Sunday, June 30, 2013

The East (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The East

Zal Batmanglij is unquestionably one of the more provocative new filmmakers. He has an adept ability to sympathize with and dissect his iconoclastic subject matter. He is also an expert at conveying a peculiar and claustrophobic otherness, where the modern world is curiously backward and hard to define in time or era. Conventional morals are also posed as riddles as well as the human emotions.

Batmanglij now tries his hand  with a more conventional tale in "The East" which tackles a group of eco-terrorists as they harass a multinational pharmaceutical company.

The entrancing and feline Brit Marling (who co-wrote the film) stars as undercover informant Sarah and she is duly spacey and alluring here again. Ellen Page co-stars as the fierce and idealistic second- in-command Izzy who resembles a anxious woodland animal with a hyperactive brain. Last but not least, the seemingly omnipresent Alexander Skarsgård is here as the silent but driven mastermind. Also playing with an iced verve is Patricia Clarkson who incarnates a kind of Big Sister who oversees all for corporations.

In writing this film, Batmanglij and Marling were inspired by the spy films "Michael Clayton", "The Bourne Identity" and "All The Presidents Men." Both of them also joined counterculture groups for a period and engaged in Freeganism, the practice of living without spending money. They ate discarded foods and slept on rooftops. The realist landscape of this film is clearly in evidence. Most striking are the initial scenes: a furry  Alexander Skarsgård in a straitjacket, as he sits at the table as a Jesus in an apocalyptic Last Supper, whose intent is one part feral and one part Alan Moore, author of "V for Vendetta." As the segment is predominately silent it is quite unnerving. Also of interest is the insidious focus on medical supplies: the danger of encased plastics, IV needles and the like. There is terrific detail throughout. After Sarah's  first time with the group, we see her in a palatial home. Her bland husband Tim (Jason Ritter) sleeps in a big cotton bed while she comfortably reposes on the floor. There is one shocking still of Ellen Page curled on the ground, her black eyes open and questioning. She looks iconically like a slain deer.

Although not as daring or as anxious as Batmanglij's previous "The Sound of My Voice" (2011)  which honed in on cult activity, "The East" does hit you with its visual perspective, most notably with the alien Brit Marling and the Ice Queen Patricia Clarkson. The scenes of motley young people foraging for food in dumpsters or Alexander Skarsgård monotonously intoning a command while bathed in the green grey light of a computer screen are visceral and jarring.

The suspense lies in the question of how far Sarah will push her intent of infiltration and Marling does an excellent job of sustaining the tension.

The other characters are less dynamic however with a Glam-Rock glitter-dude in lipstick and an anemic youth wearing a moo-moo dress. Many tired "tree-hugging" cliches abound. The members dance in a circle and play spin the bottle kissing each other with sincere intent. Certainly all radicals do not wear Birkenstocks.

Despite the silly visual cliches, the singular haunt of Brit Marling coupled with the unique style of a Zal Batmanglij film make "The East" a steady place to go for an arresting sojourn.

Write Ian at

What Maisie Knew (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

What Masie Knew

Those that enjoy a dose of  family drama with an  objective and tempered balance are well served in "What Masie Knew" based on the Henry James novel. The film takes a non-committal and holistic approach reminiscent of "The Kids Are All Right." This is no surprise, since the film is produced by Neil Katz, Todd Labarowski and Key West's Anne O' Shea, the deft producers of that 2010 Indie which proved a Tropic favorite.

Young Onata Aprile stars as Masie, an open and inquisitive girl who is pushed and pulled by her biting parents. Masie is no pushover. Her wide-eyed wonder combined with her accepting spirit and pluck will nudge your heart. Rather than war like her parents, she takes conflict as a matter of course and drifts into introspection and fantasy.

Juliane Moore co-stars as the mother Susanna, whose personality rockets into near plutonium levels of manipulation and harshness, but her character sincerely loves Masie. Susanna is a rock musician fiercely driven to reach stardom seeing a custody battle as a matter of ego and validation. She is not a bad mom but a clearly imperfect one, shuffling her daughter like a glittering pet, only to drop her off  with an irresponsible negligence.

In an instance of improbable casting, the comical and philosophically amused Steve Coogan (The Trip) also stars as Masie's father Beale, who is too obsessed by career and women to provide much time. Yet because of Susanna's high octane parties, the narcissistic and overly-entitled dad gets child custody.

Although there are more than a few poison episodes, no one is absolutely villainous here, but Susanna is close. With her wired and pale face complete with a red slash of lipstick, she falls just short of a monster.  Masie becomes like a camera, recording her parents shortcomings, analyzing them abstractly and reflecting a mirror upon mom and dad.

Alexander Skarsgård also appears as Susanna's makeshift husband Lincoln who is sleepy-eyed, bumbling and hesitant. Thankfully  he steps up as needed and shows himself to be the man with the bigger heart. This is true of the role of Margo, the fiancée of Masie's father excellently played by Joanna Vanderham, displaying her maternal care for the child along with her lack of experience.

"What Masie Knew" dispenses with any sort of kid gloves in its city savagery, but it is less brutal than "Kramer vs. Kramer." Instead, it puts us squarely in the emotional landscape of a child kneaded in between her two birth parents who clearly and deliberately choose not to act responsibly.

Write Ian at

Friday, June 28, 2013

Week of June 28 to July 4 (Rhoades)

Crowded Screens Make the Tropic a Cinematic Cornucopia.

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Six films squeezed onto four screens -- the Tropic Cinema offers lots of cinematic choice, from Hollywood blockbusters to independent gems.

New to the screen is Sofia Coppola’s crime caper “The Bling Ring.” This is a flashily told news headline, a handful of privileged West Coast  kids get their kicks by breaking into the homes of celebs like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan … and get caught. Not much plot depth, but the interest is in the stylistic telling. Emma Watson is in top form as Nicki, the girl who sees her ignominy as a moment of fame. East Bay Express calls it “One of Coppola's best films.” And Matt’s Movie Reviews says it’s “a stylish and relevant look at how the idolatry of celebrity begat a special breed of brat, whose belief that to live like the kings and queens of materialism is to steal from their palaces.”

Also fresh is “East,” an eco-terrorist group that is infiltrated by an investigator played by Britt Marling. Question is which side does she sympathize with in this indictment of Big Business? Boston Globe describes it as “a watchably confused eco-thriller that's never sure who its heroes are.” And Tulsa World calls it “a crackling good political thriller, made in the spirit of some of the best espionage films.”

“What Maisie Know” gives us squabbling divorced parents as seen through the eyes of daughter Maisie and her two new stepparents. A mix-em-and-match-em family dispute. The San Jose Mercury News says “this indie does sound like standard-issue material, but its dynamics are far more complex.” And Salt Lake City Weekly notes “It's far from the first story of a child dealing with the consequences of parental break-up -- but it may be one of the best.”

“Kon-Tiki” still offers you a sail across the Pacific on a raft with explorer Thor Hyerdahl … well, Ryan Gosling lookalike Pål Sverre Hagen playing him in this beautiful recreation of that historic voyage from South America to the islands of Polynesia. The Austin Chronicle says it’s “an absorbing and often lyrical piece of storytelling that doesn't overembellish the facts or rely on a pumped-up score or whiplash editing to heighten the dramatic action.”

For those looking for blockbuster adventure, go where no one has gone before (except Gene Roddenberry) in J.J. Abrams’s second “Star Trek” foray. Here Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock (Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) face the wrath of Kahn in a deep-space shoot-em-up. MLive calls it “smart, fun, witty, essential sci-fi.” And calls it “easily the first must-see action flick of the year.” And Movie Habit says the film “sets its phasers on fun.”

And fantasy of another kind is the superhero spectacle of “Iron Man 3,” another entry in the comic book tale of a playboy industrialist who gets serious about doing good when he invents a near-impervious armored suit. Robert Downy, Jr. as the title character guarantees this to be a good ride (in 3D no less). MediaMike promises the film is “packed with virtually non-stop action from start to finish.” And Spectrum says it “features an interesting, angst-ridden psychological sub-text rarely found in blockbuster films.”

Check your times. With the proper scheduling, you can catch ‘em all!

The Bling Ring (Rhoades)

“The Bling Ring” --
A Flashy Headliner

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Rich California kids break into movie stars’ homes. Kids get arrested.
That’s the plot of Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” in a nutshell.
The question is whether Coppola’s flashy cinema verité style adequately masks the film’s lack of depth. Not much story here, it’s almost like a series of visual news headlines: Bored teens burglarize Lindsay Lohan’s home, invade Paris Hilton’s home, take bling, try it on, flaunt it, sell it, party on, get caught on surveillance tapes, roll over on each other, don’t really learn a lesson. That’s it except for the watching.

