Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Week of April 27 to May 3 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Chefs from all over the world dream of acquiring a Michelin three-star rating, awarded only to the most perfect temples of gastronomy. Two stars means a restaurant is “worth a detour” but three means that it’s “worth a special journey” to enjoy dining excellence. In all the world there only about 80 restaurants qualifying, a mere two in London and four in New York. But for Jiro Ono it’s not a dream. He already has the three-star rating. His only care is to perfect it. JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is the appropriately titled documentary about his modest sushi bar in a Tokyo subway station.

With only ten tables gathered around a small bar, it’s not easy to get a reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro. It’s reported that you must have a fluent Japanese speaker with you to gain the honor of a seat. Nor is it a bargain, with the bill averaging $250 per person, far more than the American ne plus ultra of Per Se or Le Bernadin. But, as Master Card would say, some things are priceless. If a movie about this appeals to you, let me give you a tip. Make your reservation at Ambrosia or Origami before you go, because the urge to consume some of these delectable rolls will be irresistible when you emerge from the film.

In the hands of American documentarian David Gelb, the movie teaches you about sushi, but more than that it’s a tribute to an extraordinary artist, a man who has obsessively devoted his life to an ephemeral art that disappears in a gulp. “At its simplest level, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a portrait of a master. In its deeper layers, it explores what drives us to make things: Beautiful, jewel-like things, or things that delight our palate – or, in this case, both.” (Stephanie Zacherek,

While you’re contemplating the small pleasures of raw fish, TITANIC is a looming presence reminding us that the sea also taketh away, and that Hollywood’s artists like James Cameron work at a scale somewhat larger than that of a sushi chef. While the honorable Jiro has been dreaming of sushi, Cameron has been fretting over the fact that he made his seafaring magnum opus too soon, before the era of 3D. Not to worry. Thanks to more than a year’s work, and the expenditure of $18 million in a painstaking scene-by-scene digital remastering of the movie, we have it.

I’m not a huge fan of 3D, but this is the best use of the extra dimension I’ve seen so far. The amazing effects of this cinematic powerhouse now sweep us even more realistically into the watery domain of the White Star Line’s doomed vessel.

Held over are SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN, the comic drama starring Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor about converting a piece of the Arab desert into the Scottish Highland; WANDERLUST, Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd’s excellent adventure on a hippie commune; and THIN ICE, a tongue-in-cheek tale of a couple of inept con men.

On the higher culture front, Sunday brings us THE BRIGHT STREAM, live from the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow at 11:00AM EDT (7:00PM in Moscow), with an encore show at 7:00PM EDT. We no longer have to view Shostakovitch’s 1935 celebration about life on a collective farm through a Stalinist lens (which got some of his collaborators sent to a gulag), but can just enjoy its comic joy.

This Monday marks the end of the April Cult Colors classic movie series with David Lynch’s 1986 masterpiece BLUE VELVET, starring Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper.

Full schedules and info at or

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Ono is a man of dreams, specifically dreams pertaining to sushi of every stripe, succulence, and color in the spectrum. Jiro is a sushi chef who treats   His waking life and dream-life in equal measure. The two are one in the same. Around  his REM buzzing eyes, there is Sansho, that is Japanese pepper in place of common sleep. Jiro's sushi is created in dreams, step-by step, out of a curving fusion of function and design: part edible LEGO, part origami and always striving for perfection.

For 85 years, this is the state of Jiro, as we see him in the documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi". Jiro owns and operates his sushi restaurant located in a nondescript Tokyo subway. He works  in constant motion, excluding a heart attack at the age of 70, during a cigarette break. His personal koan is "what is delicious?" This alone keeps Jiro awake each night. The concept of "delicious" is dreamy in itself, a weird unknowable, unattainable element, and something out of science fiction--- a riddle without an answer. 

 Yet, as much as Jiro is a man of food, he is also a man of fear. Within his starkly clinical ten-seat restaurant, rapid ingestion and sparse conversation is encouraged and there have been many nervous diners, almost sick with anxiety.  Indeed, the interior of the restaurant could double for any one of David Cronenberg's stage sets: all right angles and open spaces, less a dining room then a hospital corridor.

Jiro does not suffer foolish questions, or foolish customers. No soups or appetizers are served here. Just twenty pieces of sushi per person that arrive on the plate: a mouthwatering tribute to Mondrian which may or may not lead to a rhythm of Umami---that fleeting dance on the tongue between the  bitter, the sour, the  sweet and the salty. Yet more often than not, just as you taste Umami, it dissolves, becoming as immaterial as a spot of uncooked rice.

One sees Jiro as he is: a man cooking. He is unfazed by the motion of men, commerce or the cacophony of music. We see him at a shopping mall confronted by blaring crowds and the whine of a television.

Jiro moves silently past. 

Despite his impassivity, he is a soft curmudgeon. Jiro visits the grave of his parents and then says, "Why am I here?"

Jiro was on his own since the age of seven. His father abandoned him and his mother is only briefly mentioned. 

Only when Jiro is around the kitchen,does he come alive. Other than his two sons, who are sushi chefs themselves, Jiro is a one man army. He worries about the future, as he is in his twilight years with no new restaurant manager as yet.

Jiro simply works as each piece of sushi must be better than the last. "If I stop, or go, it's not up to me," he states with a half smile.

Jiro hates holidays; they get in his way.

He is ultimately a master, a controller, a Yakinori Yoda, and by the end of the film, (despite the shortage of tuna and the lack of a Jiro heir) only sushi remains.

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" is a calligraphic dance upon the eye which examines the concept of sushi as an life-time occupation along with its salivary image. The film shares a similar music score with Herzog's "Into the Abyss" but aside from an antiseptic subway interior which is Jiro's home and sushi bar, the only existentialism is the legacy of this Master Shokunin, and how long he can practice his endless slices and folds.

And if you catch a seating with Jiro here, at The Tropic, he won't glare, and those scary and  anxious reservations,  placed a month in advance, are suddenly unnecessary.

Write Ian at

Titanic (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


I remember it like it was yesterday. It is suddenly 1997. I am an art student at The Savannah College of Art and Design and my heart is squashed and heavy over a first romance that ended abruptly over a long distance phone call. The Spanish moss hangs in the tree of night like severed lines of communication between myself and my girlfriend. Her name is like a red crayon on my heart and I just want to forget everything, to go places, however short in duration.

I went to the movies.

This is how I felt fourteen  years ago when I first saw James Cameron's "Titanic". And the viewing of it once more at The Tropic is like touching a friend of memory, bringing the sensation of a heart once submerged, and only now lifted up. This version has the added gusto of 3D, presumably to enhance the ship collision and even subliminally, the pull and pain of love. 

Most of us are familiar with the story which was as iconic in 1997 as "Romeo & Juliet" was in Shakespeare's day. There is young Jack, an artist (Leonardo DiCaprio) a kind of Disney-eyed Rimbaud, minus the rough edges. And Rose, (Kate Winslet) a fleshly ghost of a beauty with flaming red hair right out of a Dante Gabriel Rossetti painting. In many ways "Titanic" is a fetishistic  diorama of young love. DiCaprio is like a junior hybrid of a blonde Gauguin and a Peter Pan , dashing and rumpled. Winslet, a snowflake on fire, is at once a Marilyn Monroe, a Betty Boop, a Snow White, and a oceanic Ophelia. By lighting  Winslet's  face with many colored filters in accordance with the drama, Cameron takes a cue from Andy Warhol. Winslet is the new Marilyn from 1997 and beyond, shooting out of space: A mariner maven in red, yellow,white and gray blue. 

There is the classic sketching on the sofa scene and in this new version it just about reaches campy heights. The rounded flash of breasts almost bounces on your eyes. If Cameron had only gone further, Russ Meyer would not be out of place. Perhaps soft porn IS the final frontier of 3D. 

Suddenly the  Iceberg of infamy is upon us and chunks of it are everywhere in the theater. The film becomes a pop-up book of disaster. The leonine liner, an indigo arrow, slips into an ocean that envelops all in its dark cape. And for minutes on end, people scamper crazily about like sugar ants under Cameron's Miltonic gaze.

