Sunday, March 30, 2014

Le Weekend (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Le Week-End

"Le Week-End" is the long awaited film by Roger Michell (Venus) and it also produces another well done collaboration with Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Launderette).

This twisty tale of sweet lemon and bitters stars Jim Broadbent as a deflated professor and the underrated Lindsay Duncan as his restless wife who is also a teacher. Nick (Broadbent) has the idea to breathe life into his enervated marriage by taking Meg (Duncan) to Paris for the weekend.

Needless to say, they are snarling within seconds.

Nick loses his passports (or thinks he does) and Meg is at his throat. When they get to a so called quaint inn, the room is cramped and institution-beige with little ventilation. This doesn't help matters. Meg takes off and Nick is left holding the bag, trying to placate the concierge. He manages to track Meg down who tries to book a five star suite. There are no rooms.

With a bit of patience, the two warriors secure a suite, a supposed favorite of Tony Blair.

In the midst of offering an olive branch and a white flag, Nick and Meg get into it again, revisiting old hurts and passive-aggressive jabs in the mode of an Albee play. During one scene, Meg angrily knocks Nick in the chest and he falls on his knee, hitting the cobblestones. As if a  switch is pulled, Meg is transformed into the caring spouse and then an hour later at a bistro, they are at it again. Nick becomes a perspiring flowerpot under Meg's biting attacks.

It is not that Nick and Meg do not love one another, they clearly do. However this is one case where love may have run its course and neither person is strong enough to leave the other.

The emotional suspense is in watching just how far they will go.

Along the way, they get tipsy and make up a bit, meeting an old colleague along the way: the pandering, snaky, yet also disinterested and elaborately insincere Morgan (well played by the ultimate actor of Odd, Jeff Goldblum).

Morgan invites them to a party, a soirée that is in actuality an event to stroke his ego. Every person at the party resembles Morgan in pomposity. Morgan pays a self conscious tribute to Nick at the dinner party, unaware that Meg had (just hours before) given Nick the ax.

The spark of this film is that it manages to keep you guessing, having a great looseness in its narration, combined with some fine detail. Jim Broadbent is excellent as he unwinds to near catatonia, in singing Bob Dylan on his iPod, and Lindsay Duncan gives a rich and highly charged role as a vexed, frustrated and restless  woman.

This is not "The Out-of-Towners" or a "Midnight in Paris", nor should it be. This is a stay shared with two people in an unfamiliar land who know each other too well.

Although the cinematography that  puts Paris in lights is first rate, the emphasis is on the hapless rancor of a couple with all their bumps and bruises rather than stunning locations. There is some telling symbolism too, as the interiors are often shaded with browns and grays. Cafés and rooms are either cluttered or desolate while hotel rooms are rife with a distemper of anxiety. Far from creating a wild melodrama, every frame is authentic and deliberately intentioned with meaning.

"Le Week-End" is a thoughtful sojourn that highlights a couple in portraiture: one man and one woman who yearn desperately to find the jasmine threads of Bohemianism that may or may not be lost. Each mate is spent to near exhaustion by the other, but their shared fatigue and  familiarity--- newly fused in a single nostalgic dance--- make a comforting elixir.

Write Ian at

Saturday, March 29, 2014

On My Way (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

On My Way

Francophiles rejoice! We have not seen the last of the iconic Catherine Deneuve who stars in "On My Way", a heartfelt and well acted comedy drama by director Emmanuelle Bercot.

Deneuve, who has played everything under the sun, from a tortured manicurist to an icy vampire, and has worked with the great surrealist Luis Bunuel in "Belle de Jour," gives another fine outing as a hassled restauranteur.

While this might seem like a flaccid scenario for a Deneuve film, attendre! The star gives it a charge of magical realism as she comes upon one eccentric kook after another.

Bettie is a former beauty queen and anxious chef who lives with her mom  (Claude Gensac). When the oppressed, yet still sultry Bettie gets the news that her married lover has flown the coop, Bettie goes bonkers and takes off at full tilt in her Mercedes. This scene with its swirling camera might bring to mind Deneuve's harried histrionics in "Repulsion", but here her heart is in the right place, free from gore.

 Bettie has a new insurmountable  craving for cigarettes so she takes refuge in the home of an old man to bum a smoke. He tells her of his haunted past.

Then Bettie gets a unexpected call from her absent daughter (the French singer Camille) who demands that she watch her son Charly (Nemo Schiffman).

In her travels, she is plagued by the weather and car trouble and has picaresque experiences with various ne'er do wells. Chief among them is the cloying and lazy Marco (Paul Hamy); Bettie loses her wherewithal and lands in bed with the slumberous Marco. She wakes with a start as the sun closes in upon her---an all seeing eye.

Just when Bettie exits from the wet octopus arms of Marco, she is hit by torrential rain and takes cover in a furniture store, guarded by a man who can't make any sense of this nervous woman.

Interspersed with these scenes are invasive and insidious reminders of Bettie's (or Deneuve's) celebrity past as a beauty queen and femme fatale.

These touches give the film its most meaningful adhesion, putting Deneuve in fine company with Gloria's Paulina Garcia and Toni Servillo of "The Great Beauty".

Bettie finally gets to the grandson and Nemo Schiffman does solidly, giving ample doses of savage brattiness, irreverence and emotion. Even as Deneuve babysits, our eyes are riveted by her legacy.

Deneuve commands the screen. And admirers of her psychological roles will be well pleased by a fainting spell as an infinite number of flashbulbs assault Bettie like a swarm of biting silverfish.

But all is not a parade of day terrors with "the ladies who lunch". We also see a smoldering Bettie who practically gobbles on the neck of a sour grandfather (Gerard Garouste)

When we see a manic Muriel, ranting and raving, events seem a shade a la von Trier, especially with the release of some rabbits escaping a sudden angry fire.

All is fittingly squelched with the conventional arrival of dinner and wine. And although it might be tempting to say 'ho hum', the tension in Bettie remains.

"On My Way" is an entertaining and satisfying road film, due in no small part to Catherine Deneuve's allure.

Write Ian at

Friday, March 28, 2014

Week of March 28 to April 3 (Rhoades)

Four Films That Traipse Across Europe for Family and Fine Art

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

From France to the Netherlands you will enjoy a grand tour with this week’s quartet of films at the Tropic cinema. A shaky marriage, a woman with a failing business, a famous painting, and a dangerous WWII mission -- all make for cinematic magic.

“Le Week-End” joins Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsey Duncan) as they return to Paris for their 30th wedding anniversary. But the celebration does not go smoothly for this bickering British couple. Are they at a crossroads in their marriage? Chicago Sun Times calls it “a nuanced romance for grown-ups.” The Minneapolis star Tribune adds that it’s “a ruefully funny look at a long-term marriage.” And the Toronto Star terms it “sad, sweet, dark, funny and possibly even redemptive.”

“On My Way” features Catherine Deneuve as a woman who drives across France to deliver her grandson to his paternal grandfather, a trip made more interesting by her personal problems and the people she meets along the way. Tolucan Times says, “Deneuve gives a wonderful performance, appearing in just about every scene. But there's much more to this film than merely seeing a '60s-era beauty as a still beautiful older woman.” And Reeling Reviews tells us “this offbeat gem of a road trip film is a love letter to France's reigning queen of cinema.”

“Tim’s Vermeer” continues to confound as a curious computer geek tries to replicate paintings of the Dutch master. Surprisingly, this documentary is from magicians Penn and Teller. Arizona Republic sees it as “a movie for people who like to think, who like to ponder the big questions surrounding art and the act of creation.” Philadelphia Inquirer calls it “film as forensics, bringing math and science to bear to solve an art-world mystery. And Detroit News finds it “unexpectedly dazzling.”

“The Monuments Men” holds over, with George Clooney leading a team of art experts (John Goodman, Bill Murray,) on a mission to recover stolen artworks from the Nazis. American Profile describes it as “’Oceans 11’ plus ‘Saving Private Ryan’ divided by ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’” And Nerdist says, “’The Monuments Men’ is less ‘Schindler’s List’ and more ‘Kelly’s Heroes.’”

Go ahead. Take a trip at the Tropic!

Le Weekend (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Le Week-End” Seems to Be Both Bitter and Sweet

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You know we baby boomers are getting older when you see rom-coms starring 65-year-old Jim Broadbent and 64-year-old Lindsay Duncan, two likeable British actors usually seen in secondary film roles.

But here we have “Le Week-End,” the tale of a couple who returns to Paris many years after their honeymoon there in an attempt to rejuvenate their marriage. No easy task after all those years bickering with each other.

“Le Week-End” is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Nick (Broadbent) is a college lecturer who has been reprimanded for telling a student that she should spent as much time on her studies as on her hair. Meg (Duncan) is a schoolteacher still soured over a long-ago infidelity by her husband. Their 30-year anniversary seems to be a crossroads, a make-it-or-break-it turning point for their marriage. He’s a bit of an insecure buffoon; she a bit of a harridan.

As we used to say at  Ladies’ Home Journal, Can this marriage be saved?

However, Nick still dotes on his wife, even if she makes it plain she’d welcome a new hubby. This becomes painfully obvious when they bump into Nick’s old college buddy (Jeff Goldblum) who has acquired a new wife.

