Monday, November 30, 2015

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

Tropic Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooklyn (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Brooklyn” Is Romantic Triangle
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas Sparks, eat your heart out.

Trumbo (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

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

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

Why would he need to hide money?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Trumbo (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Write Ian at

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Brooklyn (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Write Ian at

Monday, November 23, 2015

Week of Nov. 20 - 26 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four films, four must-see moviegoing experiences.

Spotlight (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Spotlight” Reporters Didn’t Back Off
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Whenever Ben Bradlee, Jr. got together with his dad they talked shop. Newspapers and journalism. Maybe a little baseball.

 As all the world knows, Ben Bradlee was the Washington Post executive editor who backed Woodward and Bernstein in their exposure of Watergate, the scandal that dethroned a US President. And his son was the Boston Globe deputy managing editor who led that paper’s famous Spotlight Team in exposing longtime sexual abuses in the Catholic Church.

Both of these stories won Pulitzer Prizes for their papers.

“We used to note the similarity of the two stories,” Ben Bradlee, Jr. says. “Both started with what appeared to be small stories, one about a local burglary, the other a piece about one bad priest. Little did anyone expect them to become global exposés that shook the foundations of two important institutions.”

Ben Bradlee, Jr. spent 25 years with the Boston Globe, 10 as a reporter and 15 as an editor. In November 1993 he was put in charge of the Globe’s investigative unit, a handful of reporters known as the Spotlight Team.

It was this small group of journalists who over a two-year period (July 2001 to August 2002,) uncovered a history of sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Boston, a discovery that caused reverberations reaching all the way to the Vatican. Church documents, official testimony, and victim interviews unveiled a story of secrecy and deception. The Archdioceses had gone to extraordinary lengths to cover up the scandal. Over the past decade it had quietly settled child molestation claims against at least 70 priests.

“The story was in the documents,” Bradlee says, shaking his head as if trying to clear away a bad memory. “They were sexually abusing kids.”

The Boston Globe received that 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service “for its courageous, comprehensive coverage ... an effort that pierced secrecy, stirred local, national and international reaction and produced changes in the Roman Catholic Church.”

A book titled “Betrayal” followed. And now a movie.

“Spotlight” -- named after the Globe’s investigative team -- is playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

“A movie was the last thing we were thinking of,” Bradlee says. “But it’s been a pleasant distraction.”

Film producers Nicole Rocklin and Blye Faust pitched the idea to the reporters. “They had lined up a great director (Tom McCarthy), a great script, and an A-list cast,” says Bradlee.

Playing the four investigative reporters on the Spotlight Team are Mark Ruffalo (as Michael Rezendes), Michael Keaton (as Walter “Robbie” Robinson), Rachael McAdams (as Sacha Pfeiffer), and Brian d’Arcy James (as Matt Carroll). Liev Schreiber (as Marty Baron) takes a seat at the editor’s desk. And Bradlee is portrayed by John Slattery (best known for TV’s “Mad Men”). Toss in Stanley Tucci, Jamey Sheridan, and Billy Crudup -- and you have a great ensemble cast.

“John Slattery contacted me, then took the train up to Boston the next day,” recalls Bradlee. “We had lunch, talked over several beers. That was followed up by many dinners. We became friends.”

How was Slattery’s portrayal? “I kid him that he put too much swagger into my character. But colleagues tell me he got it about right.”

Marty Baron was the new editor at the Globe, a fresh arrival who had worked at the LA Times, New York Times, and Miami Herald. It was his idea to pursue the story.

“All four reporters had been raised Catholic, but Marty was Jewish.” The warnings from the Church were subtle. It was pointed out “this outside editor would one day be gone, but that the reporters had to stay and live in their communities.”

But nobody backed off.

“We were proud of the story. We nailed it. We held an important institution accountable.”

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Spotlight (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Director Kevin McCarthy (The Visitor) spins a true journalist's tale about The Boston Globe's Spotlight team and their investigation of the Catholic church's unconscionable abuses. Circa 2000, it came to a reporter's attention that Father Geoghan had molested several children. The case was reported and a settlement was reached. The original story was never followed up on and that particular Globe story was forgotten.

Enter Marty Baron (Liev Shrieber) a new head reporter of The Boston Globe who comes across clippings and decides there is more here than at first thought. Baron urges the Spotlight team to pursue the story, a kind of real life "Avengers" of journalism, known for their obsessive pursuit of facts, their refusal to be persuaded, and a commitment to follow each story to its bitter end.

By contacting an intense and suffering abuse victim Phil Saviano (Neal Huff) along with consulting directories, the team realizes that thirteen priests have indeed abused scores of young children. The number increases.

This is a gritty and tense story with lots of Boston local color echoing David O. Russell's  "The Fighter." There are smoky barrooms, grimy corner tables, wilted slate gray houses and brown mustard kitchens. The film that this biting investigation most recalls, however, is "All the President's Men" in its smarmy, push-me-pull-you apprehensions and revelations, where those in power give a little only to take it back. Many white faces go gray and ashy.

