Friday, May 25, 2012

Week of May 25 to May 31 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

You’ve got to be excited about this week.

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is the kind of movie that ends with spontaneous applause from the audience. How could they not? Take an ensemble cast of great older British actors – Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy – and mix in the young Indian star of Slumdog Millionaire (Dev Patel). The Brits all are ready for a retirement village, but why go to Florida when India is cheaper, and has more elephants? With that premise, director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and screenwriter Ol Parker, have  delivered “a charming, funny and heartwarming movie…, a smoothly crafted entertainment that makes good use of seven superb veterans.” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

Each has a story, keeping the action lively as we move back and forth, seeing how their differing attitudes and aspirations guide their adjustments to a world unlike any they have ever known, at an age when settled comfort is more the goal than exotic adventure. “The movie’s charms lie in its frank and amusing assessment of age — the limits often reside solely in your head — and in its heartening message that life isn’t over just because you’ve hit 65. As for the Marigold Hotel, well, it’s not the Delano. But overall it’s a fine spot to spend a couple of hours.” (Connie Ogle, Miami Herald)

The world of BULLY is one many of us are familiar with, if we can remember days in the schoolyard or school bus. Bullying is nothing new. Our local author Judy Blume’s book Blubber took on the problem in 1974. Ijime has long been recognized as a major social problem in Japan, where suicides are not uncommon. But recent events in the United States, including several deaths, have brought it to the fore. There’s even a video game titled “Bully” from the makers of Grand Theft Auto.

Lee Hirsch’s in-your-face documentary is no game. He follows five families in communities scattered around the country, showing not only examples of bullying but also the inadequate responses of administrators who are reluctant to acknowledge the problem. “Bully forces you to confront not the cruelty of specific children — who have their own problems, and their good sides as well — but rather the extent to which that cruelty is embedded in our schools and therefore in our society as a whole.” (A.O. Scott, New York Times) It is “a documentary as vivid as any horror film, as heartbreaking as any Oscar-worthy drama.” (Richard Corliss, Time Magazine)

For all shows of Bully, there’s a special reduced price of $3 for students and teachers (ID required), thanks to a generous grant from former School Superintendent John Padget. The current Superintendent Jesus Jara will introduce the 6:15PM screening on Friday evening.

An antidote to the sad lives of these victim kids is the New Zealand film BOY, set in an impoverished Maori village. The kids here don’t have much, but they have hopes and dreams. For eleven-year-old Boy, the title character, the focus is on his absent father, who returns during the course of the movie. It is “a comedy with a serious core. It's another case of a son having clung to an idealized notion of his father and, in a stunning climax and an exquisite coda, coming of age as he comes to grips with wounding truths.” (Joe Morgenstern, Wall St. Journal)

Monday night’s Mystery Classic is Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, starring Farley Granger, Robert Walker and Ruth Roman. It’s a convoluted twist of a murder mystery that will surprise you at every turn.

Full info and schedules at or

Boy (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 


Just when you thought you might have seen all the territories the world over, a film arrives that delights and keeps you guessing. The film is simply called "Boy". It is a sharp and solidly told coming of age film with a quirky Kiwi flair that has enough color, verve and gusto to satisfy 10,000 lion dancers during an Auckland Lantern Festival.

The main character known only as Boy (James Rolleston) is coping from the loss of his mom while his father is serving time in prison. Boy is presumably the man of the house as few adults are seen. Boy manages the best he can, frequently daydreaming about Michael Jackson's video "Thriller". The film takes place in New Zealand in 1984. 

Boy, an eleven year old Maori, is a four foot dynamo: plucky, mischievous, pop-culture driven and mercurial, this kid is an addictive messy mix of  Huck Finn and  Charlie Bucket from that sweetly perverse masterpiece by Roald Dahl. You will fall for him and James Rolleston within moments. Things move in a predictable drudgery for Boy who aims to one day move to a big city and meet Michael Jackson. He is bullied by other boys and preoccupied with keeping his younger artistic brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) from drawing on everything he sees. Eketone-Whitu is round faced and observant with an adorable Zen-like complacency well ahead of his years. 

Without warning Boy's reckless and often violent father arrives, played wonderfully by the film's director, Taika Waititi. The absent deadbeat dad belongs to a gang more Stooge-like than serious, but nonetheless scary. He rants and raves and falls all over himself. The father takes to wearing an old war helmet and starts nonsensical combat exercises. He smokes pot and drinks incessantly thinking himself a Shogun warrior. Waititi is a comedian and part of the comedy troupe the Humourbeasts. He knows full well that an air of slapstick, contrary to making his role more silly actually intensifies the aura of menace. The father is part Hunter Thompson and part Dennis Hopper. As both a dunce and a demon, the father is an amoral dervish just crazy enough to do anything. 

As the youngsters are often alone to fend for themselves within a crumbling shack, (in one scene the house is reduced to almost nothing due to an episode of rage) this film could have been a genuine downer. Luckily, the film is directed with such boom and bounce, that what evolves can only be described as a kaleidoscopic rave of the heart, both gentle and gutsy that moves like music. Within the calm reverie of one boy huddled within the wreckage of an automobile, dwells the spirit of J.G. Ballard's fiction. The landscapes of youth here are both festive and foreboding.

Adding to this is a facile and frenetic fusion of animation and live action  that peppers the screen like crazed Crayola valentines. These charming sequences introduce each scene and oddly, both enhance and dispel the intermittent threats of malevolence.

"Boy" is a near perfect film illustrating the euphoria and folly of a youngster in longing for everything as long as it contains both Speed and Space. The film is courageous in showing the hidden picaresque qualities of everyday life, where both kids and mostly adults, yearn for colorful Pop lives and have to accept sitting still, either fighting or moonwalking during intermittent feints of REM sleep.

Write Ian at

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

We live in a curious age of uncertainty and turmoil, be it economic, technological or environmental. After all this is 2012: the start of a hectic and finger-fetishistic  21st century and the end of the famous Mayan calendar.
Because of this anxiety, the Orientalist craze and specifically India, popularized by the Romantics Byron and Shelley and given further transcendent fire not so long ago by The Beatles in the 60s , has never been more popular in current cinema. We have applauded "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008)  and "Eat Pray Love"(2010). Our hunger for all things Hindu has been well founded and easy to understand. What better anodyne to our schizophrenic multitasking then the blissful color realms of India?

