Thursday, April 30, 2015

Week of May 1 - 7 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Variety is the Spice at Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

From sci-fi to historic drama, from fairy tale to true crime, the Tropic screens are ablaze with variety this week.
Take the clash of science fiction with today’s science: We’ve seen the theme of androids and artificial intelligence in movies going back to 1927’s "Metropolis." Steven Spielberg addressed it straight-on in "A.I." and we encountered a really smart phone in "Her." Now we have "Ex Machina," a movie depicting an erotic encounter between man and machine. Here a computer programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) applies the Turing Test to Ava (Alicia Vikander), an android built by his Steve Job-like boss (Oscar Isaac). The Miami Herald tells us that director-writer Alex Garland’s "primary concern is his flesh-and-blood characters, even though they are not nearly as showy (or beautiful) as his main attraction, the vulnerable, delicate girl with a heart of steel and wires." And Denver Post calls it "a methodically absorbing sci-fi drama."

Turning to history, "Woman In Gold" gives us iron-willed Maria Altmann (Dame Helen Mirren), an Austrian woman determined to recover a Gustav Klimt painting of her dear aunt that was stolen by the Nazis. And with the help of her young attorney (Ryan Reynolds) she takes on the Austrian government. Grantland says, "Sometimes you know a movie is going to work in about the first three scenes. This one really works." Young Folks adds, "We will surely remember the beauty with which the past comes alive right before Maria’s eyes."

"While We’re Young" introduces us to two couples (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) whose age differences may imply other differences as they become BFF’s … maybe. East Bay Express calls it "a routine middle-age-crazy sitcom for over-educated urbanites." But Winnipeg Free Press sees it as "a smart, observational comedy on the millennial iteration of the generation gap."

"True Story" is in fact based on a true story: A disgraced New York Times reporter (Jonah Hill) whose identify gets stolen by a charismatic murderer (James Franco). Paste Magazine says it "attempts to tackle issues of reportorial and moral integrity -- just how far someone will go to convince him or herself that the end justifies the means …" And Common Sense Media calls it a "gripping, disturbing drama based on real murders."

Another true story, "Desert Dancer" tells of Iranian choreographer Afshin Ghaffarian (played by Reece Ritchie) who defied social custom to join an underground dance troupe in Tehran. Chicago Sun-Times notes, "director Richard Raymond keeps the story moving …" And says, "Unsurprisingly, dancing is the highlight …"

Back in fantasy land, Disney presents a live-action version of "Cinderella," the classic fairy tale of a young woman (Lily James) hoping her prince will save her from scullery drudgery and a wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett). 3AW declares, "Disney’s first-class, straight-faced, irony-free, live-action remake of its own 1950 animated classic is a delightful explosion of color, costumes, virtue and snarling . . . a truly beautiful film." And The Arts Desk observes, "Cate Blanchett steals her stepdaughter Cinders’s show."

What great choices!

Desert Dancer (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies 

"Desert Dancer" Whirls on Screen

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
You think Kevin Bacon had it bad in "Footloose"? Try dancing in Iran. Last year six young Iranian men and women who were videotaped dancing to Pharrell Williams’ "Happy" were given suspended jail terms and 91 lashes each.

Happy indeed!

The Islamic revolution of 1979 brought an end to professional dancing and ballet in Iran. Dancing was seen as a great sin, immoral, perverse, and corrupting.

"Although many Iranians dance at private parties, especially weddings, the ruling clerical establishment frowns on such behavior, especially when it involves the mingling of the sexes," says BBC journalist Jim Muir.

But there’s a long Persian tradition of dance. And the new generation is willing to break the rules.

To wit, there’s a new film aptly titled "Desert Dancer" that gives us the partly true story of Afshin Ghaffarian, a self-taught dancer and choreographer who risked his life to form a dance company in Iran. The group learned dance moves from watching videos of Michael Jackson, Gene Kelly and Rudolf Nureyev, even though such videos are banned.

"Desert Dancer" is currently whirling across screens at the Tropic Cinema.

As the film tells it, "Dancing is not illegal, it’s just not allowed."

"The dance is not banned in Iran, even though I may have contributed to the fact that you could have this impression," says the real-life Afshin Ghaffarian. "There is dancing everywhere, it is danced at weddings, it is private dance, even in official circles. The attitude to dance in the official Iran, however, demonstrated by the fact that you cannot call it a dance. Man hiding it behind other word terms. For example, my form of dance is called ‘physical theater.’ Hip-hop is called aerobics. Classical ballet, you can learn in Tehran, is ‘Rhythmic Gymnastics,’ i.e. sports. All of these things there are, they are just called differently."

In the film, Afshin (portrayed by English actor Reece Ritchie) forms a romantic bond with another dancer, a beautiful ballerina named Elaheh (Freida Pinto of "Slumdog Millionaire"). They practice in the desert (hence the film’s title), offering us a sensuous pas de deux.

In real life, Afshin Ghaffarian defected after a 2009 performance in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany. Five years later he returned to Iran.

Woman In Gold (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

In "Woman In Gold" Helen Mirren Glitters Brightly

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
In 1907 Austrian artist Gustav Klimt painted a portrait of a patron of the arts named Adele Bloch-Bauer. Commissioned by Adele's husband, it was a 54" x 54" canvas in gold and oil. Klimt took three years to complete it.

Adele died in 1925 and when the Nazis took over Austria they confiscated the painting. It wound up in the Austrian State Gallery.
Adele’s niece sued the Austrian government for restitution of this and five other paintings. She was aided in her quest by an American lawyer. This is the basis for a new movie called "Woman in Gold" showing at Tropic Cinema.

In it, a determined young lawyer named E. Randal Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds in a serious role at last) helps Maria Altman (Dame Helen Mirren, of course) retrieve this famous painting. It’s a courtroom drama with an international flavor.

Others in the cast include Katie Holms, Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth McGovern, Frances Fisher, Charles Dance, and Jonathan Pryce -- with Antje Traue as Adele, and Moritz Bleibtreu as Gustav Klimt.

