Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (Rhoades)

Shining Light on “Don’t Be Afraid Of the Dark”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Kids fear the dark. After all, there might a monster hiding in the closet. Or a goblin lurking under the bed.

Back in 1973 a TV movie played to those fears. In the contra-named “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” a young woman (Kim Darby) discovers goblin-like creatures living in a sub-basement under the house.

Even though I’d been raised on drive-in horror features like “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” and “The Mummy,” this scary premise that tiny monsters might be running rampant in my home struck a nerve. Should I call an exterminator?

Hollywood is the ultimate recycler. A new version of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In this remake, the young girl who discovers the goblin infestation is played by Bailee Madison (a veteran actress since appearing in a TV commercial at two weeks old). Guy Pearce (“Memento,” “L.A. Confidential”) takes over the father role played by the late Jim Hutton. And Katie Holmes (Mrs. Tom Cruise) stars as the father’s girlfriend, a slight twist on the original movie. Katie’s character is named Kim, perhaps an homage to the original star.

Horror movies require naïve or stupid characters. Who else would venture forth when warned, “Don’t go in the basement”? Here, young Sally (Bailee Madison) discovers a hidden basement with a sealed fireplace. Despite her dad’s admonishment she pries open the portal, allowing these goblins to escape into the house. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

Kim (Katie Holmes) does a little research, discovering that a previous owner’s son disappeared. Before vanishing, the boy had ranted about tiny Stone Age creatures that abducted children to replenish their ranks.

Katie Holmes says, “When I read this script, I was scared and I had to turn on all the lights in my house. I thought I heard noises. And I held my child really close.”

Write-producer Guillermo del Toro spent 15 years chasing the rights to redo “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.” Then he tapped comic-book artist Troy Nixey to direct the film. “First-time directors, it’s a bigger risk but when you’ve made the right choice the reward is 10 times more satisfactory,” he defends his choice.

“I had a great time working with him,” gushes Katie Holmes. “He’s an amazing illustrator and to see that translated into his work with visual design it was really exciting.” And scary. After seeing the results, she admits, “I usually sleep with the lights on.”

Sarah's Key (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Sarah's Key

Films about the Holocaust and World War II, are frequently charged enough. They don't require any subplots, extraneous melodrama or armchair philosophy. The horror speaks for itself. "Schindler's List" got it right. A movie laid bare for all to see. We sensed that epic film on our skin and in our musculature. Not merely a "film" but an experience in dark light. 

Together with "Schindler's List" many Holocaust films from other directors are well done with different aspects of this abhorrent period. Not all of them are perfect, but they are nonetheless resonant.

"Sarah's Key" based on the popular book by Tatiana de Rosnay is the latest film to join this group of emotive  works. It is a fine, heartfelt film, but   the subplot is unnecessary and does not add much to the touching power of the main story. And Eeek! It philosophizes in a pedestrian self-help manner. Why?

The film stars Melusine Mayance as a ten year old who hides her brother in a hidden cupboard  during the Nazi-occupation in France. Mayance does a tremendous job in her role and the scenes of Sarah sick and being torn from her mother are as heart rending  as any sequence in any war movie, ever.  As is the possibility of escape and the eventuality of opening a long sealed up cupboard after months. Sarah's little hand clenched over the key as she endures sickness and fear says it all. The tension as she fumbles for the wall is a real life horror show and almost too much, but it is when the movie shines. 

Enter veteran actor Kristen Scott Thomas as Julia Jarmond, a reporter who doggedly crisscrosses the globe to find out--yes, we knew it---what had happened to Sarah. The reporter paces to and fro. She becomes pale, she frets worries and whines about her relationship. It's a wonder that she has time to write. Why go this route? It is confusing with baggage.  "Sarah's Key" is compelling enough in its primary focus: a young girl trying to free her brother. After all, she promised him.

Don't get me wrong. Kristen Scott Thomas is very good. Her character as written though, is just lacking, given that the primary episode is so compelling. I don't really care about Julia.  But I care about Sarah and your eyes will follow her to the end of the earth. She will also get your heart. Even as Sarah matures,  her character stays consistent in its willfulness and we are riveted.

The film's chemistry and motion is so strong that with a few weak points at the end, you'll feel a bit let down. Julia is led on such a cat and mouse chase, from New York to Italy and it takes so much time that it seems like "The Da Vinci code: Closed doors and missed chances.  Julia tracks down William, Sarah's son. William (Aidan Quinn) is understandably moved to tears but he doesn't show much range of emotion.

Worse, when Julia admits that she has named her daughter "Sarah" I found my  head shaking. Good Grief. 

The last shot with a preachy voiceover: something about history allowing us to become who we really are and can become, and in time, something better, is pure greeting card and superfluous. This is an adult film and quite powerful. But it is a pity that "Sarah's Key" did not act its age throughout.

Fortunately, young Melusine Mayance can act with  verve beyond her years. And she alone saves this film from its made for TV Hallmark moment.
Write Ian at

Sent from my iPhone

Sarah's Key (Rhoades)

“Sarah’s Key”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Think of this is an Anne Frank tale gone horribly wrong. When French police carry out the Nazi-decreed Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in 1942, the mass arrest of 13,152 Jews, most of whom are shipped off to their death at Auschwitz, a young girl named Sarah Starzynski hides her brother in a closet. She takes the key with her, planning to return and rescue him.
The prisoners are transported to an indoor cycling arena, where they were held for a week without food or toilets, before being shipped to death camps. With the help of a friendly guard, Sarah and her friend escape, returning to Paris for her brother.
This story unfolds through the eyes of a present-day journalist, Julia Jarmond, whose husband has inherited the house where Sarah’s brother was hidden. When Jarmond starts to investigate what became of Sarah – and Sarah’s brother – she unlocks deeper mysteries.
“Sarah’s Key” is telling its horrific story at the Tropic Cinema.
Sarah is played by 11-year-old Mélusine Mayance (“Un soupçon d’innocence,” “La peau de chagrin”). Her naïve outlook may raise questions, but Mélusine is convincing as the determined sister.
Julia Jarmond is played by Kristin Scott Thomas (“The English Patient,” “The Horse Whisperer”). Having lived in France since she was nineteen, Thomas considers herself more French than British.
Based on the book “Elle s’appelait Sarah” by Tatiana de Rosnay, many of the events described in “Sarah’s Key” really happened. In 1995 that the president of France, Jacques Chirac, officially apologized for the role French policemen and civil servants played in the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup.
“It’s something the French have been extremely wary of talking about," says Kristin Scott Thomas. “It’s been hidden away for a very, very long time.”
Thomas herself has a connection to the Holocaust. Her in-laws escaped the concentration camps by hiding in rural France. Today, her mother-in-law belongs to a group of French citizens who place plaques on buildings around Paris marking where children disappeared during the war.
“It’s definitely remained in the air, this idea of people who collaborated with the Nazis,” Thomas says. “During the time that I’ve been living in France, a great number of cases have been brought against people who are accused of doing terrible atrocities during the war.”
As Anne Frank wrote, “I noticed that not all questions can be asked and that many whys can never be answered.” Nevertheless,  “Sarah’s Key” unlocks some heartbreaking history.
[from Solares Hill]

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"

Guillermo Del Toro, the fantastical auteur behind "Hellboy" and the critically acclaimed "Pan's Labyrinth" is a legend. Indeed, with his fascile skill in showing supernatural creatures from other worlds that exist in our own man made historical horror-zones, he has earned that esteem.
With the current "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark", he has tried his hand at producing and writing. Del Toro, it seems, has entered a Spielberg phase, and has handed the reins to famed comic artist Troy Nixey. Del Toro himself wrote the screenplay, which is based on an old made for tv movie that was supposedly one of the most frightening things on tv at that time. 
Perhaps so. But... from the look of things on the net, I have my doubts.
This new version, from what I can deduce, follows the original pretty closely: An architect (Guy Pearce) moves in with his troubled young daughter (Bailee Madison), and new fiancée (Katie Holmes) to a creaky overbearing, over-polished old house. There are strange little creatures living in the ash-pit or the basement or somewhere Down There. Egad! I say!
I'll be honest. The first fifteen minutes were quite scary. I turned my head away. But the scare factor had more to do with the sudden jolts of noise then the actual images. Having CP, makes me an easy jumper as it is. The most frightening segment of the film is the beginning. A man goes after a lady's mouth with a chisel to remove her teeth and then gets dragged Under with horrible screams.
True horror comes from within and the  unseen. The initial events are scary because we haven't seen the creatures. We can only hear the strange rhythmic, snickering whispers. 
Scary enough.
But as soon as we get a glimpse of the gnomic pests, sometimes rodent-like, sometimes like something from an unproduced sequel to "Gremlins" the film loses its jolt. It becomes comic-- A Lovecraftian Saturday morning cartoon. Demonic fairies under the bed? Scary? Rated R? Is the MPAA on Ambien? I think Guillermo has lost his lenses. It isn't for kids? Or is it?
Okay, the film is about as scary as the cookie monster in most scenes. But I still enjoyed it. After a while it's fun to watch the little imps scamper about as the human adults make the same mistakes we've seen too many times: they open doors that they should leave undisturbed. And they kick around when they should leave---immediately without waiting for first light.
My favorite scene is when the little ones scamper about in a beautiful bouquet during a fancy dinner party. And then harass young Sally over a tablecloth. Pure kitsch!
If you want to focus on whatever eerieness "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" has, look out instead for the artwork in the folios and the mural featured in the film. Creepy stuff with some of Del Toro's flair coming through here instead of those predictable scares.
The film does have a kind of campy retro charm that makes it watchable, so I guess in its own way it did succeed. Although fans of the original teleplay will have to judge for themselves.
I can't imagine you would loose any sleep over it either way.
Okay, now I'll turn out the light. 
And with my luck, I'll probably jump.
Write Ian at

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Week of August 26 to September 1 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

So what do you know? Just when you thought the future was doomed, what with the deficit limit crisis, Rick “Cowboy” Perry riding the range for the Republi-cants, Congressmen hanging out in their underpants, and a President who doesn’t have “no” in his vocabulary, Captain America is bringing hope to town.

