Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Oscar Shorts Documentary 2013 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Oscar Shorts: Documentary

With this year's documentary shorts Existentialism is the mode of the day. Each film is varied in tone and flavor and regardless of your cinematic lean (mine is definitely left of quirky) not one of them will disappoint or leave you slouching in your seat. A single entry is its own provocative, self-contained and unique world.

"Kings Point" by Sari Gilman literally places us squarely in a moderate retirement village in Delray Florida. The inhabitants in this community are no wallflowers. Here you will find enough racy talk about sex and relationships to make Kim Cattrall turn blue. There is the sensually ambitious but dominant Bea, who is demanding but sensitive by turns. With her gold-bangled wrists and fierce mascara, by her own admission, she is clearly no one to cross. Bea has her sights set on the fast talking Casanova Frank who doesn't want to be "locked in" by Bea, in case a solid opportunity happens to arrive on the social scene.

Frank is not the most sympathetic person in this film.

Along with the romantic meditations, there is the apprehension of getting sick, dying, and the haunt of loneliness.

As the deadpan Molly says, "you don't have friends make acquaintances." And although the film zeroes in on a mostly septuagenarian set, the story is no downer. It simply presents King's Point as is, either with the surreal sparkle of John Cheever tale or the melancholy of a tune by Tom Waits.

Next there is the emotional "Mondays at Racine" about a Long Island hair salon that opens its doors free of charge to chemotherapy patients monthly  on Mondays.  Grim and confrontational at times, the story never loses its heart and you will be rooting for all the patrons here. There is the expressive Cambria and the once shy but resolute Linda who now knows what she wants. Linda's marriage is in trouble and her husband's passivity is terminal. A church goer, he loses his faith and moves back with family. Although painful, we get the feeling that the marriage's end is a new beginning for Linda, whose hubby now seems like a La-Z-Boy chair. The stress of cancer transforms him before our eyes.

Linda in particular takes things in stride as does Cambria and the way they keep going will pull at your heart.

Sean Fine's "Inocente" is the most colorful entry of the bunch and probably the most uplifting. The film centers on a homeless fifteen year old girl, Inocente, who is driven to paint. With her bestial yet melting gaze, self-tattooed with the beauty of calligraphy, Inocente wanders here and there looking for spaces to paint, searching for her own rectangle of paradise. Inocente is like a kiddie Kenny Scharf within her own cyberspace who desperately tries to avoid the squash of her mother, who tried to commit suicide herself when Inocente was ten.

While she is only a kid, Inocente has the theatricality of a Frida Kahlo or a Jean Michel Basquiat. Her eyes alone which contain an entire zoology of weep and wonder will leave you breathless. Had she been born fifty years earlier, Inocente could have been the first Warhol child Superstar.

Jon Alpert's "Redemption" focuses on the desperate and thankless job of canning, that is, the removal of cans and bottles from the urban streets.
It is a suspicious and hard-scrabble landscape with no upward mobility and no security. Fights are as common as heat or bitter cold, while differential behaviors between the sexes become irreverent. Men and women alike clatter by on Jerry-Rigged flotillas laden with sails of aluminum and plastic as Wall Street stands with right angled impassivity.

Last but not least, Kief Davidson's "Open  Heart" takes us to a Sudan hospital  in the search to save eight Rwandan children. Marie and Bruno are medical pilgrims, mature beyond their years. Fate is in the hands of a chain-smoking, Italian surgeon who has all the severity of a Max von Sydow. I'll agree that the doctor has compassion, but when he says of a patient that "he was born with a shit heart and he'll get a shit heart!" I didn't know whether to hold my breath or laugh, and found myself coughing out of nervousness.
The doctor is not one for softness.

There is hard matter in these films for sure. Not one subject is given the easy treatment. Each story is a tale of human fragility with a good deal of nocturnal noir. But don't let the uncertainties illustrated here scare you. These documentaries possess a world within a world sensibility, with as much verve of most "Twilight Zone" tales, albeit terrestrial, bound with gravity and very, very human.

