Friday, July 31, 2015

Week of July 31 - August 6 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Engages Both Body and Mind This Week
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Epidermis, muscle, brain, teeth, and tear ducts. Yes, you can engage your body head-to-toe with this week’s movies at the Tropic Cinema.

Take it off -- that’s the theme of “Magic Mike XXL,” the sequel to a popular movie about male strippers. Buff actor Channing Tatum is Mike, a retired dancer who joins his buds on a take-it-off
road trip. Along the way there’s plenty of skin on display. Concrete Playground calls it, “Sexy, funny and surprisingly heartwarming.” Snarky Rex Reed writes in the New York Observer that it’s “admirable testosterone on display that represents hours in the gym instead of the acting class.” But Trespass assures us, “Magic Mike XXL hits every mark that it aims for.”

Another buff actor is Jake Gyllenhaal, starring in the prizefighter drama “Southpaw.” Here he’s punching his way to a comeback after a fall from grace. Muscles ripple with every fight scene. New England Movies Weekly calls it “a story we’ve seen many times before, but it’s acted with such heart and directed with such skill that it’s hard to resist.” Daily Star adds, “Jake Gyllenhaal is becoming one of the most interesting actors in Hollywood.”

More sedate is “Mr. Holmes,” a different kind of mystery featuring a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes. Ian McKellen gives us a touching portrait of the great detective battling a failing memory while
trying to reconstruct his last case. Brainy entertainment. New York Magazine says, “It’s a gripping little tale, to be sure, but it’s more than that. Somewhere in its tangle of timelines, false starts, and red herrings is a great truth about the unsolvable mystery of the human soul.” Leonard Maltin’s Picks concludes, “What a pleasure it is to be in the presence of Ian McKellen, who dominates the screen.”

You might describe Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic World 3D” as a Jaws-on-an-island thriller. Chris Pratt is the dino trainer who must save the theme-park tourists from a rampaging genetically engineered Indominus rex.  Teeth are gnashing, claws are slashing. Chicago Reader says, “The characters are all paper-thin, but that doesn’t matter because their sole purpose is to get chomped.” Movie Dearest advises, “See the movie for its reptilian stars.” And Starburst confirms that it’s “definitely worth the price of admission.”

And not to be overlooked is “Amy: The Girl Behind the Name,” a British documentary that profiles the late singer Amy Winehouse. It may well bring you to tears. calls it “a
mesmerizing yet devastating look at a singular talent.” And Peter Travers of Rolling Stone observes, “It’s Amy’s words, her music, her voicemails, her home videos, her friends, her family, her tormentors, and her timeless incandescence. Look, listen and weep.”

So go ahead, pick the movies that appeal to you. You won’t go wrong no matter your choices.

Jurassic World (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Jurassic World” Takes a Bite of the Movie Franchise
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Recently you read about an American tourist getting mauled to death by a lion in a South African animal park. This was a view-a-dangerous-animal-up-close outing that turned deadly.

That’s pretty much the plot of the new “Jurassic World” movie. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the plot of all those movies based on the late Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” book.

Produced by Stephen Spielberg (“Jaws”) and directed by newbie Colin Trevorrow, “Jurassic World” is giving audiences some spine-tingling thrills at the Tropic Cinema.

Originally titled “Jurassic Park IV,” the movie takes place twenty-two years after the first one. Finally realizing the dream of Professor John Hammond, (portrayed in the earlier movies by the late Richard Attenborough), visitors to Isla Nublar can now enjoy a fully functional dinosaur theme park.

However, like those commercial seaquariams that boost attendance by featuring a scarier shark or a bigger killer whale, Jurassic World comes up with a bigger, scarier dinosaur, Indominus rex. This nightmare creature is a hybrid created from mixing the DNA of Giganotosaurus, Rugops, Majungasaurus, and Carnotaurus.

Needless to say, this new dinosaur starts eating tourists. So it’s up to a young dino trainer named Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, the hunky star of “Guardians of the Galaxy”) to stop this rampaging beast. Can he use his pack of ‘raptors to hunt the big girl down?

In the movie, when Owen hears that the Masrani Corporation is splicing DNA to build a badder dinosaur, he mutters “Not a good idea.”

But in real life paleontologist Jack Horner, a scientific advisor on the film, is trying to do just that, create a new dinosaur by using chicken DNA. Birds and dinosaurs are related and there’s lots of vestigial DNA lurking in chickens.

“We just haven’t genetically engineered a genuine dinosaur yet, but we know how to do it,” Horner says. He expects to create a real dinosaur within 5 to 10 years.

Jack Horner was the model for the character Dr. Alan Grant, played by Sam Neill in the earlier movies. However, Grant doesn’t make an appearance in “Jurassic World.” Horner is okay with that ... as long as his character didn’t get eaten by a dinosaur.

Horner claims he wouldn’t be particularly afraid of dinosaurs, if he were to succeed in making some. As for plant-eating dinos, he says, “It would be like hanging around a bunch of cows.”

Don’t try to tell Owen Grady that. Too many people get eaten in “Jurassic World.”

Does Horner mind that the movie isn’t totally accurate? “No,” he says. “There were a lot of things wrong, but it was a fictional movie. It’s not a documentary. And so I was just as happy with having some fiction thrown in there as anyone else was.”

Magic Mike XXL (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Magic Mike XXL” Takes Off at Tropic
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

How do you produce a movie that will appeal to a really wide audience -- women, gays, and maybe even a few straight guys? Channing Tatum came up with the right formula in “Magic Mike,” a tale set in a male strip joint in Tampa.

So how do you repeat that success?

The answer is “Magic Mike XXL,” the sequel that’s now making audiences drool at the Tropic Cinema.

Think: Chippendales. Male strippers, that is.

Magic Mike (Tatum) is a muscled guy with rock-hard pecs and six-pack abs. He looks great in a G-string. Horny women toss $20 bills at him. Gays feel lust in their … hearts. And the rest of us sit back and enjoy the fun.

In the first film, Mike is dancing at the Xquisite Strip Club just to earn enough money to start his own custom furniture business. It’s owned by a tight-fisted entrepreneur named Dallas (Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey).

In this new take, Mike’s old club crew, the Kings of Tampa, inform him that Dallas has skipped out (McConaughey’s not in this sequel) and the boys want to end their dancing careers with a grand finale, by attending a stripping convention in Myrtle Beach. Mike decides to take a leave from his furniture company to join them.

