Monday, September 30, 2013

Thanks for Sharing (Rhoades)

“Thanks for Sharing”
Shares Quite a Lot

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You read about celebrities like Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas and Tiger Woods being treated for sex addiction. Is this a rich man’s disease -- like gout?

Not so, according to “Thanks for Sharing,” the intriguing film that’s still playing at the Tropic Cinema. It argues that sex addiction is a common affliction, not just an excuse someone comes up with when caught cheating.

This dramedy by first-time director Stuart Blumberg follows three men in and out of their 12-step program for sex addiction. With all the film’s talk about sobriety, it’s hard to tell it from an AA meeting. They all seem to be “friends of Bill.”

The three guys fighting against perpetual horniness are Adam (Mark Ruffalo), his sponsor Mike (Tim Robbins), and his sponsee Neil (Josh Gad).

Adam meets the girl of his dreams (Gwyneth Paltrow), but faces not-too-surprising trust issues when she discovers his womanizing past. Mike has friction with his grown son (Patrick Fugit), a guy who’s had substance-abuse problems due to his tough upbringing. And Neil is a doctor who gets fired for uncontrollable voyeurism, but is helped to get back on track by a female sex addict (the singer Pink).

Mark Ruffalo seems to be enjoying his leading man status that came from “The Kids Are All Right” and “The Avengers.” Tim Robbins remains a fine actor with his baby face and now-white hair. And TV actor Josh Gad passes as a good substitute for Jonah Hill or Jack Black.

Gwyneth Paltrow is tempting in her skimpy underwear; Joely Richardson is supportive as Mike’s long-suffering wife. And Alecia “Pink” Moore helps turn the chubby doctor into a “George Clooney in ER.”

In a culture where we’re conditioned to see sexual prowess as a desirable trait, you have to shift your mindset a tad to understand sexual addiction as an affliction that you’d want to avoid.

Too much of a good thing, as the saying goes. 

We're the Millers (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

 We're the Millers

Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) attempts to helm a Farrelly Brothers type comedy with "We're the Millers" starring Jason Sudeikis of SNL and Jennifer Aniston. While the comedy does have some fun character-based jokes and authentic chemistry with most of the cast, the plot grows sparse in the midway point with tired repetitious gags. Think of a comedy update of Cheech & Chong with a bit of the original "Vacation" thrown in and you have most of the story.

Sudeikis plays David Clark, a role slightly against type as a scruffy pot dealer. Clark is in trouble with a horribly shallow and cruel head boss (Ed Helms) who has a live orca tank that chomps on bottlenose dolphins. Clark owes this annoying narcotic CEO money and somehow agrees to go to Mexico to pick up what looks like a semi truck load of marijuana. Although his pick up lines are less than compelling, he convinces Rose (Aniston) to act as his wife to make the international smuggling more benign. Although this defies logic in real life, David convinces a teenage neighbor Kenny (Will Poulter) to be his son, along with a homeless stranger Casey (Emma Roberts) to tag along as his teen daughter.

There are some humorous non-sequiturs and slips on the plane, as Casey forgets the ruse and becomes foul mouthed, while David is more and more flustered. Sudeikis does well aping the anal-retentive WASP, as he has done in many skits and he has a goofy out-of touchiness of a Chevy Chase.

Poulter also does well in his part as the anxious jittery teen. And Aniston is also capably entertaining as she oscillates between her former life as an exotic dancer and the masquerade of a suburban mom.

But although the repartee has some momentum, the plot goes in neutral as Kenny is forced to ponder giving oral sex to a cop (not funny, given its somber treatment) and also has some generic stereotypes of Mexican gangsters running around for far too long. Not to mention the all too frequent sight gag of swollen balls.

The first thirty minutes have some politically incorrect chuckles, but as the story grasps for explanation, it grows tedious.

The Midwestern rescuers Don (Nick Offerman) and Edie (Kathryn Hahn) are entertaining parodies of All-American suburbanites, but when we learn Don is an agent, he seems more a cut and paste copy of Jack Byrnes from "Meet the Parents".

Sudeikis is the anchor of the film, albeit a loose one. His one liners and embarrassing outbursts do hold together the bits of solid dialogue to be had, and override an oddly unaffecting soft porn scene featuring Aniston.

Aside from the initial scenes, there are better zany farces to be had. Forgo Mexico and try a more authentic Aniston in "Wanderlust", or take the cinematic family truckster and go to Wally World. It still makes for a middlebrow summer or fall but you will probably have a better time by film's end.

Write Ian at

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Thanks for Sharing (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Thanks for Sharing

Stuart Blumberg's (writer of The Kids Are All Right) debut feature focuses on sex addiction. Despite a few melodramatic touches, it is a honest and engaging character study, mostly due to the acting of Josh Gad and Mark Ruffalo.

To start with Ruffalo plays Adam, an extremely anxious but well meaning consultant with GQ handsomeness. You wouldn't know he's an addict as he looks like your kid's history teacher but little by little, Adam has a monkey on his back. Have no fear however,you will pull for him right away. Adam has a curious mixture of warmth and apprehension that escalates slowly into terror. Ruffalo is riveting in this outing, having something of Lon Chaney, Jr. right before he is transformed by the full moon.

Adam is joined with several vignettes  featuring Josh Gad as Neil, a pale and plump,carbohydrate-fetishizing doctor who is addicted to surreptitiously rubbing himself on anonymous ladies along with offensive voyeurism. Neil is not a bad guy, sometimes he is genuinely funny, but he is tragically trapped (at first) like most every other character here. Although Neil might seem to some to be a version of Newman from "Seinfeld", just a tad, he is no cartoon. This is a man eaten up by fears and expectations by his stifling mother (Carol Kane) and he shows his very real emotional disability as well as his compassion for others.

Thrown into this chemical and messy mix is Tim Robbins as Mike, who is clearly the leader of the pack, for his supposed Guru-like longevity. While it does feel like the character of Mike is generic and suffering with dramatic low T, with his encouragement and empathy always at the ready, not to mention his multiple wincing and downbeat responses, Robbins handles this standard role well as an overbearing voice of reason.

The real thrill of "Thanks for Sharing" is its mostly unsentimental look into the world of an addict. Though this film is less punchy and considerably more upbeat than Steve McQueen's "Shame", its apparently lightness in tone is deceptive. By mimicking the buoyancy and farce of a romantic comedy, danger and peril commences upon what was thought to be madcap and we are hooked.

Gwyneth Paltrow does a good turn as Mark Ruffalo's hopeful new beginning along with Alecia Moore (aka the pop star Pink) who gives some irreverent companionship to Neil's cloistered, wallflower existence.

Despite some Tv-squared melodrama by the end of the film involving an oft portrayed showdown between a drifting son (Patrick Fugit) and the self righteous Mike, the whole of "Thanks for Sharing" is disarming and funny with some pointed lines guaranteed to make you draw back with tension as well as chuckle.