The audience is left to see the irony, a teen jailed for burglarizing Lindsay Lohan’s house winds up on the same cell block as the troubled star who’s been arrested for shoplifting.
Emma Watson gives the standout performance as Nicki, one of the Bling Ring who sees this as her fifteen minutes of fame, shushing her mother during a Vanity Fair interview, promoting her website, touting how much she’s grown from the experience. Not.
Sophia Coppola has become a filmmaker to rival other members of her famous family (Francis Ford, Roman, Nic Cage, et al.). Yet as a storyteller she has a few things to learn from her dad, the director of the “Godfather” trilogy, “The Conversation,” and “Apocalypse Now.” Even so, she definitely shows that brilliant cinematic DNA.

Like her characters in “The Bling Ring,” Sofia has broken into your movie theater, stolen a few minutes of your time, and flashes her spoils on TV talk shows. But like the celebs in this movie, you don’t seem to mind.

The East (Rhoades)

“The East”
Picks Sides

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Britt Marling is a hyphenate, as they say in Hollywood. She an amazingly talented actress … an intelligent screenwriter … and sometimes producer of movies. She’s even directed and helmed the camera as cinematographer.

This 31-year-old wunderkind turned down high-paying jobs in the financial world in order to act. But mostly she got offered roles as “the cute blonde in horror movies” so she starting writing scripts, reasoning that the best way to get good roles was to write them.

It seems to have worked.

She explains, “I always started writing in order to act. I don’t know that I could have the discipline to sit down and write if I was going to give it away. That would be too hard. But I love to act in stories that are outside my imagination because I can only conceive of so many things from my point of view. The thing that’s intoxicating about being an actor is that you get to live in someone else's world for a while and I hope to do more of that. But I think I’ll never stop writing now because I’m wondering why there aren’t more representatives of women that are like the women we know. Where’s the film with the women who are complicated and strong and beautiful and sexy and interesting and of all body types? You don’t get to see enough of them.”

You’ll remember her as the star-writer-producer of “Another Earth,” the sci-fi story of a parallel world starring Tom Cruise’s cousin.

And now here she is starring in Zal Batmanjili’s “The East.” Also she co-wrote and co-produced it with Batmanjili. It’s playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

This is a story about an undercover security agent who infiltrates an eco-terrorist group known as The East. The group is targeting large corporations who commit crimes against the environment. Although sent to spy on them, Jane Owen (Marling) becomes infatuated with its idealistic members (Alexander Skarsgård and Ellen Page, among them), becoming sympathetic to their goals. Her boss (Patricia Clarkson) is not happy with the situation.

While the anarchist group was entirely fictionalized, “every instance of corporate corruption is based, in exact and excruciating detail, on actual incidents of gruesome real-life corporate corruption,” says Marling.
Some moviegoers see this as a one-sided indictment of corporate America. Defenders say the movie isn’t balanced because the world isn’t balanced these days. Others see it as evidence “when unregulated capitalism prevails, the bottom line trumps human life and common sense.”

Like the cult in Sean Durkin’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” Marlin and Batmanjili cannot quite bring themselves to condemn this anarchist cult. However, as the old saying goes, Qui tacet consentíre vidétur. This makes it clear where their sympathies lie.

What Maisie Knew (Rhoades)

“What Maisie Knew”
Is Age-Old Story

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

In “Maisie” (1939), Ann Sothern starred as a street-smart Brooklyn showgirl who gets caught up in romantic entanglements. It was the first of ten such films. Among them, “Gold Rush Maisie,” “Maisie Was a Lady,” “Ringside Maisie,” and “Swing Shift Maisie.”

So I went to see “What Maisie Knew,” thinking it was a modern-day continuation of those Maisie movies.


This Maisie is a seven-year-old girl caught up in a bitter custody battle between her parents. It’s based on the Henry James novel of the same name.

Set in contemporary New York, Maisie (well played by Onata Aprile) must deal with the antics of her parents (Steve Coogan and Julianne Moore). In their efforts to win the court’s approval, the divorced parents impetuously re-marry. Beale, a major art dealer hooks up with Maisie’s nanny (Joanna Vanderham). And Susanna, an aging rock star, latches onto a likeable bartender (Alexander Skarsgård).

Eventually, Maisie and her new stepparents come to realize they are all merely pawns in a greater battle. Joining forces, they must work together or face the wrath of Maisie’s dad and mom.
The 1897 Henry James novel is “a thoroughgoing condemnation of parents and guardians abandoning their responsibilities to their children.” The movie makes the same point.

“What Maisie Knew” can be found at the Tropic Cinema.

As directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, the film has been called “a study of human nature, not at its worst, but at its most typically pathetic, and it goes to show that the more things don't change, the more they stay lousy.”

Co-director Siegel says, “We were most attracted to telling a story from a child’s point of view.”
McGehee adds, “And so much of that we owe to Onata Aprile, who plays Maisie. We fell in love with her on day one. Her spirit is just so lovely; every day she would show up, just happy to be there. We had as great an experience filming with her as we did shooting The Deep End in Lake Tahoe.
Siegel agrees. “Onata is like Tilda Swinton and the lake rolled into one. I would wake up each morning knowing, ‘I get to go to work with Onata today!’”

Who are these guys?

Scott McGehee:  “I’m the smart one.”

David Siegel:  “I’m the handsome one.”

You choose. But they usually work as a team.

Siegel shares their background. “We didn’t go to film school. I was a painter. Scott was going to be an academic. We were finishing graduate school when we started working together. It was quite a long time ago. There was no institution to say, maybe one of you should do this and one of you should do that. We were so ignorant and naïve about what filmmaking was, what the process of making movies was.”

They sum it up, “We consider ourselves American filmmakers who appreciate the old Hollywood methods of storytelling very much.”

And old novels by Henry James.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Frances Ha (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Frances Ha

If you crave some arty mumblecore after this year's explosive antipasto of summer films, you will be well satisfied in sampling Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha" starring Indie darling Greta Gerwig in the title role, who also co-wrote the script.

Frances is a dabbling dancer who has her  performance degree but hasn't done much with it. She is quirky, gullible and spacey. She also appears to have OCD (although it is not explicitly described) and is a pathological liar. People who meet her are either endeared by her or annoyed. Most don't know quite how to take her.

Frances has an obsession with her nonchalant and dry roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Sophie enjoys being in control and Frances can't seem to let go, even when pressured by Frances' longtime beau Dan (Michael Esper) who is as bland as a piece of chalk and seems more like an acquaintance. Just when Frances rebuffs Dan's offer to move in, Sophie announces she is moving to another borough with her self conscious fiancé Patch (Patrick Heusinger). Devastated but prone to twirling in the streets of Brooklyn, Frances moves in with three 21st century bohemians who also dabble: Rachel, (Grace Gummer) Lev, ( Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegan). The flopping four have dinner parties, smoke and sip wine as trust fund children. Frances tries to ingratiate herself and as the conversation patters into French territory, she makes herself into an expert traveller and invites herself to share a house in Paris. Is this a manipulation or a happenstance? Such judgments like Frances' feet, are left up in the air.

The lackadaisical vignettes of the film are deceiving. Frances as a character works on you with slow but gradual carbonation that accelerates by story's end. What seems full of whimsy ala Audrey Tautou in "Amelie" has a dark gray streak of dominance, control and desperation. Frances is more than a bit unstable yet her smirk invariably appears as if to save her from the butterfly net of a schizoid metropolis.

The narrative is reverently filmed in a digital black and white as if to summon the 70s and 80s aura of Woody Allen and Jim Jarmusch in their heyday.

