Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tips for the Key West Film Festival Nov.29-Dec 2 (Mann)


Phil Mann’s Tips
For the 2012 Key West Film Festival 
The 2012 Key West Film Festival opens with a welcoming party at the Hemingway House on Thursday afternoon at 5:30pm (Tix at Keystix.com) followed by a screening of While We Were Here at the San Carlos that night. On Friday through Sunday more than 33 films will unspool at the Tropic (on all four screens) and at the San Carlos. For a grand finale, there'll be a free screening of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on the beach in front of Salute.
 The full schedule and info is at KeyWestFilmFestival.com. Tickets can be bought there, or at the Tropic Box Office, for all films. To help you sort through them, here’s a quick summary.
ALL TOGETHER- Moving and comedic story of aging friends who decide to share a communal home, starring Jane Fonda and Geraldine Chaplin (in French w/subtitles).

ANY DAY NOW – In the 1970’s a gay couple fights the legal system to keep custody of an abandoned mentally handicapped teenager. Starring Alan Cumming, with locals including Randy Roberts, Randy Thompson and Annie O’Shea. “Laugh out loud funny and heartbreaking without resorting to neat Hollywood set-ups or resolutions.” Eye For Film
BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL – Bettie narrates the story of her life, with a light touch and humor.
BIG VISION EMPTY WALLET COMEDY SHORT FILMS- The best of the films submitted in this year’s shorts competition.
BORN AND RAISED - A coming-of-age drama about a teenager in the Florida panhandle who begins considering venturing out of his small town to escape his interpersonal conflicts. From Rome Film Festival.
CALIFORNIA SOLO – A British rocker faces deportation from the U.S., and confronts his past. “Robert Carlyle's layered performance as an embittered musician facing his demons gives this fragile drama some emotional heft.” Hollywood Reporter
CLOUDBURST- A Lesbian couple escapes from a nursing home and go on a road trip to Canada to get married, with Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker. “This crowd-pleaser from writer-director Thom Fitzgerald brings campaign-season relevance, geriatric glamour and Oscar clout.” Memphis Commercial Appeal
COMING UP ROSES – Young Alice (Rachel Brosnahan) and her fading-actor mother, Diane (Bernadette Peters) desperately hold onto each other and the fantasy of a better life.
DEADFALL - Two siblings (Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde) on the run after a casino heist. “A highly satisfying Western-cum-noir in the old tradition.” Variety
EL MEDICO: THE CUBATON STORY - Like Buena Vista Social Club it combines the personal story of a Cuban musician with plenty of his music and dancing. Is he El Medico – the doctor his mother wants him to be, or Cubaton -- the reggae singer his Swedish music producer is trying to develop? “Takes us on a wonderful authentic trip into the heart of Cuba.” (Linda Sweatt, SBCC Film Reviews)
THE FALLEN FAITHFUL- Thriller about a religious man, searching for a profound and meaningful connection with God, who is also a man of violence, a hired killer.
GAYBY is one of several LBGT-themed films at the Festival. This one’s a comedy about a straight girl who wants to get pregnant, and her male gay best friend who helps her “the old fashioned way.” Sharp and witty, and set in Brooklyn, you’ll be reminded of Lena Dunham’s Girls, with cameos from her cast-mates Adam Driver and Alex Karpovsky. “Like Dunham's show, Gayby draws zeitgeist-y, situational laughs from the lives of people it seems to know, rather than straining to position itself as a hip authority…. If it's not the best comedy of the year, it's easily the best to transcend the comedy formula.” (R. Kurt Osenlund, Slant Magazine)
HEAD GAMES – A stark, unflinching examination of contact sports and the self-inflicted injuries the participants take as "part of the game." (Documentary)
HORS SATAN - Enigmatic drama about the relationship between a woman and a mysterious outsider on Northern France's Opal Coast. Is he the Second Coming, or the Devil? (in French w/subtitles)
IN ANOTHER COUNTRY presents us with three overlapping small love stories, all featuring the same cast headed by the well-known French star Isabelle Huppert. It’s directed by Sang-soo Hong (known as Korea’s Eric Rohmer) and set at a seaside town in his home country. “While it doesn’t shy away from telling moments of harshness, it’s for the most part bright and breezy viewing, matching its picturesque and sunny seaside scenery with mischievous insights.” (James Mudge, Beyond Hollywood. com) Nominated for the Palm d’Or at Cannes, this is a must for fans of French cinema. (Despite its foreign aspects, the movie’s language is English. How else can the French and Koreans communicate?)
JOURNEY TO PLANET X – Two young filmmakers make a movie about making a sci-fi movie… and having fun. From Tribeca Film Festival. Cast and crew will be there for a Q & A.
KINDERBLOCK 66: RETURN TO BUCHENWALD - The story of four men who, as young boys, were imprisoned by the Nazis in the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp and who, sixty-five years later, return to commemorate the sixty-fifth anniversary of their liberation. (Documentary)
LET MY PEOPLE GO is another LBGT-themed comedy. Reuben is a French-Jewish gay working as a postman in Finland (after completing his degree in comparative sauna cultures). It’s “a hectic, colour-saturated Euro farce that sends up a multitude of stereotypes.” (Craig Takeuchi, Straight. com)
NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING- A chronological look at growing up, formed from two different stories. The two sets of friends represent the American dilemma between what you have known and what you hope to know; the split between longing for the past and the desire to explore.
THE PLAYROOM features another appearance for the versatile John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, The Sessions) now as a parent carousing downstairs while his four children invent a game of their own in the attic playroom. “An emotionally rich drama set in suburbia in 1975. Gathered around a candle to simulate a campfire setting, they improvise a tale about four orphaned kids who escape from their lonely castle and set out for adventure.” (Eric Snider, Film. com)
QUARTET is Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut. The foursome of the title are retired opera singers, Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay among them, sharing digs at a retirement home and finding a way back to their glory days. “Quartet has a warmth and charm that'll likely make it a firm hit with the same crowd that turned out for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” (Simon Reynolds, Digital Spy)
THE SAPPHIRES follows an Aborigine girl band as they go on a tour of American troops in Vietnam. “A jewel-bright charmer about four spunky indigenous women whose powerhouse voices catapulted them onto the 60s-era world stage as Australia's answer to the Supremes.” Hollywood Reporter.
SHADOW DANCER is a spy thriller featuring Andrea Riseborough (Made in Dagenham) as an IRA turncoat double agent and Clive Owen as her MI5 handler. “A labyrinthine tale of cat and mouse, of deception and double cross, of betrayal and confused allegiances.” Observer (UK)
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN is a documentary about four international adoptees, “Chinese girls emotionally divided between the Asian country in which they were born and the America in which they were raised... you’d have to be a stone not to be moved.” Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
STARLET- about the moral dilemmas raised when an aspiring and often stoned actress discovers a stash of cash in a Thermos she buys at a yard sale. The movie was featured at the SXSW Festival, and won the Breakthrough Performer Award for Dree Hemingway (granddaughter of Papa) at the Hamptons Film Festival.
STRUCK BY LIGHTNING – An outspoken gay teenager narrates his own funeral. Laugh aloud high school comedy with Allison Janney, Rebel Wilson & Allison Janney “The characters are likable, the jokes are spot on & it's an all-around good time.” Movies. com
TIGER EYES is the first-ever feature film adaptation of a Judy Blume novel, written by Judy with her son Lawrence, and directed by him. It’s the story of a teenager coming to terms with the sudden death of her father and an unwanted family relocation. “The rarest of family films, smart and nuanced, with an attention to detail in images that mirrors what is Ms. Blume’s strength with words.” Filmmaker Magazine. Judy will be there for a Q and A after the film.
TIME ZERO: THE LAST YEAR OF POLAROID FILM – Documentary that captures the passion of photographers who loved Polaroid film, and what they went through to save it.
UNFIT: WARD VS. WARD – Expose of bias against lesbian mothers via a documentary on case of convicted murder husband awarded custody. (Documentary)
VIOLETA WENT TO HEAVEN – A portrait of famed Chilean singer and folklorist Violeta Parra filled with her musical work, her memories, her loves and her hopes.
WHILE WE WERE HERE – A married American woman (Kate Bosworth) has an affair with a younger man on an Italian island. With Claire Bloom.
THE WISE KIDS – A low-key drama about questioning kids in a South Carolina Baptist church. “A guileless exploration of the growing pains of sheltered innocents whose reticence and sincerity evoke 1950s small-town values.” NY Times
YOSSI – “Yossi (Ohad Knoller) is a thirty something doctor in Tel Aviv who hides the fact he is gay from all around him…. a lovely story full of emotions that build to a crescendo.” Flickfeast


