Saturday, April 30, 2011

Week of April 28 to May 5 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

It’s a clean sweep as the Tropic clears the decks with new films in all four theaters.

Robert Redford’s period drama, THE CONSPIRATOR, will be on the Carper Theater screen. Robin Wright stars as Mary Surratt, a woman accused of aiding John Wilkes Booth’s plot to assassinate Lincoln. With passions running high, her public defender before a military tribunal (James McAvoy) has a challenging task, made all the more difficult because his client is more concerned with protecting her son (Johnny Simmons) and daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) who are more implicated than she is.

Redford has had an interesting career as a director, with several triumphs including Ordinary People and Quiz Show. The Conspirator is his first foray into history. One suspects that the parallels with current events -- use of a military tribunal rather than a regular court, widespread prejudice against anyone even accused of association with Booth – may have influenced his selection of this story. As you might expect, the details, like a courtroom lit by candlelight, are perfect. And the story is a compelling human drama that gives us much to think about after we leave the theater.

But don’t come just for the history. It’s also a tense courtroom drama and a “ripping good yarn.” (New York Observer)

Catherine Deneuve is a POTICHE (French for trophy wife) who discovers a new self when a union strike at her husband’s factory thrusts her into a management role and reawakens an affair with her old flame (Gerard Depardieu). The prominent director, François Ozon, is best known for sultry thrillers like Swimming Pool, but this is a farce, “funny, broad… made to please, and succeeds.” (San Francisco Chronicle).

, quite the opposite, is deadly serious. The men are a group of Trappist monks at a monastery in Algeria, and Muslim terrorist tormentors who take them captive. The Gods, I suppose, are their differing deities and their differing views of their obligations to them. The monks had been offered military protection, but rejected it out of a sense that it would have no place in a monastery. They knew this put them in harm’s way, but accepted it as their earthly duty. Winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes and nominated for numerous Best Picture Awards, this is “a superb drama, nothing less than sublime.” (Wall St. Journal) It was France’s submission to this year’s Academy Awards.

takes us across the ocean, where a penny pinching producer (Luis Toscar) is shooting a movie about Columbus’ oppression of Indians in the Caribbean. But he’s filming in Bolivia because the local Indians there are cheaper and more docile. A true story underpins the movie, set in 2000 when the Bolivian government gave over control of water rights to a private company which made it illegal for people to even collect rain water for their daily needs. The character of the movie’s director (Gael Garcia Bernal) is sympathetic to the local Indians, who are embroiled in a water-rights protest, while also working on the movie. Meanwhile Daniel, who is cast as the leader of an Indian insurrection in the movie, is also a water-rights leader. You get the complicated picture. A movie within a movie exploiting Indians while criticizing their exploitation, in the midst of a new real-world exploitation. Where will the filmmakers stand on the current protest? “Graced by a lushly evocative natural setting, gritty, documentary-like urban scenes and fantastic performances from its gifted cast… [Even the Rain tells] a story in which personal connections can transcend even the most crushing structures of history and politics. (Washington Post) This was Spain’s submission to this year’s Academy Awards.

And don’t miss Verdi’s AIDA, live from Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino at 2:30EDT (8:30 in Florence) with a delayed-live encore at 7:00EDT.

[from Key West, the Newspaper -]

Potiche (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


   Francois Ozon's new movie is a light comic farce, based on a play that owes a debt to Colin Higgins' "9 to 5". It stars the legendary Catherine Deneuve as a so called trophy wife, Mrs Pujol who wants to be more. From the very beginning, "Potiche" is as light as a croissant but is  a joy to see   Deneuve.  
   Fabrice Puchini plays Robert Pujol, a chauvinist umbrella manufacturer. Puchini with his bourgeoisie looks and unabashed sexism is a dead ringer for Dabney Coleman in his 1980 role. Mr. Pujol will do whatever he can to keep his wife submissive. She writes poetry and thinks sensual thoughts. When Mr. Pujol is under attack from his union workers, he has a heart attack and is saved by his socialist rival, Maurice Babin (Gerard Depardieu).
   Babin convinces Mrs. Pujol to head the company in Mr. Pujol's absence. What follows is a light comedy that details the ever increasing frustration of the husband and the vanquishing of his power and ego. We see Mr. Pujol reduced to jelly and then  realize what was obvious. Male power is outdated and often a myth. It is the female that holds the real omnipotence in a relationship. Aha! 
   This is not an new idea. But it is amusing to see a cuddly soft Depardieu trade gentle Cary Grant barbs with Deneuve. Depardieu in his later years parallels the great Robert De Niro: once edgy and volatile, now cute and humorous. In a word, pleasant. For some this might be sacrilege, but these actors are so iconic in French cinema that they still manage to hold the eye. 
   This movie will not make waves or change your thoughts. In fact, it is very much like a Oui magazine on film. Yet Deneuve and Depardieu have a kind of prickly soft chemistry between them and they are both easy on the eyes. Ozon has said that this movie started in part, as a comment on Nicolas Sarkozy. I admit, it  might have been more entertaining to lampoon Silvio Berlusconi. More truthfully though, "Potiche"  is an  valentine trifle to 1979 with all its sensual buffoonery and disco innocence. And  with today's economic worry and political polarization, who can blame Ozon for going back to a more dated time of Pop Art, pleasure and the battle of the sexes?  

Write Ian at

Potiche (Rhoades)

“Potiche” Offers
Gallic Charm – and
Catherine Deneuve

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I once met Catherine Deneuve, the French actress and model who has been called “the most beautiful woman in the world.” She was with her boyfriend of the time, a French TV exec with Canal Plus, waiting around in my friend’s studio while he poured through boxes of old girlie photographs, looking for any images of ’50s pinup queen Bettie Page.
Odd, I thought, that a man living with the most beautiful woman in the world is searching for nudie photos of another woman.
Here, in Key West, we know that Bettie Page once lived among us. She was married to a local Conch, taught at Harris School, and eschewed her image as a glamour girl who had bewitched every pimple-faced boy in America – me included.
I have a huge collection – perhaps the largest around – of original photographs of Bettie Page. Catherine Deneuve’s old paramour has a large collection too.
Now, Deneuve has become (as they say) a woman of a certain age. But she’s still beautiful. Go see for yourself, for “Potiche” is still playing at the Tropic Cinema.
This French-Belgian comedy, directed by François Ozon, is based on a popular play. Along with Catherine Deneuve you will encounter that great Gallic actor Gérard Despardieu (you’ll remember him when you see the bulbous nose) and Fabrice Luchini (notable for his many appearances in Éric Rohmer films).
“Potiche” tells the story of a wife who takes over the management of her husband’s umbrella factory to comic consequences. One translation of “Potiche” is “trophy wife.” Here we see the “little woman” rise to the occasion.
Ironic that she manages an umbrella factory in “Potiche.” One of Catherine Deneuve’s best-loved films was “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” (“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”).
I also remember her in that erotic vampire thriller, “The Hunger.” Good thing she’s not managing a blood bank in “Potiche.”
[from Solares Hill]