Write Ian at

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Week of February 15 to February 21 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema Continues Oscar Build Up

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Determined that its members get an opportunity to see the leading Academy Award contenders, Tropic Cinema is bringing two more Oscar-worthy films to its screens this week.
The powerful -- and somewhat controversial -- Katherine Bigelow film about the ten-year search for Osama bin Laden leads the charge. “Zero Dark Thirty” chronicles the CIA’s efforts to find the elusive mastermind behind the 9/11 attack on America -- including the waterboarding scenes that imply torture was key to breaking the case.
Some pundits and politicos object to this, denying that any substantive information was gained by these methods. But many of these same people were objecting that Bigelow and her producing partner Mark Boal had been given unprecedented, detailed access to the confidential details behind the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Whatever you think about the tactics described in “Zero Dark Thirty,” the film is an intense look at this bit of recent history where the U.S. of A. delivered some payback on the al-Qaeda leader.
Jessica Chastain is stoic as the dogged CIA officer who refuses to give up. Her performance is one of five Academy Award nominations the film has received. Others include Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and, Best Original Screenplay.
Joining “Zero Dark Thirty” t the Tropic this week is another movie with five Oscar nods -- “Django Unchained.”
This Quentin Tarantino southern (a western set in the south) tells of a freed slave who becomes a bounty hunter. “Kill white people and get paid for it,” he says of his new profession, “what’s not to like?”
Jamie Fox climbs into the saddle (that’s his real-life horse he’s riding up there on the screen) to join Christoph Waltz in a quest to rescue Kerry Washington from evil plantation owner Leonardo DiCaprio.
By now, we all know that the “D” in “Django” is silent. But the guns and dynamite aren’t as our boy (can I say that?) does battle with crooks, the Klan, henchmen, and slavers.
This film has its own controversy -- playing loose with history and using the n-word over 100 times in the 165-minute movie. But nobody denies that it’s entertaining.
The five Academy Award nominations for “Django Unchained” includes Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best sound Editing, and Best Cinematography.
Still holding its anchor spot at the Tropic is “Silver Linings Playbook,” the rom-com about two people (Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper give us this couple) who are crazy enough to fall for each other. In the process, the film has scooped up eight Academy Award nominations.
Also, you can still catch the Oscar Shorts, that unique chance to see all those short subjects that are up for a golden statuette.
Better hurry. The 85th Academy Awards ceremony is only a week or so away.

Django Unchained (Rhoades)

 “Django Unchained”
Is Tarantino’s Southern

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Quentin Tarantino worked in a video store before he made it as a film director. There he was exposed to all kinds of movies genres – from comedies to science fiction to horror films. So it’s not surprising that he chooses to combine genres in his latest grindhouse outing, “Django Unchained.”
A fan of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” and “Mandingo,” Tarantino blends them. A western in which slavery and cotton replace Injuns and gold.
Film and literary critics call this a “mash-up.” Tarantino prefers to call this spaghetti western set in the Deep South a “southern.”
The director talked with Will Smith and other black movie stars about the role of Django (“The D is silent”) but settled on Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx who grew up in Texas and knows how to ride a horse.
The plot is simple: A gunslinging dandy named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) rescues Django (Foxx) from slavery to get him to identify a couple of bad guys with a bounty on their heads. In return, he will help Django rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) who was kidnapped to be a pony at an anything-goes plantation owned by dastardly Calvin Candie (Leonardo diCaprio with a Southern drawl).
So Django straps on a six-shooter and rides out with his benefactor to right wrongs. As Django says about his new bounty-hunting profession, “Kill white people and get paid for it? What's not to like?”
As usual, Tarantino features a blast-from-the-past array of his favorite actors. In “Django Unchained” you will glimpse Don Johnson, Bruce Dern, Robert Carradine, Dennis Christopher, Michael Parks, James Remar, Tom Wopat, and Franco Nero. As well as appearances by Samuel L. Jackson, Jonah Hill, and a cameo by himself.
Franco Nero starred in Sergio Caorbucci’s 1966 spaghetti western “Django,” an inspiration for Tanatino’s film. In the original version, the hero is caught in a shootout between Mexican bandits and the KKK. But the new film deals with slavery head-on.
Tarantino said he wanted “to do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they're genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it's ashamed of it.”
Tarantino enjoys rewriting history in films like “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained.” As he puts it, “You know how things are going to go in most films. Every once in a while films don’t play by the rules. It’s liberating when you don’t know what’s happening next … I thought, What about telling these kinds of stories my way — rough and tough but gratifying at the end?”
You can find “Django Unchained” shootin’ it up this week at the Tropic Cinema.
As plantation owner Calvin Candie says, “Gentlemen, you had my curiosity. But now, you have my attention.”
Yes, with “Django Unchained,” Quinton Tarantino has our attention.

