Friday, August 17, 2012

Week of August 17 to August 23 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Savvy filmgoers know that The George theater at the Tropic is the place to look for something interesting, and different. This week is no exception, with a mix of two movies, a documentary and a narrative film.

The documentary, THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, will surprise you. The subject is not French royalty or palace, but rather a 90,000 square foot house being built by time-share billionaire David Siegel and his trophy wife Jackie on a lake outside Orlando. Rather, that’s how it starts out, as filmmaker Lauren Greenfield takes us on a tour of this latter day attempt to emulate Louis XIV’s chateau, showing us the vast ballroom and storehouses of art and furniture collected worldwide to complete it. (To put things in perspective, the real Versailles is 720,000 square feet, so this is a pale imitation, but still….)

But it was not to be. Not the house, which stands unfinished to this day. And not the movie, which in a turn of “life imitates art” became the story of the Siegel’s run-in with the financial collapse of 2008. Like so many ordinary folk, they found themselves underwater on their mortgages, and in thrall to bankers. We find ourselves caring for the family, especially Jackie and her eight children, even as she admits she wouldn’t have had them if she couldn’t have a plethora of nannies. She’s no bimbo, a college-trained engineer and one-time IBM employee, who turned her Miss Florida title into a luxurious marriage to a man twice her age. She does seem to love her husband, and remains loyal to him through it all, while he deals with the situation less admirably.

In some ways, this is a better, more insightful movie about the fiscal crunch than those that took it on directly, a unique window on its why and how. “Marvel at the ornate frame, mock the vulgarity of the images if you want, but let's not kid ourselves. If this film is a portrait, it is also a mirror.” (A.O. Scott, New York Times)

The narrative film, TRISHNA, is billed as a modern retelling of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but set in India. It’s another story of a poor girl meets rich man, but in this case, the lovers are both young and comely especially Trishna (Freida Pinto – Slumdog Millionaire). She’s a simple, but intelligent girl from a poor rural family. He’s a charming, but dissolute son of a wealthy hotel owner. At first he provides a much needed job for her, and sends her to hotel management school. But then the barriers of custom between them warp the relationship. Their love, a once sweet ripe fruit, becomes rotten, and leads to tragedy.

The strength of the movie is in its portrayal of several worlds of contemporary India -- a sophisticated Mumbai world of young artists, an impoverished rural world where large families and low incomes intersect, and luxurious world of beautiful resorts staffed by dozens who are pleased to earn $45 a week. It’s almost a rebellion against the false, fairy-tale, images of Slumdog Millionaire and The Exotic Marigold Hotel. We may never really understand Trishna, but we can understand how a roller coaster ride through these diverse domains might unhinge the best of us. “As a melodrama, Trishna builds a hypnotic force.” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

is reputed to be one of the highest grossing films in French cinema history, already bringing in over $330 million outside the United States, with no movie stars, no violence, no elaborate CGI effects, no superheroes, and no sex. It’s obviously a crowd pleaser, but in an unusual way. Phillipe, a millionaire who is a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, is dependent on Driss, a vigorous young African immigrant ex-con who becomes his aide/caregiver. Through Driss, Philippe’s world expands from paralysis to pleasurable adventure. “An exuberantly charming French buddy comedy that proves an audience will suspend disbelief and follow an unlikely story as long as it's superbly crafted.” (Claudia Puig, USA Today) “It's the kind of movie that inspires word-of-mouth recommendations.” (Joe Williams, St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Real action-adventure fans, despair not. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is up on the screen in the Tropic’s superb active-glasses 3D system. “It's dark and mysterious, but doesn't skimp on fun.” (Joe Neumaier, NY Daily News)


Plus the regular collection of weekly specials THE NEVER ENDING STORY for kids, THE TINGLER for creature fans, and RAISING ARIZONA for Coen Brothers fans.

Full schedules and info at or

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