This darkly realistic look at a marriage nearing its breaking point is funny, but not as funny as you’ll want it to be. Being privy to the fights and fears and flaws of this old married couple is at times uncomfortable, as if you’ve walked into the room in the middle of a tiff.

I liked it, but I would have preferred this bittersweet little movie to be a little less bitter and a little more sweet.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

In the tradition of "Carol Channing: Larger Than Life" comes "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me", directed by Chiemi Karasawa. Stritch, who is now 89, has had a history on Broadway for over forty years. She is quite a powder keg. She holds nothing back and that's why her  peers and audience respects her.

When Stritch walks about in New York she is nothing less than a creature, a bit of a foreman with a dash of Cruella de Vil, albeit a benevolent version. She wears a fur coat that looks fifty years old.

Stritch is a loose limbed celebrity. She is approachable and not afraid to meet fans, delighting in the tension of some repartee.

When an young admirer tells her that she has secured a part as a lesbian vampire. She is aghast. "Is that what entertainment has come to?" She asks, refusing to stitch her tongue. The more outrageous she is, the more people love her and rightly so.

Stritch has seen many eras. In the early days, she was onscreen with Rock Hudson, dated Kennedy, was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show and starred in Woody Allen's "September". Ben Gazzara fell in love with the contrast in her: a seemingly sweet catholic girl who swears like a sailor and tells it like it is, not what you want to hear. But Stritch was not ready to settle down. The silhouette of the New York City skyline was traced upon her body and she was going places.

When she caught her breath, Stritch married actor John Bay, whose family owned the Bay English Muffin company. He stole her heart and to this day, Stritch treats a box of Bay English Muffins as if it were a case of  billets-doux by kissing the carton.

She achieved fame on Broadway with "Company" and later in a 1996 revival of Edward Albee's intense drama "A Delicate Balance".

Fame never changed her and now, in   this Millenial age, she is an unrepentant stork---silver, searing and transparently truthful, able to see.

Stritch is fond of the Carlyle Hotel. It is her roost. At the time of filming, she does several shows, a mix of songs and autobiography, come hell or high water. As long as she has a slug of Italian liqueur she'll do fine. But failing that, she'll joke and carry on with the audience loving her anyway.

She has the obstacle of some very sinister diabetes to combat and hold off. With every stay in the hospital---and there are a couple---Stritch is a prizefighter in the ring. Puffy, powerful and sarcastic.

She checks her glucose constantly like a two-toned jitterbug and just maybe she'll work it into an act.

She wobbles and spins and carries on.

Despite her tongue, an angel's arrow dipped in acid, the late James Gandolfini of Sopranos fame recalls fondly that she was the only actor that told him off, while Tina Fey sees her as an imposing whirl who can think on her feet. John Turturro has spasms of joy in her presence.

No matter where she goes, Stritch creates a tizzy or a tempest even when acting as an overbearing moll at an A.A. meeting.

While she laments the smartphone age as much as an invisible drink, Stritch is never sour, employing a kind of affectionate belligerence. Like a cabal of hens, friends hover about pecking and concerned, but Elaine marches forward. Her life energy is to entertain.

In her face there may well be the music of Tom Waits, containing the bittersweet be-bop of a Broadway in booze and oils as well as that of Stephen Sondheim and those  vampy long stroked  lines of a Hirschfeld drawing. We see it all in Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" and the actor is revealed as a die-hard battery of Broadway, as much a part of the city as the cement that makes Times Square.

Write Ian at

Monday, March 24, 2014

Tim's Vermeer (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Tim's Vermeer

Aha! Here is Teller, the sneaky and silent half of the illusionist duo Penn & Teller, donning his director's magic hat in "Tim's Vermeer". This is a beguiling documentary highlighting the jolly yet intense character of Tim Jenison and his obsession with artist Johannes Vermeer.

Tim is not a painter by profession. He is an inventor, having his own digital entertainment company NewTek that produces thrilling cutting edge sequences in video and film. Tim has invented quirky robots, video panels known as "video toasters", numerous flying machines and in what seems his most whimsical venture, he created something that looks like a household fan strapped to his back.

But at twilight, when the shadows lengthen and Tim is vexed by insomnia, he thinks of Vermeer and wanting to become like him.

One painting in particular calls to him, a Vermeer titled "The Music Lesson". The manner of the light in the work fascinates, might it be possible to duplicate it through optical mirrored means, Tim wonders?

In the film, Tim acknowledges that he has read of such things by reading David Hockney's book Secret Knowledge, that alleges that many Old Masters employed a camera obscura, basically a mirror in a box, allowing these artists to render near photographic renderings in oil. Over the last two decades the theory was met with great derision  by art historians.

No matter.

We get the feeling that Tim wants to paint this particular work, not because he wants to downplay Vermeer's accomplishment but rather for the simple fact that he deeply loves the painting.

The enclosed environment of "The Music Lesson" appeals to Tim. For him, the painting speaks of a laboratory.

So here is his chance.

Tim's quest is told in the manner of a Twilight Zone tale and who better to take on the part of Rod Serling's narration, but Penn Jillette, who is both deadpan and wildly joyful by turns.

Tim, who has never picked up a brush to paint, discovers that he can copy an image as is by a simple mirror and a light source.

As Tim is a stickler for detail, he constructs his own room with Vermeer era windows, some nearly identical carpets, casings, wainscoting and chairs, including the very same type of musical instruments shown in the painting.

Some of this he makes himself but fear not. Jenison has professional help and lots of it.

We see Tim poring over dangerous looking lathe and carving machines and fixing molds. Tim is a hybrid of The Dark Knight and Santa Claus, constructing his zeitgeist in a remote cave or concocting his Christmas confection, rich with pomegranates and white lace. The construction of the room alone takes nearly two hundred days and he travels to Holland to ground his own pigments.

Tim grinds his own glass to make the curving mirror.

He is a man possessed.

Finally he sits down to paint.

At first things go well, but alas, when he reaches the carpet Tim goes nearly mad in trying to render the dizzying texture of the fabric. His frustration and mania recalls Edgar Allan Poe and his fever with several chambers in "The Masque of the Red Death".

Still, he paints on, despite back pain, tiredness and in one instance, carbon monoxide poisoning.

When he finally completes the painting, after a five year experience, Tim bursts into tears.

Understandably so.

Within this odyssey, David Hockney appears scrutinizing the painting with terrific enthusiasm and looking very well seasoned. There is also a cameo by Martin Mull, clearly beside himself.

In a sense, Tim Jenison is an anti-hero. The documentary shows this man struggling, pushing the limits of his body and patience, resolute and steadfast. His photographic but painted canvas via mirrors can be seen as a feat in its own right.

Yet the real power and imagination in  "Tim's Vermeer" comes from the portrait of Jenison himself and his Faustian adventure with Johannes Vermeer.

This startlingly suspenseful documentary is less about mirrors and more about Tim's fever and the vision that curls within his heart as infernal as Dante.

When we see the finished product on Tim's wall---objectively made by photographic technique--- it is as if anyone could paint this or buy the art at Costco or Walmart.

But Tim alone knows the efforts involved, and in keeping with the comedy of Penn & Teller, this is the joke.

Write Ian at

Sent from my iPhone

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Lego Movie (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Lego Movie

In what normally would be a candidate for short attention span filmmaking and a dizzying sensory overload to the point of nausea, "The Lego Movie" is instead meaningful, entertaining and even poignant.

This animated film composed entirely of Lego block-inspired scenes is made up of several various realms, each one making a very personal universe. Say what you will about this wobbly world, at once geometric but also curiously round and undulating, you can count on these intersecting dimensions to be as infinite as nature.

Chris Pratt plays Emmet, a Lego construction worker in a coloring book-type landscape reminiscent of South Park.

Emmet is an Everyman. He looks like most everyone and likes everything. His world is one of primary colors without choice. There is presumably nothing to strive against, but there is also nothing to strive for, nor any option of going forward. This earth-ish realm is run by a salt and pepper-haired mogul, a President Business. It is a land very similar to the one the New Wave Group Devo imagined in their lyrics: a flat land of uniform sameness and bland tastes. (By a seeming coincidence, former Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh composes the film's bouncy score)

One day Emmet is on the job and he sees someone who looks like a ninja.   She is Wyldstyle, (Elizabeth Banks) a goth-modeled character who recalls 80s rocker Joan Jett.

Emmet follows our ninja heroine thru a secret red door and enters a universe where Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell, whose figure echoes Tim Curry's Lucifer in "Legend") wants to destroy Emmet's universe by releasing the  Kragle, a common tube of Krazy Glue. Emmet is designated as "The Special" and his task is to carry the sacred "piece of resistance" to the Kragle.

Along the way they meet a slightly sexist Batman (Will Arnett), a nonchalant Moses-like wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and a Janus-faced cop (Liam Neeson).

The jokes are non-stop and rapid which provide a nice counter to the dizzying lasers and countless explosions and make it all palatable. Everything and everyone with every possible pop culture reference is mentioned here (if only for thirty seconds) and the older kids among us will enjoy the glib laughs.

