Friday, July 31, 2015

Week of July 31 - August 6 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Engages Both Body and Mind This Week
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Epidermis, muscle, brain, teeth, and tear ducts. Yes, you can engage your body head-to-toe with this week’s movies at the Tropic Cinema.

Take it off -- that’s the theme of “Magic Mike XXL,” the sequel to a popular movie about male strippers. Buff actor Channing Tatum is Mike, a retired dancer who joins his buds on a take-it-off
road trip. Along the way there’s plenty of skin on display. Concrete Playground calls it, “Sexy, funny and surprisingly heartwarming.” Snarky Rex Reed writes in the New York Observer that it’s “admirable testosterone on display that represents hours in the gym instead of the acting class.” But Trespass assures us, “Magic Mike XXL hits every mark that it aims for.”

Another buff actor is Jake Gyllenhaal, starring in the prizefighter drama “Southpaw.” Here he’s punching his way to a comeback after a fall from grace. Muscles ripple with every fight scene. New England Movies Weekly calls it “a story we’ve seen many times before, but it’s acted with such heart and directed with such skill that it’s hard to resist.” Daily Star adds, “Jake Gyllenhaal is becoming one of the most interesting actors in Hollywood.”

More sedate is “Mr. Holmes,” a different kind of mystery featuring a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes. Ian McKellen gives us a touching portrait of the great detective battling a failing memory while
trying to reconstruct his last case. Brainy entertainment. New York Magazine says, “It’s a gripping little tale, to be sure, but it’s more than that. Somewhere in its tangle of timelines, false starts, and red herrings is a great truth about the unsolvable mystery of the human soul.” Leonard Maltin’s Picks concludes, “What a pleasure it is to be in the presence of Ian McKellen, who dominates the screen.”

You might describe Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic World 3D” as a Jaws-on-an-island thriller. Chris Pratt is the dino trainer who must save the theme-park tourists from a rampaging genetically engineered Indominus rex.  Teeth are gnashing, claws are slashing. Chicago Reader says, “The characters are all paper-thin, but that doesn’t matter because their sole purpose is to get chomped.” Movie Dearest advises, “See the movie for its reptilian stars.” And Starburst confirms that it’s “definitely worth the price of admission.”

And not to be overlooked is “Amy: The Girl Behind the Name,” a British documentary that profiles the late singer Amy Winehouse. It may well bring you to tears. calls it “a
mesmerizing yet devastating look at a singular talent.” And Peter Travers of Rolling Stone observes, “It’s Amy’s words, her music, her voicemails, her home videos, her friends, her family, her tormentors, and her timeless incandescence. Look, listen and weep.”

So go ahead, pick the movies that appeal to you. You won’t go wrong no matter your choices.

Jurassic World (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Jurassic World” Takes a Bite of the Movie Franchise
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Recently you read about an American tourist getting mauled to death by a lion in a South African animal park. This was a view-a-dangerous-animal-up-close outing that turned deadly.

That’s pretty much the plot of the new “Jurassic World” movie. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the plot of all those movies based on the late Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” book.

Produced by Stephen Spielberg (“Jaws”) and directed by newbie Colin Trevorrow, “Jurassic World” is giving audiences some spine-tingling thrills at the Tropic Cinema.

Originally titled “Jurassic Park IV,” the movie takes place twenty-two years after the first one. Finally realizing the dream of Professor John Hammond, (portrayed in the earlier movies by the late Richard Attenborough), visitors to Isla Nublar can now enjoy a fully functional dinosaur theme park.

However, like those commercial seaquariams that boost attendance by featuring a scarier shark or a bigger killer whale, Jurassic World comes up with a bigger, scarier dinosaur, Indominus rex. This nightmare creature is a hybrid created from mixing the DNA of Giganotosaurus, Rugops, Majungasaurus, and Carnotaurus.

Needless to say, this new dinosaur starts eating tourists. So it’s up to a young dino trainer named Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, the hunky star of “Guardians of the Galaxy”) to stop this rampaging beast. Can he use his pack of ‘raptors to hunt the big girl down?

In the movie, when Owen hears that the Masrani Corporation is splicing DNA to build a badder dinosaur, he mutters “Not a good idea.”

But in real life paleontologist Jack Horner, a scientific advisor on the film, is trying to do just that, create a new dinosaur by using chicken DNA. Birds and dinosaurs are related and there’s lots of vestigial DNA lurking in chickens.

“We just haven’t genetically engineered a genuine dinosaur yet, but we know how to do it,” Horner says. He expects to create a real dinosaur within 5 to 10 years.

