I assume it’s off the coast of South Africa, coming up against a full grown eight-hundred-pound tuna, with his twenty or thirty friends, you’d loose that battle, you’d loose that battle nine times outta ten.”

Farrell pauses. “Did that go the way you thought it was gonna go?” he says smugly.

“Nope,” admits Walhberg.

Nothing does.

Whether it’s facing jumpers, bullets, or bombs, the other guys seem to blunder into eventual success. Despite their ineptitude.

The plot’s somewhat superfluous, just an excuse to let Will Farrell display his Inner Child and Mark Wahlberg play his not-so-straight man.

If you’ve already seen all the other action movies and comedies out there, you’ll enjoy laughing at “The Other Guys.”
[from Solares Hill]

Monday, September 6, 2010

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

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

It’s New Week at the Tropic. Three new movies and a whole new concessions layout. As I write this column (on Tuesday) the lobby is a mess, so much so that they can’t even sell a bag of popcorn. That goes to the heart of things, doesn’t it? But by Friday, everything should be working. Not every last detail, but popcorn will be popping, cokes fizzing, cellophane-wrapped treats crackling, and beer and wine flowing.

And, of course, the movies will be unspooling all the while.

Opening this week is MIDDLE MEN, a comedic take on the adventures of a couple of entrepreneurs who discovered how to sell porn on the internet. This was back in the last century, when connections were dialup and the internet was mainly for geeks. You won’t be surprised to learn that there’s a market there, a very lucrative one. But there’s also a pile of trouble, given the kind of guys who lurk in the world of rackets. The writer/director George Gallo, wrote the screenplay for Brian DePalmas’s gangster flick Wise Guys and for the hit Midnight Run, so he’s earned his chops in the genre. The movie is “smart and tense, with each scene drenched in dread,” says the Village Voice.

MICMACS is tough to describe. I can tell you the plot is about a group of inventive weirdoes who try to bring down an evil munitions manufacturer, but that hardly captures the movie. The writer/director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is best known for the delightful, offbeat Amelie, and Micmacs likewise has “visual invention and imagination up the wazoo.” (Roger Ebert) It’s a delightful French pastry full of exploding bon bons.

THE SWITCH is something else, a pure Hollywood rom-com, where the only special effect is microscopic. Kassie had a sperm-donor baby seven years ago, but not from the guy she thought. That’s the setup, and we need Jennifer Anniston, Jason Bateman, Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis to deliver the laughs. They do, giving us a “a light, sweet, curiously enjoyable misfit romance.” ( Nice date movie, and you don’t have to read subtitles. Heck, you don’t even have to read.

The Special Events calendar, which has been resting this summer, fires up this week for WomenFestKeyWest. You know of course that this week (Tues. Sept. 7 through Sun. Sept. 12) is the event that proclaims itself “the southernmost party for lesbians and their friends.” The Tropic, as always, is joining the party, this time with a special screening of the summer’s hit indie film THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. Here’s your chance to catch this Julianne Moore-Annette Bening story of a lesbian couple whose two A.I. kids go looking for their father. One show only on Thursday, Sept. 9 at 8:00pm.

THE KIDS had a successful multiweek run at the Tropic earlier this summer. But WomanFest is enhancing the show with personal appearances by the actors YaYa Da Costa and Eddie Hassell. For those of you who have seen the movie, she was Paul’s African-American girlfriend Tanya, and he was Laser’s bad-influence buddie Clay. It’s all thanks to our wonderful local Anne O’Shea who was Executive Producer on the movie and will also be in attendance on Thursday night. A sellout is likely, so get your advance tix at the Tropic box office or at

Full info and schedules at
Comments, please, to

Middle Men (Rhoades)

“Middle Men” Meet Porn Stars

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

For several years my associates and I produced Key West’s official Fantasy Fest video. The formula was simple: Hire a pretty celeb to comment on all the festivities – wild parties, creative costumes, dare-to-be-bare bodypainting, and the outrageous parade.

First year we brought in Traci Bingham, the “Baywatch” star. The next we imported Joanna Krupa, the world’s sexiest swimsuit model according to Playboy (you saw her recently on TV’s “Dancing With the Stars”).