Events get a bit philosophical when Emmet falls to our Earth in a live action sequence as a common disposable figure, manipulated by an anal retentive designer father, the mythical figure feared by Legos: The Man Upstairs (played in human form by who else, Will Ferrell)

This Millenial yuppie dad wants to Krazy Glue everything in place and in a homage to Spielberg, it is up to the young son (Jadon Sand) to stand up for creativity and foil his dad's restrictive and "adult" plans.

It is the madcap effervescent flavor of this film that saves it from being square. When Shakespeare is in the company of The Dark Knight, it is hard to restrain the giggles if not the ripping guffaws.

And, if you are thinking of everything being digitized in cubes, think again. In one masterful pirate episode, the sea actually curves and swells in an excellent interpretation of the work of Popeye animator Max Fleischer.

Last but not least, some of the original cast members of "Star Wars" are here : Anthony Daniels' C-3PO and Billy Dee Williams reprises Lando Calrissian.

Fear not Jedi purists, thankfully this is not Dancing with the Stars.

In the final scene when the manic Ayn Randian Dad puts down the glue, the moment is strikingly heartfelt and touching.

"The Lego Movie" seduces in charm with a daring that represents a total constellation that is worlds beyond any supposed age group.

Write Ian at

Saturday, March 22, 2014

In Secret (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

In Secret

Charlie Stratton's "In Secret" puts us squarely, if not completely enthusiastically, within Emile Zola's  Therese Raquin with some dense fog and soot as thick as Dickens.

We feel the claustrophobia straightaway and we are drawn in, despite the somewhat predictable narrative and conventional casting.

The steady Elizabeth Olsen stars as the pale and closeted maiden Therese, while Jessica Lange is at her best here as the witchy and ultra-religious schoolmarmish aunt, keeping her charge under lock and key. Lange's Madame Raquin is a raven of restriction. Nothing gets in her way.

Therese is a pale anemic weed, shackled to be betrothed to the bony and obsequious mama's boy, and first cousin Camille (Tom Felton) who has all the dashing charms of an Ichabod Crane.

All is gray and colorless until the entrance of the Byronic and dashing painter Laurent (Oscar Isaac) who brings out Therese's hidden palate with some libertine quips.

It is fun to see Therese blossom in color from a battleship gray twig into a florid jasmine hibiscus with rich oranges and pearly pinks that echo the Pre-Raphaelite works of John Everett Millais and Waterhouse.

Therese and Laurent begin some colorful congress as a blast of sun pours into the dun-colored room and turns all objects peachy with sin.

These two carnal sneaks are engaging and their fleshy hijinks contain some provocative positioning and titillating camera movement.  

As the two can't bear to conduct themselves within the shade any longer, they begin to talk.

Laurent gets an idea.

And during one fateful, leaf-dappled morning on the lake there is a thud, a kerplunk and a great thrashing about.

Oh dear.

"In Secret" does best when it reveals its 'Aha' black humored moments, particularly when the limp and needy Camille is overcome with joy in seeing his grotesque and bloated blue visage on canvas. This scene is a wonderfully singular tribute to "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and to the famed artist Ivan Albright.

And while we can sense the karmic, oppressively dark Guilt a mile away before it blights upon these reckless Romeos like a pestilence, the vortex of viciousness holds us in. A big knife and a glass vial become predatory and serpentine creatures of danger, circumstance and criminal release.

True, this is traditional Masterpiece Theater melodrama with a crab-handed Madame writing out a black ink of deeds done ala Poe (complete with some flowing sable canemanship, no less) but it is well done. Tom Felton in particular, does a show stealing job with his gallows-grim and skeletal antics in regarding his  portrait, perversely falling in love with his blue meanie.

"In Secret" is a well rendered tale within the orbit of Shakespeare and Highsmith, of two libertines overripe with paranoia. It has a whirlpool effect that certainly builds and while it may not make you leap with surprise, it will definitely produce a satisfactory pause.

Write Ian at

Breathe In (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

NY Film Critics
Takes a Fresh Breath
With “Breathe In”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

After seeing “The Invisible Woman” wouldn’t you like to meet Felicity Jones, that young British actress who played Charles Dickens’s mistress? She’s anything but invisible right now, also appearing in “Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “Like Crazy” and TV’s “Girls.”

Well, you can meet her … sorta.

This month’s offering from the special showings by the NY Film Critics is “Breathe In,” a romantic drama (would that be a rom-dram?) starring Ms. Jones and Guy Pearce.

This is the story of a UK exchange student (Felicity Jones) who joins an upstate New York family (Pearce and Amy Ryan), only to turn things topsy-turvy. Among those discombobulated is the daughter (Mackenzie Davies).

As the bearded, bespectacled dad lectures their temporary family member: “Maybe boundaries are there for a reason ... structure.”

She: “You sound like a teacher.”

He is.

But the boundaries get pushed aside. He blurts: “At the moment there’s only really one thing that makes me happy.”

She: “Me?”

He confesses: “It’s true.”

Now both wife and daughter have reason to be discombobulated.

The Exchange Student: “I’m ... I’m ... I just feel like I’m causing so many problems here.”

He: “No, you're not.”

Yes, she is.

Just like in “The Invisible Woman,” Felicity Jones finds herself attracting an older man. Although 30, she plays a teenager here. And Guy Pearce is in his late forties.

This is director Drake Doremus’s second film starring Felicity Jones (the first being “Like Crazy”). “I felt like the journey wasn’t complete yet, and that we had some more exploring to do.”

Again, Doremus used the technique of working from an outline, letting his actors improvise the dialogue.

As those of you who have attended NY Film Critics one-night-only showings know, the film will be followed by a live HD simulcast of a conversation between the stars and Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers … and with the audiences in theaters scattered across the US. Go ahead. Text in your question and maybe Felicity Jones will answer it.

Gideon's Army (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Gideon’s Army”
Sets Up Camp
At Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Filmmaker Dawn Porter started off as a lawyer. Perhaps that’s what gives her such insight into the work of young, determined, idealistic, do-the-right-thing public defenders like Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander and June Hardwick -- members of what she terms “Gideon’s Army” in her documentary of that same name.

The title is a reference to Gideon v. Wainwright, a landmark Supreme Court decision that ruled state courts are required under the Fourteenth Amendment to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants who are unable to pay for their own attorneys.

Porter had given up civil litigation to work at ABC News before deciding to make films. A New Yorker, her first foray into documentary films took her to Mississippi to uncover a secret spy agency formed by the state of Mississippi to preserve segregation and maintain white supremacy (“Spies of Mississippi”).

When looking for money to make a second doc, the Ford Foundation pointed her to the issue of public defenders. As a result, she met Jonathan “Rap” Rapping, head of the Southern Public defender Training Center (now known as Gideon’s Promise). He mentors young public defenders as they face staggering caseloads and often-unbeatable odds. Facing long hours, low pay, and little thanks, many of these young lawyers give up during their first year.

So Dawn Porter again flew into Birmingham to make a film in Mississippi.

“Gideon’s Army” follows three cases, each different. Just as each of the determined young PD’s are different. Travis is a fighter; Brandy a bleeding social heart; June is more pragmatic. Yet they battle on for their clients, certain that everyone deserves defense and a fair trial.

By the end of the film one of them prevails, the client being found not guilty. Porter saw the decision as a good one. “I believe without a doubt he was one-hundred-percent innocent,” she said, talking about the film prior to its debut in Key West.

“Gideon’s Army” is coming this Tuesday night to the Tropic Cinema, third in “4 Nights 4 Justice,” a series of films 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 starts at 6 p.m. Dawn Porter will be on hand to introduce “Gideon’s Army” and hold a Q&A afterwards.

You’ll learn that Travis and Brandy are still fighting the good fight as public defenders, while June has been appointed as a judge in Jackson, Mississippi. However, she still volunteers for public defender work in other jurisdictions.

“They just moved me so deeply with their dedication to their clients,” Dawn Porter says of these young public defenders. “If I had to start my law career over I might just go in that direction.”

Clarence Earl Gideon, the defendant who was denied an attorney by Florida courts, and changed the nation’s laws with his appeal to the US Supreme Court, would likely approve.

Tropic Cinema Annual Meeting 2014 (Rhoades)

Tropic Cinema Releases Performance Details

By Shirrel Rhoades

Last weekend Tropic Cinema invited members and other moviegoers to attend its 2014 Annual Meeting. Held in the Carper Theater, chairman Jon Allen walked the audience through the non-profit’s goals and achievements and treasurer Karen Schievelbein discussed the cinema’s financial performance (2012 compared with 2013).

Among the highlights was a positive net operating income of $114,706, an increase of 109% over the previous year. An operating deficit of  $194,438 was offset by membership revenues and donations that contributed $312,144, swinging it into the black.

Ticket sales were up 4%, with customers buying 82,780 tickets for 5,562 performances of 183 different films and events.

Concession sales are still driven by popcorn and wine, increasing year-over-year by 11% and 20% respectively.

