Sunday, April 27, 2014

Finding Vivian Maier (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Finding Vivian Maier

In 2007, one John Maloof, a young man in solid black glasses needed photographic work on Chicago's Portage Park. He bid on a box of negatives priced about four hundred dollars at auction. The box belonged to Vivian Maier. Maloof found nothing of use for his particular project and stashed the work in his closet, almost forgotten.

Six months later, Maloof discovered something: hundreds of images that describe urban life as if by sorcery from a dark lantern, chiefly in black and white. Here was Gotham City: kids crying, homeless walking bagless and bereft, aged people looking like forgotten warriors or lost Mafioso, or just everyday walkers staring down the camera.

Maloof googled "Vivian Maier"  but his search only delivered a white screen in response.

Then he found an address. He located the phone number of a man who knew Maier as his childhood nanny. Maloof also contacted MoMA but they were not interested, citing a lack of storage.

As a last resort, Maloof posted the photographs on the net in an effort to solve at least part of the mystery and spur interest.

It worked.

"Finding Vivian Maier", a documentary by Maloof himself and Charlie Siskel is about this quest to find answers as much as it is about the striking work that the artist has left behind.

Maier was a guardian for children but no Mary Poppins was she. Although Maier  could be boundlessly  entertaining taking the kids on candy runs, she sometimes beat her charges, having a temper and problems with anger. Despite this blackness, most of the families liked her although they became exasperated by her hoarding of all things especially newspapers.

Some families were forced to let her go.

Maier was a ghost, floating through both city and solitude. Her photographs speak of a quirky feast of all souls, (half of a carnival, and the rest, a haunt) with her images of dismembered mannequins coupled with spectral self portraits of the photographer: plain and poker faced---a big boned anonymous phantom visiting the earth, taking pictures.

Maier had the ability to intrude just enough and disappear.

Most recall her as a friend to children. She recorded and left and made audio tapes of young kids, her best subject.

When confronted, Maier often gave false names, affecting a French accent.

She invented herself as a kind of Highsmithic Vivian "Ripley" taking refuge in work that no one saw or was given permission to see.

The most palpable apprehension in "Finding Vivian Maier" comes from the interviews of her clients and charges, now adult. Some liked and cared for her, some called her "mean", "witchy" and "abusive" but all were in awe of her as she invariably made an impression.

Talk show host Phil Donahue remembers Maier photographing his trash after her housekeeping duties, and a girl remembers going with Maier to a stockyard, witnessing the slaughter of sheep.

Several say that Vivian Maier was attacked as a younger person and this may have accounted for her obsessive hoarding and her unflinching eye.

She unsentimentally traversed the globe, specifically Egypt and France, with chests of negatives but few biographical footsteps.

Gradually, with little money, she took to a modest apartment and through a fall, became homeless, somewhat sardonically mirroring her work.

Despite her lamentable fate, Maier has left a impenetrable trove with imagery that rivals the work of crime photographer Weegee, the inimitable Diane Arbus and last but not least, the provocateur Sally Mann.

Write Ian at

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dom Hemingway (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Dom Hemingway

Jude Law sheds his Hollywood glamour and seems the one having the most fun in "Dom Hemingway," a new dark comedy by director Richard Shepard (Ugly Betty).

Law plays an egocentric and hardened British safecracker with some slightly Shakespearean saliva, Dom Hemingway. Dom has been incarcerated for twelve years over a bad deal. His only friend is Dickie (Richard E. Grant)  a Michael Caine-ish cohort with a black leather hand.

Right from the get-go director Shepard pushes the envelope, having Hemingway getting oral sex in prison from a mean mister as he roars half-poetically about his penis.

Abruptly, Dom is released and tries to find criminal employment but no one wants a thing to do with him: he's maudlin sad and sour, a bit like Jack Sparrow soaked in 80 proof and absinthe.

Dom is a one-man orgy container. He swaggers. He spits. He chugs liquids potable and not so, out wolfing the Wolf of Wall Street.

He checks in with his old buddy, the ostentatious Fontaine (Demian Bichir) who plays his character like Gomez Addams, complete with a rifle and white suit.

Although Bichir's character is too comically drawn, this is Law's best scene whose raging tirade is alliterative and nothing short of something nastily dark, coarse and angelic. Dom makes an ass of himself, but you would be hard pressed to find a singular and iron-rich example as the one found here with such adept and unrelenting staccato.

Dom makes a mine of marvels from his speech of offense and manure. Such talk would put Trey Parker in the land of truffles.

After a terribly gory accident, Dom tracks down a snooty and glib rival (Jumayn Hunter) who holds a grudge. The rival, Lestor, gives him a safe-cracking test that is almost certainly rigged from the first second.

He has no choice.

The best parts of "Dom Hemingway" give Law free reign to go wild in a feral, rangy way possessing a pendulous spontaneity. Jude Law is a human pinwheel and great fun to watch.

The film loses its freedom a bit though, when the story attempts to turn to drama rather than an iconoclastic character study with the introduction of Dom's daughter (Emilia Clarke) and his grandson (Jordan Nash). Such scenes of want and connection strike a conventional tone in contrast to what otherwise is so refreshingly zany and unapologetically sincere in its high volume.

One nice touch occurs when Dom enters a elite restaurant and sees Poulina, his own scarlet-nailed thief. What follows is perfectly snake-like and sneaky---a satisfying "just desserts".

Although the drama combines a little too lightly making the whole of "Dom Hemingway" more of a sketch than a full film, the crackling and crawling spirit of Jude Law is in terrific form here.

Regardless of some well-expected proceedings, Dom's dirty and spite-filled invective, at once elegant and execrable, is a sleight of tongue impossible to resist.

Write Ian at

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Week of April 25 to May 1 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

A Quartet of Fascinating Films at Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Bigger than life, brazen, brawling, a drunken ex-con -- that’s Dom Hemingway, the character portrayed by Jude Law in the same-named film “Don Hemingway.” A safecracker out to even the score for the 12 years he spent in prison, he’s violent, profile, and self-destructive. Why should we care about such a disreputable character? As Detroit News explains, “You don’t so much care where Dom is going as how he's getting there, and he’s getting there loud.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch calls it “a noirish light show with a cockeyed rhythm.” And the Seattle Times opines that the film “has two terrific things going for it: snappy dialogue … and Law, who’s both funny and scary in equal measures.”