"Frances Ha" tilts its  Gotham city jitters into likable quirks in the same way that "Annie Hall" did in 1977. The fedora-hatted youth still share peeling apartments and talk about dating and sex ,but now the shadows of darkness and light are more starkly shown in contrast under the a blinding glare of cell phones, Facebook and the isolation of Skype, not to mention the evermore confining factor of the amount of disposable income. The concept of money  is like an albino eyed wraith that hovers  throughout the entire film. But fear not, the incarnation of Frances turns all poltergeists into friendly Caspers.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Week of June 21 to June 27 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema’s Summer Fare Offers Best of Both Cinematic Worlds

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Two new films hit the Tropic Cinema’s screens this week -- “Frances Ha” and “Iron Man 3,” about as different in tone as you might imagine. Films from two different cinematic worlds, yet both worth your attention.
“Frances Ha” stars Greta Gerwig (“Greenberg”) as a dancer whose life is discombobulated when her roommate moves out. Seems her BFF has outgrown her, a painful lesson in life. Can she work through it? Directed by Gerwig’s boyfriend Noah Baumbach (ditto: “Greenberg”), it’s a tragicomic look at female friendship. Gerwig co-wrote the film with Baumbach. The Boston Globe calls it “a love letter to an actress and her character.” And Quickflix says, “Frances Ha is a sympathetic but not uncritical depiction of a girl’s gradual evolution into a woman.”
“Iron Man 3” is (as the number suggests) the third entry in this blockbuster series. Robert Downey, Jr. is perfectly cast as Marvel’s flawed superhero. Media Mikes says it’s “packed with virtually non-stop action from start to finish.” And CinemaDope calls it “.. best Iron Man yet.”
Still playing at the Tropic is “Kon-Tiki,” the story of explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s journey from South America to Polynesia on a flimsy balsawood raft. Philadelphia Inquirer calls the film “a widescreen man-against-nature epic, beautifully shot and boasting seamless, stunning visual effects.”
Also holding over is “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the sequel to the J.J. Abrams reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise. Here Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock (Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) face off against Kahn, a superior being out for revenge against the Starfleet command. Wall Street Journal says, “While the action is often electric, it’s the relationships that matter.” And Fan the Fire adds, “There’s really very little to complain about in this warp-speed sequel.”
Summer blockbuster action combined with indie film gems -- that’s this week’s lineup at the Tropic Cinema.

Frances Ha (Rhoades)

Greta Gerwig
Writes Own Ticket In “Frances Ha”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Used to be singers sang other people’s song and actresses acted other people’s scripts. But now we’re inured to singer-songwriters and we’re starting to see actress writing their own scripts.
Take for example, Zoe Kazan who wrote and starred in “Ruby Sparks.” Or Rashida Jones who came up with “Celeste and Jesse Forever.” Or Brit Marlin who gave us “Another Earth.”
Joining the trend is Greta Gerwig, the thirtysomething actress who has co-written a new film with Noah Baumbach called “Frances Ha.” What’s more, she stars in the title role.
Graduating from Barnard College with a useless degree in philosophy, she’d planned to become a playwright. But after landing a minor role in Joe Swanberg’s “LOL,” she got involved with the mumblecore film movement, acting in such notable examples as “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” “Night and Weekends,” and “Northern Comfort.” Keeping her hand in, she co-wrote those three too.
Finally breaking into the mainstream, she appeared in “No Strings Attached,” the remake of “Arthur,” and Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love.”
The New York Times described her as “ambassador of a cinematic style that often seems opposed to the very idea of style.” A compliment, I think.
Earlier on, she’d met director Noah Baumbach while co-starring with Ben Stiller in the dark comedy “Greenberg.” Gerwig and Baumbach later started dating and and began developing creative projects together.
To wit, “Frances Ha.”
Gerwig did not write the script with herself in mind, but Baumbach convinced her she was perfectly suited for the part, since the words had come from her in the first place.
In this subtle black-and-white film, Frances Handley (Gerwig) is a dancer whose life is turned upside down when her roommate decides to move out. She’s totally depressed when she realizes that her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) has outgrown her.
Greta Gerwig wanted to explore the idea of female friendships. “One of my very best friends, her mother told her: ‘Enjoy your female friendships now because you’ll never really have them as you get older.’ And she really believes that. But I ultimately feel like it has gotta be possible.”
A melancholy comedy, “Frances Ha” is typical of Baumbach’s films about characters in crises. In the film, Frances is able to grow up because she’s able to “go through it.”
“No, you don’t have to make all the mistakes that she made but I do think you have to go through it,” says Gerwig. “It’s like puberty. You can’t just magically transform to the place where you’re done with it – you have to go through all the weird parts in between!”

Iron Man 3 (Rhoades)

“Iron Man 3” Celebrates
His 50th Anniversary

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I got an invitation from Danny Fingeroth, author of “Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us About Ourselves and Our Society.” A bunch of fanboys, geeks, and comic book creators were throwing a party headlined as “Iron Man (and The Avengers) at 50!”
Yep, Iron Man’s been flying around that long. He was created back in 1963 by Marvel’s Stan Lee, his brother Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack “The King” Kirby.
Having been the publisher of Marvel Comics back in the late ’90s, I hear from the old gang from time to time. Turns out, Danny was moderating a panel for the anniversary, a lineup that included Dennis O’Neil (longtime Iron Man writer), Keith DeCandido (editor of Iron Man prose novels), Marie Javins (author of the prose adaption of Iron Man: Extremis), and Stuart Moore (a writer of Iron Man comics), among others. Danny has written for Iron Man too.
Why all this excitement over a guy in a mechanical suit who isn’t real?
Because comic book superheroes are archetypes that tap into the hero we want to believe is within each of us. Iron Man, as I said in my textbook “Comic Books: How the Industry Works,” represents “The Last Man,” a weak-willed individual who seeks comfort and security. In the comics, Iron Man’s alter ego is Tony Stark, who was a rich playboy with a drinking problem. Until he invented a metal suit that allowed him to be a superhero.
So who better to cast in a blockbuster “Iron Man” movie than Robert Downey, Jr., himself a guy who overcame his substance abuse issues just like Tony Stark?
Yes, Robert Downey, Jr. was a much better choice than Nicholas Cage, the comic-book-collecting actor who lobbied us at Marvel for the role.
The “Iron Man” movie (2008) was a hit, grossing $585 million in worldwide box office. Its sequel “Iron Man 2” (2010) did even better, so far $624 million in worldwide sales.
This week “Iron Man 3” opened, as promised in my invitation to the superhero’s 50th anniversary party. Expect it to top the previous box office figures.
Again, Robert Downey, Jr. reprises his role as Iron Man/Tony Stark. This time around Iron Man takes on his nemesis The Mandarin after the supervillain destroys Stark’s palatial home using helicopter gunships.
Joining Iron Man is his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), his best pal Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheatle), and his head of security Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). We also meet Tony Stark’s old flame Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and crippled scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). And Tony Stark gets a sidekick, a precocious 10-year-old named Harley (Ty Simpkins).
In this storyline loosely based on the “Extremis” comic book arc written by Warren Ellis, The Mandarin kidnaps both the US President and Pepper Potts. That sets Iron Man’s circuits to sparking for vengeance.
This third installment in the “Iron Man” franchise (and the seventh installment in the now-called Marvel Cinematic Universe) is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. It was directed by Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”), who took over the reins from Jon Favreau.
The folks at Marvel Studios  told Black, “We’ve done ‘The Avengers.’ We made a lot of money. But, let’s not do that again, right now. Let’s do something different.”
“They allowed for a different, stand-alone film,”  says Black, “where we got to be more character-centric and go back-to-basics with what Tony Stark would do next and what was left to tell of his story. To make it more of a thriller.”
And here it is. Happy 50th Anniversary, Iron Man.

Iron Man 3 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Iron Man 3

Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)   directs this latest Iron Man outing. Robert Downey Jr stars yet again as the witty and glib weaponry expert / scientist Tony Stark and once again he makes a Harry Potter hand gesture, setting the iconic suit (a half frightening, half comforting prosthetic machine) into motion.

Here he is pitted against a rival genius-freak Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who is your garden variety blond and effete megalomaniac from comic books and James Bond films.  Killian aligns himself with the fearsome-seeming Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who is a bit like Christopher Lee. Kingsley is both scary and self deprecating as a man of many faces. Along with Robert Downey Jr himself, he is the most compelling and comic character in the film.

At the start of this sequel, Tony Stark explains that we create our own demons, relating a back story when in 1999, as a playboy weaponry entrepreneur, he self centeredly snubbed a fledgling scientist. Now back in the present, he quips and bickers about his bod and his machines. Somehow Stark has a system which can summon the iron suit to attach itself with a mere thrust of the arm. Even though this is a logical impossibility, it makes for some fun, given Robert Downey Jr's irreverent sarcasm and screen presence. Just when Stark settles in for a sleepy cuddle with Virginia "Pepper" Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Stark's nocturnal security with People magazine's "Most Beautiful Woman" is threatened by  Killian, who renders his bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau) into a coma and has control of some virally-enhanced supermen  who appear as part man and part devil. They glow a volcanic red when they are mad and are nearly impossible to kill.

Oh boy.

More distressing are the actions of Mandarin who jams Tv networks nationwide  with militant Eastern symbols and then promptly shoots an oil accountant live onscreen.

