Saturday, February 26, 2011

Week of February 25 to March 3 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann
Until this week, the Tropic had managed to show all ten of this year’s Best Picture nominees, except one. That omission is now corrected.

The last film is 127 HOURS, the harrowing true story of Aron Ralston, who was trapped in a crevice with his arm wedged under a rock and lived to tell the tale. You know the outlines of the story -- man cuts off arm to save life -- which certainly isn’t the best marketing tag line ever devised. But if you allow yourself to be put off by this gristly aspect, you’ll be doing yourself, and Aron Ralston, a great injustice.

In a world of whiners and downers, it’s a hurricane of fresh air to meet a man who is upbeat in the worst of circumstances. And who is self-reliant enough to figure his way out of it. He got himself into the problem, by going off into the remote Utah wilderness without telling anyone where or when he's heading, so there’s no hope of rescue. On top of that, he rushed off so fast he forgot to bring his best multi-tool, instead having only a crappy giveaway knockoff with a dull cutting edge.

From these basic elements, director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), with his writing partner Simon Beaufoy (Best Adapted Screenplay nomination) and actor James Franco (Best Actor nominee), have crafted a compelling and uplifting dramatic story. There’s no getting around the fact that most of the screen time is just two characters, Ralston and the boulder (which morphs from 800 lbs. to a ton, depending on the story you read). But there’s an opening sequence of him with a couple of attractive female hikers that’s just plain fun, and there are enough flashbacks, visions and external events such as a flash thunderstorm, to keep the story moving. 

When the moment of truth comes, the filmmakers don’t flinch but they don’t overwhelm us with it.
127 Hours is “entertaining” and “compulsively watchable” (Roger Ebert). “It pins you down, shakes you up and leaves you glad to be alive.” (New York Times).

An ancient Greek named Hegesistratus cut off part of his foot to escape when he was shackled by the Spartans, but he knew he was going to be tortured anyhow so his act spared him even more pain. Yet Herodotus calls it “the most courageous deed upon record.” Ralston did even more, just to avoid going quietly into the night. If you like movies that make you think and inspire you, here’s one not to be missed.

BIUTIFUL (Best Foreign Language Film nominee) is also a story of a man faced with death, and how he deals with it. In all other respects, the situation is completely different from 127 Hours. Uxbal (Javier Bardem, Best Actor Nominee) has a terminal illness; he’s a lowlife criminal using illegal immigrant workers in the slums of Barcelona to make knockoff Gucci bags and pirate DVDs. But he wants to do right by his two children, who are in his care; by his estranged, mentally-ill, drug-addicted wife; and even by his exploited workers. The director here is Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) who knows how to take us to the seamy side of life, and does so again with this “gorgeous, melancholy tone poem about love, fatherhood and guilt.” (Hollywood Reporter)

On Sunday night all this nominee talk comes to an end with the Academy Award ceremonies. It’ll all be on the big screen at the Tropic, accompanied by a pick-the-winners contest that can get you the prize of a full year of free movies. Get your ballots in advance at the Box Office.

And on Wednesday there’ll be the Florida Premiere of MY NEW LIFE introduced by writer-director Kevin Rhoades, son of our esteemed local film critic Sherril. Check out for more information.

Comments, please, to

Biutiful (Rhoades)

“Biutiful” Is Beautiful
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Orthography is the spelling of a word according to how it sounds in a language. That’s why the word beautiful is spelled “Biutiful” in the title of the Spanish-language movie that has been nominated as Best Foreign Language Film in tonight’s Academy Awards competition.

“Biutiful” tells the story of Uxbal, a man struggling to put his life right before he succumbs to cancer. Set amid the underworld of Barcelona, this single father attempts to reconcile his failures as a parent, the guilt of his criminal past, and his mortality.

Spanish-born actor Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) takes on this dramatic portrayal, giving a performance that has also earned him an Academy Awards nomination as Best Actor.

Bardem describes his character as “very complex.” He says, “There were so many layers to convey that I knew it was going to be a hard task and a rewarding one.”

He adds, “Death, for Uxbal, is not the same for someone else. For Uxbal, it’s a wake-up call for him to realize and re-evaluate his life.”

As for the plot, Bardem says, “It’s not an easy movie to say it’s about this, and then you take home this other thing. It’s more deep than that. You have to see it and really have the courage to make the journey. If you take the journey, you’re going to bring back with you a lot of good things. But, if I name them, that will downsize the journey itself.”

This Spanish-Mexican co-production is the fourth film by director Alejandro González Iñárritu. His debut production was “Amorres perros,” but his better-known films are “21 grams,” starring Sean Penn, and “Babel,” with Brad Pitt.

Javier Bardem and his wife Penelope Cruz recently had a baby, a son named Leo, born only days before Bardem received his Oscar nomination.

He says of his nomination, “It’s great fun. It’s a great honor. It’s something that you never dream of. And then, it happens and you are there, and you try to share it with all the people that are so meaningful to you.”
[from Solares Hill]

Biutiful (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Director Alejandro Inarritu ("Babel") knows how to bring out the film noir in everyday life. The Oscar nominated "Biutiful" stars the inimitable Javier Bardem as Uxbal, a small time boss dealing in counterfeit brand-names, while moonlighting as a telepathic spirit guide. Uxbal broods like a handsome Minotaur and is down on his luck. But it is not a slug from a mother-of pearl revolver that threatens to bring him down but rather the slow grinding of life.

