Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wish I Was Here (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Wish I Was Here

Comedian Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs) directs and stars in "Wish I Was Here," a family comedy about the usual grounds of dysfunction and forgiveness. Braff moves easily here with a timing and charm that is immediate and giggle-inducing, even though his role doesn't reach much beyond his project of the previously mentioned "Garden State."

Here again, the self deprecating and earnestly "good guy" Braff is an actor. In this outing, he is Aidan Bloom, a performer and emotionally-aching dad who hasn't worked in a few years. Aidan tries all he can, trudging to audition after audition but always managing to come up with no calls. He relies on his father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) to pay his kids' tuition at a private school.

One day, Aidan is floored.

His father is diagnosed with a recurring cancer and needs an exotic treatment; he can't cover expenses.

Aidan goes to his slacker brother Noah (Josh Gad) but nerd Noah is eaten up in apathy and bitterness and is no help.

The kids, Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King) are booted from the yeshiva over lack of finances.

Aidan is at his wits end.

To make matters worse, he suffers from self esteem issues because he is slow to protect his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) from an obnoxious and sexually rude co-worker Terry (Mark Thudium).

While Braff delivers some honest giggles in trying his best not to add to "The Swear Jar," the plot gets bogged down with his several heart to heart talks with various family members. The exchanges have a 1990s TV feel, and don't come off as anything lively or original.

Aidan's brother Noah is a torpid drooler of a man and while it is well established that he's a confirmed comic geek and a "genius" regarding Pop culture, his role lacks juice.

As in "Fading Gigolo" we see a series of nearly identical, blandly comic aging raspy rabbi visits and the repartee just isn't that funny or lasting.

There are some conventional sad hospital segments and we know when these scenes are actually  going to happen well before they actually do.

As the "all business" father Patinkin has some good lines in relating to his grand kids and his role is strong and authentic with pathos in his wanting for both a Good Humor toasted almond ice cream and a visit from Noah.

More often then not, though, the major scenes feel as if they were filmed by a checklist process, alternating as they do from truth-telling and conversation to laughter and sight gags with formula regularity.

The cinematography of the desert, although crisp and striking, had me wishing for "Breaking Bad." A bit of Walter White on the Bloom family tree would have gone a long way.

Despite its conventional lethargy however, Zach Braff's quirky befuddlement and his familiar persona does manage to keep the film from falling into a complete stream of 1s and Os.

If you haven't seen "Garden State" or TV's "Scrubs", this film will induce a few chuckles. But otherwise, it makes for déjà view and other familial forests of swords and spacemen are full of richer fauna.

Write Ian at

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What If (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

What If

"What If" is a likable comedy that keeps you watching and watching like emotional candy, despite its formula in hitting all the expected recognizable notes.

The iconic Daniel Radcliffe (Kill Your Darlings, Harry Potter) stars as Wallace, a med school drop out, a sad eyed harlequin, an introvert and a jittery mess. Wallace goes to a party given by his snarky roommate Allan (Adam Driver). Lo and behold, he bumps into the strawberry  blond and quirky Chantry (Zoe Kazan). In aura, Chantry is similar to the characters of Greta Gerwig. She's as gangly with a bounce as Wallace is nervous and bound up. She is like an unspooling ball of yarn. Better yet, she has a heart shaped face.

Chantry likes the odd, pithy remarks of this guy who looks like a semi ratty but endearing smirk of linen, but she has a hubby: Ben, (Rafe Spall) a bland UN worker.

After a few friendly talks, Chantry invites Wallace to a house party where he encounters the doltish but protective Ben and Chantry's manipulative sister, Dalia (Megan Park).

Mayhem ensues with Ben blinding himself with jalapeño oil from a knife he used as Wallace ultimately pushes him out of a window in the midst of trying to be of assistance.

Ben regains his equilibrium but becomes increasingly remote from the effervescent Chantry and accepts a job in Dublin.

While we have seen such hijinks before from Will Gluck (Friends with Benefits) to Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally), among others, director Michael Dowse gives all events a lively and colorful spin.

The tipsy and and playful electricity---with a warm, tin-foil and almost childlike feeling---goes down with a vivacious carbonation and all things are just loose enough to retain a freshness.

Daniel Radcliffe is excellent as the lost clown full of reticence and gloom and he is fun to watch as he becomes more and more wild under Chantry's bright chant.

Adam Driver can be seen as a kind of Tony Roberts for the millennials: overconfident, narcissistic and opinionated and in the comical body of Zoe Kazan there is a calligraphic swoop of Diane Keaton's Annie Hall.

While there are clear traces of past films here, the light empathy between Radcliffe and Kazan hold it together while also retaining the suspense of romance in our multiple screened age. And though it unabashedly references technology and our often media-immured realm, it is interestingly retro in tone. The spasticity and smiles shared between Wallace and Chantry could very well be Woody Allen's gestural cousins.

In the attraction of Wallace and Chantry there is uneasy tension as much as a harmonic rhythm and the acting, never given heavy hands  gives a charge of authenticity.

As a kind of post, postmodern Woody Allen / Rob Reiner interpretation, "What If" works very well. While it may be light and fizzy, it never plays trite or over done. In its very ink and gouache-friendly attitude, (animations are periodically seen throughout) the imagery is slick, vivid and innocent without any irony or jaded cynicism.

"What if" has a vibrant heart and despite its long ancestral history, the surprise is that it will sweep you along its magic marker arc and keep you guessing.

Write Ian at

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Week of August 29 to Sept. 4 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Comedies Dominate Tropic Cinema Screens --
Romantic. Thoughtful, and Dark

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

From a guffaw to a twinkle in the eye, you’ll find something to smile about in all the films showing this week at the Tropic.

Daniel Radcliffe hopes to work a little Harry Potter magic with his new rom-com, a sweet little trifle called “What If.” Paired with bubbly Zoe Kazan, he’s a guy trying to get beyond the dreaded Friend Zone in their relationship. It might be easier if she didn’t already have a boyfriend. Time Out says, “For a kid who grew up in public and is worth an estimated 60 million, Daniel Radcliffe does a convincing job of playing a normal guy.” And opines, “'What If' is 'When Harry Met Sally...' for the current generation.”

“Wish I Was Here” is another funny-yet-thoughtful outing by Zach Bradd (he gave us “Garden State”), this one a look at a family man who decides to home school his kids. You guessed it: He might just learn something himself. Tri-City Herald says, “This is deep, wonderful stuff and is the year’s best feel-good movie.” And sees it as “a confident, funny and heartfelt tragicomedy that, although not without its blemishes, proves Braff is more than just a one-hit wonder.”

“Calvary” isn’t exactly a whodunit … more of a who’s-going-to-do-it … as an Irish priest (Brendan Gleeson) finds his life threatened for the sins of others. But a black comedy to be sure. Tampa Bay Times calls it “a lurid Agatha Christie yarn with something important to say about the church and Ireland.” And East Bay Express calls it “food for the soul.”

“The Hundred-Foot Journey” pits a raucous Indian family against sedate French snobbery. Papa (Om Puri) is determined to open Maison Mumbai across the street from the restaurant owned by Madam Mallory (Helen Mirren). The Virginian-Pilot notes, “It's curry vs. crepes in this culture-clash romantic comedy set in small-town France. We know where the plot is headed; the joy is in watching it play out.” And Richard Roeper calls it, “Food porn with a sweet albeit predictable menu.”

Woody Allen pulls his latest rabbit out of the hat with “Magic in the Moonlight,” a charming tale about a magician (Colin Firth) attempting to expose a too-good-to-be-true clairvoyant (Emma Stone). You can guess how this rom-com turns out. says, “Woody Allen shows he still has the ‘magic’ with this delightfully romantic comedy.” And Mountain Xpress calls it, “A sparkling champagne cocktail of a romantic comedy only Woody Allen could make.”

