Sunday, March 31, 2013

Week of March 29 to April 4 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema Keeps ‘Em Coming --
Plenty of Thrills and Laughter Alike

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Tropic Cinema keeps us on the edge of our seat with its exciting programming.
This week we’re taking about “Side Effects,” the new Steven Soderbergh medical thriller … which is more than that. This Hitchcockian murder mystery will keep you guessing. Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) is a hapless psychiatrist who at the urging of a colleague (Catherine Zeta-Jones) prescribes a new antidepressant for a patient (Rooney Mara) who has suicidal tendencies. But wait -- what are this experimental drug’s side effects? The patient’s husband (Channing Tatum) is caught off-guard by her sleepwalking and other unexpected outcomes. No wonder the film’s working title was “Bitter Pill.”
Another thriller is “Barbara,” a German film about a doctor (Nina Hoss) seeking to escape to the West. Assigned to a pediatric hospital, she can trust no one with her plans, including the friendly young doctor (Ronald Zehrfeld) who she might be falling for. After all, this is back in the ’80s before the Wall came down, and GDR and Stasi spies are everywhere.
Another film fraught with danger is “Sister,” the story of a Swiss kid who supports his aimless sister by stealing expensive sports equipment from guests at a nearby ski resort. But when he meets up with an older British hustler things begin to get dicey.
For those of you seeking a calmer cinematic experience, the wonderful Dustin Hoffman film about four retired opera singers is still playing at the Tropic. Reg, Wilf, and Cissy (Tom Courtney, Billy Connolly, and Pauline Collins) are content with their placid existence at Beecham House until the fourth member of their famous quartet arrives. A diva with a tumultuous past, Helen (Maggie Smith) throws their idyllic life askew. A heartwarming film, nonetheless.
And finally, for a smile, you still have “Admission,” the new Tina Fey comedy about a Princeton admissions officer who life goes awry when she encounters a gifted applicant who may just be the child she gave away many years ago. Talk about a secret admission.
There you have it, a Tropic Cinema lineup that promises hours of great moviegoing pleasure. I’ll see you there!

Side Effects (Rhoades)

“Side Effects” Is More
Than a Medical Thriller

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever read those warnings on pill bottles? Or listen to those TV commercials for prescription drugs? The potential side effects are pretty frightening. Especially when they say, “Death May Occur.”
That’s one of the taglines of a new thriller called “Side Effects,” now playing at the Tropic Cinema.
It’s directed by Steven Soderbergh, but blink and you might think Hitchcock.
This nifty little film starts off as a medical thriller, but switches gears to become a neo-noir murder mystery with more twists and turns than a ball of twine.
We have a handsome couple, Martin and Emily Taylor (Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara). However, she has much to be depressed about, her husband having disrupted their upscale lifestyle when he got sent to prison for insider trading. But he’s out now and their life seems to be getting back on track … until Emily attempts suicide by crashing her car into a wall. That gets her assigned to a psychiatrist, one Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). When antidepressants don’t seem to work, the good doctor consults with Emily’s previous shrink, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). They decide to put her on a new drug called Ablixa, although its side effects are not entirely known. Like sleepwalking being one of them. Murder another.
There are trials, insanity pleas, ruined reputations, double crosses, skullduggery, illicit romances, false accusations, and (whew!) justice in the end.
No need to go into details. Unraveling that ball of twine is part of the fun of seeing the movie.
Director Steven Soderbergh (he gave us “Out of Sight,” “Traffic,” and “Erin Brockovich,” as well as fun capers like those “Ocean Eleven” movies) offers up this tribute to … Hitchcock? No, “Fatal Attraction” was his model. “I watched that a lot,” says Soderbergh. “That’s a very well-directed movie. Adrian Lyne knew exactly what he was doing. One of the few, to my mind, interesting aspects of the eighties were these psychological thrillers that popped up. I don’t know why they stopped being made.”
Soderbergh has directed 26 films since his 1989 debut with “sex, lies, and videotape” — the movie often credited with kick-starting the indie-film revolution. He was only 26 at the time.
Not only directing but often editing and shooting his own films, he has been quite a chameleon, jumping from genre to genre. In “Side Effects,” he more or less does that within a single movie.
Why did he undertake this twists-and-turns murder mystery set in the world of prescription medicines? “I just liked the idea of making a thriller as I near the twilight of my career!” says Soderbergh. The bald, bespectacled director is turning 50 and has announced his retirement from filmmaking in order to paint.
Our loss as moviegoers.

Barbara (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


In "Barbara", we get a little atmospheric noir coupled with history. This eerie and smart film is directed by Christian Petzold, who also helmed 2008's "Jerichow", a critically acclaimed thriller.

The story puts us in East Germany in the 1980s at a hospital near the Baltic Sea. Barbara (Nina Hoss) is a doctor with many secrets. She was once employed at a prestigious hospital, due to her wish to leave the German Democratic Republic. Barbara hides currency in her bathtub and conducts covert amorous trysts with her boyfriend Jorg (Mark Waschke). Along with her double life Barbara is a near genius physician.

Nothing gets past her. Her genius verve catches the eye of a young Dr. Reiser (Ronald Zehrfeld).

But can he be trusted?

In addition to her lusty meetings with Jorg, Barbara goes to an old hill on a forgotten road and buries cash and documents under a huge arcing wooden cross. These scenes have echoes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and the essence of All Hallows' Eve, and the exteriors are shot with all the painterly qualities of a Renoir canvas. The interior scenes of the hospital contain all the detached nervousness of a Michael Haneke 21st century fright film.

