Friday, July 27, 2012

Week of July 27 to August 2 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
 by Phil Mann

Steven Soderbergh got his filmmaking start with Sex, Lies, and Videotape back in 1989, and has since gone on to a career ranging from Pleasantville to Oceans Thirteen to Contagion. Now he’s back with sex again, but a faux kind. MAGIC MIKE is a male stripper, a guy who grunts and grinds on stage and then on the laps of the female patrons, who seem to love this classic role reversal. “You’re satisfying their fantasies … safely,” is the way club owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) puts it. Channing Tatum, who plays Mike, has worked in the trade, so there’s an authenticity to the film, which combines plenty of high production-value strip routines with a touching human interest story. Despite his down and dirty stripping, Mike is concerned about a kid (Alex Pettyfer) who he brings into the trade, and smitten with the kid’s sister. You’ll love the action, including a very buff McConaughey who does some strip-dancing himself, but stay for the story.

Director Steven Soderbergh is working very near the top of his game here, and if Magic Mike tells an old, old story about a young man, his talent, his rise, and his fall - see everything from "Saturday Night Fever" to "Boogie Nights" - he brings the confidence of a born filmmaker and a cast that's sharper than their characters and ready to play.” (Ty Burr, Boston Globe)

As a treat, the Tropic is celebrating the Tuesday 6:30pm show of Magic Mike as Girl's Night Out with drink specials. And Wednesday at 6:30pm it'll be Boys Night Out for the guys with the same drink specials.

All three dimensions are popping with the all-star animal cast of MADAGASCAR 3 in 3D. The ensemble of wandering Central Park Zoo animals – Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) are trying to get back to the U.S. via a European detour. It’s nonstop animated action. “Where Madagascar 3 soars is in its visuals: A Monte Carlo chase is vertiginously madcap; a Cirque du Soleil-style spectacle dazzles with rich pastels; the 3-D effects have wit and invention.” (Andy Webster, New York Times)

“How we think about [debt] changes how it works.” This observation from Margaret Atwood provided the premise of her book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, and now the documentary film PAYBACK. That and the social concept of people “paying their debt to society” in prison. True to its intellectual underpinnings in Ms. Atwood’s book, the subjects of the movie include BP’s debt for its Gulf oil spill, an Albanian farmer’s for shooting his neighbor and thus accruing an eye-for-eye obligation of like-kind repayment, and that of you and me for the benefits that we get from exploited migrant farm laborers.

Salma Hayek is getting around. While she’s a brutal drug lord in Oliver’s Stones SAVAGES (held over this week), in AMERICANO she’s also a Mexican stripper named Lola dancing nightly at a club in Tijuana. The writer/director and also star of this movie is Mathieu Demy, the son of famed French directors Agnes Varda and Jacque Demy. It’s a very personal story of a French-American young man who travels from Paris to Los Angeles to settle his mother’s estate. A quest to find a Mexican woman to whom the mother’s apartment has been bequeathed leads him to the Club Americano and Lola.

“Though not explicitly autobiographical, this film is deeply personal, and while the nature of cinema is very much on its mind, it rarely feels insular or self-conscious. Instead, it is wistful and nostalgic, and at the same time full of restless curiosity.” (A.O. Scott, New York Times)


The Kids’ $1 movie this week is the original MADAGASCAR (1989). That’s Saturday morning at 10:00AM.

Sunday evening at 7:00:pm, a new classic series starts with THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

Monday night’s Road Trippin’ Classic is PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES, starring Steve Martin and John Candy.

Full schedules and info at or

Madagascar 3 (Rhoades)

“Madagascar 3” Takes
European Circus Tour

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Those funny animals are back. You know, the lion, zebra, hippopotamus, and giraffe from those animated “Madagascar” movies. They’re still trying to get home to New York.
In this third outing – “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” – they attempt to return by way of Europe, where they join a traveling circus. Pandemonium ensues, of course.
These computer-generated anthropomorphic characters are again voiced by Ben Stiller (Alex the lion), Chris Rock (Marty the zebra), Jada Pinkett Smith (Gloria the hippo), and David Schwimmer (Melman the giraffe). They are joined by the voices of Frances McDormand, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Martin Short, Jessica Chastain, Andy Richter, Bryan Cranston, and Paz Vega.
For fans of those short spinoff films – “The Madagascar Penguins in a Christmas Caper” and “Merry Madagascar,” along with the TV series “The Penguins of Madagascar” – you’ll be pleased to know that those lovable penguin characters are along for this European tour. After all, our animal entourage is dependent on the mechanical know-how of their penguin and chimpanzee companions.
“They’re planning to get back to New York in a monkey-powered super plane,” laughs co-star Chris Rock.
This animal expertise comes in handy as the gang tries to avoid capture by Animal Control’s Captain Chantel DuBois (McDorland) and help the Siberian tiger Vitaly (Cranston) reinvent his flagging circus.
As Jada Pinkett Smith describes it: “I think what the Zoosters bring to the circus is a fresh life, you know? They bring new acts, new ideas, they bring some life to a circus they pretty much believe was ‘Blah’. I think in that it kind of inspires everyone.”
Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom MGrath, and Conrad Vernon, this DreamWorks Animation is the third entry in the series. And the first one in 3-D.
“Madagascar 3” is currently putting on its three-ring show at the Tropic Cinema. Sure, it’s a kid flick. But isn’t there still a bit of kid in all of us?
Don’t dismiss “Madagascar 3” too quickly. It was written by Noah Baumbach, who scripted such intelligent outings as “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Greenberg.”
In fact, “Madagascar 3” premiered at the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival. “Do we deserve to be here?” posited director Tom McGrath looking around at the lofty competition for the coveted Palme d’Or. “The festival honors all kinds of films.”
Even lions and tiger and penguins – oh my.

