Thursday, June 23, 2011

Week of June 24 to June 30 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

There’s something new going on at the Tropic this summer. Would you believe ANIMAL HOUSE? Yes, that Animal House, with John Belushi and the whole awful, obnoxious crowd. It’s part of the Summer of Fun Cult Classics Series curated by the theater’s youth movement. The first in the series, THE BIG LEBOWSKI was a sold out hit and will be repeated this week. So it’s Animal House on Monday and Lebowski on Wednesday for double the week’s fun.

What’s the draw, since you can easily sit on your couch and watch these movies for free? Hey, it’s a party. Gather your buds and share the fun. The Tropic has a bigger screen than you do, more seats, and, if I may say it, a better selection of beer. Here’s a tip: Wear a toga and get a free bag of popcorn!

After that intro, I have to pause a moment before turning to the serious program…..

Opening this week is WINTER IN WARTIME, the Netherlands Oscar winner (they call it the Rembrandt Award – that’s class) about Michiel a thirteen-year old Dutch boy who aids a downed British pilot during World War II. Holland is occupied by the Nazis, whose banners hang from the public buildings in his small town. His father is the mayor, a man whose position leaves him no choice but to cooperate with the Germans. As the plot unfolds, no one can really be trusted in this world where resistance fighters, informers, and ordinary citizens are impossible to sort out.

Winter in Wartime is one of a new breed of WWII films, where the good guys and the bad aren’t caricatures. Like The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas, it views the moral dilemma of the war through the simplified eyes of a young man, this time one of the age where desire for heroism is natural. Given the situation, every moment is tense, as Michiel skirts the risks of discovery and joins in a plot to help the pilot escape. “[H]andsome, exciting and morally rich….,could become a lot of boys' favorite movie.” (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Tuesday brings a very Special Event, a free concert by the fifty-four person strong Alabama Youth Chapel Choir. Live on stage.

Rounding out the program are four extremely popular films held over for more to enjoy. Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, universally regarded as his best in a decade, is a fairy tale for lovers of the Parisian literary golden era of the Twenties. BRIDESMAIDS is proof that women can be as raunchy as men, though they do it with more style. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES reassures us that Johnny Depp can do no wrong. And DOUBLE HOUR is for all noir thriller lovers.

Things are busy at the Tropic as these summer promotions unfold. Did you know that they are running the Summer Sizzles deal again? Just ask for a free card, and when you get it punched ten times for movie attendance, your next show is free. It’s the quickest route to a free movie pass in town. And if you’re smart enough to sign up for a Tropic membership (only $35 for a year), each movie only costs six bucks. What are you waiting for?

Full schedules and info at or
Comments, please, to

Winter in Wartime (Rhoades)

“Winter in Wartime”
Examines Loss of Innocence

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I don’t mean to compare Dutch writer Jan Terlow’s 1972 novel “Winter in Wartime” to Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler,” but there’s actually a musical being produced based on Terlow’s book.
And there was a popular TV series.

And now a movie that has out-sold “Twilight” and “The Dark Knight” in the Netherlands. Chosen by the Dutch Critics as the best Dutch film of 2008, it won the PZC Audience Award (best movie based on a novel), three Rembrandt Awards, and three Golden Calf Awards.

That film – “Winter in Wartime” (Dutch title: “Oorlogswinter”) – is now showing at the Tropic

Here is the story of a teenaged boy who lives through the last winter of World War II – January 1945. In Nazi-occupied Holland, Michiel van Beusekom (Martijn Lakemeier) is pulled into the Resistance after helping a wounded British paratrooper (Jamie Campbell Bower). Without knowing whom to trust among the townspeople, the boy “confronts good and evil, courage and duplicity, and his own burden of responsibility.” In this snow-covered village, he questions his father’s attempt to maintain a status quo with the German Army, admires his brave uncle Ben, and tries to avoid getting caught.

Masquerading as something of a thriller, “Winter in Wartime” is actually a complex examination of heroism. Or as director Martin Koolhoven describes it, “The loss of innocence. In the beginning of the film the boy wants to become an adult, and by the end he is an adult – but the question is whether he’s so pleased about it.”

Koolhoven explains his choice of material. “War is sharp-edged and bigger than life. It’s mythical and tragic. And in Holland the Second World War is a pervasive theme; if you want to tell a big story and you don’t want to create a fantasy world, you’ll end up in WWII. A war movie has the ‘smell’ of realism along with all the grand themes to explore.”

Young Martijn Lakemeier is surrounded by a fine ensemble cast, but his lead performance stands out. “We tested hundreds of boys,” the director says. “We needed a young actor who could hold his own opposite disciplined trained actors, so we did the rest of the casting after we chose Martijn. They had to fit him.”

Early glimpses of boyish naiveté sets up the film’s tense second half. Lakemeier successfully conveys the emotions of a boy’s coming of age in harsh wartime circumstances, where a stray glance or wrong-spoken word could lead to tragedy.

While the film’s score is magnificent, I’m curious how producers will squeeze a stage musical out of this subject matter. No, “Springtime for Hitler” it’s not.

Forget about the forthcoming musical. “Winter in Wartime” stands proudly on its own as a film about courage, trust, growing up, and war. It deserves all its accolades. The cold-weather setting echoes the film’s chilling story of risky decisions and responsibility. It is war through a boy’s eyes. And heart.
[from Solares Hill]

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Winter in Wartime (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Winter in Wartime

Although set in a different country, if you ever wondered what a boy with a "Dragon Tattoo" might look like when faced with a Nazi occupied Netherlands, then "Winter in Wartime" is your film.
This production is stark with crisp cinematography and despite its plot seeming like a Hardy Boys mystery, it manages some Saturday matinee thrills. Young Michiel (Martijin Lakemeier) is a young inquisitive boy in the midst of Nazi occupation. He knows Nazis are the enemy of course, and like most young boys he likes action. WWI planes hang in his room and German helmets are stacked on his shelf like dinner plates. Michiel enjoys adventure. Watching from his window, he sees a fiery plane. He trudges across the field looking a bit like a vintage Tin-Tin comic strip with blondish hair and spacey blue eyes. Michiel finds the plane in pieces, resembling a beached militaristic whale.

Intrigue begins. The boy finds an aloof RAF soldier Jack. (Jamie Campbell Bower) There are numerous close calls from Nazis similar to other films and suspicious glances from Michiel's father (Raymond Thiry) who happens to be mayor. Lakemeier acts like a kind of junior Jimmy Stewart in "Rear Window" often spying on his father's seemingly hidden activities. With his astonished face you can almost hear him exclaim in a 1940s American accent: "Gee Whiz! Dad's laughing with those Nazis! Gosh!" Like L.B. Jefferies too, Michiel is awfully sneaky, hiding baguettes or even a fresh killed rabbit to head off the trail. Nothing's too good for Jack.

Despite its somewhat serialized feeling, aimed for younger audiences, the actors hold their characters together and the Nazis are appropriately menacing just as you would expect. The head officer looks as scary as any artwork by Georg Grosz or Otto Dix--fat and formidable.
Martijin Lakemeier is the soul of the film: wide-eyed, pensive and stricken by sadness, you really feel him in this role and his acting goes beyond a Tv after-school special. In one scene, Michiel gets a ride in a Nazi Jeep, wearing a German helmet. And for a split second, you wince at the young boy's ambivalence in adventure, as if he, like Anakin Skywalker, might just turn to the Dark Side. It a genuine unconventional moment-- Ghastly and haunting.

The drama moves at a gallop. There are many covert looks through keyholes and door-cracks. The scenery is frost inducing, guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

The soundtrack at key moments seems heavily influenced by the "Dragon Tattoo" trilogy. We don't need to be cued by a foreboding score to be told when someone is villainous.