Even the Rain (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Even the Rain

"Even the Rain" tells the story of an idealist director Sebastian (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) and his quest to film Christopher Columbus' conquest. Sebastian is a quixotic and Herzog-like figure. He will film his vision at any cost even if it means cutting corners. His producer ( Luis Tosar) decides to film in Bolivia to save money and pays the resident extras just two dollars a day. But in Sebastian's mind this is okay. The  movie is the voice of the indigenous people. Throughout the filming he becomes exasperated.
From the very start it seems that Sebastian will have an even more disasterous time than Herzog did with "Fitzcaraldo". The extras are seeped in misery: long hours, uncomfortable conditions and hardly any pay. 
Suddenly Sebastian has an epiphany. He sees his idealist Taino chief Hatuey in the face of Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri).

Daniel is every bit as iconoclastic and passionate as Klaus Kinski. His is face imprinted with intensity and the wanting of hope. When Daniel is transformed into  the leader of a crusade for anti-government water, the film becomes jeopardized. 
Sebastian pleads with Daniel but to no avail. His face is an impassive mask of oppression, pathos and sorrow as powerful as Brando's Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now." Finally the producer steps in and offers him thousands. Daniel takes the money. On Daniel's wall is a Catholic calendar. The sway of Christopher Columbus: the movie, religion and commerce,  has intruded on Daniel  now. The next day he is arrested.
The producer works out a deal to drop the charges on the condition that he is brought back to police custody. Sebastian's  hands are tied.
The crucial scenes are done. At the conclusion of the filming, Daniel is ambushed by the police. He manages to get away, resplendent in his grease paint-- a peacock of revolution. 
The compelling moments in the film are the ones deep in the jungle with a sweating director trying to film his story as the bored inhabitants watch and wait for anything to happen but    the immediate filming. They could care less. Under the circumstances of little pay and absolute dominance, who can blame them. 
Gael Garcia Bernal is able and interesting enough in his role as an indigenous-minded director who sometimes changes his ideals, but it is Juan Carlos Aduviri who is the real star here. His acting is full of verve and power and his expressions cannot be reproduced by any Rick Baker wizardry or CGI digital effects. Aduviri  possesses a facial narrative that speaks of the past, present and future.

Write Ian at

The Conspirator (Rhoades)

“The Conspirator”
Makes Her Case
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
 Here in Key West we have a greater connection to the 146th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln that most people realize. Several of the convicted conspirators – including Dr. Samuel Mudd – were incarcerated at Ft. Jefferson 70 miles off our shores.
Amazingly, the surviving conspirators were pardoned three years later by Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson. That would be like Lynden Johnson pardoning Lee Harvey Oswald after a couple of years (if he’d survived) for the assassination of JFK.
There are those who argue about Dr. Mudd’s guilt – or lack there of. Some have the same misgivings over the conviction of Mary Surratt, the only female co-conspirator charged in the Lincoln assassination and the first woman ever executed by the United States government.
In keeping with this dreadful anniversary there’s a new film out called “The Conspirator.” Directed by Robert Redford, it tells the story of Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surratt.
Robin Wright stars as Surratt. James McAvoy co-stars as her lawyer. Also we have Justin Long, Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Alexis Biedel, and Kevin Kline rounding out the cast.
As you may recall, seven men and one woman were charged with conspiring to kill the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State. Mary Surratt owned the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and others met to plan the attacks. Her son was one of those involved. She loved her son.
“The Conspirator” is holding court this week at the Tropic Cinema. You don’t have to be a history buff (or even a conspiracy theorist) to find it a riveting drama.
The film focuses on a fresh-faced young lawyer named Frederick Aiken (McAvoy) who reluctantly agrees to defend Mary Surratt (Wright) before the military tribunal. He comes to believe that his client may be innocent, her arrest merely a gambit to ensnare her son who eluded capture. But as public sentiment turns against her, is it too late to undo these spurious charges?
If you’ve ever read a history book you’ll know the answer. The film follows its require course. Her son John H. Surratt Jr. was later tried but not convicted.
Robin Wright (the ex-Mrs. Sean Penn) will be forever remembered as “The Princess Bride.” And you will be seeing her in the American version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
James McAvoy is familiar as the romantic soldier in “Atonement.” You’ve also seen him as the nerdy hero in “Wanted.” And he plays a young Professor X in Marvel’s upcoming “X-Men: First Class.”
Redford’s directorial hand is strong, offering a “deliberate, stagebound approach.” The drama itself is mesmerizing – despite the known outcome.
Makes me want to take a boat over to Ft. Jefferson and touch one of the 16 million bricks that mark the remote outpost where four of the conspirators in the Lincoln assassination were imprisoned for that short time.
[from Solares Hill]

The Conspirator (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Conspirator

