Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Presence of Sebastian Wesman (Brockway)

The Presence of Sebastian Wesman
By  Tropic Sprocket critic Ian Brockway

Experimental film has a long history going back to the birth of film itself from the fanciful sets of Georges Melies, the surrealism of Man  Ray, or the poetry of Maya Deren.  Without the spark of experimentation and independent film, our screens and our eyes would be anemic. With this awareness, I am happy to report that several poetic haiku by the filmmaker and composer Sebastian Wesman are being shown around Europe, Asia,  and South America. These seven films are haunting and mystical meditations on the globe, and the human footprint, be it left in celebration, ambivalence or neutral occupation.

Wesman, born in Argentina, has an indigenous feel for his subjects of earth, sky, flesh and metal. His lyrical  compositions that accompany each piece  are fluttery and winged in their own orbit. Taken together, the scores compose a sonic gestalt that create a language of birds.

  In "My Friend", Wesman's tribute to Tarkovsky, we are in the woods. A single tree is in closeup with all the textured detail of a Käthe Kollwitz woodcut. Then we watch as it impressionistically fades into rain, becoming a terrestrial abstract mist as if imagined by the painter Chuck Close. We see each drop of rain on a cellular level, transformed and digitized by an extraterrestrial computer. Set this with the transfixing voice of the Estonian poet Ellom, (along with the Pre-Raphaelite form of Executive Producer Anneli Kõressaar)  and what arises seemingly out of the air, is an organic tribute to a cinematic saint.

Next, "All the Winds" might quote Denmark to some, but Wesman's violin makes this piece a universal rhythm on the power of nature. In dark Expressionist streaks, Wesman's winds cycle with an almost Luciferic choas, sweeping and swirling within a mad Walpurgis Nacht. The images are fork-tailed and manic. There is fury in Fūjin here ( the Japanese god of the wind) as all elements mix with a wild and numinous motion.

In "The Invisibles" we are put in a white industrial corridor (which could be a mall or a subway) with an anonymous man. No one acknowledges the man who shuffles and drifts as several people pass him without a glance. As the man is surrounded and almost swallowed up by his claustrophobic space of silence and seconds, this selection recalls the nihilism of Samuel Beckett and the art of George Tooker.

"The Day After" suggests a melted and pressurized landscape where bulldozers and earth movers might spin out of order and attack random bystanders while others hurry to work with a neutral deliberateness. The train and shops struggle to carry on as usual but the sky wilts overhead while people mill about like pigeons with shell shock.

No matter what the cause, life grinds forth.

The last three films employ a sparse and minimal iconography which build to a transcendent score on the movement of nature and the static satellite of pop culture. In "The Red Bridge" we move along the red planks only to dissolve in a field of brilliant flowers ala Warhol. "The Electric Garden of Marilyn" brings us into the environment of a carnival. A  neon Ferris wheel is saturated with a fresco of Marilyn Monroe. The portrait is either a Buddhist Mandala or a Tex-Mex shrine from The Day of the Dead, depending on your point of view. The blinding lights make the famous face indistinguishable, melting it into formless runs of color.

The remaining "Elemental" describes a wind turbine as a possible metallic savior. With great arcing blades, the turbines are  avian and majestic. Are the machines our last hope or are they signs of a higher intelligence driven by winds of indifference?

Whatever the case, a Taoist vibration spins  within as it is does  with every piece in this selection, turning upon the eye  with an Orientalist delicacy and potent design.

(c) 2013 Ian Brockway
Write Ian at

Closed Circuit (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Closed Circuit

From "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, here is "Closed Circuit" a second thriller  focusing on M-I5 with all the trappings of terrorism and surveillance.  The setting is London and there has just been a truck bomb caught on closed circuit cameras. Lawyer Martin Rose (Eric Bana) is chosen to be the defense for suspect Ilkay Ergodan (Pinar Ögün).

To complicate matters with some romantic pathos, Claudia Simmons-Hough (Rebecca Hall) an old tense flame of Martin's, is also hired on the defense. According to law, the team can not share information between themselves or for that matter, be social. To handle this, the case is split into two sections with Martin handling the public questions while Claudia agrees to handle the closed sessions.

There is some apprehension as we watch the two rendezvous in secret, but the real charge is when we notice that the two are being watched by either a stealthy cabal or an infinite IMAX-eyed group of faceless screens. Eric Bana acts appropriately shadowed, his eyes drawn, his face tight. Rebecca Hall's eyes get wider and wider as she notices a book just not quite leaning the right way on her bookcase. We know what's coming through the slinky shadows and treading music, but espionage aficionados will still jump a bit.

There are some good turns given by the steady Jim Broadbent who gives the most sinister performance in the film (who is all the more creepy though his casual nonchalance) and Ciarán Hinds from the aforementioned "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy". Also good is Ergodan's crafty son played by Hasancan Cifci.

While the action is predictable and could use a dose of Hitchcockian happenstance and humor, the darkling silhouetted moments still have some  flavored creatine left over from John Le Carre.

The best moments of "Closed Circuit" remain when we are unsure just who is pursuing whom and the buildings are depicted as glassy domes of  passivity. Under the march of shoes, ties and square slate faces, only the camera shows life, as it records for sterile satellites. A sense of mystery combined with an unending tread of life is always more interesting than identifying the sneaky.

Write Ian at

Week of August 30 to September 5 (Rhoades)

At the Tropic Cinema You Can Watch Government Watching You
In “Closed Circuit”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever feel like someone is watching you? They are. Closed circuit TV cameras monitor us in department stores, casinos, thruway toll plazas, street corners, etc.

Recently we saw how police used footage from closed circuit cameras to track the Boston bombers carrying out their nefarious task. So the theme in “Closed Circuit,” the new thriller from John Crowley (“A Boy”), has a ring of truth.

Here a British defense attorney (Eric Bana) defending an accused terrorist (Denis Moschitto) with an assist from a special advocate who happens to be his ex-lover (Rebecca Hall) uncovers a sinister government plot that puts them all in danger. Paranoia at its most delicious. USA Today calls it “intelligent, well-told, and deftly acted.” Spirituality and Practices describes it as “A riveting thriller that reveals the widespread use of surveillance technology in the war on terrorism.”

Also new to Tropic screens is “”The Spectacular Now,” a teen love story from director James Ponsoldt (“Smashed”). In it, a senior high school student named Sutter (Miles Teller) falls for Aimee (Shailene Woodley), an unlikely candidate for his sexual ambitions. Main thing you need to know is that this script was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, the duo who gave us “(500) Days of Summer.” The Minneapolis Star Tribune terms it “the sweetest, saddest, most humane movie I’ve seen all year.” And the Miami Herald says, “It makes you laugh, then it breaks your heart.”

Still playing at the Tropic is Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” starring Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins as a pair of adopted sisters who take very different paths in life only to wind up at the same spot. Jasmine (a brilliant portrayal by Blanchett) is destitute after her husband (Alec Baldwin) goes to prison for a real estate Ponzi scheme and is forced to move in with her sister Ginger (Hawkins). Remember, this is a film by the Woodman, so expect to be treated to a look at life’s ironies. Kansas City Star comments that “Allen’s 45th feature movie as writer/director is quietly mesmerizing.” says, “Cate Blanchett gives a masterful performance....” And Chicago Reader opines, “Cate Blanchett is exceptional in the lead, and there are strong supporting turns from Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, and (in a surprise dramatic turn) Andrew Dice Clay.”

If you just want some shoot-em-up action with a comic twist, you can still catch “2 Guns,” with Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg as two undercover agents thrown together without knowing each other’s identity. ViewLondon calls it a “pleasingly old fashioned buddy cop thriller enlivened by a witty script and engaging chemistry between Wahlberg and Washington.” Richard Roeper says it’s “beyond ridiculous but always entertaining.”

“Elysium” is the sci-fi movie about a gated community that’s up in the sky which is about to be crashed by an earthbound warrior with a mechanically enhanced exoskeleton (Matt Damon). American Profile calls it “a ripping, gripping fable about two worlds in a dreary future that doesn't seem as far out of synch with today, or as far away, as we might like to think.” And says “As he did with ‘District 9,’ South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp grounds this sci-fi thriller in present-day society, telling a story that resonates with a strong political kick.”

Up in space or down to earth, even in the electronic circuits of surveillance cameras, the Tropic has a movie for you.

Elysium (Rhoades)

Is “Elysium”
Science Fiction Or Is It Now?

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You’ve been reading in the papers these days about the disappearance of the middle class. Well, by 2154 the world will consist of only two classes: the have’s and have not’s.

That’s the premise of “Elysium,” the new science fiction film playing at the Tropic cinema.

According to the prescient storyline, earth has been decimated into a giant rubble heap with the sick and disenfranchised lower classes left to forage through the garbage and if they’re lucky work in the factories that make weapons and robots for the rich.

The wealthy, of course, have fled Earth, now residing on a vast pinwheel space station that looks like a manicured suburban neighborhood of McMansions, the ultimate gated community. I suspect it’s not coincidental that viewed from Earth the space station looks like a giant Mercedes Benz emblem.