At the heart of the cinema is its selection of films. While the Tropic makes good on its commitment to showing the finest independent films, the Ten Top-Grossing films were “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Lincoln,” “Life of Pi (3D)”, “Mud,” “Hyde Park on Hudson,” “Django Unchained,” “Seven Psychopaths,” “The Guilt Trip,” “Quartet,” “and “The Great Gatsby (3D)” -- in that order. These films accounted for 34% of the cinema’s revenues.

Allen pointed out that the Tropic Cinema’s “unique and balanced mix of indie and wide-release films supports special programming including opera and ballet, our Monday Movie Classics and our art-house, foreign and documentary films.” Note was made of its participation with the Key West Film Festival, its partnership with CFFK for “4 Nights 4 Justice,” and the Student Leader Program.

The presentation concluded with a look at the Tropic Experience, where an email survey reported that 91% of customers are “extremely satisfied” and 98% say they would “recommend a membership to a friend.” When asked what the Tropic should change, 56% say “nothing.”

Week of March 21 to March 27 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

From Docs To Adultery, War Epic To Animation,
Take Your Pick At The Tropic.

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

This week at the Tropic Cinema you will find some great new documentaries. Just for starters.

Up front is “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” a look at the 89-year-old Broadway star who was still belting out show tunes when this documentary was made by Key West visitor Chiemi Karasawa. We watch the brassy old singer rehearse for a Sondheim cabaret performance while reminiscing about her 70-year show biz career. Chicago Sun-Times declares it “a must-see for anyone who loves theater.” And says, “Stritch’s life seems tailor-made for a documentary.”

Another top-notch doc is “Tim’s Vermeer,” the story about Tim Jenison, a computer geek who decides to “paint a Vermeer.” His research into the technique of the Dutch Master will astound you and you’ll learn a lot about art history along the way. Madison Movie calls it “a sophisticated treatise on the intersection between creativity and technology,” while Detroit News describes it as “unexpectedly dazzling.”

Not to be missed is “Gideon’s Army,” the latest in the “4 Nights 4 Justice” series. But hurry … this documentary about young public defenders is a one-night-only showing. Hollywood Reporter says it offers “compelling insight into the staggering pressures faced by court-appointed public defenders.” And New York Daily News warns, “It makes us think about something we'd rather not.”

Also one-night-only is the latest entry in the NY Film Critic series, “Breathe In.” Here, a middle-age family man (Guy Pierce) is tempted by a young UK exchange student (Felicity Jones). Movie Talk offers this insight: “Older man, younger woman? This could easily be clichéd or icky, or worse. Fortunately, Doremus handles the pair’s relationship with restraint and his leads, improvising their dialogue, deliver terrific performances.”

Another illicit romance is found with “In Secret,” where a Parisian woman (Elizabeth Olsen) is trapped in a loveless marriage with her sickly cousin, but faces tragic consequences after entering into an affair with her husband’s friend (Oscar Isaac). NYC Movie Guru terms it “spellbinding, intelligent and suspenseful.” And ReelViews sees it as “an effective period piece thriller that incorporates love, lust, desperation, and madness into a stew thickened by a gothic atmosphere.”

In case you haven’t seen it yet, “The Monuments Men” is holding over. This is George Clooney’s film about US soldiers assigned to rescue stolen artwork from the Nazis. Denver Post says, “Think of them as Inglorious Art Historians.” And 3AW observes, “It’s sort of like Ocean’s Eleven Go to War.”

And for the kids there’s “The Lego Movie,” an animated film based on those same-named toys. Who would have thought they could make a movie about plastic building blocks? However, Quad City Times tells us it’s “smart and hilarious, with writing as brilliant as the colors of Lego blocks.” And Independent adds, “Adults who go to The Lego Movie out of a weary sense of parental duty are in for a very pleasant surprise.”

We like surprises. Especially at the movies.

Lego Movie (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Lego Movie”
Mixes Pretend
And Real

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Needless to say, I’m a bit dubious about movies based on toys and games. But the “Transformer” films had a good gross and “Battleship” didn’t get sunk at the box office.

So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that “The Lego Movie” raked in nearly $130 million in its first 10 days. Not bad.

Even so, who would have thought to base a movie on inanimate plastic building blocks?

Construction toys, as The Lego Group terms them.

It would be like making a movie about a brick.

However, children with their sense of imagination have been constructing things with Lego blocks since 1932.

The Lego Group is a $14.6 billion family-owned toy company based in Denmark. The word Lego comes from the Danish words “leg godt,” meaning “play well.”

Lego blocks were originally made of wood, but plastic bricks were introduced in 1947. Aside from selling sets of the colorful building blocks, the company maintains 32 Lego stores in Europe and 68 in North America. Plus there are four Lego-themed amusement parks around the world.

“The Lego Movie” is now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

As for the movie’s plot, a wizard named Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman) is trying to keep a superweapon called “Kragle” (i.e. Krazy Glue) out of the hands of evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Among those who get involved are a construction worker minifigure named Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), female warrior Wildfire (Elizabeth Banks), a cop with a split personality (Liam Neeson), and Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte). Not to mention a plethora of DC superheroes including Superman (Channing Tatum), Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders), Green Hornet (Jonah Hill), and Batman (Will Arnett).

While this is mostly a computer-animated movie, there are live-action sequences where a father and son reflect on the “pretend” part of the story.

As it turns out, people have been making Lego movies since 1973. Popularly known as known brikfilms, the first was a six-minute Super-8 stop-motion production by Lars C. Hassing and Henrik Hassing titled “En rejse til månen” (“Journey to the Moon”). In 1987 The Lego Group officially commissioned more brikfilms as part of its Lego Sport Champions series.

Today, the deluxe DVD edition of “Monte Python and the Holy Grail” contains a brikfilm of the “Camelot Song.” And “Lego Star Wars: Revenge of the Brick” appears as a feature on one of the “Star Wars” DVDs.

Lego itself has produced and/or licensed a series of films based on its product line. These include nearly 30 computer-animated films (the Bionicle series, the Clutch Powers series, etc.) that appear in places like the Cartoon network.

So why wouldn’t Lego eventually build its way up to the big screen? There’s already a sequel to “The Lego Movie” in the pipeline.

What next? “The Erector Set Movie”?

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Elaine Stitch” Documentary
Captures Show Biz Legend

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Key West hostess Jean Carper often invites friends over to screen a movie in her private home theater. Usually, it’s just a gathering to watch a didn’t-come-here indie film. But a year or so ago, she had a special event, a showing of “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.”

The documentary about an octogenarian Broadway entertainer hadn’t been released yet, but Carper was sponsoring the gathering to help the filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa raise “finishing funds.”

Karasawa sat quietly in the back, all but holding her breath as we watched her rough cut (which wasn’t very rough at all.) Afterwards, the small group got to have an up-close Q&A with the first-time director.

Although Chiemi Karasawa has extensive credits as a producer and script supervisor, this was her breakthrough as a compleat filmmaker, one worthy of applause. It’s an exceptional film …
… about an exceptional woman.

Elaine Stritch has appeared in stage plays and musicals, feature films and television programs since her 1944 debut as a leggy blonde singer. Over the ensuing years she’s won three Emmys as well as a Tony for her one-woman show “Elaine Stritch at Liberty.”

Stritch is a brassy old broad (in the nicest sense of that description), still belting out Broadway tunes and hoofing it like the show biz pro she’s come to be over a 70-year career. A gay icon, she’s known for her owl-eyed glasses and gravelly-voiced songs like her self-mocking rendition of “I Feel Pretty” and the prophetic “I’m Still Here.”

“Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” -- opening this week at the Tropic Cinema  -- records her rehearsals for a cabaret show that’s titled “Elaine Stritch Singin’ Sondheim ... One Song at a Time.” Along the way we get to browse through her photograph album (there’s one of young John F. Kennedy, long before he had presidential ambitions), learn about her loves and life and lengthy career. At the same time we watch her battle diabetes, resist alcoholism (only one or two drinks a day), and deal with encroaching memory loss that makes her forget the words of once-familiar songs.

She reminisces about her happy marriage to actor John Bay, who passed away in 1982. A romance she was never able to find again.

You can’t help but get caught up in Stritch’s plucky enthusiasm as her longtime pianist and musical director Rob Bowman puts her through a series of song-belting, heel-clicking practice sessions.

Show biz pals like Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, and the late James Gandolfini are on hand to give the expected accolades. Gandolfini even speculates that given a different time and place they would have likely had a torrid love affair. But it’s Elaine Stritch’s indomitable spirit that raises “Shoot Me” above the standard celebrity profile.

There’s a bittersweet edge to the film as we discover that she’ll be leaving New York after the Sondheim gig, returning to her hometown in Michigan for her twilight years.

“Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” is an unflinching portrait of a woman who is aware that the end is approaching. “The bell’s gonna ring pretty soon,” she shrugs. I think we’re more sad about it than she is.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Omar (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now) has a winner in the Academy Award nominated "Omar", a thrilling romantic suspense that is a cousin to the fictions of Paul Bowles, while also maintaining its strength as an edgy star-crossed drama. 

Omar (Adam Bakri) is a young Palestinian baker who is enigmatic and reticent. Though he seems to take all things in stride, his friends are important to him and Omar is torn between the quiet life and joining a spontaneous terrorist organization.

