Monday, March 30, 2015

Week of March 27 - April 2 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Six Differing Films Fight For Attention at Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

From creepy to colorful, stiff upper lip to stiff, uh, extremities, the Tropic Cinema again covers a wide vista in this week’s film lineup.
"It Follows" is a scary supernatural horror flick, the tale of a curse that’s passed on through sexual congress. No, we don’t mean an STD. The curse is the ability to see people that no one else can see, spooks that will kill you if they catch you. The Examiner tells us that it’s "a unique concept that somehow combines elements from some of your favorite supernatural films with cult classic slashers …." And Philadelphia Inquirer observes, "The matters of sex and lost innocence work like a thematic undertow, pulling the characters down into the dark, psychological depths."

Still playing is "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," the second film about a group of Brits who have retired to a colorful old hotel in India. The manager wants to expand, and the guests want to find love. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette calls it "...a sweet and often funny movie populated by likable actors who know their business." And SSG Syndicate sees it as a "satisfyingly soapy sequel, culminating in a gloriously pseudo-Bollywood dance spectacle...."

"Queen and Country" is the WWII misadventures of a young British chap you last met in "Hope and Glory." This is an autobiographical tale from director John Boorman. Toronto Star says, "The director gets all the period detail exactly right and there are plenty of historical and cultural references that evoke a sense of nostalgia." And Oregonian adds, "Boorman is 82; ‘Queen and Country’ is being called his final film in a career that included ‘Point Blank,’ ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Excalibur.’ If this really is it, congratulations."

For naughty moviegoers, there’s "50 Shades of Grey," the semi-erotic seduction of a young woman (Dakota Johnson) by a kinky young exec (Jamie Dorman). Huffington Post calls it "a syrupy soft-core melodrama with perhaps too much dialogue." And Seven Days notes, "Perhaps it’s time for all of us to recognize that fantasies come in a great many more than 50 shades -- and that they're not real."

What more? There’s "The Wrecking Crew," a documentary about an L.A. music group of that same name. Advocate describes it as "a music-filled, appreciative but not fawning account of the session musicians who helped make so many of the 1960s records great." And ReviewExpress says, "Fans of those great old recordings of the late ‘60s and ‘70s will lap this up."

And just for the fun of it, there’s "Kingsman: The Secret Service," a fanciful spy flick in the old James Bond mold. Colin Firth is a secret agent with a private British group that protects the world from the likes of Samuel L. Jackson. 2UE That Movie Show says, "Imagine a Roger Moore James Bond with the potty mouth of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the action from The Raid. " And MediaMikes notes, "Firth does a good job as the proper English spy and looks like he's having a good time."

You’ll have a good time at the Tropic too!


4 Nights 4 Justice Returns to Tropic With "Big Charity" (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

4 Nights 4 Justice Returns to Tropic With "Big Charity"

Exclusive Interview by Shirrel Rhoades

In 1735 a French merchant sailor left money in his will to build a hospital for indigents in New Orleans. The next year a small cottage was erected to provide free medical care. Originally called L’Hôpital des Pauvres de la Charité (The Charity Hospital for the Poor), this was the first of six buildings, the last one built in the 1930s -- a million-square-foot art deco monolith known to the neighborhood as Big Charity.

"Big Charity: The Death of America’s Oldest Hospital" is a new documentary that will be playing at the Tropic Cinema on Monday at 6 p.m. This is the first film in the 4 Nights 4 Justice series, an
annual event sponsored by a grant from the Mike Dively Social Justice and Diversity Endowment.

Michael Dively, a former Key West resident and Tropic Cinema volunteer, created an endowment at the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys to promote social justice and diversity. For the third year in a row, Tropic Cinema has won a grant for its powerful 4 Nights 4 Justice program.

And producer Ben Johnson will be on hand to introduce the first film, answer any questions, and describe how a New Orleans community lost its medical services when the state chose a financing scheme over public interest.

Following Hurricane Katrina, Charity Hospital was shut down and used as a pawn to get FEMA to finance a new medical facility that at $1.2 billion is the biggest hospital project in the world. There are doubts the new Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans (MCLNO) will continue the tradition of free services for New Orleans’ needy.

Big Charity now stands empty, a shell of its former glory on Tulane Avenue at the edge of the Iberville Projects, New Orleans’ largest public housing development.

"Almost everybody in Iberville was born there," recounts Alexander Glumstrom, director of "Big Charity." People across the city called themselves "Charity Babies."

Glumstrom became interested in the hospital when working as director of the Boys and Girls Club across the street from it. "Charity Hospital, closed by that time, loomed overhead," the then-Tulane student explains. "The residents spoke of it with a strong love and affection that I had never heard expressed about a building. It was as if the hospital had been human -- a loved but deceased part of the family, whom they missed but still carried with them. I saw Charity Hospital as an integral part of the soul of the community, and I became mystified and enamored with the iconic, beautiful, yet abandoned space."

Ben Johnson, also a college student at the time, volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club. When the neighborhood started holding rallies to reopen Big Charity, he and his friend Alex grabbed a camera and began filming.

"We were trying to understand why the state had closed a major hospital at a great loss of healthcare to the neighborhood," says Johnson. "It was like filming a thriller."

Alex Glumstrom nods. "Looking for answers, I began to seek out nurses, doctors, administrators, police officers, soldiers, generals and politicians. I interviewed them one by one to put the debate on film, and they revealed an engrossing story that has never been fully told to the public."

Ben Johnson accompanied him on these shoots and later they were joined by Catherine Rierson, a young filmmaker from North Carolina. Together the trio co-produced the film, starting with funding by a group of interested doctors, later raising $50,000 with a Kickstarter campaign.

Video journalism seems a likely career direction. He and Alex are now working on some short films, one of them a documentary about a community in central Louisiana that is undergoing huge health risks from the huge petrol companies that are taking over the town.

Ben Johnson will be at the Tropic to answer questions after the film. "This is my first visit to Key West," says the tall 25-year-old. He’s eager to compare the Southernmost City with the Big Easy. The iron balustrades on Front Street may just look familiar.

Queen and Country (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies
"Queen and Country" Tells Boorman’s Story

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You can’t talk about "Queen and Country," a new film at the Tropic Cinema, without first talking about its director, John Boorman. While you may not know much about this Englishman who prefers to live in Ireland, you’ll easily recognize many of his movies: "Point Blank," "Hell in the Pacific," "Deliverance," "Excalibur" … some 22 films in all.

However, "Hope and Glory" (1987) was his most significant film, for it was a thinly disguised autobiography of Boorman’s boyhood in war-torn London. He called the 9-year-old protagonist Bill, but make no mistake it was Boorman thrusting himself back in time.
In "Hope and Glory" young Bill (played by Sebastian Rice Edwards) sees war as an adventure. Rules are forgotten, women exhibit a new freedom, and life is exciting. His father is a dreamer who works as a military clerk, his mother is unable to cope, and his teenage sister has discovered soldier boys. Imagine Bill’s child-like joy when Hitler’s Luftwaffe blows up his school. Ain’t life grand?