Nina Hoss is perpetually entrancing, possessing something of the mystical Hitchcock Blonde. One scene in particular with Hoss and Waschke involved in an East German hotel, might even make you think of the opening of "Psycho" with Janet Leigh and John Gavin tossing about on the bed beyond the Hollywood censors.

Hoss is as wistful and mysterious here as the vertiginous Kim Novak, even without the spiraling and vivid titles by Saul Bass. With every step the eye shutters in apprehension---The Stasi is only a high heel's click away from being summoned. The sight of a midnight blue Mercedes is as foreboding as a raven, its slick noiseless tread as visceral as any night in "The French Connection".

Nothing is as fearsome as the tan-complexioned man in a blue suit (Rainer Block) as he waits for a table or stands in a corner, silent and unassuming.

Christian Petzold reveals the real life "North by Northwest" paranoia that existed in the 1980s before the tumble of The Wall and the audience will be well pleased by some hauntingly poetic detail of East Germany, not to mention The Cold War tensions as seen through a pair of ice blue eyes.

Write Ian at

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Side Effects (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Side Effects

Here is Steven Soderbergh's latest "Side Effects" and not since Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" has there been so many twists with turns. We are in Soderbergh World most definitely, where the people are as spacey and distant as the angles of concrete skyscrapers featured in his films.
This is a beige and brown New York City where all is transparent glass and alien chrome and given that I had just woken up from a late morning dream of  orange and blue triangles with sounds reminiscent of "A Clockwork Orange", before this screening, the juxtaposition was startling.

"Side Effects" initially focuses on the saturnine Emily (Rooney Mara) and the anxiety in waiting for her young wheeler-dealer husband Martin (Channing Tatum) as he is released from prison after four years. Emily seems to have everything going for her: a hunky husband finally clear from his insider trading activity, a good job with a competent ad agency and a spacious (albeit dark) house.

Alas, one afternoon while getting her car, a skittish Emily drops her things on the lot and after a curt apology, gets into her car and drives into the cement wall without fanfare.
She blanks out, and after a few hours, revives to be confronted by Dr. Banks (Jude Law). Emily dismisses her suicidal attempt as a caprice and altogether not worrisome. 

Incredibly, the doctor reluctantly agrees to release the anxious Emily from medical care with the condition that she see him as a patient. 
This is a bit hard to believe, but I'm well aware that it is a story of intrigue.

Emily is prescribed antidepressants but they fail to work. She comes to Dr Banks, wraith-like and monotone. Emily is put on a new trial medication of Eblixa and we are clued in that there is buckets of money and perks for Dr. Banks, who is recently financially strapped.

Eureka! It appears the prescription works with gusto. After a hot night in the sack with Martin, complete with an abstracted tilted ceiling courtesy of Soderbergh, Emily wants the medicine to continue, even though the pill makes her sleepwalk in a very shocking way, making most every night Halloween.


Martin comes home one evening to tell Emily of some new positive Houston news. Unfortunately, Emily is chopping tomatoes. Shot from the back, her long stringy dark hair is as frightening as any "Ju-on" ghost-jumper. Martin goes in for a stolen kiss, but gets a passive but deadly plunge in the stomach for a response.

Emily stares at Martin gasping for life on the floor like a red fish and promptly cozies up in bed. Needless to say, she wakes up with no memory of the stabbing.

"Side Effects" takes on the industrial  tones of a "Law & Order" episode but it is an artistic one. We have several distant and devious characters with several askew Soderbergh-sided camera angles to match and mirror the action.

There is a lot of double-cross, backstabbing, and verbal viciousness at once that you might see coming, but if Dr. Banks' search for the truth goes in circles, the acting is compelling. Law's doctor fits right in with his previous outing as a driven conspiracy theorist in  the director's  earlier Contagion", although Law is more self centered here. 

Nearly everyone glows with a gray green reptilian light, both visually and emotionally, including a dark-glossed Catherine Zeta-Jones as an icy psychiatrist. Rooney Mara remains a darkling sparkle throughout and carries the film, giving interest and verve to the somewhat prosaic  "whydunnit" plot.   

And, teasingly at its conclusion, the film illustrates the insidiousness of the pharmaceutical industry and its nightshade haunt.  

This is one of the very few films in recent years to highlight antidepressants and depression as a vehicle for dramatic suspense. It proves  provocative for this reason, and it is the only film that I have seen that quotes the groundbreaking memoir Darkness Visible by William Styron. 

All these trappings make "Side Effects" an ample dosage of slinky psychosis and carnal suspense.

Write Ian at

Admission (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


A little "Admission" goes a long way. What at first seems a promising indie comedy with comedians Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, gradually drifts into the red.
We have a comedy here that starts attractively enough and fits as comfortably as a professor's tweed coat. The trouble is the story is patchy in tone.
Unfortunately, the story tries too hard and audits the novel path.
Tina Fey plays Portia Nathan, a glib and overworked admissions officer. Granted the setting is Princeton University, but as Fey is as chirpy and clipped as ever with a closeted quirkiness, the academia of New Jersey seems right across the street from 30 Rock.

No big acting commute here.

