Thursday, October 30, 2014

Week of October 30 - November 6 (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies
Thriller Week at the Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

There are thrills aplenty this week on Tropic Cinema screens -- from reality-based intrigue to slam-bam action to cerebral puzzlers to edge-of-the-seat courtroom drama.
Want some gritty realism ripped from the front pages? "Kill the Messenger" gives you the true story of a smalltime newspaper reporter who won a Pulitzer by exposing the CIA’s involvement in drug smuggling on US streets. Jeremy Renner portrays Gary Webb, the journalist who stumbled onto this web of deceit only to be attacked by his colleague at bigger papers. ReviewExpress calls it an "explosive and riveting story." NPR says, "The movie is a lot like the reporting that inspired it: a good introduction to a diabolically tangled tale." And SSG Syndicate sums it up as a "suspenseful political thriller, focusing on the fate of yet another truth-seeking whistleblower."

Too real? Then go see "The Equalizer," the even-the-score action thriller with Denzel Washington as an ex-covert ops guy taking on the Russian mob. While all the bodies pile up, we’re willing to suspend our disbelief in this actioner based on an old TV show. The Virginian Pilot calls its, "tough, brutal and merciless." And Time Magazine tells us, "If ‘The Equalizer’ is the hit it should be, it will give this veteran action star his very first movie franchise."

Want more plot twists? You’ll like "Gone Girl," the story of a husband (Ben Affleck) accused of murdering his wife (Rosamund Pike), but nothing is as it seems in this marriage thriller. Antagony & Ecstasy calls it "something close to a mechanically flawless thriller." And 2UE promises, "This film lives up to the hype."

Not enough head trips? Okay, catch "Before I Go to Sleep," the psychological thriller with Nicole Kidman as an amnesiac wife who can’t quite trust the man who claims to be her husband or the doctor treating her memory loss. Sydney Morning Herald opines, "With David Fincher's ‘Gone Girl’ a bona fide hit, multiplexes will probably soon be flooded with further examples of what is now being referred to as the ‘marriage thriller’." And McClatchy-Tribune News Service adds, "Whatever else this puzzle picture is, or isn't, the three stars turn it into an acting tour de force."

Would you rather have some slick courtroom drama? You’ll like "The Judge," where a high-powered lawyer (Robert Downey Jr.) defends his father (Robert Duval), a small-town judge accused of murder. Laramie Movie Scope says, "Director David Dobkin ("Wedding Crashers") gets solid performances out of this fine cast." And Movie Talk adds, "Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are on such mesmerizing, Oscar-baiting form in this old-school family melodrama cum courtroom cliffhanger…"

Maybe you’d rather smile at the culture clash between gay activists and homophobic Welsh miners? "Pride" gives you a true story that happened during the 1984 British miners’ strike. Boston Globe describes it as "A funny, moving, audience-rousing experience, one that comes out of the closet without quite leaving the safety of the Britcom genre." One Guy’s Opinion explains that it’s "a film that deals with serious matters but does so in a way that makes it an irresistible crowd-pleaser." And calls it "as bold and big of an audience-pleaser as I've seen all year, practically determined to reach out from the screen and high-five each ticket-buyer."

Thrills and smiles, action and mind games -- take a deep breath and buy your ticket.

Before I Go to Sleep (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies
"Before I Go to Sleep" A Psychological Puzzler

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Think of it like "Momento" played in reverse -- that is, in a normal time sequence. "Before I Go to Sleep" is a British mystery about amnesia starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Don’t forget to see it.
The story as I remember it: Every morning Christine Lucas (a quivery Kidman) wakes up wondering where she is. A man (Firth) explains that he’s her husband Ben and that she’s suffering from anterograde amnesia, a condition that prevents the formation of new memories. She’s had the disability ever since being injured in a horrific attack by an unknown assailant several years ago.
She remembers nothing. Fortunately, she gets a daily phone call from her doctor (Mark Strong) reminding her to play a video diary explaining her condition.
When she starts having faint ticklings of memory -- about a friend named Claire (Anne-Marie Duff), a son, a man named Mark -- she determines to solve the puzzle. Everything her husband and the doctor tell her does not jibe. Are they deliberately concealing secrets from her?
This plot will inevitably remind you of Alfred Hitchcock’s "Spellbound." That led one observer to describe the movie as "Alfred Hitchcock Presents 50 First Dates." Another characterized Kidman as "essentially a terrorized Hitchcock blonde in more sensible shoes."
But there’s more to "Before I Go to Sleep" than that.
"The film’s actually very difficult to talk about without spoilers, isn’t it?" groans Colin Firth. "There are so many things you’re supposed not to know. And to actually discuss what any of these characters are, tends to spoil what is supposed to be withheld."