So we now arrive at  "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" another Indian journey of heart and hope for those young and old (and especially those, over 60). It is a pleasant, bittersweet and not so strange trip with all the British dames and dudes that you would expect and the film succeeds very well in spite of its warm and fuzzy, tea cosy denouement.

The film concerns a host of sirenian queen bees and poetic bachelors  gone heartsick or mad by the media. Evelyn (Judi Dench) is newly widowed and fed up with the automated age. The stentorian Mrs. Donnelly (Maggie Smith) is ill and needs a hip transplant. Graham (Tom Wilkinson) wants to go to India before it's too late, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) is searching for young flesh.

Suffice to say the gang's all here. I'll admit that when I saw the stellar cast sitting together at the airport or on the bus bracing for their dubious curries, I did think of an E.M. Forster version of "Sex in the City". The comparison couldn't be helped. Yet as the film goes on, it disarms you with well... a coziness.

While at first it is very much a travelogue of sorts with Mrs. Donnelly being unpleasantly xenophobic and nastily worrying over foreign foods and doctors, the film is refreshingly visual in its bright locales and bit by bit, we come to a real sense of place , of India as a vibration or a living creature  and not just a stage set. There is enough joy for the eyes here and while it might seem so much prismatic paneer, that is, real cheese on the subject of loneliness in foreign lands as the octogenarian clock goes Took-took-tock, the marigold fluff and foam and a "Let me go to England alone" manages a pathos.

This is most evident in the role of Graham, a shy but affable gay man who is haunted by adolescent ghosts. Graham is secretive and reserved, and the specters of sadness within him are elements of great vexation, with something of the apprehension of Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice".

We also get some Bollywood relief with the appearance of Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel who is hypertensive and nervous but joyfully existential and on the right track as a rollicking Romeo. Like a young Don Knotts from New Delhi, Patel entertains and enchants. His sputters of surprise show the humanity in the gesture of Slapstick. 

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is a picaresque jaunt that will beguile with its easy charm. Its cast of playfully weary and altogether amiable adaptables in Ambrosia will win you over. The film might well be Shangri-La in Septuagenaria, but like the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" it is a voyage where everyone fits together and happily receives the things most longed and wished for. 

Write Ian at

Bully (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets
by Ian Brockway


I knew that  this film would be no picnic. This is not a John Waters film, filled with the pointed transgressive humor that I so enjoy, this is no "Female Trouble" or "Hairspray" with Mr. Pinky saying "Fatty, Fatty two-by four! Can't fit in the dressing room door!" The film is called "Bully" It is a hard, gritty documentary about school bullying and the damages of  real abuse and it doesn't mince images for our public schools. Every parent, every teacher and every kid should see it. Period.

The documentary directed by Lee Hirsch, focuses on five kids who are picked on and severely, insidiously abused in middle school through no fault of their own, but just because they "don't fit in" somehow.

Immediately an eerie feeling hits you delivered by a hand held camera as the foreground blurs and then comes into focus: a yellow orange school bus slowly pulls in. This one shot, reminiscent to me of "The Blair Witch Project" is as scary as anything dreamed up by John Carpenter and sadly, all the more horrifying for it being a very real, albeit unnecessary part of many public school environments.

One of the most frightening scenes for me occurs just during the credits when we see a young girl in close up, just nonchalantly chewing gum, impassive and staring. These moments compose a dark echo of Andy Warhol's "Screen Tests" and they introduce happenings far less blase' and increasingly sinister. Minutes later, the first episodes of violence happen.

The suicide of Tyler Long, a student who was bullied is heart breaking as is the death of Ty Smalley. I cannot fathom why these kids were bullied at all. And that is the point. Kids are randomly targeted in a cycle that seems as pernicious as a bacterial infection or a virus.

All the kids featured  are startling and poignant , caught in violent and humiliating spirals not of their design. There is Alex, who is gangly and uncoordinated but altogether bright. He has endured so much painful abuse by students (including a kid wedging his face under a door and sitting on it) that he smiles and tries to shrug it off with a self-deprecating smile. During the day, Alex moves through the waves of pain and unbearable annoyance with a spacey neutrality. Only later at night, do we feel his nervousness---his lips shut tight, his eyes wired inside his head.

There is Kelby. At 16, she came out to her family as openly gay. A minivan came by as she was walking along the road and hit her without remorse. Kelby had dreams of joining a basketball team, but her family is ostracized from the neighborhood and they have decided to move out. Last but not least, there is Ja'meya. As she was unrelentingly bullied and teased, Ja'meya stole a handgun from her mother's closet and started waving it around on the bus. She was charged with multiple upon multiple counts of assault and is now in a juvenile detention facility.

The kids are anxiety provoking enough, but the school administrators are downright inept and underhanded. "These busses are safe." and "Boys will be boys", is one line that brought a moviegoer next to me to speak aloud.

The Cardinal Sin of talking aside, this film should bring you out of your seat, in tears if not shouts.

It is not possible to stay silent.

The current cycle of bullying is no natural event. And it is offensive to think it a rite of passage as a principal in the film does.  Logic fails me when I think of teenage hormones, peer pressure or dominance. In watching the film, it is hard not to think of something endemic, viral, or even demonic in scope.

Whatever the primary cause of this intensification , a culture of intolerance be it social or religious is the key to solving this scourge, and setting both our schools and ultimately, ourselves free.

It is wonderful that The Tropic is giving "Bully"  its first oxygen that it needs to breathe and multiply with its healing imagery, and I hope it goes to theaters and schools throughout The Keys, wherever students and their families are to be found, taking flight on its honest wings.

Write Ian at

Boy (Rhoades)

