Sunday, October 30, 2011

Week of October 28 through November 3 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann
First, let’s get the bad news out of the way. The Tropic will be closed for the evening shows on Friday and all day Saturday. There’s just no competing with the frolic on the streets. You would have trouble getting to the theater if it were open. So enjoy Fantasy Fest.

If you survive, or get to the Tropic before it closes on Friday, there are a couple of treats for you.
THE WAY is a different kind of road movie, following the journey of a man (Martin Sheen) as he walks a 500 mile pilgrimage in northern Spain. Known as the Way of St. James, or El Camino de Santiago, it’s a centuries-old route. One of the Tropic’s founders, Kim Narenkivicius, made the trip a few years ago as a journey of self-discovery, so it has a personal touch for us.

As you discover watching the film, there are as many reasons to make the pilgrimage as there are pilgrims, from the traditional act of penance to a means of losing weight. For Sheen’s character, it begins as a tribute to his son, who died on the route, but turns into something much more, something inspired as much by the Wizard of Oz as by any Christian saint. Sheen bonds with three companions, who discover their brains, hearts and courage. That’s not my idea, but an observation of the writer-director Emilio Estevez (Sheen’s son in real life, who also plays his fictional son in flashbacks).

Like the original Oz story, it has comedic elements mixed with a parable. “Funny, moving, hip and transcendent all at the same time, The Way is both deeply thoughtful and enormous fun to watch.” (Ann Hornaday, Washington Post)

There’s nothing spiritual about LOVE CRIME, a French thriller about nasty double-dealing that reminds us of All About Eve. The always wonderful Kristin Scott Thomas, who can employ French or English with equal aplomb, is Christine, a French marketing executive, sure in her power over her employees, whom she manipulates like pieces on a chessboard. Especially her number one assistant Isabelle (Ludivine Sangier – Mesrine, Girl Cut in Two), who idolizes her. The carefully structured plot involves malfeasance and political infighting in their multinational corporation, which eventually spirals out to larger crimes and a surprise ending. Did you like George Clooney’s Michael Clayton? Then this should be your demi-tasse.

Speaking of Clooney, he’s back in THE IDES OF MARCH a timely political thriller. Clooney is a very straight-arrow Presidential candidate, faced with some serious moral and ethical dilemmas in a crucial primary contest. His young assistant campaign manager (Ryan Gosling) lets his ambition lead him into trouble, but when you’re as smart as he is there’s hardly anything you can’t accomplish with a little backroom deal making and backstabbing. In this business, when you’re up, you’re on your way down, and vice versa. You just never know. “A big, bruisingly funny moral fable etched in acid and Obama disillusion.” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone)

and 50/50 are held over.

On Monday the surprise treat is an Undead Are Fundead double feature. George Romero’s groundbreaking (an apt metaphor) 1968 classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and Ed Wood, Jr.’s 1959 PLANET 9 FROM OUTER SPACE starring Bela Lugosi. A fitting end to October’s ghoulish series.

For those of you with more refined tastes, Tuesday evening brings a performance of ADRIANA LECOUVREUR, sung in Italian from the Royal Opera in London. Expand your mind.

Full info and schedules at or
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Love Crime (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Love Crime

 "Love Crime", the new psychological thriller by Alain Corneau  is as dangerous as "Scream" or "Open Water". Ghostface is not present this time in his Munch-malevolence, nor are there any killer sharks, yet the confines of an office are just as scary as a black and white shower stall once was in the 1960s.     

Veteran actress Kristen Scott Thomas plays Christine, an icy blonde executive who applies her lipstick with a slash and enjoys teasing and belittling her young assistant  Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier). Christine is all rigidity and sarcastic gush. She even goes as far as kissing Isabelle with passion only to dress her down with sly pricks to her ego that her hair is not right or her makeup is overdone. If you want to see an Executive Domme in action, Christine is a model par excellence. The ghost of Joan Crawford bristles within.  

Isabelle  is always the put upon submissive. When we see Christine making love, Isabelle is a rigid caterpillar in bed frozen in her cocoon.  Abruptly Christine's husband Philippe (Patrick Mille) begins an affair and there are enough sparks upon sparks to rival "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" although the film is closer to "Leaving" (2010) the Camusian portrait of  marital collapse  which also highlighted Kirsten Scott Thomas' understated but lethal menace.
In one key scene, Christine makes a big show of humiliating Isabelle  during a board meeting. The percussion would make Glenn Close cringe.

It is actually Ludivine Sagnier who most resembles Glenn Close in her hallmark role in "Fatal Attraction". Step by step we see  her internalizing her hurts and wanting to become like Christine as in the classic "The Talented Mr. Ripley". Much like a character in Kafka, we see Isabelle move inexorably to a  violent conclusion. She faces each panic and setback pressed against a sharp edged corner or a blank corridor with no exit. An office cubicle is the reflected in the same light as a high security prison.

Then abruptly there is a gleam in Isabelle's catatonic stare: a tool shed becomes a refuge for deadly intent.

The lioness is born.

Isabelle's world becomes a phantasmagoria of resentment. Her  stark office environment is dispassionate and gray in tone, a bit like shots from a flat digital camera. The characters are all bugs under a microscope. 

The final transformation of Isabelle is akin to the clap of an open fist or the swish of a blinding and dominant white dress. Violence oozes from her neck like perfume and you can almost smell the predatory intent. 

"Love Crime" sneaks up on you like a hesitant mistress with a  softness in quiet deliberation and it doesn't spare the poison. 

Ludivine Sagnier like Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck before her, is a woman you should definately handle with protection, but at all cost, please don't miss her.

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Love Crime (Rhoades)

“Love Crime” More
Dangerous Than
“Working Girl”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Think of “Love Crime” (original title: “Crime d’amour”) as “Working Girl” retold as a French thriller. Instead of Sigourney Weaver and Melanie Griffith struggling for the control of an account (and Harrison Ford), here we have Kristin Scott Thomas doing battle with her assistant Ludivine Sagnier.
Christine (Scott Thomas) is manager of the Paris branch of Barney Johnson, a company that specializes in marketing food products. Isabelle (Sagnier) is ambitious and hard working, but crafty Christine takes credit for her assistant’s work. Both are having an affair with the same colleague. Ruthless Christine delights in toying with Isabelle, but you can expect the tables to turn as Isabelle exacts her revenge.
Sadly, “Love Crime” is French director Alain Corneau’s last film. He died a week after its premiere. He’s best remembered for “Tous les matins du monde,” his 17th Century musical drama.
You will recognize Kristin Scott Thomas from “The English Patient” and “The Horse Whisperer.” She mostly makes films in France these days.
And Ludivine Sagnier is known for Francois Ozon’s psychosexual “Swimming Pool.”
With “Love Crime” we learn that corporate warfare can be dangerous. So this film is at heart a murder mystery … with no mystery.
[from Solares Hill]

Ides of March (Rhoades)

