Saturday, August 27, 2016

Indignation (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


James Schamus (writer of The Ice Storm) directs a tense and mysterious adaptation of Phillip Roth's novel Indignation  in a debut film of the same name. The film is visceral, punchy, haunting and full of inky gloom. In depicting the smarmy imposition of control within the glossy and abundant era of the 1950's, "Indignation" echoes the Nicholas Ray classic "Rebel Without a Cause."

In the era of the Korean War, Marcus (Logan Lerman) is going off to study at Winesburg College. The young man is a bookworm and nothing gets in his way. By chance, he meets an enigmatic blonde Olivia (Sarah Gadon). Needless to say, he is hooked.

Despite his newfound desire, life at college becomes constricting. A fraternity house pressures him. Flosser (Ben Rosenfield) a verbose and theatrical roommate is unbearable while another seethes with violent envy. To complicate matters, Marcus's father grows increasingly manic and controlling.

One day, after a room change, the young student gets summoned to the dean's office.  Dean Caudwell (excellently portrayed by the playwright Tracy Letts) needles him mercilessly, despite a perfect academic record, about his lack of religious practice and his social life. Marcus is sweaty but steadfast; he believes in the writings of the free thinker Bertrand Russell.

Then he collapses and is taken to the hospital. Olivia enters like Madeleine in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." The young girl is a dreamy and voluptuous vision and she promptly gives him pleasure under the sheets.

Marcus's mother (Linda Emond) is none too pleased with Olivia and tells him so. He must promise her never to see the wayward girl again. The apprehension builds slowly to the film's credit as we see Marcus's optimism slowly erode to fear and an uncomprehending worry under the strain.

Lerman is terrific, as is Gadon who smolders with anarchistic sensuality. Like Kim Novak before her, Sarah Gadon's tosses and spills of hair and flesh are under restraint, but just so. To conformist eyes, Olivia is the girl next door. Yet, she alone turns Marcus into a momentary voyeur ala James Stewart's 'Scottie' in the Hitchcock tradition.

Slowly and with rhythm, a manicured college lawn leads to an ominous cemetery. In "Indignation" a string of apparent incidental circumstances make a noose.

Write Ian at

Friday, August 26, 2016

Week of August 26 to Sept. 1 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

“Indignation” Joins Tropic Lineup

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Five films are being held over this week, giving you another opportunity to see them. And in case you already have seen them all, a new film has been added to the schedule.
The new addition? “Indignation,” a drama based on a Philip Roth novel about a young Jewish man’s socialization at college. Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) becomes infatuated with a beautiful classmate (Sarah Gadon) while clashing with the college’s dean (Tracy Letts). Spirituality and Practice describes it as “a triumph of elegant writing, exquisite acting, and a vibrant spiritual treatment of righteous indignation.” And Tulsa World finds it to be “a literate film for adults to appreciate.”
Also pleasing audiences is “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a biopic about a New York society matron whose singing was undeniably bad. Meryl Streep frumps herself up to portray un-self-aware Jenkins; Hugh Grant is her overly supportive partner; and Simon Helberg accompanies her for a late-in-life performance at Carnegie Hall. New York Observer calls it “a comic lark that packs a satisfying emotional wallop and continues the balls-to-the-wall career victory lap Meryl Streep has been on since turning 60 years old seven years ago ...” And CineXpress calls it “a wonderful and strange period comedy, where Meryl Streep once again raises all material at hand and steals your heart.”
In “Captain Fantastic” a hippie family faces the straight world. Viggo Mortensen takes the title role as the pater familias who prefers an off-the-grid lifestyle. Philadelphia Inquirer tells us “It’s a rare movie that asks such big questions -- about parenting, about family, about modern-day America -- and comes up with answers that are moving and meaningful, that make you laugh and cry.” And Empire Magazine finds it to be “a fiercely original, pleasantly unpredictable character piece.”
“Don’t Think Twice” is stand-up comic Mike Birbiglia’s dramedy about the world of professional comedy. Chicago Reader says, “It has more laughs than any big-studio comedy I’ve seen this year, but it’s dead serious about the difficulty of creating something collectively in a world where everyone's chasing the spotlight.” And Detroit News advises, “Don’t think twice, just see it.”
In “Finding Dory,” a blue tang fish (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) searches for her family. This is, of course, a sequel to that kid’s favorite, “Finding Nemo.” New Yorker says, “While predictable, it puts an engaging spin on the issues of home and identity.” And PopMatters decrees it to be “one of Pixar’s most delightful offerings to date.”
“Star Trek Beyond” follows Captain James Tiberius Kirk and his Vulcan pal Mr. Spock (Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) on a retro outer-space adventure. Cinemanía observes: “The Enterprise’s humblest journey it’s also the most fun and enjoyable.” And says it’s “a reminder of how good the series can be when all its engines are in working order.”
Six films in all, plenty to see.