The security of the space station -- known as Elysium, the Greek conception of an After Life inhabited by those chosen by the gods -- is overseen by Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jody Foster, at her officious best in a Giorgio Armani suit).

Down on Earth is Max (Matt Damon with a shaved head), an ex-thief who gets a lethal dose of radiation at the Armadyne factory and must get into Elysium for treatment or die in five days.

You see, up on the space station they have bio-med machines that look like a cross between a tanning bed and a cat scan that can re-atomize you, curing what ails you.

Max’s childhood girlfriend Frey (Alice Braga) wants to get there too, since she has a daughter (Emma Tremblay) with leukemia.

Max turns to Spider (Wagner Moura), an earthbound crime lord, to help him reach Elysium. This involves hijacking the info inside the head of Armadyne’s CEO (William Fichtner). So Spider installs a handy little computer on the back of Max’s head and fits him up with a mechanical exoskeleton that makes him as strong as one of Armadyne’s robots.

Standing in Max’s way is Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a lethal off-the-books agent of Secretary of Defense Delacourt. The George Zimmerman of our story.

This cautionary tale was written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, the South African filmmaker who gave us the sci-fi apartheid allegory, “District 9.” You’ll recall that his boyhood pal Sharlto Copley also starred in that Oscar-nominated film.

“Making this film was as enjoyable as making ‘District 9,’ says Blomkamp. “Maybe fractionally more
enjoyable because politically it was more stable. It wasn’t scary. Basically, I had an easy time because the performances are just really good.”

The Earthbound scenes were filmed in a dump on the outskirts of Mexico City, while many of the Elysium scenes were shot in the wealthy Huixquilucan de Degollado suburbs of Mexico City.

“The film definitely has elements of the discrepancy in wealth that seems to be a widening gap,” says the director. “But, hopefully it is a film where that is woven into the tapestry of the story, in a way that feels like an organic thrill ride.”

Is this how Blomkamp sees Earth 140 years in the future? “No, no, no,” he says. “This isn’t science fiction. This is today. This is now.”

Blue Jasmine - More thoughts (Rhoades)

More Thoughts on “Blue Jasmine”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Many film critics (me included) have written about Woody Allen’s new film “Blue Jasmine” being an homage to the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” But here’s my alternate theory: It’s about Darwinism.

In “Blue Jasmine” -- still playing at the Tropic Cinema -- we have two adopted sisters, each with different biological parents. Jasmine was preferred by the new parents because she had “better genes.” Now grown women, the two ersatz siblings have turned out quite different.

Jasmine (née Jeanette) married a rich financier; throws the best parties in New York; owns a lavish house in the Hamptons; and enjoys a life of opulence. On the other hand, her sister Ginger married and divorced a rough-around-the-edges construction worker; lives in a cramped San Francisco apartment; works in a grocery store to support her two unruly kids; and dates a loud, beer-swizzling grease monkey.

Quite a case study for Dr. Allen (né Allan Stewart Konigsberg).

Here he compares differing social classes, the have’s and have-not’s. Rich sister, poor sister. At the same time he contrasts the east-coast west-coast lifestyles of the two sisters.

Cate Blanchett gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Jasmine. And Sally Hawkins delivers a brilliant turn as downscale Ginger.

However, life is the great equalizer. Jasmine’s hinky hubby (Alec Baldwin at his smarmy best) goes to prison for a real estate Ponzi scheme, leaving her destitute, forced to move in with her sister. Ah, the irony.
And while Jasmine accuses her sister of thinking so little of herself that she gets involved with losers, the downfallen socialite chose a loser of her own.

The true difference is found in each sister’s view of life. Jasmine blathers on about her lost social status, and attempts to reclaim it by a romance with an eligible diplomat (Peter Sarsgaard), while Ginger more or less accepts her fate, tied to a working-class ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay), dating an apish boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale), and having a fling with an unreliable man she meets at a party (Louis C. K.).

In the end, both sisters have proved adept at sabotaging their own lives -- lack of biological connection notwithstanding.

In Woody Allen’s vision of the world, this is not a Blanche DuBois tale about how the mighty has fallen. It’s an existential parable where success is meaningless. The only difference between people is the decimal point in their bank account. Remove that and the importance is in how we deal with it: here, one sister resigning to her mundane existence, the other drifting off into a fragile fantasy world of her own.

Closed Circuit (Rhoades)

“Closed Circuit”
May Be More Real Than You Think

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

We know NSA’s listening to our cell phones and reading our emails. The DIA can capture our online keystrokes. There’s rumored technology that allows our televisions to watch us. Closed circuit TVs monitor us at tollbooths, on street corners, in banks, and goodness knows where else.
A new political thriller flirts with that invasive concept. Aptly titled “Closed Circuit,” it tells us about two lawyers -- ex-lovers, of course -- who take the case of an accused terrorist. 

Because the government plans to use classified evidence to prosecute the terrorist, the attorney general appoints a special advocate to review the material and decide what the defense attorney can see. When a new attorney gets assigned to the case, it turns out to be the special advocate’s ex.

Problem enough. But as they face one of the most high-profile trials in British history, the pair uncovers evidence of a possible British Secret Service cover up. It’s one thing to defend an enemy of the state; another to accuse the state itself. That could put both their lives on the line.

Eric Bana (“Munich,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife”) and Rebecca Hall (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “Iron Man 3”) show good chemistry as the two barristers. Julia Stiles (the “Bourne” thrillers, TV’s “Dexter”) and Jim Broadbent (the “Harry Potter” fantasies, “Topsy-Turvy”) add to the deceits.

“Closed Circuit” is now playing at the Tropic Cinema. The movie’s trailer tells you it’s brought to you by the producers of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”

With a script by Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises,” “Dirty Pretty Things”), you can count on white-knuckle action. “The original notion was the change in the way important cases were defended. Whereby a defense in a terrorism case could be given to defense counselors, but they weren’t allowed to speak to each other or socialize. So I thought it would be an interesting situation if the two of them were having an affair. You would have two defense lawyers, where one would know the secret and the other wouldn’t. But then increasingly as events unfold, it became more and more about government surveillance, how much the government knows because this is obviously a secret between these two people.”

The trick to writing a great thriller? “Rather than taking it out that the world is being destroyed by an evil genius, make it reality,” smiles Knight. 

One nervous moviegoer says it’s “an exciting legal thriller that makes you wonder whether there may be something about those conspiracy theories that we have all heard since 9/11.”

Uh-oh. I’m turning off the TV and shutting my computer.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Blue Jasmine (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Blue Jasmine

Legendary auteur Woody Allen strikes again with a hit in "Blue Jasmine" a darkly comic morality tale that speaks of chance and consequence and two insatiable egos. The film is a meditation on folly and living unconsciously, as much as it is about our postmodern selfishness. Cate Blanchett stars as Jasmine French, a down and out soiled but glamorous former wife of a Bernie Madoff-type financier played by Alec Baldwin. Blanchett is excellent as Jasmine, who is a rumpled and twitching coil of amber electricity. She will make you laugh as well as make you nervous with her spastic vexations along with her periodic swallows of Xanax that go down like slugs from a gun.

Jasmine is blighted by episodes of manic monologuing and staring into space through the trauma of living with a dishonest rat who defrauded millions of people. She decides to live with her sister (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. Despite having no income, Jasmine still consumes as a credit-gobbling fiend. Although Jasmine is judgmental, she is not totally unsympathetic. The rug was pulled out from under her, that's true, yet she only took action when her husband cheated on her.

The narrative is smoothly told  via impressionistic flashbacks, rich in pathos and textured blots of character details. We see how Jasmine grew into the setting of crystal surfaces and green polo lawns. She is very much like a polished and golden narcissus, as immaculate and sparkling as the charms on her wrist. We also see the hardened hubby Hall, all smoothness and abstract bliss as he carries out one quick deal, along with serial affairs. Baldwin is a scaly cypher in a polo shirt, invariably robotic with disinterested grace.

This is existential Woody Allen. The warm hearted New Yorker cartoon qualities of  "Midnight in Paris" are not here, but nor should they be.  But fear not. Allen's "madcap" enthusiasts can still take heart. There are flashes of brilliant humor as in the salacious dentist (Michael Stuhberg) that will have you rolling in giggles.

The heart of this film though, is in the philosophic Passion Play of Jasmine. She'll carry you along within her harried heart and you'll end up rooting through all her travails of tension. There is something Gothic too, in her circumstance as she is haunted by pulling and guilty ghosts: Jasmine knows the right path, yet chooses the wrong one. She is hapless and submerged by the Spirit of the Wealthy.

A wonderful performance is given by Peter Sarsgaard in the role of Dwight, Jasmine's last hope, who is a wiggly and preening social climber in a white linen suit. The notorious  comic Andrew Dice Clay also has a good turn, full of meaning as a spurned blue collar would-be entrepreneur who doesn't pull any punches.