Write Ian at

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Worlds's End (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The World's End

Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) concludes  his comic trilogy with his main man Simon Pegg in a (no surprise here) doomsday spoof. What is surprising is its heart and attention, which saves the film from falling into utter nonsense and giggles.

Pegg stars as Gary King, a lifelong adolescent drinker  who resembles a derelict Bono in black leather and pants. As a man, Gary is now in rehab just going thru the motions. He is eaten up that he did not finish a pub crawl with his mates, known as The Golden Mile. The final pub was known as The World's End.

They never made it.

Gary becomes obsessed with getting his friends back on the quest of pub rolling as a way of recapturing adolescence as well as to continue drinking.

The green light for the endeavor hinges on the milquetoast Andy (Nick Frost) who had a tragic accident involving his hand. Andy is a teetotaler and his character is a highlight in the film.

As in the Judd Apatow-toned outing "This Is the End", much of this film is full of personal insider quips that have a lot to do with Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg and the familiar deadpan comments mixed with some trademark rapid-fire editing used in their previous films.

Simon Pegg walks out with his buddies for pint after pint in the manner of Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs". His remarks along with his facial expressions become more hysterical and mad by the minute. He delivers all the zany goods that anyone might expect and his grammatically ill lunacy is dead on, equalled only by his spastic sputtering.

There is some solid ribald ridicule between friends and some riotous barbs about The Starbucks Era  stripping drinking houses of flavor and clientele.

There is an abundance of banter going on about abstinence, sobriety and space aliens, and while this gets a bit soggy by the half way point, "The World's End" gets a lift by the sheer madcap style of its combat scenes with limbs flying hither and thither in between long pulls of stout and draft. Not to mention the hordes of headless preppies and clone footballers that wait to screech and wail against our heroes.

The explanation of the plot is less entertaining than the snickering bickering sarcasms,  but when its all put in a pot it makes a good romp, particularly with the presence of Simon Pegg who gives an ample draw of charm and hesitance to balance his over-singed sizzle.

Write Ian at

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Week of Sept. 27 to October 3 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema Brings the Entertainment to You

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

For those of you who haven’t made the pilgrimage to New Town, the Tropic Cinema is bringing three mainstream hits straight to you this week.

“The World’s End” is that British comedy about (as the title implies) the world’s end. Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (that “Shaun of the Dead” duo), it follows five grown-up buddies who go pub-crawling to redo a failed attempt as teens to set a record. But along the way they encounter robots trying to take over the world. Yes, it’s funny. Movie Habit calls it “a screwball Sci-fi comedy.” terms the film a “classic British comedy: It's anarchy versus conformity with conformity never standing a chance.” And The Atlantic observes that “Robert Frost famously mused 'Some say the world will end in fire/Some say in ice.' I prefer Edgar Wright's vision: It will end in a pub.”

Another funny addition is “We’re the Millers,” the Jason Sudeikis-Jennifer Aniston comedy about a drug dealer, a stripper, a runaway, and a latchkey kid who pretend to be a family called the Millers in order to mule some pot in from Mexico in an innocuous RV. The Daily Mail notes that the movie is “funnier and more ingenious than you might expect, and the actors have the comic timing to pull off most of it.” And Richard Roeper says it “clicks on just enough cylinders to warrant a recommendation.”

Adding to that is “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” the drama starring Forest Whitaker as a White House butler who observes the Civil Rights Movement under eight Presidents. The New Yorker calls it “a high-minded, didactic, but irresistible entertainment...” ReelReviews says, “Forest Whitaker imbues his part with immense dignity.” And Christian Science Monitor notes “Oprah Winfrey is good, though, demonstrating yet again that she's an actress and not just a celebrity playing an actress.”

And to maintain its creds as a purveyor of indie films, “Thanks for Sharing” opens at the Tropic too. This dramedy stars Gwyneth Paltrow, along with Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, and Josh Gad as three guys undergoing a 12-step treatment for sexual addition. Paste Magazine calls it “a warm, funny and poignant portrait of a misunderstood affliction…” Movie Dearest says it “makes pretty much all the right moves while walking a delicate tightrope between deadly-serious dramatic scenes and some guffaw-inducing comedic moments.” And Chicago Sun-Times concludes “First-time director Stuart Blumberg does a fine job and makes some brave choices.”

Plenty of entertainment coming to you … this week at the Tropic.

We're the Millers (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“We’re the Millers”
Actually Aren’t

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

What does Hollywood do when it has a handful of B-list stars in need of movie roles? Apparently, it throws them all into the same film and passes it off as a “family” outing.

That might explain “We’re the Miller’s,” a new comedy in which Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, and Will Poulter pretend to be a family called the Millers.

In this silly farce -- currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- an ambitious pot dealer (Sudeikis) hires a stripper (Aniston), a runaway street kid (Roberts), and a virgin slacker (Poulter) to pretend to be his family as a cover for delivering a big shipment of weed from Mexico in the “family” RV.
It almost works -- the delivery and the movie. And, of course, by the end the ersatz Millers have grown closer, just like a real … well, you know.

Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis co-starred in 2011’s “Horrible Bosses.” Good thing they’ve developed a comfort level. Because the “We’re the Millers” script calls for Aniston to give Sudeikis a sexy lap dance.

“I would say it was a clear manifestation of our trust,” grins Sudeikis.

“Yeah, 100 percent trust,” nods the pretty woman who was grinding against him in the movie.

How did America’s favorite friend wind up playing a pole-dancing stripper?

“At first it’s like, oh that’ll be fun. It’s something I’ve never done before,” says Jennifer Aniston. “Then the day before, it’s why did I agree to do this … you can’t back out …you can’t not do it.”
She raises her eyebrows in mock horror. “It’s intimidating to walk onto the set after having practiced, rehearsed by yourself.”

Then like a naughty girl she confesses, “Stripping was so much fun.”

Wanna see Brad Pitt’s ex-wife take it all off?

Forgetabout it. Aniston doesn’t bare all in this silly comedy, the way she did with Vince Vaughn in “The Break Up.”

For her strip scenes she actually wore a thong and two pair of underwear plus three bras on top of one another. “Why I thought that was going to help protect anything is beyond me,” she laughs at herself. “Because, that’s just like ridiculous. I was like, ‘No, I need three bras! I need three bras because God forbid that one, if it’s gonna escape!’”

Nonetheless, she looks good in her undies. Trim and toned and fit.

Aniston admitted that getting into stripper-shape for her role in “We’re the Millers” required some strict eating habits. “I was on a very like, you know, greens and vegetables and lean proteins and kale.” She also stepped up her workout routine in order to get ready for the racy role. “I doubled the amount of yoga I normally do,” she says. “You get up into my age and you’ve gotta do a little bit more.”