Star Trek Beyond (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Star Trek Beyond”
Takes You Back
To Its Beginnings

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

This year is the 50th Anniversary of “Star Trek.” The original television series launched in 1966. Since then there have been five spinoff TV series and 13 films in the “Star Trek” franchise.
Eugene Wesley “Gene” Roddenberry created “Star Trek.” As a tribute, the late producer’s ashes were sent into orbit above the earth on the Challenger. And a crater on the moon has been named after him.
Gene Roddenberry was a WWII fighter pilot (he flew 89 missions), a commercial pilot, and a police officer before he started writing television scripts. His idea for a sci-fi TV series -- pitched as a Western like “Wagon Train,” but set in space -- got turned down by several networks and production companies before NBC reluctantly picked it up. The show almost got canceled after the first season. The third and final season only got made following a letter-writing campaign by fans after the shaky second season.
I wrote a letter back then at the urging of my newspaper editor. He was a big aficionado. So were several journalists I knew. NBC received around 6,000 letters a week petitioning them to renew the series. The network relented.
Good thing for CBS and Paramount Pictures (the current owners). The “Star Trek” franchise (movies, merchandise, etc.) has grossed more than $6 billion thus far.
Designed to squeeze out a few more bucks is “Star Trek Beyond,” the latest film in the series, third in the movie reboot started by J.J. Abrams. He directed the first two, but was only able to produce this one since he’s directing the new “Star Wars” film.
“Star Trek Beyond” is currently pursuing the mission of the Starship Enterprise at the Tropic Cinema.
Directed this time around by Justin Lin (best known for his “Fast & Furious” actioners), and written by Simon Pegg (Scotty in the film) and Doug Jung, “Star Trek Beyond” is intended to hark back to the old television series. As such, it has less CGI awe as the USS Enterprise weaves through far-flung galaxies and lackluster nebulae to beam the crew down onto a planet where they must prove their mettle (i.e. human-ness).
Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto return as Captain James T. Kirk and his Vulcan sidekick Mr. Spock. Also we have Zoe Saldana back as Lt. Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty, and Karl Urban as Bones. John Cho is the now-revealed-to-be gay Sulu (a tip of the hat to openly gay George Takei who used to play the character). And we get the last “Star Trek” appearance of Anton Yelchin as the Russian navigator Chekov (Yelchin died recently in a freak auto accident).
The crew negotiated higher pay for this third film in the rebooted series. And Pine and Quinto have signed on for a fourth film.
This time around, they take on a ruthless alien baddie known as Krall (played by Idris Elba, barely recognizable under his lizard-like make-up). He has a weapon of mass destruction that they must stop.
“Star Trek Beyond” is more character-driven than previous outings. We find Kirk ruminating about his future with the Federation, Spock waffling on his relationship with Uhura, a view of Sulu’s same-sex home life, and such. But what they all need is a new challenge: Like defeating Krall.
Stranded on Krall’s planet in pairs of two, we get to measure the one-on-one interaction of Kirk and his young protégé Chekov, Spock and the egotistic Bones, Uhura and Sulu. And since Simon Pegg wrote the script, Scotty gets a girlfriend in the form of an alien she-warrior named Jaylah (played by Algerian hip-hop dancer Sofia Boutella, exotic in white kabuki-like make-up).
Despite all the blustering and barking, and his myriad of tiny warships, Krall is no match for Kirk and his crew in the end. No spoiler alert needed, for you know the outcome going into the theater. Just like “Wagon Train,” this outer-space Western will continue its adventures with another episode. Abrams has confirmed there will be a fourth film in his “trilogy.”
J.J. Abrams may be today’s hero behind the bridge of the USS Enterprise, but let’s not forget Gene Roddenberry, the creator.
Thanks to “Star Trek,” Roddenberry became the first TV writer to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. So you might say he will forever remain among the stars.

Finding Dory (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Finding Dory”
Baits a Hook

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios always seems to be losing things. They left Wall-E behind on a junkyard planet. Tossed out Woody and Buzz Lightyear in “Toy Story.” Had to go looking for a missing fish “Finding Nemo.”
Now it’s “Finding Dory.”
As you’ll recall, in “Finding Nemo” a young clownfish named Nemo gets captured by scuba divers and winds up in a fish tank in a dentist’s office in Sydney, Australia. So Nemo’s dad sets out with a tang fish named Dory to find the missing youngster.
They do.
Now in this sequel -- “Finding Dory” -- Nemo and many of the fish from the first movie return. You’ve heard that old myth about goldfish only being able to remember things for three second … well, Dory has the same short-term-memory problem. But in a flashback she remembers something about a place in California. So with the help of Nemo and his dad, Dory sets out to find her family.
Familiar voices from “Finding Nemo” are back again in “Finding Dory.” Ellen DeGeneres reprises her role as Dory. And Albert Brookes again gives us Marlin, Nemo’s grumpy dad. This time around Hayden Rolence voices Nemo.
Also adding to the fun are the voices of Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Ed O’Neill, Bill Hader, and Kate McKinnon. Sigourney Weaver plays herself.
This new 3D computer-animated comedy -- “Finding Dory” -- is currently testing the currents at the Tropic Cinema.

