Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Royal Affair (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

A Royal Affair

Nicolaj Arcel (writer, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) will satisfy every lover of the period-piece with his direction of "A Royal Affair" which concerns the life of Caroline Matilde, Queen of Denmark in 1766. The film is tense and riveting, putting us right in the thick of Europe on the edge of Enlightenment and volatility. Unlike a few cinematic tomes, this film is no cursory history lesson. The rhythm is accessible. There are no dull actions and the drama is never mellow or choked with consumptive sobs. Better yet, it does not overreach or pander.

Matilde was only fifteen when she travelled from England to Denmark to wed Christian VII, her cousin, a very compulsive/impulsive character. One might wonder why she was so eager to do so, as from accounts, and as evidenced by this film, he is quite insensitive, ribald and narcissistic.
As a harlequin-faced preening brat here, King Christian VII is wonderfully portrayed by Mikkel Boe Folsgaard. Christian VII reminds me a bit of Lord Alfred Douglas, a sociopath and a pale poison flower, not unaccustomed to manipulatively wilting to get his way.

As Caroline, Alicia Vikander is transfixing as the voluptuous idealist driven at all cost, to achieve happiness and wonder. No, there is nothing "Twilight" here. This is more akin to Mary Shelley, the desire to liberate the spirit, in politics and flesh and to vanquish all fiery Deist Doom & Gloom.
Unfortunately for Caroline, her king is a mere puppet to the court, obsessed with bordellos, masturbation and miming. And he'll sign just about anything.
But then the light of Reason enters in the dark and somewhat enigmatic form of Dr. Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). King Christian takes to the ambitious doctor immediately, who likes his informality.
And so does Caroline.

Mads Mikkelsen is terrific  in his role as the ambitious doctor and sly friend to the king who yearns to change Denmark for the better and will. There is an aura of Willem Dafoe in Mikkelsen and he is perfect as the progressive free-love radical who eschews marriage and religion in one bite. Struensee and Caroline become a Shelleyan pair, driven to combat routine domesticity as well as preach social reform and their battle is intense and frenetic, pitted against the porcelain King Christian and his clustered court.

"A Royal Affair" is what "Anna Karenina" should have been. A riveting episodic tale of style against substance with enough pathos to go with its pageantry. Not only is this film rich in content, it is also hauntingly beautiful with a painterly cinematography that recalls the artist Antoine Watteau as well as the filmmakers Lars von Trier (this film is produced by von Trier's company Zentropa) and Werner Herzog given its intense starkness against much supercilious ornamentation as symbolized by Christian VII.

Go see "A Royal Affair" for its charm and existential circumstance. You won't see a powdered face quite so disturbing or ineffectual, nor so oddly full of  hope in aching to be liked. This by itself is reason to enter the darkness and take a seat.

Write Ian at

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Strangers on a Train (Rhoades)

“Strangers on a Train”
Is a Hitchcock Horror Film
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
 We constantly watch Tropic Cinema’s marquee for new films, but sometimes overlook the Monday Night Classic Film Series that flickers weekly on its screens. My fellow movie reviewer Craig Wanous is host of this series, introducing these memorable movies and sharing anecdotes that add to the experience.
Tomorrow night, for example, is Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train.” Sure, you can catch it on Turner Classic Movies or download it from Netflix … but that’s not the same as watching this 1951 psychological thriller in a theater.
You remember the “crisscross” plot: two strangers meet up on a train, get to chatting, and agree that it would be a perfect murder if man-about-town Bruno (Robert Walker) killed tennis ace Guy’s unfaithful wife so he can marry elegant Anne (Ruth Roman), and if Guy (Farley Granger) returned the favor by killing Bruno’s overbearing father. Who would connect them to the murders, since they don’t know each other?
Turns out, Bruno is serious about this murder plot, but Guy isn’t. And things begin to fall apart for Guy when the other fellow follows through, killing his wife at an amusement park, then begins to harangue Guy to live up to his end of the bargain.
Nobody can wring suspense out of a plot like this better than Hitchcock.
“Strangers on a Train” was based on Patricia Highsmith’s first novel. Hitch bought the rights anonymously and Highsmith was irked to discover she’d sold the rights so cheaply to a famous director.
Guy and Bruno have been described as doppelgängers, two sides of the same personality. The theme of doubles is “the key element in the film’s structure,” explain Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto. When discussing the structure of the film, Hitchcock said “Isn’t it a fascinating design? One could study it forever.”
One scene in the film is studied in film schools, the strangulation that’s viewed through the victim’s discarded eyeglasses. It’s considered “one of the most memorable single shots in the Hitchcock canon” -- a graceful ballet of murder that Spoto called “the aestheticizing of the horror.”
“Psycho” -- the subject of the recent “Hitchcock” film that recently played at the Tropic -- is considered his horror film, but I’d argue that “Strangers on a Train” is also a horror film and that mama’s boy Bruno in his own way is just as crazy as mama’s boy Norman Bates.
A recent study titled “The Psychology of Alfred Hitchcock” opines, “Freud would have concluded that Hitchcock’s attitude towards women, and his obsession with strong mother figures, is probably due to Hitchcock’s experiences of his own mother, who sometimes made the young Hitchcock stand at the foot of her bed for several hours as a punishment….”
As Hitchcock once said, “The way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them.”
BTW, Hitchcock’s trademark cameo occurs 11 minutes into the film, when alert viewers will spot him boarding the train carrying a big bass fiddle case.