Pundits like HuffPost rave that the 44-year-old actress has the “best body in Hollywood.” “And she’s not afraid to show it off,” adds the online blog.

To prove it, Aniston showed up at the film’s New York premiere wearing an incredibly tight, mid-length, strapless purple dress. (And a humongous engagement ring, so you guys can forget all those errant fantasies.)

“We’re the Millers” is a concept that has been knocking around Tinseltown for a long time. It’s gone through at least four screenwriters. Actors like Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Steve Buscemi were attached to the lead role before Sudeikis.

The what-do-we-do-with-this film was also looking for a director. Rawson Marshall Thurber drew the short straw. He’s the guy who made a somewhat funny sleeper hit called “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.” Can he pull off another slam-dunk? Guess that depends whether or not “We’re the Millers" catches on with multiple audiences.

Test screenings indicate that the movie’s targeted toward 15-33 year olds. The reasoning seems to be that kids will like the smutty humor. Stoners will love the drug references. Dads will like the hot striptease that Jennifer Aniston gives to convince the drug lords that she’s really part of a fake family. And moms will like the … uh, popcorn?

The World's End (Rhoades)

“The World’s End”
Completes Trilogy

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever done a pub crawl? Y’know, drinking from one bar to the next with your friends? I did it once with a bloke from London. A mistake. I think the British are bred for this. I ended up with my face in a puddle of beer.

In “The World’s End” -- the new science-fiction comedy that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- five friends reunite to do an infamous pub crawl in Newton Haven, a small town in England. This so-called Golden Mile consists of 12 pubs, starting with The First Post and finishing with The World’s End.

The names of the pubs foreshadow events in the film, almost like chapter headings.
Director Edgar Wright explains the plot. “If you live in a small town and you move to London, which I did when I was 20, then when you go back out into the other small towns in England you go ‘Oh my god, it’s all the same!’ It’s like ‘Bodysnatchers.’ Literally our towns are being changed to death.”
In the case of “The World’s End,” the pub crawlers’ hometown is being taken over by robots from outer space.

Silly, yes? It’s supposed to be. This is the third film in a trilogy that includes the brilliant satires “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” -- brought to you by Wright and his two pals Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

You’ll recognize Pegg as Scotty in the new “Star Trek” movies. And he and Frost did another sci-fi comedy call “Paul,” about an alien who escapes from Area 51.

Here, the five friends uncover a plot by alien robots to take over the earth, stealing humans’ DNA and assuming their place -- like those pod people in “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.”
The five friends consist of Gary (Pegg), Andrew (Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Peter (Eddie Marsan), and Oliver (Martin Freeman). Toss in Sam (Rosamund Pike) as the Oliver’s sister, the beauty the boys lust after.

Seems all of the guys have moved on with their lives, except for Gary, a sad case of arrested development. He’s the one who pulls his old pals together for the pub crawl, an attempt to reach the World’s End, a challenge they’d failed to achieve as teenagers.

This time around, Gary is determined to prove himself, refusing to be deterred even by an army of robots.

You’ll laugh while watching the world as we know it reach its end.

Some people might compare this film to Seth Rogan’s “This Is the End.”

“We always knew theirs was a Biblical apocalypse,” says Edgar Wright. “Ours is science fiction – a different story. The similarities begin and end with the word ‘End’.”

He struggles for more differences. “Theirs couldn’t be more American,” exclaims Wright, “and ours couldn’t be more British!”

This lack of competition between apocalyptic comedies stems from the fact that, as Pegg puts it, “They’re friends of ours.” (You’ll recall that Seth Rogan co-starred with them in “Paul,” doing the voice of the runaway alien.)

Funny guys. I wouldn’t mind going on a pub crawl with Pegg and Rogan. But I’m sure I wouldn’t make it to … the end.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Butler (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by  Ian Brockway

Lee Daniels' The Butler

"Lee Daniels' The Butler" is a sweeping, hypnotic portrait of America that is as engaging as it is punchy.

Forest Whitaker is Cecil Gaines, a boy who was raised on a plantation in the 1920s during that time of a violent and hateful South. Cecil watches as his mother is raped and his father shot. He is taken in by a Mrs. Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave) who is unaware of her racism. As a young man, Cecil takes to the roads. Gray and desolate buildings loom ahead of him like sinister monoliths, while the image of two lynched boys hang in front of him like spectres  of death. Cecil becomes the existential man, forced to become invisible. After stealing a coconut cake, he manages to take a job as a butler under the wing of Maynard (Clarence Williams III).

He succeeds.

Cecil takes a job with The Excelsior Hotel in Washington and then gets call from The White House. During an intimidating interview the dapper Freddie Fallows (Colman Domingo) looks at Cecil as if he were an alien  but ultimately hires him.

The film gets a subversive charge from its position that Cecil, by working within as a submissive butler, ultimately transforms society and banishes the execration of racism. The scenes of civil disobedience in which some young students are disgustingly abused are masterfully paired with Cecil serving Eisenhower (Robin Williams) and dignitaries under shining gold plates.

Prejudiced and bigoted white men depend on Cecil who has the upper hand. By being told to make the room empty, he is filled with everything.

While the parade of presidents is uneven in dramatic verve, with Eisenhower and Reagan tepid (and perhaps rightly so), there are some brilliant touches -- a manipulative Nixon (John Cusack) harassed by a fly, and a rude, racist and constipated LBJ who passes Civil Rights. Also dazzling in poignancy is the recreation of iconic albeit upsetting images: Martin Luther King, Jr. (Nelsan Ellis) pensive and alone on a motel balcony, or a man trapped by a firehose, seconds before being attacked by a roaring and biting police dog.

The sight of Jackie Kennedy spattered with blood like evil syrup in her pink cashmere is quite visceral, as are the recreations of violence captured on the one monochrome eye of the television. The all seeing window of this new invention is coupled with Cecil's invariable stare: an odd mixture of passivity and shock floating above him to create a cloud of Damocles.

Cecil tries to rule with a John Birch  hand at home, ignoring the horror of Emmett Till along with the positivity of The Black Panthers. Cecil's wife (Oprah Winfrey) is loving, restless, and shifty by turns, entertaining a romp with a lazy scarlet neighbor (Terrence Howard). Winfrey alone has a potent final scene as she comically comments on her granddaughter as she shares a cup of tea with her husband.

While Cecil might try to emulate a 1950s Era sedate illusion with his sons in plaid starched shirts, real life is far from perfect, and Lee Daniels has some fine spontaneity here to contrast his somewhat Disneyesque hall of presidents. Each of the domestic scenes vibrantly illustrate a period, having something of the graphic power an Edward Hopper painting, alternately expressing motion and melancholy, as Winfrey is overcome by sadness and cat eye mascara.

