Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Week of September 7 to September 13 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

How about a couple of crowd-pleasing, light sci-fi-ish comedies?

ROBOT AND FRANK features an aging Frank Langella (Dracula, Frost/Nixon) as an aging cat-burglar whose kids have set him up with a robot-caregiver rather than place him in an elderly facility. He’s a cranky guy deprived of his old thrills and losing his memory. The robot is pretty amazing, capable of things from making dinner to giving enemas. A great buddy-movie setup… and it delivers even more than you expect. “Such a sly, dry, modest-seeming picture – part science fiction, part social satire, part geriatric comedy – that you don't realize how well it works until it's over.” (Andrew O’Hehir, “A rueful and funny reflection on aging, death, parenthood, and technology.” (Dana Stevens,

The hardware in SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is a time machine, or let’s say a wannabe time machine, whose owner Kenneth (Mark Duplass) has advertised for companions to accompany him on a time trip. There really was such an ad, snuck in a newspaper as space filler by a bored employee. What if it were real? Three journalists investigate, and one of them, Darius (Audrey Plaza – Parks and Recreation), wins the trust of Kenneth. Turns out that time travel as envisioned by Kenneth is not a walk in the park. His ad said “Bring your own weapons,” and he meant it. The travelers have to be prepared. Since Darius isn’t, she must first go through Kenneth’s boot camp. The humor is inherent in every interaction, as we verge between buying into his dream and chuckling at his absurdity. You’ll have to see it to find out which is appropriate.

Exactly what independent films should be yet rarely are. It's brisk and assured and never begs the audience's indulgence. No time is wasted. The movie is, at every moment, either funny or pushing the story forward, or both.” (Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle)

For a real trip to the past, see FAREWELL, MY QUEEN. You’ll be a fly on the wall at the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in Versailles, as the Bastille falls and the revolution heads their way. Through the eyes of Marie’s maid-in-waiting Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) we see the frailties of the royals as well as their extravagances. The movie is sympathetic to Louis and Marie, who don’t seem at all as bad as history has stereotyped them. And, no, she never says “Let them eat cake,” neither in the movie, nor apparently in real life. An interesting counterpoint to last month’s The Queen of Versailles which depicted a contemporary American version of wretched excess, where the wolves at the door were creditors rather than assassins.

“Richly photographed and featuring an attractive cast, Farewell, My Queen is a layer cake of royal pleasures, rote protocols and revolutionary politics. For skeptics who thought this story had grown stale, let them eat their words.” (Joe Willams, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT explores the life and work of the woman who describes herself as the “grandmother of performance art.” She has cut herself, whipped herself, and almost died in a piece where she leapt into a flaming circle, only to find that the fire had cut off all oxygen in its center. Her most famous event was staged at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in the Spring of 2010, where she sat immobile for eight hours a day for three months, while visitors sat looking back at her. “The whole film—fleet, lively, and, for the performance-art novice, duly informative—is shaped like a thriller of sorts, with a first hour that painstakingly sets up the various personal and historical threads that eventually pay off during the extended climactic set piece…” (Kenji Fujishima, Slant Magazine)

Compared to this, the escapades in THE BOURNE LEGACY may seem tame. This sequel to the Matt Damon led trilogy about the mysterious CIA operative Jason Bourne, takes a new tack with Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) as Aaron Cross. He's an erstwhile colleague of Bourne in the strange club of former superagents who the powers-that-be want to eliminate. The movie is co-written and directed by Tony Gilroy, who also wrote the previous episodes, so he knows the drill. This is an action series making a bid to join the Bond franchise in the endless episodes derby, and with good reason. “An absolute crackerjack entertainment: smart, taut, sleek, tense and unrelenting -- an ideal action movie and a truly exemplary sequel.” (Shawn Levy, Portland Oregonian)

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