The script was penned with the real-life Randal Schoenberg’s help.
Although a hold-your-attention film, it has a few shortcomings. All the Austrian gallery owners and their lawyers are made out to be "heel-clicking Nazis in all but name and uniform." Ryan Reynolds is too goy for the role of a Jewish descendant from two Austrian composers. And director Simon Curtis is sometimes heavy handed in his retelling of this historical pastiche.

But Mirren is magnificent in this feel-good tale of social injustice set right.

Ex Machina (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

"Ex Machina" Tests Your Artificial Intelligence

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Stephen Hawking warns, "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."


Prof Hawking says the primitive forms of artificial intelligence developed so far have proved very useful, but he fears the consequences of creating something that can match or surpass humans.

Which brings us to a new sci-fi film titled "Ex Machina," currently screening at the Tropic Cinema. Directed by novelist Alex Garland, it pits humans against androids powered by A.I.

As it happens, Alan Turing (the subject of "The Imitation Game") was a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence. The Turing Test is named in his honor. It examines artificial intelligence in a computer, its methodology based on whether you can distinguish the machine from another human being by a series of questions put to both.

In essence, "Ex Machina" is a 108-minute exploration of the Turing Test. Here, a bright young computer programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is tapped by his reclusive boss (Oscar Isaac) to test an android prototype named Ava (Alicia Vikander).

The testing gets complicated when the programmer realizes that her artificial intelligence includes a penchant for sexuality. Can he remain objective when faced with her seductive charm?
Power outages allow him to communicate in private with Ava. Should he believe her when she warns him not to trust his boss? Should he help her escape the confines of the secluded mountain hideaway?
Or is he the one being tested?

Writing about "Ex Machina," New Scientist Magazine said, "It is a rare thing to see a movie about science that takes no prisoners intellectually..."

What should we make of today’s scientific advancement in artificial intelligence? Prof Hawking says to be careful.

Should I unplug Seri on my iPhone?


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cinderella (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Shakespearean Maestro Kenneth Branagh directs this colorful and vivacious adaptation of the fairy tale classic "Cinderella" with spirit and charm.

This is a live action Disney tale par excellence.

Lily James (Downton Abbey) is our heroine under great claustrophobic hardship and abuse by The Wicked Stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her two daughters Drizilla (Sophie McShera ) and Anastasia ( Holliday Grainger ). With chaos, confusion and a fair amount of plain nastiness, these ladies make a gruesome threesome. Their wardrobe alone throws your eye into a feverish arabesque almost like the spiraling titles in Hitchcock's "Vertigo"

Branagh to his credit, shows a set of Grimm's teeth here, his direction has style as well as substance with a sophistication that is both mature and reckless. He shows the epic qualities of the story and refuses to cut it down to size to fit pint sized audiences.

This is Disney, hallucinogenic-ally altered by the likes of Roald Dahl.

Ella is no watered down or wilting flower here. Rather like a superhero or a 21st Century Dorothy from Oz, Ella has vision and is hyper-aware of what it takes to achieve it. She has two words bonded within her as auditory thread: kindness and courage.

Meanwhile The Stepmother hovers above her, glacial and emerald green, her costume causing her to twist and bend becoming a malevolent genie born from creme de menthe.

One evil elixir.

In showing Blanchett in all her icy glamour, Branagh is also borrowing from the directors of the 1950s: Douglas Sirk and Billy Wilder.

Above all else, however, "Cinderella" brims with an almost pagan view of the natural world, where everything is frothing, pulsing, shooting and fermenting. All things are inclusive with verbal communication and there is no separation between human and animal. The whole of nature can speak. Mice and rats fret, a goose becomes a chauffeur and lizards become footmen, while never forgetting their reptilian or avian origins.

"Cinderella" excels in its vista, very much akin to a kaleidoscope in showing all things in their universal oneness, dizzyingly portraying all elements both between and beyond realms.

In one festival scene alone there were princesses from at least 500 territories or countries.

While it is true that Prince Charming (Richard Madden) is glitzy and paper thin, the kitsch (his name is Kitt, after all) becomes part of the joke and the fun.

The first part of the tale is a throwback to 1950s Technicolor, the second creates a Bollywood bombshell with animals aplenty and sentient gourds.

"Cinderella" has a genuine sense of reality and place, despite its raging dazzle. In its illustration of wonder as a tangible thing to be used for either good or gruesomeness, it has belief at its core and clearly outdoes, yet  also compliments the previous "Maleficent".

Write Ian at

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Honest Liar (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

An Honest Liar

Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom are directors known for their hard hitting subjects. They both have provocative documentaries under their belts, from The Latter Day Saints (Sons of Perdition) to the dynamic puppeteer Kevin Clash (Being Elmo).

In "An Honest Liar" they give a vivid portrait of the legendary magician James Randi.

Known as "The Amazing Randi,"he is the consummate showman. He popularized magic in much the same way as Carl Sagan made science accessible. He became legendary in the 1970s and  80s, appearing on everything from Johnny Carson to "Happy Days". A famous Randi byline became "The Man No Jail Can Hold".

Randi began his TV career in the late 50s with a children's show, then evolved into a "conjurer," an incarnation of Houdini as a household name.

With colorful segments and interviews, the magician emerges as a wise and charismatic person who in his later years bears a resemblance to the iconic poet Allen Ginsberg. Although much of the narrative focuses on Randi's battle with believers of the paranormal, more interesting perhaps is his romance with Carlos Alvarez, a painter, whose psychedelic landscapes seem to smile and propel in forward motion. Alvarez joined Randi in a performance of supposed spirit possession in order to prove that most all supernatural phenomena are in reality dreams in scarlet smoke. Alvarez went in front of many cameras as a omnipotent spirit who knew all. The two formed both a partnership and a romance that was to prove unbreakable, even in the face of Alvarez's troubled past due to bigotry that at one point has all the qualities of a film noir drama.

Much of the film highlights the vivacious magician pursuing his quarry: a theatrical Uri Geller who states he is a genuine psychic. Geller achieved worldwide fame bending metal with his mental capacities. Comical and riveting it is to see The Amazing Randi stalk Geller like a starry eyed vampire hunter. On The Tonight Show, Randi advised the prop-master to put rubber cement on the bottoms of his moving canisters.  Suddenly Geller felt "weak". He couldn't perform telekinesis.

Uri Geller remained undaunted, becoming a mineral dowser for corporations.

