Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tabu (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Miguel Gomes' "Tabu" is a poetic meditation on the beauty of Africa as well as a playful tribute on the silent genre. Gomes' idol is the 1920s filmmaker F.W. Marnau.

The film opens on a black and white scene in Africa. A melancholy explorer wanders the earth. He finds a beautiful woman and a photogenic crocodile with a strange connection. He jumps in the river, stricken by unrequited love.

Cut to present day Lisbon. An octogenarian woman, Aurora (Laura Soveral) driven mad by visions, is convinced that her housekeeper (Isabella Munoz Cardoza) has put a hex on her.

These scenes project the enigmatic face of Aurora juxtaposed against a bare scorched earth landscape which echo the style of Bergman or Luis Bunuel's "Land Without Bread". There is also a dash of Tennessee Williams here, given Aurora's mania.

In her advanced age, she is gripped by nostalgia and admits she dreams of an old adventurer, with the bearing of legendary author Ambrose Bierce (Henrique Espirito Santo).

Everyone in the house think Aurora has dementia.

Egad! Who appears at Aurora's funeral but the adventurer himself, Gian-Luca Ventura.

The next series of vignettes have a madcap silent film flavor, and feature young Aurora (Ana Moreira) as an Ernest Hemingway heroine and  Ventura as a dashing Douglas Fairbanks (Carlotto Cotta) with sidekick  Mario  (Manuel Mesquita), who resembles Sal Mineo and is a defrocked priest.

These stories have a comical, tall tale irreverence. The boyish priest starts a 60's style boy band in the manner of  The Rascals or The Byrds. Mario takes up the mike without warning at a moment's notice. In one instance, he shoots a record cover while perched in a tree. If my 60s memory serves me correctly, this is a nod to The Monkees.

In addition to silent farce, "Tabu" also pays respect to Polanski's "Repulsion" with its tilted perspectives, in one specific scene where Aurora could be seen to be lying sideways on the wall.

"Tabu" is painstakingly detailed which requires some patience but for those that stick with the narrative, they will be well rewarded with many eerily beautiful scenes of Africa where rolling hills are depicted as sentient forces, crouching and hidden like terrestrial elephants.

Throughout, the watchful crocodile leers (a one-time valentine gift to Aurora) and even snakes his devious way to suburban Lisbon, melting into the amphibious carpet. Perhaps he is a creature of death or a cupric love-pet. The intent of his smile is left up to you.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

Monday, April 29, 2013

War Witch (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

War Witch

Canadian director Kim Nguyen's "War Witch" is a stirring character study as disturbing as it is earthy in its depiction of an entire universe brimming with life and death.

Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is a twelve year old in the Congo. Abruptly she is abducted, presented with a gun and told to shoot her parents or else they will be hacked by a machete. Horribly with no choice, Komona's parents tell her to shoot and she fires.

She is taken by a rebel general known as The Great Tiger and trained as a child  soldier. There she witnesses a supernatural ritual and given a kind of peyote milk from a tree. Seemingly by chance, Komona gains favor with the very intimidating adults and achieves status as a witch. Facing multiple soldiers she somehow always emerges unscathed. Under the influence of the milk, Komona sees the ghosts of her parents and specters from the government, which are depicted as eerie zombie-white statues with eyes filled with gray sky.

Although the film owes a debt to Terrence Malick, its picaresque movement is unique and it is its own story. While it does have its share of jolting violence and does not hold back, it has moments of beauty: the ghosts unwinding themselves from the tree branches and groups of men in a circle at night while their guns make impromptu Roman Candles as if to re-create their own Lord of the Flies drama. Invariably Komona is the centerpiece as a twelve year old Kali. She is made a monster killer under the soldier's eyes but to us watching the film, she is an all too young girl whose psyche is battered and beaten.

For a while Komona escapes and has the good fortune to align herself with a laconic and mystical boy known as Magician (Serge Kanyinda). The two intend to marry, assuming they find a white rooster. Perhaps they will forget the civil war or become a Bonnie & Clyde in efforts of self preservation.Time will tell.

At one point when Komona is pregnant and sick in the hot sun, she is a film noir  fatale of sorts, her chances of breath becoming slimmer by the instant. The roads themselves narrow with grit and cars pass with indifference as if to echo the country road anxieties in Hitchcock's "North By Northwest"

"War Witch" most closely resembles novels such as "The Painted Bird" however in its depiction of a childhood under the spell of supernaturalism and war. In both cases, it is sheer will coupled by luck (which arrives with an almost magical sense of faith) that make for the youngsters' survival.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Company You Keep (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Company You Keep 

Although a rather conventional treatment of an unconventional subject, Robert Redford has respectably returned to the director's chair with "The Company You Keep" based on a book by Neil Gordon on the aftermath of The Weather Underground, a radical militant group during the Vietnam Era.

Robert Redford stars looking well-seasoned as if sprinkled with cinematic cinnamon, playing lawyer and single dad  Jim Grant with a secret to keep.

The action starts when a neophyte reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LeBeouf) gets a leak on a story that one of the head members has been caught and wants to talk. LeBeouf plays Ben slightly like Jimmy Olsen ala "Superman": he is disheveled, bespectacled, loud and a bit clumsy, but he gets better as the story progresses.

Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon, of course) is behind bars and talks to Ben who will do anything to get a story. He finds his way to Jim Grant who initially fires back at him in the inimitable  rapid-fire  cadence  that Redford has  made into an art form with films like "All the President's Men" (1976) and "Three Days of the Condor" (1975). "I'm not for or against. " Ben says, "I don't have an opinion."

"And that makes you fair and balanced." Jim quips.