"I’m a huge fan of psychological thrillers," says Nicole Kidman. "I love the intimacy of two or three actors in this sort of genre – I’m always drawn to it."

She adds, "The idea of your partner not being who you think they are: I think it was James Joyce who said someone can tell you something about themselves in ten seconds and you can have lived with them for forty years, and it will change everything."

Kidman researched the syndrome her character has in "Before I Go to Sleep." She assures us, "This is actually a thing that can happen. And your life is made up of memories: once you lose those, who are you?"

This is the second time Firth and Kidman have played husband and wife in a movie, the first being in "The Railway Man." In that film, Firth was the one with psychological problems. In this one, it’s Kidman’s turn.

Why is she drawn to these kinds of films? "My dad’s a psychologist," she confesses.

Kill the Messenger (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies
"Kill the Messenger" Actually Happened

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

"Nobody likes a rat," as the old gangster movies used to teach us. But over time movies came to treat whistleblowers as heroes. Witness "On the Waterfront," "Silkwood," "The Insider," "Michael Clayton," "All the President’s Men," and more recently "The Whistleblower."

Maybe not so much in real life.

Case in point is journalist Gary Webb. While working for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 he wrote a three-part series known as "Dark Alliance," where he exposed CIA involvement in drug trafficking in the US.

Webb showed that Nicaraguan Contras had smuggled large shipments of crack cocaine into Los Angeles and other American cities to help fund their cause. He charged that members of the Reagan administration helped shield inner-city drug dealers from prosecution, allowing this network to raise money for the Contras (because direct governmental funding was prohibited by the Boland Amendment).

Turns out, Webb’s reporting drew a lot of criticism, especially by the rival Los Angeles Times. In an unprecedented tripartite assault, the L.A. Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post launched teams of reporters to explore every perceived flaw in Webb’s story. Even his own newspaper backed away from him.

An internal CIA memo cited this smear campaign as "a ground base of already productive relationships with journalists."

Why would these distinguished newspapers play along? Andrew O’Hehir in writing about "The Struggle for the Soul of Journalism" says, "Webb was an outsider from a Nowheresville paper who made the big boys look bad, and who declined to take dictation from government sources." He had to be punished.
Maybe more than you’d expect. After his career as a mainstream-media journalist was all but destroyed, he wound up as a consultant to the California Assembly Speaker’s Office. On December 10, 2004, Gary Webb was found dead from two gunshot wounds to the head. It was ruled a suicide.

Hollywood now remembers him as a hero. A new movie called "Kill the Messenger" stars Oscar-nominated Jeremy Renner as the maligned journalist. Presented as a tidy thriller, the movie is currently showing at the Tropic Cinema.

Renner gives a fiery performance, doing all those things crusading reporters are known to do: "…stand up to their editors, scream about ethics, slam down their phones, punch the photocopier, and beaver away for the truth."

The strong supporting cast includes Andy Garcia, Barry Pepper, Rosemary DeWitt, Michael Sheen, Paz Vega, Oliver Platt, Robert Patrick, and Ray Liotta

Director Michael Cuesta ("Homeland") mixes real news footage with the heavily scripted scenes, giving the film the sense of verisimilitude it deserves.

You have to keep in mind, this isn’t just an edge-of-your-seat popcorn movie -- it really happened. And you know what? Gary Webb did win a Pulitzer Prize for writing his hard-hitting exposé.



Captain Tony Years (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Captain Tony Speaks Out At Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Most everybody who comes to Key West pays a visit to Captain Tony’s Saloon. But those of us who have lived here for a while valued our visits with the man himself. The late Captain Tarracino was quite a character -- former mayor, barkeeper, fisherman, and outrageous raconteur. A fixture in the eccentric landscape of our city.