"Blue Jasmine" earns its place with "Match Point" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors". Riveting, thoughtful and tense, it is not without its sense of humor (albeit from the Gallows variety). The final scene will hit you like a singular, potent punch and echoes the bereft heroines of Tennessee Williams: here is a chromium flower now pricked and scarred.  Karma has caramelized Jasmine's once alloyed skin, leaving her alone and babbling with imps of regret.

Write Ian at

Saturday, August 24, 2013

2 Guns (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

2 Guns

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur makes a crooked cop drama with some 1970s Drive-in grit in "2 Guns," starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. Denzel plays the smooth and callous Robert Trench who is an undercover Narc. Wahlberg is an ex-Navy wisecracking bruiser, named Stig. Both were brought into contact by chance and both have their eyes on three million dollars in a Texas bank. The film has plenty of earthy and crude one liners and its formulaic plot is satisfyingly offset by the solid chemistry of Wahlberg and Washington.

Denzel Washington plays in a familiar snaky vein as he lusts after the money with a reptilian intent, while Wahlberg makes a bit of fun with his boyish hunk looks and his once modeled muscles.   As in "Training Day" there is a good bit of cold urban naturalistic filmmaking with lots of sweaty and seedy characters.

Edward James Olmos appears as a drug lord right out of a pulp spaghetti western complete with deadpan lines. And the vivacious Paula Patton is also here as a dark eyed beauty with secrets in a role that seems to be very much in the style of Salma Hayek. Think of this film as part "Training Day" and part "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" (2003).

Although "2 Guns" hits upon many tequila tossed and slithery anti-hero films of Robert Rodriguez's past, the film possesses a watchable and entertaining charge, delivered by a cool and calculating Denzel Washington. Part of the fun is guessing who will double cross whom first with Wahlberg acting the part of a Boston tough with an added edge of wisecracks.

The film has some extra charge delivered by Bill Paxton as a government man you will love to hate.

"2 Guns," based on a graphic novel by Steven Grant, is definitely pulp with a fun climax. With its unmistakable cactus and fruit fly tableau echoing  B-movie history and gun play, the film is yet another conceptual piece. Thankfully the dark and kidding interplay of Wahlberg and Washington slides upon the eye with more than a few easy and nostalgic winks.

Write Ian at

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Week of August 23 to August 29 (Rhoades)

Woody Allen’s Latest Debuts at the Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Here’s the one we’ve all been waiting for, Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” This annual outing by the Woodman may be set in New York and San Francisco, but it hits close to home because the film is somewhat inspired by “A Streetcar Named Desire,” penned by Tennessee Williams while holed in in Key West’s La Concha Hotel.

Like Blanche DuBois, Jasmine (brilliantly portrayed by Cate Blanchett, who has also starred in the Tennessee Williams Pulitzer Prize-winning play) is a woman who has fallen on hard times and is forced to move in with her sister and her sister’s earthy mate.

Alec Baldwin appears in flashbacks as Jasmine’s Bernie Madoff-like husband, Hal. Sally Hawkins takes on the role of Jasmine’s adopted sister, Ginger. And Bobby Cannavale plays the rough-around-the edges boyfriend, Chili.

Sure, it’s a drama, but written and directed by Woody Allen you know there are funny moments as we watch this fallen socialite come unraveled. Detroit News observes, “As Jasmine's story is revealed, and as Blanchett manages the fragile mask of her character's sanity, the film builds to a mighty emotional pitch.” The San Francisco Examiner notes “Blanchett gives her best-ever performance.” And Austin Chronicle concludes “The Woody Allen mojo is at work in his latest film.”

Still showing at the Tropic is “I’m So Excited,” the Pedro Almodóvar comedy about crew and passengers on a damaged airplane. Unlike  Almodóvar’s more serious films, this is a silly sex farce (with Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, and Paz Vega appearing in cameo roles). Newsday calls it “Too broad for the tarmac.” And the Philadelphia Inquirer sees it as “A mescaline-alcohol-and-panic-fueled orgy of confessional dialogue, sex acts, arguments, confessional monologues, and more sex acts.”

Also holding over is “Blackfish,” a riveting documentary about aqua-park killer whales who live up to their name. Minneapolis Star Tribune calls it “a compelling case that the cruelty of life in captivity is the cause for a rash of fatal attacks by orcas on their trainers….”

And you can still catch “Despicable Me 2,” the 3-D animated story about a supervillain-gone-good. Voiced by Steve Carell, with the love interest provided by funny girl Kristen Wiig, it’s even better than the first movie. Combustible Celluloid says, “The movie captures that magical mixture: naughtiness and goodness.” Entertainment Spectrum applauds “The minions are back and better than ever.”

Here too we have “The Conjuring,” a spooky movie based on a true story about Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga), the paranormal investigators who discovered the Amityville Horror. The Observer calls it a “smart, stylish horror flick.” And SFX describes it as “a meticulously and ingeniously crafted scare machine.”

Moving over to the Tropic is “2 Guns,” a funny shoot-em-up buddy flick about a DEA agent (Denzel Washington) and a Navy Intelligence op (Mark Wahlberg) who are both working undercover, unknown to each other. Bang, bang. Capital Times says, “There's a relaxed confidence to ‘2 Guns’ that's refreshing.” Boston Globe calls it a “knockoff of 'Lethal Weapon'.” And Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes that “the easy rapport between Washington and Wahlberg makes this well-shot comedy-thriller far more engaging than it has any right to be.”

Yes, it’s a good week at the Tropic Cinema for film fanatics!

Blue Jasmine (Rhoades)

Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” Rides “Streetcar”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Tennessee Williams wrote the first draft of “A Streetcar Named Desire” while staying at the La Concha Hotel here in Key West in 1947. It won a Pulitzer Prize. It’s the story of a fading belle who is forced to move in with her sister and depend “on the kindness of strangers." Woody Allen pays homage to the Williams play with “Blue Jasmine,” his latest movie. It’s currently playing at Tropic Cinema.

Instead of destitute Blanche DuBois, Woody gives us Jeanette “Jasmine” Francis, a wealthy New York socialite who has lost everything. Think: Mrs. Bernie Madoff. She’s been reduced to relying on the kindness of strangers. Well, her estranged adopted sister to be more precise.

Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator,” “Elizabeth”) takes on the role of Jasmine. She’s well cast, having played the role of Blanche DuBois on stage a few years ago.  That said, Blanchett dismisses the comparison. She insists that the sensibilities of the two women are worlds apart.

“If there’s any reference point for the character, a woman of once-great fortune now faded arrives at her sister of an entirely different class to ask for help, and the sister is partnered to a man of the more animal variety than she is used to -- well, OK, the setup is very similar.”

She pauses to stick to her premise. “But the way it evolved, you can’t hope to put Blanche DuBois in a Woody Allen film.”

Then how about Ruth Madoff? The Woodman has denied that the Bernie Madoff scandal was any sort of influence, but Cate Blanchett is a tad more forthcoming. “Maybe a little bit,” she avers. “I’m not playing Ruth Madoff but there are a lot of those women who’ve found themselves working in the proverbial shoe store, who have fallen from grace, been estranged from their friends and their social circle, and set adrift because of their husbands’ shocking deeds.”

In this case, her Ponzi-scheming hubby is played in flashback by Alec Baldwin (TV’s “30 Rock”). Now widowed, left with nothing, she’s moved to the far-flung city of San Francisco to live with her sibling.

Sally Hawkins (“Happy-Go-Lucky”) is cast as Jasmine’s downscale sister Ginger.  Brando-esque Bobby Cannavale (TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”) plays Ginger’s handyman boyfriend Chili, who comes off as a “kindler, gentler Stanley Kowalski.” He even has a “Stella!” scene in a grocery store.
“She never cared about you when she had money,” Chili warns Ginger.

Looking for stability, Jasmine takes a job with an ass-grabbing dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) but sets her eye on a rich politico (Peter Saesgaard). What else is a vodka-swilling and Xanax-popping widow to do?

Turns out, Jasmine is more than just blue. She’s coming unglued, her link to reality quite frayed. As Jasmine tells her nephews, “There’s only so many traumas a person can withstand before they take to the streets and start screaming.”

“There’s a strong line in American drama of women who walk the borderline between fantasy and reality,” Blanchett tells us. “Like Blanche in ‘Streetcar’ and Mary Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's ‘A Long Day's Journey into Night.’”

Yes, back to Blanche.

“The pleasurable thing for me to play was Jasmine being such an unreliable narrator,” says Cate Blanchett. “She believes like all great fantasists and all good liars in what she’s saying in the moment. It’s not until after it’s come out of her mouth that, then, she has to see it through.”

Just like Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

“You could say that Tennessee Williams in ‘Streetcar’ describes the moment of the death of poetry in America,” says the actress. “In the Woody Allen universe, does poetry even exist? What is the value of poetry? It’s definitely more sort of existential angst. To have tried to play Blanche in that environment would have been a bit of creative suicide, I think.”

Creative suicide? Maybe Cate Blanchett is an unreliable narrator too.

She should get nominated for an Oscar for this performance -- on and off screen.