   Robert Redford's new film "The Conspirator", focuses on the trial of Mary Surratt and her supposed connection in the conspiracy to assassinate president Lincoln and three members of his cabinet. As the film's start there is great jubilation as the Civil War is concluded with a Union victory. Fireworks are launched. Champagne is poured. Petticoats are courted. We see Kevin Kline in lambchops and Justin Long (famous for the Apple commercials) as a Civil War veteran.    
   Then the action shifts to some grizzled boozing and knitted brows. Guns are cocked under brown hats. Something sepia is afoot. We move like a raven to the balcony of Ford's theatre. Lincoln is nodding to some comic  foolery below.  Abruptly the scene jumps again. We see co-conspirator  Lewis Payne (Norman Reedus) attacking a frail William Seward in his bed with the savagery of Jack the Ripper or Hannibal Lecter. Horrors. Then John Wilkes Booth slashes away at the guard at the doomed theatre. He jumps to the stage, breaks his leg and fires his shot. Lincoln doubles over. Redford doesn't spare any slashings or punches and his cinematography, although sweeping and handsome, is a bit like a "Bourne Identity" update of a History Channel Tv Expose. Might the visual impact be heightened with a Brian De Palma split screen? At times, the cuts appear abrupt and a bit confusing. The flashbacks, also, are a little too much like "Law & Order" for me. 
   Paranoia ensues with a kind of anti-terror hysteria, the first of its kind.
   The former US attorney general Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) is assigned to counsel Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), who is accused of aiding and abetting John Wilkes Booth via covert meetings in her boarding house. The case is then passed on to Johnson's apprentice, the idealistic Fredrick Aiken (James McAvoy  ). 
   McAvoy and Wright are both vivid in their roles, but it is Wright who outshines her co-star with her honest passion in regard to her innocence. The pale rigidity in her face is something we can actually feel. The worry in her face has weight and bearing. Her character of Mary is as much a figure of visual impact as it is a psychological one. Dressed in black with a bonnet on her head, she looks like a resolute grackle---austere and calmly rigid. Her persona is iconic---a foreshadowing of the masterpiece Whistler's Mother.          Mary alone is the only anchor that holds the film together. The rest is all dim court-room rabble.
Yet the Conspirator is informative and fair enough for a history film. The acting is facile and authentic. The only drawback for me is the pace and the cinematography. With every flashback that occurs, there is the same high-contrast of darkness and light and the sequencing feels a bit too much like a tv biopic: an interrogation followed by a court scene followed by still more court scenes and interrogations. And the truth is gradually revealed at the end. Everything seems a bit too easily processed with little shades of gray. We know Mary Surratt is a scapegoat relatively early. So where is the surprise? A better movie might of been the vanity of Booth, his feeling of jilted fame, or his ravings akin to the anti-government Tea parties of today. You could even have a Glenn Beck circa 1865.  What a movie!

Write Ian at

Of Gods and Men (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Of Gods and Men

   "Of Gods and Men," the critically acclaimed film by Xavier Beauvois focuses on the true story of a group of trappist monks in Algeria who were kidnapped and killed by Islamic terrorists in 1996. Luc (Michael Lonsdale) is a doctor that takes care of the many inhabitants around the countryside in a local monastery. Most of them are Muslim. 
   Virtually more than a quarter of the film details the harmony between Christians and Muslims. The setting is indeed pastoral and peaceful, recalling the bright yellows and pinks of a Botticelli Primavera masterpiece. The monks hover in groups like austere white doves, warbling their chants and pondering scripture. Then travel down the cliff a bit and we see what looks like an Islamic ritual happening in a Muslim home. An infant yawns and stares into the camera, clearly nonplussed. The camera records events as they are without embellishment.
   The next scene shows a group of islamic militants going after a group of villagers and slashing their throats. 
   Terror has arrived. The monks go on as usual. The monastery becomes like a blue Easter Egg in the midst of fear and hostility. Only the monks are filled with a kind of passive nonviolence. 
   When one of the terrorists come to Luc,he decides to treat him. As a healer, he can do little else. 
The filming is unadorned and formal, very much in the tradition of  von Trotta's "Vision". There is little uncloistered space beyond the monastery walls. As the violence mounts, the monks cling ever more fervently to their candlewax chanting with its words of martyrdom and suffering. By morning, they carry on, filling rich jars with papal honey as the terrorists spill their enemies' honey of blood with murder. Each monk seems to grow understandably more nervous with each passing day. Their faces in closeup  re-emerge from the darkness with various wrinkles that stand out in relief like crisp pages from an Illuminated manuscript. When the monks are shown coupled in ritual along with the terrorists, singing about  holy blood, Sin and regret, they appear a bit crazy. Ritual is everything.
   In one scene, Luc kisses a painting of Christ by Caravagio. It is a sensual and fetishist moment, pushing the envelope and giving the great Luis Bunuel a run for his money.
   Beauvois knows his art history well. Near the film's conclusion, the references are plentiful to the point of seeming self conscious. There is everything in this film from Vermeer in the film's lighting, to a near copy of Da  Vinci and Brueghel in the final Winter scene.
   The film is hypnotic, reflective and rather meditative on the eyes. In only one respect did it lapse into Sin. During the Last Supper scenes, one old monk puts on "Swan Lake" Blasphemy! Since this year's "Black Swan" that music is so heavily preloaded with references that it has lost its sacred credibility  seemed pretentious in the silent settingAnd wait... of course, the monks start weeping. There is no need for this understated and measured film to hit us over the head with such an overbearing ruler as if launched by mad Mother Superior. 
   Despite this demerit, the film remains a stern character study on the monks living in their own Easter Egg of ritual, their own frenzy of silence,  while the hills of Algeria grow increasingly violent.
   Sam Harris would shake his head in stern admonishment.  
   Write Ian at

Even the Rain (Rhoades)

“Even the Rain”
Swaps Water for Gold

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I collect Salvador Dali art and adore Fellini films. That’s because I appreciate surrealism, art’s attempt to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind.
While “Even the Rain” (original title: “También la lluvia”) is not surrealism in the strictest sense, it effectively uses the surrealistic technique of irrational juxtaposition of images. In this case, a film about Christopher Columbus spliced together with real-life news footage of a Bolivian demonstration over a water shortage.
It makes more sense than you’d think.
“Even the Rain” is sharing its symbolic parallels at the Tropic Cinema.
In it, we find a filmmaker named Sebastián (Gael Garcia Bernal) who wants to make a film about how badly the Spanish treated the indigenous population of the New World. He’s basing his film on the writings of Bartolomé de las Casas, a 16th-century historian and social reformer who was appointed official “Protector of the Indians.”
So Sebastián takes his crew to Bolivia where the film can be cheaply made by using locals who work for two dollars a day. Unfortunately, the filmmakers arrive during the Cochabamba water crisis in 2000. Tensions are high. Demonstrations clog the streets.
Sebastián casts a local man named Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri) as the Taino chief who led a rebellion against the Spaniards. As it happens, Daniel is one of the leaders in the protests against the water hikes.
“Even The Rain” draws parallels between the fight for water in Bolivia and the Spanish quest for gold. By intercutting scenes from Sebastián’s film about the Taino uprising with footage of actual water-shortage demonstrations, fiction and fact seem to merge. And lines between past and present begin to blur.
This film-within-a-film stretches your perception of reality. Moviegoers love it. One said, “It was great; although it makes you wonder what would happen if they pulled the cameras back one more level and we saw the ‘real’ set and its actors.”
One scene shows a helicopter carrying a cross in the air. This is reminiscent of that scene in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” where we see a helicopter carrying a sculpture of Christ. It’s a not-so-subtle homage, one surreal director to another.
You’ll nearly forget that the real director of this film is Icíar Bollaín Pérez-Mínguez – not the fictional Sebastián. Icíar is a Spanish actress (“El Sur,” “Land and Freedom”) who turned her hand to directing with “Hi, Are You Alone?” This is her third outing behind the camera. “Even the Rain” was Spain’s official submission as Best Foreign Language Film for the 2010 Academy Awards.
So we have a film made in Bolivia about a film being made in Bolivia that exploits local workers the way the Spaniard subjugated the Indios they found in the New World. That’s why I agree with the suggestion that the film’s credits should have included a disclaimer: “No indigenous Bolivians were underpaid or put in harm’s way making this movie.”
[from Solares Hill]

