Monday, March 30, 2015

Week of March 27 - April 2 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Six Differing Films Fight For Attention at Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

From creepy to colorful, stiff upper lip to stiff, uh, extremities, the Tropic Cinema again covers a wide vista in this week’s film lineup.
"It Follows" is a scary supernatural horror flick, the tale of a curse that’s passed on through sexual congress. No, we don’t mean an STD. The curse is the ability to see people that no one else can see, spooks that will kill you if they catch you. The Examiner tells us that it’s "a unique concept that somehow combines elements from some of your favorite supernatural films with cult classic slashers …." And Philadelphia Inquirer observes, "The matters of sex and lost innocence work like a thematic undertow, pulling the characters down into the dark, psychological depths."

Still playing is "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," the second film about a group of Brits who have retired to a colorful old hotel in India. The manager wants to expand, and the guests want to find love. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette calls it "...a sweet and often funny movie populated by likable actors who know their business." And SSG Syndicate sees it as a "satisfyingly soapy sequel, culminating in a gloriously pseudo-Bollywood dance spectacle...."

"Queen and Country" is the WWII misadventures of a young British chap you last met in "Hope and Glory." This is an autobiographical tale from director John Boorman. Toronto Star says, "The director gets all the period detail exactly right and there are plenty of historical and cultural references that evoke a sense of nostalgia." And Oregonian adds, "Boorman is 82; ‘Queen and Country’ is being called his final film in a career that included ‘Point Blank,’ ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Excalibur.’ If this really is it, congratulations."

For naughty moviegoers, there’s "50 Shades of Grey," the semi-erotic seduction of a young woman (Dakota Johnson) by a kinky young exec (Jamie Dorman). Huffington Post calls it "a syrupy soft-core melodrama with perhaps too much dialogue." And Seven Days notes, "Perhaps it’s time for all of us to recognize that fantasies come in a great many more than 50 shades -- and that they're not real."

What more? There’s "The Wrecking Crew," a documentary about an L.A. music group of that same name. Advocate describes it as "a music-filled, appreciative but not fawning account of the session musicians who helped make so many of the 1960s records great." And ReviewExpress says, "Fans of those great old recordings of the late ‘60s and ‘70s will lap this up."

And just for the fun of it, there’s "Kingsman: The Secret Service," a fanciful spy flick in the old James Bond mold. Colin Firth is a secret agent with a private British group that protects the world from the likes of Samuel L. Jackson. 2UE That Movie Show says, "Imagine a Roger Moore James Bond with the potty mouth of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the action from The Raid. " And MediaMikes notes, "Firth does a good job as the proper English spy and looks like he's having a good time."

You’ll have a good time at the Tropic too!


4 Nights 4 Justice Returns to Tropic With "Big Charity" (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

4 Nights 4 Justice Returns to Tropic With "Big Charity"

Exclusive Interview by Shirrel Rhoades

In 1735 a French merchant sailor left money in his will to build a hospital for indigents in New Orleans. The next year a small cottage was erected to provide free medical care. Originally called L’Hôpital des Pauvres de la Charité (The Charity Hospital for the Poor), this was the first of six buildings, the last one built in the 1930s -- a million-square-foot art deco monolith known to the neighborhood as Big Charity.

"Big Charity: The Death of America’s Oldest Hospital" is a new documentary that will be playing at the Tropic Cinema on Monday at 6 p.m. This is the first film in the 4 Nights 4 Justice series, an
annual event sponsored by a grant from the Mike Dively Social Justice and Diversity Endowment.

Michael Dively, a former Key West resident and Tropic Cinema volunteer, created an endowment at the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys to promote social justice and diversity. For the third year in a row, Tropic Cinema has won a grant for its powerful 4 Nights 4 Justice program.

And producer Ben Johnson will be on hand to introduce the first film, answer any questions, and describe how a New Orleans community lost its medical services when the state chose a financing scheme over public interest.

Following Hurricane Katrina, Charity Hospital was shut down and used as a pawn to get FEMA to finance a new medical facility that at $1.2 billion is the biggest hospital project in the world. There are doubts the new Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans (MCLNO) will continue the tradition of free services for New Orleans’ needy.

Big Charity now stands empty, a shell of its former glory on Tulane Avenue at the edge of the Iberville Projects, New Orleans’ largest public housing development.

"Almost everybody in Iberville was born there," recounts Alexander Glumstrom, director of "Big Charity." People across the city called themselves "Charity Babies."

Glumstrom became interested in the hospital when working as director of the Boys and Girls Club across the street from it. "Charity Hospital, closed by that time, loomed overhead," the then-Tulane student explains. "The residents spoke of it with a strong love and affection that I had never heard expressed about a building. It was as if the hospital had been human -- a loved but deceased part of the family, whom they missed but still carried with them. I saw Charity Hospital as an integral part of the soul of the community, and I became mystified and enamored with the iconic, beautiful, yet abandoned space."

