Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Please go to http://tropiccinema.com/movie-reviews for your new source of reviews from the Tropic's local reviewers, Ian Brockway and Shirrel Rhoades.

Thank you for your interest.

Tropic Cinema

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Arrival (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Denis Villeneuve's "Arrival" is riveting, tense and thought provoking. It is the story of alien beings coming to earth to tell us something, and at times it is opaque just what the "something" means.

From the start, we are hooked. While it slightly resembles "Inception" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," its surprise turns and philosophical depth make it a unique film for the genre.

One day linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who is coping with the death of her daughter, is teaching at college. Sudden beeps are heard. Each student is recieving text messages. Louise turns on the TV and discovers to her great shock that alien ships are hovering all over the world in some forty countries.  People are in an uproar.

Not knowing what to do, she goes home and is visited by  Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) who tells her that her expertise is needed with the extraterrestrial language barrier. She refuses. But after being summoned in the dark of night, Louise agrees and she is flown to Montana.

The military camp looks like a toy army field from above, plastic and frozen, the men with guns glued in place. The ship is there, hovering inches from the verdant green expanse, egg like and grayish black: a three-dimensional Magritte painting.

Louise is briefed and introduced to physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). They are put in Hazmat suits and sent upward. This is suspenseful because they are sent up a pitch black shaft and we feel their uncertainty.

They meet the beings but do they mean introduction or harm? The visitors speak in a calligraphic language that has no linear bearing on time and space. Understandably, both Louise and Ian are in a dilemma. How far should they push and just what is the meaning of their encounter if the language used is absent in qualities of beginning or end?

Amy Adams is excellent as a conscientious  professor and grieving mother who cares greatly about her discovery, but more immediately is just trying to cope.

Director Villeneuve (Prisoners) has the sense not to reveal too much and while the story does get technical and maze-like, there is enough heart and emotion to keep one held and transfixed. The singular sight of the huge ship floating  mere inches from an emerald greenspace is enough to make one cheer for Surrealism in the 21st century.

"Arrival" is a contemplative film that rejects spoon-feeding its audience or giving easily digestible images. It is a provocative film which goes deeper than Christopher Nolan's aforementioned highly praised puzzler "Inception".

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Queen of Katwe (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Queen of Katwe

Director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) gives a queen her due in "Queen of Katwe" an bouyant biopic about Phiona Mutesi, the teen chess champion of Uganda. Mutesi, having lost her father and sister in childhood and raised in poverty by a single mother, overcame near impossible odds. She began to learn chess as a young girl and with a prodigious memory, earned a championship.

Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) aids her mom, Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong'o) in selling maize. She likes her home life, but grows increasingly pressured. Phiona is bullied, money is scarce to non-existent and her sister Night (Taryn Kyaze) is known to be going out with whoever has flash. By chance, she spies youngsters playing chess at the Sports Outreach School, a Christian Mission. Phiona wanders in with her brother, Brian (Martin Kabanza).

Her interest is piqued. The kids make fun of her, but the instructor Robert Katande (David Oyelowo) notices her enthusiasm.

Director Nair employs Disney's trademark sweet tone to great effect. Rather than cloying or sugary as some Disney films are, the film is effervescent and bubbly, but never without its pathos. The sister, Night, flirts with the gangster realm but never fully succumbs. The film does not shy away from domestic fireworks, but when it does indulge in drama, it is startlingly authentic.

This film is a true underdog story in the best sense and it is impossible not to cheer. The mere glance at Nalwanga's serious yet cheerful face will have you smiling in an instant. Like Karate Kid's stance and Rocky Balboa's jog, Phiona has a trademark snap after a chess move combined with a dance that is sure to enter cinema history.

The cinematography and editing is so emotionally strong that it floats and leaps upon the eye like music.  The magic is that these very real people are as iconic as any heroes in older classic Disney tales and they are all the more powerful for actually living in this realm.

The best that could be said of "Queen of Katwe" is that it embodies an irrepressibly contagious joy that is possible in life, if we make solid choices along with luck.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Week of November 11 - 17 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic’s Screens Filled With Interesting Characters
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Tropic Cinema welcomes aliens from outer space, brainy chess queens, grumbling misanthropes, cute li’l trolls, gun-blazin’ cowpokes, and crafty murderers to this week’s screens.

Take me to your leader! “Arrival” recounts intergalactic spacecraft landing on earth. Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker lead the team trying to decipher the aliens’ message -- is it a greeting or a warning? This has been called a thinking-man’s (and -woman’s) sci-fi film. Village Voice describes it as “a sci-fi movie that looks not up at the stars but rather deep within.” And RogerEbert.com calls it “a film that forces viewers to reconsider that which makes us truly human, and the impact of grief on that timeline of existence.”

“Queen of Katwe” is certainly a feel-good movie, but it’s much more than that -- a metaphor for rescuing your life. A young Ugandan girl becomes a chess master despite her impoverished existence in the slums of Katwe. Associated Press says, “The colors and rhythms of life in the slums of Uganda are what set Queen of Katwe apart from other underdog chess movies.” And New York Observer adds, “The story is true, and the message it delivers -- with care and help, the disenfranchised can become role models and inspire others -- is unabashedly sentimental, but in a good way.”

“A Man Called Ove” gives us a world-weary grump (Rolf Lassgard) who life is turned around when new neighbors knock over his mailbox with their car, sparking an unexpected friendship. San Francisco Chronicle sees it as “a pleasant journey from pawn to king -- spiritually speaking, of course.” And Killer Movie Reviews tells us, “In the end, we take Ove on his own terms, and he shows us how a bittersweet life can be a life very well lived.”

“The Girl on the Train” is a “Gone Girl” wannabe, a murder mystery with twists and turns. An alcoholic ex-wife (Emily Blunt) spies on her former husband and sees things that make her a suspect in a missing person case. ABC Radio Brisbane promises it “offers intrigue and a few red herrings…” And South China Morning Post says it has a “potential to entertain.”

“Trolls” is a sticky sweet children’s outing, a 3D animated musical about those tiny fright-wigged dolls you remember from your childhood. Justin Timberlake provides the bouncy music. Detroit News tells us, “‘Trolls’ isn't likely to advance mankind in any significant way, but it’s a harmless adventure with a few toe-tapping musical numbers and a positive message of togetherness and teamwork.” And New York Times calls it “Exuberant, busy and sometimes funny .…”

Want a good Western shoot-‘em-up? This remake of “The Magnificent Seven” stars Denzel Washington as the leader of gunslingers (and more) who set out to rescue a small town from bad guys. NPR says, “If body count is what you go to Westerns for, by all means drift into this one's corral.” And Detroit News says this “latest spin on the classic outlaw tale -- comes in guns blazing, sweeps the town and gets the job done.”

Meet them all at the Tropic.


NUTS! (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Nuts!” Is a Deliberately Nutty Doc
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’ve always had a reluctant admiration for charlatans and hucksters. I enjoyed the motor-mouth spiels of Crazy Eddy selling cheap TVs and Vince, the ShamWow guy. And I remember that Will Kellogg created corn flakes as a heath food, while Coca-Cola was originally promoted as nerve tonic.