But Ben doesn't give up, becoming more and more obsessed by the members of The Weather Underground. 

The film is a nostalgic throwback to the political thriller dramas of the 1970s. Most of the narrative takes place in a series of offices, newsrooms and piers and you can imagine the trail of a few  electronic smokeless cigarettes, even though there are none present.

Our fledgling reporter gets an opening by bribing a pretty girl, in addition to a  dusty manila envelope shoved under the door. 

And Shia LeBeouf gets increasingly sweaty.

Ah, those were the days.

The fun in the film is waiting for the ball to drop, to see how much of a mess Jim will be faced with. 

Redford is after all, the iconic man on the run with a good heart.

One weak spot is the casting. How many grumpy character actors can we count here? There is the eternally  present Nick Nolte as an old scofflaw friend and he is as gravel voiced as ever (wearing a "Liberty or Death" tee). There is Chris Cooper as Jim's sour brother, Sam Elliott  as a mellowed logistics operator, and last but not least Richard Jenkins as an enervated college prof.

Despite a bit of uninspired casting, the action still holds you with Redford playing a bit of Jason Bourne sans the feverish fists. Robert Redford has such a legacy of heart and wit that he is hard to refuse here, albeit his covert voyage decidedly lukewarm.

A refreshing surprise though, is an appearance by the enigmatic Julie Christie as head femme fatale. She gives the revolution some charge, haunt and spark.

"The Company You Keep" will well satisfy diehard Redford fans. The traditional machine gun dialogue and back-room secret format is almost a conceptual art piece of the seventies' whistle-blower genre. It is only that given the subject matter, I wanted the whispering to be a tad more slippery, and the tread of time and space a little less clear. 

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Trance (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


In what would seem an all too twisty cat and mouse tale with more curves than Rosario Dawson, Danny Boyle's psychedelic thriller "Trance" succeeds in spite of itself on the strength of its characters.

James McAvoy stars as Simon, a fine art auctioneer who is down on his luck over a gambling debt. The excellent actor with a penchant for shady roles Vincent Cassel (Mesrine) co-stars as Franck, a professional art thief. The desperate Simon goes to Franck who pays his debt if Simon will heist a Goya masterpiece. Simon agrees. Everything goes according to plan, but at the last second Simon decides to hit Franck with a taser in a supposed change of heart. He is hailed as a hero by his firm but Franck is on to him. It appears Simon can't remember where the painting is if his life depended on it.

Wanting to settle the score, Simon goes to Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) a beautiful hypnotherapist, in the hopes to remember the location of the masterwork. Elizabeth is more than a little dominant and it doesn't take long for Simon (and Franck) to become smitten and start drooling. 

The action of the plot is told in many flashbacks and  vignettes that go forward and backward in time with such frequency that it gets a bit confusing. Are Elizabeth and Simon working together or alone? Is Franck the bad guy or is Simon an obsessive monster? And perhaps it is all a dominating power trip by Elizabeth? There are many kinks and quirks in explanation that snap at you just when you might think all is clear, but despite all the wiggly wonderings, director Boyle's palate is so colorful with his usual hip and hyper camera moves that you never feel put upon. 

McAvoy is terrific as a capable but somewhat passive auction exec who just might be a jilted and hard bitten antihero in an overstimulated yet emotionally sterile world.

Boyle uses the noir technique of sour desperation and infuses it with his own vocabulary of jagged colors, lopsided perspectives and squirming digitized icons and fractals. Now in the 21st century, the film noir condition of a broken heart in a shadowed room is now read and measured with an iPad. "Trance" is as much an awareness of new technology in our intimate lives as it is a jittery neon spin on the precious storied shadows of James M. Cain.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Koch (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Neil Barsky's documentary "Koch" is a detailed picture of Mayor Koch during his three terms as Mayor of New York City. Some loved him, some disliked him but nearly every New Yorker had or has an opinion about him. With his unassuming  gentle face together with his ambition to succeed as a man for the people of New York City, Koch was probably the first Pop culture mayor as he hopped about Studio 54, appeared on Saturday Night Live as a guest host in the 80's and even had a play written about him.

As Koch says in the film, "politics is like a show, everyone plays a role..."

But all was not bouquets of roses on Broadway. Although Koch started as a respected reformer politically, he was criticized for being racist when he closed down Sydenham Hospital in Harlem, in addition to seeming above it all when a black teenager was beaten to death. This sparked a race-riot. He was also taken to task for doing damningly little for persons with AIDS when the crisis was at an epidemic in the city. There was no support or drug to fight the scourge and Koch is clearly shown to be out of touch. Although he later passed an anti-discrimination bill in 1986, Koch closed down many beloved and nostalgic bathhouses. 

He is most iconically known though, for cracking down and cleaning up Times Square, erasing its porno theaters and seedy peep shows and although this can be seen as a positive, gentrified and family friendly move into the future, I missed the chance to observe its danger and eccentricity. Times Square now resembles a huge computer screen filled with places to shop. Koch is mostly unapologetic except for the corruption scandal in the late 80s, which caused him to lose a bid for a fourth term. 

The most telling scenes are near the film's end when he shuffles into a Democratic meeting, clothed in a nondescript black jacket and cap, a humble and unassuming man who looks almost anonymous were it not for his  legacy (some of it honorable, some of it not) of serving three terms and showing resolve through it all, as a mayor for the people. 

When New Yorkers tell him to run again he says "No, I can't, they didn't elect me last time, so I am punishing them!" Koch sees himself as a "sane" liberal and although he mishandled a few serious issues, he clearly cares about New York City. 

By the end of the film when looking at his gravesite, he regards it lovingly as his final bedrock of New York City. 

