Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Week of May 27 - June 2 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Adds First-Runs to Memorial Day Fare
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A big sea change in the movie industry, Tropic Cinema will be getting more first-run mainstream movies to compliment its indie fare. In the past, these bigger films came as second-runs after they had appeared at the Regal.

First example, “X-Men: Apocalypse,” opened this weekend at the Tropic. This blockbuster completes Bryan Singer’s trilogy about the early years of these superheroes. Here he goes all way back to the first mutant, an Egyptian king who is revived to become the villainous Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac). Of course, he has his Four Horsemen to help him take on the X-Men (James McAvoy et al.). Movie Kit says, “It still manages to thrill you with its mutant action and impeccable characterizations.” And Deadline Hollywood Daily adds, “Thanks to Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse it is still catnip for fans of the franchise.”

 “The Meddler” is a great comedy vehicle for Susan Sarandon, here playing a mother who is overly helpful when it comes to intruding into her daughter’s just-fine-thank-you life. Rip It Up notes, “Susan Sarandon … offers a performance that’s by turns charmingly funny, bitingly sad, and convincingly annoying.” And Desert News describes it as “a subtle, poignant and often funny film about moving on.”

“A Bigger Splash” offers a very different family dynamic, when an old friend and his grown-up daughter (Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson) drop in on a famous rock star and her photographer boyfriend (Tilda Swinton and Matthias Schoenaerts) while vacationing on an Italian island. Creative Loafing says, “Positively drenched in thick, tasty Euro-ambiance, the film serves up tantalizing characters and even more tantalizing ideas …” And Salt Lake Tribune nods, “The cast is strong, with Swinton particularly powerful even though her voice barely rises above a whisper.”

“The Man Who Knew Infinity” continues to please audiences with this true story about Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel), an Indian student with a talent for intuiting complicated equations. G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) is the Cambridge prof who recognized the young man’s mathematical gift. St. Louis Post-Dispatch observes, “The multiplexes are full of films that promise little more than a forgettable good time. ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ is just as entertaining, but far more substantial.” And X-press.com agrees that “Irons and Patel create a bit of magic with their mathematical dance …”

Rounding out the cinematic offerings is “The Jungle Book,” one for the whole family. This is Disney’s fourth telling of the Kipling story about a young boy raised by jungle animals. This time around, it’s bigger, brighter, CGI-animated, and in eye-popping 3-D. South China Morning Post says, “Alternately exhilarating and terrifying, ‘The Jungle Book’ offers a hyper-realistic view of the forest as a place of natural hierarchy, unpredictable menace, and cross-species camaraderie.” And Reforma concludes, “This remake of the animated classic is a visual experience that you can’t miss.”

All five of these films are prefect daliances for a long, lazy Memorial Day Weekend. Enjoy!


X-Men: Apocalypse (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“X-Men: Apocalypse” Looks at First Mutant
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Marvel keeps cranking them out. Fanboys and geeks (as followers are known in the comic book world) aren’t complaining.

The new superhero blockbuster “X-Men: Apocalypse” completes the trilogy of films by Bryan Singer telling the beginnings of the mutants. “X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” were the first two in this arc.

 Here we meet the world’s first mutant, an Egyptian ruler named En Sabah Nur. When his worshippers turn against him, he is entombed for thousands of years. Awakened in 1983, he assumes the villainous role of Apocalypse, who decides to destroy the world and remake it.

Apocalypse puts together a new Four Horsemen team comprised of mutants: Famine (Storm), Pestilence (Psylocke), Death (Angel), and War (Magneto).

Apocalypse kidnaps Professor Xavier in order to tap into his mental powers, in the process destroying the School for Gifted Youngsters. Several of the young mutants get mistakenly arrested and sent to the Weapons X facility. The trick is getting loose to face off against Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen.

All your favorite X-Men are here in their younger incarnations: Professor X (James McAvoy), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Phoenix (Sophie Turner), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Havok (Lucas Till), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Jubilee (Lana Condor), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Even Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) makes an appearance.

En Sabah Nur A/K/A Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) and his Four Horsemen -- Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) -- are on hand to cause global destruction.

Stan Lee makes his customary cameo.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” is currently doing battle at Tropic Cinema.

Back when I was publisher of Marvel, then-editor-in-chief Bob Harras described Apocalypse: “The name is dynamic. It tells you right off this character means trouble. And he came with a clear-cut agenda: ‘survival of the fittest.’ He didn't care if you were a mutant -- if you were weak, you would be destroyed. He was merciless, but his philosophy was easy to grasp and it fit in with the harder edge of evolution which is part and parcel of the mutant story. Isn’t that what humans fear about mutants? That they are the next step? Now, we had given mutants something new to fear: a character who would judge them on their genetic worthiness.”

Critics are judging “X-Men: Apocalypse” on its cinematic worthiness. This is the ninth X-Men film, designed to set up a new Wolverine outing and a Gambit movie. It’s a tossup, ranking 52 (out of 100) on Rotten Tomatoes. San Francisco Chronicle calls it “a thinking person’s action movie.” Akron Beacon Journal describes it as “an overly familiar reworking of superhero-movie ideas, especially the seemingly all-powerful villain confronted by a group of flawed heroes.”

Stan Lee told me he created the X-Men as a plea for tolerance -- people different from us, trying to save us even though we hate and fear them.

Overly familiar? For my nickel, that’s a story worth retelling over and over again.


The Jungle Book (Rhaodes)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Jungle Book” Gets Real
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

In 1894, Rudyard Kipling wrote a collection of short stories inspired by his time in India. These fables tell about a wild child (an abandoned “man-cub”) named Mowgli who is being raised by a pack of anthropomorphic animals (wolves, a puma, and a bear). The stories were written for his daughter, a way of imparting moral lessons.