Of Gods and Men (Rhoades)

“Of Gods and Men” –
A Commitment to Faith

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

In 1996 seven Christian monks in Algeria were kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic extremists. That horrific true-life event was the catalyst for this French film by Xavier Beauvois.
However, “Of Gods and Men” is not really about these murders. It asks a more important question: Why did these monks decide to sacrifice themselves for their faith?
“Of Gods and Men” is currently exploring these moral issues at the Tropic Cinema.
In the village of Tibhirine the monks and Muslims had been living in harmony. But the Groupe Islamique Armé loomed nearby. The Algerian government had asked the monks to leave for their own safety but they insisted on staying despite the dangers of this ongoing Civil War.
Monastic life is simple, devout. We watch as the monks prepare and sell honey at the market. As they listen to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Enjoy a glass of red wine. Place a kiss on a mural of Christ. Prepare a Last Supper when they agree not to abandon their monastery.
That the camera is allowed to observe them in such close, intimate detail is almost surprising – until you remember this is not a documentary but a drama with actors.
Lambert Wilson (who plays Dom. Christian, the scholarly leader of the group, a man secure in his own faith) and Michael Lonsdale (who plays the older, more worldly Luc) give outstanding performances.
To prepare for their roles the actors lived as monks at the Tamié Abbey in the French Alps. They trained in singing Gregorian chants. And as the film came together they began to capture the sense of fraternity that permeates a monastery where the brothers share a sense of faith.
Filming took place in Morocco at a Benedictine monastery that had stood unused for more than 40 years.
The results were good. At the 2010 Cannes Film Festival “Of Gods and Men” received both the Grand Prix and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.
Beauvois’ film doesn’t preach. And it doesn’t attempt to answer all the questions, being content to accept the ambiguity of faith.
How far will a group of devout men go to follow their beliefs? Pretty far, we discover. Even death.
“Of Gods and Men” ends with a letter from one of the monks. He wrote in part: “Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.”
Xavier Beauvois makes sure you remember.
[from Solares Hill]

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Week of April 22 to April 28 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

It’s another of those something-for-everyone weeks, with a couple of new movies joining popular holdovers, plus a passel of special events.

SOURCE CODE is from that thriller genre where characters can affect history by various kinds of trans-reality interventions. Think Inception or The Adjustment Bureau. In Source Code Jake Gyllenhaal is part of a secret Army anti-terrorism experiment involving brain transplants. More I can’t say without giving away too much. But once you accept the concept, the movie draws you in and puts you on the edge of your seat. Director Duncan Jones’ last movie was a sci-fi meditation Moon about a man ending a solo tour on a lunar station so Jones knows how to think about things as well as blow them up. With the Source Code he gives us “a gripping action film that also works as poetry.” (San Francisco Chronicle) It’s a “beautifully made, suspenseful techno-thriller,” says the New Yorker.

3 BACKYARDS, on the other hand, is pure reality, the interlocking stories of three neighboring families on Long Island. We’ve got a husband (Elias Koteas) spying on his wife; a starstruck amateur artist (Edie Falco); and a child who should have stayed home (Rachel Resheff).  Director Eric Mendelsohn won the best director award at Sundance for this “exquisite example of calculated execution in pursuit of elusive ideas.” (Variety)

EXODUS FALL opened at the Tropic on Thursday as part of the Visiting Filmmaker Series. It’s now been held over for a limited run, joining three very popular holdovers: THE LINCOLN LAWYER, the Don’t Miss film of the spring WIN WIN and the aforementioned THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU.

The Special Events calendar is headed by a Bruce Springsteen retrospective, THE PROMISE: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s an amalgamation of music sessions from the late 1970’s leading up to the release of his fourth album, and recent interviews. Like other Springsteen films at the Tropic, it shows off the theater’s superb sound system and acoustics. And it shows off Bruce’s generous nature. He’s donating all the proceeds from the release of this film to non-profit community theaters that show it. A chance to enjoy yourself for a good cause. One show each evening, Friday-Saturday-Sunday.

Monday brings more Everything Elizabeth to the Classics Series, with her 1959 film SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift share the screen in this adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play about a vicious mother and a troubled girl. Both Hepburn and Taylor were nominated for Best Actress at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes. Neither got the Oscar, but Taylor took home the Globe.

The sound system gets another workout on Tuesday, with another live opera via satellite, this time from the Teatro Regio in Parma, Italy. It’s Rossini’s comedy THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, with Luca Salsi as Figaro and Ketevan Kemoklidze as Rosina. True love triumphs in this clever plot of mistaken identities. Live at 2:00pm EDT (8:00pm in Parma), with a delayed live encore at 7:00pm EDT.

And then on Thursday, it’s the annual Tropic appearance of the KEY WEST SONGWRITERS’ FESTIVIAL, featuring Bridgette Tatum, Danny Myrick, Dallas Davidson, Rhett Akins, Marshall Chapman, Hugh Prestwood & Chris Wallin. Another group will be appearing on the next night. Tickets for the 
Songwriters’ Festival are at

For all other tickets go to the regular Tropic box office, or the BuyTix links at
Comments, please, to

[from Key West, the newspaper -]. 