Billy Crudup plays Eric MacLeish, a lawyer for the victims. As portrayed on film as having all of the glib and snappy answers,  his character is not sympathetic and easy to dislike. The actor Len Cariou is a highlight as Cardinal Law, who is as duplicitous as he is smooth with congeniality.  Richard Jenkins almost steals the show as a mysterious voice on the phone known as Sipe with aspects of Watergate's "Deep Throat." Michael Keaton plays team leader Walter Robinson. He is pale, compressed and hyper, arching his Gotham City eyebrows to great effect. Mark Ruffalo is here too as Mike Rezendez, the bohemian of the group. He shuffles about with insistence, driven to reveal any unturned Roman collar.

Though there are many cluttered desks, dim lighting, rolling presses and hectic faces reminiscent of many other newspaper-themed films, the compelling twists are sustained throughout. This attention gives a nostalgia to the tangible and now primitive simplicity of a story published on actual newsprint. A sable romance.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of "Spotlight" is the fact that Mark Ruffalo (known as The Hulk in Marvel films) plays the only character who loses his temper to the point of neck clenching.

This is no accident. Though he doesn't turn green like his former incarnation, Ruffalo's very appearance in this film is an affirmation: when faced with an earthly evil, journalists, not emerald-enraged scientists, have the true power to avenge, and affect change.

Write Ian at

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Steve Jobs (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Steve Jobs

Actor Michael Fassbender gives a tour de force performance in "Steve Jobs" a biopic about the maestro of Apple, Inc., directed by Danny Boyle.

The film is told in three thirty-minute segments mostly concerning the inventor's personal life: the fraught relationships with co-founder and friend Wozniak (Seth Rogen), with his  interim CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), and with his daughter (played by  Perla Hanley-Jardine, Ripley Sobo and Mackenzie Moss).

Jobs is near pathological in his obsession to make Apple a success. He is more than a bit like Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho", a near sociopath. Nothing gets in his way.

Jobs is pale and tight, half man and snake in his black turtleneck. He perpetually stalks his invisible prey, moving from hallway to hallway, room to room with eyes like magnets of ego. Jobs is more at ease touching plastic consoles and surfaces than his friends or his daughter.

The dialogue, written by Aaron Sorkin is masterful in its machine gun rapidity, chock full of dismissive and cutting non sequiturs that highlight Jobs' sublime and utter coldness. Jobs enjoys exchanging techie wordplay with his marketing exec, Joanna Hoffman (a nearly invisible Kate Winslet) rather than snuggle with his part time girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston) or his daughter Lisa. There is no room for human to human touch  The only biped that Jobs seems to share a bond with (albeit briefly) is Wozniak, his friend and the co-creator of the first and second Apple computers.

Jobs comes to an impasse with John Sculley over the first Mac. Sculley says the Mac is a dud. Jobs demands to highlight the Minion-shaped machine, electing himself a Da Vinci of a digital age. He evicerates his staff and is forced out. It doesn't help that Jobs hired young men who were actual neo-nazi skinheads as extras in his exquisite 1984 Super Bowl commercial.

A decade later, Jobs is back. He is now a Warholian wizard of a smaller computer era. Pop is everything. Like Andy Warhol, he moves Apple into a huge factory-warehouse with wall-size photographs of Alan Turing, John Lennon and Bob Dylan under the glib but incorrectly worded slogan of "Think Different".  The Macs are now in bright neon colors, manufactured again and again and again, into infinity.

He tries to make amends to Lisa but instead focuses in on her Sony Walkman: "A brick". Jobs quips, "Are we still in the Dark Ages?" Jobs can't give her love so he will give her a product, a sexy rectangle of a thousand songs that can fit in her pocket.  However ingenious, such a thing makes a cold keepsake.

A highlight of the film is Seth Rogen, excellent as Jobs' sincere friend who adamantly strives to make this dictator designer see that he can, in fact, be a better human being and make the right choice. Rogen's portrayal, showing only the slightest of comic touches flirts with the poignant and is certainly his best and most earthy role to date.
There is a slight pixel of redemption when Jobs moves on the stage, glancing at his daughter behind the curtain. For a millisecond their eyes meet and he makes tentative steps to her, only to lose form in a blur of light perhaps in recognition of Jobs' death when he apparently exclaimed, "Oh wow!"

Though "Steve Jobs" the film, only shows the dark side of this man, it does a near virtuosic job in scoring some of the terror behind the technology, while thankfully never veering into pulp or artifice.

Alas, the one lasting friend Jobs maintained was the one with himself and he put all of his spirit in his touchable devices. It is no ruse that he wanted Macs to have disk drives that appear to smile. Each computer was an actual mirror of Jobs himself.

This deliberate intention is seen again in the iphones of today. Those dark polished screens passively reflect the faces of the user and carry out our highly individual, often solipsistic and selfish demands.

Sent from my iPhone

Write Ian at

Friday, November 13, 2015

Suffragette (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) directs this solid and accurate film about women's  suffrage in early 20th Century Britain. The film is compelling, sensitive and well acted, despite it betraying a shade of period drama predictibility.

Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) is a young launderess held under oppression by her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw.) Maud witnesses a suffrage riot. Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) encorages Maud to speak at a meeting since she is assaulted by her husband and understandably terrified.

Maud agrees and becomes further impassioned with the cause.

She gets arrested numerous times and Sonny blows a gasket. She places wrapped gunpowder in post boxes and upsets life wherever she can. At work, she slams an iron on her boss's hand.

She attracts the attention of Inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson) who admires his adversary. Maud is labeled an anarchist, a threat to the status quo.

The iconic Meryl Streep appears in a fine cameo as the activist Emmeline Pankhurst who advocates violence, when and if necessary.

Shockingly, the film does not shy away from blood. Punches are thrown, bones are broken and women kicked. Blows to the stomach are delivered with impunity.

This is revolution.

 Scorn and fear are sad universalities and here again, men are filled with a shell-shocked disgust.

While the film does flirt with a Thomas Hardy flavor of woe, namely in the separation of the son, George (Adam Dodd), the story retains its suspense, primarily through the excellent acting of Mulligan, coupled with some apprehensive and sizzling camerawork, which transforms Maud into a smartly covert antihero who seeks refuge in old churches. Steed himself becomes a Javert from Les Miserables, obsessed with Maud as he weaves his way through a top-hatted crowd.

Though this is England in the late 1800s, it could just as well be Selma in the 60s. The McCarthy era or Stonewall.

"Suffragette" sports an excellent ensemble cast. In sharp, finely honed episodes it underscores the human condition locked in an infinite struggle for fairness and simply, what is right.

Write Ian at

Week of Nov. 13 - 19 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Films at the Tropic Get Real
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Four of the five films screening at Tropic Cinema this week are based on real-life events -- the time-frames ranging from 1912 right up to the minute.

“Suffragette” tells of the fight for women’s rights in turn-of-the-century England. Carey Mulligan gives us a laundress caught up in the hullabaloo and Meryl Streep is there as the leader of the militant Suffragette Movement. calls it “a worthwhile reminder of how far women have come and the price they had to pay to get here.” And Minneapolis star Tribune opines, “Mulligan, in particular, delivers, bringing believability to a role that's quite a stretch, given the transformation her character has to go through from workaday mum to first-wave feminist superhero.”

“Truth” is a more recent history, the story of how national news anchor Dan Rather lost his job. Robert Redford puts his chin forward as Rather and Cate Blanchett nails it as Mary Mapes, the “60 Minutes” producer who precipitated their downfall. observes the film “provokes an intriguing discussion of how politics and big business have changed the risks and angles that news organizations take, with the truth getting lost in the shuffle.” And Seattle Times says it’s “mesmerizing, entirely because of Blanchett…”

“Big Stone Gap” is a picture-postcard view of a small town in Virginia where an avowed spinster (played by Ashley Judd) learns a secret that makes her rethink her life choices. says, “Sure, the script can be simpler than a diner menu. And at times the nostalgia seems manufactured like the goodies at a Cracker Barrel gift shop, but...Big Stone Gap proves to be...a nice change of pace from the summer popcorn-movie season.” And concludes, “The movie ambles along amiably enough …”

“Steve Jobs” is screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s take on the co-founder of Apple. Michael Fassbender plays the genius who never knew his own father, yet rejected his own illegitimate daughter. Suburban Journals of St. Louis asks, “Was Steve Jobs' success achieved because of his caustic personality or in spite of it? The answer is inconclusive, which is kind of what makes this movie great.” And Cleveland Plain Dealer adds, “Fassbender's performance is a stunning achievement of subtlety and power, as he presents Jobs as a witty, likable and engaging person in one conversation and a conflicted, shutdown monster in the next.”

And “Bridge of Spies” is another Steven Spielberg tour de force, with Tom Hanks portraying the lawyer who negotiated the trade of Russian spy Rudolf Abel for downed U2 pilot Gary Powers. notes, “Spielberg and Hanks brings the romance of classic cinema.” And Buzzfeed tells us the film is “a heart-on-its-sleeve affirmation of American values -- not in the loaded contemporary sense of the term, but in the way the country was founded on values we have to work and fight to abide by.”

If only my history classes in college were as interesting as these films!

Steve Jobs (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Steve Jobs” Couldn’t Fix Everything
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Back in the early ‘80s when I was publishing a group of computer magazines for Scholastic, I made numerous sales calls to Cupertino, California, to visit the headquarters of Apple. It was clear the employees held Steve Jobs and co-founder Stephen G. Wozniak in awe. Later I met John Scully, the one-time Pepsi-Cola exec who ousted Jobs from the Garden of Eden.

Turns out, Scully wasn’t the serpent. Jobs was.

Jobs had founded Apple in 1976 with his pal Woz. They started in a garage. By 25, Jobs was worth $100 million. Forbes puts his final net worth at $5.5 billion.

His biographer Walter Isaacson described him as the “creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.”

Isaacson’s book is the basis for the new movie titled “Steve Jobs,” currently playing at Tropic Cinema.

The biopic -- directed by Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and written by Aaron Sorkin (TV’s “West Wing”) -- gives us Michael Fassbender as Jobs, Seth Rogan as Woz, and Jeff Daniels as Scully.