Unfortunately, this is CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, which tells the story of his exploits against the Nazi menace during World War II. But it is reassuring to learn that a ninety pound weakling (Chris Evans – Fantastic Four) can conquer evil, with a little juicing from the scientist of Barry Bonds’ dreams. Just to make things interesting, the Germans have stolen the juice to create the Captain’s evil counterpart, so our guy must face a villain that makes Hitler seem like a naughty boy.

You’ll love the supporting actors. Stanley Tucci is the scientist with the stuff. He affects a German accent,  but he’s a good German. I suspect that’s because the producers wanted to give a little comfort to German audiences while they watched their countrymen otherwise embody evil incarnate. Tommy Lee Jones is the tough-talking officer in charge of the Captain’s unit. Hayley Atwell is the love interest whose lipstick is never challenged by wartime duties.

But mostly it’s director Joe Johnston’s movie. A protégé of Star Wars master George Lucas, Johnston sharpened his skills on The Wolfman, Jurassic Park III and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. He makes thisthe most stylish comics-derived entertainment of the year” (Chicago Tribune). You’ve got to see it so you’ll be prepared for next summer’s The Avengers, the long promised reunion of Captain America, Thor, Ironman and The Incredible Hulk.

winner of the Academy Award for most bizarre title punctuation, pairs up Steve Carell, Julianne Moore and a “zinger-studded script” (Wall St. Journal). Cal (Carell) and Emily (Moore) are having marital problems after years together. She starts an affair and asks for a divorce. He seeks solace in a bar and the mentoring of the successful lothario Jacob (Ryan Gosling). And the fun begins, with Marisa Tomei as a hot babe who breaks Cal out of his funk and Emma Stone as an equally hot one who puts the cool Jacob into one. “It may well restore your faith in the very possibility of love, to say nothing of romantic comedies.” (L.A. Times)

is a quietly funny buddy road movie. Two British television personalities Steve Coogan, playing himself, and Rob Brydon, doing the same, are off on a trip to visit the finest restaurant in England, all at the expense of The Observer, for which Coogan is writing an article. If you think this is going to be about food, or in the intellectual spirit of My Dinner with Andre, you’ll be sorely disappointed. It’s much more about such things as whether Brydon or Coogan can do a better imitation of Michael Caine, or how many receptionists and waitresses Coogan can get to bed. It may not sound like much, but the two are standup comics with perfect timing, and their characters evolve in into more than just comic characters. It sneaks up on you until you’re surprised and sorry that it’s over. You’d like to hang with the guys a little longer. “Doesn't sound like much. But it's terrific.” (S.F. Chronicle); “riotous and resplendent” (Philadelphia Inquirer).

But the big event of the week is Sunday afternoon, when the team of Michael D. Robinson, the great Christine Gorham, and Eric Haley bring us YOU WIN SOME, YOU LOSE SOME: A MUSICAL TRIBUTE TO THE ACADEMY AWARDS. Robinson is at the keys of the Tropic’s new grand piano (donated by him and David Cooper) in this wonderful dedication of the piano and benefit for the Tropic. Don’t miss it. You’ll leave humming, and demanding more concerts at the theater. Tickets available now at or the box office.

Plus several holdovers, including HARRY POTTER, and REPO MAN for the Monday Summer of Fun: Murder and Mayhew Classic. See you at the Tropic.

[From Key West, the newspaper -]

Crazy, Stupid, Love (Rhoades)

“Crazy, Stupid, Love” Is Both Those Things
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I don’t mean to quibble about semantics, but one must examine the title of the new romantic comedy titled “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” Crazy implies being off track due to mental impairment. Stupid implies misguided by lack of knowledge.

Can love be both of these?

Apparently so, according to the movie co-directed by Glen Ficarra and his writing partner John Requa (scribes of “Cats and Dogs,” “Bad Santa”). Their previous directing gig was “I love You Phillip Morris.”

Closer examination of the title reveals the use of commas, suggesting that crazy and stupid are not modifiers, but rather are conditions just like love. Thus the idea that all three mental states exist in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”

True enough.

We find Cal (Steve Carell) living the good life – nice home, wife, kids – when things get crazy and stupid. He learns that his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) has fallen out of love. She’s been cheating on him with a coworker (Kevin Bacon). Ouch.

Suddenly single, Cal is crying in his beer at a bar when ladies man Jacob (Ryan Gosling) takes pity and offers to teach him how to pick up girls. The techniques are pretty much like you’d find in all those “How to Pick up Girls” guidebooks you used to see advertised in the back of men’s magazines (not that I ever read them myself). But these how-to tips work well enough that Cal scores with a teacher (Marissa Tomei) and others.

But does this bring happiness? You know the answer to that.

As for Jacob, he must learn the lessons of love himself. When his slick come-ons are rejected by nice-chick Hannah (Emma Stone), he is forced to come to terms with his vapid single life.
Of course, our guy Cal wants his wife back and engages in a series of awkward efforts to woo her back. In the end, the movie insists its characters return to the universe’s natural state – monogamy, according to Ficarra and Requa.

“Crazy, Stupid, Love” is currently wooing audiences at the Tropic Cinema. And given the cast, you can expect to encounter all three emotions – crazy, stupid, and love.

Having just come off his successful TV comedy “The Office,” Steve Carrel is ready to make more funny movies. Perhaps he will grow beyond 40-year-old virgin and inept-married-man roles. But I suppose he knows we laugh at human failures, not successes.

Julienne Moore is on a high after her bisexual fling in popular “The Kids Are All Right.” Ryan Gosling has transitioned from Mickey Mouse Club regular to oddball actor (“Lars and the Real Girl,” “Blue Valentine”) to a dreamboat leading man with six-pack abs. Emma Stone (“Easy A,” “The Help”) is the current Hollywood It Girl, her career on the fast track. Marissa Tomei (“My Cousin Vinny,” “The Wrestler”) as always has great comic timing. And Kevin Bacon (“Footloose” to “X-Men: First Class”) is a self-proclaimed working actor, ready to fill in wherever needed.

Sure, maybe the plot is a little threadbare, but “Crazy, Stupid, Love” is worth seeing for its ensemble of actors. I liked it, but just call me crazy. Or stupid. Or in love with the talented cast.
[from Solares Hill]

The Trip (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

 The Trip

If you have ever wanted to see a road movie with a slant on British comedy and Romantic poetry, then "The Trip" will satisfy your craving. Instead of boozing buddies and bathroom humor, we have two mid-level British celebs: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon who travel about together, not on holiday but to gather material for an article on restaurants in and around England's Lake District. Coogan and Brydon play what is assumed to be versions of themselves. Coogan: big, shambling and grumpy, a bit like Dr. Who. Brydon: chirpy, nervous, natty and perpetually upbeat. 
The two really don't like each other. Or Rather Coogan doesn't seem to really care for Brydon as he appears to like everyone. Brydon mixes with Coogan's existentialism like absinthe and milk. Brydon is the gentle family man to Coogan's perpetual amorous merry go round that isn't always so merry. 

The two drive over endless expanses of countryside, hopping and bumbling from restaurant to restaurant, cafe to cafe. They talk over each other and over meals and always go for the scallops, no matter what else is offered. Coogan merely sits, while his table mate chatters on doing impressions, mainly Michael Caine and Al Pacino with Sean Connery thrown in. Brydon's impressions are funny because every voice sounds the same. I never thought a twenty minute debate on Michael Caine could be funny but it is. The argument goes around in circles so many times that you will both chuckle and laugh out loud. The more down Coogan becomes, the funnier it appears. 

The conversational tone and visual style of "The Trip" is reminiscent of films like "My Dinner with Andre" (1981) only more contemporary. With all of Coogan's Hollywood anxiety, he recalls the hapless Ricky Gervais in the HBO series "Extras" but the jokes are softer and less staccato.  

Coogan may not want to travel with Brydon, but he has no choice; he is a Byronic bachelor that crashed one too many parties. Despite his moderate  success, he is left to wander the marshes in the rain, calling girlfriends who are nonplussed by him. He has dreams of Ben Stiller and everyone in Movie-Land wanting him as he doesn't fit role after role. Meanwhile Brydon, warmly ensconced in bed, is having phone sex with his wife. The contrast makes for a fountain of humor that is earthy without any punch lines or one liners. 

These people are truly funny as they sit down to eat without any incidents of explosive bowels, explicit sex talk, or drunken plane trips. There are no greeting card messages here about soulmates or the value of friendship. There is hardly any music except when they drive to their destinations. The film is simply an episodic exchange between two actor acquaintances as they ramble, compete and mildly insult. They bicker plenty but never meanly.