From the start, "Biutiful" has a claustrophobia in regard to religion that rivals William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" . Uxbal goes to a viewing. Boys are lined up in coffins immaculately dressed, their faces seemingly dusted in sugar as if for a Day of the Dead celebration. Moreover, Uxbal frequently sees the dead crawl on the ceiling, but instead of echoing a Linda Blair head-turner, these effects are portrayed as a matter of course. Everything is cast in a green grey light. The room is more like a hospital closet than a viewing room. Uxbal pushes his face right up against the deceased child, as if this debonair bull is about to steal his still breath. He experiences a vision of the boy sitting next to him and he receives a high-pitched jangle of communication. Is this a message from beyond or a con-man's conjuring trick?

It is up to us to decide.

During an exam, Uxbal is diagnosed with prostate cancer. He vows to beat it and carry on his counterfeit operations which exploit Chinese workers in hazardous conditions. When he notices that one of his men is selling drugs and hawking pirated items on the wrong side of the street, he tries to intercede but his hands are tied. His diplomacy comes to nothing. And the man is brutally beaten.

Day after day Uxbal is surrounded by consumerism, underhandedness and confusion. He is alone in caring for his two kids as his separated wife struggles with bipolar mania. She is frequently manic and talks nonstop. Communication is impossible.

One day he awakes in his cluttered and water-stained room and strives to make things right. He vows to give his workers better ventilation. Arriving at the warehouse, he discovers to his horror that the workers have all been asphyxiated.

At every turn, Uxbal arrives just seconds too late to make a difference.

Even though the film is predominately naturalistic, there are some surreal touches that stand out like velveteen exclamation points and highlight Uxbal's struggle. In one scene, he goes to a disco. Uxbal is overcome with noise and grief and cannot talk. Abruptly he sees a stripper wearing a huge latex head shaped like a breast. These highly sexualized plasticine monsters seem to mock his non-sexual plight, under siege by cancer.
Uxbal's Mexico City is as much as a projection of his mind, his past and present, as it is a physical place. When dreaming of the Pyrenees, the monochrome squalor of his room confines him and when he goes to work he is surrounded by petty salesmen and sideways-smiling hucksters.

A trip to the Pyrenees becomes a snow-capped incantation, a Ratso Rizzo shangrilla of a wish that he can only hope to reach.

Telepathy becomes a means of transport---away from criminal blame, away from his dishonest sex-crazed brother and his absent father. The Pyrenees is both a mythic thread in Uxbal's earthly wake and a whisper of his last liberation.

Write to Ian at

127 Hours (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
127 Hours

"127 Hours" the new film by Danny Boyle, recalls "Into the Wild", Sean Penn's docudrama about Christopher McCandless' vow to live in Alaska and shun modern society. Like Emile Hirsch in the role of McCandless, James Franco portrays Aron Ralston as a handsome, cocky (but not arrogant) free spirit who wants to dive right into Nature and climb the huge arcing canyon of Blue John in Utah. Ralston doesn't destroy his credit cards and social security number like McCandless, but there is something a bit odd. Ralston told no one of his trek. His mother calls the day before and he ignores the call. Instead he gets in his truck and drives to Utah. Ralston is part Knievel, part Lance Armstrong with a hint of Johnny Knoxville thrown in. Ralston crashes his bike, hits the base of a rock with a crack and giggles raucously. He takes a picture with his camera. Perhaps, as we later learn, there is a clue to be found in Ralston's childhood. It is shown that he is raised in a suburban neighborhood in Colorado. His parents are just a bit withdrawn. Might there be something in the control of suburbia that leads one to explore the savage sensuality of the wild?

Ralston walks faster and faster through hard rocky canyons. His iPod is as organic to him as his legs and he is seen as a kind of   sonic explorer, racing through serpentine paths as he surfs through tunes.  The film's musical score by Bollywood Maestro A.R. Rahman is as raucous and frenetic as James Franco's immersion into the West. The canyons also have their own sound.

When Ralston starts his trip, all is fun and flirtation. He could almost be an adventurous college kid on an Eco-vacation. He meets two young girls, Megan and Kristi who are lost, played by Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara. There is just a bit of sexual tension in the air. ("I'm not a serial killer," Ralston says, "only on weekdays").  After a free wheeling splurge in a lagoon, with the girls,  Ralston takes his handsome leave and jogs into the sun. Suddenly, there is a silence. Vast empty space. A largish boulder. This might be the first horror film custom made for The Sierra Club. The crevice, deep in the winding canyon has as much fearful personality as the shark in "Jaws". Instead of sharp teeth there is a splitting crack. Within seconds Ralston's arm is encased in rock. At first, he turns into a driven man, hurling his shoulder against the rock with commando ferocity but to no avail. He is stuck. The hours pass. Ralston's lays his  meager wares on the rock with the precision of a doctor. Again his music is of primary importance. What follows is a Survivalist Rave with eye-popping colorful visuals and hyper-driving music.

This is a canyon-bound Bollywood. If he wasn't trapped, Franco just might Disco--his mind certainly does. Never has a bottle of Gatorade been so sound-quenching or delicious. Even the ants here have a drive for conspiracy or sinister boogie.

 The Canyon becomes Ralston's reflective Bodhi tree, and he takes us on his inner travels thru his parental detachment, his breakup with a girlfriend and his desire for romance. Sexual temptations beam from some flirtatious video left in his recorder. Time is short. After a cracking storm, he drinks the last of his water. The water bottle resembles the barrel of a gun. Ralston drinks his urine. Under director Danny Boyle this unseemly act seems space age and futuristic. Even exciting in its surreal disgust.

