Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Merchants of Doubt (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Merchants of Doubt

Robert Kenner's new documentary has enough villains to fill a Marvel comic storyline. Each stuffed shirt is a man most should love to hate. Consider noted conservative Fred Singer, a rocket expert who worked during the cold war, who denies that global warming exists but then backtracked to say that it may exist but man has little to do with it.

Then there is Marc Marano, a snarky frat boy type who personally attacks reputable scientists with death threats and happily says that he would continue to do it. "I get them a lot myself too," Marano chuckles as if playing a game.

As incredible and hard to fathom as this may seem,"Merchants of Doubt" is no Avenger epic.

Sadly it is all too real.

Many corporations from Phillip Morris to the Koch brothers have hired so called "experts" to speak pseudo-scientifically and dismiss physical reality, going against (according to the film) some 900 statements on the man-made cause of global warming.

To further combat science, these men gathered signatures from the science community and acquired a document of some fifteen hundred signatures.

But there was only one problem. Most of the signatures on the statement were not men of science at all, but fraudulent names, including Dr. Charles Darwin, Geri Halliwell (the singer Ginger Spice) and Michael J. Fox, the actor.

According to Marc Marano, the goal was not accuracy in investigation but only to plant doubt in the mainstream.

The most damaging aspect of this push is that it paints people of the scientific and environmental community as anti American communists, socialists and "those against democracy."

To paint science in this way, not to mention the intellect, creates a toxic and insidious poison.

Albeit disturbing, Robert Kenner makes it all palatable with entertaining segments, including a moment from The Twilight Zone depicting a parallel world, and bits from the illusionist Jamy Ian Swiss.

To see this gallery of rogues is to be stupefied. Many of them change hats, at once working for a climate think tank and then the tobacco industry. All that matters is one kernel of doubt as if from genetically modified corn.

Encouraging though it is to see that conservative bedrocks Bob Inglis, John McCain and Newt Gingrich have now embraced the validity of science, much like the tobacco industry has, in finally admitting the danger of cigarettes and the knowing addiction of nicotine.

Politically and culturally, according to Bob Ingles, the heart of this fight is a "fear of change" As the senator asks, "what do we do when our culture is wrong?"

As if in answer, perhaps it is appropriate to recall the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson who once said that "science is true whether you believe in it or not."    

The final sting at the end of "Merchants of Doubt" is that Gingrich, McCain and John Boehner while at first concurring with the reality of science, now say that they "don't know".

As Naomi Oreskes (on whose book the film is based) says, "we can imagine that these men will arrive at science like the tobacco industry did...it took fifty years...with the environment we don't have fifty years..."

Suffice to say, it is earnest that if we do not take the real conservative choice and change our cultural orbit, all of us on this planet will be much worse than watermelons, we will most certainly be cooked to death, regardless of our right or left polarities.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Monday, May 25, 2015

IRIS (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


In  "Iris" by the master filmmaker Albert Maysles, we are put directly into the life of Iris Apfel, the iconic designer.

To gaze at her famous aquarium-sized glasses is to see a sorceress buzzing with creativity.

With her slender frame shellacked with huge layers of beads and fabric she transforms herself into her own mixed media piece, a voluminous sail of dreams, clashing in texture and tone, from classic to kitsch. In her textile work accented with beads, bars, bangles and baubles, she creates her own personal language that even seems to comment on our hyper-intensive video age in its unabashed riots of color, jagged lines and exotic fabrics.

Each wardrobe that Apfel concocts is a dizzying feast, challenging notions of taste and boundaries. The vibrations of hue and value attack and dance upon Iris' stubborn frame and she often seems to melt into a huge throbbing screen entirely made of cloth necklaces and curios---a prismatic samurai in heavy pink lipstick.

For Iris, to create is to breathe and every ambulatory assemblage is a banner repelling sickness or death.

The famed director Maysles has a light touch here, instead of showing large chunks of Iris' existence, he offers small impressionistic daubs of images, like swatches of moving fabric, and little by little a complete picture appears of Iris in the moment.

She recalls as a child being obsessed by a brooch, held by a "threadbare yet elegant man."

It was her first purchase.

As we watch her origins, she crisscrosses the globe as co-creator of the firm Old World Weavers. She fearlessly goes far and wide, a kind of Indiana Jones of the textile realm, collecting and sampling and reproducing with spontaneity and variety as her only spiritual talismans. She is put in charge of The White House design and decor for nine presidents. Apparently there was conflict with Jackie-O, but Iris remains mum.

She evolves into a pop art figure, a brand name that becomes instantly recognizable through her over-large black framed glasses.