So ask your doctor. He’ll tell you laughter is the best medicine.

Calvary (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Brendan Gleeson
Is Good Reason
To See “Calvary”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Let me admit up front that (1) I’m not a Catholic, (2) I’m not religious, and (3) I was born with what some consider a defect: the lack of a forgiveness gene in my DNA. So I may not be the best person to ask about “Calvary,” an Irish film about a Catholic priest dealing with the subject of forgiveness.

However, I am a fan of Brendan Gleeson, the Dublin-born character actor whose face you’ve seen in most Irish-themed films. Not having taken up acting until his mid 30s, he made his name portraying the Irish patriot Michael Collins in “The Treaty.” But you’ll remember him best playing a Scotsman alongside Mel Gibson in “Braveheart.” Or you may recognize him as Mad-Eye Moody from the “Harry Potter” series. He’s appeared in over 80 films, from being a hitman in “In Bourges” to the scheming mayor in “The Grand Seduction” (which recently played at the Tropic).

In “Calvary” -- still showing this week at the Tropic -- he is Father James. A good man by all accounts. Helps his odd lot of parishioners solve their problems, large and small. Trying to reunite with his daughter (Kelly Reilly), whose mother’s death had sent him scurrying for the safety of the priesthood.

Only it’s not too safe.

One day in the confessional box, an unseen voice threatens his life. Seems this would-be killer was abused for five years as a child by a priest. And in retribution, he decides to take the life of an innocent priest, as a blow against the Church. And Father James is his choice.

Yes, the theme of a good man laying down his life for the sins of others has a familiar New Testament ring to it. After all, the title is “Calvary.”

As Father James visits his parishioners in this costal village, he keeps us guessing who might be the threat. Is it Michael (Dylan Moran), the reclusive millionaire with ill-gotten gains? Is it Jack (Chris O’Dowd), the butcher accused of beating his wife? Is it the wife’s lover? Or the atheist doctor? Or one of the other villagers he encounters in his rounds of ministering to their troubled souls?

As Father James tells his daughter Fiona, we look too much at sin and not enough at virtue. And he believes the greatest virtue is forgiveness.

Can he forgive the man who seeks to kill him? It’s been done before.

Director John Michael McDonagh worked with Brendan Gleeson once before, on a fine little movie called “The Guard.” It was while filming that story about the Garda Síochána (the Irish police force) McDonagh came up with the concept for “Calvary” and wrote the screenplay with Gleeson in mind.

The film takes its cue from Hitchcock’s “I Confess.” Then McDonagh tells us, “I knew it was going to have this Agatha Christie-like ‘Who’s going to do it?’ aspect. Then the framework I found was … people have asked if it’s the Seven Deadly Sins, but it’s actually structured around the five stages of grief, so it’s denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance and hope. Those are the five movements. Once I had that structure, I was more or less ready to go.”

Sin, redemption, abuse, forgiveness are heavy themes. Yet in some ways this is a black comedy.

“Yeah, the story is about a Priest and so that may not appeal to people who are not religious,” admits McDonagh. “But there is also that crime/mystery element that I hope is a hook that might appeal to people who may not otherwise be interested. Yeah, it deals with a lot of different subjects but it’s done by meeting one sort of idiosyncratic, strange character after another like in a Sturges screwball comedy. That was my approach. I start with character first and whatever the subtext will come out, it will always be there if you create a great work of art. People will see things that you may not have intended. If it’s dense and it’s rich, those things will come up all the time. But it’s to be entertaining first. The film should appeal to both atheists and true believers.”

What If (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“What If”
Met Kazan

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Daniel Radcliffe refuses to be typecast as a boy wizard. Despite starring in the “Harry Potter” franchise, the second highest grossing series in film history, he has worked hard at breaking that magic mold.

For example, he showed his twinkie live on Broadway in “Équus.” He played a gay poet in “Kill Your Darlings.” He’s set to play hideous Igor in a new version of “Frankenstein.” And now he’s starring in a movie called “What If,” his foray into romantic comedy.

“What If” is now showing at the Tropic Cinema.

The film’s original title was “The F Word.” No, you naughty reader, F stands for Friend, that dreaded designation in any male-female relationship.

Fifty years ago “When Harry Met Sally” was arguing that a man and woman cannot be friends without sex rearing its ugly head. Similarly, “What If” argues that “the Friend Zone” is the Sargasso Sea for potential relationships.

Here, Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) falls for Chantry (Zoe Kazan) only to discover that she already has a boyfriend, so he has no other choice than be her “friend.” Or not.

Needless to say, the movie is about Wallace trying to escape from the Friend Zone. And no spoiler alert is needed to remind you that this is a cute boy-gets-girl rom-com.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lucy (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


As if in continuation of her darkling domme persona, superstar Scarlett Johansson stars as "Lucy," a serio-comic heroine tale by Luc Besson, with more Pop in its bop that plays (in saving grace) jangly and loose with its free associative, wild detail.

Here she comes...again, as a spaced out and bewildered Scarlett-in-Wonderland as an unwilling drug mule carrying some supercharged blue powder in her abdomen. The drug is CPH4, synthetically made from a mother's birth hormone that contains extra sensory abilities and then some with a turbo boost to the brain .

Johansson as Lucy, is beaten chained and raped. The drug is sewn into her abdomen by the sadistic Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik). As she is violently kicked in the stomach, the powder is leaked into her bloodstream and she begins to exhibit the kind of blank, poker faced manner we saw in "Under the Skin" laced with a hint of Sil, the alien from "Species" and, last but not least, she can suddenly crawl on the ceiling as skillfully as one young Linda Blair. Lucy shoots her generic captors with an arsenal of guns and manages to icily stare her way into a hospital. For some odd reason, she shoots a poor soul on the operating table and has the surgeon remove the rest of the Hollywood blue packets from her blonde belly. It is implied that the drug has limitless potential with the power to rule the world as we know it, or rather, don't know it.

Lucy gets her way (of course) and escapes, all the while achieving paranormal supremacy by leaps and bounds.

Not one bit of this makes much sense, but it is so slickly put together that it makes a fun and corny popcorn film, that will make gazpacho out of your good sense.

Lucy gets revenge on the nasty Mr Jang by stabbing him, horribly, gorily and graphically in both hands, nailing him to a chair, just at the moment when he wakes from a cucumber-eyed massage


About half of "Lucy" is occupied by the chasing and running from baddies with a plainly handsome police investigator in tow, one Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked)  as an apparent "memory" or drone, which isn't as interesting since it quotes from former Besson films "Leon: The Professional ", "Nikita" and "Transporter".

Still, there are some vivid moments in the film where a montage reaches a poetic impact, such as the opening scene where Lucy, sheathed in animal print is juxtaposed with the eyes of a leopard, or when in Paris, she abruptly manipulates  Time and Space like a screen sweep from the iPad of her consciousness.

Humorous it is, too, to watch Lucy respond to awestruck humans as if to say, "so what?"

While the pursuit of some predictable men and suits is ho hum,    a little sarcasm in Scarlett makes the goings on ha-ha. It is a hoot to watch macho Asian men tie themselves in spastic knots as they rise in emasculation to the ceiling, useless puffs of testosterone, constructing poor shadow-plays in male origami.

Morgan Freeman appears as a professor duly attempting the expected Voice of Reason.

And while it makes short work of nonsense that Lucy turns herself into a mass of licorice and blood with the power to propel herself to prehistoric time, there is something in Luc Besson's flow of jujube amphetamine imagery that makes it all a thrill. Indeed, the film's final seconds have a definite "Twilight Zone" feel.