Week of January 25 to January 31 (Rhoades)

Tropic Sticks With a Winning Hand
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
The Tropic Cinema knows winners when it sees them -- and is sticking with the current movie lineup for another week. After all, each film on its four screens has been received multiple nominations in the 85th Academy Awards, which will take place on February 28th.
Holding over is Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” with the most nominations of any film this year -- 12 in all. These include Best Picture, Best Director (Spielberg), Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones), and Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field), and Best Cinematography (Janusz Kaminiski). Hollywood’s big money is on Day-Lewis to win as Best Actor for his hands-down best-ever portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States.
Also staying is “Silver Linings Playbook,” with a total of 8 Oscar nods. These include Best Picture, Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), among them. Jennifer Lawrence is a strong contender as Best Actress, following her win at the Golden Globes. This tale of two crazy -- literally -- people falling in love is winning over audiences with its feel-good happy ending.
“A Royal Affair” remains as part of this week’s lineup. This true story of a German doctor who ends up running Denmark and bedding the wife of Mad King Christian VII  has been nominated as Best Foreign Film of the Year.
Round up the Tropic’s great lineup is Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” a spectacular story about an Indian lad trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger. Or is he? Based on the acclaimed novel by Yann Martel, this eye-dazzling and spiritually uplifting film has been nominated for an impressive 11 Academy Awards -- among them Best Picture, Best Director (Lee), and Best Cinematography (Claudio Miranda).
You’ll want to put the Tropic Cinema’s annual Oscar party on your calendar … but first you want to see these leading contenders for the golden statuette. To paraphrase “The Maltese Falcon,” it’s the stuff dreams are made of.

Art House Convergence, 2013

The Tropic was represented at the recent Art House Convergence by Board Chair Jon Allen, Exec. Dir. Matthew Helmerich and Theater Manager Lori Reid. We thought you would find the opening introduction interesting.

Welcome Address by Russ Collins, Director, Art House Convergence
January 15, 2013 – for the Art House Convergence conference, Zermatt Resort, Midway, Utah

Welcome to the Art House Convergence. Welcome as we celebrate the Brave New American Art House. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to gather here in Utah with colleagues and friends and, with strangers who will soon be friends, to execute the mission of the Art House Convergence. 

The mission of the Art House Convergence is to increase the quantity and quality of Art House cinemas in North America.  We hope you will help us pursue this mission by: 1) constantly improving your own Art House; 2) helping colleagues make their Art Houses better places for audiences to experience cinema art and 3) working to make all Art Houses serve as highly effective community cultural centers.

This conference would not be possible without the hard work of a dedicated group of volunteers. Thanks to the Art House Convergence Conference Committee – if you participated in one or more of those Friday calls that happen throughout the year as we plan the Art House Convergence, stand and be recognized. 

It is wonderful to see so many of you here! How many are here for the first-time?  Wonderful, welcome to Utah to the Art House Convergence.  How many of you are staying, for at least a day or two to go to Park City and check out the Sundance Film Festival?

I see a lot of friends; friends that have grown from the 25 brave souls who came to the first Art House Convergence to this year, with nearly 350 registered delegates, the sixth annual gathering of community-based, mission-driven cinema operators.

The strong theme of this year’s conference is The Brave New American Art House. So, what’s the Brave New American Art House? 

The Brave New American Art House is a set of ideals that looks something like this:
·         It is located in Canada, Mexico or the USA.
·         It is focused on frequent and regular screenings of Art House movies – classic, foreign, documentary, independent and experimental cinema (and sometimes other cultural programs the community demands).
·         It actively seeks community support – it believes philanthropy and volunteers are important and viable sources of revenue and support.
·         It is a cultural institution – it teaches its community about the art, craft, grammar and historical importance of cinema.
·         As possible, it is dedicated to quality celluloid AND digital exhibition methods – providing state-of-the-art image and sound across all eras and formats (including live music for silent-era films).
·         It believes excellent customer service is paramount – it trains its employees and manages its marketing, facilities, event presentations and staff to put the customer’s experience first.
·         It makes cinema come alive – with intelligently curated programs and ever expanding relationships with living filmmakers.
·         It is community-based – it is not part of a national chain.
·         It is mission-driven – it has a triple bottom line: Bottom lines calculated in: 1) community benefit; 2) artistic quality; and 3) financial success.
·         Its business management is strategic – it plans effectively and does not expect Deus ex Machina* to magically provide for its financial success.
·         The Brave New American Art House annually sends staff and board members to the Art House Convergence to have fun learning and being inspired by dedicated and resourceful colleagues.