Randi too, is just as irrepressible, however, locating unscientific trickery and the duping for dollars wherever and whenever he can.

For him psychics who use illusion for commerce and wisdom are dangerous. A con-man or magician is okay only if he teaches you a lesson," he says. To Randi, when a magician presents his elements as hard science, as in spiritualism or healing acts, the person becomes toxic and a personal war is declared. When he brings his findings to Carson, the host is near speechless and this vignette is one of the film's best and most topical moments.

But who has the last laugh in "An Honest Liar"? Perhaps that distinction goes to Uri Geller, gloating on the the imagined defeat of this illusionist's quest for science: "Look at all the TV shows and movies...UFOs and "Paranormal Activity." You have billions of believers, no one can touch that," says Geller, flashing a Hollywood smile.

While James Randi, an entertainer who employs the whimsy of Robin Williams with the logic of Sam Harris accepts that point, he offers without any sleight of hand that a more knowledgeable choice does exist and it remains ours to make.

Write Ian at

Friday, April 24, 2015

Week of April 24 - 30 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Truth or Dare at the Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Liar, liar, pants on fire. Several of this week’s movies at the Tropic Cinema explore the topics of truth and deception.
"An Honest Liar" is a documentary about James Randi, the world-famous magician who hates deceptions -- from phony psychics to religious con men. He considers magicians honest liars because you know they’re going to trick you. But here Randi gets deceived by someone close to him. Chicago Sun-Times says, "Anyone who can challenges faith healers, psychics and mediums who claim a special bond with the dead -- and often wins those challenges -- deserves a standing ovation." And Arizona Republic calls this "a fascinating look at what the truth means, and how it means different things to different people."

"True Story" is another look at liars, here a murderer who denies his guilt and a former New York Times reporter fired for falsifying a story. Their connection is a bizarre one, where both are deceivers. Orlando Weekly says, "the very definition of ‘true crime’ itself is put under the microscope, as Jonah Hill and James Franco both play against type and play against one another." And Patriot Ledger says it "earns its place in the pantheon of journalists cozying up with mass murderers."

"While We’re Young" examines two couples, one middle-aged (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) who befriend a younger pair (Adam Driver and (Amanda Seyfried). But can they trust each other? "Questions of identity abound," says Illinois Times. And 3AW calls it "a well-etched social comedy with clear viewpoints about the elastic nature of integrity and compromise."

"Danny Collins" asks the question of how your life might have been different if you had it to do over. Al Pacino plays an aging rock star who regrets his bad choices after discovering a lost letter from John Lennon. Mountain Xpress observes that "bright dialogue and great chemistry between Al Pacino and the rest of the cast raise this fairly predictable comedy-drama to very enjoyable entertainment." And Seattle Times says "it’s hard to resist."

"The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" looks at a group of elderly Brits (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, et al.) who’ve retired to India in this sweet sequel. The Young Folks notes, "If this film poses any questions that aren't simply redundant at this point, it's the film’s frank look at age and the abrasive acknowledgement of time..." And TV Guide’s Movie Guide decides, "The elder actors are, of course, perfect."

"Cinderella" is Disney’s live-action retelling of its animated classics. Dark Horizons says, "Based on the classic fairy tale, but borrowing heavily from the 1950 film, Cinderella is enchanting, a wonderful and stylish film with a charming lead and emotional narrative.’ And ABC Radio offers, "Above all else, the best reason I can give to see this film is Cate Blanchett. She’s incredibly good as the evil stepmother."

Tell the truth, could you think of a better way to spend the week than at the movies?

An Honest Liar (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

"An Honest Liar" Presents Magical Documentary

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Having been an amateur magician (when I was in the third grade), I’ve always been a fan of Harry Houdini, The Amazing Dunninger, The Great Blackstone, and The Amazing Randi.

Now a bearded old man, James Randi (né Randall James Hamilton Zwinge) has performed around the world as a stage magician and a Houdini-inspired escape artist. Describing himself as "an honest liar," he remains a world-renowned enemy of deception.

Up to his retirement at age 60, he devoted much of his energy to debunking what he calls "woo-woo" (paranormal, spiritualist, occult, and the supernatural).

Famously, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) offers a One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge to anyone who can demonstrate a paranormal or supernatural ability. To date, no one has claimed the prize.

But this documentary about James Randi has some surprising twists. Turns out, he had a long-time personal relationship with José Alvarez. But Alvarez himself was living a lie. When arrested, Randi’s young partner confessed that his real name was Deyvi Orangel Peña and that he came to the U.S. on a two-year student visa after fleeing persecution in Venezuela. Eventually Alvarez was released. The couple was married in 2013. Randi and Peña now live in Plantation, Florida.

Directed and produced by Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom, "An Honest Liar" posits the question "whether Randi was the deceiver or the deceived." The film currently is playing at Tropic Cinema.
As for me, I still admire magicians, those honest liars who make us look at the world in a different way, teaching us that anyone can be fooled by a skillful prevaricator.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

While We're Young (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

While We're Young

The prolific director Noah Baumbach (Greenberg) strikes a key reminiscent of 70s Woody Allen in "While We're Young". The previews suggest a light comedy when in actuality, this film is full of fear, wistfulness and a trace of the unnerving.

Josh (Ben Stiller) is a documentary filmmaker in a rut. His socially conscious film on the military is losing backers and his marriage is going stale. Josh is sharing less and less with his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts).

During a haphazard lecture, he meets a self assured hipster Jamie (Adam Driver) who moves like a squiggly sea creature in a felt hat. Jamie, an experimental filmmaker himself, is starstruck by Josh.

Jamie invites Josh to his apartment. Jamie's wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) makes Ben & Jerry's style ice cream and wanders around like a sneaky feline.

The house is a bohemian wonderland of the kitschy and cool from the 70s, 80s and 90s, from "The Howling" on VHS to hip hop by Tupac. Josh is entranced as all elements (from chickens, cats and perhaps rats) are a blissful hodgepodge free of labels and without cultural distinction.

This unbiased life is how Josh would love to live.

The youthful and younger couple invite Josh and his wife to various confrontational activities and cafes and there are plenty of laughs in the mode of "Play It Again, Sam" as the out of step Josh, born before cellphones, is confused and frustrated with current references and deliberate nonchalance.