“Ides of March” – a
Political Morality Tale

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Gather ’round, children, and I will explain the Ides of March. Yes, before moving to April, March 15th used to be the day that your dad’s income tax was due. However, the date first gained fame (or should that be infamy?) as the occasion upon which Julius Caesar was done in by a gaggle of his friends, stabbed in the back (as well as 22 other places) by the Roman senators who wanted to stop his political ascendancy. Among them was his friend Brutus (“Et tu, Brute?” he supposedly muttered).
In the new George Clooney political drama – aptly titled “Ides of March” – we find a presidential hopeful (Clooney, looking like a square-chinned Rick Perry/Mitt Romney clone) surrounded by his advisors.
Chief among the team of Pennsylvania governor Mike Morris (Clooney) are Steven Myers (Ryan Gosling), his whiz kid strategist, and Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), his take-no-prisoners campaign manager. People he trusts.
On the opposing side of the race is a candidate managed by veteran Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). Watching from the wings is Ida Horowitz (Marisa Tomei), a reporter with the New York Times.
This is a tale of idealism, betrayal, and dirty politics. Word is that Clooney – who co-wrote, directed, produced, and stars in this film – held off doing “Ides of March” until the enthusiasm for Barack Obama’s presidential win died down, for this cynical view of the political landscape is not one of Yes-we-can celebration.
“Ides of March” is currently waging its campaign with audiences at the Tropic Cinema.
In it, Clooney plays a progressive presidential candidate (replete with Obama-like posters), but Ryan Gosling takes the lead as the idealistic young staffer who wants to do the right thing – caught between his candidate’s public image and private vices. While the story is complex – exploring the themes of loyalty, ambition, and personal hubris – the film’s message is somewhat simplistic: power corrupts.
Stephen Meyers: We’re gonna be fine. We have to do it, it’s the right thing to do, and nothing bad happens when you’re doing the right thing.
Governor Mike Morris: Is this your personal theory? ’Cause I can shoot holes in it.
Stephen Meyers: Well, there’s exceptions to every rule.
Adapted from Beau Willimon’s play, “Farragut North,” this political drama is said to be loosely based on the 2004 Democratic primary campaign of Howard Dean (Gov-VT). Note: Farragut North is a Metro Station in the center of Washington DC’s lobbyist district.
This crash course in dirty politics may have its own self-portentous hubris, but George Clooney deserves kudos as a filmmaker. At its core a slick thriller, Clooney knows how to intercut widescreen bustle with jarring close-ups, keep the action moving, and light it like the old Hollywood masters. Even better, he knows how to use his own image as the film’s political candidate, not overplaying his hand, but offering up a political figure we can buy. Or can be bought.
Someone asked George Clooney why doesn’t he run for president? The actor responded, “As for running for president, look, there's a guy in office right now who is smarter than almost anyone you know, who's nicer and who has more compassion than almost anyone you know. And he's having an almost impossible time governing. Why would anybody volunteer for that job?" He added, "I have a really good job. I get to hang out with very seductive people. So I have no interest.”
In the end, “Ides of March” isn’t just a political thriller. It’s a morality tale.
[from Solares Hill]

The Way (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Way

Finally, high five! A road movie of self- discovery for men. An "Eat Pray Love" for the macho among us. That is what you'll find in "The Way" capably  directed by 80s star, Emilio Estevez.
Emilo's real life father, Martin Sheen stars as Tom, a congenial but direct opthamologist who enjoys the static regularity of his suburban life. But something is eating at him. His bohemian son Daniel  (Emilio Estevez) is off in Europe with no set return. On the golf course, Tom gets a disturbing call from a Pyrenees policeman telling him that his son has died in a freak accident during a storm.

Sheen's grief is palpable. From the first moment, his mouth folds in sadness and we are hooked. We learn in flashbacks that although Tom clearly loved his son, he was silent and taciturn in conversation, adamant against his son's eternal wandering.
A key scene is Tom's arrival at the morgue as he goes to collect Daniel's body. Sheen is tense, flushed and we need not see him cry. One close-up says it all.
Needless to say, Tom has an epiphany. He will complete The  Way of Saint James, as his son hoped to do reaching The Camino de Santiago with his son's ashes in hand Tom adapts the manner of a Baby Boomer pilgrim, echoing the deliberate open eyed manner of Julia Roberts' voyager role. But to be fair, Sheen has such an earnest and plain energy that he makes the role his own. We can forgive a bit of imitation with the middle-aged professional, displaced in a foreign land. Our heart goes out to him.

What follows is a picaresque journey of characters that Tom meets along his trek, each one a bit more quirky than the last. There is Jost,  ( Yorick van Wageningen) a kind and jovial hedonist from Amsterdam, Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) a sexy but disturbed iconoclast from Canada, and Jack, (James Nesbitt), a hyperactive Irishman with writer's block, who bounces about like a Shakespearean sprite laced with amphetamines. That is not to say that these people are cartoons. Their roles are played with feeling and verve, it's only that they  seem a bit contrived, given that there have been countless quest films that have made similar paths with nearly identical  "I'm sorrys", and "I know you don't want to talk to mes".
I'll admit that I knew what was coming when Tom was at a lunch party only to insult his fellow pilgrims,  lunging at the police, swinging his arms and raving. Whoa! Dude! No way, another Sheen on the loose! This one's a Tiger-Dad. It seems like every journey film has a hero in hysterics and I wonder why. It's really not necessary. Pathos and high drama can also be shown in silence.
Despite the melodramatic spiritual feel at times with the repetitive imagery of statues, censers and Icons overlaid with Enya-like sounds,  Sheen keeps us walking with him by the simple force of his portrayal. Whenever Tom is jubilant, enervated by fatigue, tortured by memory or happenstance, we feel it. The sight of Sheen's own son as Daniel in the form of a memory-ghost along his walk, gives the film an authentic and poignant validity.
Although you might be able to see one foot fall in front of the other before it  actually does, "The Way" has enough eccentricity in its characters and a pleasing quaintness in its colorful locale of Basque Country that it still makes for an entertaining jaunt, if not an  odyssey.   

Write Ian at

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Week of October 21 to October 27 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann
Like last year’s Oscar nominee Social Network, MONEYBALL is a movie, based on a true story, about smart guys using their brains, and winning out because they’re clever and geeky enough to reinvent the game. The game this time is not the internet, but major league baseball, which means that there are years of tradition to overcome.

Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s (Brad Pitt) and his assistant Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) are looking for a way to make their low-budget team competitive in a league dominated by free-spending franchises like the Yankees and Red Sox. The “game” is not on the field, but in the back office, where trades are made and players drafted. Brand is a statistical nerd, crunching numbers and evaluating performance data in a way that makes the A’s old-school scouts crazy. They have intuition about who is going to be a great player, while Brand has nothing but spreadsheets and regression analyzes.

But Beane has his own intuition, shaped by his brief career as a red-hot prospect -- according to scouts -- and a quickly flamed-out player when he hit the field. With his team on the bottom and his owner unwilling to play the spending game to hire the “best” new talent, he’s ready to try anything, even overriding the judgments of his inner circle of sage scouting veterans.

This, of course, is not merely a story about the American League; it’s about the American ethos. We invent and reinvent, while those foreigners just follow the rules: it could never have happened with a Japanese baseball team, we think.

is a hot prospect for the Oscar, both for the film and for Brad Pitt, according to all the movie sages.
Will we ever get an Oscar-predicting statistician?