Payback (Rhoades)

“Payback” Is
More Than Money

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Margaret Eleanor Atwood is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. So what’s she doing writing about money in “Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth”?
Written for the 2008 Massey Lectures, each of the book’s five chapters was delivered as a one-hour lecture. These essays examine borrowing and lending “from financial, psychological, theological, literary, and ecological points of view.”
She became interested in the subject while writing about America’s invasion of Iraq – and questioning whether US citizens understood the debt to which they were committing.
 Critics found the book “well researched and thought provoking” despite her eclectic anecdotal style.
Backed by the National Film Board of Canada, filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal has made a documentary titled “Payback” based on Atwood’s book. It’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Not to be confused with the Mel Gibson thriller of the same name, “Payback” explores debtor/creditor relationships: two Albanian families locked in a blood feud; the BP oil spill vs. the ecology; exploited Florida farm workers; imprisoned media mogul Conrad Black.
While investigating the concept of debt in societies around the world, you will meet economist Raj Patel. Author of “The Value of Nothing,” he is known for his philosophy of sharing. He describes himself as “Not a communist, I’m just open minded.”
Also introduced is Louise Arbour, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Since July 2009 she has served as CEO of the International Crisis Group, an NGO that advises the UN, the European Union, and the World Bank.  
Other voices include Casi Callaway, Florence Barran, Gerardo Reyes, Petrit Prenaga, religious scholar Karen Armstrong and ecologist William Rees.
And, of course, Margaret Atwood has her on-camera say. She explains, “I started thinking about the subject of debt for a number of reasons, but among them was my puzzlement over a turn of phrase, ‘He’s paid his debt to society.’ What happens when people don’t pay their debt or can’t pay their debt or won’t pay their debt? What if the debt is one that by its very nature cannot be repaid with money?”
She describes it as “one of the most worrisome and puzzling things I know: that peculiar nexus where money, narrative or story, and religious belief intersect, often with explosive force.”
All in all, “Payback” follows Atwood’s premise that “How we think about it changes how it works.”
That said, I would have liked to have heard more from Margaret Atwood on such topics as the American debt ceiling, the Greek economy, or predatory lending practices. Guess she owes me one.

Magic Mike (Rhoades)

“Magic Mike”
Works Its Magic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

It had to happen: A male version of that old movie “Flashdance.” But in this case the dancer wants to open a custom furniture business rather than win a ballet scholarship.
This turn-the-tables movie is called “Magic Mike,” which is the eponymous stage name of our Chippendale-like entertainer, Mike Lane. He works for a girls-night-out cabaret in Tampa called Xquisite. There, his boss is an aging dancer and greedy jerk named Dallas. Mike introduces him to the Kid, a screw-up construction worker with a pretty sister. Mike’s boss likes the crowd-pleasing dance moves of the Kid; Mike likes the Kid’s disapproving sister.
In many ways, this movie is merely an excuse for allowing moviegoing housewives to watch hot male strippers. Much safer for the reputation than visiting an actual club.
There are plenty of dance numbers throughout the movie, costumed routines à la “Flashdance.” And numerous excuses to show bare butts. The ladies in the on-screen club screamed in delight. Ladies in the movie theater joined in. Several well-groomed young men screamed too.
“Magic Mike” is proving to be a terpsichorean delight during its run at the Tropic Cinema.
Hardbodied Channing Tatum (“21 Jump Street,” “Dear John”) makes Mike magic. Matthew McConaughey (“The Lincoln Lawyer,” “We Are Marshall”) adds proper sleaze as the not-yet-over-the-hill boss. And lean-and-mean Alex Pettyfer (“I Am Number Four”) is convincing as the up-and-comer Kid.
Cody Horn (“Occupant”) has a young Brigitte Bardot look as the Kid’s sister. And Olivia Munn (“Iron Man 2”) is on the mark as an aspiring psychologist who provides Mike with no-strings-attached sex while he secretly longs for his pal’s sister.
There are drug deals and double crosses, sorority strip-a-gram parties and hurricane bashes. Pills, drinking, and mindless sex – the life the Kid always dreamed of.
Farfetched? The movie is supposedly based on star Channing Tatum’s experiences as a 19-year-old male stripper in Tampa. Back then, he performed under the stage name of “Chan Crawford.” After being spotted on the street by a talent scout, he became a model for such brands as Armani, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Dolce & Gabbana. That led to acting. If you want to call it that.
My wife calls it a guilty pleasure.

Americano (Rhoades)

