Thursday, October 31, 2013

Week of November 1 to November 7 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Something Old, Something New -- At the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You still have a chance to see “Enough Said,” the middle-age rom-com that’s lingering at the Tropic Cinema. It’s a chance to James Gandolfini in his last movie role, too. Giving a sensitive un-Soprano-like performance, he’s a divorced dad he falls for a divorced mom played by Julia Louise-Dreyfus with a funny Seinfeld-like performance. Time Out calls it “a smart comedy about dating in your 50s,” while Detroit News says it’s “a romantic comedy about hurting the people you love.”

Also staying over is “Rush,” the Formula One racing movie about the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The fast-car sequences will have your blood pumping with excitement. Slate calls it “an outsize Hollywood spectacle about two outsize personalities in conflict.” And Rip It Up describes it as a movie “with fine performances, extraordinary evocations of key races, a sweaty '70s feel.”

New this week is “The Fifth Estate,” the docu-drama about Julian Assange, founder of whistle-blowing WikiLeaks, and his conflict with partner Daniel Berg. Hero or villain, do-gooder or danger, this close-up portrait will make you think twice about his release of classified government documents. New Yorker says it’s “as nervy and as excitable as the trade that it depicts.” And Film Threat counters, “This portrait of the world's most notorious bean spiller reveals so little I couldn't say with more certainty today than a year ago whether his crusade for transparency is sincere or just a freedom of information act.”

Also new is “Out in the Dark,” a film about a Palestinian student who falls for an Israeli lawyer, a difficult relationship due to nationalities and sexual prejudices. describes it as an “intense intimate look beyond tragic premise of Romeo & Romeo across Israel/Palestine wall….” And New York Observer calls it “one of the most powerful films about the Arab-Israeli conflict that has ever been attempted on the screen.”

And last but not least is “Last Vegas,” a comedy about four sixtyish pals who go to Vegas to celebrate the last of them to get married, with “Hangover” consequences. Starring Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, and Robert De Niro, you’ll enjoy the interplay between these living legends. Hollywood Reporter concludes, “A royal flush of actors delivers a winning hand for this likable seriocomedy.” And tells us, “As predictable and uncomfortable as it can be, it's an assured crowd-pleaser.”

Old and new, you’ll find something you want to see this week at the Tropic.

The Fifth Estate (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Fifth Estate”
A Real-Life thriller

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The so-called three estates are the clergy, the nobility, and commoners. Later, Edmund Burke added the term fourth estate to refer to the press. A fifth estate is considered to be a group operating outside of society’s normal groupings.

For that reason, WikiLeaks has been described as a fifth estate.
The new film titled “The Fifth Estate” -- now playing at the Tropic Cinema -- is in fact a thriller based on the real-life turmoil surrounding Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks.

Directed by Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls,” “Kinsey”), the film tells the story how activist Julian Assange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch of “Star Trek Into Darkness”) and journalist Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl of “Rush”) came together to found a tell-all website called WikiLeaks.

Starting off, WikiLeaks exposed offshore crime in the Cayman Islands, secrets of Scientology, and Sarah Palin’s email.

However, the situation gets dangerous when WikiLeaks starts releasing classified documents provided by US Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning. Assange and Berg have a falling out over protecting sources. That leads to a coup, with Berg and his team blocking Assange's access to the WikiLeaks server.

And, as we know from newspaper headlines, the real-life Julian Assange is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, evading charges of sexual assault that he calls a ruse to turn him over to the Americans. After all, the US government has reason to exterminate him.

Assange denounces this film, because it’s partially based on a book by his nemesis Daniel Berg. He calls it a “serious propaganda attack on WikiLeaks and the integrity of its staff.”

Benedict Cumberbatch actually met with Assange while researching his part in the film. The actor appears to be somewhat sympathetic. “No matter how you cut it,” says Cumberbatch, “he’s done us a massive service, to wake us up to the zombielike way we absorb our news.”

Maybe, maybe not. The film’s working title was “The Man Who Sold the World.”

Last Vegas (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Last Vegas”
Is “Hangover”
For Seniors

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You’ve probably seen all three “Hangover” movies, that boys-will-be-boys comedy with an ensemble cast. In the first outing, they got themselves in trouble in Las Vegas.

Now we have “Last Vegas” -- a new comedy at Tropic Cinema -- that features four older boys getting in trouble.

Here we have four best friends in their late sixties who go to Vegas to celebrate the last among them to get married. These fun-loving old-timers include Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline.

As directed by Jon Turteltaub (“While You Were Sleeping,” “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), the film gives “four screen legends of a certain age the opportunity to chase skirts and punch out guys a third of their age.”

“Last Vegas” is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Guys in their late sixties? Hm, somebody’s lying about his age. Morgan Freeman is actually 76.

How does Freeman stay so young at heart?

“Hang with young women,” he laughs. “I’m telling you, it works. But it’s also about keeping yourself fit – keep moving, keep exercising. And also, you’ve got to have reasons to get up. If you have work that you like doing, and those of us in acting have work we like doing, you can go on for a long time.”

While filming “Last Vegas,” the foursome spent two days judging a bikini contest. “There was a lot of eye candy there,” says Freeman. “And we were all experiencing it big-time. Trust me. It’s not … bad … duty.”

The other three range in age from 70 down to 66.

They are described as living legends.

Michael Douglas describes his character as “a sleazeball lawyer.” Kevin Kline plays a guy “kinda at loose ends.” De Niro calls himself ”the protector of the group.” Morgan Freeman says he’s “the calming force.”

So how do they get in so much trouble, these protectors and calming forces? Because Billy (Douglas) is finally getting married, having popped the question to a girlfriend one-third his age. So his friends -- “the Flatbush Flour,” friends of 57 years -- decide to give him a send-off.

As Kline describes it, “hilarity ensues.”

Could this story really have happened to them? Morgan Freeman says no … speaking for himself. “I’m not the Vegas type, really. I’m not a gambler, not a hanger-outer. When I was there, I went to Cirque du Soleil, went to see Barbra Streisand, and I went to see Elton John. That was about all the going-out I did! Other than that, all I did in Vegas was play golf.”

Monday, October 28, 2013

Muscle Shoals (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Muscle Shoals

Greg 'Freddy' Camalier's "Muscle Shoals" (although taking more than a beat from the excellent and lively documentary "Sound City") is mysterious enough in its power of place to keep your head rocking.

Muscle Shoals is actually a physical place, the largest city in Colbert County, Alabama. As it is located on the Tennessee River, it is said that a soulful and profound music moves through the area and that a wellspring of songs are actually  mineralized in the very mud.

Whether you believe it or not, Muscle Shoals has a rich history, calcified in Blues and human drama. The blues musician W.C. Handy was from there, as is the eccentric and irrepressible Rick Hall.

Hall started the iconic Fame music studio in Muscle Shoals against all odds. Hall, who was on his own since a teen (his mom abandoned him) suffered immense loss until he experienced the epiphany that would bring him the studio.  Hall recorded with Aretha Franklin at Fame when no one would hire her and two careers (Franklin's and Hall's, took off).  "Muscle Shoals" is mostly about Hall and Fame studio. But more interestingly it is about a supernatural sense of place and maybe even the spirit world.

For starters, Rick Hall is a quirky and somewhat existential man. As  Hall says, in his own words, he was "born out of rejection". His wife died in a car accident. His father got mangled by a tractor and died in the fields. Through it all, he maintained a dream of a sound studio. Hall closed himself in and wrote songs. After Aretha Franklin's outpouring wail that made history, Hall became a producer of legend.

Hall created his own band named The Swampers and they had the uncanny ability to take on any style needed from playing alongside Motown mavens to Reggae.

At the height of his respect, Hall was betrayed by a rival with several Swampers jumping ship to start their own studio in the same town, just a few miles away.

Like an exile from William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Hall builds a bonfire on the banks of the river and seems to vow revenge. Hall's passion seems built from black smoke. He is part Johnny Cash, part Beowulf.

At one point, sporting a mustache, Hall might seem a version of the oil-ambitious Daniel Plainview, in "There Will Be Blood". Although Hall is obsessive, there is no violence within. But he remains a perfectionist.

Along with the back-stabbing, we are also treated to a gimlet eyed Keith Richards, a cyber-spacey Bono in his trademark Google-like glasses and an effete Mick Jagger who offers a smattering of dialogue about the river and mud producing deep sounds.