Although it is highly in doubt that Reagan upheld Apartheid, Daniels captures Reagan's robotics well and Jane Fonda captures the whole of Nancy with just a few expressive details with a bounce in her red dress.

The life of "Lee Daniels' The Butler" ultimately stands with Forest Whitaker who plays Cecil as a kind of Kafkaesque hero-cypher who nonetheless seethes, and is sometimes stifled by, gross personal tragedy. As he irons a tie given to him by Kennedy, the straight path of the iron is symbolic of the voyage he travelled with the president. Cecil Gaines, who is based on the real butler, Eugene Allen, is a zen force of Horatio Alger momentum that we can all cheer for, once we see Cecil's slow and cindering smile, revealed between a pair of immoveable white columns.

Write Ian at

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Short Term 12 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

"Short Term 12" is a sneaky hit. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and based on his short film, the story concerns life in a center for troubled and abused kids. Short Term 12 is executed in a telescopic Mumblecore style, but the deep, sophisticated characterizations make a richer experience than your typical Indie about relationships.

Grace (Brie Larson) is a tough yet empathetic counselor who handles bunches of youngsters with verve, snap and deliberateness.

And she has issues of her own.

There is Sammy (Alex Calloway) who plays with dolls. There is the aspiring rapper Marcus (Keith Stanfield) who charges his songs with unique originality and vivid detail about disposable youth. Then there is Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) a subversive and impetuous girl who doesn't see the point of anything yet possesses an unrestrained whimsy, despite her self-cutting.

These adolescents are no mere cardboard representations but real fleshy, take-action people that just might change the world if only their environments had been slightly different. Day after day, we witness life in this building and the focus is both insular and sweeping. There is a perspective here that is just a bit like life inside a submarine. At any moment, a siren might go off  signaling the launch of an AWOL resident. These incidents are surprising and sudden, but the counselors treat them with a carnival sense of joie de vivre rather than a wrath of corporeal punishment. As they run, the kids themselves see each chance as a game or adventure, at times, rather than a mad dash for what lies beyond. The aides encircle each runner with a festive intensity that speaks of play as much as regulation.

Sometimes, the staff has to restrain someone, and each person exchanges repartee that recalls Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd in "Ghostbusters".

At day's end, we have a sense that Grace deflates with the gravity of the world pressing upon her. She lives for her work and genuinely loves her responsibilities. Grace  has reason to celebrate though, as she is in love with her gentle co-worker /boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) All is not bliss though, Grace is prone to sudden rages and acute mood swings. She has learned of a pregnancy and more troubling still, Grace's violent and abusive father is about to be released from prison.

The charm of this film is that the adults depicted are on equal footing with the kids. Each character has a well rounded personality without sap or melodrama. As in life, we see each person unvarnished with more than a bit of wilt and uncertainty.

The acting of Keith Stanfield, full of enigmatic energy, ambivalence and a natural softness is a highlight that almost stands alone.

Brie Larson also is a galvanic surprise as she becomes more than a bit unhinged, but never veers into unreal camp.

"Short Term 12" is an vibrant and colorful look inside a facility that some never know. The residents and staff are shown with a picaresque and motley sense of sweetness that is not without its danger.

This is a somewhat deceptive, simply told film that will grab at your heart with its warmth and haunting details.

Write Ian at

Friday, September 20, 2013

Week of September 20 to September 26 (Rhoades)

Four Gems Sparkle on Tropic Cinema Screens

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

New to the Tropic Cinema is “Short Term 12,” a gentle movie about a counselor at an at-risk foster home for teenagers. Brie Larson stars as Grace, the woman barely out of her teens who watches over these kids like a mother hen. But Grace has her own problems, including a romance with a co-worker. Even so, it's her charges -- Jayden and Marcus -- that give you the insights into this world. In addition to winning a Grand Jury Narrative Feature Award at SxSW, the critics have raved about this film. Chicago Sun-Times calls it “one of the best movies of the year and one of the truest portrayals ever seen about troubled teens and the people who dedicate their lives to trying to help them.” And St. Louis Post-Dispatch says “it's a redemptive and even funny film that invites us to stay and grow.”

Also coming to the Tropic is “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” the film that will likely garner Academy Award nominations for Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey. This story of a White House butler who served eight presidents is really a look at the Civil Rights Movement. The New Yorker describes it as “a high-minded, didactic, but irresistible entertainment ...” And Denver Post says, “A history lesson in violence and endurance. A sentimental journey. A tribute. Director Daniels and the dedicated cast of The Butler deliver all that.”

Also holding over is “In a World …,” the Hollywood insider look at a voice coach who wants to break into the VO world where her father reigns king. This is Lake Bell’s showcase, a film that she wrote, produced, directed, and starred in. USA Today calls it “a clever, likable comedy that sends up sexism, satirizes Hollywood, examines family ties and features a surprisingly tender romance at its core.” Rolling Stone sees it as “an exhilarating comic rush.” And SSG Limited terms it a “savvy, screwball, feminist comedy gem.”

For those of you who missed Woody Allen’s latest outing, you can still catch “Blue Jasmine” at the Tropic. Cate Blanchett excels as Jasmine, a NY society wife who has fallen on bad times and must move to San Francisco to live with her adopted sister. This tragicomedy will have you debating which sister married the biggest loser. Cinema Autopsy writes that this is “one of Allen's cleverest and most compassionate films, making it also one of his greatest.” While the Salt Lake Tribune notes that “Allen includes some nicely offbeat casting choices ... but mostly he gives the floor to Blanchett, who captures Jasmine's Xanax-popping neuroses with flinty brilliance…” and Chicago Reader adds “This also benefits from one of the strongest casts he's assembled in years: 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.”

Four gems, sparkling on the Tropic screens.

Short Term 12 (Rhoades)

“Short Term 12”
Examines At-Risk Kids

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’ve watched the Keys Coalition struggle to make a difference when it comes to at-risk kids, in their case human trafficking. But there are a lot of young people at risk -- from drugs, broken homes, criminal activities, angst, and anger.

Some at-risk kids wind up living in group homes where counselors, sometimes not much older than them, try to help them sort through the challenges of life.

“Short Term 12” -- currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- is a film that captures this process, focusing on a twentysomething counselor named Grace (Brie Larson) and her co-worker Mason (John Gallagher. Jr.). But what the film (winner of a Grand Jury Narrative Feature Award and the Narrative Audience Award at this year’s SXSW film festival) actually does is to help you see this situation from the at-risk teens’ point of view.
Marcus (Keith Stanfield) is an intense boy about to leave the facility, this foster-home the only anchor he’s known in life. And Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) is a gifted girl that Grace seems to connect with.
Sure, we have the subplot of Grace being in love with her co-worker Mason, not to mention dealing with her own troubled past, but it’s the youngsters under her care that provide the heart of this touching and troubling film.