"The Trip" is exactly that: a quiet, thoughtful, snort and giggle jaunt through the fields of Wordsworth and Coleridge. It is a sparse road movie in the truest and most entertaining sense. Brake for William Hazlitt and travel light.
Write Ian at

Crazy, Stupid, Love (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Crazy, Stupid, Love

"Crazy, Stupid, Love" has an all star cast that does their very best. The film is a two- tone comedy drama that stars our new master of comedy Steve Carell, as Cal, another well meaning Averageman in New Balance sneakers. Even though this is no stretch for Carell, ("Dan in Real Life" and the oddly engaging madcap "Dinner for Schmucks") it is what we have come to expect from Carell. He does it so well that it is his living legacy by now.

Cal is a person of routine: well meaning, somewhat passive and tepidly content. But just when we think things are status quo, Cal's wife Emily, (portrayed with  indie-caliber intent by Julianne Moore) declares divorce. As if we couldn't see it coming.

Cal withdraws to the barstool and becomes a wallflower. Hold on!  In the nick of time before things get totally morose, in comes the hip Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Jacob is a skirt chaser with an infinite number of pick up scenarios. He is clean shaven and cool yet he seems to be hiding something. Gosling plays well here and he is a treat to watch, plotwise however, his character doesn't seem to go that far. But that's not Gosling's fault.

Jacob takes Cal under his wing and gives him a makeover. Cal gains confidence and is able to pick up women. In how many films has this  occurred? 

Cal manages a date with Kate (Marisa Tomei). Cal at last has a wild time and it is one of the most intriguing segments in the film. Cal disarms Kate not by acting the Casanova but simply by stuttering and by being himself. The lusty charges given off by Cal after a sensual drought are visceral and authentic. There is an echo of "The Graduate" here and the spontaneity is refreshing.

But then the story loses its magnetism. Kate becomes too comical and ridiculously manic during a teacher conference, scribbling wildly and screaming. Kate just wouldn't act like that. And Cal goes back to his snail-like position. 
The film veers into  madcap farce too quickly ala "Funny People" (2009) and looses an edge.  Why does it have to be so predictable and over the top with flying fists, not to mention broken windmills? And yikes! Yet another smarmy role by Kevin Bacon? 

"Crazy Stupid Love" is not a bad film just a schizoid one. It doesn't seem to know what it wants. Is it an indie film or a zany comedy? The mixture in tone is confusing and the rapid farce has been so often seen before that it becomes boring at times. 

That is not to say that Carell and Gosling are not worth watching, they are. But after a while the farce and "the message" both become so self- evident, loud and imposing that it spoils any new discovery.

The first half of the movie had me piqued by the contrast of Gosling and Carell with the promise of a good solid character study, but by the second half I felt myself retreat into my seat turning into a wallflower of chrome.

Write Ian at

Captain America (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Captain America: The First Avenger

If Washington Congress has you soaring for a visual diversion, you can elect to see "Captain America: The First Avenger". This film, from the famous comic book is not all flash and bang. We really get a sense of who this hero from zero is, and what he goes through on his journey.
He is Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) at first he is teased and beat up. A genuine ninety-eight pound weakling. He fits kind of illustration you would see on the back of well, an old Marvel comic. He wants to join the army to fight the Nazis.

Evans, with his skinny arms and concave chest is like something out of Mad magazine or Stephen King. "Captain America" like Robert Altman's "Popeye " has texture and feeling and a true sense of place. With its Pop Art 40s-era look, the film moves like a crisp cartoon. In watching it you can almost imagine the feel of the comic in your hand.

Steve Rogers' transformation from weakling to buff Wonder is as suspenseful and campy as anything in an old "Amazing Stories" episode. Our hero is injected with painful iron charges or some kind of Gamma vitamins. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense and doesn't matter.

Rogers is sent, not to the front lines as we might have expected, but to entertain the troops and get them to buy war bonds. He is heckled and hit with rotten tomatoes.
Then he gets the idea to rescue his army buddy Howard (Dominic Cooper) and try to infiltrate a Nazi Mastermind. This is all with the help of Colonel Phillips played with rich comic sternness by Tommy Lee Jones.

The fun starts when Rogers puts on his costume from his last stage routine. The little tin shield looks like the prize at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box but this is the humorous evolution of a Hero after all, and thankfully things are not perfect from the start. We pull for Captain America because of his struggling origins.

Yes, the evil Dr. Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) is Evil. He is more foreboding in his human incarnation however. Director Johnston could have skipped the red skull. After ten minutes of it, I was hooting with laughter. But it's not everyday you get to see an horrific talking skull.

Special mention should be given to Toby Jones as the perfect pulp Nazi doctor-type that is glimpsed in so many movies. He fits to a tee in his spectacles and anemic white face.

At the film's end, one roots for Captain America all the more, not least for its Frankenstein overtones.
It is an entertaining lark and bits of it could be used for an actual army recruitment film. Wait and see.

Write Ian at

The Trip (Rhoades)

“The Trip” Offers Funny Discourse
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’m confused. Brit funnymen Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon star as fictionalized versions of themselves in a new comedy called “The Trip.” But I keep remembering that famous pronouncement by sci-fi writer Kurt Vonnegut that “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

So maybe this is the real Coogan and Brydon?

“The Trip” – now playing at the Tropic Cinema – is actually a sequel, a follow-up on “A Cock and Bull Story” which starred the same two actors playing themselves. Well, playing that pretend version of themselves.

I kinda like them here. But would I like the real versions of Coogan and Brydon if I met them in person?

Trying to impress his girlfriend, Steve Coogan accepts an assignment to write a restaurant column for a newspaper. However, his girlfriend decides to take a break in their relationship, so Steve invites his odd-duck colleague Rob Brydon to come along on this restaurant tour.

As Coogan and Brydon ramble on, you’ll be reminded of “My Dinner With Andre.” But that was a real documentary, wasn’t it? Or was it a pretend conversation?

At any rate, Coogan and Brydon’s odd-couple bickering will leave you laughing.

Note: Margo Stilley, the woman who plays Steve Coogan’s girlfriend in “The Trip,” is not a fictionalized version of herself. Maybe he has to hire actresses to pretend to be his girlfriend.

Hm, not a bad ploy.
[from Solares Hill]

Captain America (Rhoades)

“Captain America” Wins the War
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Hey, kids, I know Joe Simon, the legendary comic book creator who along with Jack “The King” Kirby created Captain America back in 1941. I even have a signed limited-edition Captain America poster that Joe personally dropped off at my office when I was publisher of Marvel Comics back in the day.
Joe is a big guy, tall, almost as large as his iconic superhero. Still going strong at 98, he’s as miraculous as his comic book characters.

“Creating a patriotic hero was a natural thing to do,” says Joe Simon. America was at war at the time. “Back then we had the Nazis coming after us for what we did to their Fuhrer, but the world is an even more dangerous place today, with the weapons out there and the threat of terrorism. So Cap is more important than ever, and the readers need him more than ever. They need a hero they can count on to do the right thing.”
Cap started off as a scrawny wannabe soldier – that is, until the military decided to test is its secret serum on him, turning him into a Super Soldier. Bigger, quicker, stronger.

In the new “Captain America: The First Avenger” movie – likely to be the biggest comic book blockbuster of the summer – we meet Steve Rogers (played by a skinny guy with star Chris Evans’s face digitally imposed) who wants to do his part for the war effort. But he’s not exactly combat material – until he gets that high-test ejection concocted by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). Then, Steve transforms into a pumped-up version of himself that looks like real-life Chris Evans.

True to its origins, the setting of the film is World War II. That long-ago origin of Cap didn’t bother us at Marvel. We merely had him cryogenically frozen in an iceberg until modern times, allowing him to join today’s Avengers (as you’ll see in the upcoming “Avengers” movie, scheduled for May 2012).

But first, “Captain America: The First Avenger” – which is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. Here, the so-called Sentinel of Liberty dons a red-white-and-blue suit, hefts a shield made of an impermeable Vibranium-steel alloy, and plunges head-first into battle for the good ol’ U. S. of A. Pistol blazing, he faces off against Johann Schmidt (movie baddie Hugo Weaving), who happens to be a Nazi kingpin known as the Red Skull. He wears a crimson death mask to prove his supervillain identity.

Sure, we know how World War II turns out – thanks to Captain Americas, if you live in the Marvel Universe.

And the movie is true to the comic book storyline.

“Cap could be our best movie to date,” Marvel’s editor-in-chief Joe Quesada told me this week. “While everyone has come to expect incredible characters and mindbending wall-to-wall action in all our Marvel movies, Cap really hits a very big emotional chord for me. From 90 lbs. weakling, kid from Brooklyn to iconic super soldier, you can’t help but fall in love with and root for Steve Rogers.”

Cap’s transformation is reminiscent of those Charles Atlas ads you used to see on the back cover of comic books where a bully kicks sand in a nerd’s face until he pumps up with an exercise program and becomes “the hero of the beach.”

Some fanboys like to say Captain America had no superpowers (no, he couldn’t fly) but his enhanced abilities put him ahead of those other grunts. And ahead of his nemesis, the Red Skull.