Now we have "Queen and Country," a sequel as it were. This Boorman film picks up ten years later when Bill (now played by Callum Turner) discovers a new war, the conflict in Korea. He and his over-the-top pal Percy (Caleb Landry Jones) never get near any action, but they engage in a war of wits with their commanders during basic training. Think: "Catch-22."
Their main antagonists are Sgt. Major Bradley (David Thewlis) and the aptly named Major Cross (Richard E. Grant). The love interests are Tamsin Egerton and Aimee-Ffion Edwards. David Hayman reprises his role in the first film as Bill’s father.

Bookish Bill spends much of his time training recruits to type (harkening back to his dad’s role in the first film) when he’s not falling in love with the wrong girl, hanging out with his crazy pal Percy, dealing with his family, talking about films, and finally finding the right girl. Then he presumably goes on to become a great film director just like John Boorman.
Boorman himself started off as a dry cleaner and became a TV journalist before lucking into the chance to direct a modest film about the British rock group The Dave Clark Five. Then Hollywood called and a friendship with actor Lee Marvin gave Boorman his first hits.

Years ago when I had lunch with Lee Marvin on a picnic table in the Oregon wilderness, I asked him who had been his favorite director? "Boorman," he answered, then moved on with a steady stream of profane jokes and anecdotes about his wartime experiences.
Boorman returned the affection. "I learned more from Lee about filmmaking than from anyone," he says.

At 82, "Queen and Country" might well be John Boorman’s last film, his own personal story. But as he once said, "Movies are the repository of myth. Therein lies their power. An alternative history, that of the human psyche, is contained and unfolded in the old stories and tales." His film carries on this tradition.

Queen and Country (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Queen and Country

"Queen and Country" is John Boorman's sequel to his very personal and autobiographical "Hope and Glory" about young boy, Bill Rohan, during WWII. In that first film, Bill yells "Thank you, Adolph!", elated that his primary school is bombed by the Luftwaffe, consequently canceling school.
Potent stuff.

Now, Bill (Callum Turner) is a grown man. His parents live on an island in Shepperton where occasional movies are shot.

He is conscripted to service in the Korean War and his roommate is the shifty and volatile Percy (Caleb Landry Jones). The two strive to do as little as possible and mostly attempt to get close to girls. It soon becomes clear that Percy might be a bad influence were it not for Bill's introverted nature. Percy brings Bill out of himself. After a run-in with the rigid and snarling Major Bradley (David Thewlis), Percy wishes to bring him down at all cost, even if he has to kill him. Bill urges restraint, suggesting mere pranks, but Percy is incensed with rebellion.

The two have one ally in the secretly subversive Redmond (Pat Shortt), who may remind some of Benny Hill.

Percy, who seems to have a bit of randy fire and energy similar to the notorious  Alex from  "A Clockwork Orange," gets an idea to steal a treasured and rare radio from Major Digby (Brian F. O' Byrne) to start trouble.

Although a shade lighter than its predecessor in content and gravity, this sequel has a surreptitious and sneaky warmth that is hard to deny. Caleb Jones is a physical acrobat of emotions from the sinister to the silly. He is as iconic as Frank Gorshin's Riddler and there is definitely more than a bit of Malcolm Mcdowell's zany violence within. Jones is a wonder to watch.

Episodic, funny and apprehensive with shadows of anxiety in true Boorman style, "Queen and Country" and "Hope and Glory"  make cozy cousins to Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" in both tone and format. Interestingly, "Empire" author J.G. Ballard too, like Bill, made his home at Shepperton after the war. Indeed Boorman and Ballard both make references to camera in their work. To Ballard,  the very sun is described as a camera, while in the final shot of "Queen and Country," a film camera winds down as if to record the last innocence of Bill Rohan.

The last image with the enhanced sound of film being shuttered is not only a testament to the director's dedication as an auteur, but the closeup of the instrument is so deliberate, we realize the camera itself  is Boorman's body and life-force.

Write Ian at

Sunday, March 29, 2015

It Follows (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

It Follows

In David Robert Mitchell's excellent low-key thriller, "It Follows," there is something rotten in Detroit. The film works wonders with so little, using a few sweeps from a gray lens. Simply put, the film is more about mood then jumpy scares, and there are not that many things that go bump in this kind of urban legend tale, but this film accomplishes a lot with mere suggestion coupled with a brief reveal.  By experiencing a jolting score, a slow pan and horrid cues, we are quickly at this director's mercy.

A girl rushes from her house wearing little else but red high heel shoes. She screams in terror, hysterical. Adults ask her the matter but she is unable to speak. She drives to the beach, squats in the sand and calls her father, apologizing in tears.

The next morning her corpse is seen wrenched at crazy angles, her twisted legs becoming a bony Catherine Wheel. The next few scenes put us into a car with a young girl Jay (Maika Monroe) and a square-jawed generic looking Hugh (Jake Weary ) smooching it up. After a hot time, Hugh knocks out Jay with a whiff of chloroform, explaining that he had a virus that is expressed by having entities wishing to assault him, and the only way for him to be free of the virus is to have sex with someone, which in this case is Jay.

As far fetched as the premise may be it works, because like all good horror stories and films, we are in the logic of a dream.

To start with the laser sharp (yet weirdly blurred at lens edge)  cinematography is superb. We are deep within the muddy deserts of Detroit and there is no escape. The depression in this gloomy land is so carefully shot that the derelict and abandoned houses are almost singed with the beauty of a tale by H.P. Lovecraft. There is also a reverence for the films of John Carpenter in the rich shadowy browns and the wild oranges that speak of sinister things on an October day.

Better still, the music is spot on with a jangling score that pays tribute to "Halloween" but also has a David Lynch accent in its staticky industrial interludes.

Things go from bad to worse for the usually blonde and breezy Jay who is dauntlessly pursued by a humanoid shape, a former friend, a dog, or a something which could be anything. She is sequestered in her room while her friends talk of scoring in empty lots grown over with leaves and insects, nearly the only signs of life.

At night, her friends have lethargic sleepovers with neon orange Doritos laid on shawls, knitted mahogany brown. These young adults live in a curious time capsule of the quasi 1970s waiting for a boogeyman that may never appear.

The final knock is scary with a dry smirk to David Lynch in its strobe lighted spooks.

The real effectiveness of "It Follows" resides in its understated ending with Jay and her old friend Paul (Keir Gilchrist) holding hands. Horror is a human condition and it never really vanishes.