And, Morgan Freeman's silent look says it all: men's endeavors mean nothing compared to some universal estrogen unleashed.

Write Ian at

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Cavalry (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Taking a sinister cue from his brother, the playwright Martin McDonagh, director John Michael McDonagh steers this tense and thoughtful study of an Irish priest, played by the oft-recognizable Brendan Gleeson.

In "Calvary", Father James (Gleeson) is a good priest in a small town. He is patient with most everyone. During confession, an unknown man tells him of sexual abuse that he endured as a child under the hands of another man of the cloth, now several years deceased.

"I'll kill you," the man states flatly, "but not now. Get your affairs together."

Father James is stupefied.

The modest priest tries to push it from his mind, and counsel throughout each day but cannot.

He immerses himself in work, visiting one quirky character after another: a bumbling, self deprecating butcher (Chris O'Dowd), a non believing doctor (Aidan Gillen) a ladies' man (Isaach De Bankolé) a dishonest financier (Dylan Moran) and a monotone bishop (David Mcsavage)

He is at a loss.

Father James is summoned to the aide of his troubled daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) who has recently attempted suicide and he does his best.

Why did this declaration occur to him and who is the man?

He walks to each visit with large, calm and deliberate steps. The huge pea soup green cliffs of Ireland stand impassively aloof in sweeping Kubrickian closeups.

One night during a gun discussion at a pub, the church is incinerated.

Father James visits the local policeman, a known hedonist.

He borrows a gun, but silently refuses to use such things, although remaining philosophically fascinated.

Everywhere he goes, Father James is goaded and coerced for no solid reason, other than to get the better of him. Every person seems under seduction by lascivious, violent and petty forces.

Father James's only solace is a series of talks at the bedside of an ailing writer (M. Emmett Walsh )

The tension of the film is palpable throughout with echoes of McDonagh's own brother of course, but also possessing something of "The American" and "High Noon". Though these influences are clearly in evidence, the flashes of crackling humor combined with its smooth sandstone-like apprehension is unique to this director as seen in his previous outing "The Guard".

While the acting of Brendan Gleeson is nearly mythic in its deadpan stoicism, Dylan Moran deserves high mention too, as a pasty, apathetic, juvenile but oddly insightful man with nothing to live for.

Debauchery and sadistic mischief hover before this pious man like a tri-horned cumulus of Pazazu, or a meteorological devil. James is stripped of action and thought as the disturbing events unfold.

Although the story moves like a tight, punchy thriller, there are also meditative and pensive passages that will provoke multiple sighs. This is a film of theological thought and an ecumenical  character study just as much as a suspense tale of sorts. And, in terms of an analysis of the priestly temperament under legions of doubt, this is a subtle and sound film with an authentic collar under its frock.

As threatening as "Calvary" is, it is no superfluous adrenalin tale; it is full of authenticity and rich in rites.

Brendan Gleeson as the Everyman father is no mere cartoon, but a human questioner whose somewhat immobile yet surprised face also carries with it a sad eventuality. Ultimately, his expression mirrors the Irish landscape in its unending permanence, absent of all commentary or solution.

Write Ian at

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Get On Up (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Get On Up

Tate Taylor's (The Help) ultra-Pop presentation of the musician James Brown is nothing less than virtuosic, with all the elements of a graphic novel while giving the highlights of Brown's life with a sense of danger, magic and festivity.

This is the larger than life man and as played by Chadwick Boseman (42), nothing is spared with a performance that very nearly reaches a blood-boiling incarnation.

Director Taylor has the daring verve to offer his biography as a series of moving collages that puts Brown's adventure into graphic illustration, with each vignette more poignant and humorous than the last.

Here he is in a helicopter in Vietnam under attack (Boom! Boom! Boom! ). Here he is onstage rising as if conjured by sorcery from the chants of US Marines. At the conclusion of most every segment, the adult Brown is brought back in the body of a child to witness his violent origins where events were often volatile and scary.

His mother (Viola Davis) was often beaten in full view of him and at one point he sees his father firing a gun at her.

The mother leaves.

A young  Brown passively enters a splintered and crooked church. Loud screeches and whirling bodies move past, while an intimidating high- hatted man yelps a manic gospel in the center of the floor, his body locked in a spastic charade, while his long, pointed and curving fingernails indicate eerie motions of the vampire and warlock, fear and awe.

Brown is a spacey, space-traveller, wide eyed, wise and open, forever taking refuge in the beat of sound that covers him like a cape.

The guns of war become the punches of his father which in turn become indistinguishable from the sounds of drum and horn.

Through it all, James Brown ages and performs as a perpetually running engine, never stopping, going, going, going, on and on and on. His iconic kneel onstage soon becoming the universal gesture for all of us, men women and children, shaken by war, racism and subjugation.

Yet, this poetical, lysergic man of locomotion is far from a saint; he sometimes transforms into a selfish and angry egotist, terribly smacking the woman he loves, Dee Dee Jenkins (Jill Scott).

The story doesn't shy away from Brown's devils and thankfully so when many music biographies are ultimately sugary and smoothed over.

The film is as vibrant and jumpy as its subject. Brown is shown as a passive divining rod, coming to life through the ghost of music like one possessed.

Brown is endlessly pursued by either cops or the mournful body of his mother and these two ingredients  prophecy no good.

Whether by spirit or fate, it is a wondrous thing that this man was  able to charm his feet and make power out of his high-hopping and maternal malevolence.

Above all, "Get On Up" highlights the power of music to combat pain, domestic violence, and racial hatred. James Brown is an amphetamine angel and a guerrilla soldier with groove, bringing positive and chimerical energies together when no politicians could.

Both his Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer) and the one time line cook  Little Richard (Brandon Mychal Smith) saw it written on the scroll of Space that James was going to become famous with a planetary pompadour as The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, fueled by Coca Cola and other uppers.

The featured music here is as enjoyable as the imagery, full bodied with rhythm and joy.

Chadwick Boseman in the title role, is a man of mean motion here, equally spaced out and sweating, emitting singed embers of perspiration.

This is truly James Brown in the flesh of a different body. To see "Get On Up" is to witness a pair of  famous and quivering  shoulders hunched in the act of repossessing a well known purple-laced cloak of silver lamé.

Write Ian at

Week of August 22 to August 28 (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Tropic Cinema Offers Forgiveness, Music, Thrills, Food, and Magic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Yes, the five films playing this week at the Tropic are totally different, a grab bag of cinematic themes. But each has its own appeal.

New to Tropic screens is “Calvary,” the story of an Irish priest whose life is threatened in the confessional by a man who claims to be a childhood victim of abuse by a priest. Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is targeted because he’s a good man whose death will have more impact on the church than a bad one. Will forgiveness save him? Seattle Times says the film “serves as a marvelous showcase for Gleeson, a great old-lion actor who shows, in the film's many close-ups, a quiet, weary yet unbending faith, and a face on which emotion can play like a wave on the beach.” And Austin Chronicle calls it “a film that will needle its way into your psyche.”

Rocking the house is “Get On Up,” the musical biopic about James Brown (well portrayed by Chadwick Boseman). From Brown’s turbulent childhood to his turbulent adulthood, you’ll see his life in flashbacks … including the historic T.A.M.I show where he upstaged the Rolling Stones. (Note: Mick Jagger is one of the film’s producers.) Killer Movie Reviews says, “It is as kinetic and as kaleidoscopic as the radical new approach to music Brown introduced.” And Christian Science Monitor observes that “the Brown who emerges from this film has a monstrous ego to go with his monster talent.”

