Friday, May 6, 2016

Week of May 6 to May 12 Overview (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Gives Seven Good Reasons to Go to the Movies

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

No Elvis hasn’t left the building … Tom Hanks could sell sand to the Saudis … and Melissa McCarthy is indeed the boss of you. At least that’s the logical conclusion based on the seven films screening this week at Tropic Cinema.
Based on a true event, “Elvis & Nixon” recounts the surreal meeting between the King of Rock ‘n Roll and the Prez. Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) tries to convince Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey) to make him a federal narc. Really. Entertainment Weekly says, “As a surreal slice of history served up nearly half a century later, it feels oddly satisfying.” And Chicago Reader observes, “The spectacle of Presley visiting Nixon’s buttoned-down White House in his jeweled sunglasses, silk scarf, open shirt, and giant gold belt is inherently farcical….”
“Hologram for the King” gives us Tom Hanks as an American businessman trying to do a deal in Saudi Arabia. Yes, it’s a comedy. Seven Days describes it as “A nuanced geopolitical parable … repurposed into a generic romantic comedy.” And Spliced Personality tells us, “This film isn't a masterpiece by any means, but it is at times very good, with an unfussy jewel of a performance by Tom Hanks that’s all the more remarkable for appearing so effortless.”
Melissa McCarthy is “The Boss” in this comedy about a Martha Stewart-esque businesswoman who goes to jail for insider trading, then tries to remake her public image. says, “McCarthy puts on a good show, whether you prefer absurdly implausible slapstick or shocking insults or awkward and comically violent gags involving female anatomy.” And Paste Magazine concludes, “This is clearly Melissa McCarthy’s show from beginning to end…”
British artist David Hockney is profiled in “Hockney,” a documentary that looks at his transition from pop artist to establishment darling. Edge tells us, “The artist comes across as an affable raconteur, and his personal input gives this film a sense of humor and irony ….” And describes it as a “mesmerizing documentary on an artist who is both modern and very old-fashioned in his painterly approach.”
“Green Room” is a horror flick about an evil club owner (Patrick Stewart) who lures a punk rock band (Anton Yelchin et al.) into a trap, but they’re not so easy to kill. Esquire calls it “95 minutes of pure, unbridled Mosh Pit Cinema.” And explains it as “a zombie movie -- without zombies … a different brand of walking dead: neo-Nazi skinheads.”
“Papa Hemingway in Cuba” was filmed at Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway’s longtime home outside of Havana. Adrian Sparks looks just like Papa; and Joely Richardson makes sparks as Papa’s wife. San Francisco Chronicle says, “For those with an interest in Ernest Hemingway, ‘Papa Hemingway in Cuba’ is a remarkable treat.” And We Got This Covered calls it “a fascinating depiction of the great American author’s later years, anchored by a strong performance from veteran stage actor Adrian Sparks.”
“Marguerite” is the story about a rich woman who loves to sing … but out of tune. Nonetheless, Marguerite (Catherine Frot) starts training for a recital that’s sure to embarrass everyone within earshot. Detroit News calls it “a dark delight, a cringe comedy that skirts tragedy throughout, examining delusion, entitlement, denial and the question of whether the truth is essential.” And Filmink says, “This could be a weird or sad tale, but it is so well done that, unlike Marguerite’s voice, it is more or less pitch perfect.”
Seven films -- seven good reasons to go to the movies.

Hockney (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Hockney” Paints
Picture of Artist’s Life

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

David Hockney is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. He was an important contributor to the Pop Art movement of the ‘60s. And he matured as a painter when he came to Los Angeles, where he has lived off and on for more than 30 years.
Openly gay, even when it was illegal in England, Hockney sometimes explored homoerotic themes in his portraits. Paintings like his “We Two Boys Together Clinging,” “Domestic Scene, Los Angeles,” and “Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool” are typical examples.
He often used models repeatedly for his portraitures: His parents, various artists and writers, fashion designers, and his one-time lover.
Inspired by California, Hockney painted a series of swimming pools in a highly realistic style using vibrant acrylic colors.
David Hockney was offered a knighthood in 1990, but turned it down, finally accepting an Order of Merit in 2012. His honors are numerous, ranging from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Arts Association, and the Archives of American Art to The Royal Photographic Society. He received the Lorenzo de' Medici Lifetime Career Award in 2003.
A 2011 poll of 1,000 British painters and sculptors declared him Britain’s Most Influential Artist of All Time.
Hockney is no stranger to documentaries.
In 1966, he starred in a documentary by filmmaker James Scott titled “Love’s Presentation.” In 1974 he was the subject of Jack Hazan’s “A Bigger Splash,” a reference to his swimming pool paintings. He was also featured in Billy Pappas’s 2008 documentary “Waiting for Hockney.”
Now filmmaker Randall Wright has focused on David Hockney in a new documentary simply titled “Hockney.” It is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
In it, Hockney takes Wright on an exclusive tour of his archives, sharing previously unseen footage and images, looking back on his life with fresh insight.
The key to Hockney’s work seems to be found in the relationships he’s had throughout his life. These include the young lover he lived with for many years, the older American critic who helped him get established in the States, and his family (particularly his mother).
As expected, the film looks back on Hockney’s formative years as a darling in the British Pop Art scene, his experience of being a gay man as the Aids crisis took hold, and his work in California.
The interviews with friends and associates are insightful, but Hockey still manages to be evasive. His wiser present self is careful in explaining his flashier younger self. Nonetheless, we meet a man content with his life.
He still paints every day.