Although the celebrity interviews are a bit anemic and repetitive , the phrases about the numinous power of Muscle Shoals combined with some poetic scenery that, with some minor alteration, could be right out of "Deliverance", make this film an evocative outing.

The character of Rick Hall as a history making uniter of musical cultures, is reason enough to see this film. He is both a bereft man and a genius, from out of his mental Yuchi rocks.

Let us hope Hall keeps producing records, in defiance of any vengeful impulses .

Write Ian at

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Wadjda (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


The director Haifaa al-Mansour offers a striking debut feature in "Wadjda", about a girl and a bike. The film, deceptively simple and reminiscent of the rich neorealist films "The 400 Blows" and "The Bicycle Thief," is jarring at its edges and its bittersweet situation will pull at your heart.

Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a spirited 11-year old who is quick to shake things up. She wants to save money to buy and ride a bike, partly because she likes it but also to be on equal ground with boys.

Her mom (Reem Abdullah ) is horrified. She doesn't want to upset the status quo and has her own problems: her husband is threatening to take a second wife and her "society-arranged driver " is irritable and unpredictable. Wadjda does all she can to be the iconoclast. She wears boys' sneakers, listens to American music and is gently profane to Islamic conventions. Wadjda is driven to get a bike: she gets the idea to join a Koran competition for extra money. Thus by appearing the golden-boxed student, she'll work within society and accomplish her goal.

Scenes of Wadjda studying are interspersed with her mom in desperation, trying to rekindle romance while being treated like a slave by other men. In one episode, she anonymously offers food outside the door and then goes out to try a curvy red dress.

The schoolgirls occultly tattoo themselves with Sharpie pens. Nail polish is a vain and mischievous iconic nectar that leads to Western sin.

Wadjda buys a Koran video game while secretly hatching her plan. She wants to race the neighborhood boy who she obviously likes but doesn't let on.

While the overall tone of the film Wadjda might remind some of the sentimental "Akeelah and the Bee" in which a truant and spunky girl bucks trends, "Wadjda" has definite dark shades. The adult figures are sexist, wolf-like and often petty, while the confines of the madrasa are inscribed within a geometry that is as rigid as the scrape of white chalk. God cannot be blown into spontaneous and varied shapes. The cloaked eyes of the religious police are everywhere and no accepted algebra exists for girls who want to ride bikes or drive a car.

The film "Wadjda" in the presence of the bicycle, parallels the director's struggle to make the film in secret, hidden in a trailer, given that she would not be granted access to film within the company of men.

"Wadjda" is the first film to come out of Saudi Arabia and its subversive sweetness deserves a place among the work of François Truffaut and Albert Lamorisse's "The Red Balloon".

Write Ian at

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Prisoners (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) hits us with a masterpiece of American Gothic (despite some melodramatic  trimmings) with "Prisoners". This gritty and evocative film as a true crime roman a clef, is as eerie as it is absorbing.

Hugh Jackman is Keller, a religious blue collar man who hunts and prays. He is not a miserable man though it does seem that he has the gray weight of Conyers, Pennsylvania  pressing in upon him. Gone is Hugh Jackman, thespian extraordinaire. This character is riddled in deep lines: a Christian martyr made of wood. This is fitting too as Keller is a carpenter.

During one Thanksgiving, Keller brings his family to dinner across the street hosted by The Birches (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis, respectively) The Birches have a young daughter, Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons). The daughters Anna Dover and Joy are inseparable and decide to play outside, attended by an older brother.

Out of the blue, the two girls see a mysterious, yet innocuous enough RV parked outside. On a whim, and perhaps because it looks abandoned, the two girls gambol on its ledges and runners. Some oddly sinister 70s Muzak echoes throughout the vehicle and it becomes clear that somebody is watching within.

This remains the singular most frightening scene of the film, simply because we are plunged in doubt. The mobile home, although non-threatening is unseemly for its grimy off-white coloring.

The children return as the family retreats to dessert and television, then in a snap, they vanish as if taken by an invisible miasma.

Both families are knocked breathless by this unimaginable event.

An odyssey begins.

Paul Dano plays Alex, a perpetually sweating, mute and tormented soul who makes a kind of adolescent Boo Radley. Because Alex drives the RV into the woods, presumably in panic, Keller is convinced that this unfortunate and nearly non-verbal man is the monster. But the police are without hard evidence to hold him.

Keller is frustrated, driven by love for his daughter, rage and a sense of righteous anger. Although we can well fathom Keller's brimming and bottomless boiling, he gradually becomes sadistic. Although Keller is a loving father, he displays his ugliness and is not so sympathetic. He melts into a hardness, consumed by some vengeful internment punishments that are indeed, as bloodcurdling as anything penned by Poe. The revelation of Alex's visage at one point makes Leatherface look like a Raggedy Andy.

Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an enigmatic and somewhat spacey performance as the detective who at first appears reticent and bland, yet  possessed with a preternatural sense of precision. Perhaps Detective Loki was made perfect by  some occult and spiritual loss given the Masonic markings on his hands and neck.

Although each adult character is more unsettling than the last (including a slithering milquetoast by the name of Bob Taylor), the fine actor Melissa Leo nearly steals the show as a shy and ashen auntie. Not since Piper Laurie in "Carrie" has there been a performance so potent in camp, yet so scary.

The hinging and twisting effect works in "Prisoners" because not everything is spelled out at once. One pedestrian thriller turns into a gothic haunt, which in turn transforms into an existential study of punishment and doubt. And a single note may remind many of Alfred Hitchcock who doubtlessly carries on in spirit, not least for this film's splendid and abrupt ending.

Write Ian at

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Week of Oct. 25 to Oct. 31 (Rhoades)

From “Prisoners” to “Wadjda” to “Muscle Shoals,”
Tropic Cinema Fills Its Screens With Watch-Worthy Films

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

If you haven’t seen “Prisoners,” the powerful kidnapping movie with Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard as fathers who have lost their daughters, and Jake Gyllenhaal as the lawman trying to find them, here’s your chance as it moves to the Tropic. Sometimes you’ll be tempted to shut your eyes, but this is brilliant filmmaking nonetheless. Screenwize notes “This moody police procedural with Jake Gyllenhaal in sublime form may be nearly three hours long, but it's worth every minute.” And 3AW says, “It captures that white-hot skewer of fear that must run through the heart and mind of every parent who has ever suddenly looked around them and thought, ‘Where's my kid?’”

New to local screens is “Wadjda,” a Saudi Arabian film about a young girl who wants to earn money to buy a green bicycle. Director Haifaa Al-Mansour is the first Saudi female to ever direct a feature film. St. Louis Post-Dispatch observes, “This delightful debut feature by a Saudi woman uses a bicycle as a metaphor for freedom.” Austin Chronicle says, “Al-Mansour's story is relatively simple, although the world it reveals is deeply complex.” And Boston Globe reminds us that the delightful film “offers a character with universal resonance and appeal.”

Another new film is “Muscle Shoals,” an ear-filling documentary about the Alabama studio where such legends as Percy Sledge, Gregg Allman, Mick Jagger, Bono, Aretha Franklyn, among others, made music. Behind it all is Rick Hall, the man who created the Muscle Shoals sound. Variety proclaims, “Greg Camalier’s debut feature offers a worthy if sometimes ponderous take on a significant slice of U.S. popular music history.” And Hollywood Reporter says, “Even casual music fans will enjoy this behind-the-hits doc.”

Still playing is “Don Jon,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s portrait of a young man who loves his porn more than his relationship with a hot chick (Scarlett Johansson). But an older woman (Julianne Moore) helps change his outlook. Richard Roeper calls it an “offbeat, frank and often surprising gem.” And Laramie Movie Scope sees it as “a very funny, well-written film. Unlike most romantic comedies, it is both thought-provoking and introspective.”

Also holding over is “Enough Said,” a rom-com about two divorced middle-aged people (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini) who make unforgivable mistakes that may just deserve forgiveness. Time Out calls it “a smart comedy about dating in your 50s.” And Detroit News says, “The easy chemistry between Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini is wonderfully charming -- you’re rooting for them even as the falsehoods pile up and the poison begins to flow.”

That’s a darn good movie lineup, a perfect antidote for the silliness of last week’s Fantasy Fest.

Wadjda (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Wadjda” Focuses On
Middle Eastern Women

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

When Pakastani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban, the gunman taunted the pupils on her school bus, “Who is Malala?” Now a year later, there are not many people in the world who doesn’t know who she is.