Ben Johnson, also a college student at the time, volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club. When the neighborhood started holding rallies to reopen Big Charity, he and his friend Alex grabbed a camera and began filming.

"We were trying to understand why the state had closed a major hospital at a great loss of healthcare to the neighborhood," says Johnson. "It was like filming a thriller."

Alex Glumstrom nods. "Looking for answers, I began to seek out nurses, doctors, administrators, police officers, soldiers, generals and politicians. I interviewed them one by one to put the debate on film, and they revealed an engrossing story that has never been fully told to the public."

Ben Johnson accompanied him on these shoots and later they were joined by Catherine Rierson, a young filmmaker from North Carolina. Together the trio co-produced the film, starting with funding by a group of interested doctors, later raising $50,000 with a Kickstarter campaign.

Video journalism seems a likely career direction. He and Alex are now working on some short films, one of them a documentary about a community in central Louisiana that is undergoing huge health risks from the huge petrol companies that are taking over the town.

Ben Johnson will be at the Tropic to answer questions after the film. "This is my first visit to Key West," says the tall 25-year-old. He’s eager to compare the Southernmost City with the Big Easy. The iron balustrades on Front Street may just look familiar.

Queen and Country (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies
"Queen and Country" Tells Boorman’s Story

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You can’t talk about "Queen and Country," a new film at the Tropic Cinema, without first talking about its director, John Boorman. While you may not know much about this Englishman who prefers to live in Ireland, you’ll easily recognize many of his movies: "Point Blank," "Hell in the Pacific," "Deliverance," "Excalibur" … some 22 films in all.

However, "Hope and Glory" (1987) was his most significant film, for it was a thinly disguised autobiography of Boorman’s boyhood in war-torn London. He called the 9-year-old protagonist Bill, but make no mistake it was Boorman thrusting himself back in time.
In "Hope and Glory" young Bill (played by Sebastian Rice Edwards) sees war as an adventure. Rules are forgotten, women exhibit a new freedom, and life is exciting. His father is a dreamer who works as a military clerk, his mother is unable to cope, and his teenage sister has discovered soldier boys. Imagine Bill’s child-like joy when Hitler’s Luftwaffe blows up his school. Ain’t life grand?

Now we have "Queen and Country," a sequel as it were. This Boorman film picks up ten years later when Bill (now played by Callum Turner) discovers a new war, the conflict in Korea. He and his over-the-top pal Percy (Caleb Landry Jones) never get near any action, but they engage in a war of wits with their commanders during basic training. Think: "Catch-22."
Their main antagonists are Sgt. Major Bradley (David Thewlis) and the aptly named Major Cross (Richard E. Grant). The love interests are Tamsin Egerton and Aimee-Ffion Edwards. David Hayman reprises his role in the first film as Bill’s father.

Bookish Bill spends much of his time training recruits to type (harkening back to his dad’s role in the first film) when he’s not falling in love with the wrong girl, hanging out with his crazy pal Percy, dealing with his family, talking about films, and finally finding the right girl. Then he presumably goes on to become a great film director just like John Boorman.
Boorman himself started off as a dry cleaner and became a TV journalist before lucking into the chance to direct a modest film about the British rock group The Dave Clark Five. Then Hollywood called and a friendship with actor Lee Marvin gave Boorman his first hits.

Years ago when I had lunch with Lee Marvin on a picnic table in the Oregon wilderness, I asked him who had been his favorite director? "Boorman," he answered, then moved on with a steady stream of profane jokes and anecdotes about his wartime experiences.
Boorman returned the affection. "I learned more from Lee about filmmaking than from anyone," he says.

At 82, "Queen and Country" might well be John Boorman’s last film, his own personal story. But as he once said, "Movies are the repository of myth. Therein lies their power. An alternative history, that of the human psyche, is contained and unfolded in the old stories and tales." His film carries on this tradition.

Queen and Country (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Queen and Country

"Queen and Country" is John Boorman's sequel to his very personal and autobiographical "Hope and Glory" about young boy, Bill Rohan, during WWII. In that first film, Bill yells "Thank you, Adolph!", elated that his primary school is bombed by the Luftwaffe, consequently canceling school.
Potent stuff.

Now, Bill (Callum Turner) is a grown man. His parents live on an island in Shepperton where occasional movies are shot.