Local filmmaker Jeremy P. Hyatt spent a lot of time with Tony, recording his life story, his outrageous philosophical observations, his tall tales, his place in our history. With the help of Nine Pound Lemon Films co-producer Bobbi Degnan, he gives us a documentary titled "Captain Tony Years." It’s playing tonight (Thursday, October 30) only at the Tropic Cinema, followed by a launch party for the DVD at Turtle Kraals.

Proceeds from the showing go to Aids Help. And with a movie ticket stub the drinks are 2-for-1 at the after party.

The film is a slice of Key West history. With a tagline of "From his lips to our ears," we get to hear the best wit and wisdom from one of our more memorable citizen, a New Jersey guy who came to Key West so long ago he became part of the woodwork.

Music in the film is by Don Middlebrook. He will be making an appearance at the Tropic along with Hyatt and crew.

If you never had the opportunity to meet Captain Tony, you can do it here -- on film.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Pride (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


"Pride" is a biopic of a period, specifically 1984 in England, when Margaret Thatcher was unleashing her war against British miners who went on strike.

The film, by theatre director Matthew Warchus (Simpatico), is unapologetically feel-good and hits all notes in a somewhat conventional mode, but with its glib humor and smartness, it is impossible to dislike.

Mark (Ben Schnetzer) is a gay activist in London. His group isn't raising awareness, though they are frequently ridiculed, punched and treated with abuse . One afternoon he hears about the miners' plight and gets an idea: these hard working men are being pushed into the margins with an absent voice just like the GLBT population in Thatcher's England.

Might this be a bond shared between groups, Mark wonders, or a way to make his group recognizable?

Rather than pick a popular mining community and face opposition in London, Mark decides to try Wales, picking a random site on a map. A finger lands on the small town of Onllwyn.

What proceeds is a bit of a road or quest film in the tradition of "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" mixed with a touch of "The Full Monty."

A gang of motley characters ingratiate themselves to the town leaders, use some self-deprecating wit and face struggle and prejudice during the era when AIDS first landed on planet earth, at times causing acute toxicity upon an already virulent homophobia.

There are some arresting subplots, including that of Joe (George MacKay) who finds his own cause under the weight of a constrictive family, a housewife Sian ( Jessica Gunning) who yearns for an exciting cause or a closeted older husband (Bill Nighy).

These three stories blend well in the narrative and are full of tension.

There are also vignettes of light cheerfulness that go the more standard route: the older community leader (Imelda Staunton) who at first is uptight but ends up frolicking and the formerly hateful miner (Kyle Rees) who asks for dancing lessons from the dandy and irreverent actor Jonathan (Dominic West) who makes Tom of Finland Christmas cards. Athough these moments have been told before they are handled easily with pointed humor and are not overwrought.

Where the film succeeds the most however, is in its swift facile movement and its impressionist daubs of pointed color in the capturing of an era. Here dark-eyed kids listen to The Smiths as Margaret Thatcher hovers over red brick row houses like a white gargoyle in fire-orange beehive hair, head-mastering upon every diverse citizen.

Above all the film has the good sense not to bog itself down in a syrupy message. It is a lively and pulsing portrait of a time that has something spontaneous within its episodic surges of whimsy.

Just in one splashy disco scene, "Pride" shows not only some colorful haunt for the 80s, but also that the experience of being accepted on suspicious soil, is a human and universal event.

Write Ian at

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Judge (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Judge

Director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) who is known for screwball comedy, tries his hand at more mature material with "The Judge," a hybrid film, mixing John Grisham with family dysfunction.

Hank (Robert Downey Jr.) is a snide and acidly sarcastic lawyer who clearly doesn't care for many people except his daughter. He is self-important and verbally abusive. His marriage is well on its way to termination.

When his mom dies, Hank returns home to Indiana, grimacing and rolling his eyes.

He clearly doesn't want to face his Calvinist and tight-laced father (Robert Duvall) a respected local judge. After a vitriolic argument, Hank leaves prematurely. Just when he is on board bound for home, he gets an anxious call from his older brother, Glenn (Vincent D'onofrio). His father is accused of a hit and run and the victim, who is struck dead, is someone that he once sentenced to prison.