Iris is a dreamlike figure, a benevolent Cruella De Vil, who smiles at peace and is no less than a walking silver screen who projects her self made imaginations on to her own person.

In shape and tone, "Iris" the film, echoes "Bill Cunningham, New York" in its slice of life approach. As Cunningham races to catch his next fashion shoot as quick as Clark Kent, Iris Apfel can be seen as his siren seamstress, creating Cunningham's Superman-blue suit and painting his bicycle, all the better to capture a rapidly disappearing New York, lost to Disney aesthetics. Iris and Bill are joined at the collar as two fashion heroes who actively lament and combat the uniform march of gentrification.

As with Cunningham, Iris Apfel remains steadfast, fixed and stubborn, still searching and reaching for that yet undiscovered fabric floating along a sea of toneless hues. "I'm not a pretty person. I don't like pretty. I'm against most people, I guess, but I don't care."

Equipped with a shield of indifference, Iris drifts through the various realms of Gotham City like her blue cloaked spiritual cousin Bill Cunningham. All the better to capture the next flash of vivid color amidst the ubiquitous urban hues of black and gray.

"Iris" (Albert Maysles last film) does a wonderful job in illuminating Apfel's eclectic quest.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Far from the Madding Crowd

Thomas Vinterberg, a contemporary of Lars von Trier,  directs a new version of "Far from the Madding Crowd" and does it with swiftness and style. This one is true to the spirit of Thomas Hardy in showing humanity imperiled by a seething and unforgiving world where Nature is nonetheless depicted as abundant and rich.

Carey Mulligan stars as Bathsheba Everdene, a fiery and direct head of a farm with wild and whipping hair, not to mention leather riding boots.

Bathsheba bears a striking resemblance in aura to Katniss of "The Hunger Games" and it is too much of a coincidence that the two share an almost identical last name. Both heroines are outspoken and strive to control.

But here we are in the arable universe of Dorset in 1870 of course. Bathsheba encounters Gabriel Oak, excellently played by Matthias Schoenaerts of the disturbingly powerful film "Bullhead". When giving her a gift of a lamb, Gabriel asks for Bathsheba's hand in marriage.

She refuses.

Gabriel, the silent type, sublimates his desire and takes to the crops, raking,pruning, baking and bleeding. The hard earth matches the brown weariness that shows on his face.

One day while working she is confronted by the wealthy William Boldman (Michael Sheen) who asks of marriage himself.

Again, Bathsheba refuses.

Vinterberg perfectly captures the unsparing and sharp circumstances that can befall any and every Thomas Hardy protagonist. Mulligan is as fierce and hard as cast iron but we also see the sadness on her face. Her tears show as mere frost. Bathsheba is never one to pine.

A standout performance is given by Tom Sturridge as Frank Troy, the repressed soldier with a sociopathic streak whom she does marry. At once feline, loutish, obsessed by honor in combat, yet oddly ineffectual, Sturridge nearly steals the show.

The tone of the film is flawless in showing Miss Everdene batted about by the selfish folly of men like a molten fireball, while still holding to her self sufficient code. After each pitfall, after Man bares his worst face, the natural world recharges itself showing its green tapestry, as if to restore Everdene's faith in all things human. Such notes are very true to the Hardy canon.

A touch of Lars von Trier is present too. When Gabriel loses his sheep to a rogue dog, the flock leaps to their doom: the bloody bodies spell a kind of ovine alphabet in their positions of death, foretelling of trials to come. This shot could have been taken right from von Trier's "Antichrist".

Aside from all orchestral swells, the score is apropos to the genre and narrative. But above all, "Far from the Madding Crowd" is a authentic and satisfying addition to the many cinematic interpretations of Thomas Hardy in showing one woman continually bitten by the hardness of Male Nature.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Age of Adaline (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Age of Adaline

This "Twilight Zone" melodrama directed by Lee Toland Krieger, stars Blake Lively in the title role of Adaline, a young librarian who never ages due to a strange happenstance.

Adaline is a young sparkling girl born in 1908 in San Francisco. She is charming and vivacious much like others. One day, during an idyll in the park, she meets Clarence, (Peter J. Gray) a strapping engineer.

The two marry then Clarence dies in an accident.

During her grief, Adaline takes a night drive and goes over a guardrail, due to poor visibility. The film goes into considerable detail explaining that Adaline's DNA is changed because of freezing water and some electrical charges. No, it doesn't make much sense, but the cinematography has such a fluid escapist quality that the farfetchedness ceases to matter here.

Suffice to say, Adaline is stuck at age 29, yet otherwise unscathed.