The Mandarin appears as a terrorist without fear.

To complicate matters, Stark now has anxiety attacks stemming from a past world rescue and battle with aliens in New York City as depicted in "The Avengers." Time and time again, panic grips him as soon as he resolves to soar.

His suit is battered at half life and his magicians' arrogance wanes. In one stirring and near-poignant moment, Stark trudges through the Tennessee snow, carrying his battered iron man behind him like a sick twin brother.

As a mere groundling biped, Stark meets the precocious youngster Harley (Ty Simkins) who gives him a plastic potato gun, a laptop, and a Dora The Explorer watch to get rebooted.

Who knew that Tony Stark is also Macgyver?

Hey, this is a film after all.

The best scenes in "Iron Man 3" feature some terrific repartee by Tony Stark as he engages the eccentric Mandarin. Also interesting is the concept of a self assured Stark having anxiety. There is something eerie and haunting too, in the iron man alone. The machine has a dualistic form as both Superhero and a shadowy alloyed wraith that is difficult to define.

The film delivers enough satisfying crunches of state of the art 3D action and narrative, despite its metals becoming a bit cloudy by the film's end by so much dizzy booming and zooming. The showdown is so frenetic with several  self-same iron men, that the wonder in gadgetry loses its surprise.

The most poetic element of the "Iron Man" films is the character of Stark himself as a fragile little man encased in a larger than life soldier-skeleton, an Ego of metal. As portrayed by Robert Downey Jr, he channels his inner manias to protect the world not because he wants to, but because he craves to be highly regarded by doing right.

Write Ian at

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Kon Tiki (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


"Kon-Tiki" is a new film by Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg, based on the real life voyage from Peru to Polynesia by Thor Heyerdahl and taken from his 1948 book of the same name. Heyerdahl was an ethnographer and adventurer from Norway who was obsessed by the theory that South Americans had actually discovered the Polynesian Islands in pre-Columbian times. Heyerdahl bases his deduction on an inhabitant of the islands who says his origins came from the sun. Heyerdahl also adamantly believes that ocean passages from South America to the Pacific---some 5,000 miles--- were not formless obstacles but actual water roads as dependable as well travelled highways and while watching the film, it becomes difficult to dispute him.

The film is beautifully shot by Geir Hartley Andreassen. As it is the most expensive Norwegian film yet, it is well worth it. Against the recommendations of many advisors, the filmmakers decided to shoot the film in the open waters of the Maldives , rather than use digital effects.

In many respects, "Kon-Tiki"  is an echo of old fashioned filmmaking. Pål Sverre  Hagen stars as Thor, the explorer who bears an uncanny resemblance to Peter O' Toole with his technicolor blue eyes and sunflower blonde hair. Heyerdahl gets his mates  together consisting of Herman (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) a refrigerator salesman, Erik (Odd-Magnus Williamson) an artist, and three free-wheeling bohemians: Bengt, (Gustaf Skarsgård), Knut (Tobias Santelmann and Torstein (Jakob Oftebro). Heyerdahl is part zoologist and part swashbuckler but his role is never outrageous in tone; he is the voice of reason throughout.

This is a man against nature story with rich color and tense apprehension. Although reminiscent of countless films from "Robinson Crusoe" in several incarnations to "Castaway" and "The Life of Pi", this film's crisp and deceptively simple visuals never stall.

Sharks are the  visceral and concrete antagonists in the film, so much so that the film almost equals "Jaws" in intensity if not in scope. There is one scene where poor Herman takes a spill and the ocean is a dangerous bloody red.  The music swells. Suddenly an open Halloween mash of teeth are revealed only to miss the raft in the nick of time.

Although this is no horror movie, there are instants of maritime Gothicism. Case in point, is the sight of Herman dripping in shark blood, right out of a Hammer vampyre classic. This is one bi-polar sea although the visuals are steadily gorgeous with the great Pacific rolling out in sheets of brilliant blue. Also worth noting, is the story it tells in images of Thor shadowed in a 1940s metropolis and wanting to break free. The skyscrapers here are depicted as alien and faraway stars which could just as well be figments from The Great Gatsby's lost civilization.

"Kon-Tiki" is an unpretentious and simply told story of vivid adventure. As a Lawrence of Polynesia tale, it puts ordinary man in the realm of Tin-Tin's Herge,  laced with a bit of Benchley's  salty suspense.

Write Ian at

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Star Trek Into Darkness

The long awaited "Star Trek Into Darkness" has arrived at The Tropic in wondrous  3D. Modern maestro J.J. Abrams again takes directorial control in this sequel to his 2009 adventure featuring the beloved crew of The Enterprise as young men.

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto revisit their iconic roles as Capt. James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock, respectively, and in this outing they face a villain as impenetrable as night itself. Benedict Cumberbatch (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) co-stars as the legendary antagonist Khan, who is seen in previous Star Trek outings in film and Tv by Ricardo Montalban.

Here, Khan's incarnation is profoundly opaque and Luciferic, with malevolent echoes of Loki's "Thor" , Milton's Paradise Lost and the evil historical efforts of eugenics.

Most of the laughs are provided by the comic Simon Pegg as Scotty and Karl Urban as Dr. "Bones" McCoy. McCoy is just as no-nonsense as you remember and Scotty is delightfully nervous and fretful with his usual quips like "I'm doing the best I can Sir! The ship has no power! The radiation will kill us all!"

The eye-catching Zoe Saldana appears once more as Lieutenant Uhura and she is all the more smoldering, efficient and forever transfixing.

The fun in these two films is the narrative, the process of watching these characters grow and change and the action never stops.

Chris Pine is caring yet rakish, a ladies man with moral streak. We can see the shadow of Shatner within him and he once again makes Tiberius proud. Zachary Quinto also gives an entertaining interpretation as the lovable young Vulcan who is oddly unemotional as his species dictates. There are some semi-sweet Vulcan sparks here and if that appears an illogical fantasy, keep in mind that Spock is half human.

"Into Darkness" is a rolling adventure with the intensity of a graphic novel and the crisp 3D effects, although potent, never overcome the story with soaring fires or falling space-junk. There  are leaps of action, zippy one liners (which playfully pay homage to Trekkie camp) romantic tension and philosophic dilemmas. There is something for everyone here---including Leonard Nimoy as a reverent Spock and a classic tribble---and you need not be a Star Trek aficionado to enjoy this latest foray into The Starfleet Command and let us hope there is another chapter at Warp Factor 5, exploring more limits.

Write Ian at

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Week of June 14 to June 20 (Rhoades)

Spanning Time With Four Tropic Movies

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

From the Jazz Age to the Future, this week’s films at the Tropic Cinema cover an amazing span of time.
Baz Luhrmann’s over-the-top telling of “The Great Gatsby” captures the opulence of the Roarin’ Twenties while at the same time unfolding F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tragic love story. Jay Gatsby (brilliantly played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is a self-made man who throws lavish parties at his Long Island mansion in hopes of luring his lost love (Daisy Buchanan as embodied by British actress Carey Mulligan) back into his arms. Witness to these love-gone-awry events is Daisy’s cousin (Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway). Infidelity, unbridled wealth, fast cars, and an effort to recapture the past mesh together to make this a must-see film. Some literary authorities find it spot-on, while others think it misses the mark. You decide after accepting this invitation to Gatsby’s party. ABC News says, “When you throw in the extravagant sets, costumes and visual effects, it’s as if you’re watching a moving painting. New York in the 1920s could not look any more beautiful.” And Detroit News opines that it’s “a cool movie, in both the positive and negative sense.”
At the other page of the calendar is “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the latest voyage of the starship Enterprise -- boldly going where no one has gone before. Here, Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and his first officer Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) take on the wrath of Kahn as they chase down a renegade Starfleet officer who killed Kirk’s old mentor. You’ll find this second J.J. Abrams trek worth the journey, with all the familiarity of Gene Roddenberry’s original, plus an uncredited guest appearance by Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) and new CGI effects that move at warp speed. The Quad City Times notes, “Even old-school Trekkers will enjoy this voyage.” And the Wall Street Journal says, “While the action is often electric, it’s the relationships that matter.”
Closer to our time frame is “Tiger Eyes,” the bittersweet movie based on a favorite Judy Blume young adult novel. As directed by her son Lawrence, you will be touched by the story of a teenage girl dislocated from New Jersey to New Mexico after the death of her father. Willa Holland is engaging as the eponymous Tiger Eyes and Tatanka Means shows star quality as Wolf. Especially moving is the last screen appearance of Tatanka’s real-life father, Native American actor and activist Russell Means. The Chicago Tribune describes it as “a gentle, honest and shrewdly realized film ... worth seeking out.” The Dallas Morning News concludes, “The story, adapted by Blume with her son, director Lawrence Blume, seems as fresh, painful and poignant as when she wrote it.”
And new to Tropic screens is “Kon-Tiki,” the dramatization of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 expedition on which he sailed from Peru to the Tuamotu Islands on a flimsy raft to prove that primitive people could have crossed the Pacific. A Ryan Gosling lookalike, Pål Sverre Hagen is convincing as Heyerdahl in this beautifully filmed sea adventure. The Philadelphia Inquirer described it as “a widescreen man-against-nature epic, beautifully shot and boasting seamless, stunning visual effects.” And the Austin Chronicle called it “absorbing and often lyrical.”
Yes, movies are the ultimate time machine.