As much as Josh admires Jamie's loose swing to things, Jamie is attracted to Josh's ordered manner and his pragmatic and anxious concern.

Yet Josh is the more active one, all but consumed with losing his energy and his professional importance.

Stiller is excellent as this strict and controlled man used to being highly-esteemed but riddled with vexations, both real and imaginary. He does show something of Woody Allen, but Stiller's hesitant self ridicule is unique to him alone and the director highlights this well.

Driver is solid too, showing the off-hand and non-judgmental urban artist as a type as you might see in an encyclopedia, if not in a T.C. Boyle story.

Interesting it is, to feel the gradual and soft pedaled way in which the story swivels from a kind of "square guy" comedy ala Steve Martin to something a shade darker as Jamie becomes paler and slightly fish-eyed.

Josh gradually becomes an addled wreck, almost as anguished as a heroine in a Polanski film.

What is more important--- relevance or respect, a famous life, a creative legacy, or a family without any of it?

These are the questions that the film poses with some disturbing hints.

Although this is provocative, some minor  stock characters pull down to the mundane: Charles Grodin is the all-too adamant father in law. While Kent (Brady Corbett) doesn't offer much meat to his role as a former high school chum.

While the somewhat formulaic events give the karmic musings a predictable sway there are some funny bits that show a graceful hand. Watch for a nonsensical hedge-fund film backer (Ryan Serhant) and  the gifted way Stiller communicates that all is beyond and behind him, non-verbally using only his eyes.

The score is glib and quirky, cleverly adding to the film's pensive and darkly comic tone, rather than subtracting from it. Only Noah Baumbach could have a tinny xylophone version of David Bowie's "Golden Years" as a nursery rhyme, perhaps using it as his own personal tribute to  "Rosemary's Baby", mentioned later in the film.

The most stirring aspect to "While We're Young" however, is the idea that both Josh and Jamie make dark twins. Perhaps Jamie is really Josh or perhaps Josh is Jamie, yet to evolve? The possibility always remains open.

Write Ian at

True Story (Brockway)

True Story

We all know that James Franco and Jonah Hill make a solid duo. Their comedies are irreverent and on key, poking fun at everything from pop culture, social habits, and sexuality in a smartphone society. But perhaps most effectively they are very, very good at poking at themselves, as anyone with a sense of humor can tell from the near tour de force comedy "This Is The End." Together they make a kind of Abbott & Costello for our century with Franco as the blissed out straight-man and Hill as a jittery and sloppy jokester.

In the self consciously titled crime drama "True Story" the pair set out to try something new: a journalism based thriller.

Here, James Franco plays Christian Longo, a supposedly suburban family man who suddenly strangles his wife and two kids and tries to go off the grid. Jonah Hill is Mike Finkel, a dedicated but erring journalist who works for The New York Times, and who made a terminal botch on a cover story.

The film starts out quite compellingly, with a salty suitcase containing a small child and a solitary man (Longo) at a Mexican cathedral lighting a candle. Such a prologue is powerful and has accents of recent noir thrillers like "Prisoners" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley."

The authorities nab Longo who tells them that he is the Times writer Mike Finkel.

Finkel gets word of this and gets a case of the willies, but he also has the idea for a story.

Longo agrees to meet with Finkel in prison.

When they first see each other there is little drama. Longo is all but silent, when he does speak he is dry and robotic. "I follow your writing," says Longo, "I can tell you the truth."

This could be heady stuff, given the chemistry between the two actors. But oddly here, the juice is absent. Franco seems soporific and I have to admit, a bit drugged. Then his eyes flash for a brief moment in the now trademark expression that Franco has made famous.

Oh, those laughing brown eyes!

It is near impossible to get past James Franco as James Franco.

Jonah Hill is so awkward and consciously "serious" that there is little room for any real spirit or spontaneity as might occur in such a circumstance. A main stumble is that  the story itself doesn't allow them to give much to each other as characters. With only gestures, slow deliberate motions, and facial glares aplenty, this is less a history of an eerie friendship than a study in minimalism. The most Franco does is stare either dreamily or threateningly with little in between. Whether it is "I killed them" or "I think I did," becomes of little consequence. What makes these characters stay together, or be interesting?

We are given precious little to draw upon. We  do get some provocative and very vivid illustrations by Longo, arguably the best montage in the film. But to what end?

Whenever Hill's character is frustrated, he hits the wall and runs into a bathroom to scream. Such chewing of scenery runs close to a TV movie.

The film slips back and forth so much with Longo's guilt in question that it becomes a process in narrative rather than a film. Then it  abruptly shifts to Finkel's wife (Felicity Jones).

But why?

Bennett Miller had similar material to work with in his 2005 version of "Capote" about Truman Capote's In Cold Blood,  a hybrid of both an account and a personal memoir of his attraction to a Perry Smith, a troubled young man who murdered a Kansas family.  "True Story" is such a stark by-product of that film and genre, that although conceptually interesting, the actors merely appear to be giving a shadow play of more rotund literary legends.

The first time we see that Winter landscape, the jagged trees and the stainless steel table under the fluorescents, we already know who is going to wink.

Write Ian at

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Week of April 17 - 23 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Two Plus Four Equals Six Films Not to Miss at the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Two new film slip onto the Tropic screens this week joining four holdovers. One’s a crime-driven drama; the other’s an age-related dramedy.

"True Story" is in fact based on a true story about an Oregon man who murdered his wife and three children, then skipped off to Cancun using the name of a disgraced New York Times reporter. James Franco inhabits the soul of the accused killer, while Jonah Hill is convincing as the journalist who wants to understand this bizarre identity thief. Examiner describes it as "an offbeat crime drama that compels right from the start and will have audiences talking." And Spirituality and Practice finds it to be "a riveting and rigorous examination of lying."

Also new is "While We’re Young," the Noah Baumbach dramedy about a middle-aged couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) whose life gets overwhelmed when they befriend a younger couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). Parade Magazine finds it to be "a human comedy of people growing up and growing older, finding out who they are and what they want out of life, and learning that every age -- and every stage -- has its joys as well as its jolts." And Denver Post says it’s "less about resentment than it is a celebration of romantic love. At least initially."