But wait this is for kids, no? And even if the action unfolds in a tumble as in an old "Lone Ranger" serial, "Winter in Wartime" still should be of interest for young historians, hungry for a war account of a father, a son and their shifty uncle.

Write Ian at

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Week of June 17 to June 23 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Summer is upon us, and the Tropic has livin’ is easy fare.

Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is a charming and romantic crowd pleaser, held over for another week. Follow the adventures of Gil, a wannabe novelist, wandering the streets of the French capital and longing for the Golden Age of the Twenties, until it comes true. As he hobnobs with Ernest (spouting Hemingway prose), Scott and Zelda, and Gertrude Stein, he falls in love with a woman who longs for the Belle Époque. And so it goes in this story of grass is greener time travel, where the only flights are of fancy.

BRIDESMAIDS has been touted as the woman’s answer to The Hangover, and there is a superficial similarity. A wedding is looming, and like the groom and his buddies, the bride and her BFF’s are in for a little fun. But the girls are more into shopping than shagging, and Las Vegas is out of reach. If you’re a Saturday Night Live fan, you’ll recognize Maya Rudolph as the bride and Kristin Wiig (who also co-wrote the script) as the maid of honor in this sharp, funny comedy about female bonding and, … if I can say it, bitching. It’s raunchy in places, because director Paul Fieg and producer Judd Apatow insisted on inserting a little barf-a-rama. But that helps assure that the guys in the audience will love it too, while the gals will just get it and laugh from beginning to end.

“Witty, raunchy and affecting, … it's a broad-gauge farce that examines sex from a woman's point of view, … a sophisticated comedy of manners.” (Wall St. Journal) “A film of great hilarity, humanity, idiosyncrasy and grade-A, eyebrow-singeing raunch.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

Want more adventure? How about PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES? Johnny Depp is back as Captain Jack Sparrow, now searching for the Fountain of Youth, while dealing with the machinations of the lovely Angelica (Penelope Cruz), Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). “This is the perfect summer movie and perhaps the best Pirates of them all.” (Box Office Magazine)

Or would you like something that gives your mind a bit more of a workout? A speed-dating romance turns to noir mystery in THE DOUBLE HOUR, a movie from the Italian giallo (yellow) genre, so named because they were originally based on pulp-novel thrillers. An Italian security guard meets a Russian immigrant chambermaid, love blossoms, crime intervenes, and the plot twists and turns. Winner of the Best Italian Film at the Venice Film Festival, “the Double Hour draws on classic film noir and such Freudian freakouts as Hitchcock’s Vertigo.” (Washington Post) It “leaves you wishing for an extra 20 minutes of diabolical mind games; you don’t want it to end.” (New York Times)

And to top it all off, a new Summer of Fun Cool and Classic Movie Series, selected by our hip and cool projectionist Dan Schwab, begins this Monday. The opening film is THE BIG LEBOWSKI, the Coen brother’s wild tale of “The Dude” Lebowski’s (Jeff Bridges) mistaken identity escapades as he tries to outsmart a couple of kidnappers using a brain so fogged by drink and dope that we can only expect a fiasco. And, happily, we’re not disappointed. It’s a “golden hunk of totally unique celluloid from the versatile Brothers Coen.” (

Full schedules and info at or
Comments, please, to

Bridesmaids (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Men have had an unfair monopoly on indie-produced "raunchy" comedies.
That is until now.

Kristin Wiig of "Saturday Night Live" co-wrote and stars in this comedy about a well-meaning goofy baker Annie Walker, trying to make sense of her life in a marriage-based society. Kristen Wiig has a wonderful comic persona. Annie is like a female Steve Carell character: self
deprecating but also brutally frank and full of taboo. In her attitude and zany movement, at times more slapstick than slapstick, she resembles a young Carol Burnett. Wiig fills the screen with her earnest quirky presence, translating the Judd Apatow inspired humor for a female audience.

Right from the get-go, we see Annie face obstacle after obstacle: a selfish and egotistical boy friend with no sensitivity, (John Hamm) an out of business cake shop and a best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) who grows increasingly distant.

It doesn't take much to know that Annie is in for it.

Again and again, the comedy arises from Annie, gangly and slightly spaced out wanting to do the right thing. Then when she realizes she can't, she just says the Hell with it. The joy is in watching Wiig let go.

Aside from the bathroom sequence which could have been cut without any lessening of impact, the film remains consistent throughout, getting its laugh from human interaction rather then cheap pratfalls. The bridal shower scene alone is destined to be a classic of its kind. As soon as Kristen Wiig heads for the chocolate fountain even the late Luis Bunuel himself might have started smirking for all his ridicule in disgust regarding the Bourgeoisie. The Paris facades in this film have to be seen to be believed.

A stand out performance is Melissa McCarthy ( Tv's Mike & Molly) as the butch deadpan Megan. Not since John Waters has there been a character portrayed so outrageously but yet so sincere in the human comedy.

The film directed by Paul Feig bears a strong narrative progression from the films of producer Judd Apatow: A zany and childish soul must own up to her errors. The ways of Raunch in this film and in others, notably "Knocked Up" and " The 40 Year Old Virgin" are paved with the best of adolescent intentions. This is Apatow's trademark and we get it. Through Kirsten Wiig's fresh writing however, this seasoned coming- into-age tale has some dazzling curves.

Write Ian at

Double Hour (Rhoades)

“Double Hour”
Is an Italian Puzzler

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Years ago I drove down from Innsbruck, Austria, to Turin, Italy. The rolling countryside and bottlebrush trees were picturesque. Many of the city’s elegant palazzos were built by Sicilian architect Filippo Juvarra, who modeled them on the Baroque style of Versailles. The city is the known as the “Automobile Capital of Italy.” The mysterious Shroud of Turin is ensconced here.
An Italian romantic thriller called “The Double Hour” (“La doppia ora”) takes place in Turin.

With all the twists and turns in this neo-noir film, it could have been called “The Triple Hour” or even “The Quadruple Hour.”

Here we have a former cop who is trying to meet a girlfriend through speed dating – that wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am production line of quick introductions. Our guy Guido (Filippo Timi) meets Sonia (Kseniya Rappoport), a Slovenian maid at a local hotel. As the couple gets to know each other better, they drive to the countryside for a romantic outing. But Sonia’s murky past emerges, and nothing turns out to be as it seems.

Sonia: Do you bring all the women here?

Guido: You’re the first.

Sonia: Why me?

Why indeed.

First-time director Giuseppe Capotondi keeps you guessing. Although nothing is quite as it seems, everything ends up making perfect sense. Yes, this Hitchcockian psychological thriller borrows from lots of other films (“Dressed to Kill,” “Blow Out,” etc.) but to good effect.
You’ve seen bearded Filippo Timi in the smaller role of Fabio in George Clooney’s “The American” and as Benito Mussolini in “Vincere.” Kseniya Aleksandrovna Rappoport is a Russian actress who has starred in such Italian films as “The Man Who Loves” and “The Unknown Woman.” Their chemistry is electric, like competing contestants on a quiz show. The subjects: Crime, murder, and doomed romance.

Better see it now in the subtitled Italian version. Producer Nicola Giuliano reports lots of interest in a Hollywood remake. This is a trip to Turin you’ll find worth taking.
[from Solares Hill]

Pirates of the Caribbean (Rhoades)

“Pirates of the Caribbean”
Drinks from the
Fountain of youth

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Avast, maties! It’s time again to set sail on stranger tides with Captain Jack Sparrow – that mascara-wearing, swashbuckling cinematic alter ego of A-List actor Johnny Depp.

