Monday, September 26, 2016

Pete's Dragon (Brockway)

Pete's Dragon

If a few subversive sausages are a bit too much to handle, try David Lowery's "Pete's Dragon." This is a re-invention of the 1977 animated Disney feature that uses rich naturalistic details. Rather than duplicate the original storyline, Disney wisely takes a new tact, while still retaining the feel-good magic of the first film.

Here Pete (Oakes Fegley) is a young boy on a camping trip with his parents. The car suddenly flips, leaving the boy an orphan. Alone in the wild, Pete has a guardian animal in the form of a fuzzy green dragon.

In addition to being a fantasy, the film with sweeping landscape passages is also a meditation on nature and magic and how the two elements are mixed, especially in a child's mind.

Robert Redford plays well as Meacham, an elderly ranger who is a spokesman for the wilderness and by extension, magic. It is no surprise that his character is the only adult who believes in dragons.

Oona Laurence is solid as Natalie, the other youngster who believes.

We are in typical Disney / Spielberg territory: the adults are clueless and uncommunicative, prefering to solve all obstacles and problems with guns.

Surprisingly, the direct story is very accessible, treating both the dragon and the boy with refreshing realism, heart and grace. These are no mere flashy and zooming effects in 3-D. The dragon is an emotional, feeling creature fused together by a kind of natural supernatural with a real heart and an assemblage of bones.

Taking a cue from "The Jungle Book," Oakes Fegley is perfect as the unschooled "wild child" put together by a unfettered forest and open to the sorcery of trees. This is relatively relaxed old-school filmmaking, possessing notes of "E.T." and even David Lynch's own Disney film "The Straight Story  (given its hyperrealism of the woods) but it bears a stronger resemblance, of course, to the Disney films of the 50's and 60's in its clear delineation of Good and Evil, peppered by comic relief and cleansed with tears.

Whether you are open to flying beasts or not, the new "Pete's Dragon" will have you watching the clouds for more than just inclement weather.

Write Ian at

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sausage Party (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Sausage Party

Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, the bad boys of comedy, have come up with some irreverent goods in "Sausage Party" directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan. This is an adult animated film about the feelings of prefab meat in a grocery store and if you can accept the bizarre premise, the film is free-wheeling in its wildness and eye-poppingly subversive. Better yet, this frenetic and feverish film never stoops to apologize.

The story concerns Frank (Seth Rogen) a foul mouthed hot dog at a grocery store. Frank dreams of being selected on the shelf and taken to the outside world to live in eternity with his curvy hot dog bun girlfriend, Brenda (Kristen Wiig) The entire store has high hopes of being selected and taken to live with gods, (the humans) happily ever after.

But things are not as they appear. While at first look the story seems simplistic, the film is decidedly not. The hot dogs discuss everything from sex to religion and world affairs and you will be laughing all the way.

The villain is Douche (Nick Kroll ) a feminine hygiene product with a score to settle.

The best of the film are the jokes about religion that are as pointed as they are glib, reminiscent of Bill Maher.

There is also a strikingly funny friendship between Kareem, (David Krumholtz), a slice of Middle Eastern lavash bread, and Sammy (Edward Norton), a bagel. Kareem wants to be united with extra virgin olive oil in the Great Beyond, while Sammy in a Woody Allen voice argues for harmony on earth between nations by way of their mutual friend, Hummus.

Much of the film has to be seen to be believed. Suffice to say that hearing a googly-eyed hot dog utter streams of profanity will put one in stitches, not to mention the blunt sexual mores of Salma Hayek as Teresa the taco shell and those  aforementioned  buns. Fortunately, despite the fleshy pinkness of the jokes that are spotted blue, the humor is never mean-spirited.

There is a battle scene involving a few humans that is less provocative, but if you hang in there, the pièce de résistance is a no nitrates barred sex scene that gives new meaning to the popular phrase "food porn." While it is somewhat flat during the action sequences, the story works very well as a riotous send-up of all things Pixar and its unexpurgated barbs about religion and relationships go a long way.

While one may not want to take this kaleidoscopic and invective-infused film to go for a romantic evening, the fearlessness of the roles alone make "Sausage Party" a bawdy matinee choice in place of a chaste lunch.