Action fans have “Lucy.” Here is Scarlett Johansson as a woman who exhibits super powers after a drug sewed into her stomach by smugglers is ruptured. Morgan Freeman is cast as the scientist who best understands how her mental abilities have been enhanced by this dose of CPH4. Little White Lies queries, “Who remembers the last good Luc Besson movie? Time to reset that particular clock, as he’s returned with a stormer.” And Irish Independent calls it “a brash, breezy and breathlessly paced thriller.”

Holding over is “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” a foodilicious treat. Helen Mirren is the owner of a French restaurant who is faced with an Indian eatery opening up across the street. It’s a rom-com of sorts, as she battles with papa while the promising young Indian cook woos her sous-chef. Herald Sun says, “The culinary craft on display is indeed mouth-watering, but it is the film's winning collection of wonderful characters that will truly satisfy all tastes.” But Common Sense Media boils it down to: “Cultures clash in the kitchen in warm family drama.”

And wrapping it up is Woody Allen’s new entry, “Magic In the Moonlight.” Here a famous magician (Colin Firth) sets out to expose a fake medium (Emma Stone) at the peril of his own empty heart. Austin American-Statesman notes that “love makes the magic in Woody Allen’s latest movie.” And Ozus’ World Movie Reviews concludes, “The 78-year-old’s 44th film … though weak, is still better than most films out there.”

That’s this week’s grab bag at the Tropic. Reach in and take out a prize.

Lucy (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Scarlett Johansson
Seals the Deal as an
Action Star in “Lucy”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Sure, we’d be happy just listening to the computerized purr of her voice in “Her.” But there’s a physical side to Scarlett Johansson too. She’s the only two-time winner of Esquire Magazine’s “Sexiest Woman Alive.” And her movies have ranged from historical (“Girl With a Pearl Earring,” “The Other Boleyn Girl”) to Woody Allen films (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “Matchpoint”) to acclaimed indies (“Lost in Translation,” “Under the Skin”). And lately she’s turned to blockbuster actioners (three Marvel Comics movies with a fourth in the works).

If there’s any question about her bone fides as a butt-kicking action hero, “Lucy” should seal the deal. This French-American sci-fi thriller from Luc Besson (“Taken,” “Leon: The Professional”) is playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

In it, Johansson stars as the titular Lucy, a young woman who works as a mule smuggling drugs for a Taipei mob. Problem is, a new drug sewed inside her body starts leaking and its effects are startling: next thing Lucy knows, she has superhuman abilities. You see, the drug allows her to use a greater part of her brain.

She can stop thugs in their tracks with a flick of a finger, move objects with her mind, ignore pain, and instantaneously absorb massive amounts of information. These abilities make the all-powerful computer program that Johansson voiced in “Her” seem like a piker.

Lucy’s wary ally is Professor Norman, cagily played by Morgan Freeman. In addition to all his great film roles (“Driving Miss Daisy,” “Million Dollar Baby”) Freeman gave us that brainy TV series “Through the Wormhole, a Discovery Channel program that explained scientific mysteries.

What Professor Norman fails to tell us in the movie is that it’s actually a myth that humans use only 10 percent of their brain. The idea being that using the other 90 percent would unlock great mental powers. Not so. The physiology of brain mapping suggests that most, if not all, areas of the brain have an active function.

Scarlett Johansson doesn’t claim to be a Brainiac in real life. Taking about her SAT scores, she says: “I think the way it worked when I took them was that they were out of 1,600, so maybe you’d get a 1,240 if you were a smarty-pants. I got a 1,080, which was pretty low. But that was probably because I didn't answer half of the math questions.”

Ah, if only she’d had that Taiwanese super drug she could have scored high enough to be accepted to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. But, as moviegoers, it’s our gain that she was not accepted. It allowed her to concentrate on her film career.

Note: I used to be an adjunct associate professor at New York University. I used to joke that I liked teaching at a school that wouldn’t have accepted me a student.

Hmm, maybe I should look into using more of my brain.

The Hundred Foot Journey (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Hundred-Foot Journey”
Is a Trip to the Kitchen

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Food is the new pornography. Picture it: Zucchini sizzling in a frying pan. Butter melting over squash. Flipping a magically seasoned omelet. Baking the perfect souffle. Stirring a bubbling sauce that’s to die for. Chefs abuzz in the kitchen. Lovers tasting the perfect wine.

Movies about food are very popular these days. Witness Jon Favreau’s “Chef.” The upcoming “Le Chef.” And the current foodie favorite, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” -- which is playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Sure, there have been other great movies about food, ranging from “Big Night,” to “Eat Drink Man Woman,” even Disney’s “Ratatouille.”

However, the seminal example of food as sex can be found in “Tom Jones,” the 1963 Tony Richardson film based on the Henry Fielding novel. Therein the rascally Jones (a young Albert Finney) engages in an orgiastic feast with a lusty matron (Joyce Redman), The two devour one course after another with mounting intensity, nibbling on chicken bones, snapping lobster claws, gorging on pears, sucking down oysters.

“The Hundred-Food Journey” is a bit more sedate, but no less sensual when it comes to ogling food. Madame Mallory (wonderfully portrayed by Helen Mirren) is the proprietress of a celebrated French restaurant, but her equilibrium is shattered when the Kadam family opens up an Indian eatery next door. Aside from this territorial dispute (culinary, not geological), we also have a culture clash (“France for the French”), but one that gets settled, as you might imagine, by the taste buds.

Directed by Lasse Hallström (“The Cider House Rules,” “Chocolat”), this is also a rom-com on two differing levels: Madame Mallory (Mirren) and Papa (Om Puri), her sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) and the gifted young Indian chef Hassan (Manish Dayal). The chemistry between the four actors is like the recipe for a deliciously seasoned entrée.

We can ascribe much of this haute-cuisine movie trend to foodies, those yuppie and preppies who seem to worship the culinary gods. They frequent trendy restaurants. Shop at whole food markets. Cook magnificent (and often healthful) meals. Sample fine wines. And revel in watching movies featuring food as an objet de lust.

But beware where all this can lead: High cholesterol … or an encounter with food like the one in “American Pie.”

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Week of August 15 to August 21 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Five Magical Films Fill Tropic Cinema Screens

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Yes, you can set your watch by Woody Allen, with few exceptions delivering a new movie each year like clockwork. This time it’s about magic. Not the time-traveling magic we found with “Midnight in Paris” or the off-the-screen fantasy of “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” but rather the magic of romance. Here in this 44th film from Woody Allen -- “Magic in the Moonlight” -- a curmudgeonly magician (Colin Firth) sets out to expose a mystic (Emma Stone) and finds love. Globe and Mail says, “The cinematography is radiant, the vintage cars and costumes are elegant, and if the comedy feels labored, it’s all too lightweight to matter.” And Mountain Xpress describes it as “A sparkling champagne cocktail of a romantic comedy only Woody Allen could make.”

“The Hundred-Foot Journey” has a magic of its own, a culinary experience where culture clashes are settled by good food and a seasoning of romance. Helen Mirren leads a Bollywood cast in this epicurean rom-com. Christian Science Monitor notes that director Lasse Hallström “follows the foodie-cinema aesthetic by filming the dishes in a gleaming sumptuousness designed to make you famished.” And Herald Sun adds, “The culinary craft on display is indeed mouth-watering, but it is the film’s winning collection of wonderful characters that will truly satisfy all tastes.”

“Boyhood” remains a feat of patient filmmaking, director Richard Linklater taking 12 years to make a movie about a Texas boy (Ellar Coltrane) growing to manhood despite a troubled mix-em-and-match-em home life. Detroit News proclaims, “Linklater has crafted what may be the most ingenious film of the century here and given it a tone like no other.” And Ozus’ World Movie Reviews calls it “one of the great films of modern times.”