This is the summer blockbuster that will attempt to unseat all those comic book movies. Despite the fact that this pirate adventure is based on a Disneyland theme park ride.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is the fourth in the film franchise created by Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer (“National Treasure,” “Prince of Persia”). For the next few weeks it will be flying the black flag and plundering audiences at the Tropic Cinema.

This time around Captain Jack (Depp) meets up with a lady from his past – Angelica, the supposed daughter of Blackbeard (Penelope Cruz). Before he knows it, he finds himself aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge, sailing off with Blackbeard himself (Ian McShane) in search of the Fountain of Youth. The ship is crewed by despicable pirates and hulking zombies, so you can count on plenty of swordfights.

Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom didn’t make it this trip, but you won’t miss them. Penélope Cruz (Academy Award-winner for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) freshens up the storyline and Ian McShane’s ferocious Blackbeard drives the nail-biting action. Plus you’ll find Geoffrey Rush (“The King’s Speech”) and Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones) along for the adventure. Sam Claflin provides an interesting footnote as a studly priest. And watch for a surprise cameo by Dame Judi Dench.

Blackbeard is driven in his quest by a prophecy that he will be killed by a one-legged man. And Captain Barbossa (Rush) is now limping along on a peg leg like an ersatz Long John Silver. Can Jack Sparrow intercede?

Along the way our seafarers encounter mermaids (Gemma Ward and Astrid Berges-Frisbey, in
particular) and assorted sea monsters as Blackbeard races to beat the English and Spanish armadas to the miraculous Fountain of Youth.

Shucks, all they had to do was drive up A1A to St. Augustine.

Directed by Rob Marshall (“Academy Award-winner for “Chicago”), this fun-filled outing was shot in 3-D. Fans are hailing “On Stranger Tides” as better than “Pirates 2 and 3,” and I have to agree in that this telling is not so bogged down with sub plots and interweaving stories.
Johnny Depp is in rare form, his Captain Jack Sparrow full of vim and vigor. But Rush’s Captain Barbossa has many of the good lines. Nonetheless, we’re back to the tongue-in-cheek, half-con-man half-fierce-pirate that Depp does so well.

Feisty Penélope Cruz’s Angelica is a good foil for Depp’s Sparrow (He tells her, “If you had a sister and a dog ... I’d choose the dog”) despite the fact that she was preggers during the filming – hence those full-flounced dresses.

Moviegoer Alert: Stay on till after the credits for a bonus scene. And Hans Zimmer's marvelous score must be noted, particularly worth hearing in Dolby 7.1 surround sound.

Johnny Depp has it made as an actor: There’s sure to be another sequel or two in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. And Tim Burton can’t seem to make a movie without Depp as its star (witness: “Edward Scissorhands,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Alice in Wonderland,” et al.). So we can forgive him the occasional side trip like “The Tourist.” The guy deserves a little variety.

As for “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” you’ll have to see the movie to discover whether Blackbeard drinks from the fountain of Youth or not. But this fourth film in the franchise seems to have taken a sip.
[from Solares Hill]

Bridesmaids (Rhoades)

Does “Bridesmaids”
Share a Secret Laugh?

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m pretty sure this is a secret that mothers hand down to their daughters that men are never supposed to know: There’s an Unwritten Rule for weddings that the bride must choose dresses for her bridesmaids that are ugly in order to make herself stand out as beautiful.

Why else would otherwise attractive young women subject themselves to wearing matching dresses that are shaped like rutabagas or ill-fitted cocktail garb, yards of fabric in garish colors like eggplant, banana, sea foam, and morning mist?

In the comedy “Bridesmaids” – currently marching down the aisle at the Tropic Cinema – we meet Annie (Kristen Wiig) who is Maid of Honor at her best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding.
Annie’s experiences in giving her gal pal a proper send-off makes for a funny plot – not unlike a female version of “The Hangover.” And you can count on plenty of giggles, because “Bridesmaids” was produced by that laugh factory known as Apatow Productions. You’ll recall that Judd Apatow gave us such comedic gems as “Knocked Up,” “Superbad,” “Pineapple Express,” and “Get Him to the Greek.”

Here the girls travel to Vegas (sound familiar?) for a bachelorette party that “none of them will forget…or remember!”

This all-girls comedy makes a good starring vehicles for Wiig and Rudolph, two faces that are familiar to fans of TV’s “Saturday Night Live.”

You recently saw Wiig in “MacGruber” and “Paul.” And heard her voice in “Despicable Me” and “How to Train Your Dragon.”

And you also saw Rudolph in “MacGruber” and “Grown Ups.” As well as heard her in “Shek the Third.”
A sad note, the late actress Jill Clayburgh makes her final appearance in “Bridesmaid.” She was nominated for Academy Awards for her roles in “An Unmarried Woman” and “Starting Over.”
Don’t expect “Bridesmaids” to produce any Oscar nods, but do count on a few belly laughs. Maybe the women in the audience will laugh a little harder than the men – but I suspect that’s because they are secretly in on the joke.
[from Solares Hill]

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Week of June 10 to June 16 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

     The Tropic has shown every Woody Allen movie since 1999. He’s a unique phenomenon, the Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken, Jr. of directors, stepping up to the page and screen every year and giving us his best shot. He always has the finest actors at his disposal and he always brings a New York neurotic sensibility to his screenplays. Some may have been a little weak, but the great ones make up for it. Who can forget Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), a trilogy which would have put him into the directors’ hall of fame even if he had never done anything else? But the last decade hasn’t been his best, with only Vicky Cristina Barcelona standing out, and younger audiences might be wondering what all the Woody Allen fuss is about.
     MIDNIGHT IN PARIS  provides the answer. Gil (Owen Wilson) is an American writer in Paris, looking for his muse. He finds it in a time warp that transports him back to the golden twenties of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. This technique of having “real” characters interact with fantasy ones is a bit of a Woody Allen shtick, ever since the real Marshall McLuhan stepped into an argument in Annie Hall to validate Woody’s point of view. “If life were only like this,” Woody’s character said, turning to the audience. And that’s just the feeling that Gil has, wandering off each night to hobnob with his legendary friends and drink from their cup of creativity.
     The result is “loving and wistful and often hysterically funny” (San Francisco Chronicle), a “beguiling and then bedazzling new comedy” (Wall St. Journal), “the best Allen movie in 10 years, or maybe even close to 20.” (Movieline).
     If you’d rather go further back in time, THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER, is a period drama set in 16th century France. Marie de Mezieres (Melanie Thierry), the woman who becomes the Princess, is a wealthy and beautiful heiress, forced into an arranged marriage to gain a title for her family. This is old-fashioned filmmaking, full of rich detail and battlefield combat during this period of religious civil war between Catholics and Protestants. Called “the finest Western you’ll see this year” for its horseback action, and for the well-developed love conflict among the Princess’ admirers, who include her learned tutor, her former lover, and her husband. “Epic and intimate, historical and contemporary, moving and thought-provoking, the impressive The Princess of Montpensier has something for all and sundry.” (L.A. Times)
     To go from the sublime to the ridiculous, you could just sit in your seat after seeing this lush French gem, and watch BLANK CITY, which is sharing the screen in The George Theater. This documentary, in contrast to the superb production values and sumptuous environs of The Princess, is about the New York film underground of the 1970’s and 1980’s, a world of gritty, hand-held realism in a city covered in graffiti and trash. Not New Wave, but, they say, No Wave. Jim Jarmuch, Deborah Harry, John Waters, Steve Buscemi and many more tell it like it was … and it was something to behold! “Manages to conjure a glorious and grungy bygone past without fetishizing it as a golden age.” (New York Times)
     Rounding out the program are a couple of Hollywood popcorn hits. THOR is the superhero adventure of a Norse warrior god who has fallen to earth – quite an awesome dude. And RIO is the animated successor to Ice Age, now set in tropical Brazil. And held over are Steve Carrell in EVERYTHING MUST GO, and Reese Witherspoon in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS.
     And the opera season scores another hit with Verdi’s MACBETH, live from the Royal Opera House in London.
     Full info and schedules at or
     Comments, please, to