Write Ian at

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week (Brockway)

 Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week

The Beatles, the supergroup consisting of John, Paul, George and Ringo, are a pop culture frequency and a digital music commodity, now marketed by iTunes. Their influence and vocabulary are ubiquitous and all encompassing, perhaps motivating Steve Jobs who named his computer company Apple, the same as The Beatles' recording entity. As fate would have it, the name as well as Steve Jobs's handling of The Beatle catalogue has led to numerous past lawsuits.

In 1964, however, The Beatles were just four young kids on tour. A new documentary by Ron Howard "The Beatles : Eight Days a Week", gives you a front row seat. It was a slower time with the iPhone decades away. Life was in black-and-white.  The Beatles came from Liverpool: art school students only wanting to play.

They wore leather jackets. One meeting from manager Brian Epstein changed everything. Epstein bought the boys dark suits and cut their hair in the shape of moppy bowls. The four became mirror images, doubled by two: Mod mannequins, ready to lead the young into a glib and spontaneous future.

Here are John and Paul, ultra-pale and grainy with always something to say, snappy with a quip. Most striking in the film are the enormous crowds. Huge ribbons of teen girls break down and tear at their hair, either from ecstasy or shock. Some faint and collapse to the ground, prostrate and overcome. The Beatles as a sound became a religious experience. Instead of giving psalms, John  and Paul, acoustic apostles, gave pratfalls and smiles. The four of them Chaplinesque clowns who wobble and shake without any premeditation.

Whoopi Goldberg tells of The Fab Four showing her the courage to be uniquely herself. Sigourney Weaver confesses her love for Paul. In its last quarter, the film has a sinister tone with the tour clearly getting to John. The four become aware of segregation along with The Right wanting to smash and burn their records. John said religion was passe and that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus.

John, the naughty apostle, suddenly stumbles and apologizes. This moment along with the endless multitudes of girls who tremble and shake in supplication, are  arguably the best segments in the film.

Above all, what you see is The Beatles circa 1964. John with a small white guitar, Paul with a gray one, George struming while Ringo bangs away. The music is metallic, clanking like an old motor, rolling and loud.

Behold The Band, laughing and gigging, vibrant in the joy of play. There are only small dabs of darkness here, but the traces are present. John gets edgy and yells at reporters. The trap door of psychadelia is close behind.

For some two hours though, millenials and Beatle-lensed Baby-Boomers alike can rejoice in "Eight Days a Week," glimpsing the birth of John, Paul, George and Ringo, a fledgling four in monochromatic threads who grew to give us a new and colorful sound.

Such smiling percussion is bittersweet.

Write Ian at

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Week of Sept. 23 - 29 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Beatles, Beasties, Buns, Babies, and Bandits This Week at Tropic
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

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Remember when the Beatles came to Key West in 1964? Well, here they come again in “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week -- The Touring Years,” the new documentary from Ron Howard. This is a look at the Fab Four’s concerts from their early days in Liverpool’s Cavern Club to their final performance at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. New Yorker cheers, “The Beatles now belong to an honored past, stuck there like an obelisk, and yet here they are, alive-busting out all over, time and time again. Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And The New York Times tells us it’s “90 percent familiar and a bit hagiographic as well, but just try watching it without smiling.”

Seth Rogen is a funny-looking guy, but you only get to hear his voice in the 3D animated “Sausage Party,” a romance between a hot dog named Frank (Rogen) and a bun named Brenda (Kristin Wiig) who believe heaven lies beyond the supermarket checkout. Underneath the funny foodstuff in this oversized cartoon you’ll also find a serious theological dialectic. Daily Express calls it “A tasty diversion.” And Observer observes: “It may not be suitable for kids, but that's not to say that this strenuously profane cartoon is not unapologetically juvenile in its approach to comedy.”

Disney’s cute 1977 “Pete’s Dragon” has been remade. This updated version sticks close to the original story about a boy and his pet fire-breathing dragon. Cairo360 says, “Don’t think twice before going in to see this magical adventure. You won’t be disappointed.” And finds it “A rare delight in how it respects the intelligence of its audience while still offering up lump-in-the-throat emotional beats in service of a welcomely straightforward story.”

