Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Little Chaos (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

  A Little Chaos

 In "A Little Chaos" directed by actor Alan Rickman, there is a bare trace  of the melodramatic 'bodice ripper.'

We are in France during the 1600s and Kate Winslet plays Sabine De Barra, a landscaper hired to work on an the outdoor theater on the grounds of Versailles. She is haunted by the phantoms of her past, specifically the death of her young daughter. She lives for the Nature within her. She is so intense that ferns appear to spin in her eyes like Catherine Wheels. When she applies for the job, Sabine is already infamous as a woman who employs a kind of anarchy in her designs that have a respect for the whimsy of Nature.  From the very start, both men and women nip at her heels with whispers of derision.

Sabine is outspoken and individualistic, quite similar to the heroine in "Far From the Madding Crowd".

Matthias Schoenaerts, who starred in the aforementioned Thomas Hardy film, plays the leonine master architect Le Notre, as a morose and taciturn man.

Overseeing it all is Alan Rickman himself in the role of King Louis XIV: a jaded and melancholy figure of royalty. He doesn't exactly inspire fear as he intends, but does look down his nose at others, so in this sense, he is aptly posed as a snooty, ineffectual king.

Rickman has one good scene with Winslet in solitude, appearing as a child who knows very little. He is usually all voice with no vigor and the film illustrates this well.

The cinematography too, by Ellen Kuras, is beautiful,  showing the entire garden in a full sweep as a scroll of Oriental tapestry. The garden itself is a moody living thing. Sometimes it is swamp-like and unruly, gray in sadness, but brought to potential, it dazzles in brilliance as if peppered by gold.

But as a romance, "A Little Chaos" stumbles along the path. The usually compelling Schoenaerts is an odd drip of a man, seeming to be on valerian root. His character almost flatlines. This is all the more curious given that the vivacious and driven Sabine is practically bursting at the seams. For such a high powered man, we learn little of Le Notre with the flowing sienna hair, except that he is endlessly badgered by his hissing wife (Helen McCrory).

Actor Stanley Tucci has a glorious and pleasing gallivant as Duke Phillippe d'Orleans. In his role, Tucci is glib, silly and perfectly puffed and powdered.

The film succeeds more as a portrait of the creation of Versailles itself, merely through the encapsulating camera and the soft depictions of the landscape that hit upon us in layers, almost as in watercolor.

And we also get a feel for Sabine herself as she lies along a huge arcing tree, the branches extending beyond her body to create a strange and wild voluptuous creature whose purpose is ahead of its time.

For the most part though, we get a lot of fretful and stern faces, anoxic, pained and held by whispers.

All that "A Little Chaos" needed was a shot of genuine mayhem to live up to its title. Visually, this is a verdant green feast, albeit blighted by a patch of ennui.

Write Ian at

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Escobar: Paradise Lost (Brockway)

Escobar: Paradise Lost 

There is a wonderful painting by Fernando Botero, showing the death of the druglord Pablo Escobar. In the painting Escobar sways above the rooftops like a supernatural being. Though he is earthy and formidable, he seems over-inflated and superciliously puffed up like a hot air balloon, full of ego and hyperbole. The gangster is swept up in a tango of bullets, one part elegance and one part violence. The portrait shows the desire of this man to become the lord of power while pining for a folk hero's status.

The film "Escobar: Paradise Lost" aims for this mythic, larger than life feeling but only partially succeeds.
Most of the story concerns a happy go lucky young Canadian, Nick (Josh Hutcherson) who falls in love with the vivacious Maria, Escobar's niece (Claudia Traisac) in a kind of Romeo & Juliet twist. While Hutcherson does quite well, he is a bit too blandly positive to be believable. Sure he is smitten by the intoxicating Maria: an infectious smile on legs, but he doesn't seem to sense the danger of Escobar until several months later.

This feels a bit far fetched.

The couple does have a winning chemistry. The amorous ambition of Nick twinned with the giddy delight of Maria, who has the charisma of a role by Natalie Wood vividly shows through.

This relationship is the highlight of the film.

The delight of our young lovers turns to darkness when Nick meets the imposing and granite faced Escobar (Benicio del Toro) He marches about and glares with scary eyes, even when he plays in the pool with his kids and it doesn't take long for the Big Chief to size up this Romeo, verde behind the ears.

There is one key scene where Escobar attempts to warm up to Nick by talking to him about love and the poetry in a song, but invariably del Toro gives his character one note: a menacing gloom. Periodically Escobar wears a bearded disguise and often it is in these moments when he feels the most plastic and grotesque, though this can also be thought of as an effect of the surreal.

Midway, the narrative goes formula as it strays away from its romantic tension and becomes more about Nick evading the Wrath of Escobar which hangs over everything in an all too solid emphasis, in its delineation of Bad Hombres.

Some well executed tension is to be found in a scene between Nick and a teenager (Micke Moreno) hired as a middleman with explosives.

The film is at its best in showing Nick caught in an incomprehensible culture of blood and bullets, racing for the girl he loves. But this plot line is dropped to follow him in peril.
Escobar feels too heavy, a black curled villain in india ink, underscored with exclamation points. Escobar the man doesn't give much to Nick other than MIGHT.

At the film's end, Escobar verbally insults a priest and del Toro's savage delivery, tells us more about this character in two minutes than in the entire film.

Escobar was most likely a person of menace and charisma as the work by Botero suggests. In "Escobar: Paradise Lost" however, we only get this man's weight and none of his wiles.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo. Com

Friday, June 26, 2015

Week of June 26 - July 2 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Time Is of the Essence at Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communication

Tropic Cinema is like a magnificent time machine, taking you backward and forward to differing periods with the flick of a projector switch.

Putting our time machine into gear and jumping back to the 17th Century, we encounter “A Little Chaos,” a period romance directed by actor Alan Rickman. He introduces us to the court of Louis XIV of France where a Parisian woman named Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) is hired to design a fountain at Versailles but in the process falls for the King’s landscaper (Matthias Schoenaerts). Alan Rickman, of course, plays Louis XIV. New York Times proclaims, “Mr. Rickman has found in the Sun King a character worthy of his imperious, reptilian charisma.” And Chicago Reader agrees: “Alan Rickman was born to play the Sun King -- or any king, really.”