No surprise that I enjoyed “Nuts!” -- a documentary about the controversial medical doctor and radio mogul, John R. Brinkley. He was a Kansas druggist-turned-physician who claimed he could cure male impotence by implanting goat testicles into the scrotums of his patients.


Did it work? Not really. But what did you expect from a man with dubious academic credentials?

Back in the ‘20s Brinkley invented the infomercial, using “satisfied customer” testimonials to hawk his health cures over his country-music radio station KFKB. Critics said the call letters stood for “Kansas Folk Know Better.”

When the radio station was closed down by the Federal Radio Commission (now the FCC), Brinkley merely started up a “million-watt-regulation-skirting border-blaster” station in Mexico and continued filling Kansas airwaves with dubious messages. Such as hair products containing lead.

His so-called cures were blamed for many deaths.

When screenwriter Thom Stylinski and director Penny Lane decided to make a documentary based on the book “The Life of A Man” by Clement Wood, they were more interested in people’s gullibility than Brinkley’s factual biography

As Stylinski explains, “It’s because people want to believe that something as magical and as weird as this could be true. So I was … interested in investigating that aspect.”

“Nuts!” is showing next Monday night as the latest entry in the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers at the Tropic Cinema. And Thom Stylinski will be on hand to introduce the film.

“Nuts!” is a fascinating film, using a combination of animation, interviews with historians, news clips, and archival footage to tell the wacky story. As narrated by associate producer Gene Tognicci, we find we can’t trust John R. Brinkley -- or the unreliable narration.

Penny Lane says, “We can all get fooled.”

On the film’s website, you will find an outline so you can determine where “Nuts!” stayed true to the facts, altered the chronology of events, or “simply made things up out of whole cloth.”

Or you can simply ask Thom Stylinski during the Tropic’s Q&A.


Arrival (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Arrival” About More Than Extraterrestrials
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My brother runs multiple computers that “listen” for messages from outer space. It’s part of the SETI@Home program.

SETI is short for the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence.

As Agent Mulder used to say in TV’s “X-Files,” the truth is out there.

However, in “Arrival” -- the new science-fiction movie playing at Tropic Cinema -- the truth is closer to home when extraterrestrials arrive on earth.

As spacecraft land around the world, a task force is assembled to investigate the enigmatic visitors. A linguistics specialist (Amy Adams), a physicist (Jeremy Renner), and an Army colonel (Forest Whitaker) team up to avert a global confrontation.

Called “a thinking man’s sci-fi film,” it pays homage to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” while retaining director Denis Villeneuve’s own unique vision.

Contrary to Villeneuve’s previous works (“Prisoners,” “Sicario”) “Arrival” doesn’t offer a dark view of humanity. Rather than a shoot-‘em-up action film, here we find a trio who are trying to understand these aliens. With various nations trying to translate the language, there’s lots of room for misinterpretation. Amy Adams gives a sensitive performance, turning the typical invasion from outer space trope into a backdrop for self-reflection. Dr. Louise Banks (Adams) examines what makes her human as she mourns the loss of a daughter.

So rather than discovering what the aliens are, we consider what makes us who we are. Both positive and negative.


Queen of Katwe (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Queen of Katwe” A Crowd-Pleaser
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

How do you make an interesting movie about a thoughtful, slow-moving game like chess? Just ask director Mura Nair.

Her new movie “Queen of Katwe” is more than just a feel-good biopic. Its subject is 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi, a girl who lives in Katwe, the largest of eight slums in Kampala, Uganda. She cannot read and has to sell maize in the street to help support her impoverished family. The change in her life comes when a local sports official decides to teach the kids chess rather than soccer. Phiona only joins the chess club because it offered free porridge and she was hungry. Other kids say, “She smells,” but the coach welcomes her, noting “This is a place for fighters.” Phiona surprises him with her aptitude for the game … and before you know it she’s beating him.

Nair deftly equates the elements of chess to her young subject’s life. Finding a “safe space” whenever your opponent is on the offensive. Against all odds, marching a pawn all the way across the board to turn it into a queen.

“In chess,” one young player explains, “the small one can become the big one.”

In short, it doesn’t matter how strong or rich you are, the game can teach you to “strategize your way to a better life.”

It did just that for the real-life Phiona. She went on to become one of the first two women in Ugandan history to become titled chess players. Phiona was awarded a Woman Candidate Master after her performance in the 40th Chess Olympiad in Turkey.

Newcomer Madina Nalwanga stars as Phiona Mutesi. Nearly 700 girls were interviewed for the part. Well cast, Nalwanga gives a subtle, nuanced performance as a girl struggling against poverty, self-doubt, and prejudice.

Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) is spectacular as Phiona’s headstrong mother, Nakku Harriet. She exudes a determination to protect her daughter from disappointment, while striving to keep their family afloat, living in a hut they can ill afford.

And David Oyelowo (“Selma”) is charismatic as Robert Katende, the coach who discovered Phiona while conducting a Christian missionary program for slum children.

Don’t leave before the credits, because tears will sting your eyes as you see the actors meet the actual people they played. Kind of like that moment at the end of “Schindler’s List.”

Surprisingly, “Queen of Katwe” is a Disney movie. Mura Nair likes to joke that this is the first Disney film set in Africa that doesn’t have a single animal in it.

Based on a story by Tim Corothers in ESPN magazine (“The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster”), the screenplay was penned by William Wheeler. Despite her earlier success with “Monsoon Wedding,” Nair was forced to film a high-concept short to alleviate Disney’s concerns about an odd kind of sports film set entirely in Africa. But it turns out Disney has a soft spot for “underdog” sports films.

Nair described “Queen of Katwe” as “a radical film for Disney in many ways ... It has beauty and barbarity side-by-side.”

A movie with a female lead and an all-black cast directed by a woman of color, the movie was a long shot. But Mura Nair was determined, just as dedicated as any underdog in a Disney movie. She kept in mind the slogan of a film school she founded in Uganda: “If we don’t tell our own stories, no one will.”


Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Man Called Ove (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

A Man Called Ove

For those that loved "The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared" and "Life Is Beautiful," a new film by Hannes Holm "A Man Called Ove" will satisfy your sweet tooth. The film is based on the novel by Fredrik Backman.

An older Swedish engineer Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is a recent widower. He loves his wife with a passion and misses her dearly to the point of keeping her room immaculate as she last left it. But Ove's daily life is one of gray ennui. His life is in mono. Ove feels the absence of his wife's red shoes. Those that know this man try to socialize with him, but Ove will not be part of it.

He steels himself to attempt suicide, and goes to elaborate detail to craft his end perfectly. He tries hanging, exhaust poisoning and a shotgun and experiences a mortem interruptus each and every time either by a knock or the sight of a passerby.

To offset his uges, Ove befriends a very expressive cat which reminds one of an Edward Gorey illustration. The sight of this cat is a scene-stealer, perfecty positioned in the aftermath of Ove's vexing hijinks. Each attempt brings memories of his wife Sonja (Ida Ingvall) and Ove watches each memory vignette in the form of a stage play where he takes the form of his younger self (Filip Berg). These sequences have the charming flavor of early Woody Allen. Light, seriocomic and always affecting, the segments offer a good balance to Ove's obsessions with termination which border on the Hitchcockian.

