Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Week of August 31 to September 6 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Can you imagine being married to Meryl Streep and not wanting to sleep with her… not even sleep in the same bedroom? Can you imagine Tommy Lee Jones as a sexless, boring tax accountant? Well, be prepared to suspend your disbelief and check out HOPE SPRINGS.

Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) live in a nice house in Omaha and have two nice grown children. He has a nice job, she has a nice one in retail, and they are perfectly nice to each other, with not an unkind word ever uttered. All perfect… except that they barely relate. They don’t talk and haven’t slept together in years. Just two souls who happen to live in the same house, who once meant something to each other. But all that is challenged when she coerces him into attending an “intensive” couple’s counseling program in Maine. The counselor (a very earnest and serious Steve Carrell employing his Office-style deadpan but without the absurdity) leads them though a serious of exercises. Starting with just touching, the goal is to get them to a home run.

Go and root for the home team. “An oddly ambitious blend of bland humor and startling insight into the realities of married life. It’s something like Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes From a Marriage,” as translated into the universe of the Lifetime Network.” (Andrew O’Hehir, “A surprise that sneaks up and moves you.” (Joe Morgenstern, Wall St. Journal)

It seems to be that whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican, a Tea Partyer or an Occupyer, you should be worried about the impact of worldwide droughts and declining water resources. Ditto the pollution of water supplies by poor environmental practices. I mean guys, this is Water we’re talking about.

That’s the theme of LAST CALL AT THE OASIS , a documentary that tries to open our eyes to an emerging crisis. So in a rational world you would expect universal interest in the movie. But we live in a world where anything smacking of environmental concerns is treated as an anti-American conspiracy. If you believe in creationism (as 46% of Americans apparently do), and that climate change is just God playing around, then of course droughts are just another Godly act. But if you’re from the rational half of the population, you might appreciate viewing this movie. “As a lucid, emotionally involving portrait of the looming crisis surrounding water --supplies of which are dwindling as contamination rises - Jessica Yu's smartly constructed argument works less as a tutorial than as an infectiously impassioned call to arms.” (Ann Hornaday, Washington Post) “Whether the glass is half full or half empty isn't the point of the effervescent Last Call at the Oasis: It's whether there'll be anything in the glass at all.” (John Anderson, Variety)

Since last week was a short one, what with the Sunday closure for Isaac (more fun from God), three films are held over: the stop-motion animated story of a witch-taming kid PARANORMAN (in 2D and 3D); the conclusion to the latest Batman trilogy THE DARK KNIGHT RISES; and the indie relationship comedy YOUR SISTER’S SISTER.

The Saturday Kids series is over for the summer, but the Monday Classics continue with a September theme of Back to School. There’s a new reduced pricing policy: only $6.00 for Tropic members and $8.50 for others. The opening movie in the series is Richard Linklater’s DAZED AND CONFUSED, a rollicking tale of 1976 Texas high schoolers celebrating the beginning of summer. “The ultimate party movie -- loud, crude, socially irresponsible and totally irresistible.” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone)

On Wednesday, WomenFest comes to the Tropic with I STAND CORRECTED, a bio-pic about the great jazz bassist, Jennifer (formerly John) Leitham. Check out for more on Jennifer.

Last Call at the Oasis (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Last Call at the Oasis

Jessica Yu's new documentary "Last Call at the Oasis" is one of the most visually lively films I've seen in some time, despite its sober subject. The film deals with the fragility of water in today's world. It treats water as a great helix as strong as DNA, a liquid bond no less strong than epoxy that literally holds us together, from the mite to the majestic. Every living thing needs water to survive. But we are the only species that blatantly uses water with  such a recreational abandon.
And as this film clearly shows, we may continue to do so at our peril and extinction. Our fate may well be decided between oil and water. Las Vegas is portrayed as a neon vampire relentlessly sucking water from the Colorado River. The concept that hits home is that this wild, life-sustaining force must be reigned in and conquered in order to keep the casino colossus going. According to the documentary, not only will the residents be parched and without water in about four years, but there must be waterfalls for the tourists. The hard edged Pat Mulroy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority appears, advocating putting a pipeline into Snake Valley, Utah. The vital Lake Mead is already declining with its residents getting nervous and protesting against the pipeline which currently is closer to completion. 
Water is a political water-balloon and this is a grave mistake, given that we all depend on such an element, whether we are democrats or republicans. During all the bureaucracy, the US is compared to Africa, given all our water woes.
Erin Brockovich is highlighted too, in her fight for clean water in Hinkley, California. She is immediately coupled with Tyrone Hayes, the charismatic biologist and amphibian expert at Berkeley who is rightly at war with atrazine which is so far known to chemically change the sex of frogs. Both Brockovich (with her frosted hair and resolute expression) and Hayes (with his dreadlocks and singular medieval and cultish earring) can be seen as real life Marvel Heroes in our world, ala Storm and Nick Fury. As true and steadfast X-Men they will never give up and we shouldn't either. The segments showing Hayes and Brockovich offer some of the most unsettling footage to watch, but you will be glad that they are fighting and speaking for water.
Last, but certainly not least, there is the Mel Brooks-like Paul Rozin who is a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Rozin conducts studies on the psychology of food choices. In the film he advocates that there is nothing wrong with recycled water, specifically water recycled from sewage. The taboo, he says, exists in the human mind, and American scientist Peter Gleick agrees. Singapore already recycles its water. It's only that the American public won't stand for it.
To prove the point and to make a little fun, Jack Black is brought in to pitch a bottle of recycled water to the public with the brand-name of Porcelain Spring, laughingly made from the"most peaceful place on Earth." Perhaps under the circumstances, it would be best to label it a spring from John Waters' exclusive well.
Cringe though we might, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such water. California plans to recycle by 2019. This may well be our best hope given the pollution and economic dreads. "Last Call at the Oasis" is to be applauded in its diverse tone, from urgent concern to high comedy, and it gracefully rushes to and fro like the movement of water itself. Not only does the film suggest ways to untie our aquatic knots, if we are free thinking enough to try, but we see that we don't have to dispense with our humor in this undertaking. It is possible to be liquid and light, yet still remain steadfast in keeping with the motion of our serpentine rivers and the swell of our numinous seas.

Write Ian at

Hope Springs (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Hope Springs

"Hope Springs" is a pleasant valentine to the Baby Boomer set. Although predictable, its earnestness is hard to resist. The star chemistry beguiles even though you can sense what will happen several scenes ahead. The brisk and lively pacing smooths over whatever routine moments the story possesses. Its greatest charm is its easy, picaresque narrative. The film goes by like a Maine ocean breeze and it never overstays its welcome.