Edging the time machine’s dial forward a few notches, “Love & Mercy” allows us to dream of California in the 1960s when Brian Wilson was at the peak of his success with the Beach Boys. Then moving the controls another click we’re in the ‘80s when the schizoid musician finds himself under
the thumb of an unscrupulous shrink. Paul Dano and John Cusack respectively portray Wilson at these two stages of his life. Filmink comments on fledgling director Bill Pohlad’s “ability to weave these two very specific periods together, while also making them as detail-rich as possible.” And The Skinny calls it “that rarest of things: a music biopic that doesn’t just tell you about a tortured genius, it puts you in their head.”

A more immediate time zone is found in “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” a contemporary story of a widow (Blythe Danner) who decides to make new friends -- befriend the pool guy, try speed-dating, fall for a lanky millionaire (Sam Elliott). Detroit News calls it “a touching, funny and thoughtful film that trades in honesty rather than artifice.” And Fresno Bee describes it as “a beautiful and smart coming-of-old-age film.”

“Escobar: Paradise Lost” is an edge-of-your-seat romantic thriller about a surfer (Josh Hutcherson)
who discovers that his girlfriend’s uncle is none other than Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar (wonderfully played by Benicio del Toro). Los Angeles Times says, “When you have the fortune of landing an actor like Del Toro, it's almost criminal to spend so much time watching the scales fall from an innocent's eyes when we could be watching a master actor convey quiet, sleepy-eyed, mumbling menace.” And Arizona Republic adds, “Taken on its own terms, this isn't a bad little movie.”

And finally our time machine jumps to a dystopian future with “Mad Max: Fury Road,” where we find Max (Tom Hardy) joining Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) for a non-stop shoot-‘em-up chase across the blighted wastelands. The Nation says, “Unlike action directors of the plodding sort, George Miller doesn’t ask you to understand the deliriously strange world into which he throws you headlong. He just wants to change the parts you recognize.” And the Patriot Ledger concludes, “It’s everything you want your summer blockbuster to be: loaded with insane action, hot actors and death-defying stunts.”

So strap yourself in for a great ride at the Tropic.

A Little Chaos (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Alan Rickman Adds “A Little Chaos” to Louis XIV’s Court
 Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Remember Severus Snape, a professor of the Dark Arts in all those “Harry Potter” movies? That role was played by Alan Rickman, a former member of the Royal 
Shakespeare Company. His breakout role came as Vicomte de Valmont in the 1982 stage production of “Les liaisons dangereuses.” 

Well, Rickman is up to his old magic again, this time both directing and starring in “A Little Chaos,” a period film set in the court of King Louis XIV of France. It’s currently holding court at Tropic Cinema.

Here, a Parisian woman named Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet) applies to design a fountain for the gardens of Versailles. Despite her unlikely candidacy, she gets the assignment when landscaper André Le Nôtre (Matthias Schoenaerts) notices her moving a potted plant to a better location while waiting for her interview. He likes her non-traditionalist approach.

And, of course, he falls for her, no matter that he already has a wife at home (Helen McCrory).

Even though André’s wife has a lover on the side, she shows a tinge of jealousy and all but destroys Sabine’s Versailles project by unleashing a flood. But in O.J. fashion, she leaves a glove behind which André finds. It’s sort of like having a Get Out of Jail Free card.

If this landscaping disaster were not bad enough, Sabine is haunted by the memories of her dead daughter and husband. But you guessed it, André is there to lean on.

Meanwhile Sabine has gained favor with the King (Alan Rickman, of course) after mistaking him for a gardener. Turns out, he’s an all-right guy as far as royalty goes. 

Producer Zygi Kamasa proudly stated, “We are delighted to be working with the best of British actors and directors like Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman.” Ignoring that Matthias Schoenaerts is Belgian and Stanley Tucci (playing the King’s dandified brother) is American.

Rickman has a message to deliver. “The film is not just frills at the wrists and collars. It’s about people getting their hands dirty and building something in order to entertain the other world they serve. It’s about how one world maintains the other, often at the cost of women.

Kate Winslet elaborates. “I definitely felt that there were similarities between myself and Sabine. She’s overcome a lot of grief in her life and certain degrees of extreme hardship and I’ve had a bumpy ride in my personal life as well. I admire the fact that she could do that. She didn’t carry the grief with her or expect the world to pity her. She just picked herself up and carried on because she had to in order to survive.

Alan Rickman points out that Sabine de Barra is the only fictitious character in the film, all the others being based on historical people. “We play fast and loose with history anyway -- it’s a joke that a woman like Sabine could have existed at all. It would have been impossible. Hopefully telling a story that after a while you forget about period and think, wow, a totally male dominated world in which women are just decorative objects. What would be the modern parallels of that, perchance? And all sorts of other things about people with power, usually men.”

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Mad Max: Fury Road

Be on high alert. Max is back! Better yet, director George Miller is at the helm in "Fury Road," this fourth chapter of the Mad Max story that made Mel Gibson made famous. Here, the enigmatic Tom Hardy more than fills Gibson's existential boots and does not disappoint for one second.

As strong and wonderfully nonverbal as Tom Hardy is, the real star is the camera itself in showing us a world that is apocalyptic, yet also as literate, colorful and eccentric as Dante's Inferno.

All is now desert after a great war. Both man and beast have burrowed underground. When they venture out for water or chrome, everything is saturated by sand.

The people are shackled and brainwashed by a sadist dictator, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who is a bit like Hannibal Lecter in wearing a huge skull muzzle. Once in a blue moon, he toys with the masses by letting them have water for one minute and then shuts it down.

He goes through considerable torment in fitting a plexiglass exoskeleton over himself as his body is covered with tumors that impair his lungs. His neck is covered in leather.

This Joe is a fearsome creature.

Max is held captive by Joe's minions who are painted entirely white and used as zombies.

Periodically, Max is consumed by survivor's guilt and he is punished and haunted by children who ended up slaughtered or half dead. These flashbacks are some of the film's best moments as George Miller accelerates the film making it appear a liquid form with one image covering the other almost like acrylic or watercolor paint. This technique is similar to Stan Brakhage or Maya Deren, as the images often blur and twist upon the other becoming a nuclear Rorschach test of demonology and disease, one part Poe and Artaud.

Rest assured Max is on the road once again this time as a human figurehead on the prow of a war vehicle.

He encounters a soldier, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is working for Joe in carrying fuel across a border. Furiosa is a female mirror of Max, savage and direct.

The action is quite literally nonstop and Tom Hardy gives the character of Max a refreshing and peculiar charge as he is mostly monosyllabic, yet still possessing of an ironic nonchalance, a sort of Indiana Jones for the End of Days.

