Friday, June 26, 2009

Week of June 26 to July 2 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

Cue up the Lohengrin, or should I say Abba. Tonight (Friday, June 26) is the night for the MAMMA MIA! Sing-Along. It’s not just karaoke, but an entire wedding, with party props, champagne and cake, plus prizes for the best costumes. Oh, yeah, you’ll see and sing with the full movie, joining Meryl Streep and the gang on a Greek island. All for twenty-five bucks, and you don’t have to give the couple a present.

Meanwhile, back in the ordinary movie world, the Tropic has a mix of comedy, Disney and art.

Leading the pack is THE BROTHERS BLOOM, a con-men farce starring Adrien Brody (The Pianist, King Kong), Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardner, The Mummy). As their past credits suggest, these actors know how to shift from serious to silly, and The Brothers Bloom gives them ample opportunity. We’ve got an exotic Eastern European set, lots of explosions, but more than that director Rian Johnson “has infused The Brothers Bloom with so much heart and beauty that one can and should easily overlook its discomfiting moments. The truth is, the film's even more profound and touching upon second viewing, once you've dispensed with the genre affectations and gotten in touch with the filmmaker's affection for his characters. Maybe that's Bloom's best con: It steals your heart.” (

Not far behind is the Disney-Pixar animated adventure UP. What’s up in UP is the lead character, a curmudgeonly old balloon salesmen and his nine-year-old stowaway sidekick, who go on a multi-balloon-lifted ride across the Western Hemisphere. Given the provenance, you know you’ll have visuals to die for, and evil villains who will be vanquished by these unlikely heros. What’s not to like, especially if you’re under the age of consent? If you’re over, you might think you would prefer Up!, which was a 1976 Russ Meyer sexploitation flick, but you’d be making a mistake. This Pixar UP tells a grown-up story, with a plot that’s an homage to Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. So find a kid on the street if you don’t have one at home, and take him to see UP.

The sophisticates among you can to turn to EASY VIRTUE, the Noel Coward-based comedy that was originally booked for one week, but has been held over as a surprise hit. Kristin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth “welcome” a surprise and unwelcome new daughter-in-law to their country estate. Since she’s a sexy and outrageous American, she starts with two strikes against her in the British upperclass playbook. But it also means that she offers a ripe target for Coward’s wit.

LITTLE ASHES is this week’s counterpoint, a story of a real-life repressed relationship between two young Spaniards who are later to achieve fame. They are Salvador Dali and Frederico Garcia Lorca, and the time is 1922, when both were students at Madrid’s School of Fine Arts. Luis Buñuel is also there, completing a trio of youthful artist-revolutionaries bent on overturning sexual mores as well as the government. There are no subtitles in this film, and Dali is played by an ethereal-looking Robert Pattinson, fresh from something similar in Twilight, so it may offer an opportunity for his fans to catch a little cultural history while gazing on their hero. But be warned: he’s a cross-dressing gay.

Full details and schedules at
Comments, please, to
[from Key West, the newspaper]

Little Ashes (Rhoades)

Stirring the Flame With “Little Ashes”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My bedroom here in Key West is covered with Salvador Dali etchings and Marc Chagall serigraphs. I find that Dali’s surrealism and Chagall’s dream images are the perfect accompaniment for my going to sleep each night.

In “Little Ashes” – the Spanish-British drama currently found at the Tropic Cinema – you will get to meet the young Salvador Dali and his 1920s cohorts.

At 18, Dali arrived at the Academia de San Fernando (School of Fine Arts) in Madrid, where his flamboyance attracted an elite circle of students headed by poet Federico Garcia Lorca and future filmmaker Luis Buñuel.

Eventually Dali and Lorca were drawn together (no, that’s not a pun), spending time on the Spanish coast, a gathering with Dali’s family at Cadaques that was both idyllic and romantic.
Think of this as a prequel, the young Salvador Dali before he changed his ways and married a celeb-collecting older woman known as Gala. No twirling mustache, no melting clocks, no … persistence of memory.

Dali is portrayed here by Robert Pattinson, a young British actor most notable for playing a vampire in that Romeo-and-Juliet megahit, “Twilight.”

Buñuel is played by Matthew McNulty, best known for his TV work in England.

And Lorca is depicted by Javier Beltrán, a young Spanish newcomer.

Elena Ivanovna Diakonova (the Russian immigrant who came to call herself Gala) makes a brief appearance in the personage of Arly Jover, a Spanish actress who had a part in the vampire thriller “Blade.”

I’ve traveled to the Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain, the town of his birth. It reminded me of the painter’s proclamation that he loved “everything that is gilded and excessive.”

His life was excessive.

The movie’s title is taken from a Dali painting that was originally called “The Birth of Venus,” before being changed to “Sterile Efforts,” and then finally to “Cenicitas” (Little Ashes).

As for the steamy love affair depicted in this movie, Dali denied it, saying of Lorca: “He was homosexual, as everyone knows, and madly in love with me ... I was extremely annoyed, because I wasn’t homosexual, and I wasn’t interested in giving in.”

