Saturday, January 24, 2015

Foxcatcher (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Foxcatcher

Director Bennett Miller (Capote) gives his film "Foxcatcher" the appropriate brown and gray tones in telling the true life story of John E. du Pont, who was a noted ornithologist and wrestling coach and, who also grew increasingly erratic and paranoid with delusions.

As in Miller's previous "Moneyball" we are in the land of crisis and power. Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum, a gifted but struggling wrestler on a downswing), dining on junk food in a dark apartment with barely enough to sustain himself, gets a call from the office of a powerful family wanting to meet him to discuss his wrestling future. Mark has nothing to lose.

He is flown first class to the du Pont  mansion, the very same family that made their tremendous fortune in explosives and most recently, chemicals.

As if he were a watchful all-seeing gargoyle or strange bird, John du Pont (Steve Carell) abruptly appears behind Mark, without so much as a human footfall.

After several pointed questions, John says he wants America to have role models once again intending to personally coach Mark and his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) to make the USA Olympic team and win gold. Mark agrees, swept up in the man's patriotic romanticism.

The partnership makes a noose.

Carell is wonderful in this role as the oddly soft-spoken yet harsh bird like presence who struts and frets like a pasty raven. His iconic nerdish persona as seen in many comedies has disappeared. Here he is a very scary and intimidating incarnation. Physically too, he is changed, transformed by an imposing forehead and a large hatchet handled nose. Thankfully, it is Carell's inner coldness that repels any ridicule the prosthetics may cause.

Channing Tatum also does his best although his face seems to invariably retain his oft-recognizable wide-eyed and stunned look. Even with the same facial vocabulary, he is duly convincing as the earnest and gullible athlete.

Ruffalo is well cast as Mark's more stable and caring brother, who might be less ambitious but who is also more mindful of fame's pitfalls.

The verve of "Foxcatcher" goes to Carell though, who gives some quirk and poetry to this true crime story of yet another rich man consumed by his ego. Throughout the film, Carell is an obscure and oppressive Mr. Magoo type, who rules his muscled roost with menace, despite his diminutive form.

Even though this is not a comedy by any means, there are some acid humor moments as the short and sunken-chested billionaire goes for the legs in a wrestling move and attempts to mount his man like a mouse on a lion. Such antics only make this creature more frightening; he is not a mouse, but an albino rat and he will stop at nothing to win and gain adulation.

The only trace of Steve Carell's smile is when he urges Channing Tatum to pronounce the word "philatelist" and "philanthropist" correctly. The smile that once belonged to Michael Scott in "The Office" is now property of a sad and covetous shark or bird of prey.

The final scenes of "Foxcatcher" will hit you square in the heart and while this all makes fitting trappings for the director, for Steve Carell, it is nearly off-putting and wonderfully confusing to see him as this strange controlling little man, driven to extremes by his mother.

Write Ian at ianfree1@icloud.com

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Week of January 23 to January 30 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema A Leader In Oscar Race

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Between them, the four films playing at the Tropic Cinema this week have been nominated for 18 Oscars in the 2015 Academy Awards competition. Impressive, to say the least.

New to the screens is “Foxcatcher,” up for 5 golden statuettes, including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Writing - Original Screenplay, even Best Makeup and Hairstyling. This is a story of madness and murder, with no-longer-funnyman Steve Carell as John du Pont, the millionaire sports enthusiast who killed an Olympic wrestler. Sharing Steve Carell’s acting accolades is Mark Ruffalo as the wrester. The Times says, “A movie that appears to be about wrestling but in fact is a disturbing, testosterone-rich tour of the inadequacies of an American billionaire and his athletic protégé.” And Playboy Online adds, “Foxcatcher gets under your skin and stays there. It's easily one of the best things we've seen this year.”