Write Ian at

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Kingsman: The Secret Service

If you ever wondered what a jaunty Colin Firth film might be like mixed with comic book action, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" would be your answer.

The film, directed by Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class) stars Firth as secret agent Harry Hart who is every bit the dapper super spy in the tradition of the British Avengers character John Steed who was played by Patrick Macnee on TV.

In the film, Firth also carries an umbrella.

The Kingsman are an elite group of agents who work under MI-6, and handle whatever delicate and/or violent operations need to be done.

After a botched maneuver in the Middle East, Hart gets word about a kidnapped scientist in Argentina, campily played by none other than Mark Hamill of "Star Wars," and an infiltration by Gazelle, a female amputee assassin (Sofia Boutella). Thrown into the mix is a weird, squeamish super-villain--i suppose--named Valentine delivered by a lisping Samuel L. Jackson, in probably one of the strangest performances you'll ever see in an action film.

Valentine, an eco terrorist, strives to implant a chip in every person that will essentially drive them mad with rage, and cause mass suicides.

There is a mildly poignant sub-plot regarding young Gary (Taron Eggerton) who loses his dad inadvertently at the hands of espionage and as a kind of Bruce Wayne learns the ropes from Harry.

If the action, blood and graphic novel sequences are not to your taste (and to some they might not be) consider the dark humor given by Firth in his role as he reduces an entire pub to a puddle of flesh and then takes the last sip of his Guinness. Seconds later, you half expect him to quote Capote, Julio Cortazar or Oscar Wilde.

Jackson alone is as over the top as we might expect, wearing pink and projectile vomiting at the sight of blood. A violent wildlife activist with a penchant for Mcdonalds?

Just when the uber-zany goings on might turn away the pupils in your eyes for good, the madcap crunching and bashing given by an epileptic Colin Firth (whose dazed and spaced out expressions are priceless after every bloodbath) pull us back into the story full throttle.

What can you say about a film that shows a full church of bigots modeled after the demonic Westboro Baptist Church impale each other with staffs and crosses? Last but not least, numerous heads explode during a dinner party only to turn into drastic dandelions and mushroom clouds of every color. There are several decapitated bodies waiting for plates that will never arrive.

With its visual tintinnabulation of splatter, soup-squash and squish, it is as much a critique of gore exploitation films as a tribute, with Colin Firth offering an odd, almost eerie tone to the lurid affair as well as camp.

"Kingsman: The Secret Service" is one film that clearly out tarts Tarantino.

Write Ian at

Sunday, March 22, 2015

McFarland, USA (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


While director Niki Caro (North Country) doesn't cover new ground in "McFarland, USA," a new film that tells the real life story of a Latino track team that succeeded in the mid 1980 despite laboring at migrant farm work, the energy expressed is impossible to deny.

Kevin Costner, as the no nonsense coach Jim White, fits into his role like a pair of old shoes or Indy's fedora. We know what we're getting but its comforting in a Saturday Matinee kind of way, and Costner has a leathery, but cozy charisma that holds the screen and the audience in place.

Coach White is a the locker room during football halftime and as we can predict, he is nudging and trying to pep up his players. Suddenly one of the boys get mouthy and Jim, meaning to scare the rebellious uncouth young man, throws a shoe at him, drawing blood.

Jim is fired and heads for McFarland California: a small depressed town of produce pickers. His kids wonder if he missed the exit and he quickly acquires a job of phys ed teacher.

The new house is the size of a children's toy block. The Latino neighborhood regards Jim with suspicion. Getting the high school kids motivated is an even bigger challenge, as they are set in apathy.

The verve of the film is in its rapidity and movement, and its amusing rounded characters, especially in the character of Thomas (Carlos Pratts) and the irrepressible Danny (Ramiro Rodriguez). The film does have a familiar Disney pattern, that's true, from the coach saying you can do it, don't give up, to the usual troubled teens. But just when you are hit with a signature cliche, as in "The Million Dollar Arm,"  the film sweeps along with color and motion and this together with Costner's suburban cowboy charm warms in just the right places. Each of the kids from the Diaz brothers to Thomas and Danny are played smoothly with enough time to deliver their own eccentricities.

Not since Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones role has there been such an iconic voice that we respond to and identify, the tough love sound of warm leaves, or the salty mariner, precisely because it speaks of the Hollywood Universal---time honored and worn but never pretentious.

 Disney has it all down like a cinematic Coke recipe and it  will spring the waterworks despite all.  Better yet, it never feels heavy or sodden. The acting is handled simply in brief but emotional detail, and with a plot progression that is so easily recognizable from baseball stories to the warm cross-cultural marinades of "The Hundred Foot Journey," every note is so honestly given, that all formulaic concerns become like  carbonation.

Charm and  harmony in diversity is what we get here, all in brilliant tones. And, if that is not enough there is a bit of magical realism in depicting the runners  who know the "language of the birds." When Kevin Costner delivers his smoky words of Americana while turning his unassuming smile, we feel it. Somehow, everything seen several times is new again.

"McFarland USA" will sneak up on you and have you cheering. This gentle yet earthy story is unapologetically feel-good through and through.

Write Ian at

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Fifty Shades of Grey

Sam Taylor-Johnson's "Fifty Shades of Grey" might have given good reason to bite your lip if it had some surprises, but sadly there is not much largess that deserves to be bestowed upon this leatherette tale.

Ana (Dakota Johnson) is a modest English literature student who agrees to help a friend Kate (Eloise Mumford) write a college article on the mysterious billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). She initially trips and falls upon meeting the automaton Grey. She blushes a la Cinderella and never recovers from a shrugging hesitant naiveté but for one or two scenes. Dakota Johnson is good at simpering and rolling her eyes, and there is one funny line about this very thing.

Dornan is alternately mechanical and piercing. His expression doesn't emote much either aside from gazes from the glazed to the melting.

As the interview progresses, Ana preposterously asks if Christian Grey is gay, from that point on, his interest is piqued. He is riveted to her, his expression an odd mix of catatonia and desire, aloofness and want. But not certainly not lust. Christian looks at Anna like she is a strange insect on the wall.

"I don't make love. I don't do the girlfriend thing" are just a few of the irresistible things he says.  Ok, smooth talker, your place or mine?

Although Anna's interest isn't plausible, (she is practically kidnapped after a drunken vomiting spell) the concept of Christian's otherness, that he is odd and secret is the singular compelling thing in this film, a parallel to the idea of an alien or vampire.

From the first bland interview, Anna is transfixed but the acting of Johnson doesn't convey this intensity. She often chews on a Grey Industry pen or looks longingly off in the distance.

And watch Christian take a bite of toast from Anna's mouth. What an animal!

More than a few times, Ana tries to break off the contact, but again like a vampire, Grey suddenly and all too quickly appears before her.