"Hope Springs" stars Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as Kay and Arnold, respectively, a couple with a marriage in crisis after some 32 years. Day in and day out Arnold works in an office and   then comes home to watch golf and eat dinner and breakfast in an unending vertical line . No contact or intimacy is ever seen except for a sterile kiss before work. This plodding domestic tread begins to wear on the amiable Kay, who craves excitement or at least some sudden spontaneity from a stagnant spouse. We even see her change outfits and try different colors, although Kay is never one to be racy.

Arnold, for his part, is lost in a fog. He spends so much time in his overstuffed chair that his rectangular and blocked      body becomes part of it. His eyes resemble dark fish that swim in a sea of wrinkles. Arnold's body closes up like a clam-shell. 

No one is getting in.

Kay wants to go to marriage counseling. Much of the film details the back and forth between the couple: the moments that are either frustrating or frenzied, quirky or comical. None of it is upsetting or all that enlightening but that's okay. 

It's not supposed to be.

The entertainment comes from watching Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play off of one another. Kay is befuddled, concerned, surprised, but always optimistic and Meryl Streep has the range to make such a Hallmark story so watchable. Arnold is gruff and silent, but by no means selfish or self centered; he just feels intimately boxed in. And if you can stand Tommy Lee Jones's laborious breathing and dead pan expressions that seldom vary, (except in some lively foreplay that's fun to watch) along with Streep's perpetual worry, you will find this film an amiable semi-romp in the hay.

The one misstep is the casting of Steve Carell as the therapist. Carell is quite authentic as a doctor, but this is not life, it is a dramatic story and on this level, his role is far too generic and uninspired. Carell's character could be delivered by anyone and goes stale. His one joke about a broken nose is just not funny.

"Hope Springs" is a breezy jaunt along life's spousal shallows. Although, it is not a very deep film, it makes for a buoyant September Idyll. Streep and Jones each have such a cinematic legacy between them and they carry this history with them. When the two work together they are invigorating and become fun to watch on a purely facial level.

Forget about the often-heard Annie Lennox song or the overused, but wonderfully upbeat Van Morrison track. Such trappings temporarily impede the film's motion. Yet by the film's end, "Hope Springs" lifts to the occasion. We see Arnold and Kay as genuine lovers and we come to know them by a series of intimate sequences that will move along your retinal seas and create a wake of smiles within.

ParaNorman (Wanous)

'ParaNorman' defines wonderful artistry


Wonderful artistry defines this animated film

Keynoter Contributor

Lead animator on 'ParaNorman' previously worked under Tim Burton.
"ParaNorman," rated PG, 93 min., now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

This new animated comedy uses stop-motion and very effective 3D techniques to bring to life a tale of witches, zombies, ghosts and out-of-control adults. "ParaNorman" may be a little too scary for the toddler set (I heard one child fearfully ask "Is this real, Mommy?") but older kids and grown-ups should enjoy this charmingly strange film.

Produced by the animation company Laika, which is owned by Nike co-founder Phil Knight, this is the company's second stop-motion animated 3D film; the first was the critically acclaimed but under-appreciated "Coraline."
In "ParaNorman," the action takes place in the small town of Blithe Hollow, a run-down village whose only claim to fame is that a witch was hanged and buried somewhere near the town 300 years ago.
Unknown to the townsfolk, the witch cursed the town and every year on the anniversary of her death, someone must follow a prescribed ritual to appease her until the next anniversary. But this year, circumstances prevent that ritual from taking place and the town is besieged by ghosts and zombies released by the curse. All hell is breaking loose and little Norman is the only one who can save Blithe Hollow.
Norman is the weird kid who gets picked on and bullied, both at school and at home because he claims to be able to see and talk to the dead, including people, animals and even road kill. At home, his dead grandmother is a near-constant presence in the house that only he can see and hear. Of course no one, including his family, believes him, except maybe his peculiar and secretive uncle, voiced by John Goodman. The uncle reluctantly passes the secret ritual on to his nephew and it's up to Norman and his band of followers to save the town from the centuries-old curse.
Co-directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, the film also had Travis Knight (son of Phil Knight) as lead animator. Chris Butler previously worked under Tim Burton on "Corpse Bride" and it's easy to see Burton's influence on Butler's style. Fell was the director of "The Tale of Despereaux" and "Flushed Away," so he has a history of well-crafted, stop-motion and animated features.
"ParaNorman" took two years to make and the craftsmanship is evident in every scene. Whether it's the movement of the zombies, the design of the wacky cars, or the dark, ominous clouds swirling overhead, the viewer can see the care and detail that went into the film.
The faces and bodies of the characters are wonderfully warped and weird, which only adds to the delightfully bizarre animation. And, unlike most animated films, this one develops slowly, giving the viewer time to appreciate the many one-liners and sight gags throughout the film.
The movie has a worthy message about bullying, intolerance and the dangers of fear. The one flaw in the film is that the directors tend to get a little heavy-handed delivering that message. But the art is wonderful, the numerous references to horror movies and their clichés are clever and the characters are strangely beautiful.
The result is a poignant, funny and touching film about finding your own way, the value of friendship and, above all, learning to forgive.    

Last Call at the Oasis (Rhoades)

“Last Call at the Oasis”
Doesn’t Come Up Dry

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Thirsty? You may be.
Did you realize that although water covers more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, and is vital for all known forms of life, less than 3 percent is drinkable? And barely a third of that is accessible.
Only 0.3 percent of all fresh water is found in rivers, lakes, and the atmosphere. And much of that is polluted by dirt, chemicals, and waste. Even today, over one billion people worldwide lack access to safe water.
The documentary “Last Call at the Oasis” dramatizes a coming crisis – the global shortage of clean water.
This film by Academy Award-winning director Jessica Yu (“Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien”) offers insights into the coming water crisis from scientists, policymakers, activists, and environmentalists.
Yu has directed such entertaining TV shows as “ER,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “The West Wing,” but here the filmmaker gets more serious as she examines the looming global water crisis and what we can do to avoid it.
Academy Award-nominated producer Elise Pearlstein (“Food, Inc.”) joins forces with Yu to point out the vital role water plays in our lives and expose the defects in the current system.
Based upon Alex Prud’homme’s book “The Ripple effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century,” it asks the worrisome question: Will there be enough drinkable water to satisfy future demand?
You will see communities that are already struggling with water problems. On hand is activist Erin Brockovich-Ellis to help examine the issues. You’ll remember Erin Brockovich from the same-named movie starring Julia Roberts as the woman who brought down a California power company that was causing illness in a small community by polluting the water.
Others in “Last Call at the Oasis” includes such experts as Peter Gleick, Jay Famiglietti and Robert Glennon. Author Alex Prud'homme, of course, is here too.
Many of them are championing revolutionary solutions.
“The film is not about a bad guy,” says Jessica Yu. “These industries are representative of a system that lets these things happen. We give the benefit of the doubt to industry.”
Even so, some companies have challenged the film. According to Syngenta,  “The film gets key facts wrong about atrazine, a herbicide that is not only safe, but actually protects clean water and saves land from cultivation.”
“For corporations, farmers, and anyone who just wants unvarnished facts without apocalyptic prophecy, it’s a mixed bag,” says Richard Levick of Forbes Magazine.
Nonetheless Levick says, “It is reassuring that the film is not just another tendentious assault on the evils of vested power…”
Yu’s film gives many facts about how we can save the water supply before it’s too late. And it raises the specter: Will the wars of the twenty-first century be fought over water instead of oil?