There is no added drama here or enriched pathos. This is "Titanic" as it was in 1997 despite the trappings of 3D. The added effect never detracts from its suspense and likable schmaltz, I'm just not sure it does all that much to strengthen it.

But no matter. As I leaned in my chair I saw the frozen flame of  Rose once again and I could almost smell that happy-sad aroma of the paper mill under, along, and throughout The Talmadge Bridge: my own ship that once  voyaged across a flaming November river and into the sea.

Write Ian at

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Week of April 20 to April 26 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Where would you like to go this week?

How about a hippie commune? With WANDERLUST you could join Jennifer Anniston and Paul Rudd as they tune in, turn on and drop out from straight Manhattan life at a commune where money buys nothing, and love is free. Live out your fantasy, then go home, all in under two hours. “There's no way you won't be tickled. Wanderlust makes escapism an irresistible proposition.” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone). “The movie renews your faith in communal comedy.” (David Edelstein, NPR)

Too soft? In THIN ICE you can accompany insurance salesman Gregg Kinnear into the winter Wisconsin wilds as he tries to con an elderly farmer (Alan Arkin). At first it’s just an unneeded policy that’s being sold, but when a felonious security system installer (Billy Crudup) comes on the scene, theft of a rare violin becomes the goal. “This is an icy cocktail of greed, betrayal and murder to be savored,” (Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star-Tribune) with a “devilishly ingenious screenplay” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times). The sister team of writer-directors, Jill and Karen Sprecher have a light touch that will make you think of the Coen Brothers, rather than Hitchcock.

Or if you want to avoid any levity, join Woody Harrelson as a bad cop in the mean streets of Los Angeles in RAMPART. The title refers to an L.A. precinct noted for the over-the-top brutality of its officers, and Woody has helped build that reputation. He has his own code however. With two ex-wife sisters (Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche) and children by each, he’s a louse, but in a warped way he believes he has to hold the family together. Written by James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential), and directed by Oren Moverman (The Messenger). “With Mr. Harrelson, Mr. Moverman has created an antihero of epic proportions and indiscretions.” (John Anderson, Wall St. Journal) “Harrelson is an ideal actor for the role. Especially in tensely wound-up movies like this, he implies that he's looking at everything and then watching himself looking. His character, Dave Brown, has no moral center, but he has the survival instincts of a rat, and I say that with all due respect for rats.” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

Another option is a dysfunctional New York high school in DETACHMENT. Adrien Brody is a substitute school teacher. He’s at the center of a cast of worn out souls – Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks, James Caan, Lucy Liu – all brought down by the educational wasteland they inhabit. He knows there is more. He tries to prove it. “Its sheer audacity grabs your attention.” (Stephen Holden, New York Times) “The movie works, and, though it cries out against so much, you sense that the one thing it does not cry is wolf.” (Anthony Lane, New Yorker)

And then there’s IN DARKNESS, which is easily the finest film of the group, but not easy to take. This Polish selection for the Best Foreign Language film Academy Award is based on a true story a sewer worker who hid Jews below the ground in the final year of the German occupation. “To give the highest recommendation to a Holocaust movie is to anticipate a certain resistance in the reader…. [But] In Darkness is an extraordinary movie, and somehow good art creates its own uplift.” (Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle) “The suspense here, derived from a true story, is excruciating and inspiring in equal measure.” (Joe Morgenstern, Wall St. Journal)

Full schedule and info at or

Thin Ice (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Thin Ice

"Thin Ice" directed by Jill  Sprecher (who directed the highly regarded "Thirteen Conversations about One Thing" ) is an entertaining lark of a film. It has a lively comic tone provided by Greg Kinnear and Billy Crudup. It is a double cross-type of caper film and even if the winter Midwestern setting setting seems all too familiar ala "Fargo", it still makes for some fun gallows humor. 

Kinnear stars as Mickey Prohaska a sociopathic insurance agent who is always looking for an edge. Prohaska is so conniving he steals flowers from his wife and gives them to his secretary. This guy's all heart and even he's not the worst. Overall, the characters have a "Glengarry Glen Ross" flavor to them, which is not as refreshing as it could be, but worth a salute similar in the manner of seeing old friends.

Mickey ingratiates himself to an older client Gorvy (Alan Arkin). who is ever so slightly like a Russian Mister Magoo. After an initial consultation, a violin expert (Bob Balaban) approaches Mickey about the old man's valuable strings. Mickey gets the idea to swipe the violin. His pathological lust for cash puts him in touch with psychotic trucker Randy,(Billy Crudup). Randy doesn't play it exactly straight, he is a total cartoon of a "psycho, part Road Runner, part Nicolas Cage with a dash of Martin Riggs from "Lethal Weapon". You will feel a hypertensive hilarity in simply watching this loon. Crudup is more hopped up than Dennis Hopper on those violet vapors. One wonders how far he will go. Both Kinnear and Crudup make a kind of pathological Abbott & Costello team. Things go from bad to worse and then further south  still and the film will have you both laughing and shaking your head in disbelief. 
Director Jill and her sister Karen Sprecher are known as the Coen Sisters because of their shared Midwestern origins. In "Thin Ice", the Coen influence is unmistakeable, but one note of caution: there are so many plot twists, turns and labyrinths in their double-cross designs that I was honestly dumbfounded. It just didn't make sense. But perhaps, like an opiate-enriched O. Henry story, you can just go with it. 

Apparently Jill Sprecher is rumored to have been deeply  displeased with the final cut of the film and said she thought of removing herself from the project. As Sprecher is a talented filmmaker of entertwining existential vignettes, I can only wonder what her ultimate vision of this film might have been, or what she may have enhanced, added or altered. This mystery is curious in itself and adds an extra dimension to the Coenic confusion known as "Thin Ice" that will defy the logic of any  Hitchcockian high-priest equipped with his mantra of MacGuffins. But so be it and go see it,  for all its perforations in pat logic, "Thin Ice" makes for a brazen brouhaha---a maladroit microcosm of  zany malcontents.

Write Ian at

Detachment (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


"Detachment" is the latest all-absorbing film by Tony Kaye, director of "American History X". It is never Kaye's style to pull any punches and he doesn't disappoint. His latest experiment is a character study within the world of public school. The film is a Kafkaesque vision colored with Crayola crayons  (in a predominate gray, white and black ) and laced with spots of red acrylic  that might lead to love or  loss.

Adrien Brody plays Henry Barthes, a permanent substitute whose very face is slanted by suspicion and sadness. Henry perpetually enters a hostile or temporary classroom working for a school that ebbs just under the bottom tier of achievement. The second Henry arrives, it is a daily flight or flight, an academic apocalypse of confusion, threat and insecurity. Angst is so ubiquitous that it seems as if the school itself is under a supernatural duress. The faculty is apathetic, singed under the press of constant drudgery. The students are frequently verbally abusive and semi-incoherent using a blunt and primal rap-speak. Night after night, Henry returns on a city bus, his face a sliver of white chalk, his eyes, a pair of melancholic black commas that hover, rise and sink with emotion. Oppressed and repressed by the memories of his mother, while visiting his grandpa in the hospital, Henry feels compelled to masochistically limit himself.

As dauntingly downbeat as the film's narrative appears this isn't exactly a depressive film. Kaye intersperses the existential environment of a classroom with lively animated chalkboard doodles which create a thoughtful fusion of "Sesame Street" and Schopenhauer, given the fact that Henry leads a life of disciplined asceticism, despite smoking like a chimney. You never get the feeling that Henry is a hopeless character. He helps others not because he has to, but because he merely acts in accord with his spirit. There is a passivity about him that never wanes. 

A highlight is newcomer Sami Gayle as Erica, a young homeless teen who restores some nurturing fire in Henry. There have been many Erica characters on film, but Gayle's glibness highlights Brody's passive weariness and gives their coupling some real  platonic electricity.

