Thursday, December 31, 2015

Week of January 1 - 7 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Holiday Gift: More of a Good Thing at Tropic
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

What’s better than a good thing? More of a good thing. And we get that this week at the Tropic Cinema as it holds over six good movies.

“Joy” is drawing raves for star Jennifer Lawrence. Here she portrays Joy Mangano, the Long Island mom who became a multimillionaire by invention the Miracle mop -- despite the obstacles of a dysfunctional family, patent thieves, and no money. Detroit News sums it up, “It's all about Joy overcoming obstacles on her way to the American Dream and Lawrence imbues her with strength and resolve. The result is joyous indeed.” And Boston Herald adds, “Jennifer Lawrence is this generation's greatest female lead. Here's why.”

“Brooklyn” gives us a different type of girl, Saoirse Ronan as a young Irish immigrant who must choose between men and countries in her search for love. Film International gushes, “I can't spot a single thing wrong with Brooklyn. An Oscar-caliber package; start betting on victory for Ronan, at the least. Heart-warming, light-hearted, and perfectly poised. Simple. Beautiful. Lovely.”

And still a different type of woman is “The Danish Girl,” a transgender who chooses her inner self. Eddie Redmayne dresses up as Lili Elbe and Alicia Vikander shines as his/her patient wife Gerde. Little white Lies says, “Redmayne and Vikander, along with the film’s dusky flourishes, allow The Danish Girl to reach beyond the awards it was designed to win.” And is succinct: “Beautifully filmed, superb acting.”

“Spotlight” tells the true story of the Boston Globe journalist who ferreted out the Catholic Church sex scandal. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Rachel McAdams head up the ensemble cast. Aisle Seat describes the film as “riveting from its first second to its last. With a smart script, perfectly paced direction, and superb acting, this is a work that manages to be as entertaining as it is important.” And Daily Film Fix adds, “The journalistic process has never seemed more interesting nor more important.”

Meanwhile, “The Big Short” fictionalizes this film about the big housing credit crash. Ryan Gosling, Christian Bail Brad Pitt, and Steve Carell lead this ensemble cast. Toronto Sun observes, “Ultimately, The Big Short should outrage us, once we understand the sheer larceny that went on with other people's money, and which crippled the world economy. En route to that, it entertains us.” Globe and Mail  points out, “It’s funny because it's true. And it's tragic and frightening for the same reason.” And Miami Herald pegs it as “an angry, fiery movie disguised as a comedy.”

And finally -- just for the thrill of it -- is 007 in “Spectre,” the latest adventure in cinema’s longest-going spy series. Here James Bond confronts his past. Daniel Craig is suave as usual (with an edge of danger) and Christoph Waltz plays the villain. calls it “a solid, serious spy film that still has a playful glint in its eye.” And Mountain Xpress concludes that it's “either a return to form, a winking homage to the whole series, or a dumbing down of the angsty, introspective Bond of the Daniel Craig era. Choose up sides.” We assume all three.

Yes, six good films. As Oliver Twist said, More please.

Joy (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Joy” to the World On QVC Shopping Network
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Joy Mangano invented a self-wringing mop. She got rich selling it on the QVC shopping network. A film loosely based on her life as a divorced mother who becomes a successful entrepreneur is eponymously titled “Joy.” But rather than a biopic it’s more a Cinderella fairytale.

Jennifer Lawrence (that’s JLaw to her fans) stars as the young woman whose dreams got away from her as she deals with a dysfunctional family. This includes Joy’s divorced parents, a TV-obsessed mom and ne’er-do-well dad (Virginia Madsen and Robert DeNiro); competitive half-sister (Elizabeth Röhm); omniscient grandmother (Diane Ladd); ex-husband (Édgar Ramirez): dad’s rich Italian girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini): mom’s plumber boyfriend (Jimmy Jean-Louise); and supportive best friend (Dascha Polanco).

You can add her QVC boss (Bradley Cooper), the figurative prince who saves her. But in this tale of women’s self-empowerment, Joy goes a long way to save herself from a discouraging family, patent-infringing Texan, and the callous business world in general.

Toss in cameos that include QVC pitchwoman Joan Rivers (her daughter Melissa Rivers) and soap opera divas (Susan Lucci and Donna Mills).

You can find “Joy” plying her wares at the Tropic Cinema.

“When I met Joy, I was so inspired by her personality,” Jennifer Lawrence describes the real-life woman. “She has a very quiet power … and a really magnificent held-back strength.”

Today, Joy Mangano holds more than 100 patents for her inventions. These range from velvet-flocked, no-slip hangers to shoes with a rubber platform heel to a line of home odor neutralizers. “I think my products have been successful because they have mass appeal,” she says. “I’m just like everybody else out there. I’m a mom, I work, I have a house to clean, things to organize. We all have certain similar needs, and I address them.”

While Joy’s success in overcoming personal obstacles to become a multimillionaire inventor is meant to be inspirational, the movie itself is strangely joyless. Nonetheless, Jennifer Lawrence sells you on the movie just as surely as Joy Mangano sells people on mops.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Joy (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


David O. Russell (American Hustle) directs this quirky and mostly true story about Joy Mangano, the inventor of the first self-wringing mop. One might not think that a story about a household item would be worthy of a feature film, let alone watchable but the ensemble cast possesses just enough whimsy and force to keep your eyes happy.  Russell's lively Pop Art direction too, helps immensely.

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a woman under pressure. She likes working with her hands. Her mother always told her she would be a success, yet she is divorced with two kids. Her ex, Tony (Edgar Ramirez) and her father (Robert De Niro) live in the basement and fight constantly. Joy also lives with her agoraphobic mother (Virginia Madsen.) Day after day, Joy rushes to work behind an airport desk for Eastern Airlines, never knowing what domestic or financial obstacle will arrive upon her return.

One day, after she cuts herself on a boat trip, she gets an idea for an easy to use self-wringing mop with a detachable head that can be washed and used again, repeatedly. With her daughters crayons, Joy gets to work.  While the details may appear mundane, Jennifer Lawrence is full of verve and heart. The actor carries the film almost single handedly.

The vibrant cinematography by Linus Sandgren presents the film as if it's about a  gangster or an exotic race car, rather than a woman and a mop. Through it all, Joy Mangaro is plucky, driven and resolute. She simply won't take no for an answer.

Robert De Niro is believable, if quite predictable by now as the hot-head father who feels like he got the short end of the baseball bat. One can tell in an instant when he is going to snap and start smashing things, this is true, yet he acts the part.

Bradley Cooper is here once again as well as Neil Walker, a QVC shopping network executive who gives Joy a shot on TV, along with the spacey and somewhat surreal Isabella Rosselini as Trudi, Joy's father's girlfriend.

But in perhaps the most novel casting of all, Melissa Rivers appears in a cameo as her mother, the comedian Joan
Rivers. The stunning effect is at once haunted and heartfelt.

In the film, Neil Walker says that in the future "television will be about ordinary people." He was right.

The clever feint of "Joy" is that it gives us a   woman who under many eyes would seem run of the mill, but she is imbued with the heart of a gangster in realizing her vision at any price.

Write Ian at

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Danish Girl (Brockway0

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Danish Girl

Gender identity is at the core of our being, coloring our heart, our psyche and every aspect of life. It is basic and primal aspect of self, at once simple and complex. Gender is so elementary in human life that most of us may take the organic decision of whether we happen to be male or female for granted. At times though, our naturally given physical bodies fail to match with the mind and the spirit.