The late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final movie is a murky spy thriller based on the John Le Carre novel, “A Most Wanted Man.” In it, a German spymaster finds himself in competition with his own people as well as the American CIA. Matt’s Movie Reviews describes it as “a contemporary tale of terrorism and intelligence gathering that is as thrilling as it is relevant.” And Richard Roeper calls it “one of the best spy thrillers in recent years.”

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the 3D sequel to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a retelling of the franchise that started with Charlton Heston discovering the Statue of Liberty buried in sand. Yep, apes rule the world. Forbes sees it as “an entertaining and intelligent piece of popcorn entertainment,” while Slate calls it “one of the most intelligent and entertaining big-studio releases of the summer so far.”

Five films -- all with a degree of cinematic magic about them.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

A New Dawn for
“Planet of the Apes”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

20th Century Fox isn’t monkeying around here. They are quite serious about resurrecting the old “Planet of the Apes” franchise. As you’ll recall there were 6 movies in the series that began in 1968 with Charlton Heston as an astronaut stranded on a planet ruled by sentient simians. It was quite a ride.

In 2011 the series got rebooted (read: started over) with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” This time around it was James Franco as an ape- friendly biotech scientist who raises a super-smart chimp named Caesar. Seems Caesar’s mother had been injected with an Alzheimer’s test drug called ALZ-112. It had side effects. That story didn’t end well, with Caesar leading an ape rebellion.

Now we have the second outing, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” It’s currently playing in 3D at the Tropic Cinema.

Ten years later (in movie time) we have a ragtag group of humans who have survived the ALZ-112 virus. Malcolm (Jason Clark) wants to form a detente with the apes who now rule the planet. However, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) wants to kill all the apes in revenge of the death of his wife and sons. Needless to say, a warring faction led by Dreyfus soon breaks the fragile truce between man and monkey.

The star of these two redo’s is, of course, Caesar. While the rendering of the ape is accomplished through motion-capture CGI, the acting is by Andy Serkis. He has made quite a career of playing animated creatures. From the giant gorilla in the “King Kong” remake to the Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit” movies, it’s this little-recognized British actor doing the grunting and screeching.

As film critic Roger Ebert observed about “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”: “One never knows exactly where the human ends and the effects begin, but Serkis and/or Caesar gives the best performance in the movie.”

The Hollywood Reporter agrees, but noted that this sequel even surpasses the first: “’Dawn’ is to ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ what ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ was to ‘Star Wars’ -- it’s that much better.”

My moviegoing pals and I share that opinion. But then we like any movie with Gary Oldman.

That said, we still prefer that original “Planet of the Apes,” cheesy as it was. That denouement where Heston encounters the ruins of the Statue of Liberty buried in the sand is a classic cinematic moment. (No, we didn’t think it necessary to offer a spoiler alert for a film that’s nearly half a century old.)

The topsy-turvy concept was based on a French novel titled “La Planète des singes” (or “Monkey Planet”) by Pierre Boulle. Come to think of it, 20th Century Fox is indeed monkeying around.

Magic in the Moonlight (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movie

“Magic in the Moonlight”
Is Woody Allen’s Latest
Cinematic Sleight of Hand

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Time and again I have read “Inside the Mediums Cabinet.” It is a classic tome in which the famous magician Joseph Dunninger debunks the tricks of spiritualists and seers. He wrote, “…neither science or religion belongs within the medium’s cabinet. Sham is the only dweller behind those tight-closed curtains. It masks as pseudo-science; it voices false religion. The wise are not deceived.”

Harry Houdini did the same thing, unmasking impostors who claimed mystical powers. The pursuit cost him his friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a great believer in spiritualism.

And even today, magician James Randi (The Amazing Randi) has a standing offer of $1,000,000 to anyone who can demonstrate any paranormal or occult powers that he cannot match with trickery.

That’s kind of the plot of Woody Allen’s new movie, “Magic in the Moonlight.” It’s currently doing its sleight-of-hand performance at the Tropic Cinema.

This year has been a particularly tough one for 78-year-old Woody Allen. He faced an ugly controversy, the renewed accusations that he molested his daughter Dylan Farrow when she was a young child. He has denied the charges.

Nonetheless, this public brouhaha did not dissuade him from faithfully releasing his once-a-year film, this one the story of a famous stage magician (portrayed by Colin Firth) who is asked to expose a mystic (Emma Stone) who is preying on a wealthy family.

Wei Ling Soo, as the magician is professionally known, doffs his Oriental disguise and travels to the Côte d'Azur (a scenic location for a movie) to debunk this false prophet.

Normally a skeptic and confirmed curmudgeon, our man Stanley can’t help but fall for the beautiful young clairvoyant as she displays the uncanny ability to read his past. Like Saul on the road to Damascus, he undergoes an epiphany, publicly professing that his lifelong rationalism has been misguided. He is elated to be at looking at the world with new eyes.

But what would he think if he knew Sophie was really a charlatan, just as he’d originally suspected? Ah, that is the pivoting point of this magical rom-com from the Woodman.

“I was an amateur magician as a boy,” Woody Allen tells us. “I loved everything about magic and I did know in the history of magic that Houdini was somebody who would debunk spirit mediums who took advantage of people and took their money and preyed on them. And I thought it would make an interesting story to take a spirit medium and a scientific, more sophisticated magician and have him fall in love with this fraud. And it would lead to a good situation.”

So how did he pull off this cinematic legerdemain? “I hired two very, very good people. Colin Firth, who is brilliant and Emma who is fabulous. I got out of the way and let them do their thing.”

Woody Allen is well known for not over-directing his actors. He says the trick is in choosing his stars well. “I enjoy writing. I enjoy making the films. I enjoy spending the days with people like Emma Stone and Colin Firth, or Scarlett Johansson, or Naomi Watts, or Penelope Cruz. It’s a good way to make a living and I look forward to it so I keep doing it.”

And each year, he pulls another rabbit out of the hat.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) takes the helm from Rupert Wyatt, with a startling sequel to the first Planet of the Apes film, entitled "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes". The result is a gripping, visceral and very emotional addition with topical parallels to our current world.

A simian flu has throttled the globe. Humans are vanishing and apes, of all shapes and sizes have their own society. As depicted, it is a huge treehouse city in California.

The humans have taken refuge in a giant defunct warehouse near what resembles Chinatown.

The humans are organized by one Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) a war like vet who still feels he is in combat. The humans need electricity. The ape friendly relief worker, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) steps in to hopefully offer a compromise to the apes and avert a war.

The apes are headed by the genius Caesar (Andy Serkis) who was a baby chimp in the first film and is now a (mostly) benevolent leader, given his human-infused education.

Tensions rise when human guns are brought in to the mix and a debate arises regarding human trust.

Central to the film's spirit is Andy Serkis whose bodily poetry is nothing less than transcendent in bringing Caesar to life.

These are no mere digital creatures but rather animated and emotional beings. Despite the apocalyptic trappings which makes the "hook," the core of "Dawn" is its emotional resonance. The tension and suspense ranks with the best Spielberg cliffhangers of the 80s when cinematic thrills were in their heyday.

There is a malicious Bonobo named Koba (Toby Kebbell) who takes on the guise of a tribal warlord. While on the human side, Dreyfus acts the fascist with a human-centric society.

Several analogies can be made here, chief among them being the plight of the Native Americans, but the story also touches on terrorism, the issue of preemptive strikes and perhaps, the quest for Palestine and Israel to exist in peace.