Philippa Goslett defends her screenplay: “Having done a huge amount of research, it’s clear something happened, no question….”
[from Solares Hill]

The Brothers Bloom (Rhoades)

Hold onto Your Wallet With “The Brothers Bloom”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I love movies about con men and their slight-of-hand games. “The Sting.” “Confidence.” “The Grifters.” “Matchstick Men.” “Deception,” “The Spanish Prisoner,” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

Don’t you?

Perhaps there’s a bit of larceny in all our hearts.

“The Brothers Bloom” – the indie film about a couple of swindlers pulling off one last score – is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Starring Mark Ruffalo and Oscar-winner Adrian Brody as the brothers Bloom, the film tells of their attempt to con a rich woman played by another Oscar-winner, Rachel Weisz.
The film starts off with two orphan boys going door-to-door to pull off a scam.
As the twig is bent … and all that ... we jump forward to see the grown-up confidence men who, having enjoyed a licentious career, are now ready to pack it in.

But Stephen (Ruffalo) convinces Bloom (Brody) to go out in grand style with one last swindle, this time bilking a woman named Penelope (Weisz) out of a bundle by pretending to be art dealers.

Okay, so that doesn’t go as planned, but being clever crooks they come up with a variation on the scheme.

Now, thinking they are art smugglers, Penelope winds up with them in Greece, then Prague, and finally Mexico. Along the way, one of the brothers falls for her. This is a no-no in the world of con men, falling for the mark.

Writer-director Rian Johnson says he wanted to create a character-based con-man movie with an “emotional payoff” while sticking to the expected structure of the genre: a con-man movie with two guys with one girl, where one of them falls for the girl. That way he could deviate from the classical ending by giving it a big twist.

When writing the script, Johnson says his main influences came from watching “The Man Who Would Be King” and “Paper Moon.”

Mark Ruffalo was originally cast as Bloom, but switched roles because his personality was a closer match to the character Stephen.

Adrian Brody signed on because he liked the script’s “originality and subtlety.”

Rachel Weisz has been down this road before, co-starring with Edward Burns in that twisty confidence movie called, uh, “Confidence.”

Also in this film you’ll find Robbie Coltrane as The Curator and Maximilian Schell as Diamond Dog.

One online blogger summed it up perfectly: “Films show us people acting a part written for them and the director tries to reflect this story in reality as closely as possible, but there is nothing real. The audience is the mark. The idea is to get our money. The most successful con is one where everyone gets what they want and the same is true with films.”

No, you won’t complain “The Brothers Bloom” conned you out of the price of a ticket.
[from Solares Hill]

Up (Rhoades)

“Up” Is Fantasy Of a Flying House

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

“Up” is kinda like Mr. Magoo meets “Around the World in 80 Days.” A little old man who has led a bland life ties 10,000 helium balloons to his house and next thing you know it’s up, up, and away!

Unbeknownst to him, a chubby 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer had been knocking on his door at the moment the house gives flight. Hunkered on the front porch, the terrified boy finally convinces the sky-high homeowner to allow him inside the flying structure.

Seems that when greedy land developers threatened to put the cranky 78-year-old balloon salesman into a retirement home, he decides to take the journey his late wife never had the chance to make, flying off to South America.

Just like the stuff of dreams, “Up” carries you away to magical realms. The man and boy encounter threats of the Venezuelan jungle, unexpected foes, and strange animals. These include a talking dog and a giant tropical bird.

Ed Asner (best remembered for TV’s “Mary Tyler Moore”) voices the old man. You’ve read about him in Solares Hill, developing film projects with Key West’s own ersatz movie maestro Harvey Rochman.

Jonathan Nagel does the voice for the young Asian-American stowaway.

And Christopher Plummer turns on his villainy as a famous adventurer who wants credit for discovering the species of large birds.

This computer-animated 3-D film comes from Pixar, the Disney-owned company that was founded by Apple genius Steve Jobs. Pixar has given us such CGI masterpieces as “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “Ratatouille,” and “WALL-E.” All in all earning 22 Academy Awards, 4 Golden Globes, and 3 Grammys, among many other accolades.

“Up” was directed by Pete Doctor, the animator who gave us the willies with “Monsters, Inc.”
As we follow the exploits of the young boy, “Up” may at first seem like a coming-of-age story. However, the director actually sees it as an “unfinished love story,” the old man dealing with the loss of his wife.

Doctor says he was inspired by “A Christmas Carol” and “Casablanca,” which he describes as “resurrection stories about men who lose something, and regain purpose during their journey.”
So enjoy “Up” on whatever level seems best. From a kid’s point of view. Through the eyes of an elderly man. Or simply as a moviegoer caught up in this phantasmagorical story about a flying house.

But remember, this is only fantasy. 10,000 balloons wouldn’t do the trick. A technical director worked out that it would actually require 23 million balloons to make Carl’s house fly.
Alas, the increased cost of airfare.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, June 19, 2009

Week of June 19 to June 25

What’s on at the Tropic
By Phil Mann

Sometimes you know you’re in the hands of a master. Sam Raimi, the writer-director of Spider-Man 1, 2 and 3 (with numbers 4 and 5 in the works), knows how to catch your attention with a dramatic jump cut and in-your-face villain. And he’s working a horror string with The Evil Dead I and II (with numbers III and IV in the works). DRAG ME TO HELL, his new horror-pic opening at the Tropic today, sends shivers up your spine in the opening scene, and it never lets them stop, except when you break out laughing at the absurdity of it all.