Speaking of statistics, 50/50 is the title of a movie and also the odds facing Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) when he is diagnosed with a rare cancer. Not to worry, the theme here is comedy. The movie is not about the big C, but rather a big F – friendship. About how the most important thing is having a friend (Seth Rogen) who can observe:
"Fifty-fifty—if you were a casino game, you'd have the best odds!"   
Based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s own experience with cancer, and his actual friendship with Rogen, it’s also a lesson in how comedians can draw on their professional skills to get through tough times. “Laughter is the best medicine” is not just a trivial cliché. “It’s almost impossible to overstate how lovable a film this is. It’s endearing, clever, moving, and, yes, funny.” (Baltimore Magazine)

While on this subject, allow me to throw in a plug for a great book, The Etiquette of Illness, by Susan Halpern. The theme is “what do you say, what do you do” when you or a friend faces a grave disease. It’s a great place to turn for guidance. Available online at or
But the movie will help, too.

Enough with the true stories. BRIGHTON ROCK is pure fiction, a British noir thriller set in the 1960’s, based on Graham Greene’s earlier novel. Pinkie (Sam Reily), the punk anti-hero, revels in being a gangster, in being even less moral than his immoral colleagues. Rose (Andrea Riseborough) is an innocent waitress who becomes caught in his web, seduced  by and then mesmerized by him. Her only hope is Ida (Helen Mirren) her employer and would be protector. Ah, good versus evil. I can’t tell you which prevails, but, “the film is almost distractingly beautiful to look at, something that accentuates the tension between the film's conflicting quantities, i.e., the glories of the physical world, and the corrupted humanity it hosts.” (John Anderson, Wall St. Journal)

The Tropic’s supporting cast includes a passel of holdovers, and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN for the Monday night Undead Are Fundead Classic.

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Brighton Rock (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Brighton Rock

If you prefer your criminals with a shiny razor rather than a slug from a gun, check out "Brighton Rock," an edgy film adapted from the 1938 novel by Graham Greene and directed by Rowan Joffe.

In this latest film version, Fred Hale, (Sean Harris) a frenetic  drifter with a face like an anemic fox gets mixed up in the mob. Enter the sociopath Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley). Pinkie is a real charmer. He makes Alex from "A Clockwork Orange" look like Charlie Brown. Since Hale picked the wholesome and kind waitress Rose (Andrea Riseborough) out of a crowd of pedestrians for a cover when pursued, Pinky tails the young lady. 

A relationship develops. This is even after the square jawed and smug Pinky tells Rose, "I like you, we have a lot in common" and then goes into a detailed description of how sulfuric acid can eat the face off. Hey you smooth talker! 

Rose even falls for Pinkie more when she learns that he slashed Fred to death. Carnal knowledge, I suppose. Rose is a passive flower and Pinkie for all his homicidal hunger is racked with a sour fear. When he is with Rose, his face is as grim and labored as if he's chewing on tripe. Rose is unfazed, becoming more and more enamored by Pinky's toxic glare. In one excellent scene, Pinky makes a record for Rose as a souvenir as she waits outside a booth beyond earshot. Pinky's face is rapt with emotion. Rose thinks Pinky is revealing his love as his eyes flutter. But in actuality, he is spewing his hatred for her. 

Never has young love been so rancid. You can almost smell the moldy chocolate onscreen. Or in this case the Brighton Rock of the film's title: hard sticks of candy as sharp as an ice-pick used for choking.

The film "Brighton Rock" is the most well done Highsmithic and Hitchcockian story in recent years. Even the colorful  Summer setting of a Brighton boardwalk, with its screeching ravenous tourists who play with toy pistols contain a seasonal menace. The locale, the score, and the apprehension recall the classic "Strangers on a Train". Sam Riley is even more disturbing than Robert Walker here, precisely because he is often mute and pained. Only Pinky's face shows the violence in him, a chemical agent without relief, something like Deadly Nightshade in his solid blank face.

Andy Serkis of Gollum fame, does a good turn in the role of the polyester-faced gangster Mr. Colleoni. Helen Mirren and John Hurt also make appearances, but rest assured, no one is pure of heart.

"Brighton Rock" is a quick and clever film, rich in gallow's humor and the final scene will have you thinking of Thomas Hardy laced with a shot of O. Henry for good measure.  The film makes a perfect Fall idyll for those that slink among us craving noir.

Write Ian at

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Moneyball (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The underdog movie takes many forms. "Moneyball" is the latest of these, focusing on the game of baseball. It is the true story of Billy Beane, an ex pro baseball player who never really made it, yet he became the general manager of the Oakland As. In 2002, Beane led the As to a record season when the team was financially strapped. Beane adopted a controversial method of hiring players based on economics and statistics. The concept was to basically purge the muscle-bound photogenic high-end players and work with low end and mid-level players, to go against type and work with what you have. This was a sacrilegious slap in the face to the tradition of Major League Baseball as it usually worships photogenic and talented players. 
Brad Pitt does a good job as the earnest and hot tempered Beane. As an All-American boy eaten up with regret, I forgot it was Brad Pitt for a while, and given that Pitt is such an iconic actor this is to his credit.  Beane constantly beats himself up in flashback. As a young player full of great promise, he could not hit the ball. He froze up. Outwardly Beane is an extrovert, eager to please, but inside, he festers with frustration and discontent. Mediocrity is not good enough. He wants to win.
Beane meets assistant Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who tells him of his radical theory. In his role, Hill is refreshingly understated. He is a bit taciturn and humdrum, but he is no comic geek. No "Superbad" or "Funny People" wiener jokes here. The most adolescent he becomes is when he manically high-fives Brad Pitt over a trade deal---The kid within. Alas, the bathroom humored persona of Jonah Hill has gentrified and become mainstream. The inevitable evolution of an independent brand.
Mainstream issues aside, the repore between Pitt and Hill is fluid and smooth. No bit of dialogue is extraneous and you do feel that these two characters care about one another, which  compliments the friendship portrayed in the film "50/50" which stars another Apatow alumni, Seth Rogen. 
"Moneyball" based on a book by Michael Lewis, contains enough information about baseball and statistics without going over your head. Better yet, you need not be a baseball fan to enjoy it, or for that matter understand statistics. It is simply an American story of two men against the odds.
Seasoned chameleon actor Philip Seymour Hoffman plays manager Art Howe in a very uncharacteristic mild way. He is so pudgy and milquetoast, it's eerie. He has all the zip of a Duane Hanson sculpture. Hoffman is so much the manager that there is no manager.  He feels like Art Howe.
"Moneyball" is especially fitting coming on the heels of the  sudden death of Apple wunderkind Steve Jobs. At one point in the film, Pitt's character urges the board members to "think differently", which is Apple's motto. I don't think this is coincidental. Both Jobs and Beane used computer technology and groundbreaking philosophy to overcome old expectations. Both were iconoclasts against Big Business. For Beane this meant The Bronx Bombers: The behemoth known as The New York Yankees. For Jobs, it was Big Blue, IBM, specifically Microsoft--- the business standard that cornered the market in the Late 1980s.
The square jawed savvy  Pitt and the pale awkward Hill, alone with a laptop and logarithms, do seem like versions of Jobs and Wozniak, simply doing what they know will work against the Status Quo.
One can only imagine  what Billy Beane and Peter Brand might have been able to do with an iPhone in the bullpen.     
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50 / 50 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

 50/ 50

Director Jonathan Levine delivers a romantic buddy comedy with a cancer theme. "50/ 50" is heartfelt and stirring in content and the chemistry between the two leads is bracing, even with the film's generic conventions.

