Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Week of Sept. 29 to Oct. 6 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

The summer may be over technically, but it’s still in full swing at the Tropic, with plenty of light fare.

In WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER, fright movie star Anna Faris (Scary Movie) crosses over to rom-com. She’s a single girl looking for love, but unable to find Mr. Right. With too many accumulated past affairs, she’s alarmed when a women’s mag suggests she’s exhausted her life quota. Maybe she made a mistake in letting one of her former boyfriends slip away. As unlikely as that may be, she embarks on a quest to find them and try again, with the help of Colin, an attractive, philandering neighbor ((Chris Evans – Captain America: The First Avenger, who has no hesitance about flaunting his bod). And the movie unrolls with a series of guys who are either irredeemable or well-lost, like a gynecologist whom she dated for months, but who recognizes her only when she puts her feet up in the stirrups. Will she eventually wind up with Captain America? You’ll only know if you catch this end-of- summer fun flick.

If this tribute to female insecurity doesn’t do it for you, how about “a raucous celebration of male immaturity.” (A.O. Scott, New York Times) That would be OUR IDIOT BROTHER. Ned (Paul Rudd) is a sort of country bumpkin, forced to leave his pad in upstate New York and serially crash with his three sisters in the City -- a married yuppie mom (Emily Mortimer), a single careerist (Elizabeth Banks) and a hippie lesbian (Zooey Deschanel). As Aesop would agree, the simple country mouse is really smarter than his city mouse siblings. The movie works because of “the endless appeal of watching Rudd's lovable idiot run roughshod over the sophisticated New York mini-universe while winning the confidence and admiration of everyone around him.” (

Enough. Let’s get serious.

GUN HILL ROAD fills that bill. Enrique (Esai Morales) returns to his home in the Bronx after a long stint in prison, full of machismo, but determined to go straight and be a good family man for his wife and fifteen-year-old son Michael (Harmony Sanchez). Trouble is, the son is pre-op transsexual, shaving his body and going to clubs in drag. This is so far off Enrique's radar that at first he thinks Michael just needs a little male bonding – a trip to a baseball game or a prostitute. But the reality eventually hits, and it does not go down well. “Manages somehow to be gritty, delicate, in your face and nuanced at the same time.” (David Lewis, S.F. Chronicle)

The long awaited documentary TURTLE: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY is finally here. You might say it’s a local hero story, because the loggerhead turtle who is the focal point of the movie could have been born on one of our beaches. Like other nature films – March of the Penguins, The Last Lions – it tells a story through incredible natural footage, but also with shots in a specially constructed tank. The loggerheads might not be as beautiful as lions, or as cute as penguins, but their lives are in many ways a greater adventure. The life cycle followed by the film is, in real time, a twenty five year journey from the beaches of Florida to Africa and back, all to follow a two-hundred-million-year-old, instinct-bred path that only 1 in 10,000 survive. You can see them in local waters, or at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, after you bond with the species through the movie.

THE HELP and THE DEBT are held over, for those of you who missed them.

Exciting news. The theme for October’s Monday Classics is The Undead Are Fundead. Get it? Opening the series this Monday is SHAUN OF THE DEAD, the ultimate proof that the zombie genre, like its subject, will never die.

Full schedules and info at or
Comments, please, to

The Debt (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Debt

Watching "The Debt" the new espionage thriller by John Madden, is like watching an adventure matinee that you've seen before several times but can still enjoy the hell out of. This film has that kind of unconscious spirit. 
I think it's safe to say that most of us have seen this type of story before: the sexy resilient female agent who is hard as nails when she wants to be, hunting down an old Nazi doctor. Oh no, you're saying, not this again. It's the familiar landscape of "The Boys from Brazil" or "Marathon Man". But wait... it's still okay to hold your breath, because Helen Mirren as the star, still makes this historical Horrorshow compelling.
It's 1997 and Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) is gnarly, deep voiced and chain smoking. Like her male twin, Laurence Oliver, in   "The Boys from Brazil", Mirren has terrific presence, even though she plays a humdrum  role. Mirren is a bit like the songstress Marianne Faithfull: hardened, smoky, unapologetic and still sneaky.  Her Nazi - hunting days are over, but she is left with haunts after a botched kidnapping in trying to bring this evil man to justice.
Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen) is the Nazi We Love To Hate. Even when Vogel is sleeping he radiates Evil. There's just no hiding it. His Hannibal Lecter-like performance is satisfying in part because we Know what's going to happen. Practicing as a gynecologist, there is no mistaking Vogel's sinister past.

The solid performances and suspense keep your mind off the film's flaws. I didn't like the ramshackle old house that looked like a leftover set piece from "The Last House on the Left". Maybe I'm just being picky but it didn't seem believable. I doubt the agents from Mossad would chain a dangerous Nazi to an old kitchen floor. Such are the trappings of B-movies.
And the agents themselves as young men, have little to say or do. David (Sam Worthington) is monotone and Stephan (Marton Csokas) is strong, macho and bland. They often settle the score by fighting and the scenes are a bit too reminiscent of "The Bourne Identity". But who cares about these men? The drama in "The Debt" is all about Rachel Singer. As both a young woman (Jessica Chastain) and as an older agent, Rachel is a pleasure to root for and she never bores. Throughout her vengeful quest, Rachel stays constant, a hellcat with  a heart.
Some confrontational scenes echo "The Silence of the Lambs", (the often duplicated "Am I a monster?" soliloquy is here) and then voila! He attacks! But if you forgive that, Helen Mirren smooths out all things derivative in the film, making old twists  seem new again. I think the power resides in her face. And Helen has a great one, able to strike fear in the heart of the octogenarian Third Reich with one curl of cigarette smoke.       

Write Ian at

The Help (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

"The Help"

Going in to see "The Help" with such high praise from friends and acquaintances, I'll admit that I somehow had an urge to be a lone wolf. I don't know why. Perhaps it was the glimpse I had of the previews, fearing a sanitized Dreamworks/Disney view of 1950s pre Civil Rights horrors, of everyone coming together, of bluebirds singing in the trees despite unabashed racism, inequality and the violent beating down of anyone black, Jewish or otherwise not fitting into an Anglo-Saxon ideology. 
History hurts.

My fears,  in some ways, were well founded. Everything is in technicolor. A sparkling white table. A notebook. A hand writing feverishly taking down the wisdom of a black maid, Abileen. (Viola Davis) Abileen knows the score from the get go and we already can tell that she is the real  mother / heroine in the film.  It is not the free thinking Skeeter (Emma Stone) with the big, sad puppy dog eyes which once again made me think of a Walter Keane painting. 
And yes, the story does unfold at least to  my eyes in a "Fried Green Tomatoes" / "Forrest Gump" quasi tv movie fashion. We have Hilly, a Waspy all too controlling racist female villain with no redeeming qualities at all. (Bryce Dallas Howard). Were the 1950s this one dimensional in its people, be they hate-filled with racism or pioneers in rational thought and human decency? I wonder. 
But despite these pitfalls,  it is the characterizations of Abileen and Minny (Octavia Spencer)  that give the film its much needed verve and kick.  These two are a pleasure. They work together with ease and their chemistry is perfect. The rest of the characters, especially Skeeter, seem a bit contrived and on auto-pilot. None of the white girls do anything interesting, they just chatter about like candy-striped hens drinking their cokes. Why must the roles be this generic and flat?
I'll argue that the films of John Waters ("Hairspray") talk in a more provocative way about the depressing  evils of racism. Remember Debbie Harry's character, Velma? She's the spitting image of Hilly, more ridiculous of course, but yet more real. Waters knows the sadness of history. He may lampoon his characters, but his white Status Quo sneers twist and shout and do not  disappoint.
I mention John Waters for a reason: the pivotal moment of the pie episode is when the movie leaps with an irreverent life and becomes (at least for the moment) released from the Mainstream. Mr. Waters' influence is clearly in evidence. And Hilly's comeuppance provides some welcome spontaneity.
If I can offer two reasons to see  "The Help" they are Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. We feel for them and their facial expressions  alone tell stories of fatigue and joy, of history and hope, much more than any verbal narrative. And if we already know what's coming around the screen: a smug face contorted  in bigotry, or some Mary Steenburgan mother coming to the door for a righteous battle, we can count on the compelling charisma of Abileen and Minnie to let us in on what lies behind the kitchen's closed doors.

