Saturday, March 26, 2011

Week of March 25 to March 31 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Do you remember Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist whose wheeler-dealing was too much even for Washington? He’s the guy who astutely observed that “Washington is Hollywood with ugly people.” And, coming off a brief career as a B-movie producer, he became a master at playing the endless need of politicians for ego-stroking and wallet-fattening.

CASINO JACK is his biopic. It was also his nickname, based on his shenanigans in representing Indian tribes (while bilking and mocking them) and eventually acquiring his own string of gambling venues. Sounds like a character without redeeming value, but he was also a deeply religious man, an Orthodox Jew who worried about disappointing God.

It takes a great actor to capture a complex man, and Kevin Spacey does so to perfection. This is not a documentary –for that, a doc titled Casino Jack and the United States of Money was released last year. But it calls people by their real names – Tom Delay, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist, John McCain, Karl Rove – and it sticks closely to real events. If you want just the facts, the doc might be the way to go, but if you prize an entertaining, sometimes even comic, look at the sordid world of Washington lobbying, this is your movie. “Casino Jack is so forthright, it is stunning,” says Roger Ebert.

BARNEY’S VERSION also deals with a somewhat sleazy, but in this case loveable, lead character, Barney Panofsky. Actor Paul Giamatti won a Golden Globe for this role (besting Kevin Spacey, who was nominated for Casino Jack). Barney is an alcoholic, unattractive, unpleasant producer of bad television shows whose defining moment in life is chasing after another woman on his wedding day. The bride (Minnie Driver) is no slouch and she’s rich to boot. But once he’s seen the alternative (Rosamund Pike), he’s got a new obsession.

What she sees in him is a mystery, and he’s so self-destructive that you know he’ll probably screw it up anyhow. This works thanks to Giamatti, Hollywood’s Number 1 anti-leading man, with some help from Dustin Hoffman as his father, the kind of guy who sagely observes that a woman’s “great rack” can be enough to sustain a marriage.

Both of these movies are billed as comedies, though neither has anything approaching the slapstick, frat boy humor of a film like Cedar Rapids. It’s rather the humor that comes from observing dysfunctional characters from a distance, thankful that you’re in an audience rather than dealing with them in real life.

For straight drama, THE LINCOLN LAWYER and THE COMPANY MEN are held over.

Featured on Monday is another live-by-satellite presentation from the Paris Opera Ballet Company. After seeing the Tropic’s last ballet from the Paris company, local balletomane John Gish averred “Caligula was a phenomenon beyond anything I have ever seen – from the Bolshoi to Pina Bausch, and everything in between.” This time it’s COPPELIA, based on a Hoffman fantasy tale of a man haunted by a lost love. The New York Times recently noted a new surge of interest in ballet inspired by such diverse events as TV’s Dancing With The Stars and the film Black Swan. The Tropic’s Coppelia offers an opportunity to experience the real thing. Two performances: Live in the afternoon and “delayed live” in the evening.

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

Barney's Version (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Barney's Version

Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) seems constantly threatened by a foreboding black boulder over his head. But it wasn't always that way. At the beginning of "Barney's Version" we see him as a youngish bohemian in 1974 enjoying Rome. He pals around with hipsters and talks about writing and painting. He is happy. He has a friend, Clara, an impulsive artist who he seems crazy about. He thinks Clara is having his child. Barney and Clara get married. Then things change. It is not Barney's baby. Remorseful, Clara intends to make amends. But Barney does not get the message and arrives too late. Clara commited suicide. He is traumatized and haunted and keeps revisiting the places in Rome  where Clara walked. 

Years later, he tries to put his past behind him. His uncle fixes him up with an orthodox high maintenance knockout (Minnie Driver)  Barney marries again but his heart is not in it. At the wedding, he meets Miriam (Rosamund Pike). With her angelic looks and Barney's frenzied impulses, the film recalls  "Life is Beautiful." Barney wants to run away with Miriam and watch hockey.

Barney throughout the film is a kind of surly existentialist. A bit like Larry David blended with Woody Allen. A bizarre mixture of Albert Camus and a Warner Brothers Tazmanian Devil cartoon. Barney is either goggle-eyed with excitement or non-plussed by life and what it offers until he meets Miriam, who hits him like a charged elixir.

Barney asks his father (Dustin Hoffman) for help and advice; he's soon to be divorced. And the father surprisingly gives consent.

During a solitary escape to a cabin in the country, he walks in on his friend Boogie (Scott Speedman) in bed with his wife. Was this a setup by Barney's father or happenstance? Perhaps a mixture of both. An argument ensues. The two characters comically roll down a hill. After continued badgering from his friend, Barney takes out a gun. Barney trips. The gun fires. Boogie is knocked into the lake, perhaps shot or drowned. 

Barney is then hunted by a dogged investigator (Mark Addy) just as Barney himself pursues Miriam. And he is soon divorced.

"Barney's version" is a two sided film. One side has the flavor of a Neil Simon comedy with its  light references on orthodox ritual but on the other, it is edgy and irreverent, with a Tom Waitsian melancholia running throughout as if sung by the illustrator  Harvey Pekar. It is no mistake then, that Giamatti once played Pekar in "American Splendor"  or that this latest film features songs by Leonard Cohen. 

The film is deceptively cartoonish. Although Dustin Hoffman at first look might be like Bernie Focker with his outrageous comments, he hits with heart and his scenes with Giamatti speak of closeness and conspiracy between father and son. When Barney finds his father's deceased body at the back room of a strippers' bar the body is half cloaked in a red sheet. The scene could have been painted by a Los Angeles Caravaggio.

Barney is haunted by the heaviness of rocks, the weight of what lies ahead: the rock of his body that tumbles through life like a bowling ball, the rock that he puts on his mother's grave. The rock of the investigator that pursues him with a sinister detachment that rivals any Hitchcock police figure. And the rock of his own grave that he reserves  next to Miriam without her consent.
To deflect that rock, Barney's behavior is authentic, unbecoming and human, which makes "Barney"s version" a transfixing experience under the guise of a light kosher comedy.

Write Ian at

Casino Jack (Rhoades)

“Casino Jack”
Highlights a High-Roller

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Here’s a bit of trivia for you: Actor Kevin Spacey’s production company is called Trigger Street after a street near where he grew up that was named for Roy Rogers’ horse. As it happens, the legendary King of the Cowboys was young Kevin’s neighbor.

Spacey’s producing partner Dana Brunetti told me this Trigger story a couple of years ago when he was talking to me about new projects.