Paul Rudd is John Pressman  who runs an alternative high school . I suppose this is true but often he seems like he's just hanging out like one of the boys. We never see him working, although we do see him delivering a calf, as uninteresting as this is on screen. Rudd plays it safe here, portraying a gentle, flustered but easy-going soul yet again as he has in many outings. This will give many movie-goers the warm fuzzies. Birkenstocks not included.
But I'll say this, Rudd gives genuine empathy to the easily digested role. John approaches Portia to possibly get a student, the brilliant but manic Jeremiah (Nat Wolf) to apply to the Ivy League school and an attraction develops. Portia is shackled to a self important drip of a professor Mark, played anemically by the terrific actor Michael Sheen.

Mark breaks up with Portia with  some belittling patronization and the self deprecating kind John moves in closer and closer.

On the surface "Admissions" is fine and easy to admit on the eyes, but the story merely stays on that surface of a thin veneer and seldom goes into thicker territory. There is a subplot with the possibility of Jeremiah being Portia's lost son and this is initially compelling. Nat Wolf's Jeremiah is quite funny and entertaining as he earnestly jokes, going through his wealth of existentialism, and he has the aura of a loner which makes for some engaging pathos. This is true also of young Travaris Spears as Nelson, John's adopted son, who portrays an easy sense of wonder as a boy who actually wants to be bourgeoise and boring.

But these two story lines drift about and the film becomes cluttered by sitcom-style jokes. Tina Fey is hung over, flustered and bitchy over her demise of her relationship with a "DENY" stamp on her puffy cheek but none of it is that funny. Wallace Shawn plays a conventional curmudgeonly academic (again) and the iconic Lily Tomlin fulfills the standard New Age older Mom role that appears all too often in these comedies.

The real humor comes from Nat Wolf and Tavaris Spears with solid energy coming from Paul Rudd. But the pulse of the film dissipates into Rom-com situation comedy stuffing with the same miscommunications and apologies that we have seen before.

I'd like to put Tina Fey on the waiting list because I like her charismatic sparkle, but in this film, I have to say "admission denied"..

Write Ian at

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Quartet (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


One look at this English country residence in "Quartet” and you can definitely see what's coming even before the dames appear. From the great Dustin Hoffman we have a pleasing enough idyll. Here are two divas and two gents placed with all the comfortable precision of a drawing room comedy and the argentine angst is never far from "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" sans the acrobatics of Dev Patel.

We are treated again to the ubiquitous Maggie Smith as she enters an elegant home for retired musicians, a place of happy bedlam and cozy grumpiness where no one stays mad at each other for all that long.  And there are plenty of easeful doses of quips and languid lasciviousness banter. 

Joined by Maggie Smith who plays the opera diva Jean Horton, are seasoned actors Tom Courtenay as quartet singer Reg, and Billy Connolly as his friend Wilf. There is also Michael Gambon as an Oscar Wilde type and veteran actor Pauline Collins from "Upstairs Downstairs" as the whimsical Cissy.

Suffice to say these gentrified eccentrics are playfully ensconced in Beecham House, singing, laughing, yelling and joking, attempting to get a benefit together. Billy Connelly has the aura of a nonchalant and irreverent lion with a bit of Mark Twain or Ambrose Bierce. He thinks of sex constantly but his portrayal is never rude. His man Wilf may have an edge from The Devil's Dictionary but he is actually a cuddly lion.

Tom Courtenay is fittingly reserved with an air of Roger Moore. Reg is wistful and a bit passive, content to spend time on the lawn reading and teaching music to youngsters who are goo-goo for Lady Gaga.

Everything is thrown in a tizzy (as much as it can be in this easy outing where even illness holds no terrors) when the dragon-like Diva Jean Horton comes to stay. She upsets the placidity of Reg and is known for being a bit of a bitch in Beecham, except she is never really all that mean. Most of the drama centers on Horton as Reg's old flame and her stentorian fussiness has more to do with her weariness of change rather than nastiness. 

It is the strength of the acting here and the verve of Connelly and Collins that saves this film from a "been there, saw that" mezzo soprano of snoozes. The tension is authentic enough to care about the characters while its light silliness is never overbearing or dumbly confining with tired jokes or pratfalls that undermine the narrative.

While Billy Connelly's character and pick up lines about "rumpy-pumpy" and "seasoned wood" are all close copies of Ronald Pickup's role in a certain Indian hotel that was past its prime, the ensemble cast has enough of a subtle flourish to make everything old and congenial seem new again, mostly because we can tell that all of these actors care enough about their co-stars to just have fun.

Write Ian at

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Gatekeepers (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Gatekeepers

"The Gatekeepers", an Academy Award nominee, is a recent documentary by Dror Moreh. It remains as upsetting as it is truthful, as disheartening as that may be.

The film focuses on the secret Israeli security operation Shin Bet that is essentially cloaked in shadow. Shin Bet consists of a group of men, concerned with locating and killing terrorists. Although most of the people and organizations that Shin Bet aggressively target are Palestinian, the group has gone after a militant Zionist  underground, which has been known to have assassinated former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

"The Gatekeepers " echoes the format of Errol Morris' "The Fog of War". The camera takes a head-on bullseye approach to each member of Shin Bet usually in a green-grey palate. At first glance these men might seem to be beloved grandfathers, particularly Avraham Shalom, who is a balding, soft spoken Santa-eyed man in red suspenders.

But these six men have deadly secrets.

Particularly disturbing is the fact that Mr. Shalom apparently covered up the secret killing of two terrorists during the hijacking of the 300 bus incident in 1982 when papers published photos of the terrorists being taken alive.
During the film director Moreh, puts the hard question of morality to his subject.

"Where is morality where terrorism is concerned? Counters Shalom. " I didn't want any more terrorists in court."