Walt Disney must have liked these jungle stories, in that this is the fourth time the company has brought it to the screen. The first time was a 1967 animated movie, notable for the voices of Bruce Reitherman (son of the director)  as Mowgli and Phil Harris (as Baloo the bear) singing “The Bare Necessities.” The second time was in 1994, a live-action version starring martial artist Jason Scott Lee as the jungle boy. Third was in 2003 with “The Jungle Book 2,” an animated sequel to the original version with Haley Joel Osment as Mowgli and John Goodman as Baloo.

Now Disney goes live action (sort of) with its latest rendition of “The Jungle Book” -- currently playing in 3D at Tropic Cinema.

This being the computer age, the current retelling is blended with CGI effects that make the animals talk and jump and perform on cue in the most convincing anthropomorphic manner.
The earlier films took great liberties with Kipling’s stories, but since few American children ever read the book nobody noticed. This new version sticks closer to Kipling’s original story -- although Kipling himself confessed to having plagiarized many of his tales in the book.

This time around we have ten-year-old Indian-American child actor Neel Sethi as Mowgli and comfortable old Bill Murray voicing Baloo. Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken, and Scarlett Johansson round out the cast.

This American fantasy adventure film is directed by Jon Favreau, the actor-turned-director who gave us Marvel’s “Iron Man” movies. Paying proper homage to the long line of Disney “Jungle Book” films, he diplomatically says, “I want my ‘Jungle Book’ to remind people how much they loved the original.”

Favreau says this knowing that he has more money, state-of-the-arts F/X, and muscle behind his new version than most movies in the history of filmmaking.

Here is a mythic big-picture scale. Things are a bit bigger and brighter as befitting a modern-day blockbuster movie. “If you look at panthers in the real world, they’re actually quite small,” says Favreau, a man ready to remedy nature’s shortcomings.

Yes, everything in the film (other than Mowgli) is generated by computers, looking more real than life itself.

Give Disney a few more years and it likely will be dishing out yet another remake of “The Jungle Book,” one without a live actor in sight but indistinguishable from the real world … or an oversized version of it.


Monday, May 30, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

X-Men: Apocalypse

As if to mirror "The Avengers" franchise as well as the current presidential election, full of distrust and dissent within the two parties, the latest X-Men chapter has arrived helmed once more by Bryan Singer. It is subtitled "Apocalypse."

The film begins compellingly, taking us to ancient Egypt. A figure encased in a golden serpent headpiece is paraded through an avenue of pyramids. A man is placed on a slab to commence some kind of energy transference within the structure. Suffice to say that the serpent headed muscle man is a kind of vampire Goliath that takes power from whichever person he deems suitable. After he is buried and then brought back to life, he wanders the town in search of power.

This man-creature known as En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is a near immortal Mutant, hell-bent on immortality and world domination. Played by this accomplished actor, he has presence. But although Nur does have an arresting emerald complexion he is a near carbon copy of Ultron from last year's Avengers outing. Ultron too, wanted world domination and gave nearly identical reasons for his desire (i.e. humans are weak, inept, and faulty) with the added damning trait that they worship false gods.

 This green ghoul spends his time gathering an army of antiheroes composed of Angel (Ben Hardy) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp) for you guessed it, a showdown of Armageddon proportions with some Mutant muscle milk expended.

The title role of Apocalypse as played by the wonderful actor Isaac does have potential, but sadly the interesting story of what makes him crave, desire and hate in a human fashion is watered down in favor of monstrous testosterone combat scenes. The best parts are at the initial vignettes, showing En Sabah Nur as a vengeful and lost Vader figure cloaked in sadness and shadow along a slate gray desert. He need not say anything; a single look is enough.

The same can be said of Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender.) It is intriguing to see him work in a factory and go home to his family, secreting his powers deep within himself like some toxic plasma. Engaging also is the sight of Auschwitz in the realm of the superhero as it points to that execrable place being origin to a demonic and supernatural influence.

But the narrative all too quickly leaves human interest and history behind in favor of tremendous crunching, crashing and bashing with lasers and tasers added to the hands and eyes as mere accessories. By the time Wolverine makes a cameo, the story runs routine, becoming a Marvel role call of combat, rather than revealing real emotion along with the percussive punching that the past chapters so watchable and entertaining.

Aside from Oscar Isaac's haunting stare, which is considerable, En Sabah Nur could have been incarnated by anyone. Marching around, he is more a faceless Golem than a philosophic ghoul. The rival relationship between Erik and Professor X (James McAvoy) always had juice, yet when the two interact here, they rehash the same speeches of power, loss and responsibility. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) acts just the same, as does Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult.)

Nothing adventurous, nothing gained.

Aside from some fine laser work near the finale with great credit given to the legendary John Dykstra, all is oddly immutable with these iconic Mutants.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Jungle Book (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Jungle Book

Walt Disney's "The Jungle Book" (1967) is an iconic film. The fluid animation, vibrant, popping colors and rousing songs are hard to beat, or for that matter to match.  Fortunately, director Jon Favreau (Swingers, Iron Man) has come very close to those original zenith heights.

Here is Mowgli (Neel Sethi) looking uncannily like the original character drawn by head animator Ken Anderson. His face is like a laughing sun, just as one would expect and he is as nimble as the young Indiana Jones in a "Raiders" epic.  The boy is of course raised by a pack of wolves who happen to be terrorized by a hateful tiger (Idris Elba) wanting nothing less than Mowgli's very life.

The boy is sent out into the jungle by the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) in a manner akin to The Buddha. He is forced to survive by his wits, experiencing life along the way.

Once you suspend your disbelief and except Disney's unique sunny anthropomorphism, this new version is a  delight from start to finish. Who can argue with Bill Murray as a lazy bear with a honey fetish? Or the iconic Christopher Walken as the fearsome yet comical giant ape that breaks out in a New York accented song?