Exodus Fall (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Exodus Fall

Usually I like road movies. Some quirky characters, racing stretches of land, some zen philosophy and witty banter. Think of some staples of the genre: "Thelma and Louise," "Into the Wild", Easy Rider" and Jim Jarmusch's eccentric "Stranger Than Paradise".  I also  enjoy stories of family dysfunction. "Precious", "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" and "This Boy's Life" are all fine examples. 
It is in this spirit that "Exodus Fall" held promise. A road movie with a car full of kids who escape their horribly abusive mother (played by the  brave and edgy Roseanna Arquette) I get it, let's hit the road!
Oddly, the film made me want to pull into a rest stop and skip the souvenirs.
Yes, you have resourceful kids and a catatonic and selfish  mother that forces them to go to Grandma, but everyone seems to just plod along. The cast is slower than the old clunky station wagon that they travel in. Roseanna Arquette, usually novel in her acting, is so unbearably without decency, that she might as well be wearing a black hat and handlebar  mustache . There is no ambiguity. There is however, a crafty protective older brother (played by Jesse James) who thankfully has some of the introspective charm of the late Heath Ledger, but even his role is too dependable, too perfect, too predictable. And there is an  autistic brother, Dana, (Devon Graye) who, we see, has a great talent for swirling detailed drawings. And he's fascinated by light. But that's all we know. The problem is that we never really get a sense of what this character is like. His individuality Is absent. Everyone seems drawn by a stencil from an ABC Afterschool Special. And I remember. There is even a hippie who looks a bit like Jim Morrison. Hasn't his Lizard King ghost been in enough movies? And a watered down Morrison at that. No irreverence or seductive come- hither stares here.  He says things like "one person's addict is another one's Messiah." and my favorite, "if you don't take the time to enjoy where you are, you won't know where you're  going." Knock me out! That's heavy, man! I think Julia Roberts said better philosophical gems in "Eat Pray Love".
The film does have an interesting 1970 era feel with grainy  color and images that seems to jump and jiggle ever so slightly. The desolate James Rosenquist-like landscapes preserve  a panoramic feel that is easy on the eyes and worthy of the time and place.
But hang on, brother....the car slides away, they steal a car and they are on the run, for the sanity of Grandma's house. With Dana in tow, newly escaped from the institution. Oh no! Here come the pigs!
Hey man, that's cool. I'll hitch a ride later with Jim... Jim Jarmusch.
Write Ian at

3 Backyards (Rhoades)

3 Backyards” Offers 3 Stories
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades\

As I sit here in my Key West backyard, I’m contemplating the new film at the Tropic Cinema called “3 Backyards.” It’s a fairly intense drama that sets your mind to reeling.
This Sundance award-winner by writer-director Eric Mendelsohn actually gives us three unrelated (except thematically) stories of people in a small town undergoing personal crises on the same day.
One is a businessman (Elias Koteas) with marital problem; the second a girl who steals her mom’s jewelry and witnesses a pervert; the third a woman (Edie Falco) who give a ride to her actress neighbor (Embeth Davidtz).
These dramatic excursions may leave you a little shaken, not stirred. The familiar backyards have shifted into a mysterious territory for each of our residents. The quiet desperation is palpable, underscored by flute music and fades and zooms. What might be called an “art house” film by mainstream moviegoers.
Some reviewers have called “3 Backyards” a “humble charmer of a film.” Others have referred to it as “very disappointing” and “what were they thinking?” As noted, I found it “contemplative.”
Edie Falco has worked with Mendelsohn before, starring in his film “Judy Berlin.” That opus and this one make him the only two-time prizewinner for directing at Sundance. You’ll remember Edie from her run as the mob wife on TV’s “The Sopranos” and her current hit “Nurse Jackie.”
Although a conservatory-trained actress, Edie Falco finally made her mark in television after supporting herself as a window washer and dressing as Cookie Monster at parties. In 2000 she swept television’s three top awards – the Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG for her role in “The Sopranos.”
Despite the current success of Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie,” she still finds time for films. In particular, she likes doing small indies like “3 Backyards.” As she says, “The high-grossing films are not all that interesting to me, I have to say. It’s not stuff I would want to be in. Yes, you would want the big paycheck, but that’s never really been my concern.”
As for Mendelsohn, this former assistant costume designer for Woody Allen movies has made his directorial mark, now teaching directing at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and creating intimate little films that remind him of those suburban neighborhoods on Long Island where he grew up – not all that far from an aspiring actress named Edith Falco.
[from Solares Hill]

Suddenly Last Summer (Rhoades)

“Suddenly, Last Summer” Pays Double Homage
 Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The Monday Night Classic at the Tropic Cinema this week deserves notice – for two reasons. First, as a tribute to the late Elizabeth Taylor, that violet-eyed actress who stars in “Suddenly, Last Summer” along with her longtime pal Montgomery Cliff. And second, because the author of the one-act play on which it’s based was Key West’s own Tennessee Williams.

This 1959 film has been described as a “Southern Gothic horror/mystery,” largely for its setting of a mental institution and its veiled tale of homoerotic cannibalism.

Catherine (Elizabeth Taylor) is institutionalized after witnessing her cousin Sebastian’s death in Europe. Her aunt (Katherine Hepburn) wants her lobotomized to wipe out any remnants of the sordid events surrounding Sebastian demise. Dr. Cuckrowicz (Montgomery Cliff) wants to hear the story about how Sebastian was using Catherine to attract boys for his own pleasure, a tactic that went awry.

Although Tennessee Williams was credited as co-writer of the film’s screenplay along with Gore Vidal, he later said that he had nothing to do with the script. Yet, the theme is pure Tennessee Williams.
[from Solares Hill] 

3 Backyards (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

3 Backyards

All of nature is alive and quivering. Such is the case in the film "3 Backyards", the new film by Eric Mendelsohn (Judy Berlin). The film focuses on three people all linked by their suburban backyards. You never know what is cloaked behind the green foliage. 

There are eight-legged things lurking there. There are worms crawling. And hidden humans with secret fears and forms. The film has as much riveting tension in the unsaid as anything by Robert Altman or the author Raymond Carver and the anxious mystery over what might happen is wound as tight as a constricted garden hose.
Elias Koteas plays John  who is always traveling , with the blight of an anemic  marriage. Edie Falco is Peggy  a star struck housewife who is taken with the glare of fame and then bugged by resentment. And a stand out is Rachel Resheff as Christina, a dreamy and passive youngster who is transfixed by her mother's gold bracelet, even to the point of an encounter with a loner who may be a sexual predator. This film unfolds like life itself, there is no artifice or elaboration. These characters move by themselves in their own sway of joy or sadness. Like the wild creatures in "The Last Lions" these men and women move within Nature, becoming beasts of compulsion or beat up creatures boxed in their own subtle sadnesses.
When John is captivated by the mystery of a woman in a blue dress (Danai Gurira), he is struck by her enigmatic gestures and it is anybody's guess if he might actually talk with her. In "3 Backyards" nothing is defined, everything is hinted at in geometric segments like the physical backyards in the film itself. The audience gets pieces of a jigsaw, links in a gold chain or a filmed bracelet that might just owe a debt to John Cheever's "The Swimmer". We watch and wait like a neighbor. Either Grace, the white standard poodle, returns to her owner or she doesn't and we entertain each possible chance outcome which is glimpsed with such deliberate  watchfulness that it almost seems supernatural.
To see 3 backyards is to witness everyday people deep within their own habitats and rhythms.  Every character has a natural curiosity as rich as any African cat.