Next up: Vivian Maier was a Chicago street photographer whose cityscapes are finding acclaim after her death in 2009. This documentary titled “Finding Vivian Maier” by historian John Maloop brings these images to an appreciative audience while recounting how her work was discovered. Boston Herald describes it as “a penetrating exploration of the link between art and obsession and a major discovery of a 20th-century master.” And Minneapolis Star Tribune says, “This may be the most pleasurable 83 minutes you will spend in a theater this year.”

“The Lunchbox” continues to serve up a tender rom-com that takes place in steamy Mumbai, India. A lunch pail mistakenly delivered by the dabbawalas courier system sets off an exchange of love letters. Newsday calls it “warm, and warmly predictable,” while HeyUGuys terms it “a moving piece of cinema.” And Times-Picayune adds, “This is a charming crowd-pleaser that is made with love -- just like the food in the titular lunchbox.”

IMO, the jewel among these films is Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” a stylistic fable about a hotel concierge (Ralph Fiennes), his lobby boy (Tony Revolori), a dead dowager (Tilda Swinton), her greedy son (Adrien Brody), and the gun-happy Zubrowka police (led by Edward Norton). The Miami Herald says, “The movie is a flume ride through the imagination of one of the most creative minds making movies today, and the pleasure curls your toes.” And Detroit News tells us it’s “an old-fashioned screwball comedy garishly dressed.” And Cinema Signals chimes in, “Any single frame qualifies for wall space in a cinematic museum as the players ingeniously apply their emotive elasticity to fit the Anderson universe.”

And if four winning films were not enough, Tuesday night is the New York Film Critics advance showing of “Locke,” the story of a construction worker (Tom Hardy) whose life is crumbling before our eyes on a nighttime drive to London. Entertainment Weekly notes, “I can't think of anyone I'd rather see white-knuckled behind the wheel than Hardy, who with his bravura performance here has turned me into a true believer.” And concludes, “Tom Hardy owns this taut, telling character study.”

Guess we better change that headline to “A Quintet of Fascinating Films.”

Locke (Rhoades)

New York Film Critics Series
Gives Advance Look at “Locke”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Have you caught the Tropic’s New York Film Critics series? This monthly HD simulcast gives you a look at a new movie before its official in-theater release. What’s more, this “live” event features Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers interviewing the director and stars. Audiences in participating theaters can even text questions to them for on-screen discussion.

“Now everyone throughout the country can enjoy up close and personal moments from major movie stars, producers, writers and directors in the comfort of their own neighborhood theaters,” nods producer Mark Ehrenkranz.

The New York Film Critics Series (NYFCS) has been touted as delivering the “best movies of 2014 that you don’t know about yet.”

Take next Tuesday’s showing at the Tropic, a new film by Steven Knight titled “Locke.” It stars Tom Hardy (“The Dark Knight Rises,” “Inception”) as a bearded, anguished construction worker named Ivan Locke who is glued to his phone while driving to London in the dark of night. He talks with his wife, he talks with his son, he talks with his assistant, he talks with his boss, he even talks with his dead father.

Hardy gives a tour de force performance, managing to hold your attention while spending the entire movie behind the wheel of his BMW. His is the face you see, the other actors existing merely as voices on a phone. This through-the-windshield close-up of Hardy’s face magnifies every emotion -- the dewy eyes, the slump of his shoulders, the tight knuckles on the steering wheel.

Surprisingly, “Locke” is a thriller despite the lack of on-screen action, somehow turning the process of pouring concrete into an edge-of-the-seat nail-biter.

Seems that Locke was unfaithful to his wife seven months back and his pregnant colleague has gone into early labor. As he heads to the hospital, he makes his confessional phone calls, with his life beginning to crumble around him. Can he control “the largest concrete pour in Europe” while facing up to all his errors and omissions?

Best-known as a screenwriter (“Eastern Promises,” “Dirty Pretty Things”), Steven Knight finally proves himself as a filmmaker. “Locke” is a study in economy: Knight wrote the film in a week, shot it in two, used a single set (a car), and spent less than $2 million to make it. Yet the film gives you everything you need to become involved in this man’s life. You’re, shall we say, locked in.

Dom Hemingway (Rhoades)

“Dom Hemingway”
Is Winning Film
About a Loser

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The name Hemingway conjures up the image of a larger-than-life, hairy-chested he-man who writes books filled with sparse prose. But that’s not the guy found in “Dom Hemingway,” a new crime drama written and directed by Richard Shepard.

Sure, Dom is larger-than life and filled with bravado. But this drunken brawler is a safecracker, not a writer.

After a dozen years behind bars, Dom (played against type by Jude Law) is released … or maybe the term should be unleashed. Having stuck to the criminal code of keeping his mouth shut, he’s now ready collect for his silence from a mob boss known as Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir). Dom’s assisted in this fool’s quest by his pal Dickie (Richard E. Grant). But he and Dickie are hapless screwups, so don’t expect them to come out on top.

“Dom Hemingway” -- currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- is actually intended to be a black comedy. And despite Dom having no socially redeeming qualities, Shepard’s deft direction makes us wind up caring about what happens to him.

No, it doesn’t bother us so much when he beats his ex-wife’s husband to a bloody pulp. Or when Dom takes his own lumps. But we do care whether he can reestablish himself with his estranged daughter.

As the director describes it, “I was interested in how do you define a character and make him so interesting, weirdly both repellant and also charming, that you don’t know where this movie is going to go. And instead of one last heist, it’s like please survive, please do the right thing. Please don’t shoot yourself in the foot.”

Shepard is known for this reverse casting ploy. He took Pierce Brosnan out of his usual comfort zone in “The Matador.” And he gives us a very different Jude Law. Here he’s crass, profane, an in-your-face loose cannon.

“I like taking people’s expectations and turning them around,” says Shepard. Why Jude Law? “He’s no longer the young, beautiful leading man. He’s been playing Dr. Watson instead of Sherlock Holmes. It made some sense that he would be up for a challenge.”