On the road they find excuses to strip at a place called Mad Mary’s, at a gas station, at a club owned by an old flame (Jada Pinkett Smith), at a mansion filled with middle-aged women (Andie McDowell et al.), and at the convention organized by a sexy blonde (Elizabeth Banks).

In the end, the Kings (Kevin Nash, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodríguez, Joe Manganiello, etc.) make a good showing -- literally.

But ignore all this. You’re not going to buy a ticket just to follow the movie’s road-trip plotline. What you want to see are some incredibly handsome men, led by Channing Tatum, taking it off, a flashy mosaic of abs and pecs and glutes and sweaty skin.

Okay, here it is.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Southpaw (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Yet again, it is time to put on your underdog gloves in Southpaw, a film that has slick sparing power due to a solid performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, but the heavily melodramatic storyline makes the film a sopping wet towel of tears.

Gyllenhaal is Billy Hope, a street smart light heavyweight champion who commands with brute force, rather than smooth skill.

He has just been crowned undefeated and is seemingly on top.

As Billy is getting punchy, battered, and most likely bleeding internally, his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) wants him to quit while he has a head.

But Billy is addicted to the sport.

When speaking at a children's charity, Billy is offensively insulted by a boxing rival, Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez) with crass remarks aimed at his wife. Maureen urges Billy to let it go, but Billy's anger gets the better of him and a fistfight ensues.

A gun fires and Maureen is hit by the bullet.

The champ's world drops from underneath him and he hits bottom.

Events go from very bad to even worse.

The most riveting aspect of the film is Gyllenhaal's wiry, monstrous, yet sensitive  transformation as he channels the rapper Eminem, who was originally intended for this part. Shaky, drunk and with nowhere to go, Billy Hope becomes a walker of the night, cloaked in Eminem's black hoodie. The public heaps scorn upon him, but this dark knight is driven, haunting a gym the way a rapper does a club.

All he needs, of course, is one more chance.

Forest Whittaker does well as the gravel voiced and tough talking trainer that expectedly talks about the mental sport rather than muscle. And he has forceful dialogue that paints Billy into a corner, making him take personal responsibility for his actions.

Oona Lawrence is the boxer's cutely precocious daughter, who counts his fight wounds and never really gives up on him.

The film does have juice but the voltage it has quickly ebbs, given that the blood and heavy drama spins dangerously close to the unreal. Right from the get go, Hope agrees to fight, even though he spits endless spouts of blood and looks like mashed potatoes. Clearly, Hope is in no position to fight.

The turn of events spirals downward so quickly that any sports journalist might well feel light headed.

The boxing sequences, although authentic, follow the same rise and fall rhythm as a "Rocky" story.

When Billy's daughter watches from the dressing room hysterical and sobbing, while her bruiser dad is a gory mess, you are exhausted. But there is also a sense of deja doom. This is the same Rope-a-dope as before with all of the iconic feinting from "Rocky" and "The Champ" to "The Fighter".

Although any cinematic fight fan will no doubt feel had, the story does produce some  watery eyes in spite of itself.

After ten rounds and so many obvious cliches however, "Southpaw" begs for a more outside of the box treatment to accompany its routinely entertaining lefty stance.

Write Ian at

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Wolfpack (Brockway)

The Wolfpack

"The Wolfpack," a documentary by Crystal Moselle, is a tale right out of the fiction of Jerzy Kosinski Being There), only it is real. This unsettling yet oddly energetic film, tells of the Angulo family: six brothers and one girl living in an apartment on the Lower East Side of New York City. At first glance, they appear smiling and happy, a family at home watching tv.

Things are not as they seem.

A minute later one of the brothers confesses a disturbing revelation. The boys' father, a struggling musician, is under a delusion. Obsessed with the negativity of modern life, he keeps the children under his iron hand. The six only go outside a handful of times a year and sometimes not at all. Friends outside of family are forbidden and the children are home-schooled.

They go from room to room only when told. The father Oscar, a self made guru, rules with fear and intimidation. He is periodically abusive and withdrawn.

The only creative outlet the kids receive is through film. Somehow, Oscar gives the kids a steady diet of film, classic and otherwise. The brothers develop a cult of worship with Robert De Niro, Quentin Tarantino, Batman, The Dark Knight, and horror films.

They love their mother, Susanne. She is also under the blight of fear as the target of intermittent physical violence.

To combat this horror, the brothers: Narayana, Govinda, Bhagavan, Makunda, Krshna and Jagadisa, along with their sister Visnu, re-enact blockbuster films and type out complete scripts by typewriter.

Computers are nonexistent. Except for movies, the family is Luddite.

This could be depressing and a good deal of it is.

At first.

The Angulo kids put so much inventive play into their costumes and scenes, that their re-imaginations become a true feat with passion and heart, if only for themselves.

Through this ritual they learn what it is to relate as social beings.

Makunda first decides to break away from his father's fearful rule, by simply walking out a front door, wearing a mask from "Halloween."

No one recognized him.

As Makunda says, at that moment he was Michael Myers, The Shape.

After that interlude which involved the police, the father grew embarrassed and relaxed his grip.

Most compelling by far are the shots featuring the Angulos donning the wardrobe of "Reservoir Dogs" in black suits and sunglasses, voyaging out for the first time to the movies or the beach in Coney Island, accompanied by the director, Ms. Moselle, their first friend.

Out in the bright day, the six appear in stark relief living images of Tarantino  in their own film. The ocean hits them like quenching fire and they transform into pale fish brought from another world.

Such is the power of forced confinement.

Although the film does go repetitive, the scenes of the Halloween's celebration, akin to a kitsch Walpurgis Night  in which all horror villains from Pumpkinhead to Freddy Kruger are portrayed in a wobbling joy, lift up the urban ennui.

The kids are truly talented in filtering the films that they see into their own vocabulary that is both personal and precious to them. Very moving to the heart as well is the last reveal: the formidable Oscar, stubborn, stern and violent at times is ultimately pushed into the margins, all because the brothers chose to put their power into a suit of black cardboard and yoga mats and believe in The Batman.

The big bad wolf of a patriarch gradually withers into a harmless sheep under the force of desire.

In watching "The Wolfpack" you might recognize a truth that some of us may well take for granted. Films are not just mere entertainment. As visual works they also have the ability to inspire and transform. Film can be a life saving beacon and a call to action.