On Malala’s 16th birthday, she addressed the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York. “Here I stand, one girl among many,” she said. “I raise my voice… so that those without a voice can be heard.”

Many were disappointed when she did not win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. But Malala said she’d won in just getting nominated.

Another Middle-Eastern comes to mind this week -- Haifaa al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first-ever female film director.

Haifaa al-Mansour’s debut film -- a comedy titled “Wadjda” -- opens this week at the Tropic Cinema. It was filmed entirely within Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh.

That was no small accomplishment, for in this patriarchal society Al-Mansour had to work from the back of a van, watching the actors on a monitor, giving them instructions by walkie-talkie, because she was not allowed to mix publicly with the men in the crew.

“Wadjda” turned out to be Saudi Arabia’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards -- the first time the country has ever submitted a film for Oscar consideration.

This eponymous film tells the story of an 11-year-old Saudi girl named Wadjda who dreams of owning a green bicycle she sees in a store on her way to school. She wants to race the boys in her neighborhood. However, Wadjda’s mother refuses to buy the bicycle, for bike riding is seen as a threat to a girl’s virtue. After trying to earn money through a series of odd jobs, Wadjda decides to enter a contest that’s offering a SR1,000 cash prize for reciting verses from the Qur’an. That could pay for the green bike. But unfortunately things go off-track.

First-time actress Waad Mohammed is winning in the title role. Television’s Reem Abdullah co-stars as the stern mother with a compassionate heart. Sultan Al Assaf is the father looking to take a second wife. Noof Saad plays the Qu'ran Teacher. And Abdullrahman Algohani appears as Wadjda’s neighborhood nemesis Abdullah.

In addition to directing the film, Haifaa Al-Mansour wrote the screenplay. The witty story comes from her own experiences while growing up in Saudi Arabia. And she based the character of Wadjda on one of her favorite nieces.

Al-Mansour says the first draft of her script was much bleaker than the finished film. “I decided I didn’t want the film to carry a slogan and scream, but just to create a story where people can laugh and cry a little.” So she tweaked it a little, assuring that moviegoers would have a little smile on their faces as they left the theater.

She must have succeeded. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 99% rating.
Haifaa Al-Mansour says her screenplay was influenced by Vittorio de Sica’s classic neorealism film, “The Bicycle Thief.”

The eighth of twelve children by poet Abdul Rahman Mansour, she learned about films by watching videos, for there are no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia.

Prisoners (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Is Captivating

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Should we torture prisoners of war? No, says international conventions. But what’s a little waterboarding if it gets results? That was the premise of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the mostly true story about the hunt for Bin Laden.

While you may disagree with that film’s conclusions, it took a position: That the end justifies the means.

Now we have “Prisoners,” a film that approaches torture with a degree of moral ambiguity. Not a film about war, but instead a domestic thriller about vigilantism.

In “Prisoners” -- now playing at Tropic Cinema -- we find two nice Pennsylvania families having dinner together on Thanksgiving. An average joe named Keller Dover and his wife Grace (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello), their neighbors Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), along with their kids, just enjoying some down time. But things spin out of control when their two daughters go out to play and don’t come back. An Amber Alert in the making.

The police are called and stern-faced Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) assures them he’ll get their daughters back. And before you know it, he has a suspect in custody, a mentally challenged loner in a van, a dork named Alex Jones (Paul Dano).

But when the police let Jones go for lack of evidence, Dover decides to take matters into his own hands. So he kidnaps the suspected kidnapper and sets out to force him to talk. Dover’s neighbor is horrified by this violent turn of events, but reluctantly acquiesces. It gets ugly.

C’mon, now. Don’t get squeamish. Wouldn’t you do anything to save your child? Even torture if it takes that to get the kidnapper to talk.

But what if you’re wrong? What if other suspects turn up? What if you’ve gone too far?

Maybe that’s the problem with moral ambiguity.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Inequality For All (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

  Inequality for All

Jacob Kornbluth's  "Inequality for All" features the charismatic   economist Robert Reich giving his analysis of our current sickened economy. While this could have been a snore-fest, Kornbluth's direction is lively enough to make even the distracted layman compelled.

Kornbluth gives a stirring and easily digestible story of our economy and by no means should it be thought of as exclusive or esoteric. It is meant for all of us. It is also not meant as an economic autopsy, but as a reading of our current psychological condition as a stimulated and sufficient country.

There are opportunities to act upon and poles to be reversed.

According to Reich, the problems of our economy are legion. It is not one single thing. At root, the Middle Class, our coral limestone of Democracy has become cheapened, cheated and undervalued. There are many reasons. The median wage has stagnated, there is Wall Street deregulation, under Reagan unions have dissolved to sugar water, and corporations are now raging Jagernauts that swallow mom and pop retail stores. Yet at rock bottom, the primary causes seem twofold: the cursory treatment of higher education and fact that we, as middle class consumers, do not really make anything big as we did in the 1950s.

Our current age is one of financiers and lobbyists and neither one has our best interests at heart.

Reich cautions against the Occupy movement and the Tea Party. Such groups are mere agents of polarity serving only to tear our society apart with no sutures to make it whole. This makes economic health equally perilous on both sides.

But the film is not without its human scope.

The scenes of Reich modestly getting out of his Mini Cooper, with wooden box in hand to face either congress or the classroom are intimate and poetic in their simplicity  as are the montages---offered in split screen ala Brian De Palma---illustrating the vivid parallels between 1929 and our present. Reich is tireless and unflagging, he states that his championing of the Middle Class stems from when he was bullied in school as an unusual looking person given his striking shortness from Fairbanks syndrome. Because of this bullying, he has always sought to give power to those with no position or voice.

There is solid information presented combined with a human spirit as everyday working people are shown against some well meaning but isolated entrepreneurs and CEOs. One one percenter interviewed correctly cites as the greatest economic success of our time but concedes that it can be thought of as an automated machine that just doesn't create jobs.

With globalization, automation conquers all.

All is not certain doom however. Reich is a shade cynical during lonely nights, but by day he is hopeful. The choice is ours. With our thoughts we can vote out the special interests of Washington and reinstate the working people. Reich has one single mantra: our government makes the rules.

And since we know that governments are made of people, We, the everyday middle class, can create the world that we desire.

Write Ian at

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Rush (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Our modern day Frank Capra, the prolific Ron Howard, hits again with another solid epic in "Rush" about the cutthroat world of ego in Formula One racing.

This real-life story focuses on the rivalry between British racer James Hunt and Austrian Niki Lauda. There is a hint of Shakespeare here and perhaps a zest of the Absurdist Albert Camus, since it is hard to pinpoint exactly how or why the rivalry evolved. In the film, Lauda sarcastically dismisses the misfortune of a Hunt teammate, as well as delivering acidic jabs to Hunt's libido.

Needless to say, they are fighting words, and as time goes on, the men go increasingly mad, governed by The Bard's much-inked emotions, that of power and ambition.

While Chris Hemsworth of "Thor" fame delivers a fine performance as a Byronic James Hunt---all sensual pleasure, pistons, bravado, and blonde hair---it is Daniel Brühl who is near definitive and transcendent as the hermetic, un-handsome and socially uncomfortable genius. There is something Lon Chaney-ish in his transformation, disquieting yet delicate.

We witness each racer's origin. Hunt was spoiled and babied. His parents were wealthy stockbrokers. Hunt's world is one of velvet, burgundy and champagne. He wanted for nothing.

Lauda was also born wealthy but in contrast to Hunt, Lauda's father strongly chastised his motor pursuits; he had to crawl his way up. Lauda goes from firm to firm and takes out a personal loan. He grows hunched and pale---a fledgling driver with a Kafka condition over his head.

Lauda must win to survive.

Meanwhile, James Hunt is the Jim Morrison of roar, swaggering, posing and winning all the way, sheathed in red and black leather, a Valentine cherub of Va-voom.

As much as Hunt emulates Lord Byron and Wilde, Lauda shells himself in and retreats, reflecting a kind of Einstein and Spinoza in the creation of his own machine. Lauda is often compared to a rat. Lauda responds without a beat and points to his head: "No one likes a rat, but he is intelligent."

To Lauda, Hunt is sure to get soft in his voluptual debauchery.