Elvis & Nixon (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies
“Elvis & Nixon”
Is Unbelievably True

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You’ve seen the photograph: Elvis Presley with flowing hair, cape-like jacket, and belt buckle befitting a WWE champion, is shaking hands with a slightly balding, stiff in suit and tie, none other than President Richard M. Nixon.
More copies of this photo are requested from the National Archives than any other image, even the Bill of Rights or the Constitution of the United States.
Fancifully titled “The President & the King,” the picture memorialized a face-to-face meeting between Elvis and Nixon on December 21, 1970. The impromptu meeting was initiated by Elvis, who showed up at the White House to make a crazed request that the President appoint him as a “Federal Agent-at-Large” with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
He’d written a rambling six-page letter to Nixon saying he could use his position to help because “the drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers etc. do not consider me as their enemy.”
Considering Elvis died of a drug overdose seven years later underscores that statement.
This surreal occurrence was the subject of an all-but-overlooked 1997 film called “Elvis Meets Nixon.” You wouldn’t recognize the names of the stars.
So director Lisa Johnson tried a new version with big-name stars. This one titled “Elvis & Nixon” features Michael Shannon as the slightly wacko singer and Kevin Spacey as the discombobulated president. Yes, it’s a comedy.
Michael Shannon is not as smoothly handsome as the real Elvis, but he’s been around in such films as “99 Homes” and “Batman v Superman.” He’s done good work in TV’s “Boardwalk Empire” and got an Oscar nod for “Revolutionary Road.” Besides, Lisa Johnson was comfortable working with Shannon, for he’d starred in her earlier film “Return.”
Kevin Spacey is a two-time Academy Award winner (“The Usual Suspects” and “American Beauty”) and has appeared in such hit movies as “L.A. Confidential” and “Casino Jack”). What’s more, he’s used to playing corrupt US presidents, starring in TV’s “House of Cards.”
The director also peopled “Elvis & Nixon” with other big-enough-name actors in the roles of Elvis’s pals Jerry (Alex Pettyfer) and Sonny (Johnny Knoxville), and Nixon’s staffers H.R. Haldeman (Tate Donovan), Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters), and Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks). Singer Sky Ferreira plays Jerry’s girlfriend and Geraldine Singer has a small part as Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods.
“Elvis & Nixon” is currently showing at Tropic Cinema. The movie’s a lot of fun, with Spacey hamming it up as Tricky Dick. And the story is unbelievably true.

Monday, May 2, 2016

First Monday in May (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The First Monday in May

It's fashion season! "The First Monday in May" by director Andrew Rossi (Page One) takes us inside the living dream of curator Andrew Bolton and his vision in creating a fashion show specifically about China's influence on Western art. Bolton is taken on by the Met to helm the yearly gala. But, can he do it? The heavy chain mail wraith of Steve McQueen's exhibition, Savage Beauty, still hangs over his eye.

Nevertheless Bolton accepts. Anna Wintour is hired as a co-designer along with the hallucinatory film director Wong Kar-wai. At first, decisions are in disarray. What do they do with the main hall, which colors belong to which room? How does one approach Chinese/ American Pop culture without treading upon the shaky ground of racism and stereotypes? Luckily, Bolton who bears a striking similarity to David Bowie, is a peacemaker between parties and he has a discreet diplomatic knack in facing these issues head on.

Though we are put behind closed doors, Rossi does not bog the audience down in the politics of the administration. The director keeps things moving and we are given nothing less than a kaleidoscopic feast. Throughout, the militaristic and birdlike creations of McQueen hang over all--- a luxuriant ebony cloud. Bolton doesn't know how to proceed. His McQueen memory becomes a vulture, yet he carries on. Come what may in May.

Anna Wintour, uncomprimising and adamant is juxtaposed with Chinese American actress Anna Mae Wong as a Dragon Lady. Movie stars, musicians, directors and designers stalk the red carpet like animals from an endangered species. Sarah Jessica Parker transforms into an Asian flame diva. Jennifer Lopez resembles an amber panther dusted in gold. And Rihanna gives everyone present a case of atoxic shock as she incubates into a fuzzy golden caterpillar with seeming effortlessness, enshrined as she is in a fur dress with an abundant train, stretching to envy.