"Wild Tales" is a different kind of comedy, six dark vignettes that leave you shaking your head at their audacity. Note that this Argentine-Spanish production was nominated for an Oscar. Observer calls it "a splendidly anarchic portrait of a world on the verge of a nervous breakdown." And Scotsman says it "succeeds not only by being outrageously entertaining, but by functioning as a sort of hellish magic mirror...."

Don’t miss "Danny Collins," a bittersweet film about an aging rock star who decides to change his life after receiving a long-lost letter from John Lennon. SSG Syndicate proclaims, "Al Pacino delivers his best performance in years ... it’s engaging, captivating entertainment." And Sacramento News & Review concludes, "Pacino sinks his gleaming teeth into the role of Danny with a gusto that’s charming and infectious."

"’71" is a heart-pounding film about a British soldier (Jack O'Connell) trapped in the war zone that is Belfast during The Troubles in 1971. Denver News observes, "The film doesn’t take sides, but shows how conflict stirs the pot of human emotions and how quickly things can get out of control." And Commercial Appeal opines, "Jack O’Connell is our current saint of cinema suffering."

And still playing is "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," the sequel to the almost-same-named-movie about a group of Brits who retire to a crumbling hotel in India. Movie Habit says, "Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are the best excuses to see the second best film of the pair." And TV Guide’s Movie Guide concludes, "The elder actors are, of course, perfect. They never overplay the comedy or the drama, and this reserve works in counterpoint to Dev Patel’s high-energy patter."

Make sure you don’t miss these six films .…


4 Nights 4 Justice Series: DamNation (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

"DamNation" Gives a Damn

Exclusive Interview by Shirrel Rhoades

Ben Knight and Trevor Rummel met up at a small newspaper in Colorado, two guys who shared a passion for fly-fishing. As they fished the rivers and streams together, they developed a greater appreciation for the environment.

"We were very into rivers and fish," Rummel told me this week. "A natural extension was conservation."

For the past decade they have been working together, making films, and sharing their concerns about protecting our natural resources. "All the films we’ve done were about things we were passionate about."
For instance, in 2008, they directed a documentary called "Red Gold," a look at Alaska’s Kvichak and Nushagak rivers, the two most prolific sockeye salmon runs left in the world, now being threatened by large mining companies.
That led to them being asked to do a film about dams. While they had little interest in "concrete walls," they were interested in the rivers being affected by these manmade structures.

The result is an interesting -- and quite lyrical -- documentary titled "DamNation." It’s playing Monday night at the Tropic Cinema as the fourth film in the annual 4 Nights 4 Justice series.

4 Nights 4 Justice is made possible by a grant from Mike Dively Social Justice and Diversity Endowment, and others.

Producer-director Travis Rummel will be on hand to answer questions from the audience.

In "DamNation" we learn there are over 75,000 dams in the United States. "That’s like building one every day since Thomas Jefferson was president of the United States," explains Bruce Babbitt, former US Secretary of the Interior.

Some are good, providing water and hydroelectric power. Some are bad, choking off rivers and proving a threat to communities.

From the Johnstown flood to national fish hatcheries, salmon ceremonies of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe to the destruction of the fishing grounds of the Columbia River Indians, the intricacies of desert agriculture to the incursion of Tennessee Valley Authority, we get an interesting history of dam building in America.

Early in the film we meet co-director Ben Knight ("My name is Ben. I’ll be your narrator…") who delivers this combination history lesson and environmental discourse, peppered with comments by graffiti artists and hard-hat engineers.

"At one point almost half of all the US electricity needs were supplied by hydro power alone," Ben tells us. It was seen as the "clean" energy source. But time has underscored problems.

That has led to programs of river conservation and dam removal. "It’s hard to define this as a movement," says Travis Rummel. "It’s more of an economic choice. Sometimes it’s less expensive to take them out."

Environmentalists and activists are engaged in identifying bad dams and leading the charge to get rid of them. Peaceful demonstrations seem to be the rule.

Perhaps the most interesting activists are the graffiti artists who leave their messages painted on large concrete canvases.

"DamNation" follows one such graffiti artist, loaded with paint buckets, up the side of a dam as he paints a gigantic crack in it, a warning of what might happen at this weakened site.

Another famous graffiti on the Matilija Dam in California depicts a series of stitch marks along with a humongous pair of scissors, symbolically saying to cut here to remove this troublesome monument. This act of public vandalism woke up people to the fact that something had to be done.

"Officially there was a crime committed… but no one's going to get prosecuted," says Jeff Pratt, Ventura County Public Works Director.

So if hydroelectric power is not the perfect solution for America’s energy needs, what is? "Turns out there’s no silver bullet," shrugs Rummel. "Every energy source has its cost."

When asked to sum up "DamNation" in one sentence, Travis Rummel says, "It’s not about hating dams; it’s about loving rivers and reevaluating the river landscape."

Not surprisingly, the film is "dedicated to those who work passionately and tirelessly to protect our rivers."




True Story (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

"True Story" Is About Liars And Murders

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Interesting that "True Story" is the title of a movie about lying.

Here, the lies are on both sides, the murderer who stole the identity of a New York Times reporter, and the journalist himself.
In December 2001 Christian Longo killed his wife and three children in Newport, Oregon, then skipped out to Mexico using the name of Michael Finkel.

When Finkel found out about this impersonation, he contacted the captured fugitive to find out why he picked him.

The answer was simple. Longo admired Finkel’s articles.

The irony is that Finkel had just been fired by the New York Times for fabricating a story (he’d combined subjects in a piece about cocoa plantation "slaves" in West Africa).

No self-respecting screenwriter would come up with such a coincidence, but it really happened and Michael Finkel wrote a book about it called "True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa" which was the basis of the script by David Kajganich for a new movie with a shortened name directed by Rupert Goold.
"True Story" is currently showing at the Tropic Cinema. It stars a slimmed-down Jonah Hill as the disgraced reporter; and ubiquitous James Franco as the materialistic, financially strapped murderer.

While other newsmen were shut out, Finkel and the murderer began a weekly hour-long conversation that resulted in more than a thousand pages of notes. While the men swore to be truthful with each other, they both lied.