The “Brave New” of the Brave New American Art House is an intentional literary reference to both Aldous Huxley and Shakespeare – because, you know, Art House people are just a little smarter and better-read than your average movie exhibitor (some might say “snooty,” rather than smarter and better read, but I think “smarter and better read” works better with this crowd). In Huxley’s novel “Brave New World” he expressed the notion that the fast-paced world of the future would force dehumanizing changes, causing anxiety, the loss of intimacy and individuality. Plus, Huxley predicted that movies in year 2540 would be called “feelies,” a cinema-style entertainment that creates the illusion of an entertainment reaching out and literally touching the audience. Which given the ironic nature of the novel supports the poetic notion that 3-D is the movie technology of the future – and it always will be!

Of course Huxley and the Convergence both stole the phase “brave new” from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” The play’s most famous lines are said by the Prospero’s daughter Miranda, who looked on in wonder as drunken sailors stagger in a disorderly manner from their wrecked ship, and said:
“O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't.”

And although Shakespeare’s words spoken by the naïve Miranda were ironic, I believe, stated without irony, that this “brave new” notion is correct, because today and for the next several days the Zermatt and Homestead resorts will be full of goodly people; goodly community-based, mission-driven Art House people. How beauteous it is; O brave new world, to have such people, such Art House people in’t!

The ethos of the Art House Convergence is a commitment to quality, openness and community. It is the antithesis of the “whatever the market will bear,” cutthroat and mass market dynamics of commercial exhibition. Please know I’m not saying one is better than the other – both of these business dynamics are viable, even needed, but the ethos of each are juxtaposed. The Art House Convergence ethos embraces the notion that philanthropic subsidy from a community will create a stable, culturally significant center for cinema to be experienced, taught, supported and loved for cinema’s intrinsic artistic and cultural worth and for civic enrichment of communities.

The community-based, mission-driven exhibitor is a powerful but subtle aspect of the movie business; too subtle to be deeply appreciated in a blockbuster obsessed media or in a greed driven entertainment industry.  And, let’s be honest the Art House movement will not create millionaires and it will not be the hot new thing that transforms media culture.

At this point cinema is an old art form, like painting and writing, sculpture and dance, theater and music. Although artists always do new things with their forms of art, the art of cinema itself is now an old form. It can no longer be a shiny new thing and that’s OK; because cinema presented on a big screen in a darkened room full of strangers is a great thing; a profound thing that can deeply move the human psyche and transform lives.

Although the financial scale of the Art House, compared to half-a-billion dollar superhero blockbuster, is rather small, it is significant and the long-term impact is critically important; because the Art House plays an essential role in preserving and promoting the best and the brightest of cinema for diverse audiences.  Your Art House is a sacred shrine and home to the most profound form of creative expression created in recent human time.  

And just as important, Art Houses are exciting, sustainable and practical venues that effectively bolster the vitality of local neighborhoods and transform lives through the creative vision of the people who work there and the poignant cinema found in these remarkable little arts institutions.

Over the decades, the Art House community has had a hard time finding its voice, a hard time believing it is in fact a community and a hard time feeling like it is a citizen in the wider cinema world. But now, with the Art House Convergence we have found our collective voice, we are starting to believe in our potential and we are growing the number of communities throughout North America who are demanding community-based, mission-driven Art House cinemas in their towns.

Your Art House as a key community institution – feel it, own it. You provide a vital service and you are an important economic driver in your neighborhood. Being a community-based, mission-driven, not-for-profit Art House you can be much more than a mere movie venue and employer, or a recipient of charity and coordinator of volunteers. You are a flagship asset, an essential cog and an indispensable part of a healthy community.

Over the next few days, what will be most important for those of us gathered here in Utah is to feel the strength and joy of being among kindred souls, of benefiting from shared knowledge and experience and feeling anchored to this non-profit Art House movement.

Welcome to the 2013 Art House Convergence celebrating The Brave New American Art House. We hope all delegates, who this year come from around the world, will share with great enthusiasm all that is wonderful and brave and new about their Art House and their community. Thank you for coming to the Convergence. And as the Bard of Stratford on Avon almost said, “How beauteous it is; O brave new world, to have such people, such Art House people in’t!” Enjoy the 2013 Art House Convergence.