Unfortunately though most  of the weird, if ludicrous drama is dispensed with, replaced by laborious talk of "the contract" and an analysis of submission and domination. There are several scenes that start with text messages like : "Did you research? Did you sign? I'm waiting in Seattle".

Every conversation starts with mention of contracts and safe words, but for all the bureaucratic foreplay and uneaten sushi, very few naughty nighties are seen.

Regarding the racy sex scenes, it all feels generic, more of a Valentine's Day Whitman's sampler than whips and it is certainly not sexy to see the supposed accoutrements . A Hammacher Schlemmer catalog has more allure. The scenes feel oddly dated and glazed like so much butter creme in pink and blue, rather than black.

Soon after, any mystery and tension that the film did retain comes to an abrupt halt offering a picnic in pleather rather than guilty pleasure.

The only sin in "Fifty Shades of Grey" is that you don't feel the allure or the danger in these characters, let alone any romantic apprehension.

In the end, the stiff as a board Mr. Grey (although ready-made for possible cult status) is all talk.

Write Ian at

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Week of March 20 - March 26 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Travel the World with Films at the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

From a hotel in India to a flat filled with vampires in New Zealand, from the gritty war zone in Iraq to the undersea kingdom of an animated sponge, this week’s films at the Tropic Cinema offer a whirlwind world tour.
"The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is a sequel to the similar-named earlier film about a gaggle of Brits who retire to a rundown hotel in India. Taking up where the last one left off, it follows the hotel’s guests as they prepare for a wedding, Groucho Reviews says this follow-up film "shows little strain in maintaining its cute factor, thanks to the drily winning personalities of the likes of Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and the comic ebullience of Dev Patel." And Denver Post nods, "Sure, it has the comfy vibe of the familiar, but it’s all in feel-good fun."

A laugh-out loud mockumentary, "What We Do In the Shadows" introduces another breed of old-timers, a quartet of vampires facing eternity in Wellington, NZ. Chicago Sun-Times observes, "The New Zealand-made art comedy is a bracing reminder of how the right burst of energy and style breathes fresh ideas into a genre threatened with creative exhaustion." And Detroit News muses, "Maybe it’s something in the water Down Under, but these fellows have managed to concoct a whole new perspective on fangsters."

The highest grossing film of 2014, "American Sniper" follows a lethal military gunman (portrayed by Bradley Cooper) as he wrestles with his conflicting emotions. opines "Politics, commentators and nationalism aside, American Sniper is a damn good film." And Movie Habit says it "rivets our attention while giving us plenty to think about."

For the kids, there’s "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water," an animated film based on the popular TV character. SpongeBob and Plankton join forces to recover a stolen formula for Krabby Patty. New Your Magazine tells us that "it’s big, loud, choppy, in-your-face, and absolutely, positively glorious." Newsday adds, "The frenetic pace and nonstop gags will please young fans."

For feisty adults, there’s "50 Shades of Grey," the erotic tale of a sexy young mogul (Jamie Dornan) who likes to tie people up and the gal (Dakota Johnson) who likes it. Huffington Post calls the film "a syrupy softcore melodrama with perhaps too much dialogue," while 3WA notes that it "unspools as a surprisingly engaging story about sexual naivety, concepts of consent and, ultimately, power."

And "McFarland USA" gives us a coach who turns a ragtag team into a group of cross-country champions. Beret News says, "Kevin Costner has never been more endearing than in this outing as a devoted mentor and family man." And Playboy Online concludes that "it gets us to the finish line with know-how and an aim to please."
So get your ticket and take a trip at the Tropic.


50 Shades of Grey (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies
"50 Shades of Grey" Is Mommy Porn

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A British woman named Erika Mitchell discovered that she liked porn. Well, soft porn with a slightly kinky twist. Something a little more sensual than those bodice-rippers from Harlequin Books. So -- perhaps slightly embarrassed -- she wrote a sexy ebook under the assumed name of E.L. James. She called it "50 Shades of Grey."

She hadn’t had much experience with writing, except for some "Twilight" fanfiction under the nom de plume of "Snowqueens Icedragon." She describes "50 Shades of Grey" as "my midlife crisis, writ large. All my fantasies in there, and that's it."

Fantasies indeed.

Rather than the implied eroticism of a vampire lover that was characteristic of her fanfiction, "50 Shades" ventured into bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, even a touch of sadomasochism. Or BDSM, as the shrinks like to call it.

To Erika’s surprise, other people shared her fantasies. Sales of the ebook took off. In fact, it became such a phenomena that Vintage Books picked it up as an ink-and-paper book. And E.L. James (Erika, that is) wrote two more volumes.

So far, the series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. And it’s earned Erika about $95 million (including $5 million for the movie rights).

Interested, you little pervert you? The cinematic version is currently playing around at the Tropic Cinema.

In it, we meet a college student named Anastasia Steele and a dynamic young businessman, Christian Grey. They are portrayed by two relative newcomers, Dakota Johnson (the daughter of actors Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) and Irish-born Jamie Dornan (a first cousin, twice removed, of actress Greer Garson).

When Ana goes to interview Christian Grey, she finds him enigmatic yet charismatic. He’s attracted to her too. But as she quickly discovers his tastes run to the "non-normative." A control freak in his personal life, just like in managing his businesses, he likes to tie women up and have his way with them.

Being a tad naive, Ana is hesitant, but nonetheless gets sucked into his world of dark eroticism. After all, he’s a handsome, eligible bachelor. Not to mention that he reeks in the aphrodisiac of money and power.

Her Cinderella dreams are quickly replaced by a Rapunzel-like captivity.

Think: "9½ Weeks," that 1986 erotic romantic drama starring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke. But that was more of a male fantasy. "50 Shades of Grey" is designed to go after the female libido. Mommy porn, it’s called.

The question you’re asking yourself about now is will guys like "50 Shades of Grey"? Just go. You don’t have to be a Boy Scout to be interested in knot tying.

What We Do In The Shadows (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

"What We Do In the Shadows" Goes Completely Batty

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Vampires in New Zealand! Why not? If you live forever, you run out of places to visit.

As it turns out, there are four vampires currently residing in a suburb of Wellington -- so if you wanted to interview them for a documentary that’s where you’ve got to take your nervous film crew, brandishing crucifixes and hoping for the best.

That’s the premise of "What We Do In the Shadows," a funny film that’s still playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Yes, it’s a mockumentary (in the Christopher Guest mode), this one whipped up by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, a couple of New Zealander comics of Māori descent.

You’d recognize Clement as the voice of the cockatoo in those "Rio" films or as Boris the Animal in "Men In Black 3." Waititi wrote and directed "Boy," the top grossing film in New Zealand in 2010.