Then he goes to work on his arm with a pliers.

Danny Boyle makes the confined canyon sensual, interactive, filled with sound and motion. By using a variety of film influences: The hijinx of Bollywood, the apprehension of a horror film and the snap of an Spielberg cliffhanger, Boyle gives an insect-eyed tribute to Ralston's unthinkable ordeal.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Animated Shorts - 2011 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animation / 2011

Collaged safaris and painted travels are abundant in this year's group of animated short films. 

First, there is Bastien Dubois' "Madagascar" that utilizes the director's own watercolor sketches made during his actual sojourn to Africa. The film has a tactile painterly quality that echoes Paul Gauguin. The narrative  unfolds in an interactive series of postcards turning each and every one of us into a pedestrian tourist sunk deep in the cosmopolitan cafe world of this African island. The film highlights a funereal "turning of bones" ceremony and the trek is as rich as a Paul
Bowles story. One can almost hear the call of a Believer within this fast paced flickering voyage of man and beast.

Next "Let's Pollute" (USA) is a satirical look at Western society and the cycle of waste abuse that we have all heaped upon the planet. The film takes as its model educational films from the 1950s. The sarcasm and pointed ridicule rivals Stephen Colbert. For anyone who would have liked "the Inconvenient truth" to be narrated by John Waters, this short subject is for you. 

Australian made "The Gruffalo" bears a similarity to "Ice Age". The film illustrates the survivalist adventures of a small mouse on the quest for a nut. It is perhaps the most child-friendly of the bunch, but its eccentric voiceovers by Jon Hurt and  Tom Wilkinson make this film highly watchable and sure to please. An added draw is the  irreverent anthropomorphic whimsy that pervades throughout.

The Disney produced "Day & Night" is a lighthearted plea for altruism and sharing between two opposite creatures. This giggle in miniature is rich and colorful as only a Disney film can be, recalling some of the golden spirit of "Who Framed Roger rabbit?" in its free association and its depiction of a realm all its own for us to explore.

A favorite of mine is the post- industrial, Gilliam-like vignette "The Lost Thing" which takes us to a hybrid world of organic creatures and mechanistic beings, where Artificial Intelligence appears absent. This universe is peopled with human drones and slogans like "tomorrow is the tomorrow you wanted yesterday" and "the truth is overrated". Vacant buildings stand in De Chirico solitude and the machines alone emote the most human of joys. The spirit of  Samuel Beckett is clearly visible  with a kind of amphibian  that walks with a reel to reel tape recorder. Amnesia and the eventual forgetting of oral stories is pervasive. This selection is a must see.

Special Commendation has been given to the existentially bleak but nonetheless masterly "Urs", (Germany) and the heartfelt and idiosyncratic "The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger" by comic genius Bill Plympton. Never has the crusade for vegetarianism been so wittily or colorfully handled. 

In watching these films you will travel far and wide, exploring as many countries of opinion as there are colors in a spectrum. 

Write to Ian at

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Live Action Shorts 2011 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Short films: Live Action/ 2011

Miniature moral pitfalls  and apprehensive apéritifs  abound in this year's Oscar considerations in the Short Film: Live Action category. One can feel an existential sigh cloaking every entry like a vapor. From the UK, there is the "The Confession". With echoes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and a suburban "Lord of the Flies", who knew that children could be so darkly minded under the cowl of Catholicism or so yearning of a priest's absolution? After all, according to this tale, a nightly dinner provides no cozy comforts. A silently sipped soup and a cold glass of milk, it seems, is all an elementary level child can hope for. Never has Catholicism seemed at once so sinister, yet so inadequate at the same time.

This entry gives Stephen King a run for his money. Also, from the UK, is "Wish 143" a twist on a sensual coming-of-age tale, about a young  boy who schemes to escape from his terminal condition. Part fantasy, part suspense story with a touch of David Cronenberg , this vignette illustrates the life of an adventurous boy, trapped by circumstance in a hospital. Yet the story gives the place a picaresque feeling and is not a downer. We learn that the young man despite his limits, has given himself a host of possibilities.

In Belgium's "Na Wewe" a  bus breaks down in the middle of a tribal war in Burundi   regarding the Tutsis and Hutus. One can feel the tension onscreen like a boiling yellow sun. The humidity of fear remains till the very end.

Ireland's offering,"The Crush", is a Highsmithian idyll full of poignancy and pathos that becomes nearly homicidal. The story concerns a young boy who has a crush on his teacher and assumes the role of  her bodyguard. The young boy is quite the  little Romeo mixed with a bit of Travis Bickle. Scarily so, but that's part of the fun. This pint-sized movie  skillfully weaves the cute with the creepiness of the possessive child and the last thing we are left with is a taut surprise.

"God of Love" from the USA, is a  valentine spoof of desire and mischance. Filmed in black and white with echoes of Jim Jarmusch, "God of Love" is a playful bon-bon compared to the richer more existentially laced treats that are now on display, for your consideration at The Tropic.

Write to Ian at

Friday, February 18, 2011

Week of February 18 to February 24 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

The academy awards are almost upon us, coming up a week from Sunday (February 27). As usual, the Tropic will be broadcasting the full show on its big screen, from the first red carpet moment to the final best picture envelope, so if you want a proper film venue for film's big day, you know where to go. Only $15 for Tropic members and $25 for nonmembers. Not yet a member? Join that night and save $10 toward a membership.