Write Ian at

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Source Code (Rhoades)

“Source Code” Lets Jake Visit the Past 

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Blame it on Einstein, although the concept of time travel has been used in fiction since the 19th Century. Traveling to the future is theoretically possible based on time dilation due to velocity (according to the Special Theory of Relativity) as well as gravitational time dilation (according to the General Theory of Relativity). However, scientists are not sure the laws of physics would allow for backwards time travel.
The term “Time Machine” was introduced by H. G. Wells’ in his 1895 novel of the same name. In “Source Code” – the new techno-thriller that’s dazzling audiences at the Tropic Cinema – a computer program is used as the time machine.
      In order to identify the bomber of a Chicago commuter train, a decorated airman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is sent back to the train just before it explodes in order to find the bad guy. He wakes up in a strange body because the experimental program known as Source Code enables him to enter another man’s consciousness during the last 8 minutes of his life.
     The government’s assignment is clear: Go into the body of one of the commuters just before he’s killed, then get back with the information on whodunit. Problem is, our airman meets a pretty girl on the train (Michelle Monaghan) whom he wants to save. But that’s not allowed.
     You guessed it. He goes back again, sort of a technological Groundhog Day, where he repeats the past, looking for a way to thwart the events that have already happened.
    Can you change the past? That’s the core of the movie’s plot.
    Jake Gyllenhaal is well on his way to becoming an action hero after his turn as the swashbuckling “Prince of Persia.” But his greatest critical success was “Brokeback Mountain,” which garnered him an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Acting since the age of ten, Gyllenhaal comes from a Hollywood family – his dad a director, his mom a screenwriter, and his sister the Oscar-nominated actress Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Here you also have Vera Farmiga, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in “Up in the Air.” And Jeffrey Wright, a Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actor in “Angels in America.”
Will you find “Source Code” exciting? Don’t take my word for it. Michael Shields (my co-host on the weekly Film on Friday radio show) got an advance screening of “Source Code” at the South by Southwest Film Festival. “It was the Opening Night film for SXSW at the 1200 seat Paramount Theatre,” he reports. “From director Duncan Jones, the son of David Bowie, this big(er) budget flick has suspense and multiple romantic angles as past, present, and future collide. A satisfying hold-on-to-your-train-seat-ride as we find out to what lengths we will go to stay dead or alive.
    As for me, if I had a time machine, I’d go back and see it again.
[from Solares Hill] 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Week of April 15 to April 21 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

WIN WIN is a winner, a feel good movie about “good people making bad decisions,” according to writer-director Tom McCarthy. This is his third feature, after The Station Agent and The Visitor, both multi-award winners, and he’s on track for another round of kudos. McCarthy seems to have a touch for creating flawed but appealing leading characters – a dwarf (Station Agent), a widowed college professor (Visitor) – and letting life deal them unexpected hands that they play awkwardly.

This time it’s Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a low-level lawyer and part-time high school wrestling coach. He’s trying to be a good husband and father to his wife (Amy Ryan) and kids, but his breadwinning skills don’t seem to be up to it. Everything is going wrong, from his heating system and plumbing to his hopeless wrestling team.

But then fate gives him a couple of chances to change things, one by being unethical and the other by being the opposite. I won’t spoil things by telling you more about the plot, but it’s more comic than McCarthy’s other films. Mike Flaherty’s tribulations have a ludicrous edge, and there’s plenty of “guys hanging out at the gym” humor generated by his buddies, Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambour. It’s “a wrestling picture that reinvigorates the genre with verve, warmth and heart” (Washington Post).

Rainn Wilson (The Office) is “The Crimson Bolt” in SUPER, a comedy about a self-named superhero who’s got no super powers. But he’s got a hot wife (Liv Tyler) who’s cuckolding him, a hot girl sidekick “Boltie” (Ellen Page), and visits from God to assure him that he’s on the right path. The word on Super is that it’s “occasionally brilliant, sometimes awful and terribly confusing overall” (, “a thrill ride from the opening animated credits … to the closing moments” ( In other words, just the right formula for the next big cult film. Catch it now so you can brag you were there at the beginning.

Rounding out the lineup of new feature films is HEARTBEATS, a romantic comedy about a ménage a trois among three very appealing young French-Canadians. Marie (straight female) and Francis (gay male) are besties, both with an eye for Nicolas of the curly blonde hair (indeterminate male). It’s “a love-crazy, movie-crazy affair, laying bare its emotions just as plainly as its influences. “ (Onion AV) This is the second film from twenty-one year old writer-director-actor Xavier Dolan (he plays Francis), and makes him a man to watch. Start here.

The Special Events calendar is crammed full, starting with a benefit for FIRM (Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe) on Sunday afternoon. They’re screening the classic local film BEYOND THE TWELVE MILE REEF and conducting a silent auction. A worthy cause, we can all agree, and this is a way to support it while enjoying yourself.

Monday Movie Classic is Elizabeth Taylor’s great performance in A PLACE IN THE SUN, based on Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. Montgomery Clift is the handsome, troubled, bedeviled young George Eastman. It won six Oscars, though none for its stars.

Tuesday is the day for the matinee encore showing of Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT from the Globe Theater in London.

Thursday brings another in the Visiting Filmmaker Series. It’s the Florida premiere of EXODUS FALL starring Rosanna Arquette. The story of three teen siblings who struggle with the death of their father and try to live with their abusive mother, the film was line produced by Key West local Michael Baumgarten. He will be accompanied by director Ankush Kohli to present the film and answer questions.

Full schedules and info at or
Comments, please, to

Win Win (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Win Win

"Win Win " is an overcoming- all-odds film. It has a wrestling for life theme and although it may not have the pin of provocation, it hits all the right notes when grappling for your entertainment. 
Paul Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, an attorney who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach. Giamatti's Mike  is perfectly anxious. His practice is declining. The wrestling team is losing. He is low on money and self esteem. 