Credit director Andrew Stanton as the brains behind both films.
My theory is that Pixar didn’t really lose Nemo or Dory. I think they’ve just baited the hook to get you and your kids back in a movie theater.

Indignation (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Indignation” Offers
Helping of Jewish Guilt

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

It is his twenty-ninth book, Philip Roth once again deals with a nice Jewish boy’s guilt over sex.
“My fiction is about people in trouble,” says the 83-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner.
“Indignation” follows that pattern of trouble, telling the story of “a high-strung, standoffish Jewish bookworm” facing his freshman year at Winesburg College.
Despite warnings about “Roth’s Hollywood track record,” producer Scott Rudin bought the film rights to “Indignation” prior to its publication. And first-time director James Schamus has given us his version of the story.
“Indignation” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Here we meet Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a student clashing with the dean of men (Tracy Letts) over the requirement to attend chapel. As the boy explains, “I don’t prefer to practice one religion over another.” That is to say, he’s an atheist. He even quotes from Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not a Christian” essay to prove it.
The dean pries into the boy’s social life, eliciting the fact that Marcus has gone on only one date. But what a date it was for this sexually inexperienced butcher’s son from New Jersey. Pretty but fragile Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) has bestowed a gift that leaves him confused. And then she gifts him again when visiting him in the hospital where he’s recovering from an appendectomy.
But Philip Roth doesn’t believe that life gives us happy endings. Spoiler alert (the book was published eight years ago, so you’ve had enough time to know this): Marcus gets kicked out of school, drafted, and killed in combat in Korea. Matter of fact, he’s dead even before Roth (or Schamus) started telling us this story.
God’s punishment? Can’t be if Marcus was an atheist, right?
James Wolcott in his review of the book in The New Republic dubbed it “The Fatal Handjob.” As Wolcott summed it up, “Consciousness survives the fall through death’s trapdoor, leaving Marcus suspended in hazy eternity to contemplate and rue what went wrong with his life.”
That is to say, Philip Roth knows how to dish out kosher helpings of Jewish guilt. And nothing makes the celebrated author feel more guilty than undeserved sex.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Captain Fantastic (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Captain Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen stars as a radical father of six kids in director Matt Ross's heartfelt coming of age story "Captain Fantastic."

Ben Cash (Mortensen) is raising his six kids off the radar, away from civilization. They hunt wild game for sustenance and grow their own food. The kids are held to a rigid schedule of classic literature, philosophy and music. They do not watch TV or use smartphones and they are tested every week.

The film starts off with a bang when a deer  is stabbed in the woods by the older teen Bodevan (George MacKay). Ben rips out the deer's heart, takes a bite and paints the boy's nose with its blood. It is a riveting and tense moment, reminicent  of "Lord  of the Flies."

Then we see the family dwelling with rows of fruits, vegetables and brightly colored canned goods. The younger kids are clad in animal skins complete with a fox headpiece and they are just as comfortable shouting at the moon as dancing by the fire. At such moments the film recalls a naturalistic "Peter Pan" as much as anything else. These moments are striking with power and haunt.

Ben cares for his kids while the mother is in the hospital battling serious clinical depression. This premise of an uncompromising father with several kids is emotionally laden and generates apprehensive. Mortensen carries it very well. He is no irresponsible dad, freak or crackpot but a genuine person of charisma, skin and bones.

It is only the trappings of the plot that put the film slightly off center, veering it into the border of camp and melodrama. During a church scene why put Ben in a loud flaming red coat? Up until this point, Ben was subtle, a man of the earth. Why make his role look like a clown?

The story would be better served without this over the top flair.  Clownish too is Bodevan proposing marriage on one knee after one nervous french kiss. Home-schooled or not, I doubt the father would leave his oldest so clueless in the ways of the flesh.

There is the conservative father in law (Frank Langella) who threatens custody of Ben's Lost Boys and two daughters. While no ogre or villain, we know little of this man or the relationship with his idealistic daughter.

Despite a bit of Hollywood formula, there are some fine touches. In one scene the kids are shown a video game. Bodevan's face is a mask of anguish right out of Edvard Munch. And one must give great credit to Mortensen who steers the film to force and clarity. The kids as well, acting in ensemble, are a delight.

Where the film shines most, however, is in its rich cinematography by Stéphane Fontaine (A Prophet) highlighting the feral, prickly and mountainous heavens of Nature, coupled with the bland artificial neons of Walmarts and convenience stores.

Although it falls too predictability in passages, "Captain Fantastic" has energy and spirit, primarily due to Viggo Mortensen in a newly flexible and refreshing role.

Write Ian at

Monday, August 22, 2016

Finding Dory (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Finding Dory

The cuties of the sea are back in Pixar's "Finding Dory," a sequel to the earlier "Finding Nemo" directed again by Andrew Stanton. Salty sequels, from pirate epics to animated classics are often diluted with formulaic solution. Thankfully this is another very entertaining time in the ocean.