Director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) delivers a sensitive biopic  about the life of Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo sexual reassignment surgery from a man to a woman in 1926. At the start of the film, we observe Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) hard at work painting. He is calm and focused, possessing a diligent concentration in his landscapes.

Einar lives in his painting.

Gerda (Alicia Vikander) his wife is a portrait painter. Since she is creatively blocked, Gerda asks Einer to pose as a woman and he puts on stockings and ballet shoes.  Gerda wants more realism and the couple conjures an alternate persona for Einar, a lady named Lili. Einar inhabits Lili's emotional character and begins to relax into this new ego.

The following morning Einar realizes that he prefers the emotional body and shape of the female Lili, rather than the jittery and ill-fitting Einar. Gerda thinks that her husband is pre-occupied with a passing phase.

After a harmonic night in bed with Einar wearing Gerda's negligee, Einar becomes pale and solitary. He takes to the night in a dark hat and meets the enimatic Henrik (Ben Wishaw.) Seen in this way, Einar is a film noir anti-hero, one with the shadows with a heart filled by empty space.

Curiously, when Einar stops painting, Gerda starts. She uses Lili as a model and becomes inspired.

Eddie Redmayne is excellent in this role. More than anything else, the actor shows how it actually feels to be pained and uncomfortable in a mismatched body.

Alicia Vikander is terrifically on key as well with a compassion and understanding as well as a feline ferociousness. Her Gerda is  shut off from intimacies, yet conversely her creativity ignites and she begins a dialogue with the Lili that she paints again and again. Underneath Gerda's care and worry there is a lust to be a sparkling slyph  with Einar by her side, a living creature of Art Deco.

The imagery of the film complements the realism of its characters. Rows and rows of trees stand in contrast along a slate gray sky. The effect is one of Chinese calligraphy. In another shot, a clutter of uniformly yellow houses with pitched roofs  hang claustrophobically on the horizon as Lili strides past: a thin reed of nature born anew. The environs of Denmark may lean towards conformity, but its people have the potential to create a different story.

"The Danish Girl" is very much one of a kind, in that it is vivid, immersing and psychologically thorough. We witness some anguish and medical barbarism, but there is grace even in its grit when showing these outdated medical practices.

Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener at rock bottom were a decadent and creative couple. Passionate and restless with theatrical energy, the two became mirrors of one another, through painting and life. Lili pushed herself to become her one true creation, while Gerda is perpetually transfixed by the double reflections of her love: one of them passive, the other, daring, free and intimidating. Both of these personas fuse together within the courageous birth of Lili and Gerda's own painting.

Write Ian at

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Big Short (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Big Short

In what might seem like financial porn, given the unbridled greed that many of the characters display combined with cameos of Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) and pop star Selena Gomez, comic director Adam McKay offers a free wheeling and disturbing expose of the housing bubble which devastated millions in 2008.

"The Big Short" based on the book by Michael Lewis (Moneyball) is one part tragedy and one part comedy, yet all of it is compelling.

Christian Bale is Dr. Michael Burry, a neurologist turned investor who studies trades compulsively while listening to heavy metal. One day, he pores over his monitor and discovers that the numbers just don't add up. There are stacks and stacks of mortgages layered one row on top of the other and many are risky. They are knotted together. Some loans look fine but a good many are too volatile with scant cohesion. Burry senses something sneaky and decides to bet against the bankers. All the while, the doctor's guts are boiling over; he gobbles antacid like M&Ms.

There is also the wolfish Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) who gets wind of Burry's discovery and wants in as well. A chain reaction forms. Steve Carell has a good turn as the hyperactive and sensitive investor Mark Baum who lost his brother to suicide and  is wracked with guilt.  Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) arrives on the scene too, mostly to give advice. Rickert, a  banker, is convinced of The American Nightmare and is resolved to move off the grid with organic vegetables and seeds.

While every actor is solid here, the film is clearly held together by Christian Bale who is nearly invisible as a Hollywood persona and has morphed into this obsessive yet distant man with Aspergers.

The tone of the film is wry and pointed and there is much here that will make one angry, as sharkish loan officer frat boys gloat and brag over how much cash they have made in targeting the naive and unaware with subprime housing mortages.

This film, like others in the genre does not gloss or breeze over the malignancy of arrogance and unbridled avarice. And yet there are generous portions of comedy here as Margot Robbie explains the definition of subprime in a tub and chef Anthony Bourdain tells us that CDOs (junk mortages) are similar to making a seafood stew with three day old halibut that stinks to hell.

Laughter can sting.

What comes across most of all in "The Big Short" is its record of a pestilental epidemic of selfishness and money where morality all but disapears.  The new creators are no longer painters, poets and inventors but money accruers who collect megalomanic sums at the expense of others. Consumption transforms into an offensive and confrontational art.

What monetary maggots might be born anew to prey upon us? This question suggested at the end of the film is perhaps the most unsettling of all.

Write Ian at

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Week of December 25 - 31 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Delivers Six Holiday Gifts
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Being that it’s the Christmas season, let’s start off with a little joy. Although not a Santa Claus movie, “Joy” still offers snow and an uplifting feeling. Jennifer Lawrence takes the title role, that of an ordinary young woman who rises above expectations, founding a business dynasty selling mops on TV. Austin Chronicle observes, “The film showcases the remarkable way Lawrence can command a movie ... Her focus never wavers in bringing out the best of this version of the American dream. What a joy for any moviegoer to witness.” And Associated Press adds, “Lawrence makes Joy easy to believe and easy to root for, no matter what she’s selling.”

Next we have “The Big Short,” a star-strewn movie about the banking collapse of 2007-2010. Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, and Christian Bale introduce us to the based-on-real-life characters who profited by betting against the housing credit bubble. Minneapolis Star Tribune calls it “a smart, snarky crisis tragicomedy from the real estate boom and bust.” And Toronto Star says, “The really neat feat of ‘The Big Short’ is getting us to care about these dollar-hungry sharks and other erstwhile profiteers, and to laugh at their desperate dealings, even if we don't always understand what it is they're doing ...”

“The Danish Girl” is also based on a real person -- Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo man-to-woman sex reassignment surgery. The somewhat fictionalized biopic stars Eddie Redmayne as Lili/Einar. sees it as “classic Oscar bait, a picture with stately tones, an air of self-importance, a theoretically daring central performance.” Yet concludes, “This is one of the best films of the year, and certainly one of the most cautious and compassionate I’ve seen about the issues it raises.”

Surprisingly uplifting despite its horrifying subject matter, “Room” stars Brie Larson as a woman held captive for 7 years as a sexual slave. However, the focus is on her son Jack, raised in a 10” x 10” room, unaware of the world outside. Newsday says, “This dramatic thriller is small-scale but profound, with great performances.” And Laramie Movie Scope expounds, “It is a great, original, story and very compelling. The film is also expertly directed by Lenny Abrahamson who does a great job of showing us the world through the eyes of a child. This is one of the year's best films.”

“Spotlight” is a worthy companion to “All the President’s Men,” a bust-this-town-wide-open newspapering story. In this case, we have the true recounting of a team of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe who uncover the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. Aisle Seat gushes, “Riveting from its first second to its last. With a smart script, perfectly paced direction, and superb acting, this is a work that manages to be as entertaining as it is important.” And Cinema Crazed calls it “The best drama of the year.”

And for a holiday treat, join James Bond as your favorite spy with a license to kill takes on “Spectre,” an international criminal organization that’s behind all 007’s troubles. notes, “For his latest adventure, James Bond mixes the personal drama of ‘Skyfall’ with the vintage globe-hopping action of the previous 23 movies.” And CinemaDope sums it up, “Feels like a Best of Bond compilation …”

Six movies, six holiday gifts. So after you deck the hall and sing fa-la-la, go catch a movie at the Tropic!