That’s why, more than a crime drama or black comedy, “Dom Hemingway” is a character study. But Dom could have stolen a better title from that other Hemingway: Winner Take Nothing.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Known Unknown (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Unknown Known

Famed documentarian Errol Morris strikes again with "The Unknown Known" an unusual and quirky portrait of the notorious former Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld. 
The first shot of the film is of an infinite navy blue sea with a foreboding score by Danny Elfman. Perhaps this points to Rumsfeld being the captain of his own warship, or maybe it points to Rumsfeld's subconscious as the waves of guilt and circumstance wash over him.
Whatever the case, here he is, in the flesh or at least under Errol's unblinking eye. The director offers his usual flair, giving us segmented Kubrickian shots of Rumsfeld's eye, forehead, chin and lips. 
Indeed one of the first looks we have of this man is unflinching and almost grotesque in intensity. This is an Andy Warhol screen test done on All Hallows' Eve. 
The camera is the true hero of the film and Morris knows how to make his subject nervous by confronting him without displacing his Eye. Rumsfeld smiles nervously, his reptilian grin portraying an all-is-okay-or-it-better-be-shield. Over the magnification of Morris' lens, Rumsfeld's shiny gesture resembles a Jack O'lantern.
The film highlights many of Rumsfeld's memos, of which there are thousands as individual as snowflakes. We learn that Rumsfeld obsessed over many "what if" terrorist scenarios and that he also sought the most productive way to manipulate the insurgency threat, by looking up words like "torture" and "warfare," not to mention both the Pentagon and the Oxford definitions of the word "insurgency." His much reported statements about "unknown knowns" and "known unknowns" and also the "things you think you know that you don't know," are a living embodiment of George Orwell come to life for the 21st century.
Suffice to say, he doesn't give much up. There are no apologies given  and no regrets. Although he does admit to writing a critique of interrogation writing that he "stands 8 to 10 hours a day...why  is the (prisoner) standing, limited to four hours?"
During Abu Ghraib, he said he was unaware. Then the pictures came with an undeniable proof and Rumsfeld knew the battle with Al Qaeda was in crisis. 
He tried to resign but the administration wouldn't have it. In 2006, Rumsfeld got his wish. 
Under usual conditions, Morris makes people cringe and reveal. Rumsfeld however is the exception.
He stands by his admission of weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq saying in short that there could very well have been present ("I just don't know"). He states that even if there were no weapons it might not have avoided war anyway. 
More than a bit of Rumsfeld's Grinch is opened here. The smiles become like exclamation points and they are put on too late.
Rumsfeld is moved to tears telling of his talk with the injured at Walter Reed. There is a heart here, but such tears are like condensation on glass or intemperate steel. The emotion, although genuine, feels loose and ill fitting poised as it is against Guantanamo and the sad horror of Abu Ghraib.
A good third of the film is spent detailing the genesis of Rumsfeld from Nixon to Gerald Ford with movements as slick as an anchovy. We get the definitive vibration that he threw George H.W. Bush under a diplomatic bus with some coziness regarding Ronald Reagan, but explicit details are opaque.
Such turnings by Rumsfeld are reminiscent of the espionage documentary "The Man Nobody Knew" but before he becomes a total cypher, his memos on torture become a swirling and oily abyss of a guilty alphabet as visualized on film. Rather than a vacuum of a man, Rumsfeld is a chromium figure of war: coldly calm, transmitting silver beads rather than sweat. An insular force.
We see Rumsfeld at his most blackly humored when he flashes a lingering, unapologetic and disturbing smile. Abracadabra, at last, here is the shark-eyed man that most have loved to hate with fingernails of sardonyx.  
Errol Morris has  lifted the curtain once again without pretense and this is what makes "The Unknown Known" such an intriguing film.

Write Ian at

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Under the Skin (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Under the Skin

Just when you thought it was safe to go on a date, here is "Under the Skin", a new film by director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast). The film based on a novel by Michel Faber is tense and minimal which  makes for some enigmatic viewing to say the least.

An anonymous woman  (Scarlett Johansson) falls to earth by some kind of device out of a Kubrick film. This machine or orifice is round, porcelain white and eye-like. It emits some kind of communication and mimics a solar eclipse, but the who what and where answers are unclear and poetically opaque.

At any rate, we have a femme fatale landing in rural Scotland complete with fishnet stockings and little else.

This is not a creature that likes a wardrobe.

She is taken by a faceless biker  to some dim location.

Abruptly, she walks through a shopping mall, watching various women preen, primp, gobble and shop vacuously. This is executed well with some cinematography reminiscent of a George Romero zombie flick.

Then we see the alien woman driving a truck. She asks strangers the way to the post office and then offers them a lift. Most often they take her up on it. This straight talker (although  not much for idle chatter) seems taken by jock types but she is acutely short on charm.

She takes one hapless hunk into a dark room of indeterminate spatial dimensions and sets to work undressing, dialogue not included. Despite this woman having a body to envy, it is no sexy affair. The men turn gray and/or sink into a viscous pit of no return. These homicidal hijinks are done in a stark dance of pushing and pulling and walking away in the manner of a panther.

This is no dungeon or inner space that you would want to visit.

In one jolting scene, a man is sucked dry and dedicated while his face remains inflated and puffed like a grotesque balloon. While this is  startling echoing something of M.C. Escher, it has little lasting impact.

The alien Johansson emerges into the light and she resumes her endless route to the M8 or the post office.

She goes forth indiscriminately picking out her men, mostly (though not all ) are self centered, clueless and sexist.

In the book, apparently more information is revealed. This woman is an extraterrestrial and these men are used for food sources in factories.

But in the film, explanations are scarce.

The best parts of this story involve Scarlett Johansson's bemused or passive expressions as one man after another chatters incessantly and nonsensically about his athleticism or domestic dilemmas. As they ramble on, Johansson becomes more and more non-plussed, Although she offers some feigned gesture of interest.

This is where the film earns most of it keep, hovering somewhere between "The Man Who Fell to Earth" and any treatment by David Cronenberg.