Zero Dark Thirty (Rhoades)

“Zero Dark Thirty”
Recounts Finding
Osama Bin Laden

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Arguably a factor in Barack Obama’s reelection was the assassination under his watch of al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden by a team of US Navy SEALs. Much of that raid is classified as Top Secret, but nonetheless Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow gives us the inside story about how an elite team of intelligence and military operatives found bin Laden and took him down in an operation designated as Zero Dark Thirty.
Bigelow explains that this is a military term for 30 minutes after midnight, and “it refers also to the darkness and secrecy that cloaked the entire decade-long mission.”
And that’s the name of her movie – “Zero Dark Thirty” – currently playing at Tropic Cinema.
Here, we follow the CIA’s relentless ten-year search for the terrorist leader behind the 9/11 attacks. The kicker here is that the climax of the story is already known – we get him! It’s the set-up that remains mysterious.
Director Kathryn Bigelow and producer-screenwriter Mark Boal had intended to make an entirely different movie. They were ready to start filming a saga about the 2001 siege on bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora along the Afghan border, when news of the terrorist’s death came to them.
“The minute we heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed, what we had been working on became history,” says Bigelow. “As interesting a story as that would have been to tell, the news re-directed our entire efforts.”
They threw out the script and started over.
“Zero Dark Thirty” is based on first-hand research. “I didn’t have time to wait for the definitive book,” says Boal. “Fortunately, the years I had spent talking to military and intelligence operators involved in counterterrorism was helpful in both projects.”
A group called Judicial Watch claimed “the Obama administration granted Boal and Bigelow unusual access to agency information in preparation for their film.” A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit revealed that Boal “had a meeting with White House counterterrorism and national security officials, assorted defense and intelligence public affairs officers.”
Fearing “Zero Dark Thirty” would be released before the election, some Republicans charged that the film was a propaganda move by Obama’s supporters.
As it turns out, “Zero Dark Thirty” is being released long after the presidential election was decided.
“There’s no political agenda in the film. Full stop. Period,” says Boal. The president is not depicted in the movie. Instead, it focuses on the behind-the-scenes teams who hunted down the terrorist.
Jessica Chastain (“The Debt”) plays a CIA officer who helps connect the dots that eventually brought them to that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Kyle Chandler (“Super 8”) is cast as the CIA’s Islamabad Station Chief. Joel and Nash Edgerton appear as members of SEAL Team Six, along with Mark Duplass and Chris Platt.
“I’m fascinated by people who dedicate themselves to really difficult and dangerous things for the greater good,” says Mark Boal. “I think they’re heroic and I’m intrigued by them. I’m fascinated by the world they inhabit. I personally want to know how they caught bin Laden. All I can do is hope that it interests other people.”
CIA and Pentagon officials say they simply wanted to help because they are big fans of Bigelow’s Iraqi War drama “The Hurt Locker,” which won Oscars for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture. They like movies that depict the military in a positive light.
“Zero Dark Thirty” certainly does that … although some critics complain of the film’s moral ambiguity.
“By showing scenes of torture without taking any kind of moral (as opposed to tactical) stand on what we are seeing, Bigelow has made an amoral movie – which is, I would argue, an unconscionable approach to this material,” says Peter Rainer of Christian Science Monitor.
“Its moral ambiguity will drive some viewers nuts,” counters Andrew O’Hehir of “But in my view it is also the quality that makes ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ something close to a masterpiece.”
Richard Roper agrees. “‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is the best movie of 2012,” he says, giving two thumbs up.
New York Magazine calls it “a boneheaded right-wing revenge picture,” although admitting, “the vibe is cool.”
As for me, I’m glad the movie is neither political nor preachy. As Mark Boal points out, “It’s not a documentary. It’s a movie.”
Kathryn Bigelow describes “Zero Dark Thirty” in this way: “It’s a thriller, it’s a drama, it’s a mystery, it’s historical, it’s one of the great stories of our time. It traces the anatomy of the decade-long hunt for the world’s most wanted man.”
In a way, this is a propaganda film. Not in a political sense, but in a patriotic sense. That ritualistic chest-thumping that assures us that America’s enemies will be punished.
We need that.