James Caan plays a substitute dean who looks like a car salesman. Although his first appearance is a cartoon, he gradually gives some weight and irreverence to what could have been an uninteresting role. Caan's analysis of rap music is not to be missed.

The principal, well played by Marcia Gay Harden, seems the only unsympathetic character as she is often bitter and hissy. 

The aim of  "Detachment" may well be philosophic rather than fanciful, but it still contains its share of Gothicism, and it is never out of place. Wait for the deserted classrooms or the singular chocolate cupcake iced with a vanilla frown. The film doesn't  highlight Sturm und Drang spooks; it simply makes a point that in today's world, in pop-culture and beyond, the Goth condition is not buried underground, but above our green lawns for all to see.

"Detachment"  is no fright-fest and shouldn't scare you away. Overall, it is a thoughtful character study, brought to a  complete whole in no small way by Adrien Brody, who may well have the best victimized visage in all of Hollywood. His recitation of Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" is by itself, worth the price of admission.

Write Ian at

Wanderlust (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

If you like your films exclusively silly, and I mean really silly in a genuine and unapologetic way, try "Wanderlust". This film is unique because it shouldn't work, for the very fact that it is a total cartoon, a one joke wonder, or a long Saturday Night Live skit, but work it does. 
"Wanderlust" succeeds in spite of itself.

Comic Everyman Paul Rudd is George and   the self deprecatingly cute Jennifer Aniston plays Linda---two smartphone sweethearts. George and Linda are exhausted by the New York rat race and want to try their hand at more peaceful pastures.

After a disasterous short stay with George's ultra-obnoxious brother Rick (Ken Marino ) the couple spies a B & B on a night road that seems to magically appear. Yikes! An odd looking nude body that looks like a walking sausage, jumps from out of the bushes! 

George and Linda are cocooned with a bunch of hopping, hemped-up and hairy hippies that resemble living examples of Robert Crumb cartoons. There is a lot of kooky dancing and gesticulating here, that will have you laughing in its very persistence. Justin Theroux is Seth, the comically self righteous Guru who is always in bliss. Malin Akerman plays Eva, the free love sex goddess and Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under)  is Almond, spiritually serious and good natured. Coupled with Paul Rudd, Theroux is a riot, especially in the all too earnest guitar scene, not too mention an ever present didgeridoo.

These commune dwellers are more sensimillia-ishly slappy than The Three Stooges. The first half hour is a zany giggle-fest that disarms the logic centers and hits you in the gut where the jitter and jump of true comedy exists, yet as the story goes on there isn't much for the "Mr. Naturals" to do. The film gives way to logic, the confines of a middle and a romantic comedy ending and becomes less spontaneous and less funny.
Still, there are some outrageous moments here and many of them. Paul Rudd is wonderful as the piercingly sarcastic straight man to all this New Age nincompoopery. 
Ken Marino steals the show as George's narcissistic and  idiotic brother. Rick moves in an extreme borderland of  "sound and fury, signifying nothing" and that is why he is the most entertaining. 

I must admit that Alan Alda as the commune founder, portrays the weakest character in the film. Grey-bearded, spacey and curmudgeonly, Alda's role gets a little tedious as he forgets his friends' names for the tenth time in the film. Alda's 'Carvin', keeps repeating this like a Who's on First bit and this segment is probably the only truly  unfunny part you'll find. Carvin who is clearly a watered down facsimile  of George Carlin, would have fared better if he was injected with some of Carlin's verbal gusto.

By the end,  some stimulating irreverence weakens to a flimsy Caddyshack of quick jokes that shelter a traditional romance.

Despite this bad trip however, the film's  first forty minutes are worth forgetting the munchies for. The initial beginning has a Midnite Movie feel that is refreshing and confident. Wanderlust's wickedness is manic and brave and more so called 'comedies' should set out on its fierce, non-pandering path.

Write Ian at

Rampart (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 


"Rampart" is the new film by Oren Moverman (The Messenger) and it is co-written by current noir maestro James Ellroy. It is an amoral and fatalistic little tale about a very, very bad cop with an anger problem to say the least. Woody Harrelson plays cop Dave "Date-rape" Brown perfectly. He is part Yul Brynner from "Westworld" and part Robert Duvall. Harrelson  references Colonel Kilgore more than once in his swaggering, rooster-like stance but there is also something of the alien insect about him. If there was ever a human creature that could double as an albino iguana, Dave would be it.

The film is meticulously crafted and  rigorously deadpan in tone. The film is not as surprising as it could have been, in part because it echoes other gritty cop dramas, namely "Training Day" (2001) and "Colors" (1988). Those films, although harsh, contained a  silver sliver of a moral center on the police uniform. The cops or at least some of them knew what was wrong. In "Rampart" we are not so sure. This film is more detached than its dirty, dog eat dog predecessors, its standoffish tone is as gray as Lynne Ramsey's "We Need to Talk About Kevin". And, like the father in "Kevin", most of the administration enable Dave's execrable behavior. The force is ineffectual and his family tolerates him. He plainly sees killing on duty as a matter of course, an inevitable act like brushing off crumbs. We don't know what drives Dave. Is he pissed off, sociopathic, or just a bad egghead? We are not given any clues. And perhaps as a character study, it does not matter. We are confronted by this cop as is, without warning. His appearance onscreen is abrupt and jarring. One look at those blue-reflector sunglasses and you know its trouble. 

As the film goes on, you might want Dave to snap out of himself and to become a better person, to realize the mania of his ways. In one scene he lies at the bottom of a pool. His arms are outstretched and he looks like a diseased amphibian. Dave's elongated martyr pose seems to invite a release as if to say go ahead, kill me, I want to drown. But Dave treads water and gets more and more angry, seeming to take on everything negative---Lust, Murder, Racism and Sexism---as if he is a chemically corrosive white sponge. There seems no point to his regression or circumstance. Dave simply is.

The compelling thing about Harrelson's performance is that Dave gets so wrapped up in watching others, he zones out abruptly and seems to be watching himself. Dave is silently snakelike and spaced to the core. As a voyeuristic Ouroboros, there is no way to tell where Harrelson ends and Dave begins. This character is Rampart's sole  beacon making reason enough to stop and look.

Write Ian at

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Week of April 13 to April 19 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

The oddly named SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN is an offbeat comedy about… well, salmon fishing in Yemen. You see, Sheikh Muhammed, a Yemeni top dog, loves to go fly fishing, which makes sense in Scotland, where he discovered it, but not in the hot, dry desert where he lives. But this is just the sort of story that screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) loves to run with. And he’s got all-star support with director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules) and actors Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Harriet (Blunt) is a young British aide to the Shiekh (Amr Waked – Syriana). She’s charged with the implausible conversion of a corner of Yemen into the Scottish Highlands. Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor) is the UK fisheries expert who tells her it is impossible. And Patricia Maxwell (Scott Thomas) is the British Prime Minister’s press secretary who sees the international political capital to be gained, and tells Dr. Jones that he pretty damn well ought to make happen.

You see the possibilities. “An engaging love story that should appeal to moviegoers with a flair for the offbeat.” (Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post Dispatch) “A surprisingly lush, endearing little film, in which a swelling sense of romanticism thoroughly banishes even the most far-fetched improbabilities.” (Ann Hornaday, Washington Post)

It must be the week for fish stories. BIG MIRACLE is a docudrama about a pod of whales trapped in the ice at Barrow, the top of Alaska, in 1988. (Okay, whales aren’t fish, but….) Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore) is an enviro-activist trying to save the creatures. With her leading the way, as the world watched, the community gathered to help and the Soviets dropped their cold-war animosity.
This is real family fare, but “it’s an exciting, charming and often quite funny family film.” (Lou Lumenick, New York Post), and “a screwball comedy” to boot. (Liam Lacey, Toronto Globe and Mail)

While we’re on the subject of family-environmental movies, don’t miss THE LORAX, the latest animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss. The title character, in case you don’t know, is a grumpy forest creature fighting to save his world. And Ted is a boy who learns that you have to “really care” to do good. In 3D with the Tropic’s extraordinary Xpand active glasses giving you a sharper, brighter picture than anywhere else in town.