* Deus ex Machina is something that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly into a narrative or system that provides a seemingly miraculous solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty – like expecting a handful of box office hits or some amazing marketing, business management or technology solution to make running an Art House profitable. In the long-term depending on Deus ex Machina type solutions is ineffective and often implies a lack of creativity and strategic management effectiveness.

From Russ Collins
CEO, MichiganTheater-AnnArbor
Director, Art House Convergence

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Life of Pi (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Life of Pi

Ang Lee's "The Life of Pi" based on the beloved novel of the same name by Yann Martel has arrived in a cloak of henna and saffron. Lee, who is to be applauded for treating his tale with the care of an Indian miniature, uses a florid palate and this visual mix. He’s nothing less than a virtuoso that would make Disney himself pea-green with Envy.

From the start, we are at a zoo in Pondicherry, treated to a veritable Who's Who of the animal kingdom.  There are pink flamingoes, proboscis monkeys and an espresso-faced sloth that looks us right in the eye. Most of the animals, at first, are seen as if they are above us as human interlopers. At one point, we look through the bars of a cage. And, as this is a film shot in 3D, we realize that we are perhaps more "animal" than these spectacular beings who are just going about their daily lives.

With these first frames we are hooked.

This is the story of Piscine "Pi" Molitor, (so named from a relative with a swimming fetish) whose family owns a zoo. As a young boy Pi (Suraj Sharma) is spiritually inquisitive and takes on all three religions, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity on equal ground. Pi is Buddhist as well, for in his realm, (wise beyond his years) both animal and human have suffering and survival as their universal center.

One fateful day, the zoo is forced to relocate to Canada. The mighty ship is quite a Noah's Ark, with every animal on board, including a surly Gerard Depardieu as a chef. The ship takes on water and Pi takes to a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan and one numinous tiger named Richard Parker, named from a mutinous character in Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

Pi is existentially forced to sink or swim as it were with Richard Parker the tiger. Is he something to fear? Or is he a guardian? This is one of the film's central questions.

The first half of "The Life of Pi" is affectionately visualized right out of the pages of a Tin Tin comic book by Herge, while the second half is a tense cat and mouse battle of wills between Pi and Parker in the tradition of directors Danny Boyle and Ridley Scott. There are also compelling interludes of an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) relating his philosophic odyssey tooth and nail---literally. By filming the adventure in 3D, Ang Lee expresses the concrete reality that we are all players in an immense comic-hero story, no matter if we are cat-eyed or clothed.

"The Life of Pi" is a kaleidoscope for the eyes. The visuals alone are masterful and the 3D is no trifling popcorn gimmick here. And while the film does anthropomorphize its animals a bit, it doesn't pander or dumb down the audience. Ang Lee approaches his film like calligraphy. Everything has its place and point and even the empty, bluer-than-blue skies are spoken for.

Write Ian at

Friday, January 18, 2013

Week of January 18 to January 24 (Rhoades)

Tropic Goes for Gold With
Four Oscar-Nominated Films

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Front Row at the Movies
Solares Hill

Take a sea voyage with a boy and a tiger, get some crazy lessons in mental health, visit with top-hatted Abraham Lincoln, and witness tawdry behavior among Danish royalty -- all at the Tropic Cinema.
And each of its scheduled films has been nominated for bright, shiny golden Oscars in the upcoming 85th Academy Awards.
Ang Lee’s spectacular “Life of Pi” opens this week at the Tropic (in both 3D and non-3D). This is a movie they said couldn’t be made, but Lee has crafted a visually stunning masterpiece that serves as an allegory about life, religious beliefs, and survival. Based on the acclaimed same-titled book by Yann Martel, this is the story of an Indian boy marooned on a lifeboat with several surviving zoo animals. Piscine Molitor Patel, or Pi as he is known, witnesses the hyena kill the zebra, then the orangutan, but is shocked when a tiger hiding under the boat’s tarpaulin emerges to kill the hyena. Now can Pi survive alone on a drifting boat with a fierce tiger? Nominated for a whopping 11 Academy Awards, “Life of Pi” is a movie you’ll not want to miss.
Up for 8 Academy Awards is “Silver Linings Playbook,” David O. Russell’s wonky tale about a bipolar guy just released from a mental institution and a crazy-with-grief young widow who changes his life with a few dance moves. There’s lots of chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, with Jennifer already picking up a Golden Globes award for her funny performance.
Another Academy Awards multiple-nominee is “Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg’s masterful look at the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery in the United States. Holding onto its screen at the Tropic, “Lincoln” has garnered 12 nominations (the most of any contender), with Daniel Day-Lewis expected to win as Best Actor for his iconic portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.
New to the Tropic screens this week is “A Royal Affair,” a historical drama about Mad King Christian VII of Denmark, his unfaithful Queen, and the German doctor who usurped both the wife and country. Mads Mikkelsen (the villain in “Casino Royale”) stars as the doctor who became the de facto regent of Denmark. A true-but-little-known story from the pages of history, “A Royal Affair” has been nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film.
It’s a lineup you’ll definitely want to see before all those Oscars are handed out on February 24.