Django Unchained (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Django Unchained 

The cocky auteur Quentin Tarantino is at it again with his brand of drive-in movie history as entertainment to the delight of his fans and rightly so.

This time he takes on the awful scourge of slavery before the Civil War. Tarantino succeeds better here in my opinion, in contrast to his gore Pop of "Inglourious Basterds". That film although richly delivered by Christoph Waltz as the Nazi villain you love to hate depended too much on blood and ironic jokes. 
But here in "Django Unchained" we have more story and less surface with obvious homages to Sergio Corbucci, Jamie Foxx plays Django, a man enslaved, tortured and bound in chains, with no hope for freedom. The name Django is a tribute to the antihero Django played by Italian actor Franco Nero. By chance, the oppressors, the Speck Brothers, see a wisecracking German dentist, King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) along a dark road. Schultz is a bounty hunter, no doubt, but as he drives a dark carriage with a huge creaky tooth on the roof, not to mention his speech, Schultz is a bit of a vampire. (Don't worry; he is very good natured to nice folks). Using his guns in a violent turn, Schultz frees Django and the two of them resolve to basically hunt down every slave owner and disgusting bigot that they possibly can and hopefully reunite Django with his wife (Kerry Washington).

 Under less gifted hands, this film could have been a static and joyless experience. And indeed, "Inglourious Basterds" did me cold. "Django Unchained" however, is filled with enough rolling and rollicking motion that you are never left emptily pondering your popcorn bag. Foxx and Waltz have a spirit and actually share adventures together. The villains, for their part are no vacuous fleshpots of dastardliness, but rather beings of real hate, evil and smarmy anger. 

Leonardo DiCaprio's Mr. Candie is a conniving snake under his paper doily facade of comic Southern charm. People are livestock to him and profanely, this is how it was, but probably more so. 
While it’s true this film is a bloody mess at times, it doesn't pander and exposes the utter horror of the times. As if to further illustrate this, there is Samuel L. Jackson, who gives a shocking performance as a hateful apostle-butler for the cause of slavery.

 But it isn't all a gore-spill. The KKK scene with comedian Jonah Hill complaining about the nefarious hood blocking his vision will have you hooting. There is enough wit, (delivered by both good and bad characters) to keep things moving. 

There is one chilling scene in particular in which slave-owner Candie delivers his hideous eugenic philosophy. "Django Unchained” is a triumph for this alone. 

The only thing that irks me is not the violence onscreen, (Tarantino does an excellent job in showing the evils of slavery as a thing of great profanity while bigots are slippery and ludicrous with their offense and coldness) it is the director himself who betrayed what seemed a lack of sensitivity, while the film's premiere was delayed in light of the Newtown shootings. He is reported to have dismissed concerns of gun violence, saying "Gimme a break, it’s a Western." 