"Rush" is a film sure to get your adrenaline going. The engines and workings within are characters in their own right, with all the valves, hoses and plugs that churn, roll, roil and thrum and create symphonies of aggression and anxiety. But more importantly, these fetishistic rubber and chrome cacophonies are symbols of male power, sex, and the ego of a reproductive machine.

Roaring overwhelms all.

In accelerated vignette after vignette, each jab by Lauda and each near blow escalates with a masterful tension. We observe very telling and distinctive details about  these two people who are both driven to near madness in competition.

The vividness in Rush comes from the direction of Ron Howard in capturing the Gothic potentials that indeed existed in a cash-driven Formula One age which is both disturbing and poignant. Here are two characters who try well to destroy each other in occupation.  Yet in intention and spirit, they stand as mirrored creations of their own automotive Id.

Write Ian at

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Week of October 18 to October 24 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

From Economics to Racing to Romance --
Tropic Fills Its Screens with Excitement

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Does your neighbor have more money than you? Lots more? That’s the topic of “Inequality for All,” the new documentary about the disparity of wealth in America. Economist Robert Reich points out, “The 400 richest Americans, 400 of them, have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us put together.” Here he explains the societal and economic impact of that 1%. Minneapolis Star-Tribune observes that “President Clinton’s Secretary of Labor lectures on income inequality with a refreshing lack of jargon.” The Dissolve describes it as “an advocacy doc constructed to make a clear political point.” And The Playlist applauds, “That a documentary about economics could be so personally emotional and affecting is remarkable.”

Ron Howard’s “Rush” rushes onto Tropic screens. This Formula One racing film had to be called “Rush” because “Speed” was already taken. Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”) and Daniel Brühl (“The Fifth Estate”) give great performances as those real-life rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The Star-Democrat termed it “an incisive character study cloaked in a thrilling, adrenaline-fueled sports picture.” And ABC Radio noted that it’s “an exciting sporting spectacle but more importantly, it makes a few thought-provoking observations about the value of a great rivalry.”

Continuing this week at the Tropic is “Romeo and Juliet,” based on the Shakespeare play about star-crossed lovers. Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld in the title roles are guaranteed to keep you swooning, but for this version the Bard’s words have been slightly retooled by scripter Julian Fellowes, creator of TV’s “Downton Abbey.” Common Sense Media calls it a “teen-friendly take” with “spark.” And Television Without Pity concludes, “If you're looking … to get your kids acquainted with one of Shakespeare's most easily-digestible plays, this is a perfectly fine (if not entirely authentic) choice.”

“Don Jon” is sticking around too, a tour de force written, directed by, and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a self-absorbed guy who prefers porn to a real romance … until he meets the “right” woman. Detroit News describes it as “a convincing, authentic, funny, modern romance.” And Antagony & Ecstasy sees it as “a film with tense, ironic energy.”

And rounding out this week’s lineup is “Enough Said,” a midlife romance between two divorcees played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus (TV’s “Seinfeld”) and James Gandolfini (TV’s “The Sopranos”). Gandolfini makes this last role before his untimely death count by giving a sensitive performance as a man easily betrayed by words. Empire Magazine calls it “a charming, big-hearted movie.” And The List says it’s “a match made in romantic comedy heaven.”

See you at the Tropic!

Inequality For All (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

An Economist Explains “Inequality For All”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Robert Reich is a professor, author of 14 books, a political commentator, and a respected economist. In addition to serving in the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter administrations, he was Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997.

Having been a professor of economic policy at Brandeis University and teacher in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Reich currently serves as a Chancellor's Professor at the University of California.

So he knows his nickels and dimes.

That’s why you will want to hear what he has to say in “Inequality for All,” the new documentary about the widening income inequity in the United States. It’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

“Inequality for All” won a Special Jury Award for Achievement in Filmmaking at Sundance. To make the documentary, Reich was joined by award-winning filmmakers Jacob Kornbluth, Jen Chaiken, and Sebastian Dungan.

Why did he choose to do a movie? “Well, I've tried everything else,” he laughs. “I mean, I've written lots of books, and done quite a bit of television. And the situation keeps getting worse -- with more and more of the nation’s wealth and income in the hands of a smaller and smaller number of people. So when Jake Kornbluth approached me with his proposal, I accepted right away.”

Reich now admits he had no idea how hard it would be to create a movie!

But it gives him the platform he was looking for. “Of all developed nations, the United States has the most unequal distribution of income, and we’re surging toward even greater inequality,” says Reich.

He cites a new study showing that since the recovery almost all the gains have gone to the very, very top. “People who are in the top 1 percent are doing better than they did even before the Great Recession, better than they have done since 1928.”

He makes the point that “most Americans today, even if they have jobs, even if the jobs pay fairly well, are much more insecure than Americans have ever been at work before, at least in living memory, because we have a huge number of contingent workers, huge number of part-time workers, huge number of workers who can’t know what their paychecks are going to be because they’re paid on a contingency fee -- bonuses, you know, working hours, billable hours. That means that they cannot plan, and have to live, to some extent, from paycheck to paycheck.”

This, he says, gives us an economy that is very vulnerable and a democracy that is also very vulnerable, because all of that money at the top is being transformed into political power.

The film points out that “the 400 richest Americans, 400 of them, have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us put together.” The gap between a CEO’s pay and the typical worker is now at a record 350 times ratio.

“Because of Occupy L.A. and the Occupy movement around America, this country is beginning to discuss an issue and a set of issues it has avoided discussing for years,” Reich says. “And that is the increasing concentration of income and wealth and political power at the very top of this country.”

Director Jacob Kornbluth personalized these issues by telling us about Reich himself. The “star” was uncomfortable with using this biographical material, particularly premises like how being bullied as a child made him grow up wanting to protect the vulnerable.

“When I was a kid, bigger boys would pick on me. I think it changed my life. I had to protect people from the people who would beat them up economically. Who is actually looking out for the American worker? The answer is nobody. Workers don’t have power if they don’t have a voice. Their wages and benefits start eroding. We are losing equal opportunity in America. Any one of you who feels cynical, just consider where we have been.”

Robert Reich concludes, “The economy is a set of rules that are decided upon by our democracy. And if our rules are generating outcomes that are unfair, that don’t work very well, that don’t spread enough of the gains of economic growth to enough people, we change the rules.”

Bill O’Reilly calls him a communist.

Rush (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies
Rush” Gives Us a Rush

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A few years ago I spent an afternoon at the Indy 500 watching those fast open-wheel cars whizz around the track. So I was primed to see Ron Howard’s new racecar movie “Rush,” a high-speed drama set against the 1976 Formula One Grand Prix season.

Formula One is the highest class of single-seater auto racing sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA). More technically advanced than an Indycar, an F1 racer can cost up to a half-billion dollars to build. F1’s corner at high speeds due to the large amounts of aerodynamic downforce, making them the fastest multi-turn circuit-racing cars in the world.

F1 racing features teams based in England, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Switzerland, and other countries. These 24 or so drivers are arguably the best racing car drivers in the world.

Back in 1976, emotions were particularly high due to the rivalry of two F1 drivers, Britain’s James Simon Wallis Hunt and Austria’s Andreas Nikolaus "Niki" Lauda. That competitive season is the focus of “Rush,” now showing at the Tropic Cinema.

The two men were quite different personalities: James Hunt was brash; Niki Lauda was cool. Photos of the time showed Hunt surrounded by pretty women; Lauda traveled in less flashy circles. However, both were fierce competitors.

At the wet track of the German Grand Prix, Lauda crashes his Ferrari in a fiery inferno. Horribly burnt, he returns to racing against his doctor’s orders after just six weeks.

In Japan, Lauda and Hunt face off again, only a few points apart. But Lauda pulls out after two laps, refusing to risk his life again. James Hunt wins by one point. How will this win affect Hunt? That’s the point of the story.

Ron Howard (the former child actor) began his directing career with a car-racing movie of sorts, “Grand Theft Auto.” Along the way, he’s made some brilliant (but varied) films that include “Splash,” “Willow,” “Backdraft,” “Apollo 13,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and “Frost/Nixon.” Now he returns to racing in a more stylized and thoughtful manner with “Rush.”

The movie’s success hinges on three things: Great F1 racing sequences (check), a great performance by blond and handsome Chris Hemsworth as Hunt (check), and a great performance by dark and sultry Daniel César Martín Brühl González Domingo as Lauda (check).

You know Hemsworth as the Teutonic Marvel superhero Thor. But you may not be as familiar with Daniel Brühl, who played a German war hero in Quentin Tarantino's “Inglourious Basterds” and had a minor role in “The Bourne Ultimatum.”