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
     Just when you thought his mascara would be running about now, Jack Sparrow is back in another "Pirates" sequel. It's number four but who's counting? You can't keep this pirate down prancing about to sandbar to sandbar, in search of the mythic fountain of youth. Johnny Depp doesn't disappoint and keeps us watching. Even though Jack Sparrow doesn't do anything new here. He rolls his eyes and sways and sashays. He wiggles his whiskers as only Jack Sparrow can. As Depp rolls and moves within this salty cartoon, he not only plays a part, but he is Sparrow. Seeing Depp is a joy. His closeups alone are a study in cinematic allure--within every bead or bauble dangling from his gnarly braids, we are transfixed. His pirate antics may not always be Classic, but they are alluring and Chaplinesque. Well worth admission.
     Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones does a surprisingly good turn as Sparrow's Dad.
     "Have you ever been to the fountain?" Sparrow asks.
     "Could a face like this ever have visited the fountain of youth?" replies Richards.
     It is the best line in the film.
     Sure the swordplay gets repetitive. But this time there is Penelope Cruz as Blackbeard's daughter. Not to mention the fearsome Blackbeard himself played by veteran villain actor Ian Mcshane. It's all in the beard and Blackbeard has the fuses to match. Literally.The film has some pointed moments too. There is a young clergyman on board (Sam Claifin) who always brings out the briny sarcasm from Sparrow at his dry best. A pious pirate he's not and thankfully so. That's where all the "Goodie-goodies" go. Jack prefers a "believe as needed" existence. Even serious Sam Harris would find an irreligious chuckle here.
     Disney better watch it.
     What really sells the film, though, are the mermaids. They are voluptual with melting eyes. And by far, the best depiction of mermaids that I've ever seen on film. They would have painter Lord Leighton running for the sea. These mermaids are not Ariel from the famous animated film, they have meat on their bones and vexing smiles that are all business.
     "On Stranger Tides" has enough arabesques of action and silly swills to make you want to lean into The Pirate's Life even after all these yeasty years of seeing a familiar story.Depp is a master of movement and boozy balance.
     Once again, as his beloved Jack Sparrow, Depp's sargassum sojourns make the pirate a paradise.
     Write Ian at

The Princess of Montpensier (Brockway)

The Princess of Montpensier
Zounds! I see melodrama in velvet. No I'm not still writing about an 80s Neo -punk band, from "Blank City", but rather a new period piece that owes a debt to Jane Eyre. "The Princess of Montpensier", is a romance that gives a pastoral painterly feel to the incarnadine religious wars of the 16th century, between the Catholics and Huguenots. Although the film addresses some hysteria of this bloody conflict, complete with plenty of scarlet eviscerations that bloom like violets on emerald fields, the film is more a dreamy teen romance of star crossed love than a study of war.

The film stars Melanie Thierry as Marie. Marie is red haired, haunting and vivacious. Thierry fills the screen with all the otherworldly charisma of a pre-Raphaelite model. Marie is enamored with the Duke de Guise, (Gaspard Ulliel) who bears a striking resemblance to Salvador Dali but she is of course pressured by her family to marry a clean cut dullard of a Prince. (Gregoire Leprince Ringuet).

There is the usual swordplay here as we have come to expect accompanied by scores of brocaded parries and perfumed effronteries. But just when you thought this film was all Alexandre Dumas, men plunge more swords through the heart than any Hammer vampire production. And when the Musketeers lovers embrace, its no accident that you might think of a "Twilight" film. Goodness knows there is enough eyeliner.

A lot of back and forth occurs with much pensive, pining expressions from virtually everyone. There is a moment of humor regarding a not so private bedroom scene in which the put upon Marie utters "one mousey squeak". Alas, the prince is no lover. He has all the magnetic allure of a Pee-wee Herman clothed in the Restoration.

Although period piece devotees will find themselves well pleased, Melanie Thierry is the solo surprise for her inner smoldering and frigid intent. The character becomes a libertarian Lafayette and she remains the glue that holds the film together. One look at Marie ripping the leg off of a freshly slaughtered pig and you'll be hooked and hung out to dry. Never has love seemed so carnivorous and desire so nil.

Write Ian at

Blank City (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Blank City

"Blank City" is the comprehensive documentary about underground New York in the 1980s. It highlights a flexible and plastic time in New York when the streets were seamy and smoky and morals were loose. Everyone was there and everyone did everything. The Pop Era was over but the specter of Andy Warhol was still visible. The city itself was at the edge of bankruptcy and a new Right Wing was coming to power. In response to this, young artists took to the streets to produce art for art's sake in a New York that was tightening its social mores like a noose that would eventually choke this neon bohemia. These energetic kids were big on ideas but short on money, living in abandoned or bombed out buildings on the East Side. And there were cockroaches.

Basquiat was alive and painting. Jim Jarmusch was a kid. Steve Buscemi was a snaggletooth paleface and John Lurie was a drowsy drifter. Blondie was, well, new. Together these kids became adult Little Rascals of Transgression. they worked off of each other, they traded and stole and actually made art with their hands. And they caused real mischief, most often with humor. The house band of the moment, according to the film were The Contortionists, a minimal electric band that sounded like a spasm. I wish they were still around. In the film James Chance talks fast as if he still has a bit of amphetamine whimsy left in him. Thank Goodness.

The film does a thorough job of explaining the period's roots and theories. Filmmaker Amos Poe is here talking about his start, as are the Bs: Scott and Beth. John Waters makes yet another routine appearance in an art house documentary (always seeming both sophisticated and transgressive, to his credit.)

At times the film seems a bit too academic with a lot of quirky talking heads reminiscing. But the film's footage of Chris Parker, star of Jarmush's first feature as he walks about a desolate street is startling.

My favorite part of the film is Nick Zedd. Tall and gaunt, he is unapologetic and smirking as he talks of making his gory anti-government films. I have yet to see a Zedd film, but he has my respect for such titles as "Geek Maggot Bingo" And Lydia Lunch was in Divine-type roles that were as potent as John Waters. What a literal Bombshell.

Although "Blank City" is conventional in its format, the characters of Chance, Zedd and Lunch (how about that, for the name of a transgressive diner?) makes this encylopedia of Kook watchable.
Does anyone know where I can find The Contortionists on iTunes?

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Midnight in Paris (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Midnight in Paris

"Midnight in Paris" is Woody Allen's personal fairy tale. For all its pristine Parisienne romanticism, its folksy cafes, its immaculate boulevards and its sparkling rain spattered streets, the setting may as well be Allen's beloved Manhattan Village. Like "Sesame Street" this a cutesy vision. There is no dischord here, no dirt, no homeless beggars or grime. This is Allen's Disney.
So begins this light Summer Idyll, as close to eye candy as Woody Allen gets.

Gil (Owen Wilson) plays a conflicted screenwriter about to get married to an energetic blonde Inez (Rachel McAdams). There is only one obstacle as this is a Woody Allen film: Gil is more interested in the bohemian history of Paris than the social flutterings of his fiancee.

During one family outing he begs off and wanders the historic Paris streets. Bells chime. A ghostly yellow auto from the 1920s arrives. Gil's adventure begins.