The pains that Ove takes to achieve his desired end provide the best of the film precisely because they are without maudlin overdone feelings. The scenes simply reveal Ove as a well-rounded person.  At the end of one suicidal interlude, there is a mailbox drama that occurs outside Ove's door. He reluctantly agrees to help his newlywed neighbor Parveneh (Bahar Pars) who is a parallel to Sonja. Both characters transfix you, candy for the eyes and the spirit.

A friendship ensues.

Though the story has its "Forrest Gump" flavor in Ove's passive sentiments (mostly in contained in the last third) the film excels in keeping us guessing, oscillating between Ove's fatal preoccupations which come upon him like a trance and his memories which unfold like Spielberg cliffhangers: colorful, warm and adventurous.

We truly get a deep and intimate look at this man Ove. Far from a sluggish curmugeon, he is a man of cerebral feeling  capable of romantic spontaniety and sudden drive. It is only the film's last fairy tale note that is a little too sugary and sweet. One might want for a little more complexity.

But this is a slight reservation. The complete whole of "A Man Called Ove" is a vivid and rolling love story, satifying not least for its dark humor that never stoops or panders.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Christine (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


While some of us may have breezed through the 1970s with "The Planet of the Apes" toys, 45 rpm records, jello and shag carpeting, for others it was no joy, as in the case of Christine Chubbuck, a passionate and dedicated TV journalist who suffered with depression.

"Christine" directed by Antonio Campos (Simon Killer) is the story of her life at age 29, as a small-town TV reporter in Sarasota in 1974. Actor / director Rebecca Hall delivers a spot on, flawless performance as the fiery yet painfully self-deprecating Chubbuck. To her credit, Hall highlights her discipline and terrific work ethic as well as her crippling struggle.

Day after day, the reporter yearns to bring a stirring human interest stories to the public, but she feels increasingly confined by her mundane assignments, covering chicken raising and strawberry picking, along with her talk show segment, Suncoast Digest.  Chubbuck's only outlet is the occasional eye contact with news anchor George (Michael C. Hall) and some volunteer work at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, performing puppet shows to children.

In an effort to receive edgier material, Chubbuck gets a police radio and goes to a fire. Rather than report the fire itself, she interviews the victim who is convinced of a personal conspiracy. Elated, Chubbuck goes to her director, Mike (Tracy Letts)  who harshly pushes her to produce "juicy" or sensational segments, only to be aloof to her endevours in the end.

The journalist's home life is no easy respite. She is stressed out by living with her mom (J. Smith-Cameron) and her mom's boyfriend (Jayson Warner Smith). Chubbuck has never had a steady date and is still a virgin. She also wishes for kids of her own but is cheated in this with the discovery of an ovarian cyst. To combat these disappointments, she throws herself into her work.

One day, Christine gets word of an impromptu visit by station owner Bob Andersen (John Cullum) and grows very anxious. Ranting in full view of her co-workers, she berates her boss Mike and his wife.  Needless to say, there is no love lost.

Through her research on gun sales, Chubbuck develops an interest in calibers.

Presented in a deceptively objective manner "Christine" highlights the emotive and diverse performance of Rebecca Hall, who is a wonder. As a living person, far from an urban legend, Hall gives this woman a galvanic energy as well as some daunting porcupine quills. This is a talented woman stuck deeply in her shell. One feels The Sword of Damocles above.

While having the quality of a dispassionate short story, "Christine" is by no means a thriller. It is an honest character study and cautionary tale urging us to recognize Chubbock's talent, subverted in a not so positive hunger for titillating news stories at any cost.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Week of November 4 - 10 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Offers a Blender Filled With Films
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Toss in a mystery, a couple of dramas, a Western, and some 3D animation, flip a switch, and you’ll have a fusion of films playing this week at the Tropic.

No, “Trolls” is not at horror movie about the monster that threatened Billy Goat Gruff. Rather, it’s about those cute little dolls with the electric-shock stand-up hair. This 3D animated outing is aimed at your kid. The Film File says, “Gloriously computer-animated on top of being a well-told story, ‘Trolls’ takes a long-in-the-tooth doll brand that hit its pop-culture zenith in the 1990s and quickly exceeds expectations.” And Washington Post exudes, “All that humor, color and happiness is an undeniable delight, making you tap your feet and, as Justin Timberlake sings, feel as if you’ve got sunshine in your pocket.”

“The Girl on the Train” continues to ride the imaginations of audiences. An alcoholic ex-wife (played by Emily Blunt) spies on her former husband and his new family, but in the process witnesses suspicious goings-on that involve a missing woman. Daily Star tells us, “It’s Blunt’s convincing turn as the sozzled Rachel that keeps us gripped.” And Hollywood.com concludes, “It’s no ‘Gone Girl,’ but it’s not half bad either.”

“Sully” is about the aftermath of Chesley Sullenberger’s landing US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. Starring a mustachioed Tom Hanks, we learn that it’s not easy being a hero. Washington City Paper says, “Sully is at its best when it’s in full dramatic reenactment mode…” And San Diego Reader puts it, “Hanks’s Sullenberger is by far Clint Eastwood’s most untarnished standard-bearer to date. Not even Nelson Mandela came off looking this good.”

“A Man Called Ove” gives us an angry old man who forms an unlikely friendship with the boisterous people who move in next door. Salt Lake Tribune describes it as a “mix of humor and heartbreak.” And Detroit News says the film “starts out gruff and unlikable … then it opens up and becomes something of an epic about ordinary life, touching, funny and engrossing.”

“Christine” is the true account of the Sarasota newscaster who committed suicide on air. Rebecca Hall stars as the ill-fated Christine. San Francisco Examiner observes, “Hall’s quietly extraordinary performance as a woman disconnected from the world she so desperately wants to glow in makes the movie worth seeing.” And The Young People tells us the film “will truly break your heart as it shows just how hard Chubbuck fought to step back from the brink.”

“The Magnificent Seven” rides again in this remake of the Western classic. This time around, Denzel Washington fills the saddle as the leader of those tough characters out to save a town. Deadline Hollywood Daily advises, “Not nearly as magnificent as the originals it is based on, this Denzel Washington western vehicle still has its moments.” And East Bay Express agrees that “outside of being a tad overproduced, it stands on its own perfectly well.”

“White Girl” tells of a NYC college girl (Homeland’s Morgan Saylor) who falls for a drug dealer. That’s when she learn about the price of love. Chicago Sun-times says, “Frequently difficult to watch, ‘White Girl’ is the powerful feature debut of a filmmaker with original vision and clear talent -- and a movie that proves a lead actress can possess the gift of transformative performance skills.” And Mark Reviews Movies calls it “a generic cautionary tale...”

Seven films that leave you stirred, not shaken.


Trolls (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Dreamworks “Trolls” A Sticky Sweet Animated Musical
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You remember those ugly little dolls with fuzzy up-combed hair that became so popular in the 1960s. Many people called them Dam Things, not because of their demonic appearance, but because the dolls were created by a Danish woodcutter named Thomas Dam.

As the story goes, Dam could not afford a Christmas present for his daughter, so he carved her a doll. Other children in the village wanted one and so he started manufacturing what he called Good Luck Trolls.