Two Guns (Rhoades)

2 Stars Carry “2 Guns”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Don’t you just love shoot-’em-ups? Y’know, those movies about bad guys versus good guys. Where morality is as simple of the color of a hat. Sure, they’re just fantasy, but act as a catharsis for angst, frustration, and social pressures.

Trouble with “2 Guns” -- the shoot-em-up now playing at Tropic Cinema -- it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Denzel Washington (“Training Day,” “Flight”) stars an undercover DEA agent; Mark Wahlberg (“The Fighter,” “Pain & Gain”) joins him an Naval Intelligence operative. Pitted against each other, they think their robbing a mob-controlled bank. But they’re actually stealing $50 million from the CIA.

You can be sure that bullets will fly. Especially after the two gunmen discover they’ve been set up.
Toss in James Marsden, Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos, and Fred Ward for an additional tough-guy factor. And Paula Patton to provide a pretty face as Denzel’s love interest.

This is a different-looking Denzel Washington, blinged out with gold teeth. An Oscar winner, he likes to vary his roles between prestigious drama and mainstream, action-packed diversions. “Bobby, my undercover character, he’s the kinda guy who can get anything for you. A ’63 Chevy, a 1959 bottle of wine, a set of jacks, a condo in the Himalayas, whatever it is he knows a guy. That’s sorta his M.O.”

And he's teamed with Mark Wahlberg. “We’re actually lying to each other for half the picture, y’know. I’m not what I told him I am, and he’s not what he told me he is. And we find that out. But we get along, to a degree. And then we decide to work together.”

With explosive results.

Directed by Baltasar Kormákur (the Icelandic filmmaker who gave you “Contraband” with Mark Wahlberg), this action-packed film is based on the Boom! Studios graphic novel by Steven Grant.

Note: the two gun-totin’ guys in the original comic book are white as Ivory Snow, but how could you say no to casting Denzel Washington? Now studio flacks are hyping this “as a 1980s-style ethnically-diverse buddy movie, in the vein of ‘48 Hrs.’”

Well, not quite in my estimation. Eddie Murphy had a comic quality that worked in a time when racial relations where still in transition. Denzel Washington brings a different expectation, no racial tensions with him.

But take the movie for what it is: a lighthearted shoot-’em-up. It’s guaranteed to clear your head after a hard day at work.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Despicable Me 2 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Despicable Me 2

Felonious Gru returns in "Despicable Me 2." Steve Carell once again reprises his fiendishly lovable role and this time Gru is enlisted by the side of good to nab a monomaniac who wants to melt the Arctic Circle of all things. Oh well, it's no more nonsensical than shrinking the moon.

Gru is apprehended by Lucy (Kristen Wiig) an agent of the Anti-Villain League and forced into submission by a lipstick taser. An improbable romance soon develops with the hunchbacked Gru (who resembles The Penguin in Tim Burton's Batman)  acting like Cary Grant or Astaire.

The main thrust of this sequel is (of course) those yellow Minions who look like chattering marshmallow chicks with lab goggles. Here we see them on vacation and sunning their saffron posteriors. This is perhaps the first time since Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" (1988) where we see a flash of nude cheeks, but no matter. It's all in good fun.

It is a hoot to see Gru in the role of a suburban dad ala Tony Soprano. He is a caring and compassionate fatherly ghoul who just might out do Gomez Addams in fathering.

There is plenty of limber lunacy and free wheeling colorful contradictions here. The loose and clever sight gags and innocent humor has a slick motion and an originality that makes this sequel an exception. This is no sketchy reprise.

A highlight is the villain El Macho (Benjamin Bratt) a Mexican Restaurant owner who has a double life as a Lucha libre wrestler, complete with red mask and copious black chest hair which garnishes a huge tattoo of a Mexican flag.

There are also some jabs at Donald Trump---regarding his hairstyle---with comic Ken Jeong playing a Trumped terrorist. Better yet,though, are the homicidal purple anti-Minions who scream and cry like banshees and devour nearly everything in their path.

While each of these episodes may not seem whimsical on paper, the action is so glibly glorious on screen that the quirky corn steadily works on you like pricks from Felonious Gru's iconic needle-nose.

The minions alone will immerse you in multiple stitches with their dada delirium. This is one animated film that resists and opposes logic. And it remains Despicable Me 2's greatest asset.

Write Ian at

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Blackfish (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


"Blackfish," a new documentary by Gabriela Cowperthwaite is a breathless indictment of keeping orcas in captivity. Sadly, the Gothic trappings in its title are all too real. If only the events contained within this exposé were penned fictions  by Melville or Poe. The film specifically focuses on Sealand in British Columbia and SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida and their questionable, and outright immoral practice of keeping bull orcas in captivity, in what seems (in human equivalent terms) conditions of enslavement, or animal abuse.

Shockingly these majestic beings are harshly herded by explosives and separated by their mothers. The orcas are kept in pitch dark floating pens too small for their size (twenty feet across) and then exhausted by water tricks for our amusement.

In the film, a gruff and salty bear of a man admits that although a war veteran, the brutal capturing of orcas in the 1980s was "The worst thing ever done". He heard the mother orcas cry for their young. The experience traumatized him and still leaves him speechless today.

"Blackfish" is a psychological character study on Tilikum, an entertaining and gentle-seeming killer whale who was herded and torn from his family. Tilikum was tragically involved in three human deaths: in 1991, trainer Keltie Byrne slipped into the tank. Tilikum was one of the three orcas implicated, in 1997, when SeaWorld customer Daniel Dukes was found hanging naked and lifeless from Tilikum's back; then in 2010, while in the water, Tilikum dragged trainer Dawn Brancheau under the water as she drowned.

There have been other cases of  captive orcas killing trainers, most recently in Tenerife, Spain.

As devastating as this documentary is to watch, it ensnares like a crime thriller from Martin Scorsese. The real criminals are the SeaWorld operatives who are actively breeding a culture of oceanic psychosis. There have been no cases of orca attacks in the wild. The orca pen stands alone in its sinister geometry like a  Turkish prison as frightening as anything depicted in "Midnight Express" (1978).

SeaWorld is revealed (although no executives are interviewed)  as an ignorant and insensitive corporation, driven to uphold outdated ideas of animals subservient to the dominion of man. In documentary footage, trainers smile all too soapishly and utter Disney-like catch phrases. This is clearly an organization motivated by money and  the Hollywood delusion of the docile orca as a gentle giant with a floppy and cute dorsal fin. According to the film, however, collapsed dorsal fins are signs of serious atrophy and indicate the creature's ill health.

The former trainers interviewed clearly care for and even love Tilikum. The professional consensus is that the whale is not a born killer (far from it) but due to constant emotional anguish, he killed out of frustration. Those who like wildlife exposés will be reminded of the documentary "Project Nim" and what a fiasco that was in an attempt to humanize what is natural, wild and just as it should be.

The final blow is that Tilikum is still held at SeaWorld Orlando today and paraded as a mostly sedentary showpiece and sperm donor, thereby running a risk of unleashing whole families of aggressive orcas for decades to come.

Tilikum ( which translates  from the Chinook Jargon of the Northwest into "relations", "friends" or "tribe") now has a depressing legacy as a once wondrous siren who is now an anti-hero, both pitied and feared by no direct fault of his own. In watching "Blackfish" you may well be outraged, but you will also leave with one thought: to respect nature is to leave it alone.

Write Ian at

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Week of August 16 to August 22 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema’s Fare Blends the Serious and Absurd

Pedro Almodóvar Caballero is a Spanish filmmaker known for his complex dramas that often explore the themes of “desire, passion, family and identity.” You last saw his “The Skin I Live In” with Antonio Banderas as a surgeon experimenting with artificial skin on a woman he’s holding prisoner. A psychological thriller. So you might be surprised with his latest offering, a comedy about an airplane in trouble.

“I’m So Excited” is the title of Almodóvar’s high-flying sex romp. Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz make cameo appearance in this story about how the crew of a damaged airplane deals with passengers when their fate is uncertain. The Metro Times notes “It's like a very horny, very gay parody of airplane-disaster movies.” Austin Chronicle calls it “a fun flight.” And opines that “despite the film's playfulness, it's still quite clear that we're in the hands of a master who takes the work seriously.”

Also new at the Tropic Cinema is “Blackfish,” a fascinating documentary about killer whales. Filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite explores the conflicting reps of these Orca, that of friendly giant that entertains us at theme parks and that of the vicious killer at sea. But as it turns out these highly sentient marine mammals have killed more people while in captivity.

Case in point is Tilikum, the sea-park performer who has taken the lives of several people. Using rare footage and interviews with trainers and workers, Cowperthwaite paints a picture of an abused sea creature who fights back. Arizona Republic calls it “a disturbing movie, one that will make you rethink parks like SeaWorld and their value.” And Seattle Times points out that “its ultimate message is clear: Killer whales belong with their families in their natural habitat, not performing for audiences.”