Write Ian at

Gun Hill Road (Rhoades)

“Gun Hill Road” Ain’t the Neighborhood Of Ozzie and Harriet
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

When I worked in New York, there were some parts of the boroughs you entered cautiously. My friend Tom Wolfe wrote about this in “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Emilio Estavez explored this wrong neighborhood concept in the movie “Judgment Night.”

Gun Hill Road is a major thoroughfare in the Bronx that stretches 3.5 miles through Woodlawn and Morris Park. It’s a warren of multi-unit homes and corner bodegas. Over 20% of the population lives below the poverty line. Last year anti-gay hate crimes took place in Morris Heights.

This is the neighborhood to which Enrique (Esai Manuel Morales) returns after being released from prison in the eponymous movie “Gun Hill Road.” Things have changed. His family is not like the one he left. Wife Angela (Judy Reyes) has been unfaithful. Son Michael (Harmony Santana) has become a transsexual. How do you re-assimilate into a society that’s so different than the one you knew before going behind bars?
And just maybe Enrique himself has changed.

You can visit “Gun Hill Road” and see for yourself at the Tropic Cinema.

This is writer-director Rashaad Ernesto Green’s feature debut. The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.

The 33-year-old Green was born in the Bronx, so he knows the turf. Ra (as his friends call him) earned a Master's degree from NYU Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Acting Program. He directed five short films before tackling “Gun Hill Road.” Several of them were set in the Bronx.

“The Bronx itself is a character,” says Green.

There have been other movies about the Bronx, such as Robert De Niro’s “A Bronx Tale,” “Fort Apache, The Bronx,” or “The Wanderers.” But this is one made by a native, starring many local actors. Judy Reyes (TV’s “Scrubs”) was born in the Bronx.

Harmony Santana was beginning actual gender reassignment when he/she won the role of the son. “I looked at attractive gay males who might have had experience with drag to see if they might be able to portray the character,” Green says. “But they didn’t have the essence I was looking for. There’s a difference between someone who’s pretending to be female and someone who actually believes they are.”

He discovered Ms. Santana at a gay pride parade. “She said she was at the beginning of her transition, which was like, ‘Bingo,’ ” smiles the director, proud of his discovery.

Green, whose family comes from the area around Gun Hill Road and Burke Avenue, says the story is based on a family member who dealt with similar issues.

Esai Morales (“La Bamba”) holds this Bronx tale together, giving us a family drama that is far from Ozzie and Harriet. He displays the father’s anger about his son’s lifestyle you’d expect to encounter in this macho neighborhood. Dragging his son to a ballgame or introducing him to a prostitute doesn’t make a man of him.

My ol’ pal director Paul Morrissey (“Trash,” “Flesh”) helped introduce America to Andy Warhol’s transgender “superstars” like Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn.

Ra Green has added Harmony Santana.
[from Solares Hill]

Turtle: The Incredible Journey (Rhoades)

"Turtle” Takes You On An Incredible Journey
 Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Have you ever visited the Turtle Hospital up in Marathon? There you will find recuperating loggerheads (Caretta caretta) and other sea turtles, victims of accidents, spear fishermen, tangled nets, and boat propellers.
I’ve been there – so I was particularly interested in seeing a new documentary called “Turtle: The Incredible Journey.” It’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Narrated by Miranda Richardson, this co-production of SeaWorld Pictures and Tradewind Pictures follows a female loggerhead turtle from a beach in Florida to the North Atlantic to the coast of Africa and back to the very beach where she was born.
Guided only by instinct, the turtle covered more than 9,000 miles. The loggerhead turtle has one of the longest migratory paths of any marine animal. Just one in 10,000 survive the journey.
The camera crew spent two years trailing along. Director Nick Stringer captured on film the remarkable life cycle of this beautiful creature
A threatened species, loggerheads struggle to survive in today’s dangerous environment. From oil spills to ingestion of trash, bullet wounds to boat strikes, turtle are threatened by humankind. 
We watch as our turtle loses her brothers and sisters in the Sargasso Sea, nearly dies at the hands of fishermen, and comes face-to-face with strange sea denizens – from a helpful sunfish to a humpback whale who shows her the way north.
“Turtle: The Incredible Journey” is exactly what the title promises: an incredible journey.
[from Solares Hill]

What's Your Number (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

What's Your Number?

Another romantic comedy is on-screen, but I wouldn't  recommend "What's Your Number?" for bringing your relationship to its next step. For the film's prevalence of  alcohol use alone, a twelve-step program  would be more fitting. 
For its part, the film is easy on the eyes. The plot focuses on Ally Darling, a somewhat loud and haphazard girl who can never seem to find her center. Fired from her marketing job, she spies an article in a magazine about romantic discontent and gets the idea to search for her nineteen (she hardly seems old enough) ex-lovers. Since she is over the national average, she reasons that her next guy will be "The One." After twenty partners, the magazine cautions, a woman is destined for unhappiness. 
The plot is thin, but Ally (Anna Faris) is likeable and entertaining. She is a bit like a pint sized Goldie Hawn (a pint of liquor, that is). Yes, be warned, her exaggerated movements and wild gesticulations get a little annoying, especially by the film's second half. Ally always appears drunk even when she is sober. She moves, wobbles and starts caterwauling about things without warning. She is very cute and quite likeable at times, no doubt, but her ditzy act just gets old. And old fast. Especially since Faris played nearly the same role in Gregg Araki's "Smiley Face" (2007). Faris maintained an edge of   goggle- eyed irreverence in that film, and the jokes were pointed, but in this outing, a little goes a long way.
It's a shame that Cupid is so pickled.
Yet even though Ally is ridiculous, she at least has some charm. The roles of her ex-boyfriends whose stories are envisioned in "Ally McBeal" style scenes, however, are either juvenile or just solidly unfunny. I am a  die-hard fan of "Saturday Night Live" and even Adam Samberg as the slobbering puppeteer let me down. Things are really bad when you have to admit that the offensive Mel Gibson in "The Beaver" pulled the same trick and produced more laughs. Many of the jokes in "What's Your Number?" center on the exes being fat, ugly or gay and they just fall on the screen with a thud. No comic life exists in most these exchanges. Why, for instance, does Ally speak in a "Borat" accent to break the ice? It is just plain dumb, not too mention ludicrous. My suspension of disbelief was shattered.
There is one scene however that held me if only temporarily: an average looking guy becomes stalked by Ally seemingly by chance. It is his alarming surprise in the manner of British funnyman John Cleese that makes this episode a chuckler. It is a sincerely funny moment and I wish there were more.  
Most of the actors just seem to float over their roles. Blythe Danner plays a domineering mother, Ed Begley, Jr. is the narcissistic smartphone-addicted divorced dad with the young girlfriend. 
I'll admit that I  enjoyed the chemistry between Chris Evans and Faris. Evans has an easy reckless appeal with a rumpled allure reminiscent of James Franco. The two play well together and their harmony is almost enough to break the formulaic ennui of the film. 
Regrettably, the repetitive plot and the generic roles drown out the sparks between these boozy, drifting soulmates. Forget the fact that Ally is a sculptor. Aside from showing her cartoony figures, (which are more theatrical than she is) she hardly mentions her art. Men and booze are far more important. 
If you want your film date to be memorable, I would suggest trying "Friends with Benefits" first before going further. It is a more authentic romance, you'll have more fun and better yet, you won't feel hungover as a couple and ready for romantic-comedy Rehab. 

