Monday, November 30, 2015

Week of Nov. 27 - Dec. 3 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Four Films at Tropic Remind Us What We Love About Movies
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

We love movies about movies. And “Trumbo” gives a glimpse of the old Hollywood when ten screenwriters were blacklisted for having Commie sympathies. Foremost among these scribes was Dalton Trumbo, who won two Academy Awards while writing under a pseudonym to subvert the system. Bryan Cranston (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) nails the title role.  Philadelphia Inquirer says, “It’s a period piece full of colorful characters, natty costumes, jaunty music.” And Tri-City Herald gushes, “Just hand Bryan Cranston the Oscar, the Golden Globe, etc. The acting and the story about the importance of protecting the First Amendment is the year’s best movie.”

Almost as much as we like movies about movies, we like movies about newspaper reporters -- those hard-hitting journalists determined to bust the town wide open. “Spotlight” is such a story, about an investigative team at the Boston Globe that uncovered the child abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Rachel McAdams headline this ensemble cast. calls it “Sharp and flawlessly performed.” And US Weekly advises, “Don’t miss this crackling -- and deeply important -- film about the power of the press.”

We also are fascinated by spy stories, and “Bridge of Spies” is Steven Spielberg’s telling of the ‘60s prisoner exchange of Russian spy Rudolf Abel for US U2 pilot Gary Powers. Tom Hanks portrays the real-life lawyer who negotiated the deal. Radio Times says, “Spielberg should be applauded for coherently imparting a convoluted, international story and for skillfully showing how ideals can be compromised by the grip of paranoia.” And Wow247 calls it a “richly rewarding and thoroughly entertaining Cold War drama with Spielberg and Hanks both at the very top of their game.”

Another winner is boy-meets-girl romance -- or in the case of “Brooklyn,” it’s boy-meets-girl-meets-boy as an Irish lass must choose between Ireland and America. Saoirse Ronan (“Hanna”) plays the girl caught in the middle. Advocate sees it as “a beautifully staged and acted immigrant drama.” And Miami Herald concludes, “With compassion, a touch of melancholy and a sense of wonder, ‘Brooklyn’ reveals the profound truths in a simple, familiar story, ending on a note that’s achingly bittersweet, no matter where you’re from.”

Movie lovers have great choices this week at the Tropic Cinema!

Brooklyn (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Brooklyn” Is Romantic Triangle
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Saoirse Úna Ronan was actually born in the Bronx, but her parents were Irish so she was raised in County Carlow and Dublin. You’ve seen the young actress in such films as “Atonement,” “The Lovely Bones,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and “Hanna.”

Now she plays a young Irish immigrant living in 1950s Brooklyn. Not a big stretch.

Nonetheless, Saoirse Ronan manages to show off her remarkable acting talent like never before in “Brooklyn,” the new historical drama directed by John Crowley.

“Brooklyn” -- now playing at Tropic Cinema -- gives us the story of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish woman who emigrates to New York in the 1950s. Sponsored by a friend in the clergy (Jim Broadbent), she is seeking a better life. At first, she’s overcome by homesickness, but then she meets Tony Fiorello, a young Italian plumber whom she secretly marries. Returning to Ireland due to a death in the family, she then meets Jim Farrell, a young Irishman whom she finds attractive. Torn between her old life in Ireland and a possible new romance … and the excitement of her new life in the US with her old husband … Eilis is faced with the decision of a lifetime.

Manhattan-born Emory Cohen (you may recall his scene-stealing turn in “The Place Beyond the Pines”) and Dublin-born Domhnall Gleeson (wonderful in “Ex Machina” and “About Time”) play the two boys in Eilis’s life.

More than a simple girl-meets-boy story, this is a love triangle between a girl and two suitors. Yet on another level it’s a love triangle between a girl and two countries -- the United States (Brooklyn, that is) and her home in Ireland (County Wexford, to be specific).

Saoirse Roman considers this to be her most personal film, given its subject matter. It marks the first time she has used her natural Irish accent in a film.

“Brooklyn” is based on Colm Tóibín’s same-named novel, listed by The Observer as one of “The 10 Best Historical Novels.” However, the ending of the film differs from the novel in the screenplay by Nick Hornby, the Oscar-nominated writer you may know from “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy.”

Only a few background shots were made in Brooklyn (of brownstones), with most of the scenery filmed in Montreal because it looked more like 1950s Brooklyn than the real place.