Suffice to say, independence and power are universal strivings for all carbon-based life forms.

Above all else, some very tangible pathos and energy suffuses every aspect of this Saturday Matinee film.

Simply put, we forget the technology entirely. During the film's motion, these rhythmic entities are no soulless entities, but living apes.


In watching, the emotion evoked produces questions. What are are responsibilities as humans. Are the apes really less evolved than us? Or are they our contemporaries? And, just maybe, they are superior.

No, you don't have to reflect deeply on this film. Yet the possibilities are there.

One deep look from Caesar and a singular scorned reproach from Koba, recalling the very real existence of scientific torture by experimentation, is reflexively saddening and genuinely paining. Such scenes will have one lamenting our petty self-centered acts, a long tale of woe that still endures.

Yet all is not gloom. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" makes for terrific episodic entertainment in the tradition of  "Star Trek" and Indiana Jones. It just might recall the kitschy 1970s to be sure but gone are the days of one hammy Charlton Heston and his xenophobic histrionics.

This is the age where simian IQ is no Halloween masquerade and our ape ancestors are equal in desire, struggle and empathy.

Here, Here! Awareness has indeed arrived under the conjurer's trick of a thrilling film, and it is not a moment too soon.

Write Ian at

Magic in the Moonlight (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Magic in the Moonlight

The iconic Woody Allen gives a one-handed playful doodle on film. The self- consciously titled "Magic in the Moonlight" drips upon the eyes smoothly enough with some charm, but has little lasting comic effect.

The beloved actor Colin Firth plays Stanley, an effete magician and pessimist in the 1920s who charades as the persona Wei Ling Soo, a Chinese master.

After a self-critical performance, Stanley is summoned by his bookish friend Howard (Simon McBurney) to investigate a young psychic Sophie (Emma Stone). The stentorian and snide Stanley can't wait to shred the idealistic and bright girl who has delighted the showy and squarish Brice (Hamish Linklater).

Stanley, a dramatic fizz of a character composed of Noel Coward and Cary Grant, starts in with clipped and cutting mockeries. Sophie withers at first, but soon becomes entranced by the cynical conjurer who is innerly vexed by his lackluster life. With each rolling insult and back-handed compliment, Sophie delivers the correct clairvoyant information, and the acidic but watery-eyed Stanley grows fascinated.

A verbal sparring match ensues with lots of drawing room dialogue and chirping. Sophie gets increasingly wide eyed and less reserved, and Stanley creates ruses to meet Sophie in secret, in a nod to Owen Wilson's behavior in Allen's "Midnight in Paris."

Director Allen is more conceptual here, intending to re-create some of the William Powell / Carole Lombard comedies of the 30s, with an obvious Cary Grant-ish dapper sophistication. One does however, want for a little more meat; the vignettes feel too glossy and rushed over with a mere pinkie finger of character development.

The repartee is airy, accompanied with a striped and silky color, along with few notable lines. Some of the situations have a processed feel as if taken from other Allen films from "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" (given the quirky sneaks) to "Play It Again, Sam" and "Annie Hall" (with the character's hapless second guessing, his hold on fixed ideals and the lust for a vivacious innocent).

Colin Firth retains some congenial verve and likability as does Emma Stone.

There is one nice scene, when after praying, Stanley regains his scientific resolve in saying to Sophie that "only God can forgive her."

"I thought you said that there is no God."

"And that is my point," replies Stanley.

For the most part though, the leers, lopes, wrinkles and worries in the hither and thither run a little uniform.

This is an easy romantic race of push-me pull-you along the now familiar Allen path.

Once again, the beautiful cinematography by Darius Khondji is worth seeing showing the South of France in its creamy and salty sparkle.

The acting of Firth holds all of "Magic in the Moonlight".

The easy exchanges whiz by as sweet as Chick O Sticks on an Alfa Romeo holiday and the all too pat ending plays for some titters that everyone can see ahead, miles away.

Such slight spirit has not been Allen's haunt for some time. While this makes for easy play, it is done with such an obvious laze that it seems like automatic filming for a masterful director.

"Magic in the Moonlight" hangs about somewhat indifferently in a passing Mediterranean breeze. Dependably bubbling in a happy froth it is, yet one craves for a more corporeal body to be found within this wispy and almost whispering script.

Write Ian at

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Boyhood (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


The singular director Richard Linklater hits big with nothing less than a human epic. "Boyhood" is a visual roman a clef, as subtle and introspective as it is personal.

Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is a six year old boy, nervous and reticent over his parents divorce. This is very much a concept film, given that we follow Mason along with his mom, Olivia(Patricia Arquette) his dad, Mason (Ethan Hawke) and his sister, Samantha (Linklater's own daughter Lorelei) for the space of twelve actual years, in what is very close to real time.

Following a group of fictional characters, aside from the documentary series "28 Up" by Michael Apted, has never been done.

In this film, we sense what it actually feels like for a young person to mature and it unfolds before our eyes like a Texas cactus.

Faced with domestic unrest, Mason retreats into himself. His mother meets a militaristic and headstrong teacher who at first seems engaging and fun, but soon turns violent with alcoholic rage.

The wonder of it all, is in its softness and delicate detail that spins in the camera with the short pungency of haiku: we see Mason in long takes arguing with the authenticity of a person in his private space. We see these characters doing what is often unthinkable---being bored.

At times, when Mason is pensive and lethargic the story moves like a rhythmic tome, at others when the camera winds in between doorways to show a rabid and frothing  stepfather, the story has the percussiveness of a psychological horror story.

Mason has a great range here from a fledgling curious kid, mischievous tween, a disaffected teen and then to a young adult, nearly obsessed by national paranoia.

Samantha too evolves from a kind, idealistic young girl, to a self centered monotone teen, and then moves a bit outside her shell again.

In addition to its people, this is also very much a story of America.

We are bombarded at first by some mechanized and aggressive imagery from the Manga on TV to the gulf war, but through the course of the story, technology's death grip on culture lessens, if ever so slightly, though Mason's lament on intimacy in cyberspace.

The father oscillates from a bohemian disordered lay-about to a straight laced, semi-religious person who sells insurance.

It is a rare thing that every character moves with organic bends and stops---as life often does---no one character rings false.

The state of Texas in all its plaid homophobia and desolation is seen here as it is, or might be, in some populations. There are churches, bars, white-supremacy houses, and blue grass jamborees. But like a human being, Texas, the place transforms as well, with blue and red orbits of Obama signs that sprout on lawns like lollipops.

Better yet, there is enough here to make us ponder and reflect within the film. There is just as much not known about Mason and his parents as there is revealed and that is what is rare.

Mason emerges to us as a friend on a Texas street deep within the western suburbs where clusters of taciturn, hooded kids barely mumble hello. We follow him, sticking to the camera and Mason in turn, stares at us with his camera.

We can't pull away.

When Mason's deep voice finally emerges as a young adult, the fact that we have watched this boy from age six, sneaks up on us all and hits us like a slug from a 30 ought 6.

"Boyhood" is a rich and thoughtful film that unfolds like a novel, yet it also entertains and playfully toys throughout (as if its three hour  running time is a daring aside to audiences)

Don't let the film's scope intimidate you. "Boyhood" is very much a poetic meditation on Ray Bradbury's evocative "Dandelion Wine" and it is sure to leave you with many questions, not only regarding its characters, but more compellingly, on the nature of film as it is predominantly consumed today.

Write Ian at

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Auteur Lasse Hallstrom directs the affectionate "The Hundred-Foot Journey," a sugar-glazed culture clash film that turns the blazing tensions of professional cooking into a "It's a Small World" Disney trip and makes it all seem smooth and effortless.