The Big Short (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Big Short” Is Long on Insight
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

So far I’ve lost five houses to banks. How are you doing? That house and credit bubble was a bitch wasn’t it?

That’s the subject of Michael Lewis’s book, “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.” The book was non-fiction, but it got the Hollywood treatment when it was turned into a film with the shorter title, “The Big Short.”

It’s winding up on a lot of Best Movie lists.

The book named names. However, the satirical film changes many of the names to protect the … innocent … or guilty? You decide.

Ryan Gosling plays Jared Bennett (based on Greg Lippmann, a Deutsch Bank trader). Brad Pitt is Ben Rickert (based on Ben Hockett). Steve Carell is Mark Baum (based on Steve Eisman, a hedge fund manager). Marisa Tomei is Cynthia Baum (based on Valerie Feigen). John Magaro is Charlie Geller (based on Charlie Ledley). Ben Wittrock is Jamie Shipley (based on Jamie Mai). Stanley Wong is Ted Jiang (based on Eugene Xu, the analyst who created the first Collateralized Debt Obligation Market). And Christian Bale is called Michael Berry.

Among this menagerie are the key players who created the Default Swap Market that bet heavily against the CDO bubble. By betting against it, they actually profited from the financial crisis of 2007-2010.

 “The Big Short” is currently making audiences wince a bit at Tropic Cinema.

Adam McKay (a Saturday Night Live head writer and Will Ferrell’s filmmaking partner) directed this adaptation. Matter of fact, this is the first film he’s directed which doesn’t feature Ferrell.

Here, McKay shows he can stand on his own. “The Big Short” makes his previous directorial efforts -- “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Step Brothers,” “The Other Guys” -- look like Saturday morning cartoons.

The Danish Girl (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Eddie Redmayne Transitions Into “The Danish Girl”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A Danish transgender woman known as Lili Elbe was one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Born as Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener, he became a painter who often dressed as a woman and passed himself off as his “sister.” After transitioning, she legally changed her name to Lili and gave up painting.

In 2000 David Ebershoff published a highly fictionalized novel based on Lili. The movie version kept the same title, “The Danish Girl.”

Directed by Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech,” “Les Misérables”), “The Danish Girl” can be found at Tropic Cinema.

In this telling, Einar Wegener’s wife Gerta is the painter. She convinces her husband to stand in for a female model, which results in a series of oils of Einar posing as a woman. Turns out, he likes it and starts cross-dressing. Eventually this results in him undergoing the first male-to-female sex change operation.

In the beginning Gerta is supportive, but eventually becomes dissatisfied. The relationship becomes even more complicated when Einar’s childhood friend shows up, making for an uneasy ménage à trois.

This three-way is delicately played by British-born Eddie Redmayne (“Les Misérables,” “The Theory of Everything”), Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (“Testament of Youth,” “Ex Machina”), and Belgian graffiti artist Matthias Schoenaerts (“Rust and Bone,” “Far From the Madding Crowd”).

There’s been some criticism from the trans community of a cisgenger male playing Lili. Sort of like white guys playing Indians in Westerns or African natives in old Tarzan movies. Or blackface.

But Eddie Redmayne says he encountered no resistance when prepping for the role. “I met many people from the community and they could not have been more generous. Every single woman I spoke to -- pretty much across the board -- would start the conversation by going, ‘There is no question I’m not willing to answer.’”

He adds, “In the end what I tried to do -- as well as the paintings and the photographs -- was take all of that information and try to find a version of Lili’s story in me with the acknowledgment that it’s not a documentary piece of material.”

Which is to say Eddie Redmayne makes a lovely lady.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Golden Globe Deliberates Best Movies (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Golden Globe Deliberates Best Movies
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Before we get to the Oscar contenders, we should address the Golden Globe Awards. The nominations for the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards were announced just a week ago; the nods from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are still to be named.

But don’t think Golden Globes selections will be a harbinger of Oscar wins. The picks by the 90-odd members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are often more eccentric than those by the 6,000 or so motion picture professionals in the Academy.

My take: The voting of the HFPA is more easily influenced ; the votes of the Academy tend to be more political.

For instance, HFPA is still living down its selection of Pia Zadora as the 1982 New Star of the Year. Zadora's multimillionaire husband was accused of swaying voters with boondoggle trips to his Las Vegas casino.

And people are still shaking their heads over HFPA’s 2011 fawning over “The Tourist” -- that dreadful Johnny Depp spy thriller -- by oddly putting it in the Musical/Comedy category. Everybody knew Sony flew Foreign Press voters to Vegas for a Cher concert.

So this year why should we be surprised to see “The Martian” -- that Matt Damon survival-in-space thriller -- listed among Musical/Comedy nominations. Damon doesn’t sing a single song in it, and jokes don’t go beyond raising potatoes in his own manure.

The Golden Globes puts forth five movies in the Drama category, another five as Musical/Comedy. This year Best Motion Picture, Drama included “Carol, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Revenant,” “Room,” and “Spotlight.” And Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy claimed “The Big Short,” “Joy,” “The Martian,” “Spy,” and “Trainwreck.”

Almost half of the ten films have not played in Key West yet. “Room” opens this week at the Tropic Cinema (see accompanying review). “The Big Short” is coming next week to the Tropic. Expect “Carol” and “The Revenant” to show up before long.

Some critics are more fascinated by the films that didn’t make the Golden Globes’ list. Among the snubs are the Johnny Depp gangster film “Black Mass” and the Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy “Sisters.” Debb and the girls have fallen out of favor with the Foreign Press.

Fey and Poehler got a double snub, not being asked back after three years of hosting the televised award show. Acerbic comedian Rick Gervais returns as master of ceremonies.

While the Golden Globes will pick both a Drama and Musical/Comedy, the Oscars will pick but one Best Picture. Four of the Golden Globe Dramas were on my Best Movies of 2015 list, with “Spotlight” being number one.

But “Spotlight” may not be the Golden Globes’ choice. Although nominated for picture and director, surprisingly none of its ensemble of actors got a nod. What’s more, it’s an indie film, not having a lot of influence with Hollywood’s Foreign Press. No Vegas trips are likely in the offing.

If we go by the number of nominations, “Carol” leads with 5, “The Big Short” with 4 -- a drama and a comedy. A clue?