The character first appeared in “Captain America Comics #1” in March 1941. Back then, Marvel Comics was known as Timely and Stan Lee was merely the publisher’s cousin who fetched coffee for Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

While Joe Simon and the late Jack Kirby created many characters for comics over the years (e.g. Sandy the Golden Boy, Fiery Mask, Manhunter, Fighting American), none ever caught on like Captain America. Until Spider-Man, Cap was Top Dog in the Marvel kennel. (Note: Along with Stan Lee, Kirby created such stalwarts as the X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and The Hulk. And some historians claim Spider-Man was based on a Joe Simon creation called The Fly.)

You may not recognize him without flames spouting from his epidermis, but you’ve seen the film’s star Chris Evans before – as The Human Torch in Marvel’s earlier “Fantastic Four” movies. Hugo Weaving you’ll remember as Agent Smith in the “Matrix” trilogy and the voice of Megatron in the recent “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” Also on board are Tommy Lee Jones (“Men in Black, “No Country for Old Men”) as Col. Phillips and Sebastian Stan (“Hot Tub Time Machine,” TV’s “Gossip Girl”) as Cap’s sidekick Bucky Barnes.

And, yes, my ol’ pal Stan Lee does his customary cameo in the film.

Director Joe Johnson (“The Rocketeer,” “Jurassic Park III”) delivers a faithful starting point that will likely lead in new, original directions. Sometimes-comic-book-scripter Joss Whedon (creator of “Buffy the Vampire Killer” and co-writer of “Toy Story”) will keep the narrative true enough to the sacred Marvel canon.

The trick here is how this movie connects to the greater whole. After all, “Thor,” “Iron Man,” “The Hulk,” aren’t just stand-alone movies. They are like comic book series leading up to a Big Event – the “Avengers” movie. You’d know that if you sat through those films’ end credits where little codas hint at things to come.
Joe Simon says he’s happy with the movie version. “Jack Kirby actually came back to the character years later, first with Stan Lee and then on his own, so I think he would have been especially thrilled, and so happy to see that they’re crediting us with what we did in creating the character and producing his origin.”
[from Solares Hill]

The Trip (Wanous)

British film import is wit writ large
L'Attitudes Correspondent

"The Trip", 107 minutes, Unrated, opens Friday, Aug. 26, Tropic Cinema, Key West

Two British guys go on a road trip through a pretty but rainy countryside, eat at several restaurants, talk and talk some more, do impressions of celebrities, look for cell phone signals and try to score with various hotel staffers. Sound like fun? Well, surprisingly, it actually is.

The two Brits are Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, both of whom starred in director Michael Winterbottom's 2005's "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story."

Coogan is probably most recognizable in the U.S. from his role as Octavius in the two "Night At The Museum" films. "The Trip" reunites the trio in a very funny movie about, well, basically about nothing. While the movie only lightly touches on the purpose of the trip, the director wisely concentrates on the repartee between the two main characters. The end result is an enjoyable film.

"The Trip" started as a TV series in the UK and Winterbottom has woven some of those episodes into a 107-minute film. The premise is that Coogan is hired by a London newspaper to write about fine restaurants in a rural area of England. He doesn't want to make the trip alone but can't find anyone to tag along with him. After his girlfriend and several others turn him down, he works his way to the bottom of his contact list and asks Brydon, who agrees to go. The film then follows the two as they travel the back roads of England to review different restaurants in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales.

With no screenwriters credited, "The Trip" is more documentary than movie and seems almost entirely ad-libbed. If that's truly the case, it's a witty exercise in improvisation, sly humor and spot-on impressions of famous people, including Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Woody Allen, Liam Neeson and others.

Both men are gifted mimics and get into friendly but semi-serious competitions to see who can do the best impression. The well-chosen tag line for the movie is "Eat, drink and try not to kill each other", a good indication of where the relationship is headed. Their battling Michael Caine imitations are hilarious and while Coogan wants to believe that his is the better of the two, you can tell that he is not quite sure.

Director Winterbottom manages to insert a tone of melancholy and some reflections on mid-life anxiety that give a nice balance to the comedic tone of the film. He also offers a look at the competitiveness of male friendships that will ring true to the men in the theater.

I do recommend the movie but with a couple of cautions. While the actors are funny, watching two mimics do impressions for almost two hours might be a bit of a stretch. I can see where it would work as a 30-minute TV series but it might seem too repetitive for some. And the subplot about Coogan trying to decide whether or not to take a starring role in an American TV series is distracting and doesn't really add to the film.

But if you enjoyed "Seinfeld", the TV show about nothing, then "The Trip", a film about nothing, may be just your cup of tea. One last caveat: make your dinner reservations before seeing the movie. Most of the food featured in "The Trip" looks delicious and you may leave the theater desperately seeking the nearest restaurant.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Week of August 19 to August 25 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

ONE DAY combines the talents of a major star – Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries, Devil Wears Prada, Academy Award Nominee for Rachel Gets Married); an unusual Danish film director – Lone Scherfig (An Education, Italian for Beginners); and the writer of a best-selling novel who has now adapted his work for the screen – David Nicholls. I might also mention that it’s a co-venture of a notable indie film producer – Focus Features, and the book publishing giant Random House. I give you all this background because the plot has hints of a conventional Hollywood romantic comedy. Emma Morley (Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) begin a relationship at their college graduation on July 15, 1988. They have very different world views. She wants to make the world a better place, while he is interested only in himself. But they meet again each year on July 15 over two decades, and the film uses those days to build “a languid romantic drama full of the ups and downs of life, as well as friendship” (, “a film which understands the devastating but also very funny heart of its source material.” (

THE FIRST BEAUTIFUL THING was Italy’s submission to the Academy Awards this year, rather than the better known I Am Love (which the Tropic showed last summer). This is a delightful, crowd-pleasing family story, with an emotional heart. Bruno, a dissolute, screwed-up high school teacher returns home for a final visit with his mother in hospice. She was, and still is, a beautiful woman – the first in his life. And that’s the story we see through flashbacks. “A smart, enjoyably sudsy multi-decade melodrama… It’s practically a blueprint for the national psyche.” (Boston Globe)

The real not-to-be missed film, being held over for another week, is BUCK, the true story of Buck Brannaman, horse whisperer extraordinaire. If you don’t believe me, listen to my esteemed editor Rhonda, who tweeted “If you love horses (or seeing abuse survivors win at life) you should … go see BUCK @ TropicCinema right away.”

Also coming this week is a movie about a kid named Harry Potter. I’ll just quote from the Tropic’s Facebook page. “A few of you may have heard of this film, and we need your help to spread the word. It's a shame more folks don't know about it. Starts Friday: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART II. See it before it quietly floats away to oblivion...never to be heard from again.”

Did you notice that I’m quoting from tweets and Facebook pages? Just a little tip that you can now follow the Tropic on both. It’s @TropicCinema on Twitter and the Tropic Cinema fan page on Facebook. Check it out.

Oh, and the Monday Summer of Fun: Murder and Mayhem Classic is Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), the movie that put him on the map as a major filmmaking talent.

Full schedules and info at or
Comments, please, to

The First Beautiful Thing (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The First Beautiful Thing

"The First Beautiful Thing" is a quiet film illustrating the arc of a family. Like many films it doesn't elaborate or embellish, but tells it's story simply. The film centers on a local Italian beauty queen (Micaela Ramazzotti) and her children Bruno and Nina. 

The father fights frequently with the mother and the children are pushed and pulled  during domestic duress. The kids crawl on rooftops ready to endure anything to escape their laconic, violent father.

Just as the kids are shuttled back and forth, so is the time and space of the film itself. As an adult Bruno ( Valerio Mastandrea ) develops a drug habit. He is a vocational teacher forced to moonlight in empty parks. Bruno also suffers from depression. He haunts hospitals when nurses aren't looking--a shadow of himself as a young person.

The trick of the movie is that it isn't obvious that the child Bruno (Giacamo Bibbiani) is the grown adult man that we now see scavenging for drugs. We are given the  crumbs of a story that may lead to an end, or ripples of a wave that might not be visible to us until it all fits together. With it's easy familial tone, the film echoes "Certified Copy", although despite the drug use there is little anxiety.

The most striking segments tell of Bruno's young adulthood. He is young ambitious and full of rebellion. Gradually he is hit with disappointment. But Bruno shields his sadness. He is whispering and silent from all but his sister. Perhaps there was a time when he wanted to be the macho mover of words and women, but  now he shifts like a passive ghost from room to room, girlfriend to girlfriend.

"The First Beautiful Thing" is notable because it doesn't  have a formed perspective. It simply shows life. And the main actress has an easy sensuality that echoes Sophia Loren.

In watching the film, I was swept and carried on a wave of images. Suddenly I sensed something slightly fishy off the coast of Livorno. Events are a little too pat, smooth and content. The story treads with a delightful haunt, but at the end, it is a halcyon holiday without a curve.

I admit that I had been hoping for a Summer of ambiguity, but the performances alone will convince you to take a swim.
Write Ian at

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2

The long awaited conclusion to Harry Potter has finally arrived. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe)  is now older, wiser and he always seems to have a bit of sweat on his brow. With good reason. He's on the hunt for Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his Horcrux, meaning the  little creepy pieces of flesh and bone that were re-fashioned from his "death" in previous episodes. Voldemort, at least to me, is part Freddy Kruger with a bit of Darth Vader in spirit. He is very much a creature of dreams and dark sorcery but with none of the humility of Frankenstein's creation. I just expected him to say something a bit more foreboding than "Abracadabra!" at the start of combat. Really???