As W.C. Hall, a journalist who covered the murder trial, observed, "Finkel came to realize that each was using the other. Seeing some of his own worst qualities magnified in Longo, Finkel was looking for a form of personal and professional redemption. Longo, meanwhile, was using Finkel as a sounding board for the persona and story he would present to the jury."

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Both of them.

But Chris Longo is awaiting execution on death row. And Michael Finkel won a 2008 National Magazine Award for an article he wrote for National Geographic.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Three Hearts (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Three Hearts

There is a good reason why Benoît Jacquot's "Three Hearts" has some forbidding Bernard Hermann-like overtones that hum over an otherwise conventional romantic score. The film highlights the suspense that exists within a selfish and lusty life.

Marc (Benoit Poelvoorde) is a harried tax inspector. A gray aura seems to hover above and beneath him. He never smiles.

At a bar, he meets the enigmatic Sylvie (Charlotte Gainesbourg) who has a piercing nervous look, rather like a bird, her hair nest-like and unkempt. Though Sylvie says little, Marc is fascinated by her curious melancholy. He tells her that he is passionately driven by the mystery of women and the stories that they  reveal.

The two agree to meet at a park, presumably to exchange numbers and initiate a relationship despite Sylvie being married. On the night before the meeting, Marc seems to be under attack by cardiac devils, kept up by a great squeezing of the chest that does not abate till the wee hours. Then due to work, he arrives late at the appointed bench, his hopes for romance dashed.

One day at an antique shop, he meets the warm and sensual Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni) and he agrees to look over her tax forms. The next night, Marc and Sophie attack each other like wolves. They become engaged.

On a date, Sophie mentions having a sister Sylvie but it doesn't register fully until he sees Sylvie's Zippo lighter in a drawer.

The audience is teased a bit: conversations are heard just out of audible range. The voices  could be Sylvie or perhaps someone else with video message screens half glanced.

Director Benoit Jacquot knows how to play us like a Hitchcock organ at times to great effect. Marc becomes increasingly tormented. When thinking of the eerily   supernatural Sylvie, he redoubles his passion upon Sophie all the while caring more for the darkness. With an intense deliberateness we are in the realm of a film noir.

A stand out is the magnetic Charlotte Gainsbourg who seems a hybrid of a scarecrow and a siren, witchy and wild but also oddly aloof. Though she gives the predictable spooky frets as she did in "Nymphomaniac" she is riveting to watch.

Chiara Mastroianni also delivers well as the caring love who seems the last to comprehend events. Last but not least, Catherine Deneuve is here too, as a matriarch of the status quo.

Though the buildup fares better than the revelations, "Three Hearts" does well in its depiction of one man on fire, full of want but disturbingly tipping over with an enervating weight. Marc is powerless to control himself. He is alternately swayed by both his libido, peer society and perhaps the dark bass notes of the film's score---a singular character in itself.

Write Ian at

Sunday, April 12, 2015

'71 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Director Yann Demange (British TV's Dead Set) has a debut hit with "'71",  a film that uses the man-on-the-run-theme to great effect.

During the height of the Catholic /Protestant civil war in Ireland in 1971, British officer Gary Hook (Jack O' Connell) is sent to Belfast with a security force. In a tense standoff, pandemonium ensues. One officer is gunned down and Hook takes off running, literally, for his life.

Above all, the film captures a claustrophobic atmosphere, walls bend, constrict and expand. Hook is often cramped between a closed door and bullets, often taking refuge in an outhouse. His body transformed into a fetal capsule of panic.

The tiny huts and cement blocks seemingly laced with a dust of fear, toned in espresso brown.

Hook does not know who to trust.

A Protestant boy (Corey Mckinley)  sees him and becomes fascinated. Hook,  who has a younger brother realizes with a numbing horror that the youngster is becoming a hardened bloodthirsty warrior, scary beyond his years as he hunches his shoulders, entering a pub like a king tyke.

A cat and mouse game begins with each side going shady. Boyle (David Wilmot) is an IRA leader who oozes a deliberate menace one day, and an eerie diplomacy the next. There is also Sean (Barry Keoghan) a young man driven by hate.

At times events seem much like The Bourne franchise with a camera that has a perpetual case of the jitters during the action, but the nonstop suspense pulls us in.

Many times Officer Hook is within a hair's breath of doom. Passively with a slow and constant deliberation, he moves forward through gore, exposed bone and gunshots. Similar to a character in the films of Kubrick, he is too shocked to react as a peacekeeping soldier. The Irish cobblestones are grouted with blood. Most everyone is sneering two-faced and duplicitous with a gun barrel making the only point that people take seriously.

With its thick atmosphere and a yellow smoke that rivals the moodiness of William Friedkin, coupled with smarmy, sopping wet characters and action that never lets go, "'71" is a rapid fire concoction for thriller fans who like their suspense served with a chaser of history.

Write Ian at

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Danny Collins (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Danny Collins

Dan Fogelman (writer, The Guilt Trip) directs this latest "delinquent dad does good" tale, "Danny Collins," about a leathery rocker. It is not original by any means, but thanks to a  beguiling performance by Al Pacino in the title role, the film has a palpable spirit, mostly because it so earnestly pretends that its predecessors (As Good As it Gets, It's Complicated) did not exist.

Danny Collins (Pacino) is semi-pickled and soft in the middle. He no longer smiles, but smirks half-heartedly. He has a huge house and a following from past triumphs. Spanx tuck in his belly and a spray tan makes his face show-friendly. Danny is just going through the motions, a kind of polyester puppet on a string. Various stimulants keep him going ala Bob Fosse from "All That Jazz."

At a birthday party, his manager (Christopher Plummer)  gives him a present of a letter from John Lennon, essentially telling him to stay honest and relevant. There was an actual musician, Steve Tilston who received such a letter but that is where the true smidgen of this film ends.

Danny is thrown for a loop and decides to hit the road for inspiration.

The film is greatly enriched by the self-deprecating performance of Pacino who offers his lines with a refreshing offhand innocence in parallel to Johnny Depp playing Jack Sparrow for the first time or even Larry David due to some "good patter."

Pacino's eye rolling is humorous and his wrinkles nudge the audience with good cheer. Finally, one sees a real person here, with all of his avoidance of seriousness and deflecting humor. The "Hoo-Ha!" of Col. Frank Slade is over at last. There is enough gravity to make him emote.