You might recognize Brie Larson (née Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers) from her appearances on TV’s “United States of Tara” and such popular movies as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “21 Jump Street.” And John Gallagher, Jr. has had a great season as Jim Harper on Aaron Sorkin’s TV drama, “The Newsroom.” You’ve also seen him in “Pieces of April” and “Jonah Hex.” Mostly, he’s known for his Broadway work.

However, it’s newcomer Keith Stanfield who delivers a nuanced performance that gives you an unvarnished insight into this world. The lanky boy burns with an intensity that hides his vulnerability. He request to shave his head for his 18th birthday is a symbolic rite of passage that says it all.
All that aside, the real credit for this gentle drama goes to filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton. His verisimilitude comes from the two years he spent working in a group home after college. The character Nate (played by Rami Maler) is modeled after himself, the eager yet clumsy caregiver out to save the world.

Cretton gives that ambition another try with this complex, but engaging film. He may not have saved the world, but he shines light into a little corner of it.

The Butler (Rhoades)

“The Butler”
Serves Up a Look At Civil Rights

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

It would be easy to dismiss “The Butler” as “Driving Miss Daisy” set in the Oval Office. But this movie starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey has a more serious purpose -- to explain the Civil Rights Movement while contrasting it with the mostly true story of a White House butler’s 34-year service to his country.

This historical drama directed by Lee Daniels (“Precious”) is now playing at the Tropic Cinema. Go see it.

The movie pretends to focus on the life of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), a protagonist who witnesses the rape of his mother (Mariah Carey) and the murder of his father (David Banner), is trained to be a house servant by Mizz Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave), then goes on to work at the White House.
But this parade of presidents is merely an excuse to tell the story of Cecil’s son Louis (David Oyelowo), a boy who joins the Civil Right Movement, sits in at lunch counters, strategizes with Martin Luther King, Jr. (Nelson Ellis), faces the Ku Klux Klan, spends a lot of time getting beaten up and arrested, and becomes a member of the Black Panthers along with his radical girlfriend (Yaya DaCosta).

In the end, Louis opts for a more peaceful protest and his estranged father eventually comes around to understand his son’s heroic stance.

The film gains stature with its notable black actors -- among them Oprah; Terence Howard; Cuba
Gooding, Jr.; Lenny Kravitz; and Clarence Williams III. But Forest Whitaker and David Oyelowo take center stage as father and son. And Oprah gives a strong backup performance as the imperfect wife.
Forest Whitaker won an Academy Award for his role in “The Last King of Scotland,” but this is likely the film for which he will be remembered. He fits his character as snugly as those white gloves Cecil wears to polish the White House’s silverware.

If “The Butler” falters, it’s in the stunt casting of the U.S. Presidents whom Cecil serves -- Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower (but looking more like Harry Truman); John Cusack as Richard Nixon (replete with a false nose); James Marsden as John Kennedy and Minka Kelly as Jackie (looking the part, but slightly mismatched in height); Liev Schreiber as Lyndon Johnson (beagle at his side); Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan and Jane Fonda as Nancy (him cooing about being on the wrong side of the Civil Rights Movement and her inviting the help to State Dinners). Orlando Eric Street makes a fleeting impression as Barrack Obama, but mostly Obama, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter appear in archival footage, a contrast to the contrived images.

All this is a tad distracting when we’re trying to forget this is a movie and receive its message.
The character of Cecil Gaines is actually based on a real-life White House butler named Eugene Allen, who worked there during eight presidential terms from 1952 to 1986. Allen started as a “pantry man” and retired as maître d’hôtel, the head butler. Danny Strong based his screenplay on an article titled “A Butler Well Served by This Election” that appeared in the Washington Post.
The addition of the director’s name to the title (it’s officially called “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”) was not a matter of ego, but due to a ruling by the MPAA that he add it to distinguish the film from a 1916 silent movie also titled “The Butler.”

Nonetheless, this is a movie that Lee Daniels should be proud of. He encapsulates the struggle of blacks in America into 132 minutes. And tells a riveting -- and important -- story in the process.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Museum Hours (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Museum Hours

Experimental video artist and photographer Jem Cohen delivers a thoughtful and provocative film with "Museum Hours", which is as much about how we interpret works of art as it is about two introspective people.

Johann (Bobby Sommer) is a Kunsthistorisches Museum guard in Vienna. He passively sits behind a velvet rope as he watches visitors shuffle past the Brueghel room. Pink fleshy and startled faces ogle at the Dutch Master paintings and the motley inhabitants in the paintings stare back.

One afternoon,  Anne, a Montreal tourist (Mary Margaret O' Hara) catches the interest of Johann and they begin a conversation. Anne is concerned about her cousin Gerda (Ela Piplets) who is terminal in the hospital. The two talk about locations, culture, daily life and philosophy. Anne is excitable and self-deprecating while Johann is a bit passive and reserved. The two make an interesting and poignant coupling. Johann's exchanges are interspersed with his opinions on the tastes and values of the museum goers who may or may not get the full meaning of what they are observing. Brueghel's manic and heartfelt works depicting religion, sorcery, grotesquerie  and the ultimate overlooking of Nature is juxtaposed against the white Winter desolation of Vienna with its stark geometry of icy streets, hard right angles and pale blank faces. Johann has spirit for the memory of a young punk rock student who argued that all museums should be free and the downfall of Capitalism. Johann is a figure out of Paul Bowles, content to lie supine under Moroccan shades, smirking at western commerce. Anne for her part, is delighted by the happenstance of life.

Both actors flow with such easy chemistry that they seem people in a documentary. O' Hara, an avant garde singer who has worked with Leonard Cohen, Hal Willner and Morrissey, gives a slightly quirky, yet wonderfully human performance as someone fearful of solitude. Her voice rises and falls without warning and she sings like a cat who has lost eight lives.

In the film, the works of Brueghel are living organic entities which provoke nudity from their visitors. The best most subversive segments of "Museum Hours" recall the work of Peter Greenaway and Bunuel. The paintings themselves thrive within their medieval carnivals, seeming to mock and cajole the sharp edged architecture of a 21st Century Vienna beyond.

With its crisp colors and delicate Chinese ink textures, "Museum Hours" as an artifact by itself  is as much a painterly work as the paintings and the characters that drift infinitely along its digital path.

Write Ian at

In A World (Brockway)

In a World

Actor turned director Lake Bell (Boston Legal) offers an entertaining window into a realm that most of us might not be conscious of---the stresses and struggles  of the voiceover artist: those often anonymous yet invaluable talents that give personality and flavor to countless films, trailers and TV commercials. The film "In a World" illustrates the efforts of women to be successful and respected in the male dominated field of film and television voice work.

Lake Bell stars as Carol, a pale and quirky professional known for her accents and pop culture catchphrases. Her employment is sketchy and she has all but given up on landing the big high-visibility spots. She supplements her expenses by being a coach to the likes of Eva Longoria, who can't voice a cockney pirate to save her life.