By the end of "Under the Skin" we might want a little more mystery ---or a little less--- but suffice to say that the last image of the film ( with snow covering the camera ) is the most stirring second of all pointing to a Nature that is unconcerned and unmoved, without a care for any paranormal predicament.

Write Ian at redtv_2005@yahoo.ocm

The Lunchbox (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Lunchbox

The debut film from Ritesh Batra "The Lunchbox" is a retro throwback to the American films of the 40s and 50's (not to mention Bollywood) in many ways. Yet using such description also limits the film. "The Lunchbox" is stirring, snappy and citric in suspense, certain to keep one guessing at every turn, or in this case with every bite.

Illa (Nimrat Kaur) is an under-appreciated wife. She concocts fragrant and delicious dishes in the hopes of rekindling her husband's heart. The terra cotta and tense husband Rajiv (Nakul Vaid) is self-absorbed and passive to a fault.

By a chance error, Saajan, a melancholic bureaucrat (Bollywood veteran, Irrfan Khan) receives the lunch intended for Rajiv. The small repast doesn't have the predictable mush of cauliflower and Saajan is taken aback. Illa is triumphant, thinking that she has scored a goal into her frosty hubby's heart.

To her surprise, Rajiv merely says the food was fine.

Spurred on by her reclusive yet romantic aunt (only heard as a voice offscreen) Illa creates another salivary seduction.

One that proves spicy.

Saajan responds to the introduction, simply writing that the meal upset his stomach and that he was moved to eat a banana.

A rapid friendship unfolds, driven at first by glib and pithy notes. Wanting to experience fire, Illa puts her mettle into the lusty lunches. In this way, through the tongue and hand, she is appreciated.

Meeting is not an issue. However the two become more and more curious in their short correspondence. Saajan looks forward to the gustatory meetings which are a break from cheerless work and not least, an oasis from the haunt of his deceased wife. The cuisine also extends Saajan horizons, opening up his constrictive Mumbai and making his crushing transit commutes bearable.

These salivary sojourns also make Saajan a more tolerant person. While eating, he is more receptive to the obsequious and needy Shaihk (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). This somewhat taxing and torturing coworker becomes a loyal confidante.

A bubbling satisfaction arises from the subtle and precise performance of Irrfan Khan. He is terrific to watch as we see him melt and change from a stoic cypher---a man who always stands---to a pensive and gentle epicure, lusting for sensation and exile with his victualing vixen that he has yet to meet.

This story pushes and pulls. Mumbai is manic with people, boredom and apprehension.

Lunch remains the colorful respite, in contrast to a routine that stays invariably gray with business and rain.The stainless steel lunch boxes are sealed artillery shells, compartments of possibility or a deck of stacked Tarot cards that point to another life.

Ritesh knows his cinema history. What starts as pure romance, cracks and even curdles, fermenting to an uncertainty and wish-fulfillment, both jittery and heartfelt.

Though the medium of a shared meal, these two pedestrian  characters are put into the realm of a joy that has been much celebrated, used up, thrown, and taken for granted.

The zest of "The Lunchbox" is in whether these two will carry their delectable desire all the way or become blocked and thwarted, either by Ganesh or by their personal "hungry ghosts" and remain simply a mere missive to one another.

Write Ian at

Friday, April 18, 2014

Week of April 18 to April 24 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema’s Movies Are Food for Thought

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Movies often remind me of other movies. Maybe you’ll agree, maybe not. But here’s what this week’s lineup at the Tropic Cinema made me think of:

You will want to add “The Lunchbox” to your list of favorite food movies, for it is about … well, a lunchbox. This Indian film is really about romance, an affection that grows from handwritten notes passed back-and-forth in a mis-delivered lunchbox. Think: “Shop Around the Corner,” swapping love letters with a sight-unseen suitor. Detroit News says, “All meals should be this satisfying.” And Minneapolis Star Tribune calls it “a feast of delights, one of the best stories about the connection between food and love the movies have ever seen.”

If you’re more in the mood for noir you can catch “Rob the Mob,” a crime drama about a Queens couple (Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda) who stick up Mafia social clubs because nobody carries a gun there. But robbing the mob is not the healthiest hobby you can come up with. Think: “True Romance.” The San Francisco Chronicle notes the film’s “unexpected sweetness and vulnerability.” And We Got This Covered describes it as “a deceptively complex mafia epic and as a wildly entertaining, Bonnie and Clyde-esque romance.”

For the more serious viewer is “The Unknown Known,” a documentary by legendary filmmaker Errol Morris that takes its name from an enigmatic comment by Donald Rumsfeld. This profile covers the former US Secretary of Defense’s career from his early days as a congressman to the invasion of Iraq. Think: “The Fog of War.” Newsday observes, “Morris doesn't ‘break’ Rumsfeld, as some think he did McNamara. He has held a mirror up to the man, and found no reflection.” And Seattle Times sees it as “a portrait of a wartime leader determined to avoid, at any cost, an honest perspective.”

“Under the Skin” is a sci-fi thriller with Scarlett Johansson as a sexy alien who preys on men. Yes, the film has deeper meanings than a pretty beast sucking out men’s innards, but that’s enough to hook me. Think: “Species.” Austin Chronicle calls it “a cinematic happening near-guaranteed to get under your skin and into your head for far longer than is comfortable.” And Boston Herald concurs, “Sexy beast, indeed.”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is the much-anticipated Wes Anderson film about a suave hotel concierge (Ralph Fiennes) who gives personal attention to elderly blonde guests. When one dies (Tilda Swinton), he finds himself accused of murder by her greedy son (Adrien Brody). A stylistic comedy featuring Anderson’s usual repertoire company. Think: “Moonrise Kingdom” meets “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” ABC Radio calls it “a fairytale for adults.” 2UE That Movie Show finds it to be “a work of visceral, madcap comedic genius.” And Denver Post dubs it “elegantly zany.”

What wonderful variety -- don’t you think?

The Lunchbox (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Lunchbox”
Serves Up a Hit

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My friend David’s wife packs his lunch most days. She even includes little love notes. I think it’s sweet.

