Thursday, August 4, 2011

Week of August 5 to August 11 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Don’t confuse SUBMARINE with The Hunt for Red October, or Operation Petticoat, or even Frank Capra’s 1928 pre-talkie Submarine. Those all featured underwater boats. This one is about 15-year-old Oliver Tate, who is submerged in nothing but his obsession with a girl and finding his place in the world. That may not be a unique notion, but British filmmaker Richard Ayoade, a standup comedian and music video director, has brought the full range of his skills to the task. All the characters are loveably odd. Oliver’s parents (Noah Taylor – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Sally Hawkins – Happy Go Lucky), haven’t had sex in months but are trying in inept ways to be helpful to their son about the birds and bees. (“I once ripped my vest off in front of a woman,” dad confides.) Meanwhile Oliver is trying to prevent mum from drifting into an affair with the neighborhood psychic, who’s her old boyfriend.

But the center of the movie is Oliver himself and his girlfriend, Jordana. He’s a self-professed fan of The Catcher in the Rye, but more like Max Fischer in Rushmore. (Wes Anderson is clearly Ayoade’s inspiration.) She’s part pyromaniac and part Amélie. Humor runs through the movie as we chuckle at the absurdity of the character’s behaviors, especially Oliver who tends to a dramatic view of life. (He fantasizes about the national outpouring of grief that will follow his demise.) But it’s also a touching tale of adolescent angst filmed with a brilliant style that interweaves reality and fantasy.

“The excruciating and the hilarious mingle nearly to perfection.” (New York Post). “Wonderfully funny and subversively affecting.” (Wall St. Journal)

A BETTER LIFE strikes a more serious note. Luis is the same age as the boy in Submarine, but he’s the son of Carlos, an undocumented alien struggling to earn a living as a gardener. Luis would love to have the existential problem of Oliver, but he has no time for such luxuries. The world he and his father live in is beset by gangs on the one hand and la migra – the immigration cops -- on the other. Carlos seems to have found the answer when a departing boss leaves him a modest business, a truck and clients, that may enable them to get out of the barrio. But when the truck is stolen by a betraying worker, the depth of their despair is enlightened only by the bonding between father and son as they go in search of their missing lifeline.

Filmmaker Chris Weitz (About A Boy; The Twilight Saga: New Moon) who has part Mexican ancestry, obviously wants to use his directorial talents to put a face on a harsh world that has become a political football of the right. But he also knows how to tell a story that will remind you of The Bicycle Thief, as it turns “what could have been another manifesto of liberal guilt into a genuinely moving tale of a father and son bonding together in a hostile world.” (Portland Oregonian)

If you’ve been following the Tropic fashion movie parade, which has already brought us movies about Valentino, Chanel and Bill Cunningham, you should be ready for Yves St. Laurent. The documentary L’AMOUR FOU, narrated by his long-time companion and business partner Pierre Bergé,
is not so much about YSL’s work as his life -- about the art, depression and decadence that dominated it. It is “perched somewhere between a sanded-edged official portrait and a keen examination of affluence run amok.” (Time Out New York)

The Monday Night Summer of Fun Classic theme for August is Murder and Mayhew. This week it’s THE WARRIORS (1979), a hip dystopian story set in a New York City ruled by warring gangs. “A cult classic… so good.” (New York Times)

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