One of Trigger Street’s latest projects is “Casino Jack,” a biographical dramedy about Jack Abramoff, the notorious Washington lobbyist who in 2006 was convicted of fraud, tax evasion, and trading expensive gifts for political favors.

Abramoff took down with him a congressman, two White House officials, and nine other lobbyists. He served three and a half years in a federal prison.

Kevin Spacey stars as the titular Casino Jack. Spacey has demonstrated a wide range as an actor – from crooks (“The Usual Suspects”) to crooners “Beyond the Sea”), from killers (“Se7en”) to midlife meltdowns (“American Beauty”). Here, he plays a con man. His closest other portrayal might be the fast-talking salesman in “The Big Kahuna” or the larcenous office manager in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Abramoff was a wheeler-dealer. Having been hired by eLottery to block the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act and by the Choctaw tribes to defeat a Congressional bill on taxing Indian casinos, it’s little surprise that Abramoff picked up the nickname of Casino Jack.

In addition to Kevin Spacey’s film, the scandal also spawned a 2010 documentary by Alex Gibney, the similarly titled “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.”

Gibney said of Jack Abramoff: “One of his great gifts was being able to tell people what they wanted to hear, and this was how he was able to sell things and get them into trouble.”

The Trigger Street production of “Casino Jack” came together when Dana Brunetti saw a Facebook post by director George Hickenlooper (“Factory Girl”) suggesting that Kevin Spacey would be the right actor to play the disgraced lobbyist.

“So I friended George,” says Brunetti. “And he friended me back, and we started talking back and forth.” They looped in Kevin Spacey, and Hickenlooper eventually flew to London to meet him. He got the assignment.

Note: Sadly, this was Hickenlooper’s last film. The director died of an accidental overdose of painkillers a few weeks before the release of “Casino Jack.”

Kevin Spacey and Dana like to tell people about their Facebook introduction to George Hickenlooper while shyly admitting that, oh yes, they helped produce “The Social Network,” the Oscar-nominated film about the founding of Facebook.

“The irony of that is not lost on me,” says Spacey.
[from Solares Hill]

Casino Jack (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Casino Jack

If there was ever an actor to play a con artist lobbyist  with a song and dance man twist, it is Kevin Spacey. In the new film "Casino Jack", Spacey plays the notorious  Jack Abramoff. Abramoff was the "Super-lobbyist", a friend of many high level Republicans, who was convicted of conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion, mainly to Native American casinos  in 2006. Abramoff served four years in prison. He was apparently released in 2010, most recently working at a pizza place for ten dollars an hour.
Kevin Spacey portrays Abramoff with reptilian grace. Nothing can touch him. He has his smartphone in one hand and his tap shoes on his feet. He glides from one board room to the other. He is a pale Pillsbury Politico hiding in Dick Tracy's suit. His black fedora is a bit too big for his head. Abramoff, as well as Spacey, is only acting the part. It is the mixture of film and life that holds us in. When Abramoff is nervous he quotes Hollywood movie lines.  What a guy. Only Spacey could project a person with such slimy suaveness and get away with it.
Comedian Jon Lovitz steals the show as Adam Kidan, Abramoff's real life associate in the Suncruz Casino business. He is a smarmy over-the-hill court jester to Abramoff's cannibalistic methods. In the film, when doomed Gus Boulis stabs him repeatedly in the face with a common ball point pen, it is a real moment of comedy and horror that would make Carl Hiassen run to his typewriter.  We have seen Lovitz in other comic  roles before but the mixture of the savage and the silly is well balanced here. Aside from Spacey, his interpretation of Adam Kidan is most entertaining in its hopeless ridiculousness that is even a bit scary under the circumstances of the Boulis murder.
There are the usual plot sequences that we have seen in many films: extravagant wealth acquired by unscrupulous methods bring the tell-tale FBI to the door, but it doesn't seem to matter. Spacey is so sincerely insincere that he keeps us entertained. Spacey is the cool Jazzman of the white collar criminal. He hops from restaurant to restaurant and office to office like a political Thelonius Monk. Super-lobbyist? More like Super-snake salesman. 
By the end of the film, we almost believe that President Bush is the real criminal, by tossing Abramoff's pardon in the waste paper basket without a glance.
Write to Ian at

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Week of March 18 to March 24 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

The Tropic and The Studios of Key West join this week in a celebration of the work of documentary filmmaker Helen Whitney. She’s a visiting artist-in-residence at The Studios all month, offering advice and counseling to aspiring filmmakers. But this week is her time to shine in her own right, with a festival of her work on the Tropic screens.

The kickoff is Friday night, with a fund-raising reception and screening of Part One of her forthcoming two-part PBS series FORGIVENESS: A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO HATE. In this world of rancor and revenge, she shows that humanity has another side… sometimes. Part Two will show on Sunday, and both parts, along with her other documentary films -- RICHARD AVEDON: DARKNESS AND LIGHT; THE MONASTERY; and HOMOSEXUALS -- will be shown throughout the week.

This week also brings a couple of new movies. THE LINCOLN LAWYER is a sharp, tense courtroom/crime thriller, starring Matthew McConaughey. He’s a criminal defense lawyer named Mick Haller, a guy who’s accustomed to representing lowlifes, and is as tough as they are. The title refers not to any President-like qualities, but to the fact that his office is the back of a Lincoln town car. He’s got an ex-wife (Marisa Tomei) and a sweet little daughter, but he’s not your settle-down-at-home kind of guy. Still, he wants to do the right thing. You know the type.

His new client is a rich boy charged with brutally assaulting a prostitute, not his usual client type, but the money is good and that’s what counts. Or so he thinks until the twists of this cleverly plotted story (based on a novel by mystery writer Michael Connelly) lead him down a dark alley that threatens his family and his career. “A don't-miss cinematic page-turner with enough twists to fill five movies.” (Box Office Magazine)

THE COMPANY MEN has even more star power, with Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner and Maria Bello. The plot is the flip side of last year’s George Clooney hit, Up in the Air. That film celebrated Clooney’s character who was a master axe man, a guy who tried to get you to see the bright side while he chopped off your means of livelihood. In this one we focus instead on Bobby Walker (Affleck) and Phil Woodward (Cooper), who have been removed (excuse me, downsized) from high-paid executive positions at a multinational conglomerate named GTX. They are sad characters, beaten by the system, but feisty nonetheless in the style of Howard Beale’s “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” They have on their side an honorable executive at the corporation (Jones), and, in Walker’s case, his building contractor brother-in-law (Costner), but ultimately they have to find their own way out, or not. “A solid, intelligent, emotionally satisfying work of Hollywood liberalism.” (The New Yorker)

The star-power for ANOTHER YEAR comes from its writer-director Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies, Topsy-Turvy, Vera Drake). Nominated for this year’s Best Original Screenplay Academy Award, it’s a small drama about a loving older couple, their grown son, and their relationship with an unmarried woman of a certain age whose closest thing to home is visiting with them. An “intimate miracle of a movie“ (Rolling Stone), “a visually rich, musical, unmannered slice of life that magnifies experience rather than miniaturizing it.” (Washington Post)

And closing out the week on Thursday are a couple of cultural extremes. In the afternoon, Mozart’s MAGIC FLUTE comes live via satellite from La Scala in Milan, in a production directed and staged by the multi-talented artist William Kentridge.  An encore “delayed live” will show in the evening.