“Spotlight,” with only 3 nods, may have to wait for the Oscars to get its due.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Room (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
"Room" is the tense and visceral story of a mom, Joy (Brie Larson), and her son, Jack  (Jacob Tremblay), as they face confinement at the hands of a pathological monster (Sean Bridgers) in a one room shed for 8 years.
This could very well be a horror film and in many ways it is, in a way. But it also goes much deeper in its questioning of what is actually real and tangible in our world.
Joy and Jack are sequestered in a squalid margarine-yellow shed. The only square of light is from a small window in the ceiling. Usually they are left alone, all but abandoned, by themselves with a mattress and a hot plate. To protect Jack, his mother tells him that the room they inhabit is the only true environment.
Jack begins to see TV as reflections from other planets with the objects in his immediate environment becoming personified and alive with a human and generous spirit: the table, a chair, a TV, even a mere scorched spoon have the ability to emote and empathize.
From time to time, Jack and his mother are frightened by heavy footsteps: the faceless form of their captor Old Nick, who tortures the two with intimidation and violence. As Nick is dark, thatchy and opaque, he becomes a Boogeyman from ghost stories or a Big Bad Wolf.
The only sense of normalcy comes from the unbreakable bond that mother and son share.
Though this film has elements from David Lynch to Stanley Kubrick in its eerie tones, director Lenny Abrahamson gives this film a laser-focus highlighting the human qualities given to some domestic objects to the point of creating a new and unique vocabulary.
The director uses nothing extraneous or heavy handed. Based on a novel by Emma Donahue, this meditative tale disguised as a thriller is highly individual, stressing the psychological implications of what it means to be kidnapped through the eyes of a protected five year old boy.
Some might feel that the story recalls the horror house case of Ariel Castro and his kidnapping of three women in 2003. But while that true crime does share elements with this film, the story here is more concerned with the definition of what makes up reality.
The most stirring segments of "Room" portray the boy in the guise of an extraterrestrial with little concrete knowledge of the outside world. He looks at hard-edged buildings with a sense of awe and palpable dread.
Jack sees himself as a traveler, marooned on a oddly pale planet and we believe him.
Such moments bring to mind "The Man Who Fell to Earth" as well as a Kubrickian mind meld when the young boy's mouth is overstretched in panic and unbearable fright.
William H. Macy and Joan Allen turn in believable if somewhat predictable roles as Joy's parents, who are strained to the point of numbness.
The power of "Room" is in its unflinching detail and the emphasis of a new world order in its description of one sad cubicle made colorful through the action of a child.
The last disquieting thing that one is left with is the hard fact that, through most of the film, Jack likes his flat and rectangular existence.
Write Ian at

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Week of December 18 - 24 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Delivers Gifts for the Holidays
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Tropic Cinema unwraps two great new films, along with some topnotch holdovers, making for a great holiday lineup.

One of my Best Movies of the Year picks is “Room.” Here we have a fairy-tale approach to a horrible subject, a young woman kidnapped as a sex slave. The story focuses on her five-year-old son, born in captivity, a boy who thinks the 10” x 10” room is the whole world.  Newsday says, “This dramatic thriller is small-scale but profound, with great performances from Brie Larson and a young Jacob Tremblay.” And Virginian-Pilot observes, “This movie, memorably, asks us what life means in a big world that is beyond our control and how we are shaped by the confined scope of our upbringing. It demands attention.” And Lyle’s Movie Files tells us, “2015’s most multi-layered film. It’s complex, charming, a little frightening, but ultimately it’s a wholly unique viewing experience unlike anything I’ve seen in years.”

 My favorite movie of the year is “Spotlight.” Reminiscent of “All the President’s Men,” it tells the true story of a group of Boston Globe reporters who uncover sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The ensemble cast includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, John Slattery, Liev Schreiber, and Rachel McAdams. Aisle Seat calls it, “Riveting from its first second to its last. With a smart script, perfectly paced direction, and superb acting, this is a work that manages to be as entertaining as it is important.” And says this film is “destined to be one of the great film procedurals.”

“Brooklyn” follows a young Irish woman to America where she marries before returning to the Old Country. There she meets a man that conflicts her emotions -- about love and about homeland. Phantom Tollbooth notes, “Saoirse Ronan plays the role of the Irish girl who comes to America, with determination and personality.” And Nashville Scene says, “After a week of shameful anti-immigrant rhetoric, ‘Brooklyn’ is the big-hearted bear hug of a movie a lot of folks could use.”

“Trumbo” is an interesting look at screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston), the two-time Oscar winner who was blacklisted by Hollywood for being a Communist. Spiritually and Practice describes it as “an ethically stirring biopicture about the courageous screenplay writer who triumphed over the Red Scare crusaders of the 1950s.” And Film Threat says, “Cranston brings style and brio to the part.”

“Spectre” is the latest 007 outing, a spy thriller that pits James Bond (Daniel Craig) against his archenemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christopher Waltz). calls it “a solid, serious spy film that still has a playful glint in its eye.” And AllMovie observes, “‘Spectre’ dances in the gate like an antsy thoroughbred from its very first frames, as if it just can’t wait to be a James Bond film.”

Sneaking in a few days later we get “The Big Short,” an acerbic comedy about the banking crisis. The cast -- Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and Christian Bale -- delivers a big dividend. declares, “Adam McKay’s funny, intelligent and depressing examination of the financial crisis is must-see entertainment.” And Christian Science Monitor says, “The actors play their roles to the hilt, but in the end, the role of these investors in extenuating the crisis they took advantage of is played down, as is the disastrous life consequences of all those who were severely hit by it.”

So grab a sprig of mistletoe and head down to the Tropic for some holiday treats.

Room (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Room” Will Appeal To Agoraphobiacs
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I remember seeing a news clip about a woman in Austria who’d been held captive for years in a hidden bunker. Canadian author Emma Donoghue saw the same report and used the five-year-old boy in the Fritzl case as inspiration for her novel, “Room.” After winning the Commonwealth Writers Prize and being shortlisted for some other big awards, the book was optioned for a movie.

“Room” -- directed by Lenny Abrahamson based on a script by Emma Donoghue -- is now playing at Tropic Cinema.

I’m glad I don’t suffer from claustrophobia because much of the story takes place in a small windowless room containing only a small kitchen, a bathtub, a wardrobe, a bed, and a TV set.

This is where Ma (Brie Larson) lives with her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Ma has been held captive here by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) for seven years. The product of rape, this is the only “world” five-year-old Jack has ever known. His mother convinces him the outside world only exists on television. Little does he realize they are living their solitary existence as captives in a potting shed behind Old Nick’s house.

When Old Nick loses his job, there’s a possibility the bank will foreclose on his house. If so, Ma fears the man will kill them rather than face exposure. So she begins to plot escape.

But the question is whether she and Jack can adjust to the outside world. Or if they even want to.

You’re probably thinking this sounds like a harrowing crime drama. It is … but more than that it’s a lyrical rumination about life and freedom and strength and happiness. It’s about the dichotomy between holding on and letting go.

Brie Larson says she saw the film not as a crime tale, but “as a story of love and freedom and perseverance and what it feels like to grow up and become your own person.”

You will think about this film long after the lights go up in the theater and you step into the world outside.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Ten Best Movies of 2015: It Was a Very Good Year (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

The Ten Best Movies of 2015:  It Was a Very Good Year
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Yes, it’s that time of year when bespectacled and brainy film critics release their lists of The Ten Best Movies of the Year. I’d have to look it up, but I think this ritual is required by some obscure rule in The Official Film Critics’ Manual.

So in proper compliance, here are the Ten Best Movies I saw this year:

10. “Listen to Me Marlon.” Turns out, actor Marlon Brando made audiotapes throughout his life, recording his thoughts, opinions, and observations. To our great delight, filmmaker Stevan Riley assembled them – along with photos, interviews, film clips, and a weird animated life mask –  into this remarkable documentary. It not only maps Brando’s tortured psyche, it’s a priceless commentary on the art of acting. Better still, it’s told in Brando’s own words.

9. “Tangerine.” Director Sean Baker used an iPhone 5s to shoot this funny little comedy about two transgender prostitutes. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor play the best friends, gals looking for love on the seamy side of Los Angeles. You’ll laugh but there may be a catch in your throat.

8. “Meru.” A breathtaking documentary about three experienced climbers (Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk) attempting to scale the Shark’s Fin on 21,000-foot-high Mount Meru in Northern India. But this true story comes off with all the nail-biting excitement of a feature film, with twists and turns and character development and cinematography that will take your breath away.