When Koch closes the door to his office, you get the feeling that this man was a media-hound who would do all he could to be liked. Although slippery and obtuse at times, he was never mean-spirited. Koch existed as a pale creature of the city, complete with some off-putting bites and  smiles for his people.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Week of April 26 to May 2 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema Delivers 4 New Films Plus 1 Holdover

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

How does the Tropic do it? The little 4-screen theater on this southernmost island has booked some terrific films this week.
First off is the new Robert Redford movie “The Company You Keep.” This is an exciting political thriller about a former Weather Underground radical now living a quiet life as a lawyer near Albany, name changed to keep the FBI from calling him to task for a bank robbery where someone was killed. But his world starts to unravel when a young reporter (Shia LaBeouf) sniffs him out. The stellar cast includes Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliott, Terrence Howard, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Jenkins, and Chris Cooper, among others.
“The Company You Keep” was directed and produced by Redford -- and is sure to stir up controversy for glorifying criminal activities. But you pick your side.
“Trance” is a new film from Danny Boyle, the director who gave us “Slumdog Millionaire.” Here, you have a crime caper, an art heist where the stolen painting disappears after a blow to the head gives one of the crooks (James McAvoy) a case of amnesia. Enter a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson), hired to unlock his memory. Fellow criminal (Vincent Cassell) is counting on her success, but perhaps the hypnotist has her own agenda.
Also new is “War Witch” (French language title: “Rebelle”), a film about an African girl kidnapped to become a “child soldier.” Moments of comedy (catching a white rooster) are interspersed with scenes of horror as the War Witch known as Komona struggles to overcome her unhappy situation.
And we have “Tabu,” a Portuguese film that is divided into two parts: the story of an old woman in Lisbon and a memory of a love affair. The story begins with a sad crocodile.
Still playing is “The Place Beyond the Pines,” a showdown between a motorcyclist-turned-bank-robber (Ryan Gosling) and an ambitious cop (Bradley Cooper). This confrontation carries over to the next generation in this film by Derek Cianfrance, the director who gave us Gosling in “Blue Valentine.”
What a lineup. You may as well plan on staying in your seat all week at the Tropic!

War Witch (Rhoades)

“War Witch” Shows
Rebellion in Africa

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The horrors of war. We’re not referring to Middle Eastern conflicts, bad as they are. This is a reference to “War Witch,” a French Canadian film about atrocities in Africa.
The War Witch is the name given to an impoverished African girl who was kidnapped by Tiger’s rebels and forced to become a “child soldier,” a youngster carrying an assault rifle when she should still be playing with dolls.
It’s not a pleasant story -- death, rape, war -- but it is punctuated by lyrical moments, such as Komona and Magician’s attempted escape and the search for a mystical white rooster.
“War Witch” is showing at the Tropic Cinema.
Komona (played by Rachel Mwanza) must return to her village in order to bury her parents’ remains, else risk a curse on her future child.
Rachel Mwanza is a 15-year-old actress from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Abandoned by her parents as a child, she herself lived on the streets of Kinshasa (formerly French Léopoldville) until being tapped to star in “Rebelle.” Director Kim Nguyen had spotted her in a documentary about street kids. With no education, she did not even know how to read or write when she began acting in Nguyen’s film.
Her performance earned awards for Best Actress from the Berlin Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival, the Vancouver Film Critics Circle, and the Canadian Screen Awards.
“War Witch” was Canada's entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 85th Academy Awards.

Trance (Rhoades)

“Trance” Is

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

In high school I read a book on hypnotism and took great delight in putting my classmates into light trances. Boy, I wish I could have mesmerized one of them into stealing a valuable painting and giving it to me … but all I could do is convince someone her hand was too heavy to lift.
In “Trance,” a professional hypnotherapist (played by Rosario Dawson) displays much greater skill than my teenage amateur efforts. Seems an art auctioneer and his colleague (James McAvoy and Vincent Cassell) steal a painting, but lose it when one of them gets amnesia from a blow on the head. So they hire the hypnotherapist to help befuddled Simon (McAvoy) remember where he hid it.
The trance that she puts him in is more than he was expecting. In this who’s-on-first thriller, we learn once again that greed trumps science.
Director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “Slumdog Millionaire”) begs film reviewers to “protect the film’s most intimate secret.” So no spoilers here.
Boyle describes the film as “a puzzle with clues and mysteries.”
What’s his opinion of hypnosis? “The reputation of hypnotherapy, of hypnosis, if you like, has changed a bit. It became very legally submissible evidence in cases and then it got discredited because of suggested memories were proved to be untrue. Since then, hypnosis has been trying to rebuild its image.”
He adds, “There’s an idea with hypnosis that you’re never fully asleep, that you won’t do anything that you don’t want to do anyway. But what we found is that in 5% to 10% of the population, there are people who are what they call virtuosos. These are people who are highly suggestible. Although what we depict in the movie is ethically very dubious, it’s actually clinically possible. It makes for a great premise for a movie, really, and a complex and intriguing and puzzling movie that you’ve got to find your way through.”
So look into my eyes and repeat after me, “I will buy a ticket …”

The Company You Keep (Rhoades)

“The Company You Keep”
Is Interesting Company

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Back in the day some of us were a little radical -- protesting, joining causes, saving the world. Perhaps some of my old acquaintances went too far, joining underground groups, defying the law, occasionally committing criminal acts. You remember those groups, ranging from Yippies (Youth International Party) to Weather Underground to Symbionese Liberation Army to Black Panthers.

Many of them put away their protest signs as they got older. But some had to go on the run, wanted for such heinous crimes as bombings or bank robberies. They faded into the fabric of society, with new identities, new professions, new lives.