The only thing that irks me is not the violence onscreen, (Tarantino does an excellent job in showing the evils
of slavery as a thing of great profanity while bigots are slippery and ludicrous with their offense and coldness)
it is the director himself who betrayed what seemed a lack of sensitivity, while the film's premiere was delayed 
in light of the Newtown shootings. He is reported to have dismissed concerns of gun violence, saying 
"Gimme a break, it’s a Western." 
While this was quite disheartening to hear, it in no way should take away from the theatrical bravado and 
power of the film, which shows the terror as well as the superciliousness of racism. "Django Unchained" 
is worlds above Mel Brooks not to mention the genre of the beloved Spaghetti Western. 
Write Ian at

Zero Dark Thirty (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" has arrived at The Tropic. Already it is a near iconic tale in our culture about the hunt and capture of Osama bin Laden.

The protagonist, a CIA agent named Maya, is apparently based on a composite of two real agents: Alfreda Bikowski and Michael Anne Casey. Although I can't vouch for how true the film is to actual events, the suspense and apprehension is undeniable. Not since Alan Parker's "Midnight Express" have I felt so anxious. The construction of the film, its theme and current impact has much to do with our fascination with the daring resourceful female agent  in "The Silence of the Lambs" as well as our love for James Bond.

Jessica Chastain is excellent as CIA agent Maya. She is a hammer of red flames driven by the hunt with a single goal in mind: bin Laden. She is both more human and more adaptable than any Terminator machine. Maya is shot at in her car. In one especially jolting scene she is bombed. She emerges stern, resolute and almost bemused by her infinite and dangerous search. When asked by CIA director Leon Panetta (played by James Gandolfini) what else she has done in her career, she says blankly, "Nothing. I've done nothing else." For Maya it is a program that is hard wired within and it is a role that would make Jody Foster jealous.

"Zero Dark Thirty" is no true story snoozer.  Despite its two and a half hour running time, it is as riveting as any espionage thriller with enough twists to rival Robert Ludlum or Ian Fleming.

The oft-mentioned torture scenes, although  unsettling  and queasy by the very depiction of water-boarding, felt rather tame by comparison to TV's "24", Tony Scott's "Man on Fire" or DePalma's "Scarface". More nerve-wracking by far is the helicopter trip into the mountains or the Navy SEALs confronting the bin Laden compound clustered with ten year old children. A SEAL's lime green glow stick is both a creepy harbinger and a symbol of hope and diversion.

What begins in tone to seem like propaganda, builds in anxiety to show the hunt for an evil man in all its labyrinthine questions and utter frustration. This is as much of an existential film of suspense as it is a film of a woman on a mission. By the end of the film as our hero flies alone, physically overwhelmed on a military plane, she seems as much Franz Kafka as Clarice Starling or Jason Bourne.

"Zero Dark Thirty" is a compelling work for giving us an unflinching look at current events in a glib Bond-like format.

Write Ian at

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Oscar Shorts 2012 - Live Action (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Oscar Shorts: Live Action

This year's pool of Live Action shorts are all interesting but few are as quirky as the on-screen host, Luke Matheny, who won last year with his Jim Jarmuschian entry,  "God of Love". Matheny's self-deprecating manner provides the perfect smoothness as he takes us on a tour through the short films, which makes a nimble Prismacolor safari through many diverse cultures.

