Sunday, January 31, 2016

45 Years (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

45 Years

"45 Years" is director Andrew Haigh's masterful character study of a marriage, based on a short story by David Constantine. In just ninety minutes Haigh (Weekend), encapsulates the full breadth of two people living together for almost half a century. The director captures more minutia in this short running time than most others do in a full length two hour film.

Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are husband and wife about to celebrate a milestone anniversary. They have a comfortable but not extravagant home in Norfolk. Kate is a former teacher and there are hints that Geoff was once an aspiring explorer.

Things seem to be going along splendidly.

One day, a letter arrives in German. Geoff is shocked to the core. It appears that Katya, (Geoff's ex girlfriend) who slipped and fell to her death on ice when she was climbing in the Alps), has appeared within a glacier as a frozen corpse, preserved by the freeze.

As the event happened 45 years ago, Geoff can't remember if he told Kate the story or not. Geoff is stupified while Kate is surprised and confused, having no idea of the past affection or perhaps, the romance.

The next day, Kate moves ahead with their anniversary preparations, but is vexed. Geoff is distracted and spaced out. He goes for walks without telling her. To Kate's dismay, Geoff starts smoking again as he did when a young man. Rather than talk of the upcoming party, his talk is of his   time as a young activist.

Kate busies herself with day to day chores: going out for chats, walking the dog and making phone calls.  Kate soon discovers that she can't sleep; she finds Geoff rummaging in the attic for old photos.

This is by no means a bad-marriage film. It is simply an analysis of what can happen when secrets or even forgotten information, grow gray roots of doubt. Rampling is a study in tension, transforming into a coil of steel. Her brows pull down under the weight of worry and pined for anniversary bliss.

The excellence of the film is in the spare detail. With every suggestion of Katya, Kate carries on, stubbornly insistent on every daily activity no matter how slight.

Though the story bears a simularity to Ruben Ostlund (Force Majeure) and the wicked darkness of Michael Haneke, it never loses its stark realism or its heart. That said, this film has its touches of black humor. Geoff complains acidly about a friend's ukelele, only to find the friend at his anniversary playing the instrument. Not to mention the film's last segment, which features a tense and overwhelmed Kate,  juxtaposed with a loose and childlike Geoff as he becomes the life of the party.

Like cinematic haiku, "45 Years" is a study in small deliberate motion: a shocked sigh, a set jaw, the fallen cheeks of disappointment. Just the barest of suggestion in this small seemingly quiet film, delivers a punch that is at once rueful and bittersweet.
Write Ian at

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Hateful Eight (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Hateful Eight

Director Quentin Tarantino is never one to inhibit himself, and he doesn't here. His latest outing "The Hateful Eight" is a kind of morality play in the guise of a Agatha Christie parlor mystery with touches of Hitchcock and William Friedkin.

In a nod to the Master of Suspense (specifically Lifeboat) and numerous Westerns, Tarantino pits eight motley characters together in a struggle during the post-Civil War era. To complicate matters, there is a malevolent blizzard that never quits.

Kurt Russell stars as bounty hunter John Ruth in charge of bringing a spiteful and mocking murderess (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to justice along a snow blinding path.

Their carriage crosses paths with another no-nonsense bounty hunter, Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a man who has seen his share of racial killing and is a vigilante. After some disturbing and hostile reluctance, the Major is welcomed on board.

The horses stop at Minnie's Haberdashery, a dark and dim general store of sorts with very little inside. There is a  Mexican (Damien Bechir), a hangman (Tim Roth), a mercenary cowboy (Michael Madsen), a wannabe sheriff (Walton Goggins), and a grouchy Confederate general (Bruce Dern).

The main melodrama is whether Daisy (the murderess) will escape and just who hates whom the most. On the whole, the total show stealer goes to Jennifer Jason Leigh who delivers her role with equal sincerity and horror film kitsch. She is rotten to the core and she clearly relishes what she is given.

Under the trappings of an abundance of gore that makes a ten gallon drum of tomato sauce seem a mere thimble, the most meaningful parts of the film are about the malignance of hate and the pettiness of rage.

While Tarantino appropriates directly from "The Exorcist" with Daisy's demonically gleeful face, actor Leigh grounds her anger with energy and the auteur gives just enough weight to narrowly miss complete camp.

A standout is the flawless cinematography by Robert Richardson whose visuals nod to the larger than life films of the 1970s, while making this film feel immersive, individual and off kilter in showing a white yet scratchy world where the gothicism of crosses and pain are everywhere.