“Boy” Wins You
Over With Its
Childlike Wonder

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Eric Holowacz, former executive director of The Studios of Key West, came here from Wellington, New Zealand. He’s now in Australia, but we stay in touch on Facebook. I was thinking of him while I watched “Boy,” a 2010 coming-of-age film about a New Zealander boy named Boy.
Written and directed by Taika Waititi, “Boy” is the highest grossing New Zealand film of all time.
“Welcome to my interesting world,” Boy introduces the film. He worships Michael Jackson, but his absentee dad even more. In his mind, his father is a master carpenter, deep-sea diver, captain of the rugby team, and holds the record for the punching out the most people with one hand.
Boy is an 11-year-old who lives on a farm with his grandmother, a goat, numerous cousins, and a younger brother who thinks he has superpowers. When his nanny goes off to attend a funeral in Wellington, the boys’ ne’er-do-well father shows up to search for hidden treasure (“A package about this big, covered in plastic”). Far from being the heroic dad his sons had imagined, Alamein is a “renegade” who cares more for money and scallywag schemes than fatherhood.
“We’ll be leaving with him when he goes,” believes Boy. But Alamein says, “I’m a busy man.” So Boy and Rocky must face up to the sad reality of their down-under family life.
James Rolleston is winning as Boy, and so is Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu as his brother. The mustachioed bushy-haired director steps into the role of their no-good dad as smoothly as a greasy hand in a biker’s glove.
Also known as Taika Cohen (his mother’s name), Taika Waititi is a New Zealand-born actor, writer, painter, comedian and filmmaker. In 2007 Variety tagged him as one of “ten new directors to watch.”
I asked Eric Holowacz if he’d seen the film. After all, New Zealand is a land he knows so well (despite hailing from South Carolina).
Eric responded, “I have seen Taika Waititi’s film, ‘Boy,’ and knew him as Taika Cohen back when we were building the Wellington Arts Centre. His previous film, ‘Eagle vs. Shark,’ was based at my arts center (known by the Maori name, Toi Poneke). He’s from a Maori family group that is of the same land where ‘Whale Rider’ was set. ‘Boy’ has the Kiwi characteristic of mixing the serious with the comedic, or rather following one with the other.”
My take? Boy’s brother Rocky might not have superpowers, but Taika Waititi certainly has a touch of magic in his storytelling.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Rhoades)

“Marigold Hotel” Is
Best Exotic Destination

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My son called to tell me about a movie he saw this weekend, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” He said, “It’s kind of like a ‘Grand Canyon’ for an older generation” – comparing it to the 1991 Laurence Kasdan film about six diverse people whose lives intertwine in modern-day Los Angeles. I told him it reminded me a bit of “Enchanted April,” that 1992 film about several Brits coming together for a holiday at a coastal castle in Italy.
I think we may both be right.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” – based on Deborah Moggach’s book “These Foolish Things” – is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Directed by John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”), this sweet film tells of disparate people who retire to the newly restored Marigold Hotel in India. As it turns out, these seven British retirees have been sold a bill of goods, the promise of a leisurely, unstressed lifestyle at this exotic locale. Predictably, as such plots require, the hotel is not exactly as advertised. The building is run down, the phones are out of order, the food not to their liking.
One of them says, “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected.”
Another of the group presciently replies, “Most things don't. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.”
Nevertheless, as our retirees come to terms with their new existence at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, each is transformed in wondrous ways.
Among our ensemble is a widow forced to sell her home (Judi Dench), a couple who lost their saving in a bad Internet deal (Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy), a racist woman in search of an inexpensive hip replacement at the hands of Indian doctors (Maggie Smith), a wealthy lady looking for a new husband (Celia Imrie), an aging Romeo on the prowl (Ronald Pickup), and a secretive judge who was raised in India (Tom Wilkinson).
Managing the hotel is the ever-enthusiastic Sonny (Dav Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire”). His disposition cheerful, despite the threat of an arranged marriage and financial problems that may close down the hotel.
Don’t despair. This is a Feel Good movie. And it takes place in an exotic part of the world where you’ll enjoy “retiring” for an hour or two.
The only thing missing from this film is Joan Plowright, Jim Broadbent, and Miranda Richardson. But when you retire, you have to accept some downsizing. Even at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Bully (Rhoades)

“Bully” Doc Fights BackReviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Former Monroe County School Superintendent John Padget was pressing me to review a new documentary that he’s very excited about. No, he wasn’t bullying me, for John’s against that. In fact, that’s the whole point of the film.
Titled “Bully,” the doc delivers a powerful message about bullying. “Uniquely, the director puts the focus on the victims,” notes John Padget.  “This film empowers the victims.  I’d ask any victims in our community – and I know some of them – to see this film and then write thoughtful letters to the editor, continuing the conversation.  Let’s shame and outlaw bullying, once and for all.”
Well said.
Originally called “The Bully Project,” this documentary follows five students who faced bullying on a daily basis. These students attend schools in Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, Iowa, and Oklahoma. Particular focus is put on Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, two youngsters who committed suicide to escape bullying.
The film’s director was himself a victim of bullying while in school. Lee Hirsch says, “I felt that the hardest part of being bullied was communicating. And getting help. I couldn’t enroll people’s support. People would say things like ‘get over it,’ even my own father and mother. They weren’t with me. That was a big part of my wanting to make the film. It’s cathartic.”
“My hope is that hundreds of aware students will join hands and see this film together,” says John Padget, a member of Florida’s state board of education.  “Other students may decide to take their parents, and open the conversation within their family and social circles.”
To encourage that, he’s helping defray the cost of a movie ticket, only $3 to students and members of the educational community (with ID). “This is a film for students, parents, teachers, administrators, and citizens of all ages. I’m proud to help underwrite the documentary, bringing it to Key West and the Florida Keys.”
Hirsch agrees. “I want this to be a grassroots movement so that the local cities can get behind this movie and support it. This is a great way for people to get involved on social media to help raise awareness.”
With news reports of a student dying from hazing on a band bus to presidential candidates accused of shearing a gay student’s hair, this is a needed dialogue. “This film’s timely arrival contributes to America’s conversation about bullying,” says Padget. “Bullying is not cool!”

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Week of May 18 to May 24 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

NATURAL SELECTION is a natural selection by the Tropic’s film programmer. Winner of seven awards at last year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, including Best Narrative Feature, and nominated for Best First Feature and Best Female Lead at the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards, it’s the kind of un-Hollywood movie that you depend on the Tropic to bring here.

It’s a breakout role for Rachael Harris (a nagging wife in The Hangover) who for the first time moves from supporting character roles to a lead, responsible for carrying the film. She’s Linda, an earnest, dutiful, religious woman who can’t produce the child she wants. Her husband (John Diehl) is also a dedicated Christian, so dedicated that he will not sleep with his wife because it would spill his seed. Instead, unbeknownst to her, he makes good use of it as a regular donor at a sperm bank, while watching porn movies. (What would Ric Santorum say?)