Jack Horner was the model for the character Dr. Alan Grant, played by Sam Neill in the earlier movies. However, Grant doesn’t make an appearance in “Jurassic World.” Horner is okay with that ... as long as his character didn’t get eaten by a dinosaur.

Horner claims he wouldn’t be particularly afraid of dinosaurs, if he were to succeed in making some. As for plant-eating dinos, he says, “It would be like hanging around a bunch of cows.”

Don’t try to tell Owen Grady that. Too many people get eaten in “Jurassic World.”

Does Horner mind that the movie isn’t totally accurate? “No,” he says. “There were a lot of things wrong, but it was a fictional movie. It’s not a documentary. And so I was just as happy with having some fiction thrown in there as anyone else was.”

Magic Mike XXL (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Magic Mike XXL” Takes Off at Tropic
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

How do you produce a movie that will appeal to a really wide audience -- women, gays, and maybe even a few straight guys? Channing Tatum came up with the right formula in “Magic Mike,” a tale set in a male strip joint in Tampa.

So how do you repeat that success?

The answer is “Magic Mike XXL,” the sequel that’s now making audiences drool at the Tropic Cinema.

Think: Chippendales. Male strippers, that is.

Magic Mike (Tatum) is a muscled guy with rock-hard pecs and six-pack abs. He looks great in a G-string. Horny women toss $20 bills at him. Gays feel lust in their … hearts. And the rest of us sit back and enjoy the fun.

In the first film, Mike is dancing at the Xquisite Strip Club just to earn enough money to start his own custom furniture business. It’s owned by a tight-fisted entrepreneur named Dallas (Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey).

In this new take, Mike’s old club crew, the Kings of Tampa, inform him that Dallas has skipped out (McConaughey’s not in this sequel) and the boys want to end their dancing careers with a grand finale, by attending a stripping convention in Myrtle Beach. Mike decides to take a leave from his furniture company to join them.

On the road they find excuses to strip at a place called Mad Mary’s, at a gas station, at a club owned by an old flame (Jada Pinkett Smith), at a mansion filled with middle-aged women (Andie McDowell et al.), and at the convention organized by a sexy blonde (Elizabeth Banks).

In the end, the Kings (Kevin Nash, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodríguez, Joe Manganiello, etc.) make a good showing -- literally.

But ignore all this. You’re not going to buy a ticket just to follow the movie’s road-trip plotline. What you want to see are some incredibly handsome men, led by Channing Tatum, taking it off, a flashy mosaic of abs and pecs and glutes and sweaty skin.

Okay, here it is.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Southpaw (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Yet again, it is time to put on your underdog gloves in Southpaw, a film that has slick sparing power due to a solid performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, but the heavily melodramatic storyline makes the film a sopping wet towel of tears.

Gyllenhaal is Billy Hope, a street smart light heavyweight champion who commands with brute force, rather than smooth skill.

He has just been crowned undefeated and is seemingly on top.

As Billy is getting punchy, battered, and most likely bleeding internally, his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) wants him to quit while he has a head.

But Billy is addicted to the sport.

When speaking at a children's charity, Billy is offensively insulted by a boxing rival, Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez) with crass remarks aimed at his wife. Maureen urges Billy to let it go, but Billy's anger gets the better of him and a fistfight ensues.

A gun fires and Maureen is hit by the bullet.

The champ's world drops from underneath him and he hits bottom.

Events go from very bad to even worse.

The most riveting aspect of the film is Gyllenhaal's wiry, monstrous, yet sensitive  transformation as he channels the rapper Eminem, who was originally intended for this part. Shaky, drunk and with nowhere to go, Billy Hope becomes a walker of the night, cloaked in Eminem's black hoodie. The public heaps scorn upon him, but this dark knight is driven, haunting a gym the way a rapper does a club.

All he needs, of course, is one more chance.

Forest Whittaker does well as the gravel voiced and tough talking trainer that expectedly talks about the mental sport rather than muscle. And he has forceful dialogue that paints Billy into a corner, making him take personal responsibility for his actions.

Oona Lawrence is the boxer's cutely precocious daughter, who counts his fight wounds and never really gives up on him.

The film does have juice but the voltage it has quickly ebbs, given that the blood and heavy drama spins dangerously close to the unreal. Right from the get go, Hope agrees to fight, even though he spits endless spouts of blood and looks like mashed potatoes. Clearly, Hope is in no position to fight.

The turn of events spirals downward so quickly that any sports journalist might well feel light headed.

The boxing sequences, although authentic, follow the same rise and fall rhythm as a "Rocky" story.