On a lighter note is “Despicable Me 2,” the animated tale of a supervillain turned good guy. As voiced by Steve Carell, Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League (AVL) to help capture a bad guy known as El Macho. He’s partnered with an undercover agent voiced by Kristen Wiig. The New Yorker observes, “This is one of those rarities, an animated sequel that improves on the original.” And Rolling Stone calls it “irresistible fun.”

Another new film is “The Conjuring, the scary tale of a farmhouse haunted by a long-ago witch. Based on a true story, two paranormal investigators (the same ones who brought “The Amityville Horror” to light) seek to exorcize this entity that’s plaguing the Perron family (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor). The San Francisco Chronicle notes that “The horror movie is artfully crafted from the first scares to the closing credits.” And Time Out tells us the movie “builds mounting dread with silence and suspense, lingering the camera unsettlingly long here, creaking a door there.”

You can still catch “Fruitvale Station,” the inspiring film about a guy who decides to turn his life around … but is he too late? Seattle Times calls it “an eloquent memorial for a man who barely experienced life, and a haunting reminder of how quickly it can be lost.” And Journal and Courier says, “Despite being aware of the outcome, the movie is, in its own profane and streetwise manner, a warmhearted and soulful story of a young man's journey toward self-discovery and determination.”

Also still playing is the embracing-old-age film, “Unfinished Song.” Here, a curmudgeonly widower (Terence Stamp) joins a chorus as a promise to his deceased wife, only to rediscover life. Newsday calls it “Shamelessly sentimental, cute to a fault,” but notes that “the acting is first-rate.” Movie dearest finds it “Inspiring & genuinely moving.”

I'm So Excited (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

I'm So Excited

With a puff of brilliant color here is "I'm So Excited" the latest picaresque episode by the surreal Spanish master Pedro Almodovar. Forget that the plot has no logical content whatsoever. The director, as steady and unabashed as he is, almost turns fluff into flair.

Here we have an airplane that is without landing gear because the passengers or crew  unwittingly ingested (or misplaced) some minute components. How this came to pass is beyond comprehension. At any rate, the plane bound for Mexico, is reduced to existentially turning in circles while the enclosed passengers gossip about sexual peccadilloes.

Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo) Joserra (Javier Cámara) and Fajas (Carlos Areces) are gay male flight attendants who try to liven up the group preoccupied with their precarious lives, especially since they are about to plunge downward in a few hours time.

There is a mature  model and dominatrix Norma (Cecelia Roth ) who has many political ties. There is a crooked investor, Sr. Mas (Jose Luis Torrijo), the actor Ricardo Galan (Guillermo Toledo) and a psychic Portera (Carmen Machi). Throw in Antonio Banderas as a vexed operator and Penelope Cruz as his partner and the gang's all here.

The passengers get increasingly agitated  and worked up as they constantly barge into the cockpit.

Ulloa, Joserra and Fajas take a Three Stooges kind of persona as they talk and wave about frantically and perpetually pour drinks. The best way to stop all anxiety, they reason, is to keep the passengers asleep. Carlos Areces is entertaining as the bumbling and baby-faced Fajas, but there just isn't much for the flight crew to do. There is much chatter and histrionics and a few non sequiturs. Suffice to say most of the action is polka dotted with a light carbonation.

More interesting are the sex scenes under the sterile fog of a slumbering plane cabin which recall some of the dreamlike passages of the sci-fi writer J.G. Ballard in which a closeup of a plasticine vent may lead into a carnal episode or the way in which a first class cloth partition brushes up against some bright skin as polished as the plane's interior. The very concept of the passengers being permanently  asleep, only half rousing themselves for a bit of soporific sex, echo the cinematic situations of Luis Bunuel, albeit thin.

Narrative vacancy aside, there is a strange glee infused throughout. The airplane's jet engines are shown in closeup to look like spirals while the wheel armatures hint at the thrust of male power. This is a plane made for a carnival of sex, at home within the 70s party films of  "Shampoo" and "Barbarella."

Lastly, there is also a pop of menace. Near the end of the film as we hear many shrieks and screams, there is a lonely montage of an empty airport.

But with such masterful and thoughtful touches, "I'm So Excited" is decidedly mild. The best sleight of all, though, might be that Almodovar keeps us watching even through all the airy angst.

Write Ian at

Thursday, August 15, 2013

I'm So Excited (Rhoades)

Reviewed by Shirrell Rhoades

What will they come up with next? A comedy based on the sinking of the Titanic? A musical about the Hindenburg Disaster?
Here we have a funny comedy about an airplane having an inflight emergency. And its counterintuitive title is “I’m So Excited.”
Maybe you’d be excited too if you were on board Peninsula Flight 2549. Following a technical failure, the pilots and the control tower are trying to find a safe solution for the planeload of passengers.
Not funny, you say? Well, you laughed when the Zucker brothers did “Airplane!”
This Spanish production from Pedro Almodóvar (“The Skin We Live In”) features his regulars -- Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, and Agustín Almodóvar -- along with Javier Cámara, Lola Dueñas, Cecilia Roth, Raúl Arévalo, and Carlos Areces.
This movie marks Banderas’s 7th collaboration with Almodóvar and Cruz’s 5th. However, this will be the first time they have appeared in an Almodóvar movie together.
What should flight attendants do when a plane may be going down? With lots of sexual situations, they and the chief steward devote themselves “body and soul to the task of making the flight as enjoyable as possible for the passengers.”
According to Almodóvar, the film has two key themes: sex and death. The original Spanish title (“Los amantes pasajeros") says it all. A double entendre, you can translate it as “the fleeting lovers” or “the passenger lovers.”
The US title (“I’m So Excited”) comes from the Pointer Sisters’ song, used in the film’s bouncy soundtrack. I heard the Pointer Sisters perform it live in Las Vegas, and it’s spirited enough to have passengers dancing in the aisle … or joining the Mile High Club.
The bisexual pilots (Antonio de la Torre and Hugo Silva) are a riot. The bizarre assortment of passengers will hold your attention. And the guys in the control tower (including Almodóvar’s brother Agustín) will have you laughing.
No, not the same kind of parody as “Airplane!” but what Rotten Tomatoes calls “campy, frothy, and proudly absurd.”
Or as Pedro Almodóvar puts it, “a light, very light comedy.” After all, the entire flight crew is going down on this plane.

The Conjuring (Rhoades)

“The Conjuring”
Conjures Up Scare Factor

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The late Ed Warren and his wife Lorraine were real-life paranormal investigators, perhaps best known for their involvement in the Amityville Horror case. You know, the one where a nice couple bought a house that was supposedly haunted by a violent, demonic presence that eventually drove them out of their home. It spawned a 1977 book (“The Amityville Horror”) and two movies of the same name.
Now another of their paranormal cases has made it to the screen. “The Conjuring” is now playing at Tropic Cinema.
Directed by James Wan, “The Conjuring” stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren in this real-life story about disturbing events in a Rhode Island farmhouse.
In 1971, Roger and Carolyn Perron (played by Ron Livingston and Lily Taylor), along with their five daughters, move into a spooky old house. Their dog refuses to come inside. After discovering the boarded up entrance to a cellar, strange things start to happen (else, this wouldn’t be a horror movie). Doors open and close. The dog dies. The wife gets mysterious bruises. They hear the sound of someone clapping.
So the family calls in Ed and Lorraine. Their research shows that the house used to belong to a witch who believed in child sacrifice. Yes, it’s time they call in a priest to conduct an exorcism. But what if the priest doesn’t arrive in time to rescue the family…
Do Ed and Lorraine save the day? Well, it’s kinda their movie.
Development of the film began over 20 years ago when Ed Warren played a tape recording of their interview with the Perron family for a movie producer. After languishing in turnaround and false starts, the film was eventually picked up by New Line Cinema.
Have the Perrons seen the film? “Everyone has, yeah,” nods director James Wan. “They all loved it and they all felt… There’s a lot of gratitude that we didn’t portray them as a crazy nutty family and that we saw them as normal people that went through these extraordinary circumstances.”
Although Wan is often pegged as a horror filmmaker, he demurs. “I am a student of cinema, and I love filmmaking of all kinds.” Yet, he’s the guy who gave us “Saw,” “Dead Silence,” and “Insidious.” He’s been called the jump-scare master.
Scriptwriters Chad and Carey Hayes signed on because they liked the scare factor in the story.
As Carey tells it, “When Bathsheba killed herself, she proclaimed her love for Satan and cursed anyone who would try to take her land, and then, over that course of time from the late 1800s to the present there has been a phenomenal amount of deaths on what was once that 500 acres.”
“Really unusual deaths,” nods Chad. “Like you’d have a better chance winning the lottery than you would… You’ll see it in the movie, we put them in there. Drownings, suicides, hunting accidents.”
“Car accidents,” adds Carey. “ People lost in the wintertime. Very odd in such a small, small area.”
“I guess the other thing that really drew us,” says Chad, “is that it’s a true story. To be able to look these people up, I mean, we met the Perron girls, these girls came to set. And you still see the scare in her eyes.”
Question is, will you see scare in the eyes of your fellow moviegoers? Yes, I’d predict you will.