In 2013 Dreamworks announced it has purchased the Troll brand from the Dam Company and promptly began work on a 3D computer-animated movie.

“Trolls” is currently playing at Tropic Cinema.

This musical comedy features the voices of Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, Gwen Stefani, James Corden, Zooey Deschanel, Jeffrey Tabor, Christine Baranski, John Cleese, and Russell Brand.

The simple storyline involves two trolls who are trying to save their village from large grumpy creatures called Bergens who eat trolls. Seems trolls are perpetually happy little things that make Bergens happy for a moment after ingesting them. Like kids popping sugary candy.

Justin Timberlake also serves as the movie’s musical director, and the theme -- “Can’t Stop the Feeling” -- is already a hit.

Your kids will enjoy this sticky, sweet fairy tale. I hope you’re not diabetic.


Christine (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Christine” Recounts An On-Air Suicide
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Back in 1976 the black comedy “Network” gave us a TV anchorman who shouted “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” This satirical story (written by three-time Oscar-winner Paddy Chayefsky) ends with the TV anchor’s death on live television.

The film’s shocking finale admittedly was based on the on-air suicide of television news reporter Christine Chubbuck that took place two years earlier at WXLT in Sarasota, Florida.

The actual story of Christine Chubbuck is now being told in “Christine,” a new film playing at Tropic Cinema.

Christine Chubbuck hosted an early-morning talk show called “Suncoast Digest.” It covered “matters of interest to the growing beach community.”

Turns out, Christine suffered from severe depression. She’d attempted to overdose on pills a couple of years earlier, but her family kept it hushed to protect her job. She’d been seeing a psychiatrist, but had recently stopped. She suffered from bipolar disorder.

Apparently she had a crush on one of her co-workers, but he was going out with her best friend. She was turning 30 and still a virgin.

Christine convinced the station’s news director to let her to do a story on suicide. She met with the local sheriff’s department asking about the best ways to kill oneself. She bought a gun.

On the morning of July 15, 1974, Christine opened her program with the news. When the tape about a local shooting jammed, she said, “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts,’ and in living color, you are going to see another first -- attempted suicide.” Then she pulled out her revolver and shot herself behind the right ear. The broadcast quickly faded to black, followed by public service ads and a movie. Viewers called in to ask if the shooting was staged.

Afterward, the night news editor recalled that she had joked about killing herself on air, but he didn’t take her seriously. He’d considered it “sick humor.”

For the new film, director Antonio Campos follows the true-life events fairly closely. Rebecca Hall (“The Town,” “Iron Man 3”) stars as the titular Christine. Michael C. Hall (TV’s “Dexter”) plays the newsman for who she had romantic feelings. And Kim Shaw (“She’s Out of My League”) is cast as the sports reporter that he was dating.

“She was very gifted and she never felt like she was good enough and she was constantly doubting herself, and I mean morosely doubting herself,” says her brother Greg Chubbuck. “And she would come out of it and she would be better and we would think with all the outside help with the professionals maybe this would be the time she would get her wind and be fine. But it just never really happened completely for her. It is a really sad, tragic circumstance.”


Monday, October 31, 2016

Don't Breathe (Brockway)

Don't Breathe

Three spoiled friends, Money (Daniel Zavatto), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Rocky (Jane Levy) have a sure fire way to burglarize a house in desperate Detroit. A blind recluse (Stephen Lang) lives alone and is sitting on thirty thousand dollars. After all, what can go wrong?

You will find out in Fede Alvarez's "Don't Breathe," a horror film that plays with the audience using effective scares, magnetic suspense and the logic of dreams. One is put on edge right away. An aerial shot of a leafy green neighborhood suddenly narrows into the sinister as an old man is dragging a limp woman on the pavement. Suffice to say things are muy mal on Buena Vista Street.

The film starts with the uncomfortable premise that the house is to be feared, as the blind man is turned into a kind of superhuman monster, borrowing a bit from John Carpenter's original "Halloween." These amoral youngsters try to reason with the taciturn and seemingly weak man only to realize to their horror that he is very strong, his senses are intensified and he is not letting them go.

While one can well argue that this is another chase-in-the-attic or haunted house film, the suspense never panders and the tension is far from anemic. Locked doors, shaking keys and breath itself have never been more nerve-wracking. While some might find the "surprise" at the end a bit too Gothic and outrageous, the real mystery of "Don't Breathe" is in the character of the blind hermit himself and the film definitely teases our assumptions.

No matter what one might think, the stranger has a resolve that just won't quit. The film's deadpan "what if" ending satisfyingly brings to mind the eerie "It Follows" (also set in Detroit) and the legendary Wes Craven.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Little Men (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Little Men

"Little Men" is yet another stirring and percussive film from director Ira Sachs (Love Is Strange). The film is compressed and potent, having the power of a good short story.

13 year-old Jake (Theo Taplitz) has moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan. He is shy, awkward and feels a bit alien. Jake's ambitious drawings and paintings are his only island of security. By chance, he meets the glib and boastful Tony (Michael Barbieri) who recalls a bit of  Sal Mineo as a young boy. As both of the boys are creative, they quickly become friends. Tony's mother Leonor (Paulina Garcia) rents shop space from Jake's father Brian (Greg Kinnear).  She was also a confidant of Brian's father, who has recently passed on. Brian's father is never seen in the film. He is a symbol of a more sincere and honest past.

The two boys grow so close that they want to go to the same school, LaGuardia High. But, all is not harmonious. Under pressure from Brian's sister, Audrey (Talia Balsam) the father agrees to raise the rent on Leonor's dress shop, which in turn puts a strain on the boys' friendship.

The film is excellent in portraying the insecurity and need for bravado at early adolescence. There is one rave music episode in particular, highlighting the overconfident swagger of Tony that is as funny and real as anything by Woody Allen.

"Little Men" also points to the grim circumstance of money, of selfish (but not monstrous) urges and the unavoidable gentrification of a quaint Brooklyn. In a brilliant turn, the film makes Jake and Tony into star-cross'd friends in the manner of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.

One late scene showing Jake spotting the uninhibited Tony with a transfixed wanting  from across a museum floor proves the  piece de resistance.

Before puberty, childhood friendship is the ultimate drive.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Deepwater Horizon (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Deepwater Horizon

Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) directs the horrid events of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. His story has all the uncomfortable tension of a horror film. Crewmember Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) is a conscientious oil rig worker and family man. Though he works hard, Williams is light in spirit, easy with a joke and always does the right thing.

His daughter, Sydney (Stella Allen) pines for a fossil from the next drilling site and Williams resolves to get one for her. His character recalls Sheriff Brody from "Jaws" (1975) in his  care, compassion and modest joie de vivre.  He is about to spend 21 days at sea and he hates to leave his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson)

From the start, one has the feeling that engineer Williams is the backbone of the rig. He is called upon to back up the indignation of the supervisor, Mr. Jimmie (Kurt Russell) who is flabbergasted when he learns that the cement seals were not tested along with the drilling pressure. Continuing the "Jaws" comparison, Mr. Jimmie is akin to Quint, given his deapan saltiness.