Here we see Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) with her regal blue tang parents Charlie and Jenny, voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton respectively. During a game of hide and seek, Dory becomes distracted and loses sight of her parents. Leagues of ocean seem to separate them. As Dory has short-term memory loss, she blames herself and fears the worst.

The characters once more showcase a maritime medley of mirth. Best among them is Ed O Neil as a curmudgeonly seven-armed octopus. There is also one bubbly whale shark (Kaitlin Olsen) and a beluga whale (Ty Burrell). Though these creatures are inky creations out of Disney's bottomless aquarium, they could very well be human and this is a testament to the story, which is first-rate.

Strikingly, this is a mature and holistic statement on our development, our struggles and what it is to be human, period. One look at Dory's conflicted and tortured face brings home the reality that we all have obstacles, crisis and even disabilities that we may not have control over but nevertheless must still accept and harness. This is heavy stuff for an animated film and may just turn on the human waterworks for a few moments, no matter the age of the audience.

Despite this anemone-shaded angst, the story is joyful and freely associative much the way our minds work when young. As "Inside Out" demonstrated so skillfully, this film shows that the less secure aspects of ourselves are not to be hidden but rather to be brought forth as tools, however strange or ambiguous.

"Finding Dory" is not just a fishy psychadelic diversion in immersive 3-D but a heartfelt meditation of what it means to love and care for someone, whether one happens to be a human or a halibut.

Write Ian at

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Star Trek Beyond (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Star Trek Beyond

The gang is here yet again where "no man has gone before," this time helmed by Justin Lin of the "Fast and Furious" films.  Some will undoutably say there is nothing new between the stars in "Star Trek Beyond" as Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the starship Enterprise battle against interstellar baddies. Yet this film greatly benefits from a screenplay by comedian Simon Pegg (Scotty) and the swift directing style of Lin.

Needless to say, the daring and handsome Tiberius Kirk is aboard and receives a distress call from an extra-terrestrial Kalara (Lydia Wilson) that her ship is in trouble. The Enterprise is instantly attacked without mercy. The confrontation puts Kirk in a sweaty reptilian struggle with the vengeful dictator Krall (Idris Elba) who is consumed by hate and lusts for a magic relic, the Abronath, which apparently can do everything in the universe.

While the story is your conventional good versus evil space opera, the narrative moves along with enough quickness and campy humor to keep one going.  Zachary Quinto's timing is excellent in his portrayal of a deadpan Spock and he shares a fun chemistry with Dr. Bones McCoy (Karl Urban). Fans will no doubt recognize the same jokes about the unemotive Vulcans but that is the fun of it.

The entrancing dancer Sofia Boutella steals the film with her authentic portrayal of an alien under duress, not to mention her combat moves. Her black and white makeup alone would put pop artist Keith Haring to shame.

One can agree that this is yet another federation mission of course, but the jokes are delivered with such time honored affection, free play and kitsch that the film deserves credit for not bogging down the story or harping on melodrama. The combat scenes are amusing and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Spock make an arresting Vulcan & Juliet along the far reaches of space. It is touching to see Uhura look at the bone white and unemotional Spock as a great Casanova with melting amber in her eyes. Star-cross'd lovers indeed.

This is a popcorn flick through and through with such beloved characters that "Star Trek Beyond" charms in spite of its predictability. After all, who can argue with the music of the Beastie Boys aiding with great results in a deep space battle?

Write Ian at

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Don't Think Twice (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Don't Think Twice

The low key, yet pointed, Mike Birbiglia highlights the perils of friendship and fame in the world of television comedy with his film "Don't Think Twice." This heartfelt and human story, more of a drama than a comedy is minimal, honest, and unflinching in detail. In its spirited but melancholy intrigue, the film reaches a tone reminiscent of early Woody Allen. Certain scenes are jabbing and funny. To the film's credit however, a shadow of loss is never far behind.

Comedian Keegan-Michael Key stars as Jack, a longtime improv member who dreams of being a regular on the popular show "Weekend Live" (a barely fictionalized "SNL" program). Jack loves his troupe The Commune, but the unpaid grind is wearing him down. Producers come to see the improv and like it but they overlook him.

Jack vows to be persistent and his co-member girlfriend Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) encourages him. One day, a few from "Weekend Live" see the show and are struck by Jacck. The troupe is extremely close knit, woven into the concrete fabric of New York City itself. An existential guilt comes upon Jack like a noose.

Director Birbiglia co-stars as the improv's founder who lives in a child-sized room and can't seem to catch a break.

The group is predominantly obsessive and superstitious. Though each one of them thinks of notoriety, most would decline, thinking improv a higher calling, while the theater is legendary. In the midst of surreptitious egotism, there are the friendships with the milquetoast Bill (Chris Gethard) a Goth and arty Allison (Kate Miccussi) and a compulsive Lindsay (Tami Sagher).