“A purely warm, wonderful, wise and hilarious family entertainment that is fantastic movie fun for everyone.” (Pete Hammond, BoxOffice Magazine)

If all this leaves you wishing for something more serious, THE KID WITH A BIKE is the answer. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, and a Golden Globe Best Foreign Film nominee, this movie tracks the plight of Cyril (Thomas Doret), an eleven-year-old boy who has been abandoned by his single-parent father and lost his bike in the process. If you’re familiar with the previous work of the Belgian writer-director team of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, The Child) you’ll understand that this is not going to be a glossy Spielbergian tear-jerker. But Cyril does find a home of sorts with a local hairdresser (Cécile De France), and their relationship provides an anchor as he copes with a life on streets ruled by Fagin-like toughs.

“Working on a scale that's minuscule by studio standards, the Dardenne brothers have made yet another movie that does what Hollywood used to do—keep us rapt, and leave us grateful.” (Joe Morgenstern, Wall St. Journal) “A quietly rapturous film about love and redemption…” (Manhola Dargis, New York Times)

This week’s Special Events bring us the Maysles brothers' classic documentary on Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edie, GREY GARDENS. These relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis are her polar opposites in life style, living in not very genteel poverty in a dilapidating mansion.

And the European opera series returns with RIGOLETTO, from the Royal Opera in London. It’s on Tuesday, live at 2:15pm (EDT) (7:15pm in London), with an encore showing at 7:00pm (EDT).

Full schedules and info on these and the holdover films W./E. and JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME, at or

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Rhoades)

“Salmon Fishing”
Is Desert Dream

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

In the hot Middle Eastern country of Dubai there’s a 22,500 square-meter indoor ski resort where you can ski, snowboard, or go for toboggan runs. And in the sweltering land known as Bahrain there’s a 15,000 square-meter indoor-outdoor water park where you can splash in the Wave Pool, drift along the Lazy River, or swim against the Master Blaster.
So why not go salmon fishing in the Yemen?
That’s the background story in the film with the spoiler-alert title, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.” It’s currently showing at the Tropic Cinema.
Based on a book by Paul Torday, this romantic dramedy tells of a British fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) who is hired by a wealthy Yemeni sheikh (Amr Waked) to introduce the sport of salmon fishing to that unlikely locale.
While the fisheries guy rejects the idea as “infeasible,” he’s coerced into advising the sheikh by a gung-ho press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas). In the process he falls for the sheikh’s pretty consultant (Emily Blunt), despite the fact that he has an estranged wife and she an MIA boyfriend (Tom Mison). Militants sabotage the fish runs but our guy’s faith in the project is strengthened by his new romance.
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” was directed by Lasse Hallström, the Swedish filmmaker who gave us “My Life as a Dog,” “Chocolat,” and “Cider House Rules.”
Don’t write it off as a preposterous premise. In the Middle East you’ll not only find the world’s tallest building, but also a desert golf course designed by Tiger Woods. You’ll also find the underwater city of Hydropolis, the world’s largest airport, and the sailboat-shaped Burj al Arab Hotel where gold-plated rooms go for $1,500 a night.
So why not salmon fishing?

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (Rhoades)

Aimless “Jeff”
Looks for a Sign

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

One of my editors at Marvel was a fortysomething guy who still lived at home, in his parents’ basement, seemingly content with his solitary lifestyle – what some psychologists call Failure to Launch. A grown-up kid.
There have been several movies on the subject. One was a comedy starring Matthew McConaughey called appropriately enough, “Failure to Launch.” The dark Ben Stiller comedy titled “Greenberg” gave us a glimpse of the same malaise as he housesits for his brother. “Cyrus” was a film about an entrenched adult son trying to derail his mother’s romantic life. You get hints of this also in Richard Linklater’s “Slackers” and Kevin Smith’s “Clerks.” Or “Five Easy Pieces.”
Aimless guys searching for a direction.
Now along comes “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” an indie film on the same topic. It’s still playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Jeff (as portrayed by Jason Segal) is a 30-year-old man-child who is still searching for the Meaning to Life. He draws most of his conclusions from M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs,” a movie about visitors from outer space. It convinces him that nothing is random. He just can’t find the connections.
A wrong number sets his life on a spin cycle like an unbalanced load of wash. Yet is it not “the best day in the history of the whole world”?
Maybe, maybe not. Jeff needs a sign.
Even so, Jeff is comfortable living in his mom’s basement. His mother (Susan Sarandan) is exasperated with her son and enlists his brother Pat (Ed Helms) to get him off the couch and out into the world.
Easier said than done.
When Jeff leaves his basement sanctuary in search of wood glue, he winds up hanging with his brother Pat. As much as Jeff is a failure at singularity, Pat isn’t doing too well with his marriage. A sports car doesn’t seem to be the cure for midlife crisis. And Pat’s wife (Judy Greer) is not all that thrilled with her slacker brother-in-law helping her husband keep tabs on her.
That said, “Jeff Who Lives at Home” is more a slice of life than a story. The film has trouble making up its mind whether to be funny or serious. All the characters are a tad too exaggerated. Segal too muddled. Helms too tightly wound. Sarandon too frustrated. Greer too irritated.
Jason Segal seems to be applying for a patent on sweet, clueless characters. But the lovable mug act that served him so well in “The Muppets” (a franchise he all but singlehandedly resurrected) and in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is wearing thin.
My favorite Segal persona is his amiable, save-the-world character in the “How I Met Your Mother” TV series. Here he knows what he wants out of life: His wife Lilly. A job with an environmentally friendly organization. The companionship of his friends.
Not so in “Jeff Who Lives at Home.” The writing-directing team of Jay and Mark Duplass is exploring familiar territory (they gave us “Cyrus”), but this time without a destination in sight.
The film, like its protagonist, seems a bit too aimless.

The Kid With A Bike (Wanous)


Belgian film delivers emotional roller coaster

"The Kid With A Bike," Rated PG-13, 87 min., opens April 13 at the Tropic Cinema; French, fully subtitled
Nominated for the Palme d'Or and winner of the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes last year, "The Kid With A Bike" co-writers/directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (the Dardenne brothers) have crafted a story that is heavy with the prospect of serious psychological damage to the characters, to the viewer, or maybe both. But it somehow also manages to be an upbeat film, showing the resilience of the human spirit in the face of crushing disappointment.

Showing guilt, innocence, love, hate, cunning and the ease with which moral decisions can go either way, "The Kid With A Bike" is an uneasy film that takes the viewer on an emotional roller coaster ride.
Cyril is an eleven-year-old boy who has been dumped at a school/orphanage by his father, who no longer wants the responsibility of raising a child alone. We never find out what happened to the mother. Justifiably confused and angry, Cyril goes on a desperate search for his father and lashes out at anyone who tries to stop him. The dad has changed his phone number, moved out of his apartment with no forwarding address and, maybe worst of all, has sold Cyril's beloved bicycle.

We realize that his father does not want him, but Cyril stubbornly refuses to believe that he has been abandoned. His search leads him into unexpected territory, with equally unforeseen consequences and along the way Cyril makes both enemies and friends, some of whom figure prominently later in the film.
The outcome of Cyril's quest is quietly devastating, but the Belgian directors treat it as just another moment in life.

And that is the beauty of a Dardenne brothers film: the story on the screen is presented matter-of-factly and momentous events are portrayed as they are in real life, with no dramatic music or cheering crowds - they just happen. The brothers use movie effects sparingly to highlight their films, and it is up to the viewer to follow the narrative and decide what is important.

Thomas Doret plays the lead with a brooding but optimistic approach and his character convincingly earns the apt nickname "Pitbull." Though he speaks sparingly throughout the film, Doret manages to convey the complex thoughts and emotions of an eleven-year-old boy with great effect.