Nonetheless, their performances rival each other in “Rush,” as tangible as that historic rivalry between Hunt and Lauda.

The film’s title may be more about the adrenaline rush we feel watching these fast cars than about speed.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Romeo and Juliet (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Romeo and Juliet

While it is undeniable that the latest adaptation of 'Romeo and Juliet' has its share of shmaltz, it is sure to provide some breezy popcorn fun for Tweens. Despite its curious, dated "Twilight" shades and its After-School  Special score, it does possess a sincere intention that holds some interest, if short on the lasting emotional surprise that Shakespearean audiences can usually divine.

Carlo Carlei, whose domain is television, ably directs this sumptuously visual if pedestrian outing of the drama.

This is not the original Bard's play as written. Rather, it is adapted by Downton Abbey's Julian Fellowes and it feels Shakespeare-ish, a bit like the difference between a serious wine and a spritzer as the dialogue moves from plain speech to Shakespeare with some damnable unpredictability. This is sure to infuriate many as it has and no doubt will, yet it is entertaining in spite of its flaws and perhaps, just maybe, because of them.

Visually, the film is beautifully produced. The costumes alone are veritable pomegranates in fabric. Second, it is actually filmed in Verona. The landscapes are nothing short of a terrestrial dessert, all chiffon and clay-colored currants throughout, with rapiers and ribbons. Here are grey castles and musty monasteries with real sense and palpable texture. The setting speaks of Juliet and nightshade Romeo and that goes a long way in suspending the bridge of disbelief.

Yet all is not well in Verona in regard to casting. Hailee Steinfeld seems a bit too jejune as Juliet while Douglas Booth remains  too mature and frozen. At times, Booth seems to be talking to a frosted mirror instead of Steinfeld. Granted teens can be self-involved, but this wasn't as transfixing as it could have been.

That said, the two go thru the fascade well with an interesting mania for poison and swords which borders on the fetishistic (as Shakespeare duly calls for) and this is well handled.

The casting of Paul Giamatti, regrettably, is laughable as the friar. He is a Robert Crumb cartoon in Friar's garb: all goggly-eyed, tormented, simpering and sweaty. He seemed all too much Paul Giamatti.

And although Damian Lewis does quite well as Juliet's father, his role is so unsympathetic, repulsive and weasel-like, it is hard to feel remorse for his Capulet curse. And is not that the whole hinged thing?

Despite the detached, cyber-seeming tone of the affair with the actors more like avatars, than night-vined creatures of passion and blood, (this is a veneer of Franco Zeffirelli rather than a vision) "Romeo and Juliet" is finally an amusing if ephemeral primer even as it stoops to turn The Bard into babysitter.

Write Ian at

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Salinger (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


"Salinger", a polarizing documentary by Shane Salerno, is an intriguing primer on the enigma of the notoriously reclusive writer. While some might find this biography a bit cursory and rudimentary, (and it is) it still makes a stirring postmodern collage of information and imagery, taking Salinger as haunted World War II soldier in counter-intelligence to an almost eerie figure of deception and sleight of hand in keeping with the existential antiheroes of Patricia Highsmith.

The young Salinger lived with his parents, yearning to write well enough to make it to The New Yorker. He was upper class---a cashmere creature of the country club and polo set. As a young sensitive actor, he became smitten with the young sylph Oona O'Neil with eyes as dark as rich periods and skin that could have been nightshade butter. Oona was enamored with the writer and critic but he joined the front and she stopped answering his letters. Oona was married to Charlie Chaplin. Salinger found out in the manner of an anonymous stranger, through the paper.

He was inconsolable.

After a mental breakdown, Salinger joined the front again as a kind of Nazi interrogator. Salinger lived in Germany and married Sylvia Welter, a subversive move at the time, as Sylvia was German born.

Then oddly, the marriage is terminated after a mere eight months and according to the documentary, at least, the causes are obscure.

Some hint that Sylvia had Third Reich ties.

All the while Salinger continues to write, seeming to chase his ideal Oona in a state of Wonderland. Professionally, he is finally accepted by The New Yorker, the magazine he champions, but he is haunted by the dark eyed ghosts of romances past.

Through the course of this film, there are compelling shots of the wraith known as Salinger shown in various orbits: at home, at war, and most interestingly as a gray man, frosted with tension. Sometimes he is like Kafka, his eyes blighted with anxiety. At others, he appears very much like Dean Martin, the life of the party swinging grandiose tales into the carbonated night, a friend to all.

The most hypnotic segments of "Salinger" the film, reveal Jean Miller and her recollections of Salinger as a kind of autocratic Humbert Humbert. As a young girl of 15, Miller was strikingly like the lost Oona, but their relations were 99% platonic. When the young nymph hinted at a relationship, the friendship was over. Miller had threatened Salinger's ritualistic writing work.

Such was verboten.

After the sudden success of Catcher in the Rye, Salinger marries Claire Douglas and has two children. He locks himself into a writing den, a "bunker" and disappears for weeks, obsessing and creating his increasingly spiritualist stories. He believes that America is insane with consumerism (which is arguably the film's best line) and dresses in a course canvas jumpsuit.

He constantly  writes letters to many pixie-figured women. Each time, transforming into a galvanic man, spontaneous and light, when they eventually meet.

A pattern emerges.

Yet it always manages to go sour. Few women can handle Salinger's unyielding rigor at home.

There is a evocative image in the documentary reminiscent of Laurie Anderson, of Salinger writing at his typewriter as an IMAX screen of his life flashes before him.

The last arresting hint of this documentary is of the author's promise to reveal more stories posthumously. The continued existential episodes of Holden Caulfield will most probably run on, replicated on machines like literary viruses to inhabit other minds in defiance of deranged fans or unrequited spirits.

The aura of Salinger left behind might well be cautious as well as celebratory.

Write Ian at

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Don Jon (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Don Jon

Here is yet another take on a sex addiction character study with a lighter tone than Steve McQueen's "Shame" or Stuart Blumberg's "Thanks for Sharing". Here we are in the universe of John Badham's "Saturday Night Fever" seen through a millennial filter, complete with the Internet, techno-rave beats and the ubiquity of porn. The whole of "Don Jon" can be seen as a conceptual re-imagination of Badham's classic film about the disco era.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt slickly directs and stars as Jon, an overly confident womanizer who sees the hunt for sex as a sport and is addicted to online porn. Before you judge Jon as  a sleaze,  consider that he has a charming, self deprecating manner at times and his macho overconfidence is a mask shielding  himself from intimacy. While he is egotistical and very selfishly thinks sex with a real person is a laborious chore, there is a strange stunted innocence to this boy / man. Jon hasn't matured and he likes it that way. Jon and his friends don't really work. They linger about and ridicule each other, mostly spending their time at a club. Standing in a cluster they coldly debate the female attributes of patrons as if they were cattle. The group hovers like a murder of crows in a manufactured re-enactment of an "Entourage" episode.

Once at his apartment, the solitary Jon turns on his computer, watching the digital collaged fractals of flesh zoom across his body as his face explodes into a ball of white light.

One night at the club, he sees the coy, good natured and sexy Barbara (Scarlett Johansson). Seeing Barbara's allure of stable unattainability, the boys cajole Jon into approaching her.

Jon puts the aggressive moves on her and gets rejected.

But the following day, Barbara agrees to lunch and becomes smitten by the confident smooth talker.

The two date. Barbara withholds sex from Jon wanting to wait for matrimonial promise. One fateful night, she catches Jon with his laptop in his lap. Barbara is disgusted, but she gives him a second chance.

Interspersed within this tempest, Jon goes soldierly to Sunday Confession admitting to infinite compulsive masturbation acts and losses of temper. Jon invariably receives the order of ten Hail Marys no matter how serious or trifling the offense. This is one of the more daring aspects of the film in its poking of conventional Catholicism.

Jon goes to the gym, whispering penance as he lifts: the good Catholic.

But that night, he opens his laptop, a suitcase of sin.

Scarlett Johansson is very good as an alluring goody two shoes, risqué around the edges who all too carefully follows conventional expectations. Also wonderful is Julianne Moore who is pensive, daring and melancholic in a kind of Mrs. Robinson role.