A Royal Affair (Rhoades)

“A Royal Affair” Is
Sex and Madness

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Crazy kings -- it’s a historical fact. There have been quite a few.
Some of my favorite Mad Monarchs include:
·        Charles VI “The Mad” of France (1368-1422) - The King who became a murdering madman.
·        “Mad King” George III of Great Britain (1738-1820) - The King in the straightjacket.
·        Gaius “Caligula” of Rome (12-31) - The schizophrenic Emperor with a bad temper.
·        Gian Gastone de Medici of Tuscany (1671-1737) - The Grand Duke who refused to leave his bed.
·        Ivan IV “The Terrible” of Russia (1530-1584) - The Tsar who was a rapist and mass murderer.
·        “Mad” Ibrahim I of Turkey (1616-1648) - The Sultan who drowned his entire harem.
·        Nabonidus of Babylon (539 BC) - The King who ate grass and imagined he was a goat.
Now I can add the mentally ill King Christain VII of Denmark to that list. He’s the subject (kinda) of a new film called “En kongelig affære” (better known on American circuits as “A Royal Affair”). It’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema.
“A Royal Affair” stars Mikkel Følsgaard (TV’s “Those Who Kill”) as Mad King Christian VII. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (“Anna Karenina”) takes on the role of Caroline Matilda, the member of the British royal family who became Queen of Denmark and Norway. And Mads Mikkelsen (“Casino Royale”) portrays Johann Friedrich Struensee, the German doctor who became royal physician to the king -- and de facto regent for the country.
This epic historical drama covers the doctor’s affair with the queen. And the revolution that swelled up in 18th-Century Scandinavia. Ironically, the affair occurs between Struensee and the queen just as his bond with the king is strengthening. As we discover, “Christian cares more for Struensee than for his wife Caroline,” says co-star Mads Mikkelsen. “That’s the strongest part of the film.”
Danish Director Nikolaj Arcel, (best known as the original screenwriter of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) tackles this true story like a tragic romance. “Outside of Denmark nobody really knew about this story until now,” he tells us. “But it’s very famous in Denmark. It’s one of the most-famous true stories that we have, historically. But if you go across the border into Germany, for instance, nobody knows about it. So it was our little secret.”
“It’s a part of our history,” explains Mads Mikkelsen, who plays the doctor. “We know the king was crazy and my character shagged the queen.”
Nikolaj Arcel describes the film as “not only a historical lesson, but it’s a love story, it’s a love triangle.”
“The young princess who’s coming to Denmark and marrying the insane king, and the doctor who comes to town and essentially becomes the king, there’s a lot of great character studies in that. I think that’s the way to avoid it being like a stuffy period piece,” he says.
“You have great passion,” echoes Mikkelsen. “People taking over a country, there are executions—and hopefully people will believe it, because it’s all true.”
Nikolaj Arcel expects his subtitled film “En kongelig affære” will give American moviegoers a whole new perspective on Denmark. “People almost view Denmark like this little happy place, where everybody is happy, it’s the most-progressive country in the world, things like that. And then you see the complexities….”

Life of Pi (Rhoades)