The one bright side in young Cyril's life is a woman whose life he literally crashes into. Played by Cécile De France, last seen in Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" (2010), Samantha owns a hair salon and inexplicably agrees to take Cyril on weekends. We are never shown what her motivation might be for agreeing to care for this strange boy, who puts her through hell. And, yet she cares more for him than her boyfriend. It is one of the few weak points of the film.

The cinematographer does a good job of following Cyril all over town on his recovered bicycle and the viewer may feel winded from all the pedaling. But the lighting is a little inconsistent, going from really dark to really bright without allowing time for our eyes to fully adjust.

The subtitles were sometimes a little difficult to read due to the lighting issues. The pat ending is a bit disappointing because the boy's quick transition from troublemaker to caring child seems contrived. I would almost bet that scenes detailing that evolution, for some reason, were left on the cutting room floor.
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have explored working-class society in their previous works, including "Rosetta" (1999) and "The Child" (2005), and with each successive film, they show us their improving skills as artists and treat us to a sharper and clearer vision of life.

They avoid over-romanticizing their characters and their movies, even when dealing with depressing themes and always leave the viewer with a glimmer of hope and optimism. "The Kid with a Bike" follows the same successful pattern.

I recommend this film from the Dardenne brothers and I'm looking forward to their next one.  


Big Miracle (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Big Miracle

Seeing "Big Miracle" is like jumping into a heartfelt moving story only to realize that you are suddenly surrounded by sugary lukewarm water. It had me at the first plunge and  it is a pity that it progressed, or rather regressed into a bit of lowbrow schmaltz that had me shaking my head and thinking of an environmental version of "Entertainment Tonight".  "Big Miracle" is an odd mix of compelling story and tepid kitsch that  flips upside down in the effort to be too accessible to the current Pop culture news cycle. 

It need not have gone to that much trouble.

Drew Barrymore is quite likable in her fictional role as Rachel Kramer based on  real-life environmentalist Cindy Lowry. Barrymore is authentic, charismatic and nicely understated in her quest to save  a pod of whales from being entrapped in ice near Barrow Alaska in  the late 80s. There are none of her trademark "Oh my Goshes!" here. This is simply a woman who cares about what she does and Barrymore honors her passion faithfully with restraint and subtlety.

We also get John  Krasinski (The Office) as a congenial slightly befuddled young reporter Adam Carlson who is usually invariably nice. The repartee between Krasinski and Barrymore never strays into surprising territory. Both characters are a too moderate and predictable for that. This is not laugh track territory but it's close. I was hoping for spunk and spice. The most enjoyable rise we get out of Barrymore is her insistence to dive into the freezing water. She is adamant and uncompromising---an Ayn Rand of the sea. At one point Adam says: "You do what you want, don't you?"

"Yes." Rachel admits. 

If only there were more exchanges.

A definite highlight is Ted Danson as the slightly comical oilman J.W. McGraw. McGraw is stubborn and immovable. He is the Man You Love to Hate, but then all of a sudden McGraw  might see an outline of a tail in the ocean and then go to mush. McGraw is all granite around the heart in public but in private he is sly and affectionate with Kramer.

Strange bedfellows to be sure, but Danson plays it perfectly. Such dramatic back and forth show this film at its best. 

We get some sweeping shots of whales in their grandeur, as well we should. At one point Barrymore goes down and touches the whale and there are a few anthropomorphic glances here and there, but not so frequent as to seem overly sentimental or annoying. That being said, the baby whale breaking through the ice at just the right moment with Barrymore overcome did remind me of E.T. and Gertie.

We are also treated to some pointed words between the Inupiac people and Rachel Kramer. These segments combined with the political manipulations nearly elevate the film to a provocation, rather than a pedestrian  family tale of Environmentalism. Even comedian Rob Riggle does his best here as a clueless de-icing entrepreneur. He has the sleight of hand required  to make average nonchalance appear entertaining.

But here's where the film becomes disturbing and bizarre to me and it all happens in an instant.  After the film's climax, there is a follow up story about the whales and who utters the segue way? 

Sarah Palin. 

To see her in an environmental film, be it with humor or seriousness is quite nonsensical to me, laughable to others, and perhaps downright upsetting to some. ( Unless you are a Palin fan)

Here is a woman who by her own admission, unapologetically shoots wolves from her helicopter. Her cameo defies rationale for me, even if she was a sportscaster at Barrow. What on earth or outer space was Ken Kwapis thinking? As Palin is the last image on film, the cameo runs the risk of undermining a very real message, given her stance on drilling and wolf sport.

Oh Well... 

Perhaps , I would do better to ponder the mystery of the Titanic or the second installment of "Atlas Shrugged."

Despite this jarring tabloid incident however, "Big Miracle" entertains as it informs. It is a valentine to the cetacean set that only intermittently gets bogged in by what feels a saccharine sea.  

Write Ian at

The Kid With A Bike (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

The Kid with a Bike

 Children are often a mixture of good and evil and the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have directed a new film that gives each side its free reign.  "The Kid with a Bike" tells the story of a eleven year old boy Cyril, (Thomas Doret) in a foster home who pines for his father and obsesses. The boy is convinced that Dad (Jeremie Renier) will return from his absence with  his newly purchased bike. 

Red haired and boiled, Cyril is a youngster possessed. He spins with energy and has a coiled animal within. Cyril does not sit once in the entire film but  fidgets, slinks, wobbles and bites in perpetual motion.

When Cyril hunts down his father, we have the uncomfortable feeling that his father sees his son as an albatross around his neck---there is no paternal warmth.

It is no surprise then that Cyril's Fate makes an uncertain compass pointing to darkness or light. The orchestral preludes used from the Dardenne Brothers, who usually eschew music in their films, might be both a harbinger to a good outcome or a grim foreboding. 

When we meet the shifty Wes (Egon Di Mateo) it is a moment right out of "Pinnochio" Wes may as well be a fox or a wolf. With his narrow eyes, Wes is part jackal and smooth gangster who uses the pedestrian magic of an Xbox to lure his gullible prey. The heart sinks when Cyril rehearses the execution of a violent crime at eleven years old. Yet in contrast to "We Need to Talk About Kevin", this is no "bad seed" film. Instead, "The Kid with a Bike" shows that a choice to violence is something endemic and organic to the human spirit. Further, violence and immorality is not exclusive to children. Adults make bad choices too, either out of petty convenience or panic. But adults do "it" (meaning violence) just the same. The choice is ours. Cyril is no sociopath and he has the ability to melt your heart just as much with a knife as he does when he is heartsick.

"The Kid with a Bike" is a small film that weaves and turns. Thomas Doret's face is  malleable silly putty that reflects hope, panic, and joy in equal measure. He has the ability to transform into malevolent imp or Peter Pan in a matter of seconds and his trembling and tight upper lip forever holds us in check. 

The film has a nervous naturalism worthy of "The Bicycle Thief". The camera is like a shadowy moth hovering close to Cyril and tracking his every move. Rather than have an agenda, though, this film just sits and illustrates a moment in time. 

"The Kid with a Bike" can be seen as a  Kafkaesque valentine or an apprehensive childhood anecdote, but regardless of which direction your heart chooses to go, you will be on the edge of your cinematic bicycle seat from beginning to end.