We know immediately that BP supervisor Donald Vidrine (played by a scaly John Malkovich ) is not on the level. He is behind schedule and pressures crewmember Jason Anderson (Ethan Suplee) to approve a botched test run. Sinister rumbles are heard very much like the presence of a Great White.

Pressure and temperature readings go haywire. So begins the explosion of a hungry and rabid beast. The crew is thrown about like driftwood. This is a hurricane of blood, oil and fire. Shellacked pelicans fall from the sky, paralyzed by the gook of greed.

The film is first rate for operating two-fold, both as an action suspense film and a moral lesson. The pursuit of profit and cutting corners have rarely been portrayed so bluntly. Mercenary attacks on the earth combined with aloof arrogance lead to a slaughter rivaling The Book of Revelation, toned in red and black.

Mike Williams is a very real and almost superhuman person who would make us feel safe in face of any deadly peril. But despite this hero, one is left with a sense of helplessness and outrage while watching "Deepwater Horizon."  The shaming  apocalypse of this oil rig on fire could well have been avoided given the proper care and precaution.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Week of October 28 - November 3 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Eight Films: Plenty to See at the Tropic
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Lots of new films this week on Tropic screens, eight in all. You’ll find a handful of indies surrounded by some mainstream biggies.

No, “Little Men” is not based on the classic book by Louisa May Alcott. Rather it’s a tale about two boys whose friendship is interrupted by their parents’ squabble over the rent on a dress shop. A small film, but it offers up some big names: Greg Kinnear and Alfred Molina, along with Jennifer Ehle (Rosemary Harris’s daughter) and Talia Balsam (Martin Balsam’s daughter and George Clooney’s ex-wife, now married to John Slattery). Times (UK) calls it “a deceptively intimate drama that presents itself as a quirky coming-of-age story.” And Cinencuentro declares, “‘Little Men’ has an amazing cast. It’s one of this year’s best films.

Another small but interesting film is “Queen of Katwe,” the true story of a Ugandan girl who becomes an international chess master. Along with Madina Nalwanga in the lead role as the young champion, you’ll also find excellent performances by Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo. Associated Press tells us, “The colors and rhythms of life in the slums of Uganda are what set ‘Queen of Katwe’ apart from other underdog chess movies.” And Sunday Independent adds, “It’s uplifting, feel-good, nice, well shot and really well acted.”

“Denial” recounts the trial of historian Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), sued by holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Small). Her barrister (Tom Wilkinson) makes the case against Irving’s distasteful theories. Newsday notes, “Facts and opinions duke it out in this thought-provoking if slightly low-key drama based on true events.” And The Young Folks adds, “The entire cast gives a monumental performance that does justice to this monumental story.”

“The Girl on the Train” continues to thrill with its tale about an alcoholic ex-wife (Emily Blunt) who snoops on her former hubby and his new wife, in the process spotting what might be a clue in a murder. El Antepenúltimo Mohicano calls it “an entertaining film with interesting plot twists that will keep the audience hooked from the first minute to the last…” while BuzzFeed accuses it of “positioning itself unabashedly as a knock-off ‘Gone Girl.’”

“Sully” keeps making a miracle landing as it retells the story of the heroic American airlines pilot (played by Tom Hanks) who landed his crippled plane on the Hudson River. The Nation tells us, “This is pretty much the truth of New Yorkers’ feelings about the landing on the Hudson -- and director Clint Eastwood brings them back with a crisp, unmannered efficiency of which few other moviemakers are capable.” And CNN.com calls it “a no-frills affair, almost to a fault.”

“Don’t Breathe” is a scary film about a blind man (Stephan Lang) whose home is invaded by three teenagers. But they wish they’d picked another house when the blind man turns off the lights. New Yorker says, “The suspense is built as carefully as it is in a good John Carpenter movie; director Fede Alvarez uses the camera like a stealth weapon, exploring dark corners and hidden areas of the house with devilish glee.” And Detroit News calls it “a breathless, visceral, nerve-racking thrill ride that doesn’t stop coming at you until its final gasps.”

“The Magnificent Seven” is a remake of the classic John Sturgis Western, this time around starring Denzel Washington as the leader of a pack of gunmen who set out to save a town from outlaws. Deadline Hollywood Daily observes, “This Denzel Washington Western vehicle still has its moments even if there is too much gunplay and not enough character development.” And NPR adds, “If body count is what you go to Westerns for, by all means drift into this one’s corral.”

And last on the list, but not least, is “Deepwater Horizon,” based on the BP oil spill that threatened the Gulf Coast. Here Mark Wahlberg (yes, the former Marky Mark) proves his acting mettle as one of the engineers on the deep-water platform when it blew. Rolling Stone says, “The film depicts the worst oil spill in American history and director Peter Berg recreates the cataclysm of that day with unbearable tension and healing compassion.” Forbes calls it “a taut, mostly engaging, and just slightly melodramatic (in a good way) ‘you are there’ retelling of the events that took place on April 20, 2010.”

Yes, there’s plenty to choose from at the Tropic.


The Magnificent Seven (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Magnificent Seven” Remade for Third Time
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You’ll recognize the music from all those Marlboro commercials. But older moviegoers will remember the swelling strands as being Elmer Bernstein’s iconic theme for “The Magnificent Seven,” the John Sturges Western about a group of hired gunslingers who protect a Mexican village from banditos.

Turns out, director Antoine Fuqua has given us a remake. The same-named movie is currently playing at Tropic Cinema.

The Hollywood Reporter proclaims: “The big difference between the new version of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and the revered 1960 feature is the ethnic background of the main characters.”

Okay, we’ll give them that -- kinda. In Fuqua’s remake, the leader of the seven mercenaries is played by African-American actor Denzel Washington. In the John Sturges Western that role was handled by a White Russian, Yul Brynner.

Ethnic differentiation also can be used to describe the Sturges film, for it was a redo of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic, “Seven Samurai.” In it, the characters were all Japanese. A wandering ronin (Takashi Shimura) gathers six other samurai to help him defend a village from bandits.

Kurosawa based the seven major characters on historical samurai. Then he wrote a complete profile for each character, including details about what they wore, their favorite foods, their speech patterns, and scores of other details. He even created a dossier on all 101 residents of the village, including a family tree to help the extras understand their characters’ relationships to each other.

This film is often described as the greatest Japanese film ever made.

The 1960 remake by Sturgis featured then-unknown actors Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Brad Dexter, Horst Buchholz, and Robert Vaughn. The new version offers upfront better-known stars.

Just like in the earlier version, a black-clad gunslinger (Denzel Washington) recruits a group of social misfits to help him protect a town. These miscreants include a charming cardsharp (Chris Pratt), a Confederate sharpshooter (Ethan Hawke), a grizzly mountain man (Vincent D’Onofrio), a Korean assassin (Byung-hun Lee), a swarthy outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a Comanche warrior (Martin Sensmeier).

In another ethnic shift, the new version features Peter Sarsgaard as the mining baron whose armed goons are killing off any residents of Rose Creek who refuse to sell their land to him. Unlike the ‘60s, it’s no longer political appropriate to have a Mexican villain.

But as the Hollywood Reporter observes, “The actors in the Sturges film oozed far more attitude” than this new cast.