Justin Bieber provides the comic relief in the film. When arriving, he is clothed as a Punk version of a Michael Jackson militiaman. He doesn't gaze at the art. Instead he half yodels an R&B party tune.

Kim Kardashian appears too, as if in an instant by supernatural means. Her body is an unholy bend of lurid curves, equipped with a bottom shaped like a sorceress' cauldron.

Everyone has to stop by Wintour's scarlet robed-centurion who takes a cue from Alice in Wonderland in his mushrooming, aubergine attire. George Clooney doesn't stop and is called to the carpet. The celebrities gab and flare like Chinese lanterns, oblivious to the decadence within.

Bolton lives to delegate another day having faced the zen koan of how to incorporate The Buddha with Chairman Mao.

Write Ian at

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Papa Hemingway in Cuba (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Papa: Hemingway in Cuba

The shadow of Ernest Hemingway looms large. Indeed, along the Southern latitudes of Cuba and Key West, it is as if he has never left. Director Bob Yari gives us a version of the man in "Papa: Hemingway in Cuba." The film is a slow paced yet colorful portrait of the celebrity author at the end of his life set against the Castro revolution in the late 50s.

Actor Adrian Sparks does a solid job inhabiting Hemingway's bluster and granite-hard ego. The film only suffers from the monotone portrayal of Ed Meyers, the writer's protege and number one fan by Giovanni Ribisi, and a high pitched role by Joely Richardson as Mary Hemingway, who  ends up screaming.

Despite its dramatic drawbacks, this film has crisp color and it is stunning to look upon. Men in suits drift by upon red chrome boats known as 1950 cars. Ernest Himself stands upon the Pilar, his own modest vessel. His huge leonine head blocks the sun. He is either a Goya monster of the Gulfstream or a bourbon-eyed Santa Claus. This is the compelling element. The Great Hem is often shown as a fright in both guises.

Ribisi is a harried newsman who idolizes the author and writes a letter. Hemingway invites him to Finca La Vigia, the author's home. But there is little emotional chemistry. A pale dough faced Ribisi is either wide-eyed or flat. The exchanges between the master and the pupil here resemble Indiana Jones and Short Round from "The Temple of Doom." Hemingway frequently says "Okay, Kid!" or "This is it, Kid we all die sometime..!" For a full length film, one needs something more substantial than Bogey or Harrison Ford.

The domestic fights feel staged and pre-made, with much handwringing and explosive bluster. There is the often seen yelling and the throwing of glasses. Human beings and artists too, are varied and complex creatures. Shouldn't their arguments show this? Certainly there was more original drama in the famed author's home than such caterwauling here, the same stuff found in countless TV dramas.

The most arresting moments in the film have to do with the sweep of Cuba itself. This is a country overwhelmed in glitz and Technicolor glamour, not the least of which being Ernest himself. Comparsa singers shake maracas, voluptuous and heavy and the energetic music attacks Hemingway. Suddenly anxious lines of lattitude betray his face which should have been lifted in happiness.

Herein lies the most interest: the simple fact of a man thrown to an envious crowd who only wishes to write well. There is a side plot illustrating that Ed loves fellow reporter Debbie Hunt (Minka Kelly) but an ashen Ribisi is no Romeo. The film is based on the experiences of Denne Petitclerc (the Ed Meyers character) who wrote the screenplay and shared a genuine friendship with Hemingway. The shame is that we only get a soap story out of what surely was real life dynamite.

Write Ian at

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Hologram for the King (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

A Hologram for the King

"A Hologram for the King," the latest from director Tom Twyker (Run Lola Run, Perfume) and based on the novel by Dave Eggers, goes down easy. It is a light bubbly and entertaining film, despite its breezy tone.

Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) is a middle aged tech salesman who doesn't feel quite right. He has always known how to handle the business world aside from having to speak to his team about being laid off. But, as luck would have it, Alan is en route to speak to the Saudi king about a hologram system. Things may be looking up.

When he arrives in Saudi Arabia nothing is as it seems. He is late. The king is nowhere to be found and his software personnel are listless and enervated. Alan is vexed at every turn. He confronts the front desk, helmed by the formal Maha (Almira El Sayid). She tells him that his contact is busy and furthermore, the king is not expected. A "Groundhog Day" story arises and this is fun, given that Hanks is so earnest and aghast at every obstacle.

Alan meets Yousef (Alexander Black ) a comical and gregarious cab driver. A rapport develops. He also meets Hanne (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a down to earth Danish ex-patriate. She gives him liquor. During a boozy interlude he notices a growth on his back. Enter the alluring yet all-business doctor (Sarita Choudhury) who examines him.

