Saturday, August 27, 2016

Indignation (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


James Schamus (writer of The Ice Storm) directs a tense and mysterious adaptation of Phillip Roth's novel Indignation  in a debut film of the same name. The film is visceral, punchy, haunting and full of inky gloom. In depicting the smarmy imposition of control within the glossy and abundant era of the 1950's, "Indignation" echoes the Nicholas Ray classic "Rebel Without a Cause."

In the era of the Korean War, Marcus (Logan Lerman) is going off to study at Winesburg College. The young man is a bookworm and nothing gets in his way. By chance, he meets an enigmatic blonde Olivia (Sarah Gadon). Needless to say, he is hooked.

Despite his newfound desire, life at college becomes constricting. A fraternity house pressures him. Flosser (Ben Rosenfield) a verbose and theatrical roommate is unbearable while another seethes with violent envy. To complicate matters, Marcus's father grows increasingly manic and controlling.

One day, after a room change, the young student gets summoned to the dean's office.  Dean Caudwell (excellently portrayed by the playwright Tracy Letts) needles him mercilessly, despite a perfect academic record, about his lack of religious practice and his social life. Marcus is sweaty but steadfast; he believes in the writings of the free thinker Bertrand Russell.

Then he collapses and is taken to the hospital. Olivia enters like Madeleine in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." The young girl is a dreamy and voluptuous vision and she promptly gives him pleasure under the sheets.

Marcus's mother (Linda Emond) is none too pleased with Olivia and tells him so. He must promise her never to see the wayward girl again. The apprehension builds slowly to the film's credit as we see Marcus's optimism slowly erode to fear and an uncomprehending worry under the strain.

Lerman is terrific, as is Gadon who smolders with anarchistic sensuality. Like Kim Novak before her, Sarah Gadon's tosses and spills of hair and flesh are under restraint, but just so. To conformist eyes, Olivia is the girl next door. Yet, she alone turns Marcus into a momentary voyeur ala James Stewart's 'Scottie' in the Hitchcock tradition.

Slowly and with rhythm, a manicured college lawn leads to an ominous cemetery. In "Indignation" a string of apparent incidental circumstances make a noose.

Write Ian at

Friday, August 26, 2016

Week of August 26 to Sept. 1 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

“Indignation” Joins Tropic Lineup

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Five films are being held over this week, giving you another opportunity to see them. And in case you already have seen them all, a new film has been added to the schedule.
The new addition? “Indignation,” a drama based on a Philip Roth novel about a young Jewish man’s socialization at college. Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) becomes infatuated with a beautiful classmate (Sarah Gadon) while clashing with the college’s dean (Tracy Letts). Spirituality and Practice describes it as “a triumph of elegant writing, exquisite acting, and a vibrant spiritual treatment of righteous indignation.” And Tulsa World finds it to be “a literate film for adults to appreciate.”
Also pleasing audiences is “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a biopic about a New York society matron whose singing was undeniably bad. Meryl Streep frumps herself up to portray un-self-aware Jenkins; Hugh Grant is her overly supportive partner; and Simon Helberg accompanies her for a late-in-life performance at Carnegie Hall. New York Observer calls it “a comic lark that packs a satisfying emotional wallop and continues the balls-to-the-wall career victory lap Meryl Streep has been on since turning 60 years old seven years ago ...” And CineXpress calls it “a wonderful and strange period comedy, where Meryl Streep once again raises all material at hand and steals your heart.”
In “Captain Fantastic” a hippie family faces the straight world. Viggo Mortensen takes the title role as the pater familias who prefers an off-the-grid lifestyle. Philadelphia Inquirer tells us “It’s a rare movie that asks such big questions -- about parenting, about family, about modern-day America -- and comes up with answers that are moving and meaningful, that make you laugh and cry.” And Empire Magazine finds it to be “a fiercely original, pleasantly unpredictable character piece.”
“Don’t Think Twice” is stand-up comic Mike Birbiglia’s dramedy about the world of professional comedy. Chicago Reader says, “It has more laughs than any big-studio comedy I’ve seen this year, but it’s dead serious about the difficulty of creating something collectively in a world where everyone's chasing the spotlight.” And Detroit News advises, “Don’t think twice, just see it.”
In “Finding Dory,” a blue tang fish (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) searches for her family. This is, of course, a sequel to that kid’s favorite, “Finding Nemo.” New Yorker says, “While predictable, it puts an engaging spin on the issues of home and identity.” And PopMatters decrees it to be “one of Pixar’s most delightful offerings to date.”
“Star Trek Beyond” follows Captain James Tiberius Kirk and his Vulcan pal Mr. Spock (Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) on a retro outer-space adventure. Cinemanía observes: “The Enterprise’s humblest journey it’s also the most fun and enjoyable.” And says it’s “a reminder of how good the series can be when all its engines are in working order.”
Six films in all, plenty to see.