Tiger Eyes ((Film Festival) (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Tiger Eyes

A film based on favorite Key West author Judy Blume's controversial novel "Tiger Eyes" has arrived at the Key West Film Festival. "Tiger Eyes" is especially poignant because it is directed by the author's son Lawrence Blume, while The Tropic's own George Cooper is the Executive Producer. It is a genuine holistic creation with spirit. 

The film focuses on Davey, a young girl who is coping with the sudden loss of her dad slain during a random shooting. Gossip Girl's Willa Holland does an excellent turn here showing Davey's mercurial temper. Dark haired and sly, Davey is a preternatural hawk both ethereal and feminine, that has lost her way. Together with her mother, (Amy Jo Johnson) Davey relocates to New Mexico and becomes alienated by the vast red rock fauna and florid cultures that surround her. When she wanders alone along a burgundy sky that turns navy blue before her eyes its as if the towering rock formations have teeth.

In the canyon, Davey meets the existential and charismatic Wolf (Tatanka Means) who is imbued with a cosmic self awareness and a quirky, deprecating manner. Wolf takes care of his ailing father who is played by Tatanka's real-life father, the iconic Native American actor and activist Russell Means. This is Tatanka's first feature film, though he has more in the works and he possesses a warmth and a poetic mystique that recalls a young Johnny Depp.

"Tiger Eyes" is a sensory experience with many highs and haunts. The nimble cinematography weaves back and forth like a shapeshifter. We reach into the blue horizons of sky only to go sideways climbing the walls of an adobe house with more dark corners than Polanski's Dakota in New York City. Davey is cut off from her reticent and emotionally challenged uncle (Forrest Fyre). who stands over her like an imposing effigy of  'The Rifleman' while the Luminaria in brown paper hover like gingerbread stars that she cannot reach, and shine to mock her.