More than the action though, this installment is at its best when it simply shows endless stretches of blazing butter-colored sand. Rabid people scream over it like ants, pumping their arms and pouring fountains of fire upon the dunes like the water that is in short supply. Driving demons roar and rage and speak in tongues as they spray their mouths with silver paint to give courage.

There is an electric guitar player who screeches on and on, playing ever more frenetically as he is thrown as a projectile from one car to the other.

The single most arresting image however, may be that of Max buried under a huge mound, his own physical body becoming a slab of unforgiving nature. When he awakens, Max is a gruesome Gulliver left in a world of little people who use slabs of recycled metal to make themselves tower over the other with small hearted intimidation and greed.

There is humor too. When Max is left with one quiet moment, he yearns to get free of his face
restraint. He is within reach of every weapon imaginable but can do nothing to liberate himself from his mouth prison, even after dispensing scores of villains with his bare hands.

Despite his strength, Max is reduced to guzzle water and scratch at his neck like a dog.

Even if the meth amphetamine action is not your bag, George Miller's unique and eye popping maelstroms, very near to the stuff of Milton, is impossible to ignore. Along with the staccato camera there is a fair amount of perilous poetry, and something akin to  melancholy in the vast stretching fields.

In "Mad Max: Fury Road", Tom Hardy gives a solid tribute, while all but out-madding Mel Gibson with a face that is truly spaced out though full to the brim with hyperactive angst.

Write Ian at

Saturday, June 20, 2015

I'll See You In My Dreams (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

I'll See You in My Dreams

The iconic Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents) stars in the likable and emotional character study "I'll See You in My Dreams" by director Brett Haley. Haley is particularly adept in portraying the way in which little gestures give way to piercing jolts as in the initial closeups of Danner's character, Carol. As she keeps vigil over her sick dog Hazel, Carol's face is half sad with disappointments that have been building for decades in the way she looks deep into the soulful eyes of her close friend and companion. Throughout the film, Carol is stuck between a confused smile and a sigh. She is shocked and moved into a quizzical orbit by life's perils, most significantly, 
the death of her husband.

Publicly she maintains good cheer, yet in private a shade darkens her soft smile. If there ever was a human muppet, Carol would be one.

Despite her sadness, Carol meets with her quirky friends -- Georgina (June Squibb), Sally (Rhea Perlman), and Rona (Mary Kay Place). The three trade bawdy quips to one another, but often they simply look at each other with knowing brows. In this film looks convey much information that makes dialogue merely incidental, to the movie's credit. 

Periodically, Carol is harassed by a large black rat, who runs throughout the house only to vanish at random. The rodent might well symbolize the changing events in Carol's life and her fear, given that it first appears during Hazel's diagnosis. Sam Elliott gives a wonderfully understated performance as Carol's new love partner, Bill. He is an earthy country club cowboy, a smoothly seductive type and a self-sufficient bon vivant. He likes to charm but doesn't flaunt.

Each scene is given room to breathe and not one moment is played for easy laughs. Rather than spell everything out at once, we are given blocks of conversational exchanges with each character revealing themselves through a vividness of gesture and behavior a bit at a time, much as in real life.

Martin Starr gives a solid outing as well as Lloyd, a pool cleaner bound by self doubt. While he is somewhat comical in his monotone voice and his hesitant body language, he is by no means a cartoon as his character may have been delivered in other films. His last scene in particular, when he sings a song for Carol in a shaky yet longing tone, has an intense and honest spirit that many films lack, when carried away by headline stars.

The breezy charm of "I'll See You in My Dreams" is infectious and sneaks up on you bit by bit, not all at once like some films.

This is not a big story nor does it pretend to be. Yet in small turns, within the angles of Carol's pensive yet expectant face, you'll know something of what it is to be human, one part watching, one part waiting mixed with tangible want and some real satisfaction in between.

Write Ian at

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Week of June 19 - 25 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Musical Interludes Morph Into Mindless Action on Tropic Screens

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Tropic Cinema lets you choose dramedy and music or action and adventure. It’s a toss up, depending on your mood.

For instance, “I’ll See You In My Dreams” explores a widow’s future -- from friendships to dating to love. Blythe Danner (Gwyneth’s mom) gives an affecting performance as a woman facing life’s disappointments. St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the film is “at once funny and poignant -- and not just for moviegoers of a certain age.” And Philadelphia calls it “delicate and nuanced, with writing that rejects, or at least reshapes, the clichés of movies about people facing the glare of their sunset years.

“Love & Mercy” looks at a life that nearly goes off kilter -- that of Beach Boy’s Brian Wilson. In this two-track look at his life (he’s played by both Paul Dano and John Cusack), we see the highs and
lows as he deals with mental disorders. crows “This has to be the best-sounding movie ever made, and like Brian Wilson himself, it's full of naked emotion, while still retaining an air of mystery.” And calls it “... a stylish effort that smartly avoids a straightforward approach in portraying Wilson as a troubled genius.”

“Pitch Perfect 2” is a musical comedy, the continuing saga of the Bellas, a collegiate a capella group led by Beca (Anna Kendrick). Can these frenzied females win the world championship despite
numerous mishaps? Tampa Bay Times says, “The first movie was a sweet, simple song. This one is a gaudy production number.” But Dark Horizons tells us this sequel “retains the musical verve that made the first film so great.”

Russell Crow weighs in with his directorial debut, “The Water Diviner. In it, he plays an Aussie father who goes to Turkey in search of three sons who are missing from the war. Sacramento News and Review sees it as “

It's an old-fashioned movie in the best sense, beautifully photographed by Andrew Lesnie.” And Media Mike declares it to be “a first rate classic that's sure to be remembered come Oscar time.”

“Mad Max” gets a new face, that of Tom Hardy in this tale of a dystopian future where savage ISIS-like tribes roam the wastelands. He’s helping Charlize Theron and a tanker of breeders make their escape from a warlord. Spliced Personality exclaims, “You stumble out of the theatre giddy about what films can do, transported by the breathtaking velocity in this battering ram of a picture that just goes, goes, goes and then keeps on going.” And Spectrum describes it as “Thunderously entertaining.”