To complicate matters, he is in love with Nadia (Leem Lubany) who lives on the other side of the West Bank Separation Wall. To visit her is to risk getting shot. Indeed, Omar is often scratched and bloody from being a vibrant valentine.

Omar is no hardcore terrorist, yet he is bounced back and forth between his childhood friends: the goofing Amjad (Samer Bisharat) and the severe and violently ambitious Tarek (Eyad Hourani) who is Nadia's brother. Initially unsure about whether to join, he agrees since he wants to score points with Tarek in the hopes of securing Nadia's consent in marriage.

Omar steals a car which is used to kill an Israeli officer. He watches the event through binoculars.

One day there is a sudden raid in a cafe and Omar is hauled in by the Israeli police. He is thrown in jail, savagely tortured and tricked into confession, although he says nothing of weight at the time.

A tough Israeli agent with the attitude of both Columbo and Serpico (Waleed F. Zuaiter) persuades Omar to agree to ratting on his friends and bringing in Tarek, stopping the operation in what ultimately would be a lethal betrayal.

Omar is released. In contrast to past events, (when Omar and Nadia went "Palm to palm" in a kind of "holy palmer's kiss" to paraphrase Shakespeare) now Omar is seething and bent with jealousy in seeing Amjad whisper imagined sweet nothings in the ear of his beloved.

Where before the two lovers met in the open, they now secrete themselves within the darkness of caves and become filled with hurt, miscommunication and distrust. 

Nadia believes Omar to be a collaborator. Omar remains hushed and then at a last moment, tells Nadia that he will take part in an ambush. 

Omar suddenly has nowhere to turn. Even his sweetie wants blood.

The film is a gradual apprehensive tale that sneaks up on you and bedazzles the senses. 

"Omar" works just as well as a Shakespearean stiletto of sadness and circumstance as it does a matinee cliffhanger. There are heart felt scenes with our paramour acting  as charismatic as a Romeo, along with Nadia's wanting rubescent lips fitting a Juliet. But alas, these scenes are meshed together with fast paced thrills as Omar jumps over rooftops, doors, gardens, balconies and windows. Such scenes are reminiscent of The Bourne Identity films only better, because we never reach for the popcorn.

The claustrophobic dilemmas are tangible and real while the combining love tensions that never let go. All of the various  threads will keep you guessing right up until a final Hitchcockian clap arrives that is sure to make you nasham (gasp) in your seat.

Write Ian at

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Invisible Woman (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Invisible Woman

Ralph Fiennes, the man that can do classics as well as pop blockbusters, offers a fine performance and has a graceful hand on the camera in his direction of "The Invisible Woman". The new biopic written by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady)  is about the romantic tangles of Charles Dickens.

High school teachers take caution here: this is Dickens unchained.

At the start, a sable stitched school teacher, Nelly (Felicity Jones) marches under a slate gray sky along a desolate beach. She seems possessed by a heavy and crushing guilt.

She is shouldered with the task of presenting a school play, The Frozen Deep, that she herself appeared in many years ago.

While giving numerous directions, the older Nelly is transported backward to when she was a young girl meeting the prolific, vain and self absorbed Dickens.

The famed author is indeed the life of the party. He is surrounded by female coteries of all ages. He drinks  and slurps the bubbly, trading barbs while his round and plain wife Catherine (Joanna Scanlan) looks glum and morose ---a pin cushion over-pierced and cast aside.

Old Dickens is always on the move, rambling about to this opening and that reception and the nubile Nelly Ternan always turns up, peering around the corridor.

Nothing untoward happens straightaway,  and at first this might seem a forgivable, platonic Wonderland ala Charles Dodgson with a young  Alice, (merely a few shy looks are exchanged ) until a charitable benefit puts them into orbit. Close proximity, shared stories and some warm breath on the neck is all it takes.

Dickens confesses, then the thick of it begins.
People begin to talk.

Driven to distraction, Dickens makes a conscious choice to take Nelly for his mistress. Nelly tries to withdraw, but to no avail. In one scene, Catherine Dickens takes a mistakenly delivered love gift of a beaded red bracelet to Nelly. The bracelet resembles a panther's tongue, red and dripping in lust. Perhaps Mrs. Dickens gives it to Nelly as a weapon, an awareness of love as war. She lastly gives her rival a word of warning: watch out--- you will always be second to Dickens' adoring fans.

In such moments, the sluggish Mrs. Dickens preserves her honor.

Events boil and bubble over still more when Dickens has the unconscionable audacity to publish his intention in the paper with Mrs. Dickens destroyed and beside herself.

The tension and success of "The Invisible Woman" is mostly due to Ralph Fiennes who shows us both a likable and a thoroughly unlikeable man with neither aspect going over the top.

In one fade in, we see the dark face of Charles Dickens appear to cover the sky as a glowering Overlord. He's prepared to let nothing obstruct his way. After all, Dickens partitioned off his wife's room in a later segment, essentially walling her in alive.

What a guy.

Also a highlight is the appearance of Tom Hollander as Dickens' ally Wilkie Collins, who is beady-eyed and damp under his beard, a subtly unsavory character and a willing enabler in Dickens' sexist game of love without consequences.

Most of the tossing and turning (with much of it being fevered exhalations) is still debated as fiction. Many say that Nelly Ternan was only a friend and associate.

No matter which side you happen to fall however, with "The Invisible Woman", Ralph Fiennes has directed a capable bodice ripper, ( while still omitting the bodice ) in the style of a sweeping Merchant Ivory production.

Write Ian at

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Past (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Past

Family upheaval is universal . Such is the case with "The Past" a new film by Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) who creates his own brand of character driven existentialism in the tradition of Krzysztof Kieślowski and Michael Haneke and handles all with a graceful precision that also offers space to ponder and reflect.

A spurned Iranian husband (Ali Mosoffa) returns to visit his ex-wife, Marie (Berenice Bejo) who is full of corrosive thunder and none too happy. Samir (Tahar Rahim) is the new beau, a bit of a dry character, self-assured but also slightly passive and insipid. We forgive him a bit even though he is creepily cheating on his hospitalized wife. Samir also has a troubled kid (Elyes Aguis) and a rocky dry cleaning business.

The left out hubby Ahmad, tries to be helpful, but is often the third wheel at  the table, as Marie and Samir fester with tension.

To make matters worse there is Lucie (played by the eerily beautiful Pauline Burlet) the Camusian teenage daughter who detests Samir for carrying on with her mom while his wife is incapacitated.

At first our wishes are firmly with Ahmad who is often relentlessly picked on and hapless, forced to contend with broken suitcases pushed out in a driving rain. In one vivid scene, Ahmad goes to the shed to rummage through his things, he finds and old picture of himself embracing Maria.

The once happy couple.

Then, there is a jolting cut to Samir using a power drill with an ear-splitting whine. The implication is obvious: Samir has the phallic power. He is the potent one, armed with domestic utility and he penetrates Ahmad's ego.

Just as we may have it figured out, however, our alliance shifts to Samir as an unknowing victim when it seems that Lucie had a part to play in some spiteful act of unforgivable revenge.

Last but not least, there is a contorted, angry and spitting Marie who is possessed in her selfishness, an absolute demon.

While this may be melodrama, it is superbly acted and will forever keep you guessing. This is an Islamic arabesque with many interlocking and interweaving tendrils of teasing trauma, all composed in a genuine mosaic of emotion with no easy outcomes. The acting is first rate and the moral dilemmas are nothing short of serpentine.

These are characters who are neither entirely to blame nor are they completely blameless. Their only short coming seems to be their non-action, bound with petty grievances and insecurities.

"The Past" makes a fitting bookend to director Farhadi's "A Separation" with all of these well-intentioned but morally intoxicated citizens held back by a fundamentalist society's all seeing snake-eyes coupled with the blight of perceived punishments and some stifling "what-ifs".

Write Ian at

Friday, March 14, 2014

Week of March 14 to March 20 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

From Literary Themes to Slavery to Middle Eastern Dramas --
Tropic Cinema Has It All

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Don’t think of it as literary history -- although it is that. “The Invisible Woman” is about a woman’s making do with an older man’s infatuation with her. The film just happens to be about Nelly Ternan, mistress of British novelist Charles Dickens. This not-quite-a-romance stars Felicity Jones and Ralph Fiennes as the couple. Newsday poses the question, “Why did this bright, vivacious, intellectually engaged girl willingly lock herself up in a wealthy man's seraglio?” adds, “This is not a film about the good-hearted Christmas-loving Dickens.”

Also new to the screens is “Omar,” a Palestinian thriller about a young baker (Adam Bakri) forced to play informant to the Israelis. His girlfriend (Leem Lubany) is suspicious, as is his buddies. How do you play both ends against the middle and come out alive? Flick Filosopher says, “Palestine's official submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar is terse, tense suspense drama, and less overtly political than you might expect.”

Another new film is “The Past,” a French offering about an Iranian man (Ali Mosaffa) meeting his estranged wife (Bérénice Bejo) in Paris to finalize their divorce. A tangle of relationships (Tahar Rahim  and Pauline Burlet) complicate matters. Orlando Weekly notes that “this knotty family drama never feels false.” And FILMINK calls it “a beautifully acted and cleverly constructed drama.”