The third year we hired Melissa Wolf, the most photographed Penthouse Pet. A pretty blonde with perky boobs, Melissa brought along a couple of girlfriends. She was a great host for the video, no holds barred. The film crew had fun with her and her pals, wrapping the shoot with a houseboat party that featured dancing, swimming, and topless sunbathing.

The following week Melissa was arrested for posting an offer on her website that she’d spend a sex-filled weekend with you for $10,000. She was dubbed “The Mansion Madam,” for she lived in an expensive house in a gated golfing community near Atlanta. One of her girlfriends hid out at my house to avoid arrest.

Wow! Little did I ever expect to be aiding and abetting hookers. Even nice ones.

That’s kinda the theme of “Middle Men,” the new indie film that’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema. A mild-manner nerd invents a billing system for adult websites and next thing he know he’s surrounded by gangsters, porn stars, federal agents, and a situation beyond his wildest dreams.

Luke Wilson (“Old School,” “My Super Ex-girlfriend”) plays Jack Harris, a straight-laced businessman who finds himself caught between a porn star and the FBI. Even his becoming wealthy in the process is not enough to keep him out of hot water.

Giovanni Ribisi (“Avatar,” “Public Enemies”) and Gabriel Macht (“The Spirit,” “The Good Shepard”) co-star as the two geeks who help him invent the way that pornography is sold online. As the movie promos promise, this is the tale of “the guys who brought XXX to the www.”

This “true story” is based on the experiences of the film’s producer, Christopher Mallick. “I think the parts of the film that are most true would be Luke Wilson’s character and that would be me,” says Mallick. “The other roles are really composites of various people I’ve known over the years doing business.”

He admits, “Some of the events are made up, but some of them are based in a bit of truth and I think what we’ve been saying is that 80 percent of the film is pretty accurate. The 20 percent that’s not, we want to leave that to the audience to figure out.”

Mallick describes the film as “ultimately a tale of a guy trying to come home, a tale of redemption, and a story of hypocrisy.”

The script attracted a great supporting cast: James Caan, Robert Forster, Kevin Pollak, Terry Crews, and Kelsey Grammer.

The moral – uh, make that “the message” – of “Middle Men”? It’s that “business is a lot like sex: getting in is easy, pulling out is hard.”

Christopher Mallick still owns an Internet billing company.
[from Solares Hill]

Micmacs (Rhoades)

“Micmacs” Does Snow White One Better
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Remember that Don Quixote moment in Michael Moore’s award-winning documentary “Bowling for Columbine” when he marched into Wal-Mart to protest they sold bullets? His way of confronting the weapons industry with a movie audience as backup. As a result, the chain-store giant agreed to quit selling ammunition.

In “Micmacs” – the satiric comedy that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema – a hapless hero also takes on an arms manufacturer, this the company that made the gun that left a bullet lodged in his brain.

Bazil (Dany Boon) worked in a video store until he got shot in the head during a freak drive-by shooting. He emerges from the hospital penniless and homeless, eventually taken in by a group of junk scavengers. These misfits each have diverse talents in addition to strange monikers: Slammer, Remington, Calculator, Buster, Elastic Girl, Tiny Pete, and Mama Chow. They live in a cave stashed with their pickings. Bazil quickly fits in, helping them turn their scrapheap into a cozy home filled with ingenious devices and junk sculptures.

One day he passes the headquarters of the weapons manufacturer that caused his misfortune. Hmm. So with a little help from his wacky new friends he concocts a plan of revenge on this heartless industrial giant that’s responsible for some much death and injury.

Note that the film’s French title is “Micmacs à tire-larigot,” which translate as “Non-Stop Shenanigans.” That should give you a clue of what to expect.

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (he gave us the delightful “Amelie”) says this story about a hero with a bullet in his brain has, ahem, “been rattling around in my head for a long time now.”