That’s just the setup, because this is really a road movie, about Linda’s quest to find one of her husband’s children, a boy conceived with some of his sperm-banked deposits. Don’t expect a Hallmark conclusion. No cute tyke, the now grown son (Matt O’Leary) is a 23-year-old dirtbag ex-con on the lam. But Linda is bound and determined to bring him home, making them one of the oddest road movie couples in history.
“A small gem of an indie movie whose rewards far exceed its bare-bones budget.” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone) “A coming-of-age portrait of a sweet, innocent, middle-aged Christian woman who bursts through the confines of a sexless marriage.” (Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle )

takes us to Israel in 1968, when that country was reveling in its Six-Day War triumph and rumors of the American free love generation were wafting over from abroad. Teen-aged Arik finds a job with Yankele, a petty crook with a sideline in finding love matches for undesirable mates. The boy’s duty is to spy on potential matches, to make sure they don’t have hidden flaws. Yankele, played by well-known Israeli comic Adir Miller, dominates the movie, but it is really a coming of age story about Arik, who learns about life from the crafty Yankele and a cast of supporting characters including a troupe of dwarfs. “A memory play gold-dusted with adolescent longing and a strong sense of fable…” (John Anderson, Variety)

If all this is too much for you, the Tropic’s “Summertime is Easy” lighter fare is in full swing. This week brings PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS in 3D and 3 STOOGES.

is the latest stop-action animation from British Aardman Animations (Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit) a wild tale of a dastardly crew trying to win the “Pirate of the Year” award. “The movie is a curiosity cabinet of visual pleasures but so breezy and lightly funny that you may not realize at first how good it is.” (Manohla Dargis, New York Times) “No one else has come close to translating England's homegrown blend of deadpan and madcap for a younger audience, much less with such impressive Claymated technique. You couldn't ask for a better lesson in Anglo-Absurdism for Beginners." (David Fear, Time Out New York)

is the latest from the Farrelly brothers, Bobby and Peter (Dumb and Dumber, Shallow Hal, There’s Something About Mary). Who better to pay homage to these masters of stupid slapstick? A poke in the eye, a bash over the head with a sledge hammer, all in good fun, in this “a respectful, heartfelt, and entertaining tribute to the eternal trio.” (Jaime Christley, Slant Magazine) Even the New Yorker’s David Denby, not known for his sense of humor, admits “the movie is so infantile that it achieves a special kind of purity and gentleness.”

and CHIMPANZEE are held over.

And watch out for Hannibal Lechter! The Monday Mystery Classic is THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Local writer and mystery maven Hy Conrad will introduce.

Natural Selection (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Natural Selection

Here is a semi-romantic road movie with  Southern Gothic flavor. "Natural Selection" a first time feature effort by director Robbie Pickering focuses on a sheltered Christian wife Linda ( Rachael Harris) and her quest to find something new. Linda is often in a dark gray bedroom in a loveless marriage with her husband (John Diehl). Linda is constantly blighted by low self esteem. And because she is unable to conceive, her husband ignores her and seeks to have children via a sperm clinic.

One day Linda finds out that her husband has an illegitimate grown son of about thirty by the name of Raymond. 

The road trip begins.

The film has a gritty quality reminiscent of the fiction of Flannery O' Connor. Crosses sprout upon the earth like iron mushrooms, rigid and unyielding. Nearly every house is flat and brown seemingly made from ash. The baked soil is composed of old coffee grounds thrown away and gone to waste.

Linda finds the son, a violent, angry and ignorant junkie (Matt O' Leary). The son wants nothing to do with Linda and he is so irascible he is at first more akin to Manson than any unemotional Christian hubby. But Linda is not to be rebuffed and herein lies most of the comedy. The film has a daring irreverence ala John Waters' "Female Trouble" Raymond is so angry he injures himself while trying to be protective of Linda. He gets beat to a bloody pulp so badly that for the first third of his screen-time, Raymond moans, groans, belches and screams. As his hair and face is matted with blood, his passionate agony almost echoes "The Passion of the Christ". Conversely the more Raymond complains the happier Linda becomes. They bicker back and forth like a backwoods version of "The Honeymooners" This could have made for quite dreary viewing but the contrast between the two is so startling---the pious and the profane---that it makes for some entertaining irreverence. 

Matt O' Leary,  in what seems to be the main charge of the film is a vivid anti-hero. As scary as Raymond first appears, he is a shade slapstick and this humanizes him. He falls on his face, gets back up and laughs. Like like itself, Raymond is a mixture of the violent and the violet. As Linda's bond grows, Raymond's grimaces become mitigated and subdued, yet they never disappear. Within his irascible nature, Raymond becomes Linda's beacon showing her an alternate unrighteous path, combined with an escape from a confining and unloving husband.

If there is a criticism to "Natural Selection", it is that we don't see Raymond change all that much in the course of the film. True, he cleans himself up hygienically and gets a suit, but would he go back to his druggy ways, and did he ever stop? We are never sure. And given his ignorance and his dirty, tattoo mottled arms Raymond  is a little too much like a stereotype that remains unchanged. The film could have benefitted from an unexpected about-face revolution in tone as in the dark magic of "Something Wild" (1986). 

After some dynamic coupling, the bond between Raymond and Linda just runs a little tame along formulaic tracks. Of course there is going to be a crazy relative, and of course there is going to be a series of mishaps and some yelling back and forth. Still, the rich performances by Harris and O'Leary in particular make "Natural Selection" a satisfying trip along the flatlands of  Florida to places unknown. The uncompromising dialogue alone is worth being uprooted for.
Write Ian at

The Matchmaker (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

The Matchmaker

"The Matchmaker" is a coming of age valentine reminiscent of the work of Neil Simon, most notably "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Biloxi Blues"albeit here in a Haifa, Israel setting. Although told  with an old-fashioned gumshoe tread--- almost like the cinema of the 1960s  filtered through the 1980s---the film possesses a solid breezy charm that is like a wink from a distant and faraway friend. 

The film concerns a naive young boy Arik (Tuval Shafir) who is obsessed with Dashiell Hammett. Shafir strikingly recalls  young  Thelonious Bernard from "A Little Romance" (1979) or a hesitant and peeping Matthew Broderick from his early films. 

Arik falls in with an odd and philosophic character, one Mr. Bride. (Adir Miller) Bride is a "matchmaker" of sorts, a  rather mysterious person with a large jarring scar across his face that makes him seem like an inverse clown. We are never sure if Mr. Bride is on the level or if he is quite wholesome and it doesn't seem to matter. Bride is not a great matchmaker, but this makes for much of the film's humor.

 Despite Mr. Bride's great girth he seems to hover though space like a lugubrious cloud, full of rain and wistful hope. Adir Miller is most compelling  here creating a first impression of Orson Welles in "A Touch of Evil". Bride is made gentle, however through his liking for Arik.