He decides to become the guardian of a client with Alzheimer's played by Burt Young, while surreptitiously putting him in a nursing home against his wishes. He needs the money.
Giamatti's angst is so well-travelled and familiar that it doesn't even seem a stretch. But every actor has his/her trademark. We can't blame him.
One day he finds a kid on his clients house steps. The kid is the grandson of the client. His name is Kyle (Alex Shaffer) and he is also blonde, moody and troubled. Kyle has an Owen Wilson air of mystery. He is a bit monotone but it is not overtly angry, more like Ferris Bueller accompanied by the music of Nirvana. Anti-social and charming, Kyle rolls along with his own loping gait, halfway between a shuffle and a dance under sleepy eyes. No one knows what to do with him. Kyle moves in with Coach Mike. Then he asks to practice and Eureka! Kyle is a wrestling wunderkind.
After his deadbeat mother comes in the picture, and wants him to move back, Kyle goes wild. Attacking his opponent and even Coach Mike with violent wrestling moves seemingly out of the blue. WTF Bro! Kyle is troubled.  In  the abrupt fight scene between Giamatti and Shaffer, the film almost predictably becomes a  hybrid of "The Karate Kid" and "Anger Management". The authenticity of Kyle, however, gives a charge to the film and saves it from being a sequence of Hallmark hotspots.
Actor Alex Shaffer has a pale wakeful dreaminess in his role. His aura makes me think oddly of David Bowie in "The Man Who Fell to Earth"--a spaced out being who remains poised and silent while a crazed planet moves beneath him, out of orbit. Kyle Timmons: The Odd One Out. A sun-blanched Earthling that needs to be hit on the side of the head before every match.
Alex Shaffer is a curious star and the highlight of this film.

write Ian at

Super (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
"Super" is a mumblecore superhero film with strong echoes of the documentary "Confessions of a Superhero" not to mention "Kick Ass". In the documentary  "Confessions",  Average Joes dress as their favorite comic book heroes, earning whatever money they can along Hollywood Boulevard. In the film "Kick-Ass" teens dress as heroes to settle with bullies.
This latest interpretation stars Rainn Wilson (The Office) and Ellen Page (Juno) who play Frank and Libby, two low level employees who dream of fighting crime by night as psychotic vigilantes. Frank is a pale short order cook. When his wife (Liv Tyler) gets in with a druggy crowd and leaves him, he goes nuts. Frank starts drawing in his room and watches Christian TV, showing a superhero beating up The Devil. He meets Libby at a comic book store. The two decide to join forces as The Crimson Bolt and Boltie, the sidekick. Frank is determined to get his wife back from the clutches of an evil Kevin Bacon. Yes, you read it correctly. An evil Kevin Bacon. Things get downright nasty. Equipped with a big red wrench, Frank smashes in skulls by the dozen, from child molesters and robbers, and also minor scofflaws that cut thru a line at an outside event. No shades of morality inhibit him Blood spills by the bucket. Eyeballs implode. Psychotic is the word. 
"You don't cut in line!" shouts Frank doing his best to sound like The Dark Knight, even though he embodies the coordination of Adam West together with The Creature from "Frankenstein". Frank's red suit is half patched together in old red t-shirts and it is one of the most stirring things in the film, as it  points to Frank's mental collapse.
During a brutal dismemberment battle, Libby screams in carnal joy at the violence. She is not a superhero at that moment. She is Babs Johnson from "Pink Flamingos"---"The Filthiest Person Alive". Utter joy at the sight of an impalement.
It is shocking to watch at first. The sight of so much blood rivals Hammer Films and would have Quentin Tarrantino swearing off spaghetti sauce.
These two characters are clearly insane and in fact, most every role is a bit nasty.  The one compelling element in the movie is the perverse relationship between Frank and Libby. Disturbed they are, but like Divine and Edith Massey of John Waters Fame, the couple has chemistry. By the end Frank is left alone with his drawings of his adventures, clearly moved but not all that happy. Is he a crazy person? Will he get help? In exploring the moral abyss, this could have been a more provocative film, but the noisy gore got in the way and we have a one hit Boy 
I recommend watching "Confessions of a Superhero" afterwards to get some perspective. It's got a "Batman" actor in the film who moonlights as a security guard and goes to anger management classes. Two fists across the chest. KAAPOW!!!
Write Ian at

Heartbeats (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


"Heartbeats" is an eerie and vibrant pop-art film from Quebec by Xavier Dolan, who also stars in the film as a young man obsessed with James Dean. The film centers on a love triangle and it is  as much of a re-telling of Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray as it is about wanting to be remembered in love.

It focuses on three friends engaged in a menage a trois: Frankie, (the director Xavier Dolan) Marie, (Monia Chokri) and Nicolas (Niels Schneider). Nicolas is compared with Alexander The Great and has an obsession with Audrey Hepburn. To compete with Frankie, Marie dresses like Audrey. Frankie for his part, styles himself like James Dean. He winces. He broods. All the while, Nicolas flaunts himself without inhibition like rock icon Jim Morrison or Malcolm McDowell in the films "O Lucky Man!" or "A Clockwork Orange" sans violence.Nicolas is a libidinous lion, except he doesn't particularly care if he is on the prowl.
The film is executed in bold colors, shot  in sensual close-ups. The images echo the moving silkscreen films of Andy Warhol. There is also a hint of Lars Von Trier in the slow zen of the glossy images that are accompanied by classical music. However, the film most closely recalls "Pulp Fiction". The characters are ensnared in the cult of a dreamy bygone Hollywood with a cinematography worthy of  Douglas Sirk. Every gesture is a shadow play with ghosts of the silver screen. Bold Spring florals clash with the teenage film noir of cigarettes. Never have I seen the act of smoking executed in such abandon on film, but this is Montreal.
The melodrama  is interspersed with vignettes of affected youth who tell predominantly dry, sarcastic tales of love and obsession. A highlight is Anne-Elisabeth Bosse, who, with oversize glasses and a hawkish stare, has the aura of an Alex Forrest for the iPhone era. The film rivals "The Social Network" in making romantic isolation an element of style. The tales of heartbreak and sexual statistics seem to construct a kind of Chick Flick as if imagined by Mark Zuckerberg.  
"Heartbeats" is a subtle  kaleidoscope of the vain and the vicious with all the bold color of an InterView magazine. It is both a detachment and a delight. 