The Indian Kadam family has relocated to France, after losing their restaurant and enduring the loss of their mother, who died in a fire.

Papa (the iconic actor Om Puri) is as solid as a rock and gets an idea to have a restaurant along the French countryside. He knows this is The Way. After all, his son Hassan (Manish Dayal) has numinous culinary  gifts. He can transcend the spirit world through his salivary glands and communicate to curried ghosts, both near and far.

Papa wanders about the grounds, discovering a big house with an open courtyard.

It's kismet.

But alas, the location is next door to Le Saule Pleureur, a haute cuisine  showplace, helmed by Madame Mallory, (Helen Mirren) an icy straight arrow who is a fusion of Cruella de Vil and Julia Child.

Mallory declares "war" on the new Romantic family, buying all the produce so the Kadams have little to work with and she stuffily complains about exuberant Indian music.

There is a silver lining in this cauliflower-shaped cloud however, as Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) a vivacious sous-chef as adorable as  Ariel in "The Little Mermaid", takes a fetching interest in the gentle Hassan.

A battle of wills commence.

There is a commentary on anti-immigrant hostility when a nationalist chef Jean-Pierre (Clement Sibony) attempts to burn the restaurant down in one of the more interesting passages of the film.

While "The Hundred-Foot Journey borrows a bit from other Eastern-themed underdog films such as "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Million Dollar Arm," the visual sweep within this film is a treat that works. And while "The Hundred-Foot Journey"  is, no doubt, pure Hollywood thru and thru, it is almost a period piece, given that it highlights and catalogs the magic of Steven Spielberg; he is the producer and his mark is clearly seen.

In showcasing golden sauces that pour over our eyes like light from an edible sun, its depiction of colorful curries that froth and swirl like calico candies of LSD, and last but not least, huge red peppers that pulse in an almost animated motion like the dismembered hearts in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," this film illustrates the liveliness of food within its gustatory circus.

And although it is predictable, we still get a charge in seeing Hassan go to Paris, attempting to break down the molecular science of "quantum cuisine," to discover past spirits and meet with ghosts.

Yes, this is a Disney version of the hard nosed dog eat dog world as seen in "Chef," but it is so unapologetically sentimental (from the fireworks on cue, to Papa and daughter looking ridiculous but acting earnestly in a gold turban and a shimmering sari ) that you end up smiling in spite of all.

With all of the Franco-Indian fairy dust heaped in tablespoons as if left by "Aladdin", "Mary Poppins" and "Ratatouille", "The Hundred-Foot Journey" still creates a perfect food-fusion sleight of hand with hints of Bollywood spice in this blissful, yet cinematic Béchamel.

Write Ian at

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Week of August 8 to August 14 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Twelve Years and One Hundred Feet Go In Tropic Cinema’s New Fare

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

The movie promo could read “Twelve Years in the Making!” -- for that’s exactly how long it took director Richard Linklater to film “Boyhood,”  a mosaic about the life of a Texas family (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette). However, the film’s focus is on Ellas Coltrane, the kid he signed for the movie back in 2000. Watching Coltrane grow from boy to man is like amazing time-lapse photography. Newsday says, “Richard Linklater's latest feels more like living a life than watching a movie.” And Creative Loafing calls it “a work that easily breaks free of the shackles of ‘just a gimmick’ and emerges as a superb motion picture in its own right.”

Also new to Tropic screens is “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” a delightful foodie film starring Helen Mirren as the proprietress of a snooty French restaurant who isn’t happy when an Indian café moves in across the street. Directed by Lasse Hallström, this comedy will tickle your tummy as well as your funny bone. Variety observes that “it contrasts the heat and intensity of Indian cooking with the elegance and refinement of French haute cuisine, then balances the two with a feel-good lesson in ethnic harmony.” And Village voice calls it “almost embarrassingly enjoyable.”

“And So It Goes,” which is holding over, appeals to baby boomers with its sweet tale about a crusty realtor (Michael Douglas) and a weepy songstress (Diane Keaton) who find each other at an age others are thinking of retiring. Director Rob Reiner makes a cameo as Keaton’s sometimes suitor and piano accompanist. says, “These legendary stars don’t disappoint in their first screen teaming.” And Urban Cinefile describes it as a “discerningly funny rom-com with a pedigree.”

Another comedy is “Tammy,” a road trip movie that’s tailored for Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon. Playing a down-on-her-luck daughter and an out-of-control foul-mouthed mother, the pair has great chemistry. Forbes calls it “Melissa McCarthy at her best, frank and raw but in a much more honest way than we've seen before.” And Real Film Reviews describes it as “a decent comedy/drama that hopefully marks McCarthy's first step towards a more varied selection of roles.”

And the dramatic high point of the week is “A Most Wanted Man,” a John Le Carre espionage tale about German spies trying to recruit an agent. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in his last role as the enigmatic spymaster. Impulse Garner says “This slow-burning film about surveillance asks moral questions regarding how long we must contain our racial and prejudicial impulses before acting on our suspicions.” And Richard Roeper calls it "one of the best spy thrillers in recent years."

Yes, lots of reasons to spend your extra hours at the Tropic.

Boyhood (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movie

Linklater’s “Boyhood”
Is Collection of Moments

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You read about quickie films made in a matter of days. For instance, Roger Corman shot “Little Shop of Horrors” in two days and one night. Steven Spielberg  reportedly shot “Duel” in 10 days plus pickups.

But filmmaker Richard Linklater is different. He takes the long view. Linklater’s famous trilogy (“Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” and “Before Midnight”) was filmed in three installments over 18 years.

And now Richard Linklater gives us “Boyhood,” a film shot intermittently over a 12-year period, following along as a boy named Ellar Coltrane grew from childhood to adulthood.

“Boyhood” is now playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Back in 2000 Linklater announced he was beginning the then-unnamed film. He stated, “I’ve long wanted to tell the story of a parent–child relationship that follows a boy from the first through the 12th grade and ends with him going off to college. But the dilemma is that kids change so much that it is impossible to cover that much ground. And I am totally ready to adapt the story to whatever he is going through.”

So he hired seven-year-old Ellar Coltrane to play the boy as the centerpiece for his unfolding story. He added his own daughter Lorelei Linklater, because she was handy. And teamed up with his frequent star Ethan Hawke (they’ve made eight movies together) and Patricia Arquette.

Shot in annual increments, the result is like watching time lapse photography, with everybody actually aging (particularly the boy) over a dozen-year span.

Like most Linklater films, the plot is minimalist. We get a meandering story of Mason Sr. (Hawke) and Olivia (Arquette) and their two kids (Coltraine and Linklater), following along as the parents separate and remarry, often making bad choices that affect the children’s sense of family. Mason Jr. grows up, has his own relationships, eats hash brownies, goes off to college. In the end, the boy observes that each moment in life is “right now.”

Linklater describes ”Boyhood” as “this little collection of moments that probably doesn’t fit into most movies. They’re not advancing the character enough or the story enough or the plot but they all add up to something much bigger than each little place and each little piece of it so that was kind of the feel of the whole movie, that it mirrors our lives.”

Ethan Hawke adds that it’s “an epic about minutiae.”

The project’s successful, kind of in the same way “Seinfeld” was a TV show “about nothing.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tammy (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


In what might have passed with some chuckles if other Melissa McCarthy features were not seen, "Tammy" co-written by the usually very funny McCarthy and directed by her husband Ben Falcone is choppy, derivative and just falls flat.

McCarthy is Tammy, a boisterous woman down on her luck. She just got canned from a fast food job and her hubby, the uninteresting Greg (Nat Faxon) cheats on her openly.