It is one of the film's several moments that are hard to swallow.
Interspersed with these chilling remarks which uncover no easeful thoughts for the future, are unique computer animations by the French based company Mac Guff, noted for their work on "Despicable Me" and "The Lorax". These animations which often terrorists cloaked in black, owe debts to "Sin City" (2005) and the video game "Call of Duty". Your eyes might be dismissive at first, but look again and the images become more intriguing, a cross between Diane Arbus or the life-size figures of Duane Hanson, or more abstractly, Rorschach blots of ink that soon coagulate in fear.

While at first these men might seem all too comfortable in their occupations with a camera that gives them a spacey Kubrickian glare at times, it becomes apparent that these men have made mistakes. They are human and  have indeed second guessed themselves. 

As Yuval Diskin admits, "It is often harder to do nothing."
Throughout the film, the Israeli Government clearly expects results, but horrifyingly, despite more successful targets, terrorism has only increased.
Avraham Shalom has the shocking last words:

"Israel is treating others like the ones did in World War II. Like what happened to the Dutch...the Czechs. I don't want to say it, so I won't but it is becoming... cruel."

Shalom goes on to say, "we should talk to everyone..terrorists... Ahmadinejad."

"The Gatekeepers" is not an easy film for illustrating the reality of violence and the eeriness of taking a life with the press of a button. But more importantly it highlights the imperative choice of peace. It is obvious in seeing the film that communication with terrorism is a must. To shut down dialogue  is to nod to annihilation.   

Write Ian at

Week of March 22 to March 28 (Rhoades)

From Musicians to Spies, College Hijinks to Tsunamis --
Tropic Cinema Delivers Both Comedy and Danger

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Smiles and Shivers, this week’s Tropic Cinema lineup covers a gamut of emotions.
Still showing, “Quartet” will deliver a smile and maybe a lump in your throat as you visit Beecham House, a retirement home for British musicians. There you will meet Reg, Wilf, and Cissy, noted opera singers enjoying their golden years … until the diva Helen Horton joins their ranks. Tom Courtney, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, and Maggie Smith are magnificent in this first movie directed by Dustin Hoffman. One of my favorites this year.
A different kind of comedy is “Admission,” Tina Fey’s first movie outing since her popular “30 Rock” television show wrapped up. Here, she’s a straight-laced admissions officer at Princeton, faced with the dilemma of granting admission to a gifted kid who just might be the child she gave away. Paul Rudd joins her to provide the love angle …and a few laughs.
Held over is “The Impossible,” a tale of one family’s survival amidst the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. What makes this story so scary is that it’s based on a real event, Mother Nature lashing out on a Christmas Eve to inflict destruction and death on the coast of Thailand. Caught up in this horror is Henry and Maria Bennett (Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts) and their three children. Yes, you keep thinking, “This could happen to me!”
Adding another hint of danger to Tropic screens is “The Gatekeepers,” a documentary about Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet. Six former heads step forward to tell their secrets, an unprecedented event captured on film by director Dror Moreh. From the Six Day War to surprising proposals for the future, these real-life spies tell all … well, almost all.
Take a deep breath and pick your Greek mask -- comedy or tragedy. You won’t be disappointed with either choice.

The Gatekeepers (Rhoades)

“The Gatekeepers”
Open Up at Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

We’ve all heard about the Mossad, Israel’s not-so-secret Secret Service. But have you ever heard of Shin Bet?
Short for Sherut haBitachon haKlali, this is Israel’s internal security service. It is one of that country’s three intelligence organizations (alongside Mossad and Aman, the military intelligence).
Shin Bet’s motto is “Magen VeLo Year’e,” Hebrew for “Defender that shall not be seen.” It is sometimes called “The Unseen Shield.”
That’s why we’re surprised to see a documentary about Shin Bet, one that features six former heads of this secretive organization -- Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Avi Dichter, and Yuval Diskin. (Diskin was still serving as head of Shin Bet at the time.)
Founded in 1948 during the Arab-Israeli War, Shin Bet was originally headed by Isser Harel, who went on to oversee the Mossad. He is known as the Father of Israeli Intelligence.
Sherut haBitachon haKlali’s task is to provide state security. This includes rooting out terrorist activities; overseeing intelligence from the West Bank and Gaza Strip; protection of senior officials, buildings and infrastructure, airlines, and embassies; as well as counterespionage. Spy stuff.

Directed by Dror Moreh, “The Gatekeepers” was nominated for Best Documentary in the 85th Academy Awards. Three years in the making, the challenge to Moreh was getting these secretive Gatekeepers to agree to appear on camera and discuss their work.
Ami Ayalon, now serving as a Minister without Portfolio in the Security Cabinet, was the first to step forward. He helped Moreh contact the other surviving leaders of Shin Bet.
Following a chronological order, the film is divided into seven segments: Six Day War, the controversial 300 bus incident, the Oslo Accords, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, negotiations with Palestine during the Second Intifada, the assassination of Yahya Ayyash, and reflections on the ethics of Shin Bet.
The film recounts how each of the group came to reconsider these hardline tactics and “advocate a conciliatory approach toward their enemies based on a two-state solution.”
As Yaakov Peri says, ““These moments end up etched deep inside you, and when you retire, you become a bit of a leftist.”