Who knows, your next-door neighbor may have a secret past?

“The Company We Keep” tells such a story, a former Weatherman wanted for a bank robbery that took place 30 years ago. Now he’s a liberal lawyer and single father named Jim Grant, not Nick Sloan as the FBI posters remember him. Here, we see what happens when an eager-beaver reporter begins to unravel his hidden past.

Wow! What a great cast: Robert Redford as the aging fugitive. Shia LaBeouf as the young reporter. Susan Serandon as a former member of the Weather Underground whose arrest sets the story in motion. Julie Christie as Nick’s fellow bank robber and lover. Richard Jenkins as a college prof with ties to radical groups. Chris Cooper as Nick’s brother. Nick Nolte as his best friend from the old days. Sam Elliott as a marijuana grower. Stephen Root as the owner of an organic grocery. Stanley Tucci as the reporter’s tough-minded boss. Terrance Howard and 

Anna Kendrick as FBI agents. Brendon Gleeson as a retired cop.

“The Company You Keep” was also produced and directed by Robert Redford. He says he was inspired by “Les Misérables,” Victor Hugo’s story of ex-convict Jean Valjean’s years on the run from the relentless Inspector Javert. “As a kid, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t know why. It just got to me,” said 76-year-old Redford. “For me, the essential word if I’m going to be doing something is story. What’s the story, where’s the story?”

As for ‘60s protest movements, Redford admits, “I was emotionally sympathetic with that cause at that time because that was my time.”

Adapted from Neil Gordon’s novel, the screenplay of “The Company You Keep” maintains “a scrupulously ethical balance,” yet allows angry left-wing radicals (like Sarandon’s character) to have their say.

Could Robert Redford have turned out like Jim Grant/Nick Sloan, the Albany lawyer whose past is catching up to him? “That’s speculation,” he grins. “I think probably because my whole life I have had that slightly outlaw sensibility. I have always had trouble with authority, which when I was younger got me into a lot of trouble.”


Monday, April 22, 2013

Like Someone in Love (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Like Someone in Love

From the master of understatement in cinema , Abbas Kiarostami, comes "Like Someone in Love" about a young Japanese student involved in prostitution and an old professor who is drawn to her. No, this is not a Zen version of Kubrick's "Lolita" but rather a meditative analysis of two characters brought together by chance.

Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is a self absorbed and reticent ingenue who spends a lot of time on her cell phone and chatters on. She gets coerced into paying an escort visit to a shy and taciturn professor Takashi (Tadashi Okuno) who lives in a cluttered apartment above a small sushi bar. Akiko has as much interest in spending time with Takashi, sexually or otherwise, as she has grooming her electronic cat with compressed air, but there is money in it. Akiko has to travel a considerable distance to make the appointment and in the taxi, her gorgeous, but expressionless face has an aura of the 60s model Nico from Andy Warhol's factory. As she watches the miles pass through the window, she is also a bit like Eric Packer in "Cosmopolis". Her phone is packed with messages from her grandmother who is waiting for her at a train stop, but Akiko does not return her calls. With every passing minute, her grandmother's messages become increasingly disappointed. Akiko asks the driver to circle the stop twice and each time the grandmother is seen waiting alone. Akiko starts to cry but sits immobile in the car. 

When she arrives at her destination, the professor is shy and nervous. The phone endlessly rings over a trivial translation of five lines, only to be interrupted again and again. Takashi wants dinner and conversation, but after bantering about self centeredly, Akiko wants to go to bed, assumedly for sex. The professor refuses; it appears he likes to watch. But we are never sure what transpires if anything.

The next day Takashi drives her to school and unwittingly becomes entangled in talk with Akiko's aggressive boyfriend (Ryo Kase). In what might seem a philosophic experiment or random ruse, the professor implies that he is Akiko's grandfather just visiting. Eager to impress him, the young man extends the hand of friendship with Akiko growing more and more uneasy.

The sparkle of  Kiarostami is that he is invariably opaque. He never spells anything out and prefers to leave much up to the audiences' personal imaginations and thoughts. Existentially  the director does one better than Michael Haneke. Unlike the former, Kiarostami does not rely on Kafkaesque karma, instead whatever tension there is, often unfolds organically without any sense of malice or arbitrary aggression. 

But that is not to say Kiarostami doesn't have his moments.

What brings these two characters together? Loneliness or boredom or merely to pass the time? We don't know. Nor do we know why the professor seems so adverse to sex. Just as in life events are inexplicable, either occurring abruptly or stretching on to boredom or awkwardness, apprehension or panic. The best of Kiarostami is a cinematic koan with multiple behavioral motivations.

Rin Takanashi alone is a conceptual exercise in desire. As her face fills the screen, you can watch it forever and her blank nonchalance that she gives in return is a frustrated blow that we share with the melancholy Professor Takashi who is often afraid to utter a sound in response.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Oz the Great and Powerful

Disney has a long karmic history with the land of Oz. The company wanted to be the first to make an Oz film but the title slipped though their mouse-gloved hands and went to MGM in a 1939 classic. Then in 1955, they secured the rights to the remaining Baum books and planned the live action"The Rainbow Road to Oz"only to have  the project abandoned. In 1985, they tried once more with "Return to Oz" but the film failed at the box office .

Through my research, it almost seems a Emerald City curse.

Lo and behold, in 2013 they have it right with their latest "Oz the Great and Powerful" directed by monster-meister Sam Raimi (the Evil Dead Spider-Man)

This version which is actually a prequel that takes place twenty years earlier, is so affectionately rendered with generous tributes to the 1939 classic that it is impossible to dismiss. Raimi even gave the black and white prelude monaural sound to echo the original film.