Antoine Fuqua was obviously gambling on reuniting his Oscar-winning “Training Day” cast (Washington and Hawke) to pull off this remake. However, this is not titled “The Magnificent Two.” Chemistry between seven actors is harder to deliver.


Don't Breathe (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Don’t Breathe” In the Dark
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Are you old enough to remember that 1967 Audrey Hepburn thriller, “Wait Until Dark?” In it, she’s a blind woman being terrorized by a trio of home invaders, until she turns out the lights putting everyone on equal footing. Made shivers go up your spine.

Now we have “Don’t Breathe,” a new film starring Stephan Lang. Here he’s a blind man whose home is invaded by a group of teens hoping to pull off a simple heist. Bad idea, it turns out.

Sure, these films sound about as different as the old and new “Ghostbusters” movies. Only the sex of the protagonist has been changed. Odd that it’s the fifty-year-old Audrey Hepburn movie that empowers women.

“Don’t Breathe” is currently playing in a darkened theater near you. Tropic Cinema, for instance.

You can be sure the film’s scary because it’s produced by Ghost House Pictures.

Stephen Lang plays The Blind Man. As you’ll recall, he had the roles of Col. Miles Quaritch in “Avatar” and General Hopgood in “The Men Who Stare at Goats.” He even narrated the PBS “Medal of Honor” documentary. And he portrayed General George Pickett in “Gettysburg” and General Stonewall Jackson in “Gods and Generals.” Stephen Lang exudes a certain military bearing, despite having attended a Quaker boarding school as a youth.

The three teenage invaders are played by Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zavatto. You might have seen Levy in “Evil Dead,” Minnette in “Goosebumps,” and Zavatto in TV’s “Fear the Walking Dead” – good horror credits for each.

In this turnabout tale, they find themselves locked in a cat-and-mouse game with a man willing to kill them. A little more than they bargained for.

Director Fede Alvarez points out that Lang’s character starts off as an underdog, but soon we learn “there’s no way he can let them go. There’s not another option. He has to kill these kids.”

“Well, he’s really not a villain,” Stephen Lang defends his character. “He’s a brokenhearted man, is what he is. But, for all his heartbreak, he’s got a steel backbone, too. This all takes place in a really … kind of a bombed out section of Detroit. It’s a place that was one time a nice neighborhood that really reflected the values of the country in the ‘40s and ‘50s that was affluent and growing, and industry was booming and everything like that. And now when you see it, he’s an isolated guy in this neighborhood. People have left. Everything is falling to disrepair. It’s not only a metaphor of the nation and that city, it’s a metaphor for his own state of being….”

Victim or villain – you decide. But he’s certainly not as nice as Audrey Hepburn.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Denial (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Director Mick Jackson (L.A. Story, Chattahoochee) takes on the insidious and offensive subject of historical revisionism in "Denial," deftly but without as much gusto as the outrageous subject demands. The film covers the 1996 court case of David Irving vs. Penguin Books and Debra Lipstadt in the UK.

Irving, an infamous historian of some thirty books, ranging from Hitler to Churchill, gained poison-pen notoriety in the late 80s for asserting anew that there is no real factual evidence for the use of gas chambers during The Third Reich. He argued that there were no free-standing photographs or explicit documentation (no supposed "gas holes") and as Irving opines, only a handful of survivors' so called false accounts.

This was a "volte face" from his 1977 position when Irving clearly acknowledged the chambers' locations in the first version of his book Hitler's War.

Irving took his new stance as a licence to question history's causes and effects, to further state that Hitler had no knowlege of the Final Solution and that it was not possible for lethal gas chambers to be in use from the start, given that they were "air raid shelters"

Like one possessed, Irving hounded Ms. Lipstadt in Atlanta, Georgia and aggressively begged to debate her. In the 1990s and lasting for a good fifteen years, Irving understandably became Public Enemy Number One, only having some respite under the sun in Key West. He continued to write and give toxic Apologist lectures, typing over many a naive nose including my own. I have some guilt over Irving, as I once wrote him a colorful letter, thinking that he was a benevolent writer of fiction.

Onscreen, the always arresting Timothy Spall plays Irving, as a hell-bent mole of the Baskervilles, (more of a diminutive figure than the formidible person he is in real life) driven to uphold his case of "no holes, no Holocaust" against the threat of a resolute Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) who must bear the burden of proof in accordance to British law.

This is a somewhat pedestrian courtroom drama but that is not to say that it is not meaningful with meaning and revelance. At its core, it is of good vs. evil.

The camera is terrifically pointed, frequently giving the audience angles at knee level or from above as if we are all groundling witnessses awaiting a verdict of great import, and indeed such is the case. There are some virtuosic and telling moments: Lipstadt waits at Auschwitz as a filmed exposure of survivors scramble and cry around her like phantoms. There are shots from the back of Irving's pommaded hair as he talks of "political correctness" as if hinting of Donald Trump.

When Irving tries to avoid racist claims speaking of the wonderful largeness of his au pair's black breasts, he very much appears to be one of the men of orange.

Although you might wish for more ire and passion, the film is as accurate, true to life and spirit. Under the ridiculous but toxic threat of Trump and his ilk, "Denial" is as topical today as it was some 12 years ago at the conclusion of the case.

One of the last scenes show Lipstadt at a church under Saint George slaying a slippery serpent. The real living serpent is the notion of historical revisionism and half-formed truisms, hissed by Irving with cheers and jeers. Sensitive thinkers must guard against this lazy tease under whatever shape it assumes, be it now or in the future.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Snowden (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Edward Snowden, the whistle blower, a hero to some and a villain to others, is featured in a film directed by Oliver Stone. In many ways it is a hi-tech response to his earlier epic "Born on the Fourth of July." In place of Ron Kovic, this is Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) an idealistic young man fueled by 9-11 patriotism, just as impassioned as Kovic had been before Vietnam.

But once more, fate intervenes.

Gordon-Levitt is excellent and on key as the halting-voiced Snowden and he all but vanishes into this very real man. The film is uneven though in highlightling Snowden's time in the CIA with long flashbacks and cyberspace explanations, along with a bit of soap opera involving his longtime girlfriend Lindsay.

We find Snowden, bespeckled and struggling as an army officer. He fractures his leg while hurrying out of his bunk bed. He receives a medical discharge.

Snowden has an interview with CIA agent Corbin O' Brian (Rhys Ifans) who finds he has a knack for computer code and loves America. Snowden is hired monitoring code for the CIA. Better yet, he meets his online date Lindsay (Shailene Woodley) a spirited photographer. But when Snowden falls in with the glib Gabriel (Ben Schnetzer) all is not liberty. Eyes are on the innocent as well as the guilty.

The main pull of the film is riveting, clearly showing Snowden distance himself from his peers, while still seeming an observer. Snowden suffers from seizures brought on by stress and grows fearful of the all seeing camera, our ubiquitous playmate. It is only the long CIA sequences that make  the film lag slightly with technical emphasis on codes, encryptions and clearances.

Nicolas Cage appears as a not- too-hammy professor with only his hair mussed. Melissa Leo gives an authentic delivery of filmmaker Laura Poitras while Tom Wilkinson is MacAskill, a Guardian reporter.