The visual sweeps and crashes echo the best adventure epics of George Lucas, yet there is spirit here too. Each part portrays energy and a theatricality in service to the story. The young Sethi carries the film handily alone, yet he also allows the esteemed voice actors enough space to express their roles.

Though a bit of the drama is meant for younger folks as in the line "Don't fight like a wolf, fight like a man!" there is quite enough here for the beastly adults.  For one thing, there are many film referemces.  Walken's ape is very much like Marlon Brando in "Apocalypse Now." There are also echoes of "Shane" not only in the mentor relationship with the lethargic yet wise bear, but in the very existence of the dark and remorseless tiger Shere Khan who bears a striking resemblance to Jack Palance's villain.

More than this interest however, the film is at its best as pure entertainment in its depiction of some 70 different species of animals. The best thing one can say is that "The Jungle Book" is the best of both worlds -- 1967 and 2016. These two animated eras, each with their own charms have now merged together seamlessly, with wonder, to become one.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Bigger Splash (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

A Bigger Splash

If by chance hallucinatory CGI epics are not your bag, here is "A Bigger Splash" by director Luca Guadagnino. This film is riveting and offbeat, pulsing with energy and a jolt of the amoral which is no less authentic.

Tilda Swinton is Marianne Lane, a glam-era rock star with a space age persona reminicent of Bowie. Lane is convalescing from a voice injury with her photographer boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) at an exclusive Sicilian location. Abruptly, the couple gets a surprise phone call that an old friend is coming to town.

Enter Harry (Ralph Fiennes) a gadabout name dropper and engineer who once worked with intimately with Lane and The Rolling Stones. Paul doesn't know what to make of the impromptu visit and is especially suprised to see Harry accompanied by a luxuriant teen named Penelope (Dakota Johnson) and it is at first unclear whether she is a protege, lover or a daughter.

Paul is chagrined.

The narrative is slow, rhythmic and unfolds very much as life itself. Hostile or dyspeptic glances are juxtaposed with plates of disemboweled fish. Swinton's icy makeup and sharp boned face within the ivory white apartment makes her seem like a lone and reclusive parrot fish that has run aground on a comfortable but limiting reef. There are indeed shades of Bowie's alien character here, especially in the sight of Swinton with fire-red hair wearing reflector sunglasses.

But more to the point, the film resembles Rene Clement's haunting and naturalistic film "Purple Noon" in its coupling of poetic imagery with sudden violence. The story is in fact taken from Jacques Deray's "Le Piscine" which featured Alain Delon who also starred in the aforementioned "Purple Noon."

The cinematography which portrays the isle of Pantelleria as a starched calcified desert is first-rate, as is Fiennes' singular, stand-alone performance as the over-sexed engineer and confidante. The actor's performance is just shy of a libidinous and scaly metamorphosis.

This is a tale about melancholia, ego and the passage of time just as it is about pushes and pulls.  For those that might lose patience with muted dinners, long walks and averted glances along rocky inclines, stick it out: "A Bigger Splash" has a punchy tone of Dionysus and dementia that will not disappoint.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Circus Sitter / Paris Notes (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Circus Sitter / Paris notes

Paris is a blank face. It is precisely half of Rene Magritte's green apple, round with glossy edges like a clock of emotion. You can project anything you want onto the city: your wishes and your fears. Sometimes Paris takes the form of a chocolate as dark as the river Seine. Other times it is in the leg of a woman--a lustful metronome. At still others it is in the bodies of lovers kissing thinking fishy thoughts of anchovy and moonlight...

When I roll into Charles De Gaulle I don't know what to expect. Faces confront me, some shielded like wooden blinds. More often, they are open or opaque. The glances belong to people: ladies, children or men on the march. An endless ensemble of limbs making a curious creature---one suited for commerce, work, play or spending money.

Then the sight of a door: DOUANE. The customs police.

A friendly female agent arrives with a face in a half smile centered with ebony stars. Her friendliness edged with efficency and polish. Back and forth, yet endlessly forward, left, right, droit, gauche, rolling and rolling. A crowd of people, expectant and silver, gleaming. 

Hands and teeth holding signs.

Is my hair flaming orange? Am I Bowie...

Then I see the sign: Brockway Gail.

I made the flight and now a taxi is here. Maintenant. Ici. 

The taxi is black and I wonder about crime. What are the chances? Kidnapping, bullets, flak jackets, ransom, Patricia Highsmith and the films of Michael Haneke.

But we are on the road to the apartment.

Green grass and cement, cement and green grass.

The apartment. Ochre, a friendly mushroom. Which way is front and back? Then up twenty steps.
 A man giving my mom the details. The internet, the tv, the kitchen. He says of the Charlie Hebdo attacks that it is life, it only gets to people when it happens to them. He mentions the surrealism of it, then sleep comes like a sandbag over my face before I realize that I am actually physically in Paris France with my puppeteer-made body and this is not a virtual dream.

A park. Des Invalides. A Goth couple with black lipstick that mocks mischief across the face.

A young boy frolics between the thighs of a statue casually laying a finger on the granite pubis. Here are green thatched hedges, a razed uniform, smooth edges and topiary pointing to a maze in "The Shining."

I am present in the Tuilleries Gardens. A round ensemble of people stare into the pools depth.
Crowds of people sitting on grass. Dogs jumping. One girl with an ACDC shirt. 

The Louvre. A giant stone cake of history and intimidation in the middle of everything. A guy tells a group that the statues were beheaded during the revolution. The statues are people as well.

We are met by a female guide. The essence of calm with a maroon hat. She explains that Napoleon promised Josephine pyramids but didn't come though, so I.M Pei made pyramids at the Louvre.

Through a maze of elevators and doors. The Mona Lisa. A rock star painting in glass. Shut away through time and space. A luxuriant star long dead that is still visible. Crushes of people taking iPhone pics two lines thick. I laugh and cry because I think this is what celebrity seems like for people and then merely that I made it here. The snapping of pictures melt with Petr's smile but Da Vinci made it. A star after suffering like Van Gogh.