James Franco ( whose laughing eyes seems to be everywhere on film these days) plays Oscar Diggs, a small time magician and con man who is always trying to find an angle. Oscar lives in a Kansas dustbowl. He is pursued by a circus strongman and escapes in a hot air balloon only to be swept up in a tornado. Picket Fences attack him like teeth and the action whizzes by in trademark Raimi fashion--- staccato bursts---as in "The Evil Dead"

Needless to say Oscar tumbles  in the technicolor land of Oz complete with a yellow brick road. Oscar meets the bewitching vixen  Theodora (Mila Kunis) who is ravishing in red. In her wide velvet hat,  Kunis recalls something of Veronica Lake or Lauren Bacall.

She is a true Oz fatale.

Some humor ensues due to the role of Franco who almost appears stoned with good fortune---or simply stoned. You half believe that he'll get the munchies in Munchkinland by the end of the production.

But no matter.

Oscar learns that he is fated to rule Oz and Theodora imposes her carnal incarnadine charms on Oscar, wanting to be Queen. But along the way, Oscar becomes smitten by the goody two shoes Glinda.

Theodora is consumed by bitters.

Under the influence of another sister Evanora, (Rachel Weisz) Theodora  takes a bite of one witchy green apple.

Abruptly, with a jolt of emerald vitriol, The Wicked Witch of the West is born. The effect is as scary as "Drag Me to Hell" because it works on the power of suggestion by revealing a single silhouette as iconic to us as a jack o lantern on a first Halloween.

Kunis is wonderful as the witch you love to hate. Although it is futile to out-sweep the legendary Margaret Hamilton, Kunis has a voluptual  joy for doing bad for badness sake with some of Hamilton's  cranky power. Who cares about the other two witches. Three's a crowd; Mila Kunis is endlessly thrilling with eyes of jade Envy.

Oz devotees might be adverse to this production, thinking it a shallow CGI show of smoke and mirrors, with no real attention of the man behind the curtain. But fear not. "Oz" succeeds despite its restrictions, namely the green shade of The Wicked Witch was not to be used, nor was the circular pattern of the yellow brick road. Off limits as well, was the appearance of Ruby Slippers as was The Wicked Witch's chin mole that Margaret Hamilton made famous.

The final scene of Oscar as The Wizard, as a projection in thin air and smoke is a poetic recognition of faith as magic, not only in matters of belief, but also in the act of enjoying film.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Place Beyond the Pines

The powerful "The Place Beyond the Pines" reunites the team behind "Blue Valentine": the director Derek Cianfrance, producer Alex Orlovsky and its star Ryan Gosling. This time, the plot centers on moral quandaries in Schenectady, New York. 

With its circular, interconnected design, the story takes a page from the films "Amores Perros" (2000) and "Mystic River" (2003). Cianfrance has his own rhythm however: a steady Shakespearean sizzle  that gradually escalates combined with an earthy, deadpan realism rich in foreshadowing and symbolism.

Ryan Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a small time carnival stuntman who is up against the wall with little money or possibility for success. He has a motorbike that looks oddly like a toy and buzzes like a mosquito. Every night he enters a metal cage of death (a staple of The Midway) and races upside down at top speed). When he finishes the night, Luke invariably removes his red jacket like a reptile skin. He is covered with Robert Crumb-like tattoos, and as usual, with his tilted, dropsy eyes, Gosling's Luke is a sad harlequin. He makes a riveting presence.

Luke resolves to leave Schenectady but decides to pay a farewell visit to intermittent girlfriend, Romina (Eva Mendes). Romina's mother comes to the door with a baby and tells Luke that the infant is his son.

Needless to say, Luke tries to ingratiate himself to Romina and to press himself back into her life.

Having little practical skills or productive ambition, he falls in with the dissipated Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) who urges him to rob banks. Luke is aggressive and scary but does not kill anyone. He exits like someone frightened and afraid of shadows, while his voice is often high and breaking. Luke is not a comfortable criminal, operating instead on absolute will to support his son. He violently pukes after the robbery as if stricken with a karmic virus. The nights get smoother then, with added kisses and some hot time  with Romina, but  after a near deadly assault to Romina's new lover and partner Kofi, (Merhershalla Ali), she gives him the ax.

Things go from bad to worse for Luke and his motorcycle.

Bradley Cooper is Avery Cross an all American cop who is wet behind the ears and drawn into Luke's antihero oscillation. After a botched bank job, Luke is holed up in a suburban house. Thinking that Luke is about to shoot his gun instantly, Avery shoots Luke who is by an upstairs window and he falls to his death. Luke's head is squashed on the walkway, his leg pulled underneath him like The Hanged Man tarot card.

Avery is seen as a local hero but privately, he is dogged with guilt.

If that isn't tense enough, everybody's favorite scary actor, Ray Liotta, knocks on the door as fellow police buddy Deluca  to start more trouble with Avery.

The police here are more frightening than Luke ever could be.

The sons of Luke and Avery (played by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen) make for some sneaky intrigue even though you can tell from the start that they are set  for an inexorable fate.

Although the main plot is heavy with Karma, (as in the sins of the fathers being revved up and redrawn by their sons), the dramatic powers that the actors deliver are magnetic. Ryan Gosling, in particular, with his melancholy force and unfulfilled eyes is both jolting and heartfelt onscreen.