The heroine, Christine (Alison Lohman), is an otherwise kindly bank loan officer, who in an attempt to prove she can be tough, turns down an old Gypsy woman. Oh, fateful day. Christine is no pushover, more like an action hero, as she fights off the Gypsy, now transformed into a ghastly apparition, who must pause from time-to-time when her false-teeth fangs fall out. She enlists the aid of a fortuneteller, with expertise in warding off such curses, whose not-always-helpful advice just ratchets up the action. Christine, who starts off as a sweet country girl, becomes a wet-t-shirt warrior. But will she defeat the Lamia? I won’t tell, but be assured that it’s “fearsomely scary, wickedly funny and diabolically gross” (L.A. Times). What else could you want on a summer evening?

Okay, I know what else. A Noel Coward drawing room comedy. Not to worry, EASY VIRTUE is here. From writer-director Stephan Elliot, who brought us the over-the-top drag comedy Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, this new work is sort of a “Meet the Parents” set in a British country house in the 1930’s. Kristin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth are the upper crust parents ensconced in their aging pile, and Jessica Biel is the sexy American racecar driver and new wife, brought home by their son Ben Barnes. Throw in two snooty daughters, thirties music and some riding to the hounds, and you can see why this ”deliciously cheeky screen adaptation …. will charm your pants off” (Village Voice).

Or do you want something more serious? Well, there’s TERMINATOR: SALVATION the latest in this CGI-driven series that has left Schwarzenegger behind. The fate of the world, as usual, is at stake – but not for real. For some reality, please turn to THREE MONKEYS from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, winner of last year’s Best Director award at Cannes. A politician involved in a hit-and-run accident persuades his driver to take the rap. The ensuing drama is “a ripe and pulpy melodrama that might have originated in a James M. Cain novel” (New York Times), but with the pacing and sensibility of one of Europe’s master directors.

Rounding out the week is LA STRADA, one show only, in the Monday Night Classics series.

And get your tickets and your costume ready for next Friday, June 26. It’s the sing-a-long version of MAMA MIA. Door prizes, karaoke, and a champagne/wedding cake reception after the show. You’re all invited!

Full info and schedules at
Comments, please, to
[from Key West, the newspaper]

Easy Virtue (Rhoades)

“Easy Virtue” Offers Noël Coward’s Wit

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Nobody was wittier than Noël Coward. His plays were masterpieces of charming repartee.

Back in 1924 when Coward was merely 25-years-old he penned his 16th play, a clever drawing room melodrama called “Easy Virtue.” It’s the story of an Englishman who impetuously marries a pretty American divorcee to his mother’s horror.

Who would have expected Coward’s chatty play to be turned into a 1928 silent movie? And by none other than suspense maestro Alfred Hitchcock.

Being a silent film, the only dialogue Hitchcock preserved from the play is a single word screen that has the mother asking, “Have you had as many lovers as they say?” and the American wife responding, “Of course not. Hardly any of them actually loved me.”

That gives you a hint of Coward’s witticisms, but the movie bore little resemblance to the play.
Now director Stephan Elliott (best known for the kitschy cross-dressing film, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) has brought “Easy Virtue” to the screen once again, but this time with most of the words intact.

“Easy Virtue” – an amusing film about the culture clash between smug English gentry and a vulgarian American – is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In this stylish remake, Ben Barnes plays weak-willed John Whittaker. Kristin Scott Thomas is the conniving mother. And Jessica Biel (named Sexiest Woman Alive by Esquire Magazine) is the new wife who dares come between mother and son.

Biel is a good choice for the role of Larita. As Coward’s original script described the character:
“She is tall, exquisitely made-up and very beautiful. Her clothes, because of their simplicity, are obviously violently expensive.”

Yep, that’s Biel in a performance that proves she’s more than just a pretty girl from TV’s “Seventh Heaven.”

The plot focuses on the battle between two women over the son. In Coward‘s autobiography, he said the point of the play was “to compare the déclassé woman of today with the more flamboyant demi-mondaine of the 1890’s.”

Even so, the theme is about hypocrisy. While falsely accusing her son’s new wife of having – as the title implies – easy virtue, Mrs. Whittaker shows her own moral ambiguity in her quest to destroy the marriage.

Noël Coward chose not to mention the silent film version of his play in his autobiography, a telling omission. However, today’s Noël Coward Society gave this 2008 film a good review. Probably because Coward’s famous bon mots are plentiful.

As Coward once said, “I love criticism just so long as it’s unqualified praise.”
[from Solares Hill]

Three Monkeys (Rhoades)

“Three Monkeys” Bespeaks Of Chaotic Lives in Turkey

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Last week my wife was discussing Turkey – the middle-eastern country, not the with Thanksgiving bird – with someone at a party, recounting a time when she’d “followed the navy around the Mediterranean.”