I look into the salon and feel exactly where Turner stood and this feeling gets me more than Mona.
Winged victory. A beautiful goddess with an invisible head.

The paintings that depict Jesus strike. For once, here is a Jesus of darkness, his legs and torso draped in shadow, his eyes full of a raven's last kiss, the moment of Judas. I cannot read the artist plaque.
Out of the museum. Mom is struck by the guide. She tells me that the guide mentioned that France is not religious regarding Allah but I do not recall Allah mentioned. She hugged us which I liked.

We stop at a cafe. An ice cream sundae with actual curves of cream. Ripples of cool sugar hit me and I think at that moment this is what it felt like to be on a date with LaTrice and to be kissed, more than any dessert, just this instant sensation is what it feels like to have your body in balance, to be on top of the world.

The coffee and caramel is the sun in a glass.

I look down the narrow streets.

The Eiffel Tower sparkles silver but I think of Prince and the idea of following his ghost, a purple Apollinaire.

Woke up and Paris is silver dappled in gold. Have a chocolate croissant. 

Mom and Petr said to bundle up but it is not cold.

When my feet hit my chair, my eye confronts a row of police cars lined up like profiteroles with a ribbon of blue on the side door creating hostile appetites.

The men's faces are blank.

In the distance, a few youths are waving flags, a red figure and a blue in the style of keith haring, action figures ready to jump.

A protest, but to what cause?

I did not plan it, but find I am on course to the military museum to see Napoleon's tomb.
There is a line of tourists and two machine gun guards with faces as hard and metal as the guns they carry. I am inches close to the gun which is to me like a closed beast ready to scream.

I am nervous.

A voice on a megaphone but the sounds are narcotic and muffled.

A crowd builds. If there were protesters, what did they want?

I went to the back entrance. Two officers are putting on face-shields and armor. A foot away, a cafe lunch proceeds as if it were summer.

Two older folks watch, equally puzzled and curious.

A tank stands in my path under an arch as part of an exhibit resembling an exotic reptile from a primitive planet, covered in bumps.

I love the tank as it reminds me of my dad when he said that he was part of the tank battalion. Here is strength and might! If only for a moment...

As I move away from my beloved tank, and into the open, I think of Passolini's "120 days of Sodom," those Nazis and life's imitation of art. 

Surely a scene was filmed here.

Again my eye is usurped by the line of profiterole police trucks.

Are threats occurring?

Now, the Musée d'Orsay..

A cheerful young girl gives us the run down. There is an ad for the visual work of Guillaume Apollinaire and I ask, but the older woman does not understand. Went through a maze of corridors.  Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Another rock star painting. No glass. Petr takes pictures of me under every painting that I say I like. I have the constant urge to laugh.

We have a good buttery dinner at a place that is titled in script like Picasso's hand: Pasco. The fish slides on the plate.

I immediately go to the aubergine as it reminds me of my Prince poem and tastes terrific as velvet might or salt. Life itself.

The street is dark and for others might contain the shape of legs.

I think of the white police cars stacked in rows earlier, angry milk bottles poised for a fight.

Just as the night is inevitable, so is conflict.

Pere La-chaise cemetery. The stones like a wrinkled face. Bump bump bump bump bumpbump bump bumpbumpbump bump. Huffing, puffing up a cobbled hill. Incredible heights up. My wheels marking distance little more than a child's pin-wheel at the beach.

After twenty minutes, Jim Morrison's home. A grave, medium sized. Small for the big man of rock. Its face heaped casually with beads and its entrance lined with stuck gum and locks. Sugar and iron: the intimacy of fan hearts. The sound of "Light My Fire" comes from within the stone and the cement itself seemingly glowing with a pale green light.

Petr lifts me up over seven others and I kiss him. I am excited but the grave seems sad and I feel a hurrying up sensation in my chest that begins when I cry.

Then it is gone.

The grave of Oscar Wilde. A beautiful rest. Art Deco and ornate, yet simple. After decades of wanting to see it. And Eureka!

I'm shocked to see it under glass like Mona  Lisa.

A chatty woman comes upon us:

"Thank you for saying Hello in French. Thank you for saying Hello. You must go to see the trees and flowers here. Very important."

Then after much bumping and a little fear, a man helps us find Apollinaire, whose spirit I feel.

A man tells us that Guilluame's girlfriend Marie Laurencin wanted to be buried with him.

We find the grave: a terrific stone crowned with what looks like a rough penis.

He made his mark.

I feel closed in by ravens and trees. I think this is where I'll end up, hemmed in by clouds and brick. 
All my thoughts overlap upon others. Ravens. Trees. Napoleon. Apollinaire. Blood. Dominatrices. Torn flesh. The pull of orgasm.

Across town to Montmartre. A while in time. Crowds of people. Cars. Noise. Headless colors and dirt. Mom is scared, says this is like Houston Street. Square buildings. Graffitti. Mouths with grimaces of steam.

Sacré-Cœur. The Taj Mahal, India. More cobblestones. Out into the air. The view: blue sky and little white buildings, squares of ice cream. The city.

I'm wheezing. How am I going to die? I am propelled behind some business men in dark suits.

Multiple scary rockings around the corner and then the choas of tourists and people, the endeavor of making money. 

Who was once here? Lautrec? Dali? Does it matter? 

I can't think clearly. 

We ask several people about Dali. Most don't know. Then we see it: a squat gray hut that looks like a clamshell with a dark space within.


No access.
I submit, accept and give up. Thirty steps. Petr carries me. It is a vault, the catacombs. Darkness, then the white light of what seems 30 of Dali works to go with the 30 steps. Red and purple paint on paper. Don Quixote. A sculpture of gold and ego. The gallery guard gives no sign of greeting. 

Up the stairs. 