The best parts of the film are those containing a sense of mystery. In the opening scene, Hanks is singing the famous Talking Heads song "Once in A Lifetime" where his house, wife and car dissolve in a puff of purple smoke. In another scene, his computer generates an Image of his daughter that invades his hotel room. These moments give the film a refreshing quickness, full of quirk and zip.

Lively too, is the friendship between Alan and Yousef. Their dialogue is spirited, gently zany and authentic. It is only during the last half of the film, when the doctor and Alan exchange emails and half-intimacies, that the story loses a bit of its momentum. Such voiceovers are the stuff of romantic comedy and the correspondence feels commonplace and deja view, (ala You've Got Mail) balanced against the humor of Yousef and Alan's eerie curiousity for Saudi Arabia and the fine unusual touches.

The alliance between doctor and patient is a little too pat, their tryst a bit too sundry under a sun that never theatens. Actors Hanks and Choudhury have interest and mystique but once they meet and share, the exchanges seem a shade Hallmark. Beyond initial sparks, the two never ignite.

Tom Hanks does handily once more as the sympathetic Everyman, eager to listen and explore.In his many roles, he has turned the expression of earnest surprise into his trademark.  And after all, who better than Hanks to show us that Saudi Arabia need not be threatening and innaccessible?

As swift and Pop as it is, the narrative is a missed opportunity. With its setting and freewheeling happenstance, these characters possess charge and magic. If the film didn't ultimately drift into the realm of romantic convention, "A Hologram for the King" would have made a creative elixir instead of a mirage.

Write Ian at

Friday, April 29, 2016

Week of April 29 to May5 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Delivers Variety in Film Choices

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Everybody in Key West knows the story of Ernest Hemingway, making his home here during the ‘30s, drinking and fishing and carousing at Sloppy Joe’s. But do you know about his many years in Cuba, his life at Finca VigĂ­a outside of Havana, his friendship with a young newspaper reporter named Denne Bart Petitclerc? In “Papa Hemingway In Cuba” Adrian Sparks is a dead-ringer for Papa, Joely Richard is effective as wife Mary, and Giovanni Ribisi is a perfect Ed Myers (as Petriclerc is called in the film). Rolling Stone says, “As the first US film shot in Cuba since Castro came to power in 1959, Papa gives us sights to revel in.” The Newman Times Herald calls it “sincerely written and well acted…” And San Diego Reader concludes, “In the end, it’s a museum piece…”
Director Richard Linklater echoes his earlier film “Dazed and Confused” in “Everybody Wants Some!!” This time around he looks at a day in the life of college kids rather than a return to those high school antics of yore. Associated Press writes, “Linklater’s light touch remains a marvel. Though his characters are often just bouncing from conversation to conversation, night out to night out, the film's direction is never lackadaisical.” And Your Movies says, “It’s the likable cast that will bring constant smiles to the faces of anyone who remembers the freedoms of being young and enjoying them unabashedly.”
Tom Hanks stars in “A Hologram for the King,” the story of a businessman trying to close a deal in Saudi Arabia with the help of a talkative taxi driver (Alexander Black) and a beautiful local doctor (Sarita Choudhury). Entertainment Weekly observes, “If it sounds like ‘Hologram’ is basically about a middle-aged white guy getting his groove back in the Middle East, well, yes, it is that. But if you squint hard enough, it's also a little bit more.” And Spliced Personality adds, “This film isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it is at times very good, with an unfussy jewel of a performance by Tom Hanks that’s all the more remarkable for appearing so effortless.”
You’ll meet all the fashionistas in “First Monday in May,” a documentary about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fashion exhibit “China: Through the Looking Glass.” Anna Wintour, Karl Lagerfeld, Baz Luhrmann, Andrew Bolton, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Rihanna are on hand for the dazzling event. Chicago Reader describes it as a “gorgeous, gossipy, yet penetrating documentary about the marriage of culture and commerce.” And Salt Lake Tribune notes that here “art and celebrity collide, with celebrity winning.”
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” is a sequel to that boisterous comedy about an outsider marrying into an American Greek family. Nia Vardalos and John Corbett return in their original roles, this time getting the parents re-married. Reforma decides that “the movie works because of it’s endearing characters.” And Popcorn Junkie says the film “delights in the dysfunctional wholesomeness of unwieldy families.”
“Miles Ahead” offers an impressionist look at the life of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. This Is London tells us, “Actor Don Cheadle, the star, director and co-writer of this ambitious biopic, doesn’t want to play nicely. He wants to play.” And Daily Express calls it “an incredible journey that touches on aspects of Davis’s life, loves and self-destructive urges in a smoothly handled labor of love.”
Biopics, comedies, documentaries -- what a nice variety to choose from!