I pointed out that she had been meeting with her first husband, a navy jet jockey, rather than entertaining the arms forces at large. A small point of honor.

She remembers Turkey as a sprawling, chaotic place, with troops carrying AK-47s, narrow and confusing streets, and airports crowded with bedraggled travelers.

The Turkey you see in “Three Monkeys” – the new film at the Tropic Cinema – presents an Istanbul not that different from her memory, even after 30-some years.

Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, it tells of people who take a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no evil approach to life.

A businessman hits a pedestrian with his car, but pays an employee to go to jail for him. The ripple effect this has on the employee’s wife and son, and eventually back to the businessman, and then starting the cycle all over again is an intriguing concept.

Cause and effect. Nothing is without its consequences. The Chaos Effect: If you step on a butterfly in America it may cause a tsunami in Japan.
Or Turkey.
[from Solares Hill]

Mamma Mia - Sing-a-long (Rhoades)

“Mamma Mia!” Returns For Sing-Along Encore

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Mamma mia, there the Tropic goes again! Turning the Meryl Steep movie into a sing-along.

Yes, those bouncy ABBA songs make you want to sing and dance in the aisles. “Mamma Mia,” “Honey, Honey,” “Lay All Your Love on Me,” “Money, Money, Money,” “Winner Take All,” “Does Your Mother Know,” and “Dancing Queen” – this 2008 stage-to-film adaptation has them all.

What a clever idea – “Mamma Mia!” as an audience-participation event like “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Why not?

And what better place than Key West to take a schmaltzy movie musical and treat it as a campy sing-along? This could wind up competing with karaoke at the 801 Club.

You remember the story, set on a picturesque Greek Island, three guys from Streep’s past showing up to give away her daughter in marriage – each thinking he’s the dad. Mamma mia!
This comedy of confused identities (or more precisely, confused parentage) stars Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard as the trio of potential fathers. Amanda Seyfried is a standout as the daughter. And Meryl Streep proves she can belt out a song or dance disco with the best of them.

Perhaps you can too. Catch the Friday night showing of “Mamma Mia!: The Sing-Along Edition” with lyrics highlighted on the screen and, well, sing along.
[from Solares Hill]

Drag Me To Hell (Rhoades)

“Drag Me to Hell” Is Helluva Trip

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever lost your temper and told someone to go to hell? Sure you have. But what if your words were actually a curse?

That’s what a loan officer (Alison Lohman) discovers when she tries to evict an old lady from her home. Next thing you know, she’s beset by some horrific happenstances. When she consults a psychic, she discovers that due to the old crone’s curse she’s literally on her way to hell. Uh-oh.

Warning: Bankers beware of your actions during this time of foreclosures, defaults, and financial unrest. This could happen to you if you mess with any of my mortgages!

“Drag Me to Hell” is the new fright fest that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

What sets this horror film apart from other supernatural potboilers is its director. Sam Raimi cut his cinematic teeth on scary movies: “The Evil Dead,” “The Evil Dead II,” “Army of Darkness,” even a nifty psychic thriller called “The Gift.”

However, in recent years he’s moved uptown as director of the three “Spider-Man” movies, those mega-buck blockbusters based on Marvel’s superhero character.

Odd that Raimi would return to his roots with another cheesy horror flick.

But truth is, that’s the genre he loves.

And when your three “Spider-Man” movies have raked in $2.5 billion in worldwide ticket sales, you can do any cockamamie project you choose.

“Freedom,” Raimi cites as the reason he took on this latest film. “On this picture I could have complete creative control and final cut, which I actually had for the first time since my first film, ‘The Evil Dead.’ I could just do what I believed in. I didn’t have to negotiate creatively with anyone. So it was refreshing in that way.”

Where did the idea come from? “My brother, Ivan, and I had written this short story in 1989,” explains Raimi. “Then just a few years ago, we adapted it into a screenplay. I have a horror movie company called Ghost House Pictures, so I thought, why not make it into a full-fledged screenplay for the new company?”

He adds, “We wrote it in mind with me to produce and for another director to come in and shoot it. Unfortunately that meant cutting the script so it could be made on a smaller budget. And as I started cutting, I realized that’s not why I was in it. I wasn’t there just to make a movie. I wanted to make this movie.”

Raimi’s next film project will be “Spider-Man 4.” But in the meantime, what does he hope moviegoers will take away from “Drag Me to Hell”?

He smiles malevolently. “What I want is for the audience to laugh, jump, scream, grab their girlfriend and feel they really had a great time at the end of that hour and a half. That’s how I’d measure the success of this film.”

Hey, mission accomplished.
[from Solares Hill]

Terminator:Salvation (Rhoades)

“Terminator” May Not Be the End

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

No, Ar-nold is not here in “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth movie in the series about machines from the future attacking earth. Arnold Schwarzenegger is busy trying to save California – rather than the planet earth.

“Terminator Salvation” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In this one, Sarah Connor’s son John is all grown up – apparently morphing from geeky Edward Furlong of “Terminator 2” to handsome Christian Bale of “The Dark Knight” fame.