In India, it’s common for wives to prepare lunches for their husbands. But rather than husbands carrying lunchboxes to work, the pails are delivered to them by a complex courier system.

It’s not surprising that a lunchbox occasionally goes astray.

But what happens when said wife and the not-her-husband recipient start corresponding through little notes?

“The Lunchbox” -- currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- is what we call an epistolary film. One that’s based on communications through letters. Literally, it means “I sent a message.”

Think: “Letters From Juliet.” Or “Shop Around the Corner.”

In this debut film by Ritesh Batra, we’re introduced the dabbawalas of Mumbai, couriers who pick up lunchboxes of hot food from workers’ homes and deliver them to their workplaces using an intricate network of bicycles and railway trains.

Here, Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is determined to rekindle her husband’s affection, following that old adage of the way to a man’s heart being through his stomach. So she prepares him a delicious lunch … but it goes astray.

Saajan (Irrfan Khan) is the unintended recipient, sparking a series of back-and-forth notes as their affection grows.

Ritesh Batra started out to make a documentary about Indian dabbawalas, but after hearing their stories the project morphed into a feature film. Dumping the documentary, Batra began penning a screenplay, working out details in various film festival writing labs.

After Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur signed on, the first-time director was able to raise $1.7 million to make this bittersweet romance.

“The Lunchbox” premiered at Cannes, where it received a standing ovation as well as winning the coveted Viewers Choice Award. Rotten Tomatoes ranks the film at 95%.

It’s enough to make moviegoers croon, Hooray for Bollywood.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rob the Mob (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Rob the Mob

Films about the mafia have been done to death, as countless as rounds from an automatic weapon. There have been kingpins of every strata , stripe and fashion, although it is usually of the linen, seersucker or sharkskin variety.

We have seen many faces of granite from Al Capone and Vito Corleone, to Tony Montana, Henry Hill, Jimmie Burke and multiple others.

With such a dizzying cast of characters (both real and imagined) it is easy to feel cinematically stuffed and over-stimulated.

Despite this satiation, there is reason to crave still more with Raymond De Felitta's (City Island) refreshing "Rob the Mob" about a young Bonnie & Clyde couple who robbed from organized crime clubs in the early 1990s.

Director De Felitta, a jazz pianist, starts this story with an impressionistic flair. We see a dirty and rumbling city covered with spastic graffiti as subway cars bend and roll through the boroughs. The police flash their sirens and wave their nightsticks as a famous Deelite song "Groove Is in the Heart" plays. Rather than formidable and grim, De Felitta's tone is playful, upbeat and quaint, even cozy.

Giuliani should be so lucky.

Tommy Uva (Michael Pitt, Funny Games) scampers across town robbing neighborhood flower shops. Each time he is chagrined when girlfriend Rosie (Nina Arianda) tells Tommy she loves him. It's bad luck.

Tommy and Rosie go to jail but months later they get released with Rosie getting a job at a collection agency. She has adequate success, and even more, by coquettishly flirting with smarmy boss (Griffin Dunne).

But all is not well in Queens.

 Tommy has a chip on his shoulder. He is as restless as a rat without refuse to chew. He replays episodes of the past in his mind where the mafia abuses his father, now deceased.

After dropping in on the John Gotti trial and learning that their cafés don't carry heat, Tommy gets an idea that blinds like neon: why not burglarize the mob?

He convinces Rosie, puts an Uzi in the freezer and gets to work.

With a hoodie and a single automatic, he enters these one room hovels, little more than coffee shops and the groups are caught unawares.

The surprise here, is that these gangsters are shown as mere men. There is nothing intimidating about them. There are no steel toed shoes, no Armani suits, no fish-eyed looks or brass knuckles. These men are often unkempt, sleepy or distracted. In the intimacy of these lounges, all of these men are someone's kindly grandfather or uncle. You won't find any Scorsese intimidation here. The wise guys are caught without their packages and we see the humility of their humanness---a rare thing in gangster films.

Tommy empties the drawers (and the pants) of each made man, manages to get away and experiences a stronger surge of endorphins with every encounter.

Reporter Jerry Cardozo (Ray Romano) gets a tip about the couple and begins to write. Rosie gets intoxicated by fame and agrees to an interview. The two turn Queens, New York silver with talk.

Such gossip would rival Warhol.

There are some deft touches here such as family head Big Al (Andy Garcia) fingerpainting messages in his marinara sauce. Or a shaky octogenarian hand desperately reaching for the weapon---all too late.

But the highlight is Nina Arianda who plays Rosie as an infectious quasi pop-art Betty Boop, yet she is completely authentic. Michael Pitt is also rock solid as the edgy Tommy who has a magnetic charge and some punkish discontent reminiscent of a young Robert Blake but free of imitation.

The most eerie poetry in the "Rob the Mob" is saved for last, as Rosie and Tommy caress like big shots in Gotham City. They pop champagne and smoke stogies, verbally eschewing The Gottis while clearly simulating them. The grilled Italian sausages that sizzle and dance along with the gated mansions that stand impassive and imposing are both monuments to a time of a city long absent and funereal vaults that foretell and seal these naive lovers' fate.

Write Ian at

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Indie charmer Wes Anderson delivers the expected quirky goods with "The Grand Budapest Hotel", a picaresque adventure loosely based on the writings of beloved Austrian  author Stefan Zweig, who entertained in abundance with his novels, and yet, sadly, committed suicide in 1942, due largely to the rise of intolerance and Nazism.

Everything about this madcap yarn with dark chocolate around the edges is rendered with a miniaturist's detail and spun in confectioners' sugar.

A Zweig-ish author (Jude Law) is fascinated by a twinkly-eyed solitary man (F. Murray Abraham). The writer has the chance to interview him and the mysterious man tells his story.

The man is in actuality, the older version of a bellhop named Zero. (played by a jumpy Tony Revolori)

The man tells the story of a renaissance man Gustav H, (Ralph Fiennes) a Roald Dahl cad and the concierge of The Grand Budapest hotel which is an infinite universe unto itself: a kaleidoscopic Xanadu in its 1930s heyday, full of eccentric beings and beasts.