In watching "The Place Beyond the Pines", you realize that for some, life choices are all too arbitrary and that little is guaranteed. Schenectady, in Cianfrance's lenses is as Gothic a place  as Savannah Georgia.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Week of April 19 to April 25 (Rhoades)

This Week Take a Trip to (and With) the Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Front Row at the Movies

What geographic variety! From New York (“The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Koch”) to Japan (“Emperor” and “Like Someone in Love”), this week’s films at the Tropic take you around the world.
If you liked Ryan Gosling’s performance in “Blue Valentine,” you’ll be equally impressed by his “The Place Beyond the Pines.” Both were directed by Derek Cianfrance. Gosling helped Cianfrance come up with this story about a motorcycle stunt rider turned bank robbers … and an aftermath that affects the next generation. Bradley Cooper matches Gosling’s emoting as the ambitious cop who shoots it out with the not-so-bad guy.
In “Emperor” Tommy Lee Jones as Gen. Douglas MacArthur doesn’t get enough screen time, but his brief moment with Takatarô Kataoka as Japan’s Emperor Hirohito is quite moving. However, at its heart, this is Matthew Fox’s movie, where he plays Gen. Bonner Fellers, MacArthur’s subordinate tasked with determining whether or not Hirohito is guilty of war crimes. With a tad of fact-bending, director Peter Webber gives us a fascinating history lesson and a love story all rolled into one epic movie.
Jude Law stars as a besieged shrink in Steven Soderbergh’s last film, “Side Effects.” Here you’ll find a medical thriller with lots of surprises. A suicidal young wife is prescribed a new drug by the shrink, only to have its side effects wreak havoc on his career, his family, and his relationship with the patient. Edge of your seat stuff!
Former New York City mayor Ed Koch is profiled in the same-named documentary, “Koch.” As directed by Wall Street Journal reporter Neil Barsky, the film delivers a fair assessment of the self-proclaimed People’s Mayor -- from political battles to accomplishments, scandals to colorful afterlife. As one who lived in NYC during Koch’s three terms I can attest to the film’s accurate portrait of a mayor who “fiercely loved” his city.
“Like Someone in Love” is a French-Japanese production directed by an Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami. This subtitled film tells of the odd relationship between an elderly professor and a young Japanese student who finances her studies as a sexual escort. It features former teen model Rin Takanashi and 81-year-old stage actor Tadashi Okuno (in his first starring role). Their brief encounter is less about sex than needs. The old Ella Fitzgerald song lends its title to the movie … the emphasis on the word “like.”
No, you won’t be seeing Judy Garland clicking her red shoes, for “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a prequel to 1937’s beloved “Wizard of Oz.” Here, we have James Franco as a humbug named Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs … or to take the first two initials of his name: Oz. This 3-D extravaganza tells how the wizard came to rule the Land of Oz by overthrowing some evil witches and an army of Flying Monkeys.
New York, Japan … even Oz. Great travels at the Tropic.

The Place Beyond the Pines (Rhoades)

“The Place Beyond the Pines”
Holds Generational Secrets

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Schenectady, New York, gets its name from an old Mohawk word meaning “the place beyond the pines.” And since the new Ryan Gosling - Bradley Cooper film is set in that faraway city, the title is (you guessed it) “The Place Beyond the Pines.”
Yet, it has other subtle connotations, for this crime drama looks at a famous motorcycle stuntman (Gosling) who quits his job to be near the son he never knew he had. This leads to a secret life as a bank robber. And a shoot-out with a cop (Cooper).
Now playing at Tropic Cinema, “The Place Beyond the Pines” was directed by Derek Cianfrance. A couple of years ago, he got many kudos for his “Blue Valentine,” a romantic drama also starring Ryan Gosling.
Gosling helped him come up with this story. As the director tells it, “I was at his agent’s house and we were talking and I was asking, ‘What haven’t you done?’ He said, ‘Well, I’ve always wanted to rob a bank, but I’m too scared of jail.’ I said, ‘Oh really, I’m writing a movie about a guy who robs banks. How would you do it if you could do it?’ He says, ‘I’d do it on a motorcycle, because I could go in with a helmet and no one would know who I was. Motorcycles are fast so I could get away, and they’re agile. I would go have a U-Haul truck parked about four blocks away. I’d bring it to the back of the U-Haul and then drive away in the U-Haul, because no one would be looking for the truck. They’d be looking for a motorcycle.’ I said, ‘That’s crazy. That’s just what I’ve written in the script.’”
So here we have a story about Luke Glanton (Gosling), a former motorcyclist trying to do right by his son with Romina (Eva Mendes) by doing wrong with his bank robber buddy Robin (Ben Mendelsohn).
The film is divided into two parts: The confrontation between Luke and the cop. The relationship between Luke’s son Jason (Dane DeHaan) and the cop’s son AJ (Emory Cohen). Bridging the two stories is the ambitious cop, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).
As for getting the bank robbery details right, Derek Cianfrance got lucky. “All of a sudden there’s a knock on the door and two police officers showed up with this kid ... They were like, ‘This is so and so, he spent nine years in jail. Robbed 15 banks in Schenectady.’ It was such a gift to meet him like it was a gift to meet the cops that were hunting him down. That’s what I’m trying to do with my movies is just tell human stories that respect everybody.”
Cianfrance continues, “What he said is movies always get it wrong. Bank robbers are so clean and perfect in movies but in real life they are messy. I learned about how he felt. The anxiety he felt when he walked into a bank. The desperation that he felt. The desperation he felt that led him into the bank.”
“The Place Beyond the Pines” holds secrets -- of mistakes made, of generational conflicts, of fathers and sons.