They're also running their own pick-the-winners contest, with a Producer membership worth $600 as the top prize -- free movies for two for a year! Pick up your ballots at the box office, as many as you'd like, for $5 each. You don’t have to attend the Tropic’s Oscar show to participate. Just drop your completed ballot(s) off before things get rolling on Sunday night. Both the Oscar show and the contest are a benefit for the theatre, and I don’t have to tell you what a worthy cause that is.

If you’d like to enhance your chances of winning, catch the full package of BEST LIVE ACTION and BEST ANIMATED SHORTS, which will be showing all this week. These are always great little films. Read summaries of all of them at, or just jump in. Hey, if you don’t like one, wait a few minutes and you’ll see another.

Of course there doesn't seem to be much doubt about what's going to win best picture this year. THE KING’S SPEECH has already won the top prize given by the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, and the Screen Actors Guild. Who do you think make up the membership of the Academy that chooses the Oscar, duh.

King’s Speech is a worthy picture, no doubt, and is immensely popular, already the highest grossing movie in the history of the Tropic and still going strong. With an uplifting theme (king needs a helping hand from a commoner and together they triumph), pageantry (a coronation, no less), and great performances, it’s good old-fashioned movie making, comfort food for the cinema soul.

 I can't help rooting, however, for one of the more unusual nominees. The Social Network is extraordinary for its ability to craft a compelling film out of a story with no production values -- no glorious crowd scenes, no CGI, no car chases, no sex -- just a nerd and his nattering. It surely has my vote for best screenplay. It won the Writer's Guild award for best adaptation and is most likely to pick up that Oscar.

My personal favorite among the nominees, as I’ve said before, is Winter’s Bone, an ultra-low-budget indie starring Jennifer Lawrence, a previously undiscovered young woman destined for stardom. The movie is a gritty story of a family struggling against meth dealers in the Ozarks. It may lack the glamour of Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, but the human drama is, to my mind, more compelling.

Meanwhile, the hottest film of last summer, Inception, has all but faded from contention. It did pick up the Writer's Guild best original script award and the Cinematographers top prize, but this doesn’t seem to be the year for special effects movies. Last year we had all the buzz about Avatar and how its spellbinding effects and 3D heralded a new era in filmmaking. A year later, who cares. Thank God, we're back to story and character. The cream always rises.

[from Key West the newspaper -]

Caligua Ballet (John Gish)

Ballet Review: Caligula
By John N. Gish Jr.

Is it an over-simplification to say that ballets were created for an audience, not the dancers, choreographers nor critics?  Hence, as a long time spectator I’m prepared to share my reactions  – I saw Igor Youskevich dance The Whirling Dervish at Lewisohn Stadium (NYC) in the late 1940’s.

So, it’s not surprising I regularly attended Emerging Pictures Ballet in Cinema series at the Tropic Cinema.  On Feb. 8th I attended the Paris Opera Ballet’s 90-minute spectacle of Caligula, choreographed by that company’s superstar Nicolas Le Riche.

Caligula was a phenomenon beyond anything I have ever seen – from the Bolshoi to Pina Bausch, and everything in between.  Perhaps Jose Limon’s 20-minute The Moor’s Pavane (1976) with Rudolph Nureyev prefigured it.

Le Riche’s Caligula (2005) was successful because it not only featured a bravura corps and soloists, but it artistically depicted history’s greatest, most  mental melt-down: Caligula.  He was the Roman emperor who was finally assassinated by his own Praetiruan Guard after too many ghastly, psychotic episodes in the final years of his extravagabt four year reign (37-41 A.D).

Antonio Vivaldi’s perennial masterpiece The Four Seasons provided a  familiar yet contemplative backdrop to the unique story about the mind’s effort to join the human dance – albeit unsuccessfully.  Special electro-acoustic embellishments by Louis Dandrel were effectively super-imposed on the exquisite score or featured as an eerie special effect after a music movement ceased.  Virtuoso violinist and conductor was Frederic Laroque of the powerful ensemble.

Recently, the historical Caligula became a popular via the PBS 1976 production of “I Claudius”.  Caligula was portrayed by John Hurt as a somewhat fey caricature with distinctly grotesque overtones.  The ballet version eschewed those titillations and focused on the universal trauma of  mental breakdown.

All the ballet’s characters could be viewed as aspects of Caligula, who is  trying to find a “fit” in the real world – such as it is. It effectively depicts Caligula reaching out to his “anima” or his feminine side (Luna – brilliantly danced by Claramarie Osta – the only en pointe female). In counterpoint, he also dealt with his male “animus”, cast in the form of that period’s historical pantomime actor, Mnester, effectively executed by Stephane Bullione.

The most striking scene involved a pas de deux with Caligula and his horse, Incitatus – read-up on that scandalous-but-true story on your own.  It ended with a kiss on the horse’s reined lips – shades of Equus. Incitatus was uncannily danced by a youthful stallion, Mathias Heymann.

Lastly, the conniving Praetorian Guards consisted of nine sinister, leather clad males while the imperial court was represented by an equal number of uniformly gowned women.

Saving the best for last, Caligula himself was portrayed superbly by Jeremy Belingard who was physically larger and more attractive than all the other dancers. His interpretation will earn him a role in ballet history if not immediate, international stardom.