Admission (Rhoades)

Is Not Hard
To Get Into

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Yes, the film’s title is a double entendre. “Admission” is both about a college admissions counselor and about a secret admission from her past.
When uptight Princeton staffer Portia Nathan makes a recruiting call on an alternate high school, she not only hooks up with old boyfriend John Pressman who runs the school, but she meets a gifted kid who might just be the child she gave up for adoption years ago.
It’s billed as a comedy, but whoa! -- the subject sounds serious to me.
“Admission” is bringing hesitant smiles to faces this week at the Tropic Cinema.
The cast is one that can almost pull it off. Tina Fey (TV’s “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live”) as befuddled Portia. Paul Rudd (“Dinner for Schmucks,” “Our Idiot Brother”) as old beau John. With backup performances by Michael Sheen (“Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen”) as Portia’s current weaselly boyfriend; Lily Tomlin (TV’s “West Wing,” “Nine to Five”) as her feisty mom; plus Wallace Shawn (“The Princess Bride,” “My Dinner With Andre”) and Gloria Reuben (TV’s “ER,” “Lincoln”).
And young Nat Wolff (TV’s “The Naked Brothers Band,” “New Year’s Eve”) plays the part of Jeremiah, the boy in question.
Based on the book by Jean Hanff Korelitz, “Admission” is directed by Paul Weitz (“About a Boy”). “The situation is fun because Tina is so desperate to get this one kid into the school,” says Weitz.
Here, Tina Fey reprises her unlucky-in-love career woman persona as an admissions counselor at Princeton University. However, in real life Tina failed her own admissions interview to that prestigious institution.
“My mom wanted me to apply to Princeton, because she had this dream since I was a kid that I would apply to Princeton,” she tells the story. “And it was not happening. I had this small plaid skirt on, and a suit jacket, and I just wasn’t bringing it.” As Tina shook the interviewer’s hand, she was thinking, “Nope. I can tell. I can tell from the moment we’re meeting that you’re not into me.”
Eventually, she got accepted at the University of Virginia.
Princeton’s loss, she shrugs. But that was then. “Unlike now, where I’m dazzling,” she smiles prettily.
Director Paul Weitz chuckles at Tina’s college woes. “It probably, on some level, feels like the end of the world, whether you get in somewhere or not, but it doesn’t matter. You have to have control over your intellectual growth and your growth as a person. Good for you if you get into Princeton — that’s fantastic, but that doesn’t solve anything. Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not worthwhile because you don’t achieve a specific thing. Sometimes it’s how you react to failure that makes you as a person.”
Nonetheless, Weitz believes real-life admissions officers have a really hard job. “They’re really trying to get people who are going to succeed and benefit from being there. It’s a very, very subjective one, no matter how hard they try to make it objective.”
Paul Rudd didn’t have that problem. “I never applied to any colleges,” he admits. “My parents are European, I don’t think they understood the process.”

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sound City (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Sound City

Dave Grohl, the drummer of Nirvana and now the front man of the popular Foo Fighters, has made a wonderful heartfelt documentary about an unassuming old school recording studio. "Sound City" details the iconic history of Sound City studio in the San Fernando Valley, but it is really about the importance and romance of analog (non-digital) music and the poetry of human-produced sound, complete with its share of accidents.

Sound City was a Kafkaesque looking concrete block that was once a box factory in the 1950s.It has been the second home of many bands: Fleetwood Mac, REO Speedwagon, Rick Springfield, Neil Young, Tom Petty, and Nirvana.

There have been countless other groups that have fallen in love with Sound City. For rockers in the 70s and 80s, it is as iconic as Disneyworld. Now it has closed, but it remains a beloved phantom, a sonic banshee of the non-digital age.

The studio housed a Neve board, a console beyond compare, a heavenly mixing board encrusted with old fashioned knobs, switches and lights which stands as wondrous in its variety as a huge chest of Crayola crayons, each button tempered to the human touch, delivering a very individualist sound, tone or shade. A Neve board is like paint drips are to an Abstract Expressionist, allowing the musician to become jagged, characteristic and edgy.

We see a great many eccentric personages here. Stevie Nicks is present in all her hand waving witchy-ness. And here is Tom Petty in his hangdog Dylan-in-Wonderland mystique. Rick Springfield also appears looking very well seasoned with retro Ricky Nelson good looks.

The 70s  and 80s indeed stand still within this nondescript utilitarian block.

A highlight of "Sound City" is a studio session with Paul McCartney and many of Grohl's former Nirvana mates: Krist Novoselik and Pat Smear. The song "Cut Me Some Slack" features hard drums by Grohl, and a good amount of caterwauling by Paul. At one point during the jam, Novoselik sways and moves suddenly like the twenty year old grungester he once was and dear Kurt Cobain materializes, superimposed within the existing band as a wilted wraith brimming with energy.

If this is not enough there is Neil Young, his mere being an element of great nostalgia. Old footage shows him driving a shelled and smoking station wagon, with the cops on his tail. And, last but certainly not least, the smoky voice of Stevie Nicks will bring a tear to your eye and make you believe in analog devils.

The sonic shade of Kurt Cobain haunts this film throughout and he is equally visible in the eyes of the happy go lucky hazel-eyed Beatle Paul (who becomes incensed by a blissful rage ) as he is by his old friend Dave Grohl who seems to sense the textured surge of his friend in a pea green and coffee-striped shirt whenever his fingers hit the sticks.

To partake in "Sound City" is to feel and hear the painterly qualities of rock music and to give analog sound its rightful recognition as something numinous and physical, as rare as an exotic and solitary beast furred in brown shag.

Write Ian at

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rust and Bone (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Rust and Bone

Director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) displays a bit of film noir in his latest outing "Rust and Bone", based on a short story collection by Craig Davidson.