The acting of Robert Downey Jr. is well in evidence here, as is Duvall as the earthy, no nonsense father. In some ways this story recalls the classic Clint Eastwood film, "Gran Torino" with Duvall's role as the all American aging man standing and battling against a slippery and slipping world. And as Hank, the defiant and self assured son, vainly seeks his father's love while his brother receives all of the attention, the story has an element of "East of Eden".

These are deft touches and both Duvall and Downey have a compelling and vibrant pulse. While possessing a satisfying dramatic tension between them, the plot gets a little bogged down in mawkish convention. Hank is a caregiver to his dad, while his daughter (Emma Tremblay) is cute as can be, but syrupy sweet, and he has an old girlfriend (Vera Famiglia) who was jilted by him.

A bit mainstream too, is a preening and devilish prosecutor played by Billy Bob Thornton. As Mr. Dickham, Thornton has a collapsible water canister that resembles a barrel from a rifle. The main attractions here are the lively exchanges between Duvall as the hard bitten dad and Downey as the verbally-encircling son. The melodrama is well in force with the old man heading out into a tornado, and there is a passive aggressive brother and another brother (Jeremy Strong)  bullied for his lethargy and his obsession with cameras.

While no actor moves out of his or her typecast zone, and every seasoned player acts as you might expect from other roles,  "The Judge" still has some charged repartee along with a turn of events that manages a shoulder punch of surprise, in spite of its handwringing motion.

Write Ian at

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Equalizer (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Equalizer

Denzel Washington has been an excellent vigilante and/or sour cop delivering plenty of ice and sarcasm in many films from "Man on Fire" to "2 Guns". Under the direction of Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), Washington holds steady and does not disappoint.

"The Equalizer" is based on the vengeful action 80s tv series, created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim, which starred   Edward Woodward.

In this version, Washington is Robert McCall, a pleasant yet compulsively methodical and enigmatic man by turns. McCall works at a Home Depot type store and when his co-workers ask him about his past, he is entertainingly evasive, telling them he used to work for Gladys Knight as one of the Pips.

McCall frequently goes to a Boston diner which is right out of an Edward Hopper painting. He sits by himself and reads works of classic literature. McCall is one man content with himself; he is an incurable insomniac but not a tormented one.

During one night at a lonely literary table, he strikes up some banter with a troubled young woman, Alina (Chloe Grace-Moretz),  an aspiring singer who is working as an escort for the Russian mafia.

McCall witnesses a charmless and grunting thug horribly abusing her.

The next night he goes to the mafia headquarters and, as you can guess, blood is spilled.

This is essentially a good guy / bad guy avenger film, but Denzel Washington is such a presence and his gallows humor in exacting justice goes a long way.

Director Fuqua gives this film a visceral and tense atmosphere, creating an almost vegan nightmare of animal blood, meat, leather and satanic tattoos where porcine men slobber over flesh both living and recently dead.

We know McCall is a good guy per se, but he isn't all that nice. The language of the sociopath has been assimilated within him to be used as a measure of justice so to speak and the film brings this out well.

We are in the realm of something like The Batman, sans cowl and Washington keeps us in thrills as he coolly weighs the scales that were not weighed for him.

There are touches of grim comedy as McCall selects a hardware store hammer while at work and calmly metes out some just desserts. He can use anything at hand from the toxic to the trifling. One gets a thrill in watching this grue-measuring MacGyver.

When McCall returns some blood spattered sunglasses of a restroom-goer to the table under the Lucifer gaze of Nicolai (Marton Csokas), you know the Ray Ban man won't be returning to his meal.

These baddies are so pompous, sadistic and arrogant that the apprehensive pleasure is in wondering just how far McCall will go. In one scene Andri ( Vitaliy Shtabnoy) is so self-assured and callous that McCall promptly ties Andri to the floor, giving away a sizable portion of his cash to his workers.

But don't say McCall is Santa Claus to the victimized, for his gifts are bloody.

Gore is often present and it is gratuitously given. There are punctured, spouting, gurgling throats  and eviscerated guts of all varieties and combinations.

Slippery floors run red.

Yet the one-upmanship of McCall and his horrific hijinks in dispensing justice seems to ameliorate our aversion to such pulp.

Like an odd, blue collar James Bond, there is enough wistful haunt and kinky jabs in Denzel Washington's  performance to make "The Equalizer," a  Creepshow brand of karma that remains wickedly watchable and nearly camp.

Write Ian at