Monday, July 4, 2011

Week of July 1 to July 7 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Did you see Super Size Me, the documentary about the guy who ate only at McDonald’s for a month and wound up a fat slob? The writer-director-subject Morgan Spurlock has a penchant for tweaking the system. He also produced What Would Jesus Buy?, a satirical examination of the commercialization of Christmas. And now he’s back as a writer-director-subject with POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD, the ultimate product-placement film. If you believe Spurlock – and why not, since transparency is his mantra for this movie – the pomegranate drink Pom Wonderful paid him a cool million bucks for its “above the title” ad placement. Unlike ordinary movies, where people do such things as drive Mini Coopers to secretly promote the minis (The Italian Job), everything here is a promotion, and the movie is about how Spurlock got advertisers to pay his costs by giving them screen time. You won’t believe what people will do for a plug. It “makes you laugh until it hurts.” (Rolling Stone)

Not that every movie is so crass. Watching SUPER 8, set in 1979, you’ll look in vain for any product, except maybe Kodak Super 8mm movie film, which I hardly think the company is paying to promote now. Like Steven Spielberg’s classic E.T. this is an alien movie – from other planets, that is, not other countries – with a heart. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek-2009, Mission Impossible III) and produced by Spielberg, it has the same kid’s eye viewpoint as E.T.

Abrams has acknowledged his debt to Spielberg with a letter to theater operators:
“As many of you are aware, the film is set in the 1970s and is an homage to the early works of my good friend, Steven Spielberg. Naturally, the theatrical experience should be as attentive to period detail as the film itself. To that end, all stadium seating should be removed and replaced with cracked and ripped vinyl benches. If you are unable to affix chewing-gum to the bottom of each handrest, know that you will be greatly disappointing Steven Spielberg, my creative partner and mentor.“

However, since Hollywood’s CGI (computer-generated imagery) has ramped up over the past thirty years, the alien in Super 8 is much bigger than in E.T., and his destructive capabilities are vastly enhanced. So come for the kid-hearted charm, and stay for the explosions. And see if the Tropic has accommodated Abrams’ requests.

Those are the two new films. Held over by popular demand – meaning people are still buying tickets like mad – are Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, BRIDESMAIDS, and WINTER IN WARTIME.

The Monday Night Summer of Fun Classics starts a new theme for July: Second Childhood, with WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Not the recent movie based on the Roald Dahl story, but the original from 1971 that Roger Ebert called “probably the best film of its sort since The Wizard of Oz. It is everything that family movies usually claim to be, but aren't: Delightful, funny, scary, exciting, and, most of all, a genuine work of imagination.” School’s out. Bring the kids on Monday night for a delightful end to the long weekend.

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