At the gift shop, the girl is friendly and doesn't know the English word "buttons." I buy two and a shirt with a Dali quote: "I don’t do drugs, I am drugs." Because I truly don't do drugs. Aside from two pieces of a marijuana cookie, each piece being twenty years apart. 

I stop for a coffee and see men with guns yet again. Four of them. 

After the cemetery and Montmartre, tired and buzzy, my bladder full of rubber bands, tight and hot. Almost uncomfortable. I try to think of sex, but cannot.

An unknown cafe for dinner. A bloody red on red chaimburger, surprising and good and disco house music in the air, which feels fun in its rattle of drums and metal rather than threatening.

The sidewalk has my initials written in red next to the military museum IAB, so I know it’s going to be all right.

I have come to Paris to see machine guns like rotten teeth.

So far, we have made it.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Friday, May 20, 2016

Week of May 20 - 26 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview
Tropic Cinema Promises to Keep You Occupied.
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You can’t complain about not having plenty of movies to see in Key West. The Tropic by itself can keep you occupied -- seven films filling its screens this week.

The title of “The Meddler” gives you the plot. Susan Sarandon is a widowed mom who moves to LA to be near her screenwriter daughter. But mom proves to be too much of a good thing -- the texts, the unexpected visits, the … well, meddling. But this familiar story has a nice ending. St. Louis Post-Dispatch tells us, “Much like its main character, ‘The Meddler’ exudes an irresistible charm.” Tulsa World opines, “It’s Sarandon's best role, and her most complete performance, in years.” And Charlotte Observer notes, “We know where we’re going, but the Oscar-winning actors take us there with ease and charm.”

“Sing Street” is a happy musical about an Irish boy who starts a band to impress a girl. This is from John Carney, the director who gave us “Once.” Detroit News says, “As a testament to the power of music, the bond of brotherhood and the boundless possibilities of youth, ‘Sing Street’ just plain works.” And Sun Online advises us to “love the film, buy the soundtrack, paint your nails, put some blusher on and fall in love for the first time, again.”

“Papa Hemingway in Cuba” is particularly of interest here in the town where Hemingway made his home for so many years. But this movie is about his home after this one, in Cuba. What’s more, this movie was filmed inside Finca Vigia, Papa’s actual home in San Francisco de Paula. Rolling Stone says, “As the first U.S. film shot in Cuba since Castro came to power in 1959, Papa gives us sights to revel in.” And Chicago Sun-Times adds, “A film that is beautiful to look at but lacks clear vision.”

“The Man Who Knew Infinity” is the true-life story about a young Indian who had a genius for numbers. Dav Patel plays the savant and Jeremy Irons is the British mathematician who discovered him. Spirituality and Practice describes it as “A heartening drama about a slow-blooming friendship between two brilliant mathematicians.” And SSG Syndicate says it “engages the heart as well as the mind....”

“Dough” does Alice B. Toklas’s brownies one better -- a kosher baker’s bread becomes very popular after his assistant drops a stash of marijuana into the dough. San Diego Reader calls it “A culture-clash comedy at once so-bad-it’s-good and so-good-it’s-bad that it kept me laughing throughout.” And Philadelphia Inquirer says the comedy’s “formulaic structure is made up for by the dynamic chemistry between its leads. Jonathan Pryce and Jerome Holder play off each other with all the bluster and awkwardness of a real-life father and son.”

“The Boss” is another Melissa McCarthy comedy, this one about an obnoxious boss who tries to rebuild her image after getting out of jail for stock manipulation. Yes, you’re supposed to think: Martha Stewart. 3AW observes, “Hot on the heels of ‘Spy,’ Melissa McCarthy strikes while her iron’s hot with another pleasing lark, this one featuring one of her more daring performances ... It’s pretty impressive.” And Sensacine calls it “a rowdy comedy … committed to physical humor.”

Gory, yes. However, “Green Room” is a horror film that transcends its genre. Patrick Steward plays a club owner in Oregon who tries to kill off a punk rock band that witnesses a murder. Sunday Independent declares, “The body-count is high, but getting there is devilish fun.” And ABC Radio concludes that it “joins the canon of ‘under siege’ movies ... not with louder bangs, scarier invaders or more bloodshed but with originality, wit and subversion.”

Lots of choices, lots of movies you’ll want to see!


Sing Street (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Sing Street” Is Musical Romance Set on Synge Street
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Have you ever tried to impress a girl? You know, like when you were in your teens. Strange creatures, those young females. Certainly more worldly than us awkward, pimply faced boys. At that age we’re attracted to, but frightened by, members of the opposite sex at the same time.

In “Sing Street,” that’s the situation a young Irish lad faces. As director John Carney describes the plot, “It’s about a boy starting a band in order to impress a girl.” Carney swears it’s semiautobiographical.

“Sing Street” is currently making music at Tropic Cinema.

So how does Carney tell his story? Our boy -- let’s call him Conor Lalor -- lives in Dublin. Because of tight finances, his folks transfer him from a fancy school to a free state-school located on Synge Street. (Okay, now you get the film’s title … with the reminder this is a musical.) Conor doesn’t fit in too well: he gets off to a bad start with the school principal, has a run-in with a bully, and meets the girl of his puerile dreams.

What to do? Try to impress the girl, of course. By bragging about your non-existent band.

Maybe she’d like to appear in your music video? Oh, she does. Then you’d better organize a band fast.

Fortunately, Conor has a couple of guys who are willing to be in a band. And they have some musical instruments. And his brother gives him some good advice about originality. And the girl gives him a nickname: Cosmo. Next thing he knows, he’s cool.

For “Sing Street,” John Carney cast a bunch of unknowns: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo takes on the role of Conor/Cosmo, even launching a real-life musical career on the shirttails of this movie. Mark McKenna and Ben Carolan are his musical mates. And Lucy Boynton is the girl.