Romance enters in the form of Tamara (Neta Porat) a young ingenue full of the psychedelic sixties. Tamara is as uninhibited as Arik is shy, although Tamara never seems full of any real disregard of the 1950s status quo. At times she seems a bit diluted, a mere prankster. At her best, Porat is a benign narcotic, a Disneyesque Lolita, who makes her mischief charming. There is no toxicity here, nor should there be. Porat has real chemistry with Shafir. Together they create a sort of prepubescent version of "The Graduate" and their scenes pull the film into an interesting hybrid of suspense, apprehension and sweet romance. 

Given the film's tinted and shadowy fade outs between many scenes that recall "Chinatown" and "Blue Velvet", (in style only) I half expected something a bit more punchy. The darkness of Mr. Bride is let go and the entrancing poison of Tamara is ameliorated into sentiment. Perhaps the most daring character in the film is Clara (Maya Dagan). Clara as  Mr. Bride's accomplice is a cypher to the end and her last move is one of betrayal. Dagan's role echoes the fragility of Gena Rowlands and freezes it into the icy callousness  of a Barbara Stanwyck. Clara is all the toxin that Tamara is not.

Despite a predictable ending that feels  mimicked from other films, "The Matchmaker" is an enjoyable picaresque journey of stolen books and kisses, full of sepia shaded strangers who always manage a smirk in the end.

Write Ian at

The Matchmaker (Rhoades)

“Matchmaker” Offers
Surprising Match

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Tropic Cinema programmer Scot Hoard was suffering from back spasms, so he dropped this week’s screener DVD’s off at Jean Carper’s house for me to watch. He mumbled something about one called “The Matchmaker” being an interesting film, likely to open this week at the Tropic. So my movie pal Jean and I popped it into her player and watched it while noshing on meringue-heaped key lime pie in her well-appointed home theater and adjacent mini-kitchen.
We didn’t expect much. Amid his pain, Scot didn’t sell it very well to us.
However, we were delightfully surprised.
“The Matchmaker” (original title: “Pa’am Hayiti” or “Once I Was”) is an Israeli coming-of-age film written and directed by Avi Nesher. It tells of a teenage boy meeting a mysterious man who will help shape his life.
The film starts with the ending, Arik (the adult version played by Eyal Shehter) inheriting a fortune from a man who knew him in childhood, an old friend of his father’s who was a matchmaker and a smuggler in the Low Rent section of Haifa.
We learn the story in a film-long flashback: Having played a joke on this Yankele Bride (an understated performance by scar-faced Adir Miller), Arik (wonderfully played as a boy by Tuval Shafir) is hired for his skills as a liar by the matchmaker to be a “spy-guy,” sort of a detective who follows prospective grooms to see if their intentions are honorable.
In this 1968 memory, Arik meets the cousin of his friend Benny, a sexy teenager (Neta Porat) who has burned her bra and believes in free love. The boy falls for her, while at the same time fearing her – much like his relationship with the mysterious matchmaker, drawn to his wisdom while fearful of his criminal nature.
Ironically, the man who makes matches for others (“…what you need, not what you want”) cannot find love himself. His affection for Clara (Maya Dagan) who runs illegal card games is not returned, her heart frozen by her experiences as a Holocaust victim.
Unfortunately, Meir the Librarian (Dror Keren) is vengeful over being matched with a dwarf named Sylvia (Bat-El Papura) and becomes obsessively determined to unseat Yankele Bride.
Thus, childhood must come to an end.
The film is a boy’s loving memory of an unforgettable character and a summer that changed his life. I don’t know whether filmmaker Avi Nesher based “The Matchmaker” on true experiences or not, but he makes the story seem real. Authentic sets, emerging Woodstock music, the mental scars borne by Holocaust victims, their difficulty assimilating into the country created for them. And the people, pages out of a family album.
Jean and I lingered after the film ended, finishing off half the pie, and smiling at the surprise of a film we’d expected so little of. It was a good match, maybe not what we wanted, but what we needed.

Natural Selection (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Pirates!” Plunders
The Box Office

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

While I grew up on Errol Flynn swashbuckling it in “Captain Blood” and “The Sea Hawk,” today’s generation has been introduced to buccaneers by Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” a cinematic experience based on a Disneyland ride.
While “Captain Blood” and “The Sea Hawk” earned a little over $5 million in combined worldwide ticket sales, “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise has racked up nearly $1 billion.
Now everybody wants to jump on board. And in 3-D.
“The Pirates! Band of Misfits” is a stop-motion clay animation movie concocted by Aardman Studios, the creators of Wallace and Gromit. It’s currently plundering the seas (and the box office) at the Tropic Cinema.
Based on the first two books in Gideon Defoe’s “The Pirates!” series, it gives us the misadventures of a crew of amateur pirates led by an inept Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant). Originally titled “The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists,” the misfits encounter Charles Darwin (David Tennant), his trained chimpanzee Bobo, and a “parrot” named Polly. Seems they’ve been plundering ships in order to win the Pirate of the Year Award over their rivals, Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz (Jeremy Piven and Salma Hayek).  But things aren’t going well.
Directed by Aardman Studios co-founder Peter Lord, this is his first Claymation film since 2005’s “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.” Back in 2000, Lord also gave us “Chicken Run,” a barnyard adventure voiced by Mel Gibson that used these same Claymation techniques.
While Aardman prefers the old-fashioned stop-motion approach to animation, new technology has been added. And not just Digital 3-D. “I must say that the new technology has made ‘Pirates!’ really liberating to make,” gushes Lord. “Easy to make because the fact that you can shoot a lot of green screen stuff, the fact that you can easily extend the sets with CG, the fact that you can put the sea in there and a beautiful wooden boat that, frankly, would never sail in a million years, you can take that and put it into a beautiful CG scene and believe it.”
Yeah, like I’m going to believe pirates named Peg-Leg Hastings, The Pirate with Gout, The Albino Pirate, The Pirate with a Scarf, and The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate. May as well hand over my booty at the box office without a struggle.