Structured more like a theatrical production than a film, we get the story in three acts: Talky, rapid-fire Sorkin-esque cross-dialogue that takes place backstage prior to three major product launches (the Macintosh in 1984, NeXT in 1988, and the iMac in 1998). It’s like being behind the scenes of the digital revolution.

To give us visual cues of the technical advancement during this 16-year period in Jobs’ life, cinematographer Alwin H. Küchlerthe filmed the three sequences in 16mm, 35mm, and digital.

However, if you want to get a better picture of Jobs’ creative genius, you should have caught the excellent documentary “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” which played recently at the Tropic. Comprised of interviews with the real people, it offers more hardedge facts.

Here, you’re going to get the story of Steve Jobs, the flawed but gifted man. An egotistical narcissist, he was inspiring but not very unlikable.

The film turns the spotlight on Jobs’ reluctant relationship with his illegitimate daughter Lisa (played by Peria Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo and Makenzie Moss at ages 5, 9, and 19).

He denied his fatherhood, but named a computer after her. A court-ordered paternity test proved that Lisa was his daughter, but he only agreed to pay $500 a month child support. Ironically, Jobs himself had been abandoned by his own biological parents.

In the movie, his assistant (played by Kate Winset) says, “When you’re a father ... that’s what’s supposed to be the best part of you, and it’s caused me two decades of agony. Steve ... that it is for you ... the worst. It’s a little thing ... it’s a very small thing. Fix it.”

Fassbender does a good job of playing Jobs, despite his own GQ image. Wearing signature black turtleneck and blue jeans, Steve Jobs was at heart a counterculture hippie.

After dropping out of college to go study Buddhism in India, Jobs worked briefly for Atari, having got the job by passing off a computer game created by his pal Steve Wozniak as his own.

“Steve didn’t ever code,” says Woz. “He wasn’t an engineer and he didn’t do any original design...”

Woz single-handedly had developed the 1976 Apple I, and was the primary inventor of the 1977 Apple II. Jobs oversaw the development of the computer’s case. The Apple II became one of the first highly successful mass-produced personal computers.

The two pals split in 1985, with Wozniak selling most of his Apple stock. That same year John Scully forced Jobs out of the company in a difference over management style. Jobs was an inspiring leader, but not very easy to work with. As we know, he later returned, rescuing the company from near bankruptcy after having made a new fortune from Pixar, a company whose technology he purchased from George Lucas (“Star Wars”).

“What do you do?” challenged Wozniak. “You’re not an engineer. You’re not a designer. You can’t put a hammer to a nail. I built the circuit board! The graphical interface was stolen! So how come ten times in a day I read Steve Jobs is a genius? What do you do?”

“Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra,” said Jobs.

Suffragette (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Women’s Suffrage Depicted In “Suffragette”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Women’s rights is nothing new, even if some of today’s political candidates might think so. The women’s suffrage movement goes back to the 19th Century. Here in the US we think of pioneers like Susan B. Anthony (yep, she’s the lady on the silver dollar), Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone. Thanks to the Nineteenth Amendment, women got the legal right to vote nationally in 1920.

Seems weird that it was ever a question, doesn’t it?

The rights of women in England was a hard fought battle by the Suffragette Movement.

An 1825 broadside laid out the issue thusly: “An Appeal of One Half the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain Them in Political, and Thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery: In Reply to Mr. Mill's Celebrated Article on Government.”

The Reform Act that came seven years later enfranchised “male persons,” providing the first explicit statutory bar to women voting. This added fuel to the emblazoned women’s suffrage movement. It wasn’t until The Representation of the People Act 1928 that women gained the right to vote on the same terms as men.

A new film titled “Suffragette” depicts the women’s suffrage struggle in 1912 England. It stars Cary Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Natalie Press, Anne-Marie Duff, and Meryl Streep, among dozens of other strong female actors.

Who said there aren’t any meaty roles for women?

“Suffragette” is the gritty and downright depressing story of women militants in Great Britain who fought -- yes, literally -- to extend the rights of franchise to women.

Carey Mulligan (you’ve seen her in “The Great Gatsby,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,“ and “Far From the Madding Crowd”) plays Maud, a 24-year-old laundress who gets caught up in the women’s rights movement led by fiery Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep). Maud’s husband disapproves, especially when she gets arrested. Her ongoing activities come with a high price, causing her to lose her family, her friends, her job. If she and her fellow suffragette Emily (Natalie Press) can only get their message before King George at Epson Derby …

This is a film that feminists will applaud, but it’s seeing some backlash. A group of bloggers are calling it anti-male. “Just what we need, more feminist revisionist history,” bemoans one thread on Internet Movie Database.

“While the story of female suffrage is taught at school from a young age, few people today know the long and gruesome history of how men won the right to vote,” says Neil Lyndon in an articled titled “Why has everyone forgotten about male suffrage?” He points out that before 1918, the vote was restricted not simply by sex but also by property qualifications.