Though "The Hateful Eight" illustrates a director up to his old tricks with exploding heads, saturated gushes of blood and spitting racists, Tarantino keeps us guessing with some well handled apprehension. The gunslinging is once more in the Grand Guignol tradition with some ugly people fuming and spitting yet again, but one still can't avert the eyes.

Write Ian at

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Week of January 29 - February 4 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Adds Two New Films to Lineup
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Want to get your movie list covered before the Academy Awards? Tropic has added two more Oscar-nominated films: “45 Years” with a Best Actress nod, and “The Hateful Eight” with a nom for its score.

Yes, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtney took top acting awards from the Berlin Film Festival for “45 Years,” the story of a long married couple who receive disturbing news just before celebrating their 45th anniversary. Now she’s up for an Oscar. Globe and Mail says the film “exposes the paradoxical balance of the successful marriage, one that requires a sentimental suspension of disbelief on the one hand and a hard-headed ability to deal with the everyday on the other.” And Toronto Star adds, “Both actors deliver a master class in expression by understatement. The most unsettling of ghosts, we are moved to realize, are the ones we try hardest to deny.”

A complete change of pace is “The Hateful Eight,” a retro-revisionist- psychotronic Western from director Quentin Tarantino. Co-starring such regulars as Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen, we have a gathering of bad guys during a blizzard. Don’t expect many survivors. Note the Oscar-nominated score, Ennio Morricone’s first Western composition in 35 years. Blog de Cine calls it “a superb chapter in the Western genre, an outstanding film overall.” And Movie Guys says, “Classic Tarantino mixed with Agatha Christie and John Ford! Simply stunning 70mm photography and a dream cast that can't be beat!”

A magical movie is “Room,” the story of a young mother and her son being held hostage in a 10x10 shed. Brie Larson is up for an Academy Award for this (and I’m rooting for her). Herald Sun trumpets, “Larson's economical, yet electrifying performance is all but guaranteed to win her the next Best Actress Oscar. Her intimate chemistry with young Tremblay (also unbelievably strong, in totally different ways) is a force that cannot be denied throughout.” And Toronto Blade calls it “a most extraordinary achievement, finding light and love and hope in even the darkest of places.”

“Joy” is director David O. Russell’s reassembling Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro (his “Silver Linings Playbook” cast, hoping the old magic will work again. You decide in this story about the plucky woman who invented the Miracle Mop. Clarin calls it “the fable of the rise of a self-made woman, an ode to entrepreneurs, with an idealized heroine…” And Publimetro sees it as “proof that Jennifer Lawrence is one of the best actresses of her generation.”

A cinematic delight, “Brooklyn” follows an Irish lass to America and back as she searches for love and country. Saoirse Ronan is marvelous using her native brogue. Film Comment Magazine says the film “at heart is a women’s picture, that staple of mid-century cinema in which a woman must choose her path in life, and the film adapts the genre's traditions splendidly.” And adds, “If you leave this film without a smile on your face, you must have done something wrong. Go back and watch it again.”

Not to end on a downer with this film about the housing credit bubble crash, but “The Big Short” turns this real-life tragedy into kind of a comedy. An ensemble cast that includes Steve Carrel, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt add a sense of surreal absurdity. Daily Express observes, “A subject that may have seemed dry is brought angrily and amusingly to life. Scarily, it seems little has changed to prevent such a crisis happening again.” And This Is London concludes, “Confronting these facts while snorting at how funny this film often can be is quite confounding.”

Two new, four you should see if you haven’t. The Academy Awards is coming up soon!

45 Years (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“45 Years” Is Not-So-Happy Anniversary
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I still remember Charlotte Rampling in full bondage gear cracking a whip at Dirk Bogarde in that 1974 Nazisploitation film, “The Night Porter.” What a sense of youth and danger. Now more than forty years have passed and we find her and Tom Courtney playing a “comfortably off, left-wing, childless, provincial couple” about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.

What a contrast.

Charlotte Rampling is more than up for the task. Both she and Tom Courtney won the Silver Bear Best Acting Awards at the Berlin Film Festival. And she’s up for Best Actress at the upcoming 88th Academy Awards.

“45 Years” is showing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

At first, the film seems to be a tale of domestic tranquility. The Mercers had postponed their 40th anniversary party when Geoff underwent bypass surgery, so this upcoming 45th should be a satisfying milestone.

However, all that changes in an instance, when Geoff learns that the perfectly preserved body of his long-ago girlfriend Katya has been discovered in a crevasse in the Swiss Alps. This is disturbing news for his wife. She can “smell Katya's perfume in the room,” a reminder of her husband’s previous love. It’s difficult to have this specter invade their serene life of 45 years together.