And for even more action -- if that’s possible -- we have “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” another blockbuster from Marvel featuring an ensemble of your favorite superheroes (Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, et al.). says, “It has color, great delivery, amusing interludes, a cohesive story, and a payoff that doesn't betray the sensibilities of its direction.” Movie Chambers notes that “mindless action rules, punctuated only by super hero/villain quips.” And Sci-Fi Movie Page gushes: “Stan Lee says, "Excelsior." If that doesn't get you bouncing off the walls, you've clearly come to the wrong franchise.”

I'll See You In My Dreams (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“I’ll See You In My Dreams” Won’t Leave You Rested

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

What do you do when all your friends are in a retirement home, you’re a widow with little to do but play cards, and your dog has just died?

Well, you could befriend the pool guy. Or try speed dating. Or fall for a lanky, laconic millionaire.

Carol (Blythe Danner) tries all three in “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” the new dramedy playing at Tropic Cinema.

Is director-writer Brett Haley trying to depress you?

No. As Carol’s estranged daughter Katherine (Marlin Ackerman) explains, you should be focusing on what you have now, not what you’ve lost.

Easier said than done.

But Carol does have her friends (June Squibb, Mary Kay Place, and Rhea Perlman), the trio acting kind of like a Greek chorus in this attempt to turn Tragedy into Comedy.

Carol makes beautiful music with the pool guy (Martin Starr). You see, he’s really a songwriter and she’s a singer of sorts. Then she does that speed dating thing, an experience so awful you’ll find it funny. And then there’s the millionaire (Sam Elliot) who steals her heart with a wink and a smile.

So why aren’t we smiling?

Maybe we should be. Sometimes life’s so depressing there’s nothing left to do but smile.

Mad Max: Fury Road (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Mad Max” Returns With New Star

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Director George Miller presented us with a dystopian future in 1979’s “Mad Max,” a violent road warrior epic starring an Australian newcomer named Mel Gibson. This heroic incarnation of a former
 highway patrolman named Max gave us a flicker of hope in a future where gasoline is the currency du jour.

But ol’ Mel let us down.

After scaling the Hollywood hills, giving us a series of comedic cop movies, and getting rich off “The Passion of Christ,” he turned out to have feet of clay. After a series of bitter fights with his mistress, run-ins with the law, DUI’s, and racial and sexist rants, we needed another role model.

Enter stage left, Tom Hardy.

The British actor (you saw him driving around in “Locke,” and he was Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises”) has stepped into Gibson’s boots, starring in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” George Miller’s recent remake of his post-apocalyptic masterpiece. This time around he delivers even more fast-car action, more pyrotechnics, more … well, heroism.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is currently battling it out on screens at the Tropic Cinema.

As Max tells it: “My world is reduced to a single instinct: survive. As the world fell it was hard to know who was more crazy, me … or everyone else.”

In this stark desert wasteland, Max Rockantasky teams up with a mysterious woman known as Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron sets aside her Oscar statuette to take on this role). Max plans to lead Furiosa back to her homeland, a place that might offer a key to humanity’s survival.

Needless to say, this pilgrimage is challenged by the tribes of crazies who ride about in souped-up dune buggies and monster trucks like warring bands of ISIS.

Read into it what you will.

George Miller (“Happy Feet,” “Babe: Pig In the City”) sees this movie more as a reboot than a remake. He deliberately set the action years after Max loses his family because he “did not want to retell the story that had already been told.” Also, this gave him a chance to update the Mad Max universe, taking it beyond the three earlier films that starred Mel Gibson.

It was rumored that Gibson would have a cameo role as a drifter in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” but don’t look for him in the final cut. He hasn’t been sufficiently rehabilitated with moviegoing audiences yet.

As this bit of surrogate dialogue puts it:
Imperator Furiosa: “You never gonna have a better chance.”
Max: “At what?”
Imperator Furiosa: “Redemption.”

Tom Hardy plans to sign for three more Mad Max road warrior extravaganzas. He knows a good franchise when he sees one -- a fable that’s timely in this age of warring desert nomads taking over oil fields. After all, don’t we need a safe-in-a-movie-theater release for our rage and pent-up anger?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Week of June 12 - 18 (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Movies to Sing About For Cinephiles!

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

From musicals to actioners, Tropic Cinema offers a wide array of films. But each delivers something to sing about.

For instance, you’ll walk out of the movie theater singing to yourself after watching “Pitch Perfect 2,” the record-breaking film about a collegiate a cappella singing group headed by Beca (Anna Kendrick reprising her role from the first movie). Can they win the world competition this time around? Who cares as you enjoy this musical misadventure, second time around. Dark Horizon says, “Luckily, ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ retains the musical verve that made the first film so great.” And Quad City Times calls the girls’ singing “professional, exuberant and enjoyable.”

You’ll also be singing after seeing “Love & Mercy.” That’s the biopic about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, a film that features a generous medley of their “California Dreaming” music. In order to cover Wilson’s success in the ‘60a followed by his mental instability during the ‘80s, first-time director Bill Pohlad uses two actors (Paul Dano and John Cusack) to play Wilson. Commercial
Appeal explains, “Contrary to the diagnosis of his control-freak psychotherapist, Beach Boy Brian Wilson was not exactly schizophrenic. Nonetheless, casting two different actors as Wilson to represent different phases of the songwriter's life is a gambit that pays off...” And Screen It! calls this “a mostly absorbing biopic, with top-notch tech credits (the sound design is exquisite), that will certainly appeal to Beach Boys and Brian Wilson fans.”

Next up is “Saint Laurent,” a film that deifies Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent (played by Gaspard Ulliel). This snapshot of the famous French fashion designer focuses on his life from 1967 to 1976 when  he was at the height of his haut couture success. Seattle Times observes, “It captures the tense flavor of a particularly heady time in Saint Laurent’s life, during which he struggled with addiction and illness and juggled relationships ...” And Globe and Mail succinctly calls it “the biopic as fever dream.”

More gritty is “The Water Diviner,” the story of an Aussie farmer who goes to Turkey looking for his sons who fought in the Battle of Gallipoli. Directed by (and starring) Russell Crowe, it’s a war drama that has turned out to be the highest grossing Australian film of 2014. Christian Science Monitor sees it as “a sloggy, heartfelt piece of quasi-magical realist storytelling.” And New York Magazine notes, “It’s clear that Russell Crowe has poured his heart and soul into the historical romance, his first feature as a director.”

And finally, bursting loose with non-stop action is “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the superhero blockbuster featuring an ensemble cast from the pages of Marvel Comics (Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, you name ‘em). Movie Chambers says, “Mindless action rules, punctuated only by super hero/villain quips.” And Q Network Film Desk adds that it’s “an improvement over the first Avengers; everything feels smoother, the pacing is a bit better, and the overall plot is more intriguing.”