It seems more like Halloween than Christmas in Davey's New World. 

One of the highlights of "Tiger Eyes" is its stirring and immediate use of local color from the scalloped boardwalks of Atlantic City, the incarnadine plains  of Los Alamos that are as Exotic as Planet Tatooine in "Star Wars", to a Pueblo ceremony that places us in the realm of the numinous and psychedelic. This is due to the bubbling cinematography by  Seamus Tierney (Liberal Arts)  that weaves a literal maze upon the eyes.

And let us not forget the legendary Russell Means who gives this spritely film a generous gravitas. In his last role, Means simmers as a benevolent volcano. Under his eyes art is life, and life is art. History is within.

The audience will also be treated to a cameo by none other than Blume herself who flashes a knowing Pajarito smile.

"Tiger Eyes" ultimately puts us in the spectrum of a kaleidoscope. We are a prismatic fly on the wall, seeing Davey's tricolor tempests firsthand, and it makes for a satisfying push and pull on the tumble of hearts.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

Not Waving But Drowning (Film Festival) (Rhoades)


“Sheer, Naive Confidence” Drives Waitt’s First Film(s)

By Shirrel Rhoades

First-time director Devyn Waitt has made two movies. Well, more precisely, her first movie is actually two films.
“I wanted to make a short film, but I thought more people would see it as part of a bigger film,” she explains. “Not Waving But Drowning” is one of the selections being shown at the Key West Film Festival.
“The two stories have similar themes,” Devyn says. “By the time you get to the end of the first film I’ve lured you into the mood of the second.”
When asked to describe the film(s) she playfully mutters something about “drawing a butterfly and a ying yang.” But a better description would be coming-of-age stories.
Autobiographical? Not really. “There’s definitely a lot of pieces of me and my friends in it, but it’s largely a collage of observations.”
Devyn Waitt grew up in a small town near Tampa. She used to visit her relatives in Marathon and drive down to Key West. They would go boating at night, looking up at the stars. Out on the water, the stars looked like they were falling on top of you,” she remembers.
After completing a major in Film, she set off for New York. Motivated by “a lot of books I read when I was little,” she wanted to be “somewhere in the middle of chaos, where things are happening.”
But things weren’t happening.
After a dead-end job with a production company, Waitt realized that if she wanted to be a filmmaker she’d have to do it on her own.
So she announced to her friends, “I’m going to make this movie.” It was “a way of applying pressure to myself to actually do it. Holding myself accountable.”
Making “Not Waving But Drowning” took four years. “It was entirely consuming,” she sighs happily.
Despite her anxiety over the production, it was a good experience. The best part? “All the people I got to make the film with,” she says without hesitation.
“It was incredible, the amount of people who supported the movie. A community kinda grew around it.”
The secret of her success? “Sheer, naive confidence,” she laughs.
srhoades@aol.com

Any Day Now (Film Festival) (Rhoades)