Write Ian at

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

For those who miss the romance and British humour of "Notting Hill" (1999) but don't mind its setting moved to the desert, there is much to cheer for, if not to be surprised by, in the aptly titled "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" by director Lasse Halstrom (The Cider House Rules). This film could very well be unforgivingly humdrum in other hands but the capable direction and colorful exoticism in the location makes it a breezy enjoyment.
Granted there are no groundbreaking casting choices here. Ewan McGregor plays Fred Jones, a nervous salmon expert with Asperger's apparently, (although I missed the clues) and Kristin Scott Thomas plays Patricia Maxwell, a press secretary to the British PM. Maxwell is given a push for some good publicity, given the hopelessness of Afghanistan and sets to work. Salmon fishing in Yemen? Who would have thought?  I'm no Simon Beaufoy, the writer and Academy Award winner of "Slumdog Millionaire" , I know, but you would have to be a fakir to see this coming.
 Cinema appears even stranger than printed fiction.
Dr. Fred Jones contacts a Ms. Talbot (Emily Blunt) an aide to the salmon visionary, who happens to be a Yemeni sheik. 
Sparks fly between McGregor and Blunt in a pleasant, yet fiery way that recall the best of Spencer Tracy / Audrey Hepburn or Cary Grant/ Ingrid Bergman pairings, with an added dash of Monty Python. The two have a facile grace between them and they are fun to watch. 
The only times that Fred became insufferable were the moments at the Koi pond. I fear that McGregor is becoming a bit typecast for his melancholic and somewhat masochistic roles here. And I did not get a sense of any Asperger's at all. 
No matter.
It is the more zen than Islamic Sheik (Amr Waked) who steals the show, however, and makes all this holistic fishing and back and forth handwringing worth it.  Actor Waked colors his sheik with a verve and a soft spoken grace that carries with it the best of all " The Arabian Nights". Sheik Muhammed is full of fun, but he is no indigo pencil sketch or cartoon. His gravity has an authentic bearing that will make you believe that peace is as much of an attainment as is the chaos of war. Muhammad's eyes actually pinwheel and dance and you can see the light in them. The Sheik, despite his  harmonies of opinion, remains the most entertaining character in the film. 
I do feel the story is a bit too easy and pleasant with a fishing philosophy that seems taken from  of "A River Runs Through It"---that's a given---, but for all its familiarity in which everyone "gets along" and "relaxes with faith and fish" , Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" will delight the heart, if not the mind with its light charms

The Lorax (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Lorax

Here here! "The Lorax" has arrived to watch over our banyans, royal palms,  Australian Pines  and our gorgeous Gumbo Limbos (known as the 'tourist tree' because they turn red and peel).
Mainland developers and critics alike would do well to take heart, to take a breath, a break and watch.

"The Lorax" is a rambunctiously  animated entertainment,filmed in picture- perfect 3D, using every color in the rainbow plus the very prism of our DNA thrown in for good measure. It makes for giggly satire as well as some sound silliness. It is both a timeless cautionary tale and a tribute to Theodore Geisel also known as Dr. Seuss.

The plot is simple but no less engaging. 

Ted (Zac Efron) lives in Thneedville, an artificial "plastic" town with "no Nature" that looks uncannily like something out of Sawgrass Mills Mall. Even though there is a filter of blue in the sky the town is choked with smog and the residents need bottles of air to breathe. They overwhelm the AstroTurf terrain with thousands of plastic gallon jugs. Worse, the trees are some sort of polymer. The people of Thneedville perpetually shop.

Ted is smitten with Audrey (Taylor Swift) who professes her love for the bygone truffula trees. 

Needless to say, Ted vows to find a tree.

The film has a stirring and authentic visual texture that is true to Seuss. The songs are catchy, melodious and full of irreverent humor. A favorite is "How Bad Can I be?" A sonic assault of economic Darwinism and unabashed greed that will have all Grinches   rolling in the aisles.
Special mention has to go to The Onceler. Voiced by Ed Helms, he is the shamed visionary, an exiled Willy Wonka who used the earth for his own entrepreneurial gains, however short lived. Shown in shadow, The Onceler is a hybrid of Vincent Price and Cousin Itt, but he has the heart of a Julia Hill. In Seussan lore, Onceler is a benevolent Grinch, having more in common with Bob Dylan than Boris Karloff.

Another highlight is the humble and self-deprecating Lorax who looks like a cross between Wilfred Brimley if he overdosed on Doritos and a peanut. The Lorax has a pushy New Jersey accent. Voiced by Danny Devito, The Lorax is a delight. Last but not least, comedian Rob Riggle gives city dictator O'Hare, a crazed frenetic edge. O'Hare is a type A sales blend of Jon Lovitz and curiously, Hirohito (Noted for his WWII cartoons at the time, Geisel was unfortunately known to be prone to stereotypes) 

That being said "The Lorax" is a holistic and joyful analysis of the push and pull of The Suburban Status Quo against Ecology and the Juggernaut of consumerism. Simplistic you say? It is that, but this film is an animated Lego block  leading to sensitive awareness.  This is no trifle when many animated films are all mess with no message.  

See the film and take a leap from your seat and go to Fort Zachary. Watch. Wait. You might see a Lorax leering at you from one tall tree, ultra-orange and apoplectic in all of his curmudgeonly courage. 

Write Ian at

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Week of April 6 to April 12 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

It’s time for some fun at the Tropic.

JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME, is a “sweet, surprising comedy” (Joe Williams, St. Louis Post Dispatch). Jeff (Jason Segel – Bad Teacher, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) is a slacker. Though a grown man, he doesn’t merely live at his mother’s, he is embedded there, in the basement, on a couch. But then one day, he goes forth, to the hardware store to buy some glue for his mother (Susan Sarandon) and all hell breaks loose, for him, and for his tight-assed brother (Ed Helms – Hangover, Cedar Rapids) who seems to care about nothing other than buying a Porche which he can’t afford.

“The unassuming, dryly funny, often ramshackle Jeff, Who Lives at Home — the latest from director brothers Jay and Mark Duplass — seems unlikely to be as emotionally rich as it is. Both Jeff and the film have a way of sneaking up on you.” (Ian Buckwalter, NPR)

“It is small, it is smart, it is quirky… But it also is a deceptive film -- and wonderfully so.” (Mike Scott, New Orleans Times-Picayune)

W./E. is the ticket if you don’t like schlubby slackers. How about elegant, upscale ones. Isn’t that what the legendary Duke and Duchess of Windsor were? After all, he quit a pretty big job (King of England) to just hang with his girl and go to parties. Writer/Director Madonna tells their story in W./E.(which alludes to the shorthand by which Wallis and Edward were known.)You might think of this film as the prequel to last year’s hit The King’s Speech. The stuttering Bertie, who stepped into his brother’s role, makes a brief appearance as we delve into the backstory of his good fortune.

Madonna, who has long been fascinated by Wallis Warfield Simpson’s vault to fame, has taken an interesting approach to the narrative. The story is told through flashbacks, as a young, unhappily married Manhattan woman, Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish- Bright Star), explores her namesake’s history at high-end auction houses and museums. Andrea Riseborough (Maid in Dagenham) and James D’Arcy (Master and Commander) capture W. and E. perfectly, and the portrayal of their lush, vacuous life is gorgeously depicted on screen, with an enchanting soundtrack.

W.E. is all about shameless visual pleasure,…. a world of impossibly rich reds, impeccably coiffed hairdos, mirrored dressers filled with luscious Chanel makeup, irresistibly polished Martini shakers, five-billion-thread count Pratesi bed sheets…. Madonna handles this film like a masterful aesthetician.” (Diego Costa, Slant Magazine)

If the story is a bit empty, well, weren’t their lives.

The lives of CHICO & RITA are quite a contrast. He’s a jazz pianist and she’s a singer, both Cuban, living in the wild, licentious Havana before Castro. When they get together, the music and love are so hot you’ll be reassured that the Tropic has sprinklers, just in case. This unique film was nominated for Best Animated Feature. It lost out to the blockbuster kids film Rango. No surprise. Chico & Rita is not for kids. It’s blessedly free of cute anthropomorphized creatures. And it’s a lot sexier than an NC-17 rated movie like Shame.

“A dazzling and delightful work of modernist animation, a classic movie romance and a hip-swinging, finger-popping tale of musical revolution,…. I’m here to tell you that the niche for “Chico & Rita” includes you, if you are interested in music or art or movies or love.” (Andrew O’Hehir,

“This is definitely animation for grown-ups — its look is voluptuous, sexy and sultry; its Latin-inflected Dizzy Gillespie sound is seductive.” (Betsy Sharkey, L.A. Times)

Quite a different musical mood is captured in CAROL CHANNING: LARGER THAN LIFE, a documentary about the famed musical star. Full of archival footage from the day, and contemporary interviews with Carol herself (now 91 and full of spunk), plus others including Marge Champion, Phyllis Diller, Tippi Hedren, and Tyne Daly

“A terrifically entertaining, smartly constructed trip down memory lane with one of the American stage's most legendary troupers.” (Gary Goldstein, L.A. Times)

This week’s Monday Classic is Woody Allen’s THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985), in which Mia Farrow mixes with a movie character (Jeff Daniels) who steps off screen into her life. It’s a mix of fantasy and reality that Woody brought to perfection in last year’s Midnight in Paris.