Here is Scott (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda (Alison Pill), Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). Gil is hesitant and bumbling, but he shows a boyish charm and just like Allan Felix in 1972's "Play It Again, Sam", Gil is at home when talking to living ghosts. Gil becomes consumed with showing his novel to Hemingway, who spouts off automatic passages from his well known novels. He says things like "grace under pressure" and talks about death and bullfighting. He seems little more than a self important hologram. But this is part of the fun. Ernest is so earnest in his dialogue that he makes for many chuckles. As does the amphetamine butterfly Zelda and the anguished Scott.

Adrien Brody plays Dali who appears to have the most fun with his rolling Rs and ecstatic eyes. Yes, it is a bestiary of antique celebrities, all of whom are only slightly more than caricature and some past artists are mere doodles, but it is sincere and heartfelt doodling. Easy on the eyes.

When Gil gets back to the present, neurotic conflict ensues. He wants to stay and write while Inez only wants to go from event to event accompanied by the know- it-all- square, Paul (Michael Sheen) who echoes the roles usually played by Tony Roberts. There is also a Republican father along with the status seeking mother of Inez thrown into the mix, providing the duly beloved comic tension. But it does seem as if we know what's coming before it happens. Such is Allen's anxious and folksy oeuvre that now is a cartoon within a cartoon. The style is so well travelled that we laugh anyway, given that this legendary auteur is so light and fast with his bohemian belly-laughs.

"Midnight in Paris" is indeed light fare. At times it even seems like this might be Allen's take on "Night at The Museum" given the sheer number of celebrities sketched about without any real conflicts. Yet it remains Owen Wilson's self deprecating performance throughout, coupled with his spaced out manner that makes this film and Paris in the Twenties worthwhile, if only for a brief trifle in time.

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Thor (Brockway)

KAABLAAM! Do you hear Odin? Not only will you hear him you'll see him played with honest kitsch by Anthony Hopkins in Kenneth Branagh's "Thor".
Branagh lives up to the expectations of the Marvel Norse realms using enough inky spectacle and quality schtick to satisfy any age demographic. The respected director, known for his classical Shakespeare does one daring thing here: he treats superheroes as if they are real players on our cosmic stage. And indeed they are.
Branagh spares no expense for the delight of our eyes. He puts us deep in the valley of New Mexico, echoing all the tension of Speilberg and then he takes us to an Art Deco phallic dream of an Asgard  beyond the clouds. Each realm is treated as very real. As in a dream or a Dali painting, each dimension is crystal clear. There is so much gold and solar sensationalism in set design that  Julie Taymor herself might well turn radioactive with envy.
The plot concerns Thor, delightfully played with humor and heart by Chris Hemsworth. Thor wants to protect his father's domain  with a preemptive strike against The Frost Giants who look like towering Satan creatures right out of Milton. Thor won't listen to the rationale of his dear old dad Odin, and he is cast out for  the Sin of pride and banished.
Scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) finds Thor and all his muscles in New Mexico while chasing some storms.
Then the fun starts. The freewheeling joy and the heart of the film is due to Hemsworth, who plays his ultra grandiose hero with enough naive charm and comedy, making the God of Thunder almost human. Here is a hero of the realms who fights leviathans two by two, but is no match for a taser. And Natalie Portman hits him with her all-terrain Humvee twice.
Thor speaks in abrupt formalities, drinks beer from huge steins and is both bemused and confused by the human world. The best thing about Thor: if he says he is going to do something he does it---no apologies, no regrets. 
Hemsworth has terrific timing. He knows when to ham it up and when to show the usual moral fortitude and make it authentic. Not since Christopher Reeve as Superman has there been such an entertaining mixture of camp and circumstance. Hemsworth is both boyish and adult in his portrayal and this strikes the perfect contrast for an archetypal comic of a fallen angel. 
The charm of the movie, whether you follow Marvel Comics or not, is Branagh's detail and his intent to give both Asgard and Earth equal validity with enough time and space for an entertaining story. The characters here are larger than life. But once our hero finds his huge arms  around the kitchen table making omelets, the effect is poignant and human.
Surrealist Paul Eluard famously said that "there is another world and it exists within this one." Watching Thor you will believe it. And you'll cheer with Portman's quoting of Arthur C. Clarke, that "magic is just science that we don't understand." 
Branagh makes it easy for us to cheer. But he also raises his Marvel Metal Gods to a semi- Shakespearean level. He makes us laugh in bold strokes, but we also are compelled by the human in our delinquent demigod. And in sympathy, right along with Thor and his mighty hammer, we can jump to our seats in a leap of faith.
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Midnight in Paris (Rhoades)

“Midnight In Paris”Is Ex-Pat Delight

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The Woodman – as fans of Woody Allen like to call him – had a longtime cinematic love affair with New York City. Witness: “Manhattan,” “Annie Hall,” even “Manhattan Murder Mystery.” IMO, among his best films.

Woody abandoned New York as fans abandoned him over his paterfamilias affair with his later wife Soon-Yi Previn. Unfortunately, his filmmaking never quite meshed with England (e.g. “Scoop,” “Cassandra’s Dream,” “You’ll Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger”). Or maybe the films lost their edge as the auteur grew too old to star in them himself. “I got too old to get the girl,” he said.

Perhaps his autobiographical films (well, inspired by his own neurotic sensibilities) lost their bearings without him in front of the camera as well as behind it.

But let’s go with the locale theory, for his latest film “Midnight In Paris” exhibits some of that old spark. He seems to find Paris as fascinating as he once found Manhattan. Seems he’s willing to forget foggy old London Town and focus on the City of Lights.

As usual, he has a large ensemble cast of stars and near-stars: Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams play a young couple – Gil and Inez – who go to Paris on business. Gil is an unhappy Hollywood screenwriter who wants to write a novel, but Inez and her friends put him down, making fun of the idea. This kinda bums him out.

While walking along the Parisian streets at midnight, Gil accepts a ride with a group of party-hardy strangers – only to find himself transported back to the 1920s, a “Golden Age” he has read about and daydreamed about.

And who does he bump into in this time warp? Yep, Ernest Hemingway (Carey Stoll) and Gertrude Stern (Kathy Bates). Not to mention F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel (Adrien Brody and Adrien de Van), Pablo Picasso and Henri Mattisse (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo and Yves-Antoine Spoto), Edgar Degas and Paul Gauguin, (François Rostain and Olivier Rabourdin), even that runt, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Vincent Menjou Cortes).

Marion Cotillard and Michael Sheen are along for the ride. And France’s first lady Carla Bruni appropriately enough does a cameo as a museum guide.

This is a grass-is-greener plot. Gil discovers there’s no place like, uh, the present.
Woody has toyed with this theme before in movies like “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” where Mia Farrow dreams of that imaginary world on the silver screen as a better place. Even in “Zelig,” our hero pops up Forrest Gump-like through a span of time, seeking a happy identity.
Let’s see if Woody makes another film in Paris. This one is actually a co-production between U.S. and Spanish backers. It’s a good ex-patriot substitute for New York, I suppose. At least Hemingway & Company thought so.

Ironically, the only appearance three-time Oscar-winner Woody Allen ever made at the Academy Awards was in 2002, when following 9/11 he pleaded with producers to continue filming their movies in New York City.

Ah, Woody, if you’d follow your own advice.
[from Solares Hill]

Blank City (Rhoades)

“Blank City” Sure Ain’t Hollywood

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I used to eat lunch in a little café just south of New York’s East Village where filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and the Demme brothers hung out. I admired Jarmusch’s “Mystery Train” and “Night on Earth.” Every now and then I’d nod to them.