The film is especially touching in its portrait of a goup wanting to hold on to their highly exclusive art, along with the rare intimacies and rituals of  a community theater. By acting and believing, the troupe performs in defiance of the mainstream.

Keegan-Michael Key, a comedian who is usually over the top and slapstick, is excellent as a good hearted man subtly consumed. This interior film will keep you guessing; it is as much about human nature as it is about free associative hijinks. "Don't Think Twice" packs a punch line that is both wistful and brusque with surprise.

Write Ian at

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Week of August 19-25 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Offers New Slate of Films

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

With all films rolling off the Tropic’s screens but one, we are treated to a nearly clean slate of new movies.
Leading the pack is “Captain Fantastic.” This dramedy introduces an off-the-grid family who returns to everyday society for a funeral. Viggo Mortensen is the dad who wants to protect his kids from the evils of the outside world, but what if he’s trying too hard to protect them? Philadelphia Inquirer describes it as “a rare movie that asks such big questions -- about parenting, about family, about modern-day America -- and comes up with answers that are moving and meaningful, that make you laugh and cry.” And Detroit News calls it, “a warm, humorous, enlightening family drama marked by strong performances ...”
Next up, “Don’t Think Twice” delivers an insider’s look at an improv comedy troupe in Brooklyn -- their hopes, dreams, jealousies -- a new offering from stand-up comic Mike Birbiglia. Rotten Tomatoes said about one of his recent films, “Birbiglia delivers a coherent, nearly one plotted story with digressions, flashbacks, life lessons, etc. Rather than watching a standup routine, imagine you are watching a comedy movie, with Birbiglia as your tour guide. He'll make you laugh …”
“Finding Dory” is Disney’s sequel to “Finding Nemo,” another fish story for the kids. The blue Tang named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is looking for her family. comments, “It's gorgeous. It's lively. It's got terrific performances from a strong voice cast. It's emotionally affecting without being heavy-handed.” And Chesapeake Family Magazine finds it to be “a truly touching film, graceful in its exploration of identity, family, and the way they intersect.”
“Star Trek Beyond” is the latest voyage of the Starship Enterprise, but it’s a story with a retro ‘60s TV feel (but with better CGI). Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto reprise their roles as Captain Kirk and pointy-eared Mr. Spock. observes, “‘Beyond’ is undoubtedly messy, like a Starfleet ship that’s taken its fair share of beatings, but it is frequently a reminder of how good the series can be when all its engines are in working order.” And Quad City Times calls it “an outer-space thrill ride.”
And held over is “Florence Foster Jenkins,” the story of a really bad singer. Meryl Streep portrays the amateur operatic soprano who makes it to Carnegie Hall at age 76, confounding fans and critics alike. The New Yorker notes, “Streep is right there, solidly invested in the folly of Florence’s dreams. When she declares that ‘music has been, and is, my life,’ you believe her.” And Toronto Star sums it up as “enjoyable summer entertainment for grown-ups and anyone else seeking refuge from superheroes.”
Los of new films! Lots of movie fun.

Don't Think Twice (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Improv Comedy
Bares Its Soul in
“Don’t Think Twice”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Mike Birbiglia is a stand-up comedian who broke into films with “Sleepwalk With Me,” a funny story about his anxiety disorder that manifested itself with rapid eye movements and sleepwalking.
Now Birbiglia gets anxious again: His new film “Don’t Think Twice” explores the world of improv comics dealing with success … or lack thereof.
The storyline centers on a group of Brooklyn comedians who call themselves The Commune. Birbiglia plays the group’s teacher, Miles. He watches as, one by one, his students surpass him, scoring gigs with TV shows like Weekend Live (think: Saturday Night Live).
We get to know the whole gang -- Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) and Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), Bill (Chris Gethard), and Allison (Kate Micucci). They’re all a bundles of neuroses and anxieties and secret jealousies.
“Don’t Think Twice” is putting on its act this week at the Tropic Cinema.
Not only does the film introduce us to these would-be comedians, but also it instructs us in the art of improvisation. Birbiglia explains the three rules, the most important being “Yes, and…” This is the actor going along with anything thrown at him or her in order to keep the skit going.
The second rule is, it’s not about you; it’s about the group.
And the third says, don’t think. Don’t let your head hold you back; improv is about impulse. In other words, don’t think twice.
Being that the film is about improvisation, much of the acting didn’t rely on Birbiglia’s script. Nonetheless, noted improv coach Liz Allen says, “Birbiglia has captured the supportive, miserable, ambitious, lost, funny, lovable but sometimes irritating people that we are.”
Will you like “Don’t Think Twice”? Absolutely, if you take a lesson from Birbiglia and just go with the flow.