First, from Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen De Waele of Belgium, there is the Sci-Fi entry "Death of A Shadow". Granted, the film's logic circuits are a bit over-loaded but it retains a provocative, anachronistic texture as a hybrid of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" and George Miller's "The Road Warrior". Yes, we are in some sort of post-apocalyptic netherworld where actual shadows cast at the moment of one's death are collected and hung on the wall with the covetous envy of a rare Rothko. A Kafkaesque man slinks about with a kind of shadow-collecting camera that looks like an old clock mixed with a 1970s Polaroid. Our brooding hero is overwhelmed by the remembrances of firing-squads past and is ambivalent about whether to join his lost love, Sarah or to stay a clerk at his post while staring at all things bronze. Although my brain failed to grasp the poignance of the plot,(our man in the grey shadowy suit confusingly switches back and forth between the corporeal world and back again)it is the visual style that held my interest. Here is a world driven by the last remaining posture that is held in death. And just what is symbolized in all the bronze and gold colors and gyrating machines. For all the opulence that has gone into this terminal Taj Mahal, it is a very grim palace indeed.

The ghosts of memory also play a strong role in Canada's "Henry", directed by Yan England. The story focuses on a romantic pianist who desperately tries to hold on to the people he loves while in the throes of Alzheimer's. While the film is a bit somber, it has an eerie and haunting tone that recalls the iconic Twilight Zone serials together with a strong blend of "A Christmas Carol" and Billy Wilder's noir classic "The Lost Weekend".

A standout in the selection is Shawn Christensen's "Curfew" (USA) which scores just the right balance of dark comedy and compassion. It tells the story of Reggie, an emotionally challenged man who gets an unexpected call to visit his self-centered niece. The color red is never so frightening here or as funny, while the film's spirit will sneak up and hold you long after the next short.

Then we are in Afghanistan with "Bazkhashi Boys" directed by Sam French. This film which recalls "The Kite Runner" in theme and tone, tells the story of two childhood friends who yearn to escape  Kabul's confining mountains and become (at least to them) romantic heroes engaged in the sport of Bazkhashi, specifically a kind of relay game on a horse in which a goat is dragged to its death. No laughing matter, if you happen to have hooves. Okay. The film is a heartfelt character study of the bonds of friendship. That's all well and good, but I found the rhythm of the camera a bit lethargic. For a twenty-eight minute film, it spends a great deal of time in a blacksmith's shack with longing, pensive and wistful looks in the camera. This makes the outing in Kabul appear longer and more interminable than it actually is and with an invariably gray palate, I felt too steeped in Kabul's conundrum.
Also, I could not get past the goats.

The group concludes on a high note however, with the wonderfully vivid and ever-shifting "Asad" directed by Brian Buckley. This South African / American entry has a refreshing irreverence that entertains as much as informs, and it will terrify and delight you all in one jolt. The film illustrates that the world, while festive and motley, does have teeth that hurt and that all creatures have the capacity for base desire. "Asad" is a rollicking half-moon crescent of a story, betraying the savage underbelly of "The Life of Pi" with more than a bit of Carl Haaisen thrown in the Somali coastal waters.

Overall, the live action films make for an eclectic and satisfying mix befitting any optical sojourn or tri-color tryst that you might crave this Oscar season.

Write Ian at

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Oscar Shorts 2012 - Animated (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Oscar Shorts: Animation

With this current crop of Oscar nominated shorts, last year's quirks of Quetzalcoatl have gone the way of nostalgia and cuteness, and I find myself pining for the adumbrated anxieties of 2012. Ah well, fear not.

First, there is a entry from the creators of "The Simpsons", "The Longest Daycare" starring the adorable positively jaundiced Maggie Simpson and  directed by David Silverman. Maggie is starting her first day at the Ayn Rand School for Tots. One wonders why. But anyway, there is all the good natured irreverence you might expect here, combined with Matt Groening's inimitable animation. Baby Maggie yearns for stimulation, while being left in a heap of anonymity known as the "Nothing Specials". Much of the film zeroes in on Maggie's quizzical face as she tries to find meaning in a trivial tottering world that babbles with a brightly colored and nonsensical ennui. A Raggedy Ayn Rand doll is the film's best joke but diehard Simpson fans will be pleased.

