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.

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[from Key West, the newspaper --]

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