He is conscripted to service in the Korean War and his roommate is the shifty and volatile Percy (Caleb Landry Jones). The two strive to do as little as possible and mostly attempt to get close to girls. It soon becomes clear that Percy might be a bad influence were it not for Bill's introverted nature. Percy brings Bill out of himself. After a run-in with the rigid and snarling Major Bradley (David Thewlis), Percy wishes to bring him down at all cost, even if he has to kill him. Bill urges restraint, suggesting mere pranks, but Percy is incensed with rebellion.

The two have one ally in the secretly subversive Redmond (Pat Shortt), who may remind some of Benny Hill.

Percy, who seems to have a bit of randy fire and energy similar to the notorious  Alex from  "A Clockwork Orange," gets an idea to steal a treasured and rare radio from Major Digby (Brian F. O' Byrne) to start trouble.

Although a shade lighter than its predecessor in content and gravity, this sequel has a surreptitious and sneaky warmth that is hard to deny. Caleb Jones is a physical acrobat of emotions from the sinister to the silly. He is as iconic as Frank Gorshin's Riddler and there is definitely more than a bit of Malcolm Mcdowell's zany violence within. Jones is a wonder to watch.

Episodic, funny and apprehensive with shadows of anxiety in true Boorman style, "Queen and Country" and "Hope and Glory"  make cozy cousins to Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" in both tone and format. Interestingly, "Empire" author J.G. Ballard too, like Bill, made his home at Shepperton after the war. Indeed Boorman and Ballard both make references to camera in their work. To Ballard,  the very sun is described as a camera, while in the final shot of "Queen and Country," a film camera winds down as if to record the last innocence of Bill Rohan.

The last image with the enhanced sound of film being shuttered is not only a testament to the director's dedication as an auteur, but the closeup of the instrument is so deliberate, we realize the camera itself  is Boorman's body and life-force.

Write Ian at

Sunday, March 29, 2015

It Follows (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

It Follows

In David Robert Mitchell's excellent low-key thriller, "It Follows," there is something rotten in Detroit. The film works wonders with so little, using a few sweeps from a gray lens. Simply put, the film is more about mood then jumpy scares, and there are not that many things that go bump in this kind of urban legend tale, but this film accomplishes a lot with mere suggestion coupled with a brief reveal.  By experiencing a jolting score, a slow pan and horrid cues, we are quickly at this director's mercy.

A girl rushes from her house wearing little else but red high heel shoes. She screams in terror, hysterical. Adults ask her the matter but she is unable to speak. She drives to the beach, squats in the sand and calls her father, apologizing in tears.

The next morning her corpse is seen wrenched at crazy angles, her twisted legs becoming a bony Catherine Wheel. The next few scenes put us into a car with a young girl Jay (Maika Monroe) and a square-jawed generic looking Hugh (Jake Weary ) smooching it up. After a hot time, Hugh knocks out Jay with a whiff of chloroform, explaining that he had a virus that is expressed by having entities wishing to assault him, and the only way for him to be free of the virus is to have sex with someone, which in this case is Jay.

As far fetched as the premise may be it works, because like all good horror stories and films, we are in the logic of a dream.

To start with the laser sharp (yet weirdly blurred at lens edge)  cinematography is superb. We are deep within the muddy deserts of Detroit and there is no escape. The depression in this gloomy land is so carefully shot that the derelict and abandoned houses are almost singed with the beauty of a tale by H.P. Lovecraft. There is also a reverence for the films of John Carpenter in the rich shadowy browns and the wild oranges that speak of sinister things on an October day.

Better still, the music is spot on with a jangling score that pays tribute to "Halloween" but also has a David Lynch accent in its staticky industrial interludes.

Things go from bad to worse for the usually blonde and breezy Jay who is dauntlessly pursued by a humanoid shape, a former friend, a dog, or a something which could be anything. She is sequestered in her room while her friends talk of scoring in empty lots grown over with leaves and insects, nearly the only signs of life.

At night, her friends have lethargic sleepovers with neon orange Doritos laid on shawls, knitted mahogany brown. These young adults live in a curious time capsule of the quasi 1970s waiting for a boogeyman that may never appear.

The final knock is scary with a dry smirk to David Lynch in its strobe lighted spooks.

The real effectiveness of "It Follows" resides in its understated ending with Jay and her old friend Paul (Keir Gilchrist) holding hands. Horror is a human condition and it never really vanishes.

Write Ian at

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Kingsman: The Secret Service

If you ever wondered what a jaunty Colin Firth film might be like mixed with comic book action, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" would be your answer.

The film, directed by Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class) stars Firth as secret agent Harry Hart who is every bit the dapper super spy in the tradition of the British Avengers character John Steed who was played by Patrick Macnee on TV.

In the film, Firth also carries an umbrella.

The Kingsman are an elite group of agents who work under MI-6, and handle whatever delicate and/or violent operations need to be done.