Star Trek Beyond (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Star Trek Beyond”
Takes You Back
To Its Beginnings

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

This year is the 50th Anniversary of “Star Trek.” The original television series launched in 1966. Since then there have been five spinoff TV series and 13 films in the “Star Trek” franchise.
Eugene Wesley “Gene” Roddenberry created “Star Trek.” As a tribute, the late producer’s ashes were sent into orbit above the earth on the Challenger. And a crater on the moon has been named after him.
Gene Roddenberry was a WWII fighter pilot (he flew 89 missions), a commercial pilot, and a police officer before he started writing television scripts. His idea for a sci-fi TV series -- pitched as a Western like “Wagon Train,” but set in space -- got turned down by several networks and production companies before NBC reluctantly picked it up. The show almost got canceled after the first season. The third and final season only got made following a letter-writing campaign by fans after the shaky second season.
I wrote a letter back then at the urging of my newspaper editor. He was a big aficionado. So were several journalists I knew. NBC received around 6,000 letters a week petitioning them to renew the series. The network relented.
Good thing for CBS and Paramount Pictures (the current owners). The “Star Trek” franchise (movies, merchandise, etc.) has grossed more than $6 billion thus far.
Designed to squeeze out a few more bucks is “Star Trek Beyond,” the latest film in the series, third in the movie reboot started by J.J. Abrams. He directed the first two, but was only able to produce this one since he’s directing the new “Star Wars” film.
“Star Trek Beyond” is currently pursuing the mission of the Starship Enterprise at the Tropic Cinema.
Directed this time around by Justin Lin (best known for his “Fast & Furious” actioners), and written by Simon Pegg (Scotty in the film) and Doug Jung, “Star Trek Beyond” is intended to hark back to the old television series. As such, it has less CGI awe as the USS Enterprise weaves through far-flung galaxies and lackluster nebulae to beam the crew down onto a planet where they must prove their mettle (i.e. human-ness).
Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto return as Captain James T. Kirk and his Vulcan sidekick Mr. Spock. Also we have Zoe Saldana back as Lt. Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty, and Karl Urban as Bones. John Cho is the now-revealed-to-be gay Sulu (a tip of the hat to openly gay George Takei who used to play the character). And we get the last “Star Trek” appearance of Anton Yelchin as the Russian navigator Chekov (Yelchin died recently in a freak auto accident).
The crew negotiated higher pay for this third film in the rebooted series. And Pine and Quinto have signed on for a fourth film.
This time around, they take on a ruthless alien baddie known as Krall (played by Idris Elba, barely recognizable under his lizard-like make-up). He has a weapon of mass destruction that they must stop.
“Star Trek Beyond” is more character-driven than previous outings. We find Kirk ruminating about his future with the Federation, Spock waffling on his relationship with Uhura, a view of Sulu’s same-sex home life, and such. But what they all need is a new challenge: Like defeating Krall.
Stranded on Krall’s planet in pairs of two, we get to measure the one-on-one interaction of Kirk and his young protégé Chekov, Spock and the egotistic Bones, Uhura and Sulu. And since Simon Pegg wrote the script, Scotty gets a girlfriend in the form of an alien she-warrior named Jaylah (played by Algerian hip-hop dancer Sofia Boutella, exotic in white kabuki-like make-up).
Despite all the blustering and barking, and his myriad of tiny warships, Krall is no match for Kirk and his crew in the end. No spoiler alert needed, for you know the outcome going into the theater. Just like “Wagon Train,” this outer-space Western will continue its adventures with another episode. Abrams has confirmed there will be a fourth film in his “trilogy.”
J.J. Abrams may be today’s hero behind the bridge of the USS Enterprise, but let’s not forget Gene Roddenberry, the creator.
Thanks to “Star Trek,” Roddenberry became the first TV writer to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. So you might say he will forever remain among the stars.