And at 10:00pm the Tropic’s new Late Night Live series presents MISS RICHFIELD 1981: THIRTY YEARS ON THE THRONE, a drag show featuring improv audience interaction that offends everyone. Straight from P-town via Wilton Manor in Ft. Lauderdale.

Since the timing of the evening opera and Miss Richfield overlap, for a while we’ll have the two audiences mingling at concessions – wine and brie for one, and beer and pretzels for the other? Where else but … the Tropic Cinema.  

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

The Lincoln Lawyer (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Lincoln Lawyer

Matthew McConaughey  has traded in his bongos for a briefcase in the new film "The Lincoln Lawyer". The story is based on the bestselling novel by Michael Connelly. It centers on a snaky lawyer, played by McConaughey who will do anything for big bucks. His portrayal of Mickey Haller is cool and slick. He is  a Teflon robot with a suntan. McConaughey's usual blonde surfer dude persona is absent. Instead of the smooth complexion in his usual romantic comedies, he now has scales. And that is to his credit. Mickey Haller is more of a laconic Patrick Bateman from "American Psycho" or a bronzed Jason Bourne than a sun-dappled beach bum.
In an initial scene when Mickey Haller is approached by a motorcycle gang, he shows no unease. Despite his summery looks, he is no stranger to the seedy dog-eared world of violence. Inside, Haller is an iron shield. The only time he cracks is when he meets a Ralph Laurenish sociopath played by Ryan  . Phillippe.  And worse, discovers the murder of his friend, who is played vividly by William H. Macy.
Ryan Philippe's Louis Roulet would make Patricia Highsmith proud. He is a manipulative monster of a mama's boy in golf shoes, second only to his mother in the film. Phillippe puts the gruesome back  in goody- two- shoes.
Roulet is the brat you love to hate, descending from a long line of cold elite fish from Dorian Gray to Bruno Antony.
At times the movie echoes the trappings of a CSI how-he-did-it episode. But the suspenseful pathos of Mickey Haller keeps us watching and wondering how and when he will execute his own vengeance on the seersucker brat. Does he have it in him? Is he good or bad? It is this mixture that makes McConaughey compelling. As a tormented man, he pays fitting tributes to the noirish Ray Milland and Michael Keaton in his Bat years.
McConaughey would do well to leave his bongos on the beach for a few more films. His new shark-skin  smile suits him fine.

Write to Ian at

The Lincoln Lawyer (Rhoades)

“The Lincoln Lawyer” Keeps to Legal Limit
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

No, this isn’t a movie about the lawyering days of Abraham Lincoln. “The Lincoln Lawyer” is a legal thriller about an eccentric character called Michael “Mickey” Haller. He’s a Los Angeles lawyer who works out of the back of his Lincoln Town Car, driven around by a former client who’s working off his legal fees.

“The Lincoln Lawyer” is currently making its case at the Tropic Cinema.

Based on a crime novel by Michael Connelly (he’s written more than two dozen), this edge-of-your-seat film tells of Haller’s case involving a playboy accused of assault and attempted murder. Not to worry. Haller is a whiz at defending the innocent … and his client is innocent, right?

Well, the question of guilt has to be considered. Particularly when the client’s lies start catching up with him.

And matters get even more complicated when you discover that the tough-minded prosecuting attorney Haller faces is (you guessed it) his ex-wife.

Matthew McConaughey stars as the chisel-chinned lawyer in a Lincoln. You’ve enjoyed his bare-chested performances in films ranging from “Dazed and Confused” to “We Are Marshall,” even the ersatz Key West comedy “Fool’s Gold.”

The lawyer’s ex is played by Marisa Tormei. She won the Oscar for “My Cousin Vinny” and has gone on to impress us in films such as “The Wrestler” and “In the Bedroom.”

The bad client is portrayed by Ryan Phillippe (Reece Witherspoon’s ex). You’ve seen him in the Oscar-winning “Crash” and Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers.” And he recently filmed “The Bang-Bang Club,” based on a book I tried to buy the movie rights for several years ago.
Toss in performances by the great William H. Macy (“Fargo,” “The Cooler”) and fresh-faced Josh Lucas (“Sweet Home Alabama,” “Stealth”), plus a reappearance of Michael Paré (“Eddie and the Cruisers,” “Streets of Fire”), and you have an impressive cast.

Michael Connelly, the guy who wrote the book, started off as a crime reporter at Florida’s Daytona Beach News Journal, then moved to the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel. Based on his coverage of the 1985 crash of Delta Flight 119, he was recruited to the Los Angeles Times before jumping off to launch his fiction-writing career.

Connelly’s office-less lawyer has appeared in three novels, but is described as the half-brother of Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, the writer’s lead character in 16 of his popular police procedurals.

“I think people who love books go into the films based on them with a lot of apprehension. What will be lost? Will the spirit of the story still be there?” says Michael Connelly. “I’m the guy who wrote this book and I really feel they captured it, that they did a great job. When I walked out of the screening room I was smiling, I just really could not be happier. I think Matthew has done a wonderful job of capturing Mickey Haller. He had a fervor for this part, he really seemed to connect with Mickey and to know what made him tick.”