To complicate matters, Carol is stifled in her career by her hulking, egotistical and hirsute father Sam Soto, excellently played by Fred Melamed (A Serious Man) who has taken the Almighty mantle passed onto him by the late voice-master Don LaFontaine shown at the start of the film.

Sam is a Goya giant, stomping about in a booming baritone, endlessly patronizing Carol's endeavors. He sees his daughter as a lazy slacker with unrealistic expectations who doesn't apply herself in lucrative directions, specifically stereotypical accents. Sam wants his daughter out of the house as his Barbie-like ego-stroking girlfriend (Alexandra Holden) is moving in.

Shocked, Carol takes refuge with her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and husband (The Daily Show's Rob Corddry).

Through a random job regarding the casting disaster of Eva Longoria and goaded by the persistent admiration of the nerdy Louis (Demetri Martin), Carol gets a job in a blockbuster sci-fi film based on "The Hunger Games". This inflames the anger of Sam, who is in cahoots with Gustav Warner (Ken Marino) a kind of Cruisean evangelist of sound, who thinks he is this century's God's Voice.

Every part is harmonic in this film with no one actor overwhelming the other. This is a genuine ensemble Indie. The comedy is black laced and sincerely madcap. Corddry and Martin are authentic and laugh out loud funny. Corddry plays a sex-obsessed hermit while Martin is a hesitant, manipulative, yet well meaning square.

Melamed for his part plays a penultimate prick with great gusto and freewheeling fire in a performance that rivals any political incorrectness delivered by Larry David or Ricky Gervais.

The most enjoyable thing about "In a World", is that it doesn't pander or ridicule. Although zany, its story is no cartoon. The jokes are not transparent, cheap, or vinyl-thin. This is dark humor with heart. Lake Bell is pointed with her laughs. Better yet, she has the courage to deliver a punchy sourball ending that goes against genre but isn't bitter, it merely describes the state of sound, as is.

Write Ian at

Still Mine (Brockway)

Still Mine

Michael McGowan (King Ralph) writes and directs the heartfelt and authentic "Still Mine", supposedly based on a true story. The drama  concerns a forthright eighty year old farmer Craig (James Cromwell) and his struggle to maintain equilibrium with his wife Irene (Geneviève Bujold) during her battle with Alzheimer's.

Although the film takes a page in tone and cinematography from "Iris" (2001), the acting of Cromwell gives his character fresh verve with real urgency as he locks horns with Canadian officials who in the manner of a Kafka novel, always seem to find trouble with him. All Craig wants to do is build a ground floor house and just when he seems to make progress, the paperclip-headed men come marching along. The house is ultimately a pine beacon of hope with Chekhov-like importance, nothing less than a scaffold to support his selfless wife as well as a safe to ensure the longevity of life at home.

Cromwell is excellent in this somewhat understated performance. Craig has a zen determination but he sometimes (and who can blame him) scarily boils over. At one point, a complete wooden wall collapses in front of him. It is a singularly emotional moment, making it quite easy to take Craig's anti-government point of view.

Geneviève Bujold is perfect as well in the body of Irene. She is neither sappy or maudlin and she even retains some silvering sensuality. This is a couple who remain close with a passionate energy even as the ax of aging appears to chip away at them.

There is some original tension given by the nosiness of  a daughter and son (Julie Stewart and Rick Roberts) and you will never see a colder bureaucrat in Mr. Daigle (Jonathan Potts) who annoyingly cites Craig for some unstamped lumber.

The best parts of "Still Mine" make a compelling rhythmic drama in keeping with "The Trial". Craig's resolute hammering becomes a race against time.  

Only in the film's next to last scene, does the plot stumble a bit with convention, as Craig gives an "I did my best as a honest man" type speech. Yet even with this tilt to the trite, Cromwell delivers a pulse and pathos that is hard to ignore.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Week of Sept. 14 to Sept. 20 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema’s Lineup -- Loud and Clear

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever noticed that the voices narrating movie previews are usually male? That’s no accident. Men dominate Hollywood’s voice-over business. So what would happen if a female voice coach -- the daughter of the King of Voice Overs -- decides to go for the big VO assignment on an upcoming movie, vying with her father’s handpicked protégé as well as dear ol’ dad himself? That’s the proposition star-writer-producer-director Lake Bell puts forward in her comedy, “In a World …”

This is one of three new films playing at the Tropic Cinema.

“In a World” is wowing critics. Time Out says, “Like her character, Bell has made herself a contender in a male-dominated industry. And a damn funny one at that.” Denver Post calls it “surprisingly tender and wise as it is deftly wise-cracking.” And USA Today adds, “A clever, likable comedy that sends up sexism, satirizes Hollywood, examines family ties and features a surprisingly tender romance at its core.”

Director Jem Cohen's “Museum Hours” explores the ability of art to alter our lives. We find a guard at Vienna's grand Kunsthistorisches Art Museum meets up with a woman who has been wandering the streets. Together, they show us the beautiful city, the exquisite artworks in the museum, and their secret lives. The Washinton Post notes that it’s “every bit as masterfully conceived and executed as the art works that serve as the film's lively cast of supporting characters. View London calls it “grand, profound and exceptionally beautiful love letter to museums and the wealth of culture that can be found in everyday life.” And Radio Times terms it “a beguiling and often moving treatise on the relationship between art and life.”

“Still Mine” pairs two of my favorite underappreciated actors -- James Cromwell and Geneviève Bujold as Craig and Irene Morrison. In this modern-day “Mrs. Blandings Builds His Dram House,” Craig faces bureaucratic obstacles as he tried to use his father’s shipbuilding skills to construct and abode for his ailing wife. Philadelphia Inquirer tells us “it is about a husband and wife, partners through six decades, grappling with issues of aging, and how to spend what time together remains with grace and dignity.” And Boston Globe calls it “a tough-minded tearjerker, based on a true story ...”

Fir those who have missed it, the Tropic is holding over Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” the Tennessee Williams-eque story of a high society matron (Cate Blanchett) who falls onto hard times when her wheeler-dealer hubby (Alec Baldwin) gets sent to prison. Thus, Jasmine is forced to move in with her adopted sister (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco, raising the question of who are the real losers in this existential dramedy. “Cate Blanchett sets the new standard for actors portraying wildly dysfunctional people,” says Aisle Seat. And Cinema Autopsy calls it “one of Allen's cleverest and most compassionate films, making it also one of his greatest.”

From a look at voice-over actors by Lake Bell to the voice of one of our greatest filmmakers Woody Allen, Tropic Cinema comes across loud and clear.