Despicable Me 2 (Rhoades)

“Despicable Me 2” Is
Delightfully Gru-some

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Back at Marvel Comics, we knew that a superhero was only as good as the villain he or she faces. However, what do you do when it’s a supervillain vs. a supervillain?
That’s the situation in “Despicable Me 2,” the CGI-animated sequel to the first “Despicable Me” that’s currently playing at Tropic Cinema.
Yes, Steve Carell is back as the voice of Gru, the supervillain who (in the original movie) changed his ways to parent three cute little girls. Sure, he has his memories, like that time he stole the moon, but all that villainy is behind him.
That’s why Gru (Carell) didn’t want to get mixed up in the undercover assignment offered by the head of the Anti-Villain League (Steve Coogan). Seems an agent named Lucy Wilde (Kristin Wiig) is determined to bring down El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), a new supervillain who has a chemical compound that can transform lifeforms into invincible killing machines. You see, Gru kinda has a crush on her. Even after she kidnaps him and two of his yellow minions.
Next thing you know Gru and Lucy are working in a cupcake shop in the mall where they can keep an eye on the owner of a restaurant called Eduardo. He might just be El Macho.
You may recognize some of the other voices: Russell Brand and Ken Jeong, in particular.
Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures are marketing “Despicable Me 2” like, uh, faithful minions. An action video game has released. Seven books have been published: The Junior Novel, The Anti-Villain League Handbook, Undercover Super Spies, Attack of the Evil Minions!, Make a Minion, and Meet the Minions. Plus a big yellow blimp, designed to look like a minion, has been sailing around US skies as an eye-catching promotion. I’m surprised they didn’t do a deal with Kellogg’s Corn Puffs, since that cereal is pretty much what a minion looks like. A missed opportunity!
Don’t worry. No matter how “Despicable Me 2” does at the box office, there’s a spin-off film already in the works. Titled “Minions,” it stars Sandra Bullock rather than Steve Carell. You see, this is a prequel, harking back to the days before the minions met Gru. In this one, the little guys are competing to become the henchmen of a female villain called Scarlet Overkill (Bullock, of course).
Perky Sandra Bullock, America’s Sweetheart, as a villain? Makes me want to resign from the Anti-Villain League.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Unfinished Song (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Unfinished Song

Director Paul Andrew Williams (London to Brighton) offers a solid, if predictable crowd-pleaser in the cozy and comfortable "Unfinished Song." The film about an old curmudgeon (Terence Stamp) who discovers the release and the joys of singing in his later years, is very much in the mode of "Quartet" and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" for its focus on old sourpusses who nurse old bitters, overcome hardships and (Egad!) enjoy themselves again. This film would be a rote snoozer if not for the direct and potent acting by  Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave and Gemma Arterton.

We know what we're getting: Stamp is Arthur Harris, a stooped and shuffling aging man who sees his teacup half-empty. Arthur dutifully takes care of his ailing wife, Marion (Redgrave) who has an unfailing zest for life, despite her  cancer. Marion greatly enjoys her choir group at a support facility and tries to inspire her non-emotive hubby Arthur to join in the jolly fun, but Arthur will have none of it. He is silently eaten up by hurts and fears which seem to be triggered by his unkempt and slightly bohemian adult son James, (Christopher Eccleston).

When Marion becomes too ill to join in the choir, Arthur nonchalantly  encounters the free and impulsive choir-head, Elizabeth (Arterton). A reserved series of meetings commence with Arthur becoming softly intrigued by Elizabeth's light spirit.

Aside from an all too corny rendition of a Motörhead favorite "Ace of Spades," which would make any fan cringe, the singing and characters manage to charge and delight in spite of  the sweet shortbreading of this pedestrian plot. The hip hop interpretation of "Let's Talk About Sex" is a joy as is the version of B-52s "Loveshack." The singing on the whole beguiles precisely because there is real energy onscreen fused by  a delicate touch of time's passing.

While its true that this film plays all the usual notes, Terence Stamp is authentic and transfixing in his iron-steady bearing. In a moment, there is something impish and magical in his sly smile brought on by his voice. His portrayal of  the gray and frowning Arthur will undoubtedly bring to mind the legendary Ebenezer Scrooge (as if drawn by Samuel Beckett) at his moment of reversal.  Honest and engaging, too, are Stamp's exchanges with Redgrave and Arterton which seem completely without artifice and happily dispense with theatrics.

There is even juice and surprise in Redgrave singing Cyndi Lauper, who allows her voice to break and drift off, as if to betray pensive worries and forbidding uncertainties. Because of this, we believe all the more.

"Unfinished Song" goes down so well because of its sweetness and honesty. For the most part, all discos, dirges and harmonies are played as is, and you are left in satisfaction with a light and rousing good time.

Write Ian at

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Fruitvale Station (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Fruitvale Station

"Fruitvale Station" is an unnerving and sensitive recreation of the devastating incident in Oakland California, in which Oscar Grant III, twenty two, was shot and killed by a police officer during the New Year's Eve holiday in 2009. Grant was unarmed. The officer, who said he thought he was reaching for his taser was charged with Involuntary Manslaughter and served eleven months against previous time served.

We first see Grant (Michael B. Jordan) in a modest home just trying to cope. He has recently been released from jail on drug charges.

Grant has an adorable and glib daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal). He clearly loves his daughter, frequently running, playing and sharing secrets with her.

Right away, we sympathize with Grant who has an inquisitive openness to seemingly everyone, although he is not perfect. He has fast friends who are after him to deal pot and his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz)  has just found out that he has been cheating on her. Through it all, Grant shrugs it off with a disarming smile.

Grant, sadly, must always look over his shoulder and the nervous tension is equal to any Brian De Palma thriller. Even though he has made mistakes in life, Grant is no thug or hardened criminal. On the way to a grocery store, we see him pet a pit bull dog. Then there is a jarring moment as the dog is struck by a car, but no one comes to Grant's call for help.

Both Oscar and the dog are outsiders. Grant stops by a grocery store to talk with his friend. He then spontaneously helps Katie (Ahna O' Reilly) a female stranger with dinner advice, even to the point of lending his smartphone. By chance he happens to see the manager who abruptly fires him. Grant grabs the manager in desperation.

After a moment of self reflection, Oscar dumps the pot into the bay and tells a benign fib to his friend that he sold the pot and is without any deal.

Oscar resolves to go straight.

At a birthday celebration, Oscar's mom (Octavia Spencer) urges him to take the subway rather than drive to see New Year's fireworks given the chance of drinking and his history.

He reluctantly agrees.

That night, Oscar feels relieved of his job worries. He is with his friends who are jubilant and good natured. Better yet, he is with his girlfriend Sophina and all is easy.

Gradually though, a huge swell of people looms on the cement horizon like an oppressive cloud. A Hitchcockian sense of fear ensues. Within the crammed car, there is barely an inch to spare, but despite this, there is dancing.

Abruptly, Cale (Joey Oglesby) a former prison nemesis who looks very much like Bane from "The Dark Knight Rises" appears in the crowd and threatens Oscar.

An anxious, claustrophobic fight begins and Oscar is violently handled by the police while Cale has somehow inexplicably vanished.

Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle)  is spectacular as Oscar Grant  who never forgets to look both ways and still carries himself with a warmth and an affectionate spirit. He is a good hearted Everyman of sorts who is heartrendingly caught in a noir happenstance of  old mistakes and fates dealt by egregious abuses of power and violent ignorance.

This is director Ryan Coogler's first feature and it will rip at your heart. A good bit of  this film is exceedingly hard to watch, but don't let the subject intimidate you: in this offensive age of racial profiling and the error-ridden 'Stand Your Ground' law, "Fruitvale Station" (produced by Forest Whitaker) is an anxious and thoughtful study of what went  terribly wrong when a young crowd was sparked by hateful racist threats headed by one ugly officer. The disparate elements were recorded on a smartphone in a noisy, oddly mournful vibration while an unassuming yet spirited young man is horribly and needlessly pinned against the cement ground.

Write Ian at

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Week of August 9 to August 16 (Rhoades)

Two New Films and Three Holdovers Add Up As “Plenty to See”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Two new films edge onto the screens at the Tropic Cinema -- “Unfinished Song” and “Fruitvale Station.”

Once a pretty boy, now-75-year-old Terence Stamp acts his age in “Unfinished Song,” the story of a grumpy old widower who joins a chorus against his better judgment. Yes, it changes his life. Funny, serious, and a great performance by Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, and Gemma Arterton. The Seattle Times describes it as a “gentle story of a marriage, and of how music can help make a broken heart whole again.” While the Chicago Sun-Times sees it as a “modest, tear-jerking charmer ….”

The other new entry, “Fruitvale Station,” offers a grim view of life in the Bay area. Winner of both a Grand Jury Prize and an Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, it tells the true story of Oscar Grant (played here by Michael B. Jordan), a 22-year-old who vows to change his life for the better … and does, sorta. But as the old saying goes, No good deed goes unpunished. The Denver Post says, “It’s hard not to watch ‘Fruitvale Station’ with a coiled dread....” The Sacramento Bee notes that the film’s “arrival in theaters corresponds with the outcry over the Trayvon Martin case.” And Reno News and Reviews calls it “One of the year’s best films.”