Well, good upholstery in the backseat for one thing.
[from Solares Hill]

The Company Men (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The Company Men

"The Company Men" is the debut film from famed Tv producer John Wells ("The West Wing" "E.R."). And with his new project, Wells proves his versatility.
"The Company Men" can be seen as a kind of cinematic bookend to "Inside Job", the Academy Award winning  documentary that focused on the economic crisis, narrated by Matt Damon.
This film opens with a haunting montage of luxurious kitchens, gold faucets, Plasma Tvs and multiple sports cars. A catalog of all the king executives' toys before The Fall.  All these material high-end items seem cluttered together in empty suburban rooms like pyramids in a pharaoh's tomb. And I would argue that these moments--punctuated throughout with a sense of irony and ghostly nostalgia---are some of the best in the film. 
This film stars Ben Affleck as Bobby Walker, a square-jawed all-American father who has everything: a spacious house, a Porsche, Patriots football tickets, and lots of cash flow. He is happy, self assured, and even cocky. He practically jogs into work, sliding his folder jauntily along the window. It seems Walker is arriving for play rather than work. After all, Walker was Salesman of the Year for three years running, a white collar shipyard exec.
Then he sits down.
The unthinkable: Walker has lost his job. A result of corporate downsizing.
This can't be happening! Not to Ben Affleck! But it is. And if it can happen to him in this role, it can happen to anyone.
Walker storms, thrusting out his jaw. Affleck has clean cut superhero looks and his character frets his brow with worry. With his chiseled chin, recalling his role in "Hollywoodland", Affleck is  Superman without his cape. He hollers and yells, and worse he insults his heavy set employment counselor. 
One by one, the executives fall. There is  co-founder Gene McClary, (Tommy Lee Jones) Followed by seasoned veteran Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper). Given the stoic whisky face of Jones, the hardbitten Cooper and last but not least, the survivalist nonchalance of Kevin Costner, as the home-builder uncle, I was thinking that this film was a recession-era version of "Space Cowboys". So resolute in solidarity are the men in this film.  But instead of outer space, these three  men battle the inner reaches of selfishness and corporate Ego. Gone are the Porsche cars. Walker moves into his parents' home, and yikes, even his  son's X-box is sold. 
There is one flaw. Not one character really addresses that he might be part of the problem. All the menace seems put on this increasingly faceless company. Even McClary's duplicitous mistress who works in HR (Maria Bello) is released from the guilt of firing Walker, Mclary himself, and Woodward who ultimately commits suicide. 
It is the characterization of these three off-white collar workers that make this film compelling, despite some plot moments that seem phoned in from the satellite office. There is life itself in the sad wrinkles of Jones' McClary, the smoky worm-eyed look of Cooper and in the pensive Kryptonite blows  of Bobby Walker that hit him square in the chest and show on his face. 
Yet, the soul of the film is embodied in the spirit  of creative men who make things, as symbolized by Kevin Costner's role as the carpenter.
"The Company Men" is a call to the city of Boston to move collectively like an American iron freighter to make  products again that we all can solidly  use and, to quote the film, "actually see". 
Write to Ian at

The Company Men (Rhoades)

“The Company Men” Tackles Timely Subject
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever been laid off? I have, when my last company merged my division with another. With unemployment hovering over 9 percent, it’s likely that at one time or another you have too.

Filmmaker John Wells is gambling whether you’ll go see a movie about that gut-wrenching experience. His take on that subject, “The Company Men,” is playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Here we have Bobby Walker (well played by Ben Affleck), a hotshot golf-playing exec who is caught unaware when his company downsizes. Or as they teach us to say in the corporate world, rightsizes.

“They fired me,” he breaks the news to his wife. “Something about redundancies.”

Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) is trying to do what’s right for the company’s financial health but gets the ax too. And co-founder Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) is against this heartless maneuver but not immune himself.

Bobby’s wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt) is worried for her out-of-work husband. And Jack Dolan (Kevin Costner) has a manual-labor job waiting for his brother-in-law if he’ll take it.

Can a “suit” adapt to this radical change from corporate boardroom to construction site? Well, that’s what this movie is about, three men hit hard by corporate downsizing.

Does the storyline hit too close to home for moviegoers? That fear made financing the film difficult. “Some people likened it to Iraq War movies,” admits Ben Affleck. “When Iraq was the thing in the national consciousness that was the most painful, a lot of people wanted to avert their gaze. And people thought,

‘Well, this is going to be the same kind of thing.’ And so there were a lot of concerns.”

Yet, he says, “It inspired me when I read the screenplay.”

Will you be inspired? Maybe not, if your home is in foreclosure and your unemployment checks are running out.

“This movie’s got a very hopeful message, particularly toward the end,” insists Affleck. “It suggests that we’re going to be able to recover and grow and maybe be better for it ultimately.”

Yeah, well…

Affleck pushes the film’s message. “It’s this thing that we get told, where we’ll be happy if we can just get that next promotion, or you’ll really find happiness if you get the right refrigerator or get a pair of jet skis or a nice tennis racket. My character kinda subscribes to all that stuff. But it’s all knocked out from under him. And so he is forced to look at his own identity, who he is outside of his job. To recalibrate his relationship with his family and realize the fundamental importance of it.”

Researching the film was “depressingly easy” says the actor. “I didn’t have to look any further than guys I grew up with – guys I went to grade school with and high school with – and who had really, you know, decent, reasonable, sometimes really good jobs, and boom, were all of a sudden out of work.”
But Affleck and his co-stars aren’t really hurting – “riding around Hollywood in their Porches,” as one moviegoer put it. Will audiences buy into their pain as out-of-work execs of a shipbuilding company? Are they that good as actors?


Affleck, Cooper, Jones, and Costner – the Oscars on their mantles are numerous. So no wonder the Weinstein Company had hopes of a few golden statuettes for this film. But the Weinstein brothers pushed “The Company Men” aside for a surer bet, their current hit “The King’s Speech.”

No need to be redundant.
[from Solares Hill]

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cedar Rapids (Rhoades)

Visit “Cedar Rapids” For Some Great Chuckles
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’ve been to Cedar Rapids. Have you? No, I thought not. Did you know it’s the second largest city in Iowa?
As it turns out, the filmmakers behind the new indie comedy titled “Cedar Rapids” haven’t been there either. You see, Iowa didn’t come through with the necessary tax credits, so they took their production to Ann Arbor, Michigan, as a stand-in. Good ol’ Michigan gave them a 42% tax rebate for filming there.

You see, making movies is mostly about money.

So is the insurance game, as Tim Lippe quickly discovers. He’s the naïve hero of “Cedar Rapids,” the story of a small-town insurance salesman from Wisconsin who gets to attend a regional sales conference in the “big city” that lends its name to the film.

“Cedar Rapids” is still putting smiles on faces at the Tropic Cinema this week.