Alan Cumming’s
Film Promises
“Any Day Now”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You may not have realized it, watching Alan Cumming play a tough-minded political strategist on TV’s “The Good Wife,” but he looks good in a dress.
In “Any Day Now” – one of the entries in this week’s Key West Film Festival – Cumming portrays a down-on-his-luck drag queen who, along with his new lover, fights to parent a throwaway kid afflicted with Down syndrome.
“Nobody wants a short, fat, mentally handicapped kid,” we’re told. But Rudy and Paul do.
“What you see is what you get,” warns a doctor who examines the boy.
But these two coming-together guys see a smiling 14-year-old who “didn’t ask to be born to a junkie, didn’t ask to be different, didn’t ask for none of this.”
And when Family Services tries to take the boy away from this gay couple, they fight back in the courts. After all, Paul is an assistant district attorney who studied law hoping to change the world.
It’s all about Marco. Despite being handicapped, he’s a sweet kid who loves chocolate donuts and stories with a happy ending.
But this takes place in 1979 when gay parenting was frowned on in California and most other places. And remember, this movie is “based on a true story.”
“This was so impossible in the 1970s – and, more recently, I’ve had two sets of friends who have run into problems,” says Cumming, an activist at heart.
“Any Day Now” was co-written and directed by Travis Fine. An actor who once gave up show biz to become an airlines pilot, this is his seventh outing as a director – and finally he may have struck gold.
Fine says, “I’m a straight guy who lives in the suburbs with three quote-unquote normal kids in a cul-de-sac, so what’s my connection and why did I care about telling this story? I really wanted to tell a story – not necessarily about gay rights or gay adoption – but about people who have love to give. And why should we stop anybody from giving or receiving love? Losing love is not necessarily a gay issue; it’s a human issue.”
The original screenplay was written back in the late ’70s. “A writer named George Arthur Bloom knew this guy Rudy who lived in the neighborhood over on Atlantic Avenue here in Brooklyn and who kinda looked after this kid, and he was inspired enough to write this story about this character Rudy. We sort of took that script and rehabbed it, rebuilt it, as you would an old house, and brought it up to the story I wanted to tell. A story that would ultimately move people and also at the same time make a bit of a statement about who should be allowed to determine who’s allowed to love.”
Alan Cumming points to a couple who invested in “Any Day Now.” The same sex couple sued the state of Florida to allow them to adopt the kids they had been fostering for many years and won the case. Cumming says they were on the set a lot with the kids. He calls them “incredibly inspiring.”
However, this film hits even closer to home.
Always tackling difficult subjects, Key West’s Anne O’Shea acted as an executive producer for “Any Day Now.” As you will recall, she’s already helped bring movies to the screen about sperm donors and lesbian couples and whistleblowers and divorce.
Anne has a cameo as Mrs. Lowell.
What’s more, La Te Da’s Randy Roberts has a nice role in “Any Day Now” as a performer known as PJ.
But this is Alan Cumming’s movie. His star power shines as he camps about in a flamboyant drag show, sings torch songs in a nightclub, rages about social injustices in a courtroom, and cries over a little boy lost. As a T-shirt he wears in the movie proclaims: Great Performer. Yes, his portrayal of Rudy Donatello is Oscar-worthy.
“A part like this comes along once in a lifetime,” notes Cumming. “It challenged me as an actor – and I got to sing in it. To be in a movie that’s about something is so important – and I feel so personally connected to this.”
He adds, “Bring your hankies, it’s really intense."
Co-star Garrett Dillahunt is properly conflicted as Paul Fleiger, the assistant DA who’s afraid of “kicking open the closet door.” With his mop of hair and seventies wardrobe, he has to come to terms with his sexuality while fighting against a gay-biased court system.
You’ve seen Dillahunt in everything from “No Country for Old Men” to TV’s “Raising Hope,” “Winter’s Bone” to TV’s “Burn Notice,” “Looper” to TV’s “Memphis Beat.” But here his role cries for a Best Supporting Actor nod.
Nevertheless, the cast member who steals the show is young Isaac Leyva, a real-life Down syndrome kid who tugs at your heart with his wide swooping smile, subtle shift of his eyes behind oversized glasses, and a waddling gait while clutching the blondie doll that he’s named Ashley.
Travis Fine says Isaac was “exceptional to work with.” The director adds, “He very much gets what’s going on around him.”
Alan Cumming calls the boy “amazing.” “Working with Isaac, his joy or despair or anything he was feeling was completely on the surface and completely in the moment. It was a child-like thing. And I think acting should be like that.”
Why would a drag queen step up to the plate for an abandoned handicapped kid? “He’s got a sense that Marco is an outsider, just as he is,” says Cumming. “He recognizes him as someone who is being pushed aside and that’s something he responds to. He’s got a strong sense of what’s right, of decency.”
Alan Cumming identified with his role. “So much of me is in this movie. It’s rare that I get the chance to let my actual personality come through. When I smile with Isaac, that’s actually very close to me. I mean, you always look like you – but for your spirit to be able to come through is rare. I didn’t realize how much it had come through until I saw the film.”
Something of a gay icon, Scottish-born Alan Cumming has played everything from the androgynous Emcee in Broadway’s revival of “Cabaret” to Hamlet and Macbeth on stage to villains in the “X-Men” and “Spy Kids” movies.
“Families can come in different shapes and sizes and different genders, the most important thing is making the child feel safe and secure,” observes Cumming. “Whatever that version of the family is, that should be respected, there is a political and social message that I hope people come away with.”
Adoption by same-sex parents is still illegal in almost a dozen American states.
srhoades@aol.com

Tiger Eyes (Film Festival) (Rhoades)