Yes, all these films give movie buffs something to sing about.

Avengers:Age of Ultron in 3D (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Avengers” Assemble for New Blockbuster

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

“Avengers assemble!” That’s the rallying cry of the famous Marvel Comics team of superheroes. And they are assembling again at theaters nationwide.

Stan Lee told me the story of how he came up with the idea for the Avengers: He stole it. Seems founding publisher Martin Goodman used to play golf with his competitors and heard talk about a
new group of superheroes called Justice League of America. Returning to the office, he told his young cousin Stan to come up with a similar team.

Avengers #1 appeared on comic book racks around September 1963.
Now it’s a blockbuster movie franchise. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is the eleventh installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), that on-screen world where superheroes live these days. It’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Written and directed by Joss Whedon (“The Avengers,” TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Killer”), this latest ensemble features Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Helmsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

As the title implies, this time around Ultron (James Spader) is the enemy, a Chitauri artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner that has developed a god complex, causing it to run amok. Its goal is to eradicate all humans.

Despite its subtitle, the film is not based on the 2013 comic book miniseries Age of Ultron. Another separation between the cinematic and comic book universes.

“Age of Ultron is a great title,” says producer Kevin Feige. “So we’re borrowing that title, but taking storylines from decades of Avengers storylines.”

Ultron’s origin also will differ from the comic book’s storyline, in that here Hank Pym (Ant Man et al.) will not be involved with Ultron’s creation. Ant Man is being saved for another movie.

Stan Lee and the late Jack “The King” Kirby are credited with creating the Avengers. As expected, Stan has a cameo in this movie -- kind of like a comic book geek’s version of “Where’s Waldo.”

Pitch Perfect 2 (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Pitch Perfect 2” Makes Beautiful Music At Box Office

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A Cappella is Italian for “in the manner of the church.” It means singing without musical accompaniment. While it had religious origins, we usually associate it with that under-the-boardwalk
or street-corner Jersey Boys singing of the ‘50s and ‘60s. But in addition to doo-wop and groups like The Four Freshmen, this musical style includes barbershop quartets and modern beatboxers.

Interestingly enough, a cappella competitions have sprung up on college campuses. Yale’s Whiffenpoofs are a good example. Mickey Rapkin wrote a book about these collegiate singing groups, “Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory.” It inspired a 2012 movie titled “Pitch Perfect.”

Starring Anna Kendrick and an ensemble cast, the movie recounted the adventures of The Bellas, an all-female singing group at fictional Barden College. They take the national championship thanks to the tradition-breaking arrangements by spunky freshman Beca Mitchell (Kendrick).

A sleeper hit, “Pitch Perfect” earned over $115 million worldwide, making it the second highest grossing musical comedy. That called for a sequel, of course.

Ergo: “Pitch Perfect 2” is currently making beautiful music at the Tropic Cinema.

Again starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Ester Dean, et al., “Pitch Perfect 2” re-focuses on Barden’s Bellas. This time around Beca must lead her a cappella group to victory in the world competition … or be banned from performing because of a blunder Fat Amy (Wilson) makes at President Obama’s birthday party.

You will recall Anna Kendrick from “Up in the Air,” “The Twilight Saga,” and more recently as Cinderella in “Into the Woods.” A girl-next-door actress with a good singing voice, she’s the main ingredient in “Pitch Perfect,” 1 and 2.

This second outing tosses in a new Bellas member, Emily Junk (Hailee Steinfeld). Headstrong, Emily doesn’t help matters by trying to introduce her own songs into the group’s playlist.

Then the movie mixes in some real celebs like Snoop Dogg, the cast of TV’s The Voice, assorted Green Bay Packers, and the film’s director-producer actress Elizabeth Banks (“Spider-Man,” “The Hunger Games”).

It’s a winning formula. “Pitch Perfect 2” grossed over $249 million in its first five days, making it now the highest grossing musical comedy film ever.

Now that’s beautiful music.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Pitch Perfect 2

The sequel to "Pitch Perfect," 2012's madcap hit about the madness of a cappella groups has arrived, starring all the favorites as well as delivering some genuine if predictable laughs.
Once more, the gang is in trouble when Patricia, nicknamed Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson),  upsets President Obama by falling while suspended on stage. 

She unwittingly exposed her genitalia. Thus the famous university team the Barden Bellas is in jeopardy of being stripped of their  title achieved in the first film, and must sing to regain recognition.  

Most of the jokes are sound and sight gags having to do with singing and artists in vogue, from Beyonce to Miley Cyrus.

To start, the Bond Villains of the film are a group called Das Sound Machine, a kind of hybrid between Depeche Mode and Disney. The Machine's front men, Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) and  Pieter (Flula Borg) are silly cartoons that aren't going to win any favors with Angela Merkel, but their repartee  with Beca (Anna Kendrick) who can't  help commenting on Kommissar's power and beauty, is very funny. Kendrick's best line: "Your sweat smells like cinnamon!"

Snoop Dogg appears in a bit involving a serious Christmas album that shows the rapper making fun of himself.

In probably the weirdest (or most mundane) cameo, The Green Bay Packers present themselves as rap contestants.


The comedian Keegan-Michael Key from MADtv and Comedy Central entertains as a very obnoxious music producer, almost reprising his role as Coach Hines from MAD.

If the to and fro is silly and ephemeral, and much of it is, the honesty of the characters holds it all together and each role shows heart.

David Cross steals the show as a pedantic MC, gnome-like and gruff in a sorcerer's robe. He presents an eerie version of Rex Reed as if created by director Ed Wood.

The musical numbers are energetic and full of charge even though the singing tongue is planted firmly in cheek.

The "Pitch Perfect" films can be seen as Tv's "Glee" mixed with something of "The Three Stooges" or "Little Rascals". There is even a character who can belt out a song, but can only manage a whisper in public.

What you see is what you get: a group of quirky young ladies doing silly things in regard to pop culture and thankfully making your hands clap in the midst of it all.

This time out, director Elizabeth Banks (who plays Gail, the commentator) keeps the comic momentum going and doesn't overburden the narrative with heroic messages, which is all to the good.