Picked to represent his agency after its star salesman dies in an auto-erotica accident, Tim Lippe (as played by goofy Ed Helms) quickly discovers that he’s in over his head. Not only has he never flown on a plane, he’s a straight-laced guy who doesn’t drink, thinks hookers are sincere when they ask if he wants to party, and objects to being goosed by a playful female colleague. After all, he considers himself pre-engaged to an older woman (an aloof Sigourney Weaver) who used to be his teacher when he was twelve-years-old.
Tim’s nervousness is understandable. His boss (an overbearing Steven Root) expects him to win the Two Diamond Award for the company. And the president of the conference’s association (a stuffy Kurtwood Smith) disapproves of Tim’s behavior.

Our guy has fallen in with bad company. He’s rooming with – gasp! – an African-American person (Oreo-inspired Isiah Whitlock Jr.) whose greatest pleasure is watching HBO’s “The Wire” and with a dough-faced blowhard accused of poaching insurance clients (a manic John C. Reilly). Joining them in a series of wild adventures is that aforementioned female colleague (a perky Anne Heche) who might just turn Tim into a philanderer.

From a scavenger hunt to a talent contest to a one-on-one interview with the association’s president, Tim learns that he must “dance” to win the Two Diamond Award – putting his integrity on the line.
Is he willing to pay the price?

Ed Helms is convincing as the man who sees selling insurance as a noble profession. You’ll remember him from “The Hangover,” that boys-night-out comedy. Here, he has a night out, actually two of them. One with his female colleague who assures him what happens in Cedar Rapids stays in Cedar Rapids. The other with a young hooker (likeable Alia Shawkat) who takes him to a wild and dangerous party.

Will he survive all this fun? Will we?

The movie promises to hold your attention (as well as offer chuckles) all way to the end. But stick around for the credits if you’d like an epilogue on what becomes of Tim and his new pals.

The funny script by Phil Johnston had languished for quite some time on the Blacklist, a tally of the best unproduced screenplays bouncing around Hollywood. Thanks, Michigan, for your tax credits that finally got “Cedar Rapids” made.
[from Solares Hill]

Helen Whitney's Forgiveness (Rhoades)

TSKW Filmmaker Helen Whitney
Offers Her “Forgiveness”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

When Helen Whitney came down to Key West to visit her friend Margarite Whitney (not a relative), she had no idea she’d wind up showing a series of her documentary films here. One morning she was on her way to get coffee at 5 Brothers when out of curiosity she stopped off at The Studios of Key West. That conversation led to a stint as a filmmaker in residence at TSKW.

Whitney’s latest documentary – showing in two parts on March 18 and 20 at the Tropic Cinema – is titled “Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate.”

Other documentaries by Helen Whitney will be shown the following week.

Why make a film about forgiveness? “I was asked to do it by a stranger,” Whitney tells the story. A wealthy investor named Paul Dietrich approached her after seeing her work. “It’s a subject that has preoccupied him for decades,” she says. “Paul is a spiritual seeker with an emotionally rich layered life.”

But she wasn’t sure she wanted to do it. “The subject comes with an aura of sentimentality, New Age piety, this big rosy Valentine. I was yearning for something small and narrowly focused. The subject of forgiveness is one of vastness. There are no boundaries.”

Yet it was “hard to turn down a fully funded film,” she admits.

“The decision to do it didn’t come like Saul on the road to Damascus. Before making up my mind I spent about three months talking to people about the subject. Strangers, acquaintances. 
People would come up to me at cocktail parties and say, ‘I have this friend …’ Often they were talking about themselves.”

Finally she gave in.

“Forgiveness is elusive,” says the film’s prologue. True to its statement, this documentary doesn’t offer any Cliff’s Notes short answers. Instead, it shares many instances that involve the act of forgiveness, allowing you to come to your own conclusions.

“While it was once a uniquely religious word, forgiveness now is changing,” we’re told. “And there is no consensus about what it is and what it’s becoming.”

“It’s a complicated subject,” says Whitney. “Jews and Christians have very different ideas about what forgiveness is.”

Even so, the people profiled in her two films seem to agree that the act of forgiving is a “profound transaction.” The need for atonement is described as “an ache in the human heart that has endured.”

To explore the subject, Helen Whitney’s cameras take us from the killing fields of Rwanda to a courtroom in Oregon.

We sit in the courtroom with an impassive serial killer who shows no remorse … until one of his victims’ relatives forgives him.

We visit a hospice where an elderly man named Merle Long refuses to die until he finds God’s forgiveness for killing an unarmed German soldier during World War II. “A spiritual ache, not to go into the night unreconciled,” Whitney describes it.

Forgiveness can be powerful and it can be dangerous. We encounter violence when a South African security official seeks forgiveness from a black family for his crimes of apartheid.

We hear Don Robeson who has lost 30 years to gnawing anger over being fired from a hospital position. “I can forgive, but I can’t forget,” he says.

Atonement is existential. You’ll meet Katherine Power, the police-killer who when being considered for parole offers to remain in prison in hopes his family will accept her remorse as genuine.

You’ll meet characters with an undercurrent of doubt, “straight off the pages of a Graham Green novel.”

The documentary points out that Muslims pray five times a day asking for forgiveness. The Day of Atonement is an important Jewish holiday. Christ asked God to forgive those who crucified him. The Amish believe in unconditional forgiveness.

To better understand the Amish view, the film examines the schoolhouse shooting in Nickel Mines, PA. A milk truck driver who lived in the community invaded a small school and shot a number of female students. Yet the five families who lost children extended their forgiveness to the killer, as did the entire Amish community, and invited his widow into their homes. “Their view of forgiveness is unconditional, a duty to God.”

Not everyone agrees. “Some acts are unforgivable,” says Terri Jentz, who was attacked by a young man with an ax while camping in Redmond, Oregon. Unable to get over this near-death experience, she returned years later to the town to find the man who attacked her. Even though the statute of limitations had expired, she located the “good-looking young cowboy” who had tried to mutilate her and a girlfriend and helped bring him to justice on a different criminal charge. “She was able to forgive the town, but not the man,” says Whitney.

The films also explore “intimate woundings of the soul.” When his wife moved away and left the children behind, a devastated husband says, “Forgiveness became a central question in my life.” The divorce affected each of them profoundly. We see it from both sides, how she’d found the responsibility overwhelming, suffered panic attacks, before going on to get her Ph.D. And how he felt abandoned and betrayed until he found “a path to forgiveness.”

The subject is even larger, with the second part examining the public apologies of nations like Poland and Japan and Germany for damages they had caused during World War II. The politics of apologies, acknowledgements, and forgiveness.