Still playing are those two wonderful coming-of-age films, “The Way, Way Back” and “The Kings of Summer” -- a counterpoint to the aforementioned embracing-old-age film, “Unfinished Song.”

“The Way, Way Back” has the ring of truth as it follows dorky Duncan (Liam James) on a summer vacation to the Massachusetts Shore with his mom (Toni Collete) and her mean-spirited boyfriend (yes, Steve Carell) … to a life-changing encounter with Owen (Sam Rockwell), the cool manager of the Water Wiz aqua park. New Yorker says, “Once again, the oppressed American teen-ager lopes and shuffles to center stage, there to display his woes.” However, The Atlantic counters that it “just may be the best movie of the summer.”

“The Kings of Summer” harkens back to “Stand By Me” as three disparate teens run away from home and claim their freedom in a tree house. The Miami Herald calls it “A warm and affectionate comedy about that last great summer when you're 13 or 14 and you don’t realize just how much your life is about to change and things will never be the same.” The Dissolve describes it as a “hand-me-down Wes Anderson.” Nonetheless, Creative Loafing says it’s “pretty much guaranteed to make viewers feel like a million bucks.”

Simply want a few giggles? Well, the Tropic is still turning up “The Heat,” the cop comedy that pairs Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as odd-couple lawmen … uh, I mean lawwomen. says, “There’s an edgy but rewarding chemistry between Bullock and McCarthy.” Movie Talk calls it “crude and rude,” but concludes that “as Bullock’s by-the-book prissiness collides with McCarthy's slobbish street savvy, its leading ladies strike scintillating comic sparks off each other.”

There you have it, two new films and three continuing offerings. Plenty to see at the Tropic.

Unfinished Song (Rhoades)

“Unfinished Song”
Could Be About Terence Stamp

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Lately, we’ve been talking about coming-of-age films. Y’know, films like “The Way, Way Back,” “The Kings of Summer,” “Mud,” “Stand By Me,” “To Kill A Mockingbirds,” on and on. Yes, we all like to reminisce about the angst and travails that came with growing up.
But as we Baby Boomers get older -- and have now spent a lot of time thinking about our youth and the movies that remind us of those halcyon days -- there’s a new genre of film emerging. Let’s call it “embracing-old-age” films until a better term comes along.
These are movies about older folks (like us or our parent) who are coming to terms with growing old. “Quartet” was such a film. So was “Lovely, Still” and “Starting Out in the Evening” and “Robot & Frank.”
Now we have “Unfinished Song,” the dramedy that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Starring Terence Stamp (you may remember him as the young Billy Budd in the same-named movie or the frightening Freddie Clegg in “The Collector” or Supreme Chancellor Valorum in “Star Wars: Episode 1”), here we have the funny story of a curmudgeon named Arthur, an elderly man who has all but given up on life.
Yes, Billy Budd (Stamp, that is) is now 75.
In “Unfinished Song,” Arthur grumpily objects when his cancer-stricken wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) decides to perform in a senior citizens chorus. What if she makes a fool of herself? And what if she uses up her last strength?
Spoiler Alert (although you’ll see as much in the previews): When his wife dies, Arthur winds up taking her place in the chorus -- despite the fact that his own musical tastes favor Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. There, under the direction of Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), he must come to terms with life without Marion.
Blue eyes twinkling, Terence Stamp grins as he points out, “This is the first romantic lead I've been offered since Far From the Madding Crowd. And that was 1966.”
In his day, Stamp was quite the ladies man. He had a long-time affair with his “Far From the Madding Crowd” co-star Julie Christie. He had a tryst with Bridgette Bardot. And he was often photographed with his supermodel inamorata Jean Shrimpton.
As a young man, Terence Stamp was considered “the most beautiful man in film,” although he doesn’t see it that way when he looks at his early films. “I see a creature who was not that good-looking,” he says. "What they're seeing is the work of the lighting cameraman. I’m realistic enough to know I never looked that good in real life.”
Modesty aside, audiences of Baby Boomer women are going to see a still-handsome older man in “Unfinished Song.”
Stamp decided to become an actor at 17. He recalls watching television with his parents and saying out loud, “I could do that.”
“Son,” replied his stern father, “people like us don’t do that. I don’t want you to talk about it again.”
So he didn’t – until he won a scholarship to an acting school.
He became a star just as the phenomenon known as Swinging London hit with full force.
But bad career choices ultimately tripped him up. He turned down the title role in “Alfie,” instead recommending his roommate Michael Caine. It was the role that made Caine a star. And Stamp was considered as a replacement for his friend Sean Connery as James Bond, but he blew the chance.
“Work dried up in 1969,” he shrugs. “I was rejected completely by the business; I never rejected the business. It was a very harsh end of a career that came early.” The part of General Zod in the early “Superman” movies brought him back to the public’s attention.
Now? “I’m looking for roles where there’s a possibility of doing something I haven’t done before. Occasionally, there’ll be one from left field, like ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.’ You go through the fear barrier and emerge on the other side.”
“Unfinished Song” has that theme. And proves that Terence Stamp’s acting career is far from finished.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Kings of Summer (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The Kings of Summer

"The Kings of Summer" is a film in a genre that has been done to death and back again, but refreshingly the familiar coming of age film now has a resurrection.
Joe (Nick Robinson) is a fifteen year old stifled by his controlling and condescending father (Nick Offerman) who is portrayed as a forbidding walrus-man. The father makes his son's life hell, criticizing him, restricting him and watching his every move. Joe literally has no place to go to achieve tranquility. By way of coping, he imagines semi-surreal mind trips where his father is in a harmless capacity.
Joe's friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) isn't faring any better. He's stuck with his emasculating chattering mother (Megan    Mullally) and his milquetoast dad (Marc Evan Jackson). Patrick's parents give him actual hives.
Nothing goes right for Joe; he is bullied at school. To blow some steam he takes off for a party and is unceremoniously grounded. During a walk with Patrick, he finds an isolated area of rich verdant green with wilds, far removed from suburbia. It is Eden to them.
Joe resolves to become liberated, self-reliant and his own man. After some reluctance, Patrick agrees to join him. What follows is a rollicking, tilting tale of boys attempting to find independence through nature with stylistic nods to the films "Stand by Me" and "Into the Wild". While it is very much a comedy with some fanciful touches, it is also quite serious as we watch these boys dance and cavort like dark imps as they strive to provide for themselves. The story does not shy away from pathos. What starts out as something akin to Richard Donner's "The Goonies" soon becomes a "Lord of the Flies" precautionary tale, but the humor is never far afield.
The cinematography by Ross Riege is first-rate, in its illustrations of both the  indifference and the whimsical varieties of the natural world. There are a few montages of the boys striving to be painted within nature as they run with machetes that speak of dark menace as if they were characters in a pint sized James Dickey novel of knives and savagery.
Special mention should be given to actor Moises Arias (Hannah Montana) who plays one of the strangest kid roles that I've ever seen---he's a bit like Peter Lorre or something from Poe--- but stranger still, as the stunted misfit Biaggio, he will steal your heart, or at the very least, as it occurs in the film, get into your mind.
  One minor slight is in the portrayals of the parents who seem a bit blandly rendered in contrast to the resolute and passionate teens. But while this might play a little silly, it feels a tribute to every coming of age director from Steven Spielberg to Robert Zemeckis and John Hughes. Nick Offerman's character especially rises with a well rounded charge by the end of the film, and while Megan Mullally plays for giggles her distracted chatter that almost reaches a height of absurdity is instantly recognizable.
"The Kings of Summer" is vibrant and brimming with motion. The shifts in tone from lightness to a gray meditation are refreshing and unsentimental. This is a film that takes the  teenage world seriously as an irreverent and festive experience complete with its own ghosts of fragility.

Write Ian at

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Stories We Tell (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Stories We Tell

Actress Sarah Polley (director of Take This Waltz) has a haunting aura reminiscent of a young Sissy Spacek with her fox-like eyes, translucent skin and thick reddish hair. In "Stories We Tell" she investigates the maze of her own family with the intensity of a Jungian analysis. The film is as entertaining as it is heartfelt and quirky, chock full with many askew personalities.

The documentary, which is a pastiche of recreated home movies (so masterfully done that they fooled me) and jarring interviews of Polley's family, starts with a jest, specifically the question of Polley's birth. The family repeatedly joked "Sarah, you don't look like your father." The jabs, humorous at first, were  heard with such frequency that Polley began to take them to heart. In an interview, Polley's brother admits that he heard mom on the phone to someone admit that she was pregnant.

The mystery begins.