Kon-Tiki (Rhoades)

“Kon-Tiki” Sets
Sail at the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl believed that it was possible that ancient cultures populated the world by making long sea voyages. To prove his theory, he built a primitive raft and set sail in 1947 on a 4,948-mile journey from Peru to the Tuamotu Islands in the Pacific.
Christened the Kon-Tiki (after the Inca god of sun and storms), this pae-pae raft was constructed of balsa wood and other native materials. Its design was based on old drawings of Inca boats.
Heyerdahl and his five crewmen (plus a macaw named Lorita) made the journey in 101 days. The expedition demonstrated that pre-Columbian contact between South America and Polynesia was indeed possible.
Afraid of water since childhood, Heyerdahl faced many near-death experiences -- including smashing up his raft on the reef that surrounds the Tuamotu Islands and nearly drowning.
This is the stuff that spawns great adventure stories.
And write about it Thor Heyerdahl did, in “The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas.” A documentary film of the expedition, titled “Kon-Tiki,” won an Academy Award in 1951.
Now we have a new film, a dramatization of Heyerdahl’s great sea voyage -- also called “Kon-Tiki.” It was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards.
“Kon-Tiki” is currently sailing across the screens at the Tropic Cinema.
Norwegian actor Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen (“Max Manus: Man of War”) stars as Heyerdahl. A Ryan Gosling lookalike, he says he was impressed with Heyerdahl’s complex personality. “He was a believer,” says Hagen. “He believed so strongly that he would actually go out into the world and do the thing he believed in.”
Like sailing nearly halfway across the Pacific in a flimsy raft.
Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg decided to shoot the ocean scenes on the open sea rather than on a set. The Hollywood Reporter noted the irony when it wrote, “This retelling of a bare-bones enterprise by six men took a crew of hundreds…” But it admitted, “the results are nothing if not polished, with handsome period detail and visual effects that are convincing, if sometimes ostentatious.”
Some film critics have complained “Kon-Tiki” could have used “a bit more (shark-attracting) blood in the water” and groused about its “by-the-book plotting.” Varity, on the other hand, observed that “some may take issue with the artistic license the filmmakers took in dramatizing some of the characters and events of the voyage.”
Can’t have it both ways.
We think Rønning and Sandberg struck a good balance, delivering a visually beautiful retelling of this epic adventure. Others agree. It won the audience award at the 45th Norwegian International Film Festival.
Having proved their mettle on the high seas, Rønning and Sandberg are scheduled to direct the fifth installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the blockbuster franchise starring Johnny Depp as the rapscallion Captain Jack Sparrow.
As for Thor Heyerdahl’s scientific experiment, he felt his expedition helped prove that Polynesia was settled from South America. But even today most archeologists still insist that the migration went from west to east.

Star Trek Into Darkness (Rhoades)

“Star Trek” Beams
Down Once Again

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Back in my day at Marvel Comics, we had a license with Paramount to publish “Star Trek” comic books. But they were a pain to produce because the actors had likeness approval. Patrick Steward was particularly difficult, first saying the drawings made his head too round, then too pointy.
I’d been a fan of Gene Roddenberry’s creation since the days of William Shatner and Leonard Nemoy. I’d dealt with Stewart’s capriciousness. And I’d had coffee with Avery Brooks to discuss a movie project.
However, I admit I faced the 2009 reboot by J.J. Abrams with trepidation. How could he hope to replace Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock with a couple of then-newcomers (Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto)?
But he pulled it off.
That’s why I was looking forward to the new Abrams sequel, “Star Trek Into Darkness.” And not disappointed.
You can catch a warp-speed ride at the Tropic Cinema.
In this one, the youthful Captain Kirk (Pine) gets demoted to First Officer for breaking the Prime Directive, which puts him in London to ward off an attack on Starfleet headquarters by a rogue agent known as Harrison (played by Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch, who starred as the great detective in BBC’s “Sherlock”). Question is, who is this villainous guy Harrison and what does he want?
All the crew is there: Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), Bones (Karl Urban), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Along with Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), and Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy).
“We wanted to approach this movie not as a sequel, but as a stand-alone so you never had to see the first film that we did or the original series,” says Abrams.
A new series of comic books foreshadowing "Into Darkness" were released (now published by IDW). But spoilers have been minimal. You’ll have to see the movie to figure out the agenda of the enigmatic Harrison.
We wanted to make this movie, without question, a bigger movie,” says Abrams. “A more emotional movie, more action and more intensity.”
Spoiler alert: Yes, Captain Kirk dies of radiation poisoning. Because “Star Trek Into Darkness” is really about the Wrath of Khan.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Week of June 7 to June 14 (Rhoades)

From Judy Blume to Gatsby, The Iceman to Simon Killer, Renoir to Mud --
You’ll find heartbreak and triumph at the Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Key West’s Judy Blume is debuting her new movie “Tiger Eyes” at the Tropic Cinema this week. It’s one of 20 to 50 select theaters across America getting the film based on her bestselling book.
Directed by her son Lawrence Blume, “Tiger Eyes” tells the story of a teenage girl who loses her father and moves with her mother to New Mexico, starting over under the watchful eyes of the relatives who take them in.”
The film stars former teen model Willa Holland, with key roles filled by Native American activist Russell Means and his son Tatanka.
“Being a part of the making of ‘Tiger Eyes’ was one of the most exciting times of my life,” Judy says. “directors don’t usually invite their screenwriters or writers … to be on the set all day every day, let alone their mothers. I thank Larry for this beautiful gift -- not only for the movie, which was his vision from the start, but for the chance to work together.”
The result is memorable, a moving tale of loss, a family dislocated, and finding oneself. Village Voice says it “stands as a respectable first cinematic adaptation of a Judy Blume novel.” And film blogger Cole Smithey promises “there won't be a dry-eyed audience member.”
Also new to the Tropic is “Room 237,” a documentary that examines nine theories about the hidden meanings behind Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” that tale of madness in a snowbound hotel based on the Stephen King bestseller. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune calls it “a wry examination of the crackpot mind at work.”
And even more unsettling is “Simon Killer,” a dark portrait of a young man (Brady Corbet) who flies to Paris to get over a bad breakup, only to be sucked into a dangerous new relationship with a needy hooker (Mati Diop). The Los Angeles Times pronounces it “brutally raw and difficult watching.” Total Film says it has “a quiet, creeping sense of menace.”
For those looking for even more chills, you can still catch “The Iceman,” Michael Shannon’s portrait of a hired killer who puts his victims on ice to confuse the police as to time of death. Chris Evans plays his accomplice, Mr. Freezy. Philadelphia Inquirer calls it “a true-crime thriller directed with grit, gristle and punchy energy.” And the Tri-City Herald terms it “riveting.”
Still playing at the Tropic is “Renoir,” a look at the French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (played by Michel Bouquet) near the end of his days. And you’ll meet his filmmaker son Jean (Vincent Rottiers). The two are linked here by their muse, a model named Andree Heuschling (Christa Theret). The Arizona Republic says “One would expect a film about French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir to look beautiful, to be shot in warm, sumptuous colors. And one would not be disappointed.”
You still have a chance to see “Mud,” that modern-day Huck Finn homage, with Matthew McConaughey as the titular Mud, a fugitive on the run. Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland breathe life into the story as the two boys who stumble upon him hiding out on a small Mississippi island. UTV calls it “Huckleberry Finn meets Stand By Me.” And Aisle Seat says it’s “beautifully acted, intellectually engaging, and dramatically satisfying.”
And topping everything off with great spectacle is “The Great Gatsby,” Baz Luhrmann’s razzle-dazzle 3-D nod to the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel about a man who has everything and nothing. Leonardo DiCaprio stands out as the self-made Jay Gatsby, trying to capture the past with tragic results. Carey Mulligan shines as his lost love Daisy and Tobey Maguire serves as the narrator. The Globe and Mail says it’s “a terrific adaptation that succeeds not only as a work of cinema but also, wonderfully, as proof of the novel's greatness.” But The Standard counters, “Like Gatsby himself, it comes so close to achieving its dream, only to fall agonizingly and frustratingly short.” Richard Roper reassures us that it’s “the best attempt yet to capture the essence of the novel.”
Judy Blume to Gatsby, The Iceman to Simon Killer, Renoir to Mud -- there lot to discover this week at the Tropic.

