Thursday, October 23, 2014

Week of October 24 - 30 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Crams 7 Riveting Films Onto Its Screens

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

For an indie theater with 4 screens, the Tropic Cinema is packing them in -- 7 gotta-see-em films playing there this week!
An interesting bit of British history is found in "Pride," the uplifting story about a group of gays and lesbians who traveled to Wales to support striking miners back in 1984. An odd coupling, these flamboyant activists and homophobic miners, you will enjoy watching them find common ground through a dance demo. Boston Globe calls it "A funny, moving, audience-rousing experience, one that comes out of the closet without quite leaving the safety of the Britcom genre." And Philadelphia Inquirer points out that it "takes a footnote in the history of Britain’s crippling yearlong industrial action and gives it a human face."

"Men, Women & Children" holds over, exploring the invasive impact of digital technology on our (sex) life. The families herein (Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, and a great ensemble cast) share their overlapping stories. Movie Habit terms it a "densely populated cautionary tale that offers good performances." And agrees, noting that "there are ideas on our wi-fi culture contained within that deserve exploration…"

"This Is Where I Leave You" offers Jane Fonda as the matriarch overseeing her family (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, and Kathryn Hahn) at a wake. Empire Magazine calls it "a dream cast are on good form in a film that makes you want to call your siblings, but very glad you don't live with them." And Common Sense Media sums it up as "dramedy mines dysfunction for laughs."

You’ll like "The Judge," a courtroom drama with a hotshot lawyer (Robert Downey Jr.) returning to a small Indiana town to defend his estranged father (Robert Duval), a judge. The Guardian declares, "There are plenty of emotional fireworks in this big, soupy but entertaining picture, which is obvious Oscar bait." And Denver Post concludes, "There are a number of fine reasons to see the courtroom-meets-family melodrama... As you might suspect, two stand out: actors Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr."

And a little-known Patricia Highsmith book makes it to the screen. "The Two Faces of January" is a thriller about a trio of swindlers on the run in Greece (Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Dunst, and Oscar Isaac). Minneapolis Star Tribune calls it "A stylish directorial debut for screenwriter Hossein Amini." And Seattle Times comments, "Things get awfully twisted under that hot Mediterranean sun."

You’ll get hardcore action in "The Equalizer," starring Denzel Washington as an ex-covert ops guy who takes on the Russian mob. Don’t bet on the bad guys as our hero displays 50 way to kill your enemies. SSG Syndicate observes, "Denzel Washington propels this crime drama, challenging Liam Neeson as the new aging action hero." And Schmoes Knows adds, "Denzel’s performance and the film’s high-voltage action premise make it one to watch this fall season."

And if you haven’t seen it yet (I’ve seen it three times) you’ll definitely want to catch "Gone Girl," the talked-about marital thriller with a husband (Ben Affleck) suspected of murdering his wife (Rosamund Pike). It has more twists than a serpent. Spectrum calls it "A dark, disturbing walk down the aisle of matrimonial madness, and an unforgettable one at that." Mountain Xpress says, "Deeply cynical, darkly funny, sometimes brutal, very powerful filmmaking that may make you a little queasy, but will almost certainly entertain you to no end." And Flicks sums it up, "This superior thriller arrives at a time when Hollywood mostly seems to have forgotten how to make ‘em."



Pride (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

"Pride" Supported Welsh Miners

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Here in Key West we understand gay pride. But it’s had its road bumps in other parts of the world.

Take the movie "Pride." Based on a true story, it tells of a group of gays and lesbians who came out in support of striking UK miners in 1984.
British filmmakers do those wonderful movies about small-town characters. To wit, "The Full Monty," "Made in Dagenham," "The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain," "About Time," "Tamara Drewe," "Submarine," and "Local Hero."

Despite this Brit pedigree, "Pride" owes its plotline more to Kevin Bacon’s "Footloose" than to Margaret Thatcher's taking on the National Union of Mineworkers.
No matter, we came to see a delightful gay pride movie, not a polemic history lesson.

Here we meet just-out-of-the-closet Joe (George MacKay), a 20-year-old kid who traipses off to London and falls in with a likeminded group who rally around a Northern Irish activist (Ben Schnetzer) who holds meetings at the Soho bookstore of flamboyant Jonathan (Dominic West) and his partner Gethin (Andrew Scott). Next thing you know, this LGSM ("Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners") contingent go marching off to the Welsh village of Onllwyn in the Dulais valley to show their support.