In addition to writing and directing "What We Do In the Shadows," they play two of the vampires -- Vladislav, aged 862, and Viago, aged 317. The other bloodsuckers are handled by Jonathan Brugh and Ben Fransham -- Deacon, aged 183, and Petyr, aged 8,000.

At those ages, you can imagine a certain amount of tedium setting into their daily lives. After all, they have to sit in their dark apartment during the day, only coming out at night to stalk victims. With such limited access to the outside world, technology has passed them by. (Think: Mel Brooks doing his 2,000-Year-Old Man routine).

Deacon has a human servant named Jackie (played by Jackie Van Beek) who does his bidding in hopes he will turn her into a live-forever vampire. She even offers up her boyfriend Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) as a tasty snack.

And Nick has a pal who’s a computer geek (Stu Rutherford), a possible lifeline to the modern world.

A highlight of the story is a masquerade ball attended by our old-timers, along with a dance floor filled with zombies, witches, and assorted succubi.

Fan are still chucking over the funny parts.

"Loved it when two of the characters got into a physical confrontation and transformed into bats. Everyone else shouts in unison: ‘Oooooh, bat fight!!!’."

"Loved the running gags they did with mirrors throughout the movie," chuckles another. "The fact that they couldn't get a sense of how they looked when dressing up to go clubbing…"

"Deacon's ‘erotic’ dance," laughs a third.

"The sandwich joke had me in stitches!" sniggers still another.

One moviegoer summed it up best: "When you very nearly spray a mouthful of drink over the person in front of you, its generally a good indicator the movie is pretty funny."

What We Do In The Shadows (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

What We Do in the Shadows

Director Taika Waititi's raucous and affectionate undead spoof is as free and loose as its jokes. "What We Do in the Shadows" is a vampy cartoon that has the flavor of "This Is Spinal Tap" yet it has an added charm and a flexible innocent energy that those over the top, all too obvious rockers did not seem to have. The humor hits you more, it appears, because the jokes are so rapid and unassuming. Moreover, each character for the most part is fully formed and complete, no cardboard creatures of the night here.

To start with there is Viago (played by Waititi) a gentle, dainty and energetic soul of the night who is delighted by all things dark and dusty. He doesn't bite without exchanging poetry and pleasantries first and foremost. Viago feels the most colorful character and Waititi, although there are laughable bits shared by all the cast, definitely steals the show.

Co-director Jemaine Clement also stars as Vladislav, a kind of Byronic antihero or  Dracula type, the leader of the vampire crash pad who has sex--- or what passes for it--- constantly.

Petyr (Ben Fransham) is the 8,000 year old patriarch who barely utters a sound except for shrieking squeaks. He lurks by intimidation just by the presence of his bald head and rodent like features a la "Nosferatu."

This makes quite a motley crew.

The film is essentially a roommate movie with horror comedy capes and mascara. The story has the good sense to travel light and easy over familiar gothic terrain like a well hydrated bat. The madcap narration is finely interspersed  with terrific horror illustrations from old manuscripts.

There are many laugh out loud moments if not full blown riots, most of it having to do with the aesthetic yearning of Viago countered with the nonchalant aloofness of Vladislav--an Odd Couple in nightshade.

If the sight gags get repetitive, it is the energy of Waititi and Clement that keep everything going with a facile and rapid chemistry and a  detail and delivery that almost equals Mel Brooks in his heyday. Some of the bloodlettings and barbs are unabashedly corny such as Viago hitting an artery during a "date" and a bat wobbling about and crisping itself on a power line, but the silliness never loses a laugh. There is charm in the fact that this episodic mock-tale never takes itself too seriously.

The caring details of lore and and some free wheeling irreverence is well placed.

"What We Do in the Shadows is as much a scarlet tribute to the vampire as it is a ferric and fun night out.

Write Ian at

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Timbuktu (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


The terror group Ansar Dine destroyed a historic shrine in Mali in 2012 and vowed to keep going. Such people work on fear, and any kind of free expression offends them. Such is the case with all fanatical religions regardless of type or deity worshiped. Director Abderrahmane Sissako's "Timbuktu" a rhythmic, disquieting and poetic film, illustrates this circumstance.

At the beginning we are shown the ISIS terror group chase a gazelle, and just as cruelly they destroy a collection of African art. They pulverize the wooden souls of these wonderful sculptures. A breast is sliced clean off, rosewood heads are chopped. In effect, we witness a murder of art.  Heads are left cast aside and violated, dismembered from their bodies. Isis has taken root and everyone is under a cloak of fear, of being arrested, questioned, jailed or shot.

Despite this, life goes on.

The camera homes in on one cattle herder, Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed). He is at peace and lives simply. One day, his son comes to him in tears. Kidane's prized cow, Gps, was killed for straying by his neighbor, Issan (Medhi AG Mohamed). The tall and relaxed man resolves to take action. After a heated fight with close contact, Kidane's pistol fires with the sequence of events unclear.

He is brought before the military court. Though remorseful, Kidane is stoic, his only regret is not seeing his daughter.

Though events are tense throughout, there are some beautiful moments: an eccentric singer, dressed in the colors of a peacock utters her own unique language that escalates higher and higher. Families huddle in their homes to sing covert songs that have a winding haunt, seemingly without origin, a noir silhouette in music. It is the resiliency of sound that carries on,  in opposition to ISIS's deaf and crushing wall.

The coming and going of life attempts to carry on in free orbit with music and dress, but the noose tightens. A fish purveyor is commanded to wear gloves. A jihadist forces a daughter's hand in marriage, seemingly at random. And, more shocking still, "violators" are buried alive and stoned to near death, left to rot in the harsh sun. Their desiccated heads horribly becoming fossilized wooden figures in parallel to the first scene.

On break, the soldiers talk of soccer, unaware that the athletes that they hold so dear may well violate sharia law.

The film moves across the screen in grand powerful colors and shades creating the visual equal of a story penned by Paul Bowles. As timely as it is upsetting, it has the sweep of an epic. "Timbuktu" possesses a poetic shriek and a lyrical slice of life that, to its credit, doesn't soften in comfort.

Write Ian at

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem

Actor Ronit Alkabetz directs and stars in "Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem," a visceral and disturbing analysis of the process involved in obtaining a divorce under the confines of Orthodox law.

Here an Israeli hairdresser, Viviane, (Alkabetz) is in a gray and unloving marriage and seeks a divorce or a gett, to move on rather than face spiritual exile.  Her husband, Elisha (Simon Abkarian) refuses.

The film resembles a stark white stage set for the most part, with three rabbis giving piercing looks.  As minimalist as the setting is, the story holds its own, suspenseful, gripping and hardly ever letting go. The film gives the color white loads of tension.

Viviane is led into an almost blinding pale room. The esteemed Rabi Saloman  (Eli Gornstein) presides over all, his face baleful and imperious.  The obtaining of the divorce is pulled to a stop almost from the start of the trial for the simple reason that Elisha resolves not to communicate or show his face.