"50/ 50" is based on the real life friendship between the film's writer Will  Reiser and Seth Rogen who co-stars and basically plays himself in the buddy role.

As Adam and Kyle, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rogen) the two stars are at their best. They talk and converse, push and pull at each other and the friendship between them has a lively ease. What could have been uncomfortable or overly sentimentalized is given a fresh current with Rogen's characteristic glib dialogue.  With his smirk, his arched eyebrow and his politically incorrect charm, Rogen could  make Vlad the Impaler smile. Although the film, with its emphasis on sex and getting "laid" does seem like a hangover from other Judd Apatow comedies.  Yes it fits together fine with the plot, but it gets a little repetitive: Adam is the shy guy who never gets to do anything raunchy like pick up girls drunk. He is well meaning, and under Kyle's hapless tutelage, Adam blossoms. 

I expected a bit more unconventional, as this is supposed to be an indie kind of film, but to be fair, that part of the plot isn't important. The fun of the film comes across in the exchange between the two friends, often when they just sit in a car or at a party.

"50/ 50" would have been an even better film if it left out the romantic interest of Katie (Anna Kendrick) altogether and just focused on Adam and Kyle. Kendrick as a medical counselor with all her coyness and professional exterior is just a little too predictable with those reassuring pats and quick smiles. We already know she's going to score with Levitt. And the film even has a quiet version of a high school date of sorts but the way that scene ends will keep you guessing and the awkwardness was well done. 

The main pulse of the film always remains with Adam and Kyle. Their manner of ridicule and of lampooning something as sad as cancer as they lightly skewer everyone from Lance Armstrong to Patrick Swayze is a rare thing in a comedic film and the two get it right.

Not even death has a chance.

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Brighton Rock (Rhoades)

“Brighton Rock” Gets Dusted Off
 Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

As a college student I got hooked on Graham Greene’s spy novels – “The Confidential Agent,” “The Third Man,” “Our Man in Havana,” and “A Burnt-Out Case.” In the end, I read every novel by this gifted British author and literary critic. The Collected Edition of Greene’s works fills 22 volumes in all. Included among them are his four so-called Catholic novels. My favorite of these was one titled  “Brighton Rock.”
This is the story of a punk who commits a murder, brags about it to a waitress, and winds up marrying the girl to keep her quiet. A friend tries to save her from the clutches of this young monster.
The novel was first made into a movie in 1947, a black-and-white noir starring Richard Attenborough as color-contradiction Pinkie Brown. Attenborough had played the character on stage three years earlier. In the US, the film was retitled “Young Scarface” to give it more sizzle.
Many of the Roman Catholic underpinnings were deleted so as not to offend the Church. This made for a lesser film, given Graham Greene’s penchant for weaving his beliefs into the fabric of his writing.
Greene converted to Catholicism in 1926. His first published novel was “The Man Within” in 1929. He went on to write some 34 novels, short story collections, and autobiographies.
However, Greene always objected to being described as a Roman Catholic novelist, preferring to be seen as a novelist who happened to be Catholic. Even so, religious themes provide the warp and woof of many of his finest novels.
A new film adaptation of Graham Greene’s “Brighton Rock” appeared last year. Director Rowan Joffe also penned the screenplay, basing it on the original book rather than the older movie. And he updated the story from the 1930s to the 1960s, setting the action among Britain’s Mods and Rockers, opposing youth gangs.
Joffe explains why he did the film. “The novel was worthy of a contemporary adaptation. In fact, it makes it almost more dutiful as a filmmaker if you love the novel, to bring it to life without the restriction of censorship.”
“Brighton Rock” is exploring the morality of Britain’s criminal elements at the Tropic Cinema this week.
In it, Sam Riley (“Control”) plays the sociopathic young hoodlum. Pinkie’s slicked-back hair and scar across his face make him a criminal to be reckoned with. Not a nice guy.
Andrea Riseborough (“Never Let Me Go”) portrays Rose, the young waitress who becomes entangled with Pinkie. She gets a juicer part than seen in the original film because “the original black-and-white was made is a period where we were culturally and politically very patronizing to women,” says Joffe.
Helen Mirren (Academy Award-winner for “The Queen”) co-stars as Ida, the woman out to save Rose. Among the criminal elements are John Hurt (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”) and Andy Serkis (the Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy).
Despite Joffe’s dusting off Graham Greene’s “Brighton Rock,” spiffing it up, and adding color, it remains a gritty noir. A bit depressing in tone, but Greene at his finest, a man wrestling with morality as defined by the Church.
After watching the movie, I’m going to dig through the books in my attic and reread “Brighton Rock.” And maybe reread Greene’s delightful “Travels With My Aunt” just to balance it off. Like visiting a garrulous old friend.
[from Solares Hill)

50 / 50 (Rhoades)

It’s “50/50” You’ll Like This Film
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

This movie is about as funny as cancer. Wait, it is about cancer.

In “50/50” a 27-year-old guy in seeming excellent health (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is diagnosed with cancer. The doctors say he has a 50/50 chance of survival (hence the name of the film). His pal (funnyman Seth Rogan) tells him that’s better odds than he’d find in any casino.

Our guy isn’t so worried to begin with. He’s going through the stages – one being denial. He keeps trying to convince his fiancé (Bryce Dallas Howard), his mom (Anjelica Huston), and his Alzheimer’s stricken dad (Serge Houde) that he’s okay.

In fact, his pal (Rogan) helps him work on using cancer as a pick-up line. No, it doesn’t go so well.
He sees an inept therapist (Anna Kendrick) and hangs out with snarky old chemo patients (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer).

Does he survive? You’ll have to see for yourself. And have a few guilty laughs along the way. But the film is loosely based on the experience of screenwriter Will Reiser, so that may give you a clue.

“50/50” is playing the odds this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a very talented actor. From “Inception” to TV’s inane “Third Rock From the Sun” to “(500) Days of Summer” to “50/50” he holds your attention with his timed delivery.

And former “Green Hornet” Seth Rogan is best at playing second banana – with the possible exception of his brilliant co-starring self-parody in “Pineapple Express.”

In “50/50” the two play off each other well, especially the scene where Gordon-Levitt shaves his head with the electric razor Rogan uses for shaving body hair from his, uh, dangling nether regions.