Next, director Minkyu Lee spins a tale that makes little Evolutionary sense in mentioning the Garden of Eden. Nevertheless  "Adam and Dog" is a  charming tale that mixes the beauty of Eastern calligraphy with Disney's "The Jungle Book", given that the human characters have melting eyes and round faces. The film is a testament to the bond shared between canines and homo sapiens, and it retains the haunting riddle-like poetry of a zen koan.

Marital discontent has never seemed so sweet in "Head Over Heels, which echoes Pixar's "Up" with its inclusion of the comic curmudgeon, a crowd pleaser for any short. This film is so sweet that even its claymation figures appear to be formed by candied fruits.

In "Fresh Guacamole" the director known  as PES, born Adam Pesapane uses his customary anarchistic style, in using weapons of mass destruction and commerce to create a rather turbulent bowl of guacamole. The short is as surprising as it is festive and thoughtful, owing a great debt to animator Jan Svankmajer and doing the legacy of Surrealism proud.

"The Paperboy" directed by John Kahrs and produced by Disney is a stylish homage to the romantic films of Tom Hanks and Albert Lamorisse's "The Red Balloon" (1956).  The film is a technical dazzle with its black and white cinematography that recalls the glamour and humor of "Desk Set" and while the romance is quite predictable and a bit anemic, there is enough bounce and verve here  to make your eyes pinwheel.

And once again The Gruffalo appears, that beloved self-deprecating woodland creature that is quasi-hippo, rhino and porcupine. This is a sequel to the first Gruffalo outing directed by Johannes Weiland and Uwe Heidschotter. While its cute-factor is hard to deny, little novelty is to be found here. This time The Gruffalo's daughter is up against the big bad mouse who is just a passive anal retentive pipsqueak. There is fondness in familiarity.
More astonishing though is the film "Dripped", an entry from Leo Verrier. This story, an homage to Jackson Pollock, is as musical as one of his Action paintings and it will stimulate as well as delight. Also worthy of note is Richard Mans "ABiogenesis", a metallically poetic study of technological growth that highlights our earthly limitations.

As pleasing as they are, the technical wizardry found in these films are sure to satisfy. After spending this past year  in Mesoamerican Mayhem, the delights of a Disney-inspired handprint with googly-eyes and all, provide a welcome anodyne.
Write Ian at

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Week of Feb. 8 to Feb. 14 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema Offers a Short List

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

This week the Tropic is opening 15 -- you heard me right, 15 -- new films. Of course, being the Oscar-nominated Shorts, they are each only a few minutes long.
These short film are divided into three different categories for judging by the jurors of the 85th Academy Awards: Live Action Shorts, Animated Shorts, and Documentary Shorts. Five nominees in each category.
These selected short subjects are varied -- from coming-of-age stories to “Simpsons” cartoons, from true-life stories to fanciful imaginings. From a pair of young boys sharing dreams in the war rabble of Kabul to seniors living out their days in a Florida retirement community; from Long Island sister who open their beauty salon to chemo patients to an at-odds couple who live on the floor and ceiling; from a dog in the Garden of Eden to a down-in-the-dumps kid babysitting his 9-year-old niece -- these are the varied stories you’ll encounter here.
And sticking with winners, the Tropic is holding over “Life of Pi,” the fantastic allegory of an Indian boy shipwrecked with a snarling tiger. Visually stunning, this Ang Lee epic based on the popular novel of the same name is enthralling audience. And it’s up for 11 Academy Awards!
Also staying on Tropic screens is the delightful “Silver Linings Playbook,” the story of a bipolar guy who meets the crazy-like-him girl of his dreams. He just doesn’t know it right away. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star as this wonky couple. They’ll both win your heart and your smiles. This film is up for 8 Academy Awards.
Finally, we have “Les Misérables,” the musical that’s wowing audiences with its scope, its pathos, its songs by Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfried, and Samantha Barks. Hathaway’s plaintive “I Dreamed a Dream” is a show stopper. No wonder it has been nominated for 8 Academy Awards. And you will want to hear the soaring music on the Tropic Cinema’s state-of-the-art sound system.
Yes, it’s a countdown to the Oscars at Key West’s Tropic Cinema.