Write Ian at

Our Idiot Brother (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Our Idiot Brother

When I first saw the trailer of the comedy "Our Idiot Brother", by Jesse Peretz, I jumped. Here was a film in the tradition of "Please Give" with just the right balance of spoof and sensibility, poking hysterical  fun at New Age and pointing the way.
How I wish that this was true. 
The film stars Paul Rudd as Ned, a well meaning  hippie type in a self absorbed, nit-picking family who try to be thoughtful and earnest but just end up chattering and being annoying. 
Ned is no idiot. He is an open, compassionate vegetable farmer. His only Achilles tendon it seems, is being a bit too naive. Ned says things like "Hey man!" "Sweet!" and "Right on". When he smiles, the buoyant positivity  can be seen rippling through his whole body.  It isn't that Ned is left behind, but only that he is too organic for this world somehow.
Everyone around him patronizes him and treats him condescendingly through most of the movie. 
The best part of the film is the transformation of Rudd himself, from his usual clean cut straight roles into this bearded and spacey drifter.  Even Rudd's eyes are different. The effect is jolting and you hardly recognize him. Rudd inhabits Ned and moves with different muscles. Rudd does his best in the  limited confines of a farcical story which is "what should we do with our 'out of it' brother?" Once the initial premise is established, there is not much for Rudd (or Ned) to do. He becomes sidelined by his abrasive,  yammering family: the dominant Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) Natalie  (Zoey Deschanel) and her lover Cindy (Rashida Jones). 
The quirky and  usually entertaining Steve Coogan plays a part as well, but for most of the movie his face is expressionless. He hangs around like a wet noodle. 
Ned is the only sweet-tempered likable dude. And perhaps this is the film's  point in a world filled with fetishistic technology, our Twitter feeds and iPhones?  I only wish his role had more range. When Ned talks about smoking pot, when he asks a stranger to hold his money, or when he wants to stay in jail, the film stalls into a rerun of a Cheech & Chong routine. It's a pity, because Ned was written for better films. When you see him rhapsodize to his parole officer, dance, kiss his dog on the mouth or spill the honest truth to his sister, you see a genuine character here, not a cardboard cutout of a 'Mr. Natural' that the film ultimately forces Rudd to mimic.  Seriously, Jesse-man? Seriously? Wow man. Wow.
Write Ian at

What's Your Number (Rhoades)

“What’s Your Number?” Plays by the Numbers

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Sometimes you suspect Hollywood has a scrambler machine that recycles old scripts. Then you can’t accuse the resulting movie of being a mindless remake. “What’s your Number?” seems like such a film.
Okay, I know it was based on a book titled “20 Times a Lady” by Karyn Bosnak, but it still has the tinge of the vaguely familiar.
In it, a young woman (Anna Faris) wonders if perhaps one of the 20 guys from her past might have been “the one” and she has passed him over. So she decides to revisit them, with the help of her hunky neighbor (Chris Evans), to find out.
You can write the script from here. A rom-com formula.
But doesn’t it remind you a bit of “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” with the genders reversed? Or “Definitely, Maybe” where a girl is searching through her dad’s past girlfriends to identify her mother?
When I turned to my ask-any-question Cha Cha iPhone app with this question, it replied, “There are actually a few movies that are like that …”
See, told ya.
“What’s Your Number?” is currently counting moviegoers at the Tropic Cinema.
One reason these romantic comedies follow formula storylines is the comfort of a satisfying ending. We like Happy Ever After. We like to see the guy get the girl (and vice versa). We like the familiar. The “correct order of things.”
You’ll remember blonde Anna Faris from “The House Bunny” and those “Scary Movie” parodies. Chris Evans more recently starred as “Captain America.” And Anna’s real-life hubby Chris Pratt has the role of Disgusting Donald in this trifling comedy.
Can’t wait to see the next version of this movie that comes out of Hollywood’s scrambler.
[from Solares Hill]

Turtle: The Incredible Journey (Wanous)

Underwater camera work gets high marks

L'Attitudes Correspondent

Underwater photography and special effects are combined in this film.

This documentary tells the story of one baby turtle and its fight for survival against tremendous odds. There are a lot of facts and figures quoted in the film, but the key statistic is that, out of every 10,000 eggs, only 1 hatchling will likely survive to adulthood. The heart of the film is the tale of a turtle's life over a span of 25 years and with some stunning, breath-taking scenes above and under the sea, the movie is worth watching for the cinematography alone. Our tiny turtle begins life literally buried in the sand on a Florida beach and, after a dangerous run for the ocean, her journey continues at sea for the next quarter century, until our intrepid heroine returns to that same exact beach to lay her eggs. Along the way, she must struggle to survive against all sorts of perils and predators, including the most dangerous peril of all - us.

"Turtle" was directed by Nick Stringer, an Emmy-winning producer and director, who uses the film as a way to show the plight of endangered species and the need for ocean conservation. Not a bad message, and the crew filmed all over the Caribbean and Atlantic to capture rare footage of turtles.

But some scenes were filmed using rescued turtles in a "specially built marine studio." Stringer says that in some scenes "the interactions between the characters were digitally enhanced with the latest in special FX and blue-screen technology."

One FX expert wrote that the visual special-effects "footage of 3-D 'wild animals' I helped produce for 'Turtle' was so realistic even 'expert zoologists' didn't know what they were watching." He continued, "Besides final modeling and texturing and animation of three photorealistic 3-D hero turtle characters indistinguishable in every way from real turtles, I modeled textured and animated blue sharks and composited and supervised almost 100 photorealistic documentary realism shots."

That means that much of "Turtle: The Incredible Journey" was created on a computer or in a studio. So can "Turtle" claim to be a documentary? Or is it a docudrama instead? What's real and what's not? Does it really matter? I'll leave that up to the viewer to decide. Manufacturing reality isn't new in documentaries and I believe the story of our turtle's life and voyage is worth telling, even if there is a little Hollywood magic involved.

The negative aspects are the ever-present narration and the blaring musical score.

Writer Melanie Finn, best known for her work on the erotic made-for-cable films "Red Shoe Diaries," seems unable to leave that melodrama behind and the narration, by a serious Miranda Richardson ('Enchanted April'), is overly theatrical.

Moses was probably less dramatic when he brought the Ten Commandments down from the mountain. And the music swells and booms as if in competition with the narration to see which can be more over-the-top. Conductor and composer Elmer Bernstein would love it.

But even with those two strikes against it, I do think "Turtle" is worth seeing. The striking ocean scenes will enthrall nature lovers and environmentalists will appreciate the ecological message of the film. And if other viewers can just tune out the sound and enjoy the cinematography, I think they'll enjoy it too.

[from Keynoter]

Our Idiot Brother (Rhoades)

“Our Idiot Brother” Sounds Close to Home
 Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My sister and I ought to sue. This movie’s title obviously refers to my younger brother Bill. Who in my family has been talking to Hollywood?
“Our Idiot Brother” – the comedy currently playing at Tropic Cinema – is a family film. Or do I mean a film about a wacky family?
Here, a naïve bewhiskered pothead, Ned (Paul Rudd) has just been released from prison. Although blithely well meaning, his return wreaks havoc on the lives of his sisters – career-minded Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), bisexual Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), and perfect mother Liz (Elizabeth Mortimer) – each dysfunctional in her own ways. His candid innocence confounds everyone from family members to parole officer.
Yes, you know how it turns out. Lessons learned and all that. Ned’s unfailing honesty convinces his sisters that maybe he isn’t such an idiot after all.
As always, Rudd is low-key funny. And Banks, Deschanel, and Mortimer make a good ensemble cast to bounce jokes off.
Elizabeth Banks pegs “Our Idiot Brother” this way: “Yeah, it’s ultimately a story about family and how you don’t get to choose your family, you’re sort of stuck with your family. And if you’re going to be stuck with your family you kind of need to make the most of it. You need to support each other, you need to have each other’s backs, you need to accept each other’s quirks, you need to know how to push everyone’s buttons, you need to know everyone’s skeletons in the closet (laughs), you need to protect each other. I feel this movie is for anyone who has a family, which is pretty much everybody.”
So I phoned my brother to tease him that someone had made a movie about him. He laughed and said he thought the movie was about me. Go figure.
[from Solares Hill]

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Week of Sept. 23 to Sept. 29

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

What a lineup this week.

Topping the bill is ATTACK THE BLOCK, a Brit sci fi with a decidedly low tech approach. You’ve got your usual alien creatures come to take over Earth. But the team that stops them is a street gang. Think “The Bloods and the Crips Against the Martians.” Did I say it’s a little tongue in cheek? “It's the movie Super 8 wanted to be - or should have been.” (TimeOut New York)

For harder edged kicks, check out THE DEBT. A team of Israeli Mossad agents is sent to East Berlin in the late sixties, with the goal of capturing “The Butcher of Birkenau,” a former Nazi prison camp doctor who performed horrible human experiments. It’s tense; you’re on the edge of your seat. Then they’re back in Israel enjoying their fame and you can relax. Then the tension ratchets up again when secrets begin to emerge. A thriller all the way. The twin stars are Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain, who play a Mossad agent both now and back then. Though they don’t look anything alike, they’re both good enough to make you ignore the casting discontinuity. “Bristling with dangers both corporeal and cerebral, The Debt is a superbly crafted espionage thriller packed with Israeli-Nazi score settling.” (Betsy Sharkey, L.A. Times)

It’s good to hear that one of the hit movies of the summer, THE HELP, is now at the Tropic. It is always a pleasure to report that a movie about characters and social issues beats out the action-adventure CGI thrillers at the box office, and The Help has managed to do it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, this film is based on a best-selling book set in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960’s. Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone – The Easy A) is a privileged young white woman, a member of the Junior League, but she’s got a social conscience that doesn’t sit well in this era of Civil Rights turmoil. Not that she wants to throw bombs. She just feels that the black maids who tend all the houses and raise all the children deserve a better deal. Certainly better than that proposed by Hilly Holbrook, head of the Junior League (Bryce Dallas Howard – Hereafter) who is pushing for legislation to require separate bathrooms in outside garages for all maids. Skeeter’s plan is to write a book with the cooperation of her family’s maid Abileen Clark (Viola Davis) and others from that community.