The Dark Knight Rises (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The Dark Knight Rises

I might be dating myself here, but as the lights dimmed and the opening title commenced on "The Dark Knight Rises" with a foreboding Paul Verhoeven-like  echo of anxiety in cobalt blue, I found myself saying in Boy Wonder speech, circa 1966, "Holy Gee,  Batman, here we go!"
Those decibels assaulted me straight away and I held my ears,but after all, I knew what I was in for: the supposedly final installment of  The Batman, who is partly a depressive cypher of emotion and partly a robotic security force, a crunch-crusader, a vigilante with a Shakespearean six pack of psycho baggage to match his abdominals that resemble the casings on a Toughbook laptop. I braced the popcorn between my knees and my right hand clenched.

This was it.

We have guns, we have deafening cracks across the face, we have explosions that will rock you in your seat, those over-loud percussions that now seem to be a Dark Knight trademark. We have a megalomenace  with over large muscles. And everyone acts as well-intentioned or as psychotic as we expect. Such is  Christopher Nolan's vision of Allan Moore's cult graphic novel The Dark Knight. And he delivers a sound story in keeping with the provocative first installments even if you don't care for such a detached rendering of our Saviour in Shadow, the near demigod of DC comics. Everything is duly Grimm in Gotham.

The only criticism I have is that The Batman  seems to have overstayed his welcome with very little surprise in his slams or his speech.

We know that Bane (Tom Hardy) is coming: that overblown, testosterone Terror that is half Darth Vader and part Hannibal Lecter and we are well briefed that Batman will leap to the occasion.

No surprise there.

The real interest are the moments between mind and matter, the episodes when we are told of the arc of the hero or anti-hero and the struggle within. This is the heart of drama, a connecting   link between Pop Art and real archetypes that  form the basis of most superheroes and literature. And we get some of that here. 

But for the most part, Nolan ignores literary ambivalence and puts Christian Bale through his motions, playing The Cowl coming out of retirement to hold a Last Stand against Loony Libertarians.

There seems less anti-hero angst and more torture and aggression, along with a gaggle of guns and bombs galore. The second installment had more of a balance, since The Joker (Heath Ledger) possessed such weird charisma in a performance that almost reaches a point of dark magic akin to Linda Blair as the demon Regan in "The Exorcist". His role is that visceral and almost as frightening.

Tom Hardy, although he does his best with a limited role, seems all Blunder and Brawn. Bane booms and busts. The Hulk has more subtlety and thrill about him. How, I wonder, can you be afraid of someone whose dialogue is so muffled and melancholy? At least Darth Vader had the diction of James Earl Jones.

A wonderful exception however is Anne Hathaway in the role of Catwoman. As the embodiment of sable silk in human form, she is both sinister and sweet. Hathaway has a real sense of fun with her role, and in contrast to the now mechanical Batman that Bale puts on autopilot, there is a refreshing tease and a lightness to her lithe character. She injects a feline noir sensitivity to her cat-footed role. Hathaway works so well because she suggests rather than illustrates. Much can be said by gesture. Selina is all melting looks and menace. She excites us because she can go either way. The other characters are lacking in such moisture of mystery, and  make sterile deserts from their predictable depths.

Yet,  after three outings, it is best to see this long segment  as part of a necessary whole that creates the unique cyber-pathic version of a beloved hero known as The Batman--- an eerie and existential creature-man driven as much by rage as he is by reverence for the potential of youth and what is right. As a stand alone film, "The Dark Knight Rises" may ultimately slink away rather  than stalk in darkness, but the inimitable signal traced in fire along with the man in his cape is still worth crusading for.

Write Ian at

Hope Springs (Rhoades)

“Hope Springs”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

During the movie I turned to my wife and said, “I feel like we’re in therapy.”
This was at a screening of “Hope Springs,” a movie about a middle-aged couple trying to put intimacy back in their marriage. Kay and Arnold Soames (outstanding performances by Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) are couple who travel to a small town in Maine to visit a therapist (Steve Carell) … but it felt like they were just stand-ins for those of us sitting in the audience.
“Hope Springs” is currently in session at the Tropic Cinema.
Billed as a romantic comedy-drama, there wasn’t much to laugh about as Kay and Arnold face the difficult process of putting a spark back in their marriage. By spark, I mean sex.
Kay is the one who insists they go, missing the relationship she and Arnold used to share. He is reluctant to visit a shrink, angry that the sedate life he and his wife have slipped into isn’t enough for her.
Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell in a very understated role) puts them through a series of exercises that he describes as “like breaking a nose to fix a deviated septum.” Painful to his recalcitrant patients.
Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are at their frumpy best, an older pair who have settled into a bland and sexless existence. Sleeping in separate bedrooms. Falling asleep in front of boring TV golf shows. Barely speaking.
Thus Dr. Bernie.
This is essentially a three-person play – husband, wife, therapist – but a few background characters add to the story. Elizabeth Shue shows up as a helpful seaside bartender. And Mimi Rogers is a next-door neighbor who’s a threesome fantasy.
When I worked at Ladies’ Home Journal, our most popular feature was a column called “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” Can Kay and Arnold’s? I won’t give away the ending in this journey that we take with the Soames family, but after the end credits rolled I breathed a sigh of relief that my wife and I had come through one hour and forty minutes of intense therapy intact.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Week of August 24 to August 30 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

There’s a changing of the guard in SuperHeroes Land this week. Spider-Man has gone back to his nest, replaced by Batman and ParaNorman.

PARANORMAN? He can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound and he doesn’t wear a cape. He’s just a kid. But he can speak to the dead, and he’s the only person who can save his town from The Curse of the Witch. He uses his talent for ordinary things, like chatting with his deceased grandmother, but the real focus is on a cult of zombies who threaten the town. They’re horrid creatures with skull-like heads and body parts that drop off and get reattached. The horde of kids with me in the theater loved them.