Still playing is “12 Years a Slave,” this year’s Oscar winner as Best Picture. It’s the harrowing story of a free black man captured into slavery in 1841. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as the slave in question and Lupita Nyong'o picked up an Oscar for her supporting role. Time Out observes, “The cumulative emotional effect is devastating: the final scenes are as angry, as memorable, as overwhelming as anything modern cinema has to offer.” And Dallas Morning News concludes, “Every scene of 12 Years a Slave, and almost every shot, conveys some penetrating truth about America's original sin.”

You can still catch “Dallas Buyers Club,” the film that snagged Matthew McConaughey an Academy Award as Best Actor. Here’s the story of rodeo cowboy Ron Woodroof, who dealt with his HIV diagnosis by figuring out away to circumvent the medical system. Jared Leno won a Best Support Actor statuette too. 3AW calls it “an uplifting story of undying hope and unlikely heroism.” And declares it to be “pitch perfect.”

“Monuments Men” is George Clooney’s telling a little-known WWII story, about soldiers tasked with recovering art works stolen by the Nazis. Minneapolis star Tribune describes it as “a sturdy, old-school, big-scale Greatest Generation war movie.” And Christian Science Monitor says, “It's like an over-the-hill gang variant on The Dirty Dozen.”

Rounding out the lineup is “The Wind Rises,” an animated Japanese film about the guy who invented all those warplanes. No subtitles, it voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt, among other notable actors. calls it “a work of immense mystery and strangeness, loaded with unforgettable images, spectacular sweeps of color and nested, hidden meanings.” And Creative spirit concludes that it “isn't a film about war but a valentine to the creative spirit.”

Seven films on four screens. A good week at the Tropic.

Omar (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Omar” One of Oscar’s Best Foreign Films

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

On one level, it doesn’t matter which side you’re on in a spy story. Like the old Mad Magazine cartoon, it’s about Spy vs. Spy. You never know which one is the good guy and which is the bad.

This means setting ideology aside for the sake of the story.

So when you see “Omar” -- the Best Foreign Film nominee that’s currently showing at the Tropic Cinema -- don’t be put off that our protagonist is a Palestinian terrorist.

Rather than a political polemic, this is a romantic thriller that examines how people fair when forced to play both ends against the middle.

The title character is a young baker by day, a freedom fighter (or terrorist, depending on your viewpoint) by night.

Omar (Adam Bakri) gets captured after one of the forays across the West Bank into Israel he’s forced to become a double agent. Seems his two childhood friends, Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat), have killed a soldier and Omar’s guilty by association.

“If you don’t work for us, your life will be hell forever … and so will your girlfriend’s,” an Israeli intelligence agent (Waleed F. Zuaiter) tell him.

How can Omar serve two masters? But he must try, for he wants to marry his girlfriend Nadia (Leem Lubany). A lot is at stake.

To make matters worse, Omar begins to suspect that there is an informant among his friends.

“There’s a traitor among us,” is the word. “Everybody is a suspect.” Omar included.

“That’s what they want,” says Omar, “paranoia.”

“You’re a traitor,” accuses his girlfriend. “Everybody says so.”

“Everybody has got it wrong,” he replies. “Just hold on and we’ll be together.”

You’ll be staggered by the unpredictable climax in this complex cat-and-mouse game.

Betrayal is the theme of the film.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences accepted “Omar” as a Palestinian entry, even though director Hany Abu-Assad was born in Israel, and much of the film was shot in Nazareth, an Israeli town, using Israeli actors. However, he filmed it with a Palestinian crew and Palestinian financing.

This is Abu-Assad’s second Oscar-nominated film, the first being “Paradise Now.” That too was listed as a Palestinian film “after a tussle with the Israeli consulate” over the proper designation.

As for the Academy Awards nod, Abu-Assad says, “I was there once, and I’m nervous because you know the process and the pressure and tension is big. On the other hand, I know it’s just one big casino.”

As it turned out, “Omar” lost out to that wonderful Italian film “The Great Beauty.” But you don’t get an Oscar nod without being one of the best films in the world. And in the Middle East, no matter which country claims it.

The Invisible Woman (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Invisible Woman”  Focuses on Boz’s Mistress

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

English novelist Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870) is considered the greatest writer of the Victorian period. Although Ralph Fiennes portrays Dickens in “The Invisible Woman,” the film is really about the title character, his mistress Ellen “Nelly” Ternan.

Although you don’t read much about Nelly in books about English Literature, she was a real person. The oversight is likely because Charles Dickens already had a perfectly good wife, Catherine “Kate” Dickens (née Hogarth). They had ten children. More to the point, Katey was the eldest daughter of the editor of the Evening Chronicle, a Newcastle newspaper that published some of Dickens’ writing -- in particular many of the 56 installments of a social commentary known as “Sketches By Boz.”

“Boz” was a pseudonym used by Dickens, a clue to his secretive life. A verse in a rival publication spilled the beans:

“Who the dickens ‘Boz’ could be
Puzzled many a learned elf,
Till time unveiled the mystery,
And ‘Boz’ appeared as Dickens’s self.”

The great writer took Nelly Ternan as his mistress in 1857. At 45, he was 27 years older than the young actress.

Unhappy at home, Dickens blamed his wife for their financial woes, due to the birth of their children. Also he didn’t consider her his intellectual equal. What’s more, he didn’t like her housekeeping

They separated in 1858 after Catherine received a bracelet intended for Nelly. Catherine moved out of the Dickens household, taking Charles, Jr. but leaving the other children in the care of her sister, who sided with Dickens.

Nelly remained Dickens’ mistress till his death. He supported her after she gave up the stage, stashing her in houses that he rented under false names. He refused to take her on his American tour, fearing a scandal in the press.

Nelly hated keeping their relationship a secret. Although it afforded her many privileges, was she willing to pay the price? (That question is the angst of the film.)

In “The Invisible Woman” -- currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- Felicity Jones (“Brideshead Revisited,” TV’s “Girls”) gives us a believable Nelly. Opposite her is Ralph Fiennes (“Schindler’s List,” “The English Patient”) as Dickens.

The two co-starred in “Cemetery Junction,” playing father and daughter. Now she plays his mistress.

Felicity Jones admits she found it “weird” and ‘very Freudian” to go from playing one relationship to the other, but Fiennes shrugged it off, saying, “It’s just a job. Come on.”

“The Invisible Woman” is not so much a love story as it is the chronicle of a young woman being pulled into Dickens’ orbit by the gravity of his infatuation for her.

Members of the Dickens family maintained a silence about his relationship with Nelly until after the death of his last surviving son in 1933.

The author’s great-great-great granddaughter, Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, spoke out a couple of years ago. An author and art historian, she believes Nelly was the inspiration for Estelle in “Great Expectations.”

“At the time he wrote it, his marriage was breaking up and he was living a double life,” she says. “While he was enjoying the excitement of a new romance and this clandestine relationship, he was also feeling guilt about the fallout with his wife and her family.”

Some scholars also consider Nelly as the influence of Lucie in “A Tale of Two Cities,” Bella in “Our Mutual Friend,” and Helena in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”

A play about Ellen Ternan’s life (“Little Nell”) was produced in 2007. Now we have “The Invisible Woman,” based on a 2013 same-named bestseller by Claire Tomalin.

No, Nelly is not so invisible anymore.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Monuments Men (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Monuments Men

George Clooney (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) directs and stars in "Monuments Men" a tepid rendering of Robert M. Edsel's provocative book about the brave repossession of many prized works of art stolen by The Nazis during WWII.

Clooney is Frank Stokes in charge of gathering six men to recover the priceless works from the SS. He is properly mustached, tan, square jawed and resolute, but the acting is heavy handed and a bit sentimental in such a way that we don't really get a sense that Stokes cares in a meaningful or authentic way about his quest to locate the imperiled art. Frank gives a grand speech about the rescue of art, culture and free expression. While this is a very important and worthwhile message, not to mention the inclusive novel story of art historians who treat art as POWs, and rightly so, it is done with such broad strokes in the manner of a primer that it lacks substance and has little nourishment.

Matt Damon is here in his handsome U.S. Army glory as Lt. James Granger, as is a nearly expressionless Bill Murray and a puffy and cumulous-like John Goodman. Damon, Goodman and Murray seem interchangeable. None of them emote much feeling or dialogue. Murray's character breaks down in the shower hearing a Christmas Carol, but rather than displaying any uniqueness, his tears feel strangely remote.

Cate Blanchett and Jean Dujardin duly appear but they are drawn with flat brushes as an austere, heavily accented spy and a heavily accented and sugary sounding Frenchman, respectively.

The cinematography---a welcome contrast---is crisp and stirring with an ease of motion, elegant and swift. We are in France, Germany and Belgium all in the blink of an eye and we are carried along, mentally if not emotionally.

The film does have an oddly quaint nostalgic quality and this could be appealing. The Men stalk and stub their toes. They scramble about in olive green and smoking jeeps that resemble worn but cute tortoises of war, echoing those grand old films starring the likes of Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. If Clooney had gone all the way, this film could have been a rollicking, fun and poignant ride. But as it is modeled here, the events appear a bit too staged and removed. Case and point is Hitler himself as a mere mannequin staring at his Plaster of Paris Orwellian vision.