“Kate is now going to go through quite a dramatic time and not really know why the hell she’s going through it either. But it’s pressed buttons, old stories that she hasn’t resolved or whatever -- we’re not going to get into it and psychoanalyze -- but it’s about why suddenly we are, you know, overcome with fears and anxieties that we have no idea where they come from.”

The message: Unresolved issues linger for years and years.

Charlotte Rampling throws herself into the role. “If the story demands a woman who actually has lived with a man 45 years and really loves him, well, I’m gonna be that woman,” she says. “I’m gonna be that person.”

When asked if she thought there could be a 50th anniversary for Kate and Geoff, Charlotte Rampling hesitates. “I really don’t know. I’m thinking about it a lot, obviously, because that question comes up a lot. But I don’t know. I sort of don’t think so.”

The Hateful Eight (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Hateful Eight” Populated by Villains
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You might think Quentin Tarantino’s not very good at math, in that his new movie “The Hateful Eight” is divided into six chapters. But never fear, this bloodthirsty western is populated by eight (at least) bad guys and gals.
Each of the Hateful Eight have colorful handles:  The Bounty Hunter, The Hangman, The Sheriff, The Confederate, The Cow Puncher, The Mexican, The Little Man, and The Prisoner. Tags that happen to describe their roles in this drama.

The familiar faces behind these characters are (respectively) Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Most of them have appeared in previous Tarantino films.

You can find “The Hateful Eight” shooting-‘em-up at Tropic Cinema.

Back before Quentin Tarantino became a famous director, he worked as a clerk in a video store, apparently watching more B-movies than renting them out. His films often echo those old videos, resonating with psychotronic themes and populated by once-famous faces.

“Psychotronic Movies” are defined as videos “traditionally ignored or ridiculed by mainstream critics at the time of their release: horror, exploitation, action, science fiction, and movies that used to play in drive-ins or inner city grindhouses.”

Tarantino took psychotronics mainstream. You see this reflected in his films “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown,” “Django Unchained,” his “Death Proof” segment of “Grindhouse” -- and now “The Hateful Eight.”

But the director credits old television programs -- like “Bonanza,” “The High Chaparral, and “The Virginian” -- for this latest film.

“Twice per season, those shows would have an episode where a bunch of outlaws would take the lead characters hostage,” he recalls. “They would come to the Ponderosa and hold everybody hostage, or go to Judge Garth’s place … and take hostages.”

That’s pretty much the plot of “The Hateful Eight.” A bounty hunter with a female prisoner, a second bounty hunter with three dead bodies, and a new sheriff are on their way to Red Rock, but a blizzard forces them to hold up in a stagecoach stop with a bunch of other miscreants. Who are the hostages and who are captors?

“I don’t like that storyline in a modern context,” says Tarantino, “but I love it in a Western, where you would pass halfway through the show to find out if they were good or bad guys, and they all had a past that was revealed. I thought, ‘What if I did a movie starring nothing but those characters? No heroes, no Michael Landons. Just a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true. Trap those guys together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens.’”

Don’t expect any heroes to be left standing.

As Quentin Tarantino says, “I normally like my villains no matter how bad they are. I see their point of view."

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Winter's Tale (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

A British Rom-Com, “The Winter’s Tale”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Don’t you just love those British romantic comedies with Hugh Grant or Emma Thompson or Keira Knightley? There’s a new one coming up at the Tropic Cinema, a rom-com starring Sir Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench. It’s a sex romp involving false accusations of infidelity, disguised identities, and broken friendships … but all this with a happy ending.

Titled “The Winter’s Tale,” you can catch the limited showings at the Tropic on Tuesday, January 26 at 6:30 p.m., and Sunday, January 31 at 1:30 p.m.

The script was penned by a noted writer near the end of his show-biz career. You might not guess the authorship based on the film’s full title -- “Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s The Winter’s Tale.” It was co-directed by Rob Ashford (known mostly for his TV productions of  “Peter Pan Live!” and “The Sound of Music Live!) and Royal Shakespearean-trained actor Kenneth Branagh.

For those of you who like to read film credits, you will discover that script was actually by a guy named William Shakespeare.

Written around 1611, “The Winter’s Tale” was originally grouped with Shakespeare’s comedies, but modern scholars have reclassified it as a romance. That makes it a rom-com, despite all the deaths and tragic events.