7. “Chi-raq.” Spike Lee offers a loose adaptation of Aristophanes’s “Lysistrata,” the Greek play about women withholding sex to end war. Set amid Chicago’s gangs, here a modern-day Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) leads the “No Peace, No Piece” campaign. As usual, Spike Lee is a bit heavy-handed storytelling, but you gotta admit it’s good theater.

6. “Phoenix.” A WWII concentration-camp survivor (Nina Hoss) returns to Berlin to search for her husband (Ronald Zehrfeld), but he doesn’t recognize her due to extensive facial reconstruction surgery. Just as well when she discovers that he may be the one who betrayed her to the Nazis. Director Christian Petzold delivers an unusual noir romance that speaks of a historical era in new ways.

5. “Room.” Director Lenny Abrahamson rips this story from the headlines, so to speak, a tale of a kidnapped woman being held as a sex slave. Born in captivity, five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) doesn’t realize the world extends beyond the ten-by-ten-foot shed where he lives with his Ma (Brie Larson). As horrifying as the circumstances may be, Abrahamson manages to transform the film into a kind of thoughtful fairy tale.

4. “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Director George Miller returns to his earlier creation, Mad Max, a scruffy hero surviving in a post apocalyptic wasteland. Forget about Mel Gibson, Tom Hardy is the new Max Rockatansky – teamed up with Charlize Theron as the kick-ass Imperator Furiosa. Sure, it’s one long non-stop chase scene replete with earth-shaking explosions, blasting gun battles, belching fire, leaping motorcycles, and roaring trucks as ISIS-like marauders try to catch Max and Immortan Joe’s stolen wives. You’ll agree this new entry in the Mad Max canon was worth the 30-year wait. It’s easily the most thrilling action film of the year.

3. “Ex Machina.” One of my three favorite science fiction movies of all time (“Metropolis” and “Blade Runner,” being the other two). Here, a bright young computer programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is tapped by his reclusive boss (Oscar Isaac) to apply the Turing Test to an android prototype named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Is she real or Memorex? This seductive non-human demonstrates that Dr. Stephen Hawking was right to warn us about the dangers of artificial intelligence. Writer-director Alex Garland has invented the most intellectual sci-fi movie you’ll likely ever see.

2. “Carol.” Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Price of Salt,” director Todd Haynes has delivered an exquisite period piece about two women who fall in love in 1950s New York City. A refined society lady (Cate Blanchett) seduces a naïve shopclerk (Rooney Mara) at the risk of her marriage and child.  The performances are superb in this sophisticated gay-themed movie. Even if you’re straight, you’ll feel the ache.

 1. “Spotlight.” With echoes of “All the President’s Men,” this parallel newspapering movie follows the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team as they unravel sexual abuses within the Catholic church. The stark Boston landscape and realistic city room provides a proper backdrop for director Tom McCarthy’s step-by-step procedural drama. The ensemble performances of John Slattery, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams et al. are outstanding. You can expect to see a couple of Oscar nods here – and maybe a Best Picture golden statuette.

Among my Honorable Mentions are “Janis: Little Girl Blue,” “Steve Jobs,” and “Inside Out.”

As the words of the old Frank Sinatra song, it was a very good year.

Week of December 11 - 17 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Four Films at Tropic Are Well Worth Holding Over
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

If this list sounds familiar, that’s because all four films are holdovers from last week’s lineup. But trust me, they are well worth hanging onto.

Take “Spotlight,” for instance. This true story about Boston Globe reporters uncovering sexual abuses in the Catholic Church is my pick for the Best Movie of the Year. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and John Slattery are among the outstanding ensemble cast. Sacramento News & Review calls it, “A taut story well-told, suspenseful despite the fact that the world knows how it all turned out, and energized by an authentic sense of the dogged research and footwork at the heart of serious investigative journalism.” Phantom Tollbooth says, “The spotlight is unforgiving and shines on everyone, from the Church to the reporters. No place to hide.” And Daily Film Fix adds, “The journalistic process has never seemed more interesting nor more important.”

Then we have “Brooklyn,” a luscious coming-of-age story about an Irish lass (Saoirse Ronan) who migrates to Brooklyn, gets married, then finds herself attracted to a boy back home. But which country is really home? Paste Magazine gushes, “The sterling visual qualities director John Crowley brings to Brooklyn pale next to its casting. Ronan, perhaps, is the most obvious choice to play Eilis, but that's because she's perfect. Is she the best actress of her generation?” And Fort Worth Weekly observes, “Of all the qualities a movie can have, lyricism is one of the hardest to achieve, and Eilis' journey toward making herself a home in this strange new country is as beautifully realized as the resolution of a great symphony.”

“Trumbo” gives us Bryan Cranston (TV’s “Breaking Bad” as screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, caught up in Hollywood’s blacklist. But thanks to the insistence of Kirk Douglas he still winds up writing “Spartacus” and winning two Academy awards. Groucho Reviews says the film “plays not as straight hagiography but rather as a portrait of a flawed hero ... Cranston gives a floridly theatrical leading performance in keeping with Trumbo's wit.” And Mark Leeper’s Reviews notes, “For a film on a relatively serious subject there is surprising wit and suspense in this story of reluctant heroes.”

Want some mind-clearing shoot-‘em-up action? Then “Spectre” is your martini, shaken not stirred. This latest 007 adventure introduces Blofeld, head of a sinister organization that’s out to get James Bond for personal reasons. Allmovie announces: “‘Spectre’ dances in the gate like an antsy thoroughbred from its very first frames, as if it just can't wait to be a James Bond film.” calls it “a solid, serious spy film that still has a playful glint in its eye.” Laramie Movie Scope says, “Maybe there is some evolution to the Bond character in this movie from the old low-brow misogynistic, testosterone-fueled Bond of the past into something more rounded, grounded and thoughtful.”

Four films … four really good films ... being held over. Don’t miss them.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Spectre (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Mexico City. The day is scalding and bright yellow. There is the sound of raucaus latin drums. But wait. Who is that ominous masked man in full skeletal regalia during a Day of the Dead celebration? One might think it could be a death reveler, a tourist or a shady stranger. The percussions build as the man moves through the gyrating crowd along with a masked woman. Entering a hotel room, the man removes his mask. Voila! It is James Bond (Daniel Craig) the most well-known spy in film and literature.

The lady invites him to a fleshy siesta, but James has no time for play. Our playboy operator heads to the rooftops with a machine gun ala Jason Bourne.

Tan, slick and fish-eyed, James gets his man. Is there ever any doubt?

Once played by Sean Connery to unreachable perfection with dry humor, machismo and a sly bravado, this millennial agent is well suited for the cyber age. Craig's Bond is sleek, smooth and machine like with little need for libertine romps from 20,000 feet or otherwise.

This spy has eyes like crocodiles that dream of the ice and he rules with intimidation.

Once more, under the limber direction of Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty) the actor hits all the right punches with his interpretation of Bond who is half of a laconic man of leisure and half a British bruiser with no need for words. Although there are no outright surprises (especially for lifetime Bond fans) the story is tightly wound with action that is never heavy on the eyes.

There is even a fearsome henchman, one Mr. Hinx, (Dave Bautista) who resembles the legendary Oddjob from the flawless Bond film "Goldfinger."

The actor Christoph Waltz is the everything old is new again villain Blofield, clad in a famed Nehru jacket. Waltz is sarcastic, snide and quite evil and Lea Sedoux is the troubled and fetching femme fatale.

The story-line of this latest Bond adventure borrows a bit from "The Dark Knight/ Batman" franchise, insofar as it deals with our hero being stripped of his credentials, cast out and forced to be a kind of vigilante by a league of insidious super-criminals.