Gustav seduces the luxurious octogenarian Madame D. (Tilda Swinton)

A while later, she turns up dead without warning and Gustav takes to the home of his beloved, as a will is read.

Jeff Goldblum appears as Kovacs, a deputy sent to administer an inheritance of one famous painting to Gustav, but these wishes are blocked by Dmitri, (Adrien Brody) an authoritarian maniac. Gustav is charged with murder and in an elaborate Hal Roach style sequence, our daring player escapes and steals the oil painting. Dmitri dispatches Jopling (Willem Dafoe) a sable clad hitman with an underbite and fangs to retrieve the painting and kill in the meantime. Dafoe with his pale, creased and  long-chinned face is half vampire, half buffoon. His character wears a leather jacket with buttons that sound like gunfire and he has ringed knuckles studded with silver skulls.

The action satisfyingly whizzes by onscreen while the characters are full of all the wild verve and circumstance that we have come to expect in a Wes Anderson film. Some of the characters do seem a retread of "Moonrise Kingdom" (particularly Edward Norton as an anal inspector) and a few others verbally repeat signs or slogans that they see along the way, an Anderson trademark.

But although we might see these hallmarks and gags a mile away minutes before they occur, we are still swept away by this master's speed and space, his energy and his obsessive details.

Just the hotel alone, cloaked in snowy icing and shellacked by interior geometric carpet can be thought of as a meditation on Tin-Tin's Herge or a playful tribute to Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining". This plus a magnum of motley caricatures, make "The Grand Budapest Hotel" an engaging and fizzy tour.

Write Ian at

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Week of April 11 to April 17 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Follows Up on Tenth Anniversary With Great Lineup

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Having just celebrated its fabulous Tenth Anniversary, Tropic Cinema continues the theater’s tradition of screening great films. This week it features Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” a film eagerly anticipated by many of the Tropic’s cinephile members.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” stylishly tells the story of an amorous concierge named Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and his lobby-boy sidekick (Tony Revolori) as they search for an alibi to prove Gustave didn’t kill an elderly matron (Tilda Swinton). The Miami Herald says, “The movie is a flume ride through the imagination of one of the most creative minds making movies today, and the pleasure curls your toes.” And opines, “A stylistic and thematic progression, it’s Anderson's most complex, nuanced effort, and his bawdiest, perhaps funniest, screenplay yet. It may be his masterpiece.”

We agree.

Also opening this week is “Rob the Mob,’ a comedy about two petty criminals (Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda) trying to go straight, but they get drawn into the drama of a landmark trial of a Mafia hit man (Gary Pastore). New York Post calls it “a hilarious mob comedy with virtually no violence, though it’s based on a tabloid-ready true story that did not end at all happily.” And describes it as “breezy, sleazy, and sometimes intense.”

Still playing is “Bad Words,” the Jason Bateman comedy about a grown man who enters a spelling be on a technicality. Chicago Reader describes it as “Trashy, ribald laughs in the Bad Santa vein, this marks Bateman's directorial debut; I’'s not much to look at, but at least he has the nerve to push the insolence, profanity, and brutal insult humor to its absolute limits.” And The Globe and Mail says, “The laughs in this film are all mean-spirited or just frat-boy gross.”

Another holdover is “Le Week-End,” a bittersweet romance about a sixtysomething British couple (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) who returns to Paris to celebrate a Thirtieth Webbing Anniversary. But all their years of bickering have taken its toll on the relationship. Denton Record Chronicle calls it “funny, original and compelling…” while Arizona Republic says, “Director Roger Michell (‘Notting Hill’) has the good sense to step back and let Broadbent and Duncan work their magic ... They don't disappoint.”

And director Lars von Trier is back with another controversial film, “Nymphomaniac: Volume I” (and yes, there’s a Volume II to come). As sort of a slutty Scheherazade, a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recounts her sexually obsessed story to a guy (Stellan Skarsgård) who rescues her from a bad situation. Detroit News says, “It's funny, it's lewd, it's disturbing, it's odd, it's extremely graphic, it's brutal. And if you can handle all that, it's pretty good.” And the New Yorker concludes that it’s “a pornographic work of art-obsessive, repetitive, at times remarkably eccentric, but never simple-minded or dull.”

Not a dull lineup this week at the Tropic!

Grand Budapest Hotel (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Grand Budapest Hotel”
Welcomes Your Visit

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Have you ever been to Budapest? I haven’t either … but Wes Anderson’s new movie offers a parallel universe you can visit for the price of a movie ticket at the Tropic Cinema.

Like “Moonrise Kingdom,” this is a highly stylized world where we meet the marionettes in Anderson’s latest well-staged puppet play. This time he calls it “The Grand Budapest Hotel” -- not to be confused with “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Grand Hotel,” or even “Hotel California.”

Our movie Trip Advisor takes us to a down-on-its-luck hotel located in the Republic of Zubrowka, a tiny European nation that is on the brink of war. Here we encounter the story of Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the Grand Budapest Hotel’s concierge, a suave man who gives “exceptional service” to the elderly ladies who stay there.

One of them is Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), a paramour who croaks after spending the night with Gustave. Turns out, she’s bequeathed him a valuable painting known as “Boy With Apple.” This enrages her greedy son, Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody), who frames Gustave for his mother’s death.

A lobby boy (that is, a bellhop) named Zero (Tony Revolori) helps the amorous concierge escape from prison, but a fearsome assassin (Willem Dafoe) is on their trail. They trek to a monastery in search of a man who can provide Gustave with an alibi for the night of the supposed murder. From there they return to the Grand Budapest to recover the painting from its hiding spot, only to discover the identity of the hotel’s mysterious owner.

It’s a grand tale, staged for us by Wes Anderson’s repertoire of favorite players: Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkinson, and Bob Balaban.

As a filmmaker Wes Anderson is settling into a highly personalized style. Like all his films, you will either love it or hate it. Me, I’d stay at Anderson’s hotel any time I get an invitation.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Bad Words (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Bad Words

Taking a page from Billy Bob Thornton's most irreverent comedies, actor Jason Bateman gives an entertaining directorial debut in "Bad Words".