Despite this artifice, you will find “Brooklyn” a sweet, charming heart-aching drama with wonderful acting and luscious cinematography.

Nicholas Sparks, eat your heart out.

Trumbo (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Trumbo” Looks at A Patriotic Commie
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Offshore trusts were a bread-and-butter business in the Bahamas when I lived there. A friend was an officer with ABC Trust, which provided desk-drawer holding companies designed to hide money. One of her clients was screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

Why would he need to hide money?

Because Trumbo was one of the Hollywood 10 who got blacklisted back in the 1940s when Senator Joseph McCarthy was seeing Communists under every rug -- particularly among screenwriters in Tinseltown.

One of the most respected and highest paid scribes in Hollywood, Dalton Trumbo had worked for Warner Bros., Columbia, Paramount, RKO, 20th Century-Fox, and MGM. He was a big deal.

Was he a Fellow Traveler? Admittedly yes. Known as a left-wing political activist, he aligned himself with the American Communist Party (CPUSA). Nonetheless, he wrote a number of very patriotic movies, like “A Guy Named Joe” and “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”

Trumbo has been called “the most talented, most famous of the blacklisted film professionals.” And because he was such a fine screenwriter, when movie producers weren’t allowed to use him anymore they hired him anyway, allowing him to write under various pseudonyms.

During the time Trumbo was blacklisted he wrote 30-some screenplays, among them such cinematic masterpieces as “Spartacus” and “Exodus.” And during that time he won two Academy Awards: One under the name of Robert Rich (“The Brave One”) while a second was fronted for him by writer Ian McLellan Hunter (“Roman Holiday”).

“Trumbo” -- currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- is his story.

Bryan Cranston (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) makes a credible Trumbo, mimicking his unique voice and mannerisms. He spot-on captures the man’s larger-than-life eccentric personality.

Diane Lane and Elle Fanning add support as Trumbo’s wife and daughter. But much of the fun is watching old Hollywood celebs come to life again: Edward G. Robinson (portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg), Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman), John Wayne (David James Elliott), Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel), movie mogul Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow), and Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren).

Movie buffs are talking about the film. “Was Trumbo’s role in stopping anti-Stalinist scripts from being produced, his role in persecuting Albert Maltz and Robert Rossen, or his role as a snitch for the FBI in the mid-40s touched upon?” asks one blogger.

Another replies, “Nothing like that was explored. They only focused on his family life and the whole process of him writing movies he wasn't credited for ... Lots of disputes over films.”

Unfortunately, “Trumbo” doesn’t offer much insight into McCarthyism and that era’s fear of Communism. This biopic is content to focus on how badly this great talent was treated. Think: “Imitation Game.”

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Trumbo (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Somewhat in the carbonated and episodic manner of the biopic "Hitchcock," with lots of period style and detail, here is "Trumbo" a study of the great but sadly marginalized screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. The film has an energetic buoyant quality, yet it is laced with darkness and does not shy away from the fears of the early 1950s, when right wing conservatism took a deep breath.

We begin in 1948 Hollywood. Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), a Communist,  is starting to feel the itch of judgment all around him. There are rumors of a Cold War and people are starting to talk. The writer who was once nominated for an Oscar wants to do something big but can't quite muster the energy.

Trumbo moves to workers' issues, holding rallies about equal pay for set designers and holds meetings at the home of Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg.) The viper-like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) writes a few insinuating columns about Trumbo and soon he feels a million eyes burrow into his collared shirt.

He pens the film "Roman Holiday." After the premiere, a disgusted movie-goer throws soda in his face. Then during a party, the men arrive; Trumbo is called to testify to the House Un-American Activities Commission. Things don't go well.

The film possesses a swift and rolling cadence. Trumbo retains his spirit throughout as he sees each and every inflexible (and somewhat outrageous) creature with a gimlet eye. Nothing escapes this screenwriter. Cutting Trumbo may be, but he is never sour, despite one year in prison.

Mirren turns in an exclusively nefarious and caustic role as the unsympathetic Hedda, who practically wears fish scales. Stuhlbarg is perfect as the passive Edward G. Robinson, while John Wayne (David James Elliott) is a stiffly robotic blow-hard blinded by the Right.

Trumbo has one ally in the character of Arlen  (Louis C.K.) who is brave to a fault but is increasingly stifled by cancer. He tempers his friend's dire news with some black-humored quips that recall his self deprecating role in TV's "Louie."