But kitschy declarations aside, the game is afoot. The die is cast.

There is alot of gothic gloom here, although I know this is the hallowed ground of J.K. Rowling. Cinematically however, I wonder. The towering Hogwarts School, the twisty camera angles, and Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange in her black crepe all remind one of Tim Burton. Did Burton influence Rowling or the director? Or was it Rowling that influenced Burton? At least in the cinematic sense, both Burton and Rowling could be scissor-siblings.

The gang is all here: Hermione (Emma Watson), Ron (Rupert Grint) and beloved Minerva (Maggie Smith).

What follows is a showdown, a Manichean battle of good and evil that might remind some of the confrontation in "Star Wars" between Skywalker and Vader.

There is even an appearance by Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). Like Obi-wan in "Star Wars", Dumbledore is a kind of wise mentor to many, and often only he can tell the way the wands will bend.

Hogwarts is plunged into a state of chaos so severe it recalls some of Goya's master artworks. Huge trolls attack students below as granite soldiers rise to defend.

Harry accepts the challenge with the resignation of something  predetermined. As Valdemort says: "the boy who lived, come to die." The real life Father Gabriele Amorth would do well to take notice and rescind his earlier condemnation of the Harry Potter books and films. This showdown is all rather Christian-like. Even Harry must kill a snake. We all know what that means. Also there is a white light sequence before the battle. A kind of weigh-station for those to "move on".

Father Amorth, can Rowling's Christian symbology or goodly intent be any clearer?
Devoted Harry fans will cheer and be on the edge of their seat throughout, even though they probably know what's coming before it happens. For the most part, you will forgive Jim Broadbent looking dazed and just uttering mumbles and Helena Bonham Carter merely screeching, looking like she's in a Tim Burton wedding dress. (After all she's earned it by marriage.)

This is J.K. Rowling throughout and it doesn't disappoint.

Write Ian at

One Day (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

One Day

"One Day" hits all the familiar notes of a romance and has an earthy English appeal that will satisfy any Anglophile. Adorable and earnest Jim Sturgess stars as Dexter, a confident and charming young ladies man. Upon graduation, Dexter meets Emma, played by Anne Hathaway whose bookish seriousness makes a good contrast to the twinkle-eyed Dexter. A cad with a good heart. Dexter and Emma spontaneously wing a day of amorous activity, inspired by spirits and presumably, the challenge of platonic lovers. 
This film, in contrast to "Friends with Benefits" is more pedestrian with soft pathos, possessing an "as is" quality similar to the films of Mike Mills ("Beginners") and Mike Meyers ("Harvest") both of which played at The Tropic. There are no picturesque New York scenes here, no sparkling offices, no iPads or references to Judd Apatow. These are people who eek out existences in messy cluttered flats with peeling paint. This spare-frills drama recalls "The East Enders".  The characters are not over-glossed with glamour. (Okay, you might have to overlook Sturgess' smile, but why try?) These are home-spun types, there is not a Clooney to be seen, but the movie is no less effective as a romance.

Dexter gets a job as a late night show host. He clearly cares about whatever glitz there is to be gained in London. They grow apart. Of course. But Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway are poignant and transfixing together.

My one slight reservation is that in watching "One Day", you often know what's going to happen before it does. How many missed phone calls can we see in film after film? Do romantic dramas have a monopoly in this? Perhaps so, but I'm sure there are other ways to show the perils of romantic happenstance.
The primary draw is chemistry however, and Sturgess and Hathaway have it. The organic charm they share over a timeline of two decades,fits smoothly within the one visual trick of the film when it displays the date of each meeting between them in clever places: a laptop, a mirror a window. This quirky visual trifle, cute as it is, highlights an epic romance. Every person can be a Romeo.
Highlights are the secondary players of Patricia Clarkson as Dexter's mom and  Rafe Spall as the unfunny comic, Ian. Every role has slight shadows  and struggles within them. There is not a hint of contrivance in any of these people. They are human  And not one of them is mean spirited. The events just seem a bit familiar. 
But like the haunting Beatles tune "Eleanor Rigby" or the sweet nostalgia of "Penny Lane" which foretells the tone of this film,  we know what to expect, but we love it and return for more.

And in  watching "One Day," you'll pull for all the characters involved.

Write Ian at

Friends With Benefits (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Friends with Benefits

"Friends with Benefits" is a breezy festive and good-hearted comedy that had me laughing and my heart skipping with romantic apprehension too. And this is a rare thing, given the sheer number of romantic comedies that there have been. Some are silly, some are just plain raunchy (mostly featuring Dane Cook and Ryan Reynolds) with bathroom jokes into infinity, but some are well acted and even heartfelt. 
"Friends with Benefits" is thankfully one of the good ones that doesn't belittle or dumb-down the audience.

From the start, the film has a rapid- fire quickness and a fresh look. The opening scene concerns two sets of young couples about to dissolve their relationships. The dialogue overlaps upon the two couples which offers a new Microsoft-era, multi-tasking feel to a theme that's as iconic as any Woody Allen classic.
 Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis)  are two cast aside loves left out for no good reason. Indeed although they see themselves as  "damaged" they seem more well adjusted than their lazy spiritless mates. Dylan, an advertising blogger, is offered an art directing job at GQ. Jamie is assigned to negotiate the contract. For some confounding reason Jamie steps over the luggage carousel a little too long. Why? Then it hits me. "Friends with Benefits" makes fun of the very genre that it is is in. We might know what's coming but it is so lighthearted and clever that we never feel taken.

The banter between Timberlake and Kunis is so quick with repartee that at first, it seemed like they were trying to outrun the latest broadband comedy network, quipping about texting and flashmobs but their chemistry together is infectious. Jamie is snippy, cynical and cavalier while Dylan is self deprecating and good natured. In their own way, they are a kind of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn (although Kunis looks more like Audrey Hepburn) pairing for the smartphone set. They try not to like each other but as soon as they resist, they prickle and pop.
With all of the technological and sexual quips, this could easily have been just another ultra-light comedy but Timberlake and Kunis keep the ridicule  well balanced with some of the tension that might occur in any intimacy  between two friends of opposite sex. The joke of the film is their restraint one minute and their utter abandon in the next. And when they settle in to chat (in scenes that seem to merge "Harry Met Sally" with "American Pie") there is always a perfectly placed nod to other films or settings. 

Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins both do good turns as the single parents of Jamie, and Dylan respectively. These performances may as first seem like cartoons but they sneak up on you with comic acceleration. The parents become more realistic as the film moves on.

The one false note is Dylan stricken with height phobia and reduced to tears. I didn't quite buy it. It was awkward and forced, melodramatic and not quite real. Extra baggage that the role did not need to remain interesting.

We care because of the chemistry between Kunis and Timberlake: a quirky spontaneity and big dark Audreyesque eyes matched with Justin's shy quips and dapper self effacing air. It's that simple.  

No, this isn't "April in the Apple Store" it's August at the Tropic and you can see "Friends with Benefits" alone or with a friend without any of the usual sentimental chick flick guilt. 

Write Ian at

One Day (Rhoades)

“One Day” Covers a Twenty-Year Romance
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

As I was going through my first divorce I saw the movie “The Way We Were.” I bawled my eyes out as Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand played out this story of a star-crossed romance. I wished it had had a happier ending.

Now I’ve got my wish. Kinda.

“One Day” was a 2009 book by David Nicholls about a couple who spend one day with each other – July 15, 1988, their graduation from the University of Edinburgh – and form a lifelong friendship that eventually reveals itself as love.

That better-ending book has been made into a same-named movie, starring Anne Hathaway as the girl who dreams of making the world a better place and Jim Sturgess as the boy who sees the world as his oyster. “One Day” is currently winning hearts at the Tropic Cinema.
Remember that scene in “The Way We Were,” where Streisand says, “Wouldn't it be lovely if we were old? We'd have survived all this. Everything thing would be easy and uncomplicated; the way it was when we were young.” Well, here we see Emma and Dexter (Hathaway and Sturgess) survive all this.

In “One Day” the next two decades of their lives are a series of July 15ths, experiencing friendship through thick and thin. And with a happier ending. Although I would have felt sad over all the time lost in the intervening years.

Some moviegoers have compared it to a more serious “When Harry Met Sally.” The Times deflected that comparison, calling it “wise, funny, perceptive, compassionate and often unbearably sad.”
Writer David Nicholls ascribes a more sober influence, saying he was inspired by the novels of Thomas Hardy.

Anne Hathaway doesn’t see “One Day” as a typical rom-com where “people meet in really unbelievable ways, and then they fall in love in about three weeks, and then they fight, and then somebody chases somebody across Manhattan and then they kiss, and that’s the end of the story. This movie allows these characters to get to know each other a really long time. So when they say they love each other, when they admit to it, you believe them, they’ve earned it. I think this is a movie where the characters earn your belief in their love.”