Garnering 8 Academy Award nominations, “The Imitation Game” leads off with a Best Picture nod. Benedict Cumberbatch is up for Best Actor, starring as British mathematician Alan Turning, the man who helped break the Nazi’s Enigma code. Keira Knightley got a nod as Best Supporting Actress, along with nominations for Best Director, Best Writing - Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, and Best Music. The Standard calls it “impressive, particularly due to Cumberbatch and Knightley and the highs and lows of Turing's truly remarkable life.” And Consequence of Sound says, “Benedict Cumberbatch gives a superbly nuanced performance, imbuing Turing with just the right amount of strangeness to make him endearing but not treacly.”

“Into the Woods” claims 3 Oscar nods, from the predictable Best Supporting Actress nomination for Meryl Streep to Best Production Design and Best Costume Design. This Steven Sondheim musical is a fairy tale brought to life, intermingling Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk. Movie Talk opines, “Sondheim’s contrapuntal harmonies and intricate wordplay may not leave you humming but they are full of beauty and rueful wisdom.” And Daily Film Fix notes that it’s “a superior example of adapting the stage to the screen.”

“Selma” claims 2 Oscar nominations, Best Picture and Best Song (John Legend and Common). This is the docudrama about the Selma march organized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Orlando Weekly says, “"Selma presents a multidimensional portrayal of Dr. King, flaws and all, and it makes us wonder how far we've actually come today.” And US Weekly concludes, “Needless to say, Dr. King's message has never been more relevant.”

Yes, by the numbers, Tropic Cinema is doing very well in the Oscars race!

srhoades@aol.com

Foxcatcher (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Foxcatcher” Tells About
What Money Can’t Buy

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Here’s a true story to wrestle with: An odd and reclusive millionaire builds a 14,000-square-foot private training center for wrestlers in Pennsylvania. He recruits two brothers who are Olympic champions, inviting them to become part of his team and live on the 800-acre family estate. Later, in a fit of madness, he shoots one of the brothers to death.

You saw the aftermath on the six o’clock news -- more than 75 Philadelphia policemen laying siege for two days outside the mansion at Foxcatcher Farms while negotiating by telephone with John Eleuthère du Pont to surrender.

Yes, that du Pont family. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (or DuPont as it is commonly known) remains one of the world’s largest chemical companies. It invented nylon, Mylar, Spandex, Teflon, neoprene, Tyvek, Freon, a number of genetically modified foods, synthetic paints, and such. Its $36-billion annual revenues make it the 8th largest chemical company.

As one of the heirs, John du Pont was worth about $200 million.

John was also a bit of a cuckoo. Maybe because of all the arranged marriages between cousins in the 19th Century, a way of keeping the wealth within the family. He was interested in birdwatching, stamp collecting, and seashells. An active philanthropist, he founded the Delaware Museum of Natural History.

John was also interested in sports, particularly wrestling. This in spite of his mother’s opinion that it was a “low” sport. He poured large sums into training Olympic wrestlers.

Two such wrestlers were Mark and David Schultz. Mark was an Olympic and two-time World champion freestyle wrestler. His older brother David was a seven-time World and Olympic medalist. For the most part, they lived on the du Pont estate. David coached upcoming wrestlers for du Pont’s showy Team Foxcatcher.

Then Mark left the estate. And David drew closer to his wife and children. Du Pont felt abandoned.

Nobody’s quite sure why John du Pont shot David Schultz. The millionaire said, “Do you have a problem with me?” before pulling the trigger.

Now there’s a new movie called “Foxcatcher.” It tells the story about those events that led up to John du Pont being found “guilty but mentally ill” and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He died there.

“Foxcatcher” is currently showing at Tropic Cinema. In it, Steve Carell portrays John du Pont. Channing Tatum is cast as Mark. And Mark Ruffalo plays David. Vanessa Redgrave is du Pont’s disapproving mum.

The movie is up for five Academy Awards. Bennett Miller (“Capote,” “Moneyball”) has been nominated as Best Director. Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye were listed for Best Writing -- Original Screenplay. The movie even got a nod for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. And Mark Ruffalo got a nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

But it’s oft-times comedian Steve Carell’s serious turn as John Eleuthère du Pont that you want to watch. He was nominated as Best Actor. While he may not win due to steep competition from Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”) and Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”), not to mention Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) and Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”), his is a career re-defining performance.