Pirates! (Rhoades)

“Pirates!” Plunders
The Box Office

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

While I grew up on Errol Flynn swashbuckling it in “Captain Blood” and “The Sea Hawk,” today’s generation has been introduced to buccaneers by Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” a cinematic experience based on a Disneyland ride.
While “Captain Blood” and “The Sea Hawk” earned a little over $5 million in combined worldwide ticket sales, “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise has racked up nearly $1 billion.
Now everybody wants to jump on board. And in 3-D.
“The Pirates! Band of Misfits” is a stop-motion clay animation movie concocted by Aardman Studios, the creators of Wallace and Gromit. It’s currently plundering the seas (and the box office) at the Tropic Cinema.
Based on the first two books in Gideon Defoe’s “The Pirates!” series, it gives us the misadventures of a crew of amateur pirates led by an inept Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant). Originally titled “The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists,” the misfits encounter Charles Darwin (David Tennant), his trained chimpanzee Bobo, and a “parrot” named Polly. Seems they’ve been plundering ships in order to win the Pirate of the Year Award over their rivals, Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz (Jeremy Piven and Salma Hayek).  But things aren’t going well.
Directed by Aardman Studios co-founder Peter Lord, this is his first Claymation film since 2005’s “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.” Back in 2000, Lord also gave us “Chicken Run,” a barnyard adventure voiced by Mel Gibson that used these same Claymation techniques.
While Aardman prefers the old-fashioned stop-motion approach to animation, new technology has been added. And not just Digital 3-D. “I must say that the new technology has made ‘Pirates!’ really liberating to make,” gushes Lord. “Easy to make because the fact that you can shoot a lot of green screen stuff, the fact that you can easily extend the sets with CG, the fact that you can put the sea in there and a beautiful wooden boat that, frankly, would never sail in a million years, you can take that and put it into a beautiful CG scene and believe it.”
Yeah, like I’m going to believe pirates named Peg-Leg Hastings, The Pirate with Gout, The Albino Pirate, The Pirate with a Scarf, and The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate. May as well hand over my booty at the box office without a struggle.

Three Stooges (Rhoades)

Farrelly Brothers
Yuk Up
“Three Stooges”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk! It’s the return of the Three Stooges, that trio of knuckleheads who slap, poke, kick, and punch each other to the delight of a largely male audience and the puzzlement of most females.
This comedy team started out in the ’20s as a vaudeville act known as Ted Healy and the Southern Gentlemen, where Moe Howard, his brother Shemp, and friend Larry Fine were the bumbling sidekicks (read: stooges) of a stage comedian who usually lost his pants at the end of the performance.
The Stooges later dumped Healy for a separate film career. In all, they appeared in 220 films – 190 of them Columbia shorts. Self-explanatory titles ranged from “Nertsery Rhymes” to “Dizzy Doctors,” “The Yokes on Me” to “Half-Wits Holiday.”
Mop-topped Moe Howard (né Moses Harry Horwitz) held the group together until the ’70s through a succession of health-related cast changes (Shemp was alternately replaced by brother Curly, as well as Joe Besser, Joe DeRita a/k/a Curly Joe, and others).
Known for their physical humor, they enjoyed a forty-year career, not counting ongoing television reruns. The World Book Encyclopedia used a photo of the Three Stooges to illustrate the topic of comedy. As Moe Howard once said, “If the encyclopedia recognizes the Stooges as the definition of comedy, then who am I to argue?”
Now they return to the screen as played by Chris Diamantopoulos, Will Sasso, and Sean Hayes in a new Farrelly brothers comedy straightforwardly titled “The Three Stooges.” It’s currently yuking it up at the Tropic Cinema in Old Town.
The Farrelly brothers – Peter and Bobby – are perfectly suited to this type of humor. After all, this directing duo gave us “Dumb and Dumber,” “Kingpin,” and “There’s Something About Mary.”
For the foils in this new outing, we have three TV actors. Diamantopoulos has guested on “The Sopranos,” “Nip/Tuck,” and “Boston Legal.” Sasso has been a regular cast member on “MADtv.” And Hayes was the longtime sidekick on “Will and Grace.”
When the film was first announced, the directors had hoped to cast Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, and Jim Carrey as Larry, Moe and Curly. The final casting led one blogger to comment, “In Hollywood terms, this is a bit like being offered prime fillet steak for tea and ending up with a dollop of Princes’ canned meat.”
Oh well.
The storyline for this farce is inconsequential: While trying to save the orphanage where they grew up, the boys uncover a murder plot and wind up on a reality television show. However, this is just an excuse for slapstick, broad jokes, and two fingers in the eye.
The original Stooges were so violent that Joe Besser had a clause in his contract prohibiting him from being hit too hard. My mother had a similar prohibition on roughhousing that followed watching a Three Stooges short.
This Farrelly brothers interpretation has a great supporting cast. Larry David (TV’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Seinfeld” creator) as Sister Mary Mengele, the nun who runs Sisters of Mercy Orphanage. Jane Lynch (TV’s “Glee”) as an acerbic Mother Superior. Brian Doyle-Murray (“Ghostbusters II”) as the monsignor who shuts down the orphanage. Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls”) as a sister. Stephen Collins (TV’s “7th Heaven”) as the boys’ adoptive father. Sofía Vergara (TV’s “Modern Family”) as the villain. And guest appearances by Jackie Chan (“Rush Hour,” “Kung Fu Panda”) and Snooki (of TV’s “Jersey Shore” fame).
Farrelly brothers movies have a winning formula that’s been described as “lots of gratuitous sex, bodily fluids, broad humor, dopey men, slutty women, and jokes at the expense of others, including the unintelligent, the disabled and the fat.” So a Three Stooges tribute fits well into their filmography.
Bobby Farrelly says he and his brother grew up on Three Stooges comedies. “We’d come home from school when we were kids, and they’d run those shorts on TV, and we just watched them every day and learned every line. It was just so funny, you could watch them over and over. We’re huge fans.”
This shaped their own sense of moviemaking – “low-rent laughs with plenty of heart and a fair amount of puerile charm.”
Next up for the Farrelly brothers? “Dumb and Dumber 2,” a sequel reuniting Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Let’s just hope the casting doesn’t end up with Dana Carvy and Joe Piscopo in the title roles.
Wistfully, we’d like to see the Farrelly brothers’ legacy be one similar to that of the Three Stooges: They brought low comedy to a high art form.

Three Stooges (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

 The Three Stooges

I am a Three Stooges fan from way back. One summer as a teenager in Cape May, New Jersey, I first discovered them. I was sleeping in the side room of my Nana's house. I had a bell connected to a string that led to my dad's cottage across the yard. In my eyes, this was a nonsensical contraption right out of a Stooges short. But it worked. 
Each Saturday morning and weekday afternoon, I would turn channel 39 and watch The Stooges. I would become excited and giddy, my clenched right hand revved up and ready as if I had a friend with me.
The Stooges inhabited a strange simplistic, grammatically (and politically incorrect) violent world that made no sense whatsoever, but they were iconoclastic and I enjoyed their ridicule of the bourgeoisie, despite it being lowbrow.