“Life of Pi”
Puts a Tiger
In the Tank
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Remember that old short story, “The Lady or the Tiger”? A choice between futures. Well, director Ang Lee doesn’t give Pi a choice, stranding him on a lifeboat with a snarling tiger.
Based on the bestselling fantasy novel by Yann Martel, Lee has converted “The Life of Pi” into a big-screen extravaganza that dazzles the eye and engages the mind. It’s currently astounding audiences at the Tropic Cinema.
In it, an Indian boy named Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel survives 227 days after the sinking of a ship carrying zoo animals, trapped on a small boat with a Bengal tiger. More than just a seafaring adventure yarn, the film is ultimately a contemplation on spirituality … and practicality.
The tiger is not your friend!” admonishes the boy’s zookeeper father. “Animals don’t think like we do; people who forget that get themselves killed!”
Lee picked Suraj Sharma, a New Delhi teenager with no previous acting experience, to play Pi.
Ang Lee has made fearless film choices over his 20-year career, jumping from genre to genre. Examples range from Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” to the chop-socky “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” from the comic-book-inspired “Hulk” to those gay cowboys in “Brokeback Mountain.” He won an Academy Award as Best Director for “Brokeback Mountain.”
“Life of Pi” was not an easy movie to make – filming on water, in 3-D, from an acclaimed book, and with a CGI-created tiger as co-star. Not to mention tackling a subtle religious theme.
“I thought you can’t make a movie about religion but it can be a movie about the value of storytelling and how that brings structure and wisdom to life,” says Lee. “This is a coming-of-age story. It’s about taking a leap of faith.”
A fan of the book, US President Barak Obama has described “Life of Pi” as “an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling.”
The book won the $77,500 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature in Best Adult Fiction for years 2001-2003.
Turns out, author Yan Martel “stole” the plot from a novel called “Max and the Cats” by prolific Brazilian writer Moacyr Scliar, his a story about a Jewish refugee crossing the Atlantic with a jaguar. Dr. Scliar decided not to sue and Martel acknowledges him as inspiration in editions of “Life of Pi.”
Martel claims he got the idea from a critique of Dr. Scliar’s book by John Updike. He says Updike’s description of the book had “the effect on my imagination of electric caffeine.” However, Updike says he never heard of the book and wrote no review of it.
“Life of Pi” has gone on to sell more than seven million copies. And form the basis of this $70-million motion picture by Ang Lee.
“I’m like Pi,” say the director. “I feel adrift over the Pacific. There are lots of confusions, constant surprises. There are times you feel defeated. You feel like your faith is being tested. When you’re on the ocean, it’s spiritual. I look at God and ask, ‘Why?’ But it’s a happy why.”
One critic notes, “Pushing the boundaries of cutting-edge technologies, Lee has made a new kind of picture, in which the scientific and artistic elements of filmmaking are so advanced and sophisticated that they blend into a coherent and unified vision.”
But forget about technological challenges. More to the point, Ang Lee has knowingly defied that old show biz adage of “Never work with children or animals.” And pulled it off.

Silver Linings Playbook (Wanous)

Quirky, delightful: A must-see film
L'Attitudes Contributor

This quirky film has been called a comedy, a drama and a romance, all of which are apt terms. But "Silver Linings Playbook" is more than that - it imparts new life into all three of those genres.

The film takes the viewer on a roller coaster ride of emotions that parallels the bipolar nature of the main character and gives viewers a frank, unflinching portrayal of mental illness and its effects on family and community.

The script is enthralling, the acting is terrific and the direction is superb. As a result, the movie is rightly nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Director.

Pat Solitano, Jr. has just been released from a mental institution, after an eight-month stint as part of his plea bargain for assaulting a man he caught in the shower with his wife. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder but refusing to take his meds, he has to move back in with his parents. As Pat returns home to an awkward reunion with his father, who is fanatically OCD about his beloved Philadelphia Eagles football team, the emotional fireworks start and escalate quickly.

With no job, a wife with a restraining order against him, a dysfunctional family, a police officer observing him and an entire neighborhood watching his every move, Pat tries desperately to put his life back together even as his intense bipolar episodes threaten to send him back to the institution.
He is frantic to reconnect with his wife and soon hooks up with Tiffany, a relative of a friend who is going through her own mental crisis. Tiffany says that she can help him contact his wife, but only if he will do a favor for her. And fulfilling those mutual favors will put Pat and Tiffany together in a way neither they, nor the viewer, could have anticipated.

Directed by David O. Russell ("Three Kings", "The Fighter") and starring Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover," "Limitless"), Jennifer Lawrence ("Hunger Games, Winter's Bone,") Jacki Weaver ("Animal Kingdom") and Robert de Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook" features dazzling performances by the four lead actors, all of whom are nominated for Academy Awards.

Cooper brings such fierce intensity and realism to his role that viewers will likely be fidgeting uncomfortably in their seats for the first 30 minutes of the film. Lawrence recently won a Golden Globe for her performance and appears to be a leading candidate for the Best Actress Oscar. Her performance as the widow trying to overcome her scandalous reaction to the death of her husband is powerful and filled with raw emotion, moodiness and unexpected nuance.

Weaver, playing the mother and wife struggling to deal with the difficult men in her life, gives her character a tenderness and toughness that is heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.

De Niro is the best he's been in years as Pat's father, who is bizarrely superstitious about maintaining the "juju" that will help the hometown Eagles triumph every Sunday. Chris Tucker is also good as a fellow patient who keeps releasing himself from the mental hospital.

The only flaw comes near the end as Pat finally gets to speak with his wife at the dance competition. He seems to have a new-found control of his emotions that doesn't quite fit with the earlier, nearly out-of-control Pat.