Though the plan is fraught with peril, and keeps a tension running throughout, the plot has enough humor to keep it an easy summer entertainment. And we can all rejoice that, at least in some respects, this is a world that has changed for the better. “The Help succeeds wonderfully, a warm and sweet song of hope.” (Mike Scott, New Orleans Times-Picayune)

Two documentaries provide a change of pace.

TABLOID is the latest from the great documentarian Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, Fog of War). It’s the amazing story of Joyce McKinney, a beauty queen gone cuckoo. In 1977 she was the star of British tabloids (like the now defunct News of the World) for allegedly kidnapping a young Mormon and making him her sex slave. And that’s only the beginning of her story. “It is a spellbinding enigma, and one of the damnedest films Morris has ever made.” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

The MAGIC TRIP keeps with the enigmatic theme. “Trip” has more than one meaning in this story of a bus journey across the country led by Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and joined by Neil Cassady (Kerouac’s buddy On the Road) and the so-called Merry Band of Pranksters. They all intended to make a movie of their trip, and shot a lot of footage, but what with a few too-many LSD tabs and other distractions, it’s been sitting around in cans. Accomplished filmmakers Alex Gibney (Casino Jack, Client 9:The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer) and Allison Ellwood have turned it into “a lively and absorbing document, filled with jaw-dropping materials.” (Shawn Levy, Portland Oregonian)

The Debt (Rhoades)

“The Debt” Owes An Earlier Version
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

How do you get a 2007 Israeli thriller titled “HaChov” shown in American theaters? Apparently, the same way the characters in the movie capture Nazi war criminals: By taking on a disguise.

The original Assaf Bernstein film starring Gila Almagor (in the 1990s “present day” scenes) and Neta Garty (in flashbacks to the ’60s) was remade. This time around it’s called “The Debt” and Oscar-nominated John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love,” “Killshot”) is the director.

This espionage drama is told in both present and past. Three celebrated Mossad agents must confront their past actions in bringing a Nazi torturer to justice.

These intertwining timelines tell the story of how Rachael, Stefan, and David captured the demonic Dieter Vogel, who is passing as an East German GYN known as Doktor Bernhardt. A successful mission for which they receive high honors. But was it?

“The Debt” is currently revealing its spycraft and duplicity at the Tropic Cinema.

Past and present require a dual cast: Rachael is portrayed by both Jessica Chastain (“The Help”) and Helen Mirren (“The Queen”). Stefan is played by Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy”) and Tom Wilkinson (“Michael Clayton”). And David is played by Sam Worthington (“Avatar”) and Ciarán Hinds (“There Will Be Blood”).

Jesper Christensen (“Quantum of Solace”) is chilling as the war criminal known as the Surgeon of Birkneau. Kudos to the Danish actor who makes this Mengele-like character both loathsome and charming, a tour de force that matches the other strong performances by Helen Mirren and her younger counterpart Jessica Chastain. Yes, the same Jessica Chastain appearing as a Southern floozy in “The Help.”

You’ll find edge-of-your-seat suspense in “The Debt,” not to mention some shocking plot twists. You also have a love triangle, psych games aplenty, and “Munich” style action.

Makes me want to see “HaChov,” the forgotten film that this is based on. But, unfortunately, it only got a brief run on the Sundance Channel.
[from Solares Hill]

The Help (Rhoades)

“The Help” Breaks An Unspoken Code
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Years ago I knew Thomas Wolfe’s brother Fred. I’m sure you remember author Thomas Wolfe from your American Lit class. He wrote “Look Homeward, Angel,” a thinly disguised novel about his growing up in a Southern town. The book so angered town folk that a later novel was titled “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
Are we seeing a repeat of that in the movie version of a book titled “The Help”?

The plot: A young writer in Jackson, Mississippi, experiences the ire of her friends and neighbors when she writes an exposé about the help, those maids and nannies who work for the town’s white families. As a returning college grad in the ’60s, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan in a flash of social awareness notices that the African-American maids are treated differently by their employers. So she gains the trust of Aibileen Clark, a maid who has just lost her son, and Minny Jackson, a maid who constantly loses jobs because of her back-talk, to help her write the book.

What we have here is a book within a book. The writing of Skeeter Phelan’s book called “The Help” takes place in Kathryn Stockett’s popular novel called “The Help.”

Not to make your mind whirl, but “The Help” is now a movie about that book within a book starring Emma Stone as Skeeter, Viola Davis as Aibileen, and Octavia Spencer as sassy Minny.

“The Help” is cleaning up this week at the Tropic Cinema.

You’ll recognize young star Emma Stone from the teen comedy “Easy A” and the recent rom-com “Crazy Stupid Love.” Here, she shows her acting chops. This spate of recent movies and a cover on Vanity Fair demonstrate that she’s fast approaching Hollywood’s A List.

You should recognize Viola Davis too. A Tony-winning stage actress, she was nominated for a 2009 Academy Award for her eight-minute-long role in the film “Doubt.” You saw her more recently in “Eat Pray Love.”

And Octavia Spencer is familiar to TV viewers as the stalker IRS agent on “Ugly Betty.”
The supporting cast of “The Help” includes Bryce Dallas Howard (“Twilight: Eclipse”) as the town’s social leader, Jessica Chastain (“Tree of Life,” “The Debt”) as one of the town’s young wives, and Mitch Vogel (“Blue Valentine”) as the man who links them. Also here is Allison Janney (TV’s “West Wing”) as Skeeter’s mom, Sissy Spacek (“In the Bedroom”) as another mother, and Cicely Tyson (“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman”) as a longtime resident.

Sure, the movie’s funny. But it’s also sad. So easy to forget the social injustices of that time in the ’60s where “The Help” is set – preserved here like an insect trapped in amber.

Like her character Skeeter, Kathryn Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. And like Thomas Wolfe, she can’t go home again. Stockett now lives in Atlanta.

“Not everybody in Jackson, Mississippi’s thrilled,” she told CBS news anchor Katie Couric. She added, “a few close family members” are so unhappy that they aren’t talking to her.

Turns out, the longtime maid for Stockett’s brother has filed a $75,000 lawsuit against the author, claiming she was upset by the book. Ablene Cooper maintains that one of the book’s key characters – Aibileen Clark – is based on her. And Stockett’s brother Robert agrees. Note: I’m told Ablene has lost her lawsuit.
Kathryn Stockett describes the book (and movie) as “fiction, by and large.”

The theme of “The Help” is about how an unlikely friendship between three women shatters a Southern town’s unspoken code of behavior. Now it looks like Skeeter and Aibileen aren’t that good friends after all. And Kathryn Stockett broke that code when she wrote a tell-all book.
[from Solares Hill]

Tabloid (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Joyce McKinney is quite a woman. She is part Mae West, part vampire, maybe, but a Mormon-eater definitely. She is a woman that I would like to meet. Just to say hi. A one in a million zany vamp. Whether you sympathize with her or not, (and you just might after seeing this documentary) McKinney is unforgettable.

"Tabloid" the new documentary by Errol Morris focuses on the eerie and darkly desperate story of Joyce McKinney and her melodramatic saga of how she fell for a young Mormon named Kirk Anderson, followed him to a British LDS Mission, kidnapped him and chained him to a bed. I was too young to remember the case in the mid 1970s with Scotland Yard hot on her tail, but who needs John Waters or "South Park" when you have this spitfire demonizing Devon and trying to corrupt a Mormon on his Mission duties.

The film in content and attitude is an echo of the 2007 documentary "Crazy Love". That film by Dan Klores was considerably more visceral and disturbing as it involved acid in the face thrown by a rejected suitor, but "Tabloid" is no less quirky, or bizarre. And we are left with the same questions, how crazy can love become? As the emotion and irrationality of romantic love is one of our most primary and primal emotions, the vermillion thread between danger and carnal consummation is decidedly thin. 

