Saturday, February 28, 2015

American Sniper (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

American Sniper

The much talked about "American Sniper" by Clint Eastwood has arrived at The Tropic.

Although controversial, the film is unsurpassed and near virtuosic in showing the man / soldier Chris Kyle as a young boy infatuated by the cowboy way, until he transforms into the driven and devoted Navy SEAL (played with gripping detail by Bradley Cooper), the most "lethal" sniper in US military history with over a hundred fifty kills.

Kyle begins in Texas attending rodeos. This passage is reminiscent of "Dallas Buyers Club" in its naturalistic detail and its intense view of a young man with his horse. We also see Kyle as a boy as his dad (Ben Reed) talks to him about the danger of being a wolf, i.e., an aggressive bully. The next shot of Kyle is of a man, half shaded by the shield of his hat: a superhero --- The White Knight.

Eastwood employs the pop art of a cowboy together with beautiful cinematography rich in shadow and sun to portray a small town realm where things should and usually do go Right. The imagery quotes current cinema while also touching upon Clint Eastwood's western legacy.

When a U.S. Embassy is attacked in 1998, Kyle goes to enlist and begins SEAL training. A resolved and pragmatic Kyle endures hostile badgering and great discomfort in camp. As if made of stainless steel, he powers through, one enemy, one goal in mind. Kyle becomes a skilled rifleman. In the film, the act is akin to archery and near an art, and this is the controversy.

The pathos and nerve of this story is that it unfolds seamlessly as a fable of one man who is driven to protect and defend at all cost. The music score itself is a force in the film as sweeping violins mutate into the harsh grating tones of a sharp synthesizer or sonic guillotine. Like Hitchcock, Eastwood is giving a nod to his audience hinting at his "might makes right" persona, while illustrating this hostile world.

Above everything, we are shown Kyle as he is, quite and almost passive in public, yet with the ability to quip to the people he knows. At times, he is playful and charming and he moves with an unassuming, yet fluid gait. His wife Taya (Sienna Miller) struggles with needing him at home and knowing what he must do as Chris Kyle.

Though at times the villainous  Iraqis seem out of a graphic novel, as when his enemy, The Sniper Mustafa (Sammy Sheik),  assembles his gun, consumed by his duty to protect his side. But Chris Kyle is no supernatural person, seeped in magic light. His actions are genuine; he knows he has a talent as a sniper but he takes no hungering pleasure in killing.

It is Eastwood's episodic camera that elevates and puts this worthy person into the warm shade of a Norman Rockwell at the start. Troubling it is to see that Kyle wants to return to combat again, lest we forget that his utmost duty is to his fellow soldier.

Eastwood gives his protagonist the note of a Tall Tale in one scene as Kyle surprises Taya with a toy gun which deftly recalls Eastwood's past.

Bradley Cooper is uncanny in this stand-alone role as he fills Chris Kyle with verve, self-deprecation and more than a bit of fear. Taya may think that the man she loves is a stranger sitting alone with an odd, noisy but empty TV and almost striking a dog, but Kyle's story has resonated with the public.  Except for the flat tones that the Iraqis are given in the film, the day to day life of this man driven in his service is clearly portrayed.

No matter what your view is of the Gulf War, Kyle's life deserves to be told and above all else this film's awareness of PTSD is well handled and given no handwringing or sentimentality.

The film is a mirror. Pacifists might see it  lean as an anti-war meditation while vets may see it as a solid honor to heroes, a reckoning, and a record of what did and what is still happening.

"American Sniper" is all these things.

In addition to being a reflection, the positive thing in this bold and graphic tale is that it may well bridge a necessary gap between servicemen and civilians.

A hero story this is and rightly so, yet with  terror as well as tribute.

Compellingly, too, "American Sniper" is just as much about Eastwood and his symbols as it is about the earthy and honest Chris Kyle.

Write Ian at

Friday, February 27, 2015

Week of February 27 - March 5 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview
Tropic Cinema and the Oscar Aftermath

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Admit it, there were a few Oscar contenders you missed. Now you’d like to go back and see them, to discover for yourself why these movies deserved Hollywood’s highest accolade. Well, Tropic Cinema offers that second chance to see a handful of noteworthy films.

"Birdman" is flying high after its four Oscar wins for Best Picture, Best director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. Here Michael Keaton plays it close to the bone as a former superhero movie star who gave it all up, but now wants to make a comeback in a troubled Broadway play. The one-shot cinematography while not new (think: "Snake Eyes" or "Rope" or "Russian Ark") wowed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters. The Mercury sees it as "a slick delivery vehicle for a philosophically detailed existential crisis story, with life imitating art imitating life." and Filmink describes it as "admirably daring and filled with wonderfully vivid performances."