While the ballet didn't stress the clinical nature of this breakdown, it did attempt to reveled the elements of Everyman’s delicate process of  integrating a personality with society-at-large.  While one cannot effectively learn this from a textbook or by medical observation, one can insightfully glimpse it through great art – such as dance.  Bravo tutti.

Superfly (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Super Fly”
Still Flying High

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

They call them blaxploitation films – films that exploit blacks – but black filmmakers frequently made them. And as much as these movies were designed to be commercially exploitive, they did provide role models. Of sorts.
Forget that Super Fly is a drug dealer; he’s still a black man who takes no … guff. As portrayed by Ron O’Neal, this anti-hero named Youngblood Priest is one cool dude – tall and lean, nattily dressed in a dazzling white suit, long hair framing his Zapata mustache. O’Neal became an overnight star.
1973’s “Super Fly” tells the story of a coke dealer who wants to retire from the game, but since the mob doesn’t provide pensions or IRA’s he needs to make a last big score. As he takes on the mob, wiping them out one by one, black audiences felt a vicarious sense of empowerment, seeing on the screen what they couldn’t accomplish in real life.
Typecast as a bad ass, O’Neal spent the post-70s trying to break the image. Before “Super Fly” he’d been a serious actor, appearing in Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre production of “No Place to Be Somebody,” for which he won an Obie. He taught acting in Harlem, did summer stock productions, and performed on Broadway. But as blaxploitation films faded, O’Neal had trouble finding work. A few movie roles, a couple of TV gigs, but he was stuck playing drug-snorting, violence-prone street thugs.
“Super Fly” is Monday night’s classic film at Tropic Cinema. Craig Wanous is presenting it in tribute to February’s Black History Month.
Perhaps “Super Fly” seems like an odd choice for Black History Month, but these blaxploitation films did play an important role in the cinematic evolution that gave us John Singleton and Spike Lee and Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry.
“Super Fly” was directed by Gordon Parks Jr., a man of color. His father, noted Life Magazine photographer Gordon Parks Sr., directed another blaxploitation classic, “Shaft.”
My old friend Melvin Van Peebles is credited with ushering in blaxploitation films in 1971 with “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.“ His daughter Megan used to work for me at Scholastic. His son Mario documented his role pretty well in a biopic titled “Baadasssss.”
Blaxploitation films tend to fall into two categories: Kick-ass black drug dealers standing up to the Man. And revenge films featuring kick-ass black chicks standing up to men.
Ron O’Neal, Richard Roundtree, Fred Williamson, and Jim Brown were among those prototypical urban Mandingoes.
Pam Grier (“Coffee,” “Foxy Brown”) with her generous bosom and aquiline grittiness was the poster girl for the revenge films. She reprised the role for Quentin Tarantino in 1997’s “Jackie Brown.”
This cinematic genre is populated by flashy pimps and curvy hookers, bad cops and dangerous drug dealers, ghetto players surrounded by violence and drugs and sex, all of them shooting and snorting and fornicating, set to the pounding beat of Curtis Mayfield, Willie Hutch, or Isaac Hayes. Throw in a touch of Black Nationalism and an anti-establishment attitude, then you have the framework for a blaxploitation film like “Super Fly.”
Stereotypical? Yes, but largely it was blacks creating their own urban stereotypes. Kinda like why my black friends can use the N word but I can’t.

Oscar Nominated Shorts (Rhoades)

Selected Short Subjects
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

This is going to be short – for it’s about short films, The Tropic Cinema is showing those shorts (both animated and live action) that have been nominated this year for an Academy Award. Gotta go see ’em, otherwise you’ll be flying blind when you try to pick a winner on your Oscar ballet at the Tropic’s upcoming Academy Award Party.

I haven’t seen many of these yet myself, but here’s the list of short films under consideration:

Live Action – “The Confession” (UK), “The Crush” (Ireland), “God of Love” (USA), “Wish 143” (UK), and “Na Wewe” (Belgium).
Animation – “Pixar’s Day & Night” (USA), “The Gruffalo” (UK/Germany), “Let’s Pollute” (USA), “The Lost Thing” (UK/Australia), and “Madagascar, Camet de Voyage” (France).

The animation collection includes two bonus features – “Urs” (Germany) and Bill Plympton’s “The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger” (USA).

Just to remind Key West moviegoers, Bill Plympton was a guest at the Tropic Cinema a few years ago, showing one of his delightful animations. He stayed at my house during his visit. Can’t wait to see his new short.
[from Solares Hill]

Monday, February 14, 2011

Week of February 11 to February 17

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Another movie with Academy Award props opens this week, RABBIT HOLE. The title is an Alice in Wonderland allusion to what happens when you suddenly pass from one world to another. But in this case the passage is the profoundly tragic one of a couple that is thrust from the bright happiness of a suburban existence as parents of a four-year-old, into a bewildering gloom when their son is suddenly killed. No one is at fault; he ran into the street chasing his dog. The event is eight months in the past, so the couple has had time grieve, but the wound is still fresh.

Director John Cameron Mitchell, best known for his brash, sexually charged movies Shortbus and Hedwig and the Angry Inch faced a new challenge when he took up the emotionally fraught theme of the death of child. Great movies have surmounted it: Ordinary People, In the Bedroom, Sophie’s Choice. So has Mr. Mitchell, with the help of David Lindsay-Abaire, who adapted his successful Broadway play, and the parent couple of Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckard, especially Kidman with an Oscar and Golden Globe nominated performance.