The story goes like this: Two old pals (they happen to be kings) become estranged when Leontes (played by Kenneth Branagh) suspects Polixenes (Hadley Fraser) of impregnating his wife Hermione (Miranda Raison). Family friend Paulina (Judi Dench) tries to intercede, but Hermione gets put to death, the infant daughter abandoned, and 16 years later Polixenes’ son falls in love with a pretty shepherd girl. Believe it or not, everything turns out okay. Well, mostly.

This was Shakespeare’s last play, mostly cribbed from Robert Greene’s 1588 pastoral romance “Pandosto.” The title (Shakespeare’s, not Branagh’s expanded version) likely comes from a 1590 play, “The Old Wives Tale,” in which a storyteller tells “a merry winter’s tale.” This implies a happy ending.

Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” is most famous for the stage direction: Exit, pursued by a bear.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Week of January 15 - 21 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

All Six Films at Tropic Cinema Received Oscar Nominations
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Now that the 88th Academy Award nominations have been released, Tropic Cinema has locked in its film lineup to make sure you get a chance to see them (they are all nominated), as well as bringing back a previous film that turned up on the Oscar list.
 Coming back to Tropic screens is “Room,” the story of a mother and son being held prisoner by a dangerous pervert. Despite that grim storyline, the film is surprisingly magical. Not only did Brie Larson get a Best Actress nod, the film garnered three others nominations including one for Best Picture. Times calls it “a soul-stirring feel-good weepie.” And New York Magazine explains that it “transmutes a lurid, true
-crime situation into a fairy tale in which fairy tales are a source of survival.”

Holding over is “The Big Short,” the financial farce with Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrel, Brad Pitt, and Christian Bale. It has claimed five nominations, with Best Picture among them. The Ooh Tray describes it as “a movie with a conscious but no heroes …” And La Jornada says, “The overall comedic tone of the film make this a success, even if it’s acid and dark.”

“Carol” stays in place too. Surprisingly, this stylish 1950s romance between two women got edged out of the Best Picture list. Nonetheless, it picked up six nominations, including Best Actress for Cate Blanchett and Best Supporting Actress for Rooney Mara. Fort Worth Weekly calls it “a heartening romance for our time as well as theirs.” And Flick Filosopher opines, “Flawless in every way: sumptuous visually and emotionally.”

Also holding over, “The Danish Girl” gives us Eddie Redmayne as an early sex-change pioneer. It too missed out on Best Picture, but nonetheless received four nominations, including Best Actor and Best Actress.  Cinema Movil says, “The powerful performances by Redmayne and Vikander get the message of solidarity with the transgender community across very clearly.” And JWR succinctly adds, “Someone has to be first.”

“Joy” hangs around another week. This is a comedy about the woman who invented the Miracle Mop. Hollywood darling Jennifer Lawrence accounted for its solitary Best Actress nod. Clarin sees it as “the fable of the rise of a self made woman, an ode to entrepreneurs, with an idealized heroine and an explicit message.” And Excelsior says, “This melodrama highlights the importance of believing in yourself.”

“Brooklyn” also stayed over on Tropic screens. A beautiful film about an Irish lass who comes to America to find her future, it received three Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress, and Adapted Screenplay. The New Republic notes, “‘Brooklyn’ at heart is a women's picture, that staple of mid-century cinema in which a woman must choose her path in life, and the film adapts the genre's traditions splendidly.” And concludes, “It mixes open-hearted sentimentality with star Saoirse Ronan’s sublimely subtle performance.”

All told, these six films represent 23 Academy Award nominations, ranging from Best Picture to Best Cinematography. You’ll want to see them before the gala Oscar party at the Tropic on February 28. Right?

My Man Godfrey (1936) - Rhoades

Front Row at the Movies

“My Man Godfrey” Is Monday Night Classic
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Sure, we can watch old movie classics on Netflix or TCM, but there’s something magical about seeing a movie on a big screen in a darkened theater. Tropic Cinema is celebrating Screwball Comedies this month. On Monday night, film maven Craig Wanous will host “My Man Godfrey,” starring William Powell and Carole Lombard.

Screwball comedy is a type of movie that became popular during the Great Depression. It is characterized by a battle of the sexes, farcical plots, funny repartee, and often a sense of cultural conflict.

Film critic Andrew Sarris once defined screwball comedy as “a sex comedy without the sex.”

“My Man Godfrey” fits those criteria as perfectly as a butler’s well-tailored suit.

You shouldn’t need any Spoiler Alerts for a movie that’s been part of American culture since 1936. The US Library of Congress declared “My Man Godfrey” culturally significant in 1999. And Premiere voted this movie as one of “The 50 Greatest Comedies of All Time.”