When Billy's daughter watches from the dressing room hysterical and sobbing, while her bruiser dad is a gory mess, you are exhausted. But there is also a sense of deja doom. This is the same Rope-a-dope as before with all of the iconic feinting from "Rocky" and "The Champ" to "The Fighter".

Although any cinematic fight fan will no doubt feel had, the story does produce some  watery eyes in spite of itself.

After ten rounds and so many obvious cliches however, "Southpaw" begs for a more outside of the box treatment to accompany its routinely entertaining lefty stance.

Write Ian at

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Wolfpack (Brockway)

The Wolfpack

"The Wolfpack," a documentary by Crystal Moselle, is a tale right out of the fiction of Jerzy Kosinski Being There), only it is real. This unsettling yet oddly energetic film, tells of the Angulo family: six brothers and one girl living in an apartment on the Lower East Side of New York City. At first glance, they appear smiling and happy, a family at home watching tv.

Things are not as they seem.

A minute later one of the brothers confesses a disturbing revelation. The boys' father, a struggling musician, is under a delusion. Obsessed with the negativity of modern life, he keeps the children under his iron hand. The six only go outside a handful of times a year and sometimes not at all. Friends outside of family are forbidden and the children are home-schooled.

They go from room to room only when told. The father Oscar, a self made guru, rules with fear and intimidation. He is periodically abusive and withdrawn.

The only creative outlet the kids receive is through film. Somehow, Oscar gives the kids a steady diet of film, classic and otherwise. The brothers develop a cult of worship with Robert De Niro, Quentin Tarantino, Batman, The Dark Knight, and horror films.

They love their mother, Susanne. She is also under the blight of fear as the target of intermittent physical violence.

To combat this horror, the brothers: Narayana, Govinda, Bhagavan, Makunda, Krshna and Jagadisa, along with their sister Visnu, re-enact blockbuster films and type out complete scripts by typewriter.

Computers are nonexistent. Except for movies, the family is Luddite.

This could be depressing and a good deal of it is.

At first.

The Angulo kids put so much inventive play into their costumes and scenes, that their re-imaginations become a true feat with passion and heart, if only for themselves.

Through this ritual they learn what it is to relate as social beings.

Makunda first decides to break away from his father's fearful rule, by simply walking out a front door, wearing a mask from "Halloween."

No one recognized him.

As Makunda says, at that moment he was Michael Myers, The Shape.

After that interlude which involved the police, the father grew embarrassed and relaxed his grip.

Most compelling by far are the shots featuring the Angulos donning the wardrobe of "Reservoir Dogs" in black suits and sunglasses, voyaging out for the first time to the movies or the beach in Coney Island, accompanied by the director, Ms. Moselle, their first friend.

Out in the bright day, the six appear in stark relief living images of Tarantino  in their own film. The ocean hits them like quenching fire and they transform into pale fish brought from another world.

Such is the power of forced confinement.

Although the film does go repetitive, the scenes of the Halloween's celebration, akin to a kitsch Walpurgis Night  in which all horror villains from Pumpkinhead to Freddy Kruger are portrayed in a wobbling joy, lift up the urban ennui.

The kids are truly talented in filtering the films that they see into their own vocabulary that is both personal and precious to them. Very moving to the heart as well is the last reveal: the formidable Oscar, stubborn, stern and violent at times is ultimately pushed into the margins, all because the brothers chose to put their power into a suit of black cardboard and yoga mats and believe in The Batman.

The big bad wolf of a patriarch gradually withers into a harmless sheep under the force of desire.

In watching "The Wolfpack" you might recognize a truth that some of us may well take for granted. Films are not just mere entertainment. As visual works they also have the ability to inspire and transform. Film can be a life saving beacon and a call to action.

Write Ian at

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Mr. Holmes (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Mr. Holmes

Once again, Holmes is here in Bill Condon's wondrous and thoughtful character study of the premier detective. Sherlock's conundrum is not Moriarty, but the human heart. Deceptively slow and easy in its first moments, the film gradually builds up speed, only to churn with punch and poignance.

In "Mr. Holmes" our iconic sleuth (Ian McKellen)  is now a nonagenarian at 92. He lives in Sussex, (where the poet Shelley was born) and spends his mornings minding the geometry of his apiary.

There is abrupt foreshadowing: the bee population is in decline.

Holmes is centered on himself, ruminating on his trips to Hiroshima in the quest to find Prickly Ash, an eastern root said to help Holmes's ailing memory. Roger (Milo Parker)  a young resident of the house, worships him and attempts to wake his spirits of deduction. The retired logician tells him of a regret. Years ago, he was hired to keep an eye on one Lady in Grey (Hattie Morahan) who was in the throes of a female "Svengali" a Madame Schirmer (Frances de la Tour). Holmes treated the detail casually and is eaten up by guilt.