Full schedules and info at or

Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 
Carol Channing: Larger Than Life

A celebrational  documentary on the irrepressible Carol Channing has arrived in town for those of us needing a stimulating New York fix. "Carol Channing: Larger Than Life" is a delightful, disarming confection of a film that will sneak up on you and blow you a kiss in much the same way that Carol Channing might if she saw you on the street.

This is a breezy and charming record of a life that is still very much in motion and both the person and the living Hirschfeld cartoon that is Carol moves across the eye like a bright ribbon. This is no rapidly made tribute film put on auto-pilot, but a thoughtful collection of a legendary life well-lived and analyzed, without selfishness.

Many know Channing as the frenetic blonde bird that comes at the audience with full volume as loud as can be, but I prefer the hidden Channing as revealed in this film: whiskey-voiced and  wise, soft spoken and glib, speaking of ghosts, ebony chanteuses, of kisses taken and misplaced. Such is life.

To see her walking Broadway is a Zen event. Channing is part Andy Warhol flower and part Manhattan magpie. She is a living legend with a story for every gossip rag. To see Channing walk the street, armed with a smile and intention is a wonder. She is no Ditz. And best of all, she is open and approachable.

The film doesn't so much chronicle as it does let Channing tell her story and she does so with gush, verve and violet gusto. Channing is center-stage but never egotistical, and that's all we need.  She is a chimerical chime at 91, her mind and (lips) at full fuchsia fusion with the racing heart of a Broadway bunny.
We may already know of her legendary success with "Hello, Dolly!" (As Jerry Herman says, She IS Dolly.) But what is  more striking is the love she has for her childhood sweetheart, Harry, who she married after being apart from him over 65 years later. Harry was forced to split with Channing over military service. Their scenes together make some of the most heartfelt footage you'll ever see in a documentary and that's even without any kissing. The segments have as much romantic pathos as "The Titanic" and a big part of this is the breaking quality in Channing's lost mascara voice.

We also see her transformation into a pop Icon, meeting Jackie O, Alfred Hitchcock, Andy Warhol, Bill Clinton, and last but not least being fawned over by the sarcastic and furry Snagglepuss, Bruce Vilanch: a dynamic duo for the Millennium.

The daring thing about "Channing: Larger Than Life" is that it takes in all sides of Carol: The trademark, the activist for arts in public schools and gay rights, the romantic, and last but not least, a bright beacon for a living and enthusiastic Broadway that still burns.

Carol Channing has all these facets and none of them are square---all are embodied in that power of Pink.

Write Ian at

W./E. (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Sorpresa! The Notorious Madonna Ciccone has her fingers in many sprockets, but not this one. She has now tried her hand at a biopic of the American Jezebel Wallis Simpson  of all things and injected it with more than a bit of melodramatic absinthe, which comes across as creme de menthe.  All the same, I give her well deserved credit, in spite of it all.

The film "W./E." unfolds like a history lesson from cyberspace, which is not to take away from it, but it does make for addled viewing. We are shown a young girl in present day, getting beat up by an officer in a puddle of blood. The girl is Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) whose family has an obsession with Mrs. Simpson. Why? We dont know. Right from the start, the film merges, mixes and blends into a Vaudevillian photo shoot by Vanity Fair. Then there is an abrupt cut to  the 1930s as The Femme Fatale Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) sneaks and snakes her way into the domestic inner circle of Prince Edward. Then another flash to present day as Wally learns she can't get pregnant with her handsome but emotionally vile husband (Richard Coyle)  Then, yet again, another flashback to Edward VIII in Wales, rallying the poor. Bloody Hell. This gets confusing. For the first half hour, the film has as much substance as a music video. But this is Madonna after all. 

In watching the film, you have to forgive Madonna her poetic license. The parallel lives shared between Wally and Wallis (yes, the names appear a bit kitschy in print) are a stretch and a leap of faith, reminiscent of "The Hours" and "Julie & Julia", but that doesn't bother me as much as the simplistic treatment of young Wally and her struggle, making the relationship with her husband a bit one dimensional: The Cad vs the Struggling Young Lady. Only to be rescued by a strong and sensitive Hunk, an Evgeni from Russia of course, played by Oscar Isaac. Everything is underlined and there are no shades of gray. 

The most provocative thing about "W./E." is its fetishistic attention to object and detail; the arc of a red lip, the curve of an eyebrow, the cloak of a dark veil as forbidding and mysterious as a succubus's confessional closet. The importance of sex is ritualized as a Religion or sacred art and a bejeweled  Cartier crucifix is the key that unlocks a fleshly and marital Eden. 

A pair of gloves, a silver necklace or the whole catalogue of Cartier, becomes more important than any love letter or Wallis-dispensed kiss.

Oscar Wilde fans take heart: The spirit of Dorian Gray is alive and well.

"W./E." is as much about Madonna as it is about Wallis Simpson. For years, Madonna has wanted to film Frida Kahlo, and I think she has found her karmic Kahlo-spirit, in the tight shape of Wallis Simpson. One look at those heavy knitted  eyebrows that look like woolen ribbons  say everything about a strong dramatic woman in distress, a  Scarlet Lady carrying on.
W./E." is a "W"-esque  magazine collage of Harlequin romance confusion and compelling pathos. It is an odd, flashy novelty of a film, but it doesn't deserve a Razzie, I  only wish it had more depth in its portrayal of those royal initials.

Write Ian at

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

"Jeff, Who Lives at Home" is a title and a film that would make dubious entertainment, were it not for the considerable mumblecore talents of Jay and Mark Duplass. True, it doesn't break ground, taking its plot cue slightly from Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg" about a depressive person who can't seem too accomplish much. This film however, is considerably lighter and much more upbeat, although we are shown a brown interior that is uncannily like "Greenberg" but in this case it's Jeff's mother's basement. Jeff (Jason Segel) is a thirty-something fellow who worries about the state of the world and looks for clues to things. He scribbles about word jumbles and numerology to keep himself busy. His favorite film is "Signs". Jeff is tall gentle and mushy. He is a "Sesame Street" version of a shut in or someone with OCD. There is nothing remotely scary about him, but his passivity is a bit unsettling.
Set on an errand, Jeff emotionally collides with his type A brother Pat (Ed Helms) Helms, who got his showbiz start on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" shows his versatility here. And Helms is not all that comic here but an absolute anal retentive straight man to Segel's  spaced out puffiness. The chemistry between them, as with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen in 50/50" is the best thing about the film. What emerges in the course of  "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" is a kind of Abbott and Costello journey for the Duplass duo.
We get solid performances from Segel, Helms, Susan Sarandon and Rae Dawn Chong. It's just (except for Chong) these actors are so iconic in other roles that they have become typecast. We know Ed Helms is going to play someone uptight and nervous (ala The Hangover) just as we know Jason Segel is apt to play somebody soft, kind and altruistic (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). The performances are fine. I just wanted a bit more surprise and a few imponderables.
The dialogue between supposed deadbeat Jeff and angry Pat is sure to please. All the characters have spirit and their exchanges rival anything in "The Hangover" or "Bridesmaids", I just feel the film would do better to not explain all its secrets and circumstances. What starts as a promising three-pronged character study between the spaced out symbol hungry Jeff, his self-centered brother and their love-saddened mom, loses its pull when it becomes slapstick involving abused love and a go-find-her-march to "the right thing", then attempts to stitch it all together like a tv sitcom with an indie's spiritual consciousness.
What if Jeff's search for "Kevin" ( don't worry I don't mean the psychotic one) led to ambiguity and a further, more meaningful self reflection instead of an all too pat (pun intended) redemption? Now that would have been a provocative film.
That being said,"Jeff, Who Lives at Home" makes for a pleasing comedy worth leaving for, just don't look for any deep eurekas of the heart. 