"Americano” Mixes
Memories and Fiction

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I had the ambition to do this road movie about grief which is more or less a universal story about a man losing his mother and the relationship between mothers and children,” says French director Mathieu Demy.
But it’s more than that.
Upon learning of his mother’s death, a French guy with a tattoo saying Americano on his arm returns to Los Angeles where he was born.
While trying to uncover his past, he goes down to Tijuana in search of a dancer in a club called Americano.
And the title of this French independent film is, well, “Americano.”
Here we have Martin, a man attempting to figure out a childhood for which he has little memory. An old neighbor still lives around the corner from his mother’s apartment. This writer, now white haired and typing out his autobiography on a computer rather than a typewriter, shares a photograph of a girl named Lola who was his mother’s friend.
Martin had planned on selling the apartment, only to find that his mother left it to this Lola in her will. So he drives off to Tijuana in his friend’s red Mustang in search of Lola – and to solve a mystery.
Did his mother really love him?
But the woman he finds refuses to help, saying she doesn’t live in the past. So how does he reconcile his memories, this beautiful dancer who strips while singing about “America,” and his grief over the mother who allowed his French father to take him away from her?
If you want to find out, “Americano” is playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.
The cast is fascinating – mostly children of famous film personalities.
Director Mathieu Demy takes the lead role of Martin for himself. Demy’s mother was experimental film director Agnès Varda. Starting out as a child star in his mother’s films, his work as an actor has ranged from romantic comedy to drama. But this is his directorial debut.
I wanted to make a film about a personal subject,” he says, “but to make it a fiction.”
The girlfriend that Martin leaves behind in Paris is played by Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni. Her film career includes such films as “Prêt-à-Porter,” “Making Plans for Lena,” and “The Beloved.”
When Martin arrives in L.A., he’s met by an old family friend, played by none other than a gaunt Geraldine Chaplin. The daughter of silent star Charlie Chaplin, she has been a fixture in such epic movies as “Dr. Zhivago,” “Nashville,” and “The Age of Innocence.”
The dancer in Mexico who may hold the key to his past is played by Salma Hayek. The Mexican-American actress was nominated for an Oscar for her starring turn in “Frida.” She has appeared in such disparate fare as “From Dusk to Dawn,” “Spy Kids 3D,” “Grown Ups,” and as a voice in “Puss and Boots.” She can currently be seen in Oliver Stone’s “Savages.”
“Something is not very clear about her identity,” Demy says of Hayek’s character. She professes to have a bad memory. But as Martin tries to talk with her, he continues to recall flashes from his childhood.
These memory sequences are actually real-life footage of 8-year-old Mathieu Demy, scenes extracted from one of his mother’s early films, a 1981 drama called “Documenteur.”
“I thought it was interesting to link my work with the films that have been important for me in my childhood,” he says. “And link this film to my own history.”
What did his mother think of this approach? “I think she thought it was interesting that I incorporated some parts of her films because this is what she has done with her own life.  She decided to put her children in her films and she decided to have this very tight relationship between family and fiction. She had to be able to relate to my point of view which is identical.”
Does “Americano” follow up on his mother’s film? “It’s not really the sequel of the movie because it’s another point of view,” says Demy, but it’s more the sequel of a character. I thought it was interesting to take this character and make him grow up. See what would happen to him 30 years later.”
In addition to directing and starring in “Americano,” Mathieu Demy wrote it too. “My mother’s first reaction was to be surprised that she would die on page two. She understood of course it was part of the fiction.”
He explains, “It’s the story of a man who looses his mother. This character is going to make a journey, which is both an interior journey on his childhood memories and putting back the pieces of his life after this crisis of the death of his mother, and an actual journey. He’s going to try to go on the track of a Mexican woman that his mother used to know.
“So basically it’s a road movie about a man growing up and trying to understand his life. I wanted the journey of the character to be more surprising as he runs away. He does everything wrong, but in the end it turns out to be the right way for him.”

Friday, July 20, 2012

Week of July 20 to July 26 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic

by Phil Mann

Benicio Del Toro was a Mexican anti-drug cop in the movie Traffic, back in 2000. Now, in SAVAGES, he’s back as a drug thug, head of the “northern” branch of a Mexican cartel headed by the beautiful Elena Sanchez (Salma Hayek). These Mexicans are savages, relishing torture and decapitation to keep the competition in line. Now they want to move in on the business of a couple of California surfer dudes,  Chon (Taylor Kitch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson), who have built a successful, though slightly illegal, business selling “premo” marijuana, while remaining nice guys. Chon is an ex-Navy Seal, back from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Ben is a Buddhist-botanist, who gets his pleasure building water systems for African villages. What bonds these guys together is their business, and their shared (in all ways) love for Ophelia (Blake Lively) a blonde airhead.

Think you knonw who’s going to win when the cartel pursues its unfriendly takeover? Not so quick. Director Oliver Stone is a talented guy, winner of three Oscars (Midnight Express, Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July), who knows how to crank up a plot. Turns out the boys have an ally in the local D.E.A. agent (John Travolta) who’s on their payroll, plus Chon has a cadre of ex-Seals who know a thing or two about armaments and munitions, and Ben’s buddies are IT masters.
I can’t tell you how it’s going to turn out, but I can assure you that there’s lots of blood and guts on the way. “Savages is Oliver Stone's strongest work in years - a stylish, violent, hallucinatory thriller with both a mean streak and a devilish sense of humor.” (Ty Burr, Boston Globe)

In keeping with the Tropic programmer’s efforts to bring a mix of offerings to The George, he’s lined up a nature documentary and a drama.

The subject of the documentary, OTTER 501, is sea otters, surely one of the most anthropomorphizable creatures on earth. Watch one floating on his back, with his tummy as a plate and managing his food with little hand-like claws, while giving you a look of “don’t you wish you could do this,” and you’ll be smitten for life. That’s what happened to Katie Pofahl, a 20-something woman who volunteered at the Monterey Aquarium and helped rescue an injured otter. It’s a great, and beautifully filmed, nature lesson that goes down easily. “The stars of the film are so entertaining, the tricks seem superfluous. Sometimes all you need are otters.” (Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle)

The drama PEACE, LOVE AND MISUNDERSTANDING depends on human stars, in this case Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, and Elizabeth Olsen. They are three generations who come together on a Woodstock farm. Grace is an aging hippie (Fonda); Diane her straight, lawyer daughter (Keener); and Zoe their ripening daughter/granddaughter (Olsen). Diane has been estranged from her mother for twenty years in rebellion against the potted lifestyle, but a sudden breakup with her husband has shaken her. Piling her kids in the SUV, she decides to pursue reconciliation. With a good deal of comedy and easy-listening dialogue, things work out. “There is something kind of groovy about Peace, Love & Misunderstanding…. rarely has head-to-toe tie-dye been pulled off with such flare.” (Betsy Starkey, L.A. Times)

A duo of summer hits, MOONRISE KINGDOM and TO ROME WITH LOVE are held over.

Special Events all weekend. On Friday morning, Brian Gordon Sinclair repeats his one-man show HEMINGWAY ON STAGE: THE ROAD TO FREEDOM.

Saturday morning Kids $1 Club shows PETER PAN.

On Sunday night the Florida Keys Help Line has put together a benefit “Sunday Evening with Papa.” They’re showing the classic TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, plus a cocktail reception and silent auction. You can just come to the reception, or add the movie, as you wish. Details at

And on Monday it’s Burt Reynolds in THE CANNONBALL RUN for this week’s Road Trippin’ Classic.

Savages (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Under the very horrible  and tragic circumstances at a theater in Aurora Colorado, the depiction of guns, buckets of  blood and IEDs is a bit troubling to me. It is this trepidation that I felt in watching "Savages" the new film by Oliver Stone, a director who I greatly respect for his usual iconoclastic points of view.