The improbable plot: Godfrey is a well-bred Bostonian who’s mistaken for a hobo. To get back at her snotty sister Cornelia, daffy socialite Irene hires Godfrey as the family butler. He takes the job as a lark, but finds himself in a tricky situation when Irene falls for him. Yes, he saves the family from financial ruin. Yes, Irene gets her man.

William Powell (you’ll remember him from “The Thin Man” movies) is teamed up with Carole Lombard (Powell’s ex-wife, later married to Clark Gable). The chemistry between the two -- the butler being standoffish, the socialite like a smitten kitten -- is a marvel of comedic acting. The director, the screenwriters and four leading members of the cast were nominated for Oscars, the first time that ever happened.

Although directed by Gregory La Cava, it may remind you a bit of the Preston Sturges comedy, “Sullivan’s Travels.” (Note: That’s showing the following week.) In both, a disillusioned man poses as a hobo in an effort to regain faith in his fellow man (and woman).

As Godfrey proclaims, “The only difference between a derelict and a man is a job.” But in the end there’s more to it, the difference between social position and social conscience.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Of Space, Struggle and the Travel of Cinema: The 2016 Best Picture Nominees (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Of Space, Struggle and the Travel of Cinema: The 2016 Best Picture Nominees

In one of my poems, I wrote that the movies were a "sedentary jump, inclined to Africa." My point was that the vehicle of the cinema, when used to its full potential, can take us to other lands and other perspectives be they far away or close to home.

This is certainly true with the current batch of Oscar nominations for Best Picture. Each nominated film takes us far and wide, to either an interior space of the mind or a time period that we may be unfamiliar with, or to a distant planet.

The latter setting is especially poignant in the light of David Bowie's unfortunate passing this past week, he who put his mark on the cinema, as well as music, with his many eccentric roles.

First to lead off, there is "The Revenant," Alejandro Inarritu's  dog-eat-dog epic about the 1823 fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his will to survive and avenge his son. This is a genuine man-against-nature story with haunt and circumstance.  The director once again is in excellent form, this time portraying a wild Nature with jagged teeth always ready to tear at a small but stubborn human. DiCaprio is solid and compelling as a hard-bitten man who endures Christ-like suffering to merely breathe in a savage Winter.

Then there is "Room," a film that takes us psychologically within, as much as "The Revenant" focuses on the outside wilderness. Lenny Abrahamson directs this visceral tale about a single mom (Brie Larson) and her son (Jacob Tremblay) held captive for years in one windowless room, with only a small sliver of a skylight. While the film might seem at first to be heavily weighted by its subject matter, young newcomer Tremblay gives an extraordinary performance and lifts the somber film to a buoyancy, both heartfelt and poetic.

For those who enjoy raging at recent history, try "The Big Short," an analysis of the subprime housing bubble and the hedge fund managers who bet that the whole mess would go bust. Actor Christian Bale is intense and quirky, as is Steve Carrell as a snarky know it all with a good heart. The financial shenanigans are compelling and while director Adam McKay (Anchorman) often goes for the funny bone (when the reality was much worse), he displays a sure hand.

If your anger is still unquenched, "Spotlight" is a gritty procedure-oriented story about the despicable sexual molestations of priests in the Catholic Church throughout and the no-holds-barred journalists who broke the story.

And if you like feverish Pop Art, Mad Max, the monosyllabic mercenary who spits metal returns in "Fury Road." Tom Hardy excellently inhabits the iconic warrior that Mel Gibson made famous. Hardy's nearly silent interpretation is a study in non-verbal expression as well as a tribute to past matinee heroes.

"Brooklyn" makes a trip of a different sort, taking us to the 1950s, within the heart and eyes of Irish immigrant Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) who falls in love with a charming and nonchalant New Yorker, Tony (Emory Cohen.) While it is fair to say that the film has elements of a romantic comedy, it beguiles with a sneaky spirit. With just a few sincere and understated scenes, Director John Crowley shows us the fullness of a woman in the process of finding a new possible home.

This concept of home, one both lost and perhaps found, figures prominently in Ridley Scott's "The Martian." Fallen astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is marooned on Mars without a survival kit and must use his wiles to merely breathe each day. With its deadpan sarcasm and a disco score punctuated with a legendary song by David Bowie, the entire film seems to suggest the presence of the tinsel-suited musician, once an artist in residence and now returned to his home planet.

It seems no coincidence that the setting of "The Martian" matches the original environs of "The Man Who Fell to Earth, " not to mention the alien's fire-red hair.