Rather than bombard the screen with trite offense, the film keeps a fresh surprise until the end. Bateman's  direction is quick and light in its momentum, and the jokes crackle like fireworks gone mad.

Jason Bateman is terrific as the repellent and repelling forty- something Guy Trilby, who crashes spelling bees like a Grinch, winning competitions and robbing kids of their lexical loot.

Trilby is able to do this legitimately through a loophole given that he never finished the 8th grade in the usual time window, but no matter.

A creep is still a creep.

Bateman is the perfect prickly porcupine of a man: nearly bald, gray and  steel-eyed with barbs on his chin due to his five o clock shadow. He knows all the words before his baby faced competitors and one by one these sheepish spelldowners are down for the count.

Nothing is off limits and he is without mercy. If he can't out spell these  competitors, he pummels them with a free-associative insult that devastates by whimsy.

Trilby is the Alpha alphabetizer with a chip of rage on his shoulder that could make a drum of Chips Ahoy cookies.

Trilby revels in his Seussian snarks until he meets the open and inquisitive Chaitanya (Rohan Chand) who is fascinated by the adult. Trilby insults him with reckless impunity. Yet the wide eyed youngster refuses to leave. Out of curiosity and daring, this snide and don't- touch- me soul takes the kid out on the town. Trilby gets him to swear, eat unhealthily, dangerously tease adults and observe matters of the flesh. Chaitanya loves the nightlife but remains mostly unfazed throughout. He is a spelling champion after all and words are his toys. The most arresting and comical passages in the film evolve when the tables are turned with Trilby as the juvenile while the boy is the steadfast responsible adult.

Allison Janney and Phillip Baker Hall of Seinfeld "library cop" fame, give entertaining if predictable outings as a witchy director and a confused spelling bee head, respectively.

From start to finish "Bad Words" is a juicy sourball of joy, yet its most unique punch may well be its portrait of an incongruous friendship between a  spiny, cynical man and a boy more than willing to handle whatever this acrid adult can do to him and run.

Write Ian at

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

"Nymphomaniac, Volume 1"

Lars von Trier, the foremost provocateur of contemporary cinema  returns with "Nymphomaniac", an ambitious, heavily symbolic and fleshy epic (in two full length parts) that contains some of the richness of Kafka or Thomas Mann.

Once again, the hypnotic Charlotte Gainsbourg stars as Joe, an extremely tortured woman who confesses that she is insatiable in sexual appetite and has no morals. She hungers for sex like an unattainable toxic serum.

Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) is the somewhat shy older man who finds Joe flattened, gorily twisted on the cobblestones and takes her home. She begins to tell her story to the older man---an enigma in his own right.

As Joe is bruised and scorched-looking with gray blue mottled skin, her progressively intense and somewhat bitter repartee recalls Regan and Father Karras from "The Exorcist", just a smidgen, especially with Gainsbourg's anemic face, her staring eyes and her brown-black hair hanging on her head like sable seaweed from a sick mermaid, as she bobs about on the bed, half limp, yet oddly energized.

Nature seems to cocoon Joe with inclement weather as the rain falls in a steady visible mist.

Seligman is both delighted and put off by Joe's Sadean adventures and he does become both a vicarious spectator and a humanist confidant as he takes in his visitor's story.

We learn that Joe gets more and more driven in what could be either a sick pursuit or a voyage to the limits of sexuality, although given the Gothic vaulted heaviness throughout, this does not seem a positive pursuit.

The priestly Seligman is fascinated that Joe's number of encounters corresponds to the Fibonacci number code, a mathematical constant that is found in various natural forms, from branches to nautilus shells.

There is something mystical afoot here, but as the film progresses, there is reason to suspect the demonic or at least the negative.

We see a younger Joe (Stacy Martin) become more and more aggressive: a pale, angry flowered hellion who is physically disgusted by weddings and turns violent. She grows older and uses men as drones or marionettes. She breaks up families causing the collapse of Mrs. H (Uma Thurman).  The sacrament of Love is defiled and cast aside with an anti-religious intensity. Joe toys with her first beau, Jerome (Shia LaBeouf) in making him appear to have all the potency. If that is not enough, Joe  has sex in a hospital bed, after sitting with her terminal father (Christian Slater)

If this is too far out or indulgent for some, a clue might be that von Trier ---like the original Surrealists before him--- is fascinated by the ritual of sex and the boundaries of convention.

All of von Trier's eerie drear is well in force: from patters of snowy rain, witchy branches and stricken looks, to Beardsley engravings, gusting trees and grainy skies. Even with all the self-same visual icons and some over- the-top heavy metal Rammstein music, it all works. No one does a Walpurgis Night film better.

And it is a testament to the sorcery of the director and the mesmerizing Gainsbourg that after two hours of "Nymphomaniac" we are transfixed by this riddle of a woman possessed and lust for the second half's intrigue.

Write Ian at

Week of April 4 to April 10 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Comedy, Drama, Romance, Documentary, War --
Tropic Cinema Covers the Film Genres

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Jason Bateman is known for his dry comedic delivery. He often plays a put-upon everyman or the straight man in a comedy duo. In his recent movie “Identity Theft” he was both. However, in “Bad Words” -- Bateman’s new film that’s now showing at the Tropic Cinema -- he is neither. Perhaps that shift is because he got to direct himself in “Bad Words,” his first time actually helming a movie.

Yes, “Bad Words” is funny, the story of an irascible guy who finds a loophole that allows him to compete with the kids in a national spelling bee. Here he’s not exactly an everyman, nor a straight man, for he leads the film with laughs. New England Movies Weekly declares, “If you take this as, in a sense, a dirty fairy tale, it is absolutely hilarious.” And Detroit News adds, “This is twisted, funny stuff.”

Everybody’s bad-boy director, Lars von Trier (remember when he got into trouble for praising Hitler?) is back with another edgy film, “Nymphomaniac: Vol. I.” Starring some of his favorite actors (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård), this is a racy story recounted by a self-declared loose woman to a man who rescued her from a dangerous situation. And as the title implies, there is a Vol. II to follow. Minneapolis Star Tribune observes, “Master of controversy Lars von Trier has baited his hook with the promise of lewd spectacle, but he reels us in for a philosophical sermon.” Paste Magazine calls it “a rigorous, riveting and surprisingly funny cogitation on sexual liberation, gender double standards, love, sociopathy and any number of the filmmaker's other obsessions.”