His new film quotes everything from "Scarface" to "Natural  Born Killers" and  "The Bourne Identity", with such dizzying buoyancy that its hard to resist despite its unabashed gore. This is a Drive-In movie of sorts with founts of blood and melodrama reaching  high Camp and circumstance but it is also a statement on the desperation of ugly people, the dog eat dog immediacy of violence and the shallowness of some well meaning New Age types who don't read all that much. 

California Surfer Dude Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) are best buds. In short order the two go into the marijauna business, fueled by Chon's military tour in Afghanistan. They begin to make money-chests of money--- in part for their exclusive high THC product, presumably the highest available in the world. But all is not well in Cali. A  fearsome Mexican drug cartel led by Elena (Salma Hayek) and her heavy henchman, Lado (Benicio Del Toro) get word of these beach boys and want a piece of this puff pod. What follows is an absolute nonstop and dizzying carnival of violence that would scorch the eyes (and very nearly does: I felt the blood in my eyes and counted the many decapitated heads) were it not for the mesmerizing and colorful sensitivity that Oliver Stone displays in illustrating a haunting and vibrant shadow-soaked Mexico, possessed by Death. The characters in this film are punchy and quite scary but they also contain something of a Grimm's Fairy Tale and a Supernatural comic book quality with all the histrionic hand-wringing (and hand-stabbing) that goes on.

In watching "Savages" you get the false impression that these cartels are filled by nearly unstoppable killing machines that kill and kill and kill again, even when riddled by bullets. We see whole shacks of near supermen driven by torture. Salma Hayek and Benicio Del  Toro are both given touches of humor as they shriek, scream and rage against the sky. Hayek is a Aztec Queen right out of a Soldier of Fortune's Snow White. The more Evil she becomes the more beautiful she becomes, constantly preening herself on red velvet, while contemplating a new Sopa de Tortilla con Sangre. Benicio Del Toro is part Golem, part Hannibal Lecter with a dash of Frankenstein's Creature, as he leers lecherously and stares, lost in his own sadism. 

This is merciless violence and uncaring carnality without a breath but Oliver Stone treats it all like a grim carousel that spins an infinite number of jack-o-lanterns and arsenic sugar skulls.  His camera secretes  such dark amber light that it is impossible not to doubt his mastery. Stone's camera becomes a perpetually arcing totem within itself, highlighting everything from deep cleavage, animal print fabrics, frightening skulls and Indian burial sites. And all these elements are held in a cycling vortex of The Pacific Ocean, at once sumptuous and sinister. 

"Savages" shows Oliver Stone as he seems behind the camera: A man at the center of his storm. A Vietnam-voiced Dante in charge of his infernal and personal iconography.

To watch Oliver Stone is invariably an experience and he hardly disappoints and certainly doesn't here with an over the top operatic denouement. The final concluding scenes are so Grand Guignol and perfect as is, that I wondered why he felt the need for an alternate go-around. With such lurid detail and animal angst befitting a Weird Tales potboiler, the after-image of tranquility that Stone inserts makes for a superfluous  side effect.

Write Ian at

Otter 501 (Rhoades)

“Otter 501”
A Marine Pup

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Not quite a nature documentary, not quite a docudrama, “Otter 501” is more of a fictionalized documentary.
Based on a story by Mark Shelly, “Otter 501” follows Katie Pofahl, a young woman whose interest in these marine mammals is sparked by rescuing a baby otter while kayaking in the ocean off Monterey, California.
So instead of taking the summer off and being a surf bum, she sets out to learn more about sea otters by joining a rescue group.
Talking into her computer’s camera and posting on Facebook, she creates a visual diary of “this otter thing … an adventure of its own.”
She discovers good news and bad news: The good news is that Otter 501 survived and is being cared for at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The bad news is that volunteers don’t get any cuddle time with otters, spending much of their time shoveling poop.
“Otters are the least boring animals I’ve ever seen,” Katie tells us as she follows 501, the pup she rescued. Placed with a surrogate otter mother named Toola, 501 learns to use tools, groom herself, how to dive, and master other skills that will allow her to survive in the wild.
Otter pups sleep ten hours a day. A senior volunteer must groom 501 three hours a day, because otters rely on their fur rather than blubber to keep warm in cold water (about the temperature of a refrigerator). A million hairs per square inch, it’s the densest fur on the planet.
A fashion fad for otter fur pushed the animals toward extinction. Now they are protected by law.
“The real wonder is how they survive out there at all,” Katie notes. But 501 does.
As Katie describes it, “The mystery, the marvel, the danger.” The life of a sea otter.

Savages (Rhoades)