A slobbering Tammy wreaks havoc wherever she goes, knocking burgers over and throwing food. More than a few times, the running joke is that Tammy spills things: pepper shakers, bottles, and cutlery. She puts dandruff a pot of mayo.

None of it is funny, precisely because the theatrics are only due to  Tammy being obnoxious and overweight. Precious little of the humor is delivered through the character on an emotional level so all we get are the same old sight gags of McCarthy, bumping her belly about while yelling and cursing and it  all runs thin.

The genuinely silly sight of Tammy wearing a fast food sack on her head  (while it is, at first, fun) runs cold because the gag is overplayed twice.

Here is McCarthy's persona repeated once more: surly, bumbling and uncoordinated.

Ok. So. We get it. Again.

Tammy has had enough and she hits the road with her suburban grandmama (Susan Sarandon) who, in her heart of hearts wants to sow her wild oats, as older folks yearn to do in countless other comedies. Sarandon's character is so obvious and plainly delivered that it never seems convincing. She has gray hair and fat swollen ankles from diabetes, but these traits are played cheaply, rather than conveying any spirit or explanation, where true comedy originates.

Aside from some mildly ha-ha lines from McCarthy as she swaggers about thinking herself a femme fatale man eater, these are all situations from "The Heat", to "Identity Thief". McCarthy is very physical and does display some comedic staccato wordplay with timing but there is not enough of it.

The actors Allison Janney, Kathy Bates and Dan Aykroyd are here but they make mere bland cameos with little zest.

A Viking funeral for a jet-ski?


As grandma Pearl is on the road with Tammy slugging beer and knocking over cows, the noisy uniformity just becomes static.

This cartoon has little color, because no character is very fresh or originally played.

The slight poignancy between Tammy and Pearl as they travel together loses punch. All is done in broad strokes, glossed over with a sitcom patina.

The indie film creator Mark Duplass appears as Tammy's love interest but his role is also dull and ill-fitting as he tries to handle such ridiculousness ultra-straight.

Melissa McCarthy is a genuinely funny person, but she is not showing herself in a funny way with her incarnation of Tammy.

If you haven't seen any of her other films you may get a snicker or two, otherwise you will just shake your head and wonder why "Tammy" is just another loud and sloppy  character with scarcely little interest or verve.

write Ian at

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Most Wanted Man (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

A Most Wanted Man

Dutch master Anton Corbijn, (The American) a poet of images which are strikingly and invariably tinted in slate gray, got his start directing provocative videos for U2 and Nirvana. His trademarks of vast cement spaces, anything but vacant, have a watchful and pensive quality. Even his sterile rectangles have eyes.

We have these hypnotic qualities expressed again in "A Most Wanted Man,," Corbijn's latest thriller.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is Gunther, the head of a covert anti-terrorist team, driven by turns with ambition and fear. Hoffman in his role is a kind of inflated jellyfish, pale and flaccid with a thousand eyes. In his incarnation of Gunther, he surfs the nether zone of Hamburg to catch what he can, eerily melting into the gray, seaweed browns, and turgid greens of the director's palette.

A speck of silver, like a dangerous falling star, lights up his phone.

A young soiled man in a wet hoodie ( Grigoriy Dobrygin) has dragged himself along Hamburg's banks supposedly seeking asylum as a Chechen.

Gunther is immediately on alert, his ashy white eyebrows rising in wait.

But he has other eyes on him.

Rival agent Mohr (a scary bureaucratic Rainer Bock) wants this grunge-dude before he contacts possible terror groups while Gunther wants to wait, having a chance to catch a bigger target, the soft-spoken and distinguished Professor Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi).

There is also a frosty agent Martha (Robin Wright) who puts some soft screws on Gunther under the guise of some acid civility.

Gunther's existence becomes increasingly narrow and claustrophobic; he doesn't know where to go or who to trust. He moves in a subterranean realm. Gunther removes himself from the mortal square, half octopus, half shark, a cigarette his only breathing tube.

Daniel Bruhl appears as a human marker behind a monochrome screen. A human pencil who eternally watches. There is also a formal and detached banker (perfectly,  if predictably played by Willem Dafoe).

Rather then hit us with a slug and crunch as in the Bourne or Bond episodes, we are led as a camera in captivity within circular orbits where there is often little more than some half uttered phobias and squelched  sighs as a solitary camera looks on, myopic and inhuman.

These are people who exist behind walls and borders and plastic. They are blanched and not quite normal. Anton Corbijn is at his best in capturing this enervating and snickering world, polarized against the sloshing soup of Hamburg's canals, not to mention its generic and faceless buildings with angles as sharp as a shark, and shut windows that pose harsh accusals of no entrance.

"A Most Wanted Man" is terrific as a winding and visual garrote that subtlety seduces us with its snaky cinematography and then pulls us in by the neck, but symbolically and cinematically, the film can be seen as a final mirror of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the actor of a hundred faces, a thespian / spy who went to the underbelly of life to gather a wealth of dramatic intelligence and came up against an unpredictable and very personal double cross.

When his Gunther is left wheezing, overwhelmed and mortified from an unfortunate car, it is natural, perhaps, to think of Hoffman himself as the camera's perspective is left nonchalant and cast aside to follow Gunther / Hoffman as he walks away, bereft, detached, and ultimately resigned in whatever awaits.

Write Ian at

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Bicycling with Moliere (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Bicycling with Moliere

Philippe Le Guay (The Women on the 6th Floor) delivers another hit with the light and ebullient "Bicycling with Moliere". The film co-written by actor Fabrice Luchini (who plays the irascible Serge) is an Odd Couple vignette about two men who know each other so well they oscillate between affection and bitterness with each other, not to mention resentment and ribaldry.

Smooth silver fox Gauthier (Lambert Wilson) wishes to take a sabbatical from TV acting, traveling to the picturesque French hideaway of Île de Ré to talk to his old friend Serge.

Gauthier presses him to help bring Moliere to life, by acting in "The Misanthope" as Philinte.

The difficult needle-like Serge wants no part of it.

Gauthier persuades his cantankerous friend to at least read the script. Serge reluctantly agrees, then demands that he play the main character Alceste instead of a "minor" role.

Gauthier proposes that they alternate the roles and Serge concedes.

Throughout the film, Serge throws sarcasm at the inflated and George Hamilton-like actor while he tries to hold his own, via a scarf around the neck. Gauthier gets into a violent fight with a taxi driver (Stéphan Wojtowicz) and feels out-done by Serge in his pursuit of the vivacious Francesca (Maya Sansa)

Gauthier's egotistical pratfalls become more comical by the second.

This is a bon-vivant who is used to getting his way. Despite his celebrity role, he is no master thespian.

The tension, albeit of the tickling variety is in watching the contrast: the debonair Gauthier against the baggy and turtle-like Serge who also makes an excellent Beckett character. He accuses his friend of becoming a vain sellout, while Gauthier counters that he has no relevance to the audience and no persona.

In matters of Cupid, the film overtly echoes "Jules and Jim" with its sheepish love triangle.

While the drama expressed is often in kid gloves, there is some loud and physical stuff here, with Gauthier being a self obsessed prick even though he does care for his friend.

While at first we think Serge the shy hermit, under the brash cuts of Gauthier, he becomes more and more enraged at the parading of his friend.

Serge becomes the better actor.

This is a swift and  carbonated comedy that shows two affectionate rivals doing anything they can for their egos.

Each character in his own way is selfish, each is passionate.

The upper hand of poetry may well go to Serge, however. While the tanned and handsome Gauthier is dazzled by the stage lights of Alceste, Serge is left on a desolate beach to recite Moliere's lines in a charmed, but wistful urgency.

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