Write Ian at

The Water Diviner (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Water Diviner

Egad! Here is another "war story" set during the Gallipoli Campaign that is directed by and starring Russell Crowe. Crowe is in type as Joshua Connor, a father and water diviner,  who spends time in his aqua searching. Otherwise he is henpecked by his wife Eliza (Jacqueline McKenzie) who understandably berates him for the loss of his sons, Arthur (Ryan Corr) Edward (James Fraser) and Henry (Ben O' Toole) who go missing in the conflict during WWI.

Nothing much happens here. The sad and melancholy tone is reminiscent of Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken" given its emphasis on torment and suffering. It is isn't that this film is bad or a turkey, just that it seems melodramatic at times while not really telling us anything new about the horror and sadness of war, let alone what to do about it.

Russell Crowe is a driven and brooding dad fretting in the soil.

Okay, we get it.

His face is stern and brooding but his expression is often so unvarying it seems like a mask. His forehead wrinkles on cue, without interruption.

But what else?

There is Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) who manages an inn and becomes a love interest, as well as a cute Turkish boy, Orhan (Dylan Georgiades), needing a father -- in a sub-plot similar to the iconic film "Shane" only not as interestingly fleshed out.

At times the film veers close to kitsch when Joshua is hit over the head with a huge wooden cross ("The power of Christ Compels you!") or when he is sitting in a bathhouse casually chatting with two other dudes.

Joshua's temper, accessorized with Indiana Jones's fedora no less, feels a bit corny as well, given Crowe's obvious machismo. He's quiet and reserved until you push his buttons and out, he solves everything with his fists. His Joshua acts like so many other Crowe roles, not to mention John Wayne. After you have seen so many Crowe knuckles, another flock tends to dilute the impact.

One element however, that outshines all, is the wonderful cinematography, the laser sharp lighting with rich reds and blues, reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelite painters Rossetti and John William Waterhouse. This quite seriously is the film's main draw. We also get a few haunting images of islamic ritual: women in gauze whose features become a surreal tableau of smooth paleness.

The film clearly shows Joshua driven to spasms by the call to prayer.

For the most part though, the energy that "The Water Diviner" could have created dribbles down to the stuff of a Hollywood "go or don't go" storyline under the dressing of a war film with its stock familiar characters.

We know that war is hell and a father's loss is tragic. If only Russell Crowe would have shown us a bit more than the usual muscle this could have been a feast in the East rather than a portrait in miniature.

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Saint Laurent (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Saint Laurent

This latest film is a near xerox copy of the biopic on the designer Yves Saint Laurent by Jalil Lespert. Here Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel, Hannibal) is once more anxious and be-speckled in large black glasses. He is a twin of the previous Yves, played by Pierre Niney. We first see him curled up and lying in a field of rubble. Gray dirt rising in heaps everywhere around him. Then he arrives in Paris, presumably to sleep.

Unlike the last film, this one is told in small impressionist vignettes which gives it a swiftness that the other, nearly identical, film lacks.

Yet despite the narrative alteration, it feels like the same pattern. Yves sketches like a human crayon, obsessive and perpetually smoking, puffing away between gobs of chocolate mousse. At night he becomes a cloak of night, a creature on the prowl hunting for male flesh. Within the cacophonous cavern of a disco he sits alone, a dreamy wallflower and a tense voyeur.

Yves doesn't say a word.

And aside from some pill-popping, that is about all we get. Ulliel utters scarce few lines of dialogue. It is well established that this man is a genius, that he parties hard and that he is afraid of being forgotten as yesterday's swatches of fabric. Beyond these facts however, Yves is a mere color smudge of himself. What of his relationship with Pierre? (Jeremie Renier) Or his tangible fears? Or his time in the French Army where he was given LSD and endured a breakdown? Aside from one small mention we learn nothing.

This film was billed as having the tone of a work by Scorsese, but other than some "Scarface" type synthesizer echoes, I am hard pressed to find any trash talking Goodfellas here.

Stylistically, the film does manage some spunk, given the many split-screen segments throughout in the tradition of Brian De Palma. This illustrates the designer as a passive watcher and this is where the film most succeeds.

Indeed throughout the day-glo and brown hullabaloo, Yves is a walking piano key that draws, a mere cypher, blending into one scene to the next.

We see Laurent go from a youthful pastel to a scaly misanthrope but there is little substance to unite the young man to the figurehead he becomes.

The single most telling scene shows the designer sitting as still as a corpse. "Move your arm to show you are alive," an assistant urges. Seen in this way Yves Saint Laurent the man is more a Tim Burton creation than a master of haute couture. Against a stark white salon background, the scene offers some well needed gallows humor.

Overall "Saint Laurent" is a mere shadow play with lines and stitches that only the most uninitiated will find of intrigue.

Most others  will see this oddly minimal charade (sans Warhol) as deja vu and cry ennui.

Write Ian at

Monday, June 8, 2015

Age of Ultron (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Avengers: Age of Ultron

In this age of natural disaster, terrorism and claustrophobic peril, it is comforting to have heroes and to escape. As if to answer this call, here is Joss Whedon's next edition to his Avengers story in a sharper than sharp 3D. The gang of five has taken the scepter, a source of infinite power that belongs to Asgard, the land of Thor. Within the scepter is a gem of artificial intelligence that Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Bruce Banner (The Hulk) develop secretly to ensure world peace.

But once Pandora's Box is opened, so to speak, there are no rules.

The artificial intelligence by the name of Ultron consumes everything, it is nothing less than a fluid leviathan that devours all. Gradually, the entity, voiced by the sarcastic and nonplussed James Spader, yearns for a body and inhabits a monstrous chrome machine, strikingly reminiscent of William Blake's creations, The Ghost of a Flea and The Red Dragon.

While there is less quipping by Robert Downey Jr and these scientific and supernatural soldiers battle endless armies of bad robots, the fast paced action once again is a loving tribute to the Saturday Matinee Cliffhangers. Most interestingly is the romance between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner / The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). The two characters achieve a touching poignance, given that Black Widow is the only one that can calm him. When they touch fingers, Hulk's hand is like a Goya monster, compared to the mercenary hands of Widow, yet within a few seconds, Hulk becomes a stuffed bear, passive and docile.

Mark Ruffalo gives a believable bearing to the worry in this man, almost like Lon Chaney, Jr. in "The Wolf Man". Engaging too are the surreal reveries of many of the heroes, under the spell of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Captain America goes back to a strange wartime celebration echoing a Tom Waits narrative while Black Widow is subdued by a dictatorship that specializes in bodily abuse in a landscape recalling the illustrations of Edward Gorey and M.C. Escher.