The joke is that these Welsh miners are about the most homophobic group our LDSM friends could ever hope to encounter. But Mark gets the idea of breaking through the icy reception with a benefit concern, a Billy Elliot kind of dance recital that cheers up the dour townsfolk and lifts everyone’s spirits. You know, like in "Footloose."

Many funny moments arise from the uncomfortable situations of these diverse groups learning to work together. This unlikely pairing is the feel-good payoff of the film (because in real life Thatcher crushed the miners’ strike).

All your favorite British character actors here: Bill Nighy ("Love Actually") in an understated performance as a thoughtful council member; Paddy Considine ("Hot Fuzz") as the envoy sent to London to meet with the LGSM; Imelda Staunton ("Vera Drake") as the leader of the committee; Jessica Gunning ("That Day We Sang") as a tea lady with a feisty attitude; Menna Trussler ("Undertaking Betty") as a bespectacled old biddy; and Lisa Palfrey ("Guest House Paradiso") as a miner's wife who creates trouble with a homophobic glee.

Normally known as a Broadway director, Matthew Warchus ("Ghost: The Musical") helms this gay pride parade with great wit and style. Leave it to him to turn a dismal period in British history into an uplifting story.

As one moviegoer summed it up: "If you don’t laugh, don’t shed a tear, or don’t want to get up and cheer at the end, then you weren’t paying attention during this movie."


The Judge (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies
Robert Downy Jr. Doesn’t Judge "The Judge"

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Robert Downey Jr. has always been in awe of his dad. That the A-List movie star chooses to keep Jr. as part of his name is a sign of it. His namesake was an indie filmmaker, noted for his brilliant 1969 advertising spoof "Putney Swope" (Robert Jr. was 4 at the time).

"He was a great innovator and a heck of a filmmaker," the actor says of his father. Bob Downey is now 78.
In the movie "The Judge" -- currently showing at Tropic Cinema -- the character played by Robert Downey Jr. is a ruthless big-city attorney who returns to his childhood home in Indiana to attend his mother’s funeral but ends up staying when his estranged father, a local judge played by Robert Duvall, gets arrested for vehicular homicide. Despite their contentious relationship, the son decides to take the case, opposing a determined prosecutor played by Billy Bob Thornton.

It’s a serious family drama.

The film is the first outing of Team Downey, the production company founded by Robert Downey Jr. and his wife Susan four years ago.
Downey’s on-camera career started at age 5 when his director dad cast him in underground films that were shot in the family living room. His debut was playing a puppy in a film called "Pound."

He describes his childhood as a "boheme pressure-fest." But he says it with affection, unlike his character in "The Judge."

While Bob Sr. introduced the boy to acting, he also introduced him to marijuana. "When my dad and I would do drugs together," he says, "it was like him trying to express his love for me in the only way he knew how."

His father recalls, "I’d have a little grass or take a little coke to stay up and write and my son would come down in his little pajamas and sit and he’d say ‘If you can do it, why can't I do it?’ And I’d say ‘That’s a good question, but why would you want to do it?’ And he’d say 'Because I don’t want to go to bed either’."

It was a different time. "What a schmuck I was," his father says today. "If I had it to do all over again, I probably wouldn't be doing it myself, let alone allowing him to do it."
As a result, Robert Jr. was a Santa Monica High School dropout whose own drug problems are legendary.

It made him the perfect choice to play Marvel’s substance-abusing billionaire Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. He has one more film left on his Marvel contract, then he plans to work mainly with Team Downey.
The unforgiving son in "The Judge" is unlike the real Robert Downey Jr. "If my father were less of a pioneer," he says, "he probably would have been more of a father, but I wouldn’t be who I was. I think it’s valiant to make mistakes so your children don’t have to."

But sometimes they do anyway.
Robert Downey Jr. is aware how lucky he is. In Tinseltown, where you only get one chance for success, he’s had two or three. And he doesn’t intend to blow it this time around.

So these days he’s playing a very different role than his father’s son.

The Equalizer (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

In "The Equalizer" Denzel Washington Sets Things Right

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Life ain’t fair. Or so it sometimes seems. Therefore we have an innate desire to see justice done.