Following humankind’s near extermination by a nuclear holocaust, John Connors leads a band of survivors who are determined to fight off Skynet’s machines. But the appearance of a stranger named Marcus Wright (played by Sam Worthington) changes the rules of engagement.

Is Marcus a human? Or a cybernetic organism?

While I was technically correct about Arnold not reprising his Terminator role, you in fact will see him. His face was digitally superimposed onto Roland Kickinger’s T-800 Terminator body. Kickinger has the creds for this stand-in assignment, having portrayed Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2005 TV biopic “See Arnold Run.”

Other familiar faces in “Terminator Salvation” include Helen Bonham Carter, Jane Alexander, and Michael Ironside. Plus Bryce Dallas Howard (director Ron Howard’s daughter) takes over Clair Danes’ original role.

McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) is not quite the director that King of the World James Cameron is. Cameron’s first two films in the series are sci-fi classics. Nonetheless, with McG’s version you’ll get plenty of action and S/FX, for moviemaking techniques keep advancing at lightning speed.

Still, flash doesn’t trump substance.

The tagline for “Terminator Salvation” is “The end begins.” Wish I could believe this about a movie franchise that has run its course. But I predict this is more likely a new beginning.
[from Solares Hill]

Saturday, June 13, 2009


tropic test alphabet

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Week of June 12 to June 18 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic

By Phil Mann

Let's start with ANGELS AND DEMONS. There are some movies that seem to be begging the reviewer to make fun of them. I mean, what can you say about a film that takes Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) to Rome where he has to dash back and forth across the city, accompanied by a gorgeous female physicist (Ayelet Zurer), following obscure clues to save the Vatican City from being blown up by an anti-matter capsule with the explosive power of an A-bomb?

Well, first of all, don't think about the plot, which makes STAR TREK (which is alternating this week on the same screen) seem like a plausible documentary. Just sit back and enjoy the action, which unfolds at breakneck speed. Try to figure out who the bad guy is. Not Tom Hanks, of course. But is it his lady physicist sidekick (who created the bomb while playing around with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN), the sneering head of the Swiss Guard (Stellan Skarsgard), the imperious Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the innocent young priest (Ewan McGregor), or one of the many lurking minions?

And enjoy the Roman scenery, most of which is real, and some of which is from a set created at the Hollywood Park race track. Rome wasn't built in a day, but St. Peter's Square at Hollywood Park, made it in a month or so.

The whole movie is just a goof. You'll be on the edge of your seat and have a great time.

Meanwhile, back in the real Rome, we have VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPEROR, a documentary that takes us deep into the world of Italian fashion. It would be an understatement to say that I'm an alien here, but I was fascinated by the backstage look at what goes into couture, the painstaking handcrafting that is required to shape raw cloth into inspired and beautiful garments. I was charmed by the story of Valentino himself and his life-partner/business manager Giancarlo Giametti. I was enthralled by the business machinations of corporate philistines who reshaped Valentino's creative world into one of franchising and branding. And I was amazed at the ability of the filmmakers to capture unguarded moments that revealed more than the principals may have wished. A good documentary shows you something you hadn't seen before and teaches you about it. A great documentary combines that with a story arc - beginning, middle and end. VALENTINO does both, and it's a feast for the eyes as well. Don't miss.

Also “truly unmissable” (Rolling Stone) and “must-see” (NY Observer) is THE CLASS. This French film follows an inspired teacher and his working-class students through a school year. Based on a true story, the movie won the Palm D'Or at Cannes, was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar here, and has compiled an almost-unheard of 100% rating from top critics on The writer-director Laurent Cantet had the smarts to cast the actual teacher as his lead and to work for a year with a group of students to develop a rapport that enables the film to have a cinéma vérité quality.

A rich film feast, indeed. Come down, cool off, and take advantage of the Tropic's Summer Sizzles promotion - see ten movies and get your eleventh free.

Details and schedules at
Comments, please, to
[from Key West, the newspaper -]

Angels and Demons (Rhoades)

“Angels & Demons” Battle It Out

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Everybody loves a conspiracy.

Four cases in point:

1. A few years ago director Paul Morrissey spent most of a drive to Hilton Head Island explaining the International Communist Conspiracy to me. And during the drive back he railed on about the International Jewish Conspiracy.

“They sound like the same thing,” I pointed out.

“They are!” he shouted, as if I’d finally seen the light.

2. My friend Tim Gratz spends a lot of time online swapping conspiracy theories about the JFK Assassination with such noted researchers as Larry Hancock, Pat Spear, and Gordon Winslow. Push him and Tim will also lecture you on the inconsistencies in the Bobby Kennedy shooting and Dr. Martin Luther King’s death.

3. My friend Ski at Marvel Comics sees conspiracies of a different sort: The Bilderbecks, Trilateral Commission, Skull and Bones … and the Illuminati. He devours books by Jim Marr and others of that they’re-out-to-get-you ilk.

4. Author Dan Brown has made himself a fortune out of conspiracies – first with “Angels & Demons.” Then with his international bestseller “The DaVinci Code.”

Director Ron Howard’s movie version of “Angels & Demons” – now playing at the Tropic Cinema – treats it as a sequel, although the books were written in the other order.