While the first half is more novel than the second as the team fights machine after machine, the world that each character inhabits is so rich in totality, that the "Age of Ultron" holds a momentum of its own where plot becomes secondary, and we are swept up in its crazy apocalyptic action. As in greek mythology, these Avengers have hearts and lusts; these men and women of science and brawn, pine and yearn for touch and are all the more human for it, despite some green muscles formed by the great Francisco for our ferric summers.

Write Ian at

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Love and Mercy (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Love and Mercy

Famed producer Bill Pohlad delivers an epic film in "Love and Mercy" that spills across the screen the way a comprehensive biography in print might, with rich detail, vibrant color and intense focus. Here we are in the phantasmagoric and neon world of Beach Boy Brian Wilson. Both actors Paul Dano and John Cusack bring this uncompromising and intense man to life in a wild collaboration.

Dano plays Wilson as a young man. Within his ears sounds growl and multiply like auditory monsters. His headphones are comforting pillows that insulate him from what becomes his own bestiary of noise.

In the first scene, garbled images roll on top of him in absolute confusion, making communication dreamy, nightmarish and impossible. Sound has teeth. Not to mention a father's cutting slap that takes us through Brian Wilson's ear canal, down a rabbit hole that makes a tribute to "Blue Velvet" as much as family dysfunction. This is another outing with Dano as the odd man out, but once again there is juice in his gesture.

Young Wilson travels into music and finds refuge. With his brothers he creates a half dozen, summery rhythms of euphoria and peace. The Beach Boys have a hit with Surfin' USA and become a household name. Six young men in raspberry pin striped shirts beam bliss across thousands of tv screens  while the money pours in.

Despite this success, Wilson retreats. Like John Lennon and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana after him, Wilson yearns to push boundaries, forget the pop world and create new sound combinations. In one scene, he mixes in a dog barking and asks for a horse. All the better to illustrate the multilayered epic inside his head.

As the older man, Cusack plays a softer more reticent Brian, one who has known devils, demons and disappointment and can do nothing but try to cope. The concept of a woman is a bright pink cloth of security that covers him in his imagination. Because of his insecurities, romance dances forever ahead of him like some unattainable and wintry sleigh bells.

Wilson is driven to stagnancy by his Luciferic   manager, Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). He meets a curvaceous model and car salesman, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) And although he loves her, the echo of the sea is the one thing that truly calms him.

The pull of this film is that it gives only what is needed in impressionistic dabs of Brian Wilson; we are given the freedom to imagine for ourselves who he truly is, and not one image is fully definitive. Dano and Cusack work wonderfully together, both adding to each other's gestures and intent, while sometimes pushing against each other. Both actors are excellent and evocative, but Dano may well have an edge, for the sheer force of his mania and strife.

One rightly comes away from watching "Love and Mercy" seeing the young boy in the older man, both visible and yet split in two. Both of Wilson's selves pine for a sound yet unheard by mortals, when once as a youth, he compulsively and relentlessly demands that a bass cello sound "broken and grating like a propellor." In this vignette Brian Wilson almost becomes an Alfred Hitchcock, toying with the audience's expectations for an easy summer. By throwing sand in his fan's faces, he conjures darker and more arresting places for us to visit that circles the edges of both The Beatles and Bernard Herrmann.

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Week of June 5 - 11 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Big and Small -- Tropic’s Got ‘Em All!
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communication

 Tropic Cinema offers both ends of the movie spectrum -- smaller character-driven independent films as well as big ensemble-driven action flicks.
Among the smaller films is a new one about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, a biopic titled “Love & Mercy.” Yes, that’s the name of one of his songs. The film gives us Wilson in the ‘60s (played by Paul Dano) and him again in the ‘80s (played by John Cusack), under the spell of a scheming psychoanalyst (Paul Giamatti). San Diego Reader says it’s “very much the story of a man who made music, as opposed to a showcase for the music he made.” And National Post sums it up: “It gives us Brian Wilson as a tortured genius.”

Another new film is “The Water Diviner,” the directorial debut of Russell Crowe. Here he portrays an Australian farmer (and water diviner) who travels to Turkey following Battle of
Gallipoli in search of his three missing sons. New York Magazine says, “It’s clear that Russell Crowe has poured his heart and soul into the historical romance.” And Cinemalogue declares that “its journey of healing and self-discovery can be felt a century and a continent away.”

“The Age of Adaline” gives us a woman (Blake Lively) who gets stuck at the age of 29 while other people age around her. SciFiNow says it “functions perfectly well as a harmless, fantasy-infused date movie. It’s hard to really dislike.” And Daily Telegraph calls it “a quaintly disarming fairy tale, refusing any date that isn’t written in the stars.”

Carey Mulligan takes on the role of Thomas Hardy’s Bathsheba Everdene in “Far From the Madding Crowd.” Faced with three suitors, Bathsheba’s life in the English countryside is more turbulent than the title implies. Chicago Tribune calls it “a good, solid version of this novel, guided by Mulligan.” And Sacramento News & Review terms it “a beautifully mounted, fiercely intelligent, bracingly alive literary adaptation that remains an unabashed crowd-pleaser.”

Upping the action quotient is “Furious 7,” another in the fast-car franchise starring Vin Diesel and his “family.” This is the non-stop film that says goodbye to Paul Walker, who died in a
car crash before filming was completed. The Popcorn Junkie says the movie “has a heightened sense of mortality giving the series stakes for once, born of tragic circumstances due to the passing of Paul Walker, handled deftly by director James Wan.” And Movie Habit advises, “Either get out of the way or go along for the ride.”

And going way over the top with action is “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the blockbuster featuring Marvel’s popular superhero group (Captain America, Hulk, Thor, et al.). Q Network Film Desk calls it “an improvement over the first Avengers; everything feels smoother, the pacing is a bit better, and the overall plot is more intriguing.” And Forth Worth Star-Telegram concluded, “Fans of the franchise will be pleased….”

What an array of movies!