While this year's Best Picture nominees glaringly snubbed both the intriguing and important concepts of retro films and cast diversity (Star Wars, Creed, Beasts of No Nation)  we still have a variety of sojourns, albeit full with themes of suffering and struggle in exploring blatant excesses as criminally egotistical as they are merciless.

Three of these nominees are currently showing at the Tropic: "Room," "The Big Short," and "Brooklyn," with "Revenant" expected in a few weeks.

Write Ian at

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Carol (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Todd Haynes (L.A. Confidential) directs this handsome and close-to-the-page adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel,  "Carol," about a young female artist and her attraction to an elite and enigmatic woman.

Highsmith is mostly known for her crime novels, which are a bit like Albert Camus with a darkly humored, deliberate cadence. Her 1950s book, "The Talented Mr. Ripley" after many years of near obscurity in America, was made into a crisp film starring Matt Damon and Jude Law and is now considered a classic of its type.

Inspired by the author's own employment in a department store, "Carol" is a portrait of anxious intimacy and dependence.

Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) works in a gray and claustrophobic store as a sales clerk. The customers rush past, faceless. Without any harbinger or warning, Carol (Cate Blanchett) enters the floor with the allure of a Hitchcock blonde and Therese is hooked.

Preoccupied, Carol asks for a doll as a gift for her daughter Rindy. Therese tells her about the wonder of trains and Carol asks for a set to be delivered.

A day later, at work, Therese gets a call.

It is Carol.

The trappings of the novel, from Carol's flowing blonde hair, her sumptuous fur coat and gloves, to her Packard car, are flawless and perfectly on point. Sharply on key as well is the cinematography by Edward Lachman who gives the person of Carol Aird a mysterious quality, both haunting and haunted. Lachman's sharp yet ghostly imagery suggests that all of our lives contain the possibility of a noir adventure.

The momentum builds slowly with an undulating rhythm with near fetishistic shots of fabric, fur and perfume, but soon the film moves masterfully in suspense and tension as Richard (Jake Lacy), Therese's hopeful suitor, becomes a needy weight. If that is not enough, there is Harge (Kyle Chandler), Carol's aggressive and square jawed husband who is stubborn and vexed and can't let go.

While there is none of the usual Highsmithian fauna here of sociopaths in the sun, there is a single revolver and the author's fans will be well pleased by this push-me-pull-you story with plenty of force and fret.

Cate Blanchett totally embodies this role with something of Kim Novak in her presentation of this woman's seductive simmer along with her curious  nonchalance. Rooney Mara is wholly realized as Therese, the young photographer who is very much in her passive shell, waiting for Carol's leather gloved inspiration knotted together by a green, perfumed scarf.

The pleasure of "Carol" is in its motion. First, it rolls along like a leisurely train, full of obsessive and dreamy character detail , only to build into uncertainty, apprehension and the very real discomfort of losing one's self in another.

Write Ian at

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Week of January 8 - 14 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Oscar Contenders Can Be Found at Tropic Cinema
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Tropic Cinema seems to be channeling the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. All five of the films playing here this week have been shortlisted for Oscars.

The Academy’s website offers a list of eligible feature films that will be winnowed down to a handful of actual nominations. Okay, there are 305 films on the list. But to quote a popular movie, There can be only one!

The Academy Awards presentations take place on February 28th, so make sure you don’t miss these likely contenders.

Leading the pack is “Carol,” a Best Picture favorite. Based on a book by Patricia Highsmith, this is the bittersweet romance between two women, a society lady (played by Cate Blanchett) and a salesgirl (Rooney Mara). The storytelling and cinematography harken back to movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s -- yet updated. Filmink declares, “It is a classy entertainment with a delicious combination of psychological manipulation and latent liberation.” Sun Online says it’s “worth watching for the electrifying chemistry of its love-struck leads alone.” And St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes that the film “demonstrates that a period piece can engagingly comment on modern times.”

Also on the Best Picture shortlist is “Brooklyn,” with Saoirse Ronan portraying a young Irish woman who comes to make her home in New York’s Burroughs. But the pull of the Old Country is strong. Liverpool Echo says, “Definitely one to watch if you like raw emotion and romance.” And Film International gushes, “I can’t spot a single thing wrong with ‘Brooklyn.’ An Oscar-caliber package; start betting on victory for Ronan, at the least. Heart-warming, light-hearted, and perfectly poised. Simple. Beautiful. Lovely.”