There just isn't much for these rambling and rumbling men to do.

This is not to say that  recovering art must be exciting or worthy of a cliffhanger but I bet it could have been.

The only comic relief we get is of Murray getting a tooth pulled and this wears thin. Such a vignette plays like a WC Fields sketch sans zingers.

That said, there is a bit of meaningful thought and pathos in a confession by Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) that is evocative, while Joel Basman playing a German officer is someone as shark-eyed and sinister as you'll ever see.

And, in terms of kitsch and camp, it is enjoyable to see Clooney's real life father, Nick, gentle and white haired  in the role of Stokes as an old man.

Overall though, with such striking visuals in portraying  a Madonna by Michelangelo as a person of spirit and flesh, it is an anticlimax that the only "Monuments Men" to be found are these uniform and granite-faced characters outfitted in lethargic acting.

Write Ian at

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Wind Rises (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Wind Rises

The Maestro of Manga, Hiyao Miyazaki gives us another bunch of cinematic chrysanthemums with "The Wind Rises". This animated film is loosely based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, creator of the Japanese Zero fighter planes. The film was nominated for an Oscar this year and was last year's runaway hit in Japan.

In the American version, Joseph Gordon-Levitt voices Jiro and  seems a forthright and empathic Johnny Depp persona.

In a 1920s Japan, Jiro is an idealistic boy with his head in the clouds, or more specifically, planes. His proud country wants to become more mechanized and current with an aerial army, but Jiro only has eyes for speed and space and vivid flying machines (resembling The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine") that bring joy to others.

In such vignettes, Jiro takes on the persona of Speed Racer, John Lennon, or a Harry Potter with round and curious lenses.

Suddenly there is an earthquake in Jiro's hometown and his equilibrium is thrown asunder. He notices a maid and a young girl (who may recall Daisy from The Great Gatsby). He helps the two to safety, putting himself at risk. He becomes their knight, but when they turn to thank him, Jiro disapears.

Jiro goes to the university to study engineering, ultimately joining a design team sponsored by the Navy. After a string of failures, he visits Germany and is spooked by the secret police---precursors to The Gestapo.

Jiro continuously tries to ignore the fact that he is designing fighters for the gathering war effort---deadly chrome wasps that will ultimately launch kamikazes into Pearl Harbor and WWII. Jiro appears to have an emotional circuit breaker that leaves him either sweaty with panic or as blissful as a newly bloomed sun orchid. At times the dapper and welcoming inventor Caproni appears to him in the style of an animation by Peter Max or he witnesses horrible scenes of ash, fire and destruction in keeping with Pink Floyd's "The Wall".

Jiro emerges as a visionary, similar to Edgar Cayce, or a Tibetan Buddhist.

He listens to his dreams.

The animation is sweeping and vividly stirring, full of motion and loose gesture. While the facial renderings echo Tatsuo Yoshida's "Speed Racer," the landscapes speak of a fluidity seen in a Cezanne forest masterwork.

By midway, there is a slight bit of wind shear and drift in "The Wind Rises," as it runs just a bit long with our Italophile dreamer running and fretting hither and thither among the cumulous clouds with paper airplanes, but this is merely a small fissure in what remains as a painting spinning in its own momentum.

There are some daring touches such as the inclusion of Martin Short as a domineering boss, not to mention famed director Werner Herzog as Castorp, a convalescing man with secrets who dines on heaps of watercress in "a good place to forget bad things." This passage makes an excellent tribute to Thomas Mann in animated form.

And, as if this isn't enough, this is probably the one film where Herzog actually smiles, while still retaining his trademarked existential and comic cadence.

In "The Wind Rises" Miyazaki has made Jiro Horikoshi into an Emersonian genius who cares only for a bouyant aircraft in harmony with nature and its people. Instead of bombs, Jiro's inventions drop hearts of origami, white-throated, folded missives to his lost love. This is not to say that the director pulls his punches; Jiro can also be seen as an airy Michelangelo, held aloft by the popes of The Rising Sun in the rush to war.

Whatever the case, Jiro is a man we can all imagine who truly transcends his animated form and becomes flesh. Hiyao Miyazaki, whose father crafted the rudder for A6M Zeros might well be exorcising some personal yurei (ghosts) here, and has gracefully given a thoughtful and meditative story to match his whimsical vision.

Write Ian at

Week of March 7 to March 13 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Offers Academy Award Winners

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Well, I hope your Oscar picks were better than mine. But if there are any winners you missed seeing, you can still catch many of them at the Tropic Cinema.

Coming back is “Dallas Buyers Club,” the HIV drama that garnered Oscars for Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto as Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. Philadelphia Inquirer says, “Just about everything is right with Dallas Buyers Club, beginning with Matthew McConaughey's literally transformative portrayal.” calls it “pitch perfect.”

Holding over is “12 Years a Slave,” the intense retelling of Solomon Northrup’s story, a free black man who was kidnapped into slavery in 1841. This picture won three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The Standard deems it “a truly impressive piece of filmmaking.” And The New Republic tells us, “It is a film that necessity and education demand seeing.”

Holding over is “American Hustle,” a darkly comic rehash of the FBI’s Abscam sting. While the film got locked out of any Oscars, it had an impressive ten nominations. Passionate Moviegoer calls it “compulsively watchable.” And Baret News sees it as a “memorable masterpiece.”

For those looking for serious drama, there’s “Gloria,” the Spanish-Chilean film about a woman of a certain age. ABC Radio Brisbane terms it “An engaging character study.’ And Detroit News says, “By its end, you want to cheer the simple act of living.”

Giving us a little-known tale from World War II is “The Monuments Men,” telling how an elite group of soldiers (George Clooney et al.) saved art works from Hitler. Minneapolis Star Tribune calls it “a sturdy, old-school, big-scale Greatest Generation war movie.” While handing out some critical lumps, Daily Express admits that it’s “a fun and fitting tribute to some unsung heroes with bags of old-fashioned charm.”

Finally we have “The Wind Rises,” an Oscar-nominated animated film from Japan. However, this fantasized bio of the man who invented the Zero warplane is voiced by such familiar actors as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, and others. describes it as “a work of immense mystery and strangeness, loaded with unforgettable images, spectacular sweeps of color and nested, hidden meanings.” And Austin American Statesman calls it “a spellbinding, dreamy paean to imagination.”

These films are a fine way to reassess after the Tropic’s gala Oscar party!

The Wind Rises (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Wind Rises”
From Japanese Manga

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Some years ago I flew to Tokyo to meet with a publisher who had the license to turn Marvel superheroes into manga (a Japanese style of comics). The hotel stay was like a rerun of “Lost in Transition.” But I quickly learned that the people of Japan take their comics seriously. It was not unusual to see businessmen reading comics on a train. The streets were lined with vending machines that dispensed comic books.

So when I saw “The Wind Rises” -- the Academy Award nominated animated feature film that’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema -- it wasn’t surprising to learn that it had been adapted from a manga graphic novel.

Hayao Miyazaki, the film’s director, had written the manga himself, based on a novel by the late Tatsuo Hori. Hori’s story told about a woman’s bout with tuberculosis. But in Miyazaki’s retelling it became the fantasized biography of Dr. Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer who created many Japanese fighter planes, in particular the deadly Zero.

As a young boy, Jiro Horikoshi had a dream about climbing onto the roof of his home, donning goggles, and flying away in a bird-like airplane. In another dream he meets the famous Italian aircraft designer Caproni, who tells the boy he cannot fly planes with his bad eyesight but would be better suited to building them.

Later on, Jiro studies engineering, goes to work for an airplane manufacturer, gets promoted to chief designer, and after a number of failures invents the Mitsubishi A5M  (Type 96 carrier-based fighter), the prototype of the A6M Zero.

During this time we follow Jiro through the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression, and World War II. Threaded through these years is the bittersweet story of how he meets a young woman named Naoko, becomes engaged to her, and shares a love even as she is dying from TB.

Don’t worry if you don’t speak Japanese -- the film has been dubbed into English. The new cast includes the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jiro), Emily Blunt (Naoko), as well as Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Grey, Elijah Wood, John Krasinski, Martin Short, William H. Macy, and Mandy Patinkin, among other notables.

“Kaze Tachinu” (translation: “The Wind Rises”) was the highest-grossing Japanese film in Japan in 2013. A nice piece of animation, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures is distributing the film in the US.

To be politically correct, the character of Jiro Horikoshi ends up regretting the deaths caused by his fighter planes. But the fantasized Caproni is on hand to reassure him that he achieved his dream of building airplanes.

Somehow it doesn’t seem like an achievement.

The Monuments Men (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Monuments Men”
Save Art From Nazis

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Only a couple of years ago a $1.35 billion treasure trove of artworks looted by the Nazis was discovered in the closet of a squalid apartment in Munich. These stolen paintings included pieces by Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall.

Now we have a movie called “Monuments Men” based on a book titled “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History” by Robert Morse Edsel. It’s about a program called the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives that was established in 1943 by the Allied armies, tasked with recovering art stolen by the Nazis and preserving cultural monuments in war-torn Germany.