Great credit should be given to Waltz, who has just the right amount of poison along with crooked charisma and a hint of some disarming pensivity. It all works in making this notorius baddie, known as Franz Oberhauser dispense a fresh fear.

And though the compelling start of "Spectre" showing an anonymous man floating through a huge skull-topped crowd, may not be matched throughout, there is some poignant anti-gun commentary to be found especially in light of the recent shootings that we have sadly experienced, both at home and internationally. In one scene when James tosses a gun aside like chaff, we get the hint. In the end, violence makes a short stick.

Write Ian at

Friday, December 4, 2015

Week of December 4 - 10 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Four Films Take You on a Trip at the Tropic!
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Ian Fleming wrote a travel book titled “Thrilling cities.” That’s what we have with this week’s Tropic films -- Hollywood, Boston, Brooklyn, London, and more!

Bond … James Bond. Yes, Daniel Craig’s 007 returns in “Spectre,” the 24th film in the official film series. Here our favorite spy figures out that the bad guys in previous movies were working for a master organization headed by archvillian Ernst Stavro Blofeld. But Blofeld, as portrayed by Christoph Waltz, may have a personal agenda when it comes to his old nemesis Bond. opines, “For his latest adventure, James Bond mixes the personal drama of ‘Skyfall’ with the vintage globe-hopping action of the previous 23 movies.” And CinemaDope says it “feels like a Best of Bond compilation.”

Bryan Cranston (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) takes on the title role in “Trumbo.” Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo won two Academy Award while writing under pseudonyms, due to being banned as a member of the blacklisted Hollywood 10. Creative Loafing says, “One of the year's best films, ‘Trumbo’ is alternately poignant, amusing, infuriating and always thought-provoking.” And EricDSnider declares, “Like the man himself, the film is witty and entertaining, and it makes its points gracefully.”

“Brooklyn” is the story of a young Irish woman who emigrates to New York in the 1950s. Saoirse Ronan stars as the lass caught between two countries … and two men. Lyle’s Movie Reviews says, “Movies this charming don't come around nearly often enough as they should but it helps make gems like ‘Brooklyn’ shine all the brighter.” And Paste Magazine adds, “Ronan, perhaps, is the most obvious choice to play Eilis, but that's because she's perfect. Is she the best actress of her generation?”

Certainly one of the Top Ten movies this year is “Spotlight,” the true story about a team of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe who uncover the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Rachael McAdams are among the ensemble cast. FromTheBalcony calls it “one of the great journalism films; compelling, flawlessly acted, and successful in its invitation to join in the hunt for the truth.” And Sacramental News & Review concludes, “A taut story well-told, suspenseful despite the fact that the world knows how it all turned out, and energized by an authentic sense of the dogged research and footwork at the heart of serious investigative journalism.”

So do a little traveling to thrilling cities without leaving your plush theater seat.

Spectre (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

James Bond Vs. “Spectre”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

After 27 James Bond films, we finally get to know the arch-villain who’s responsible for all the bad things in the world. It’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld. You haven’t heard him mentioned since “Never Say Never Again” in 1983.

So for you younger 007 fans let me explain that Blofeld heads up the global crime syndicate known as the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. That’s Spectre, for short.

And as it happens “Spectre” is the title of this latest Bond extravaganza. Extravaganza is the proper word, in that at $350 million it’s tied with “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” as the second most expensive movie ever made.

You can catch “Spectre” at Tropic.

This is Daniel Craig’s fourth turn as the British secret agent with a license to kill. He’s contracted to do one more film.

For this outing, Ralph Fiennes (M), Naomi Harris (Miss Moneypenny), Ben Whishaw (Q), and Rory Kinnear (Bill Tanner) return. Even Dame Judi Dench (the previous M) makes a cameo appearance.

Léa Seydoux and Monica Bellucci join the cast as Bond Girls.

But, of course, you want to know who’s playing Blofeld -- right? It’s Christoph Waltz, the two-time Oscar-winner famed for playing charming but sinister characters.

The right to use Spectre and Blofeld had been in contention since 1961 when writer Kevin McClory sued Bond-creator Ian Fleming over the film rights. McClory claimed Fleming had stolen the concepts from an undeveloped film script written by McClory and Jack Whittingham. Fleming settled out of court, leaving its use in future films questionable. In 2013, MGM acquired the full copyright film rights to the concept of Spectre and all of the characters associated with it.

With these rights in hand, director Sam Mendes -- along with writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth -- have used this return of Spectre to tie Daniel Craig's 007 films together with an over-arching storyline. Turns out, Quantum is merely a division of Spectre.

The plot isn’t based on one of Ian Fleming’s novels. Here’s what the screenwriters came up with: On orders from the previous M (Dench) James Bond goes to Mexico where he kills two men trying to blow up a stadium, in the process confiscating an octopus ring. Defying orders by the current M (Fiennes), Bond goes to Rome where he tries to infiltrates Spectre, using the ring as entry. That doesn’t work out too well, but it leads our hero on a manhunt that takes him from Austria to Morocco to London.

Yes, there’s plenty of breathtaking action like you’ve come to expect. You won’t be disappointed. Now credited as a producer of the film, aging 47-year-old Daniel Craig intends to go out with a bang.

“I wanted to do as much of the action work as I could, so that the audience can see it’s me and it’s real,” says Craig. “That meant acquiring injuries and carrying on and bashing through to the next level of pain ... If you don't get bruised playing Bond, you’re not doing it properly. I had black eyes, I had cuts, I was bruised, I had muscle strains, and I took a lot of painkillers. But it was part of the job. As much as I was hurt, the stuntmen were in much more pain.”

Spotlight (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Spotlight” Shows Best of Journalists
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Here’s the double feature I’d like to see: “All the President’s Men” followed by “Spotlight.” Both are masterful movies about newspaper reporters breaking a big story.

Aside from this theme, the two films have more in common than you might think.

“All the President’s Men” tells the true story about Washington Post reporters who exposed the Watergate scandal. “Spotlight” relates the true story about Boston Globe reporters who uncovered a pattern of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Both started as small local stories -- one about a petty burglary, the other about a bad priest -- but unraveled as global scandals.

Both won Pulitzer Prizes.

The first series of stories was overseen by the Post’s executive editor, Ben Bradlee; the second overseen by the Globe’s deputy managing editor, Ben Bradlee, Jr.

Father and son.

But watching both films it is the reporters who deserve the loudest applause.

In “All the President’s Men,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (portrayed by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) are the stars of the film; Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards, Jr.) is a supporting player.

In “Spotlight,” Michael Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo), Walter “Robbie” Robinson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachael McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) are the stars; Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery) leads the supporting cast.

But “Spotlight” has a hidden star, Marty Baron. Baron was the Globe’s new editor, the outsider who bucked the city’s code of protective silence about the Boston archdiocese, insisting that his Spotlight investigative team look into the story of a priest accused of child abuse.

That unraveled a pattern of deceit and cover-ups within the Church that stretched around the world. “The issue there was not just whether a priest had abused children, which there had been cases of that before, but whether there had been a pattern of abuse and that the church knew about that abuse and then reassigned priests to other parishes where they then abused again, and whether that pattern had taken place over a long period of time,” recalls Baron. “In fact, it had in the case of dozens and dozens of priests over decades.”

So he printed the story, in fact a series of stories. Despite pressure to look the other way.

As a result the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer.

But that wasn’t the goal. Baron was merely shifting the Globe’s editorial focus from international events to locally centered investigative journalism. And doing good.