That’s where "The Equalizer" comes in. A third-party guy -- Deus ex machina, if you will -- who steps in to set things right.
There used to be an old TV program called "The Equalizer," starring British actor Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, a covert ops guy who lends his skills to help people in need. He offered his services for free through a newspaper ad that read: "Odds against you? Need help? Call the Equalizer. 212-555-4200."
Well, Woodward died in 2009, so if you’re going to bring the concept to the screen as a new action thriller, who you gonna call? In this case, Denzel Washington.
Here again is Robert McCall (Washington), a Special Forces guy with a shaved head and a big gun. Hoping to put his violent past behind him, he has a change of plans when he encounters a teenaged hooker named Teri (Chloë Grace Maritz) who has been brutally beaten by the Russian mob. Not willing to stand by and allow such abuse, he uses his dangerous skills to set things right. Which leads him to a new career as The Equalizer.

"The Equalizer" is currently knocking heads at Tropic Cinema.

As directed by Antoine Fuqua (he teamed with Denzel Washington on the Oscar-winning cop thriller "Training Day"), you may find the cinematic handling of "The Equalizer" reminiscent other of action pix. Even Matt Damon said, it "reminded me of the Bourne Identity, in that both are sophisticated adult, thriller franchises where the protagonists are capable of high-action exploits, but aren't running around in spandex."

While the film offers all the prerequisite gun battles, explosions, and Rated-R bloodletting, this is still at its core a very character-driven profile of Robert McCall, a mysterious man who had rather keep to himself, but his OCD personality requires him to set wrongs right. One moviegoer accurately described McCall as "a darker hero for a darker time."

Yes, "The Equalizer" is a remake in name only. It’s planned as a two-fisted new film franchise for Denzel Washington. That’s where the money is. A sequel has already been greenlighted.

The Two Faces of January (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies
"Two Faces of January"
A Lesser Known Thriller

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

More than two-dozen films have been based on Patricia Highsmith’s psychological thrillers. The one you might recognize best is Alfred Hitchcock’s classic "Strangers on a Train." Or maybe you’ve read her books about the murderer Tom Ripley (five novels known to followers as The Ripliad).

Although a fan of her novels and short stories, somehow I’d missed "The Two Faces of January," her 1964 tale of murder and deceit in Greece.

But no need to go to the bookstore, now that it has been adapted into a film by Iranian-British director Hossein Amini. "The Two Faces of January" is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Here we meet American con man Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst) as they tour Athens. He’s on the lam because of a few Ponzi schemes. This shady couple bumps into a tour guide at the Acropolis who scams tourists. Rydal Keener (Oscar Isaac) takes a liking to them because MacFarland reminds him of his dad.

When tracked down by a private detective, MacFarland inadvertently kills him. Rydal helps hide the body. The MacFarlands and their new cohort travel to Crete to buy counterfeit passports. Unable to check into a hotel with papers, they spend the night in a restaurant, Chester drinking while Colette and Rydal flirt. With jealousy rearing its ugly head, it becomes a question of who will kill whom.

Although a talented writer, Patricia Highsmith was a misanthrope who preferred cats to people. She also raised snails.

Knowing they’d been acquainted, I once asked Otto Penzler, owner of New York’s Mysterious Bookshop, about her. His words were not kind, even though I knew he admired her writing. "She was a mean, hard, cruel, unlovable, unloving person," he once said. "I could never penetrate how any human being could be that relentlessly ugly."

I found it interesting that she started off writing for comic books, before switching to thriller novels. She once wrote an instructional book titled "Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction."

Although I’d missed reading "The Two Faces of January," I learned that it won the Dagger Award by the Crime writers Association of Great Britain in 1964.

"It’s one of her lesser known works," acknowledges Hossein Amini. He read the book while in college. "It appealed to me in a different way in my twenties than it did much later when I was in my 40s," he says. "When I was young, it was Rydal’s story that fascinated me and all his problems with his father, but by the time I got to make the film I was closer to Chester, in how you begin to realize that life didn’t go the way you planned it. So I suddenly understood the side of the older guy. Finding a connection with the characters and going ‘I know how this person feels’ is what makes a successful adaptation, not necessarily to identify things they’ve done -- so that way you can make movies about murderers and bank robbers -- but finding something about them that’s relatable."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gone Girl (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Gone Girl

David Fincher's "Gone Girl" has arrived at The Tropic, based on Gillian Flynn's page-zipping novel. Fincher (The Social Network) has wonderfully brought out the alien and isolating quality of this contemporary "surprise" story. The director's trademark visual tints of gray-green and brown are well in evidence here, making every person look as if they are either confined in a computer screen, or have morphed into a group of trapped bugs under smoked glass.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is a lethargic husband. Once, he had the virile curls of a superhero---he was writing well and in love with an effervescent and bubbling Amy (Rosamund Pike) who appears as rare as Tiffany glass. Indeed with the cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth, Amy shines, a pale and racy dollop of feminine mercury.