Ultimately, "Snowden" is all Joseph Gordon-Levitt. One does feel that Oliver Stone, the provocateur, is holding back. Yes, there are striking touches: a camera turns into a sun which transforms into the iris of an eye and Snowden's silhouette blurs into the elongated shape of an alien. (Thank God! Snowden the spaceman is here to save us) But aside from these moments, there are few flourishes.

Still, Gordon-Levitt gives Snowden life and by the time one sees the actual man, our 21st century Shelley, accompanied by a high octane song by the inimitable Peter Gabriel, it induces cheers. "Snowden" reveals a person of flesh and blood and after watching, one can well see him on the head of a Casascius Bitcoin, albeit in the future.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Week of October 21 - 27 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Deftly Mixes Fact and Fiction
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Three films based on true stories are followed by fiction and fantasy -- an interesting mix this week at the Tropic.

“Denial” tells about the celebrated libel trial between American writer Deborah E. Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz) and bombastic British holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall). Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) is the barrister who tirelessly defends her. Newsday observes, “Facts and opinions duke it out in this thought-provoking if slightly low-key drama based on true events.” And ReelViews adds, “It’s strangely refreshing to watch a courtroom drama where theatricality doesn’t trump meticulous examination and cross-examination.”

Another kind of defense followed Chesley Sullenberger’s decision to set disabled US Airways Flight 1549 down on the Hudson River. “Sully” gives us Tom Hanks as the hero pilot under a spotlight. Phantom Tollbooth notes, “Tom Hanks seems comfortable in the role, moustache and all.” And Matt’s Movie Reviews tells us this is “a film that shows how the system can work when the right time comes.”

Still another legal problem is faced by fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden. Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the CIA computer whiz who revealed the NSA’s domestic surveillance program. Detroit News opines, “If Snowden’s story wasn’t real, Stone would have made it up.” And The Arts Desk says, “Stone has fashioned the story into a tense, fast-moving drama which will leave you pondering over what’s really justifiable for the greater good.”

Unlike the above real-life stories, “The Girl on the Train” is an edge-of-the-seat fictional thriller. An alcoholic divorcee (Emily Blunt) spots suspicious goings-on as she rides the commuter train to and from NYC. Did she see someone abduct a woman? Deadline Hollywood Daily says, “Emily Blunt’s startlingly good lead performance makes this ‘train’ trip worthwhile for fans of the book and others who like mystery psychological thrillers.” And amNewYork concludes, “It’s acted with great passion and helmed with steadfast commitment to a glossy psychologized aesthetic.”

And “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” goes further afield, entering Tim Burton’s fantasyland. Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) protects her mutant wards from a very bad guy (Samuel L. Jackson). New York Daily News declares, “Tim Burton is on macabre message in his latest offering -- an adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ popular trilogy.” And Excelsior calls it “a film full of amazing visuals.”

Here are five films that will definitely entertain, inform, and bend your imagination.


Denial (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Denial” Argues Truth of Holocaust
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’ve never understood how anyone could deny the Holocaust while there are still living survivors with numbers tattooed on their arms. Surely witnesses count for something.

Yet there are people who want to sweep history under the rug, as if Hitler were merely running a humanitarian camp for Jewish refugees.

“Denial” is a movie about such a man, British author David Irving (played by Timothy Spall) who sued American writer Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) over the issue. He claimed that she had libeled him in her book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.”

Under English defamation law, the accused must prove the accuser wrong, so Deborah and her publishers hired libel expert Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) to defend her in court. In this true-life story, it was up to Rampton to prove that the Holocaust happened.

“Denial” is currently showing at Tropic Cinema.

Courtroom dramas have always been interesting fare for movies and plays (think: “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Verdict,” “Inherit the Wind,” etc.) but this one engages on a different level. Rather than proving guilt or innocence or a theory, here Rampton had to validate a harrowing historical event.

In her book, Deborah Lipstadt wrote: “Irving is one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial. Familiar with historical evidence, he bends it until it conforms with his ideological leanings and political agenda. A man who is convinced that Britain's great decline was accelerated by its decision to go to war with Germany, he is most facile at taking accurate information and shaping it to confirm his conclusions.”

These statements were clearly defamatory, so Lipstadt’s only defense was to prove these statements to be true.

The lawsuit -- David Irving v Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt -- is often referred to as “history on trial.” Despite the old saying that “history belongs to the victors,” in most cases it’s accurate.


Snowden (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Oliver Stone Introduces Us To “Snowden”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Traitor or hero -- you decide. But you can probably guess where director Oliver Stone comes out on this: His films include the anti-Vietnam “Platoon,” the greed-condemning “Wall Street,” the pro-conspiracy “JFK,” the presidential exposés “Nixon” and “W.” -- and now “Snowden.”

Just to remind you, Edward Snowden is the government data geek who in June 2013 leaked classified information to The Guardian about the NSA’s spying on US citizens.

In Oliver Stone’s hands, “Snowden” becomes a biographical political thriller. It is currently showing at Tropic Cinema.

Variety calls it “the most important and galvanizing political drama by an American filmmaker in years.”

For two hours and 14 minutes suspend your opinions -- pro or con -- about Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who took refuge in Russia. Stone’s point in telling Snowden’s story has less to do with the thirtysomething fugitive than about governmental surveillance in today’s society.

Oliver Stone has been called “the reigning king of conspiratorial left-wing political thrillers.”

In Stone’s new film, we get to know Edward Snowden (calmly played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a deep thinker who has worked for the CIA’s global communications division as well as being a cybersecurity consultant for various government contractors. Snowden didn’t start out as a radical crusader. In fact, in 2009 he posted on a blog saying that he believed leakers of classified information “should be shot in the balls.”

Early on, he was a quiet, unassuming patriot who joined the US Army Reserve following 9/11 but wasn’t physically up to the challenge. Being discharged after breaking his legs, he joined the CIA where he could carry on the good fight in the safety of cyberspace. He was sent to Switzerland under diplomatic cover to maintain the CIA’s computer network security there. He was handpicked to support the president at the 2008 NATO summit in Romania.

In 2009 he moved over to Dell Computers where he managed the CIA account. Later on, Snowden was assigned to Hawaii as lead technologist for the NSA’s information-sharing office. But when he started reading Top Secret documents about how the NSA was spying on American citizens, he was shocked. He says his breaking point was seeing NSA director James Clapper “directly lie under oath to Congress.”

The result: Snowden turned over up to 200,000 documents to journalist Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian. And provided a video interview with filmmaker Laura Poitras (the basis for her “Citizenfour” documentary) as he went on the run, first to Hong Kong, then to Russia.

This film is not as kaleidoscopic as some of Oliver Stone’s earlier works, although it does cut back and forth between the interview and events that led up to it -- while displaying some of Stone’s outraged passion by telling this story of a mild-mannered James Bourne.