Carell captures the lurking madness of John du Pont with his chin-forward, squinty-eyed, shuffling-gait, and halting-speech persona. That, and a set of false teeth combined with a prosthetic nose. After watching the movie, Carell’s wife said, “I didn’t see you.”

“My wife was the best person to have said what she did because she knows me better than anyone,” chuckles Carell. “And I guess it’s a good thing too because that’s not who I want to be around the house. If she saw elements of that person sleeping in bed next to her, we might have a problem.”

You know Carell from his “40-Year-Old Virgin” movie and stint on “The Office.” He is very likeable. John du Pont was just the opposite, “arrogant, odd, socially inept … a man who repelled people.” And at his core dangerous.

Du Pont is said to be the richest American ever tried for murder. He was a man who thought he could buy anything and anyone. But when he couldn’t buy the Schultz brothers, he snapped.

As Steve Carell sums it up, “It’s always sad when someone wants something they’re just not capable of having.”

srhoades@aol.com

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Into the Woods (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Into the Woods

Fairy Tale entertainment is all the rage. Witness "Wicked" on Broadway about everyone's favorite greenie meanie from Oz. Then on ABC there is "Once Upon a Time" and "Grimm" not to mention the miniseries "Galavant" about bubbly fluff, bravado and damsels.

Now, here on the big screen we have the opportunity to go "Into the Woods" with Rob Marshall's  film version of the James Lapine/ Stephen Sondheim musical production.

The production design, gloomy and barnacled, gives a nod to many New Yorker cartoons and children's books.

A struggling bread baker (James  Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) are wishing for a baby. Alas, they seem to be under a curse.

Along with this storyline there is Red RidingHood (Lillia Crawford) and a Wolf (Johnny Depp). There is a Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), a Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), a Jack (Daniel Huddlestone) and a beanstalk, along with one torpid female giant and two Colgate princes.

This is a lot to handle.

The main thrust of the tale concerns the baker and his wish to be a good father. Somehow, a very dynamic witch (Meryl Streep) appears on the scene in the wondrously elaborate manner of a Margaret Hamilton and offers the couple a deal.

In an Oz-like fashion, the two must purloin and obtain a red cape, a white cow, a slipper and a rope of golden hair.

With much fretting and this and that, the medley of characters go forth (where else) into the wooded dark areas of fairyland.

While some character sequences seem lackluster (Corden and Blunt feel a bit anemic, while Crawford's Ridinghood is generic and tepid) the film's shining star is Meryl Streep as a vain yet poignant witch, whose singular performance has eccentricity, nuance and charge. Her performance is one part Wicked Queen while the rest of her is a homeopathic hobgoblin and mother gone astray, while never leaving a bit of realism behind. Streep's amphetamine-angeled and wild-eyed witch is something to see. The Academy was right to nominate her and she alone is the gruesome glue that holds the story together.

Also amusing, albeit predictable in camp, is Depp's hairy one in grandmother's bedclothes.

The songs are pleasant and light, if not immediately catchy.

And when it gets sketchy midway, with all of the marching and slogging over the river and through the wet woods in the quest for charmed objects, a few irreverent jokes hit as if to wake us from a light drowse. Watch for the bronze and bare-chested Charmings.

If that doesn't get you, the witch will jab at you very entertainingly with her stand-alone long-nailed performance. As the blue sable one trailing a train of rats like a rodent-ruffled dress, Meryl Streep gives jazz and juice to what could have otherwise been a routine parade of Disney favorites.

Write Ian at ianfree1@icloud.com

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Week of Jan. 16 to Jan. 22 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

A Musical Interlude Lightens Tropic Lineup

Reviewed  by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

This week the Tropic is adding a little fairy tale magic and music to its holdovers of three more serious films.

Coming to Tropic screens is “Into the Woods,” Rob Marshall’s fantasy based on the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical. In this Disney picture, you’ll find your old storybook friends – Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Giant, even a witch played by Meryl Streep. Philadelphia Inquirer calls it “a jolly mash-up of symbol-laden, signature once-upon-a-time tales about lust, envy, greed, and misguided pursuits of happiness.” And Daily Film Fix describes it as “a superior example of adapting the stage to the screen.”