The Stooges were all about timing. The jokes were never all that funny but the humor was in Moe Howard's irrational  bluster and his anger in spite of everything, even when it seemed out of place and out of control. Slapstick they were, but poised against our ironic and detached 21st century, The Stooges now appear almost Punk.

I had my doubts about this new film. But I had to see it just the same. I was well aware that it probably wasn't equal to the originals. But I was encouraged by the madcap oeuvre of The Farrelly Brothers who have travelled similar Stooge-esque knocks of thought with their poor taste into good taste films, "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary". I had my hopes. their own way, as a post-modern tribute, they succeed. Just not, with flying monochrome colors.

The Farrelly Brothers have wisely chose to film three vignettes. We have Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos) Larry (Sean  Hayes and Curly (Will Sasso). The Stooges are cast perfectly and all bear striking, even uncanny likenesses to their original numbskull forefathers. At the start, The Three are dropped off as infants at a Catholic orphanage. The sight of them as babies is startling and funny at first. They make slapstick violence cute. As the scene goes on, the things the young toddlers do become more predictable and less funny. A falling bag of hammers, a chainsaw and torturing Sister Mary Mengele, strangely played by Larry David in Drag (who is funny up to a point, especially when he hisses) all seem what you would expect from a tribute film. 

Suffice to say, the orphanage is about to go into foreclosure and the gang vows to save it. 

The film is most interesting given that Moe is a Libertarian of sorts: "We don't need no handouts!" and the story would have benefited from some political and religious humor perhaps making fun of the Koch Brothers and Sam Harris but I guess I'm expecting too much.

There are some honestly funny moments here: Moe sees a youngster in low hip-hop shorts and says, "Hey, kid you're losing your pants!" and it is a laugh riot when you see Curly in Drag as a preening nurse as well as when he's in the polar bear tank. These gags work because Will Sasso is so rightly unselfconscious, as his original predecessor was.  Sadly, the film lags and becomes a bit of a blow to the eyes when the gags just run out.

Tv Sexpot Sofia Vergara contributes nothing to the film, although I did laugh when Curly's black rat got stuck between her breasts and how can you not?  Jennifer Hudson is oddly cast as a nun, although her presence is only here so Moe can do his classic Gospel bit.

The jokes are all fine (except for the peeing baby bit which went on far too long) 
If only the three nose-crunching comrades had more to work with in the story. After so many expected smashes and slugs, mostly with the profoundly unfunny cast of "The Jersey Shore" what should have been very entertaining, merely becomes a nostalgic echo of brighter times in black and white. Despite this, Will Sasso as Curly's Ghost makes it worth going forward in time, however short-lived.

Sent from my iPhone

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Week of May 11 to May 17 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Ever since I saw Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, the indie sleeper that nailed her an Oscar nomination in 2010, I knew she was destined for greatness. But her career-defining role in THE HUNGER GAMES is more than I ever imagined. In case you don’t know the story of this best-selling novel trilogy, it’s about children killing children. Say what?

Okay, I state it bluntly, but the plot set in a dystopian future merges elements of Ben Hur and Harry Potter, with more than a touch of Survivor. A ruling central government requires that each of its vassal states send selected children to the capital each year to engage in a gladiatorial hunt to the death. The survivor brings salvation to his homeland, and respite from a virtual starvation diet, hence the title.

Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is an expert teen-aged archer, who boldly volunteers to answer the call in place of her younger sister. In our current era of artificially-enhanced superheroes, it’s refreshing to meet a purely human one. But make no mistake, Katniss is capable of super things. “Katniss is gritty, she's flinty, she's intimidating -- and she doesn't have to compromise one iota of her femininity for it. And [the]' movie tells her story wonderfully.” (Mike Scott, New Orleans Times Picayune) Don’t miss seeing it.

might have been an alternative title for Katniss’s adventure in a gentler universe. But it’s rather the story of a trio of undergrad girls at an Ivy-like college led by Greta Gerwig (Arthur, No Strings Attached) who are trying to save some souls on campus through dance. Say what?

Making Damsels his “Pick of the Week” Andrew O’Hehir in described it as an “odd combination of chatty, overeducated dialogue, pointed social and sexual satire, and unadulterated absurdity.” It helps to know something of the previous work of director Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco). He’s the quintessential chronicler of the young upper-class, in the way that Woody Allen is for the neurotic, angst-ridden intellectual class. His dialogue is sharp, smart, literate, and funny if you get the jokes, but bewildering if you don’t. And his characters, well what are we to make of a college student who doesn’t know the names of colors? He’s not color-blind or mentally deficient; he’s just clueless, which is not a unique trait in this movie.

“Even were it not so delightful, Damsels in Distress, set at a fictional upper-crust college, would deserve a watch for its dialogue alone.” (Jeannette Catsoulis, NPR)

isn’t. That’s the theme of this movie giving Kathleen Turner her first starring role since she was John Water’s serial killer in Serial Mom. She was a mom there, with a very fatal flaw, and now she’s a mom again. But this time it’s her family that has the “flaws.” Like one is a lesbian about to get married, one is an adulterer, and one is a recovering alcoholic. No problem you might say, but Eileen Cleary (Turner) is in the running for Catholic Woman of the Year.

There’s a line from the movie quoted by every reviewer: “I don’t have to think…. I’m a Catholic,” says Eileen when challenged by her daughter to justify her negative view of gay marriage. This pretty much sums up Eileen’s character, and her dilemma, as she tries to stage a family dinner to impress the Archbishop while concealing her family’s peccadillos. There’s drama here, of course, but the movie plays it more for laughs than sobs.

“Watching Kathleen Turner genuflect her way through a pack of lies while she deals with the obstacles her “perfect family” throws in her path, like road kill in the headlights of a speeding train, is one of the year’s funniest pleasures.” (Rex Reed, New York Observer)

and THE SALT OF LIFE are held over.

The Mystery Classics series continues on Monday with Alfred Hitchcock’s famed REAR WINDOW. And LA FILLE MAL GARDÉE from London’s Royal Ballet comes to the screen on Wednesday.