Polley's mom Diane is energetic and vivacious. She is a pixieish aspiring actress who bears a resemblance to Sandy Duncan. Everyone that went into her orbit said she was "the life of the party" In fictionalized home movies, portrayed by Rebecca Jenkins, Diane is a fire-fly never still or silent. In a theatrical production, she became smitten with a impulsive-acting guy by the name of Michael Polley who had the stage quality of a brash Robert Mitchum. Diane and Michael quickly married. But at home, under matrimonial weights, Michael grew cold and reserved, leaving behind his creative pursuits and sitting on the couch like a sterile tea-kettle.

On impulse, Diane gets an acting gig in Montreal. As told, Michael is secretly happy as he covets his solitude.

Sarah Polley's relatives swear that she has a distinct resemblance to actor Geoff Bowes, an amiable self-deprecating man who is quite surprised by the suggestion.

The star of the show, though, is the furry personage of the film producer  Harry Gulkin with his wild Afro of snowy hair combined with his offhand manner, part romanticism, part existentialism. Gulkin loved Diane Polley more than life. He emerges as an Einsteinian Romeo.

Although Harry is the most colorful character, a good deal of pathos resides in husband Michael Polley who undergoes many changes during the film as does his rival. Under Diane's charge, the two men come to life as great libertines, but without her they are unkempt shadows, befuddled, abstract and without purpose.

Michael Polley is a chameleon in the film switching from a charismatic soldier onstage to a solitary gnome on the sofa bereft of Diane, only to rise once again as a glib sophisticate as he tells his story into Sarah Polley's microphone with all the varnish of a music hall production.

"Stories We Tell" is at times hard to watch with its questions of family loyalty, last moments and death. You will wonder who comes away with more : Diane, Harry or Michael? Or is Sarah Polley herself the main instigator in this personal drama, by making this revealing documentary?

No matter how you process this puzzle of personalities, some frenetic with warmth and heart, but all of them engaging, Sarah Polley is to be applauded for her courage in opening a universal, yet subtle cloak and dagger cupboard that lies within the heart of a Suburban family.

Write Ian at

Friday, August 2, 2013

Week of August 2 to August 8 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema Reminds Us About Coming of Age

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Summer generates two kinds of movies -- big blockbuster and small coming-of-age films. The Tropic Cinema seems to have cornered the market on the latter.

New to the Tropic screens is “The Kings of Summer,” a charming little coming-of-age story about three boys who build a tree house in order to run away from home. Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, and Moisés Arias star as the rebellious trio. Their bid for freedom comes with a message, that old saw about no matter of where you go, there you are. Still true. And told here with humor and a dash of magic. Miami Herald describes it as “a warm and affectionate comedy about that last great summer when you're 13 or 14 and you don't realize just how much your life is about to change and things will never be the same.” ViewLondon sees it as “a hugely enjoyable, acutely observed and frequently hilarious coming-of-age drama…” And Sly Fox calls it “a bona fide sleeper not to be missed.”
Another wonderful coming-of-age film is “The Way, Way Back,” the poignant tale of a kid (Liam James) stuck for the summer at the Massachusetts shore with his mom (Toni Collette) and her jerk boyfriend (Steve Carell). Luckily, he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), the cool guy who manages the local Water Wizz water park. Fresno Bee says, “You would have to go way, way back to find a film as touching, funny and smart as this one.” And calls it “... a tender and charming account of an angst-ridden teenage loner who finds inspiration in the most unlikely places during an otherwise disastrous vacation.”

“Stories We Tell” is not so much a coming-of-age film as it is a documentary about coming to terms with your family history. Sarah Polley went in search of a family secret. Why did she not resemble her siblings?Did her actress mother have an affair? Was her dad not her biological parent? Arizona Republic says, “What a great movie!” The New Republic describes it as “not just very moving; it is an exploration of truth and fiction that will stay with you long after repeated viewings.” And the Birmingham Mail concludes: “… complete with a twist straight from a soap opera.

“The Heat” offers am alternative to all that growing-up stuff, a silly comedy about a strict FBI agent (Sandra Bullock) and a loose-as-a-goose street cop (Melissa McCarthy). An odd couple buddy movie. UTV advises, “Prepare for some hilarious laugh enforcement.” And daily Telegraph calls it “a good cop/bad cop action comedy with the funniest two-women-above-the-title pairing in memory.”
So take a trip way, way back to when you were a king of summer with the stories we lived…

Stories We Tell (Rhoades)

“Stories We Tell”
Tells Sarah’s Story

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The other day I was up in my attic and came across a box of Super 8 home movies, flickering vignettes of my childhood recorded by my parents on an old Kodak movie camera. There I was at a birthday party, with my cousins, riding on my pony, and at the beach splashing in the waves. My childhood captured on tiny strips of celluloid.
Writer-director-actress Sarah Polley recreated her life with footage shot to look like a home movie. “Stories We Tell” -- the documentary that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- is the result of her genealogical exploration.
You see, people had always commented on how Polley didn’t much resemble her father. Her free-spirited mother laughed it off. Only later did Polley try to figure out if she had a biological father different from the dad she grew up with.
Did her mother have an affair?
“I’m interested in the way we tell stories about our lives,” Polley says. “About the fact that the truth about the past is often ephemeral and hard to pin down.”
Her brother remembers their mother as “a fun person at parties and that she laughed loud.” She belonged to theater groups. She was vivacious.
And sometimes she cried when no one was watching.
Diane McMillian Polley died of cancer when her daughter was eleven. It was a traumatic event for young Sarah ... and a departure that left many unanswered questions.
For this recreation of the family’s past, Polley used Rebecca Jenkins to play her mother in the simulated home movie clips. Jenkins was a friend of her mother. “Rebecca is an astonishing actress,” says Polley. “She’s done such an amazing job that a lot of people don’t realize, until the very end of the film, that those scenes are re-creations.”
As for other roles, she interviewed the real people, including her father Michael Polley, her brother Mark, and many others. The stories she got were often contradictory. She discovered that the truth depends on who’s telling it.
Born into a theatrical family, Sarah Polley was a successful child actress before becoming a filmmaker. Her actor dad appeared with her in “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and TV’s “Avonlea.” Her mother was both an actress and casting director.
Although having acted in 55 films, she eschewed Hollywood productions for indies. Notably she dropped out of Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous,” the role that gave Kate Hudson an Oscar nomination. But she got her own Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay with 2006’s “Away From Her.”
“I think you have to keep your distance from mainstream Hollywood in order to be a normal human being. I mean, I work there, and I like being there, but I love having an anonymous life. I think there’s definitely such a thing as being too famous.”
There’s a contradiction in Polley’s own words. Having an anonymous life is at odds with making a documentary about yourself and your family.
 “I was exploring the themes of infidelity and long-term relationships in both my previous features and all of my short films,” she admits. “And now that I’ve made a movie about where the interest came from, subconsciously, I wonder if I now have to make fundamentally different films. It’s going to be hard to make a straightforward film again.”

The Kings of Summer (Rhoades)

“The Kings of Summer”
Runs Away from Home

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Just this weekend my mother was reminding me how my two cousins and I used to disappear for weeks at a time during the summer, camping out and living off the land. Alone in the woods, we were the masters of our fate, free from the oversight of bothersome grownups.
That theme permeates “The Kings of Summer,” the new indie film that’s camping out at the Tropic Cinema.
In it, three teenage friends declare their independence by spending the summer building a tree house in the woods. Preparation for running away from home.
Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) is frustrated by the stern overcompensation of his single father. He’s joined by his pal Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and a weirdo named Biaggio (Moisés Arias) in this awkward quest for freedom.
After boning up on survival techniques at the library, the trio draws up floor plans for the tree house, gathers boards and nails, and clandestinely builds it. Then one night they steal away from their respective homes and move in.
The police think the boys have been kidnapped. Their parents go through recriminations. “I think I’ve broken my son,” confesses Joe’s dad.
Now on their own, the boys have trouble adjusting to self-rule. Joe can’t take responsibility for his bad behavior. Despite many speeches about the meaning of masculinity, Joe’s judgmental attitude is mindful of his father’s emotional bullying.
Patrick is more comfortable with himself, gentle and funny. A girl that Joe has a crush on seems more interested in Patrick. Tensions mount.
A newcomer, Biaggio remains remote and shy, a natural outcast. His deadpan delivery of non-sequiturs adds humor to the film. These witticisms are supplemented by the comic cops (Mary Lynn Rajskub and Thomas Middleditch) along with Patrick’s cooing parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson).
Think “Swiss Family Robinson” meets “Moonlight Kingdom.” A sweet coming-of-age film, but it does not match the stylish telling of that Wes Anderson masterpiece. Even so, it has its magical, surreal moments.
You may recognize Nick Robinson as a co-star on the ABC sitcom “Melissa & Joey.” Gabriel Basso has appeared in movies like “Super 8.” And geeky Moisés Arias is best known for a reoccurring role on TV’s “Hannah Montana.”
The screenplay by Chris Galletta was originally titled Toy’s House.
Newbie director Jordan Vogt-Roberts seems to have taken the blueprint for “Moonrise Kingdom,” some leftover boards from “Stand By Me,” framing from “Mud,” and a few nails used by John Hughes to construct this film. Perhaps that’s what makes Toy’s House seem a bit like the House That Jack Built.