Room 237 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Room 237

On the patterned surface of things, "Room 237," a documentary  about the supposed symbolism found in "The Shining" (1980) might seem much ado about some  postmodern poppycock, or at the very least needless nitpicking from  a group of far out and freaky Kubrick-heads who find symbolism in the brand and color of Jack Torrance's typewriter.

That it is.

Even so, the documentary provokes and makes for some interesting viewing, despite the theories being a bit far fetched and unsubstantiated.

Rodney Ascher directs ABC news correspondent Bill Blakemore, Jay Weidner and others in a monologue that covers a wide range of The Shining's "hidden" meanings from Native American genocide, and The Holocaust to the "moon landing hoax." More interesting from my subjective view, is the hypothesis that Kubrick was bored by his virtuosic legacy from "Clockwork Orange" to "Barry Lyndon" and that he yearned to find new ideas. "Room 237" ultimately offers that Kubrick used the work of Stephen King as a cover to assert his personal agenda regarding government control, subliminal imagery and the failure of human communication to unite the world.

Bill Blakemore proposes that "The Shining" is a thinly veiled social commentary on the massacre and domination of the Native Americans. He points out the wardrobe of the Torrance Family as well as the frequent use of Calumet Baking Powder in the film with an iconic Indian Chief logo. Geoffrey Cocks asserts that the film is full of Holocaust imagery and the universal guilt we all share. As exhibit A, he presents Torrance's typewriter, an Adler, a German brand. He also points out Mr. Torrance's shirt which has an eagle on it. If that is not enough, there is also the repeated use of the number 42, as in 1942, the year that the nazis made their extermination plan to fruition.  Juli Kearns,  in one of the more intriguing parts of the film, believes that The Overlook Hotel used in the film is essentially an unending trap which is impossible to spatially define or fix on a floor plan. Jay Weidner cites the ubiquity of moon icons throughout the film as evidence that Kubrick was hired by the government to shoot a fake moon landing, but I have to say that of all the theories presented, this one appears the most outrageous. John Fell Ryan, poetically suggests, finally, that Kubrick intended for the film to be seen projected backwards. I will admit that this makes for some very striking imagery with Jack Nicholson seen as a murdering clown ala John Wayne Gacy as well as Nicholson transforming into Hitler at Shining's end.

The most entertaining segment for me though, is the assumption that Kubrick had a personal vendetta against Stephen King who is represented in this documentary as a red Volkswagen. In one shot, the car is smashed under a semi. This concept is easy to entertain, given the much reported story that the author hated the adaptation from the start, nixing Nicholson as being too crazy and typecast and also saying that Kubrick was too intellectual in his treatment.

My one bite about this film is that it is quite hard to follow. The theorists are never shown on camera and they all speak at once without pause (or so it appears). This makes the voiceover very confusing and try as I might, I couldn't easily tell just who said what about a certain aspect. All ideas seemed to mash  and mix into a somewhat soapy soup.

But like it or hate it, "Room 237" has some arresting proposals and offers plenty of blood for thought.

Write Ian at

Simon Killer (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian  Brockway

Simon Killer

"Simon Killer" as the title might suggest, is an engagingly abstract character study on a sociopath drifter, from director Antonio Campos (Martha Marcy May Marlene). The story unfolds in layers, a bit like a puzzle and not everything is spelled out. Bars of light combine with objects in a room to provide clues (perhaps) as to what could be or might have been, all pertaining to the gloomy inner workings of Simon, a young and square-jawed college kid on leave. The handsome Brady Corbet (Funny Games, Melancholia) stars as Simon, a stoop-shouldered hound dog of a young man who is deflated by a recent breakup.

Simon wanders the streets of Paris aimlessly at night. Back at a friend's  house, he watches Internet porn while composing (possibly imaginary) emails to his ex-girlfriend back in the states which start out as superficially cheery but soon become listless and bitter.

One night, he has an angry encounter with a pedestrian, but is luckily diverted by a young girl Marianne (Constance Rousseau). She humors the stuttering young man, but while displaying some pushy interest, Simon is rebuffed.

As he walks on, he is badgered by hawkers who advertise bordellos. He passively agrees to sit with the demure and intoxicating Noura (Mati Diop). Noura engages Simon in a transaction but he can only be stimulated by looking away from Noura and staring at her backside.

Despite his aversion to eye contact, Noura becomes intrigued by the wounded and needy young American. But all is not crème fraîche and croissants.

Simon finds himself moaning like a beaten animal at times, prone to sudden rages. He marches into the street and attacks without warning.

There are no sirens, police or blood on cobblestones, and we are left to ponder the details of the attacks on our own.  At each conclusion, Simon is bruised and shaken as if gripped by fever.

Simon moves in Noura's apartment and she falls in love with the nonchalant blondie, who urges her to join him on a plan to extort money from her clients.

Simon then takes to the dark streets with more seething aggression. One night he spies Marianne and makes a pass at her. He tells her that he is is successful graduate with a published dissertation on the body's relationship between the brain and the eye.

Not your usual come-on line.

The interesting aspects of "Simon Killer" is that it does not force feed the plot or its character motivations. Why is Simon angry? What does he care about? How does he really feel about his mom, or others around him? We really don't know. But instead of being a kill joy, the film leaves you responsible to make up your own dénouement.

More compelling still is the film's use of   color and music all highlighting the errors of communication and the chaos of festivity.

Although decidedly downbeat in tone, "Simon Killer" captures the eerie digital  quality of Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience", while also echoing some of the European melancholy found in  Antonioni's "The Passenger"  (1975).

As the camera pulls in on Simon's slash of a mouth and his hooded eyebrows as he dismisses his mother and girlfriend, one might imagine a certain Highsmithic ne'er do well, weaving his suspicious, yet spontaneous way to a Mediterranean port forever unknown.

Write Ian at

Tiger Eyes Interview (Rhoades)