Held over is “Selma,” the much-talked about depiction of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. Drawing fire is how King’s relationship with President Lyndon Johnson is depicted. But whatever your opinion, you cannot turn your eyes away from David Oyelowo’s powerful performance as Dr. King. Seattle Times says, “History becomes breathtaking drama in ‘Selma’; there’s an urgent realism in the storytelling, as if we’re seeing this just in time. And indeed we are ...” Star Democrat offers, “Though these events occurred half a century ago, their power and relevance are undiminished.” And RedEye calls it, “A film of great power and integrity, fiercely attentive to the tipping point of progress and the difficult decisions that push it forward.”

Sticking around for another week is “The Imitation Game,” the much more dramatic story of Alan Turing, the British math whiz who helped crack the German’s Enigma code during WWII – while having a few secrets of his own. Benedict Cumberbatch is masterful in his portrayal of Turning. America Magazine says, “Cumberbatch brings his immense talent and intelligence -- and not too much glamour -- to the socially awkward, notoriously disheveled protagonist. And Daily Mail says, “Benedict Cumberbatch’s sensitive, moving performance is the film's beating heart, and the best reason to see it.”

Also staying over is “Wild,” the coming-to-terms-with-life film starring Reese Witherspoon as a woman who hikes the 1000-mile Pacific Crest Trail as she thinks back on her lost marriage, haunting mother, and where she went off-track. indieWire calls it “a first-rate advertisement for the purifying abilities of the great outdoors.” And Vanity Fair observes, “Witherspoon finds both a mature centeredness and a zen-like openness – it’s been a long time since we've seen her this fluidly expressive, this connected to good material.”

There you have it, three serious film bites with a side order of magic beans.

srhoades@aol.com

Hot Havana Nights (Rhoades)

One Night Only at Tropic Cinema: Thursday January 15

Ernest Hemingway Recalls Havana
Through Brian Gordon Sinclair

Exclusive report by Shirrel Rhoades

At first glance you’d think it was Ernest Hemingway up there on that stage, a large bearded man looking out past the audience as if sighting a big marlin from the deck of the Pilar. If you listen, you’ll be convinced it’s him as he shares stories about fishing, writing, women, drinking, and his adventurous life in Havana.

Who else could it be but Papa?

If you’re sitting a few rows back at the Tropic Cinema tonight it will be Brian Gordon Sinclair, a performer who has been described as “the foremost dramatic interpreter of Ernest Hemingway in the world today.”

“Hemingway’s HOT Havana” is a one-man show that captures the humor, excitement, and pathos in the great writer’s life. A champagne reception will be held at 7:30 p.m. with for Brian Gordon Sinclair’s performance starting at 8 p.m.

“HOT Havana” tells stories from the boisterous and bold life of Ernest Hemingway in Havana – including his adventures with pirates, watching baseball, battling with his typewriter, carousing with Ava Gardner, drinking daiquiris at La Floriditia, sinking German U-Boats, and winning the Nobel Prize.

“Ernest Hemingway opened a doorway that allowed me to discover the vibrant love of literature and people that is Cuba,” says Brian Gordon Sinclair. “He lived there for twenty years. His spirit is still there.”

Sinclair should know. He frequently visits Havana and Hemingway’s nearby home called Finca Vigia (“Lookout Farm”). He recently helped organize a children’s baseball team in San Francisco de Paula named after Hemingway’s son, the Gigi All-Stars.

“When I meet the people of Cuba, as a writer and performer of Hemingway, I can feel it. His spirit exists in the people, in their hearts. Now he has moved into legend. In Havana, in Holguin and in Santiago, I have had the pleasure of sharing that legend. I have portrayed Hemingway at the 50th Anniversary of the meeting of Fidel Castro and Ernest Hemingway. They met at an international fishing tournament organized by Hemingway and where Fidel won the trophy for catching the most fish.”