"Whiplash" also ruled with three Oscars, notable a Best Supporting Actor nod to the familiar face of J.K. Simmons ("Juno," TV’s "The Closer," those Farmer’s Insurance TV commercials), along with golden statuettes for Best Film Editing and Best Sound Mixing. He plays an overbearing music teacher driving students beyond their abilities. Daily Express tell us, "Simmons is unnervingly good as a teacher who rules by fear and the final showdown provides as gripping a climax as you will see all year." And The Ooh Tray calls it "as close to a perfect film as you're likely to see."

Still playing at the Tropic is "Still Alice," the Alzheimer’s film that won Julienne Moore an Academy Award as Best Actress. Here we follow the gradual loss of self-awareness by a famed linguistics professor who is afflicted with this terrible disease. Not a cheerful story, but definitely well acted by Miss Moore. Times-Picayune declares, "Julianne Moore isn't merely good in the lead role. She's devastatingly, heartbreakingly good." And Austin American-Statesman advises, "The focus on Alzheimer’s might be off-putting, but don’t let that stop you from seeing Julianne Moore."

Nominated for eight Oscars, "The Imitation Game" won for Best Adapted Screenplay. This is the story of WWII code breaker Alan Turning, masterfully played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Houston Press says, "Cumberbatch gives a performance that is, by turns, awkward, triumphant, and heartbreaking." And Monsters and Critics calls it "a rich performance with the pathos and drama of a new age of technology set within the hardships of war."
Back again is "The Theory of Everything," with Best Actor Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne as famed physicist Stephen Hawking. Cinema Signal tells us, "In a biopic-heavy Oscar season, Redmayne’s crack performance pays homage to a man who has advanced the studies of quantum mechanics, general relativity and black hole radiation." And Concrete Playground sees the movie as "a fitting reminder that beyond the extraordinary maths lies a man: mortal, flawed and confounded by love."

And taking aim is "American Sniper," with six Oscar nominations (and winning Best Sound Editing). Here we have Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. Dial M for Movies says, "Amongst all the praise and criticism of the film, one thing that is certain -- Bradley Cooper succeeds in bringing Chris Kyle's patriotism and private battles to the screen." And Movie Habit notes that the film "rivets our attention while giving us plenty to think about."

And, of course, there’s "Mr. Turner," nominated for four Academy Awards. This is a biopic starring Timothy Spall as curmudgeonly British painter J.M.W. Turner. Charlotte Observer says, "Turner's great oils and watercolors ... seem indistinct at first but consist of a wealth of details that eventually merge into a clear picture. Mike Leigh’s movie does the same, building a full portrait from a series of vignettes." And Austin American-Statesman sees it as "an absolutely luminous film."

So there you have it. Don’t miss this chance to see (or re-see) some of this year’s Oscar winners and nominees.



Mr. Turner (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

"Mr. Turner" Shares A Painter’s Vision

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You’d recognize a painting by Joseph Mallord William Turner if you saw one in a museum. Those fuzzy, hazy, out-of-focus landscapes have a style all their own, as you may recall from Art Appreciation 101.
A British Romanticist painter, J. M. W. Turner (17751851) is often called "the painter of light" (no,
we’re not taking about Thomas Kinkaid, that commercial poseur who tried to claim the title.) Turner once had himself strapped to the mast of a ship during a snowstorm so he could get the light just right in his painting.

Some art critics describe his work as a precursor to Impressionism. Others have called his paintings abstract.

British director Mike Leigh, OBE, has made a biographical drama about the noted painter. Simply called "Mr. Turner," it is currently showing at Tropic Cinema.

As a filmmaker Leigh has given us dramas like "Secrets & Lies," musicals like "Topsy-Turvy," and comedies like "Happy-Go-Lucky." He’s known for using improvisation to develop his stories. Being that he studied theater at the Camberwell School of Art, and also at the Central School of Art and Design, it’s safe to assume a few smudges of art history rubbed off. So now we have "Mr. Turner."

Leigh describes his films as "real life unfolding under extenuating circumstances." So perhaps it’s a tad unusual for him to do a biopic about a painter whose life is a matter of historical record.

In "Mr. Turner" we encounter the famous painter (played by Timothy Spall) during his later years. And we learn of the two women in his life, his housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson) who he has children with, and his seaside landlady (Marion Bailey) with whom he also has a sexual relationship. He is celebrated by the Royal Academy of Arts and at the same time viewed as an unpleasant grouch.

"Mike Leigh and Timothy Spall’s great achievement is showing us how the artist approached the physical business of painting," says Sir Nicolas Sarota, director of the Tate Galleries in England. "But they also convey the spirit of a man whose reputation as a curmudgeon is unwarranted, given his passionate interest in people and the world around him."