Like “The DaVinci Code,” this film also stars Tom Hanks as a “symbologist” who solves age-old conspiracies that are apt to shake the very foundations of our beliefs.

Here Brown’s Robert Langdon (Hanks) is called in by the Vatican when a murder victim is branded with an Illuminati anagram, revealing the secret society’s plans to kill four Roman Catholic cardinals and blow up St. Peter’s Basilica.

Our innate paranoia is such that fans often have difficulty separating historic truth from fiction. A book industry has grown up around Dan Brown’s stories, dozens of volumes that endeavor to explain what’s true and what’s not.

The plot of “Angels & Demons” is the Illuminati’s secret war against the Church. In short, a battle between science and religion.

At a time when Evolution is being challenged by Creationism and Intelligent Design, this struggle should resonate among both readers and moviegoers.

This go-round, Hanks has a better haircut. But the game’s the same. He has to unravel a centuries-old mystery that would cause a secret society like the Illuminati to go after the Vatican.
However, the good guys and bad guys are not always as straightforward as a devout churchgoer might expect.

Yes, Dan Brown might have some explaining to do when he meets St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. Undeterred by his place in the hereafter, he’s said to be working on a third novel in this Robert Langdon trilogy.

Like I said, everybody loves a conspiracy. Except maybe the Pope.
[from Solares Hill]

Star Trek (Rhoades)

“Star Trek” Arrives At Warp Speed

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

No, this “Star Trek” movie is not boldly going where no man has gone before. That’s because there have been ten previous “Star Trek” films, not to mention 79 episodes of TV’s original “Star Trek,” 172 episodes of “Star Trek Voyager,” 178 episodes of “Star Trek: Next Generation,” 98 episodes of “Star Trek: Enterprise,” and 176 episodes of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

Having run out of sequels for the movie franchise, Paramount now turns to a prequel.
“Star Trek” – the story of a young James T. Kirk and his Vulcan cohort – is currently playing at Tropic Cinema.

This time around, this youthful version of Captain Kirk is fighting Romulans from the future, interstellar enemies who are trying to interfere with history by (you guessed it) destroying the Federation.

Forget porcine William Shatner and wizened Leonard Nemoy. Paramount is aiming for a much younger, hipper audience. Enter Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, the Generation Y answer to Kirk and Spock.

Eric Bana (the one-time “Hulk”) is the Romulan bad guy. Ben Cross (“Chariots of Fire”) shows up as Spock’s father and Wynona Ryder (“Girl, Interrupted”) steals in as his mother. Simon Pegg (“Hot Fuzz”) holds the reactors together as Scotty. My old friend Bill Civitella’s client Zoë Saldana (“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”) makes a terrific Urhara.

Remember I said to forget Leonard Nemoy? Scratch that. He reprises his old role as Spock – albeit Spock from the future. Shatner wanted to do the same, but his character was killed off in “Star Trek Generations.”

The Star Trek series was created by the late Gene Roddenberry, but this movie was conceived and directed by J.J. Abrams, the wunderkind who gave us TV’s “Alias” and “Lost.” He hopes to revive this once profitable but now lost-in-space film franchise.

Bet you my Star Trek lunchbox he succeeds!
[from Solares Hill]

The Class (Rhoades)

“The Class” Gets A Gold Star

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My wife used to teach a group of students known as “the Zoo.” The difficult kids. Each school year the challenge was how to get them to learn anything.

That seems to be the case in “The Class” (or “Entre les murs”), the French film about a dedicated-but-struggling teacher that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

François Bégaudeau not only based the screenplay on his novel about his experiences as a teacher of a racially mixed group of students in a Parisian neighborhood, but he also stars in this wonderful little film.

Most of the action is verbal, repartee between teacher and students in the classroom. We meet the unresponsive black girl, the tattletale “skanks,” the brilliant Chinese kid, the rebellious thug on the verge of being expelled.

Can this teacher engage them, assure that they’ve at least learned one thing during the school year? Maybe, maybe not.

A classroom incident that involves abusive language, accidental bloodletting, and defiance of the teacher’s authority brings the film to a climax. François must undergo some thoughtful soul-searching to determine the fate of his students.

Do I think he came to the right decision? No, I didn’t – and neither did my ex-teacher wife.
But in the end it’s about learning.

A student who has read Socrates’ “The Republic” unknowingly sums up the role of the teacher when she awkwardly describes the book: “He stops people in the street and ask them: Are you sure of thinking what you think? Are you sure of doing what you do? And so on. After that, people start getting confused. They ask questions. The guy’s too much.”

You’ll find yourself – just like the students in François’ class – asking questions about the art of teaching.
[from Solares Hill]

Valentino: The Last Emperor (Rhoades)

“Valentino” Dresses Up The Screen at the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A few years ago my wife and I had the privilege of attending Savannah College of Art & Design’s first student fashion show, the output of their fabulous fashion design department. No amateur affair, these designs were judged by none other than Miuccia Prada (Yes, the head designer of the brand that inspired the title in “The Devil Wears Prada”). Miu Miu (as Miuccia is known to her friends) looked as chic as a runway model herself.