The film does well in showing a bit of haunt and danger. Because of her condition, Adaline can trust little. Men in particular seem to threaten her as menacing dark shapes while the deliberate plodding march of time seems to mock her with merriment each New Year's Eve.

The film also has a eerie narrator in Hugh Ross reminiscent of Rod Serling.

It is only in the performance of Blake Lively that the film falters, for we are given little emotional information as to the heroine's character or life. How does Adaline feel? Does she really lament anything? Throughout the film, her face is invariably passive and neutral, seeming merely to pass thru each decade like water in a transparent glass. We know she cares for her dog, but Lively's robotic gestures give even this scene the lightest charge.

That being said, there is a bit of humor in her role. At one point she says, "I met

Bing Crosby....( after a beat) someone who was Bing Crosby-like". Then in another scene when her beau mentions the 1930s, she says. "That was an amazing time...I imagine."

For the most part though, the woman Adaline seems a cypher,  an automaton  brought to sudden animation only when feeling danger and having to flee.

A welcome exception is Harrison Ford as William, an old lover. Ford brings energy and a genuine sense of displacement in what could well have been a stand-in role. In a few scenes, he has an urgency and wildness that recall his outings in "Mosquito Coast" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark".

Ellen Burstyn also makes a solid appearance as Adaline's aging daughter.

"The Age of Adaline" could have been a satisfying matinee fantasy if it retained some of its dark magic in its depiction of gray men in suits applying nocturnal pressure. Instead whatever apprehension it has gives way to a sort of travelogue through the decades, highlighting fashion and the most minimal of relationships.

Through it all, Adaline gazes into a mirror, her face as empty as glass as audible remarks float around her. Displaying vacuousness is fine, but when we are given little else it becomes mere window dressing in the style of Robert Zemeckis.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Friday, May 22, 2015

Week of May 22 to May 28 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Four New Films, Three Repeats Crowd Tropic Screens

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Tropic Cinema makes up for hosting only four films last week by upping the number to seven this week, squeezing them into its non-stop movie schedule.

“Far From the Madding Crowd” is a sultry new version of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel about Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) who has three unsuitable suitors. Newsday calls it a “sturdy adaptatation of Hardy, with some fine work by Mulligan.” And ReelReviews says, “Carey Mulligan is an inspired choice to play Bathsheba … She’s cool and confident; we come to respect her strength and appreciate that she doesn’t need a man to be complete.”

 “5 Flights Up” is a snapshot of an elderly couple (Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton) who are considering selling their Brooklyn walkup apartment. The New York Times says,  “The lead performances are so perfectly in sync that Alex and Ruth really feel like an old married couple who know each other’s foibles and cherish every tic.” And Los Angeles Times observes, “What a pleasure to see a simple, finely tuned dramedy about real adults with real emotions in a real-life situation.”

 “Woman in Gold” recounts the true story about a determined woman (Helen Mirren) and her young lawyer (Ryan Reynolds) who sue the Austrian government for a painting stolen by the Nazis. St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the film works “large because of the odd-couple chemistry between Mirren and Reynolds.” And Globe and mail notes that “Director Simon Curtis milks the predictable drama, thrills and heartache of the Holocaust-era story….”

 “Iris” is a doc about a dotty old fasionista that will enthrall you. Toronto Star observes, “Flamboyantly fashionable and filter-free, 93 year-old Iris Apfel is a delightfully quirky muse for legendary documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles’s final solo film.” And Philadelphia Inquirer says, “Iris is a kick, whether or not you care a whit about the world this character is moving through.”

“Ex Machina” ranks as one of my all-time favorite sci-fi movies, right up there with “Metropolis.” Here, a tech genius (Oscar Isaac) invents an artificial woman (Alicia Vikander) that seduces a nerd (Domhnall Gleeson) into believing she’s real. Minneapolis Star Tribune calls it a “tense tale of artificial love so intelligently crafted and edgy that I adored it.” And Detroit News says the film “takes its time, wrestling with questions of responsibility, morality and compassion…”

 “The Age of Adaline” is a Dorian Gray story about a 106-year-old woman (Blake Lively), albeit one trapped in the body of a 29-year-old beauty. New Yorker notes that “the conceit endows Lively’s regal air of distracted superiority with an intermittent pathos. And Newark Star-Ledger say, “Ford -- after so many years of grumpily picking up paychecks -- seems delighted to be acting again, andin a real movie.” And

“Merchants of Doubt” is a documentary by Robert Kenner designed to expose the American propaganda mill.  Newsday terms it a “compelling expose of professional propagandists, though the movie itself is not agenda-free.” And San Francisco Chronicle concludes, “When (and before) the end credits roll, you will probably feel a sense of outrage -- and helplessness.”