Captain Fantastic (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Captain Fantastic”
Pits Hippiedom
vs. Straight World

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Some folks I know are homeschooling their kids. I’m not sure whether that’s a good idea or not … but it’s their family decision. I’d worry about the lack of socialization from not sharing a classroom with others. And I’d worry that there’s something I’m not teaching them that a professional educator might.
We encounter that very debate in “Captain Fantastic,” the new Viggo Mortensen movie that’s holding class this week at the Tropic.
A terrific actor, Mortensen usually takes on tough guy roles. The drill sergeant in “G.I. Jane.” The retired assassin in “A History of Violence.” The Russian mobster in “Eastern Promises.”
But here he gives us a New Age dad known to his kids as (you guessed it) Captain Fantastic.
Ben Cash (Mortensen) leads an off-the-grid life with his six children – quaintly named Bodevan, Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja and Nai all happily ensconced in a cabin in the Pacific Northwest, a utopian paradise they’ve named Plato’s Republic. Being a dropout, Ben eschews society as we know it. To prepare his kids for a counterculture existence, he teaches them how to hunt, forage, grow their own food … survive. He calls this home schooling.
When his wife (she’s been in a mental institution) dies, the family has to return to civilization for her funeral and confront her parents (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd) who oppose the lifestyle their grandchildren have been leading.
As it turns out, reintegration with society is not as simple as it sounds. The father-in-law threatens to have Ben arrested. And the kids are totally unprepared for interaction with others their own age.  A diet of Dostoevsky, quantum physics, deer hunting, and Mandarin doesn’t prepare them for a first encounter with Frosted Flakes, smart phones, video games ... and modern girls.
Mortensen shows his acting chops when Ben is forced to reevaluate his choices for his family.
Sophomore writer/director Matt Ross (“28 Hotel Rooms”) packs his film with lots of social commentary, but doesn’t quite take sides. He lets you choose your own viewpoint as the film contrasts hippiedom in the wilds of Oregon with the straight-laced strip-mall suburbia of New Mexico. No matter your personal opinion, you’ll find yourself both laughing and crying. Plus you may find yourself doing a little hard thinking.
In the end, the message of “Captain Fantastic” is: We can be what we choose. It’s our decision.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Florence Foster Jenkins

The iconic Meryl Streep stars in Stephen Frears affectionate biopic "Florence Foster  Jenkins." While Jenkins herself as an amateur opera singer from 1917 onwards was gratingly off key and easy to ridicule, the actual person was irrepressible, spirited and could not be squashed. Despite her ear-splitting auditory offenses, Jenkins became noteworthy for being so awful. David Bowie is said to have greatly admired her blissful ignorance and her record by reportedly saying "Be afraid, be very afraid."

With high-profile fans like Bowie, Barbra Streisand, and Cole Porter, Jenkins became a cult star who is almost a surreal figure and very contemporary. The film focuses on Jenkins' life in 1940s New York. She has her own Verdi social club, appearing in tableaux vivant, most notably as an angel or  a valkyrie. As Jenkins was suspended above the stage, it was no easy feat.

Blayfield (Hugh Grant) is her common-law husband and acting manager, who cares for her but does mind in driving off for an idyll with his mistress Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson) at any moment. Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory) has a great comic outing as the silent and sweating Cosme McMoon,  who accompanies the ill-timed singer on the piano and develops an affectionate respect for her in the process.

Frears does the best with his cast: Grant plays the well meaning cad with a good heart, while Helberg gives his cartoonish role some real feeling, going beyond the sweaty forehead and halting voice. From start to finish, though, it is all Meryl Streep as the corrosive crooner. To her credit, she plays it straight with only a hint of camp. The joke, in the manner of a New Yorker cartoon , is how Jenkins appears in the eyes of others. To herself, Jenkins is only doing what is natural.

The juice of this film is that it highlights the passion for performing (albeit through bad singing) that Jenkins was driven by.

One of the best scenes in the film occurs when a belittled Jean Harlow showgirl  (Nina Arianda) tells the US military crowd to cheer instead of insult.  But the howls of derision are never far behind.

Florence Foster Jenkins (Library of Congress)
Refreshing it is to see the humanity of this woman behind the ridicule. Both Meryl Streep and actor Catherine Frot, from the previous "Marguerite", wonderfully highlight the mischievious joy of Florence Jenkins, along with her existential and somewhat vexing quest to achieve her art.

Even if one is not a fan, Florence Foster Jenkins will not be forgotten. The film is a hoot giving a well rounded, light and thoughtful portrait of this eccentric woman with a lopsided throat.