You could call this a brave comedy. Does the fact that James McAvoy dropped out of the lead role make him a coward? Or merely a cancer survivor?
[from Solares Hill]

Moneyball (Rhoades)

Keeps Score

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My boss at Reader’s Digest was an excellent statistician. He used regression analysis (a technique applied to the Digest’s mailings to predict response) in order to forecast winning baseball games. He often won the office pool.
Now I find out that baseball teams have been using statistical analysis themselves. In particular, Oakland Athletic’s General Manager Billy Beane.
And they’ve made a movie about it starring Brad Pitt as Billy. It also features butterball Jonah Hill as his assistant general manager and a brief turn by Philip Seymour Hoffman as his numerically resistant team manager.
“Moneyball” is currently winning innings at the Tropic Cinema. It tells the story how Billy Beane played the numbers to overcome the odds between his small franchise and teams with 5X the spending power for recruiting top players.
Who would think a movie about statistics would be interesting? But keep in mind, we have a wry and humorous script by masterminds Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (“Social Network,” TV’s “West Wing”).
This is the story of the Oakland A’s in the early 2000s, underdogs in a sport with no salary caps, an inherently unfair system where bigger teams can afford the better players.
Brad Pitt does great in a role that allows him to wear T-shirts. Pitt believes sports movies are appealing because they’re about “overcoming adversity.” He says, “I’m a sucker for an underdog story.”
“It’s complicated material,” Pitt admits.
Aside from the statistical mumbo jumbo (now used by most Major League teams) this is mainly a behind-the-dugout look at the challenges and pressures of running a ball team.
Director Bennett Miller (“Capote”) agrees. “At the end of the day, it’s the story of our values. It’s a film about baseball, but something else deeper is happening.”
Yes, movies about the National Pastime are always gripping – from “The Lou Gehrig Story” to “Eight Men Out” to “The Natural” – especially if you throw in some real baseball players, a true story, and compelling stars.
Maybe “Moneyball” won’t be a home run, but it’s certainly a base hit with a man on third.
[from Solares Hill]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Week of October 14 to October 20 (Mann)

What’s on a the Tropic
by Phil Mann  

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler proved that a film about guys in a ring can transcend the sport. That is, you didn’t have to be a WWE aficionado to appreciate it. And boxing movies that are popular with non-boxers have been a staple of great film drama, from Requiem for a Heavyweight to Raging Bull to The Fighter. Now mixed martial arts (MMA), the most violent and most brutal of ring sports, gets its cinema champion.

In WARRIOR, Tommy (Tom Hardy – Inception) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton – Animal Kingdom) are brothers but have been estranged from each other and from their alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) for years. For very different reasons, they both choose MMA fighting as a way to earn needed money, setting the brothers on a collision path. You know it’s going to conclude with the ultimate fight, of course, but the story of the three men, like that of the family in The Fighter, is a character-driven drama that draws the viewer into their lives. And the fight scenes will blow you away. Mere boxing or wrestling seems trivial by comparison.

It’s a hit with both critics and average moviegoers -- “This movie wants to knock you out. It will.” (A.O. Scott, New York Times), “
LOVED THIS MOVIE! I am a 49 year old woman whose sport tastes usually only include dancing and couples figure skating, but this movie was awesome! "(raygirl on Metacritic)

The central characters in the French dramatic comedy THE HEDGEHOG could be from another planet, by comparison. Paloma is a precocious eleven-year-old, making a video about her plan to kill herself in a few months, and Renée is the surly concierge-superintendent of the luxury apartment building where Paloma lives with her very refined, and very distant, parents. Renée has a passion for literature and Japanese cinema that she conceals because “no one wants a pretentious janitor.” She’s the hedgehog of the title, tough on the outside, but soft inside. Put Mr. Ozu into the mix – a new tenant who strikes up an unusual relationship with Renée – and you have a quirky coming-of-age comedy reminiscent of Rushmore, with a touch of Amélie.

The Hedgehog “sneaks up on you with its heartfelt storytelling and sophisticated wit.” (Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch), “a treat: a movie that's smart, grown-up, wry and deeply moving” (Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post)

This week’s Classic in the Undead Are Fundead Series, BEETLEJUICE (1988) featuring Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin as a deceased young couple required to haunt their earthly house, with Michael Keaton as their fellow-poltergeist and a very-young Winona Ryder as the winsome daughter of the new tenants. The first big hit from director Tim Burton, who quickly followed with Batman and Edward Scissorhands. Come down on Monday to warm up for Fantasy Fest.

A full house of held over hits rounds out the schedule: THE HELP, CONTAGION, DRIVE, WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER and TURTLE: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY.

Full schedules and info at or
Comments, please, to

The Hedgehog (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Hedgehog 

For those who feel that they have had too much testosterone in their recent visual diet given the thrusts and kicks of "Drive" and "Warrior", "The Hedgehog" is an easy antidote.

The film focuses on dysfunctional people in a Paris townhouse complex. There is Paloma, a precocious 11-year old who wants to commit suicide (Garance Le Guillermic), The superintendent who is "the hedgehog", (Josiane Belasco) and Kakuro, a Japanese widower (Togo Igawa). This is a quiet wandering film, part "Harold & Maude" and part "Paris, J'taime" with a dash of Woody Allen.

 There is a lot going on and at times it seems like a John Cassavetes film made for a short attention span, but it is none the less smooth as a character study.

Paloma, who does seem a bit like Bud Cort in his famous role, goes around with a movie camera and hordes her mother's prescription drugs. She slinks around every corner and crevice with her little oval glasses, looking cute as a button. Paloma draws, paints and comes up with existential quips. She is quite adorable to the point of invariably getting her glasses tangled in her long frizzy blonde hair. I wonder why she wants to end it? At 12? She certainly doesn't seem tortured at all. Paloma walks around with her camera in a cheerful glide and looks forward to her death with the enthusiasm of a Sweet Sixteen party.  For a while it seems as if Michael Haneke was behind the camera directing an episode of Eloise. Strange.

Then there is Renee, the super who is antisocial and glum having only her cats to keep her company. Renee sits and reads her classic novels eating dark chocolate. Then a Mr. Ozu arrives: the widower in white. Mr. Ozu is gracious, Asian and content and doesn't his prim elegance make him ever so mysterious? Mr. Ozu is the most accepting person in the film and his plain enigmatic quality is a relief from the smirking  Paloma. Ozu falls for the brooding and melancholy Renee, seeing her for the elegant romantic that she supposedly is, but I clearly didn't  see evidence of this. Renee is kind, she is well meaning, but romantic? Not really. 

Under less capable hands this movie would feel too loose and silly, The Cabbage Patch Kids guide to suicide even, but director Mona Achache, pulls the camera in close enough to the other characters so that we don't become too annoyed by Little Miss Sartre across the hall.

The film works best as a kind of live action story in the manner of "The Illusionist". We marvel at the sheer number of distracted  goofs all contained in one place and the film is kaliedoscopic enough as to vary our attention and not get weighed down by too many gloomy Gusses at one time. 

Despite the Haneke-hearted tween with all her trappings, this film is  sweet enough to swallow. In the end "The Hedgehog" remains a sugar pill with only a slight taste of almonds. No psychiatrist necessary.