The movie is not easy viewing, but it’s less a downer than a chance observe something we’d rather not experience first-hand. As critics note, “Rabbit Hole is entertaining and surprisingly amusing, under the circumstances” (Roger Ebert); “"Grief may be the topic under examination, but humor -- incisive, observant and warm -- is the tool with which it's dissected in Rabbit Hole." (Variety).

The strong performance of the Tropic’s other award nominees continues, so THE KING’S SPEECH, TRUE GRIT, BLUE VALENTINE and INSIDE JOB are held over for another week. I urge you to catch the ones you’ve missed. It’s especially interesting to compare Michelle Williams performance in Blue Valentine with that of Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole, both instances of Best Female Actor nominations in movies with tough themes.

On Wednesday evening, the Tropic’s Opera in Cinema series presents something different, not a stage production but a version of the classic RIGOLETTO filmed at locations around the city of Mantua by Marco Bellocchio (writer-director of the Mussolini biopic Vincere). With Placido Domingo as Rigoletto and Zubin Mehta conducting the opera, this will be a star-studded event.

The Monday night classic series is continuing its sold-out run with John Sayles BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET. Joe Morton, the “brother”, is an alien man of color who crash lands in New York while escaping from evil bounty hunters (two “Men in Black” played by John Sayles and David Strathairn). He looks normal, has some supernatural powers, but lacks the power of speech. His adventures in Harlem, and the reactions of others, make this Sayles’ most creative, and most comic social satire.

Full info and schedules at or save yourself some keystrokes with
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Rabbit Hole (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Rabbit Hole

When the camera opens on "Rabbit Hole",  the main character Becca (Nicole Kidman)  fusses with her garden. She seems like a grown up and anxious Alice- in- Wonderland, frantically plugging holes left by the White Rabbit. 
She is often fretting in her garden, as it is a refuge in grief from the loss of her son who died in a car accident. It has been eight months since his death. She is highstrung and manic while her automaton neighbors invite her out to dinner. Becca invariably declines.
The husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) spends hours staring into the static of his computer screen or watching videos of his lost son on his iPhone. Howie's face is a mask of Status Quo as he moves soldier-like from one appointment to the next. As a couple they barely have any alone time. They go through the motions of joining a child loss support group, yet the members  are devoid of personality. Becca upsets the group by refusing to think of a dead child as God's "little angel". She detests religion. She withdraws more and more going so far as removing her son's clothes and drawings, driven to move on.
Her mother (Dianne Wiest) wears a crucifix and is a staunch believer. There is a touch of Minnie Castevet about her. Cloying sweet with a serrated edge. 
Indeed, around the upscale house everything is forced perfection: The dinners, the squash games, the picnics. Polanski can almost be seen smirking behind the newly painted off-white door.
Becca begins to wander like Alice herself. She becomes obsessed with the teenaged Jason (Miles Teller) who drove the car that tragically killed her son. Becca follows Jason  on the bus and along library aisles. She is surrounded and shut- in by reminders of toddlers and childbirth. The apprehension is as gripping as any De Palma film or Hitchcockian fugue. And during a botched open house, the dead son's room matches the haunt and mystery of "The Sixth Sense" even without the sight of spirits.
"Rabbit Hole" is based on the play of the same name by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by John Cameron Mitchell who is known for pushing buttons ever since Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (2001). 
Never has domestic trauma seemed so melancholy or so sustained by quantum mechanics or the hyper-driving influence of Edward Albee.
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Rabbit Hole (Rhoades)

“Rabbit Hole” Swallows You Up
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Pass the Prozac. I’m kinda depressed after seeing “Blue Valentine,” the quirky story of a deteriorating marriage, and “Inside Job,” the documentary about our crumpling financial system. And now we get “Rabbit Hole.”

No, not a sequel to Alice and the Mad Hatter, “Rabbit Hole” is a drama about a couple dealing with the death of a child.

Psychologists say there’s nothing worse than a parent outliving their child. Well, almost nothing.
“Rabbit Hole” is currently wrenching audiences’ emotions at the Tropic Cinema.

Here we see Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as a couple facing this crisis. As the more distraught of the two, Kidman gets to emote in a range that hovers between an understated “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?” and an emotional “Revolutionary Road.”

When young Danny is hit by a car, Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Eckhart) are devastated. But they react in differing ways. While Becca tries to navigate the surreal landscape at the bottom of the rabbit hole she’s fallen into, seeking the solace of well-meaning friends, Howie dwells in his memories of the past while turning to outsiders. Emotions take another twist as Becca befriends the young comic book artist (Miles Teller) who was driving the car that changed everyone’s life so drastically.

Based on David Lindsay-Abaire’s play of the same name, Kidman obviously knows a meaty role when she sees one. She produced this indie film through her own company, Blossom Films. As a result, she has been nominated as Best Actress in the upcoming 83rd Academy Awards.

The film premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation. Kidman was also in the running for a Golden Globe as Best Actress – Drama, a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress, and an Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead, among many others.

You have to applaud actresses who take chances. Especially, those who dive into dark emotional waters. Kidman has two adopted children (now grown) with her ex, Tom Cruise. And she has two children by current hubby, country singer Keith Urban. So you can imagine that these are murky depths for a mother to explore.