Finding Dory (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Finding Dory”
Baits a Hook

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios always seems to be losing things. They left Wall-E behind on a junkyard planet. Tossed out Woody and Buzz Lightyear in “Toy Story.” Had to go looking for a missing fish “Finding Nemo.”
Now it’s “Finding Dory.”
As you’ll recall, in “Finding Nemo” a young clownfish named Nemo gets captured by scuba divers and winds up in a fish tank in a dentist’s office in Sydney, Australia. So Nemo’s dad sets out with a tang fish named Dory to find the missing youngster.
They do.
Now in this sequel -- “Finding Dory” -- Nemo and many of the fish from the first movie return. You’ve heard that old myth about goldfish only being able to remember things for three second … well, Dory has the same short-term-memory problem. But in a flashback she remembers something about a place in California. So with the help of Nemo and his dad, Dory sets out to find her family.
Familiar voices from “Finding Nemo” are back again in “Finding Dory.” Ellen DeGeneres reprises her role as Dory. And Albert Brookes again gives us Marlin, Nemo’s grumpy dad. This time around Hayden Rolence voices Nemo.
Also adding to the fun are the voices of Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Ed O’Neill, Bill Hader, and Kate McKinnon. Sigourney Weaver plays herself.
This new 3D computer-animated comedy -- “Finding Dory” -- is currently testing the currents at the Tropic Cinema.

Credit director Andrew Stanton as the brains behind both films.
My theory is that Pixar didn’t really lose Nemo or Dory. I think they’ve just baited the hook to get you and your kids back in a movie theater.

Indignation (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Indignation” Offers
Helping of Jewish Guilt

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

It is his twenty-ninth book, Philip Roth once again deals with a nice Jewish boy’s guilt over sex.
“My fiction is about people in trouble,” says the 83-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner.
“Indignation” follows that pattern of trouble, telling the story of “a high-strung, standoffish Jewish bookworm” facing his freshman year at Winesburg College.
Despite warnings about “Roth’s Hollywood track record,” producer Scott Rudin bought the film rights to “Indignation” prior to its publication. And first-time director James Schamus has given us his version of the story.
“Indignation” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Here we meet Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a student clashing with the dean of men (Tracy Letts) over the requirement to attend chapel. As the boy explains, “I don’t prefer to practice one religion over another.” That is to say, he’s an atheist. He even quotes from Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not a Christian” essay to prove it.
The dean pries into the boy’s social life, eliciting the fact that Marcus has gone on only one date. But what a date it was for this sexually inexperienced butcher’s son from New Jersey. Pretty but fragile Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) has bestowed a gift that leaves him confused. And then she gifts him again when visiting him in the hospital where he’s recovering from an appendectomy.
But Philip Roth doesn’t believe that life gives us happy endings. Spoiler alert (the book was published eight years ago, so you’ve had enough time to know this): Marcus gets kicked out of school, drafted, and killed in combat in Korea. Matter of fact, he’s dead even before Roth (or Schamus) started telling us this story.
God’s punishment? Can’t be if Marcus was an atheist, right?
James Wolcott in his review of the book in The New Republic dubbed it “The Fatal Handjob.” As Wolcott summed it up, “Consciousness survives the fall through death’s trapdoor, leaving Marcus suspended in hazy eternity to contemplate and rue what went wrong with his life.”
That is to say, Philip Roth knows how to dish out kosher helpings of Jewish guilt. And nothing makes the celebrated author feel more guilty than undeserved sex.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Captain Fantastic (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Captain Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen stars as a radical father of six kids in director Matt Ross's heartfelt coming of age story "Captain Fantastic."