As he tells it: “When we were editing ‘The City of Lost Children’ in Saint-Cloud, next to the Dassault factories, we often went to a restaurant where the Dassault engineers went to lunch, too. They were very straight-laced men, in suit and tie, with nice looking faces, but I couldn’t help thinking they were creating and manufacturing incredible weapons to destroy and kill other human beings on the planet. It didn’t seem to bother them very much. I was upset and shocked by that.”

So he hatched the idea for this film about a gang of scavengers who join forces against those businessmen of death. “At the same time, I didn’t want to make an intellectual piece,” he explains. “I wanted to make a comedy. And what could be more different from arms manufacturers than junkyard dealers?”

Bazil’s ragtag group represent “people who are unique, marginal, a little naïve, but each of them has a character trait, something distinctive that serves the story, that helps move the plot forward.”

Jeunet cites “Toy Story” and “Mission Impossible” as two big influences on his film. But truth is, this grim little fable is more akin to “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Instead of Sneezy, Grumpy, Happy, et al. who go off to dig in a mine every day, we have these junkyard scavengers who live in a cave. “As a matter of fact,” admits Jeunet, “their names are descriptive, like the dwarfs’ names: Mama Chow because she cooks, Slammer because he just got out of prison, Elastic Girl because she really bends and stretches like rubber, Buster because he's all bust and broken up, Remington because he types on a typewriter, Calculator because she instinctively calculates everything. Only Tiny Pete has the name of a Naïve artist I like a lot.”

He adds, “Once we had defined the characters, we just searched for ways their characteristics could help the story development, the logistics of revenge and the plot twists and turning points.” Next thing you know, hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go – to topple an arms manufacturer. At least on film.
[from Solares Hill]

The Switch (Rhoades)

“The Switch” Irks Bill O’Reilly
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

With the growing popularity of “The Kids Are All Right,” you’d think the theme of artificial insemination would be a hot movie topic. But it’s been lukewarm at the box office for “The Switch,” Jennifer Aniston’s latest comedy
Still, I liked it.

Aniston keeps trying to make it as a romantic comedy star after years of typecasting on TV’s “Friends.” But such movies as “The Bounty Hunter,” “Love Happens,” and the prophetic “He’s Just Not That Into You” have delivered close-but-no-cigar results. “Marley & Me” was a big winner, but the dog gets much of the credit.

So, Hollywood moguls decided, what if she tries something trendier, like a movie about becoming a single mom. After being dumped by Brad Pitt, John Meyer, Vince Vaughan, and others, our poor Jen admits that she’s been contemplating the parenthood solution sometimes referred to as “the turkey baster approach.”
Sure, this pronouncement drew lots of headlines when television pundit Bill O’Reilly took her on, citing two-parent platitudes in a divorce-ridden society, arguing that her attitude glamorized single motherhood. And Jennifer Aniston fired back, pluckily holding her ground, saying she’d “choose artificial insemination over sex with Bill O’Reilly.”

However, “The Switch” – now playing at the Tropic Cinema – takes test-tube conception one step further.
Aniston portrays a fortysomething single woman who gets preggers the new-fashion way. But it turns out there was a switcheroo at the lab and unbeknownst to her the sperm donor is her best friend. Well, you can see how this plot will unfold in a he-was-there-all-along way.

Jason Bateman plays her buddy with the bonus spermatozoa. Truth is, this is really more his movie than Aniston’s. As the central character who discovers his folly, Bateman gives one of his patented understated performances. This guy is really good.

You’ve seen Bateman in everything from “Up in the Air” to “Hancock” to “Juno,” not a bad performance among them. He’s been around – there-all-along – since his teenage roles in TV’s “Little House on the Prairie” and “Silver Spoons.” More recently you chuckled along with him on the wacky “Arrested Development” television series. Now he’s coming into his own as an almost-movie-star.

The acting between Bateman and Jennifer Aniston displays an easygoing comfort, for the two are old friends in real life. Him, the happily married bud who’s always on Aniston’s invite list, an anchor of calmness and sanity in her otherwise crazy life. You almost wish he was available for Jen, but for her it would be like dating your brother.

And for Jennifer Aniston, romance goes better for her in the movies.
[from Solares Hill]