Seven films -- count ‘em. All supremely watchable.


Far From the Madding Crowd (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Far From the Madding Crowd”
Finally Gets Hardy’s Novel Right

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Back in 1967, when I was the film critic for the Florida Times-Union, I reviewed the movie “Far From the Madding Crowd,” an epic starring Julie Christie. MGM sent me a nice letter thanking me for my kind words. I was particularly taken by the sweeping cinematography of the Dorset countryside, the haughty beauty of Christie, and the intense courtship with her three suitors (Alan Bates, Terence Stamp, and Peter Finch) in this three-hour widescreen Cinemascope extravaganza.

Now it falls my lot to review a new movie version of “Far From the Madding Crowd” starring Carey Mulligan.

If I could only find a copy of that old review and repeat the words.

Based on the classic Thomas Hardy novel, we have the story of Bathsheba Everdene, a headstrong country heiress who attracts the attentions of an impoverished sheep farmer, a dashing cavalryman, and a prosperous landowner.

This time around the flawed suitors are played by Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge, and Michael Sheen -- offering somewhat less star-power gravitas than the original cast.

However, Carey Mulligan holds her own as our romantic heroine. While possessing less of Christie’s insouciant vulnerability, the petite actress brings instead a wild passion to Hardy’s Bathsheba Everdene.

First published in 1874, “Far From the Madding Crowd” was Thomas Hardy’s fourth novel -- and his first literary success.

The title comes from a poem by Thomas Gray. Here the word “madding” (not “maddening” as people mistakenly say) means “frenzied.” However, Hardy uses the title ironically, because the quiet Wessex countryside of his novel is anything but calm.

The turbulent plot is well known to serious readers:  Bathsheba Everdene unwisely marries Sergeant Frank Troy, even though he has impregnated another woman. When he appears to have committed suicide, she becomes engaged to marry her neighbor William Buttonwood. But Troy turns up at the engagement party and Buttonwood shoots him dead, for which he is hauled off to prison. Finally realizing what she wants is a man of quiet strength, Bathsheba weds her longtime friend Gabriel Oak.

“Far From the Madding Crowd” is currently breaking hearts at Tropic Cinema

This is the fourth film version. Director Thomas Vinterberg finally gets Hardy’s story right, avoiding the imprecise narrative focus of John Schlesinger’s 1967 film. The two other versions can be ignored, a 1915 silent and a 1998 TV movie.

And while Vinterberg didn’t have Schlesinger’s “dream cast” to work with, his film nevertheless is charged with erotic energy … like a brooding storm hovering over the rolling English countryside.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

5 Flights Up (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

5 Flights Up

Richard Loncraine's "5 Flights Up" has charm but its narrative goes up an all too steady and predictable incline. Morgan Freeman is Alex, a passionate painter who loves the idea of a Brooklyn before gentrification, and Diane Keaton is his wife Ruth. The couple is disturbed by Ruth's niece Lily, a supercharged and all business minded realtor (Cynthia Nixon) who urges them to sell their fifth floor apartment.

Freeman handles his role well with snappy lines and poignant lament, and he is at his best when he utters dry quips about a changing Brooklyn and the hyper pace of life.

Keaton is adequate too, yet her Ruth is very similar to past roles from "Annie Hall" on up. Her frets and anxieties are nothing new.

Still, the worry of Ruth and the calmness of Alex make a believable contrast. The more vibrant scenes are in flashback with a charismatic Alex (Korey Jackson) and a fetching Ruth (Claire van der Bloom) in the throes of romance. Although these vignettes are influenced a bit from "Titanic", these young actors give the scenes charge and sweetness, showing an idealist painter obsessively concerned about shared experiences with his beloved.

There is a subplot involving their aging dog Dorothy, a symbol of their relationship. Dorothy gets sick and Ruth is faced with the dog's potential disability.

Throughout the film, potential buyers run thru the apartment giving nasty acidic comments. Lily becomes forceful and annoying.

The nostalgic segments are energized enough without the melodrama of the dog Dorothy or the apartment market value and so much back and forth becomes metallic and noisy.

Sterling Jerins is engaging as a cute and  spirited little girl Zoe.

Near the end of the film, when Alex shows the fire of a young man, fizzles out like a diluted egg cream. The pulse that was building up and over, from floor after floor goes flat by Morgan Freeman's Hallmark card words, topped by a dog whose adamant expression matches that of his owner's.

"5 Flights Up" is enough of a trip in showing the wilds of young romance contrasted with the haunt of an older couple. The melodrama of apartment hunting, a senior dog and a shrewish niece merely takes some superfluous steps that carry very little.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com
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