After all, we live in a tabloid world where a NASA astronaut, Lisa Nowak recently chased down a romantic rival in diapers.

"Tabloid" the film, shows Miss McKinney in a very human light. She is no Alex Forrest from "Fatal Attraction". McKinney was simply trying to hunt down her fiancé who disappeared. But she is a bit off her rocker, no two ways about it. McKinney hires a pilot and takes her man by gunpoint and attempts to remove his temple undergarments.

Land Sakes!

Never has an agonizing tug on the heart been so entertaining. During the first half of the film you think this woman is right out of Stephen King, but by the second half you see her truly pained by human events. I have to say that my heart goes out to her. But she still seems a nut. McKinney has so much Force about her. Such is love.

The film has a slow, musical pace in suspense that builds like  ua collaboration between John Waters and Alfred Hitchcock. The bold faced titles merge with animated fadeouts in a direct quirkiness  that has been Morris' trademark. 

"Tabloid" is not without its humor but it is manic and madcap along with a bit of eerie Alpha drive from McKinney. It is as entertaining as it is elusive from the standpoint of common sense. Needless to say, she is left with her cloned dogs, a confirmed bachelorette    and after her experience, I can't say I blame her.  

Write Ian at

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tabloid (Rhoades)

“Tabloid” Tells About Sex in Chains
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (Academy Award winner for “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara”) was reading an article about cloning in The New York Times. In the last paragraph was a sentence saying that the woman who’d had her dog cloned in Korea was the same woman involved in the “Sex in Chains” story from years ago.
“That’s how it works, actually,” he says of stumbling across the topic for his next film. Turns out, dog cloner “Bernann McKinney” was actually Joyce Bernann McKinney, the woman convicted of kidnapping and sexually molesting a young Mormon missionary in 1977.
He called up McKinney, now a realtor in North Carolina, requesting an interview, but it took a while for her to agree.
“Tabloid” – currently playing at the Tropic Cinema – is a documentary about the sensationalism surrounding the so-called Case of the Manacled Mormon.
The story is juicy: a young Mormon missionary in England went missing. When Kirk Anderson turned up a few days later, he claimed he’d been abducted by a blonde who chained him to a bed and had her way with him.
The blonde was Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming. Although arrested for the crime, she jumped bail and went back to the US. The British courts sentenced her in absentia to a year in jail, but did not attempt to extradite her.
McKinney maintained that the missionary “left with me willingly.”
The British tabloids had a field day, reporting the story with “gusto.” The Daily Mirror was the ringleader, making circulation gains with this story about a woman raping a man.
Newspapers always find those anomalous “Man Bites Dog” stories good for readership. The Sex in Chains story so dominated the Mirror that its chief competitor, The Daily Mail, began promoting itself as “The paper without Joyce McKinney.”
Errol Morris has tackled some gripping topics in his thirty-plus-years film career, my favorite being “The Thin Blue Line,” about the truth behind the death of a cop. Others include “Gates of Heaven,” about the pet cemetery business; “A Brief History of Time,” about physicist Stephen Hawking; and “Vernon, Florida,” about the eccentric residents of this southern town.
As a documentarian, Morris draws on his background as a private investigator who specialized in Wall Street cases. His “The Thin Blue Line” is credited with freeing a wrongly accused man and gaining a confession from the real killer.
With “Tabloid,” Morris subjects the former beauty queen to his interrogation. “I can never understand the public’s fascination with my love life,” she bemoans all the publicity.
Morris traces her history back to Utah where she met the Mormon man of her dreams, followed him to England, and kidnapped him rather than lose “my special guy.” Chaining him to a bed, she ripped off his “magic underwear” and forced him to have sex with her.
While the excuse for this documentary is examining tabloid sensationalism, it’s really the same kind of prurient interest exhibited by the Daily Mirror that drives this film.
“Do you think a woman can rape a man?” Morris asks her point blank.
“I think that’s like putting a marshmallow in a parking meter,” she replies, still self-delusional.
As she says in the documentary, “You can tell a lie long enough you believe it.”
Despite all the notoriety and legal hassles, McKinney apparently did not give up. In 1984 she was accused of stalking now-married Kirk Anderson.
How obsessed was she? “I would have skied down Mt. Everest nude with a carnation up my nose” to gain his affection, she admits.
Our opinion: Rather than focusing on tabloids, Morris would have been better served to explore sexual obsession.
Hm, I once dated a former Miss Wyoming, but she didn’t try to chain me up or suggest I try on a pair of handcuffs. She didn’t even offer me a carnation. Go figure.
[from Solares Hill]

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Week of September 16 to September 22 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

THE GUARD is one hoot of a movie. Sgt. Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is a lone wolf constable in a rural Irish town. He plays by his own set of rules, including taking a day off in the midst of a major investigation so he can keep a date with a couple of foxy call girls; protecting an IRA arms cache, while filching an couple of weapons for his own use; and ironically, race-baiting a black FBI agent (Don Cheadle) sent from America to thwart a drug ring operating in Boyle's district.

You wouldn't expect Boyle and his very straight FBI counterpart to get along. They don't at first, and their clashing banter keeps things lively. (When shown pictures of the white suspects at an FBI briefing, Boyle asks the black agent, with the feigned simplicity of a country boy, "I thought all drug smugglers were black...or Mexican.") But they’re the good guys in a movie with some hard-core bad ones, so you’ve got to suspect that they will eventually come together.

You may remember Gleeson from In Bruges. The Guard shares that same sensibility -- a crime thriller with a joke book snuck into its script. But also with a similarly dramatic shoot-em-up conclusion.

A definite crowd pleaser. It’s “
more pure, profane enjoyment than a body should have.” (Ty Burr, Boston Globe)

Got time for a double feature? PROJECT NIM is splitting a screen with RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The former is a documentary about a Columbia professor who tried to raise a chimp as a child in a regular human family, with less than ideal results. The latter is a fictional take on the same experiment, with an even less satisfactory outcome. NIM might even be thought of as the prequel to PLANET, which could be retitled The Revenge of the Simians. Get a six pack at concessions and see them both.

Rounding out this week’s schedule are two romances.

ANOTHER EARTH is billed as a science fiction film, but it’s not the sci fi of aliens or elaborate special effects. Rather it’s a low budget human drama combined with a provocative sci fi story.

The human drama involves incoming MIT student Rhonda Williams (Brit Marling) involved in a horrendous DUI accident where she kills the wife and children of composer John Burroughs (William Mapother). Trying to make amends, but without revealing her identity, she finds a job working for him. The sci fi side of it involves the discovery of a new planet in our solar system that is a duplicate of earth. Everything about it is the same, including a population of doppelgangers for people on our planet. Should Ms. Williams continue building her growing relationship with Burroughs, or should she seek to go to the other earth to see if there might be an alternative outcome to her tragedy?

The combination is “science fiction at its best" (Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter), that “proves compellingly that science, intellect and emotion can coexist in mesmerizing synchronicity on the big screen." (Claudia Puig, USA Today)

THE NAMES OF LOVE is an entirely earthbound French comedy. The lovely Baya Benmahmoud (Sara Forestier) is a political activist lover. She sleeps with conservatives to convert them to her liberal views. Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin) is an apolitical stick in the mud. The combination is “a playfully sexy farce that plays like a Gallic Annie Hall” (Mark Jenkins, Washington Post) . I hope the subtitles won’t deter you, because “if you don't enjoy this one, you don't like fun.” (Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune).

PINK FLOYD:THE WALL is up on Monday for the Music Madness Classic.

That’s a total of five new films this week. Keep busy.

[from Key West the newspaper -]

The Names of Love (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Names of Love

"The Names of Love" is a Woody Allenish comedy that is light on its feet. It is bright and airy but just when you think it is going to be all puff pastry, it jabs you with some pointed social commentary about France and provincial attitudes, namely the suspicion and dislike of Arabs and Algeria.