The thrust of "Don Jon" however is embodied in Levitt. Although his role seems a parody of Tony Manero, and very much is, with his slick bristled pomp greased up in combination  with his jet black wardrobe and his loud Jersey jeer, we also observe his softness, his hesitance and his yearning spirit. Also intriguing is Levitt's emphasis on the frequency of sexual power permanently embedded in our lives--- from living rooms, classrooms, gyms and even in the minds of our fathers.

Although "Don Jon" may fail to analyze compulsion and addiction deeply, we get a lively picture of Jon that reveals itself in a browser of almost picaresque sweetness. This film like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", "The Graduate" or "Saturday Night Fever", could well be time capsules all speaking lightly of the past, while documenting our present.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Week of October 11 to October 17 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Romeo, Where Forth Art Thou? At the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The Bard now has a co-writer. For this latest film based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Julian Fellowes (creator of TV’s “Downton Abbey) decided to help out with the dialogue. He has come under fire for rewriting certain passages.

“Of course I understand why Shakespeare experts are upset,” says the Oscar-winning screenwriter. “They feel he is either the greatest or one of the greatest writers that ever lived and why tamper with him.”

Why then? Fellowes says the idea was to make the story "more accessible and clearer," not to mention much shorter. “I mean the play is four hours,” he says. The movie is half that length.

“All the stuff you remember is all in, I don't think we've cut any line that is ever one of the quoted ones ... About 70 per cent of it is Shakespeare.”

The Oregonian says, “It works pretty smoothly, and should allow folks … to follow along without alienating too many purists.” Variety calls it “a desultory new version of Shakespeare's tragedy.” But Total Film sees it as a “perfectly respectable” production.

Another bard gets his due in “Salinger,” the new documentary about the author of “Catcher in the Rye.” J.D. Salinger was a great writer, but reclusive to the point of ceasing to publish his writings after 1965. Why? Filmmaker Shane Salerno tries to answer that question. “What emerges is a portrait of an enigma,” says the Seattle Times. And Globe and Mail calls it “a riveting picture of a contradictory, deeply selfish, troubled man.”

Moving to the Tropic is “Don Jon,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s study of a narcissistic guy whose world revolves around “My body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, my porn.” Especially porn. Which creates a problem when he meets the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen in his life (Scarlett Johansson). Detroit News calls it “a convincing, authentic, funny, modern romance.” Three Movie Buffs dubs it “an impressive debut as writer/director/star.” And the Star-Democrat sees it as “very funny and with some social commentary.”

In “Enough Said” a divorced mom (Julia Louis-Dreyfus of “Seinfeld” fame) meets a less-than-perfect divorced dad (James Gandolfini) Things get complicated when she discovers that her massage client is her new boyfriend’s ex-wife. Philadelphia Inquirer says it’s “a romantic comedy about hurting the people you love.” And describes it as “a believable and organic funny-sad-dramatic tonal medley.”

Still playing is “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” a masterful look at the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of a White House butler who served eight presidents. Forest Whitaker makes his mark with this one, but Oprah may walk away with an Oscar nod. “A film with its heart very clearly in the right place,” says Antagony & Ecstasy. And Denver Post waxes that it’s “A history lesson in violence and endurance. A sentimental journey. A tribute. Director Daniels and the dedicated cast of The Butler deliver all that.”

As Shakespeare wrote, “These violent delights have violent ends/ And in their triumph die, like fire and powder/ Which, as they kiss, consume.” That’s this week’s movies.

Romeo and Juliet (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Romeo and Juliet”
Tries to be Different

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

William Shakespeare’s most popular play during his lifetime was a tragic romance that he’d penned early in his career, “Romeo and Juliet.” Believed to have been written between 1591 and 1595, this story about two star-crossed lovers draws on earlier works such as “Pyramus and Thisbē,” Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” and “The Ephesian Tale of Anthia and Habrocomes” by Xenophon of Ephesus. However, it was the poetic language of Shakespeare’s version that made it a masterpiece.

The play has been translated to film on numerous occasions. Each one trying to be different.

George Cukor’s lavish 1936 production with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer stuck pretty close to the script, although it included two songs drawn from other plays by Shakespeare.

In 1961 Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins adapted it into a modern musical called “West Side Story” with Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood, featuring choreographed gang warfare between the Sharks and Jets.

Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 faithful big-screen adaptation returned the story to its traditional setting of Renaissance Verona, but featured for the first time age-appropriate teens in the lead roles (Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey).

Baz Luhrmann’s anachronistic 1996 MTV-inspired “Romeo + Juliet” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes stuck to the words, but set the modernized story in a fictional “Verona Beach.”

Now we have Carlo Carlei’s “Romeo and Juliet,” a brand-new 2013 film that stars Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld. You can catch it at the Tropic Cinema.

Booth is English (he played Boy George in “Worried About the Boy”) and Steinfeld is American (she was nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in the recent “True Grit”), but they come off as a Shakespearian couple.

No musical numbers, no modern settings, it has the proper look and feel of Shakespeare’s story.

Like Zeffirelli’s version, the film is period appropriate, set in Renaissance times and filmed in Verona, Italy.

And its stars are pretty much age appropriate. “I’m 19, despite the beard, and Hailee’s 15,” says Douglas Booth. “In the original play, Juliet was 13 and Romeo was 17, so it’s the same age difference.”

Then why are critics and other purists up in arms?

Turns out, the film -- trying to be unlike any of the previous screen adaptations -- will not rely solely on Shakespeare’s original dialogue. The controversial script was written by Julian Fellowes, creator of TV’s “Downton Abbey.”

Shakespeare scholars are accusing Fellowes of altering the Bard’s work to such an extent that “little to none” of it is used. Analyzing the film, academics from two leading institutes dedicated to study of the playwright found that Fellowes has “simplified lines, invented new ones, and reconstructed phrases.”

Aye, there’s the rub, as Shakespeare might say.

“Basically, we broke down some of the verse, and he added his own verse, so it’s a nice combination of both,” says Ed Westwick who plays the fiery Tybold. “It’s very unique. It’s not doing the same thing as the other films, although people will have to make up their own minds about that.”

 “People will want to try to compare this,” says star Douglas Booth, “and I think it has the romance of the Zeffirelli and the energy of the Baz Luhrmann.”

“Do we need another Romeo and Juliet?” asks an online movie blog. Audiences will decide that question.

Salinger (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Salinger” Out
In the Open

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

At 16, Holden Caulfield was cynical, resentful of all the phoniness and hypocrisy he encountered in the world.

Sure, he was a fictional character created by author J. D. Salinger, but does he hold any clues as to why Salinger became one of the most reclusive writers of our times?

Salinger published his last work in 1965. He never gave another interview after 1980 (that one recorded without his knowledge). He retreated to his house in Cornish, New Hampshire, dying there on January 27, 2010.

Word is, Salinger had continued writing, but with a proviso that it not be published until after his death. According to one source these works include five new Glass family stories; a novel based on Salinger’s relationship with his first wife; a novella in the form of a World War II counterintelligence officer’s diary; a manual about Vedanta; and other stories that illuminate the life of Holden Caulfield.

An article appearing in The New Yorker suggests that Salinger “stopped writing stories, in the conventional sense ... He seemed to lose interest in fiction as an art form -- perhaps he thought there was something manipulative or inauthentic about literary device and authorial control.”

So what’s his story? What disappointment in life sent him into hiding? Why did he forsake his fans? Why did he turn his back upon the world?

These are some of the questions that a new documentary titled “Salinger” tries to answer. It’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- perhaps offering as close a look into J.D. Salinger’s mind as you’ll ever get.

The film features interviews with some 150 subjects, ranging from Philip Seymour Hoffman to E.L. Doctorow, Tom Wolfe to Gore Vidal.

Filmmaker Shane Salerno kept the project under wraps for five years, protecting his access to Salinger’s friends and inner circle.

The result? As Salerno puts it, “We take the viewer … inside J. D. Salinger’s private world and shine light on a man named Jerry who lived in the shadow of the myth of J. D. Salinger.”

You’ll learn about Jerry’s disillusionments based on his war experiences (he suffered from “combat stress”). His girlfriend Oona O’Neill left him to marry Charlie Chaplin. The New Yorker rejected most of his submissions. His attraction to younger women led to several marriages and numerous affairs. He toyed with Zen Buddhism, Kriya yoga, Dianetics, and other out-of-the-mainstream belief systems. He hated phoniness and hypocrisy.

Hm, where did we hear that before? It’s known that Salinger identified closely with his characters. Or did Holden Caulfield identify closely with him?