Write Ian at

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Mr. Holmes (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Mr. Holmes

Once again, Holmes is here in Bill Condon's wondrous and thoughtful character study of the premier detective. Sherlock's conundrum is not Moriarty, but the human heart. Deceptively slow and easy in its first moments, the film gradually builds up speed, only to churn with punch and poignance.

In "Mr. Holmes" our iconic sleuth (Ian McKellen)  is now a nonagenarian at 92. He lives in Sussex, (where the poet Shelley was born) and spends his mornings minding the geometry of his apiary.

There is abrupt foreshadowing: the bee population is in decline.

Holmes is centered on himself, ruminating on his trips to Hiroshima in the quest to find Prickly Ash, an eastern root said to help Holmes's ailing memory. Roger (Milo Parker)  a young resident of the house, worships him and attempts to wake his spirits of deduction. The retired logician tells him of a regret. Years ago, he was hired to keep an eye on one Lady in Grey (Hattie Morahan) who was in the throes of a female "Svengali" a Madame Schirmer (Frances de la Tour). Holmes treated the detail casually and is eaten up by guilt.

More immediately, Holmes is hounded by the specter of celebrity and feels his partner Dr. Watson simplified his legacy into that of an exaggerated hero. He wants to set his record into the realm of nonfiction.

This story would be a slumber in the mist were it not for the simplicity of vision by the director coupled by some wonderful chemistry given by McKellen and Milo Parker.  Laura Linney too, gives a spirited performance as the watchful parent.

We are given a handful of subplots with their own unique momentum and all of them spin and weave to make one intricate box that fits together perfectly as if made by Gordian design.
In reality, Holmes is a quiet figure. He walks like a stiff pencil and eschews the limelight, all the while getting a kick out of his cinematic self in watching Basil Rathbone. And like Mattie, in "True Grit", or Joey in "Shane" a young kid attempts to energize a somewhat jaded soul who has solved many imponderables.

Yet Holmes remains restless in a good deal of pain.

The suspense is in the reality of Sherlock Holmes racing against his mental moors as he strives to give his own true account. If by peril, his false matinee twin wins out, his import will be left to the stuff of dreams with a legacy in tatters.

Longtime fans will revel in the drawing room quips, in addition to the sight of Sherlock  trying to employ his iconic opium syringes to sustain his life, filled with herbs.

The magic of "Mr. Holmes" is that it makes this detective more dramatic and realistic that his Arthur Conan Doyle incarnation ever did, while at the same time, treating his other persona with a comic reverence that is never mean spirited. Ecce Holmes. We see the man as he is, a mathematical being, of course, but also one of emotion.

The last scene is by itself, a master stroke, delivering equal parts mysticism, mayhem and stern melancholy.

All aspects of haunt and play are given with great energy in this modernist portrait of one famous man who lives by reason.

Write Ian at

Friday, July 24, 2015

Week of July 24 - 30 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Mind Over Matter? You Can Have Both at the Tropic Cinema
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Yes, you can have it both ways -- cerebral deduction or brute force. Or even a few a good laughs. That’s the range of films showing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Cerebral is the approach of “Mr. Holmes” -- Sherlock Holmes, that is. The world’s most famous consulting detective is retired at 93 in this new film starring Ian McKellen in the tile role. With
memory failing, and seeking a cure, Holmes is trying to set the record straight on his last case. New York Magazine observes, “It's a gripping little tale, to be sure, but it's more than that. Somewhere in its tangle of timelines, false starts, and red herrings is a great truth about the unsolvable mystery of the human soul.” And adds, “Mr. Holmes is not simply brilliant, for it is not simple. It is complex, multi-layered and probing. But it is brilliant and also entertaining.”

Physically is the approach used in “Southpaw,” a drama about a down-and-out prizefighter on a comeback trail. Jake Gyllenhaal gives us this bleaker Rocky story. Reason Online says, “Packed with raw energy, but never quite knocks you out...” Movie Talk opines, “A boxing melodrama that pummels the viewer into submission with a one-two combo of brutal action inside the ring …” And NPR decides, “Southpaw wins on points.”

“The Wolfpack” is a documentary about a couple that homeschooled their seven children, locked away in an apartment on the lower east side of New York for fourteen years. Then one escapes. Time Magazine says, “Everything about The Wolfpack is extraordinary, beginning with the subjects of
Crystal Moselle's mesmerizing documentary.” Christian Science Monitor calls it, “Undeniably fascinating.” And Detroit News notes, “It all adds up to a story of the human spirit’s ability to survive and even thrive despite twisted circumstance.”

Another look inside a kid’s head is “Inside Out,” Pixar’s brilliant animation that stars Amy Pohler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, and Phyllis Smith as an array of childhood emotions. Daily Mirror proclaims it to be “an animated masterpiece, one of those rare movies that will speak to kids and adults alike.” And Sky Movies says, “Wise, witty, warm ... and Pixar's most audacious move yet.”

Need a good laugh? “Spy” will do it, the fish-out-of-water adventures of a CIA desk jockey (Melissa McCarthy) sent on a dangerous assignment. John Hanlon Reviews calls it “a refreshing return to form for Melissa McCarthy.” And concludes, “The ace partnership between filmmaker Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy evolves into something formidable with this raucous action comedy, which simultaneously spoofs the espionage genre and provides some genuine thrills.”

A head trip? A fist in the face? A belly laugh? Movies entertain us head to toe.

Mr. Holmes (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Mr. Holmes” Profiles The Great Detective In His Retirement
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

No, I don’t belong to the Baker Street Irregulars, that Holmesian literary society founded by Christopher Morley in 1934, but I’ve been a longtime fan of Sherlock Holmes. First off, I’ve read all
the Arthur Conan Doyle books on the great detective -- 56 short stories and four novels -- as well as many homages like “The Seven-Percent Solution” and “The Final Solution.”

What’s more I’ve seen most of the movies and TV versions of these stories, from those delightful old Basil Rathbone pastiches to Benedict Cumberbatch’s BBC series, from spinoffs like “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” to TV’s “Elementary.” Even those Robert Downey, Jr. blockbusters.

Now we have a new little film titled “Mr. Holmes.” And the game’s afoot at the Tropic Cinema.