But other than that small misstep, "Silver Linings Playbook" is one of the year's best films and a must-see that will surprise and delight viewers.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Week of January 11 to January 17 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema Has a Playbook You’ll Like

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Just as film critics are putting out their Top Ten Films of 2012 lists – with “Silver Linings Playbook” appearing on many of them – those crazy-as-a-fox programmers at Tropic Cinema have booked, you guessed it, “Silver Linings Playbook.”
In this satisfying little movie written and directed by David O. Russell (“The Fighter,” “I Heart Huckabees”), People Weekly’s 2011 Sexiest Man Alive Bradley Cooper stars as a teacher who’s been away at a mental institution due to his bipolar disorder, and now wants to get back together with his errant wife. But he meets ups with Jennifer Lawrence, who plays a wacky woman thrown for a loop by the recent death of her husband. Are these two dysfunctional souls a romance made in rom-com heaven? It’s no spoiler to say, we’re rooting for them. And laughing along with their neurotic shenanigans.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is still playing. A must-see film, Daniel Day-Lewis is a sure bet to get an Oscar node for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. Besides, you will find it fascinating, the political machinations behind the passage of the US Constitutional amendment that abolished slavery.
Movie buffs will want to catch “Hitchcock,” the story behind the making of the Master of Suspense’s horror masterpiece “Psycho.” That old saw about “the woman behind the man” holds true in this case, because you’ll discover that Hitch’s wife Alma Reville was the muse that drove him to success, not those icy blondes he always sought for his movies.
Lighter fare is provided by “The Guilt Trip,” the road comedy starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as a mother and son who go on an 8-day drive. You’ll wonder if either will survive as they bicker back and forth and milk the generation gap for all the Jewish-inspired laughs in it.
“Chasing Ice” is staying on, making us wish our ice caps had as much longevity. National Geo photographer James Balog set up time-lapse cameras to document the melting glaciers around the world. This six-year fast-forward view should erase any questions you have about the reality of climate change. Chilling, in both senses of the word.
And the pièce de résistance is “Any Day Now,” the bittersweet gay adoption film that was produced by five Key Westers (among others). And along with Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt, it includes performances by our own Anne O’Shea (also an executive producer), Randy Roberts, and Randy Thompson. While Cummings gives the performance of his career, he still manages to get upstaged by real-life Down syndrome kid Isaac Leyva. You know what W.C. Fields said about that….
Yep, it’s a good week to catch up on your movies.

Silver Linings Playbook (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Silver Linings Playbook

In what could be called "Angry in Love", here is "Silver Linings Playbook” another quirky romantic comedy that does its best to be unconventional and succeeds (to a point). At its best, it gives the actors room to act and breathe. It is heartfelt too, mostly through the efforts of Bradley Cooper who plays Pat, a thirty-something man with a bipolar rage problem just released from a psychiatric hospital at the film's beginning.

At its most shaky though, it treads a bit of melodrama, mainly through Robert De Niro, who plays a heavily burdened Philadelphia Dad with OCD who believes the fate of the world hangs within the talons of the Philadelphia Eagles. Here is a man that breathes TV sports to the point of having the remote controls point to The East. On the surface, Mr. Parker is likable but inside he festers with a Type A/trigger temper and is banned from the stadium due to his unbound aggression.

Pat moves in with his well-meaning and long suffering mom (Jacki Weaver) and wants to make a go of equilibrium. He obsesses about his estranged wife Nikki (Brea Bee). It turns out that Patrick viciously attacked Nikki's boyfriend within inches from disability, when he found them together in the act of a smoochy shower.

Enter the volatile vixen Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who appears like a sable curl of smoke during an awkward party. Tiffany, as it turns out, is impetuous, quick to anger and seductive.

But of course.

She recently got canned from her job for sleeping with every co-worker.
I don't believe it.

At first, Pat thinks of Tiffany as a strange semi-Goth oddity, guessed it, an attraction develops.

Despite its romantic comedy conventions, (the semi-accidental jog, the misunderstandings, the spurned lover going off in dejection, etc.) there is an ample amount of is good solid dialogue with some zippy repartee and a winsome chemistry between Lawrence and Cooper to keep you going. Lawrence alone is fun to watch and her emotional range sans Katniss will make you forget her often spacey expressions.

The only elements that are a bit hard to take are the fits and rages that many of the characters seem to have. Not to mention that every principal role in the film has a struggle or is emotionally hindered. Is this necessary? At one point there is so much dramatic cacophony between De Niro (no surprise), Cooper and Lawrence with everyone yelling, screaming and carrying on (even the police and an obnoxious kid) that it takes away from the rhythm of the story and almost becomes a drowning element. Even Ernest Hemingway, God Bless his soul, gets an earful.

Still, even with this problem of sound and fury, "Silver Linings Playbook" retains a refreshing irreverence that won't fail to sneak up on you like a passive-aggressive but playfully unexpected kiss.