Koch (Rhoades)

“Koch” Makes
Timely Run

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ironically, “Koch” -- the new documentary by Neil Barsky -- opened on February 1, 2013, the day Ed Koch died.
This is Barsky’s first film. As a Wall Street Journal reporter, he became fascinated with the career of Edward Irving Koch, who served as mayor of New York City for three consecutive terms from 1978 to 1989.
I lived in New York during Koch’s reign. It wasn’t a bad one from many perspectives. Known as the People’s Mayor, his familiar “How am I doing?” marked his earnestness to deliver on his campaign promises. But a series of scandals undermined his claim that he would run a patronage-free city government.
Koch was a colorful character, who went on to be a political commentator, movie critic, children’s book author, and judge on TV’s “People’s Court.” He also served as an adjunct professor at New York University, overlapping with my own years as an adjunct professor at NYU.
This film examines Koch’s political career, including “a fiercely competitive 1977 election, the 1980 transit strike, the burgeoning AIDS epidemic, landmark housing renewal initiatives, and an irreparable municipal corruption scandal.”
Candid interviews and archival footage give us a closer look at a dynamic public figure who led a very private life. A lifelong bachelor, he was accused of being a “closeted gay man,” although he declared himself a heterosexual and squared former Miss America Bess Myerson around town.
“Koch” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. Not only does it deliver a fascinating portrait of the politician but also offers a snapshot of the Big Apple during a tumultuous period that began with the city’s insolvency and ended with an economic boom.
Whether you agreed with Ed Koch’s paradoxical politics (a “law and order” platform mixed with “liberal” policies), you can’t deny his love for New York City. His tombstone reads, in part, “He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people.”
This, by the way, is a How Am I Doing Films production.

Oz the Great and Powerful (Rhoades)

Disney Is Behind the Curtain of
“Oz the Great and Powerful”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The name of the movie may be “Oz the Great and Powerful,” but the title could be describing Walt Disney Pictures, the studio that’s releasing this self-described prequel to the beloved 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.”
Disney always wanted to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City (read: the jewels of box-office receipts)
Back in 1937, following ol’ Walt’s successful release of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” he’d planned to produce an animated film based on the first of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, but Baum’s estate sold the film rights to others, resulting in the aforementioned Judy Garland masterpiece.
But ol’ Walt was patient and when the film rights to Baum’s remaining thirteen Oz books came up for sale in 1956, he grabbed them -- using the stories mainly for his television show.
Now -- probably with the cryogenic blessings of the late Walt Disney -- the great and powerful company is going to tell us the story of the Mighty Oz himself, that man behind the curtain, a humbug named Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs. Turns out, the Wizard was an ordinary guy from Omaha, Nebraska, a circus magician who used a bag of elaborate tricks and props to make himself seem “great and powerful.”
In “Oz the Great and Powerful,” Oscar is played by the ubiquitous James Franco. Disney execs had originally wanted Robert Downey Jr. or Johnny Depp for the role, but settled for Franco. (Director Sam Rami had worked with him on the “Spider-Man” movies.)
The new Disney extravaganza is currently making its 3-D magic at the Tropic Cinema.
Filming a prequel that explains how Oz (read: Oscar Zoroaster) came to rule the Emerald City was not an easy task. MGM controls all the character likenesses (down to the mole on the witch’s chin) and iconic elements (like the ruby slippers) so Disney’s legal department ran up lots of billable hours trying to devise workarounds. For instance, instead of the witches in this movie having green skin, the legal beagles came up with an entirely different color called “theostein” -- which merely looks green.
In addition to James Franco as Oz, we have Mila Kunis as Theodora, Michelle Williams as Glinda, and Rachel Weisz as Evanora. A magical lineup, as studio flacks might say.
Will “Oz the Great and Powerful” be ranked alongside the 1939 original (considered by the American Film Institute as the 10th Greatest Film Ever Made)? Not likely. But will you enjoy this return to somewhere over the rainbow? Yes, even without Dorothy and Toto.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Week of April 12 to April 18 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema Let You Pick Your Favorite Years

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Take a step back in time at the Tropic Cinema.
Leading off the films at the “Best Cinema in Florida” is “Emperor,” an epic thriller set in post-war Japan when Gen. Douglas McArthur was the de facto ruler. This is the story of McArthur’s protégé Gen. Bonner Fellers, who was assigned to investigate Emperor Hirohito for war crimes -- a task complicated by Fellers’s memories of a love affair with a beautiful Japanese exchange student. Starring Oscar-winner Tommy Lee Jones as McArthur and Matthew Fox as Fellers, this is a great historical drama. Directed by Peter Webber, “Emperor” is a joint US/UK/Japan production.
Flipping the calendar, you find “Barbara,” a film that takes us back to the Cold War of the ’80s. An East German doctor finds her plans to cross over to the West threatened by spies, informers, and the Stasi. Nina Hoss gives a convincing performance as this trapped pediatrician named Barbara. Director Christian Petzold won the Silver Bear at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival for helming this moving drama. As the old saying goes, “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean ….”
Also set in the ’80s is “No,” the story of an ad man (Gael García Bernal) who is tasked with creating a campaign to defeat President Augusto Pinochet in Chile’s 1988 referendum. Directed by Pablo Larraín, the film is based on an unpublished play by Antonio Skármeta. This was nominated as Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards.
Director Steven Soderbergh gives us what might be his last film (he’s retiring) with a medical thriller titled “Side Effects.” Jude Law stars as a psychiatrist caught up in a death blamed on the side effects of a drug he prescribed. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rooney Mara, and Channing Tatum join him in this complex murder mystery.
Wrapping up this week’s lineup is a timely film called “Spring Breakers.” Not so much a college hijinks story as a crime caper, director Harmony Korine has cast four young Disneyesque actresses -- Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine -- against type as college girls who rob a convenience store in order to finance their spring break vacation. James Franco joins them as a drug kingpin who draws them into his nefarious fold.
Yes, from post-WWII to the ’80s to modern times, you can pick your favorite place on the calendar at the Tropic.