Write Ian at

Chico & Rita (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Chico & Rita

For those of you who feel the concrete world contains too many rough edges, there is "Chico & Rita", loosely based on the legendary pianist Bebo Valdes and singer Rita Montaner, who rivals the 1920s pop icon Josephine Baker. The film is a voluptual tour de force, as much about art and music as it is about the history of Cuba before the Castro Revolution.
At the start of the film, we are in present day Cuba. The camera moves in on an anonymous man, shifting through the dusty and broken streets. He enters his room which is little more than a tenement. He is surrounded by broken crockery, dusty housewares and a spare mattress. Everything is toned in ochre. The lines of the minimal room appear either jagged and out to get him or lightly traced, tentative and full of heartbreak. Then, a radio plays an old song by Chico & Rita. In an instant, we are back in the 1950s and the animation style magically transforms. Gone are the sketchy, busy lines of Cuba in the present day. Our eyes are now immersed in the rich glossy colors of a  pre-revolution Technicolor, where all elements are carbonated for the eyes.
We are in a smoky Cuban bar. There is a piano. When we see a slender reticent man and his long familiar hands, it becomes clear that it is the old man from the apartment and he is indeed someone notable. His name is Chico. He is a piano player and he Is nationally famous. 
We also see Rita. She is part Chinese calligraphy and part dulce de leche  with the curving lines of Jessica Rabbit, but free associations aside, she is a completely delicious representation of Rita Montaner. 
Even though we are physically in the world of animation, we could just as well be in the world of 3D flesh and blood, for we see nothing less than the rise and fall (and the rise again) of Love as meaningful as "Casablanca", "Life is Beautiful" or "Midnight in Paris". In addition to a human love story, this film is also a love story between a country and a human universal spirit, where Cuba appears as a cultural zenith of motion and magic. What first appears as a broken city of fragmented lines and shattered perspective like scenes from a wilted and soggy coloring book, now becomes crisp, clear and hyper saturated with an inky glamour. 
We also see jazz greats Charlie Parker, Tito Puente and Thelonius Monk along with percussionist Chano Pozo.
"Chico & Rita" beeps and bops, a topical  musical valentine that possesses an added soft shoe message of free trade and transport that turns in a samba and doesn't let you go. It chronicles an era  when a film noir sensibility hit Cuba in its heyday. It has never appeared as lively, affectionate or darkly mischievous as it is seen here with shadows as rich as coffee. 
"Chico & Rita" makes a genuine retinal rhumba across the eye and you would do well to not sit out this dance---it is one that will stay with you.

Write Ian at

W./E. (Rhoades)

“W./E.” Explores the We
In Wallis and Edward

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

When I worked in the Bahamas, one of my staff lived in the apartment once occupied by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor – the royal couple exiled to this Commonwealth outpost when he gave up the British throne “for the woman I love.”
Thus, whenever we used the john, we referred to it as “sitting on the throne.”
King Edward VII and the American divorcée Wallis Simpson were the love story of their time (he abdicated in December 1936). You can relive this precursor to Charles and Camilla at the Tropic Cinema where “W./E.” is currently reigning.
“W./E.” explores this romance through the eyes of Wally Winthrop, a New Yorker who becomes obsessed with what she sees as the ultimate love story. Six decades after the royal couple married, this namesake begins to research Wallis and Edward in order to better understand something about her own marriage. She prowls Sotheby’s where the Windsor Estate is being auctioned off. But what she uncovers is a different story than found in the history books.
Skipping back and forth between the two stories (think: “Julie & Julia”), Wally (played by Abbie Cornish) compares her abusive marriage with the relationship of Wallis (Andrea Riseborough) and Edward (James D’Arcy), from their glamorous courtship to loss of the throne to the unhappy decades that followed.
Directed by Madonna (the singer), the film has received scathing reviews and has earned back only a million or so of its just-under $30-million production costs.
Why a movie about fallen royalty? Having lived in London with now-ex-hubby filmmaker Guy Ritchie (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”), Madonna has become something of an Anglophile. So it’s not surprising that she picked this oh-so-British subject for her second outing as a film director. Trying to show her stuff, she chose to be the film’s director, producer, screenwriter, and song composer. Meanwhile, Guy Ritchie has gone on to have success with the two “Sherlock Holmes” blockbusters starring Robert Downey, Jr.
On the other hand, Madonna (née Madonna Louise Ciccone) has sold more than 300 million albums worldwide and is recognized by Guinness World Records as the top-selling female recording artist of all time. Hmm, maybe this material girl should stick to what she’s good at.
Or do a sequel to her “Sex” book.
As for Wallis Simpson, she was never an Anglophile. She told her husband, “I hate this country. I shall hate it to my grave.” She was not allowed to be addressed as “Her Royal Highness.” And the Royal Family would not receive her formally or accept her as part of the family.
The Duke of Windsor served as governor of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas from 1940 to 1945. He was not a popular governor, often referring to the Bahamas as “a third-class British colony.” The editor of the Nassau Daily Tribune once told me that Wallis and Edward often fought in public. So much for the perfect love story.

Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (Rhoades)

Carol Channing Is
“Larger Than Life”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

To me, she will always be Dolly Gallagher Levi, the matchmaker in “Hello Dolly!” Others will think of her as Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
 This is bright-eyed Carol Channing, who originated those roles on Broadway. No matter that Barbra Streisand and Marilyn Monroe usurped them on screen.
Fact is, Carol Channing won a Tony for “Hello Dolly!” – but Streisand was only nominated for a Golden Globe for the movie version.
Channing also snagged a Grammy Hall of Fame award for the original cast recording of “Hello Dolly!” She was nominated for an Academy Award for her supporting role as a flapper in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
Back in 1981 she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. And in 1995 she received a Tony Lifetime Achievement Award. She also received the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre in 2001.
I used to watch her on TV, the old black-and-white Emerson flickering as she did guest stints on “What’s My Line” and other near-forgotten shows. Her thickly lashed eyes and clownish smile looked like a Hirschfield caricature. In fact, he did one of her.
In the world of show business, she was what you called a trouper, always displaying an on-with-the-show attitude. She has been called a “Broadway diva extraordinaire,” as a compliment.
Carol Channing is now in her 90s. And director Dori Berinstein has made a documentary about her that’s aptly titled “Carol Channing: Larger Than Life.” It’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema.
The doc traces her story from childhood in San Francisco to her life on Broadway, with a few stopovers in Hollywood, right up till today.
The director knows the territory. Berinstein’s films include “Show Business: The Road to Broadway” (2007) and “Gotta Dance” (2008).
Put this documentary in the same category as the recent “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.” A show biz bio that actually lets you get to know the subject, rather than glossing over their life like a chintzy TV E! Channel biography.
You get all the behind-the-scenes Broadway hoopla. But the heartwarming story here is that of Channing’s last marriage, after three previous husbands. Turns out, her junior high school sweetheart read in her memoir “Just Lucky I Guess” that she remembered him fondly. So Harry Kullijian got in touch with his old flame and after 65 years apart they rekindled their romance and wed at the age of 82. Working together on foundations that support arts education in California schools, they found a true happiness. He passed away in December 2011 on the eve of his 92nd birthday.
Yes, you’ll leave the theater feeling good about Carol Channing. And about growing old, with her as the cheerleader for a satisfying life.
She once famously said, “...if you're lucky enough to have two hit shows, the world passes through your dressing room.” Carol Channing has enjoyed quite a parade. You’ll met her friends and admirers, among them Loni Anderson, Marge Champion, Tyne Daly, Tippi Hedron, Rich Little, and Phyllis Diller.
As the lyrics to “Hello Dolly!” go: “You’re still glowin’/ you're still crowin’/ You’re still goin’ strong.” That’s the smiling, goggle-eyed nonogenarian we meet in “Carol Channing: Larger Than Life.”