Sunday, September 25, 2011

Week of Sept. 23 to Sept. 29

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

What a lineup this week.

Topping the bill is ATTACK THE BLOCK, a Brit sci fi with a decidedly low tech approach. You’ve got your usual alien creatures come to take over Earth. But the team that stops them is a street gang. Think “The Bloods and the Crips Against the Martians.” Did I say it’s a little tongue in cheek? “It's the movie Super 8 wanted to be - or should have been.” (TimeOut New York)

For harder edged kicks, check out THE DEBT. A team of Israeli Mossad agents is sent to East Berlin in the late sixties, with the goal of capturing “The Butcher of Birkenau,” a former Nazi prison camp doctor who performed horrible human experiments. It’s tense; you’re on the edge of your seat. Then they’re back in Israel enjoying their fame and you can relax. Then the tension ratchets up again when secrets begin to emerge. A thriller all the way. The twin stars are Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain, who play a Mossad agent both now and back then. Though they don’t look anything alike, they’re both good enough to make you ignore the casting discontinuity. “Bristling with dangers both corporeal and cerebral, The Debt is a superbly crafted espionage thriller packed with Israeli-Nazi score settling.” (Betsy Sharkey, L.A. Times)

It’s good to hear that one of the hit movies of the summer, THE HELP, is now at the Tropic. It is always a pleasure to report that a movie about characters and social issues beats out the action-adventure CGI thrillers at the box office, and The Help has managed to do it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, this film is based on a best-selling book set in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960’s. Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone – The Easy A) is a privileged young white woman, a member of the Junior League, but she’s got a social conscience that doesn’t sit well in this era of Civil Rights turmoil. Not that she wants to throw bombs. She just feels that the black maids who tend all the houses and raise all the children deserve a better deal. Certainly better than that proposed by Hilly Holbrook, head of the Junior League (Bryce Dallas Howard – Hereafter) who is pushing for legislation to require separate bathrooms in outside garages for all maids. Skeeter’s plan is to write a book with the cooperation of her family’s maid Abileen Clark (Viola Davis) and others from that community.

Though the plan is fraught with peril, and keeps a tension running throughout, the plot has enough humor to keep it an easy summer entertainment. And we can all rejoice that, at least in some respects, this is a world that has changed for the better. “The Help succeeds wonderfully, a warm and sweet song of hope.” (Mike Scott, New Orleans Times-Picayune)

Two documentaries provide a change of pace.

TABLOID is the latest from the great documentarian Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, Fog of War). It’s the amazing story of Joyce McKinney, a beauty queen gone cuckoo. In 1977 she was the star of British tabloids (like the now defunct News of the World) for allegedly kidnapping a young Mormon and making him her sex slave. And that’s only the beginning of her story. “It is a spellbinding enigma, and one of the damnedest films Morris has ever made.” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

The MAGIC TRIP keeps with the enigmatic theme. “Trip” has more than one meaning in this story of a bus journey across the country led by Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and joined by Neil Cassady (Kerouac’s buddy On the Road) and the so-called Merry Band of Pranksters. They all intended to make a movie of their trip, and shot a lot of footage, but what with a few too-many LSD tabs and other distractions, it’s been sitting around in cans. Accomplished filmmakers Alex Gibney (Casino Jack, Client 9:The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer) and Allison Ellwood have turned it into “a lively and absorbing document, filled with jaw-dropping materials.” (Shawn Levy, Portland Oregonian)

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