Sunday, May 22, 2011

Week of May 20 to May 26 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann
     Another literary adaptation joins JANE EYRE and ATLAS SHRUGGED, which are held over.
It’s WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, based on Sara Gruen’s best seller about a sexy circus performer Marlena (Reese Witherspoon – Walk the Line, Legally Blonde), her sociopathic circus-owner/ringmaster husband August (Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds), a wandering young veterinary student Jacob (Robert Pattinson - Twilight) and the very special elephant Rosie (Tai – Larger Than Life, Operation Dumbo Drop).
     Just this list of characters makes it sound enticing. The circus is no fancy three-Ringling extravaganza, but a ratty, tatty, traveling show barely making it in 1931 hard times. When it loses its star animal attraction, a horse ridden bareback by Marlena, all seems lost, until August finds an elephant act and discovers that young Jacob has a way with these animals. It’s “a splendid period swooner that delivers classic romance and an indelible insider's view of 1930s circus life“ (Variety). Looking for something to take the kids to? This is also a “good sound family entertainment, a safe PG-13 but not a dumb one” (Roger Ebert).
     Meanwhile Sara Gruen's new book Ape House, about bonobos, has been optioned by Ellen DeGeneres. From what I've heard about the sexual proclivities of these primates, this movie probably won't be for the youngsters.
     IN A BETTER WORLD is certainly no PG-13. It intercuts two stories, one set in an African refugee camp where the Danish doctor Anton provides free treatment, and the other in Denmark where Anton’s son struggles with bullies. As the stories unfold, Anton must deal with an uber-bully in Africa -- a vicious Idi Amin-like warlord, and a thug-like Dane back home. As he tries to set a Gandian role model, his son sinks to a simpler, more instinctive response. The “violence and disturbing content” of this movie has earned it an R rating, presumably because the action is realistic. That’s too bad in a way. The moral dilemma presented is one that could well be discussed with teenagers. The film won both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe this year for Best Foreign Film. It’s “a tough piece of work, subtle in some ways, obvious in others, viscerally affecting throughout.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
     For something completely different, consider I AM. When pop movie director Tom Shadyak (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective; The Nutty Professor) was recuperating from a horrific biking accident, he had an epiphany. Giving up his Pasadena mansion, he set out with a skeletal film crew to ask two questions: What’s wrong with our world and what can we do about it. The answer is embedded in the title of this documentary. Sounds heavy, and it is in a way. But Shadyak’s still a goofy comedy director at heart. Thus we learn not only about the connectedness of symbiotic animals but also how yoghurt can feel your emotions.
     I AM is a New Age documentary, but called to mind Jim Gleick’s brilliant new book The Information, where I learned about quantum computing. Did you know that at the subatomic level two particles can react in concert even though separated by great distance and seemly unconnected with each other? Einstein knew about these “entangled particles,” but even he had no explanation.
     Well Shadyak does. Everything’s connected. We’re all in this world together, and we all should do our part to make the best of it. You and me, Bishop Tutu and Noam Chomsky (whom he interviews)…. and the bowl of yoghurt.
     Comments, please, to

1 comment:

Bill Iddings said...

The power of Oprah is on display ‘round “I Am.”
An auto-documentary by a director who’s best known for making Jim Carrey talk out of his butt, ‘”I Am” captured attention after Oprah Winfrey endorsed it on national television.
What makes the film’s popularity telling of more than itself is that “I Am” is nothing special. It’s a standard doc that uses the genre staple of talking heads to impart the obvious. Among its revelations: Beyond securing basic needs and comforts, money can’t buy happiness.
It can, however, buy stuff, mountains of which “I Am” director Tom Shadyac piled up after making a fortune from directing a string of hit film comedies. Several of them have starred the elastic-faced Carrey, a career over actor whose professional path remains unencumbered by subtlety. (Carrey gets the last laugh: He’s a huge star, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it, so there.)
Shadyac first gave us “Ace Ventura, Pet Detective,” a movie highlighted by a (thank God) clothed Carrey bending over, extending his derriere towards the camera, grabbing his lower cheeks and using his hands to open and shut them like some crude ventriloquist. Shadyac has also directed Carrey in “Liar, Liar” and “Bruce Almighty,” and abetted Eddie Murphy’s antics as “The Nutty Professor.”
Faster than you can say “Ain’t that a kick in the head,” Shadyac got the equivalent. Suffering head trauma in a bicycling accident, Shadyac for years was laid low by headaches and other health problems. Becoming depressed and disenchanted, Shadyac began to reevaluate his life. Then he got the bright idea to start asking “meaningful” questions of some mellow mental giants.
The result: “I Am.”
The movie is a series of interviews which Shadyac does, face to face, with a string of great thinkers, one of them the moral compass that is Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Seasoning “I Am” with smatterings of animation, Shadyac speaks with a number of philosophical minds, one a philanthropist whom he already knew: his father who co-founded, with entertainer Danny Thomas, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The most pessimistic of the bunch: dear old Dad who thinks we’re beyond repair.
Shadyac has said that his original intent with “I Am” was to find out what’s wrong with the world. Instead, Shadyac has said, he discovered a lot of what’s right with it.
What might that be?
Oh, that eventually we all breathe the same air; that even though we keep killing each other, we are naturally compassionate; that we’re capable of survival, if only we’d get around to doing what needs to be done.
Shadyac even gets around to quoting Anne Frank. Smart money would bet that most people can guess what that quote says.
In the end “I Am” amounts to stuff we’ve all heard before, but perhaps need to hear again because the inconvenient truths don’t seem to be sinking in.
Despite his appearance and bent, Shadyac’s no mere long-haired flake. He’s in earnest, and puts his money where his mouth his. He’s has given away most of his wealth, and several mansions. He lives in a high-end trailer park, and has pledged to donate most of the money he makes from now on for the greater good.
And he’s got Oprah going for him.