In addition to a spot-on performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (he donated his salary to the American Civil Liberties Union) as Snowden, we get Shailene Woodley as the girlfriend he met on a dating site called Geek-Mate … Zachary Quinto as intrepid journalist Glenn Greenwald … Melissa Leo as documentarian Laura Poitras … Tom Wilkinson as journalist Ewen MacAskill … Nicolas Cage as a CIA bigwig who befriends Snowden … and Timothy Olyphant, Rhys Infans, Parker Sawyers, Ben Chaplin, Scott Eastwood, and Joely Richardson in supporting roles. Plus an appearance by Edward Snowden himself.

The film’s message: The intelligence community, we learn, has the ability to enter any home through its computer or phone -- using either the webcam, or the screen itself. Scary stuff.

As for Snowden, he has stated, “I am neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American.”


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sully (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Here is "Sully," Clint Eastwood's latest, and once again, (as in American Sniper's Chris Kyle) he gives his audience a portrait of small town Americana and a local hero. As a character study it is a good one. USAir pilot Captain "Sully" Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) strives to cope with apocalyptic nightmares given his experience with a flock of geese  that caused a twin engine failure and an emergency landing in the Hudson River on January 15th 2009.

Sully is almost supernaturally cool under pressure. In the air nothing rattles him, but once grounded, nightmares decend upon him and everything is in question, even the bliss of his marriage to Lorraine (Laura Linney). The pilot has just saved all of the 155 souls on board a flight from New York to Charlotte, but what if the NTSB finds him negligent over some missed protocol or procedure? Did he really do the best of all possible actions?

Eastwood makes his Sully into a Kafkaesque and Libertarian Everyman as the air expert confronts the snide and nit-picking agents who are obsessed with bureaucracy. Although Eastwood takes political and poetic licence with his hero, this is a solid picture of a man who makes mistakes but does right. We see Sully in the Air Force flying a comprised craft to safety. He takes both criticism and praise in stride.

Despite his usual even keel, however,  there is a touch of Scottie Ferguson, the protagonist from Hitchcock's "Vertigo" within the air pilot. He is frequently nervous on solid ground and prone to dizzying visions of a plane falling from a great height and slicing into the business district. Like Scottie, Sully is modestly shy under the gaze of female worship and eager to take to the air once again so that the disabling fugues will cease. There is one such segment in which journalist Katie Couric turns almost demonic in her belittling criticism of the captain.

Just when the imps of guilt threaten to topple the stoic Sullenberger, his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) is ready with a light joke.

If you can take Eastwood's suspicion of government authority, "Sully" is a solid portrait, deftly handled by Hanks, who all but disapears behind the pale levels of this unassuming man.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The JT Leroy Story (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The JT LeRoy Story

Director Jeff Feuerzeig (The Devil and Daniel Johnston, The Real Rocky) has always been edgy and provocative in delivering many true stories of the art world, and in "Author: The JT LeRoy Story," he does not disappoint.

In the mid-1990s, a young teen boy from West Virginia called a suicide hotline as an abuse survivor. He was contacted by a Doctor Owens. The boy Jeremiah gave his name as "Terminator" and was encouraged to write down his experiences and feelings to help heal. Hundreds of pages followed by fax in a gutzy outspoken style and Dr. Owens was very impressed. Jeremiah was then put in touch with the neo-Beat writer Dennis Cooper and the memoirist Mary Karr encouraged Terminator to submit to anthologies.

He was offered a book deal and hailed as the next William Burroughs for his frenetic accounts of prostitutes and hustlers. When pressed about gender, Terminator said he was mostly male, yet at times he admitted to being female.  The buzz about him increased.

After his books were selling, the boy known as Terminator became JT LeRoy, an androgenous bleach-blond girl or boy, played by Savannah Knoop in public.  Michael Pitt made out with LeRoy and Asia Argento dated her. She was a confidant of Billy Corrigan of Smashing Pumpkins. Filmmakers Gus Van Zant and Asia Argento  pursued her for movie rights. Tom Waits, Bono and Courtney Love were all head over heels for JT LeRoy.

Then at the height of fame, the inexplicable happened. LeRoy's very identity was questioned in New York magazine as a possible hoax. Though "Author: The JT LeRoy Story" has more twists and turns than "The Girl on the Train," it is vivid and startling, for the very fact that it shows the  world of celebrity so hungry for a fresh and arresting voice to champion.

 Feuerzeig, whose last film highlighted the unusual songwriter Daniel Johnston, is no stranger to eccentric people and one is definitely found here. Fans of Warhol and the amoralist Patricia Highsmith will be riveted.

 The last shot itself, accompanied by a Lou Reed song, showing the female LeRoy in sunglasses red lipstick and white blond hair, sums up all of the weird and hypnotic mystery that embodies this film.

Write Ian at inafree1@yahoo.com

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Week of October 14 - 20 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Gives Us a Lineup of Interesting People
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

People real, fictional, historical, murderous, and odd are featured in the films playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Tom Hanks is an “everyman” who portrays good decent people by slipping into their skin. A recent example is “Sully,” the story of the heroic pilot who safely put his US Airways Flight 1549 down on the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 passengers. Even so, he was challenged by a review board for not diverting to an airport -- with no engines. The Nation notes, “This is pretty much the truth of New Yorkers’ feelings about the landing on the Hudson -- and Director Clint Eastwood brings them back with a crisp, unmannered efficiency of which few other moviemakers are capable.” And Japan Times surmises, “This is not blockbuster material but it’s a delight to spend time in the company of Eastwood and Hanks.”

“Author: The JT Leroy Story” goes behind the pseudonym. JodieGug2 tells us, “He wrote bestselling books, made numerous public appearances, became a Hollywood ‘it’ boy and befriended a slew of A-list celebrities, but author JT Leroy never actually existed. Laura Albert shocked the literary world and Hollywood alike when she revealed that she was the person behind the beloved and celebrated young author -- supposedly a HIV-positive transgender ex-prostitute who chronicled his troubled upbringing” And CineVue calls it “a work steeped in the ambiguity, opacity and unreliable narration of the masterful Italian auteur Jeff Feuerzeig.”

“The Birth of a Nation” takes us back to 1831 when a rebellion was led by a slave named Nat Turner. First-time filmmaker Nate Parker also takes the lead role as the man behind this momentous uprising. Cinemixtape says, “‘The Birth Of A Nation’ might well be a milestone of indie cinema; one that, on its own merits, is deserving of any awards attention that comes its way.” And TonyMacklin.net calls it “a harrowing, human testament.”

Emily Blunt is “The Girl on the Train,” an ex-wife who can’t let go, at the same time spying on an idealized couple next door as the train rumbles by on her daily commute to NYC. And then the wife she’s been watching disappears. Whodunit? HollywoodinToto.com observes, “Emily Blunt is fabulous before the story embraces its inner 'Gone Girl’.” And News.com tells us: “‘The Girl on the Train’ isn't going to blow your mind but there's enough in it to enjoy a tense trip with some pretty strong performances.”

Finishing off with fantasy, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children" gives us an odd collection of kids with strange powers. Rolling Stone says director Tim Burton is “repeating tricks from his greatest hits (think Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands). But stick with it just for those times when Burton flies high on his own peculiar genius.” And Globe and Mail concludes that the film is “supremely silly and filled with crater-sized plot holes, but it's a profoundly moving film, too - about trauma, about loneliness, about aging and family.”

People, people, people -- they fill the Tropic’s screen.