“The reason is that the whole truth is extremely inconvenient. It conflicts with the dominant feminist narrative which portrays women as the victims of repressive men, from whom liberation and progress had to be wrested by militant uprising. The true history of votes for women, however, is not a story of sex war but of a continuous progress of electoral reform over a century from 1832-1928 in which women’s suffrage was only one element.”

Sounds like we’re getting into the semantic territory of that debate between “BlackLivesMatter” and “AllLivesMatter.”

Sure, men have historically had to fight for rights, but let’s not let that diminish recognition of the struggle women have faced. Both are facts. And a film can choose to depict either of those stories. This film happens to be about the Suffragette Movement in England, so accept it for what it is.

In 1999 Time magazine named Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. It stated, “She shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back.”

Monday, November 9, 2015

Big Stone Gap (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Big Stone Gap

Here we are in the film version of "Big Stone Gap" by director Adriana Trigiani. Right from the start, the film shows promise as we are placed square in the West Virginia mining town with old footage and a flavorful intro voiceover by Ashley Judd who plays the main character, Ave Maria.

There is a general store, an open air stage, a main street and last, but certainly not least, the iconic Mutual Pharmacy, a town hub and social center, the very bullseye of town drama. We see the miners shuffling off to work as a real life version of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Compelling it is to watch these opening seconds as it recalls several films, from "Blue Velvet" to Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt."

This is the essence of small town life. The director knows her stuff and this is no accident: Big Stone Gap is the director's hometown. If only the film could have sustained this vivacity. Instead, what we have is a superfluous and somewhat silly rehashing of a film in the genre of "Steel Magnolias" and "Fried Green Tomatoes."

Not much happens here to hold the eyes in place. The usually dependable Ashley Judd as Ave Maria, seems stuck in a southern bog here, not of her design. She laments being an old maid in a town laden by back biting gossip and that's fine, but her story is absent of any tension or pathos.

Why should we care? Maria is the "straight man" playing off a group of semi kooky (but not kooky enough) characters. There is Jack (Patrick Wilson) a Dudley Do Right character who passively drifts about and doesn't quite no what he wants in a woman. There is Sue (Jane Krakowski) a ditzy blonde who does precious little but laugh and say mean things to Ave, and Iva (Jenna Elfman) another gossipy hen-like lady. Whoopi Goldberg appears as well, cliche in hand as a glib and wisecracking pharmacist.

The main thrust of the drama involving the mystery of Ave's Italian father, combined with a shrewish Aunt Alice (Mary Pat Gleason) takes so long to get out off the ground that one will wish for a tall glass of sweet tea to stay awake. Every character feels a generalized stereotype from the gossipy blondes, to the silent and passive Jack, not to mention Fleeta's snappish remarks.

Granted we are in West Virginia, but must every woman speak in the same sugary cadence and accent? Such unreality curdles my suspension of disbelief.

There is an  unfunny drunken wedding with a bride falling down and french kissing , a mine explosion and some relationship handwringing, all of it so deliberate and obviously calling to so many previous and better, southern-centric films. By the end, with long lost characters arriving and an ensemble moment heavy in tears, it feels more like a rote checklist of relief on cue than a satisfying film.

"Big Stone Gap" has a solid cast, headed by Judd, but its slow, plodding treatment has far too many cliches to retain an interest.

That's all, y'all.

Write Ian at

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Love (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Say what you will about Argentinian director Gaspar Noe, he is an Enfant terrible. Noe is strongly influenced by existentialism and his characters are often passive, misanthropic or brutish.

Noe never fails to provoke even when he is tepid and audiences often say no to him. In "Love," a meditation on addiction, the director stays within his usual bounds.

Murphy (Karl Glusman) is a film student in Paris. By chance at a party, he meets a quirky and goth aspiring painter, Electra (Aomi Muyock.)

Things go rather well for them. There are some startling full frontal and  explicit sex scenes in 3D, featuring the the two conjoining like octopuses surrounded by red velvet. At other times, the couple resembles fallen matadors engorged by bulls. These tableaux of graphic sex are shadowed by a wobbly and intense chiariscuro making each wild orgasmic contortion into a painting by a masturbatory Carravagio.

Electra and Murphy attend a party invited by a gallery owner (played by the director Noe in a cameo) Murphy gets very drunk and nasty, falling for a patron sexually in the bathroom. Murphy turns acidic and degrading to Electra. What was once Romeo and Juliet is now Caligula.

In the fashion of a collage, we see Murphy engaged in crab-like sex with Omi (Klara Kristin) a young lady whom Murphy does not care for. They have a toddler and another baby is expected.

Murphy feels trapped and miserable. Day after day, he gets phone calls from Electra's mother who says Electra is missing and presumed suicidal. Murphy is wracked with self loathing and can only think of his sensual bliss of the past. Murphy has frequent rages. Sex, an opiate, is the only thing that numbs him.

In content, there is not much here and the director Noe is perhaps teasing us here, employing 3D effects as a gimmick. Murphy is passive and selfish, a thoroughly unlikeable character.  This is the director's trademark as he is no doubt influenced by Camus, Kafka and the folly of happenstance. Gaspar Noe's previous films "Carne" and "Irreversible" are far superior, with richer allusions to the  themes of Dante's Inferno and Dostoevsky.