Ben Cash (Mortensen) is raising his six kids off the radar, away from civilization. They hunt wild game for sustenance and grow their own food. The kids are held to a rigid schedule of classic literature, philosophy and music. They do not watch TV or use smartphones and they are tested every week.

The film starts off with a bang when a deer  is stabbed in the woods by the older teen Bodevan (George MacKay). Ben rips out the deer's heart, takes a bite and paints the boy's nose with its blood. It is a riveting and tense moment, reminicent  of "Lord  of the Flies."

Then we see the family dwelling with rows of fruits, vegetables and brightly colored canned goods. The younger kids are clad in animal skins complete with a fox headpiece and they are just as comfortable shouting at the moon as dancing by the fire. At such moments the film recalls a naturalistic "Peter Pan" as much as anything else. These moments are striking with power and haunt.

Ben cares for his kids while the mother is in the hospital battling serious clinical depression. This premise of an uncompromising father with several kids is emotionally laden and generates apprehensive. Mortensen carries it very well. He is no irresponsible dad, freak or crackpot but a genuine person of charisma, skin and bones.

It is only the trappings of the plot that put the film slightly off center, veering it into the border of camp and melodrama. During a church scene why put Ben in a loud flaming red coat? Up until this point, Ben was subtle, a man of the earth. Why make his role look like a clown?

The story would be better served without this over the top flair.  Clownish too is Bodevan proposing marriage on one knee after one nervous french kiss. Home-schooled or not, I doubt the father would leave his oldest so clueless in the ways of the flesh.

There is the conservative father in law (Frank Langella) who threatens custody of Ben's Lost Boys and two daughters. While no ogre or villain, we know little of this man or the relationship with his idealistic daughter.

Despite a bit of Hollywood formula, there are some fine touches. In one scene the kids are shown a video game. Bodevan's face is a mask of anguish right out of Edvard Munch. And one must give great credit to Mortensen who steers the film to force and clarity. The kids as well, acting in ensemble, are a delight.

Where the film shines most, however, is in its rich cinematography by Stéphane Fontaine (A Prophet) highlighting the feral, prickly and mountainous heavens of Nature, coupled with the bland artificial neons of Walmarts and convenience stores.

Although it falls too predictability in passages, "Captain Fantastic" has energy and spirit, primarily due to Viggo Mortensen in a newly flexible and refreshing role.

Write Ian at

Monday, August 22, 2016

Finding Dory (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Finding Dory

The cuties of the sea are back in Pixar's "Finding Dory," a sequel to the earlier "Finding Nemo" directed again by Andrew Stanton. Salty sequels, from pirate epics to animated classics are often diluted with formulaic solution. Thankfully this is another very entertaining time in the ocean.

Here we see Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) with her regal blue tang parents Charlie and Jenny, voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton respectively. During a game of hide and seek, Dory becomes distracted and loses sight of her parents. Leagues of ocean seem to separate them. As Dory has short-term memory loss, she blames herself and fears the worst.

The characters once more showcase a maritime medley of mirth. Best among them is Ed O Neil as a curmudgeonly seven-armed octopus. There is also one bubbly whale shark (Kaitlin Olsen) and a beluga whale (Ty Burrell). Though these creatures are inky creations out of Disney's bottomless aquarium, they could very well be human and this is a testament to the story, which is first-rate.

Strikingly, this is a mature and holistic statement on our development, our struggles and what it is to be human, period. One look at Dory's conflicted and tortured face brings home the reality that we all have obstacles, crisis and even disabilities that we may not have control over but nevertheless must still accept and harness. This is heavy stuff for an animated film and may just turn on the human waterworks for a few moments, no matter the age of the audience.

Despite this anemone-shaded angst, the story is joyful and freely associative much the way our minds work when young. As "Inside Out" demonstrated so skillfully, this film shows that the less secure aspects of ourselves are not to be hidden but rather to be brought forth as tools, however strange or ambiguous.

"Finding Dory" is not just a fishy psychadelic diversion in immersive 3-D but a heartfelt meditation of what it means to love and care for someone, whether one happens to be a human or a halibut.

Write Ian at