“Tiger Eyes” -- On the Road With Judy Blume and Son

Interview by Shirrel Rhoades

Lawrence Blume was in Los Angeles promoting his new movie, “Tiger Eyes.” It’s based on one of his mom’s novels, so she was making the rounds with him. They had just done Chelsea Handler’s show, so they were both pumped. Problem was, there were many other promotional appearances scheduled and Judy Blume had just come down with laryngitis, barely able to squeak.
Nonetheless, this familial duo was on a roll, despite the voice problem (“I sometimes get it from traveling on planes,” Judy later told me, when speech returned.)
So in the short term, the curly-haired fortysomething director was left to chatting on his own with the media. He called me to say Judy would be in touch once her voice returned.
“Tiger Eyes” has just opened at the Tropic Cinema in Key West, along with 20 to 50 select theaters across America. Judy Blume and her husband George Cooper have a home here, while Larry generally works out of a cabin on Martha’s Vineyard.
Larry and I had first met for coffee at a restaurant in New York’s Chelsea district a little over ten years ago, when his film “Martin & Orloff” had been released. Starring members of the Upright Citizens Brigade, it had earned him the accolade as one of the “Ten Rising Stars of Comedy” from Hollywood Reporter.
Now, here he is, director of a major motion picture based on one of his mother’s bestselling books. A serious story about a girl who losses her dad and moves with her mother to New Mexico.
“It has always been a favorite of mine,” he says. “I read it while in high school. It just resonated with me. I thought it was the story of my life, moving from New Jersey to New Mexico.”
Delacorte Press has reissued the book as a movie tie-in, adding a 16-page special section called “Behind the Scenes With Judy.” In it, she tells the story:
“The New Mexico landscape plays an important part in the story. We needed the exotic beauty of the cliffs, caves and canyons where Davey meets Wolf. My family lived in New Mexico full-time from 1976 to 1983, two years in Los Alamos and the rest in Santa Fe, where I wrote the book. Larry has always had an emotional connection to Davey -- like her, he came to New Mexico after a loss (my divorce from his dad) and had to make a life in a place very different from New Jersey. He was eighteen when ‘Tiger Eyes’ was published. Even as he left for college, he knew that someday he would make this movie.”
Was the book actually based on her son’s dislocation? “You ask any fiction writer, sometimes we don’t know where that story comes from. It’s coming from that other place,” she told me a few days later, her voice somewhat restored. “Larry does say this now. I’d never ever heard this till now. Maybe like me he has now worked on this and now sees himself as the child uprooted, the disillusion of the family as he knew it. He has found something of himself in it.”
Judy had another source in mind. “I had an idea in my head. I knew a family where a beloved young father died leaving his wife and children. This family had well-meaning relatives in another place and went to stay with the well-meaning relatives. I’m sure it became overbearing … like in the book.”
She pauses. “That’s what I thought I was writing about. But when I saw the movie, I realized it had been about something else -- dealing with my own father’s death.”
“I’d never written about my father’s death. I was a very young unworldly 21-year-old. And on a sunny Sunday in July my father at a very happy time died. I’d just told him I was getting married. My father was very excited, causing the car to swerve. When we got home, he laid down on the sofa and he never got up. I was kneeling beside him, holding his hand. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘What lousy timing…’ and died.
“I didn’t get a chance to grieve. A Jewish wedding has to go on no matter what and there I was, the bride starting a new life and pretending to be happy and feeling guilty about everything.
“It wasn’t until I saw the movie that it hit me. It was cathartic to write the book even if I was in denial -- but that’s how writing is.”
She takes a deep breath, composes herself. “I like novels that illuminate life maybe in ways that I haven’t thought about. There’s always something I find in a good novel or in a good movie, there’s always something there I didn’t expect.”
She adds, “My characters surprise me every day. That’s the fun part of writing. My brother will say I know that character, I know where you got Uncle Walter … and in fact Uncle Walter was totally someone I invented.”
People identify with characters in books. And in movies. “In Palm Beach this guy was in the first row at the film festival when we showed ‘Tiger Eyes.’ After the movie he stood up and said, ‘I’m an octogenarian, not a teenage girl. But this movie is for me, it’s my movie.’ He was saying, ‘I understand the pain of loss, I understand that.’”
Judy Blume is known for her books about the angst of growing up. At 75, she’d probably tell you she’s still growing up.
More than 85 million copies of her 28 books have been sold throughout the world. She has won more than ninety literary awards, including the National Book Foundation Medal and a Library of Congress Living Legends Award.
She once said, “When I was growing up, I dreamed about becoming a cowgirl, a detective, a spy, a great actress, or a ballerina. Not a dentist, like my father, or a homemaker, like my mother -- and certainly not a writer, although I always loved to read. I didn’t know anything about writers. It never occurred to me they were regular people and that I could grow up to become one, even though I loved to make up stories inside my head.”
The closest to an autobiographical character in any of Judy Blume’s novels is found in “Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself.” Judy offers a smile. “Sally is very much the kind of kid I was,” she says.
Larry laughs when people assume it was simple for him to make a movie based on his famous mother’s book. “It took thirty years to fall into my lap,” he says.
About ten years ago Judy decided it was time to make some movies of her books. But a Disney deal went nowhere. Other ideas fell through. “We were sort of primed to do something,” says Larry.
He had a colleague who knew some people in London who wanted to do a book-to-film project. He gave them a copy of “Tiger Eyes.” As he tells the story, “They read it on the plane back to England and phoned us when they landed and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Judy and Larry spent 6 or 7 months working on a script. They then had a 23-day shoot. “It was very efficient,” Larry says. “There was little waste. Only three scenes didn’t make it into the film.”
Everyone asks what it was like working with his mother? He shakes his head at the question. “In strange way we got along better as collaborators than we do as mother and son. Making a film is easier than spending two weeks in the same house sharing the kitchen.”
Then he turns serious. “The directing job is a little lonely sometimes. It was great to have Judy next to me and be able to turn to her after a take and ask how she thought it went? After all, nobody knows the material better than her.”
Turns out, this wasn’t the first film project they have done together. Two decades ago, the two of them collaborated on an ABC Weekend Special, an animated version of her book “Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great.”
“It was a little chaotic,” Larry recalls the experience. “I was just out of school. An editor saved me. In the end we were happy with that project.”
Judy agrees. “That was hard. I had never been on a movie set. I think we were not ready, not mature enough.”
She describes “Tiger Eyes” as a great experience. “Much of the credit goes to the crew,” she says. “They and the cast were so great.”
She offers a hands-clapping applause. “Our incredible Willa Holland who played Davey, she is the heart and soul of our movie. Every scene Willa has to carry, given the story’s personal viewpoint.”
Despite only three days allotted for casting, Larry knew Willa was the one he wanted to work with. “I had no idea until I saw her on the screen,” says Judy. “But Larry knew. And he was right.”
Another great casting coup came with Native American activist and actor Russell Means and his son Tatanka. “I love Tatanka. He has the makings of a star. And I loved watching father and son working together as real people.” She could have been talking about herself and Larry.
There was sadness and irony too. “Russell got sick right after the filming,” she says. “And there he was playing a dying father. Then right when we were showing the movie to cast and crew, he died the next day. We were stunned.”
Would mother and son work together again? “I certainly hope we get to do another one,” says Larry. But he’ll do other projects in between. “I don’t want to just be known as the guy who does Judy Blume movies,” he smiles.
But if he could pick one of Judy’s movies to do next it would be “Summer Sisters.” “I’m the right guy to do it,” he says, a director with an inside track to understanding the book. Other projects on his list includes a psychosexual thriller and a romantic comedy.
Meanwhile, the two professionals are stumping their new film. “It’s a small release,” says Larry. “But we’re getting a ton of wonderful press, doing a lot of interviews.”
Judy Blume nods. “If I had written a new book I’d never get this much coverage,” she tells me excitedly.
It’s been a good couple of years for Judy Blume -- surviving a cancer scare, collaborating with her son, releasing a new movie, and having another book nearing completion.
“I have been the luckiest of writers,” she says. “And the luckiest of mothers.”

# # #

Room 237 (Rhoades)

What Is Hiding
In “Room 237”?

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Of all the rooms in the Overlook Hotel, Jack Torrance’s young son Danny is warned to stay away from No. 237. Why?
All you horror fans out there know we’re talking about Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” the 1980 make-you-pee-in-your-pants frightfest based on Stephen King’s bestselling book.
Aside from those folks who wear tin-foil hats and talk about the fake moon landing, there are a number of other conspiracy theorists who see secret messages in books and movies. Many of them study Kubrick’s “The Shining,” looking for concealed truths. Nine of these weird interpretations are examined in a new documentary called (you guessed it) “Room 237.”
The late Stanley Kubrick gave us such masterpieces as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Spartacus,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “Lolita,” and “A Clockwork Orange.” “The Shining” was his redheaded stepchild, earning him only a Razzie nomination as Worst Director.
It’s no secret that author Stephen King hated the movie. He felt his novel’s main themes (the disintegration of the family, the dangers of alcoholism) were largely ignored by Kubrick. The two men had vastly different interpretations. As King wrote, “Kubrick just couldn’t grasp the sheer inhuman evil of The Overlook Hotel. So he looked, instead, for evil in the characters and made the film into a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones.”
He described Kubrick as “a man who thinks too much and feels too little.” King has been described as having the opposite problem.
While “The Shining” opened to mixed reviews, it has since grown in cult status. “Just as the ghostly apparitions of the film’s fictional Overlook Hotel would play tricks on the mind of poor Jack Torrance, so too has the passage of time changed the perception of ‘The Shining’ itself. Many of the same reviewers who lambasted the film for ‘not being scary’ enough back in 1980 now rank it among the most effective horror films ever made,” writes horror film critic Peter Bracke.
“The Shining” is now considered “an enigmatic and literally labyrinthine masterwork that contains multitudes (of hidden meanings).”
There are many different theories about its coded messages, ranging from a reworking of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, a commentary about the genocide of Native Americans, an examination of the Holocaust, a reference to sexual demonology, even an apology for that moon landing some claim Kubrick helped NASA fake.
Go figure. I’ve seen the film dozens of times and didn’t get any of that.
Now cinematic documentarian Rodney Ascher comes along to help me sort it out. While Ascher doesn’t take sides, he does carefully lay out nine different theories about Kubrick’s hidden meanings within “The Shining.” And he uses an amazing amount of footage from the original movie to make each theory’s points.
“My personal take on it is, for one, I don’t think its nearly as visionary as any one of these folks have found,” says Ascher. “I just see it as sort of a story about juggling the responsibilities of your career and family and as cautionary tale of what may happen if you make the wrong choice.”
That aside, if you’re a fan of “The Shining,” you’ll want to see this illuminating film that’s currently spooking moviegoers at the Tropic Cinema.
Other films occasionally have attracted decoders who examine their supposed “symbolic or subterranean meanings,” among them “Donny Darko,” “Mulholland Drive,” “Inception,” and “Prometheus.” However, “The Shining” stands out, inspiring this cinematic examination found in “Room 237,” one that would impress a real-life Robert Langdon.

