Saturday, August 17, 2013

Week of August 16 to August 22 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema’s Fare Blends the Serious and Absurd

Pedro Almodóvar Caballero is a Spanish filmmaker known for his complex dramas that often explore the themes of “desire, passion, family and identity.” You last saw his “The Skin I Live In” with Antonio Banderas as a surgeon experimenting with artificial skin on a woman he’s holding prisoner. A psychological thriller. So you might be surprised with his latest offering, a comedy about an airplane in trouble.

“I’m So Excited” is the title of Almodóvar’s high-flying sex romp. Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz make cameo appearance in this story about how the crew of a damaged airplane deals with passengers when their fate is uncertain. The Metro Times notes “It's like a very horny, very gay parody of airplane-disaster movies.” Austin Chronicle calls it “a fun flight.” And opines that “despite the film's playfulness, it's still quite clear that we're in the hands of a master who takes the work seriously.”

Also new at the Tropic Cinema is “Blackfish,” a fascinating documentary about killer whales. Filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite explores the conflicting reps of these Orca, that of friendly giant that entertains us at theme parks and that of the vicious killer at sea. But as it turns out these highly sentient marine mammals have killed more people while in captivity.

Case in point is Tilikum, the sea-park performer who has taken the lives of several people. Using rare footage and interviews with trainers and workers, Cowperthwaite paints a picture of an abused sea creature who fights back. Arizona Republic calls it “a disturbing movie, one that will make you rethink parks like SeaWorld and their value.” And Seattle Times points out that “its ultimate message is clear: Killer whales belong with their families in their natural habitat, not performing for audiences.”

On a lighter note is “Despicable Me 2,” the animated tale of a supervillain turned good guy. As voiced by Steve Carell, Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League (AVL) to help capture a bad guy known as El Macho. He’s partnered with an undercover agent voiced by Kristen Wiig. The New Yorker observes, “This is one of those rarities, an animated sequel that improves on the original.” And Rolling Stone calls it “irresistible fun.”

Another new film is “The Conjuring, the scary tale of a farmhouse haunted by a long-ago witch. Based on a true story, two paranormal investigators (the same ones who brought “The Amityville Horror” to light) seek to exorcize this entity that’s plaguing the Perron family (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor). The San Francisco Chronicle notes that “The horror movie is artfully crafted from the first scares to the closing credits.” And Time Out tells us the movie “builds mounting dread with silence and suspense, lingering the camera unsettlingly long here, creaking a door there.”

You can still catch “Fruitvale Station,” the inspiring film about a guy who decides to turn his life around … but is he too late? Seattle Times calls it “an eloquent memorial for a man who barely experienced life, and a haunting reminder of how quickly it can be lost.” And Journal and Courier says, “Despite being aware of the outcome, the movie is, in its own profane and streetwise manner, a warmhearted and soulful story of a young man's journey toward self-discovery and determination.”

Also still playing is the embracing-old-age film, “Unfinished Song.” Here, a curmudgeonly widower (Terence Stamp) joins a chorus as a promise to his deceased wife, only to rediscover life. Newsday calls it “Shamelessly sentimental, cute to a fault,” but notes that “the acting is first-rate.” Movie dearest finds it “Inspiring & genuinely moving.”

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