Oscar himself would smile.

write Ian at

Exodus Fall (Rhoades)

Taking Lunch: How a Key West-born Filmmaker Booked a Florida Premiere at the Tropic Cinema
 By Shirrel Rhoades

Matthew Helmerich and a young filmmaker named Michael Baumgarten have been trying for months to “take a lunch,” as they say in Hollywood. Their email correspondence documents these cross-country near misses.
“Hi, I’m a Conch (yes, actually born in Key West) who is in the movie business in Los Angeles,” Baumgarten initially introduced himself to Helmerich. “This Spring, we’d like to do a release of ‘Exodus Fall’ in my hometown of Key West! I was one of the producers of the movie and will be spearheading a limited theatrical release campaign leading up to the movie be sold by our sales agent at Cannes in May.”
As executive director of the Tropic Cinema, Helmerich was excited. He saw this as a perfect opportunity for the Tropic’s Meet the Filmmaker program, this time with a movie produced by a genuine Key Wester. “Thank you for your note,” he replied, tapping out the message on his laptop in the closet-sized office he maintains at the non-profit cinema. “‘Exodus Fall’ sounds amazing and, hell yes, we’d love to have a Key West premiere of it at Tropic Cinema.”
A play date was struck, April 21. Thursday of this coming week.
“Sounds as though we have lots of other stuff to talk about, too,” emailed Helmerich. He used to be in public relations and it shows with his ready smile and friendly demeanor. “I’m on my way to Utah now for the Sundance-affiliated Art House Convergence conference for independent cinemas.”
Turns out, Baumgarten was on his way to the bigger Sundance Film Festival. He suggested having that lunch.
 “Unfortunately, it’s too busy at the Tropic now for me to hang out in Park City for the film festival,” Helmerich apologized for his unavailability. “I’m back to Key West on Thursday.”
“Too bad you’re not staying long in Park City because I will be arriving there Sunday morning,” responded Baumgarten. “Would have liked to have treated you to lunch.”
But Matthew Helmerich was on the run. “I know you’ll have a great time. Wish I had the time to hang around. Can I take a rain check for that lunch in Key West?”
“Sounds good,” the young producer replied.
But travel got in the way. “On the road AGAIN this week,” Helmerich announced in a later email. “But I'll be back in Key West in early February. Wanna talk then?”
Baumgarten did. “Please let me know what dates the movie is playing so I can work out a schedule to be there. Need to book flights.”
“We have got your premiere – Florida premiere, right? – scheduled for the evening of Thursday, April 21 in our big auditorium and we’re going to talk about a week-long run in a smaller theater,” confirmed Helmerich.
It was booked. Without taking a lunch.
The trailer for “Exodus Fall” – the feature film that Michael Baumgarten helped produce – describes it as “a coming-of-age movie for the entire family.”
It is that. And more.
Set in 1974 Texas, the film tells about three runaway teenagers on a 1362-mile road trip to their grandmother’s house in Oregon.
“My mother was never really a happy woman,” says older brother Kenneth Minor (played by young star Jesse James).
I pray every night for God to strike Mama dead in her sleep,” admits younger sister Charlotte (Adrien Finkel).
“God doesn’t kill someone just cause you say a prayer,” admonishes Ken.
“You never know,” she replies.
An abusive alcoholic, their mother (Rosanna Arquette) has sent autistic brother Dana (Devon Graye) to a mental facility where he’ll be experimented on.
So Ken and his sister crank up the dilapidated blue station wagon that belonged to their father (Christopher Atkins), rescue Dana, and set out on an exodus to Oregon.
The movie opens with the station wagon broken down in the middle of a chalk-white desert where a mysterious stranger (Alexander Carroll) meets up with them. They decide to give him a lift, recognizing a man on a mission of his own.
The scenery passes like picture postcards – grasslands, lakes, the Grand Canyon, long curving highways – as the siblings grow wiser with the help of their fellow traveler, Travis. “If you’re too busy getting where you’re going you’ll never appreciate where you are,” he tells them.
For a “kids on the lam” movie, “Exodus Fall” takes its leisurely time in telling the story. Unfolding through the eyes of older brother Kenneth, it focuses mostly on the plight of Dana. He’s a “special magic boy” who carries his Mary Poppins bag (“It contains everything we need just when we need it…”) and a water jar with a tiny fish.
Kenneth comments about their old station wagon, “It doesn’t back up, but we don’t need to back up anyway.” And the siblings don’t, plunging ahead toward the safe haven in Oregon.
“Exodus Fall” was written by Chad Waterhouse, who co-directed it with Ankush Kohli. This was the first film for both.
Michael Baumgarten brought know-how as line producer. After Key West, he’d settled in Orlando where he got involved in film and television productions around Disney/MGM Studios and Universal Studios Florida. Later, he headed to Los Angeles where he was a script reader at a Century City film finance company, then a director of acquisitions for Legacy Releasing.
In the fall of 1999, Baumgarten created and produced a feature called “Wild Roomies.” He went on to direct two film festival shorts, “Principal Don” and “10:30 Check-Out.” Then he served as associate producer on “Final Approach” starring Eric Roberts; “Faith Happens”; and “The Last Sentinel” starring Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Keith David.
In between those projects, he co-wrote, produced, and directed two horror movies, “Monster Mountain” and “Last Call Before Sunset.”
Movie star handsome, Baumgarten also plays the minor role of a detective in “Exodus Fall.”
While we noted that “Exodus Fall” was being billed as a coming-of-age film, it is certainly that for its actors. Now a tad older, Jesse James played the young Johnny Depp in “Blow.” Devon Graye played the young Michael C. Hall in TV’s “Dexter.” Christopher Atkins played Brooke Shields’ young partner in “Blue Lagoon.” And Dee Wallace who played the iconic mom in “E.T.” is the grandmother in “Exodus Fall.”
As for Michael Baumgarten, he too feels he’s come of age since his boyhood in Key West. “Later in 2011, a boy and dog movie I wrote and produced called ‘Smitty’ will be hitting theatres,” he says in a recent email to Matthew Helmerich. “The movie stars 2-time Oscar-nominee Peter Fonda, Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino, and Oscar-winner Louis Gossett, Jr.”
Almost as an afterthought, he adds, “I'm hoping to film a drama in Key West during 2011 and would like to include the characters catching a movie there as part of the story.”
Hmm, decides Matthew Helmerich, there is much to talk about. Better take that lunch when Michael Baumgarten returns home to Key West.

[from Solares Hill]
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