Of course, everyone knows adorable doe-eyed Anne Hathaway. Heck, she even co-hosted the Oscars this year. Here, this New Jersey girl perfects a Yorkshire accent for the role.
English actor Jim Sturgess may be less familiar, unless you saw him in “Across the Universe,” a musical that features 34 Beatles songs as its romantic backdrop. His accent comes naturally.
So what’s the message in “One Day”? As Anne Hathaway puts it, “There’s something very nice about getting older and realizing that getting it together is something you do over the course of your entire life. Once you start to relax, everything gets a lot more fun.”

I couldn’t agree more.
[from Solares Hill]

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II (Rhoades)

“Harry Potter” Delivers a Final Wave of the Magic Wand

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Harry Potter is a powerful wizard. He can conjure up untold wealth.

Take for instance J. K. Rowling, the Brit who created the Harry Potter stories. Poverty-stricken when she first put pen to paper, Jo Rowling is now a multi-millionaire. In fact, Forbes estimates her fortune at $1 billion. The twelfth richest woman in Great Britain, she’s amassed more money than the Queen of England.

Also consider my old alma mater Scholastic Inc. (I was a group publisher there). Harry Potter books have sold more than 450 million copies worldwide in 68 languages, making it the biggest children’s book series ever. In the U.S. Scholastic has more than 150 million copies in print.

The last book in the 7-title series sold a record 8.3 million copies on its very first day of publication, according to my friends at Scholastic.

Furthermore, consider the money made from Harry Potter movies. So far, the worldwide box office gross has exceeded $6.4 billion for the 8-title series (the last book was split into two movies). The latest Warner Bros. film will push its Harry Potter revenues to over three-quarter trillion dollars.

There are 28 million followers of the movies alone on Facebook.

That final entry in the Harry Potter movie franchise – “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II” – is current reprising its magic at the Tropic Cinema.

Yes, we return for one last visit to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This is the scene of the final battle between Harry Potter and his archenemy Lord Voldemort.

Voldemort’s army attacks the Hogwarts castle where Harry and his friends are searching for the last Horcruxes, those magical incantations that make the Dark Lord immortal.

“Let’s finish this the way we started it – together,” Harry challenges Voldemort. Thus, the final chapter concludes in keeping with the book.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or you’re a Christian fundamentalist who refuses to read books about witches), you know the backstory. As Rowling tells it: “The basic idea was that Harry didn’t know he was a wizard ... And so then I kind of worked backwards from that position to find out how that could be, that he wouldn’t know what he was. ... When he was one year old, the most evil wizard for hundreds and hundreds of years attempted to kill him. He killed Harry’s parents, and then he tried to kill Harry – he tried to curse him ... Harry has to find out, before we find out. And – so – but for some mysterious reason the curse didn’t work on Harry. So he’s left with this lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead and the curse rebounded upon the evil wizard, who has been in hiding ever since.”

Returning are your favorite stars – Daniel Radcliffe as young wizard Harry Potter. Emma Watson as gal pal Hermione Granger. And Rupert Grint as doofus bud Ron Wealsley.
The supporting cast takes a final bow too. Robbie Coltrane as the half-giant Hagrid. Helena Bonham Carter as Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange (don’t you just love that name?). Maggie Smith as transfiguration teacher Minerva McGonagall. Gary Oldman as Harry’s godfather Sirius Black. Alan Rickman as turncoat potions master Severus Snape. And Ralph Fiennes as He Who Must Not Be Named, the evil Lord Voldemort.

The series finishes in the nick of time, for the cast members are outgrowing their teen roles. The first Harry Potter film (“Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”) was released in 2001 when star Daniel Radcliffe was 12 years old. Do the math: he’s now in his early twenties. Hard to be a boy wizard at that age.

“Some of the most ardent fans feel that they grew up right alongside Harry; as he aged, so did they,” says Edmund Kern, a professor who teaches a Potter course at Lawrence University.

With a production budget of $125 million, you can expect the special effects to be up to par with the previous Harry Potter films. Plus, this last magical gesture is available in 3D. So you can see Harry zooming at you on his broomstick as realistically as, say, a Universal Orlando theme park ride.

Directed by David Yates (he’s helmed the final four Harry Potter films), this epic fantasy is expected to set box office records.

“It’s a big fantasy film. It’s got dragons and giants and spiders and we go full circle – back to the roots of the series,” says Yates. “I really wanted it to feel a bit edgier and more modern. I wanted it to feel more … not at all fantasy.” He instructed his director of photography, “Just make it feel real.”

At Scholastic, we broke the rule of thumb that teen boys don’t read books by publishing the “Goosebumps” book series. And the “Harry Potter” series proved that adults and youngsters would read the same book if handled right.

Thus, the “Harry Potter” movies have packed in young and old alike. But with a PG-13 rating, is “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II” too scary for little kids?

“Well, you know, I liked being scared as a kid. I like being scared. I used to watch ‘Doctor Who’ while hiding behind the settee, as you do,” says David Yates. “But I think parents have to be careful. It’s got the right rating on it. I have seen children come out of the theater, we’ve had several screenings. The boys particularly like it, they get really buzzed by it.”
As the movie posters promote: “It All Ends.” But maybe not. J. K. Rowling has launched a new Website called, which will offer e-reader versions of her famous books and provide much more background about the characters. What’s more, the site allows readers to interact with and navigate Harry Potter’s magical world.

“I could definitely write an eighth, a ninth book,” says Rowling. “I think I am done, but you never know.”
[from Solares Hill]

Monday, August 15, 2011

Buck (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


In this age of informational overload, news panic and celebrity culture, it is tempting to return to nature. "Buck" the new documentary by Cindy Meehl is an accessible and thoughtful step to this return, specifically to horses.

The documentary centers on Buck Brannaman, revered horse trainer and roper. With a name like Buck Brannaman, how could you not be a horse-trainer or a cowboy of a sort?
Buck lives horses. He is a man of the earthen ground and his calm deliberate gait together with his beige hat seems to pay tribute to his horses. Life wasn't easy for Buck. He was a professional entertainer with horses at the age of three. His father was an alcoholic with an extremely violent streak. He beat Buck severely and often.

Unsure of what to do, he ran and his gym teacher noticed the bruises. Loving foster parents took Buck in and the horses were also waiting.

Through the horses, Buck came out of his fear and his paralyzing shyness. Pointed and deliberate in his speech, Buck mirrors his horses and his horses mirror him. They are twin equine shadows, borne of the earth to gallop and herd and help others, one clinic at a time.
But it isn't all Buck. We also see the horses, majestic and in deep focus. There is one hair raising episode featuring a beautiful blonde horse. Sadly the horse who was already oxygen-deprived at birth, grew as an orphan with no training or socialization. Now into adulthood, the horse is a serious danger. Shockingly, the horse bites his rider in the head. This segment in the film is rather gory, almost as bloody as any horror film.

The weight falls to Buck and we feel it. He somehow has the ability to take up all the pain and rope it into a detatched calm. Nobody moves.

"Stay still. Don't do anything." He commands. And the horse goes into the transport cage to be put down after the attack.

"Humans failed this horse," Buck states sharply, like a Zen master with a stick and then moves on to the others.

Like his horses, Buck takes life as is with little need for pretense or ego. We see him travel from town to town with his family, talking and laughing.

The shapes of fear in the form of his raging father have left him. With compassion and rigor, he goes from person to person sometimes being a tough- love life coach:

"Your life's a mess and you're in trouble. If you won't listen to me, maybe you'll listen to your horses."

The woman understandably shaken from her predator horse, starts to cry. Buck has a singularity of purpose to enlighten others of the human horse connection and the barbarism of rodeos circuses and show-horses.

At the films end, Buck prances over the ground with his horse doing a dance. In that one clicking step, there is no dischord, unease or patriarchal menace from the past. Only a man and a horse.

Write Ian at

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Horrible Bosses (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Horrible Bosses

For those that like their comedies to have a topical spin, given the recent news-cycle, try "Horrible Bosses." The new comedy by Seth Gordon. It centers on three main protagonists in lower level jobs: Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day). The three of them together are like The Three Stooges. It's really not important what they do. But their lives are miserable. They actually do all have really bad bosses. Worse than horrible.
These gang of rogues are Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), Bobby Pellitt and Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston)

Yes. You read it correctly. Her.

This comedy could have been very hum-drum and run of the mill, another in a long run of 'Hangover-type', politically incorrect fart-fests, but when this film works it does so because it doesn't pretend to be anything it's not. There are no lifetime friendship messages here, and no manipulative meanings either. This is simply a silly comedy. The kind I might have watched as a kid on VHS in the 1980s after "Saturday Night Live" all hyped up on Marax and Coca Cola, because I was wheezing, but not caring, because it was funny.

None of the characters in "Horrible Bosses" are truly real, but rather more like a gray cartoon from Mad magazine. Jennifer Aniston is finally, to her credit, playing against type as a sex crazed hellion with no morals or respect whatsoever. And what fun. Good riddance to those goodie-two-shoes roles. It can't hurt to dream.

Kevin Spacey plays the kind of smarmy bullying ass that you can imagine from other films. A prick you love to hate. An Abramoff on amphetamines. But he does it so well. Comedy moves under Spacey's skin like circus music. When his character says he does not like surprises during a party, you can feel his hate. Spacey rivals the great Walter Matthau for the mixture of unadulterated evil and vexing dismay: the bastard S.O.B. of Scrooge and Mister Magoo.