Simon Killer (Rhoades)

Corbet’s Portrayal
Of “Simon Killer”
Leaves Us Unsettled

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

If you were an actor looking for someone to pattern a creepy character on, where would you turn? Literature? Real people you’ve heard about? Brady Corbet, star of the unsettling film “Simon Killer,” looked at both.
He plays Simon, an odd young man who goes off to Paris to clear his head after a bad breakup. As it turns out, Simon’s is not a good head to be inside of. He’s aloof, cold, and unfeeling, a pathological liar. We catch him at it. We have trouble identifying with the character because we don’t trust him to be honest with us.
Simon goes to a sex club, where he meets a prostitute named Victoria. Inexplicably, she is attracted to him and they move in together. She tells him everything about her past -- intimate details, her miscarriage -- but he withholds details about himself. Revealing little. A distant character that we voyeuristically watch but can’t quite figure out.
Maybe we’re a little fearful of understanding him.
The camera follows Simon, always looking over his shoulder. We watch Simon having sex, but we’re distracted by the nudity, learning very little about what motivates him. He’s strange, unnerving. The kaleidoscopic use of colors is meant to convey Simon’s mental state, his “abstracted way of seeing the world around him.”
Turns out, the story’s not as important as the psychological profile. Portuguese director António Campos (“Afterschool”) sees “Simon Killer” -- currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- as a film “exploring contemporary male behavior.”
As Corbet tells it, “Simon Killer” started off as a kernel of an idea that Antonio had -- the way somebody goes from being a pathological liar to becoming a full-fledged bad person. “Some things were written, some things weren’t. We would kind of do these improv rehearsals and then transcribe whatever was working from those rehearsals onto the page.”
How did Brady Corbet (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”) do it, play this bleak, hollow antihero called Simon?
“I treated each scene like its own narrative because I think his lies are true for him,” the actor confesses.
Some moviegoers have compared the character to Tom Ripley, the amoral psychopath in Patricia Highsmith’s literary thrillers.
However, Corbet points in another direction. “We never discussed Tom Ripley,” he says. “The story was very much inspired by Georges Simenon’s novels which were stories that would frequently chronicle the downward spiral of its male protagonists into a pit of urban decay. We were interested in subverting Noir genre expectations, as well as the expectations of the coming-of-age story.”
The real-life model? “We discussed Joran van der Sloot a great deal in pre-production,” admits Corbet. “He was the only point-of-reference for us.”
Van der Sloot is the 26-year-old Dutch playboy accused of killing a young woman in Aruba and another in Peru.
The script of “Simon Killer” starts out with a Jordan Van Der Sloot quote:  “If I had to describe myself as an animal, it would be a snake. However I want to be a lion and I lion I will be, one day."
“I think that the character is physiologically disposed to behave in the way that he does,” observes Corbet. “I also think that his own narcissism bars him from making intelligent choices.”
In short, it’s a movie about inner demons.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tiger Eyes (Brockway)

Tiger Eyes

A film based on favorite Key West author Judy Blume's controversial novel "Tiger Eyes" has arrived at The Tropic for a first home run. "Tiger Eyes" is especially poignant because it is directed by the author's son Lawrence Blume, while The Tropic's own George Cooper is the Executive Producer. It is a genuine holistic creation with spirit.

The film focuses on Davey, a young girl who is coping with the absence of her father.  Gossip Girl's Willa Holland does an excellent turn here showing Davey's mercurial temper. Dark haired and sly, Davey is a preternatural hawk both ethereal and feminine, that has lost her way. Together with her mother, (Amy Jo Johnson) Davey relocates to New Mexico and becomes alienated by the vast red rock fauna and florid cultures that surround her.

When she wanders alone along a burgundy sky that turns navy blue before her eyes its as if the towering rock formations have teeth.

In school, Davey meets the existential and charismatic Wolf (Tatanka Means) who is imbued with a cosmic self awareness and a quirky, deprecating manner. Wolf takes care of his ailing father who is played by Tatanka's real-life father, the iconic Native American actor and activist Russell Means.

This is Tatanka's first feature film,

Though he has more in the works and he possesses a warmth and a poetic mystique that recalls a young Johnny Depp.

"Tiger Eyes" is a sensory experience with many highs and haunts. The nimble cinematography weaves back and forth like a shapeshifter. We reach into the blue horizons of sky only to go sideways climbing the walls of an adobe house with more dark corners than Polanski's Dakota in New York City. Davie is cut off from her reticent and emotionally challenged stepfather (Forrest Fyre). who stands over her like an imposing effigy of  'The Rifleman' while the Luminaria in brown paper hover like gingerbread stars that she cannot reach  and shine to mock her.

It seems more like Halloween than Christmas in Davey's New World.

One of the highlights of "Tiger Eyes" is its stirring and immediate use of local color from the scalloped boardwalks of Atlantic City, the incarnadine plains  of Las Alamos that are as Exotic as Planet Tatooine in "Star Wars", to a Lakota ceremony that places us in the realm of the numinous and psychedelic. This is due to the bubbling cinematography by  Seamus Tierney (Liberal Arts)  that weaves a literal maze upon the eyes.

And let us not forget the legendary Russell Means who gives this spritely film a generous gravitas. In his last role, Means simmers as a benevolent volcano. Under his eyes art is life, and life is art.

History is within.

The audience will also be treated to a cameo by none other than Blume herself who flashes a knowing Pajarito smile.

"Tiger Eyes" ultimately puts us in the spectrum of a kaleidoscope. We are a prismatic fly on the wall, seeing Davey's tricolor tempests firsthand, and it makes for a satisfying push and pull on the tumble of hearts.

Write Ian at

Something in the Air (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Something in the Air

Oliver Assayas (Summer Hours) displays his usual naturalistic technique with his latest "Something in the Air" which highlights some of the protests that occurred in France during 1968.

The film has an authentic color and flavor that captures the restless time perfectly, and although the tone is understated and a bit subdued, the genuine feel of its characters make this story intriguing.

There is enough existentialism to keep your eyes spinning.

Gilles (Clement Metayer) is a high school student and aspiring painter who watches the unrest in front of his eyes. He is somewhat passive but readily agrees to participate in anarchist graffiti: blood-red As encapsulated in circles that peer from countless buildings like eyeballs of change. Gilles is silently broken over his girlfriend Laure (Carole Combs) who is a bohemian drifter attracted to dissipated men. Gilles pours himself into his art, yet inwardly feels that his actions are of no  consequence. He starts with copying Jackson Pollock and ends with Edward Gorey. He bears a striking resemblance to Bud Cort in "Harold & Maude".

One night during a graffiti  outing, Gilles  throws a bottle rocket and the small explosion puts a security guard in a coma. Suspense ensues as to whether Gilles is going to let his conscience get the best of him, or if his comrades will squeal like a rat.

"Something in the Air" possesses a bit of suspicion and paranoia, but where the film shines is in its pot haze and its active lethargy in depicting its youngsters as restless with no place to go as they are still in high school.

A few voyage to London, Italy and Spain talking of contacts with anarchist friends, yet they are still under their parents' stifling wings.

Gilles has an  argument with his status quo father who works at Pinewood Studios. Gilles takes refuge in folk parties and collective rock concerts, only half committed to the anti-capitalist cause.

And as Gilles does, all his friends follow. Laure enervates into a lavender haze of heroin and new love Christine (Lola Cretin) works at a cafe, her protests placed in second. Even his mobilizer-guru Alain (Felix Armand) gives up his capital A to pursue painting.

Gilles retreats into the world of film and daydreams of his lost love Laure, in the manner of a Trauffaut or Woody Allen ala "Stardust Memories".

The final third of the film is watery and vague, but nonetheless retains its nostalgia for youth on fire.

The message of Something in the Air is that the politics of Left and Right swing back and forth, but that the lasting essence of being is through creative mediums. Like its characters on-screen the story is somewhat on middle ground, but the action within is entertaining and accessible as a time capsule of France and the world.

Write Ian at