After high school, Jarmusch enrolled in Northwestern University’s School of Journalism, but was asked to leave for neglecting to take any journalism courses. He relocated to New York’s Columbia University with the intention of becoming a poet. Instead, he did an exchange program in France where he was introduced to the Cinémathèque Française. He came back to America and entered New York University’s Film School. Unimpressed with his work, NYU did not award him a degree. His first feature-length film was “Permanent Vacation,” an outgrowth of his NYU final-year project, filmed for about $12,000 using misdirected scholarship funds.

Some critics credit Jim Jarmusch with igniting the American independent film movement with his “Stranger Than Paradise.”

His films along with those of his friend Amos Poe are the basis for the so-called No Wave filmmaking movement on New York’s Lower East Side.

That gave way to the Cinema of Transgression, an underground film movement noted for its shock value and humor. This loosely knit group of filmmakers included Nick Zedd, Beth B, Lydia Lunch, and Richard Kern, among others.

French director Céline Danhier captures these two underground film movements in her new documentary, “Blank City.” It’s currently poking audiences in the eye at the Tropic Cinema.
You’ll meet Jim Jarmusch and Alan Poe, Lizzie Borden and Charlie Arhern. Also featured is Steve Buscemi, John Lurie, Thurston Moore, Ann Magnuson, John Waters, and Richard Kern.

Back in the ’80s I met filmmaker Richard Kerns (“The Right Side of My Brain,” “Fingered”) at my friend Eric Kroll’s New York photography studio, a large room plastered floor to ceiling with erotic photographs of models in corsets and ten-inch heels or defiantly nude. Kern was a lanky guy, just starting to do still photography in addition to his short avant-garde films. Eric loaned him some models, one being a pixie-haired blonde named Susan Smith, a do-anything girl who served as a muse to both men. I remember when Kern and Eric Kroll went to Russia together to do a photography book for Taschen, but barely escaped the country without being arrested.

Also featured in Danhier’s documentary is Deborah Harry of the band Blondie. I met her in Eric Kroll’s studio too. I have a framed photograph of her dancing madly on his roll-paper backdrop, one boob bouncing out of her low-cut black dress.

My East Village apartment was located on the edge of the bombed-out landscape that provided the backdrop for many No Wave and Cinema of Transgression films. Their style was minimalist, with stark images and gritty cityscapes, starring alternative culture characters in loosely told semi-true stories. These low-budget films were often shot using cheap 8 mm cameras.
The Cinema of Transgression Manifesto states (in part): “We openly renounce and reject the entrenched academic snobbery which erected a monument to laziness known as structuralism and proceeded to lock out those filmmakers who possessed the vision to see through this charade. We refuse to take their easy approach to cinematic creativity; an approach which ruined the underground of the sixties when the scourge of the film school took over. Legitimizing every mindless manifestation of sloppy movie making undertaken by a generation of misled film students, the dreary media arts centers and geriatric cinema critics have totally ignored the exhilarating accomplishments of those in our rank – such underground invisibles as Zedd, Kern, Turner, Klemann, DeLanda, Eros and Mare, and DirectArt Ltd, a new generation of filmmakers daring to rip out of the stifling straight jackets of film theory in a direct attack on every value system known to man. We propose that all film schools be blown up and all boring films never be made again. We propose that a sense of humor is an essential element discarded by the doddering academics and further, that any film which doesn’t shock isn’t worth looking at.”

While Céline Danhier’s documentary may not qualify as No Wave or Cinema of Transgression in itself, it introduces those films of the 1970s and 1980s that do.
[from Solares Hill]

Rio (Rhoades)

“Rio” Takes You On A Brazilian Odyssey

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Sometimes moviegoing blurs into a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and memories. Seeing the remake of “Arthur” reminded me of its Oscar-winning theme song (remember that line: “When you get caught between the moon and New York City”?) … which in turn reminded me of the song’s co-writer Peter Allen, a former hubby of Liza Minnelli … and Peter Allen used to sing a rousing version of “I Go to Rio.”

Free association, as the shrinks call it.

I went to Rio. That is, I caught the 3D animated movie “Rio,” which is now playing at Tropic Cinema.

This delightful odyssey gives us a blue macaw who lives in a bookstore in Moose Lake, Minnesota. Blu (voiced by Social Networker Jesse Eisenberg) is a rare bird, the last male of his species. Alas.

But when a female Spix macaw is spotted in South America, scientists decide to fly Blu down for a meet-and-greet (if you know what I mean).

Jewel (voice by Anne Hathaway) is the object of Blu’s affections, but first he must win her heart. This quest includes overcoming his fear of flying, escaping from game poachers, and surviving in the wild.

The “wild” (of course) is Rio de Janeiro, that party city in Brazil.
Along the way they meet a colorful cast of animated characters – a yellow canary (Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx) who wears a bottle cap as a hat, a red-crested cardinal (Black Eyed Peas singer, a toucan (comedian George Lopez), and a pudgy bulldog (funnyman Tracy Morgan). You also have a couple of Canadian geese (voiced by sardonic Wanda Sykes and droll Jane Lynch).
Blu and Jewel are being chased by the poachers and their sulphur-crested cockatoo (Jermaine Clement).

A group of thieving marmosets are led by King Mauro (Brian Baumgartner), who wears bracelets on each arm and a man’s gold watch as a belt. Administering to them is Doc Mauro (witty Neil Patrick Harris).

Toss in Blu’s human owner Linda (Leslie Mann), add a bird scientist she admires (Rodrigo Santoro), and stir in a helpful Brazilian teenager (Jake T. Austin) to complete the stew.
Brazilian-born director Carlos Saldanha (he gave us those animated “Ice Age” movies) considers “Rio” his dream project.

While Saldanha grew up in Rio de Janeiro, actor Jamie Foxx carped that he’d never actually been there (although he admits to “exploring websites that feature bevies of barely-clad Brazilian girls”).

Pays to complain: Along with co-stars Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, and, director Carlos Saldanha took Foxx to Rio de Janeiro for the movie’s Brazilian premiere. Apparently enjoying all those girls from Ipanema, Foxx jokingly tweeted that he’s canceling his life and not leaving Brazil.

Anne Hathaway is a bit more demure about it. She told Brazilian reporters she loves the film’s “message that you can learn how to spread your wings and fly.”
She has done that.

My friend Elaine’s son went to the same New Jersey high school as Anne Hathaway. “Anne came over to the house a lot. She was such a nice girl, always in a play. She sang well too.”
Her high-school performance as Winnifred in “Once Upon a Mattress” gained her a Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award nomination for Best Performance by a High School Actress.
At 16 she performed with the All-Eastern U.S. High School Honors Chorus at Carnegie Hall. Three days later she was cast in the Fox television series “Get Real,” sending her off on an acting career.

You’ve seen her in “The Princess Diaries,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” and “Rachel Gets Married” (which won her a Best Actress Oscar nod).

In 2008 Hathaway’s then-boyfriend Raffaello Follieri came under investigation for fraud, accused of misappropriating $50 million earmarked to buy up various Roman Catholic churches – a scandal that came to be known as Vati-Con. Breaking off her relationship with Follieri, she’s now dating actor Adam Shulman, who attended the Brazilian premiere with her.

Anne Hathaway admits she’s nothing like the playing-hard-to-get bird in “Rio.” She says, “For me, I’m a wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve, fall in love-at-first-sight and go with it sort of girl. If you’re with someone who enjoys having people play hard to get, maybe that’s the way you’re supposed to do it then. I don’t know.”

So what happens when a domesticated macaw from a small-town in Minnesota meets up with a fiercely independent mate in Rio de Janeiro? Well, feathers fly.
[from Solares Hill]

Thor (Rhoades)

“Thor” Wields His
Mighty Hammer

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Another Marvel Comics superhero gets his couple of hours on the screen this week in “Thor.” The title character is based on Norse mythology.