Maybe art imitates life. Maybe John Carney’s brother did give him some good advice when he was a teenager trying to impress a girl with a band. At any rate, the film carries an appreciative dedication: “For brothers everywhere.”


The Man Who Knew Infinity (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Man Who Knew Infinity” Is About Genius -- And Friendship
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

IQ is now thought to be only moderately useful as a gauge of potential. But some people are simply smarter than others. Those who have a genius-level IQ are about one in 400. But true geniuses -- people with amazing mental abilities -- amount to less than 1,000,000 people worldwide.

“The Man Who Knew Infinity” is a biopic about such a genius. It’s currently playing at Tropic Cinema.

The yes-it’s-true story: Although he had almost no training in mathematics, Indian-born Srinivasa Ramanujan proved to be a genius at mathematical analysis, number theory, continued fractions, and infinity series. He discovered many new theorems, compiling a massive 3,900 results. The masters at Cambridge barely knew what to make of him. Fortunately, a professor named G.H. Hardy did.

When the Cambridge dons challenged this young savant’s work  (“There’s no proofs … we’re just supposed to take him at his word?”), Hardy tartly replied, “No, you’re to take him at mine.”

Dav Patel -- today’s favorite go-to Indian guy for a movie -- stars as Srinivasa Ramanujan. You’ll remember Patel from “Slumdog Millionaire,” as well as “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and its sequel. Also from his turn in Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant TV miniseries, “The Newsroom.”

Jeremy Irons -- moviedom’s on-call guy for stiff-upper-lip roles -- co-stars as Godfrey Harold (“G. H.”) Hardy FRS. You’ll recall Irons’s fine performances in “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” “The House of the Spirits,” and “Reversal of Fortune,” which won him an Academy Award. And his TV roles in “Brideshead Revisited,” Elizabeth I,” and “The Borgias.” You may also recognize his voice as that of Scar in Disney’s “The Lion King.”

Although moviegoers may be expecting something along the lines of those warped genius films (like “A Beautiful Mind” or “The Imitation Game”), “The Man Who Knew Infinity” is actually more of a buddy movie: The poor kid from Madras, India, taken under the wing by the uppercrust Brit who belonged to the Cambridge Apostles, an elite, intellectual secret society.

“An Unlikely Friendship,” the movie trailer heralds.

Almost immediately Hardy recognized Ramanujan’s untutored brilliance and championed him. The two became close collaborators. When asked about the greatest achievement of his career, Hardy cited the discovery of Ramanujan. He described their collaboration as “the one romantic incident in my life.”


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Week of May 13 - 19 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview
Eight Films Fill Four Screens at Tropic Cinema
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The Tropic amazes with the number of films it can squeeze on its four screens -- this week eight. That means lots of movies, three of them new to Key West cinephiles.

One of the new films, “The Man Who Knew Infinity” is a biopic about Srinivasa Ramanujan, an autodidactic Indian man who amazed the professors at Cambridge with his mathematical abilities. If you’re going to do a movie about a young Indian, who better to star than Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”)? Ft. Worth Star-Telegram summarizes it as “an incredible true story about an impoverished Indian man whose Jedi math skills helped him triumph over race, class and bad food in early 20th century England.” And Rip It Up elaborates, “This is all about Patel’s characterization, and while this London-born actor has been excellent before, here his measured, restrained playing holds the film together, and we wind up adoring this extraordinary man who really went to infinity -- and beyond.”

In “Louder Than Bombs” a father has conflicting memories with his two sons about their late mother, a noted war photographer. Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid play the sons; Gabriel Bryne, the father. But Isabelle Huppert is the focus of the film, her wartime story told in flashbacks. Minneapolis Star Tribune finds it to be “a note-perfect exploration of death and life and loss.” And New York Observer adds, “There are moments of almost unspeakable beauty in the film, not the least of which are Isabelle’s war zone photographs.”

“Sing Street” is a musical comedy about a boy who starts a band to impress a girl. Isn’t that how most bands come about? RTE Interactive pegs it as “a truly touching tribute to teenhood and that time when you didn’t know what you didn’t know.” And Sacramento News & Review calls it “great fun, with a terrific euro-grunge soundtrack.”

“Papa Hemingway in Cuba” gives us Adrian Sparks as the great writer, Joely Richardson as his wife Mary, and Giovanni Ribisi as the young writer telling the story of Hemingway’s declining years at Finca Vigia. Rolling Stone observes, “The first U.S. film shot in Cuba since Castro came to power in 1959, ‘Papa’ gives us sights to revel in.” And San Diego Reader says, “In the end, it’s a museum piece…”
Another true story, “Elvis & Nixon” chronicles the comic meeting between the King and the President. Michael Shannon has all the moves down pat as Elvis Presley and Kevin Spacey channels Richard M. Nixon like a pro. Chicago Reader notes, “The spectacle of Presley visiting Nixon’s buttoned-down White House in his jeweled sunglasses, silk scarf, open shirt, and giant gold belt is inherently farcical…” And Vanity Fair calls it “a bright snapshot, a toothless but amiable comedy anchored by two chunky bits of acting.”

“A Hologram for a King” proves Tom Hanks can play any role without effort. Here he’s an American businessman trying to do a deal with the Saudis. Christian Science Monitor describes it as “a sweet, deliberately meandering movie …” And CinemaBlend.com sees it as “always pleasant, occasionally funny, surprisingly touching, and yet another reason to worship Tom Hanks.”

In the “The Boss,” funny girl Melissa McCarthy plays a Martha Stewart-like tycoon who goes to prison for stock manipulation, then tries to rebuild her reputation. Easier said than done when you’re obnoxious. Crikey sums it up, “‘The Boss’ is a cynical, obscenity-dipped comedy about how the American Dream can be imagined, won, lost and won again…” And 4:3 calls it, “a smug, tacky and indefensible cavalcade of free-market conservative values dressed up in innocent buffoonery …”

“Green Room” will give you nightmares. This horror flick graphically shows a punk rock band (Anton Yelchin and others) under attack by a club owner (Patrick Stewart) and his skinhead henchmen. The Atlantic says, “Scrape off the scum, and you’ll find ‘Green Room’ full of visual artistry, dark humor, smart writing, and glints of humanity.” And Globe and Mail concludes, “It’s a delightfully cruel work of high tension, perfect in just how quickly and easily it gets under your skin.”