The press asked if he really believed that Fidel had caught the most fish in the 1960 tournament. “I told them that Hemingway had watched closely and that he had a damn fine pair of binoculars. He would never award the silver trophy to anyone who had cheated.”

Brian Gordon Sinclair is internationally known for his six chronological plays that comprise his “Hemingway On Stage: The Road to Freedom” series.

“HOT Havana,” however, is a separate stand-alone show, a series of excerpts from those six original plays. It was first performed in 2005 on the rooftop of Havana’s El Pacifico restaurant. Since then, Sinclair has taken the show around the world, traveling from Tromso, Norway, to Stratford-upon-Avon, sharing his monologue at numerous major literature festivals.

Lorian Hemingway, granddaughter of the great writer, has said Brian Gordon Sinclair’s one-man show “rivals the work of Hal Holbrook in ‘Mark Twain Tonight!’” Others compare him to James Whitmore in “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!”

Sinclair has been praised for having an “uncanny talent for putting himself deeply into the character.” Recently he was appointed an Honorary Papa of the Hemingway Look-Alike Society.

Not surprising, he has won the Sir Tyrone Guthrie Award for Acting at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the Finca Vigia Award of Distinction from Museo Hemingway, and the Canadian Studies Award of Distinction at University of Holguin in Cuba.

On stage he’s portrayed characters ranging from Dutch painter Vincent Van Gough to Irish patriot Patrick Pearse, but it’s his Hemingway monologues that define his talent. The Oak Park Ernest Hemingway Foundation has called his performance “mesmerizing.” And Valerie Hemingway, daughter-in-law and former secretary of Ernest Hemingway, noted, “Indeed, Brian succeeded in capturing, what I would call the spirit and essence of Ernest Hemingway.”

“Hemingway On Stage” is primarily a fund-raising venture, having produced over $50,000 in charitable donations. Recipients have included the Key West Art & Historical Society, the Hemingway Look-alike Society Scholarship Fund and Museo Hemingway in Cuba. And “Hemingway’s HOT Havana” has raised thousands of dollars for Cuban hurricane relief.

Thursday night’s performance goes to support the non-profit Tropic Cinema. A big gesture for a bigger-than-life man.


Into the Woods (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Into the Woods” Is Fantasy That Deals With Reality

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Dr. Bruno Bettelheim (author of “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales”) once sat me down and explained how fairy tales help prepare children for adulthood. He used many of Grimm’s Fairy Tales as examples.

Now Disney is trying to do the same thing with its new musical fantasy, “Into the Woods.”

Having made its own cinematic version of “Cinderella,” “Rapunzel,” and other children’s stories, the Mouse House is now putting your favorite fairy tales into a blender and giving you a smoothie.

Actually, “Into the Woods” started out as a Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim (“A little Night Music”). Director Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) took the idea of turning it into a film to the folks at Disney – and knowing something well suited for their magic kingdom they readily agreed.

“Into the Woods” is now playing at Tropic Cinema.

The plot is simple: Taking a page from mythologist Joseph Campbell, we have a young couple (James Corden and Emily Blunt) setting out on a journey into the woods in order to break a witch’s spell that renders them childless. Along the way they meet up with an array of your favorite fairy tale characters.

They include Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), Jack and the Giant (David Huddlestone and Frances de la Tour), Little Red Riding Hood (Lila Crawford) and the Wolf (yes, a furry Johnny Depp). The witch (a green-skinned Meryl Streep) is lurking about, casting her spells too.

The music by Sondheim is hummable, some 50 cuts on the soundtrack. He wrote two new songs for the movie.

Broadway fans may be upset that the story has been Disneyized (for example, Rapunzel does not die in the movie version).

Sondheim is philosophical about it. “Censorship is part of our puritanical ethics,” he observes. “There has to be a point at which you don't compromise anymore, but that may mean that you won’t get anyone to sell your painting or perform your musical. You have to deal with reality.”

Funny to be talking about reality when discussing a fairy tale fantasies.

srhoades@aol.com