How do you build a world-famous fashion brand like Prada or Gucci or Helmut Lang?

Well, you can see one case history in “Valentino: The Last Emperor” – the documentary about legendary designer Valentino and his longtime business and life partner Giancarlo Giammetti, who together built a huge fashion empire. This critically acclaimed film is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani, better known as simply Valentino, became interested in fashion while still in knickers in northern Italy. At 17, his family shipped him off to the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris to study design. He went on to apprentice for a number of fashion houses (Jacques Fath, Balenciaga, Jean Dresses, Guy Laroche).

In 1959, his family backed him in setting up his own shop in Rome. The following year he met Giancarlo Giammetti while sipping an aperitif at the Café de Paris on the Via Veneto. That chance encounter would lead to a business partnership as well as a personal one.

At the time Giammetti was a second year architecture student. When he joined Valentino’s atelier, the financial situation was dismal. All the backers had pulled and the company was facing bankruptcy. However, Giammetti's entrepreneurial genius helped turn it around, and his business acumen – combined with Valentino’s great designs – built the struggling company into an international brand.

“How would you define in one word … your choice to live in another man’s shadow?” Giammetti is asked at the beginning of this film. “Happiness,” he replies.

Valentino is the only designer in the world who’s managed to last 45 years. “I love beauty,” he says. “It’s not my fault. … women, they want to be beautiful.”

Valentino’s “breakthrough show” took place in Florence in 1962, a triumph that led to him dressing such socialites as Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, Babe Paley, Jayne Wrightman, Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Farah Diba, Audrey Hepburn, and Marisa Berenson. As well as my friend Veruschka, the famed supermodel.

Although Veruschka wore hippie-like hand-me-downs around her Brooklyn three-story walk-up whenever I visited her, I once asked who had been her favorite designer?

“Ah, that’s easy,” she’d responded in her deep Prussian accent. “Valentino.”

Produced and directed by Matt Tyrnauer, a special correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine,
“Valentino: the Last Emperor” follows the designer and his companion of 50 years as they flit around the world. “He lives as lavishly as his clients,” says Tyrnauer. “He shuts out all that is not beautiful.”

Granted unprecedented access, the filmmakers shot more than 250 hours of film to produce this 96-minute movie.

The highest grossing documentary debut of 2009, “Valentino: the Last Emperor” is as much about the designer and his companion as it is about the world of haute couture.

Someone quipped, “If the devil wears Prada, surely God is dressed by Valentino.”
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, June 5, 2009

Week of June 5 to June 11 (Mann)

What's on at the Tropic

By Phil Mann


It's foreign film week at the Tropic, starting with the most out-landish of all, STAR TREK. “Go with us where no one has gone before,” says Paramount's promo for this newest, but in a sense first, movie about Captain Kirk, Spock and the gang. Rather than bringing us the further adventures of the Starship Enterprise, filmmaker J.J. Abrams has taken us back to the beginning, to the birth of Kirk and the origins of the story. The word on the street is that this may be the best-ever trek in space, beloved by Trekkies of course, but also a perfect introduction and a fun time for initiates. “An affectionate, exuberant picture that seeks to bring even those who don't know Klingon from Portuguese into the embrace of a pop-culture phenomenon,” affirms no less an authority than


Meanwhile, back on Earth, but across the sea in France, SUMMER HOURS could not be more different. The opening scene introduces us to the family at their traditional country house. It's a birthday celebration for the elegant, but aging widowed mother in her domain filled with museum quality art and objets. Her three children are there, the daughter, a designer living in New York (Juliet Binoche); the younger son, a marketing executive living in Asia; and the older son, an economist who has remained in France; along with their spouses and children. It's all wonderful, but the mother insists on pulling the older son aside to discuss what will be done with the house and the art on her death, so we know where the plot is going. Soon they are gathered again with the necessity of resolving these issues, and they don't all agree. Don't expect a knockdown, drag-out battle. That's not what the movie is about. It's more about possessions and memories and what they mean to us. It's about generational change, from the inbred so-French generation of the mother; to the more-worldly and more-open generation of her children; to the generation of their children, who seem from another culture entirely. The shift may have particular meaning for the French, but it's “packed nearly to bursting with rich meaning and deep implication” (New York Times) for us as well.


And, finally, returning to our hemisphere, SIN NOMBRE takes us to Mexico, where we are immediately overwhelmed by harsh and powerful images that seem from another universe than that of Summer Hours. A family of Honduran immigrants, including a lovely young daughter, is struggling across Mexico, riding atop freight trains, trying to get to the States. Their paths cross with a Mexican slum gang whose idea of creative criminality is to rob these immigrants. Grossly tattooed, with religious-like rituals, and initiation ceremonies that subject the novitiate to brutal kicking and require him to murder someone with a zip gun, the gang is evil incarnate. The writer-director, Cary Fukunaga, is a Japanese-American, but the energy and violence of the movie reminds us of Mexican films like Amores Perros. “Riveting from start to finish,” says Roger Ebert of this Sundance winner. Thank goodness for the movies, which allow me to experience this world without coming near it.