This is a stop-motion animation from the Seattle-based studio that brought us Coraline, so it’s got a more subdued, less-color-saturated look than the Pixar features. But don’t worry, there are plenty of special effects when the witch roars into town. Thank goodness for Norman and his team – a snarky teen-aged sister, and three low-I.Q. guys – a fat kid, a reformed bully, and a gay hunk – who manage to arrange a sit-down for Norman and the witch. Your kids will be cheering. “It's freakishly funny, suddenly tender, gleefully macabre, genuinely scary, and full of a moral – fear turns weak people into bullies – which is dosed out so gently that it never tastes like medicine.” (Lawrence Toppman, Charlotte Observer)

You probably know the background of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, the final episode of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Long self-exiled, and injured from his previous exploits, the Caped Crusader is forced to come out of retirement to save Gotham from a latter day fascist named Bane. If you’re a fan of Nolan, either his previous Batmans or films like Inception, you’re going to love this for its over the top, epic cinematic superlatives. “The biggest, darkest, most thrilling and disturbing and utterly balls-out spectacle ever created for the screen.” (Andrew O’Hehir, “The best, most troubling, assured and enthralling of all the superhero movies.” (Richard Corliss, Time Magazine)

Meanwhile back in the real world, the genius of narrative story-based film is the ability to conjure up a set of characters and place them in situations of unique stress. How about the group in YOUR SISTER’S SISTER? Iris (Emily Blunt) is a young woman with a secret crush on Jack (Mark Duplass), who also has a secret crush on her. To help him out when he’s out of work and at loose ends, she offers to let him stay in her father’s empty cabin on a remote island. But unbeknownst to Iris, her beautiful sister Hannah (Rosemary DeWitt) is already holing up there, having broken up with her long-term lover.

That’s the setup. It can go a lot of ways. You pretty much know that at some point the crushes are going to get revealed. And at some point the guy and the beautiful sister are going to get something on, though you may keep saying “No, no” to yourself as you see it happening. But what you can’t expect is where the plot goes beyond that, as each step leads to new complications.
“So many movies try to capture human relationships and fail miserably. A few come close. Your Sister's Sister nails it with grace, humor and winning charm.” (Claudia Puig, USA Today) ”Very little is simple in Your Sister's Sister -- not the emotions, the naturalistic tone or the unstudied, easygoing performances. But the film's pleasures are.” (Ann Hornaday, Washington Post)

More for kids on Saturday, with the animated ROBOTS at 10:30am in the Kids $1 Movie series and THE CRAWLING EYE as the week’s Creature Feature at noon.
Adults are back in charge for the Monday Classic with FLASHDANCE (1983) at 7:00pm.
Full info and schedules at or

ParaNorman (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


"ParaNorman" is the stop-motion animated film that looks like a Tim Burton film but isn't. It's directed by British animator Sam Fell who made the highly respected feature "Flushed Away" that starred Hugh Jackman. Sam Fell's films have a quirky ease and a smooth irreverence that is very much in evidence once again in this latest outing. 

To be fair, "ParaNorman" is as light as it is colorful, but then again, it is difficult to take it to task. As airy and conventional as the film is, you will be immediately disarmed by its ghoulish joie de vivre. With its legion of unending knock-kneed skeletons and gummy ghouls, I have a hunch that this film was intended for those terror-tossing tweens, a cosy coven of young ones who crave a few jumps and jitters but are too young for Michael Jackson's 1983 "Thriller"  video or an episode of TrueBlood. There is an awful lot of popping eyes and characters going "Boo!" and "Whoo!". But there is enough creep in its kindness to make it a fun haunt for kids.

The story concerns a quiet boy named Norman who lives in a small new England town known for its witch-trial past. Curb Your Enthusiasm's Jeff Garlin voices the father and John Goodman voices a cantankerous uncle.

Norman's condition (of course you might guess) is that he sees dead people. He's a medium of sorts, but he doesn't see this as a profession, but merely his lot in life.

Norman is bullied for his clairvoyance and seeks spiritual solace from his ghostly grandma, voiced by the wonderful Elaine Stritch, who resembles a "Far Side" cartoon. Grandma floats and bobs but mostly comments sweetly about her feet being cold as she watches what is presumably a version of "Night of the Living Dead" on Tv with the pale and cute Norman.
As things evolve there are many visual quotes from what feels like an episode of Pee Wee Herman. We watch Norman get dressed and froth at the mouth like a zombie as he brushes his teeth. 

And this is worth a few half Priced (as in Vincent) chuckles. 

The real interest though, is the pint sized poignancy evoked by the appearance of  Aggie Prenderghast who was persecuted as a witch and stifled by a curse. Aggie was not allowed to be a normal child as she was put to death. It is this aspect of the film that gives the animation  some dramatic power, even to the point of lifting its somewhat predictable Day of the Dead motif above the Norm, and offering some painterly splashes that pleasantly remind you of Chagall or Paul Klee. 

If there is one criticism of "ParaNorman",  it is that it skimps in its  limited skeletal vision with too many identical-looking banshees, gremlins and ghouls all in shaded in green. Even the mortals invariably have big pink noses and big necks that swerve and list from side to side, regardless whether these features are undead or living. 

And yes, Norman literally  undertakes the task at hand---he's a Howdy Doody horror show hero as you might well expect. Alas, most kids will find the film amiable and pleasing, well able to give gentle nudges in the night, but other Terrible Tweens and most grown Goths might be able to divine that ParaNorman, is, in the end, just a shade too ParaNormal.

Write Ian at

Your Sister's Sister (Rhoades)

“Your Sister’s Sister”
Gives New Definition
To Threesome

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Have you ever had a threesome? Other than in your fantasies, I mean. That’s what the indie film “Your Sister’s Sister” is about. But not quite in the way you think.
Writer-director Lynn Shelton (“Humpday”) offers up an odd, but tender, little ménage à trois that doesn’t involve six arms and six legs in a sexual tangle.
Jack (Mumblecore regular Mark Duplass) is depressed because his brother died. So his best-est friend Iris (Brit-born Emily Blunt) sends him to chill out at the family’s island cottage. But when he gets there he encounters Iris’s sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) in a Peeping Tom cute-meet. Hannah’s licking her own wounds after a nasty breakup with her longtime lesbian partner. And in a questionable moment, Jack and Hannah get drunk and fall into bed together.
No biggie, until Iris shows up the next morning. She’s been giving it some thought and realizes that she’s in love with Jack. Awkward.
How this mix-em-and-match-em trio comes to deal with it is the point of the story. Maybe there’s a threesome to be had here – but not as you pervs out there are thinking.
The three heart-on-a-sleeve performances hold this offbeat romantic comedy together.
Mark Duplass portrays Jack as a contradiction, angry and lovesick. He’s a big teddy bear who can’t deal with his feelings for his dead brother’s former girlfriend and is horrified by his indiscrete coupling with her sister.
Emily Blunt explains away her British accent with a dad who moved to London. As Iris, she finds herself adrift, unable to express feelings for Jack until it’s almost too late. Her girl-talk with her sister seems genuine, chattering away, not yet aware of what will seem like a betrayal.
And Rosemarie DeWitt is a switch-hitter with her own secret motives.
In the telling of this off-kilter love story Lynn Shelton resolves the impasse in a satisfying – if perhaps improbable – manner. What for lack of a better description, we’ll call a threesome.