Judy Blume’s “Tiger Eyes” Makes It to the Screen

By Shirrel Rhoades

Curled up there on her white patio couch, Judy Blume looks as girlish as the heroines of her popular novels. She’s talking with me about “Tiger Eyes,” the first movie ever made from one of her books. It’s showing during the upcoming Key West Film Festival.
The movie is faithful to the book,” she says, “but also opened the story up a bit.”
She co-wrote the screenplay with her son Lawrence Blume, who also directs the movie. “I think the story as told in the movie is so much better than the way I told it in the book. The way things are revealed is such a better way.”
Even so, writing the screenplay was “not at all easy, it was long, it was intense.”
She describes the screenplay as a blur. “I’m not used to having a writing partner. Sending stuff back and forth all the time,” she says. “Our writing styles are different but somehow it worked. He knows structure. I know character. The only thing I really like to write is character and dialog.”
“Larry’s very …” She pauses to search for the right word.
“Analytical,” her husband George Cooper supplies.
“That’s it, analytical,” she agrees. “When I’m writing a book I’m very intuitive, but he’s more analytical. We are a good balance.”
The movie project began when the author was approached by a producing team based in LA and London, saying, “We would like to do a film based on any of your books. Which one would you like to do?”
The answer was simple – “Tiger Eyes,” her 1981 story of a young girl dealing with the death of her father.
“There was no discussion at all,” she recalls. “Larry always knew, I always knew, it was the best book to shoot. It’s got a real story. So many of my books are so internal, where you’re dealing with one young woman’s viewpoint. That’s difficult to capture in a movie.”
Set mainly in Los Alamos, New Mexico, “Tiger Eyes” introduces us to Davey Wexler, a teenage girl trying to come to terms with her father’s murder.
Carrying a mysterious paper bag with her, Davey (Willa Holland) and her mother (Amy Jo Johnson) and younger brother (Lucien Dale) go to visit overbearing Aunt Bitsy (Cynthia Stevenson) and Uncle Walter (Forrest Frye) in Santa Fe – seeking time for the family to recover.
“I’m not going to be here very long,” Davey says. But the family winds up extending the stay, with Davey getting enrolled in school, encountering new classmates, learning why lizards run.
While exploring the rugged countryside on her aunt’s bicycle Davey tumbles into a canyon where she encounters a Native American boy who calls himself Wolf. So she introduces herself as Tiger. By the end of the story, Wolf (Tatanka Means) and his ailing father (Russell Means) have influenced Davey’s life for the better.
Larry Blume handles the directing well. The countryside lends itself to gorgeous cinematography. The young actors seem real. And the story unfolds with a tug at your heart.
Not surprising that Larry was named one of “Ten Rising Stars” by the Hollywood reporter for his first feature-length film, a comedy called “Martin & Orloff.”
“Tiger Eyes” will engage you even if you’re not a 14-year-old girl.
Judy remembers how she came to write the story. “I lived in New Mexico for seven years. At the time I had moved to Santa Fe with my kids. I was leaving two miserable years in Los Alamos and I needed to write about it.”
She adds, “What I didn’t know when I was writing this book was that I was dealing with my own father’s death. I was young when my dad died suddenly. I was with him. You never get over that. It’s always there, it’s a big part of your life. It’s a big hole. But I didn’t realize that that part of the book was coming from me.”
Larry says that he really liked having his mother on the set. She knew the material. And she enjoyed working with her son on a professional basis. “I’m Judy to him. We’re equals here.” She smiles. “The part that I loved best was being in preproduction.”
Casting the lead was a big decision. “We looked at a hundred young women. Saw at least a dozen. Saw three or four again. Willa was a huge find. We didn’t watch ‘Gossip Girl,’ so neither of us had seen her act before.”
With Davey in place, they now needed a Wolf. Tatanka Means, the 6’ 3” son of American Indian Movement activist Russell Means, filled the bill. “Other than a few possibilities in LA, we didn’t see anyone else,” she nods decisively.
“Russell came to meet us. He asked, ‘Are you going to cast my son?’ By the time we finished talking, Russell had agreed to play the part of Wolf’s father in the film.”
Passing away last month, “Tiger Eyes” was one of Russell Mean’s last screen appearances.
The film’s shoot took a little over three weeks. “I was on the set every day, every moment of every day,” says Judy. “I loved being in the canyons. We had everything from brilliant sunshine to freezing cold. Ohmygod, we even got snow.”
Since the story takes place from autumn to spring, they dressed Willa Holland in a winter coat and put her out there in the snow. “It turned out to be very fortuitous,” says Judy.
“I loved the actors, loved the crew!” she exclaims. “Larry, if he were sitting here, would say, ‘Yeah Judy, you loved the 23 days on the set because it wasn’t all on your shoulders.” He had to finish the film on time and on budget. “And he did.”
Out of Judy Blume’s 28 novels, there are others waiting to be turned into movies. “I think I have two more that would make very good movies. There’s one Larry wants to do very badly. But right now he’s busy developing different projects.”
Predictably, Judy is working on another novel. “I got the idea in 2009 at the Literary Seminar. It came to me in a flash, a story that actually happened in the town where I grew up. But I took off about two years to do this movie. Now it’s time to get back to work. I’ve finished a good rough first draft. I hope I can complete it by next summer.”
Books and movies, I ask her to compare the two creative experiences. “Writing is me by myself locked up in a room. It’s lonely, but as not lonely used to be,” she says. “Moviemaking is collaborative, you absolutely can’t control anything. I think I’ll stick with writing. But making ‘Tiger Eyes’ with my son was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life.”
srhoades@aol.com



















Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Week of November 23 to November 29 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic


by Phil Mann

ARGO is the feature film answer to Homeland, a suspenseful story of CIA intrigue in combating Middle East terrorism. In this case, it’s Iranian revolutionaries, who are trying to capture six Americans who fled to the Canadian embassy when their compatriots were being taken hostage. We all know about the others, but this group took a different path, thanks to a CIA “exfiltration” expert named Tony Mendez. And it’s apparently a true, stranger-than-fiction story. Ben Affleck directed and stars in the film, and he’s already gathering Oscar buzz.

“Tony's plan is … utterly preposterous as well as inventive and wildly daring…. If you've forgotten how gratifying a Hollywood studio film can be, this is the best good idea you could ask for.” (Joe Morgenstern, Wall St. Journal). “Argo is movie magic. Ben Affleck's third directorial outing is an entertaining, real-life, race-the-clock thriller that nabs you at the start and never makes a wrong move. (Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News)

The title of DETROPIA is an amalgam of Detroit and dystopia, which is what the formerly great city has become. Yet, there’s hope. If we could save GM and Chrysler, why not their milieu? It’s a frank, but sympathetic look at the city, at what happened to it, and at what it might become. “This documentary film, about the deconstruction of a great American city, is surprisingly lyrical and often very moving. (David Denby, The New Yorker). “The oddly beautiful documentary made by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Gray is subtler and richer than its blunt title suggests.” (Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune)

 TRADE OF INNOCENTS is a Cambodian-set thriller about a couple (Mira Sorvino and Dermot Mulroney) on a mission to break up the sex trade in young girls. Not a documentary, but nonetheless an exposĂ© of a social horror. “I think the beauty of Trade of Innocents is that we see that the "commodities traded" are actually beautiful, sensitive little children being bought by adult men for sex. It puts the human tragedy front and center,” says Sorvino.