The film focuses on the odd pairing of Baya (Sarah Forestier) a radical free spirit and Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin) an anal retentive neutral man who works on an avian disease control board.  Forestier is like Audrey Tautou except she has more spunk, verve and well...personality than her double. (comment ose-t-il!, you exclaim? Well I said it.)
Like a female Bill Maher, the young woman Baya is never one to hold her tongue or gird her loins. She says what people might want to say. She walks through the Paris streets in full nudity not because she is amoral but simply out of absentmindedness. That is not to say she doesn't try and do the "correct" thing. The straight path simply wasn't drawn for her.
Arthur is a wet noodle, bound up and tight, a walking piece of toast. He stumbles, he frets and smiles, and always does what is expected . Arthur cares more for his besieged mallards  than he does for romance. 
D'accord! You might sigh in French. I  have seen this before and indeed you have but Forestier and Gamblin have such a sparkling chemistry that they go together like Brie and Dom Perignon.
Baya is an electric wire with deep dark tumbles of hair. She is prone to sudden compulsions to upset the Status Quo and then just as suddenly she might burst into tears. Poor Arthur, who comes from a family that was terminated by the Vichy regime, strives to stay mellow. His family is surrounded with all the latest electronic gadgets and tv sets so as to avoid any confrontation.
Just as "Annie Hall" poked fun at neurosis and what its like to have Jewish guilt, "The Names of Love" jab at Muslim and Jewish hostilities in France and the absurdity in holding staunch political agendas, be they right wing or left. Each side has the potential for idiocy.
The jokes in the film have Woody Allen's technique down to a scientific adoration. The characters converse with their childhood selves during many quirky asides. And even though we know the trick well by now, it is still a delight to see it in practice once again.
Michel Leclerc's "The Names of Love has genuine charm and attack.  The family discord scenes in particular, begin with apprehension but then punch you in the arm with a charmed sarcasm. The normally taboo subject of pedophelia are juggled about by Baya with such irreverence that it is impossible not to chuckle and see the truth. This movie has more disarming jokes on race and culture than ten viewings of "The Guard". Baya Benmahmoud could reduce Sargeant Boyle to a puddle of jelly in one disrobing. No contest. She is a force to be reckoned with.
Write Ian at

Another Earth (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Another Earth

"Another Earth" is the feature length debut film from Mike Cahill.  It is part mumblecore Indie and part Sci/Fi fantasy. Sometimes it twists and bends and folds under in its narrative like a fractalized image but it is no less intriguing for it. And if the film stumbles a bit, betraying riddles and voids, I give the director an "S" for space, for having courage in allowing  the film the space it needs to tell a mature, thoughtful story over time. This is no small leap.
The film focuses on Rhoda (Brit Marling) who is a high school student on the fast track to the M.I.T. Astrophysics program. She is out late  and she hits a car head on. The family dies, with the father (William Mapother) the sole survivor.
Four years later, Rhoda's academic career is  a mere fugue in her memory. Rhoda takes a menial job as a high school janitor. She begins to research the remaining survivor of the killed family. He is a respected college professor and composer, now dissolved in grief. Rhoda begins to intrude upon his life in the hope of some reconciliation.
As she trudges on her journey through an innerspace of guilt, she is bombarded by images and thoughts of space travel. She spies an alien walk by. Or is it a man? And a shadowy man leaves a small robot figure under a tree. The film is  loaded with symbolism but we are left in the dark as to what it all means. When Rhoda returns home from work each night, there is always a news broadcast on the TV, highlighting the discovery of "Earth 2" an identical twin of our own planet. All is still. Everyone in the living room is frozen with bland interest. The light from the TV is the brightest thing in the room. This is actually quite creepy. This eerie atmosphere is  the way the film "Super 8" should have looked.
Rhoda, with her pale features and steel blond hair is a lost Alice in Wonderland. Much of the film is silent with little dialogue. Full of stark imagery and  voluptuous Earths, the visual rhythm of the film owes a debt to Nicholas Roeg, specifically  "The Man Who Fell to Earth" (1976). Cahill does a lot with very little. 

There are no lasers or exploding effects here. 
The only thing that seemed an unwelcome visitor was the much used hand-held camera. In many scenes, mostly at the opening, it made me plain dizzy rather than enhance the action. If the "other earth" has such a camera that becomes overused, I'd just assume stay here, thank you. 
Overall, the grainy camerawork fit very well with the narrative but I did think that if Kurt Cobain made a Sci/Fi film, this would be it.
The latter part of the film makes a bit less of an impact then the first half---the camera spends  quite a bit of time wandering about a filthy apartment as the characters shuffle and sigh and the film tries too hard---but then again, the Godot-like pace does illustrate the apprehensive wait or the weight that we bring upon this earth. 
"Another Earth" is not a Major Tom film but it is no trifle either. It will make you jump and think.
And if the final surprise makes you peer through a telescope, so much the better.          

Write Ian at

Project Nim (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Project Nim

 The first seconds of the documentary  "Project Nim" almost seem like an instant sequel to "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", so similar is the actual Primate Center in Oklahoma to that updated classic. There is the same small dingy security room, the same tv monitor. The same electric shock stick. It's all there right in front of us. Sadly, this is no fiction, but real. 
"Project Nim" is in a sense, the true story of Caesar. To quote the late J.G. Ballard, "Everything is science fiction." The time is upon us: Life has imitated art.
The documentary doesn't pull any punches. This is a very powerful scientific journey that pulls on the heart both simian and sapien alike. It is a Faustian-haired bargain that is hard to watch, but it is also ribald and riveting by turns.
In the 1970s, Columbia University, ripped a baby chimp away from its mother in an attempt to teach it human sign language. The baby, named Nim Chimpsy, (after famed linguist Noam Chomsky, a bit condescendingly in my opinion) was raised as a human child. It was given a human mother, the loving and naive Stephanie LaFarge. Stephanie was  a very permissive loving "hippie mom" by her own admission, and there is nothing wrong with her. She exudes kindness and warmth. Her only flaw it seems, is ignorance. The LaFarges had a big family and a sprawling ramshackle house with a VW Bus. Nim was allowed to do as he liked. He even smoked pot. The still pictures of Nim and the LaFarges are breathtaking. Little Nim is as poignant and as haunting a subject as anything by Richard Avedon.
But this is not "Bedtime for Bonzo" or Ozzie and Harriet, but real pathos and blood. The study is ill-concieved, there is no structure, no records or schedule. Nim grows spoiled and begins to violently hate Mr. LaFarge. Enter Laura: a beautiful young teacher who has striking features right out of a Botticelli painting. Herbert Terrace, who happens to be the horny boss of the project begins a relationship with Laura and to further complicate matters, Nim himself exhibits sexual behavior towards Laura. At one point, Laura admits that she actually prefers the company of Nim. This is great stuff, as entertaining as John Waters.
Laura leaves the project and is attacked by Nim in the process. 
Enter the hard-nosed, yet maternal Renee. Nim and Renee make exponential progress in human signing but one day Nim bites a huge gash in Renee's cheek, ala Hannibal Lecter and the study is terminated.
The interviews are heartwarming, gleeful, pointed and pained. No special effects needed. Each subject has their hearts wrenched. And for the most part, as the behavioral fiasco becomes dreadfully unhinged, each person seems more guilt-ridden than the last. As the camera pulls away, the interviewers are left forlorn and bereft by their own ignorant actions. Framed and confined by walls, they are invariably haunted and wish they could have done more for Nim. 
Nim is sent to the dingy, depressing Primate Center in Oklahoma. The events related are uncannily like the aforementioned "Planet of the Apes". Trainer Bob Ingersol becomes Nim's remaining hope. Bob is a kind of Last Hippie, trying to preserve the natural order of things. As humans go, he is a joy to watch. 
My favorite part of the film is when Bob gets a lawyer to represent Nim as a human in an abuse case. You gotta see it.
Science ultimately failed Nim in a sad appalling fashion and we have been less noble than our evolutionary ancestors. If in some rapidly tumbling Present, we continue to regress, subvert and govern upon the animal world, then let the Nims and the Caesars of the moment prevail upon us and rip into our faces. We deserve it.
Write Ian at