The eerily engaging actor Matthias Schoenaerts shines once again as Alain, a hustler of sorts and a small time boxer with a rage problem. Some may remember Schoenaerts from the excellent "Bullhead" where he played a steroid injected slaughterhouse worker, a hybrid between man and beast and he is just as intimidating here.

Alain is up against it from the get-go forced to steal to feed his young son. He drifts from town to town, finally crashing with his surly sister Anne (Corinne Masiero). One night at a disco, he meets the mysterious and no-nonsense Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) who is being hit by a man. Alain intercepts and strikes the man with savagery. And he is some smooth talker. On the way home, he calls Stephanie a whore. Somehow, she asks him inside to ice his hand. Alain discovers that Stephanie is an orca trainer.After a hostile introduction by a boyfriend, Alain leaves in a bluster.

Meanwhile we are shown scenes of Stephanie at work as she conducts the killer whales like an orchestra at a kind of Sea World. These vignettes are quite tense as the huge bodies of these wondrous creatures, all but dwarf the voluptuous curves of Stephanie. For all her love of control, she is a mere minion.

Alain gets a job as a security guard moonlighting as a mixed martial arts boxer, while Stephanie becomes a victim of a whale attack, horribly losing her legs.

During a chance call, Alain communicates with Stephanie again and the film merges into a noir study of  power and control where the raw shark like animalism of Alain---who is a human Orca---is balanced with the dominatrix-like behavior of Stephanie.

As Stephanie begins sexual relations with Alain, she becomes hardened with solid block lettered tattoos on each hip spelling out DROITE (right) and GAUCHE (left) in harsh graphics. She also takes control of the boxing racket, seeing herself as a kind of Madame of Pain. Jacques Audiard echoes Charles Laughton's classic "The Night of the Hunter". Instead of Robert Mitchum's fearful knuckle-valentine inscriptions of love and hate, we have Marion Cotillard. Both graphic designs on the body are equally intimidating. But here, there is also a nod to David Cronenberg in the use of gleaming metal prosthetics to inspire and repel sex. The metal of Stephanie's legs are paired with Alain's indispensable but battered hands. Poetically, Stephanie can be seen as a lost mermaid domme who is at home in the water, while Alain is a mercenary urban guerrilla, wishing for a consort but not wanting to work all that much too find her.

There are many striking episodes in the film, particularly when Stephanie returns to the Orca tank to confront a whale. As she directs the aquatic homunculus with her hands, the whale becomes both a lapping puppy and a rotund instrument of movement, ink and submission. There is also the mere physicality of Alain and Stephanie as their bodies mix and merge, the pale amputated flesh of Stephanie blending with the hardness of Alain's muscle, creating an odd kill machine, perfectly suited for acts of taking and selfishness.

These interludes by themselves make "Rust and Bone" a compelling must-see, no matter that the film's ending gets a little sewn up, all too pat.

There is enough punchy desperation here to keep you ducking and the carnivorous yet strangely antic gestures of Matthias Schoenaerts, like that of a clown pigmented with anger, are endlessly watchable.

Write Ian at

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Impossible (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Impossible

Look out. Here comes a very scary and very real disaster tale "The Impossible" by Guillermo del Toro favorite J.A. Bayona who directed "The Orphanage"  (2007).

"The Impossible" based on the devastating tsunami that struck Thailand in '04, is essentially a horror story in which the natural world is one vast murderous demon without form or ego that  pulverizes everything in its salty, viral wake.

At the start, Maria Bennett (Naomi Watts) is on a plane with her three children and her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor). She is nervous and fretful and the camera is as hectic as a Lars von Trier film during the onset of a marital fight. Maria is nervous about turbulence, but all is well after a few jarring moments

False alarm.

The plane lands in Paradise, that is Thailand and the family is welcomed into a tropical yet pristine resort complex that seems like a spaceship on the sand with all the amenities. We see a foreboding caption on the screen:

It hits like a punch.

Lucas, the older son, reaches for a Coke and then puts it back. Even the can looks demonic: forbidden carbonation, a harbinger of things to come.
Then it is Christmas. After the kids attack the presents like a flurry of seagulls in Hitchcock's "The Birds", the young one can't sleep.
In fright flicks, this is invariably a precursor to bad things. When morning rises, the kids plunge into the crystal blue  pool and the perspective quotes directly from "Jaws" as the young energetic limbs churn wildly under the surface.

A sudden gust of wind arises, disquieting and unwelcome. Lucas bounces a red ball and it rolls  in a deliberate slowness that recalls Damien's churning red tricycle in the 1970's scare "The Omen".

Then there is a roar followed by  a glimpse of rushing surf that appears like a flurry of rabid bats. Palms fall like toothpicks. The family stands still as if held under a satanic Polaroid.

The screen goes dark.

What emerges are sequences of pain and gory endurance that are almost as hard to watch as Lars von Trier's "Antichrist". Maria is swept in a maelstrom. She gives unholy screams. Her head is badly bashed and bloody. She  quickly holds onto a stump and claws for her life. Lucas is here too and he is fighting for his own survival  as well, both of them caught in their unique cyclones that seem individually made in a psychotic, yet sentient design.
Mom is covered in blood and her breast is savagely torn open, revealing some gore underneath to her son's horror.

As bloody as these scenes are, they are riveting and you will be rooting for Maria the whole way through as she screams and hollers and drips with almost as much Passion Play pain as Jim Caviezel once suffered through.
The father's condition, although his legs are streaked with blood, appears a bit better. He's holed up with the two kids and resolves, as most of us would to find Lucas and Maria, although I did wonder why he did not clean his wounds.