The BIG NEWS for next weekend is the Key West Film Festival. It kicks off on Thursday with a welcoming party at the Hemingway House, followed by a screening of WHILE WE WERE HERE at the San Carlos. The movie stars Kate Bosworth (Straw Dogs, 21, Superman Returns) as a married woman having an affair with a young man on an Italian island. The Playlist says it “delivers the sensuality of the sunkissed shores of Naples.” Writer/director Kat Coiro will be on hand to introduce it and take questions afterward.

The full Festival program rolls into action on Friday, on all four Tropic screens and at the San Carlos. With more than thirty movies, I can’t cover them all. Look back at my past columns for comments on SHADOW DANCER, STARLET, THE SAPPHIRES, TIGER EYES, THE PLAYROOM and QUARTET. Week of Nov. 9 to Nov. 15, Week of Nov. 16 to Nov. 22.

Here’s a peek at a couple more.

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN is a documentary about four international adoptees, “Chinese girls emotionally divided between the Asian country in which they were born and the America in which they were raised... you’d have to be a stone not to be moved.” (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times). Another documentary is EL MEDICO: THE CUBATON STORY. Like Buena Vista Social Club it combines the personal story of a Cuban musician with plenty of his music and dancing. Is he El Medico – the doctor his mother wants him to be, or Cubaton -- the reggae singer his Swedish music producer is trying to develop? “Takes us on a wonderful authentic trip into the heart of Cuba.” (Linda Sweatt, SBCC Film Reviews)

IN ANOTHER COUNTRY presents us with three overlapping small love stories, all featuring the same cast headed by the well-known French star Isabelle Huppert. It’s directed by Sang-soo Hong (known as Korea’s Eric Rohmer) and set at a seaside town in his home country. “While it doesn’t shy away from telling moments of harshness, it’s for the most part bright and breezy viewing, matching its picturesque and sunny seaside scenery with mischievous insights.” (James Mudge, Beyond Hollywood.com) Nominated for the Palm d’Or at Cannes, this is a must for fans of French cinema. (Despite its foreign aspects, the movie’s language is English. How else can the French and Koreans communicate?)

GAYBY is one of several LBGT-themed films at the Festival. This one’s a comedy about a straight girl who wants to get pregnant, and her male gay best friend who helps her “the old fashioned way.” Sharp and witty, and set in Brooklyn, you’ll be reminded of Lena Dunham’s Girls, with cameos from her cast-mates Adam Driver and Alex Karpovsky. “Like Dunham's show, Gayby draws zeitgeist-y, situational laughs from the lives of people it seems to know, rather than straining to position itself as a hip authority…. If it's not the best comedy of the year, it's easily the best to transcend the comedy formula.” (R. Kurt Osenlund, Slant Magazine)

LET MY PEOPLE GO is another comedy from the LBGT-themed group. Reuben is a French-Jewish gay working as a postman in Finland (after completing his degree in comparative sauna cultures). It’s “a hectic, colour-saturated Euro farce that sends up a multitude of stereotypes.” (Craig Takeuchi, Straight.com)
There’s a lot more at this link: http://keywest.festivalgenius.com/2012/schedule/week. That’ll bring up the full schedule with interactive links to info about each film. Just hover your mouse over any movie in the schedule for a summary and cast list.

Detropia (Brockway)


Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Detropia 

"Detropia" is a hard unflinching look at the economic collapse of Detroit from Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the directors of "Jesus Camp". As grounded and earthy as the documentary is, it is so otherworldly and visceral in its drear, that it seems to be an extraterrestrial's lament. Detroit was once one of the nation's fastest growing cities, a beacon of The American Dream. Recently hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost due to the near death of The Big 3 Automakers. It is a ghost town.

We see video blogger Crystal Starr as she hovers about an abandoned warehouse little more than a shell. Armed with a cell phone camera, her face blotted with grainy pixels, this might be a scene from "Prometheus". It's  not. This is earth and we're in trouble. 
"I imagine this room being full of people," she says. "People walking around, shit happening. "
But the huge space is little more than standing rubble.

We see George McGreggor of UAW. Rolling about in an old Cadillac, he seems the heart of Detroit. He points out block after block---no houses, no factories. McGreggor goes to a meeting and strives to soothe his union workers. Companies are slashing wages. The workers are hit in the gut and their faces show it; they are angry.

The population is in decline overall to 700, 000 residents. Bulldozers roll ahead, 24 hours a day. As angry as the people are, the machines are hungry and they gobble up the houses like iron aphids bent on blank nihilist gardens.

Meanwhile in gray taverns, a woman has a birthday, her Chinese pink dress festooned with dollar bills and a James Brown impersonator kneels at her toes.

Anything to escape the decay.

Home movies of Detroit in its heyday---the bland suburbs of a Jetsons utopia, then a long blue ribbon of highway is shown only to blend with a shot of a dog almost getting hit by a car. Every creature for himself.