Also, a soundtrack with many original Lennon songs give the film an unexpected poignant quality. This succeeds because the songs blend well and become part of the film itself. John Lennon is frequently mentioned and his musical aura haunts the film in semi-comic cries that sound into pulses of meaning.

Another credit is Giselle Eisenberg as Danny's toddler granddaughter. Eisenberg has a freewheeling spontaneity in this conventional role. Her acting gives off a real sense of give and take with the seasoned Pacino, while her exchanges are nearly madcap.

On the not so thrilling side is Jennifer Garner as Danny's sister-in-law who doesn't do much.

Actor Bobby Cannavale is Tom, Danny's son, who gives a stock, yet believable turn with a rather pat character.

Annette Bening is here too, but like Christopher Plummer, she feels a bit generic and thrown in a formulaic pot.

Above all though, and to cheerful effect, "Danny Collins" has an easy tone of affection. Al Pacino combines with the chords of John Lennon to make a  sentimental character study, not only of a music man with backstage jitters and regrets, but perhaps of an actor as well.

Write Ian at

Friday, April 10, 2015

Week of April 10- 16 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

4 Newbies, 2 Holdovers -- A Half-Dozen Winners at Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Cooke Communications

Tropic Cinema adds four new films to its lineup, while holding onto two favorites.
New to the screens, "Danny Collins" gives us Al Pacino as an aging rock star who wants to make amends with his illegitimate son. All because of a letter from John Lennon that went astray. Philadelphia Inquirer says, "Comedy, pathos, and some schmaltzy couplets about the changing seasons follow forthwith." And Movie Mezzanine notes, "This is a hugely entertaining, mainstream crowd-pleaser about how we can all try to be our better selves, fail spectacularly, and then pick ourselves up and try again."

In "’71" a British soldier (Jack O’Connell) gets separated from his squad in a dangerous section of Belfast back in 1971. Will he survive? Popcorn Junkie writes that the movie "takes the simple ‘behind enemy lines’ concept and turns it into something that resonates strongly within the historical context of the political instability of The Troubles." And Chicago Tribune adds, "The movie excites, but intelligently, without stoking blood lust or Old Testament revenge impulses."

As the title suggests, "Deli Man" is a documentary about a third-generation deli man in Texas. But in doing so it delivers the history of the Jewish delicatessen and how it reflects Jewish culture in America. Washington Post calls it "the cinematic equivalent of comfort food: warm, generous and made with love." And St. Louis Post-Dispatch promises, "The audience gets a crash course in kreplach, pastrami and matzo-ball soup."

"3 Hearts" is a coincidence-based French love triangle featuring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chiara Mastroianni, and Benoît Poelvoorde. And it tosses in Catherine Deneuve for good measure. Newsday says, "A chance encounter, a missed rendezvous, a marriage and a torrid affair make for an intoxicating mix." And San Francisco Chronicle calls it "A French romantic drama directed as though it were a thriller."

Sticking around for another week, "Wild Tales" is an anthology film with six stand-alone stories, all offering an ironic twist. Ranging from a strange coincidence on an airplane to road rage gone awry, from a battling bride and groom to a man who hates tow trucks, you’ll laugh between horrified gasps. Chicago Reader ponders: "How to discuss this giddily inventive Argentinian feature without ruining its many surprises?" And Scotsman tells us the movie "succeeds not only by being outrageously entertaining, but by functioning as a sort of hellish magic mirror..."

And "The Second Best Marigold Hotel" is also holding over. You’ll want to see this sequel following the exploits -- and romance -- of a group of Brits who retire to a cheap hotel in India. Spectrum observes, "The audience for whom this sequel is targeted will enjoy the predictability of a well-executed sequel." And Movie Habit opines, "Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are the best excuses to see the second best film of the pair."
Six winners worth seeing…

Moving Mountains (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

"Moving Mountains" Is a Moving Movie

Exclusive Interview by Shirrel Rhoades

Penny Loeb set out to write an article about coal mining for U.S. News & World Report and ended up making a movie. It only took her 17 years.

The article morphed into a book ("Moving Mountains: How One Woman and Her Community Won Justice from Big Coal") and then a screenplay and finally an award-winning independent film starring actress Theresa Russell.

"Moving Mountains" will be screened on Sunday at the Tropic Cinema. Producer-screenwriter Penny Loeb and the film’s editor Kevin Rhoades will be on hand for a Q&A following the showing.

This film offers a different kind of role for Theresa Russell. You’ve seen her in movies ranging from "The Razor’s Edge" to "Black Widow," "Wild Things" to "Spider-Man 3." Here she plays a coal miner’s wife named Trish Bragg. Think: Erin Brockovich. Bragg is a real-life heroine who stood up to a billion-dollar coal company whose deep mines were polluting the water supply of Pie, West Virginia.

"A friend of mine was looking for a place to build," Trish Bragg tells the story. "I found her a lot next door to my house, up this holler between two mountains, but there wasn’t no water in the well. That didn’t sit well with me. Several of us were having water trouble. At one point we had 49 wells down in our community. Some of the folks were little ol’ people with third grade educations. They didn’t know what to do."

"It was the result of deep mining," Trish Bragg nods. "But the coal company was very rude, said they didn’t have any responsibility."

When Penny Loeb first visited the southern West Virginia coalfields she was "astounded by the destruction of a historic community." A 20-story dragline shovel called Big John was hanging off a mountain above the houses, timber was clean-cut, mountaintops sheared off, and the water polluted. Dozen of burnt homes attested to the families who had fled the area.

Bragg and her neighbors went to see the Department of Environmental Protection. "It’s the squeaky wheel that gets to the oil, they told us." So before you know it, she had earned herself the nickname, "Mouth of the South."

"I’d taught Sunday school for many years, so I knew how to educate. I began teaching people how to protest." They challenged a long-held mindset in Appalachia, that "one simply does not fight the coal mining company."

"I had threats on the phone, coal trucks ran me off the road, and people followed me." Was she scared? "Absolutely."

"These companies are powerful entities with finances, machinery, and the backing of government," she says. "But fight back we did."