Yet though "Love" strobes across the screen with some repetitive and familiar shapes of bestial abjection, the film does point to the compelling theme of sex as a drug, stronger than any narcotic, making animals of us all.

To see a Noe film is to witness a hard bitten world with people driven mad, yet the hostility is often washed over with the hallucinogenic colors of a work by Hieronymus Bosch.  Limbs, members and extremities are foreshortened, cropped and erased, showing men and women boxed within a spiritual submarine. Invariably, his characters are either bitter, laconic or self absorbed.

But to what end? This question is all that remains.

Write Ian at

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Bridge of Spies (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Bridge of Spies

Actor Tom Hanks puts his trademark expressions of fear and astonishment to good use in the Cold War film "Bridge of Spies," a Steven Spielberg film that well satisfies and entertains.

Hanks plays lawyer James Donovan, who is suddenly and inexplicably thrust into representing Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a painter who is arrested on charges of espionage for the Soviet Union.

The film does an excellent job in portraying the time and place of Brooklyn in the late 1940s. Men trudge about the wet streets like human blocks of granite that lift and walk and then lift more. The entire borough is thick with fear and paranoia. Women arch their eyebrows under cat eye-glasses careful to watch for any hint of the Red Scare. Who knows what the TV might well transmit?

One morning at the office, Donovan is asked to defend Abel, an accused Russian spy, to reduce tension between the two countries. Donovan is uncertain but agrees feeling that it is, after all, the correct and moral choice.

The very first moments are a homage to Hitchcock in showing Abel on the run from four men in dark suits and fedoras. The film immediately works on the audience in showing a nondescript man keeping a cool head thru a gray flannel crowd. He is passively bumped about, a human pinball, and very nearly caught.

There is one other striking Spielberg moment as well featuring military man Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) under attack in a spy plane.

The thrilling scene could well be mistaken for the director in his salad days, showing old sparks from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Jaws." It has been often said that Spielberg  once brought TV to the movies in terms of surprises and his strength in giving us a punch is still evident.

In addition to some prime Spielberg touches, a quirky Coen Brothers flavor is easily noticeable too, in the character of Agent Blasco, (Domenick Lombardozzi) who is bumbling while attempting an air of authority. This is no accident as the Coen brothers  Joel and Ethan wrote the screenplay.

Mark Rylance is wonderful as Rudolph Abel, "The Standing Man" par excellence whose passive shape may well be a ruse.

And although a shade predictable, Hanks  does well once more as a just Everyman who knows how to proceed and keeps his hat down.

Though the drama is first rate, the true wonder of "Bridge of Spies" is that it is so perfectly of a time in the early 50s, where fear poked within the picket fence and nearly every child was terrified enough to hide under a chair and fill a bathtub up with water in the event of nuclear war.

Once upon a time, James Donovan and Rudolf Abel were aimed as human chessmen, placed on the squares of East and West. Most poignantly their movements inscribe a friendship, either by chance or in spite of themselves.

Write Ian at

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Week of Nov. 6 - 12 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Mixes New Films, Second Runs, And Holdovers to Great Effect
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Tropic Cinema seems to be drawing on that old saying, “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue” with this week’s film lineup.

One of the best-made movies in memory, “Bridge of Spies” is the tour de force by director Steven Spielberg. Starring Tom Hanks as the attorney who negotiated the prisoner exchange of Russian spy Rudolf Abel for downed U2 pilot Gary Powers, you will marvel at the where-it-happened scenery and the visual transitions of scenes. EscribiendoCine calls it “A political thriller with a lot of heart, like a mix between the patriotic sentimentalism of Frank Capra and the cold world of spies of John le Carré.” L.A. Weekly observes, “‘Bridge of Spies’ connects Cold War paranoia to today’s terror. That’s a bridge worth building.” And Cinencuentro tells us it’s “impeccably acted, impressive technical levels and entertaining.”

Also new to Tropic screens is “Big Stone Gap,” a rom-com about a spinster-by-choice (not so spinsterish Ashley Judd) who learns a family secret that makes her reevaluate life. Set in the rustic town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia -- hence the title -- Seattle Times calls it “greeting-card pretty and sweet.” Chicago Reader notes, “Director Adriana Trigiani, adapting her best-selling novel, delivers the hackneyed material with good cheer, eliciting bright performances from an excellent ensemble cast.” And BeliefNet says, “It goes down easy, like sweet tea brewed by sunshine.”

Something blue is “Love,” the romance-gone-awry featuring explicit sex scenes (in 3D). Need I say more? San Francisco Chronicle observes, “Almost all of the action takes place in the bedroom. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but a little more character dimension would have made these between-the-sheet sessions a lot more charged.” And Chicago Daily Herald concludes, “Director Gaspar Noé clearly isn’t interested in sex as eroticism, but as a form of communication between people.”

Still playing is “Truth,” the insider story about how TV anchor Dan Rather came to be fired by CBS. Starring Robert Redford as Rather and Cate Blanchett as “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes, it’s a study in journalistic ethics told from her viewpoint. Flick Filosopher describes it as “a fascinating look at the pitfalls of modern journalism, and a compelling portrait of a journalist who paid a high price for letting them trip her up.” And Mountain Xpress calls it “Surprisingly effective as drama and thought-provoking on every other level.”