Write Ian at

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Week of August 12 to August 18 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Count Them on Your Fingers:
A Handful of Fascinating Films at the Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

This week Tropic Cinema confines its screens to five films. That limited number means more showings of each. So there’s no excuse for missing one you want to see.
New this week is “Florence Foster Jenkins,” an amusing true story about a diva who couldn’t carry a tune. Meryl Streep stars as Florence, the amateur operatic soprano who always performed for private audiences until she got invited to sing at Carnegie Hall. Hugh Grant is the Shakespearean actor who shares her life. And Simon Helberg tinkles the keys as her eye-rolling accompanist. Slate observes, “Streep ... makes the character's delusional faith in her own talent so infectious that we ache at the thought of Florence's impending humiliation even as we prepare ourselves to laugh at it.” And Movie Nation posits, “Streep’s latest feats? Playing her first-ever dope, and making Hugh Grant relevant again.”
Woody Allen fans will want to catch “Cafe Society,” a nostalgic trip to the 1930s when a Bronx boy (Jesse Eisenberg) goes to Hollywood hoping to work for his uncle (Steve Carell), but winds up falling in love with his secretary (Kirsten Stewart). Even so, he returns to New York to work with his gangster brother in a nightclub that caters to, well, café society. Spirituality and Practice describes it as “a romantic comedy about the heartbreak of being in love with love.” Sacramento News and Review says, “The stars blossom in Allen’s hands -- Eisenberg may be the best Woody-clone yet, and Stewart has never been anywhere near this interesting before.” And
Want some action? “Jason Bourne” delivers big time. Matt Damon returns for this sequel about a spy with little memory of his past. Impulse Gamer notes, “The fifth entry in the Bourne franchise is comprised of familiar character types, plot points and action beats, but there's an intense, visceral feel that, to my surprise, renews almost all of these elements.” And EntertainmentTell sums it up: “Damon’s an outstanding hero. There’s a superlative supporting cast. The plot is full of intrigue and challenging ideas.”
An animated comedy, “The Secret Life of Pets” follows two pooches (voiced by Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet) as they go off-leash while their owner is away at work. Yes, mischief ensues. calls it “an incredibly simple yet irresistible idea for a movie.” And the Tribune News Service says it “draws on the universal experience of pet ownership to draw out the ‘awww’ in all of us.”
And for the anglophiles, there’s “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.” Based on the British TV show, two middle-aged fashionistas (Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley) go on the lam after supposedly killing supermodel Kate Moss. Drag queens are abundant as they escape to the South of France. Rolling Stone asks, “Is it too much? You bet. But Saunders and Lumley are all about keeping the party going. So grab your Bolly, darlings, and party on.” And The Atlantic demurs: “I won't spoil the movie's ending, but its twist is surprisingly gratifying.”
With five films, it won’t be hard to catch them all.

Teatro Alla Scala (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

You’ll Want to See
(and Hear)
“Teatro Alla Scala”

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

While we regularly report on the feature films found at local venues, we sometimes overlook special events like the Art & Architecture in the Cinema series at the Tropic. Tsk, tsk.
On Sunday you can catch the latest entry, “Teatro Alla Scala: The Temple Of Wonders.”
La Scala (as it’s called for short) is an opera house in Milan, Italy. But the magnificent structure is more than that … it has been called “a marvelous place, where the most glorious pages in the history of music, opera and ballet have been written.”
Most of world’s greatest operatic stars and conductors have appeared at La Scala during the past 200 years. Opened in 1778, La Scala was built on the site of an earlier theater destroyed by fire. Between 2002 and 2004 it underwent a major renovation at a cost of nearly $68 million.
The theatre features over 3,000 seats grouped into 678 stalls, arranged in six tiers above two galleries. The stage is one of the largest in Europe.
La Scala has hosted the prima (first production) of many famous operas.
Directors Silvia Corbetta and Luca Lucini have put together a fascinating film, one that might be viewed as a travelogue confined to one world-famous opera house. The accompanying music is worth the ticket price alone.

Florence Foster Jenkins (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Florence Foster Jenkins”
Wins Over Her Critics

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You do not wish to hear Florence Foster Jenkins sing. That is, unless she’s being portrayed by Meryl Streep in a movie called (you guessed it) “Florence Foster Jenkins.”
That film is currently playing at Tropic Cinema.
Nascina Florence Foster was a very real person, a young piano prodigy who turned to singing after she injured her arm. Dumping her first husband, Dr. Frank Thornton Jenkins, she took up with a British Shakespearean actor named St. Clair Bayfield. Florence paid for singing lessons, joined New York music circles, even used her inheritance to fund her own Verdi Club. Not having the greatest voice, the amateur operatic soprano always performed for private audiences, safe from reviews by music critics. However, at the age of 76, she yielded to public demand and made her one and only public appearance, at Carnegie Hall no less. That meant critics could attend. Uh-oh.
I’ve heard a recording of the real Florence Foster Jenkins singing the “Queen of the Night” aria from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Or maybe it was a recording of a sick cat with hiccups.
But Meryl Streep can play anybody. Even a frumpy middle-aged woman with little sense of pitch. Streep, on the other hand, has demonstrated her own vocal talents in movies ranging from “Mama Mia” to “Ricki and the Flash.”
Hugh Grant steps in as manager/companion St. Clair Bayfield, a more nuanced performance than his usual frazzled rom-com roles.
And Simon Helberg does a nice job as Cosme McMoon, the would-be singer’s accompanist. You’ll recognize him as Howard from TV’s “The Big Bang Theory.”
While the real Florence Foster Jenkins didn’t fare well with the critics, Meryl Streep’s “Florence Foster Jenkins” biopic is doing much better. Rotten Tomatoes, the website that aggregates the opinions of film critics, gives it an enthusiastic 92%.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Cafe Society (Brrockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

 Café Society

For the Woody Allen fans among us, here is "Café Society", a philosophic meditation on romance and pursuit set against Hollywood circa 1930. The film is episodic and colorful with a tone for nostalgia like "Radio Days," where Allen similarly functioned as the narrator.