Colin Farrell is the weak link in the comic chain. His role seems more makeup, posture and facial expressions than anything else. How many sexist middle aged boss characters with a penchant for kitsch have we seen? The writers could have done slightly better.
And, although Charlie Day's Dale recalls his tv role in "Always Sunny in Philadelphia", mostly in the way he interrupts others, his victimized slobbish attitude is his schtick and it moves in harmony within the story.

For belly laughs, nervous titters and a timid and uncool Jamie Foxx, "Horrible Bosses" makes a horrendously good giggly pleasure.

Just sneak out when your boss's back is turned.

Write Ian at

A Better Life (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

A Better Life

"A Better Life" is an authentic, somewhat low key film directed by Chris Weitz. Weitz is best known for co-directing the "American Pie" films, but here, he leaves the sex-comedy genre aside to focus on a simple, direct story about an undocumented gardener just trying to stay out of trouble.

There have been several movies about gangs, immigration and the desperate existence of neighborhoods in East L.A., But rather than go for the gunfire Weitz's camera hunkers down to the personal, illustrating in detail the eye-level domesticity between father and son with all of the tension and averted looks. No glocks necessary.

Demian Bechir plays Carlos, the rugged but gentle single father who landscapes long hours every single day. Carlos sets his jaw hard with a furrowed brow almost as if he has swallowed the lemon of life whole and didn't have enough time to make lemonade. Although his chin juts forward and he seems to be grinding his teeth, Galindo eases his hard edge, appearing like a gentle Charles Bronson.

Carlos is up against it, but not beaten down: all he wants is a truck so that he can become the boss of his own operation, get citizenship and send his son to a good school.
Carlos' son Luis, excellently played by Jose Julian, doesn't quite have his dad's work ethic. His good looks and big brown eyes sometimes glaze into tortured turf when he thinks of having to get a job. Luis is mercurial and intense. At times his eyes are open, willing to drink in the world like a mug of black coffee. But also his eyes can narrow to a slit and become a snake screen. At the film's beginning you are unsure of how Luis is going to move. His school is a prison and the lure of money,coupled with sex and peer pressure is everywhere. Jose Julian has a vulnerable quality and a charisma that recalls the early roles of Johnny Depp for his wide eyed looks that take everything in.

Rather than illustrate the story with heavy thugs and grand slang-peppered speeches, "A Better Life" unfolds with small scenes of streets, alleys and splintered neighborhoods: a garden, a rodeo crowd, a dirt road nursery. There are no Gothic Scarfaces with mounds of cocaine here, only heavy lidded schoolchildren with hunched shoulders baggy pants and swagger. Over-muscled Males of indeterminate age drift by the school also, their bodies so heavily tattooed as if to resemble the gray blue scales of some amphibious warlord posse. These men are the sharks in an urban sea. Gender doesn't play nice either. The girls are just as carnivorous as the boys.
There are some quiet telling moments. Once Carlos gets the truck his whole body changes: his jaw loosens, his shoulders expand and he laughs. And to see Carlos atop a tree is to see a person who works with what he is dealt and delights in being human.

Then the dominoes start to fall and the movie turns slightly into a Film Noir thriller when everyone seems to have a secret. Once again, the life of the streets have a story to tell, including the unanswered knocks at the door.

Excusing a bit of melodramatic dialogue between father and son, near the end, "A Better Life" is a film that stays refreshingly punchy with intimate detail. And it will even satisfy the Noir-sighted ones among us. You can't resist the apprehension of the nightclub scene with the soundtrack's sudden chord ala Giorgio Moroder. But just when you might think the denouement might go De Palma, it doesn't. This is a gentle story of people under the radar who must forge ahead or get caught, be they gardener or gang-member.

Write Ian at

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Rhoades)

“Snow Flower” – A First Film for Murdoch’s Wife
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

During media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s testimony before British Parliament about the phone hacking scandal, a prankster tried to hit him in the face with a shaving-cream pie, but Murdoch’s young Chinese wife leaped forward to block the assault like a real-life superheroine.

Born in Jinan, China, Wendi Deng came to America on a student visa, studied economics at Cal State, and graduated from the Yale School of Management. Working for Fox TV and Star TV, she met and married Murdoch, 37 years her senior.

Whether it was to please his wife or simply a business decision, Murdoch personally arranged for his Fox Searchlight Pictures to release the film “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.” Wendi Murdoch is the film’s co-producer.

After reading Lisa See’s novel “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” Wendi and her friend Florence Low Sloan formed BigFeet Productions to make a movie based on the book. Directed by Wayne Wang (“The Joy Luck Club,” “Chan Is Missing”), the film was shot in Hengdian, the movie capital of Shanghai and the largest film studio in the world.

“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” is now playing at the Tropic Cinema. A long way from Hengdian.
The story: Two best friends in 19th-Century China – Snow Flower (Gianna Jun) and Lily (Li Bing Bing) – are separated by their families, but continue to communicate by a secret code. Many years later in Shanghai, their descendents – Sophie (again Gianna Jun) and Nina (also Li Bing Bing) – discover their ancestral connections via a message hidden in the folds of an antique silk fan.

This tale of sisterhood is set against the rigid cultural restrictions imposed on women in China.

Playing the role of an aunt is Vivian Wu. She has appeared in “The Last Emperor,” “Heaven & Earth,” and “The Joy Luck Club,” among others. Also look for an appearance by Hugh Jackman, known for such popular fare as “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “Swordfish,” “Australia,” and “Scoop.”

Psst. Don’t tell anybody but the actress who plays the title role of Snow Flower (Gianna Jun, also known as Jeon Ji-hyun) is actually South Korean.

Florence Sloan writes, “I had signed on to produce my first feature film, ‘Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,’ after falling in love with the book by Lisa See. My partner, Wendi Murdoch (also a first-time producer) and I had been working on this since 2007. Wendi and I are close friends and during one of our regular meetings, we started talking about See’s book that we had read independently of each other. We both loved the book and connected over its compelling story, which centers around the universal theme of the bonds of friendship. We knew it should be made into a movie.

“Battling jet lag, I met up (in China) with Wendi, who had flown in from New York. We went to meetings with Wayne Wang and Jessinta, our line producer. After listening to all the problems we faced, I thought, “Hmm – maybe this producing thing isn’t as simple as it looks.”

But the two girlfriends persevered, despite “dirty bathrooms where we took showers in our shoes, to being so cold we looked like polar bears as we wore every single item of clothing we had, to the battles to understand and decipher the loads of documents that came our way and having to negotiate terms we did not yet understand.”

“Do not give up, get the job done” became their mantra.

“At the end, ‘Snow Flower and the Secret Fan’ is a movie we are proud of,” says Sloan. “And yes – we will be producing again.”

Get out your checkbook, Rupert.
[from Solares Hill]

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

When I darted into the theater yesterday to watch "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" I already had images of citron flowers upon my eyes in anticipation. This was, after all, a film by Wayne Wang, a good director with a solid body of work: notably "The Joy Luck Club" (1993) and "Smoke" (1995). Both films, classics of Wang's repertoire, are vividly shot with an originality of character and feeling.

You can imagine my surprise, expressed in writing by the Chinese character "口" as the film started. Something was off. A bit like a Chinese landscape suddenly gone blurry but nonetheless painted on a spool of fine rice paper with all the intention of delicacy, or in this case, a film that should have rolled by like visual dim sum, happy on the eyes.

But instead I received what I can only describe as an aftertaste: plot-elements all too familiar, a visual wonton instead of a banquet that had been left too haphazardly on the production floor.

The story is based on the novel by Lisa See of the same name. Nina (Li Bing Bing) has a "sworn sister" or a "Laotong" (a soulmate) Sophia, played by Gianna Jun. Sophia gets in a horrible traffic accident. Although apart for many years, Nina visits Sophia at the hospital, as she is comatose and near death. This is acceptable but the melodramatic score and the simplistic voiceover makes it seem like a Tv movie.

Abruptly Nina finds a manuscript in Sophia's bag and begins to read. It concerns soulmate friends brought together by the process of foot-binding. The "imagined" vignettes are slow and lethargic and do not match the brisk and colorful fast pace of the 21st century Shanghai. I know the director was aiming for a slow, poignant contrast here, of the old world and the new, but the old is honestly boring with little visual verve. As a person with an orthopedic history myself, I was wincing in pain during the foot-binding scene. It delivered a sense of horror yes, but there was no emotional engagement--just a record of an outdated barbaric ritual. Most of the flashbacks are filled with tremendous painful screams due to death, torture, bad men or typhoid. And the melting big brown eyes of the young children would make artist Walter Keane sue for copyright infringement. Must the absolute horror of deformity be so sentimental?

The vignettes are even titled in an odd clumsy fashion. Every sequence is prefaced "four days later" or "four months earlier". This is confusing and annoying by itself, but when coupled with stilted dialogue and over the top melting looks, it becomes comical.

By the time Hugh Jackman came onscreen I was laughing out loud when I should have been moved. Even Jackman's singing seems forced.

I humbly wish that Wayne Wang might go to the temple of Wen, so that he may yet make a better movie. Surely the God of Culture and Literature will grant him another try.

It is his namesake.

Write Ian at

Sent from my iPhone

Buck (Rhoades)

“Buck” Delivers Interesting Ride
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

“I’m helping horses with people problems,” says Buck Brannaman, the man who was the inspiration for Robert Redford’s movie “The Horse Whisperer.”