“Bridget Jones’s Baby” is not a remake; it’s the third movie in this series about a British gal (played by American actress Renee Zellweger) who has finally found love with two men. But which one is her baby’s daddy? Globe and Mail saluted, “I’d like to raise a glass of Chardonnay and toast Bridget Jones’s Baby on its (mostly) hilarious, and long-anticipated, homecoming.” And Konexion adds, “A film that meets expectations and satisfies its public.”
“The Innocents” (“Les Innocentes”) transports us to post WWII Poland where a young midwife is called to help with a series of pregnancies in a nunnery. San Diego Reader notes, “Director and co-writer Anne Fontaine makes every shot and every exchange count in her tender but penetrating exploration of sisterhood in a brutal world.” And Missoula Independent “‘The Innocents’ is the best foreign film I’ve seen this year.”

And definitely one of the best films of the year, “Hell or High Water” gives us an old Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) chasing a pair of bank robbers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster). The kicker is that these brothers are robbing the bank that’s trying to foreclose on the family farm and using that money to pay off the mortgage. Poetic justice, huh? Christian Science Monitor says, “All of the performers in this film, right down to the bit players, are quite good, but Bridges demonstrates yet again that he is one of the finest actors in America.” And Irish Independent proclaims, “It’s quite a film.”

Holding over is “Bad Moms,” the “Hangover” style movie for women, wherein Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn demonstrate the adage that girls just wanna have fun. But you’ll find an underlying theme about the conflicting dream of a white house with a picket fence in the suburbs. indieWire sums it up: "A female-driven story that doesn't shy away from bad behavior while also touting the importance of familial bonds and solid parenting choices.” And Cinencuentro adds, "If you wanna have a good time watching a movie full of original gags starring great actresses, I highly recommend 'Bad Moms’.”

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week”
Takes You Touring With Fab Four
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Over at the Hyatt near the airport is a small structure with a sign designating it as Abbey Road. This is a remnant of the hotel room where the Beatles -- John, Paul, George, and Ringo -- stayed in ’64 when touring in Key West. They were supposed to go on to Jacksonville for a day of rest, but stayed over due to Hurricane Dora, spending the day drinking and jamming with Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry and the Bill Black Combo.

“We stayed there for a couple of days, not knowing what to do except, like, drink. I remember drinking way too much, and having one of those talking-to-the-toilet bowl evenings,” recalled Paul McCarthy. “It was during that night, when we’d all stayed up way too late, and we got so pissed that we ended up crying -- about, you know, how wonderful we were, and how much we loved each other, even though we’d never said anything.”

Paul commemorated that visit in “Here Today,” his tribute to John Lennon.

John Lennon had proclaimed their fame as being greater than some deities, and fans seemed to bear that out, turning up in mass for their concerts.

Now there’s a documentary about their touring years, aptly titled “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week -- The Touring Years.” It’s currently making music at the Tropic Cinema.

Directed by Ron Howard (“Sully,” “Apollo 12”), the film covers 1962 to 1966, from their early days in Liverpool’s Cavern Club to their final performance at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. In all, 250 performances in 15 countries.

The film was produced with the cooperation of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon, and Olivia Harrison.

In it, you’ll see Richard Lester, Eddie Izzard, journalist Larry Kane, and Elvis Costello, among others. Sigourney Weaver recalls attending the first Hollywood Bowl show, and Whoopi Goldberg talks about seeing them at Shea Stadium when she was nine-year-old Caryn Elaine Johnson. Along with photos and archival footage are interviews with their manager Brian Epstein and record producer George Martin (“The fifth Beatle”).

You’re reminded of many past tours -- that incident involving Imelda Marcos in the Philippines, protests when booked to play at the Budokan Stadium in Japan, fans injuries during the US tours, etc. The doc’s newsreel approach unspools fact after fact (e.g. The Beatles were the first band to play stadiums, their touring contracts had a provision prohibiting segregated shows in the South, etc.). You get to see life on the road, but without any sordid details. After all, the film was co-produced by Apple Corps Ltd.

The music includes snippets of familiar songs -- “She Loves You,” “Twist & Shout,” “Help,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” et al. -- enough to remind us of Beatlemania -- as well as tacking on 30 minutes of bonus footage of “The Beatles At Shea Stadium” (yes, it’s their entire set from the August 15, 1965 show).