Eight films -- count ‘em. Lots of movies to see this week.


The Boss (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Boss” Is No Boss Lady
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Remember when Martha Stewart got sent to prison? A high-powered female executive behind bars for insider trading. Well, that’s the cribbed concept behind this new Melissa McCarthy comedy.

“The Boss” is doing time at Tropic Cinema.

This is the fanciful-but-familiar story of Michelle Darnell (McCarthy), the power-crazy 47th wealthiest woman in the world. You’ll cheer when this obnoxious character gets her comeuppance, sent to the slammer for playing fast and loose with her stocks.

After six months in prison, Darnell emerges dead-broke -- she, the successful entrepreneur!

Yes, this is a PR disaster.

So Darnell decides to rebrand herself as “America’s Sweetheart.” One small problem: she’s not.  Prison has not humbled her; she’s still the same old pain in the boardroom. Without the boardroom.

As her big comeback, she tries to exploit a former underling’s (Kristen Bell) daughter’s brownie sales business. But she doesn’t get along with the other mom’s … or kids for that matter.

Problems arise as all the people she’s stepped on in the past are not willing to buy into this new image.

Playwright Wilson Mizner once put it this way: “It pays to be nice to the people you meet on the way up, for they are the same people you meet on the way down.”

A lesson our boss lady has to learn the hard way.

McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone, wrote, directed and co-stars in the movie.

Under Falcone’s tutelage, Melissa McCarthy is developing into a plump Lucille Ball, a comedienne extraordinaire. From her “Mike and Molly” TV show to movies like “Bridesmaids,” “Identity Thief,” and “The Heat,” she’s building a reputation for bawdy, belly-laughing comedy.

You’ll next see her in Paul Feig’s all-female remake of “Ghost Busters.” Oh my, do we want to turn Melissa McCarthy loose with a proton pack and neutrona wand?


Green Room (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Green Room” Runs Red With Blood
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Herschell Gordon Lewis created a new kind of horror film back in 1963 with “Blood Feast.” Originally called a “gore film,” the subgenre eventually settled on the epithet “splatter film” for obvious reasons. But Lewis continues to be known as the Wizard of Gore.

Jeremy Saulnier seems to have picked up that mantle with his new film, “Green Room.” An intelligent but low-budget horror film, it’s currently making a splash (or should we say splatter?) at Tropic Cinema.

Headlined by Patrick Steward (Professor Xavier in the various Marvel superhero blockbusters) and Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the “Star Trek” movies), the plot follows a punk rock band trapped in a green room by a bunch of neo-Nazi skinheads at a club in the backwoods of Oregon. It gets bloody. Lots of people die.

The band known as “It Ain’t Right” (Yelchin et al.) takes a gig at the out-of-the way club owned by Darcy Banker (Stewart). After a bad set that enrages the skinheads, they stumble across a murder in the green room, a girl with a knife in her head. Since Darcy has other nefarious activities going on at the club, he doesn’t want the police to get involved. Wouldn’t it be simpler just to have his henchmen (identified by red lace in their shoes) kill all the witnesses?

No, it turns out.

The band puts up a fight. Blood flows on both sides. We’ll leave the guess-who’s-left-standing outcome for you to see.

“Green Room” reminded me a bit of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s splatter classic, “Two Thousand Maniacs!,” where a handful of tourists stumble across murderous rednecks in an out-of-the-way Southern town.

If Jeremy Saulnier is becoming the new Lewis, does that mean the Pacific Northwest is becoming the new gothic South?


Monday, May 16, 2016

Plastic Man (Rhoades)

Sculptor Jerry Barrish Brings “Plastic Man” To Tropic Cinema
Exclusive interview by Shirrel Rhoades

In the movie “The Graduate,” young Ben gets one word of advice, just one word, from a friend of his father: “Plastics.”

No one whispered that into sculptor Jerry Ross Barrish’s ear. He attributes his growing success as an artist to having a dirty beach. Walking along the water in 1989 he picked up a hunk of thrown-away plastic and got to thinking about how it might fit into a sculpture.

This is known as “found objects” art. Jerry Barrish does with plastic what Stanley Papio did with car bumpers, old bolts, springs, and other pieces of metal. But Barrish likes to convert plastic pipes, plastic jugs, plastic toys, you name it, into whimsical animals and fascinating 3D sketches of people.

People call him “Plastic Man.”

In fact, that’s the title of a documentary about him: “Plastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish.” It will be showing Sunday night at the Tropic Cinema, kind of a codicil to the Papio Kinetic Sculpture & Art Bike Parade that takes place this weekend.

Jerry Barrish will be on hand to introduce the film and answer questions afterward.

You’ll find Barrish an interesting guy. A big bear of a man, head topped by a shock of white hair, he grew up in a boxing and mob-connected family. “Tough Jews,” as he describes them. His father associated with such questionable characters as Mickey Cohen, Jimmy Hoffa, and Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno.

“I grew up in an artistic void,” he says. “I was more of a jock.” But at ten or eleven he went on a field trip to the Museum of Art in San Francisco and, as he describes the experience, “I was blown away.”

At 77, he considers himself in the middle of his career as an artist, long after his old friends have retired. But, then, Barrish has already had two other careers.

Fresh out of the army, he became a bail bondsman. But being more liberal than many of his colleagues in the business, he put up bail for numerous Sixties activists and protesters -- Eldridge Cleaver, Mario Savio, Huey Newton, and Dennis Banks among his clients. Once he guaranteed bail for 865 people arrested in a sit-in, the largest mass arrest for civil liberties in the United States.