Don Jon (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Don Jon”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My friend Marc and his wife recently had dinner with Jane Gordon and Dennis Levitt. Jane and Dennis’s son Joe joined them. You may know him as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the young actor who played Robin in the Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has had other juicy film roles: “(500) Days of Summer,” “Inception,” “50/50,” “Looper,” and ”Lincoln.” He debuted at the age of ten in Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It.”

And he was cute on the TV sitcom “Third Rock from the Sun,” too.
“Joe is a great guy,” my friend tells me. “Amazingly unassuming given his incredible run. He seems to just take everything in stride.”

Now, Joe’s taking a big step: writing, directing, and starring in his own film, “Don Jon.”

As my friend points out, “He’s incredibly versatile, having played: hippies, homosexuals, killers, normal people, superheroes, comedy roles, song and dance routines and more.”

With “Don Jon” -- currently showing at the Tropic Cinema -- he’s changing skins again. Don Jon is a buff version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a wife-beater undershirt.

“There’s only a few things I care about in life,” says this latter day Don Juan. “My body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, my porn.”

It’s this addiction to porn that gets in the way of him having a great new relationship with one sweet Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“She caught me watching porn,” he confesses to his boys.

The film’s working title was “Don Jon’s Addiction.”

“I thought you were different,” Barbara accuses.

“I was just checking my emails,” he claims. But she doesn’t buy it.

Yes, this girl is too good to let get away. “Amazed I’m gonna try something new,” he decides.

Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson, and Glen Headly join this comedy repertoire. Anne Hathaway, Channing Tatum, Cuba Gooding Jr., Meagan Good, and John C. Reilly also make cameo appearances.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt credits his experience directing short films for hitRECord for teaching him what he needed to know to make “Don Jon.” is his open collaboration production company, a crowd-sourcing venture that makes videos, audios, text, and images. Here on this website he’s known as RegularJOE.

“It’s something I started with my brother as more of a hobby,” he tells us. “We use the Internet to collaborate with artists from all over the world. Anybody can come contribute.”

Just like my friend says, “Despite all his success, he seems like a regular guy. His family and friends just call him Joe.”

Monday, October 7, 2013

Haute Cuisine (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Haute Cuisine

Director Christian Vincent offers a satisfying and engaging repast in "Haute Cuisine" a character study of Daniele Delpeuche and her occupation as a private chef for Francois Mitterrand. The film has a light and buoyant sweep and you will be carried away quickly by the movement of plates.

The film stars Catherine Frot in the Delpeuche role and she singlehandedly carries it with resolute conviction as easily as an entree of twelve filet de boeuf en croute stacked end to end. In the film, the chef Hortense Laborie is depicted as an Antarctic adventurer,  jaded and bereft by the politics of cooking and forced by her caramelized compassion to seek wild outposts.

As in Stephen Frears' "The Queen" the narrative shifts through flashback  and right from the start, we know what kind of person Laborie is: strong, direct, with a spiritual nexus for the richness of haute cuisine. She wears a string of pearls like argentine peppercorns. Her nemesis is the supercilious and gloomy pastry chef (Brice Fournier).

There is drama here: Hortense must contend with palace kitchen gossip that she is Mitterrand's favorite and mistress, while striving to beguile The President's tongue in an effort to recapture salivary things past, the burnt umber terrestrial heavens of a truffle or the pale placidity of a cuttlefish spooned by grandma.

The French academic and novelist Jean d'Ormesson co-stars in a surprising turn as Mitterrand and he beautifully captures the child within the curtained charade of politics as he lusts for truffles with a heartbreaking mania akin to Salvador Dali.

Each featured dish comes out bursting, bubbling and boiling, invariably oozing, complete with ribbons of cocoa. And let us not forget slabs of beef, thick, pink and steamy in corsets of puff pastry as impenetrable and secure as baked armoires. This is satisfying on the level of food porn alone.

 Catherine Frot is all absorbing in her performance. Laborie lives for entrees. There is a trifle of existentialism as well: deep in the barren Antarctica she is hounded by filmmakers that pursue her like bothersome gnomes.

By the film's end, the trimming of rich sauces and fat become a melancholic symbol of European  economic austerity and innocence lost.

Write Ian at

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Populaire (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Régis Roinsard's debut film is "Populaire", a fizzy and colorful bounce of a film that pays homage to the Rock Hudson and Doris Day films of the 50s, as well as the semi-comic Hitchcock films featuring Cary Grant and James Stewart.

We are in France in 1958, when the cars were beautiful boats and the makeup was perfect. The quirky Pamphyle (Déborah François) has dreams of being a secretary to the debonair human pencil, Louis (Romain Duris). But she is horribly clumsy and doesn't cut it with the glaring dark eyed Louis, who makes a fetching if bland blend of Alain Delon and Jon Hamm in this role. Once under Louis' vain and penetrating stare, Pamphyle suddenly becomes possessed and commences to type with manic speed and accuracy. Driven by a game of oneupmanship, Louis gets an idea to push Pamphyle into a speed typing contest. Pamphyle rapidly consents because she wants to gain some autonomy from her hovering father (Frédéric Pierrot)

As a result, Pamphyle faces some reptilian stenographic sirens, on par with Cruella de Vil.

As tissue thin as the plot is, the office scenes have the visual nostalgia of Hitchcock's "Dial 'M' for Murder", while the sight gags featuring some obnoxious women with perfect nails pay hints of tribute to John Waters "Hairspray" along with the legacy of Douglas Sirk. The camera lens is in itself a character in the film with the hallucinogenic Lifesaver filters, that speak of Antonioni or Warhol.

Indeed, it is perfectly feasible to watch this film as a singular style piece, all form and flash, with all of its emphasis on the female torso, chin stubble, keyboards and the domestic fetishism of lacquered nails. But the winning smirk of "Populaire" is that it nudges you with many titters, if not guffaws. And by the margin's end of this petite plaisanterie, there are some unsuspecting shades in the enigmatic Louis that may just bring to mind a Hitchcock antihero.

Ultimately though, "Populaire" is a light and facile pastiche, that highlights many bedroom comedies of the 50's. Director Régis Roinsard has the good sense to assimilate such imagery into the hyperactivity of our current age, all the while staying put within the masquerade of the late 50s. The only sensation you might be aware of is that of a timelessness. No matter that the "Vertigo" decade has passed along with those linoleum highways of vermouth and unconcealed cigarettes, hanging out in public.

Write Ian at

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Enough Said (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Enough Said

Director Nicole Holofcener (Please Give) delivers some sweet yet refreshing goods in "Enough Said" thanks to some solid roles and chemistry. The film stars "The Sopranos" James Gandolfini in his final role and comic Julia Louis-Dreyfus. As a pair, they are smoothly  entertaining and illustrate a friendship-romance with fire, flavor and a pinch of regret.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, a struggling masseuse who invariably second guesses herself and prefers the solitary life. On a whim, she accompanies a friend to an exclusive  party. By chance, she encounters the self-deprecating and casually sloppy Albert, a TV historian (Gandolfini) who possesses a kind of humble and warm version of a De Niro tough guy grin. In contrast to past roles, where Tony Soprano is all storm, noise and intimidation, Albert is soft, disarming and in some scenes, almost reticent. Albert makes his interest known second hand via an acquaintance Will (Ben Falcone) and Eva calls on a lark. Because Albert is such a smooth jokester, Eva grows smitten.

Simultaneously, Eva befriends Marianne (Catherine Keener) a poet and agrees to take her on as a massage client. As fate would have it, Eva becomes equally drawn to Marianne as she is to Albert, excluding romantic desire.

The stumbling block is that Marianne is Albert's ex wife.

Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini play off each other so well that you almost forget you are watching a fictional film. The two actually converse together with energy, compassion and tension and at no point do their roles opt for cheap, easy laughs.

The late Gandolfini shows real grace and understatement in his role here, and although this is unfortunately his last role, it will surely be remembered as one of his best. His interpretation of a suburban guy who is all softness and heart shows versatility with a restraint that is near poetic. Gone is the obnoxious Tony. In his place is a heavy walrus-like lovable man who, through his inimitable smile, tries too hard to be liked. There are shades of the classic "Marty" in this big man unbothered with sophistication. But where Ernest Borgnine was all torment, Gandolfini is Fred Flintstonian cuteness, at least to a point. But fear not. The inclusion of tension, when it does arise, will startle you as well as pull on your heart and the trouble is in keeping with the best of the romantic farces of the 1960s.