Searches for
Brutal Meaning

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Think of it as a stoner’s version of John Ford’s “The Searchers.” Instead of John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter as a couple of West Texas settlers searching for Natalie Wood who has been kidnapped by Comanche Indians, we have Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson as benign marijuana growers searching for Blake Lively who has been kidnapped by a Baja drug cartel.
In this modern retelling by Oliver Stone (yes, the director who gave you “JFK,” “Natural Born Killers,” and “Platoon”), the two pot growers share their girlfriend as easily as they might share a joint. Instead of Scar, the chief of the Nawyecka Comanche’s, we have Benicio del Toro as Lado, chief henchman for Mexican bad girl Salma Hayek. And rather than Captain Clayton leading the attack on the Indian encampment, we have John Travolta as a corrupt DEA agent urging the violence on.
On the surface, this movie is about drug wars. “It’s a reality that things are quite violent down there right now,” Stone says, “because there’s so much money to be made. It’s bigger than tourism, bigger than oil. Drugs are a huge part of the economy of Mexico right now.” He adds, “This is not a war on drugs. This is a war for money.”
As one of the growers explains the conflict, it’s like “a boutique operation getting absorbed by Wal-Mart.”
“Savages” is based on a same-named bestselling crime novel by Don Winslow. It was picked by The New York Times as one of the Top 10 Books of 2010.
What made Stone choose it? “Above all it was a ride, unpredictable, you did not know what would happen next.” Sexy, dangerous, lots of explosions. He describes the movie as “Southern California meets Mexico noir.”
As for “The Searchers,” Oliver Stone avoids the comparison. He says, “I wanted to shoot it in a sort of glamorous ‘Duel in the Sun’ way. A bit of Peckinpah’s ‘Wild Bunch.’ And Sergio Leone, of course.” A western feel in a modern-day setting. What’s more, he describes his two leads as “kind of a Newman-Redford, Butch and Sundance thing.”
Stone tips his hand a bit about the controversial ending. “The bigger issue is what’s two men and a woman like, can it work?”
As Salma Hayek’s straight-laced cartel boss tells the kidnapped girl, “They must love each other more than you, otherwise how could they share you.”
Whatever the answer, brutal violence is unleashed as the boys do whatever it takes to get their girlfriend back. The movie is a rat’s nest of twists and turns.
Here, Oliver Stone returns to his darker themes. “Savages” is releasing its fury on audiences at the Tropic Cinema.
While the “good” guys might win the battles, it’s the baddies who chew up the scenery. Benicio del Toro is at his sadistic best. John Travolta goes over the top. And Salma Hayek enjoys one of the juiciest roles of her career.
However, the three young leads serve more as eye candy than seasoned actors. But when the bullets star flying you don’t care.
“I like to photograph good-looking people,” admits Stone. “I always did. But Aaron and Blake and Taylor also kept me young just by being themselves.”
Let’s hope “Savages” fares as well as “The Searchers.” John Ford’s film was picked by the American Film Institute as the Greatest Western of all time. And it ranks 12th on AFI’s list of the Top 100 Greatest Movies.
Who are the savages? “Aren’t we all to some degree?” posits Oliver Stone. “The question is of degree. To what degree do you cross the boundaries of what’s right and what’s wrong?”

Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

"Peace Love and Misunderstanding"

"Peace Love and Misunderstanding" is the rather tritely titled and self conscious film by Bruce Beresford. The film has such a congenial and quirky cast that it comes across like a photoshopped version of what an interesting Rom Com film  might have looked like. 

We have the usual standard female lead in the indie veteran Catherine Keener, who isn't bad at all here. To be fair she never plays a stinker. Keener has just played so many of these roles that it pours through the eyes like cinematic soy milk.  This is a chuckle of a film that soothes your senses if you happen to be overwhelmed by other jarring films or current events and that's fine, but it won't stay with you, make waves, or give you much to think about.  It is a pleasant idyll that is easy on the eyes, especially if it's rainy or stormy outside. Catherine Keener plays Diane, a conservative New York lawyer who is about to get divorced by the icy and unemotional Mark (Kyle MacLachlan). Diane high-tails it to Woodstock to see her mom Grace (Jane Fonda) with her two cutie-patootie  kids in tow: Zoe (the too talented for this script, Elizabeth Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff). The kids go over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house and you guessed it, oh yes indeed, she lives in a cluttered and rambling hippie shack, complete with lots of deer, fowl and yes, the old reliable pot crop. 

Jane Fonda here is little better than Barbra Streisand in "Meet the Fockers". She dances and prances and smokes and paints and serenades the " Universe" And if this were a madcap comedy we would expect her to do these "crazy" things. The trouble is Grandma Grace is partly serious and there isn't many provocative things for her to do. Oh Wow! Don't tell me--she's actually smoking a hookah with her grandkids??!! Hold everything. 

Get out of town.

Fonda is such a wonderful actor and charismatic person that she deserves better. Still, even in this cliche part, she holds power mainly when she talks about Woodstock and Hendrix and becomes a paisley dervish, spinning and unkempt.  There is also a touching montage showing Jane Fonda as she was in the late 60s and 70s as a protester and iconoclast, speaking out against Vietnam. But hey man, that's not enough to keep this trip going.

All the actors here are good but in this story that unfolds like a Lifetime morning movie, all the drama feels limited and letter boxed into some very few punch lines and belly laughs. 
Fonda and Keener have their Big Argument that seems a tempest in a tie-dyed tea pot for all the "Hey, I tried my bests", "I'm sorry's" and the "you're the mother now" moments. 
We know Fonda and her communal crew will have their full moon celebration. We know what's coming. But why reduce Fonda to a drum encircling, pot smoking cartoon? After such a well travelled dialogue that other films have with the hippie movement, why go the Mad Magazine route?

One exception to this pablum in patchouli is the acting of Nat Wolff who elevates his film-geek character to a place of real adolescent shakes. But his  facility in anxiety together with some hip cuteness is a little too late.

I assume that this film  wants to be a somewhat enlightening trip given the shared pathos between mother and daughter, from two opposing philosophical worlds. But there isn't much mellow yellow melodrama here to work with "Peace Love and Misunderstanding"  is thankfully, neither long nor strange and that's a good thing, but it had the potential, especially given the seasoned cast, to be Far Out or at the very least, something to think about and dig.

Write Ian at

Friday, July 13, 2012

Week of July 13 to July 19 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

A couple of biggies this week, led by PROMETHEUS the mega-budget, 3D, sci-fi thriller from Ridley Scott, director of the Alien series and Blade Runner, as well as reality-grounded films including Thelma and Louise and Black Hawk Down. It’s a new riff on the classic plot, space explorers from Earth travel in a remarkable spaceship (the titled Prometheus) to another world.
But this time, instead of a sharp crew of dedicated scientists, we have a mostly dysfunctional group of, well if I can put it bluntly, assholes. They’re led by a corporate bitch (Charlize Theron) who seems to want the mission to fail, and two starry-eyed idealistic archeologists (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) who think they are pursuing the meaning of life. The only solid citizen is the captain of the ship (Idris Elba -- Stringer Bell from The Wire), who brings Baltimore drug-dealer street smarts to this space show.