Why does Helen Whitney pursue these answers? “Forgiveness matters,” she says. “This is an era of forgiveness and apology.”

Whitney turned away from a life in academia to become a filmmaker. Setting aside her Masters Degree in Victorian Literature, she went on the road as a researcher for legendary television executive Fred Freed. He created among other shows, “The White Paper Series.” She took a job with NBC News, and that led to making documentaries. Her subjects have ranged from street gangs to life in a monastery to photographer Richard Avedon. “But I have always been attracted by spiritual films,” she confesses.

Helen Whitney will be on hand for a reception at 5 p.m. prior to the Friday showing of
“Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate” at the Tropic Cinema. But don’t expect her to forgive you if you don’t come.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, March 11, 2011

Week of March 11 to March 17 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

You know Ed Helms from The Hangover (and The Office and The Daily Show). He’s now at the Tropic in CEDAR RAPIDS, as Tim Lippe, a naïve, earnest insurance salesman on his first trip out of his tiny home town to the big city. That’s not Las Vegas this time, but in this movie, as one character says, “What happens in Cedar Rapids, stays in Cedar Rapids,” so get ready for Hangover-style humor.

Tim is not a kid, but he lives in his childhood home, and his only romantic relationship is a dalliance with his former 7th grade teacher (Sigourney Weaver). A plane trip and a stay at a hotel with an atrium swimming pool and a hovering prostitute is almost more than his system can bear. He’s there for an insurance convention, sharing a room with two agents from more cosmopolitan places: the first African-American he’s ever met (Isiah Whitlock Jr. from The Wire) and a wild, womanizing guy (John C. Reilly). Add a party-animal woman (Ann Heche) and you’ve got the setup.

It’s “a sweet comedy with a dirty mind” (Roger Ebert), “makes you laugh-often and out loud” (Wall St. Journal). But my favorite insight comes from Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle: “fair and refreshing and almost makes you want to visit Iowa.” Those Frisco guys really know how to hand out a compliment. Check it out for an exuberant evening that’s out of the Tropic’s ordinary.

THE ILLUSIONIST is also an unusual treat, an Oscar-nominated animation using the classic technique of hand-drawn cels. If you were as delighted as I was with The Triplets of Belleville (which the Film Society showed at the San Carlos before opening the Tropic), you’ve been anxiously awaiting writer-director-animator-composer Sylvain Chomet’s follow up. For The Illusionist he’s drawn on a story by the French comic genius Jacques Tati about a traditional stage magician whose act is becoming outdated. But the movie, like Triplets, is all Chomet, from his incredible artistic style to his sprightly score. And the humor of Tati and Triplets continues to captivate in this “handcrafted jewel of a movie” (Boston Globe). It’s animation for adults, but fun for the kids, too, who might welcome visuals that are more akin to the picture books they love than Pixar pixels. Just a tad of warning, it’s rated PG because of smoking, which of course is natural to the characters. Bah, humbug.

Coming up on Saturday night is another show from the Fly Fishing Film Tour, hosted by local guide Will Benson. The goal of the Tour is “to inspire film makers to create new cutting edge films to both entertain and educate outdoor enthusiasts.” They’ve put together an amazing reel of what they impolitely call “fish porn,” meaning, I suppose, footage to excite those for whom fishing is as sexy as, well, sex. That’s probably half the population of Key West, so get your tickets early, at the Tropic box office or website. Check out for more info.

Monday’s Classic is GASLIGHT. Nominated for six Oscars, and winner of the Best Actress award for Incredible Ingrid, it’s got an all-star cast with Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotton, and Angela Lansbury backing Ms. Bergman. This is classic film noir, with foggy London streets and a thriller plot that will keep you on the edge.

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Cedar Rapids (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Cedar Rapids

Does the news have you down? Be glad you are not in Brown Valley where everything is, in fact, brown, In "Cedar Rapids" the new comedy by Miguel Arteta, ("Chuck & Buck" ) you'll see for yourself. The stores and offices are brown along with the clothes that its residents wear. Not since "Twin Peaks" has there been a more dry or quirky sense of place.

One such resident is Tim Lippe, played by Ed Helms of "The Office". Tim is a well meaning, clueless, scared insurance worker who is afraid of stepping on his own shadow. He goes through the motions and doesn't make waves. He expects little and seems astounded by his own respiration. He doesn't get out. Period. Tim's only girlfriend is his former matronly teacher (Sigourney Weaver). She doesn't want the relationship to move anywhere.

Sigourney pushes the envelope a bit here, as she grinds against the passive Tim in the nude. There are no special digital effects to refract her character into alien abstraction---this is real life. Tim gets news: he must represent his company at the annual meeting. He is told to stay away from Deansy Ziegler (John C. Reilly ) a "poacher".

What follows is an "Out of Towners" style comedy that has a quirky, independent heart. The core of this film is the chemistry between Helms and Reilly who show a poignant vulnerability and keep this film from being a mumblecore hybrid of "Dinner for Schmucks" and "The Hangover". Tim Lippe is not over the top as is Barry Speck. The character of Lippe is lightly drawn. There is no Jesus- mouse in this guy's pocket. When Lippe goes up to the stage on talent show night, we feel it. Ed Helms' anxiety is palpable with some of the spirit of Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock. Ziegler, also, is earthy and familiar. We see him embodied in the neighbor that stays too long at a party. The guy who is not quite a jerk but a manic joker, yet he is affable and capable of quiet listening.

The movie succeeds because the humanity is mixed in with the hijinx. The "little guy" Tim is not so little. He fights for the right thing. 

Like Steve Martin before him, Helms portrays the subtle rhythms of a person with social anxiety and the spontaneous movements of an out of touch apprehensive person. These people are not dweebs, or idiots,or Schmucks. But, as Ed Helms and John C. Reilly show, they are parts of us.

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The Illusionist (Rhoades)

“The Illusionist” Is Director’s Ode to Daughter
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Perhaps you don’t recognize the name of Jacques Tati – but Entertainment Weekly lists him as Number 46 on its list of the 50 Greatest Movie Directors. He was also a comedic actor. And screenwriter.

You cinephiles out there might recognize him as a character in a series of old French films. “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” was the first of them. Socially inept and funny, Mr. Hulot with his raincoat, umbrella, and pipe was a familiar figure to Gallic moviegoers.

Turns out, Tati was something of a sad clown. He had an illegitimate daughter, an occurrence that haunted his life. And in 1956 he wrote a script titled “L'illusionniste” in an attempt to make amends for abandoning her. Tati had hoped to star in the semi-autobiographical tale with his daughter Helga, but the film was never produced.