“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” humanizes the Fab Four, showing they were just plucky kids who were out of their depth. And how fandom overwhelmed them and their music.

“We just wanted to play,” Ringo Starr says early in the film. “Playing was the most important thing.”

Step by step, we witness these naïve heartthrobs being transformed into cynical businessmen who toured solely for the money because their record contract paid such measly royalties.

“We were not an overnight sensation,” Paul reminds us. Hard to believe. It seems like the Beatles have been a part of our lives forever. A long and winding road.

Pete’s Dragon (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Pete’s Dragon” Makes Second Appearance
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Your kids won’t notice, but the new fantasy film “Pete’s Dragon” may seem familiar to you. Wasn’t there a Walt Disney movie by that same name back in 1977?

Good recall, mom.

Those clever folks at the Mouse House are offering up a new version of an old favorite. You know, the story about a lonely orphan boy named Pete, whose best friend (as the title tells you) is a fire-breathing, flying, green, scaly dragon.

That earlier rendition was a live action movie with a cartoony reptile co-star. In it, Sean Marshall played Pete. Charlie Callas voiced Elliott the dragon. Backup stars included Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, and Jim Backus.

This new one has the same storyline. It too is live action with a cartoon dragon. Oakes Fegley plays Pete. John Kassir voices Elliott. Others stars include Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, and Robert Redford.

“Pete’s Dragon” -- the new version -- is showing at Tropic Cinema.

Why bother with a remake? Well, for one thing, the dragon is now rendered in Disney Digital 3-D graphics, looking much more real than that flat comic-booky dragon in the first movie.

Take your kids. No need to tell them you’ve already seen it before.

Sausage Party (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Seth Rogen Invites You to a“Sausage Party”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Don’t wander into “Sausage Party” with your kid, thinking it’s gonna be a cute Pixar-type movie about the secret life of food.

It is that. But, as it turns out, the foodstuffs in your grocery store lead a somewhat R-rated shelf life.

Don’t be surprised. Why wouldn’t you expect any movie from Seth Rogan (Pineapple Express,” “The Interview”) that’s titled “Sausage Party” to have an ample sampling of penis jokes and potty-mouth humor?

But beneath the frat-boy laughs there’s actually a serious theological dialectic. Honest to God.

What if the animated food in your supermarket is looking forward to the Fourth of July as some sort of religious passage, enlightenment at the hands of the gods who shop the aisles? How would they react if they discovered that waiting beyond the checkout registers was not heaven or nirvana but, well, the end -- them being devoured by these rapacious shopper-gods?

That’s the theological reality discovered by a wiener named Frank (Rogen) and his girlfriend, a shapely bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig).

Frank: “Hey, Brenda. You and me.”

Brenda: “I’m so happy, the gods put our packages together … It’s like, we were made for each other.”

Along for the epiphany is Frank’s hot dog pal Barry (Michael Cera), a bottle of tequila (Bill Hader), a wad of chewing gum (Scott Underwood), an effeminate Twinkie (Mr. Underwood again), honey mustard (Danny McBride), a bagel (Edward Norton), not-so-kosher gefilte fish (Alistair Abell), an off-the-boat Italian tomato (Brian Dobson), an Uncle Tom box of grits (Craig Robinson), and a spicy taco (Salma Hayek).

Racially insensitive? Maybe. But it’s more a jab at the blind eye of the advertising industry.

Also along for the shopping-cart ride you’ll hear the voices of James Franco, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, and Rogen’s wife Lauren Miller. Co-directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon provide the voices for a potato and a beer can, respectively.

“Sausage Party” is living it up at Tropic Cinema.

To offer a serious take on this animated cartoon: Think of Frank as a sausage-sized Prometheus, a snackable Frank-enstein, who dares to challenge the gods. But what happens once the gods are overthrown? That’s the point of this movie from Seth Rogen, the guy who also gave us the apocalyptic comedy “This Is the End.”

Scatological humor, metaphysical questions, orgies in the produce aisle, anthropomorphic groceries -- all in one movie? Yes, Seth Rogen, that loudmouth stoner Canadian comedian has a serious side, but he hides it inside a pack of Ball Park hot dogs.