And for audiences. So fortify your emotions and go see it. Prozac Nation, unite!
[from Solares Hill]

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Inside Job (Brockway)

Tropic sprockets by Ian Brockway 
Inside Job

"Inside Job" is an expose detailing the economic meltdown of 2008 when the banks were deregulated.  The film begins in Iceland. Iceland  is portrayed as an utopia of sorts. There is a high standard of living, unemployment is low and the landscape is environmentally sound. The small houses are so quaint you might think that this might be another Stieg Larsson mystery. But no, this is a true tale. The banks invaded. Big loans were given. The environment was compromised and then people lost their jobs. Iceland went bankrupt.

Then the film goes to America. To New York City. Wall street. Predatory lending. What follows is a virus of greed. An H1N1 of the economy. It is a sequence of dominoes falling. As the screen shows towering skyscrapers posed like claustrophobic  monoliths, the song "Big Time" is played as Wall Street executives sometimes hmm and haw and stumble, but mostly stick up for themselves and for their bonuses. The executives interviewed stall the questions and evade questions with such constancy that "Inside Job" at times seems like a "Saturday Night Live" political parody. The arrogance is so unabashed.
At one point an exec says, "I realize foolishly now that I have given you my time. You have three minutes and your time is almost up. So give me your best shot!" He snarls at the interviewer. His face is red with anger. 
Through the film, we learn that banks were in the process of deregulation through the Reagan, Clinton, Bush and even so far, with the Obama administration. According to the film, greed is non-partisan. The virus of wanting more and more and more is an indiscriminate disease. Bill Clinton hired an exec in favor of deregulation, Larry Summers,  and Obama has followed. Oh woe to any devout partisan!
My favorite part of the film is the brief questioning of a New York call girl, a Ms. Davis, who said she personally went out with many Wall Street men from Lehman Brothers to Goldman Sachs on down. According to her, she has seen members from every firm. She is sparkling and glossed in hot pink. This could be a bit from John Waters' "A Dirty Shame". I wonder if Charlie Sheen is a day trader on the side? 
 Mme Lagarde, Minister of Economic Affairs, is interviewed in a room with what appears to be gold leaf furniture and she seems sincerely concerned by the Economic crisis. But the choice in decor seems also a bit John Watery, under the circumstances. There is truth in humor.
Also mentioned in the film is the carnivorous fact that some of the subprime mortgages went to those who could not speak English and were targeted. With not a thought to whether they could make a payment. 
At the end of the film foreclosure notices litter Florida lawns like post-it notes. And Matt Damon, gives a solemn call to change as The Statue of Liberty fills the screen with her green solidity. Her impassive face challenges the camera, and all of us beyond the screen.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Week of February 4 to February 10

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Two more Academy Award nominees open this week.

On the main Carper theater screen, there’s BLUE VALENTINE, the much talked-about story of a disintegrating marriage. Ryan Gosling (who just finished his Tropic run in All Good Things) is the guy and Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island) is the girl. It’s her nomination for Best Actress that gives the movie its Oscar chops.

Director Derek Cianfrance worked on developing the movie for twelve years; Williams has been involved for six, and Gosling for four. Yet it wasn’t completely scripted, leaving the actors free to improvise their emotions and actions in critical scenes. We see them at different stages, when they’re young and adorable and in love, when they’re struggling with money and the reality of life, and when they fail to regenerate that early love in a sordid motel. The result is “an intimate, gorgeous and wrenching portrait of a working-class marriage” (,  “brutal, compassionate, beautiful in its ugliness and one of the bravest films of the year” (NY Observer), “a work so beautifully acted and emotionally honest it is my choice for best movie of the year” (NY Daily News). This is independent film at its best, shot on a budget of only $1 million, a labor of love for all the principals. A must see.

In The George theater, there’s INSIDE JOB the “sleek, briskly paced …. meticulous and infuriating documentary about the causes and consequences of the financial crisis of 2008” (New York Times) that’s in the running for Best Documentary. It’s not the simplest subject, but director Charles Ferguson carefully blends talking heads with illuminating footage to make a “furiously interesting and hugely infuriating” (Wall St. Journal) exposition of the financial depression that lingers on.

Beyond that, three of this year’s Best Picture nominees continue their runs – THE KING’S SPEECH, THE FIGHTER, and TRUE GRIT – and the week is packed with Special Events.

Friday and Saturday nights mark the debut of the Tropic’s Late Night live events. Multi-talented performer Tom Judson brings his one-man show CANNED HAM  to town. It’s an insider 's musical that recounts the true life adventures of Judson, an established actor off and on Broadway, who, at age 43, became the gay porn star "Gus Mattox." He composed music for films and television (including Metropolitan, MTV and even Sesame Street) and performed in road companies of Cabaret and 42nd Street before falling on hard times, and then hitting his stride again with his new show. Judson is a hunk, for sure, but he’s a charmer and a talented musician, too. Accompanying himself on the accordion, he describes such things as what it's really like on the set of a porn movie. Expect graphic language and adult themes, but comedy, not nudity.

Monday night brings the opening of the February Classic Soul Cinema curated by Lori Reid. Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katherine Hepburn star in the classic about interracial marriage, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER.  This timely film was released in the same year (1967) that the Supreme Court struck down state anti-miscegenation laws in the aptly titled Loving vs. Virginia. Life imitates art.

Midweek brings high culture to the theater. On Tuesday it’s the Vivaldi ballet CALIGULA, via satellite from the Paris Opera Ballet. The live performance is at 1:30pm EST (7:30pm in Paris), with an encore showing at 7:00pm EST. And on Wednesday, it’s Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET in high def from the Globe Theatre in London. Filmed before a live audience in this reconstruction of the original Elizabethan arena, the camera makes you part of the action. Two performances, at 2:00pm and 7:00pm. [Please note that there will be no shows of Inside Job on Tuesday or Wednesday.]