Here we find Sir Ian McKellen (“God and Monsters,” those “X-Men” and “Hobbit” movies) as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes, wandering about his Sussex farmhouse where he retired with his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son (Milo Parker). Seems he’s unhappy with his old friend Watson’s account of his last case and is determined to tell the true version -- however, at his age memory has begun to fade. He struggles to remember, while seeking restorative medications in places like Japan.

The film -- based on Mitch Cullin’s novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind” -- is at its heart a mystery, the old case being solved despite the obstacle of his diminishing deductive powers.

Director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls,” the “Twilight” sagas) has fun with the Holmesian canon as well as the earlier film versions. He cast Nicolas Rowe who starred in “The Young Sherlock Holmes” to play Basil Rathbone in a look back at the old matinee movies.

Arthur Conan Doyle always said he based the character on his old university professor, Dr. James Bell. Like Holmes, Bell was noted for “drawing broad conclusions from minute observations.” However, Bell later wrote Doyle, stating: “You are yourself Sherlock Holmes and well you know it.”

Southpaw (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Gyllenhaal Delivers Knockout Punch With “Southpaw”
Reviewed by Shirrel

Prizefighters are modern-day gladiators who do battle for our public entertainment. It’s a tough and bloody sport. People own them.

Well, sort of. My friend Gerry invested in fighters, a financial act which guaranteed him a front row seat at the arena. And he shared in the prize when they won.

You can have a front row seat simply by buying a movie ticket to “Southpaw,” the new Jake Gyllenhaal film that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In this pugilistic drama, Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) is a successful boxer whose life and fighting career collapses when his wife is murdered. He loses his daughter and succumbs to drugs. Until he realizes the only way he can win his daughter back is to win the title.

Yes, it’s a comeback film.

Kind of a dark-visioned “Rocky” without Sylvester Stallone.

Forest Whitaker plays Tick, his trainer. Rachel McAdams is the soon-dead wife. Oona Laurence is the precocious daughter.

Don’t complain that I’ve given you spoilers in my synopsis. You’ll discover this much (and more) just by watching the previews.

These days movie trailers are like Cliffs Notes, giving you a two-minute summation of the entire storyline. Including all the best lines.

That’s life in these tech-driven times: fast food, speed dating, jiffy lubes.

Nonetheless, Jake Gyllenhaal delivers another knockout punch. “Prisoners,” “Nightcrawler,” “Southpaw” -- his acting gets better and better. This may not be the movie to do it, but he’s due for an Oscar one of these years.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Inside Out (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Inside Out

"Inside Out" directed by Pete Docter (Up) is the latest from Pixar Studios and it is simply groundbreaking. This film in its depiction of the inner workings of human emotion, is colorful, lively, action packed and infectiously entertaining.

Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is a young girl whoy relocates to California. She misses her friends. Five emotions headed by a golden hued Joy (Amy Poehler) are responsible for keeping Riley together. Also on board are Fear (Bill Hader), Sadness (Phyliss Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and last but not least, Anger (Lewis Black).

In the style of a slick version of "Fantastic Voyage", the film is a teasing and buoyant adventure story, featuring how emotions work in the brain on a chemical level, and it also illustrates (to audiences young and old) that emotions and memories can be molded by our own actions and relationships.

If you think that this is a dizzy and daunting subject for any animated film (let alone one by Disney) you would be right, but under Pete Docter's hands, this film is a wonder.

The action never stops. Comedienne Poehler is terrific as the Peter Pan like Joy. And Lewis Black is nearly hypnotic (as an animated figure no less) as a literal hothead. With such a motley stew of personified characters as emotions, one is swept away in a dazzle of no holds barred entertainment.

The narrative never stops moving, which is a feat in itself, but the real magic in the film is that it elucidates the actual science behind neuropsychology in showing the mental gearing behind our emotions, and it does this in a mesmerizing yet accessible way, especially to younger audiences.

Every emotion huddles together, vying for importance and input. Each creature has a say in how Riley's memories are to be processed and stored. The memories all look like brightly colored M&Ms, more precious than the sun.

While it is true that these beings are animated, these emotions are able to stand by alone, also, as people. What evolves is no less a kind of animated Paradise Lost, with Anger as a fiery but likable Lucifer, who craves attention, but who ultimately wants the happiness of the fragile Riley. The story can also be seen as an Avengers type film. Every character is a hero in his or herr own way. Disgust is even the color green.

The film is not just for kids. It has many adult processes and acts on many levels. There is a generous peppering of mature insinuations and more than a bit of poignance and melancholy that may prove sad for the smaller among us.

Explaining "Inside Out" as a tale or an adventure in animation does not do it justice. Seen in its totality, enhanced with eye-popping 3D, makes this neuron drama a tour de force.

Above all, on the level of "Fantasia" a century before, "Inside Out" is full body film experience.

Write Ian at

Friday, July 17, 2015

Week of July 17 - 23 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Offers a Mix of Comedy and Coming-of-Age Films

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

From awkward comedy to belly laughs, teen angst to preteen subconscious cerebration, Tropic Cinema presents an interesting range of onscreen choices this week.

Take “The Overnight,” for instance. This controversial film is a witty, twisty modern-day version of “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” two couples thrown together for a get-to-know-each-other dinner … with more than pizza on the menu. Here mysterious dad Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and his French
pastry wife (Judith Godreche) play spider-to-the-fly with a new couple in town (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling). Minneapolis Star-Tribune says: “Written and directed by Patrick Brice with atypical wit, the film is uncensored and hilariously unpredictable, jumping from one titillating gag to the next with the grace of a tightrope walker.” And Deadline Hollywood Daily adds, “This new age suburban swingers comedy is very funny and enlightening.”

“Dope” is a gritty teen comedy set in the ‘hood. Smart-kid Malcolm (Shameik Moore) latches onto a stash of, well, dope and must figure out how to barter it for a hard-to-achieve Harvard education. says, “This dope coming-of-age comedy is about dopes and dope dealers, but it's
also a heartfelt and perceptive examination of cultural trends with style and energy to spare.” And Chicago Reader concludes it’s “never dull, and the ensemble cast is fun to watch.”