George Clooney has written, produced, directed, and stars in a movie about this rescue effort. “The Monuments Men” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

A comedy-drama, it focuses on an oddball platoon composed of seven museum directors, curators, sculptors, architects, and art historians who are tapped to be part of the MFAA task force. For Hollywood purposes these heroes look exactly like George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, and Hugh Bonneville. They get a little help from a French woman who looks like Cate Blanchett.

The plot: The Nazis raided the museums and galleries of Warsaw, Amsterdam, and Paris. Over 5-million pieces of stolen artwork lay trapped behind enemy lines. And the German army was under orders to destroy everything if the Reich fell. This ragtag platoon is under orders to “protect what’s left, find what’s missing.”

“How can I help you steal our stolen art?” Claire Simone (Blanchett) asks the Monuments Men.

As Frank Stokes (Clooney’s character) puts it, “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements, and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we’re fighting for.”

Claire (Blanchett) puts it a little more succinctly. She describes the stolen art as representing “people’s lives.”

Can these seven guys save “the greatest historical achievements known to man”?

In part they did. However in real life there were actually 400 members of the MFAA.

Think: “Inglourious Basterds” meets “Oceans 11.” This is the fifth movie that Clooney has directed. He certainly proved his mettle with the political thriller “The Ides of March and with the Edward R. Murrow docudrama “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Here he struggles to find the right tone.

Author Robert Edsel’s foundation received the 2007 National Humanities Medal for documenting the work of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program. A little-known piece of history brought to light.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Leaping (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets: The Leaping
by Ian Brockway

Film to me is a refuge from uncertainty, gravity, and panic. More to the point, the flickering image is an antidote to anxiety, apprehension and the strange still moments of boredom that I feel.

I paint, I fantasize, and I write. My dad once said that he thought me "remarkably free of neurosis" and by extension, fear.

Whether that is true or not, is not for me to say. However, there is one concept and a specific film that usually throws me into a very real state of acute panic and that is the film "The Exorcist" (1973).

I don't really know why. It seems to go beyond simple shock. I start to hyperventilate at the sight of any Exorcist imagery, going rigid with fear that feels near to pain. I even leap in my chair whenever someone says "The Exorcist".

I first saw the film on TV  in the late 1970s with an aide at the time, my friend Becky, a Seventh Day Adventist. I didn't want to see the film. But she forced me, cajoling and teasing and this is puzzling in itself. I am not religious. Perhaps it was her way of attempting to convert me as she took me to Sunday School because I could not bring myself to say no. I often remember eagerly singing Christian tunes with lyrics about Satan as real as dirt.

Yet in  front of the TV, I shut my eyes. I can't recall exactly what I saw, but I remember the examination scene and Regan being thrown around on that bed, (which looked burnt, wilted  and cold, like stale wedding cake) the roars, that horrible, horrible voice and her unimaginable blue green face curdled over with what appears as old cheese.

Total fear. I remember feeling those electric volts. My body turned to complete bone.

Quite scary.

The next nights had no after effects, no worries, no thoughts of roars, demonic faces or vomiting of any kind.

Years passed. Then I watched it again. I became especially affected by the stairs and the growls behind the bedroom door. The electric jolts hit me. By the time I saw the bed, I was so overrun with fear, I was laughing interspersed with cries. But I got thru it.

Shortly after I was hit with recurring dreams: the sound of heavy footsteps and being faced with a blank movie screen, wanting to close  my eyes, knowing the bed was coming...

For a while the dreams stopped. Then, during grad school and an emotional romantic breakup, they began again: I was in an airy living room. On top of the tv, was a framed picture of Regan.

The dreams seemed to happen whenever I was stressed. My Exorcist fears point to my own physical body as I have cerebral palsy. Had I been born earlier in the 18th Century with cp, many would say I was possessed.

 I have heard that when people saw the original films they have had PTSD episodes or dreams and that it is an actual medical condition.

As if for catharsis, I read the novel by William Peter Blatty and all that I could on the film along with the subject of demonic possession.

I don't know if this helped or hurt, but I did find it captivating.

I do think my fear of sickness, my body and unease around doctors is at the root of my fear.

Indeed there is repeated medical imagery in the film: Father Karras goes to an asylum to see his mother. Regan is evaluated. Perhaps I see my condition as a troublesome ghost, or perhaps in my amoral musings,  I saw priests and exorcists as agents of Evil, using the force of Religion to eradicate my spastic and unique bodily eccentricities, imposing my poetically bent body to something straight and boringly linear to follow rules.

Whatever the cause, I had those dreams.

My mom said that in the film, even a car going by is scary. She's right. Director William Friedkin employed some double exposures and quick cuts in many scenes and maybe I really did catch something watching these sequences.

The Reverend Billy Graham believes that the energy of the devil physically exists within the film.

A few months ago, I was in bed watching TV and saw the body of Regan. My heart sped and I quickly changed the channel. There seems  no logic to these incidents.

I have tried to think of Linda Blair as a sex symbol to try to repel my fear, as she once modeled for an x-rated magazine at one time. I haven't followed it through. Should I write her a letter? Surely she was disturbed by her performance as well, injuring her back with a bed crane and having a bodyguard after filming due to death threats by Christians.

Might it be a bond between us?

I know that Blair has retired from film and has a dog rescue operation, equating dogs as angels.

I would not disagree.

At The Tropic, even though I usually think of film reviews before my comfort, I was too fearful to see "The Conjuring" or even a documentary about Rick Springfield as he and Linda Blair were known to have been a couple at the time of "that film" What if I see "that face"?

This has caused me some chagrin and embarrassment but I passed over them easily enough.

What to do?

Friends have said I should see the film once more. I still research "The Exorcist"  from time to time, sans imagery. I have heard of fires on the set, and of two cast members dying during the film. I have read of movie audiences at the time fainting and sickened. Mercedes Mccambridge, during her voice role as the demon was tied to a chair, regurgitating mashed apples.

The film never won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The Academy refrains from horror and giving devils their due, but it did rightly earn Best Screenplay.

"The Exorcist" is a masterful and frightening film, incorporating surrealist concepts (The poster was taken from Rene Magritte) with subliminal sequences and has some irreverent dialogue. I respect and fear it.

And, after all this time at age 47, I still don't know the initial origin of this anxiety,  the exact moment of its beginning or why the film has taken hold of me.

Write Ian at

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Gloria (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Paulina García gives a nuanced performance that is so detailed and precise that it is almost a study in miniature. In Sebastián Lelio's (The Year of the Tiger) "Gloria" takes us to Chile into the life of an older woman who lives an interior and passive life, but who nonetheless remains open to surprise and unexpectedness.

There have been an infinite number of lukewarm feel-goods about women who find their stride in their mature years. Some are solid and some are sappy. Others resort to corny gags. Thankfully, director Lelio and Paulina Garcia put it all on the table as is, without sap,  Saccharin, or syrupy climaxes.

Gloria is an average but quirkily-edged woman who lives alone and has an ice-cubed office job. Regardless, like a feminine Walter Mitty, her mind is carbonated with buoyant colors. She remains privately effervescent with her own sense of joy.

While usually a bit of a wallflower at a disco, she gets an urge to engage Roldolpho (Sergio Fernández) in conversation and the two hit it off. Roldolpho owns an amusement park and he is a buttery charmer on the level of an older Jean-Paul Belmondo. But unbeknownst to Gloria, our leather-loafing Romeo has anxiety issues, still tethered to his ex-wife. While appearing to want to plunge into amour, Rodolpho is  henpecked and timid. Gloria is left adrift after a disastrous family gathering, forced to create her own mental romantic fauna.

Pop songs help. Anything to combat her cluttered apartment with its upstairs cacophony, and the sight of a hairless sphynx, a feline Andy Warhol who takes some spatial liberties.

While this film might seem to have some Sex-and the -City / Bucket List trappings of a woman gone wild, this is a clever trick to ensnare those of us who are popcorn minded.

To its credit, this film is a sister to the haunting and meditative "The Great Beauty" albeit on a smaller and more insular plane. Faced with riddle after perplexing riddle, Gloria accepts the semi-carnival---and carnivorous---haze that is her existence and tempts fate. The glare of death, personified by human loudness and the white bone of a skeletal marionette, patiently waits ahead.

Gloria even sees a beautiful white peacock that abruptly appears, analogous to the giraffe in Sorrentino's formerly mentioned film.

In situations that would bring most women down, Gloria rises, sometimes in subtlety, forever upbeat. Left cast aside, she forges ahead masked by the glitter of a disco ball as sweaty and bearded men plow into her, their lips and tongues becoming drunken suckers, strange and insatiable. As if to push the point, Gloria is indeed swept on a beach, yesterday's mermaid.

At such moments "Gloria" echoes "Looking For Mr. Goodbar" in its seedy darkness and drear.

But not for long.

"Gloria" owes its quiet wonder to Sebastián Lelio and Paulina Garcia who work together to show this lady as a genuine engine, who is sometimes caught between hemp and happenstance, or even the rueful march of her namesake disco tune syncopated and beaten by Father (or Mother) Time.

Write Ian at