The Guard (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

 The Guard

If struggling simians are not your bag, "The Guard" proves a wisecracking antidote for any ape overdose. The film is of the charming Buddy-Cop genre that remains only slightly irreverent. It stars Brendan Gleeson as Sargeant Boyle and Don Cheadle as FBI agent Everett. 
Gleeson is just plain big: a box on legs. In the role of Gerry Boyle, he is like a bereft panda, alternately surly, smug and sweet. Boyle is just as quick to steal a hit of acid from a corpse as he is to haul a person in for questioning. Cheadle's agent Everett is a stand tall man who disposes with pleasantries. 
The two are brought together by chance in the hopes of busting a drug ring. The plot elements are not as entertaining as the undeniable chemistry between Gleeson and Cheadle. Their repartee is authentic, refreshingly human and unapologetic. Not since Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd has there been such rapid-fire exchanges. Yes, Boyle is racist and full of issues, but by is own admission this seems natural given his Irish background and therefore not mean spirited. What was once cringe-making in other earlier comedies is now played for laughs as Sargeant Boyle is so clueless.
But Boyle is no Archie Bunker. Throughout the film we see his warm side as he discovers that his insulated worldview does not match the current diverse worldscape. And we can laugh along with Boyle as we do with agent Everett when every door is closed upon this man "not from here". Boyle emerges as a well-meaning and earnest Paul Kersey. If he falls, stumbles or slides, it is all in earnest. 
Gleeson is part Charles Bronson from "Death Wish" and part Simon Pegg from "Hot Fuzz" but his character is ultimately more believable than the ones in these films. In Gleeson's dry deadfish delivery there is no fakery. We could just as well see Boyle at the corner pub. There is a little of Benny Hill in him too. Boyle is not beyond a bit of fun. He smirks to himself, lively in lust. He also might stay too long at a peep show--- a solitary comedian without a pair of bosoms to oogle.
When Boyle finally takes aim with fire we cheer, because he has joy in his underdog condition and yet still remains the aghast jokester. The sequence is a fitting punch line to any Bronson brow-beater
The children too, offer a dark humoured end to what could have been a mainstream fadeout in other films.   Children pick over the black earth like refugees from a bloody Sesame Street.  Today's murder photos are tomorrow's album covers. Violence has color to these young eyes that narrow prematurely before their time.
The adult criminals are appropriately seedy. Indeed they are nefarious and smarmy, but these cloaked ones bark more then they bite. The three of them with the exception of Mark Strong, are about as threatening as Joe Pesci in "Home Alone" but one should not go see "The Guard" for its criminal element.
The delight is in the dialogue.

Write Ian at

Project Nim (Rhoades)

“Project Nim” Is No “Planet of the Apes”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Nim Chimpsky is the star of “Project Nim,” and his name might give you a clue as to his simian ancestry. Nim was a chimpanzee studied in Columbia University’s Animal Language Acquisition project. In other words, he was being trained to communicate with humans.

Now playing at the Tropic Cinema, “Project Nim” is an interesting documentary to be booked alongside “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Hmm.

Nim Chimpsky’s name was a parody on Noam Chomsky, a pioneer theorist of human language structure who believed humans were “wired” for language and animals were not.

Behavioral psychologist Herbert Terrace conceived the study to refute Chomsky’s thesis that only humans have language ability. After all, 98.7% of the DNA in humans and chimps is identical. So why underestimate them.

Nim acquired 125 signs, but that fell short of Chomsky’s definition of language. Terrace came to believe his experiment had failed.

Truth was, he failed Nim.

After the experiment ended, Nim wound up at an animal-testing laboratory managed by NYU. But Cleveland Amory’s Fund for Animals purchased Nim (the first animal it had ever paid for) and transferred him to their Black Beauty ranch in Texas. However, with no other chimps or human companions around, his life was more isolated than ever. Nim died of natural causes at the young age of 26.

Director James Marsh (Oscar-winner for “Man on Wire”) says, “‘Project Nim’ is an unusual proposition for a film. We’ve tried to apply some of the principles and techniques of a traditional biography to the life story of an animal.” The storyline follows an individual chimpanzee from infancy to adulthood.

At first Nim seems so human. “He laughs, he cries, he craves attention and affection,” says Marsh. “But his own unique nature also asserts itself. His first ‘mother,’ Stephanie Lafarge, is quite shocked by ‘the wild animal in him’ and this continues to emerge powerfully as he grows.”

In the end, Nim’s is a sad story, a chimpanzee subjected to captivity and an unnatural life. He was snatched from his simian mother Carolyn shortly after birth. Herb Terrance, a callous, publicity-currying professor who slept with his students, used Nim for his own ends. Nim’s hippie surrogate mother failed him. His Columbia teachers proved unable to help him. The animal habitat in Oklahoma tossed him into a cage. NYU’s Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP) brought terror into Nim’s life. Even well-meaning Cleveland Amory contributed to his misery.

“If there’s a hero in the story beyond its chimp protagonist,” says Marsh, “it might be Bob Ingersoll, the pot-smoking Grateful Dead fan whom the scientists disregarded. Bob didn’t need signs to communicate with Nim and didn’t really care about the language debate at all. Bob never forsook Nim and once they re-connected after many years apart, he trusts him enough to casually stick his hand into Nim’s mouth as they played. Nim just bites down on the hand with calculated gentleness when he is perfectly capable of biting it clean off. As Bob recalls, Nim’s favorite sign was the sign he invented: ‘play,’ and it meant ‘Let’s play together.’”

You will find the story of Nim unsettling. As one viewer said, “The whole thing is just painful to watch. I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for the chimp and anger at the people ...”

It may make you question where we stand on the evolutionary scale.
[from Solares Hill]

Another Earth (Rhoades)

“Another Earth” – An Old Idea Made New
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

At Marvel Comics the idea of a duplicate earth was a familiar theme. The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe reminds the editors there have been three versions of the hypothetical planet that mirrors earth.

The third Counter-Earth came when I was publisher of Marvel, a transition to the Heroes Reborn event. It was part of a “pocket universe” created by the son of Reed Richards and his wife Sue, bastions of The Fantastic Four.

Fans didn’t like Heroes Reborn but applauded when I brought the characters back to the Marvel Universe with a Heroes Return event. Even so, everyone thought this Counter-Earth was a cool concept.

Actually a mirror earth was first hypothesized by the Greek philosopher Philolaus, a means of counterbalancing our planet in his non-geocentric view of the universe.
Newbie director Mike Cahill must have been boning up on his presocratic philosophy – or else reading his old comic books – for he adapted this plot device for his sci-fi drama “Another Earth,” winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

“Another Earth” is currently colliding with audiences at the Tropic Cinema. It’s a solar encounter that getting good buzz.

Not a Buck Roger space opera, most of the story takes place firmly on this earth, the interactions between a brilliant high school student Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) and Yale professor John Burroughs (William Mapother), whose wife and son she killed in an automobile accident. Driving under the influence, she was distracted by a radio announcement about a new planet that was approaching earth.

Burroughs doesn’t know Rhoda is responsible for his loss, so when she later shows up at his home pretending to be a maid looking for work he hires her. As they develop a relationship that goes beyond housecleaning, she must decide whether to confess her role in the tragedy that altered his life. But that’s complicated when she wins a contest, awarding her a ticket on the first space flight to visit this approaching identical earth.

What if up there on this mirror earth your doppelgänger has made better choices, like not driving drunk, not ruining her life and the life of the man she respects? Is it a second chance?
Mike Cahill filmed “Another Earth” in his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, in order to cut production costs by using his home as a set and calling on his local pals for help. He and his star Brit Marling hatched the plot. They were able to convince William Mapother, a professional actor known for his role as Ethan Rom on TV’s “Lost” to sign on for the piddling sum of $100 a day. An indie film on a low budget. But with a big return.

Shucks, we paid comic book editors better than that.
[from Solares Hill]

The Guard (Rhoades)

“The Guard” Lets Its Guard Down
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

After attending a wedding in Ireland my wife and I made a side trip to Connemara, a magical village perched on a broad peninsula in County Galway. The scenery was dazzling – Kilkieran Bay sparkling in the afternoon sunlight, narrow winding roads lined with stone fences, sheep blocking our rental car’s passage. We stopped at a small hotel with a sidewalk café and enjoyed what my wife described as “the best fish ‘n chips in the whole wide world.”

A friendly policeman gave us directions when we got lost, his words an enchanting mixture of English and Gaeltacht (the real Irish language).

A new film titled “The Guard” took us back to Connemara, the scenery just as lovely as we remembered it. But the Garda in the title was hardly the image of the helpful policeman we’d encountered.

In this dark comedy Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) is a small-town Irish cop “with a confrontational personality, a subversive sense of humor, a dying mother, a fondness for prostitutes, and absolutely no interest whatsoever in the international cocaine-smuggling ring that has brought an FBI agent to his door.”

This is a tour de force for Brendan Gleeson. Don Cheadle plays straight-man as the American FBI agent.
Gleeson has been on many moviegoers’ radar since his performance in “In Bruges,” a tale about two hitmen holed up in a scenic European village.

Ironically, “In Bruges” was directed by Martin McDonagh, who happens to be the brother of John Michael McDonagh, director of this film.