A lawsuit was named after her: Bragg vs. Robertson. It cleared the way for the community having more rights against the coal companies.

"Along the way, we made friends, lost some; laws changed for the betterment of coalfield citizens and built strong relationships with government offices we had feared to enter before. We were on a mission!"

Pie community now has public water. The coal companies provided some of the money for the new system.

"I’m not against mining," Trish Bragg says. "My husband was a coal miner. He belonged to the United Mine Workers. I’m against irresponsible mining."

Penny Loeb’s "Moving Mountains" documents that quixotic quest. "Struggles over mining continue in West Virginia," she says, "But ‘Moving Mountains’ shows that, sometimes, victories emerge." You can find out more at


Danny Collins (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

"Danny Collins" Another Pacino Over-the-Top Role
I once saw Al Pacino in an off-Broadway play and his performance was astonishing. He has a way of making his over-the-top characters seem real -- whether it’s a blind guy who yells "Whoo-ah" or a bank robber looking to buy his partner a sex change operation, a seething young Mafia don or Shakespeare’s Shylock, a gangster who wants you to say hello to his "little friend" or the very devil himself.

Alfredo James Pacino has become iconic, an actor whose fierce performances have not diminished with age.

In "Danny Collins" he plays a burnt-out ‘70s rock star who wants to put his life back on track with the son he never acknowledged. Walking off his tour, Danny Collins checks into a New Jersey Hilton to be near his construction-worker son. Predictably, his unannounced visit is not exactly welcomed.

Even with his bad dye-job hair, flamboyant suits, and a pushy don’t-take-no attitude, Pacino manages to make Danny Collins seem real.

Sure, he hams it up. But we buy into it as the story unfolds.

We watch as this aging rocker persistently tries to woo the hotel manager (Annette Benning) at the same time intruding on the working-class lifestyle of his son’s family (Bobby Cannavale and Jennifer Garner, with Giselle Eisenberg as the daughter with learning disabilities). The well-heeled Danny can help … if only they will let him.

What would make this aging rocker give up his big-spending, coke-sniffing hedonistic lifestyle? His epiphany comes when his manager (Christopher Plummer) presents him with a gone-astray letter from John Lennon urging young Danny to stay true to himself and his music. That makes him wonder how his life might’ve been different if he’d received it?

Maybe he wouldn’t have become a schlocky performer who hasn’t written a song in 30 years, relying on tired reprises of his one-time hit "Hey Baby Doll" (sort of a "Sweet Caroline"
Come to think of it, Danny Collins is a tad mindful of Neil Diamond. But it turns out that director-screenwriter Dan Fogelman actually got his inspiration for this "kind of based on a true story" from British folk singer Steve Tilson. When a magazine asked Tilson if he thought fame and fortune might corrupt his artistry, the singer had responded truthfully that yes, there was a good chance he would sell out like so many before him. John Lennon read the interview and wrote to Tilson in 1971, encouraging him to value art over money. However, the letter went astray and didn’t reach Tilson until a collector brought it to his attention in 2005.

Turns out, Tilson didn’t sell out, but our titular Danny Collins did.

After its debut as a New York Film Critics Series sneak preview, "Danny Collins" is now playing at Tropic Cinema.

The movie features nine songs by John Lennon. Everybody told Fogelman he’d never get the rights to use them. But being that the movie is a love letter to John Lennon and the way he lived his life, Yoko Ono gave a rare act of dispensation.


"71" (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

"71" Was Year of The Troubles in Belfast

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Ireland is just as green as they say, rolling hills and rock fences unfurling before you, the pastures spread out like a tablecloth on a St. Patrick’s Day picnic. But there’s a dark side to Ireland, or was. That was Belfast back during what they called the Troubles.

The Troubles is the name given to the Northern Ireland conflict (1960 - 1998), a political and sectarian war over the country’s constitutional status. Protestants generally wanted Northern Ireland
to remain within the United Kingdom. Catholics generally wanted independence from the UK. More than 3,500 were killed during the conflict.
"71" is a war thriller that recounts the heart-pounding story of a British soldier who becomes separated from his unit during a riot in Belfast in 1971 (hence the title). It is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Here we see a squad of British soldiers searching for illegal firearms in houses along on Divis Street, an area of Belfast where Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists live side by side. Virtually a war zone.

When a mob of Nationalists overpower the squad, the British soldiers retreat, inadvertently leaving two men behind. Alone in a hostile city, Private Gary Hook finds himself on the run, dodging armed stalkers, befriending a Protestant boy, encountering Loyalist bomb-makers, being captured by the IRA. Will he survive the night?

Put your money on the soldier, played by Jack O’Connell, the young English actor who survived the turmoil of Japanese interment in "Unbroken." His acting skills are up to par here too. Eyes wild, sweat beading his forehead, blood smearing his check, he will make you feel the fear of being on your own in enemy territory.
"71" is one non-stop chase scene. "Nothing can prepare you for the night shoots, and being sprayed with cold water … endurance was a factor in that one," grins the 24-year-old winner of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Rising Star Award.

How does O’Connell describe the film? "I hear the word ‘thriller,’" he says. "But I never set out … I didn’t feel like we were making a thriller. We’re portraying it on ground level, so instead of boring an audience with a portrayal of the politics and where this war started – we’re just in there. And it is thrilling. But for me, I was portraying someone who, for as far as I was concerned, existed. The story is emotionally moving. We care about the soldier."

O’Connell pauses to consider his words. "I just hope they feel like they watched a lot of honesty onscreen. I hope they feel enlightened by that version of honesty, not glorification of war. We all have a responsibility in this industry to tell proper stories amidst entertainment. I hate the term ‘war porn.’ I find it insensitive, quite beyond belief. But it exists, and I’m going to be steering clear of war porn."

He continues searching for the right way to sum up the film. "It’s a depiction of war. In that sense, it can’t be an anti-war film, because otherwise it would so blatantly be an anti-war film that it doesn’t become interesting. We have to make out own minds up during that depiction. We certainly don’t glorify it, and the idea isn’t to tempt anyone into finding themselves in that situation, but again, we wanted to provide a reasoning for people on either side. All too often, you don’t see both sides of the story portrayed at the same level of attention and decency. I don’t think we can be accused of that."