ParaNorman (Rhoades)

Animates Undead

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

  Haley Joel Osment said it best in “Sixth Sense”: “I see dead people.”
Now we have a kid named Norman Babcock with that same paranormal ability. No wonder they call him ParaNorman.
And that’s also the name of this 3D stop-motion animated feature – “ParaNorman” – now spooking audiences at the Tropic Cinema.
Norman not only sees and can communicate with the undead, he can also deal with ghouls, zombies, and other members of the undead.
That’s a handy talent to have when your New England hometown of Blithe Hollow gets overrun by these spooky specters. Can he save his town from a centuries-old curse?
Kodi Smit-McPhee voices Norman. You’ve seen Kodi as the Boy in “The Road” and Owen in “Let Me In.” So he’s used to cannibals, vampires, and the like.
Tucker Albrizzi does the voice of Norman’s prerequisitely chubby pal. You’ve seen him in “Bridesmaids” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.”
Casey Affleck (“Gone Baby Gone”) and Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”) are Norman’s older brother and sister. Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Superbad”) is the school bully. Tempestt Bledsoe (TV’s “The Cosby Show”) takes a stand as the sheriff. Elaine Stritch (“Autumn in New York”) plays Norman’s ghostly grandmother. And John Goodman (“The Artist”) is perfect as the town’s crazy guy.
“ParaNorman” comes from the same folks who gave us “Coraline,” that fantastical stop-motion animation feature about a young girl who discovers another world similar to her own beyond a tiny door in the wall. It was a popular hit.
As for “ParaNorman,” I wondered how will this cutesy kids movie will do at the box office? So I checked with my movie bloggers.
 “Is it just me or does this look terrible?” groused one online naysayer.
It’s just you,” someone quickly responded.
Another added, “There is no way this movie is going to flop. There is way too much of an obsession in pop culture with zombies and paranormal topics right now.”
Still another gushed, “This movie looks totally awesome! Can’t wait to see it!”
Yep, this movie is far from dead.

The Dark Knight Rises (Rhoades)

“Dark Knight” Marathon
Introduces “Dark Knight Rises”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Any fanboy worthy of living in his mom’s basement will want to be on hand for “The Dark Knight Rises.” You can catch a reprisal of this third film in the rebooted Batman franchise this week at the Tropic Cinema.
If you’ve taken the time to look up from your latest issue of Detective Comics, you’d know Christopher Nolan resuscitated the Batman movies in 2005 with his grim-and-gritty “Batman Begins.” And that was followed by “The Dark Knight.” The Cape Crusader had all but been done in by Joel Schumacher’s 1997 “Batman and Robin,” the much vilified film which featured George Clooney in a batsuit with rubber nipples.
Clooney reportedly offered to give moviegoers their money back.
For a new take on the familiar theme, Chris Nolan drew on the old Frank Miller comic books and retold the story with a nihilistic panache. What’s more, his inspired casting gave us Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman. And Michael Caine as Alfred, the butler who keeps the Batmobile polished and ready for action.
Those first two Dark Knight outings provided plenty of slam-bam action. And you can count of “The Dark Knight Rises” to deliver the goods again.
No need to recount the plots of those first two movies – fanboys have them memorized and can probably quote the dialogue along with the actors on screen.
However, “Dark Knight Rises” is another matter. Acknowledged to be the last film in Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it’s a must-see.
Taking place eight years after the last installment, we find that Batman (Bale) had been driven into exile because he was credited with District Attorney Harvey Dent’s crimes. But the appearance of Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) forces him out of retirement in a faceoff with a muscled supervillain known as Bane (Tom Hardy).
The action required plenty of physicality. Bale studied a mixed martial arts discipline called Keysi. Anne Hathaway says she “had to redouble her efforts in the gym to keep up with the demands.” And Tom Hardy gained 30 pounds of muscle for the role, increasing his weight to 198 pounds.
Familiar faces include Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth; Morgan Freeman as the CEO of Wayne Enterprises; Gary Oldman as Police Commissioner Gordon; and Liam Neeson in a cameo as Batman’s mentor from “Batman Begins.”
You’ll also meet Marion Cotillard as a board member of Wayne Enterprises; Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an idealistic young policeman; Matthew Modine as a deputy commissioner; and various members of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Christopher Nolan only agreed to do a third film if a worthwhile story could be found. “I have to ask the question,” Nolan said, “how many good third movies in a franchise can people name?” He solved the problem by developing a script with his brother Jonathan based on a story by David S. Goyer, a comic-book go-to guy (“Batman Begins,” “Ghost Rider,” “Doctor Strange,” “The Flash,” “Blade,” and the upcoming Superman movie, “Man of Steel”).
Batman is considered one of the Top Seven Comic Book Superheroes (although he has no super powers). Created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, the Caped Crusader first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. Detective Comics was eventually shorted to DC and became the name of the comic book company that’s owned by TimeWarner. 

Your Sister's Sister (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Your Sister's Sister

Here's a film that will please Indie fans, coffee-shop visitors, and even Woody Allen devotees. "Your Sister's Sister" tells the story of one blasé, shiftless but well-intentioned Jack (played by the esteemed "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" director Mark Duplass) who is large, rubbery and appears to go where the winds blow. Jack is likable and self-effacing but he also has a bit of defensiveness and arrogance, a curious mixture of Zen and anger due to the death of his brother.

Coerced by his vivacious friend Iris (Emily Blunt) to take a meditative break, Jack goes to a remote cabin in Washington State owned by Iris' family. The tranquil cabin is not so tranquil, occupied by Iris' sister, the hyper and opinionated Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt). One night, Hannah is drunk and depressed as she recently ended a long romance with her girlfriend. On impulse, Hannah decides to sleep with Jack and chaos ensues.

I won't spill the beans, but things get more and more confusing and madcap. But not so madcap as to be unreal.