Write Ian at

Warrior (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


I would be lying to you if I didn't admit to feeling a sense of deja vu earlier today when I saw "Warrior", the latest fight film. As soon as I saw the black screen and the bold white letters, it hit me. Suddenly,there I was at 18 years old, in an Atlantic City movie theater. I was on Valium with two casts on my feet seeing "Rocky III." I was a  summer patient of Seashore House then, a physical therapy clinic. I was being poked, prodded and wrenched by orthopedic hands. I was also bullied by the other kids, but when watching Sylvester Stallone that didn't seem to matter. With one cinematic underdog punch I was right there in The Other Place, giddy and floating without pain.
Yes, there are quite a few things in "Warrior" that are similar to the "Rocky" franchise, not least of them being another gray, gritty, Pennsylvania setting. In this case, Pittsburgh. There is also a young bruiser who is all muscle and bluster, an amateur boxer with a hound dog heart (Tom Hardy). There is the boozy and barnacled trainer (Nick Nolte) who also happens to be the father who was never there. There are scenes of training and jogging in the dead of Winter in sweatshirts that seem leftover from the old  Sly wardrobe, coupled with images of red meat sizzling on a grill. The nods to "Rocky" seem so overt at times that they seem close to parody. But then I got it.
Rather than a teasing parody these Balboan  bits are a nostalgic homage to the Underdog canon.
Tom Hardy has an earthy magnetism. He doesn't say much. His character, doesn't have to. All the dialogue necessary is in his body. Tommy trudges off with shoulders hunched, as if he's being stalked by the invisibles of Guilt. There is something of Robert Blake within him. Hardy is the disaffected spirit, aloof, almost sociopathic--a sad animal Without.
Joel Edgerton plays it  well as Brendan, a physics teacher at the local high school who is driven to try his fist at mixed martial arts to make ends meet.  Edgerton looks uncannily like Russell Crowe and it's true that Crowe could play this part on autopilot. But Edgerton gives an earnest, authentic delivery to his nice guy role. Even though the story spends much time on Brendan, it is Tommy as the hunted wolf who is the real pulse of the film.
An added surprise is Kevin Dunn as Principal Zito, who is understated and completely genuine in being a closet MMA fan.
The weak tether on "The Warrior" is Nick Nolte himself, who seems to blubber and overact in a few scenes of  family confrontation. He spends most of his time whispering and bellowing, and saying "You can do it, son!" And listening deliriously to "Moby Dick" on tape.  It's not that Nolte is Bad; he has just been  in too many whiskey-soured roles--- too much of a character within a character. The sight of Old Nick is like the sound of a Tom Waits song and maybe that isn't so terrible. It's just that you know what you're getting before you get it.
And so it is with a good half of this film: we've swallowed these raw eggs before but somehow they're never rotten.This timeless story is as emotional as ever and you'll want to pull all the punches to spare yourself the stress.
What at first seems a melodramatic and perverse exercise in family drama becomes refreshing and apprehensive onscreen. The fight scenes are hard, and biting yet they soar with a meta-pacing that makes everything at least appear new. 
This film gives another dramatic pummeling with action and heart. To see "Warrior" is not to be disappointed or tapped out. You can always go to GNC after the show.
Write Ian at

The Hedgehog (Rhoades)

“The Hedgehog”
Introduces Prickly People

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A French philosophy professor wrote a novel titled “L'élégance du hérisson” (Translation: “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”). It is not about nocturnal insectivorous spiny mammals of the subfamily Erinaceinae. Rather it’s about a suicidal 11-year-old girl and a reclusive concierge who hides her intelligence and culture behind a dust bucket.
After teaching at the University of Burgundy, Muriel Barbery wrote her first novel “Une Gourmandise” in 2000. That was followed by “L'élégance du hérisson” in 2006.
A character named Renée Michel appears in both books. Renée is a 54-year-old widowed concierge in a Parisian apartment building. She describes herself as “short, ugly, chubby,” with “bunions on my feet and, on certain difficult mornings, it seems, the breath of a mammoth.” The author refers to Renée as having the elegance of a hedgehog.
However, Renée has hidden qualities. Self-taught, she reads works of philosopher Immanuel Kant, admires 17th-century Dutch paintings, enjoys Japanese films, and listens to composers like Purcell and Mahler. She even named her cat Leo after Leo Tolstoy.
As Muriel Barbery puts it, “I was inspired by the idea of a reserved, cultured concierge who turned stereotypes on their head and at the same time created a compelling comic effect. With her keen perspective on things, this character then opened the door on a kind of social criticism.”
“L'élégance du hérisson” remained on the bestseller list for 102 weeks, selling 1.2 million copies in hardback alone. It won the 2007 French Booksellers Prize, the 2007 Brive-la-Gaillarde Reader’s Prize, and the Prix du Rotary International in France.
Now the novel has been made into a French-subtitled movie simply called “The Hedgehog.” It’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Directed by 27-year-old Mona Achache, this loose adaptation stars Josiane Balasko (“Hanging Offense”) as Renée, Garance Le Guillermic (“I Hate My Best Friends’ Kids”) as the suicidal Paloma, and Togo Igawa  (“Memoirs of a Geisha”) as Mr. Ozu, the Japanese neighbor.
Promising to kill herself on her twelfth birthday, the bored girl Paloma says, “Planning to die doesn’t mean I let myself go like a rotten vegetable. What matters isn’t the fact of dying or when you die. It’s what you’re doing at that precise moment.” For her, it will be making a film about the absurdities of life.
Upon hearing Renée utter a quote from “Anna Karenina,” Kakuro Ozu recognizes her for the erudite person she is behind her mask. He invites her to tea, takes her to dinner, drawing her out.
Paloma films everything with a 8mm video camera, narrating her humorous observations about her neighbors. Her view on life (and death) begins to change as she notices the concierge and her Japanese suitor.
Little happens, but “The Hedgehog” is a delicate study of the human condition. A portrait of three outcasts, people who nobody sees. This is Mona Achache’s first feature film.
As one moviegoer puts it, “No car chases, no explosions, no convoluted plot twists. And yet it is captivating.”
Author Muriel Barbery is philosophical about this movie version of her book. “I limited myself to a few comments on the screenplay, nothing more. Book and film represent two very different adventures.”
Did she like the movie? “Like my characters, I ask myself: what do I like, what moves me? A good novel, of course, but also the brilliant manga of Taniguchi. Or a film made well and made purely for entertainment.”
“The Hedgehog” is a film made well.
[from Solares Hill]

Warrior (Rhoades)

“Warrior” Pits
Brother Against

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Battling Roman gladiators have their modern-day counterparts: Boxing, football, and mixed martial arts bouts.
“Warrior” – the new film slugging it out at the Tropic Cinema – takes you inside the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
Here you will meet Tom Conlon (Tom Hardy), a former Marine being trained as a fighter by his over-the-hill dad Paddy (Nick Nolte). However, this ambition puts Tommy in the ring facing his older brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a former champion making a comeback.
A phys ed teacher with an upside down mortgage, Brendan needs the money. When school administrators challenge his decision, calling professional fighters “animals,” Brendan says, “I used to be one of those animals. Guess I forgot to put that down on my application.”
There are three battles going on in “Warrior.” Paddy is fighting for the forgiveness of his sons; Tom is proving himself; and Brendan is struggling to come to terms with his two families, dad and brother versus wife and kids.
Gravelly-voiced Nolte is well cast as an alcoholic ex-boxer who tore his family apart and is preparing to do it again by pitting his sons against each other. Brit actor Hardy and Australian actor Edgerton display all the muscles and six-pack abs and tattoos you’d expect on martial arts combatants.
You’ve seen Hardy as the villain Praetor Shinson in “Star Trek Nemesis” and he’s slated to play the supervillain Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Edgerton has appeared in two “Star Wars” episodes as Anakin Skywalker’s stepbrother and he’s playing Tom Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann’s remake of “The Great Gatsby.”
Nick Nolte you know from such classics as “48 Hours,” “Prince of Tides,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” and “Affliction.”
While there are great fight sequences in “Warrior,” it’s really a film about a dysfunctional family. But you won’t be disappointed watching these two warriors battle it out in MMA’s International Sparta Competition. The fight scenes are “Rocky” good, with muscle-bound Tom Hardy and ripped Joel Edgerton slugging it out like champions.
How did they get in such great shape? “Push the Floor” is Tom’s workout advice. That’s much better than being on the floor for the count.
[from Solares Hill]