More immediately, Holmes is hounded by the specter of celebrity and feels his partner Dr. Watson simplified his legacy into that of an exaggerated hero. He wants to set his record into the realm of nonfiction.

This story would be a slumber in the mist were it not for the simplicity of vision by the director coupled by some wonderful chemistry given by McKellen and Milo Parker.  Laura Linney too, gives a spirited performance as the watchful parent.

We are given a handful of subplots with their own unique momentum and all of them spin and weave to make one intricate box that fits together perfectly as if made by Gordian design.
In reality, Holmes is a quiet figure. He walks like a stiff pencil and eschews the limelight, all the while getting a kick out of his cinematic self in watching Basil Rathbone. And like Mattie, in "True Grit", or Joey in "Shane" a young kid attempts to energize a somewhat jaded soul who has solved many imponderables.

Yet Holmes remains restless in a good deal of pain.

The suspense is in the reality of Sherlock Holmes racing against his mental moors as he strives to give his own true account. If by peril, his false matinee twin wins out, his import will be left to the stuff of dreams with a legacy in tatters.

Longtime fans will revel in the drawing room quips, in addition to the sight of Sherlock  trying to employ his iconic opium syringes to sustain his life, filled with herbs.

The magic of "Mr. Holmes" is that it makes this detective more dramatic and realistic that his Arthur Conan Doyle incarnation ever did, while at the same time, treating his other persona with a comic reverence that is never mean spirited. Ecce Holmes. We see the man as he is, a mathematical being, of course, but also one of emotion.

The last scene is by itself, a master stroke, delivering equal parts mysticism, mayhem and stern melancholy.

All aspects of haunt and play are given with great energy in this modernist portrait of one famous man who lives by reason.

Write Ian at

Friday, July 24, 2015

Week of July 24 - 30 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Mind Over Matter? You Can Have Both at the Tropic Cinema
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Yes, you can have it both ways -- cerebral deduction or brute force. Or even a few a good laughs. That’s the range of films showing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Cerebral is the approach of “Mr. Holmes” -- Sherlock Holmes, that is. The world’s most famous consulting detective is retired at 93 in this new film starring Ian McKellen in the tile role. With
memory failing, and seeking a cure, Holmes is trying to set the record straight on his last case. New York Magazine observes, “It's a gripping little tale, to be sure, but it's more than that. Somewhere in its tangle of timelines, false starts, and red herrings is a great truth about the unsolvable mystery of the human soul.” And adds, “Mr. Holmes is not simply brilliant, for it is not simple. It is complex, multi-layered and probing. But it is brilliant and also entertaining.”

Physically is the approach used in “Southpaw,” a drama about a down-and-out prizefighter on a comeback trail. Jake Gyllenhaal gives us this bleaker Rocky story. Reason Online says, “Packed with raw energy, but never quite knocks you out...” Movie Talk opines, “A boxing melodrama that pummels the viewer into submission with a one-two combo of brutal action inside the ring …” And NPR decides, “Southpaw wins on points.”

“The Wolfpack” is a documentary about a couple that homeschooled their seven children, locked away in an apartment on the lower east side of New York for fourteen years. Then one escapes. Time Magazine says, “Everything about The Wolfpack is extraordinary, beginning with the subjects of
Crystal Moselle's mesmerizing documentary.” Christian Science Monitor calls it, “Undeniably fascinating.” And Detroit News notes, “It all adds up to a story of the human spirit’s ability to survive and even thrive despite twisted circumstance.”

Another look inside a kid’s head is “Inside Out,” Pixar’s brilliant animation that stars Amy Pohler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, and Phyllis Smith as an array of childhood emotions. Daily Mirror proclaims it to be “an animated masterpiece, one of those rare movies that will speak to kids and adults alike.” And Sky Movies says, “Wise, witty, warm ... and Pixar's most audacious move yet.”

Need a good laugh? “Spy” will do it, the fish-out-of-water adventures of a CIA desk jockey (Melissa McCarthy) sent on a dangerous assignment. John Hanlon Reviews calls it “a refreshing return to form for Melissa McCarthy.” And concludes, “The ace partnership between filmmaker Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy evolves into something formidable with this raucous action comedy, which simultaneously spoofs the espionage genre and provides some genuine thrills.”

A head trip? A fist in the face? A belly laugh? Movies entertain us head to toe.