Nonetheless, the action is unending as this motley crew, with the help of a walking, talking humanoid (Michael Fassbender) who’s smarter than them all, face up to terrifying aliens. There’s a giant guy who looks like a bulked up Woody Harrelson but is played by a 7'1" tall actor (Ian Whyte), and a bunch of slithy toves that gyre and gimble in the wabe. Thank God for little Noomi, whose Dragon Tattoo training comes in handy here. “A magnificent science-fiction film, all the more intriguing because it raises questions about the origin of human life and doesn't have the answers.” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

is a comedic spoof of the heavy metal rock world, with an unlikely set of actors. The lead rocker is Tom Cruise… yes, that Tom Cruise… parading around on the stage with his guitar and no shirt. In the back room, as a club owner and manager respectively are Alec Baldwin and Paul Giamatti. Looking to close the club down is Catherine Zeta-Jones. The plot follows the arc of Drew (Diego Boneta) and Sherrie (Julianne Hough), a couple of aspiring new arrivals to L.A. and the rock scene, who want to make it big.

The movie is reputed to be Mamma Mia for metalheads, but don’t worry, it “doesn't require anyone to love metal, or even like it. It only requires us to laugh at it…. Tom Cruise as a bandanna-headed Axl Rose type will hit you as the purest bit of genius in the man's entire film career.” (Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle) “Blessed with unstoppable energy, an undeniably bawdy sense of fun and Tom Cruise in backless leather pants, it takes songs you may never have loved and turns them into a musical that's easy to enjoy.” (Kenneth Turan, L.A. Times)

THEY CALL IT MYANMAR: Lifting the Curtain
takes us backstage, as it were, to the country known during British Colonial rule as Burma. It’s an exposé of the military dictatorship, but also a tribute to the strength of dissident leader, and Nobel Prize winner, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. With gorgeous Buddist temples, the newly-opened Myanmar is on the short list of exotic travel destinations. This is your chance for an easy preview. The “film, made unofficially and on a shoestring, is nevertheless a thing of beauty; its cinematography, music and contemplative words make it not an angry documentary but more a hymn to a land that has grown out of the oldest cultures in Asia.” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

takes us back to a time, as seen through the eyes of a 15-year-old French girl, Camille (Lola Créton), when the discovery of love seemed all consuming. The aptly named director, Mia Hansen-Løve, “limns the ecstasy and tumult of youthful, sometimes self-destructive passion,” as she “charts the bruising consequences of infatuation.” (Patrick McGavin, Boston Phoenix) “Goodbye First Love is like a postcard from a lost Eden, a painfully pure oasis where we're not allowed to linger.” (Joe Williams, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Holdover films this week are Woody Allen's TO ROME WITH LOVE and Wes Andersen's MOONRISE KINGDOM. 

Get out your Special Event calendar for Thursday, when Brian Gordon Sinclair brings his one-man show HEMINGWAY ON STAGE: THE ROAD TO FREEDOM PT VI back to the Tropic. Mr. Sinclair’s performances channeling Papa H. have drawn rave reviews in past years. Ernest’s author-granddaughter Lorian Hemingway says "Brian portrays Hemingway On Stage with such brilliant form as to rival Hal Holbrook's Mark Twain." Tix are only $10, and available now at or the box office.

The Saturday $1 Kids Show this week is Steven Spielberg’s THE ADVENTURES OF TIN TIN, an animated adventure story. And the Monday Night Road Trippin’ Classic is MIDNIGHT RUN (1988) starring Robert De Niro as a hard-bitten bounty hunter.

Full info and schedules at or

Rock of Ages (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Rock of Ages

Okay. If you want a film that will turn your logic to con queso and jellify your eyes, "Rock of Ages" is your chance. The experience of looking at the film is like eating cotton candy, all fluff and sugar, with not much body, but if that is what your eyes are craving, then "Rock of Ages" will do the trick. 

The film is based on the play by Chris D'Arienzo and filled with classics from 80s rock bands. That's cool. The story is  too filled with Velveeta, though, and the events, on film at least, become repetitive after an hour. 

We have the perky Julianne Hough (from Dancing with the Stars) as Sherrie. No surprise here: she leaves Oklahoma to find her dream in L.A. She bumps into Drew, a brown eyed cutie (Diego Bonetta) after she is mugged. Drew wants to be a kind of adolescent Bruce Springsteen 'bad boy' but appears more like Justin Bieber. When we see him with a scotch bottle he looks so uncomfortable. Sherrie wanders into a club, "The Bourbon" that looks like a one room shack. As luck would have it, the rock god Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) is giving his last performance here before going solo. Meanwhile as a subplot there is a conservative religious group that wants to squelch Rock & Roll.

This is the chiffon conflict all wrapped in a pink and black leather bow.
Despite the tissue paper thin plot, there is one rousing number by Catherine Zeta-Jones that is almost as frightening as an exorcism in its sexual intensity given that it takes place in a church. This one number, by itself is quite entertaining and almost gives John Waters a run for it. And Zeta-Jones is one shiny spot in a mostly standard film that goes ho-hum instead of ROCK!

For all the hype of Tom Cruise, his Stacee Jaxx doesn't do all that much. As a quasi representation of Jim Morrison and Axel Rose, Kid Rock, or maybe just an altered version of himself, he struts around and cavorts saying narcissistic taunts and murky things, altogether not very exciting. The most interesting thing about Cruise in his role, is solely his movements. As he struts and rolls around his waterbed, he is amphibian, all slithery with oil and snaky biceps. Cruise is fun to watch at first, it's only that his character is not that compelling, only an anemic cartoon.

Paul Giamatti produces a few chuckles as a shifty manager, but it's not much of a stretch. Giamatti has dishonesty and snake oil salesmen roles on automatic pilot. He can phone it in. Russell Brand is fun enough, but we all know what Russell is famous for: the same party animal bit in virtually every film.  I did laugh at his gay duet with Alec Baldwin however, which is so unabashedly corny, it succeeds. This was the only time I laughed out loud.
"Rock of Ages"? There is about as much Rock here as "Mamma Mia." The film is crying out for Billy Idol or Alice Cooper. When it's all said and done, there is not all that much to scream about. 