Drive (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 


If you ever wondered what a collaboration might be like between David Cronenberg and Brian De Palma, "Drive" is your film. It has a stylish refreshing drive-in movie quality that you just don't see in today's hyped up and flashy action films. Better yet, the seamy gloss of the orange and black cinematography suits the style. There is no contrivance here. It is what it is: a film from the drive-in era as seen from our future, circa 2011. You can almost smell and feel the leatherette on the screen. "Drive" is what Tarrantino's "Grindhouse" (2007)  should have been, instead of the visual smatterings of Sam Peckinpah's old clothes. 

Ryan Gosling, plays an icy stuntman simply known as "Driver". Not much is known about his past, present or future. He simply drives and exists.

In flavor and feeling Gosling's character  echoes the role of Jack  in "The American" (2010) Like Jack preparing his rifle, The Driver works on a car engine at his desk. He dreams of being a famous driver in Hollywood but satisfaction eludes him. At night he prowls the streets a bit like Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver" but with less attack and more space, ghostly and passive, yet prone to sudden rage.

Gosling does wonderful work here, equaling his fine performance in "All Good Things" (2010). 
The Driver falls in with Irene (Carey Mulligan) a single mother who gets mixed up with drug money, but the plot is secondary. More important is the odd feeling of the film: the deserted lots, the iguana-eyed gangsters and the sets that look made from cardboard, all shown from odd angles, as if the cult Danish directorNicolas Winding Refn  was rooming in Doctor Caligari's cabinet. And if you think the romantic frisson is undead between the two leads, its supposed to be. "Drive" is a case study of a retro-70s film seen through a methadone prism and the off-putting change of pace is a surprise rather than a bummer. How many torrid romances do you want to see, anyway? The sight of Gosling looking through his co-star as if she were an insect to be squashed with that ever slow smile, is enough to make any Highsmithic heart shiver. 
"Drive" does not hold in its gore. The violence is so visceral that it is almost a character in the film. These polyester types are out for blood, especially comedian Albert Brooks in the role of Bernie Rose.

Nothing is superfluous in "Drive". Even though we are not clued in on the driver's motivation, it doesn't seem necessary and everything fits in one naugahyde koan even though we have no answers. Like life itself, there is often no clear cause and effect. Once in a blue moon, if you're lucky, you are faced with one long highway, a driver, a  score  by Angelo Badalamenti and a satisfying eerie feeling that isn't produced by David Lynch. 

Write Ian at

Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Week of October 6 to October 13 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Women rock this week at the Tropic.

Rachel Weisz turns tough girl in THE WHISTLEBLOWER with a performance reminiscent of Julia Roberts’ in Erin Brockovich. This time however the problem is not water pollution but human trafficking. Weisz plays a cop from Nebraska who takes a job with the UN in Bosnia, her primary goal being to make enough money to afford a nasty custody fight with her ex-husband. But she’s dedicated to the job and is horrified by the white slavery trafficking in young women that she finds. The deeper she digs, the more she discovers about corruption and cynicism in high places that support the activity.

Though this movie is based on a true story, it’s no hand-wringer, do-gooder documentary, but rather “a relentless and frightening thriller” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times), “a grisly, authentic, meticulously researched, pulse-quickening political chiller” (Rex Reed, New York Observer).

In CONTAGION, the tale of a virus that tries to wipe out humanity, women are on both sides. Gwnyeth Paltrow is the primary disease vector, while Kate Winslet and Jennifer Ehle are the lead scientists trying to fight it. With all the sci fi thrillers about giant monsters and aliens threatening us, it’s unnerving to realize that the microscopic menace of an airborne virus is more real and more devastating. “Serious, precise, frightening, emotionally enveloping.” (David Denby, New Yorker), “the most believable zombie movie ever made.” (Forrest Wickman, Slate) Bring your Purell.

Anna Faris, in WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER faces a somewhat less daunting challenge, that of finding a mate. But she’s the star here, and the guys who are offered up to her are pretty unappealing. For all the drama of movies like The Whistleblower and Contagion, Faris’ problem is the existential threat most women face. So give it a chance. Held over for a second week.

THE HELP is all about female heroes. Emma Roberts is a young white writer challenging the segregationist establishment in 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi, while Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are the black maids who risk everything to help tell their story. This surprise hit of the summer is held over for another week.

The female in TURTLE:THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY lacks some of the charm of these other women, but she’s just as bold and brave in her own way, traversing the Atlantic from Florida to Africa and back, always at great risk, just to complete the cycle of motherhood. This movie, also held over, “promises more excitement than you might suspect could be packed into a story about loggerhead turtles.” (Stephen Holden, New York Times)

And then there’s ESMERALDA, live from the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, the harrowing tale of a young woman who marries a prisoner to save him from execution, and eventually faces execution herself.

As I say, women rock!

Just so we don’t forget those folks who hold up the other half of the sky, two very guy-centric films round out the schedule. You might not be surprised to learn that they’re both about fast cars.

DRIVE features Ryan Gosling as a movie stunt driver by day, and a crime getaway wheelman by night. “This is no antic-frantic affair; instead, it's a cerebral game of stop-and-go, hide-and-seek, as the director behind the camera handles things exactly like the guy behind the wheel - with a stylish mixture of cold calculation and cool aplomb.” (Rick Groen, Toronto Globe and Mail) “Fresh and vital and astonishingly intense…. I was buzzing when I left the theater. I'm buzzing still.” (Christopher Orr, The Atlantic)

SENNA is the biopic of Aryton Senna, the Brazilian Formula One racing champion. He was three times the champion over his ten year career from 1984 to 1994, and always a charismatic figure, with signature come-from-behind wins. Unlike most documentaries, this one is not full of talking heads. The story is told through narration, but the camera is almost always on the track, full of thrilling archival footage, much of it from in-car cameras giving a driver’s-eye view of the race. “With such supercharged material under the hood, a magnetic man behind the wheel and a nimble director manning the pits, Senna is simply the greatest sports film I have ever seen.” (Joe Williams, St. Louis Post Dispatch)

P.S. Mark your calendars for Thursday, Oct. 13. It’s the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, a benefit show for Reef Relief.

Contagion (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


As I am recuperating from a small cold, the events depicted in "Contagion" are rather eerie. The entire cast is filmed in a green sepia tone, incessantly coughing and hacking. There are repeated montages of hands and fingers touching things. People eat, sneeze, shake hands and touch their face. This could be Stephen Soderbergh's public service announcement for food safety. But it isn't.
With its trance disco beat and its constant parade of Hollywood stars (Look, there's is Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet! Oh my God, that's Matt Damon! Get out, it's Jude Law and Marion Cottilard!) the film is like going to a Beverly Hills rave. Never has it seemed so hip to be sick. At first glance "Contagion" appears to be a "Vanity Fair" edition of the H1N1 or Swine Flu. 
But fortunately, it isn't that either.