“Self/less” is a body-swap sci-fi story that moves from Ben Kinsley to Ryan Reynolds. The Message: Being inside someone else’s head (and body) is not all you’d expect. Reel Film Reviews calls it “Director Tarsem Singh's most accomplished (and entertaining) movie since his debut...” And Independent sees it as a “sleekly shot sci-fi thriller…”

“Spy” has Melissa McCarthy as a fish-out-of-water CIA agent who goofily goes after bad guys (with a little help from Jude Law and Jason Statham). Funnier than you’d expect. observes, “The ace partnership between filmmaker Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy evolves into something formidable with this raucous action comedy, which simultaneously spoofs the espionage genre and provides some genuine thrills.” And Cinema Sight describes it as “a fun feminist spy comedy with wonderfully outlandish events and fascinating examinations of the genre.”

Pixar’s “Inside Out” is arguably an animation masterpiece. The fanciful storyline offers us an adventurous peek inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl. Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, and Phyllis Smith give voice to her rampant emotions. Salt Lake Tribune calls it “Pixar's best movie in a decade…” And ABC Radio Brisbane tells us, “’Inside Out’ is a stunning achievement that blends creativity, humor and emotion. I'll be saving it a spot in my Top 10 list at year's end.”

Take your pick. Humor, thrills, cerebral, mindless -- it’s all here at the Tropic.

Inside Out (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Disney’s Pixar Goes Mental With “Inside Out”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ever wanted to look inside a preteen’
s head? Scary thought, huh?

Well, not really … when Pixar takes you on this animated tour of an 11-year-old girl’s brain. You see, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) hears voices inside her head. But don’t worry … we all share these noisy emotions: Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. Here, they are voiced respectively by Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, and Phyllis Smith.

No need to call a shrink.

Well, not until Sadness and Joy get lost in the deeper recesses of Riley’s mind.

You see, the girl is struggling to adjust to a new city, to a new house, to a new school. So it’s not surprising that her emotions are in revolt.

“Inside Out” is playing its mind games at the Tropic Cinema. You can catch it in 3D or 2D, depending on your whim.

Having usurped all the popular fairy tales (“Snow White,” “Cinderella,” “The Little Mermaid,” et al.) as well as the Marvel superheroes (Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, and others), Disney now is taking over Sigmund Freud.

In this fanciful attempt at armchair psychoanalysis, we explore such imaginative territories as Long Term Memory, Imagination Land, and Dream Productions.

And we meet some interesting inhabitants like Forgetter Paula and Forgetter Bobby, Dream Director, Subconscious Guard Dave and Subconscious Guard Frank, and Mind Worker Cop Jake.

This mental exercise was thought up by Pete Docter, who got to co-direct with Ronnie del Carmen as his reward for coming up with a unique concept for a movie (if you don’t count that trip through the body in “Fantastic Voyage”).

The nice thing about this for Pete Docter is he got to write off all those trips to his therapist as “research.”

Self/Less (Rhoades)

Front Row at the movies

“Self/less” Offers New Sci-Fi Definition
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

“Selfless’ is defined as “altruistic, self-sacrificing, self-denying; considerate, compassionate, kind, noble.” But Ben Kingsley is none of those things in “Self/less,” a new sci-fi movie that redefines the term. In fact, he’s a bit selfish.

You see, billionaire industrialist Damian Hale (Kingsley, that is) can lead afford to a self-indulgent life. That is, until he is diagnosed with cancer.

But even that doesn’t stop a man with his wherewithal: He can pay for a radical new medical procedure called “shedding,” where his consciousness is transferred into another body (one that looks exactly like Ryan Reynolds).

Sort of like a snake shedding its skin.

So this new definition is about retaining less of yourself.

However, at its core this is a cautionary tale, and we discover Damian Hale’s new lease on life comes with a few strings still attached. Edward (the new body) still has some residual memories bubbling around in its used brain.

Since the story is set in New Orleans, you can count on some doozy memory fragments. When Damian/Edward encounters these disturbing images, he starts looking into his body’s past. But secrets are meant to be kept; errant memories can prove dangerous.

What starts off like a cerebral science fiction exercise morphs into a mindless futuristic thriller.

Indian-born director Tarsem Singh is known for his sci-fi and fantasy films, five altogether. The only one that veered from the genre was “Mirror Mirror,” a riff on the “Snow White” fairy tale.

His first film was “The Cell” with Jennifer Lopez, a psychological fantasy that dealt with the inner mind of coma patients. Next came “The Fall,” a Scheherazade-like approach with a hospitalized stuntman spinning epic fantasies for another patient. “The Immortals” was a mythological tale about the Titans. Then “Mirror Mirror,” followed by this one.

Tarsem seems to be picking at his film’s themes like a man trying to piece together fragments of false memories. And “Self/less” shows how unlikely that is to work out.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Self/Less (Brockway)

Self / Less

Slickly directed, but with enough far fetched turns to make the magician Uri Geller bury his head in a bucket of spoons, "Self/Less" by director Tarsem Singh (The Cell) could have benefitted from a less conventional body.

Ben Kingsley plays Damien Hale, a hard billionaire who just learns he has terminal cancer. All of his life he has been a realist. Now (of course) he regrets his ways wanting to make amends to his daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery) who works for a non profit.

If only Hale could make things right.

He collapses at his office, sputtering blood and is taken to a space age facility that can transplant his consciousness into the body of another waiting in a kind of freezer.

With spooky foreshadowing and a lot of loud grinding, there is something rotten in New Orleans.

Hale, we presume, wakes in the body of a baby faced Ryan Reynolds. Rather than embodying Hale, who has the aura of a stentorian devil, we see Reynolds warm and cherubic face. This Hollywood hunk has to learn balance, to walk and swim. Played by Reynolds, Hale is nothing like himself. If the man really does have Hale's mind, cognition and memory as the film states, shouldn't he have his speaking patterns as well?

There is nothing of Hale here, which makes the story silly from the get go.

Hale doesn't know if he's coming or going. He's suspicious of a head agent played by William Matthew Goode.

One morning after having fun in the French Quarter with a babe, he has disturbing lucid hallucinations that Hale is now actually a soldier who died in Afghanistan.

And just by the power of one vision alone, he gets the vibe to visit a water tower. On a whim, he enters a house and discovers himself in family photographs with a daughter who suffers from a respiratory ailment.

Agents are waiting for him.

The fight scenes are laughable with enough crashing, bashing and breaking to fill a drive In movie. Strange that Hale now has excellent combat skills even though he only just learned to walk. An agent gets doused with a flamethrower and then falls into a tub of water with what might be an Ahh of relief in poor taste.