In A World (Rhoades)

“In a World …”
Opens Up Whole New World for Lake

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Hollywood calls multitalented people “hyphenates,” a reference to their dual or triple roles. Lake Bell is now one of these. The actress has graduated to the title of star-writer-producer-director with her new film, “In a World …”

This is kinda like a circus performer who can ride a unicycle on a tightrope while juggling. A high-wire act that leaves us clapping when the acrobat doesn’t fall.

Lake Bell doesn’t fall.

This new comedy is a Hollywood insider story, about those unheralded announcers who do voice-overs for movie trailers. You know, the ones that often begin “In a world …”

Carol Solomon (Lake Bell) is a voice coach vying for her dad’s title as king of voice-overs. But her dad Sam Soto (Fred Melamed) wants to hand the crown to his protégé Gustav Warner (Ken Marino). When dad learns his daughter is competing with Gustav for the VO work on a film called “Amazon Games” he throws his hat back in the ring, setting up a three-way competition. Can Carol overcome the industry’s stigma against female voice-over talent?

Can Lake overcome the Hollywood system that favors male actors and filmmakers?

You bet.

Looking back, Lake’s mother is not surprised. Robin Bell shared this anecdote about her daughter with me:
“When Lake was three or four, Saturday nights at our house meant 'The Lake Lake Show'... so coined by Lake’s older brother, Luke. Lake would set small chairs in rows for an audience composed of Luke's friends and whomever else we had at dinner ... and it was show time! Every week, a new play. She was the announcer, the writer, the director, the star. And there were always costumes, sets, and music ... who knew!!???”

Yes, Lake Bell was a hyphenate at age three.

My longtime pal Paul Hale (Lake’s step-dad, married to Robin) emailed me about a month ago, proudly pointing out a review in The New York Times that described “In a World …” as a “smart, generous and altogether winning debut feature.”

Paul also noted that Lake’s film has been selected as “a NY Times Critic's Pick to boot.”
The New York Times review went on to say, “In some ways a late bloomer’s coming-of-age story (like so many screen comedies in the recessionary Age of Apatow), it is also, in no particular order, a show-business satire, a family drama, a feminist parable and a sweet romantic comedy. Not that any of these labels can do justice to the originality of Ms. Bell’s creative voice.”

Cool beans, as the younger audience might say.

In addition to the triangular competition between talented Carol, her silver-tongued dad, and a golden-throated suitor whose amorous advances are uninvited, we have an array of other Hollywood types. Infatuated sound engineer Louis (Demetri Martin), idiosyncratic coworkers Cher and Herners (Tig Notaro and Nick Offerman), and an imposing Katherine (Geena Davis). As well as a frustrated sister (Michaela Watkins), dumped-on brother-in-law (Lake’s buddy Rob Corddry), and her dad’s younger girlfriend (Alexandra Holden). Plus cameos by real-life stars Eva Longoria, Cameron Diaz, Joe Cipriano, and Jeff Garlin.

Here you’ll get to see a 2013 version of “The Lake Lake Show” with Lake Bell showing her stuff. Being funny. Doing accents (French, Italian, Cockney, Russian, Valley Girl). Entertaining an audience. Holding a meandering story together like a pro. And proving herself as a quadruple threat.

However, “In a World …” is really about something else, a world were women can overcome chauvinism, break into the boys’ club, shatter the glass ceiling.

But Lake modestly says she “just intends it as a comedy.”

Like her character in the movie, Lake Bell has found her voice.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Your're Next (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

You're  Next

Adam Wingard's bluntly deadpan "You're Next" is in fact, bluntly deadpan. The film, which is in the pop culture genre of Slasher movies, is about a bunch of monotone "one percenters " in sweater vests and khakis who come under a brutal attack.

While some of the lines are abstract and humorously dense, the situation  of WASPs struggling to survive doesn't come off with as much black humor  as one might expect.

One night in a beige McMansion, a conservative family gathers for dinner. Grace is given (of course) and then arguments fester. Much whining ensues. A filmmaker friend Tariq (Ti West) defends his creativity in a shouting match with the arrogant Drake (Joe Swanberg). Tariq goes to the window and gets an arrow in the head.

No one hears him until he spins on the floor dripping in blood.

The repast is suddenly a Hammacher Schlemmer Hellhouse with no one quite doing the right thing.

The sweatervesters bolt the doors and windows, but its as effective as a bandaid to an amputation.

One of the professorial guests make it out, while the unknown assailants toy with their prey. Erin, (Sharni Vinson) is a gutsy British girl who takes charge and holds it all together.

A mother falls to her death bed under a sea of gore, and the butchers  gradually come out of the windows and cupboards  donning woodland animal masks.

Erin gets out of one slippery pickle after another as she confronts  each humanoid member of Old McDonald's farm: a lamb, a wolf, a rabbit.

Eerily and with a sense of surreal danger, we realize that Erin---although driven by self preservation--- seems to enjoy killing and derives satisfaction from it. She stabs one Barnyard Boogeyman about twenty times.

This is probably the most subversive and  compelling element in "You're Next", even though it is not explored or analyzed fully.

There is some gallows humor when one Goth gloomy Gus says, "why don't you die? This is hard enough for me as it is!"  As he plunges six carpentry knives in the aghast victim. There is some odd fun with the flat dialogue and robotic delivery that each Caucasian character utters, and at times it might seem (almost) to be a "Friday the 13th" version of  "The Rocky Horror Picture Show".

Time will tell, I suppose.

For those expecting more, the Grand Guignol runs a bit thin and the much talked about twist is soupy rather than a hiccup worthy of Hitchcock.

Despite this anemia, "You're Next" is a suspenseful concept tale, driven in apprehension solely through the energy  of Sharni Vinson.

Snuff said.

Write Ian at

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Week of Sept. 6 to Sept. 12 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema Offers a Bloody Good Thriller

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Only one new film arrives at the Tropic Cinema this week, but it bursts onto the screen with the suddenness of a murderous rampage. We’re speaking of a much-talked-about horror thriller tauntingly titled “You’re Next.” A quiet family gathering is interrupted by killed wearing animal masks, knocking off the family and friends one by one with arrows and axes. Color it blood red.

The Toronto Star says the film “satisfies the expectations of Midnight Madness gore hounds - and then it happily goes about exceeding those expectations.” Entertainment Spectrum advises “Make sure to check out this fresh scary movie with just enough thrills to have you jumping out of your seat.” And Q Network Film Desk terms it “a smart, gory, and often darkly comical variant on the home invasion horror-thriller.”

Not for the squeamish, the blood and gore comes on like a red tide.

Still playing for those who haven’t yet seen it, or want to see it again, is “Blue Jasmine,” this year’s Woody Allen movie. With echoes of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” we have a fragile woman who must go live with her sister due to adverse financial circumstances. Jasmine had married well, but her Bernie Madoff-like hubby went to jail for pulling a Ponzi scheme. Sister Ginger is divorced, living in a cramped San Francisco apartment with two unruly kids, and has a loutish boyfriend. Even though the sisters were adopted, with no biological connection, we have to ask ourself how different are they?