“Le Week-End” holds over, the tale of a British couple (Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan) who return to Paris for their 30th Anniversary. But the marriage has worn thin after three decades of bickering and bitterness. Washington Post describes it as “an alternately prickly and knowing tone poem to desire and disappointment whose light touch belies far deeper, darker human understandings.” And Chicago Sun-Times sees it as “a nuanced romance for grown-ups.”

“Tim’s Vermeer” continues its run, a document about Tim Jenison, a computer geek who tries to replicate the painting techniques of the Dutch master. This interesting exercise was produced by magicians Penn and Teller. Seattle Times tells us it “is about many things - art history, technology, painting technique, beauty - but ultimately it's a beguiling study of fascination.” And Philadelphia Inquirer calls it “film as forensics, bringing math and science to bear to solve an art-world mystery.” And Arizona Republic brands it “a movie for people who like to think, who like to ponder the big questions surrounding art and the act of creation.”

Still telling an important story about a team of soldier assigned to rescue stolen art from the Nazis, “The Monuments Men” stars George Clooney and a handful of his pals. A tad preachy at times, it recounts an important cultural mission we didn’t read much about in the history books. Urban Cinefile says, “It's a story with scale, texture and layers and whatever it lacks in grit and tension (required for a story based on fact) is compensated by chutzpah.” And QuickFlix concludes, “One day we'll discover George Clooney is actually a long-forgotten screen idol from Hollywood's golden age who became unstuck from time, and all of this will make total sense.”

Bateman to Clooney, Lars von Trier to Penn and Teller -- gotta admit the Tropic offers us variety.

Entre Nos (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Entre Nos” joins “4 Nights 4 Justice”
At Tropic Cinema

Interview by Shirrel Rhoades

Paola Mendoza’s one-year-old son is careening in the background while she tries to talk about her upcoming trip to Key West. She’s looking forward to it, she says, temperatures being what the are in New York. Her babysitter is bundling up the boy for a walk in the park. “It’s been so cold,” she tells me.

A trip to warmer climes is overdue.

Next week the Colombian-American filmmaker is coming to the Tropic Cinema (along with her producer and partner Michael Skolnik) to introduce her film “Entre Nos.” Mendoza not only directed it, but she also stars in it, playing a role based on her mother.

How did the film come about? Mendoza had shown her documentary (“Autumn’s Eyes”) at the 2006 SXSW film festival and was casting about for a new project. Then one day in Queens she saw “this woman pushing this big cart of cans.” That stopped her. What did this woman imagine her future would be? How would she survive?

“That’s when I realized her story was my mother’s story,” says Mendoza. “I’d been very curious about it my whole childhood, my whole adolescence, always asking my mother questions.”

Paola Mendoza, a slender thirtysomething woman in turquoise blue glasses, sits back to consider her decision to make a film about her family. “I asked my mother if I could tell her story and she replied, why? She felt it would be uninteresting.”

Not so, the daughter insisted.

“Now that the film has been celebrated all around the world, she’s coming to realize how much she’s accomplished, how inspiring it is to other people. The story is universal.”

Mendoza considers the film “a gift to my mom.”

The film made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2009

Now “Entre Nos” is coming to the Tropic Cinema on Tuesday, the fourth film in “4 Nights 4 Justice,” a series sponsored by the Michael Dively Social Justice and Diversity Endowment. Managed by The Community Foundation of the Florida Keys, the fund was established to promote and strengthen the Key West commitment to equality by raising community awareness.

A champagne reception for Paola Mendoza starts at 6 p.m. She and her producer also will be on hand for a Q&A after the screening.

“Entre Nos” gives us the semi-autobiographical story of a Colombian woman with two children who comes to America to join her husband, only to be abandoned. Can she be resourceful enough to survive on her own with two small kids?

I think we know the answer. But the beauty is in the telling.

“Today immigration is such a divisive issue,” says Mendoza. “Whenever we talk about it, the subject becomes so polarized. Despite the film’s socio-political theme, I want to put a human face on immigration, show you why people want to come to the US, celebrate those reasons.”

Now Mendoza and her writing partner Gloria LaMorte are working on their next project, days filled with writing sessions, phone calls, and endless conferences. However, the Mendoza family is taking a break to visit Key West, away from the chilly northern weather.

She’s been to Key West before. “I shot a film in Key Largo about two years ago,” she says. “So I had a chance to come down to Key West. I liked it.” That and the warm weather.

Bad Words (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Bad Words” Speaks Volumes for Bateman

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Look up “droll” in the dictionary you’ll likely find a picture of Jason Bateman staring back at you. The adjective means “unusual in a way that provokes dry amusement.”

An archaic usage means “a jester, a buffoon, an entertainer.”

Jason Bateman (“Identity Theft,” TV’s “Arrested Development”) is all of that.

Now the droll entertainer is trying his hand at directing. His new film, “Bad Words,” is currently showing at the Tropic Cinema.

In it, Bateman plays a mischievous guy who finds a loophole in the rules of the national spelling bee that allows him to enter, competing with all those kids. He befriends one of the tykes (Rohan Chand), giving the unimpressed boy a look at the wackier side of adulthood. Meanwhile, a reporter (Katherine Hahn) is determined to find out what makes this 40-year-old middle-school dropout tick.

Before Bateman picked this film for his directorial debut, its screenplay had languished on Hollywood’s so-called Black List, a survey of the best-liked scripts that inexplicably have not been produced.

Bateman was eager to get a shot at directing, so he took it on. “Understand that I’m only acting to create the kind of relevance or capital necessary to get a directing job,” Bateman told his agent. ‘It’s really the only reason I’ve been acting for the last 20 years of this career.’

“Bad Words” proved to be a good bet. This, uh, droll comedy is scoring well with audiences. And Bateman’s directing debut is getting high marks from film critics.

That spells success.