Passionate interest? Well, at least when it comes to his housekeeper and landlady.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mr. Turner (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Mr. Turner

Timothy Spall gives a stellar performance in Mike Leigh's "Mr. Turner" about (who else) the wondrous romanticist painter, J.M.W. Turner, who put Edmund Burke's Theory of the Sublime into visual terms and prefigured abstract art in his sweeping canvases where sea and sky merge into one, a mixing in of motion and color.

Here is Turner waddling down the square, his head and body composed of two compartmented boxes. Complete with his art box around his neck, he appears a resolute and stubborn mobile mixed media machine, ready to paint. His face is permanently molded in a challenge, sculpted with a pallet knife. A battle has commenced.

Turner is consumed by work. He is constantly interrupted by Sarah Danby (Ruth Sheen), his first lover and mother of his two daughters, whom he sadly ignores.

Work is all that matters.

Turner does have a devoted housekeeper Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson), who he orders about and takes sexual advantage of. Hannah loves him but Turner does  not reciprocate. Needless to say, in one blunt sex scene, Turner is no smooth talker.

He frequently grunts and not only during sex.

The painter does have one solid friend in his father (Paul Jesson) and their dialogue exchanges are as funny as they are earthy. Spall's Turner is the only character I know to date whose grunts convey a whole range of meaning.

On and on, Turner paints in his house and on the field. He is obsessed with finding the foremost expression of Nature in his brush.

As his round brick form bounces away from comments of other artists and critics, his face is composed in a plaster of paris scowl, a mask cloaking the sensitive person beneath.

The artist like a lethargic cannonball manages to sway away from most intruders except for the desperate painter Haydon (Martin Savage) who angrily refuses, then accepts, Turner's loan of fifty pounds.

Overwhelmed by domestic drama and the cry of a public that dooes not understand Turner's mixes of craze and color, he takes refuge in Chelsea. He manages to hit it off with an unassuming landlady, Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey). Turner moves in with Booth, allowing him to explore the wilds of sea and sky, unfettered.

The film actually shows what it might be like to be this man. We see him stroke, spit and claw into the canvas, creating real mountains of texture and weight.

It does not hold back either, showing Turner hacking  away, battling with bronchitis, his lungs full of lead and cold rain, a by product of his times lashed to the mast in a snowstorm to capture the atmosphere as it moves and swirls.

"Mr. Turner" does well in showing the complete being not only as a person and a creator but also as a fragile cabinet of a being,  shuttered in and almost shattered by the death of his father.

Turner, was a kind of psychic painter.  Our millennial age of savage hurricanes, winter storms and tsunamis could just as well have been his time. Near the end of the film, Turner witnesses an early camera and remarks with a grunt, "They'll be carrying around those little boxes about instead of portfolios."

With a little imagination, Turner's boxes could even extend to today's iPhones.

Write Ian at

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, February 20, 2015

Week of February 20 - February 26 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Showcases Oscar Contenders
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications Newspaper Chain

Each week we take a brief look at movies playing at the Tropic Cinema and add comments from film critics. But those comments become more significant as we approach Oscar season. Sunday night is/was the 87th annual Academy Awards presentation and Tropic predictably offers some contenders in its gotta-watch lineup.
"Birdman" is being touted for Best Picture and Best Director (among nine nominations in all, a tie with "The Grand Budapest Hotel"). This almost-true story of a former comic-book-movie star trying to make a comeback fits star Michael Keaton like a cape and cowl. 3AW observes. "Michael Keaton is astounding in this brilliantly conjured piece of stream-of-consciousness cinema by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu...Prepare to be enthralled, dazzled, delighted and disturbed." And The Vine notes, "The Birdman/ Batman thing is a cool hook that ties in well with the public perception of Keaton's career." The Australian adds, "You are unlikely to see a better American film this year."

"Still Alice" may be a story about early-onset Alzheimer’s but Julianne Moore’s performance is (dare I say it?) unforgettable. She’s up for a Best Actress Oscar. Cleveland Plain Dealer proclaims, "Yes, Julianne Moore will win the Oscar. And yes, this in one depressing film." The Times-Picayune agrees, "Julianne Moore isn't merely good in the lead role. She's devastatingly, heartbreakingly good…."

"Whiplash" gives us a Best Supporting Actor contender, J.K. Simmons. He’s a tough-love mentor to an aspiring jazz drummer. Simmons deserves it, having paid his dues in various TV cop shows and insurance commercials. Daily Express tells us, "Simmons is unnervingly good as a teacher who rules by fear and the final showdown provides as gripping a climax as you will see all year." And calls the film "utterly brilliant and intense."