Now the soldier's wife Madeline (Natalie Martinez ) is on the run with a cliche of a cute daughter Abby (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) in tow.

Hale oscillates between his generic "self" and this newly discovered soldier Mark, the man of action who knows exactly what to do.

And all because of  some little red pills a la Alice in Wonderland.

There is a moment of revelation when Abby goes behind a door to see an eerie boy. But we are given such convoluted explanations as to who this boy really is with dialogue about other bodies and transmutation, that it gets mushy.

After so much shell games, it all seems a screenplay written by MadLibs.

I get where the story intended to go: a man who doesn't know who he is, is lost in New Orleans. A man on the run wants a second chance. He doesn't know who to trust. Okay.

With an actor of Ben Kingsley's bearing and  a bit more genuine tension, this film could have been a nail biter.

But as played by Ryan Reynolds who gives everything a bland Dudley Do-Right delivery it is plastic instead of punchy.

Though visually crisp in keeping with Tarsem Singh's flair, the film's "trick" with its accompanying moral, is such a leap in logic that  "Self/Less" becomes mere fluff, rather than a compelling noir brainteaser that it should have been.

Write Ian at

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Dope (Brockway)


Rick Famuyiwi (Talk to Me, The Wood) directs "Dope" a madcap and good natured film that explores the interplay of teens friendship and crime in an increasingly hostile urban landscape.

Malcolm (Shemeik Moore) is a bookish and spaced out African American teenager. He is too smart for most and often shell-shocked by the goings on he witnesses.

Rather than face the dizzy ways of this century, Malcolm, with his two friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and female friend Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) immerses himself in 1990s hip hop music.

On the way home, he comes to a roadblock, manned by a drug dealer named Dom, well played by rapper A$AP Rocky.

Dom forces Malcolm to give a spoken message to his girl Nakia (Zoe Kravitz) urging her to go to a party, to make amends to her. Nakia invites Malcolm, with Dom approving.

Malcolm reluctantly agrees but his friends are ecstatic.

What follows is a zany, but violently anxious goose-chase with Malcolm and his friends caught in it all.  Though some of the drama feels like "Boyz  'n the Hood," it is more like a "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" version of black films in the 1990s. It is both a spoof of sorts and a commentary tribute and plays excellently.

The film has a quick and loose style with prepubescent pitfalls that never stop coming. Each character in this story is drawn with a neon brilliance, but despite the craziness, not one of the roles seems a cartoon.

Much of the frenzy has to do with guns, fear and drugs, but not once to its credit, does it reach maudlin heights of disbelief. The action is well balanced by the spacey wonder and nervousness of Malcolm as he meets each motley and often dangerous character.

This is no cynical or gritty expose of a cement wilderness. Rather, it is about three kids who want to have fun and make something of themselves, even though they are in danger of being squelched by adults who are angry and egotistical.

The refreshing element about "Dope" is that it contains so many aspects: a spoof, a conceptual tribute, a teen comedy, and even a thriller. But the best side of all is that it shows Malcolm as both an existential commentator and a trickster who turns society's arrogance to his best advantage.

Write Ian at

Friday, July 10, 2015

Week of July 10-16 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Offers Must-Sees and Wanna-Sees

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

This week Tropic Cinema offers an interest film selection, a couple of must-sees and some wanna-sees.

If you haven’t seen “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” do. Yes, it’s about two teen outcasts who befriend a classmate dying of leukemia. It’s sad, it’s funny, it’s a must-see. Tulsa World calls it
“smart and funny and meaningful, the kind of movie that you may not be familiar with yet, but which you might watch many times in the years to come.” And Parade Magazine says, “Give into it, go with it and let it take you where it leads you -- and don't get caught up in thinking that you already know where that will be.”

You might describe “Dope” as “John Hughes for millennials.” Black kids in the hood have replaced Molly Ringwald in the Chicago suburbs. Here a smart kid named Malcolm (Shameik Moore) must figure out how to trade a dope dealer’s stash for a Harvard education. says, “This dope coming-of-age comedy is about dopes and dope dealers, but it's also a heartfelt and perceptive
examination of cultural trends with style and energy to spare.” And The Skinny opines: “A smart bag of references, to both modern meme culture and bygone music and movies, Dope is neither pastiche nor misty-eyed nostalgia.”

“Self/less” is a clever science fiction film, with Ben Kingley as a rich guy with cancer who does a body swap and winds up looking exactly like Ryan Reynolds. But being someone else is not as easy as he’d hope. Beliefnet says it has “some provocative concepts about life, death, memory, identity, and, well, karma.” And Tri-City Herald says, “Decent sci-fi if it's your thing and from Tarsem Singh who is one of my favorite directors and a very good storyteller.”

And if you just want to see something silly, there’s “Spy” with Melissa McCarthy as an inexperienced secret agent. Aside from the fat jokes, which she takes to the bank, this is one of McCarthy funnier outings. Chicago Readers notes, “Hollywood is gradually figuring out what to do with Melissa McCarthy.” And NOW Toronto concludes, “This is an awful lot of fun. Don't wait for the DVD; see it with a crowd.”

So which films here are you’re must-sees and which are your wanna-sees? No matter, with only four films you can see them all.

Dope (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Dope” Is Really Dope
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Seems like only yesterday I used to see Lenny Kravitz and his then-wife Lisa Bonet in the elevator of a friend’s apartment building on Christopher Street in New York City. They usually had their infant daughter Zoë with them.

Now Zoë’s all grown up and one of the stars of “Dope,” a hot new indie film that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Dope has many meanings here. The drug (know as “Lily” in this story). A dummy (the straight-A student caught up in a drug deal). And “excellent” or “cool” (which this film certainly is).

Here we have Malcolm (Shameik Moore), a smart kid who wants to go to Harvard, but his school counselor calls the idea arrogant. After all, Malcolm and his pals Jib and Diggy (Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons) live in The Bottoms, a down-and-out area of Inglewood, California.

They get invited to a drug dealer’s b’day party at a nightclub, a reward for talking a pretty girl named Nakia (a grown-up Zoë Kravitz) into attending the bash. But rival dopers shoot up the club, and Malcolm escapes with the dope unknowingly in his backpack.

How does he get the molly back to the dealers without getting shot? How does he avoid being seduced by Jaleel’s sexy sister Lily (Victoria’s Secret model Chanel Iman)? How does he convince Nakia that he’s not like all the other druggie guys? How can he trade the dope for an admissions to Harvard?