Write Ian at

Prometheus (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Ridley Scott's cinematic revisitation  to outer space is analogous to Woody Allen's return to a quirky and manic Metropolitan city. There is the same quality of affection and nostalgia. Instead of winding European streets we have a pristine white-upholstered  spaceship, instead of  quirky characters wringing their hands about adultery, we have intense staring-eyed scientists and Alpha females clad in skin tight spacesuits. And finally, in place of a ragtime clarinet score, we have the ominous hiss of a ship's ventilation system and the thrum of a ship engine (very much like The Nostromo) followed by the apprehensive tinkle of a some scary sounding chimes. 

This is classic Ridley Scott territory, the director who brought us "Blade Runner", "Legend" and "Gladiator". Scott is a director who renders his images with a painterly  details, however kitschy his subject matter. Whether you are a fan or not, Scott has made his mark in the canon of film.

In his latest "Prometheus", we are situated once again in the anxiously affectionate expanses of Space.  Indeed we are treated to a series of galactic images in a similar fashion to Woody Allen's opening montage of Paris. What immediately hits you is Scott's attention. The shots of space appear touched by some existential angel, the most minute aspects are rendered so clearly. Not since Stanley Kubrick have I seen space visualized with such poetic detachment, just as it might be.

And the planetary landscapes with their deep grooves and wavy Expressionist lines recall Van Gogh.

Yes, once again we have a lonely ship, misted over in the fog of melancholy as most of the crew is sleeping in their pods for a destination unknown. One glance at Ridley Scott's haunting pan of the ship will tell you that we are in "Alien" prequel mode. And we can guess that the sensors will pick up signals for life. And yes, also we have a strong resolved "Ripley" character in the guise of Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace). Rapace does a fine job at recapturing some of  Sigourney's fighting spirit but she also brings her own trademark spaced out qualities to the role, that peculiar monotone that made her famous in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". Also present is Michael Fassbender as David, an eerily unemotional android. 

Alas, the greed at discovering a new thing under the moon brings traces of something scaly underfoot and some Ridleyan tension and genuine scares quickly commence. Some diehard fantasists, always on the hunt for the startling and most original, may well grow weary that something Giger this way comes, but Scott's passion and enthusiasm for all things spooky in space is well in evidence here and hard to dismiss. The battle scenes with Noomi Rapace in particular rival any displays of fear and self preservation by the beloved Ripley. This familiar primal fear is further enhanced by the subtle malevolence as delivered by actor Charlize Theron. All this is laced with such virtuosic visuals in 3D that we truly believe that Scott is beaming to be the Edmund Burke of Space on Film.

As beautifully shot as it is, this is essentially an H.P Lovecraft tale, but it is an excellent one with terrific pace and mystery.

This is Ridley Scott's legacy after all, complete with the  distinctive reptilian  designs of H.R. Giger which always seemed to me a bit like Louise Bourgeois's black cabinets. Only at the end, during an epilogue does Scott weaken in intensity. In space, I thought, can one hear a cash register ring? But even when asking this, I held my breath and smiled. Nothing says 1979 or 2012  like a bit of extraterrestrial fear.

Write Ian at

They Call It Myanmar (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

"They Call It Myanmar" is an eye opening underground look at what is also Burma, the large isolated country that borders China, Thailand and Laos. Not many outsiders know the daily life of this mysterious and polarized country and this is largely due to its oppressive regime. Myanmar is not democratic. 

The country is a curious case. The gap between rich and poor creates an abyss. People struggle to breathe and quench themselves with iron colored water, while just across the street, people sun themselves under what looks like gold leafed turrets surrounded by impervious  iron gates. 

Children as young as thirteen work crushing rocks or assembling necklaces for tourists. The newspapers tell the Burmese to be suspicious of all Western media that they might (but usually do not see).

Meanwhile the Burmese people are rooted in gentleness. Buddhism is in the soil and skin. The people revolve in the cycle of Karma, that is, good thoughts produce good rewards. They wholeheartedly believe in Reincarnation; if one does something bad, pain will follow. And all is suffering. Yet despite this indigenous gentleness, the many people on camera are often too terrified to speak, fearing government torture or arrest.

Director Robert H. Lieberman has a keen eye, portraying Myanmar in tiny filmed snippets, as if the filmed frames are small puffs of visual curry. Many of the speakers are blurred out or facially absent as the majority do not want to be identified. Because of this, the camera is often focused on the collar of a shirt or a gleaming silver watch that speaks more of a hunger for The West and free speech than a face ever could.

The film does a fine job of giving a solid historical overview, from the British colonization to The Flying Tigers and through lethal monsoons, to the beating of monks and the twenty year house arrest of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung  San Suu Kyi, this film is nothing short of a pictorial encyclopedia, interspersed and peppered with the stuff of daily routine, at once raw and visceral. One gets the feeling that Lieberman is a benevolent CIA man from the Compassion Intelligence Agency and the film is better for it.

Throughout the whole of "They Call It Myanmar" you might almost be wishing that the people drop the guilty weight of Karma, dispel their fears like so many irritating narcotics and speak up as some have. Hopefully their external environment will soon mirror the large human hearts that beat within.  

Write Ian at

Goodbye First Love (Rhoades)