The film breezily highlights a tinseltown fringed in fear, a tightly wound community with martinis clutched between talons. Many a wobbly and Brillcreamed head would rather watch a war film than worry. The hissing of a serpent's suggestion comes from the woman in a hat that lays on her head like a poached tongue.

There is some domestic tension with Trumbo's wife Cleo (Diane Lane), and some charged ferocity from his daughter Nikola (Elle Fanning) but for the most part, the conducting is done by Trumbo alone.

"Trumbo" suberbly merges actual newsreels of the era with the actors and this gives it a visceral, contemporary yet ageless texture, putting all within the fabric of living ghosts.

And, while no connection is explicitly made between this wedge-headed hysteria of long ago and the piggish offensiveness in our current times, one wonders how many hellish arms Hedda might have propped up, or just how many orange and angry men John Wayne would have been able to inflame, if the two of them were still living today.

Write Ian at

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Brooklyn (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


 "Brooklyn" by director John Crowley is a conceptual time capsule and a tribute to the affectionate and spirited films of the 1950s. With its generous rolling sweeps of the camera, it is as authentic as it is moving.

In a 1952 Ireland, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) an inquisitive young girl, has a chance to go to America, with the hopes for better opportunities.  She boards a passenger ship but immediately becomes ill, due to increasingly rough seas.

Eilis makes the crossing, and takes a job at a huge gold-toned department store in Brooklyn but becomes the outcast. She endures crippling homesickness, and is endlessly under the judgment of a gray flannel gaze. She is sarcastically treated by her boss, Miss Fortini (Jessica Pare) and a pair of Waspy girls (Emily Bett Rickerts and Nora-Jane Noone.)

While playing at being a chaperone, Eilis meets the street-smart but sweet American Tony (Emory Cohen), who bears a resemblance to Bobby Darin or a young Dion. Tony is immediately hooked and so is Eilis.

Tensions rise with melodrama in Ireland juxtaposed against a kind of fairy tale Brooklyn with shiny cars, movie theaters and madras shirts, underscoring the existence of Eilis as "the other," unsure of her emotions and not knowing whether to laugh or cry. The apprehension is soon at its height.

Ronan is neither weepy nor ecstatic in her role. Rather she opts for pitch perfect authenticity as a visitor in a strange, over-confident planet known as Brooklyn. The actor has the diversity to be unassuming as well as to portray a girl next store sensuality akin to Maureen O Hara in John Ford's "The Quiet Man."

Both Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters show well as a priest and a tough boardinghouse head, respectively. In this story, Brooklyn becomes more of an abstract place pointing to the heart of a young man rather than a literal borough.

John Crowley has given us a rich, colorful and gentle film that is easy on the eyes, but by no means a trifle.  While playing on the old Hollywood of Douglas Sirk or the aforementioned John Ford, the director delivers an amiable antidote of innocence that stands in contrast to our current state of immigrant paranoia and outright fear.

Write Ian at

Monday, November 23, 2015

Week of Nov. 20 - 26 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

This Week’s Minimalist Lineup at Tropic Cinema Delivers Big Films
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Tropic Cinema opened a new film this week that’s sure to be an Oscar nominee, and carries over three others that are getting lots of popular buzz. As it happens, all are based on actual events.

“Spotlight” takes its name from the team of Boston Globe investigative reporters who uncovered child abuse in the archdiocese in Boston, a scandal that reverberated all the way to the Vatican. Think: “All the President’s Men.” Here the reporters were supervised by Ben Bradlee, Jr. Trust me, this is a great newspaper movie you don’t want to miss. Capital Times reports, “The film takes the dogged, persistent, mundane work of old school newspaper reporting -- digging through records, interviewing people, connecting dots -- and makes it the stuff of high drama, exciting and even heroic.” Detroit News says “Spotlight” is “spot-on.” And Tri-City Herald raves, “Simply put, one of the best -- if not THE best -- movies of the year.”

Another great movie is “Bridge of Spies,” Steven Spielberg’s retelling of the ‘60s prisoner exchange between Russian spy Rudolph Abel and downed U2 pilot Gary Powers. Tom Hanks plays the everyman lawyer who negotiated the exchange. Dallas Morning News says, “Authentic re-creations of the period, including duck-and-cover clips about a nuclear holocaust that frightened young students, serve as a reminder of a time, not unlike our own, when the threat of terror kept a steady and disturbing beat.” And Buzzfeed describes it as “a heart-on-its-sleeve affirmation of American values.”