This week's revivals and classics include movies from David Lean (BRIEF ENCOUNTERS), Alfred Hitchcock (THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY), and Ingmar Bergman (FANNY AND ALEXANDER). So there's plenty of reason to stay cool at the Tropic.


Full info and details at

Comments, please, to

 [from Key West, the newspaper -]

Sugar (Rhoades)

“Sugar” Dreams of The Major Leagues

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

  My wife’s cousin Chad Curtis played major league baseball with the Yankees. After making big bucks, he retired at an early age. Lucky stiff.

Making the majors is every ballplayer’s dream.

That’s the theme of “Sugar” – the baseball film that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Miguel “Sugar” Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) is a young Dominican with a “million dollar arm” that throws 95. If he can make it to the States to play in the minors, that could be a stepping stone to the major leagues. Rookie ball, Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A –  “all that before you even set foot in the majors,” the coaches explain.

Making it to the majors would be the answer to all his single-minded dreams. Money for his impoverished family. A Cadillac that he’ll “drive across the ocean” to see his girlfriend.

But the coaches tell him to be like a racehorse, focus on nothing but himself.

So when he’s invited to Spring training in Phoenix, he seems well on his way.

But a Kansas City Knights coach puts it in proper perspective: “Remember, that until you reach the top there’s all these guys above you hustling to keep you down here and guys below you pushing to take your job. We got 75 pitchers in this camp for less than 50 positions come April 3rd. You do the math. You’re gonna work hard.”

And Sugar does.

But it’s a strange country and a strange culture.

When the 20-year-old ballplayer is welcomed into an Iowa home, he begins to question whether he has the makings of a major leaguer. Maybe there’s a life for him somewhere else, New York maybe. Almost in the shadow of Yankee Stadium.

Casting the movie was a challenge. Algenis Perez Soto was Number 452 out of 600 guys interviewed. A genuine Dominican ballplayer, he was actually a shortstop who had to be trained to pitch for his role in “Sugar.”

Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck helmed this sleeper sports story. They are best known for “Half Nelson,” a drama about a drug-addled teacher starring Ryan Gosling.

“Y’ know, I’ve been a baseball fan for a long time,” says Fleck. “And I felt like I knew a fair amount about the game. But I did not realize that every major league baseball team has one of these private academies in the Dominican Republic where it’s a huge industry, where hundreds of players live in these academies. And they train, and they’re taught a little bit of English. And hundreds come to the United States for Spring training every year, and get sent off into various parts of the farm system in minor league baseball in little small towns. And it was really fascinating to know this existed… I just became really curious about these guys who go through this process every year, who you never hear about, who don’t become Sammy Sousa or Pedro Martinez or the superstars that baseball fans are familiar with.”

In the movie, Sugar has to rethink his dreams. In real-life, Chad Curtis took his baseball money and bought a horse ranch.

[from Solares Hill]

Summer Hours (Rhoades)

“Summer Hours” Spans Generations

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My grandmother used to worry about how to divide her estate between her children. She’d sit with me and explain who should get what. I advised her to spend her money, that she’d earned it and her children didn’t need it. That advice did not make me popular with my mother and uncle.

In the end, when she died, things were distributed between her children as they decided. Grandchildren called dibs on antique tables and chairs and writing cabinets, with little regard for grandmother’s never-formalized plans.

I received an armoire which sits in my house here in Key West, my allotted bit of memory.

In “Summer Hours” (“L’Heure d’été”) – the French family drama currently playing at the Tropic Cinema – we see how heirlooms and objets d’art are scattered following a matriarch’s passing.

In this poignant subtitled study, Hélène (Edith Scob) gathers her grown children at their family estate in rural France, taking aside Frédéric (Charles Berling) to explain what she’s leaving to whom. After all he’s the stable professor of economy who lives in France, while his sister Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) is a flighty artist living in the US and Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) is a successful businessman in China.

Frédéric is uncomfortable with the conversation, but his mother is realistic that “memories, secrets, history” will die with her. Despite the son’s declaration that the home, scene of so many beloved childhood experiences, will stay in the family, a place for the grandchildren to gather, she wisely knows better.

Then, when Hélène dies shortly thereafter, the brothers and sister must decide what to do with the house and its contents. After all, they’ve moved on with their lives.

The house itself in “Summer Hours” is used as a metaphor for the dissipation of this family’s heritage – a museum-like repository for art created by a great uncle, rare tables and cabinets, valuables vases, and personal artistic journals. But by the end of the film the house has been reduced to an empty shell where teenagers gather to drink beer and play loud music, leaving little but a tearful memory for one of Hélène’s grandchildren.

This is the second in a series of films produced by Musee d’Orsay. You probably saw the first, “The Flight of the Red Balloon” (“Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge”).

Written and directed by Oliver Assayas, this is the better of the two efforts. Assayas manages to tell a simple story that is at the same time complex in its underlying emotions.

“Ultimately, what I am most interested in,” says Assayas, “is what contradicts what I have written because that’s exactly where real life moves into the film.”

“Summer Hours” is about real life. My grandmother would have identified with this theme of heritage and its loss among ongoing generations.

[from Solares Hill]