While Redford makes the expected appearance, this documentary is focused on Buck himself. That explains the monosyllabic title.

“Buck” is riding hard at the Tropic Cinema this week.

As a wrangler, Buck Brannaman is so gentle that even the wildest of steeds gives in to his ministrations. His empathy demonstrates a deep understanding of a horse’s fears. He explains that a horse is naturally frightened of a human climbing onto his back, the same as if he’d been jumped by a lion. “Why let an animal live in fear?” he reasons in his soft-spoken manner.

You meet Buck’s family and cohorts. His wife and daughter perform at rodeos with him. Show horse owners and trainers come from all over the West to learn from him. You quickly discover that he’s as good at training humans as horses.

First time director Cindy Meehl makes the connection between horse training and child rearing. However, a little more probing of this lackadaisical cowboy would have been interesting. Did his abusive father make him into this gentlest of men? Does his sense of humor come from a background of pain. Buck hints at this history. But like his talent with horses, you have to accept it rather than completely understand it.

As a footnote, this horse whisperer doesn’t actually whisper to horses. His technique involves waving a couple of red bandanas to convince the horse that he cares about him. Giddy up.
[from Slares Hill]

Horrible Bosses (Rhoades)

“Horrible Bosses” Ain’t So Bad
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A few weeks ago I reviewed the Cameron Diaz comedy “Bad Teacher.” After referencing Billy Bob Thornton’s “Bad Santa,” I suggested this might be a new trend for movies – Bad Mom? Bad Dog? Bad Date? Bad Wife?

Like I said, I think we’re onto something here. Because this week we have a murderous new comedy about Bad Bosses. Sure, they changed the movie’s name slightly, calling it “Horrible Bosses.” It’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In it, three schmucks (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis) decide to kill their overbearing bosses with comic results.

Who are these bad bosses? Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Colin Farrell.
Nick (Jason Bateman) is an exec who has been passed over for promotion when his supervisor promotes himself.

Dale (Charlie Day) is a dental assistant enduring sexual harassment by his female boss.
Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) is an accountant dealing with a new, drug-addled boss.

So, of course, the guys call on a so-called “murder consultant,” a hitman known as Dean “(we can’t print his nickname)” Jones. This character is humorously played by Jamie Foxx.
The three put-upon employees are fairly predictable in their comic personae. And Kevin Spacey gives a masterfully smarmy performance. America’s Sweetheart Jennifer Aniston plays against type as a sexually aggressive dentist who looks great eating bananas while wearing skimpy black underwear. And you’ll barely recognize dreamboat Irish actor Colin Farrell with his higher forehead and goofy expressions.

Although scripted by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, “Horrible Bosses” is based on a story by writer-actor Michael Markowitz. He wrote the role of Nick especially for Jason Bateman, and created the role of Dr. Harris with Jennifer Aniston in mind.
This silly little film has been kicking around Hollywood since 2005, when New Line Cinema purchased Markowitz’s original script. Frank Oz (“Little Shop of Horrors”) was expected to direct, but Seth Gordon (“Four Christmases”) stepped in when Daley and Goldstein rewrote the screenplay in 2010.

Bad Teacher. Bad Santa. Bad Boys. Horrible Bosses. Maybe one of these days there will be a spoof titled “Bad Movies.” Not that this diverting laughfest is all that bad.
[from Solares Hil]

Friends With Benefits (Rhoades)

“Friends With Benefits” Is Oddly Familiar
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Don’t blame me if this movie looks all-too-familiar when you settle into your comfortable theater seat with a bag of popcorn and a box of Raisinettes. At first flicker, “Friends With Benefits” will seem like a remake of this year’s earlier comedy “No Strings Attached.”

That first film paired Academy Award-winner Natalie Portman and Demi Moore’s hubby Ashton Kutcher as friends who try to have convenient sex without any romantic involvement. You can pretty well predict the outcome. After all, it’s a rom-com.

Same here.

Both explore the complications of having sex without attachment. As “Friends with Benefits” star Mila Kunis observes: “It’s like communism – good in theory, in execution it fails. Friends of mine have done it, and it never ends well.”

Except in the movies.

“Friends with Benefits” is currently seducing audiences at the Tropic Cinema.
Pop-singer-turned-actor Justin Timberlake co-stars with Mila Kunis in this déjà vu film. The pair display good on-screen chemistry, an easy-going familiarity that makes you think he actually could be nailing her. They demonstrated this comfort level at the MTV Movie Awards where Timberlake groped her breasts and she grabbed his package. A little over the top for TV, but remember Timberlake is a veteran of such controversy – him being the architect of Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl XXXVIII “wardrobe malfunction.”

This is the first lead role for each of them.

What’s interesting about this new film is that Kunis was Natalie Portman’s co-star in the psychological ballet thriller “Black Swan,” wherein Natalie snagged an Oscar and Kunis didn’t.
No big surprise. Portman has paid her dues, debuting at 12 in “The Professional” and going on to win fanboy hearts as Queen Padmé Amidala in the “Star Wars” saga.
Kunis, on the other hand, is relatively new to the big screen, having spent 1996-2006 on TV’s “That ‘70s Show” sitcom.

Nonetheless, Kunis and Portman remain best-est friends. Natalie calls her “Sweet Lips,” a reference to their pas-de-deux kissing scene in “Black Swan.”

To add further mix-em-and-match-em confusion to this play list, Kunis’s co-star on “That ‘70s Show” was none other than Ashton Kutcher, star of that other friends-with-benefits movie.

“While ‘No Strings Attached’ was almost all about the sex, ‘Friends With Benefits’ is more about the relationship,” says veteran movie watcher Matthew Fong.

The plot (in case you didn’t see that first movie) is simplistic, but funny. According to his ex, Dylan (Timberlake) is “emotionally unavailable.” And according to her old boyfriend, Jamie
(Kunis) is “emotionally damaged.” So they decide to go it together, as friends who partake in sex the same way other people pair up to play tennis. A good workout. Exercise with – to borrow an oddly familiar phrase – no string attached.

Yeah, right.
[from Solares Hill]

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Week of August 5 to August 11 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Don’t confuse SUBMARINE with The Hunt for Red October, or Operation Petticoat, or even Frank Capra’s 1928 pre-talkie Submarine. Those all featured underwater boats. This one is about 15-year-old Oliver Tate, who is submerged in nothing but his obsession with a girl and finding his place in the world. That may not be a unique notion, but British filmmaker Richard Ayoade, a standup comedian and music video director, has brought the full range of his skills to the task. All the characters are loveably odd. Oliver’s parents (Noah Taylor – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Sally Hawkins – Happy Go Lucky), haven’t had sex in months but are trying in inept ways to be helpful to their son about the birds and bees. (“I once ripped my vest off in front of a woman,” dad confides.) Meanwhile Oliver is trying to prevent mum from drifting into an affair with the neighborhood psychic, who’s her old boyfriend.

But the center of the movie is Oliver himself and his girlfriend, Jordana. He’s a self-professed fan of The Catcher in the Rye, but more like Max Fischer in Rushmore. (Wes Anderson is clearly Ayoade’s inspiration.) She’s part pyromaniac and part Amélie. Humor runs through the movie as we chuckle at the absurdity of the character’s behaviors, especially Oliver who tends to a dramatic view of life. (He fantasizes about the national outpouring of grief that will follow his demise.) But it’s also a touching tale of adolescent angst filmed with a brilliant style that interweaves reality and fantasy.

“The excruciating and the hilarious mingle nearly to perfection.” (New York Post). “Wonderfully funny and subversively affecting.” (Wall St. Journal)

A BETTER LIFE strikes a more serious note. Luis is the same age as the boy in Submarine, but he’s the son of Carlos, an undocumented alien struggling to earn a living as a gardener. Luis would love to have the existential problem of Oliver, but he has no time for such luxuries. The world he and his father live in is beset by gangs on the one hand and la migra – the immigration cops -- on the other. Carlos seems to have found the answer when a departing boss leaves him a modest business, a truck and clients, that may enable them to get out of the barrio. But when the truck is stolen by a betraying worker, the depth of their despair is enlightened only by the bonding between father and son as they go in search of their missing lifeline.

Filmmaker Chris Weitz (About A Boy; The Twilight Saga: New Moon) who has part Mexican ancestry, obviously wants to use his directorial talents to put a face on a harsh world that has become a political football of the right. But he also knows how to tell a story that will remind you of The Bicycle Thief, as it turns “what could have been another manifesto of liberal guilt into a genuinely moving tale of a father and son bonding together in a hostile world.” (Portland Oregonian)

If you’ve been following the Tropic fashion movie parade, which has already brought us movies about Valentino, Chanel and Bill Cunningham, you should be ready for Yves St. Laurent. The documentary L’AMOUR FOU, narrated by his long-time companion and business partner Pierre Bergé,
is not so much about YSL’s work as his life -- about the art, depression and decadence that dominated it. It is “perched somewhere between a sanded-edged official portrait and a keen examination of affluence run amok.” (Time Out New York)

The Monday Night Summer of Fun Classic theme for August is Murder and Mayhew. This week it’s THE WARRIORS (1979), a hip dystopian story set in a New York City ruled by warring gangs. “A cult classic… so good.” (New York Times)

Full info and schedules at or
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