Full schedules and info at or, to save some typing
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Blue Valentine (Rhoades)

"Blue Valentine” Is Not Really a Love Letter
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Elvis sang about a Blue Christmas, but director Derek Cianfrance wants to give us a Blue Valentine.
“Blue Valentine” is an oddball love story starring oddball actors Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Ryan was seen dating a life-size plastic doll in the quirky film “Lars and the Real Girl.” Michelle was looking for her lost dog in “Wendy and Lucy.” Both performers seem to be more comfortable in indie productions than Hollywood big-budget extravaganzas.
“Blue Valentine” is currently reaching local indie fans at the Tropic Cinema.
This Valentine’s card offers a look at a lackadaisical guy and a down-to-earth nurse who wind up getting married despite their differences. The film follows their marriage over the years, contrasting her ambitions with his stay-at-home comfort zone. Wife and kid are all he needs to make him happy. She wants more.
Pay attention. The storyline jumps back and forth in time, from courtship to marriage and back again. A way of helping us determine when and why the marriage started to unravel. Ryan’s goofy persona is spotlighted when he plays the ukulele and convinces her to tap dance on the sidewalk. Her grumpy discontent is obvious when father and daughter wake her up from a nap to share their childlike glee.
Despite an intense sex scene, the film only has an R rating. The Weinstein Company flexed its muscles and successfully appealed the original PG-17 without having to make any cuts.
At its heart “Blue Valentine” is a poignant character study. Slow paced and longish, it’s a bit of a downer for those seeking Cupid’s romance.
Gosling and Williams first met in real-life on the set of “The United States of Leland” where she played his girlfriend’s sister. Now, many independent films later, they come together again, this time as a mismatched couple.
Have they fallen prey to typecasting, at least as to the kind of roles they gravitate toward? Maybe.
Williams did her turn at teen romance on TV’s “Dawson’s Creek,” but proved her acting mettle in “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Station Agent.”
Like her character in “Blue Valentine” she admits to having a hard time balancing the demands of her career and the “consuming duties of motherhood.” She has a child by the late Heath Ledger, her costar in “Brokeback Mountain.”
She says the loss of Ledger and the bleakness of some of her roles have “taken a toll.”
However, things are beginning to look up for Michelle Williams, having received an Academy Awards nomination as Best Actress for her outstanding performance in “Blue Valentine.”
Ryan Gosling – who started out as a kid on TV’s “The Mickey Mouse Show” – offered his fans strong heartthrob appeal in “The Notebook.” But he chooses to stake his claim on indie films, delivering masterful performances as the coke-addicted teacher in “Half Nelson” or the off-center killer in “All Good Things.”
Like the character he plays in “Blue Valentine,” Gosling comes from a working class background. Most of his male relatives still toil in Canadian paper mills, he says. Pointing out that “acting’s a little easier.”
His performance in “Blue Valentine” was passed over for an Oscar nomination, but he doesn’t seem to care. He’s not one for mainstream whoopla.
What does he look for in an indie film role? “Really, it’s simple – just somebody I think is a real person,” he says.
As for “Blue Valentine,” it fills the bill. “The theme for me is love and the lack of it,” Gosling explains. “We all want that and we don’t know how to get it, and everything we do is some kind of attempt to capture it for ourselves.”
[from Solares Hill]

Inside Job (Rhoades)

“Inside Job” Is Must-See Doc
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Despite the pronouncement that we’ve survived The Great Recession, many of us still feel its financial impact. But how did it happen? What went wrong with America’s financial safeguards? Who’s to blame?
Filmmaker Charles Ferguson (“No End in Sight”) has the answer. Or at least his documentary “Inside Job” purports to. The doc’s title gives you a hint of the designated villains – the financial community itself.
Billed as “the first film to expose the shocking truth behind the economic crisis of 2008,” it delivers on that promise with dozens of interviews (Paul Volcker, George Soros, Barney Frank, Scott Talbott, Elliot Spitzer, Nouriel Roubini, Charles Morris, and others), as well as plenty of hard-edged research and startling facts.
The global meltdown had a negative impact that exceeded $29 trillion dollars. People lost their jobs, their homes, their life savings.
Narrated by Matt Damon, “Inside Job” is currently telling all at the Tropic Cinema.
Charles Ferguson points his cinematic finger at a “rogue industry,” where greed and deregulation have corrupted the financial community, politicians, and even academia.
More straightforward than a Michael Moore documentary, “Inside Job” contains too many facts to be dismissed as the latest conspiracy theory. As the old saw goes, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” Or your money.
My informal movie poll says it’s a documentary that will make moviegoers’ blood boil. Particularly if they check the near-empty contents of their wallet.
One viewer said “Inside Job” explains the financial crisis “in as close to layman’s terms as you’ll ever get.”
Another irate viewer reacted with, “I want to hire a barista to cold cock a former Lehman Brothers exec who retired at 42. Put down your plastic forks. Pick up your pitchforks. And follow me! We’re marching on Washington, er, Wall Street. Same thing.”
The Nation described it as “the movie of the decade,” then added, “unfortunately.”
 Unfortunately, indeed.
“Inside Job” has been nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary. But you should see it for its message.
Too bad there’s not a ceremony to hand out prison sentences to those who so blatantly failed our financial systems.
[from Solares Hill]