The heart of the story though, not to shortchange the role of fathers, is the relationship of Mom to her son Lucas, played with great emotional strength by newcomer Tom Holland.

Beyond that, the energy in the film is in its depiction of a violent earth which is arbitrary but no less malevolent. When Maria gets violently sick at the sight of a bedmate vomiting, the scene could be taken right from David Cronenberg's early body shockers. The retching is as repulsive and upsetting as any Exorcist-like  tingler, but praise should be given to Bayona who never allows his story to drift into camp and circumstance.

Perhaps the message of the film is that nature is very much out to destroy us.

The Impossible" reveals a duplicitous parallel world of danger that very possibly, co-exists within our own.

Write Ian at

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Week of March 15 to March 21 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema Follows
Oscar Season With
Amazing Variety

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Now that the Oscars are behind us, we can concentrate of seeing new film releases … as well as catch up on a few we missed. And Tropic Cinema is assisting us in that goal.
Leading off at the Tropic is “Quartet,” the directorial debut of actor Dustin Hoffman. And what a wonderful stepping out, with a warm and funny film about aging British opera singers in a retirement home for musicians. A trio of singers (Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, and Pauline Collins) is thrown for a loop when a difficult diva (Maggie Smith) joins them at Beecham House. The music score is soaring, the cinematography crisp, but it’s the perfectly timed performances that will win you over.
If you missed “Quartet” when it played at the Key West Film Festival (or like me, simply want to see it again), here’s your chance to truly enjoy a movie.
You can have a musical interlude of another sort with “Sound City,” a documentary about rock n’ roll’s legendary recording studio hidden amidst the sagging warehouses in California’s San Fernando Valley. Here such performers as Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Rick Springfield, and Nirvana made the music of a generation. Directed by Nirvana’s Dave Grohl, the film gathers some of rock’s biggest stars to collaborate on a new album at this “this real-life rock n’ roll shrine.”
Another film to catch is “The Impossible,” the drama of one family’s tale of survival amidst the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. A harrowing real-life experience, it’s recreated on film by a solid cast that includes Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Geraldine Chaplin, and Tom Holland. Directed by J.A. Bayona (“The Orphanage”), we follow the struggle of a family caught up in one of the worst natural disasters of our time. The event itself may be epic, but the human emotions are close up and personal.
Bill Murray continues his run as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in “Hyde Park on Hudson,” a dramedy about FDR’s flirtation with his cousin during a head of state visit by the King and Queen of England.
And topping all this is “Rust and Bone,” director Jacques Audiard’s loveless love story about a brutish Belgian and a disabled trainer of killer whales. Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard offers a sensitive performance as a woman who attempts to transform her affair from casual sex to one with meaning.
Retirement homes and recording studios, presidents and tsunamis, even killer whales – what more variety could you ask for?

Rust and Bone (Rhoades)

“Rust and Bone”
Cuts to the Bone

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Often I watch films with people who relate to the subject matter up there on the screen. For instance, I watched Jacques Audiard’s grim film “A Prophet” with a Syrian family. Riveting and realistic, but unflinching in its tale of a young Arab man rising to power in a French prison.
We agreed Audiard was a powerful filmmaker to watch.
So why should I be surprised that Audiard’s latest -- “Rust and Bone,” now playing at the Tropic -- would be just as bleak?
One moviegoer, exhausted by the two-hour emotional marathon, described it as “a love story without romance.”
Yes, this is an awkward entanglement between a taciturn single father and a woman who trains killer whales at Marineland. But despite the lengthy sex scenes, it is a painful-to-watch story.
Academy Award-winner Marion Cotillard portrays Stephanie, the woman who loves orcas too much.
Matthias Schoenaerts exudes a hulking macho as Ali, the Belgian club bouncer who begins a relationship with the strong-willed Stephanie.
The film pivots around a dreadful accident, told with a sense of foreboding, one that prevents Stephanie from training the killer whales … so she decides to train the primitive beast in her bed -- Ali.
“If we continue, we have to do it right — not like animals,” she tells him. But his callous disregard for her and her affliction makes this a difficult goal.
Set in the French Riviera, the cinematography is amazing when the camera isn’t focusing on its two pathetic subjects.
Jacques Audiard gives us a vague happy ending, but be he makes us (and his actors) work for it. You’ll be drained by movie’s end.
Marion Cotillard was nominated for a Golden Globe for this sensitive performance, but (surprisingly) failed to get an Oscar nod.
I think I’ll take my niece who used to work at Sea World to see “Rust and Bone.” A lesson to be learned about those huge killer whales that she loves so much, and the guys who drift in and out of her life.