“The Guard” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

The culture clash between the unorthodox Irish policeman and the uptight FBI agent provides plenty of humor. But the insults and jokes are not limited to Americans. Brits and anyone unfortunate enough to hail from Dublin are targets for Sergeant Gerry Boyle’s racial and xenophobic slurs.

Compared to the serious-minded “In Bruges,” John Michael McDonagh’s “The Guard” is more a cartoon drawn with a broad brush. Yet there’s plenty of action, not to mention bribery, blackmail and murders by an occult serial killer. As the two coppers pursue the drug smugglers (a reluctant pastime for the sergeant), even the IRA gets in on the bloody rampage.

One moviegoer said it reminded him of “Lethal Weapon,” if the Mel Gibson movie had been set in the west of Ireland. “Unorthodox police work - yes, disregard for superiors - check, only thing is Sergeant Gerry Boyle has slightly less enthusiasm for action than Officer Riggs.”

Maybe my wife and I were too busy looking at the scenery when we visited Connemara. The Garda Síochána na hÉireann didn’t have so many bad guys to catch. Or so it seemed to a couple of starry-eyed tourists.
[from Solares Hill]

Friday, September 9, 2011

Week of Sept. 9 to Sept. 15 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

As I contemplate RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES I’m beginning to think the whole Planet series has become a metaphor for contemporary American politics. The movie series is about how a bunch of nasty apes outsmarts the good humans, and takes control of the world. Isn’t that where we are heading right now?

Anyhow this latest movie is a prequel, supposedly the back story of how the apes, who had been several branches back on the evolutionary tree, managed to leap ahead of their more sophisticated cousins. The answer: we did it to ourselves. Will Rodman, an appropriately named stiff (James Franco), is a medical researcher looking for a cure for his father’s Alzheimer’s. While testing it on chimpanzees, he discovers the most profound and impressive gains in intelligence.

It does not work on humans, unfortunately. But oh! those chimps and their Simian brethren. The master race is born. The greatest delight in this 2011 version of apes is the quality of the effects. Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar, the leading chimp and the real star of the movie, is not simply a guy stuffed in a padded suit with a prosthetic face and a bad wig. Thanks to the new CGI technology of motion and performance capture the actors can emote and express in a way that was previously impossible. And no one can do it as well as Serkis, who earned his chops as King Kong and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.

“The summer’s best popcorn flick,” says the New York Daily News. And what better place to see it than the home of Florida’s best popcorn.

In 1953, three Dutch women fly to New Zealand to meet their fiancés. BRIDE FLIGHT is the story of the three – a free-spirited designer, Esther; a simple farm girl, Ada; and a traditional frau, Marjorie – plus that of a handsome countryman, Frank, who accompanies them on the plane. The flight is part of an intercontinental speed race, which lends some excitement to the movie. But at heart it’s the multiyear saga of these four, their loves and lacks thereof.

If you’re accustomed to the usual little Dutch art movie, be ready for a surprise. This is reputedly one of the biggest budget films they have ever made, and the guilders are up there on the screen in a panoramic cinema that cuts back and forth between the present and past. There may be a bit of soap opera in the plot, but it justifies it with a “lush, epic romantic weepie that Hollywood used to deliver on a regular basis.” (New York Post)

A passel of movies are held over: DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, SARAH’S KEY, HORRIBLE BOSSES and THE TRIP.

Sunday afternoon at 2:00 brings a special screening of the 2006 film UNITED 93, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11. This was, of course, the one plane of the four that took off that morning that never made it to its target – likely the White House or the Capitol. It’s a compelling drama and a celebration of a group of unlikely heros. The Tropic, along with the Red Cross, is joining a group of theaters who are helping raise money for a memorial in the field at Shanksville, PA, where the plane went down. Regular movie prices are in effect.

Monday evening is less reverent, with John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd in the return of THE BLUES BROTHERS showing as the week’s Monday Movie Madness classic film.

Comments, please, to

Bride Flight (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Bride Flight

 "Bride Flight", the latest film by Ben Sombogaart who made a splash with his Holocaust drama "Twin Sisters" (2003) is pure melodrama. But strangely enough, all the pieces in this tearful timezone tangle work very well together. The simple verve in the performances alone will give your heart the vision it needs and keep you watching.

The plot is inspired by the true story of the Last Great Air Race from London to New Zealand in 1953. Many Dutch were brought over and many of them were wives to be, ready (and sometimes not so ready) to meet their fiancés.

We first see Rutger Hauer as an old man who runs a vineyard. He is wrinkled and craggy. Cut to the next scene forty years earlier and he is the blonde and dashing Frank (Waldemar Torenstra) who is devil- may-care with movie-star looks. Ada (Karina Smulders) is about to marry Derk (Micha Hulschof) he is uptight, boring and distracted. Ada and Derk buy an old bunker. It is almost black inside, believe it or not, and you just know the marriage wont work. Then there is Esther (Anna Drijver), independent and sensual, not to be tied down by the confines of  Orthodox religion. She has bright red nails. Lastly , there's Marjorie (Elise Shaap) who is a goody two shoes. All three women are in love with Frank, who is rugged and touched by the sun.

The events are familiar to any soap opera viewer, but the events unfold in such a moderate and dispassionate way that we don't mind the Sturm and Drang such as Marjorie's son lost in a cave of hot springs or Ada in a loveless marriage. And who could argue with the sight of Frank and Ada as they attack each other in tactile passion, going at it on the table? Not since "Body Heat"  or "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1981) have I seen such visceral lust. The two lovers become almost avian in their sensual locomotion. The film takes time to establish real amorous chemistry and you will root for them.

The film has a retro appeal similar to Tv's "Mad Men" and this makes the cinematography fresh, nostalgic and easy on the eyes. One look at the silver gray KLM airplane is as alluring as any superhero or platinum bombshell from the 1950's. This, coupled with the sight of the stern, formidable presence of Hauer---his dusty cowboy face a wedge of slate against the deep green peaks of New Zealand---make this film an existential bodice ripper and one that charms with its honesty in dramatic expression.

Write Ian at

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Rise of The Planet of the Apes

As a child of the 70s, I grew up with the "Planet of the Apes" films. I was attracted to the Pop Art of the whole concept, the sensationalistic oddly neon feel of the films and the way they turned things upside down. I never thought about Evolution or how man is less noble than the ape ( as we often appear to be) I simply liked the films. They seemed shiny, colorful and glaring. There I was with Dr. Zaius, Cornelius and Zira and the humans were invariably self important. That was part of the fun.

The new, digitally epic "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" has come to The Tropic at last to give us our fix of evolutionary Karma. For those who are younger, it will be a new trip.

This version has James Franco, who plays a scientist named Will. Will has sincere compassion for chimps. When a new brain drug is tried and one of the apes goes bonkers and gets violent, Dr. Jacobs (David Oyelowo) orders all the ape subjects to be put to death. Sleepy-eyed but determined Will finds adorable baby Caesar, played by veteran fantasy actor Andy Serkis, although you might not know it-- he has CGI effects to enhance him. Adorable Caesar may be, but he is a bit spooky. Watch for those leering glares and eerie green eyes and you'll see what I mean. Caesar is dazzling and cute as he leaps about the house and it is a credit to the film that despite the somewhat haunting and scary CGI look to Caesar, Andy Serkis makes him into a real chimp that we care for. Some scenes when Caesar is left alone will tug at your heart, virtual or otherwise.

The best part of the film is when Caesar is young and vulnerable. He interprets his family as being under attack and there is range and empathy in his action and motion in his eyes. I felt it. You can even feel the anxiety as Caesar learns things at a breakneck pace, yet still with the poignancy of a child.
With the second half of the film however, I felt I knew what was coming: A kind of "Apes Unite!" Back are the leering looks and the concentrated glares that seem strangely uniform and mask-like from chimp to chimp with little variety of expression. The orangoutang however is the exception. There is character in his eyes.

When he signs to Caesar about his predicament, the apes are like two fellow cons waiting out prison. It is a good scene full of endearing humor. Then it gets noisy with the throttling and crunching of some wise ass humans, most of them well deserving of their pulp fate. Yes, the apes take over the city and scare everyone to death. But the most fun is watching pompous humans get their comeuppance. And also catching references from the original 1968 film: watch for the tv set at the primate center. And a real sadistic moron utters the famous line: "Get your hands off me, you damn dirty ape!"

After all, even though its 2011, some things are just classic and still remain.

Write Ian at