In Norse polytheism, Thor is a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, destruction, fertility, healing, and the protection of mankind. And now blockbuster summer movies.

May is the official beginning of the summer movie season, always peppered with blockbusters based on comic books. This year is no different, other than the dominance of Marvel superheroes.

“Thor” leads the pack, soon to be followed by “Captain America” and “The Avengers.” The first two leading to the third. The Avenger’s is a superheroes gang in which Thor (Chris Helmsworth) and Cap (Chris Evans) are members. So are Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.). Even the Hulk (this time around, Mark Ruffalo).

The new Thor is Chris Helmsworth, a 27-year-old Aussie who towers 6’ 3” in stocking feet. He is blonde and muscled and, well, god-like.

Chris studied American Dialect at Screenwise Film & TV School for Actors in Sydney Australia. This, so he could wind up playing a Norwegian God of Thunder.

You haven’t seen much of him on the silver screen, although he did play Capt. James Kirk’s dad in the “Star Trek” reboot. He’s mostly done TV, but that’s about to change.

The “Thor” movie recounts how the young god’s dad Odin (Anthony Hopkins) kicks him out of the house, uh, I mean out of Asgard. Exiled to Earth, with little more baggage than his mighty hammer Mjolnir, he is captured by a team of scientists led by Jane Foster (recent Oscar-winner Natalie Portman). When he tries to wield his hammer – the source of his power – he finds that he’s unworthy. But, yes, he proves himself by facing off with the Destroyer to save Jane.
When I was publisher of Marvel Comics back in the mid-90s, Thor’s hammer (okay, a movie prop) sat atop a bookcase in my Number 2’s office. Now the COO of Marvel, Jim “Ski” Sokolowski still has the hammer.

“Thor” is playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Marvel is betting big time that we’ll pay to see both “Thor” and the upcoming “Captain America,” just to be prepared for “The Avengers” (that upcoming summer blockbuster where a gaggle of your favorite superheroes get together in one movie). And they’re right – I swear by Odin’s beard.
[from Solares Hill]

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Week of June 3 to June 9 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann
     You know Will Ferrell, of course, from a decade of shows on Saturday Night Live and films like Talledega Nights. And if you’re at all literate, you know Raymond Carver, the quintessential short story writer. Director Dan Rush has joined these disparate talents in EVERYTHING MUST GO, the story of Nick Halsey, a man who has hit bottom.
     There’s not much to Carver’s brief story, Why Don’t You Dance (, but writer/director Rush has fleshed it out in a script that seems made for a dissolute demeanor that comes easily to Ferrell -- not comic, but not exactly sad. Nick has lost his job, his wife, his car, even his cell phone. All he has is a couple of six packs of Pabst; a lawn full of furniture to sell; a sympathetic, and pretty, pregnant neighbor (Rebecca Hall – Please Give, Vicky Cristina Barcelona); and a local kid who wants to help out -- and learn to play baseball.
     Sounds like a bad situation, but one could do worse. And Nick seems to sense that, as bad as things are, he’s got nowhere to go but up. “Quiet, acutely observed, based in everyday events and ordinary moments… Rush's script and direction are exemplary” and Ferrell is “dazzling.”
     What is HENRY’S CRIME? Well, there’s the bank robbery that Henry Torne (Keanu Reeves) was jailed for, even though he wasn’t guilty. And there’s the bank robbery, of the same bank, that he decides to commit just to even the score. Don’t take it too seriously. This isn’t a heist movie like Inside Man or Topkapi, but a tongue-in-cheek romantic-heist comedy. Reeve’s usual passive style – he’s working as a toll-taker -- is countered by an antic James Caan – as his prison buddy and eventual robbery accomplice – and Vera Farmiga – as a two-bit, overacting stage actress. You see, there’s an old tunnel that goes from the theater, where Farmiga is rehearsing The Cherry Orchard, to the bank. And Reeves gets a part in the play to gain access to the tunnel, and maybe to Farmiga’s heart. As I say, don’t take it too seriously. “With a terrific cast… this is a fun comedy with irresistible heist and heart.” (Box Office Magazine)     

     Meanwhile, it’s going to be Gay Pride Week here in Key West (June 8-12), and the Tropic is doing its best to go with the theme. Most interesting to me is BEAUTIFUL DARLING, a documentary about the Warhol transgendered star Candy Darling. Drawing on footage of Candy performing on screen and off-Broadway, interviews with the likes of Fran Lebowitz, and readings from Candy’s letters and diaries by Chloë Sevigny, documentarian James Rasin has crafted a sympathetic portrait of this late Sixties icon who died tragically at age 29. It’s “a sad, lyrical reflection on the foolish worship of movie stars.” (New York Times)
     Or, if you’re looking for fun, KABOOM might be more your thing. Set on an unnamed Southern California campus, where the lead character Smith (Thomas Dekker) is of “undecided” sexuality, and avidly pursuing it, Kaboom is the latest from New Queer director Gregg Araki. It’s “an erotic blast of sinful flesh, fun and fantasy that you don't want to stop.” (Rolling Stone)
     On the Special Events calendar, AIDS Help is sponsoring a free mini festival of three films. On Wednesday it’s THE BOYS IN THE BAND – the classic play and then movie about AIDS in the 1970’s; on Thursday it’s MAKING THE BOYS – about the roots of the play and movie; and next Friday (June 10) it’s AND THE BAND PLAYED ON – carrying the story into the 1990’s.

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Beautiful Darling (Rhoades)

“Beautiful Darling”
Is Sweet As Candy

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My old friend Paul Morrissey – Andy Warhol’s manager and filmmaker – likes to tell the story of actress Holly Woodlawn going out to the Woodlawn Cemetery on the edge of New York and telling visitors that it’s the site of her family estate.

It’s not. And Woodlawn wasn’t even the real name of transvestite underground star Haroldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez Danhakl.

Woodlawn starred in Morrissey’s “Women In Revolt,” along with another Warhol Superstar, Candy Darling. A gender-bender performer like Woodlawn, Candy was born as James Lawrence Slattery.

Paul Morrissey gets angry that his old compatriot Andy Warhol gets credit for the films that Morrissey wrote and directed – titles like “Trash,” “Flesh,” “Heat,” and the aforementioned “Women In Revolt.” He often rants, “Andy was an idiot, he never had an original idea. He just did what people told him. I directed those movies, I discovered Holly and Candy and Joe Dallesandro.”

I remind him that he’s victim of his own genius. He attached Warhol’s names to those films back on the ’70s. Now he has to live with the results of his marketing ploy, sharing credit with the white-fright-wig pop artist Andy Warhol.

These so-called Warhol Superstars were a clique of New York personalities that Warhol (and Morrissey) promoted during the 1960s and early 1970s. After using them in movies and art, Warhol would declare them to be superstars and give them their “fifteen minutes of fame.”
“Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar” is a 2010 feature-length documentary about one of Warhol’s more popular peeps. Playing this week at the Tropic Cinema – as part of Key West’s Gay Pride celebration – it’s pulling back the curtains of Warhol’s Factory, telling all.

Jimmy Slattery grew up on Long Island where he watched old Hollywood movies and pretended to be his favorite stars, Joan Bennett and Kim Novak. After attending the DeVern School of Cosmetology, Candy emerged as he gave into his fascination with cross-dressing. Taking the train into Manhattan, Candy broke into the underground scene and started appearing in small plays. In one, she performed opposite a young unknown actor named Robert DeNiro.