With its own Oscar buzz is “The Big Short.” A strong ensemble cast (Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, and Christian Bale among them) makes this sharp-witted look at the housing credit bubble much more interesting than you might expect. Film Comment observes, “‘The Big Short’ is the truth-telling picture of the year. It puts beautifully shaded characters in guy comedy mode into an Altman-esque narrative …” And EntertainmentTell adds that it “uses an outstanding cast, a touch of humor and a series of cheeky devices … to deliver a hugely entertaining film.”

Another shortlisted film is “The Danish Girl.” It tells the story of Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne), one of the world’s first Gender Reassignment Surgeries. However, pay attention to his/her wife (Alicia Vikander shines in the role). Sky Movies calls it “an intriguing, sumptuous-looking affair, distinguished by some strong performances.” The Skinny sees it as “delicate and decorous.” And Observer terms it a “glossy affair” with “sumptuous design and arch acting.”

And don’t overlook “Joy,” the new Jennifer Lawrence film that’s likely to make the Academy’s final cut. JLaw rules in this loose biopic about the woman who invented (yes) the Miracle Mop. Laramie Movie Scope says, “Jennifer Lawrence gives another great performance as a woman under a lot of stress trying to run a successful business against long odds.” Daily Express tells us the film  “lays it on pretty thick with Joy’s quirky, suffocating family but Lawrence creates the kind of plucky underdog you are only too happy to cheer …” And ABC Radio Brisbane concludes, “Jennifer Lawrence is terrific as the determined yet vulnerable heroine. She keeps getting knocked down and she keeps getting back up. It's inspiring if nothing else.”

So pay attention. Next week the Academy will release its actual nominations. You can bet all these five films will be on the list.

Carol (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Carol” An Elegant Women’s Romance 
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The books of Patricia Highsmith have given us a number of familiar movies -- Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers On a Train,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “The Two Faces of January.” Murder was a common theme.

But “Carol” -- the new Todd Haynes film based on Highsmith’s novel “The Price of Salt” -- has nary a dead body. Given its sensual theme, she published it under the pseudonym of “Claire Morgan.”

Later she admitted authorship. And the title was changed for the movie.

In many ways this is an old-fashioned film, a lush melodrama about a complicated romance like found in, say, “Brief Encounter” (1945). But here, the thwarted love affair is between two women, and the cinematography isn’t shadowy black and white, but rather rainy city scenes painted in muted colors as seen through windows and reflected by mirrors. Keeping the viewer at a safe distance.

Cate Blanchett is the titular Carol, sort of a Deborah Kerr type. And Rooney Mara is Therese, looking like a young Audrey Hepburn.

Set in 1950s New York, Carol and Therese meet in a department store’s toy department, where the younger woman is working as a temporary salesclerk during the Christmas season. Carol leaves her gloves behind; Therese returns them; Carol invites her to lunch. There’s an attraction, but they must be cautious. Carol is going through a divorce; Therese has a serious boyfriend.

But yet …

Carol takes a cross-country automobile trip, inviting Therese along. Their idyllic journey takes them to Chicago, where they settle in for a romantic interlude at the Palmer House. But the tryst is interrupted. Carol’s husband has decided to use the custody of their child to bring his straying wife back in line.

Are hearts to be broken?

A quiet drab beauty, Therese is the opposite of elegant, sophisticated Carol. And Mara and Blanchett play their respective roles flawlessly, an ingénue in awe of the perfectly coiffed woman who occupies a secure place in a world that she can only glimpse from afar -- or through the lens of her camera.

But what if …

You can find “Carol” screening at Tropic Cinema.

This is certainly a woman’s movie, focusing on the hopeful love story between Therese and Carol. The men, mainly Carol’s angry husband (terrifically played by Kyle Chandler) and Therese’s clueless boyfriend (Jake Lacy), are secondary, relegated to the sidelines to glare and grumble as they watch the sexual landscape shift.

Although Highsmith’s 1952 book was told from Therese’s point-of-view, the movie’s storytelling is more balanced. Yet, this is undeniably Blanchett’s movie, as signaled by the use of the name “Carol” as its title rather than “The Price of Salt.” Her performance is even more nuanced and subtly revealing than “Blue Jasmine,” the role that won her an Oscar.

Nonetheless, Rooney Mara holds her own with Blanchett. While her part in “The Social Network” was minimal and in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” quirky, here she’s a real flesh-and-blood woman, found naked in bed with Blanchett.

Acting or not, Cate Blanchett says she’s had relationships with women “many times” … although not sexual. After all, she a married mother of four in real life.