This is strong stuff and it will make you angry, yet the people in this film have a quirky vibration and they emerge like anonymous protectors for a lost Gotham city. Case in point is Tommy Stephens, owner of the famous Raven Lounge  who has a glib grasp of his city's plight. He is sometimes horrified but almost always giggling. A highlight of the documentary is when Stephens visits a car show, his head shaking in disbelief. 

The only weak spot is the two artists featured with golden gas masks. Certainly they make a point, but the reaction from the shocked onlookers make the couple little more than out takes from Sacha Baron Cohen's "Bruno"

This film has a haunt as a Switzerland tourist enters a coffee shop, admitting he finds the decay of the city interesting. Seconds later the camera pans across the street. A closed auto shop is bombed out while its sign is manipulated to read the word "Utopia" as the city once was king.

"Detropia" makes for a spacey pointillist visit to a shelled city. You may wish that this was another planet, yet this is earth and it has changed.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

Argo (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
"Argo"

The critically acclaimed "Argo " has arrived at the Tropic. "Argo" is the smooth, crisply directed story of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, during the Carter Administration. Specifically the film is loosely based on "The Canadian Caper" in which six Americans evaded capture by Islamic militants by taking refuge at the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor. The film does a wonderful job at illustrating the mixing of Pop Art and life. The story chronicles a time in history when cinematic fantasy was used to accomplish diplomatic goals with integrity and without bloodshed.
The film begins with a brief history of the Shah and Iran's upheaval. The historical figures presented are shown as if they are characters in a "Star Wars" comic book. This is, after all, the era of Luke Skywalker and wookiemania. We see an Indiana Jones version of Empress Farah bathing nude in milk, while the Shah dines on golden roasts, letting his people starve to death.
Militants stormed the American Embassy in Iran and took 52  American hostages that were held for 444 days.
 Actor Ben Affleck directs and stars as real life CIA Agent Tony Mendez, he is mostly grim and resolute in his black beard and Justin Beiber hair that falls over his face. As in "The Sum of All Fears" Affleck is glib and direct. He refuses to take no for an answer. One night as his young son watches The Planet of The Apes, Mendez gets the idea to somehow convince the State Department to grant him access to Iran in an attempt to rescue the six escapees and bring them home. His disguise: a producer for a fake sci-fi story. Iran seems to make the perfect spot for a fake location shoot.
The odyssey begins. 
There is the wise-cracking Alan Arkin as a movie mogul and he has some of the best lines, no matter that his character as played is a little like Carl Reiner in "Ocean's Eleven", or that John Goodman as the makeup artist John Chambers is more than a bit like Goodman's past role in "Matinee" (1993) when he played director Lawrence Woolsey. Even though these roles are no big leaps for the actors, Affleck gives his players room to breathe and become authentic Hollywood types that have made a concrete difference to us as a nation, a difference that has nothing to do with the orange tinsel of Sunset Boulevard.
The action is first rate, as fast paced and engaging as anything featuring Steve McQueen or directed by William Friedkin. Affleck never consumes or dominates his narrative. He cares for the beginning, middle and the all important climax, knowing that the best drama comes from the tension within all of us. The attention shown in this film is near compulsive and Affleck presents the pitfalls of two worlds: America and The Middle East. When all is said and done,the quaint Star Wars action figures are especially touching---a symbol of American hope and lost innocence, not to mention actual photos of the hostages paired with their doppelgängers. 
Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Week of Nov. 16 to Nov. 22 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

We’ve seen touching, and even crowd-pleasing movies about physically disabled heroes before. Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly brought us the true story of a fashion magazine editor with locked-in syndrome, who managed to write a book using eye-blinks. The Intouchables became the highest grossing film in French history with its story of a quadriplegic whose caregiver takes him on adventures like hang-gliding.

They’ve paved the way for THE SESSIONS, another true story, this one of a polio-stricken young man who is confined to an iron lung most of the day (John Hawkes). The adventure he seeks is more personal, sexual intercourse. And, thank God, there’s a sexual surrogate (Helen Hunt) and a tolerant priest (William H. Macy) who make it happen.

"The Sessions isn't really about sex at all. It is about two people who can be of comfort to each other, and about the kindness that forms between them. This film rebukes and corrects countless brainless and cheap sex scenes in other movies. It's a reminder that we must be kind to one another.” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

The cast of A LATE QUARTET features some of our favorite actors: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Christopher Walken. But it’s Walken (who’s also starring in the held over SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS) who steals the show. He’s the senior member of a fabled string quartet, now in its 25th year, who has just received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. The movie is about that, and about how he and his fellow musicians deal with the impending collapse of their collaboration.