Recently, I met Marty Baron. Ironically, he is now the editor of the Washington Post. At first glance, you’d mistake him for Liev Schreiber, the actor who plays him in “Spotlight.” Lightly bearded, with glasses and curly hair, he was quiet, focused, cordial, smart.

“Spotlight” is currently showing at Tropic Cinema.

I was so impressed with the film, with its accurate depiction of how journalists work, that I suggested to my editor she might want to take her staff to see it.

Kay Harris was a step ahead of me. She replied, “We went Sunday -- it was terrific and has sparked a lot of conversation here!”

At a time when Gallup Poll reports that trust in mass media is at an all-time low, I wish everybody would attend my fantasy double feature. A viewing of “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight” might help the general public restore its confidence in newspapers. Both films make a powerful case for the integrity of reporters, seekers of truth determined to get at the facts.

As one of the reporters says in “Spotlight,” “We’re going to tell this story, we’re going to tell it right.”

That’s what good journalists aspire to do.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Week of Nov. 27 - Dec. 3 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Four Films at Tropic Remind Us What We Love About Movies
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

We love movies about movies. And “Trumbo” gives a glimpse of the old Hollywood when ten screenwriters were blacklisted for having Commie sympathies. Foremost among these scribes was Dalton Trumbo, who won two Academy Awards while writing under a pseudonym to subvert the system. Bryan Cranston (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) nails the title role.  Philadelphia Inquirer says, “It’s a period piece full of colorful characters, natty costumes, jaunty music.” And Tri-City Herald gushes, “Just hand Bryan Cranston the Oscar, the Golden Globe, etc. The acting and the story about the importance of protecting the First Amendment is the year’s best movie.”

Almost as much as we like movies about movies, we like movies about newspaper reporters -- those hard-hitting journalists determined to bust the town wide open. “Spotlight” is such a story, about an investigative team at the Boston Globe that uncovered the child abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Rachel McAdams headline this ensemble cast. calls it “Sharp and flawlessly performed.” And US Weekly advises, “Don’t miss this crackling -- and deeply important -- film about the power of the press.”

We also are fascinated by spy stories, and “Bridge of Spies” is Steven Spielberg’s telling of the ‘60s prisoner exchange of Russian spy Rudolf Abel for US U2 pilot Gary Powers. Tom Hanks portrays the real-life lawyer who negotiated the deal. Radio Times says, “Spielberg should be applauded for coherently imparting a convoluted, international story and for skillfully showing how ideals can be compromised by the grip of paranoia.” And Wow247 calls it a “richly rewarding and thoroughly entertaining Cold War drama with Spielberg and Hanks both at the very top of their game.”

Another winner is boy-meets-girl romance -- or in the case of “Brooklyn,” it’s boy-meets-girl-meets-boy as an Irish lass must choose between Ireland and America. Saoirse Ronan (“Hanna”) plays the girl caught in the middle. Advocate sees it as “a beautifully staged and acted immigrant drama.” And Miami Herald concludes, “With compassion, a touch of melancholy and a sense of wonder, ‘Brooklyn’ reveals the profound truths in a simple, familiar story, ending on a note that’s achingly bittersweet, no matter where you’re from.”

Movie lovers have great choices this week at the Tropic Cinema!

Brooklyn (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Brooklyn” Is Romantic Triangle
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Saoirse Úna Ronan was actually born in the Bronx, but her parents were Irish so she was raised in County Carlow and Dublin. You’ve seen the young actress in such films as “Atonement,” “The Lovely Bones,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and “Hanna.”

Now she plays a young Irish immigrant living in 1950s Brooklyn. Not a big stretch.

Nonetheless, Saoirse Ronan manages to show off her remarkable acting talent like never before in “Brooklyn,” the new historical drama directed by John Crowley.

“Brooklyn” -- now playing at Tropic Cinema -- gives us the story of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish woman who emigrates to New York in the 1950s. Sponsored by a friend in the clergy (Jim Broadbent), she is seeking a better life. At first, she’s overcome by homesickness, but then she meets Tony Fiorello, a young Italian plumber whom she secretly marries. Returning to Ireland due to a death in the family, she then meets Jim Farrell, a young Irishman whom she finds attractive. Torn between her old life in Ireland and a possible new romance … and the excitement of her new life in the US with her old husband … Eilis is faced with the decision of a lifetime.

Manhattan-born Emory Cohen (you may recall his scene-stealing turn in “The Place Beyond the Pines”) and Dublin-born Domhnall Gleeson (wonderful in “Ex Machina” and “About Time”) play the two boys in Eilis’s life.

More than a simple girl-meets-boy story, this is a love triangle between a girl and two suitors. Yet on another level it’s a love triangle between a girl and two countries -- the United States (Brooklyn, that is) and her home in Ireland (County Wexford, to be specific).

Saoirse Roman considers this to be her most personal film, given its subject matter. It marks the first time she has used her natural Irish accent in a film.

“Brooklyn” is based on Colm Tóibín’s same-named novel, listed by The Observer as one of “The 10 Best Historical Novels.” However, the ending of the film differs from the novel in the screenplay by Nick Hornby, the Oscar-nominated writer you may know from “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy.”

Only a few background shots were made in Brooklyn (of brownstones), with most of the scenery filmed in Montreal because it looked more like 1950s Brooklyn than the real place.

Despite this artifice, you will find “Brooklyn” a sweet, charming heart-aching drama with wonderful acting and luscious cinematography.

Nicholas Sparks, eat your heart out.

Trumbo (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Trumbo” Looks at A Patriotic Commie
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Offshore trusts were a bread-and-butter business in the Bahamas when I lived there. A friend was an officer with ABC Trust, which provided desk-drawer holding companies designed to hide money. One of her clients was screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

Why would he need to hide money?

Because Trumbo was one of the Hollywood 10 who got blacklisted back in the 1940s when Senator Joseph McCarthy was seeing Communists under every rug -- particularly among screenwriters in Tinseltown.

One of the most respected and highest paid scribes in Hollywood, Dalton Trumbo had worked for Warner Bros., Columbia, Paramount, RKO, 20th Century-Fox, and MGM. He was a big deal.

Was he a Fellow Traveler? Admittedly yes. Known as a left-wing political activist, he aligned himself with the American Communist Party (CPUSA). Nonetheless, he wrote a number of very patriotic movies, like “A Guy Named Joe” and “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”

Trumbo has been called “the most talented, most famous of the blacklisted film professionals.” And because he was such a fine screenwriter, when movie producers weren’t allowed to use him anymore they hired him anyway, allowing him to write under various pseudonyms.

During the time Trumbo was blacklisted he wrote 30-some screenplays, among them such cinematic masterpieces as “Spartacus” and “Exodus.” And during that time he won two Academy Awards: One under the name of Robert Rich (“The Brave One”) while a second was fronted for him by writer Ian McLellan Hunter (“Roman Holiday”).

“Trumbo” -- currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- is his story.

Bryan Cranston (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) makes a credible Trumbo, mimicking his unique voice and mannerisms. He spot-on captures the man’s larger-than-life eccentric personality.

Diane Lane and Elle Fanning add support as Trumbo’s wife and daughter. But much of the fun is watching old Hollywood celebs come to life again: Edward G. Robinson (portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg), Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman), John Wayne (David James Elliott), Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel), movie mogul Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow), and Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren).

Movie buffs are talking about the film. “Was Trumbo’s role in stopping anti-Stalinist scripts from being produced, his role in persecuting Albert Maltz and Robert Rossen, or his role as a snitch for the FBI in the mid-40s touched upon?” asks one blogger.