And “Sicario” follows an FBI newbie (Emily Blunt) who joins a team hunting down a Mexican drug lord. Q Network calls it “a powerful experience that forces us into a violent confrontation with our own ethical worldview, challenging any tidy notions of right and wrong.” And Spirituality and Practice sees it as a “tense drama with a standout performance by Emily Blunt as a conscience-driven FBI agent.”

Quite an array of choices. Something for everybody!

Bridge of Spies (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Spielberg Gets Nostalgic About the Cold War
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

If George Clooney is this generation’s Cary Grant, then Tom Hanks must be our Jimmy Stewart. A decent, idealistic, down-to-earth everyman.

And that’s why Steven Spielberg picked Hanks to star in his new film, “Bridge of Spies.” The role calls for a decent, idealistic, down-to-earth family man who is thrust into the world of international espionage.

You see, “Bridge of Spies” is a Cold War drama based on true events, the 1962 spy-swap of Soviet agent Rudolph Abel for downed US U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers.

James B. Donovan (played by Hanks) was a lawyer hired by the US government to represent Abel (Mark Rylance) in his spy trial, and then later negotiate his exchange for Powers (Austin Stowell).

It was a time of paranoia and fear. “Is there any outcome where I’m not detained or shot?” Donovan asks.

The film -- showing this week at Tropic Cinema -- portrays Donovan as a reluctant hero, an insurance man who considers himself unqualified for the high-stakes assignment. In real life, Donovan had been an attorney for the OSS (the predecessor of the CIA) and a representative at the Nuremberg war trials.

The script by British dramatist Mark Chapman was tweaked by Joel and Ethan Coen. The result is sort of a Capra-esque look at a simpler time when doing the right thing was easier to figure out. Even if unpopular.

Spielberg has made half-a-dozen or so war films (“Schindler’s List,” etc.). They often feature a man with a strong moral center. And for that matter, Frank Capra made the “Why We Fight” war films.

Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra did three films together. This is Hanks’ fourth collaboration with Spielberg (“Saving Private Ryan,” “Catch Me If You Can,” and “The Terminal” being the first three). Predictably, Hanks is masterful in his approach, a low-key delivery with an iron core of moral certitude.

Co-star Mark Rylance holds his own, giving a subtle Oscar-worthy performance as the Ruskie spy who comes to respect his American lawyer. The winner of two Olivier Awards and three Tonys, Rylance is regarded by many as the greatest stage actor of his generation.

The film was shot on locations in New York, Germany, and Poland, including some of the very places where these events took place. The prisoner exchange scene was filmed on the Glienicke Bridge (a/k/a the Bridge of Spies) where the historical exchange actually occurred. So the film’s backdrops have a visual authenticity that spills over onto the storytelling.

Why is Steven Spielberg so meticulous in his war film? Because the triple Oscar-winner is a consummate moviemaker, of course. But when pressed, he reveals, “My father had gone to Russia on a foreign exchange right in the middle of the Cold War when there was tremendous fear and distrust.” Francis Gary Powers had just been shot down and they were putting the wreckage of the U-2 on display. Spielberg’s father and three other GE engineers were pointed out, with a Russian colonel angrily shouting, “Look what your country is doing to us.”

Spielberg says, “I never forgot that story. And because of that I never forgot what happened to Francis Gary Powers.” And that’s why we have this movie, “Bridge of Spies.”

Love (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Love” Is 3D Art-House Porno
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I still have a copy of the old Terry Southern satire, a book titled “Blue Movie.” In it, a director decides to make a big-budget Hollywood movie that features real sex.

Not a bad strategy, if you want to get attention as a cutting-edge filmmaker.

Argentine director Gaspar Noé takes a page from Southern, for his new movie -- titled “Love” -- graphically shows his stars having sex.

Sure, there have been hints of this in other movies. Donald Sutherland got pretty intimate with Julie Christie in Nicholas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now.” And didn’t Shia LaBeouf do the dirty deed in Lars von Tier’s “Nymphomaniac”? Sure looked like it.

Well, there’s no question about Karl Glusman, Aomi Muyock, and Klara Kristin giving their all in Noé’s fourth film, the story of an American film student in Paris who discovers the meaning of the French phrase, ménage à trois.

You can certainly count on Murphy (Glusman) and his girlfriend Electra (Muyock) for some hot-pillow action. Then they invite their cute neighbor (Klara Kristin) into their bed. Little do they know how the dynamics of their relationship will change as the trio fornicates in ever-shifting ways.

Jumping back and forth in time, the nub of the storyline is that unstable Electra goes missing while Murphy is living with his new partner. Electra’s mother is worried because the girl’s known to be sometimes suicidal. This news sends Murphy into a fit of depression, shared with us in a mopey voice-over.

“Love” is making its lascivious appearance this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Cinematographer Benoît Debie deserves credit for the hazy eroticism of the explicit sex scenes. From bed to bed, partner to partner, and pretzel-like combinations, his steady camera does more to advance the storyline than do the actors.