After Tati’s death, the script fell into the hands of his legitimate daughter Sophie. Not wanting to see anyone else play her father’s part, she turned the script over to animator Sylvain Chomet. He’s the director of “The Triplets of Belleville,” a brilliant fantasy that received an Oscar nod.

And now Chomet has made Jacques Tati’s story into a delightful animated film. “The Illusionist” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Despite a demand by Helga’s family that Chomet acknowledge her as the inspiration for the film, he has another opinion. "I think Tati wrote the script for Sophie,” he says. “I think he felt guilty that he spent too long away from his daughter when he was working.”

Needless to say, Helga’s family is not happy. They accuse Chomet of trying to “airbrush out their painful family legacy again.”

However, Pathé Pictures, the studio that backed the film, is more straightforward in giving credit. Its Production Notes state, “The film is based on an unproduced script that the French mime, director and actor Jacques Tati had written in 1956 as a personal letter to his estranged eldest daughter, Helga Marie-Jeanne Schiel.”

The storyline tells of a small-time illusionist who, along with his ill-tempered white rabbit, travels to a remote Scottish island where he performs in a pub. There he meets a young lady named Alice who believes he is a true magician. She follows him to Edinburgh where his fortunes continue to diminish as he bestows gifts on her. Eventually he has nothing more to give except his honesty about his lack of magical powers.

“It’s not a romance,” says Chomet. “It’s more the relationship between a dad and a daughter.”

Sylvain Chomet claims a kinship with Tati’s script because he has “a daughter who is 17 who I don’t live with because I separated from her mother.” So it’s difficult to tell if the tender melancholy that hangs over “The Illusionist” like the residue of a magician’s flash powder comes from Tati’s experience or from Chomet’s.

Even though Jacques Tati made Entertainment Weekly’s list of Greatest Directors, he only directed six films during his entire career, the fewest of anyone else on the list. And all but two of them featured that awkward but lovable Mr. Hulot. “Mon Oncle” won an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film.

Chomet’s “The Illusionist” was nominated this year as Best Animated Feature Film, but lost to “Toy Story 3.” Pixar has a strong magic of its own.
[from Solares Hill]

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Week of March 4 to March 10 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Okay, get ready for some fun. I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS isn’t about cigarettes, and it’s not even about Phillip Morris, a sweet and lovely gay man who is the love object of the story (Ewan McGregor, whom we last saw in the title role of The Ghost Writer). Rather it’s the true story of a con man to top all con men named Steven Russell, who was a lawyer when he needed to spring his buddy Phillip from jail, a health-care company executive when he needed to embezzle money, and even a terminal AIDS patient when he needed a way to get out of prison himself.

This new film recalls Catch Me If You Can, the 2002 tale of a similar character. But Leonardo DiCaprio, as talented as he is, can’t match Jim Carrey as a manic manipulator. The real life Russell began life as a regular straight citizen, a policeman no less, but quickly transformed himself into a gay playboy in South Beach (not merely gay but "gay, gay, gay, gay, gay" as he puts it in a voiceover). And into all those other characters and personas, and eventually to jail where he meets Phillip as his cellmate.

Once out of jail, they become rich, ridiculously rich, until Russell’s over-the-top antics bring the cops calling again. This all comes naturally to the heterosexual Carrey, the kind of guy who famously shot back, when asked in a Sundance press conference how it felt to kiss Ewan McGregor: "A dream come true! I mean, look at the guy!"

Some commentators have suggested that I Love You Phillip Morris has had trouble finding a distributor despite the star power of its lead actors because it’s “too gay.” It’s telling that the writer-director team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who had a successful box office track record with movies like Bad Santa and Cats and Dogs had to turn to a French production company for financing. Well down here in the Conch Republic, we don’t care about the gender preference of a movie that “crackles with deadpan wit and dark satire” ( Enjoy.

Also opening this week is MADE IN DAGENHAM, another film based on real events. Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins from Happy-Go-Lucky) is a worker at a Ford plant outside London who becomes the spokeswoman for a strike over equal pay. The year is 1968, when feminism was on the move in England as in the States, and Rita is fortunate to have a sympathetic female cabinet minister in charge of labor relations (Miranda Richardson) and the backing of the plant manager’s disaffected wife (Rosamund Pike). The women prevail, of course, and their actions led to enactment of the British Equal Pay Act. The movie, however, is no documentary lecture. Waggishly described as Norma Rae meets Calendar Girls, it combines sharp performances by the women and by Bob Hoskins as the local union leader, and some cheeky bits like the ladies stripping down to their undies on hot days in the plant, to create a delightfully entertaining movie based on fact.” (Roger Ebert)

Held over are the Academy Award Winners for Best Picture, THE KING’S SPEECH; and for Best Documentary, INSIDE JOB; as well as the Oscar nominated 127 HOURS and BIUTIFUL.

The Special Events calendar is headed by the Bolshoi Ballet from Moscow with DON QUIXOTE, live on Sunday morning at 11:00am EST (7pm in Moscow) with an encore showing at 7:00pm EST.

There will also be repeat showings of Kevin Rhoades’s MY NEW LIFE hosted by the filmmaker and his film-critic father Shirrel on Saturday and Sunday. And Monday night brings the opening of the Classics series for March. The theme for the month is Incredible Ingrid Bergman, and the first film is the spy thriller NOTORIOUS starring Ms. Bergman, Cary Grant and Claude Rains.

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

Made in Dagenham (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
 Made in Dagenham

"Made in Dagenham" is a colorful overview of the Dagenham strike in the 1960s.

The machinists of Dagenham went on strike in 1968, pushing for equal pay. The entire group of women shut down their factory work and brought the Ford plant to a halt. Through their efforts, equal pay was largely standardized in factories. And, not least, women workers were given the economic respect they deserve.

The film portrays its events in a breezy, effortless and accessible fashion. The women are shown going to work on brightly colored bikes under a gray sky. They zoom down quaint English roads as the smoke-stacked Ford Motor   factory looms in the distance. Despite the anticipated gloom it is a festive scene. A bit like George Orwell as envisioned by The Beatles. Industrial drear has never been so colorful. These beehived machinists tumble into work, their eyes excited, their talk frothy and their throats bubbling with earthy laughter. In contrast with the gray walls and the utilitarian green sewing machines, these workers pop like fireworks contained in Fiestaware cups. Any male oppression under the weight of these masculine metal cars doesn't stand a chance. With Singer machines that look like needle-nosed dragonflies poised to attack, these women plot to even the balance sheet. The upholstery seat covers  that they sew together are scarlet gauntlets for revolution.