Full schedules and info at or

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Perfect Family (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

The Perfect Family 

If you like a bit of lighthearted camp with your religious circumstance, "The Perfect Family" will fill your habit, even if it is ultimately a belly-chuckler rather than a lasting provocateur of the spirit.  Kathleen Turner plays Eileen Cleary, a Catholic mom caught in a clash  of beliefs, that clash regarding whether or not to accept her gay daughter Shannon (Emily Deshanel) and her girlfriend Angela (Angelique Cabral). Events become further complicated by the fact that Mrs. Cleary is nominated for Catholic Woman of the Year. Should she accept tradition and scorn her daughter together with her plans to marry and have a child or should Eileen modify her faith? This is the crux of the film and it would be quite compelling had it not gone for melodrama and bits that seem  reminiscent of "La Cage Aux Folles". 

As the credits roll,  Kathleen Turner works her face up in knots. She constantly frets and bothers, spilling the communion wafers on the floor. She also crosses herself facing her household shrine. When I saw this film, the audience erupted into peals of laughter and I failed to see anything really funny. But perhaps it helps if you went to Catholic school. 

The most interesting thing about Turner here is that she still has those iconic mischievous bad girl bedroom eyes  underneath a very matronly exterior. Audiences remember her well in such classics as "Body Heat" and John Waters' "Serial Mom". Turner made irreverence inviting. So its only natural to expect such once again. In this role, Turner's Eileen wants to accept her daughter but she can't bring herself to do it. Puffy and bloated, Eileen sours and croaks. Any lightness is gone. As the film progresses there is the usual Aristotelian mother / daughter showdown and such wheezing and red faced anguish is a bit hard to take, given that Eileen is an Archie Bunker type. I expected a bit more from the wedding scene especially when Eileen gets so worked up she slips and falls in a heap right in the middle of the aisle. Granted, this slapstick is played for laughs but such scenes have happened before in many films. The moment would have delivered more punch if Eileen did something else.

There are the usual confrontations between the other family members. Jason Ritter does a good turn as the son, Frank Jr. And Richard Chamberlain does well as Monsignor Murphy, but Chamberlain does his role on autopilot and even seems to smirk in more than a few scenes. 

This could have been a thoughtful film in the manner  of  the engrossing "Higher Ground" which premiered earlier last year and is due cult, if not classic recognition. That film had a well seasoned dose of existentialism to accompany its very real crisis of faith. And because of this, the characters are more authentic and more humorous. But in "The Perfect Family" there is too much bluster to make the situation unique and Eileen appears maudlin---her face red and glowering---as she sits in her dark house all alone. Even the interior looks unnecessarily surreal, akin to "The Exorcist" lit in high contrast and cloaking shadows. I get the point. Catholicism is intolerant and unyielding. No need to hit me over the head.

Although "The Perfect Family" opts for easy laughs and a pat resolution instead of character meditation, Kathleen Turner makes the film watchable in spite of it all. Seeing her beet red crestfallen face suddenly erupt in smiles is to catch some of her numinous catlike sorcery once again---it is a smile of mischief and danger that could and should well be trademarked as an American institution.

Write Ian at

The Hunger Games (Rhoades)

“Hunger Games”
Is Actually a War Game

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Kids hunting kids. What so unusual about that? We did that when I was 12, back in the Boy Scouts, dividing up into two teams, hiders and seekers, ranging over nighttime pasturelands and dark, thick woods and steep red gullies. Last kid found was the winner.
Later when I read “Lord of the Flies,” I thought, my Scout training would have done well in keeping me safe.
Now that Harry Potter has run his magical course and vampires are fading into the twilight, a new book series by Suzanne Collins is getting lots of buzz. It’s a futuristic tale (written in the first-person present tense) about kids hunting kids. Last one alive is the winner.
My wife just bought the first book in the series – “The Hunger Games” – and can’t put the tome down. In it, a 16-year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her sister’s place in the annual Hunger Games, a televised event where kids (“tributes,” they’re called) fight to the death. Sort of a dystopian “American Idol,” where the talent is survival in the wild against your friends and peers from the 12 surrounding districts.
Not surprising that it’s been made into a movie.
“The Hunger Games” is now reprising its gladiator games at the Tropic Cinema on Eaton Street.
Twenty-two-year-old Jennifer Lawrence (who was nominated for an Oscar for “Winter’s Bone”) portrays Katniss. Josh Hutchinson plays Peeta, her male counterpart from District 12, a supposed love interest. And Liam Hemsworth is cast as Gale, her best friend and hunting partner for whom she also has feelings.
Think: Team Peeta and Team Gale in future installments.
Author Suzanne Collins was a writer for children’s televisions shows on the Nickelodeon and WB channels, as well as head writer for Scholastic Entertainment’s “Clifford’s Puppy Days.” About ten years ago she started writing children’s books, in particular “The Underland Chronicles” series.
Then came “The Hunger Games.” Collins says she got the idea from channel surfing on TV, flipping from a reality show where people competed for a prize to footage of the war in Iraq. The images began to blur in her mind, and soon she was imaging a futuristic world set in the ruins of North America.
“The Hunger Games” was the first book of a trilogy – followed by “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay.” They’re published by Scholastic (where I spent five years as a group publisher). These are the same folks who gave you such popular YA book series as “Sweet Valley High,” “The Babysitters Club,” “Goosebumps,” and “Harry Potter.” Scholastic has a habit of catching lightning in a bottle.
Voice of Youth Advocates identifies the theme of “The Hunger Games” as government control vs. personal independence. Scholastic, being an educational publishing company, prefers to compare it to the theme of power and downfall in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” Collins herself likens it to the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Take your choice.
Truth is, “The Hunger Game” is an allegory about war. Even Collins said, “I don’t write about adolescence. I write about war. For adolescents.”
Having been traumatized by her father’s service in Viet Nam, the 48-year-old mother of two believes in educating young people about the realities of war. “If we wait too long, what kind of expectation can we have?” she said. “We think we’re sheltering them, but what we’re doing is putting them at a disadvantage.”
Collins says writing “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!” scripts for Nick Jr. was far easier than writing the Hunger Game books. “When I was working on ‘The Hunger Games’ – there’s not a lot of levity in it – I’d do a Wubbzy script. It’s an enormous relief to spend some hours in Wuzzleburg, writing an 11-minute episode, where I know things are going to work out just fine and all the characters will be alive at the end of the program.”
Not so with the Hunger Games Trilogy. Kids die. But don’t worry about Katniss and her two male companions. You can expect them to survive as all three books hit the silver screen in this new film franchise. After all, the lead actors in “The Hunger Games” signed three-picture deals.