In impressionistic snippets, we get small details of Nick and Amy's marital adventures, complete with steam and motion, as Amy caresses and tears at Nick's clothes almost in the style of an Adrian Lynne (Fatal Attraction) film.

But then, Nick gets laid off. The lovebirds argue and events go south.

On the morning of their anniversary , Nick leaves for work at his bar.

After a talk with his sister (Carrie Coon) he receives a call that his door is left open with his indoor cat outside.

He races home to find his McMansion empty.

Amy is gone.

The film is punchily edited to give a knock in the eye and heart with each image alternately running across your field of vision either like cool syrup, or throttling adrenaline.

Ben Affleck is perfect as the monotone polo shirted Everyman, Nick. He mumbles often and it is a nice touch that, as in the novel, he is a man who is both inhibited and haphazard with his emotions: they just don't match. Nick Dunne is clearly Affleck's best work.

This is a visceral haunt story in the best sense as taut and anxious as "The Silence of the Lambs".

Rosamund Pike too, is terrific. She has the ability to seem like a chimerical spirit, not of the flesh even though she is clearly ambulatory.

Neil Patrick Harris delivers well as a milquetoast creep who lives in a Thomas Kincade style house as if remodeled by Stanley Kubrick.

Also well cast is the acting of Tyler Perry, as a vain but obsessively detailed and controlling lawyer.

Under David Fincher, the overriding and well executed tone is one of remoteness, creepy nonchalance and transgression and we are never sure of what is about to transpire, no matter if it details this couple's past, present or future.

The film has one singular scene that almost outdoes Hitchcock in one anoxic and jarring moment that will sneak up on you quicker than the snap of some nouveau riche bedsheets. But no spoiler here.

"Gone Girl" is kaleidoscopic , spacey, askew and masterful in its millennial noir, but better still, it might have you sincerely disturbed about this particular arc of a shared life and the elements contained within.

Write Ian at

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Week of October 17 - 23 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview
Tropic Cinema Offers An Array of Films

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

From cyberspace to outer space, from a walk among the tombstones to a funeral wake, Tropic Cinema offers quite an array of films this week.
"Men, Women & Children" is Jason Reitman’s look at how the digital world has invaded our personal lives. An ensemble cast (Adam Sandler, Judy Geer, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner et al.), each deals with online or mobile sex in his or her own way -- porn sites, sexting, you name it. Seattle Times says the movie is "crowded with characters and subplots, a few of which resonate -- but more often, an individual's story seems lost in the cyberflurry." And Times calls it "an interesting film to be made about our increasingly complex relationship with technology…"

"Guardians of the Galaxy" takes into the Marvel universe with Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and a ragtag gang of rocket-powered heroes. Film School Rejects describes it as "A vibrantly exciting, immensely entertaining and frequently hilarious sci-fi adventure." And Vanity Fair says "Guardians bounces with the energy of pure invention."

"This Is Where I Leave You" is a dark comedy about family in mourning (Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, and Tina Fey among them).

"A Walk Among the Tombstones" is another actioner starring Liam Neeson, this time as an ex-cop working as an unlicensed private eye, on the trail of kidnappers who prey on drug dealers. Laramie Movie Scope calls it "modern, gritty film noir storytelling." And Richard Roeper dubs it "a stylish and smart thriller."

"Hector and the Search for Happiness" stars Simon Pegg as a British shrink who sets off to China and other faraway ports in search of the meaning of happiness. You know where he finds it, don’t you? Beliefnet describes it as "a gentle fable." And Kaplan vs. Kaplan sums it up as "brilliant."

"The Two Faces of January" wraps up the lineup, a thriller based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and Oscar Isaac face off in this tale of con artists and intrigue in Greece. Minneapolis Star Tribune sees it as "a stylish directorial debut for screenwriter Hossein Amini." And Birmingham Mail describes it as "a sumptuous film to watch."

You’ll find lots to watch here.