“Goodbye First Love”
Shares a Life Lesson

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Some girls write about their intimate feelings in a diary. French director Mia Hansen-Løve chooses to share hers in a semi-autobiographical movie about young love.
In “Goodbye First Love” (Original title: “Un amour de jeunesse”) she explores a young woman’s romantic entanglements.
In the Paris of 1999, we meet a pretty student named Camille and her selfish boyfriend Sullivan, a couple in in love. “Love is all I care about,” she says. But love changes to despair when Sullivan goes off to Marseilles without her.
“I don't want you to go,” she cries. “What will I do without you?”
But he wants to become “a real person.”
“If I lost you, I wouldn’t survive,” she tells him. But that’s not true.
As time passes she drifts into an affair with a married architect, has a miscarriage, meets up with her old boyfriend after eight years apart.
His dreams of becoming a photographer haven’t quite worked out, in that he must supplement his income as a handyman. And Camille’s search for love doesn’t go the way she’d dreamed.
The subtitles express the pain of love in this Franco-German production. But the cinematography makes you feel like you’re hanging with real kids as they ride a bicycle, make love, go swimming in a secluded stream, wander the Gallic countryside.
Lola Creton (as the girl-in-search-of-love Camille) and Sebastian Urzendowsky (as not-ready-to-commit Sullivan) are a believable pair, whether having sex, fighting, or walking away. Magne-Havard Brekke is effective as the architect Lorenze, another lesson in love for Camille.
“Life is not what you expect,” the architect tells her.
This is 31-year-old writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve’s fifth film. Her “Tout est pardonné” was nominated for a Best First Film César in 2008. And “The Father of my Children” won the Special Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
“We have all of our life to be serious,” Camille says to Sullivan. “Let’s make the most of our youth.” Perhaps they do, but not in the way they expected.
Getting over a lost love is painful, no matter what the language.

They Call It Myanmar (Rhoades)

Burma: “They
Call It Myanmar”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I got out my world atlas and flipped through the pages, searching for the country called Myanmar. Admittedly, I’d never heard of it. I wasn’t sure which continent to examine. Finally, I found it, a fat yellow blot wedged between India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand.
Turns out, it’s the land we used to call Burma.
Now known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, it’s the second largest country in Southeast Asia. And the 24th most populous country in the world with over 60.28 million people.
In 1989, the military government renamed the country, “Myanmar” being the literary description of the country’s largest ethnic group. However, some countries (including the US) have not recognized the name change. No wonder I had trouble finding it on the map.
Following three Anglo-Burmese Wars (1824-1885), Burma was colonized by the British. But following Burma’s independence it fell under military rule.
From 1962 to 2011, the country has been controlled by repressive military juntas. The United Nations has cited it for human rights violations, human trafficking, and suppression of freedom of speech.
That’s why author Robert H. Lieberman secretly filmed over 120 hours of footage showing life in this “second most isolated country in the world.” He culled that down to 70 minutes and titled it “They Call It Myanmar – Lifting the Curtain.” This documentary is now showing at the Tropic Cinema.
A longtime Cornell University physics professor, Lieberman’s work outside the classroom includes writing and filmmaking. His novels (“The Last Boy,” “Perfect People,” et al.) tend to have an underlying social theme. As a Senior Specialist with the Fulbright Program, he became interested in Burma, first visiting there in 2008. He found a country that had been overlooked by the rest of the world.
During what’s known as the Ne Win years (a reference to the general who took control of Burma through a coup d’état in 1964), almost all aspects of society were nationalized. In 1988, another coup d’état formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), the military regime that changed the country’s name.
In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won in a free election, but the military junta refused to cede power. Suu Kyi remained under house arrest – one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners – until her release in 2010.
Visiting the country under a US State Department teaching scholarship, Lieberman began clandestinely filming this documentary. It took five separate visits to complete the film.
“I got into trouble repeatedly, as you’ll see in the movie,” he says. “But I managed to always squirm my way out of it.”
He interviewed more than 100 people, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Many were fearful of appearing on camera. But what emerged was a collage that shows modern life set against ancient tradition. What we get with “They Call It Myanmar” is “a mix of rare beauty and disturbing brutality.”
It will never again just be a yellow blot in my atlas.

Rock of Ages (Rhoades)

“Rock of Ages”
Rocks the House

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Think of it as a concert film, even though it's a musical based on a Broadway play. For here you’ll hear the music of Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leopard, Poison, Journey, Foreigner, Night Ranger, Pat Benatar, Europe, Whitesnake, Twisted Sister, and REO Speedwagon.
Yes, it’s taking you back to the ’80s.
This is “Rock of Ages,” the new movie that’s blowing it out at Tropic Cinema.
In addition to all the great music, you’ll encounter an impressive ensemble cast: Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta as the romantic young couple who aspire to rock stardom. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand as desperate club managers.  Paul Giamatti as a rock star’s sleazy manager. Even singer Mary J. Blige.
However, it’s Tom Cruise who steals the show as aging rocker Stacee Jaxx, the act that’s been booked at LA’s Bourbon Club in an attempt to save it from being closed down by the mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his Tipper Gore-ish wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Turns out, Tom Cruise has a rad voice. “It’s this brilliant mashup, it seems, of Axl Rose, Keith Richards, and Jim Morrison,” exclaims the film’s director, Adam Shankman (TV’s “Glee” and “Hairspray”).
Get over Cruise’s he-man performances in the “Mission Impossible” movies and the upcoming Jack Reacher actioner, this sweaty drug-addled performance is akin to “Magnolia,” a bid to remind you of his acting chops. Rumor has it, his name’s already being floated for an Academy Award nod. Honest.
Think of this as “A Star Is Born” for Heavy Metal fans. A naive young girl from the Midwest goes to the Big City to seek fame. And, of course, find the man of her dreams. It’s a universal story that translates well to multiple generations and differing cultural backdrops. You’ve seen it in everything from “Showgirls” to “Burlesque.”
Based on the script by Chris D'Arienzo and Allan Loeb, it’s an amalgam of musical, romance, comedy, and drama.
As the girl who comes to town with the dream of seeing her favorite group, Arsenal and its lead singer Stacee Jaxx, Julianne Hough (star that "Footloose" remake) epitomizes her character. As a teen, she had a big crush on Tom Cruise. She took the role in “Rock of Age” to meet him.
The highlight for 23-year-old Hough was giving a lap dance to her 49-year-old idol (although it’s been cut from the film). “I’m upset that the world doesn’t get to see me give Tom Cruise a lap dance,” she says. “The reason I’m upset is we worked so hard on that number. I’m sad no one will see the hard work we put in until the DVD comes out.”
The number was cut after audience testing found it “a little too hot and steamy and sexy.”
Hough laughs, “Let’s just say I’ll always have that in my back pocket, that I gave Tom Cruise a lap dance.”
And rocked the house with him.