The name went through several variations before sticking as Candy Darling. Holly Woodlawn recalled that the “name evolved from Hope Dahl to Candy Dahl and then to Candy Cane.” According to Woodlawn, “Darling adopted the name because a friend of hers affectionately called her ‘darling’ so often that it finally stuck.”

Warhol (along with Paul Morrissey) cast Candy Darling in “Women In Revolt.” The film was at first titled “Warhol’s Women,” but that would have been an affront to Morrissey’s ego. When Morrissey organized a band for Warhol called The Velvet Underground, one of its hits was the song “Candy Says.” Former band member Lou Reed featured Candy in his hit “Walk on the Wild Side.” And she’s mentioned in the Rolling Stones song “Citadel.”

Always dreaming of a Hollywood career, Candy went on to appear in “Klute” with Jane Fonda, “Lady Liberty” with Sophia Loren, and “Silent Night, Bloody Night.”

Written and directed by James Rasin, “Beautiful Darling” pays tribute to the blonde actress, tracing her career from off-off Broadway to the Warhol movies to being selected by Tennessee Williams to appear in his play “Small Craft Warnings.” Darling died of lymphoma at 29.
Actress Chloe Sevigny (TV’s “Big Love,” “The Brown Bunny”) provides the voice of Candy Darling in the documentary, reading from her letters and private diary. Vocal talent Patton Oswalt (“Ratatouille,” “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”) does the voices of Warhol and Truman Capote.

Sevigny is a good choice to lend her voice to this film. After appearing in “The Brown Bunny,” where she performed fellatio on screen, she defended her controversial performance, saying, “It’s a shame people write so many things when they haven’t seen it. When you see the film, it makes more sense. It’s an art film. It should be playing in museums. It’s like an Andy Warhol movie.”

Candy Darling would have approved.
[from Solares Hill]

Everything Must Go (Rhoades)

“Everything Must Go”
Settles In to Stay

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’m confused. The other day I saw a sign advertising an “Indoor Yard Sale.” What next? A patio sale in the living room? A tag sale with stickers?

The new Will Farrell film playing at the Tropic Cinema is called “Everything Must Go.” It’s the story of a man going through a bad divorce who decides to sell everything he owns. So he drags everything he owns into the front yard of his suburban home and holds a sale, lounging there on a lawn chair, reflecting on where his wife went wrong. His wife left him when he started drinking again, a relapsed alcoholic. As he meets people in his neighborhood, curious folk who come to browse over the remnants of his life, he’s inspired to start over … with the help of a new neighbor.

“Everything Must Go” is what we critics like to call a dramedy – a serious comedy. Sounds like a contradiction of terms, sort of like an “indoor yard sale.”

Will Farrell is one of those comedic actors (e.g. Bill Murray, Jim Carrey, et al.) who wants to demonstrate his range, to show people there’s more to him than just a few laughs. Farrell does a good job of proving that here. His performance is matched by Christopher Jordan Wallace, the 15-year-old son of the late rapper The Notorious B.I.G. and R&B singer Faith Evans. He plays a kid who helps with the yard sale.

Rebecca Hall and Laura Dern and Stephen Root and Michael Piña also populate this neighborhood, filmed mainly in Phoenix, Arizona.

Not much happens as Ferrell sleeps in his yard and wakes now and then to swap sad stories with the woman who lives next door.

The film is based on a short story called “Why Don’t You Dance” by the late Raymond Carver, a writer who knew the penalties of being a raging alcoholic. In the fall of 1973 he ran an Iowa Writers’ Workshop with noted author John Cheever, but admitted they did “more drinking than writing.” He finally turned his life around a few years later, thanks to AA. Lung cancer got him a decade later – the same year he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
His second wife, poet Tess Gallagher, whom he married six weeks before his death, was named as executor of his literary estate. She did not sell off his stuff in a yard sale.
[from Solares Hill] 

Beautiful Darling (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Beautiful Darling

James Slattery was Candy Darling or Candy Darling was James Slattery. Either way you look at it, "Beautiful Darling" is a welcome addition to the abundance of documentaries on Andy Warhol subjects and his vamping or vampirish ilk, known as "Factory People."
Candy Darling was a Warhol Superstar who starred in many films along with Hollywoodlawn and Viva. In his pre-Candy days he was a pretty boy known as Jimmie, but he wrote in his journal and studied Hollywood films. Jimmie sketched flowing drawings of Hollywood starlets. He studied the way women walked and moved and became a scientist in feminine illusion. Then seemingly in a flash, Jimmie transformed himself into Candy Darling, a lifelong ritual and a silver star who never interrupted her spaced out vamp.
The film goes into quite a bit of depth about the friendship between Candy and Jeremiah Newton, a young Edward Scissorhands-like kid with sad eyes. An arresting part of the film is the sight of Jeremiah, now corpulent instead of slender and the painstaking lengths he takes to makes sure Candy's ashes will not be disturbed: he types the cremation notice and produces the headstone. He digs the plot. Mr. Newton was deeply in love with Candy and its easy to see why. Candy was Mega-Monroe, more feminine than feminine.
There are the usual cast of characters here: Jackie Curtis, Hollywoodlawn, and stills of Capote. Andy himself comes across once again as a tinsel eyed Pinnochio, just watching and looking. Once the party was over, Andy couldn't care less about friendships. "No more chicks with dicks" is what he was reported to have said. 
The color of silver, or of Warhol himself has never seemed so hurtful. Candy, once a darling, was now never invited to Warhol's premieres.
Candy was never one to sit still, however, she starred in Tennessee Williams' Small Craft Warnings to rave reviews. If that wasn't enough she had glamour shots of herself taken in the hospital.
In the 70's, Candy made the word daring shy.
Jeremiah is the real star of the documentary. By his traveling through memory and parental discontent, he is fearless and undaunted. Even walking is hard for him and he stops at nothing in preserving his friend and giving her the proper silver shade.
Jeremiah sleeps and breathes with Candy. This documentary is as much a testament to an intimate friendship between a humble man and his best friend, as it is a story of a Warholian wonder.
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Kaboom (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Director Greg Araki (The Mysterious Skin) usually doesn't pull any punches. He has a sharp visual style, a supercharged pace and an ear for how young kids talk to each other. When he's at his best, he's right up there with Larry Clark (Kids), Quentin Tarrantino or even John Waters. When he's bad, he is a mess--a cinematic Nam June Paik with an attention disorder. At times, Araki treats his films like iPhones with too many apps.
Sadly this is the case with "Kaboom".
The film stars Thomas Dekker as Smith, a Keanu Reeves version of a college student who has a crush on his roommate Thor, played by Chris Zylka. Smith has strange apocalyptic dreams featuring a red dumpster and a long hallway or having sex with Thor. Even the dreams are not that interesting. Smith gets strange cards and messages like something out of "The Matrix" and a cult foretelling of Doom but it's not that important. At least it doesn't seem so. It becomes difficult to care. I even had an urge to write this review with text abbreviations, that is how trivial and tedious it seemed.
The film does do a good job of showing the hypermania of our sexual culture, of how students talk and relate in a purely sexual way. John Waters did the same thing in "A Dirty Shame" and I did enjoy parts of that film. In "Kaboom" though, there is no irreverence, just convention. But can a film that includes parts of  "Un Chien Andalou" be all bad? Almost. 
The best of the movie is its cinematography. Sizzling color. Big bold images. Soft porn popcorn! If only the film offered a little more, either in style or Sin. If Araki had just dropped the Cult aspect of the story and focused on the science fiction of sex in today's digitally distracted world this film could have been daring. There are moments of tone and dialogue that almost echo the quirky 1982 indie,  "Liquid Sky". But here, there is no salacious snicker or off-beat science fiction to go with the sex.  

Araki's latest Truth or Dare, is a Truth or Dud

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