Gaspar Noé found his leading man through a friend; the two girls he reportedly picked up in a bar. Guess they wanted to be movie stars.

However, the biggest star in the film is Glusman’s larger-than-life member -- or so it looks up there on the silver screen. Filmed in 3D, this apendage offers a standout performance.

“This film is literally a 90-minute porno hiding behind a 2-hour art film,” grumbled one straight-laced moviegoer.

Yes, but Terry Southern would have approved.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Hotel Translyvania 2 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Hotel Transylvania 2

In the tradition of "Despicable Me," here is a sequel to "Hotel Transylvania,"written by "Saturday Night Live" animator Robert Smigel. The animated film also highlights  SNL comics, Adam Sandler, Adam Samberg, Dana Carvey, David Spade and Molly Shannon. The film is fun, affectionate, irreverent and best of all, is never miserly with its mayhem.

Seven years after the first film, Johnny (Samberg) and Mavis (Selena Gomez) have an adorable toddler Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) with flaming red hair. Mavis' father Dracula (Sandler) is quite concerned. The boy has no fangs and is obviously not a creature of the night.

The Dracula name must carry on to bite eternal.

Dracula concocts a scheme with Johnny to teach little Dennis the basics of undead living, including bat morphing and the power to scare.

Dennis likes the idea of flight but much prefers the monsters of the cake-eating variety. He thinks of Batman rather than Bela. Alas, the only tooth he's interested in growing is of the sweet variety.

The sight gags, especially at the start, are wonderfully playful. The core of the humor lies in the fact that all of these legendary monsters, from Frankenstein's creation to Wolfman, Mummy and Invisible Man, are far too tired by their immortality to effectively scare anyone.

A solid highlight is Mel Brooks as Vlad, a cranky great grandfather to Dennis who can't see the wonder in anything mortal.

The film also has ample time to poke fun at modern life (Dracula's fingers are too long to use an iPhone ) and existence in the suburbs (Johnny's parents hardly speak to each other and frequently criticize).

The trick is that everything is played rather straight. The jokes have sense of freedom and quirk, remaining fresh without loosing their edge. Kids and adults will giggle throughout here without any black fringe of meanness or controversy.

The only slight stumble is the film's showdown with fight scenes that seem to echo other hero epics from The Dark Knight to The Avengers with gargoyles replacing a horde of robots. After a few minutes of these tiny teeth-gnashers punching, flapping and kicking, the novelty flattens, in part, because one expects a comeuppance.

But right before we might wish for sunrise, the story shifts to these motley characters and feakish frivolity is resurrected.

Whimsy is in force with enough sight gags to make a wiccan blush. If you want a frightening foray into free association that will make you laugh like a loon, "Hotel Transylvania 2" is a colorful bag of treats in spite of some twice-told terrors.

Write Ian at

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Truth (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


In 2004 George W. was a much reviled figure in many circles. He lost the popular vote to Gore in 2000, in part, some believe, through the efforts of Key West-born Kathryn Harris who (as the then Florida Secretary of State) put the brakes on the now legendary recount.

On top of that, there is the fearful fiction of WMDs in Iraq, which propelled us into war with that country, when most now agree, in fact, that it was an unnecessary war.

For most, he is still the presidential name to avoid, if not ridicule after a decade.

"Truth" the feature debut from director James Vanderbilt,  highlights the period of 2004 when anti-Bush vitriol was at its peak. "60 Minutes" producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) has found damning documents given to her by Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach) which state in no uncertain terms, that George W. never showed up for military training in the National Guard.

Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and Mary Mapes work as a team to confirm sources up against brain crushing stress, hostility and invasive threats.

Blanchett has fine dramatic iron and authentic energy as a journalist who risks her very health and equilibrium to get the documents in question validated.

Robert Redford does well here too, as the respected verteran who is very nearly beyond reproach. Most powerfully, Rather's own inimitable voice is almost perfectly reproduced as if by spirit magic.

Keach gives a solid if standard outing as the well meaning, but stressed out Lieutenant Colonel. During biting questions from Rather, Burkett reaches for his oxygen. While this is plausible in real life, it is thick with melodrama on film, especially with Burkett's wife exclaiming, "How dare you ask how Bill is. My husband is a sick man!"

The story is compelling enough without this bit of handwringing.

In addition to the cast, the film has a keen eye for visual detail. In one scene, Mapes has taken to bed. Blanchett is seen from above as if fallen to earth and left stranded. The colors of gray and blue, silver and black are emphasized on the flat boardroom tables and towering buildings. Sharp right angles dominate all, as if to point to impalement or eviceration.

Though a good portion of the film is taken up by Blanchett and Redford repetitively stressing the sacred trust and the responsiblity of journalism with a few segments playing along predictable rhythms (breaking stories, refusals and indignant newsmen barking about persecution and conspiracy) "Truth" is most provocative given the fact that the press was indeed about actual news and issues that mattered and was not concerned---as it is now---with noise, belligerent gossip and some outright offense that masquerades as political thought.

Write Ian at