Oscar Nominated Shorts 2012 (Rhoades)

Oscar Shorts Are
Over 6 ½ Hours Long

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Gee, the 85th Academy Awards may call these “Shorts,” but all together these 15 nominated short films add up to over 6 ½ hours of viewing.
That’s a lot of seat time.
But worth it.
If you’re like me, you enter an Oscar Pool each year, predicting which films will come up winners. Sure, you’ve seen all the Best Picture candidates, and even most the Best Foreign Language Film Nominees. So you have a shot at getting these categories right. But what about some of those other awards categories -- like Shorts? Doesn’t it aggravate you that you don’t have much of a chance to see them in advance? After all, movie theaters simply do not include Selected Short Subjects before the main feature liked they used to.
Why so many Shorts? Because they fall into three separate categories: Live Action Shorts, Animated Shorts, and Documentary Shorts -- five each.
And you can see all three of these collections this week at the Tropic Cinema. Taken by group they break down to 113 minutes (Live Action), 88 minutes (Animation), and 206 minutes (Documentary).
The Live Action Shorts will be hosted by last year’s winner, Luke Matheny (“God of Love”). This program includes:
“Asad” (South Africa/USA), a coming-of-age story about a Somali boy who must choose the life of pirate or become a fisherman.
“Buzkashi Boys” (Afghanistan/USA) tells of two young friends growing up in war-ravaged Kabul.
“Curfew” (USA) gives us a depressed kid named Richie who is asked by his estranged sister to look after her 9-year-old daughter for the evening.
“Death of a Shadow” (Belgium/France) is an eerie tale of a man who collects the shadow of Nathan, a soldier who died during World War I, offering him a second life.
“Henry” (Canada) is about a concert pianist who becomes distraught when a loved one mysteriously disappears.
The Animated Shorts will be hosted by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, the directors behind last year’s winner (“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.”) The program includes:
“Head Over Heels” (UK). This animated film is about a couple who have grown apart (him living on the floor; her on the ceiling). But can they put their marriage back together?
“The Longest Daycare” (USA). A Matt Groening short in which Homer’s daughter Maggie longs to be with the gifted children at the Ayn Rand Daycare Center.
“Paperman” (USA). This is the story of a lonely man who must use his imagination and a stack of papers to win the girl of his dreams.
“Fresh Guacamole’ (USA). A very odd cookbook, here we learn how to turn ordinary objects into -- you guessed it -- fresh guacamole;
“Adam and Dog” (USA). Did Adam have a dog in the Garden of Eden? Apparently so, and here we learn how he became man’s bet friend.
The Documentary Shorts will be hosted by last year’s winners, Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Junge (“Saving Face”). The program includes:
“Kings Point” (USA). Director Sari Gilman shares the stories of five seniors living in a Florida retirement resort. This powerful film explores the balance between living independently and growing old.
“Mondays At Racine” (USA). 
Director Cynthia Wade follows two brassy Long Island sisters who on Mondays offer free beauty treatment for women undergoing chemotherapy.
“Inocente” (USA) 
Directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix give us a coming-of-age documentary about a young woman determined to never let her life as an undocumented immigrant get in the way of her dream to become an artist.
“Redemption” (USA). 
Directors Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill
examines the growing number of New Yorkers who salvage through the city’s trash rather than ask for a handout.
 “Open Heart” (USA). 
Director Kief Davidson follows eight Rwandan children as they journey to Sudan to receive high-risk heart surgery. With only months to live, can they be saved by Dr. Emmanuel Rusingiza, Rwanda's lone government cardiologist?
Note: There is an intermission during the Documentary Shorts showing.
There you have it -- this year’s nominated Oscar Shorts. You might say, the long and the short of it.