"Contagion" is actually a quiet, haunting film despite its ordinary procedural sequences about what might happen when a unknown virus spirals out of control. 
It is true that Laurence Fishburne gives a rather standard performance, but upon further reflection, it hits you: Fishburne's declarative and monotone delivery actually sounds  like a medical professional. He does care and he is clueless, which means we are all in trouble.
The nonchalant mystery and horror of the film is embodied in the character of Beth Emhoff (Paltrow) who is so carefree and enigmatic that she has all the iconic power of a Marilyn Monroe or Laura Palmer from "Twin Peaks". Beth's death is so sudden that her absence comes like a unexpected concussion. In just a few preliminary scenes, Paltrow brands a blonde shadow upon the eye. We only see her actions in partial sunspots. The film's ending, and Beth's viral incubation can be seen as a grim, existential twist on the comedy "The Hangover". 
Some might be tempted to see "Contagion" as an art-house zombie film or doomsday pic, but to say that is to cheapen it. With its shots of shuttered houses, ghostly shopping malls and angry, disenfranchised people who can't get the vaccine, the film emerges into more of a metaphor for the current economic crisis.  We have Jude Law as a tech savvy blogger,  in a kind of Julian Assange character, who argues against government vaccinations. As a proponent for homeopathic Forsythia, Law's homespun character could just as well be arguing against the bank bailouts and the greed of Wall Street, preaching a Libertarian approach. And it does not seem accidental that Matt Damon stars in the film as Mitch, a bereft father who shakes his head in shock through much of the film.  We know Damon's political feelings. He is after all the "voice" of "Inside Job" (2010), the hallmark documentary that detailed the 2008 crisis and ultimately, blasted the Obama administration.
Needless to say, you can be certain that I'll be wiping down my iPhone after writing this review. 

Write Ian at

The Whistleblower (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The Whistleblower 

Horrors upon horrors. Such is the bleak landscape of "The Whistleblower", a new thriller based on the real life sex trafficking cases in Bosnia during the late 90's. In this film, hardly anyone has a good heart, except of course our heroine.

Rachel Weisz plays police officer Kathryn Bolkovac a divorced mother who loses custody of her kids. This is the one element that really doesn't make sense: 
Kathryn is  a responsible and loving mother. The father is a generic non-entity and the stepmom is faceless. For some reason Kathryn is behind the eight-ball for no known reason. She needs money presumably for lawyers.
Kathryn takes a job working for The U.N. as a peacekeeping security force in Bosnia. Everything is filmed with a gray blue filter, but this is post-war Bosnia after all.
By chance on a security detail, Kathryn finds a dark dungeon room, a stained cramped mattress, used condoms, and nude pictures of under-age girls, beaten and in bondage. Immorality lurks here.
Weisz plays a role that Jodie Foster made famous: the tough resilient officer with maternal fire. Weisz plays the part with earnestness and vigor. Kathryn is no Hannibalesque cookie cutter imitation of Clarise Starling. We follow each connection that she makes with fresh humanistic eyes, even though the crimes unfold with the rhythm of a "Law & Order" episode.
The Bosnian criminals are duly disgusting, being unclean, coarse, and vulgar  and the U.N. officers are appropriately smarmy and insincere---frat boys in dark blue.

Be warned. Some of the scenes are quite wrenching. There are impressionistic spots of jolting torture: piercing screams, a shaking camera and  gory rape imagery. With such suggestions of blood, screaming, and sweat you might think unhealthily of the "Hostel" franchise. But thankfully the camera spares us the worst, by shaking and pinpointing on blurry flashes of horrible pain---a violent Seurat. 
What we see coming in the violence of young girls is quite enough.
Officer Bolkovac is a one woman army. She alone is compassionate, steel of heart and forthright, her face a white ax against the ulcerated sky. Bolkovac is the glue that holds the story together. The land of postwar Bosnia itself seems just as blanched and lobotomized as any uncaring and complicit  U.N. officer.
Vanessa Redgrave and David Straithairn deliver capable performances as the two officials that you can actually depend on.
"The Whistleblower" is a wrenching fast paced film in the moving tradition of "The Accused" and "The Insider". It does not offer any new surprises and you can catch the same type of story on the cable news  channels, but it is still cathartic and satisfying, just for the fact of one lone woman who does the right thing.

Write Ian at

Turtle (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Turtle: The Incredible Journey

"Turtle: The Incredible Journey", a new documentary by Nick Stringer,follows the life  of a young Loggerhead from sand to the sea and back again. From the start, his existence is in peril. Sand crawling Stormtroopers in the form of crabs raid the beach for the young. Scores of turtles are propelled forward in a mad dash to the sea. Their young flippers prove as tough as Marine boots heading  for Normandy. By chance, our protagonist is spared. Death by pincer is not for him. Were it not for the somewhat cloying Disneyesque score, this scene could have been a baby brother to "Saving Private Ryan".  
The turtle is shot into the unforgiving ocean. With determination in the laborious process of locomotion he will either live or perish. 
Miranda Richardson does a fine job of narration, joining the ranks of Morgan Freeman and Jeremy Irons from other wildlife based films. Richardson gives a maternal flavor here. Voiceover artists from previous films have been either authoritarian as with Freeman or snickering in the case of Jeremy Irons. You can almost hear Richardson rooting for the little guy as we all do.
This is no provincial sea outing. The small Loggerhead within his tiny shell is as self contained and as exciting as anything you might see from the Apollo 13 space mission or an "Alien" scary space fest. The young turtle is a nautical Nostromo adrift in the ocean's innerspace.
Even though "Turtle" is a nature documentary, it doesn't have the ordinary instructional footage that you might have seen in grade school. This film has drama and depth as rich as any live action film.
When the Loggerhead finds sanctuary in a patch of Sargassum weed, it is a moment fit for Robinson Crusoe. The seaweed is host to a cast of motley characters that would please Jacques Cocteau and Jacques Cousteau alike. 
The triumph of "Turtle" is that we see this creature not as a mere animal, but as an existential being complete with courage and relentless drive. His quest to reproduce mimics our own human ambition: the struggle to leave something of ourselves behind, be it another generation or a  creative legacy. 
The need to carry on is universal.
There are painterly tableaux of the turtle's path as seen from Space--vivid yellows and blues--and you just might feel that Nature herself is a Fauvist, or that if by some leap of faith Intelligent Design does exist, it uses a Van Gogh MacPaint program. There are such dazzling pixellations of yellows on fire and frothy whites all used to great effect, creating a Gaiaist  "Starry Night".
When our Turtle returns thousands upon thousands of miles to lay its eggs on the beach, we see the black imposition of faceless buildings. Dread and disappointment has never been so  viscerally blank or menacing. Allen Ginsberg must have felt similarly in voicing his horror of Moloch.
Still, the turtle marches  forward. As an amphibious soldier of the marine realm, it is his duty, just as it becomes our duty to watch in awareness and pull our weight.
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