These are the challenges Malcolm faces in “Dope,” a subversive coming-of-age film from Rick Famuyiwa, a first generation American of immigrant Nigerian parents, who went to USC with intentions of becoming a lawyer and ended up in film school.

 “I made ‘Dope’ as an homage to the many amazing independent and studio films of the 1990s that rewrote the rules of mainstream entertainment.” He cites “Boogie Nights,” “Jackie Brown,” “Bottle Rocket,” “Menace 2 Society,” and “Kids.”

“I pretty much just tried to steal as much as I could from them,” Famuyiwa says.

What we really have here is a black John Hughes, shifting the teen comedy scene from wealthy Chicago suburbs to the hood. And his trick is getting us interested in these kids -- a clique of nerds devoted to ‘90s hip-hop music -- who are as far cry from Molly Ringwald and her friends as The Bottoms is from Harvard.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

SPY (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Director Paul Feig scores again with "Spy," a Melissa McCarthy vehicle, that is no doubt a comedy, but also stands up surprisingly well as an espionage thriller as well as a laugh riot.

Yes, here again is McCarthy as we know her: the sarcastic and brash lady with a big mouth, but her role has heart. She's a CIA logistics operator who longs for the glamorous jet set life of an agent on the field. As Susan Cooper, she pines for the love of her fellow agent Fine (Jude Law) but she is sequestered behind a desk and can only give him directional cues.

When a strait-laced agent Crocker (Allison Janney) needs a low profile, mundane agent to gather the location of a terrorist weapon, she immediately thinks of Cooper. Cooper immediately takes to far-flung locations to collect intelligence.

Thus begins a kind of odyssey involving agents, guns and briefcases. This genre has a rich cinematic history from "Fletch" and "Spies Like Us" to "Austin Powers," but what makes "Spy" different from the rest is that it does truly pull its weight as a thriller in the key of Bond.

The exchanges between McCarthy and Rose Byrne as a dominant villain are first rate. While Byrne may have the best lines in telling Cooper that she eats like a baby while dining at a five star restaurant, Cooper always gets the last word. Director Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) once again highlights this film with a strong female protagonist that will not, under any circumstances, give in.

Jason Statham makes good fun of himself as Agent Ford, a spy who takes himself overly seriously, though in reality he is a hopeless klutz. His character is not new, but his vigor and egotistical energy shows through and manages to make it a refresher course ala Monty Python.

But in terms of stealing the show, the honor goes to Bjorn Gustafsson as a clueless guard.

While we know McCarthy's comedic persona well, her hapless self deprecation and charisma in spite of all flashes though all recognizable shtick.

During the first half we get the usual jokes of Cooper being the under-appreciated misfit, but by the film's second hour, Susan Cooper is a woman of action, progressively subverting the Bond film to include all women, and also proving McCarthy as an action star.

The combat scene in the kitchen with numerous vegetables, breads and cutlery of all sorts, almost brings the film to high art. A singular note of lunacy.

At first glance, Jude Law might seem weak as a bit of a handsome dullard, lest we forget that he is acting as the straight man.

"Spy" is in the long tradition of mixed genre films that have featured Dan Aykroyd, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Richard Pryor, and Abbott & Costello. "Spy" is a welcome addition with dialogue that not only spoofs for laughs but also points to a future in going beyond the conventions of what audiences might expect.

Write Ian at

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Friendships imperiled by sickness are the stuff of melodrama. Thankfully "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" by director  Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Tv's American Horror Story) manages to avoid any pitfalls of sap by giving some quirky charm and vibrance in its place.

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a melancholy high school student caring only for cinema. He pathologically avoids the intimacy of others spending most of his time with his friend Earl (Ronald Cyler II) watching Werner Herzog films in the office of the history teacher, Mr. McCarthy (Jon Bernthal)

Greg's domineering mom (Connie Britton) informs him that Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a fellow classmate, has leukemia urging him to spend time with her. Greg is resolutely opposed, thinking it would impair his energies as a creative loner, aside from acute anxiety.

Greg reluctantly agrees. So begins an unusual friendship between the two.

At the heart of this film is the wondrous chemistry between actors Cooke and Mann, who don't ham it up and have a generosity of spirit that is freely given.

For a start, Mann is terrific, drawing from the rich history of characters depicted in the films of John Hughes, right on par with "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "The Breakfast Club." Cooke is spirited and authentic, with a full range of emotion, not one of them being a withered sadness. This is no sob story, but a chronicle of a friendship, much of it with a light lift.

But that is not to say that it ignores darkness completely. More often than not, however, the film tells it like it is and then moves on.

The repartee between the two is destined to be classic, in parallel to Matthew Broderick's antics as a young kid.

This film has a texture and a color that actually feels like the psychic heart of a teenager. The camera is frequently tilted sideways in perspective, from up above or upside down. School cafeterias feel like prisons. A girl's room is a warm sanctuary filled with pillows, at once funny and erotic.

Within the whimsy of the camera angles is a profound pulse which illustrates the wildness of a teen: one part euphoria, one part comedic horror-show.

Interspersed with the ups and downs are some very funny jokes about classic cinema with most of the humor aimed at Herzog and Klaus Kinski.

Well known for comedy herself on "Saturday Night Live," Molly Shannon gives a spare and understated performance as Rachel's mother, who covers up her worry with a forced joie de vivre. Nick Offerman does fine too as Greg's father, though his character trades heavily on Offerman's past goofy parent incarnations.

Although it does flirt with the sentimental and the bittersweet, it is to its credit that it never slides fully into soupy emotion.

Above all, the film is a surprising portrait of friendship. Its glib self deprecating spirit is refreshing and without cynicism. "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" delivers a type of "The Breakfast Club" to a new generation making an irrepressible crowd pleaser, garnished with jovial colors.

Write Ian at

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Week of July 3 - 9 (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Six Tropic Films for Us and Them
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

This week’s Tropic Cinema’s lineup seemingly follows the philosophy of two for us, one for them. Only this week it’s four indie films versus two mainstream movies -- six films in all. And let’s admit it, being movie lovers we’re both us and them.

First up is “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” a life-affirming tale of two teen filmmakers who befriend a classmate diagnosed with leukemia. Yes, a sad theme, but this wonky little film is far from
being a downer. Examiner calls it “an emotional, powerful, and well written drama with a strong message, incredible writing, and powerful performances.” And St. Louis Post-Dispatch proclaims it “a must-see -- and one of the best films of the year.”