The rabbi's hands are tied.

Over a year later, and one by one, witnesses are brought forth. Evelyn (Evelin Hagoel), a friend of Viviane is questioned. While supportive, Evelyn is suddenly interrogated by Elisha's needling counsel and runs for the exit. Then, a mutual friend, Donna, (Dalia Beger) testifies. She is sympathetic of Viviane, but ultimately sides with Elisha, being uncertain as to Viviane's reasons for wanting a gett so badly.

There are numerous postponements and aborted meetings. Nearly two years pass.

At one session,  Viviane's lawyer, Carmel (Menashe Noy) storms out under relentless questions of a supposed affair between the two.

Throughout the trial, Viviane shows a great range of emotion, from disbelief to boredom. There is also cynicism, coupled with a shock and horror that is edged with a deep sadness that has no ground or bottom.  Elisha's face by contrast is held aloft in a perpetual challenge, his expression shellacked in contempt.

The deliberate formal and almost slumberous  proceedings, together with the room's harsh angled walls and impassivity lulls one into a trance. Suddenly, all the soporific geometry is blown apart by Viviane now transformed into a human mistral, a pale Medusa of rage, as she realizes that her hopes of obtaining a divorce from this willed and stubborn man, may well be unreachable and trivial in the eyes of an Israeli court.

"Gett" is deceptive and sneaky in its simplicity . The plodding chatty proceedings almost have the shape of comedy at times only to re-form into a noose knotted for women who happen to ask for what normally would be given in other countries.

The last scene alone is gut-wrenchingly untempered by humanness, and would very likely have kept Franz Kafka up at night.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Week of March 13 - March 19 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Travel Around the World at Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communication

Tropic Cinema members and moviegoers can see the world for the price of a movie ticket. The six films playing there this week take you such exotic locales as India, New Zealand, Israel, Iraq, Peru and London -- even Timbuktu.

Those of you who saw "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" will certainly enjoy its charming sequel, "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Once again we meet up with that gaggle of elderly Brits who retired to a run-down hostelry in India. This time Sonny (Dev Patel) wants to expand his holdings to a second hotel amid the tragi-comic lives of his guests (Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Richard Gere, et al.). Denver Post says, "Sure, it has the comfy vibe of the familiar, but it’s all in feel-good fun." And New York Magazine concurs: "Chances are, if you liked The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, you'll like the second best one as well."

From elderly hotel guests ruminating about death we go to New Zealand to meet up with a group of vampires who live forever in "What We Do in the Shadows." This funny mockumentary examines the challenge Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) faces as a new bloodsucker. Apparently it’s not easy  being among the living dead. Minneapolis Star Tribune calls it "bloody awesome." And Chicago Reader declares, "I’m so sick of vampires I’d have pounded a stake into my own heart not to have to watch this, but it turns out to be a pitch-perfect spoof of MTV’s The Real World and a sly satire on millennial slackerdom."

On a more serious side trip, "Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" takes us inside a rabbinical court in Israel where Viviane (Roni Elkabetz) is suing her husband for divorce. But that’s not so easy to do because a divorce under Jewish law requires the husband’s agreement. Toronto Star tells us, "It may puzzle audiences unfamiliar with the Israeli system but the rigid religious bureaucracy devoted to keeping a married couple together at all cost makes for a superb way of adding layers of tension to this effective drama." And Kaplan vs. Kaplan observes, "This movie manages to get under your skin unlike most other films you’re likely to see."

Again we find ourself in the Middle East with "America Sniper," the story of Chris Kyle, dubbed "the most lethal sniper in US military history. Bradley Cooper makes his mark as the famed marksman in this highest grossing film of 2014. Sacramento News & Review remarks, "What a surprise that rather than an uncritical testament to the might of the armed forces, director Clint Eastwood delivers this complex, conflicted and profoundly moving look at the military machine, and the toll it takes on the soldiers." And Movie Habit says the film "rivets our attention while giving us plenty to think about."

Another encounter with militant Islamists takes place in "Timbuktu," a city in West Africa. Here ISIS occupies the region where a poor cattle herder (Ibrahim Ahmed) is trying to survive under the rule of sharia law. Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes, "Even though the atrocities committed by radical jihadists dominate the headlines and airwaves, few in the West know what it's like to live under their reign." And Cinemalogue calls it, "a sharply observed yet sensitively rendered examination of patriarchal society and religious extremism that doesn't resort to heavy-handed political posturing.

Ending our travels on a lighter vein, we meet up with a cartoon bear who migrates from Peru to London with comic consequences in "Paddington." Jim Broadbent, Nicole Kidman, Sally Hawkins, and Hugh Bonneville show up for the fun, while Ben Whishaw gives us the voice of Paddington. Mountain Xpress finds it to be "a remarkable work -- so far ahead of any live-action (well, mostly live-action) family movies that it would be disgraceful to mention it in the same breath with them. The Nerdist describes it as "Sweet, charming, amusing, and classy. The sort of movie kids will still love when they’re old and cynical."

So buy your ticket and take a cinematic trip at the Tropic!


Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

"Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" Examines Divorce In Israel

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

How does one describe this film? It is a courtroom drama. It is a study of two unhappy people. But it’s more a testimony about the complexity of divorce in Israel.

You see, in that country there is no such thing as civil matrimony or civil divorce. Both must be performed by rabbis.

Problem is, the rabbi cannot divorce a woman without her husband’s permission.

And what does one do if he refuses -- no matter how unhappy the wife may be with the union?

"Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" recounts such a situation. The subtitled Israeli-French film is currently showing at the Tropic Cinema.

"Gett" is the Hebrew word for a divorce document. While the laws of "gittin" only provide for a divorce initiated by the husband, the wife has the right to sue for divorce in a rabbinical court. In rare cases, a divorce can be granted if there’s just cause.

Here Viviane Amsalem has lived separately from her husband for three years. Elijah doesn’t beat or physically abuse her. Neither have been unfaithful to the other. She simply does not want to go back to him.

As a hairdresser, she’s self-supporting, even deposits her salary into their joint bank account. You see, they have 11 years left on paying their home’s mortgage. One child remains at home with the father, but the mother sees him every day and prepares his meals.

Her husband is obstinate. He refuses to agree to a divorce. In fact, he refuses to show up in court except when compelled. The three presiding rabbis are at wit’s end.

They order a trial reconciliation and Vivian returns home but at the next court appearance she reiterates her desire to end the marriage. But Elijah staunchly refuses to agree.

What is the recourse? Court appearance after court appearance, a marathon of nerves, it must continue until one side or the other capitulates.

And as the rabbis probe, all family secrets come out.