"The Imitation Game" offers Benedict Cumberbatch in a role that has garnered him a Best Actor nomination, that of British code breaker Alan Turning. While he’s my pick, it’ll probably go to Eddie Redmayne or Michael Keaton (see above). Houston Press says, "Cumberbatch gives a performance that is, by turns, awkward, triumphant, and heartbreaking." And The Standard calls the film "impressive, particularly due to Cumberbatch."

"A Most Violent Year" showcases great performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain as an immigrant family trying to make it in New York in 1981. Groucho Reviews describes it as "an unsettling examination of moral drift, over a year in the life of a man and a generation in the life of a country." Cleveland Plain Dealer says, "In case you hadn't noticed yet, Oscar Isaac is the real deal." And Movie Habit calls the film "well acted and smart."

"Mr. Turner" is new to the screen this week, the compelling portrait of British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner. Timothy Spall takes on the role of Turner with proper grumpiness. Movie Habit calls it a "portrait of the artist as a troll." Newsday notes, "Mike Leigh’s biopic is so richly detailed that it feels like a documentary." And Movie Chambers concludes, "Director Mike Leigh and actor Timothy Spall have painted their own masterpiece."

Okay, check your list of Oscar picks. Then make sure you catch these great performances being showcased at the Tropic.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Oscars At The Tropic (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Ever Been to the Oscars?

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Hey, movie buffs -- ever been to the Oscars? You know, the annual lovefest that Hollywood throws each year for itself, handing out little golden statuettes as prizes for Best Picture, Best Actor, etc.

The Red Carpet interviews, the haut-couture gowns, the arm candy, the whoopla is almost as much fun as listening to the winners burble acceptance speeches that sometimes come out "You like me, you really like me!"

This Sunday the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) will bring us the 87th Academy Awards presentations.

But you don’t have to fly to the West Coast to enjoy the festivities.

Key West’s Tropic Cinema again brings the Oscars to you -- live!

On February 22, the Tropic offers two ways to enjoy the 2015 Oscars:

A limited number of VIP tickets will admit moviegoers to a 6 p.m. champagne reception, along with food, and special seating in the Carper Theater … plus a gift swag bag. Just like being in Tinseltown.

And those who want to forego the VIP experience can join in at 7 p.m., receiving two drink tickets and hors d’ouevres along with the show.

Both Tropic members and non-members can plan on joining their friends watching the Red Carpet interviews, the Oscar presentations, the speeches by the winners, while rooting for your favorite movies of the year to win.

Man on Wire (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Philippe Petit Is the "Man On Wire"

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Philippe Petit is more sure-footed than most people. He’s a High Wire Artist. Yes, he’s that guy who walked across the wire from one tower of the World Trade Center to the other back in 1974.

The young Frenchman didn’t exactly have permission to do that. He danced on that thin wire without
a safety net for nearly an hour before he was arrested. His daring act has been called the "artistic crime of the century."

He merely calls it "le coup."

Filmmaker James Marsh made a documentary about it, appropriately titled "Man On Wire."

Having crossed between those twin towers some 1,350-feet above New York City’s streets, Philippe now finds himself in Key West, a town where six-story La Concha is the tallest downtown building.

"I’m here incognito," he quips. Having briefly passed through Key West on two previous occasions, he thought it would be a good place to go write his 11th book, The Key West Diary, while waiting for the snows to melt at his Catskills hideaway in upstate New York. He lives there most of the year, a quiet place to practice walking the tightrope in the "world’s smallest theater," a 6’ x 7’ arena inside a post and beam barn that he built with his own hands using 18th Century tools and methods. Philippe is also an Artist-in-Residence of the largest gothic cathedral in the world, The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Starting off as a street performer in Paris, he was a juggler and magician before mastering the tightrope. He admits taking a few spills during practice when he was young, but "never while performing, else I wouldn’t be here to talk with you," he grins. After all, the elfin redhead performs without a safety net.

Dangerous? "I get a little anxious when I see the film," he says of his walk across the 7/8"-thick wire between the two 110-story-high towers.

Why does he perform such risky feats without a net? "You wouldn’t put a leash on a bird," he replies as if that explains everything. He describes feeling "absolutely free" when performing on a high wire.

You don’t have to go to the top of a tall building to meet Philippe Petit. He’ll greet you at ground level this coming Tuesday after a special screening of "Man On Wire" at the Tropic Cinema, where he will give a Q&A following the film.

You might want to ask him to perform a magic trick. He carries a handy coin given to him by German filmmaker Werner Herzog for just such contingencies. Or you may want to ask him why a seemingly sensible man might want to walk, dance, lean back, or lay down while on a wire suspended more than a quarter mile in the air.

And if you get him talking, he’ll tell you about a new 3-D Robert Zemeckis movie coming out this fall with Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing him in "The Walk." He taught the actor to walk the tightrope for the movie. "He has a talent for it," mused Philippe Petit. "He became me."