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Silver Linings Playbook (Rhoades)

"Silver Linings Playbook”
Is Crazy Like a Fox

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

When I was in college, a guy I knew disappeared for a few weeks. Turns out, he had been committed to a mental institution because of his bizarre behavior. Heck, everyone I knew at school acted bizarre. He claimed he had been overmedicated by the campus infirmary and had a battery of lawyers to back up that assertion. In order to avoid a lawsuit, he was given a certificate declaring him legally sane. After that, he acted crazy with impunity. I remember when he set the trashcan in my dorm room on fire. We always looked at him with suspicion from that point on.
“Silver Linings Playbook” – the new movie at the Tropic Cinema – tells a similar story. We come face-to-face with Pat (Bradley Cooper), a high school teacher who has been hospitalized for his bipolar disorder. Seems he acted out (translation: beat the crap out of) a fellow teacher he caught having sex with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee).
Now that he’s been released, he’d like to get back together with Nikki, but she has moved away, not to mention taking out a restraining order against him. Bummer.
He meets up with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), the wacked-out sister-in-law of a friend, a young woman whose husband has recently died, leaving her as neurotic as Pat. They hit it off in an odd-duck way, and before you know it she’s coerced him into entering a dance contest with her. And Pat’s dad is betting the farm on their score in the competition.
Like my grandmother used to say: crazy is as crazy does.
She also used to say: crazy like a fox.
This is a romantic comedy about two emotionally damaged people. Many film critics are including it on their Top Ten Films of 2012 list.
Funny that the climax of the film centers around a dance contest. “I’m such a bad dancer,” admits Jennifer Lawrence. “I don’t have many talents: I’m not a good cook, I can’t clean, and I can’t sew. The only thing I can do well is shoot bow and arrow—which I learned to do for ‘The Hunger Games’ and will probably never come in handy—and act. Imagine me 100 years ago: I would have been pointless.”
The 22-year-old actress who was nominated for an Oscar in “Winter’s Bone” and who has starred in two major movie franchises (“X-Men” and “Hunger Games”) almost didn’t get the part because of her age – too young to play a romantic lead against 38-year-old Bradley Cooper. “People always worry that I’m wrong for the part: I’m usually too young—or, in the case of Katniss, they thought I was too old. I was blonde, and Katniss is brunette. So many problems. There were a lot of things that we just brushed under the rug.”
Lucky for us. Lawrence and Cooper give us a crazy ride as two crazy people who are meant for each other.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Any Day Now (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Any Day Now

 "Any Day Now" a favorite from the recent Key West Film Festival, returns to Key West. Directed by Travis Fine (The Space Between) and produced by notable Key Wester Anne O' Shea (who appears as Mrs. Lowell) "Any Day Now" is based on a 1970s child adoption case involving a gay couple.

Alan Cumming stars as Rudi, a drag performer that becomes enthralled by Paul, a closeted and slightly geekish DA played by Garret Dillahunt. Across from his shoebox apartment, Rudi sees Marco, ( Isaac Leyva) a boy with Down Syndrome huddling in his apartment at midday in dirty clothes under an onslaught of rock. Gradually he learns that Marco is seriously neglected by his druggy and bigoted mother (Jamie Anne Allman).

In a slightly unconvincing act, Rudi takes matters in his own hands immediately and pursues taking custody of Marco, with whom he has a friendly  rapport and barges into Paul's office.

After some theatrical upheaval which does ring true, Paul decides to handle Rudi's efforts and he becomes his lawyer. After being initially shot down at a hearing, Paul asks Rudi to move in with him, thereby strengthening both the case and their  relationship.

"Any Day Now" follows in the tradition of naturalistic films such as "Kramer Vs. Kramer". It has strong character development and although Rudi might seem a cliche to some, Cumming has so much spirit and verve in the role to make his character solid. Rudi is no Plastic Drama Queen, but rather a dimensional person.

The real spark of the film though is Isaac Leyva as Marco, who plays his character with a refreshing lack of sentiment and melodrama  despite its understandably sad story. Cumming and Leyva illustrate a visceral and utterly believable friendship and love from a step-parent to a son and vice versa. Most enjoyable of all is seeing Marco as a real kid, full of comedy and fire in a story that eschews the route of so many sappy TV movies, at least as far as Marco and Rudi go. The two actors share a dynamic pull that transcends the story's "do the right thing" march. The film also has a rich historical feel of West Hollywood during the 1970's. This gives a touch of lightness and realism to  a series of courtroom scenes.

Strangely, despite its undeniable sadness which is very real "Any Day Now" does not dwell in its tragedies. Instead, like "Kramer Vs. Kramer", the story focuses on the humor, the strong bonds and the grace of its characters, however in peril they become by our societal and legal prejudices.

"Any Day Now" is courageous in its lack of a happy ending, and more poetic for it: the last image we see is of a soft footed Marco, alone to face a passive cement sky.

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