Then he decided to become an artist. He even enrolled in San Francisco Art Institute. But he only lasted through one class before switching his major to filmmaking. Over the next 15 years he wrote and directed three feature films, won a lot of awards, even appeared in Wim Wender’s “Wings of Desire” as an American filmmaker directing Peter Falk.

But one day Barrish went walking on the beach in front of his Pacifica, California, home and came across a piece of discarded plastic. That changed everything.

“At first I thought I’d make a plastic Christmas tree,” he remembers. “Then as I looked at the piece I began to see something else. It spoke to me.”

He works out of a huge 3,000-square-foot studio in San Francisco, a warehouse that holds barrels of plastic scraps, shelves of plastic objects, bins of plastic balls. The workspace itself is small, little more than a large table. One room is like a gallery, displaying over 1,000 sculptures -- imaginative images of birds, dogs, ballerinas, musicians, boxers, men in top hats, even Don Quixote on a horse.

“These works often evolve. Some take over ten years. Don Quixote, for instance. It started out as just a horse. When I came across the right material, it became a rider on a horse. Then I found the perfect ‘hat’ and it became Don Quixote. Like magic.”

He works every day in his studio. Busloads of people stop by for studio visits. “I love watching them running around studio, the look on their face as they view the different pieces.

“Men perceive my work different than women do,” he observes. “Men see humor and whimsy in my work. Women see pathos and sadness.”

But the constant denominator is both asking, “How do you get this movement? How do you create such life with this material?”

It’s intuitive, he says.

California has a long history of artists working with found materials. Mostly rusty metal, weathered wood. What sets Barrish apart from other artists is his medium: plastic. “It makes me unique, but also it hurts my career. Galleries are always saying they want me to work in bronze. But I like plastic. It calls to me.”

He tries to explain. “Michelangelo said the rocks speak to him; well, this plastic stuff spoke to me. I started seeing images in the material I was picking up. I think I’m very fortunate. I found my voice through this plastic.”

Armed with rubber mallet, glue gun, and handsaw, he fashions works of art from detritus and refuse. “This work could not have been made fifty years ago,” he points out. “Plastic is constantly evolving. There are different materials today. And what people throw away is constantly changing -- vacuum cleaners, plumbing, automobile parts.”

He goes scavenging weekly, walking the beaches (“They’re much cleaner today”), picking stuff up along the highway, visiting recycling centers. “It’s ritualistic,” he says.

Despite his own filmmaking background, this documentary came about on its own. Janis Plotkin, programmer for Mill Valley Film Festival, was a collector of Barrish’s work. German filmmaker Ilona Ziok saw the pieces at her home, and hired William Farley (“Of Men and Angels”) to shoot a sample reel, envisioning a documentary. However, the footage got shelved at her production company for about 5 years. “It just sat there,” shrugs Barrish. “Just shots of talking heads, it didn’t have a story.”

Then Janis Plotkin, who had dreams about being a film producer, decided to take over the project with Farley as director.  The story emerged as Barrish applied for a commission to do a major public sculpture. Would he succeed, or be overlooked because of his use of organic polymers as a medium?

“Plastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish” traces his career, his struggles to get his art recognized. Last month the film won the audience award for Best Documentary at the Pittsburgh Jewish Film Festival.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sing Street (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Sing Street

From director John Carney, who is well known for his films relating to music (Once, Begin Again), here is "Sing Street," a warm and colorful portrait of a teen band in Ireland that makes music not to make money, but simply for expression.

Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a teen living in Dublin in 1985. He is mercilessly bullied by the pale, blank-faced Barry (Ian Kenny) and a feverish priest Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley). His parents are on the edge of divorce. Conor turns to music now and then for  solace.

 One day he is spellbound by the sight of Raphina (Lucy Boynton) a nonchalant loner who wears florid makeup and a hat in the style of Boy George. Then Conor meets Darren (Ben Carolan) who tells him that Raphina has a boyfriend and the only way to get her eye is to have a band.

What could easily have been a glam version of TV's "The Wonder Years" in other hands is instead pulsing, fresh and irrepressible in its very innocence.  Connor and Darren go door-to-door to recruit band members. Two youngsters just show up because they saw the ad. One plays keyboards on a whim, while another can play every instrument. All of the kids are quirky and good natured and though the film is a cousin to "The Commitments," ultimately it is closer to "The Blues Brothers," especially in the episodes that form the band.

Struck by Duran Duran's music videos, Conor has long hair and dresses like Andy Taylor. A few weeks later he hears the moody goth notes of The Cure and mimics the persona of frontman Robert Smith.  Usually however, Conor puts on makeup much to the chagrin of his Catholic school, and models himself after MTV rocker Adam Ant.
It is at these moments where the film is almost a tribute to Pink Floyd's "The Wall." The harsh headmaster / priest is beside himself in rage over the sight of the boy's eyeshadow and lipstick while bricks stand in vain against the those who gambol along the rain-colored streets like wild birds, streaked by new expressions.

Baxter falls just short of using a sausage grinder against this young one and the savage nostalgia of Roald Dahl's school-scares are in evidence too. For the most part though, spirit saves the day and the band produces a series of nonsensical and homemade music videos, as cheering as they are bouyant, very like the film itself. Carney has the ability to keep us riveted, although this is a frequently used genre.

Brendan (Jack Rayner) is the brother that we see as a sloth, yet he inspires Conor to take the initiative in both music and life.

"Sing Street" is an affectionate testament to the once potent power of the music video and the creativity it had for those open to its neon teasings. Last but not least, the phantoms of David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Prince (though not mentioned outright) are not far from the mind. Without these three androgenous creators, the musicians depicted here would merely be wearing Christmas lights instead of flashing ahead to a fluid and accessible future.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com