Lynn Shelton's oeuvre is the exploration of the everyday and the organically comic situations that can arise from common interactions. As the director of the quirky "Humpday", Shelton allows characters to express themselves in an almost generic fashion. She has the analysis  of Woody Allen, without his snappy Bob Hope-like one liners and the offbeat feet of a Todd Solondz without his bleak and biting humor. Every role retains a wonderful humanness with an authentic quantity of non-hyperbolic anxiety. 

No one actor overshadows the others. And Mark Duplass, for his part, is a master in making the unambitious sloppy Jack a charismatic leading man.
The film has one fine scene in particular in which Jack and Hannah are in bed and instead of a smooth and motion-filled amorous adventure, it proves a halting and embarrassing caprice. The best stories never shy away from moments that are either passive or unflattering.

We get the feeling that Shelton's camera is completely composed of a fusion of digital light and green tea leaves. Or that she might just sketch the briefest plot outline on a coffee-stained napkin. Even the camera doesn't move all that much. This is simply the back and forth of life between three people who are hopeful but alone.

And, although some might see the abrupt uncertainty at the end of the film as a contrivance, I see it as an Indie  calling card or trademark on par with an appearance of Bill Murray in a Wes Anderson film, or a Hitchcock cameo. 

"Your Sister's Sister" is an intimate sip of cinematic espresso that deserves its rightful place among the canonized films of The Duplass Brothers and Noah Baumbach.

Write Ian at

Friday, August 17, 2012

Week of August 17 to August 23 (Mann)

What’s on at the Tropic
by Phil Mann

Savvy filmgoers know that The George theater at the Tropic is the place to look for something interesting, and different. This week is no exception, with a mix of two movies, a documentary and a narrative film.

The documentary, THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, will surprise you. The subject is not French royalty or palace, but rather a 90,000 square foot house being built by time-share billionaire David Siegel and his trophy wife Jackie on a lake outside Orlando. Rather, that’s how it starts out, as filmmaker Lauren Greenfield takes us on a tour of this latter day attempt to emulate Louis XIV’s chateau, showing us the vast ballroom and storehouses of art and furniture collected worldwide to complete it. (To put things in perspective, the real Versailles is 720,000 square feet, so this is a pale imitation, but still….)

But it was not to be. Not the house, which stands unfinished to this day. And not the movie, which in a turn of “life imitates art” became the story of the Siegel’s run-in with the financial collapse of 2008. Like so many ordinary folk, they found themselves underwater on their mortgages, and in thrall to bankers. We find ourselves caring for the family, especially Jackie and her eight children, even as she admits she wouldn’t have had them if she couldn’t have a plethora of nannies. She’s no bimbo, a college-trained engineer and one-time IBM employee, who turned her Miss Florida title into a luxurious marriage to a man twice her age. She does seem to love her husband, and remains loyal to him through it all, while he deals with the situation less admirably.

In some ways, this is a better, more insightful movie about the fiscal crunch than those that took it on directly, a unique window on its why and how. “Marvel at the ornate frame, mock the vulgarity of the images if you want, but let's not kid ourselves. If this film is a portrait, it is also a mirror.” (A.O. Scott, New York Times)

The narrative film, TRISHNA, is billed as a modern retelling of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but set in India. It’s another story of a poor girl meets rich man, but in this case, the lovers are both young and comely especially Trishna (Freida Pinto – Slumdog Millionaire). She’s a simple, but intelligent girl from a poor rural family. He’s a charming, but dissolute son of a wealthy hotel owner. At first he provides a much needed job for her, and sends her to hotel management school. But then the barriers of custom between them warp the relationship. Their love, a once sweet ripe fruit, becomes rotten, and leads to tragedy.

The strength of the movie is in its portrayal of several worlds of contemporary India -- a sophisticated Mumbai world of young artists, an impoverished rural world where large families and low incomes intersect, and luxurious world of beautiful resorts staffed by dozens who are pleased to earn $45 a week. It’s almost a rebellion against the false, fairy-tale, images of Slumdog Millionaire and The Exotic Marigold Hotel. We may never really understand Trishna, but we can understand how a roller coaster ride through these diverse domains might unhinge the best of us. “As a melodrama, Trishna builds a hypnotic force.” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

is reputed to be one of the highest grossing films in French cinema history, already bringing in over $330 million outside the United States, with no movie stars, no violence, no elaborate CGI effects, no superheroes, and no sex. It’s obviously a crowd pleaser, but in an unusual way. Phillipe, a millionaire who is a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, is dependent on Driss, a vigorous young African immigrant ex-con who becomes his aide/caregiver. Through Driss, Philippe’s world expands from paralysis to pleasurable adventure. “An exuberantly charming French buddy comedy that proves an audience will suspend disbelief and follow an unlikely story as long as it's superbly crafted.” (Claudia Puig, USA Today) “It's the kind of movie that inspires word-of-mouth recommendations.” (Joe Williams, St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Real action-adventure fans, despair not. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is up on the screen in the Tropic’s superb active-glasses 3D system. “It's dark and mysterious, but doesn't skimp on fun.” (Joe Neumaier, NY Daily News)


Plus the regular collection of weekly specials THE NEVER ENDING STORY for kids, THE TINGLER for creature fans, and RAISING ARIZONA for Coen Brothers fans.

Full schedules and info at or

The Intouchables (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Intouchables

The long awaited feel-good film "The Intouchables" is finally here and not counting the sentimentality of the title, I braced myself for enough sweetness on my wheels to leave a trail of syrup on the Tropic Cinema carpet. It's not that I'm against pleasant or good-natured films, it's just that there have been too few films that have tackled persons experiencing life in a chair in a realistic manner.

Given the closeness of the subject to myself (up to a point), I was a bit weary. How can one top the wonderfully poignant "Gaby" (1987) that focused on a young female journalist with cerebral palsy who first comes to reckoning with independence and romantic intimacy during her stay at a university? Not to mention Jim Sheridan's visceral and visually dynamic "My Left Foot" (1989) about the Irish poet Christy Brown. Both films are beacons in my mind that contain their own shades, tints and hues of light that flicker and melt into their own unique patterns and sensory flavors. I confess that all I knew about "The Intouchables" was that the preview made it seem awkwardly like "The Bucket List".

But then I settled in to actually watch, and even despite a few corny moments, I was actively engaged and held in place. Francois Cluzet stars as Philippe, a rich quadriplegic with a penchant for art and classical music who needs an live-in aide. As if by chance, a man named Driss (Omar Sy) a young drifter originally from Senegal, applies for the job, not in the hope of getting hired, but merely to fulfill unemployment benefits. Voila. We can see what's coming a mile away: a few snappy one liners and Philippe is struck by the uninhibited and street-smart Driss. The two soon become inseparable.