The Water Diviner (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Russell Crowe Debuts as Director in “The Water Diviner”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Russell Crowe is considered a bad boy actor. A guy who, like Alec Baldwin or Sean Penn, might just take a swing at a paparazzo.
Maybe it’s that dangerous edge that creeps over into their film roles that makes us lean
forward in our seats when they’re on screen.
You can test that theory by catching “The Water Diviner,” the new film starring (and directed by) Crowe. It’s currently playing at Tropic Cinema.
When I was a boy in the Appalachians it was common practice to hire a water diviner to tell you where to dig your well. Just because there was water to be found wherever you dug a hole was beside the point. Country folks believe in this art of divination using a willow switch or a fork from a tree branch or crossed rods to find water.
In this historical drama set in 1919, following World War II, an Australian farmer (Crowe) sets out to find his missing sons in Turkey. The boys (James Fraser, Ben O’Toole, and Ryan Corr) went there to serve with the Anzacs at the battle of Gallipoli but have not returned.
The farmer, who also has the gift of water divination, faces a series of hurtles while trying to locate his sons in Turkey. He has a face-off with Major Hassan (Yılmaz Erdoğan), survives a train attacked by the Greeks, and meets a sympathetic hotel proprietress (Olga Kurylenko).
This is Russell Crowe’s directing debut. If the film is successful it means he will get to bring more projects like this to Australia and not have to “commute” to work as much. He says getting on a plane no longer feels natural to him.
The stay-at-home actor likes being behind the camera. “Directing is like looking at the stars on a cloudless night,” he says. “You get away from all light sources and you look up and you see 50 points of light. And a minute later 100 and another minute later 1,000 and then 10,000. And then this swirling gigantic carpet above you and somehow it all seems to connect.”

Love & Mercy (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Love & Mercy” Offers Both to Famed Beach Boy

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Surfing, cars, young love -- those are the themes of the “California Sound,” the music that dominated the airwaves during the ‘60s. At the forefront of it was the Beach Boys, that group with the distinct vocal harmonies that gave us all those “Good Vibrations.”

Often called “America’s Band” to distinguish it from the so-called British Invasion, the group formed in 1961. Brian Wilson and his brothers Dennis and Carl were joined by their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine. The Wilson boys’ abusive dad was their original manager, before their fame outgrew their homegrown success. The group had 36 Top 40 Hits, the most ever by any American rock band. They have sold more than 100 million records worldwide. Rolling Stone lists them as 12th among the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Domineering Brian Wilson was the unofficial leader. The years 1956 to 1966 are considered the “Brian Wilson Era.” But all the success of the ‘60s dissipated as Brian succumbed to mental instability and substance abuse. Wilson suffers from auditory hallucinations, a result of SZA, a disorder that displays features of both schizophrenia and bipolar depression.

During the ‘80s there was much legal wrangling over royalties. Brother Dennis drowned in 1983; Carl died of lung cancer in 1998. There was a brief 50th Anniversary reunion. Afterwards, Wilson and Love went in separate directions.

“Love & Mercy” -- this new biopic about Brian Wilson that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema -- takes its title from the same-named song that appeared on Wilson’s 1988 debut solo album. “‘Love and Mercy’ is probably the most spiritual song I’ve ever written,” says Wilson. The movie was made with his cooperation and features an array of Beach Boys songs.

The film offers two parallel stories: That of the young Brian Wilson (played by a pudgy Paul Dano) at the peak of his success in the 1960s, but becoming bored with singing about “sun and summer and summer and sun,” and starting to hear voices in his head … and that of the middle-aged Brian Wilson (played by John Cusack) under the care of an unscrupulous psychotherapist, Dr. Eugene Landy (played by Paul Giamatti). The later story tells how a pretty used car saleslady named Melinda Ledbetter (played by Elizabeth Banks) fell for Brian and helped wrest control of him away from Landy. Melinda became Brian Wilson’s second (and current) wife.

As told here, it’s a story of redemption. Screenwriter Oren Moverman cleaned up the painful facts a bit. When I interviewed Oren a couple of years ago, he admitted to being a fan of the Beach Boys and of Bob Dylan. His plot bubbles down to that of a folk hero being saved from a bad man by a good woman.

The song “Love and Mercy” explains the theme of the movie -- and Brian Wilson’s life: “There’s no guarantee of somebody waking up in the morning with any love. It goes away, like a bad dream. It disappears. Mercy would be a deeper word than love. I would think love is a gentle thing and mercy would be more desperate, ultimately more desperately needed, thing in life. Mercy – a little break here and there for somebody who’s having trouble,” says Wilson.

You might be interested to know the song had extra lyrics that didn’t appear in its final version: “I was praying to a god who just doesn't seem to hear / Oh, the blessings we need the most are what we all fear…"



Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Felix Herngren, known for his Swedish Simpsons-like television show, delivers a madcap darkish comedy in "The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared." This film was a huge hit in Sweden surpassed only by the "Dragon Tattoo" trilogy.

In a kind of picaresque format Allan (Robert Gustafsson) a centurion on his birthday, decides to flee a nursing home and just start walking.

A criminal at a station, Gaddan (Jens Hulton) tells him to hold on to a suitcase and not to let go.

Allan doesn't.

Thru the course of the film we learn that due to Allan's obsession for explosives he was sent to a racist doctor who castrated him. Allan still wanted to eviscerate things and people with dynamite.

The opening sequences are quite funny with Allan wondering in a deadpan way why "everyone is screaming at him." Gustafsson has a terrific deadpan delivery in nonchalantly facing the absurdist anger of those around him, mainly a biker gang that is rendered useless by rage.

But there are flashbacks that play like anemic "Forrest Gump" scenes that are far too silly to be funny, including a drunk Harry S. Truman who looks nothing like the real person, an "idiot" Einstein brother (really?) and a vulgar Reagan who says "tear down this wall."


It is the strength of Allan's deadpan matter of factness that makes the funny bits stand out. The juice of the comic bits are not that this guy is a hundred but that he is so non-committal and passive. When a kingpin, Pim, (the vividly white and scary Alan Ford) is fuming with rage, Allan simply replies, "he really wants to kill a lot of people." Such bits are masterful, but then the flashbacks occur with historical figures meant to be campy and clever but who just veer into kiddie  silliness. A bumbling crazy haired Einstein brother in a repetitive "Who's on First" routine rings ridiculous and too far fetched.

The ending too goes into a circle and seems all too formulaic, pre-packaged into a feel-good style that we have seen before from the teen films of Robert Zemeckis to Chris Columbus.

The main thrust of "The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared" with its uber-hostile thugs in a cat and mouse chase is zany and satisfying. This by itself would have been   enough. The added flashbacks however,  turn the best of the oddness into a cheap and simplistic cartoon that panders and talks down to its audience (as if we should be toddlers) despite it taking a century to unfold.

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