Quartet (Rhoades)

Dustin Hoffman
Makes Beautiful
Music with “Quartet”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Dustin Hoffman is about as American as apple pie -- well, make that a matzoh meal apple cake. Although born in Los Angeles, his Ashkenazi  family immigrated to the US from the Ukraine and Romania.
As a young actor, he did Volkswagen commercials until his big breakthrough with “The Graduate.” Then he went on to star in such memorable films as “Midnight Cowboy,” “Papillion,” “All the President’s Men,” “Tootsie,” and “Rain Man.”
Hoffman’s not particularly known for being an Anglophile. Nor is he considered musical. So I was very surprised that his directing debut turned out to be a film based on a London West End play titled “Quartet,” a story about a retirement home for aging British musicians.
And he pulls it off as nimbly as you’d expect from a Ken Russell or a Richard Attenborough or a James Ivory.
This sweet little musical dramedy is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
In it, Reg (Tom Courtenay), Wilf (Billy Connolly), and Cissy (Pauline Collins) are retired opera singers living at Beecham House. Their comfortable routine is interrupted by the arrival of diva Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), once a big name in the opera world. Turns out, she had been married briefly to Reg. And when she’s asked to reunite with her former co-stars for a performance of “Rigoletto” at a charitable event designed to save the retirement home, temperaments flare, old injuries bubble to the surface, and life’s choices are re-examined.
My movie pal Steve Strickman emailed me to complain about “the negative reviews I read.” He continued, “I always thought that many movie reviewers (not you) are arrogant and wrong, and this confirmed it. This movie, with Maggie Smith, Sheridan Smith (both from ‘Downton Abbey’), Tom Courtenay and others, has wonderful music and is warm, pleasant and totally enjoyable -- especially for an old geezer like me!”
Sourpuss critics aside, this movie about over-the-hill opera singers offers up a set of older actor with whom we geezers can share our aches and pains, heartbreaks and recriminations, smiles and tears. Dustin Hoffman captures all of that here, proving he has a career path to rival Clint Eastwood’s but with a decidedly more genteel sensibility.
Four cheers for “Quartet.”

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Week of March 8 to March 14 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema
“All Holding”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Each week the Tropic Cinema’s programming director Scot Hoard sends me the list of new films opening at the “Best Cinema in Florida.” But this week his message simply said: “All Holding.”
That’s a good sign, meaning a winning lineup of films that’s still pulling in local moviegoers and film aficionados. So no changes.
I’m not surprised, considering this week’s “something for everybody” marquee of films.
For those who love serious foreign films, there’s “Amour” -- this year’s Academy Award winner as Best Foreign Language Film. Director Michael Haneke (“The Piano Teacher,” “The White Ribbon”) also wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay, the story of an elderly couple dealing with a series of strokes that affect the wife (Oscar-nominated 86-year-old Emmanuelle Riva).
Or for something completely different, you can still catch “Django Unchained” -- Quentin Tarantino’s history-bender about a slave-turned bounty-hunter (Jamie Foxx, a previous Oscar winner). Don’t forget, Tarantino’s script snagged this year’s Academy Award as Best Original Screenplay.
If you prefer to tickle your funny bone, you can still catch “Silver Linings Playbook” -- an atypical rom-com about a bipolar guy and a crazy-cute widow who turn out to be made for each other. This offbeat film by David O. Russell (“The Fighter,” “I Heart Huckabees”) was nominated for 8 Academy Awards … and won the Best Actress Oscar for Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone,” “Hunger Games”).
Rounding out the Tropic’s lineup is “Hyde Park on Hudson” -- a biopic by Roger Michell (“Morning Glory,” “Changing Lanes”) that stars ever-popular Bill Murray as the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Laura Linney co-stars as the cousin who had an affair with FDR.
Serious subtitled films, a western-style shoot-’em-up, wonky comedy, and a biography. No wonder the Tropic Cinema is holding firm this week.

Tropic Cinema Annual Report (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema Gets
Good Report Card
At Annual Meeting

By Shirrel Rhoades

Last week the Tropic Cinema’s board of directors, members, and a few stray moviegoers attended an annual meeting to learn how the indie movie house is faring. The report card was good.
Thanks to added revenue from popcorn sales and the wine and beer license, the non-profit cinema is breaking even, with a small surplus going toward capital improvements such air conditioning and expanded DCI projection.
Executive director Matthew Helmerich welcomed the audience and stated that the mission of Tropic Cinema is to “bring the world’s best film to the Florida Keys and to promote the cultural, artistic and economic well-being of Key West and the Keys.”
After acknowledging the “nearly 200” volunteers who keep the Tropic running, and listing the board of directors, Helmerich then introduced treasurer George Cooper and new chairman Jon Allen.
Cooper reported gross revenues of $977,273, up 4% over the previous year. However, expenses were up 5%, producing a loss of $211,567 before membership revenues and contributions from private foundations and individuals.
Staffing cost accounted for the biggest increase in expenses, a 12% jump. It was pointed out that staff now receives health benefits, a milestone in the organization’s employee benefits.
An analysis of 2012 showed that Tropic attendees bought 83,514 tickets for 5,714 performances of 252 different films and events.
The Tropic’s top ten grossing films contributed 38% of the cinema’s film revenues. The top twenty box office films accounted for 54% of box office grosses.
The number one grossing film last year was “The Descendants” with George Clooney.
Community activities were highlighted, noting that the Tropic (along with the San Carlos) participated in the first annual Key West Film Festival. The festival screened nearly 40 films, selling 1,133 tickets.
And for the second year, the Tropic’s Student Leader Program encouraged high school students to produce trailers shown before each DCI-projection movie.
The annual opinion poll yielded no surprises. 91.3% of top two level respondents indicated satisfaction with the “Tropic Experience.” Biggest complaint was that the Tropic had stopped serving coffee (note: it has been restored).
The most pressing question from attendees at the annual meeting had to do with flickering neon over the theaters’ entrances. “The nature of neons,” shrugged Matthew Helmerich, whose family foundation helped fund the Peggy Dow Theater (named after his actress-mother).
Named “Best Cinema in Florida” for several years in a row, George Cooper claimed the title for perpetuity, considering the polling magazine has gone out of business.
Everyone seemed to agree with that designation.