NO (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Pablo Larrain's "No" about the re-election  ambitions of Augusto Pinochet in 1988, stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Rene, an earnest advertising man willing to try anything to change Chile and oust the dictator. Director Larrain who also helmed the wonderful "Tony Manero" (2008) about the influence of "Saturday Night Fever" on Chileans, once again employs the surge of pop culture---this time in the 80s---to evoke an important era for his country.

Bernal is perfect in this role as an earnest man who nonetheless has to remain vigilant, perpetually looking over his shoulder in nervous and oftentimes flabbergasted shock.

Rene gets the idea to utilize images from current pop culture (Michael Jackson, Menudo and MTV) to create an upbeat, if somewhat shallow TV campaign to convince the Chilean public to say 'NO' to Pinochet and to furthermore vote for free elections. The logo campaign that his group comes up with, looks remarkably similar to "The Today Show" symbol: it features the word 'No' with a rainbow curling beside it like a fountain. In one pointed scene, a businessman asks Rene, "Rainbows? Isn't that for faggots?"

Bigotry had not yet vanquished.

"No" is a Chilean cousin of "Argo". Both films illustrate a manipulation of popular culture and American hero worship in media to accomplish humanitarian goals. And in both films the characters are spontaneous, facing each day by the seat of their pants. Rene uses a skateboard when he is not at work to weave through the urban chaos and presumedly, to unwind after dodging Pinochet's drones.

Augusto for his part is shown as a shadow man. He impassively rules from afar inside a TV screen, yet he is responsible for torture, the punishment of exiles, and unconditional loyalty.

The "Yes" campaign makes an attempt to subvert the "No" group, by copying their bright cinematography and inserting the word "Yes". In one segment, they show the opposing group about to squash a toddler by steamroller.

Advertising is war.

Alfredo Castro does a good turn as Lucho, Rene's boss who is pro-Pinochet and very reptilian of eye and heart.

"No" has been criticized in Chile by the head of the "No" effort, Genaro Herrera, for focusing exclusively of the television campaign and dismissing the grassroots efforts of the time, but according to my research, the director asserts that it is an interpretation and he stands by the film.

Indeed, the pop media illustrations in the film are evocative and they clearly show a country wired for change, hungry for democratic moon-walking and cinematic carbonation that can ultimately pour into a free choice.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com

Spring Breakers (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Spring Breakers

Harmony Korine, an enfant terrible of the late nineties, once notorious for his debut feature "Gummo" a surreal and sociological  study of residents in Tennessee,  never fails to provoke. In his latest "Spring Breakers" his lens is just as pointed, apprehensive and unapologetic. Here he takes on the insidiousness of gun violence and  adrenaline junkies under the guise of a fluffy cheesecake "drive in" movie.

Candy, Brit, Cotty and Faith, a group of  amoral and shallow college girls who look a bit like Britney Spears (played by Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine and the Disney-teen Selena Gomez, respectively) are whiny and spoiled and-- OMG -- without cash necessary to have their hedonistic splurge-fest in Spring Break St. Petersburg.

Although one might ask where their parents are, they have the oh-not-so great brainstorm to hold up a fried chicken restaurant with fake but very realistic guns. They smash around a lot and holler, ruling with fierce  intimidation.

They succeed in their crime and hit the highway, jubilant and elated.

There are several very well done montages showing the ridiculous banality of alcohol consumption with nudity coupled with the crudity of sexual gestures and infantile obscene behavior . Boys make bongs out of plastic baby dolls and smoke away on the abdomen and bottom. Another boy wears what looks like the head of a roast pig on his head and puffs up a storm.

What fun.

The images are jarring and spooky, almost Herzog-like in their ethereal yet earthy quality. And as  Harmony Korine is a Werner Herzog aficionado, this display is a trademark of his, part tribute and part flourish. In a rapid fire staccato manner, the montages burst upon the eye like virulent "Looney Toons". Silly, meaningless and blatantly misogynistic all this behavior is, but altogether very real. Also, a Harmony Korine trademark, are the appearances of strange, eerie youth, here portrayed as twins played by Sidney and Thurman Sewell.

During an outdoor neon rave, the girls get mixed up with coke and are taken to jail. Clad in their piña colada and tequila colored bikinis, seemingly stapled to the industrial gray walls, the girls resemble parti-fish, rapidly blanched of their streaks.

 Abruptly they are released when a creepy drug-dealer and aspiring rapper Alien, wonderfully played by James Franco, pays their bail, no charges filed.

The girls are quickly immersed into a vacant and violent world of drugs and guns.

The naive Faith wants to go home, while the three girls, enraptured with money, guns and sex stay in Alien Al's crib. The "Scarface"-esque plot becomes secondary to what is a catalogue of Ego, mania and the fetish of our gun culture. The core of the movie is its visual sense together with the visceral yet inane savagery of Alien. James Franco is excellent here and as scary as Dennis Hopper in "Blue Velvet". He is also a bit comical with his titanium teeth and affected accent. Those comic wrinkles around his eyes add to the menace while his warm actor's smile mutates into a sad evil, the essence of all things Luciferic.

In one scene, as all three girls gather around a white piano to sing a Britney Spears ballad, wearing pink ski masks and armed with automatic rifles, they look like violent Teletubbies, hypno-crooning with blood and Pop. It is the single most arresting scene in the film. With "Spring Breakers" veneer of day glow seeped in the blackness of intention, I am reminded of a black velvet painting. Its existence might be lacking to most, but to others it points to a seedy potential, and a haunting, albeit negative poetry that lies just against the surface.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.com