There are movies that seduce major actors with the prospect of becoming an action figure, and then there are others that earn their world-class casts by providing scenes that remind actors why they became actors. A Late Quartet is the second kind of movie.” (Mick LaSalle, S.F. Chronicle)  “Leave it to Walken to upstage Beethoven.” (Eric Kohn, Indie Wire)

HELLO I MUST BE GOING adds an unusual rom-com to the schedule. Melanie Lynsky (Win Win, Heavenly Creatures) is a 30-year-old divorcee who has crawled back to her parents’ house in suburban Connecticut. How about a hot 19-year-old to get her spirits up? “Warm and funny, real and raw, Hello I Must Be Going deserves a hearty welcome from moviegoers looking for an honest and frank comedy that never forgets to help us care about its characters.” (James Rocchi, The Playlist)

AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART, from the Toronto Hot Docs Festival, is the Rick Springfield story, his life and career as seen through the eyes of several dedicated fans. “A surprisingly touching look at how the 80s pop star has impacted the lives of his fans through his music, and how they in turn have affected him.” (Lauren Flanagan, FilmSchoolRejects.com)

Speaking of festivals, now is the time to plan your weekend at the KEY WEST FILM FESTIVAL, coming up in only two weeks (Nov. 29-Dec. 2) More than forty movies will be unspooling in the San Carlos and on all four of the Tropic’s screens. I told you about SHADOW DANCER, STARLET, THE SAPPHIRES and TIGER EYES last week. Here’s a peek at a couple more.

QUARTET (not to be confused with The Late Quartet, discussed above) is Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut. The foursome of the title are retired opera singers, Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay among them, sharing digs at a retirement home and finding a way back to their glory days. “Quartet has a warmth and charm that'll likely make it a firm hit with the same crowd that turned out for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” (Simon Reynolds, Digital Spy)

THE PLAYROOM features another appearance for the versatile John Hawkes. He’s the star of The Sessions (discussed above) and was a scene stealer in Winter’s Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene. Now he’s a parent carousing downstairs while his four children invent a game of their own in the attic playroom. “An emotionally rich drama set in suburbia in 1975. Gathered around a candle to simulate a campfire setting, they improvise a tale about four orphaned kids who escape from their lonely castle and set out for adventure.” (Eric Snider, Film.com)

The full schedule and descriptions of all the movies (and the parties, too) is at KeyWestFilmFestival.com. You’re sure to find something of interest. And, by the way, if you want this festival to succeed and come back next year, it’ll need your support. Come on folks, see at least one movie…. Or two or three.
See you at the Festival!

The Sessions (Rhoades)

“The Sessions”
Is Now in Session

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I wonder if my health insurance covers sex surrogates. Does it come under medical procedures? Massage? Oral hygiene? Chiropractic?
This line of thinking came after watching “The Session” (original title: “The Surrogate”), the film about paraplegic poet Mark O’Brien’s introduction to sex. It’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
O’Brien was paralyzed from the neck down due to childhood polio. So needless to say, he’d never had a sexual encounter. At the age of 38, he talked it over with his priest and decided to alter that condition.
Despite being in an iron lung, he hired a sex surrogate named Cheryl Cohen Greene to help him lose his virginity.
To quote another film title about a handicapped person: Whose life is it anyway?
“The Sessions” details how O’Brien handled this decision. He must have found the treatment beneficial. As the plurality of the title implies, he underwent numerous sessions.
Although I’m making light of the situation, this film by Australian writer/director Ben Lewin is billed as a drama. But it has its funny moments. After all, we’re taking about sex here.
Those who knew him were “always encouraging me to see the funny side of Mark,” says Lewin. “I felt that I had permission to do that.”
The poet already had been the subject of Jessica Yu’s award-winning short documentary “Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien.” But this was a much more focused look at his sexual awakening.
Ben Lewin had read about these sex sessions in an article written by O’Brien. Thinking it would make a terrific movie, he traced down the rights to the late poet’s writings. They were held by O’Brien’s companion Susan Fernbach (yes, he’d gotten the hang of that sex thing).
Fernbach agreed to consult with Lewin on the project and introduced him to the real-life Cheryl Cohen Greene. “Susan and Cheryl had a crucial effect on the development of the script and the outcome,” he says.
Casting director Ronnie Yeskel helped Lewin secure John Hawkes (Oscar-nominated for “Winter’s Bone”) and Helen Hunt (Oscar-winner for “As Good As It Gets”) for the lead roles. And William H. Macy (Oscar-nominated for “Fargo”) was picked to play the priest.
Needless to say, the graphic sex scenes were a challenge for the actors. You’ll certainly see more of Helen Hunt than you ever did on her TV sitcom “Mad About You.”
The director assures us, “There’s a certain amount of shock value, but it just isn’t there to be exploitative in any way. I think people accept that the sexuality is what it’s about and that it’s about the mechanics of it in a large sense (chuckles), very straightforward in what bit goes where.”
Hunt took her role as the sex surrogate very seriously. After all, she’d asked Lewin for the part.
“Helen was certainly aware that this wasn’t a movie where you could be coy,” says Lewin. “I knew that she was prepared to take it on for what it was and not shirk the obvious.”
The actress shrugs. “I did all of my homework for the part, which would hopefully distract me from the fact that I was going to be so very naked.”
That homework included meeting the inspiration for her character, Cheryl Cohen Greene.
“I took the movie because I thought the story was beautiful,” Helen Hunt explains. “I didn’t really see what a good part it was at first, and once I started talking to Cheryl … more than any other time I’ve played a real person, it was helpful.”
Greene made the point that even though she got paid for her services, she was not a hooker. “I have nothing against prostitutes,” she says. “This is just different.”
Different how? “A prostitute wants your return business, and I don’t,” says the sex surrogate.
Hello – Blue Cross?
srhoades@aol.com