Next up, “A Little Chaos” gives us a glimpse of the court of Louis XIV (actor/director Alan Rickman) where the landscaper (Matthias Schoenaerts) is falling for Sabine (Kate Winslet), the woman he hires to design a fountain at Versailles. Boston Herald says, “A 17th Century semi-historical romantic drama, the film has its pleasures. Winslet is lovely and resilient as its faux feminist heroine.” And Reeling Reviews calls it “a little fish in a big pond of summer blockbusters but it is a film worth seeing for its story, characters, especially Sabine, and period production.”

Then we have “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” a sweet film starring Blythe Danner as a widow who wants more out of life than playing cards with her friends -- so she hangs out with the pool guy, tries speed-dating, and falls for a wealthy suitor (Sam Elliott). But how is that working out? Detroit News sees it as “a touching, funny and thoughtful film that trades in honesty rather than artifice.” Creative Loafing calls it “a confident feature angel-kissed with an enviable cast.” And Illinois Times says, “Danner delights.”

“Escobar: Paradise Lost” features Benicio Del Toro as a Colombian drug lord whose daughter is seeing a young American surfer. A dangerous match. Reel Talk Movie Reviews says, “In the role of Pablo Escobar, Benicio Del Toro exudes menace.” And Washington Post observes, “The suspense … in the film's final hour is genuine, and the action gripping.

Balancing off this quartet of indie films is “Spy,” a wacky comedy about a lowly CIA analyst (Melissa McCarthy) who goes undercover with two top agents (Jude Law and Jason Statham) to avert a global disaster. Movie Talk terms it “a rib-tickling espionage spoof that gives a confident female-centered spin to the traditionally ultra-masculine spy movie genre.” And Spectrum calls it “the year’s best comedy so far.”

The other big mainstream film is “Mad Max: Glory Road,” director George Miller’s return to a dystopian future where ISIS-like tribes are chasing Max (Tom Hardy in this new version) across the wasteland as he assists a woman (Charlize Theron) in rescuing a truckload of runaway brides. Seattle Weekly calls it “masterfully kinetic and often downright berserk.” And Spliced Personality tells us, “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.”

All in all, four indies for us and two mainstream movies for … us too!

New York Film Critics Series: Boulevard (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

NYFCS Shows Robin Williams’ More Somber Side
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Notable as Robin Williams’ final film, “Boulevard” is getting a one-night advance screening this coming Tuesday night at the Tropic Cinema, the latest entry in the New York Film Critics Series.

Williams died last year, a suicide following a long bout of depression. But this film was already in the can.

One of America’s most popular comedians -- kind of a Jonathan Winters clone, to name his mentor -- he made the transition to serious actor.

I met Williams back in the ‘80s. He was a motor-mouth comic on speed dial, his spot-on impressions shifting every few seconds. He was unbelievably manic … and unbelievably funny.

However, as an actor he often took on serious roles. Aside from the self-impersonation he did in “Good Morning, Vietnam,” he had a hidden a dark side -- revealed in films like “One Hour Photo,” “Seize the Day,” “Dead Poets Society,” “Insomnia,” and “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn.” He won an Oscar for playing a subdued shrink in “Good Will Hunting.”

Sure, he did the zany stuff too -- “Flubber,” the genie in “Aladdin,” a penguin in the “Happy Feet” movies, Teddy Roosevelt in those “Night at the Museum” movies, even “The Crazy Ones” on TV.

But like Pagliacci, Williams remained the archetypical “sad clown.”

“Eighty percent of comedians come from a place of tragedy,” noted Time Magazine when writing about Williams’ death.

“Boulevard” does little to dispel Robin Williams’ somber side. In it, he’s an older man trapped in a marriage of convenience, hiding a secret. As a weary banker, his life comes unglued when on an aimless drive down an unfamiliar street he meets a troubled young man named Leo (Roberto Aguire), forcing him to come to terms with who he really is.

Recent research by Oxford University suggests “the creative elements needed to produce humor are strikingly similar to those characterizing the cognitive style of people with psychosis -- both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.” It concluded, “Comedians may use their act as a form of self-medication.”

Maybe “Boulevard” shows us Robin Williams was off his meds.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” Celebrates Life
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Cancer is not necessarily a death sentence. But it sure isn’t good news. So how do you handle it when you befriend someone who has just been diagnosed with leukemia?

 Well, you could make a movie.

In “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” that’s what Greg and his best friend Earl decide to do when Rachel comes into their lives.

The two Pittsburgh highschoolers are film buffs who entertain themselves by making low-budget movies in their spare time, often parodies of classic films. Take “400 Bros.,” for example.

So when Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (Ronald J. Cryler II) meet Rachel (Olivia Cooke) whose life expectancy is limited, they decide to make a film for her.

Before you say this sounds like a downer, think again. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” won both the US Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic and the Audience Award for US Drama at the Sundance Film Festival. Plus it got a standing ovation.

The film is both “darkly funny and realistically somber,” as one moviegoer put it.

Sure, all the expected high-school movie tropes are there -- from social cliques to teen angst. In addition to the trio in the title, we have Connie Britton and Nick Offerman as Greg’s awkward parents, Jon Bernthal as the archetypal cool teacher replete with tats, and Molly Shannon as Rachel’s wine-sipping mother. Even Hugh Jackman’s voice turns up on a talking Wolverine poster.

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is currently celebrating life at the Tropic Cinema.

Will you like it? Depends.

An enthusiastic teenage moviegoer said, “Halfway through, I wanted to stand up and give it an ovation already. It is a brilliant film, made for those who grew up watching the cinema. I thought I was maybe delusional for thinking this could be one of my favorite films. Then, Variety said it would be a hallmark of my generation.”

Still another offered this succinct summation: “It was cool as beans.”

However, a more cynical film buff concluded, “It was better than a lot of movies targeted at teens but it’s probably not going to mean much to people older than 21.”

All of that aside, following the box-office success of “The Fault In Our Stars” -- the story of two cancer kids falling for each other -- you can count on this being a hit too. Die-hard fan of TFIOS may find it blasphemous for me to say this, but this quirky film is actually a superior cinematic experience. Kudos to director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon who up to now has cranked out silly TV shows. Good practice for this winning film debut about two guys and a dying girl.