“A deeply compelling, often darkly comic, and undeniably brilliant film,” says Aisle Seat. And the Fresno Bee opines, “Jasmine's ride is not nearly as dramatic as Blanche DuBois' emotional deconstruction in ‘Streetcar,’ but her journey is made tolerable by an Oscar-worthy performance by Cate Blanchett.

Also sticking around is “The Spectacular Now,” a teen romance featuring Miles Teller as “a high school senior and effortless charmer” who falls for a Good Girl. Not the easiest way to score.
While Chicago Reader calls it “a nuanced and unsentimental coming-of-age film,” the critic at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune says it’s “the sweetest, saddest, most humane movie I've seen all year.” The Miami Herald adds, “This adaptation of Tim Tharp's novel, directed with delicate restraint by James Ponsoldt, sneaks up on you. It makes you laugh, then it breaks your heart.”

Finally, but not least, we have “Closed Circuit,” a timely but somewhat underrated film about to British attorneys trying to defend a bombing suspect, only to discover their own government is working against them. In these days of government eavesdropping in the name of national security, this story becomes more plausible by the day. Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall are terrific as the ex-lovers under siege, and Jim Broadbent adds to the deceit.

The Boston Herald calls it a “taut and timely spy drama.” Denver Post notes that “sharp ensemble work ups this thriller's intelligence quotient.” And amNew York sees it as “pretty solid in an old-fashioned sense, a movie committed to refined, quality storytelling without a whole lot of extra heft.”

Scary, threatening, tragic, sad -- these are movies to touch your primeval fears and heighten your emotions.

Your're Next (Rhoades)

“You’re Next”
Will Frighten You to Death

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Random violence. Home invasions. Senseless murders. We hear about them on the nightly news. How do you protect yourself against such horrible crimes when you can’t see them coming?

“You’re Next” is a very disquieting film. It could happen to you.

In it, a seemingly pleasant family gathers at their summer home. Paul and Aubrey (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton) are the wealthy parents, there to celebrate their 35th Anniversary. Drake, Crispian, Felix, and Aimee (Joe Swanberg, A.J. Bowen, Nicholas Tucci, and Amy Seimetz) are their grown children. The sibling’s various partners include Kelly, Erin, Zee, and Tariq (Margaret Laney, Sharni Vinson, Wendy Glenn, and Ti West).

All is tranquil … until an arrow flies through the window killing one of them. They are under attack by a pack of killers, men wearing animal masks.

“Why would anybody do this?” asks Drake.

Written on walls and glass doors is the Manson-like threat: “You’re Next.” And true to this prophesy, people start dying one by one. You’re reminded of that old Agatha Christie mystery, “And Then There Were

However, the ax-wielding killers didn’t reckon on Erin, raised in a survivalist camp in the Australian
Outback. She isn’t going to be easy prey for these animals. “Grab anything you can use as a weapon,” she tells her companions.

“You’re Next” is committing its mayhem this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Director Adam Wingard is known for his blood-soaked horror films (“A Horrible Way to Die,” “What Fun We Were Having”). Joe Swanberg (who plays Drake) co-directed a film called “Autoerotic” with him. And “You’re Next” scripter Simon Barrett plays one of the masked figures in this frightfest, the killer wearing the tiger disguise.

Horror News has termed the film an “Instant Cult Classic.” One moviegoer described it as “very good and very gory.” Then added, “VERY VERY gory! Blood and guts go flying every which way in this movie.”
Hm, I’d call it an ersatz snuff film.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Elysium (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

"District 9" director Neill Blomkamp delivers another sci-fi thriller with a bit of social consciousness in "Elysium" starring everybody's favorite blonde crusader for what's right, Matt Damon. The film co-stars an icy Jody Foster as a witchy bureaucrat.
Damon is Max, a criminalized young man through no fault of his own, his only trespass is that of being poor in a world harshly polarized between the haves and the have-nots. Our future earth is a police state, ravaged by pollutants and overpopulation.
The 1% have their own space station far removed from earth and they run it like Club Med.
Max is a common machinist. One day he  haplessly gets caught behind an auto-lock door in an attempt to save his menial job. The door traps him and he is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. 
He has five days to live. Driven to preserve his life (as anyone would) Max attempts to scheme his way to the exclusive station for the Astro Armani set where he can be cured by superior technology. 
But nothing is easy.
Max enlists the help of an underworld kingpin (Wagner Moura) to acquire an I.D in hopeful exchange for Elysium secrets. Because he needs superior strength to face security (after all Max has a broken arm and radiation sickness) they surgically attach a military strength exo-skeleton to him, almost exactly like the one used by Ivan Vanko in "Iron Man 2"
The villas of Elysium are guarded by a sadistic madman played by Sharlto Copley.
What follows is essentially "The Bourne Identity" fused with  Philip K. Dick. But although somewhat predictable, the authentic social commentary along with the George Miller setting ala "The Road Warrior" make this film a watchable thrill ride.  William Fichtner plays a perfectly cold fish, and who can pass up Jody Foster as a Tiffany-white Ayn Rand Snow Queen?

Write Ian at

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Spectacular Now (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Spectacular Now

Director James Ponsoldt scores a satisfying, if not entirely original, coming of age film with "The Spectacular Now". Ponsoldt who gained traction with his film "Smashed" about a teacher battling alcoholism, again tackles some fermented demons in Sutter, a teenager who masks a lot by nipping at a flask. Sutter is the life of the party, charming his fellow classmates by reaching for the spontaneity of life.

When Sutter (Miles Teller) passes out on a strangers lawn, he is discovered by the shy and quirky Amy (Shailene Woodley). Woodley, who gave a facile outing in "The Decendants", gives another solid performance here. Both Woodley and Teller give the story a lively charisma and their romantic infectious spirit keep the story rolling. You won't meet a character quite so lively as Sutter, but his carnival smiles cloak his deep lack of self esteem. He is a bit like Ferris Bueller with a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. There are some apprehensive first love scenes which speak a bit about the fear of the body and intimacy and the tension lies in the fact that Sutter is a cad, out of a fear of rejection. Through it all Amy is warm hearted and vivacious, taking most things in stride, until Sutter's demons are manifest. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are utterly convincing and Sutter has such a charge of amorality, at times, that is part festive and part Dionysian in the dark sense that he keeps us guessing.

There are fine performances given by Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter's mom and Kyle Chandler as a boozy and tepid father who pines for Key West and strives to perpetuate the illusion that everybody likes him.

The best part of "The Spectacular Now" is its abrupt art-house conclusion which gives a sense of volatility to its characters reminiscent of a junior version of "The Graduate" and "Leaving Las Vegas"

Write Ian at