After a botched maneuver in the Middle East, Hart gets word about a kidnapped scientist in Argentina, campily played by none other than Mark Hamill of "Star Wars," and an infiltration by Gazelle, a female amputee assassin (Sofia Boutella). Thrown into the mix is a weird, squeamish super-villain--i suppose--named Valentine delivered by a lisping Samuel L. Jackson, in probably one of the strangest performances you'll ever see in an action film.

Valentine, an eco terrorist, strives to implant a chip in every person that will essentially drive them mad with rage, and cause mass suicides.

There is a mildly poignant sub-plot regarding young Gary (Taron Eggerton) who loses his dad inadvertently at the hands of espionage and as a kind of Bruce Wayne learns the ropes from Harry.

If the action, blood and graphic novel sequences are not to your taste (and to some they might not be) consider the dark humor given by Firth in his role as he reduces an entire pub to a puddle of flesh and then takes the last sip of his Guinness. Seconds later, you half expect him to quote Capote, Julio Cortazar or Oscar Wilde.

Jackson alone is as over the top as we might expect, wearing pink and projectile vomiting at the sight of blood. A violent wildlife activist with a penchant for Mcdonalds?

Just when the uber-zany goings on might turn away the pupils in your eyes for good, the madcap crunching and bashing given by an epileptic Colin Firth (whose dazed and spaced out expressions are priceless after every bloodbath) pull us back into the story full throttle.

What can you say about a film that shows a full church of bigots modeled after the demonic Westboro Baptist Church impale each other with staffs and crosses? Last but not least, numerous heads explode during a dinner party only to turn into drastic dandelions and mushroom clouds of every color. There are several decapitated bodies waiting for plates that will never arrive.

With its visual tintinnabulation of splatter, soup-squash and squish, it is as much a critique of gore exploitation films as a tribute, with Colin Firth offering an odd, almost eerie tone to the lurid affair as well as camp.

"Kingsman: The Secret Service" is one film that clearly out tarts Tarantino.

Write Ian at

Sunday, March 22, 2015

McFarland, USA (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


While director Niki Caro (North Country) doesn't cover new ground in "McFarland, USA," a new film that tells the real life story of a Latino track team that succeeded in the mid 1980 despite laboring at migrant farm work, the energy expressed is impossible to deny.

Kevin Costner, as the no nonsense coach Jim White, fits into his role like a pair of old shoes or Indy's fedora. We know what we're getting but its comforting in a Saturday Matinee kind of way, and Costner has a leathery, but cozy charisma that holds the screen and the audience in place.

Coach White is a the locker room during football halftime and as we can predict, he is nudging and trying to pep up his players. Suddenly one of the boys get mouthy and Jim, meaning to scare the rebellious uncouth young man, throws a shoe at him, drawing blood.

Jim is fired and heads for McFarland California: a small depressed town of produce pickers. His kids wonder if he missed the exit and he quickly acquires a job of phys ed teacher.

The new house is the size of a children's toy block. The Latino neighborhood regards Jim with suspicion. Getting the high school kids motivated is an even bigger challenge, as they are set in apathy.

The verve of the film is in its rapidity and movement, and its amusing rounded characters, especially in the character of Thomas (Carlos Pratts) and the irrepressible Danny (Ramiro Rodriguez). The film does have a familiar Disney pattern, that's true, from the coach saying you can do it, don't give up, to the usual troubled teens. But just when you are hit with a signature cliche, as in "The Million Dollar Arm,"  the film sweeps along with color and motion and this together with Costner's suburban cowboy charm warms in just the right places. Each of the kids from the Diaz brothers to Thomas and Danny are played smoothly with enough time to deliver their own eccentricities.

Not since Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones role has there been such an iconic voice that we respond to and identify, the tough love sound of warm leaves, or the salty mariner, precisely because it speaks of the Hollywood Universal---time honored and worn but never pretentious.

 Disney has it all down like a cinematic Coke recipe and it  will spring the waterworks despite all.  Better yet, it never feels heavy or sodden. The acting is handled simply in brief but emotional detail, and with a plot progression that is so easily recognizable from baseball stories to the warm cross-cultural marinades of "The Hundred Foot Journey," every note is so honestly given, that all formulaic concerns become like  carbonation.

Charm and  harmony in diversity is what we get here, all in brilliant tones. And, if that is not enough there is a bit of magical realism in depicting the runners  who know the "language of the birds." When Kevin Costner delivers his smoky words of Americana while turning his unassuming smile, we feel it. Somehow, everything seen several times is new again.

"McFarland USA" will sneak up on you and have you cheering. This gentle yet earthy story is unapologetically feel-good through and through.

Write Ian at