This back-and-fourth drama has very little scenic backdrop, the story mostly taking place in a plain courtroom with Viviane, her lawyer, her husband, his brother, and the three rabbis.

"Gett" was directed by siblings Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz. Ronit is not only co-director, she stars as Viviane Armsalem. Simon Abkarian takes the opposing role of her cold and remote husband. Menashe Noy sits in as the wife’s legal representative. Sasson Gabai carries on as the husband’s protective brother. And Eli Gornstein, Roberto Pollak, and Rami Danon give us the three wise men. A small cast for a small, tightly told story.

Ronit Elkabetz is one of Israeli cinema’s most acclaimed actresses. You may have seen her in "Late Marriage" or "The Band’s Visit." Both are notable films worth your Netflix search.

And you may have caught a glimpse of Simon Ebkarian in the 007 film "Casino Royale."

"Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" was Israel’s entry as Best Foreign Language Film in the 87th Academy Award.









Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Maps to the Stars (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies
"Maps to the Stars" Skewers Hollywood

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Have you ever gone to Hollywood and bought one of those maps showing where movie stars live? Celebs don’t like that a lot, their private home life intruded on by prying tourists, noisy tour buses, hoards of paparazzi, and the occasional stalker.

Can’t blame ‘em.

But it goes with the fame.

"Maps to the Stars" -- the new David Cronenberg film that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema -- takes a satirical look at Hollywood stars and their relationship to the caustic show-biz world.
Julianne Moore (Oscar-winner for "Still Alice") portrays Havana Segrand, a famous but fading movie star haunted by memories of her overbearing mother, a harridan who was also a famous actress.

Miss Segrand hires an assistant (Mia Wasikowska) who happens to be a schizophrenic pyromaniac from Jupiter (Florida, that is). Meant to be the anchor of the film, this weird girl Agatha is the daughter of a famous TV psychologist and his ambitious wife (John Cusack and Olivia Williams). She also has a brother who is a Bieber-esque teen superstar (Evan Bird). And she rides around Beverly Hills in a limousine driven by a wannabe screenwriter (Robert Pattinson).

Hard to tell where R-Pat’s career is going after the conclusion of those megahit "Twilight" sagas. In Cronenberg’s most recent film ("Cosmopolis") he played a fat-cat Wall Street type riding around in a limousine. In this one, he has been demoted to limo driver. For purposes of the movie, it’s his job to say vicious things about celebs who haven’t earned a rightful place in the Hollywood pantheon.

But there’s no question about Julianne Moore’s rightful standing, her career headed ever-upward with her recent Oscar win. Here she’s hilarious as a vapid and profane movie star, a pastiche that seems familiar.

As for "Maps to the Stars," Cronenberg’s sendup of the movie business is funny and bitchy and often "altogether impenetrable as a standard narrative." Given the status of Agatha’s parents and her burn marks, he seems to be saying in a rather heavy-handed way that Hollywood is both an incestuous and scarred place.

Maybe he’s right. But when it comes to skewering Hollywood, I’d rather watch Billy Wilder’s "Sunset Boulevard."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Alas, here is a feel-good sequel if nothing else--- a visual mango lassi for the eyes. I'm speaking of "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," the second chapter to director John Madden's sleeper hit that charmed and beguiled audiences, featuring some quirky folks in India mostly fretting about Merry Olde England.

The first outing had a sneaky freshness and a haunt that hung beneath the pop art visuals. The characters possessed longing and mystery and something of the feeling of being a stranger. Sometimes they waited and sighed and groped about listlessly or laughed in claps. Above all else under the trappings of a romantic comedy, there was a quality of the unexpected.

Now here, the setting is very much the same but the vermilion punch is diluted.  Yes, the gang is all here yet it all seems a bit sedate and soporific.

Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) is well ensconced, having a new role as advisor to Sonny (Dev Patel) and his beloved hotel.  Surprise surprise, Sonny wants to expand with Mrs. Donnelly coming along. They head out to California to talk to a venture capital exec (David Strathairn) about financing.

It isn't that the sequel is so much of a turkey, it is just more akin to tofu. Where before there was a kind of tension underneath the saffron and sizzle now there is only soup drama and silliness. The pensive qualities that an actor like Tom Wilkinson gave to the first story have vanished now. There are several subplots with all of them sounding the same beat of the tabla.

Sonny is behind the desk, bubbling over and uptight. Judi Dench's Evelyn is also here, now happily working in textiles. There is some drama afoot with Sonny wanting to expand while a romantic rival Kushal (Shazad Latif) buys a property out from under him. Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) appears as well, once again so worried about women.  One Guy Chambers, a laconic and somewhat passive American arrives (Richard Gere). The regulars are curiously taken by him, in spite of his bemused, and slightly tickled, self satisfied expression that never changes. Is this Guy a con, a writer, or a laughing buddha? Whatever the case, he carries his faux pas with ease (especially when he participates in a Bollywood dance), invariably a calm silver fox throughout.

All this worry and fret about relationships and romantic oneupmanship reduces every act to clarified ghee and every face feels like a cameo.  There is so much coming and going, adding to little than more than a sparkle. Maggie Smith does have the best grouch lines leaving many of the other quips sounding confined and formulaic.

One wonderful exception however is the cinematography by Ben Smithard which transforms the scenes of The Marigold into a masterful Rajput miniature from the 18th Century. The colors vibrate and thrive into the very pulse of a pomegranate. The wedding scene alone is threaded with the prismatic blood of a peacock and such rich and sumptuous colors almost give the film its saving grace.

For the most part though, "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is another go around of a  Shangri-La in Septuagenaria  and it proved a richer, thoughtful and more punchy karmic comedy in its earlier form.

Write Ian at

Goodbye to Language (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Goodbye to Language

Jean Luc Goddard's "Goodbye to Language" is not for every eye, granted, but it is a stand alone piece, an adventure and a voyage that takes no concessions or offer apologies.

It is a literal abstract painting on film and from the very start it is jarring.

In a 3D perspective that is 3D and beyond, we are put right up against a man's chest as he reads Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. We can see the words on the page, his hair follicles, the dirt on his fingers.


Then the scene changes to passerby on their iPhones. Again one is an ultra intrusive watcher. Suddenly there is an acid green field of flowers in the style of Warhol that one could watch all day. Abruptly then there is murk, darkness and quiet as if the audio has malfunctioned followed by very loud shouting that will make you tense and uneasy.

At once, we are at street level with gunfire and blood on the pavement. Given the sound of the rain that hits you like a drum, my body was a tense wire from here on out.

There is a woman (Heloise Godet) talking with a man (Kamel Abdeli) about philosophy and war. The TV is in the back which takes up three quarters of the screen. In the next scene, the couple is nude with the flesh almost getting you in the eye. The man has big ungainly feet with dirt and a bad toenail that is red and blistering. Up so close, this couple feels alien and monstrous.