Sally Hawkins ("Never Let Me Go") plays Rita, who has more spunk in sarcasm than Norma Rae and and as much allure as Betty Draper in "Mad Men". Rita  never backs down, using subtle wiles as her weapons and still mothering all the time, under the watch of a youngish lug of a passive husband (Daniel Mays).

The film shows just how much women work. Domestic work is balanced with the hum of the factory and every person makes it appear effortless and fun, with time to give January Jones a run for her money.

The men are clueless, monotone drones c
ompared to these vivacious, earthy and progressive women. After all, they were changing the world, pushing equality on all  levels, the social as well as the economic.

Veteran actor Bob Hoskins fares the best in his role as Albert, the foreman. He becomes a grandfather for the group. Not that they need one.

As the machinists race to the factory, the only color under a slate sky they are fierce flowers. Then, as the reggae sound of Desmond Dekker is heard, the bright shoots transform with the music into Ska warriors, at one in solidarity and the pulse of change.

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I Love You Phillip Morris (Rhoades)

Audiences Call For “Phillip Morris”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Talk about product placement. No movie has been so blatant about it since a dog adventure titled “Because of Winn-Dixie.”

That said, “I Love You Phillip Morris” – a dramedy that’s now showing at the Tropic Cinema – has the right to call itself anything it likes. And as it turns out, the title has nothing to do with cigarette brands.

In it, Phillip Morris is the name of a cellmate of incarcerated conman Steven Jay Russell. A former deputy sheriff, the real-life Russell committed a number of frauds, such as passing himself off as a food service executive and as the CFO of a medical management company. Eventually, he gets sent to prison for lewd acts at a local park. In jail he meets the aforementioned Phillip Morris and falls for him. After Morris is released, Russell breaks out of prison four separate times to be with him. That’s how Russell gains the nickname of “Houdini” and “King Con.”

Using as many as 14 aliases, Russell passed himself off as a judge, a lawyer, a doctor, and a handyman, among many other disguises. While posing as a judge, he ordered his own bond be lowered. He even faked having Aids to aid his cause.

Playing the conman in this semi-serious film is funnyman Jim Carrey. And Ewan McGregor is the object of his affections, the aforesaid Phillip Morris.

“I do like to push the envelope here and there,” admits Carrey. He’s not talking about wacky roles like “Dumb and Dumber” or animated roles like “A Christmas Carol” or even his dramatic Andy Kaufman impersonation for “Man on the Moon.” He’s speaking about “I Love You Phillip Morris.”

Given its controversial gay theme, the film had trouble finding a U.S. distributor. Carrey’s advisors didn’t want him to take on this assignment, but he knew it was a part he had to do. “Why else do we live?” he muses. “Except to do something that people haven’t seen before in a film and to push the boundary a little bit? So when it snaps back it doesn’t snap back quite so far.”

Ewan McGregor’s greatest concern was that he didn’t want to look like a “straight guy playing gay.” Kissing Jim Carrey didn’t bother him. “It’s just not an issue. As an actor you’re stepping into the shoes of people in life and people in life are gay or straight or both or whatever.”
As for real-life prison escape artist Steven Russell, he’s now tucked away in solitary confinement in a Texas prison, on lock-down 23 hours a day.
Meanwhile, the titular Phillip Morris lives a quiet life in Arkansas. He consulted on the movie, which is based on a book by former Houston Chronicle reporter Steve McVicker.
As for that same-named cigarette, the tobacco company spells its brand with only one L.
[from Solares Hill]

I Love You Phillip Morris (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
I Love You Philip Morris

"I Love You Philip Morris" is the cinematic hybrid of "Ace Ventura" and "Inside Job". The film details the true story of Steven Russell, nicknamed "King Con" and "Houdini".

When Steven was a boy, according to the film he knew he was gay by noticing clouds as penises. Despite these natural urges, he ignores them as he is a child of the repressive  1950s.
He learns he is adopted and becomes a conservative Christian. He marries a blond beauty queen and works at Sysco foodservice. The American Dream. When night falls, he becomes a wildman on the hunt for men. Carrey is a bit like Ace Ventura here: the thrust-forward chest, the cocked head, the wild eyes. His Steven Russell leads a double life. When he gets in a car wreck, it is a sexualized slapstick moment of auto erotic catharsis. With his jet black hair and florid clothes, Russell loves himself just as much as his sports car. He tells his wife (Leslie Mann) that he is gay. Russell leaves domesticity and begins a crime spree that echoes "The Birdcage" along with "Catch Me If You Can", but is more enjoyable than either film because of the  sheer breakneck speed.

He starts credit card scams and insurance fraud. Russell is one slippery snake. At each turn and slip the temptation might seem great for Carrey to go into his plasticine-faced, spastic-limbed wild rants as with his previous roles, but Carrey has the strong sense to restrain his Id, ultimately making his character more believable and more outrageous in his human qualities. Con-artist Russell, like Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter shows us the human being behind the maniac. Rather than just displaying his theatrical amorality, Carrey delivers a genuine pathos behind the compulsion of this ne'er do well. And there were plenty of moments which could have been rife with ridiculous faces, but this is not one of those times.

Russell becomes a fake accident victim collecting on health insurance and benefits. He goes to prison. There he meets his soulmate: the soft-spoken and taciturn Phillip Morris (Ewan Mcgregor). The two become the valentines of the prison set. Once released, shrewd Russell fakes resumes and references with his serpent smooth voices and becomes a financial director at a bank. He embezzles thousands.

He goes back and forth to prison and puts himself into a diabetic coma. But perhaps his most daring escape is faking his death from AIDS. Russell studied the symptoms and knew exactly what to eat or what not to eat, to make himself ill.

Like Lon Chaney, "The Man of A Thousand Faces", Carrey pushes and keeps pushing the envelope, delving much deeper than Leonardo Dicaprio in depicting the flat conformity of American commerce and culture.

Russell gets thrown into prison at last for 144 years, in real life, but not before he channels Jim Carrey, who unleashes  almost elegant lunacy in his fits of spasms and subtlety. Within each of his quiet Joker stares ala Heath Ledger, Carrey seems to ask the question, "how much of me can you take?" 

Instead of answering, we smile, transfixed and keep watching.

The real Steven Russell is now in prison, the film relates, with only a one hour recess.

And Carrey is alive too, staring us down. 

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