Toni Collette also gives a good outing as the well meaning friend who is jangling with inner anxieties and unrealized expectations, saddled with a passive aggressive Ben Falcone.

"Enough Said" is a real character study of a relationship. I would hesitate to label it a comic romance as it feels more like life as it unfolds.

The only slight criticism that I can possibly give (which is actually a credit) is that the narrative moves so quickly with a  brisk and breezy tempo that by the time the screen goes to black, I wished I could have seen more.

Write Ian at

Friday, October 4, 2013

Week of Oct. 4 to Oct. 10 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema Offers an International Smorgasbord

This week the Tropic dishes out laughs from around the world.

If you were a big fan of TV’s “Seinfeld” and miss all those dysfunctional friends, you’ll want to catch “Enough Said,” a romantic comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a later-day Elaine. Here we have a single mom named Eva who meets a guy (James Gandolfini) that she kinda likes until she encounters his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) and starts parroting his faults. Detroit News says, “The easy chemistry between Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini is wonderfully charming - you're rooting for them even as the falsehoods pile up and the poison begins to flow.” The Austin Chronicle sees it as “a funny, tender, impactful story of two divorcées, authentically in their early 50s, struggling to trust and love again.” And Access Hollywood says “Julia Louis-Dreyfus is such a revelation that it feels like we're watching her talents unfold for the very first time.”

A different sort of rom-com is “Populaire,” a French entry about a woman (Déborah François) who has a talent for typing fast. An ambitious insurance agent (Romain Duris) decides to coach her to a world championship, but discovers that love and speed typing are not necessarily compatible. Reeling Reviews says, “Director Régis Roinsard makes his feature debut with this utterly adorable romantic comedy which feels like something right out of the 1950's.” The Washington Post calls it “cheesy, cornball sentiment.” And gushes, “It's a gorgeous picture that's highly amusing, allowing viewers to lose themselves in the fantasy of love, rivalry, and typing. Yes, typing.”

Another French comedy is “Haute Cuisine,” starring Catherine Frot as a chef hired by the president of the Republic as his personal cook to the chagrin of his kitchen staff. The Philadelphia Inquirer calls it “an epicurean dream where the dishes conjured up by the characters are as essential to the experience as the characters themselves.” And the Seattle Times says, “it has abundant charm and it leaves you hungry, which is all we ask of a food movie.”

“We’re the Millers” is a very American comedy with Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, and Will Poulter as a fake family trying to smuggled an RV-load of marijuana into the states from Mexico. ViewLondon describes it as an “enjoyable road-trip comedy with likeable characters, strong comic performances and a decent number of laughs.” The Daily Mail calls it “a fine collection of cheap and sleazy jokes, well-told.” And Flic Capacitor says it’s “funnier and more enjoyable than you're probably expecting.”

If you prefer British humour (sic) try “The World’s End,” an apocalyptic comedy about … well, the world’s end. It takes place on the night five old chums are trying to repeat their historic pub-crawl. Quad City Times says, “You might want to have a beer after you see 'The World's End,' the latest from the creative team of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright.” And Response observes, “Instead of giving us characters who find happiness by rediscovering their youth, they show us the folly of resisting adulthood.”

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” offers an intimate look at America’s Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of a White House butler (Forest Whitaker). The Denver Post calls it “A history lesson in violence and endurance. A sentimental journey. A tribute.” New Yorker sees it as “a high-minded, didactic, but irresistible entertainment.” And ReelViews says, “Forest Whitaker imbues his part with immense dignity.”

Enough Said (Rhoades)

“Enough Said”
Has a Lot to Say

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

What if your girlfriend sounded just like an instant replay of your ex-wife? Picking at the same faults. Criticizing your manners. Complaining about your lovemaking. Harping on your weight. You might start wondering why you traded in one model for another.

“Enough Said” -- the new comedy at the Tropic Cinema -- takes that premise to the point of absurdity.
Turns out that Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus of “Seinfeld” fame) is dating the ex-husband of her masseuse client Marianne (Catherine Kenner). She’s heard the woman rag about her ex, but little did she realize that this flawed specimen is none other than Albert (James Gandolfini), the sweet but eccentric man that she’s just started dating.

Both Eva and Albert are single parents with a lot in common. And she’s “just getting to really like him,” she tells confidante Sarah (Toni Collette). But then Eva connects the dots between her client’s imperfect ex-husband and her own imperfect boyfriend.

Can she keep from parroting these criticisms? Or is this her way of avoiding the risks of emotional entanglement?

Will this “aesthetically mismatched” couple survive getting to know each other? Best wait and see. As we know, love can be a bumpy ride.

Julia Louis-Dreyfuss sums up her character: “Eva’s a woman who’s facing all these changes – her daughter leaving for college, this sense of being romantically stuck in a rut – that are wreaking an emotional havoc on her to an extent she’s not even aware of. Then she meets somebody who likes her – and she proceeds to do this horrible, horrible thing. Of course she does, right? [Laughs] She’s got a little problem with relationship boundaries. It’s what sort of, I would say, fuels her very, very, very, bad decision-making.”

Louis-Dreyfuss adds, “I understood why she did it. She really, really, really was just trying desperately to protect herself and in so doing she obliterates a lot of stuff.”

James Gandolfini (TV’s “The Sopranos”) gives a gentle, but memorable performance as Albert, an exec at the Library of American Television who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Saturday morning cartoons. A big, bearded bear of a man, he dwarfs the diminutive Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a Mutt-and-Jeff way. But she can hold her own as a comedienne, taking that likeable Elaine personality and wrapping it around a completely new character.

Louis-Dreyfus has a knack for playing characters that can seem unlikable and self-centered. After all, she was on a show that “pushed the idea of how unlikable someone could be and still be funny…”

“Shame and humiliation are my comic bread and butter,” the actress quips.

“Enough Said” was directed by Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give,” “Friends With Money”). You might sense a certain angst in her films. Her stepfather Charles Joffe was the longtime producer of Woody Allen’s films. Holofcener apprenticed her filmmaking skills on “A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy” and “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus took the role because of Nicole Holofcener. “A big fan!” she calls herself. “I was a huge admirer of her movies. I mean, is anyone besides Nicole even making these kinds of movies any more? The kind where people who are over 30 talk about bad decisions and life struggles and failures? And do it in a way that’s funny?

In June, James Gandolfini unexpectedly died from a heart attack while vacationing in Italy.
Louis-Dreyfuss recalls getting to know James Gandolfini. “I’d met him socially at a couple of events, but only to say ‘Hi’ and la-la-la, not lengthy conversations or anything like that. And then on this movie we got together, to sort of work on it and talk about it and read scenes. We immediately hit it off.

“He is such – was such – a gifted actor that it was easy to do long, conversation-driven scenes with him. I mean, I love doing those kinds of scenes anyway, and a lot of work always goes into making two people talking onscreen seem natural. With Jim, though, it really did feel natural.”

Far from being the fearsome mob boss Tony Soprano, Gandolfini once described himself as “a 260-pound Woody Allen.” His former co-star Brad Pitt called him as “a ferocious actor, a gentle soul and a genuinely funny man.” And Julia Louis-Dreyfus said, “The man was a generous actor, 100 percent. It was a joy to work with him.”

‘Nuff said.

Populaire (Rhoades)

May Prove to Be a Popular Throwback

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Speed counts. You’ve seen it recently in the Ron Howard movie “Rush.” You’ve seen it in oldies-but-goodies like “Chariots of Fire.” You’ve seen it in thrillers like, well, “Speed.”

Now we have a different kind of movie about being the fastest: “Populaire,” a movie about typing speed.

Yep, you read it right (are you a speed reader?).

You will find this sentimental French entry -- currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- an amusing and slightly corny look at love amid shifting typewriter keys.

Here you’ll find a young woman named Rose (Déborah François) who appears destined for a boring life in a boring French village until she applies for a job with a hot-shot insurance agency while on a trip to Normandy. She doesn’t get the job, but she gets a shot at fame when the boss (Romain Duris) discovers what a fast typist she is. Next thing you know he declares himself her trainer and sets out to turn her into the fastest typist in the entire world.

Alors! Love is not a sport best played for speed.

This breezy look at romance in 1958 has a certain panache that might remind you of a Gallic version of those old Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies. Think: “Pillow Talk” shot on the sound stage for “Desk Set.”

Sacre bleu!