Throughout the film, the perspective changes from 2D to 3D, with glossy overexposures that tire and exhaust the eye. Then it hits me we are in the perspective of a dog. There is one that drifts in an out of the film as a kind of mute narrator.

At times, I was afraid to move a muscle, my face a rictus of apprehension in awaiting the next percussive blow or sight of blood, redder than red. To feel this effect is wondrous.

As uncomfortable as it may make you, "Goodbye to Language" is a sensation and a complete sensual experience. Not since "Un Chien Andalou" has there been such a daring puzzle of a film, presenting nothing short of a hostile valentine to the public.

As singular and confusing as it is, Goddard is to be applauded for pushing limits. Every 3D film should be this brave.

Write Ian at

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Maps to the Stars (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Maps to the Stars

Fans of David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis) will notice some similar terrain straightaway in "Maps to the Stars"  a Nathanael West (Day of the Locust) type black humor tale of a Hollywood gone to the narcissists. While the theme is not new by any means, Cronenberg makes the film his own by giving the characters his trademark spaced-out, yet strangely nervous tone.

We have a child actor Benjie (Evan Bird) who is offensive, aloof and nasty beyond nasty. He holds his head high, crane-like in an imagined heaven, drifting above it all, and a spurned sister Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who is a victim of a fire and obsessed with Carrie Fisher. She scratches and frets.

To round off the gruesome group, there is  John Cusack as their father Stafford, a self satisfied guru, and Julianne Moore as Havana Segrand, an insecure and jealous actress. None of these people are likable but then again, one doesn't go to a Cronenberg film to see pleasant people.  The fun is in seeing how outrageous they are or how monstrous they become. Here everyone is selfish, manic and bothered by phantoms: literal incarnations of sadness, fear, guilt or the regret of inaction.

Havana is driven by a desire for fame and notoriety, a mediocre actor, she is absorbed by conquering a mother who sexually abused her. The snotty-faced Benjie feels his charm slipping away and wants to stay on top at all cost, to headline every teen movie. At a hospital he visits an ailing girl Cammy (Kiara Glasgo), and the actor vows to do a biopic of her life. Then, in the next instant he leaves without a word and verbally eviscerates his producer with offensive language.

Benjie is visited in his dreams almost every night by Cammy, which drives the boy batty.  Havana too, is driven crazy by the ghost of her incestuous mother which drains the freckles from her face. Enter sister Agatha who wears long dominatrix gloves and is held together by the surrealist poetry of Paul Eluard.

Evan Bird's performance alone gives Damien from "The Omen" a run for the money, not too mention Patty McCormack from "The Bad  Seed," while Julianne Moore is eerily right out of the mind of Roman Polanski, as she scarily sends up her earnest, good girl persona. A bathroom scene is a taboo breaker and a possible nod to Alfred Hitchcock who always wanted to use a toilet in his films and finally got the chance in "Psycho".

While these flattened out, hyperbolic and bizarre types may not be to everyone's taste, it is after all quintessential Cronenberg country,  whose films represent strange realms where the people have odd conditions of the body and mind, and emotions are secondary or minor for no apparent reason.

If nothing else, there is haunting power in Mia Wasikowska's recitation of Eluard's love poem "Liberté" that anchors this mocking tale in a minor key, giving it a kind of sarcastic, yet Shakespearean power:

On any granted flesh
On my friends’ forehead
On every hand held out
I write your name...

This coupled with a last scene of  Benjie and Agatha, as they lie down together (still as brother and sister) makes "Maps to the Stars" a dark and sly poison pen parody of the tween epic "The Fault in Our Stars."

For the awareness of our current age that still spins in a surrealist arc, and its quickness in skewering most trends held sacred in cinema, "Maps to the Stars," despite having the flavor of automatic writing by employing the director's usual  types, still remains daring enough to see.

Write Ian at

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Week of March 6 - March 12 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview 
Tropic Cinema Brings in Comforting Newbies

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Some old friends return to the Tropic ... we meet new and interesting people ... and we get to revisit some old haunts from our nightclubbing days in New York City.
Yes, those lovable Brits return in "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," again featuring that marvelous ensemble cast of Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Penelope Wilton -- and Dev Patel as the Indian hotel manager. And to spice up this sequel, Richard Gere checks in. ABC Radio says, "It’s a crass cash-in, but these old thespians are charming as hell, and the movie coasts breezily by on that alone, which is just enough." Spirits and Practice sees it as "a delightful visit with old friends." And San Jose Mercury News compares it to "sipping a comforting cup of warm tea."

Another newbie coming to Tropic is "Maps to the Stars," David Cronenberg’s biting satire about Hollywood. With Julienne Moore as a fading actress (far from true in real life for this recent Oscar-winner), we’re introduced to a pantheon of Tinseltown characters.
Common Sense Media says this "dark sendup of Hollywood mixes wit with abuse, dysfunction." And Dallas Morning News opines, "Moore delivers something remarkable here: a completely ego-free portrait of a woman who knows only ego."

"Still Alice" gives you another view of Julienne Moore, this film sharing her Best Actress performance as a woman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. Madison Movie calls it "a valuable lesson in empathy and understanding." And Times-Picayune concludes, "Julianne Moore isn’t merely good in the lead role. She’s devastatingly, heartbreakingly good…"

"Leviathan" is another newbie, the story of an auto mechanic (Alexeï Serebriakov) who lives in a small fishing town near the Barents Sea in this biting examination of modern Russian bureaucracy. Austin Chronicle notes, "The Russian Federation's 2015 Academy Award entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category (it lost to Poland’s ‘Ida’) lives up to its title and then some. And San Diego Union-Tribune adds, "Anton Chekhov would have been proud."

Also new to Tropic screens is "Goodbye to Language" ("Adieu Au Langage"), the Jean-Luc Goddard film about a dog observing a couple’s rocky romance. Rotten Tomatoes tells us, "The artist's beloved dog Roxy is the de facto ‘star’ of this film …" and says the story is "as impossible to summarize as a poem by Wallace Stevens or a Messiaen quartet." observes, "Jean-Luc Godard is an original and at 84 has lost none of the youthful vitality he demonstrated in his first feature."

Adding action to the lineup is Oscar-nominated "American Sniper," with Bradley Cooper as "the most deadly sniper in US history." Movie Habit says the Clint Eastwood film "rivets our attention while giving us plenty to think about …" while Sacramento News & Review finds it to be a "complex, conflicted and profoundly moving look at the military machine, and the toll it takes on the soldiers."

Wrapping it all up is "Go Nightclubbing," four nights of documentary footage from the punk rock scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Hosted by filmmakers Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong, these 8 one-hour films are making their US cinema premiere right here in Key West … at the Tropic.