“Suffragette” gives us Carey Mulligan as a 1912 London woman who joins the women’s suffrage movement. While this is a fictional character, the events were grittily real. Fresno Bee observes, “Mulligan turns in a strong performance, going from a woman who has quietly resigned herself to a certain life to a woman who is willing to speak out for others.” And X-Press calls it “a worthwhile reminder of how far women have come and the price they had to pay to get here. We’re left to imagine how much more there is to be done.”

“Steve Jobs” is Aaron Sorkin’s take on the founder of Apple -- his rise and fall and rise again. But the true focus is on his ruthless rule, personal hubris, and the illegitimate daughter he denied. Daily Star says, “Brainy, brilliant and intensely frustrating -- the latest Steve Jobs movie is a lot like the man himself.” Legend of Leia notes, “The staginess of the movie is its greatest benefit, allowing the characters and the dialogue to shine...” And Ex-press concludes, “Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet create all the dynamic tension required to propel Aaron Sorkin’s minimalist screenplay into epic terrain.”

Four films, four must-see moviegoing experiences.

Spotlight (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Spotlight” Reporters Didn’t Back Off
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Whenever Ben Bradlee, Jr. got together with his dad they talked shop. Newspapers and journalism. Maybe a little baseball.

 As all the world knows, Ben Bradlee was the Washington Post executive editor who backed Woodward and Bernstein in their exposure of Watergate, the scandal that dethroned a US President. And his son was the Boston Globe deputy managing editor who led that paper’s famous Spotlight Team in exposing longtime sexual abuses in the Catholic Church.

Both of these stories won Pulitzer Prizes for their papers.

“We used to note the similarity of the two stories,” Ben Bradlee, Jr. says. “Both started with what appeared to be small stories, one about a local burglary, the other a piece about one bad priest. Little did anyone expect them to become global exposés that shook the foundations of two important institutions.”

Ben Bradlee, Jr. spent 25 years with the Boston Globe, 10 as a reporter and 15 as an editor. In November 1993 he was put in charge of the Globe’s investigative unit, a handful of reporters known as the Spotlight Team.

It was this small group of journalists who over a two-year period (July 2001 to August 2002,) uncovered a history of sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Boston, a discovery that caused reverberations reaching all the way to the Vatican. Church documents, official testimony, and victim interviews unveiled a story of secrecy and deception. The Archdioceses had gone to extraordinary lengths to cover up the scandal. Over the past decade it had quietly settled child molestation claims against at least 70 priests.

“The story was in the documents,” Bradlee says, shaking his head as if trying to clear away a bad memory. “They were sexually abusing kids.”

The Boston Globe received that 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service “for its courageous, comprehensive coverage ... an effort that pierced secrecy, stirred local, national and international reaction and produced changes in the Roman Catholic Church.”

A book titled “Betrayal” followed. And now a movie.

“Spotlight” -- named after the Globe’s investigative team -- is playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

“A movie was the last thing we were thinking of,” Bradlee says. “But it’s been a pleasant distraction.”

Film producers Nicole Rocklin and Blye Faust pitched the idea to the reporters. “They had lined up a great director (Tom McCarthy), a great script, and an A-list cast,” says Bradlee.

Playing the four investigative reporters on the Spotlight Team are Mark Ruffalo (as Michael Rezendes), Michael Keaton (as Walter “Robbie” Robinson), Rachael McAdams (as Sacha Pfeiffer), and Brian d’Arcy James (as Matt Carroll). Liev Schreiber (as Marty Baron) takes a seat at the editor’s desk. And Bradlee is portrayed by John Slattery (best known for TV’s “Mad Men”). Toss in Stanley Tucci, Jamey Sheridan, and Billy Crudup -- and you have a great ensemble cast.

“John Slattery contacted me, then took the train up to Boston the next day,” recalls Bradlee. “We had lunch, talked over several beers. That was followed up by many dinners. We became friends.”

How was Slattery’s portrayal? “I kid him that he put too much swagger into my character. But colleagues tell me he got it about right.”

Marty Baron was the new editor at the Globe, a fresh arrival who had worked at the LA Times, New York Times, and Miami Herald. It was his idea to pursue the story.

“All four reporters had been raised Catholic, but Marty was Jewish.” The warnings from the Church were subtle. It was pointed out “this outside editor would one day be gone, but that the reporters had to stay and live in their communities.”

But nobody backed off.

“We were proud of the story. We nailed it. We held an important institution accountable.”