Another replies, “Nothing like that was explored. They only focused on his family life and the whole process of him writing movies he wasn't credited for ... Lots of disputes over films.”

Unfortunately, “Trumbo” doesn’t offer much insight into McCarthyism and that era’s fear of Communism. This biopic is content to focus on how badly this great talent was treated. Think: “Imitation Game.”

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Trumbo (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Somewhat in the carbonated and episodic manner of the biopic "Hitchcock," with lots of period style and detail, here is "Trumbo" a study of the great but sadly marginalized screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. The film has an energetic buoyant quality, yet it is laced with darkness and does not shy away from the fears of the early 1950s, when right wing conservatism took a deep breath.

We begin in 1948 Hollywood. Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), a Communist,  is starting to feel the itch of judgment all around him. There are rumors of a Cold War and people are starting to talk. The writer who was once nominated for an Oscar wants to do something big but can't quite muster the energy.

Trumbo moves to workers' issues, holding rallies about equal pay for set designers and holds meetings at the home of Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg.) The viper-like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) writes a few insinuating columns about Trumbo and soon he feels a million eyes burrow into his collared shirt.

He pens the film "Roman Holiday." After the premiere, a disgusted movie-goer throws soda in his face. Then during a party, the men arrive; Trumbo is called to testify to the House Un-American Activities Commission. Things don't go well.

The film possesses a swift and rolling cadence. Trumbo retains his spirit throughout as he sees each and every inflexible (and somewhat outrageous) creature with a gimlet eye. Nothing escapes this screenwriter. Cutting Trumbo may be, but he is never sour, despite one year in prison.

Mirren turns in an exclusively nefarious and caustic role as the unsympathetic Hedda, who practically wears fish scales. Stuhlbarg is perfect as the passive Edward G. Robinson, while John Wayne (David James Elliott) is a stiffly robotic blow-hard blinded by the Right.

Trumbo has one ally in the character of Arlen  (Louis C.K.) who is brave to a fault but is increasingly stifled by cancer. He tempers his friend's dire news with some black-humored quips that recall his self deprecating role in TV's "Louie."

The film breezily highlights a tinseltown fringed in fear, a tightly wound community with martinis clutched between talons. Many a wobbly and Brillcreamed head would rather watch a war film than worry. The hissing of a serpent's suggestion comes from the woman in a hat that lays on her head like a poached tongue.

There is some domestic tension with Trumbo's wife Cleo (Diane Lane), and some charged ferocity from his daughter Nikola (Elle Fanning) but for the most part, the conducting is done by Trumbo alone.

"Trumbo" suberbly merges actual newsreels of the era with the actors and this gives it a visceral, contemporary yet ageless texture, putting all within the fabric of living ghosts.

And, while no connection is explicitly made between this wedge-headed hysteria of long ago and the piggish offensiveness in our current times, one wonders how many hellish arms Hedda might have propped up, or just how many orange and angry men John Wayne would have been able to inflame, if the two of them were still living today.

Write Ian at

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Brooklyn (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


 "Brooklyn" by director John Crowley is a conceptual time capsule and a tribute to the affectionate and spirited films of the 1950s. With its generous rolling sweeps of the camera, it is as authentic as it is moving.

In a 1952 Ireland, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) an inquisitive young girl, has a chance to go to America, with the hopes for better opportunities.  She boards a passenger ship but immediately becomes ill, due to increasingly rough seas.

Eilis makes the crossing, and takes a job at a huge gold-toned department store in Brooklyn but becomes the outcast. She endures crippling homesickness, and is endlessly under the judgment of a gray flannel gaze. She is sarcastically treated by her boss, Miss Fortini (Jessica Pare) and a pair of Waspy girls (Emily Bett Rickerts and Nora-Jane Noone.)

While playing at being a chaperone, Eilis meets the street-smart but sweet American Tony (Emory Cohen), who bears a resemblance to Bobby Darin or a young Dion. Tony is immediately hooked and so is Eilis.

Tensions rise with melodrama in Ireland juxtaposed against a kind of fairy tale Brooklyn with shiny cars, movie theaters and madras shirts, underscoring the existence of Eilis as "the other," unsure of her emotions and not knowing whether to laugh or cry. The apprehension is soon at its height.

Ronan is neither weepy nor ecstatic in her role. Rather she opts for pitch perfect authenticity as a visitor in a strange, over-confident planet known as Brooklyn. The actor has the diversity to be unassuming as well as to portray a girl next store sensuality akin to Maureen O Hara in John Ford's "The Quiet Man."

Both Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters show well as a priest and a tough boardinghouse head, respectively. In this story, Brooklyn becomes more of an abstract place pointing to the heart of a young man rather than a literal borough.

John Crowley has given us a rich, colorful and gentle film that is easy on the eyes, but by no means a trifle.  While playing on the old Hollywood of Douglas Sirk or the aforementioned John Ford, the director delivers an amiable antidote of innocence that stands in contrast to our current state of immigrant paranoia and outright fear.

Write Ian at

Monday, November 23, 2015

Week of Nov. 20 - 26 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

This Week’s Minimalist Lineup at Tropic Cinema Delivers Big Films
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Tropic Cinema opened a new film this week that’s sure to be an Oscar nominee, and carries over three others that are getting lots of popular buzz. As it happens, all are based on actual events.

“Spotlight” takes its name from the team of Boston Globe investigative reporters who uncovered child abuse in the archdiocese in Boston, a scandal that reverberated all the way to the Vatican. Think: “All the President’s Men.” Here the reporters were supervised by Ben Bradlee, Jr. Trust me, this is a great newspaper movie you don’t want to miss. Capital Times reports, “The film takes the dogged, persistent, mundane work of old school newspaper reporting -- digging through records, interviewing people, connecting dots -- and makes it the stuff of high drama, exciting and even heroic.” Detroit News says “Spotlight” is “spot-on.” And Tri-City Herald raves, “Simply put, one of the best -- if not THE best -- movies of the year.”

Another great movie is “Bridge of Spies,” Steven Spielberg’s retelling of the ‘60s prisoner exchange between Russian spy Rudolph Abel and downed U2 pilot Gary Powers. Tom Hanks plays the everyman lawyer who negotiated the exchange. Dallas Morning News says, “Authentic re-creations of the period, including duck-and-cover clips about a nuclear holocaust that frightened young students, serve as a reminder of a time, not unlike our own, when the threat of terror kept a steady and disturbing beat.” And Buzzfeed describes it as “a heart-on-its-sleeve affirmation of American values.”

“Suffragette” gives us Carey Mulligan as a 1912 London woman who joins the women’s suffrage movement. While this is a fictional character, the events were grittily real. Fresno Bee observes, “Mulligan turns in a strong performance, going from a woman who has quietly resigned herself to a certain life to a woman who is willing to speak out for others.” And X-Press calls it “a worthwhile reminder of how far women have come and the price they had to pay to get here. We’re left to imagine how much more there is to be done.”

“Steve Jobs” is Aaron Sorkin’s take on the founder of Apple -- his rise and fall and rise again. But the true focus is on his ruthless rule, personal hubris, and the illegitimate daughter he denied. Daily Star says, “Brainy, brilliant and intensely frustrating -- the latest Steve Jobs movie is a lot like the man himself.” Legend of Leia notes, “The staginess of the movie is its greatest benefit, allowing the characters and the dialogue to shine...” And Ex-press concludes, “Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet create all the dynamic tension required to propel Aaron Sorkin’s minimalist screenplay into epic terrain.”

Four films, four must-see moviegoing experiences.