The film rises above the usual Hallmark Card pitfalls mostly because of the infectious and novel chemistry between Cluzet and Sy. The two possess such an easy verve and lightness of spirit that the interactions shared between them become less about drama and more akin to life. This is no small thing and in watching them together it is hard not to smile. That being said, there were a few formulaic moments. How about the moment when Driss dances across the floor as if to show (once again) the stuffy conservatives how to loosen up?Is this really necessary? Or the sky-diving scene? Or the defiant, bratty daughter that only Driss can straighten out? And The Hitler stache? These little vignettes seem a bit pre-packaged from other films and are less compelling than the main crux of the film which remains breezy repartee between Cluzet and Sy.

And perhaps I'm being a stickler, but even regarding their relationship, I wanted just a bit more. How does Driss really feel being separated from Philippe at one point? How does Philippe feel? The abrupt leaving of Driss is given little emotional space concerning Philippe considering the bond made between them.

But all is not lost. All's well in the balance of wheels and the flesh, the shared polarity between the mental and the physical. The film makes an entertaining summer Idyll with fine nuanced acting mainly from Omar Sy who is effortless and a near joy. It is only the cross cultural trappings and predigested episodic moments that impede the film's speed. Forget the film's Cinderella-ish , "one has what the other one lacks" message. "The Intouchables" would have been a more emotive experience if it had dispensed with such conventional straps. The weightless exchanges between two people that care for each other are often more than enough.

Write Ian at

The Amazing Spider-Man (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Amazing Spider-Man

Yee-owww! Whoo-hoo! Just when we might have thought that Marvel had used up all of its Spidey Sense reserves here comes another version of Spider-Man , The Ricky Nelson of superheroes.

This film is showcased in crisply  textured 3D, which the Tropic can now take full advantage of with its new state -of- the art technology that features superior 3D glasses that work by electronic battery operated lenses rather than the usual bi-polar lenses. This results in a sharper, more detailed image not too mention a brighter and more upbeat cinema experience. 

Indeed, after the Sam Raimi films, most of us are already familiar with one Peter Parker, a fresh faced high school science student who loves taking photos. Most are well aware that the humble and self deprecating Parker  wanders off during a field trip and gets lost somehow in the rare spider exhibit and (Golly Gee!) gets pecked and becomes once bitten, twice shy, not only by his eight-legged power animal, but by life itself. 

What is new here is the compelling adolescent angst and devil-may-care humor that Andrew Garfield brings to the role. He has an almost anarchistic spontaneity. Rather than the squeaky clean Ivory Soap aura that Tobey Maguire possessed, Garfield's portrayal is a little impish around the edges. Cloaked in a hoodie, and dashing about with a longboard, we get the feeling that Peter Parker, if genetics were altered, might as well be part salamander and Seattle-grunge saint. There is just a hint of Kurt Cobain in his creep along with a smudge of mascara under the eyes. But fear not, through all the pangs of loss and love, Peter recovers all his noble and fearless feelies, to become the most good natured of all superheroes.

This latest outing is probably the closest we will get on film to Julie Taymor's  ambitious and free-spirited story of Spider-Man, too. Just as in the Broadway version, we have a very intimate and colorful story of a young boy, battered by grief, yet simultaneously hit by romance and prodigal academic success for the first time. Garfield shows verve and style and his rapid stutters are original and endearing. His Peter Parker is no mere diluted ink job or soggy cardboard cutout. There are some real angles of angst and a few angels, within the dark arches of his  eyebrows. When Garfield cries, you just might find yourself clenching your popcorn a little too tight. 

Martin Sheen offers a fine example of the earnest and folksy Uncle Ben and Sally Field appears as Aunt May. Even though she frets and worries throughout, Sally Field is good at it.
Rhys Ifans gives   his alternately well meaning and dastardly best as a mad scientist whose alter-ego is the genetically-engineered and generically named Lizard, who puts  our young Spidey through his paces. Granted Ifans is quite campy here, especially when he is still wearing his doctor's coat and bag as a super life size green  amphibian. He is one part Barrymore and one part Godzilla, but after all , this is a comic book. He doesn't disappoint. 

The real thrill though is watching  the journey of the hero, step by step. Not to mention the arachnophillia  between Garfield and Emma Stone, who plays Gwen Stacy, a Juliet to Parker's Slacker-esque and spidery jitters. 

"The Amazing Spider-Man" may not enthrall all devotees, but it makes for an entertaining and vibrant spin through the Marvel comic bestiary. With these engaging and heartfelt characters, we can clearly see the  outline and evolution of the hero, be he small, shaky, or smirking, anxious or amorous. Marvel and director Marc Webb lets us see it all. 

And more often than not, these odd hybrid creatures only want to be human.