But on screen …

Journey From Zanskar (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Tibetan Monks Take You To “Zanskar”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Tibet is a world away, a mountain kingdom that has enticed those seeking meaning to their life to make the arduous journey over the Himalayas to the homeland of the Dalai Lama.

But no need to call your travel agent. The Drepung Gomang Monks are coming to you tonight at the Tropic Cinema.

Key West Tara Mandala is hosting an evening of enlightenment and wonder. At 6 p.m. you will encounter a Tibetan Marketplace in the theater’s lobby. At 6:30 p.m. you’re invited to join the monks for Tibetan Tea and Pastries. And at 7 p.m. there will be a special one-night-only showing of “Journey from Zanskar.”

Narrated by Richard Gere, the documentary takes you to Zanskar, a land that due to its geographical isolation has been protected from cultural change. Ringed by high Himalayan Mountains in northwest India, Zanskar is one of the most remote places on earth. So far, it has been less corrupted by the Chinese incursion than nearby Tibet or Ladakh.

But that is shifting as the world intrudes. Within five years a road connecting Padum and neighboring Ladakh will be completed. To prevent the cultural heritage from being lost, the Dalai Lama instructed two monks from Zanskar’s Stongde Monastery to select 17 children to be educated in the old ways. This training required the children to make a difficult ten-day trek to a school on the other side of the snow-covered mountains, ascending through 17,500-foot-high passes, following ancient trails. These children won’t return home for 10 or more years. The monks who guide them made this same journey 30 years ago.

This slow-paced trek -- on foot, horseback, and yak -- is a race to save the land’s native language, culture, and unbroken Buddhist traditions.

Produced, written, and directed by Frederick Marx, “Journey from Zanskar” is like taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip. An accomplished filmmaker, Marx is best known for his 1994 Oscar-nominated documentary, “Hoop Dreams.”

The Drepung Gomang Monks will be here following the screening to answer any questions from the audience.

Drepung is the largest of all Tibetan monasteries. Gomang is one of the colleges located at the monastery, housing some 2,000 monks. Much of the old monastic town was destroyed when Chinese arrived in Lhasa in 1951. The 14th Dahlia Lama fled to India during the ensuing Tibetan uprising.  Drepung Monastery (its name means “Rice Heap”) was shut by Chinese authorities in 2008, but reopened in 2013.

All profits from tonight’s event will go to the Drepung Gomang Monastery.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Journey From Zanskar (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Journey from Zanskar: a monk's vow to children

Fredrick Marx (Hoop Dreams) directs this sweeping, adventuresome and tense documentary of sixteen Tibetan children and their 180 mile trek from the contested  Zanskar on the border of Tibet to a monk training school in Manali. The school can only take sixteen children and the trip can be life threatening. The pupils, indiscriminately male and female, will be away from their families for ten years in exchange for Buddhist instruction, covering modern subjects along with the crucial imparting of Tibetan culture.

The scenes between the parents and their children are heart-rending, but the parents want a monk's path for their children, not only to pass on their embattled culture but to become holistic citizens of knowledge and awareness.

The apprehensive suspense is as palpable as any Everest-scaling film. The children risk zero degree temperatures, steep cliffs and possible attacks from extremists. Yaks and a single father or mother are often the only guide.

The sky-fingering cliffs lean for no one and are neutral in human affairs. The children march forward: Lilliputian soldiers of open eagerness ready to carry knowledge to a hopeful millennium.

The adult monks, including Geshe, do not shy away from the possible fatal perils, but stress the importance of mindfulness in the face of danger and uncertainty. All things are equal, even in death.

The most striking scene of all comes in the school when the parents leave the children surreptitiously without drama or fanfare. Some of the children wail and thrash about , crying hysterically.  Mothers, fathers and grandmothers weep steadily as well.

Though very difficult to watch, the segments illustrate the universal truth of mortal leave-taking and impermanence. The child in the adult and the adult in the child are both in evidence here as being one and the same.

The narration by actor Richard Gere gives the quest a warmly affectionate, yet existential tone.

The outcome is indeed uncertain, but desire, hand and hand with suffering, exist together and are curiously coupled. When the children do come closer to Manali it is almost like a verdant cloud city right out of a George Lucas epic. There are trees, rain, phones, and nuts and bananas are tasted for the first time.

This rich and daring film is wisely unassuming with a wide accessibility. Free-thinkers without any affiliation can enjoy this episodic and emotional trip along with learned Buddhists, be they Tibetan or otherwise.

"Journey from Zanskar" is just as it should be: natural, full of life as it happens and open to all.

Write Ian at