Write Ian at

The Queen of Versailles (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The Queen of Versailles 
If you desire to see a documentary that will make John Waters hysterical and want to chew a hole in his Watanabe suit, please rush out to see "The Queen of Versailles". It has some of the most unbelievably arrogant dialogue that I've ever heard in a film, not to mention a documentary. You won't be disappointed. And better yet it is topical, making a fitting companion piece to the underrated films "Margin Call" (2011) and "Casino Jack" (2010).
The film focuses on David Siegal and his family. Siegal is CEO and owner of Westgate the largest timeshare company in America. Siegal brazenly claims he was singlehandedly responsible for George Bush's victory in 2000, but he doesn't go into detail. Siegal married Jackie, a former Miss Florida, and a woman twenty years his junior with a bust that juts out like the hood of a 1950s Plymouth and doesn't move. 
But of course.
At the start of filming, Siegal and his wife are designing their new house, billed as " the largest house in America", worth seventy five million dollars with 300 bathrooms. They modeled the house  and it's adjoining properties after the Palace of Versailles. As it happened The Siegals  were in Las Vegas and they fell in love with Versailles there and had to have one of their own.
But of course.
The director, Lauren Greenfield, asks Mr. Siegal why he built such a domestic Demogorgon and his answer is simply, "Because I can." Shockingly, Former President Bill Clinton gave the exact response when asked about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. 
Selfishness knows neither political affiliation, age or gender as this film clearly shows.
Siegal is a harsh power player and it is quite  hard to like him here, but he is not a mean man.  Indeed he is well respected by his peers and his employers all seem to like him. His nanny, a down to earth woman from The Philippines clearly looks to him as a hero and a Saviour. 
What is unbecoming, comical and I admit, part of the fun, is the unapologetic arrogance that infects the whole family, even in the face of their own demise. The family has eight kids,  four dogs (at least, by my count) a white tiger, an exotic lizard, a gecko several peacocks, and a few rodents. The dogs poop all over the Persian carpets. One wonders why the maids don't go insane.
Jackie is quite headstrong. You gotta love her for heading to McDonald's immediately after her gym for cheeseburgers. And in the middle of the film it becomes known that Donald Trump calls to complain that the Siegal's Westgate Resorts sign is blinding his vision.
This family doesn't know what backing off is. When they tire of their palatial grounds which are still in construction, they fly on their private jets. Siegal and his family unabashedly strive to mimic royalty, specifically Louis XIV. There are images of Siegal throughout the entire grounds: on paintings and on wall clocks.
Then the financial crisis hits and hits them hard. Westgate Resorts is forced to lay off thousands and severely curtail their sales.
But Alas, all is not lost: Mrs. Siegal appears at Westgate Towers to survey the silence in her fur coat (she is always the optimist) with her triple D breasts at the ready. After all, they could prove an able shield against protesters.
"This place was once so full of life," Jackie says, ala Andy Warhol. "Everyone was so happy..."
The family lizard is dead from starvation and there is a quick shot of a vandalized statue in the garden but  there are worse things afoot: The kids are forced to travel by commercial airlines. "Mommy, what are all these people doing on our plane?" weeps one Siegal squirt.
"Who's my driver?" Jackie inquires at the Hertz counter when her plane lands.
"There is no driver," the agent bluntly replies.
Even though Westgate Resorts is in crisis mode, Jackie's  compulsion remains in full force. She fills four shopping carts at Christmas. Mr. Siegal elaborates:  
If Jackie  has one kid, she wants seven, if she has one dog, she'll take four."
The film swerves into Gallows humor when we see the Palace being put up for sale, unfinished and delapidated. The pool is green with algae, a regular Grey Pastel Gardens.
David Seigal, once the life of the party is now a Scrooge.
And Jackie becomes more vain.
"Does your marriage give you happiness?" Siegal is asked at the film's last minutes.
A flat "No." is the answer.
"The Queen of Versailles" may show a family at its selfish worst, but it's like watching a car-wreck or engaging in a taboo. You can't help it. There is something of a Shakespearean Devil's bargain within the entire family that permeates like a noxious gold leaf perfume. Somehow, I couldn't look away and you won't be able to either.
Write Ian at

Queen of Versailles (Rhoades)

“Queen of Versailles”
Is a Singular
Housing Boom

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A few months ago I again toured Biltmore House in Asheville, NC. With 250 rooms, it is America’s largest private home.
However, “The Queen of Versailles” – the documentary that’s found this week at the Tropic Cinema – tells us about the second largest and most expensive single-family house in the America. It’s immodestly called Versailles, after the famous royal château in the Île-de-France region of France.
Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield spent the better part of three years filming and editing this doc about David and Jackie Siegel’s 90,000 square foot house in Orlando, Florida. David is the billionaire founder of Westgate Resorts, the largest privately owned time-share company in the world. His wife is a former model, 30-some years his junior.
Intrigued with the couple’s ostentatious consumerism and “the idea of a house as the ultimate expression of the American Dream,” Greenfield and her crew all but moved in with the Siegels, doing interviews and filming the house’s step-by-step construction.
Work was stalled along with the economy, but Greenfield doggedly documents this setback and how it has affected the Siegel family. The house remains only 60% complete, with no interior walls, no plumbing, and no electricity.
The family’s had to make do with their “tiny” 27,000 square foot home in the meantime.
Nearly seventy feet tall, the incomplete palace sits on ten acres of lakefront property. When completed, it will boast thirteen bedrooms, twenty-two bathrooms, nine kitchens, a bowling alley, a roller-skating rink, an arcade, an indoor swimming pool, a fitness center, a spa, staff quarters, and a 20-car garage.
Along the way, Greenfield tells us more about the people than the house. Despite the fact that nobody is buying time shares and David had to lay off 7,000 employees, Jackie still compulsively shops, constantly visits beauty spas, and keeps up her plastic surgery. After all, she’s the third wife, the trophy wife. She works hard to stay in the game and her husband indulges her.
Greenfield recorded it all. With the Siegels’ full cooperation.
However, on the eve of the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Siegel sued Greenfield for defamation. He didn’t like the fact that the film documented his failing timeshare business. After all, he has $400 million of his own money tied up in a new Las Vegas timeshare resort.
Oddly, he and his wife didn’t seem too concerned with the film’s portrayal of them. “You would think they would be happy for someone living the American Dream,” Jackie Siegel shrugged it off.
One moviegoer summed it up like this: “I wasn’t prepared for the extreme revulsion I felt for these characters, particularly David Segal. These folks are poster children for the worst extremes of our materialistic, narcissistic culture. Their values are money, ostentation, self-aggrandizement, acquisition and mindless hedonism. They are venomous leeches on society.”
Another said, “You couldn’t write a screenplay like this if you tried.”
“Why is everyone so concerned about how we spend our money?” asks a puzzled Jackie Siegel. “We give a lot to charity. We keep the economy going.”
As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, The rich are different from you and me.
The unfinished house is up for sale at $75 million.

Trishna (Rhoades)

“Trishna” Is Merely
“Tess” Recast

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

This sounds like one of our weekly Casting Couch contests in Solares Hill, where we pretend to remake old movies, oft-times coming up with novelty casts or different locales or odd plot twists.
Take for example Roman Polanski’s “Tess,” a soaring cinematic epic based on Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel “Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented.”
Starring Nastassja Kinski, the Polanski film faithfully tells the story of a strong-willed peasant girl who has a claim on a title but is wronged by her aristocratic cousin.
This Thomas Hardy story has been filmed at least seven times.
Now the famous British novel has been remade once again by Michael Winterbottom. It’s his third film based on Hardy novels (“Jude” and “The Claim” being the first two).
But this time around he puts a new spin on it, restaging the story in India. And instead of “Tess,” he titled it “Trishna.”
Frida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”) takes the title role as the eldest daughter of a poor Indian family. And Riz Ahmed (“Centurion”)  is cast as her romantic counterpart, a wealthy young British businessman who has come to India to work in his father's hotel business. But love cannot always overcome the division between social classes.
Shot in Mumbai, the beautiful on-location cinematography delivers a very realistic perception of life in India. Thomas Hardy would hardly recognize the landscape, the slums of Rājasthān substituted for the rolling green hillocks of rural Wessex.
Nevertheless, the theme remains true. In his novels Hardy examined the social constraints of Victorian England, suggesting that “these rules hinder the lives of all involved and ultimately lead to unhappiness.” Likewise, the social castes of India are strong, and the film’s shocking conclusion makes the point.
“Trishna” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. It’s an old story retold from a fresh viewpoint. But the outcome remains the same for Tess/Trishna.