Our protagonist Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) is a naive young man who wants to explore Hollywood in the hopes of getting a job with the aid of his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), an egotistical talent agent. Phil doesn't really want to help, but Bobby is clueless and Phil wants to get him off his back. Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) Phil's secretary agrees to show the naif around town.

Bobby is instantly smitten. Vonnie seems to be attracted to Bobby, but she admits she is dating someone. Instead of putting on the breaks, the pushy yet somewhat passive Bobby increases his efforts.

This is traditional Allen territory to be sure but the rolling dialogue and lively characters are comic enough to satisfy all. Eisenberg does very well as Allen's inimitable persona (complete with hunched shoulders) while the director himself offers a deadpan voiceover on the joys and perils of love which give the overtly melodramatic episodes a black-laced but bittersweet edge.

There are some fine performances. Jeannie Berlin is terrific as the anxious mother Rose, as is the existential father Leonard (Steven Kunken). Actor Corey Stoll has another good role as Bobby's gangster brother Ben,  which offers a comic tribute to film noir. David Lynch fans would do well to be on the look out for Cheryl Lee (Laura Palmer, Twin Peaks) in a small role.

While there are many traces of other Allen films here from the infidelity of "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" to the cinephile life of "Play it Again, Sam." The buoyant zest and trademark dialogue is well represented and gives this film a beloved yet slicing tone as in a well drawn cartoon from New Yorker magazine.

The millennial Allen seems to say that you can't always get what you want and it is both ridiculous and human to try.

The last moments of "Café Society" along with Allen's  recent films have a  crisp and catty Dorothy Parker wit along with the A-Ha just desserts of a story by O. Henry. All is not lost, however. Any acidity is balanced with equal parts of haunt and history. The director keeps a personal paradise of authors, actors, domineering parents and lost loves that invariably lead to an island of poignance that is both wished for and whisked away.

Write Ian at

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Week of August 5 - 11 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

5 Good Enough to Keep + 1 New at Tropic Cinema
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Tropic Cinema has five holdovers to make sure you don’t miss any of them … and one new film we’ve all been waiting for. Here’s the good-enough-to-keep lineup:

People are singing the praises of “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble,” the documentary about the famous cellist and the multicultural musicians he gathered to perform along the historic spice route that stretches from China to the Mediterranean. Key West musician Skipper Kravitz came out of the theater with a beneficent smile on his face. Washington Post describes it as “an inspiring look at creative people from very different walks of life who nonetheless communicate beautifully with one another. They don’t need to speak a common language: Their dazzling music says it all.” And National Post explains, “As more than one of the performers notes, music transcends culture, history and even language.”

Another movie putting smiles on faces is “The Secret Life of Pets,” the animated comedy that tells of the misadventures of two pooches who get lost in the City while their owner is away at work. Doggie lovers will recognize familiar traits that are canine cuteness to the core. Louis C.K. and Eric Stonestreet voice the top dogs. says, “The animal antics (plus the nonstop mayhem crammed into every frame) are likely to please children, while some of the sight gags and one-liners will satisfy their accompanying adults.” And Screen Crush declares that the movie “achieves what it aims to be: cute, clever, and pleasantly enjoyable.”

Also bringing out laughs is “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie,” the big-screen spin-off of that fave Brit telly show known affectionately as “Ab Fab.” Two wonky women, a PR flack and a magazine editor, go on the lam after offing supermodel Kate Moss at a fashion show. Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley recreate their TV roles. Nearly 90 drag queens appear in this cinematic outing. Urban Cinefile notes: “This odd couple is a hook for black comedy. They do bad things. Bad things happen to them. Life poops in their soup. Just like any of us, really, and that’s why we love to laugh at them, with them, about them and despite them.” And Globe and Mail winks, “Finding deep meaning and satisfaction from this story will be difficult, but if it’s style over substance you’re after, then you’ll revel in the comedic chic.”

Straight from New Zealand is “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” an intergenerational buddy picture about a 12-year-old juvie and a grumpy octogenarian who go on the lam, triggering a nationwide manhunt led by an overzealous social worker. Under the Radar tells us, “Sam Neill could play a cranky old bushman in his sleep, but it’s Julian Dennison as Ricky who steals the film as a rap-loving, pre-pubescent gangster wannabe.” And Newsday calls it “A lopsided gem full of off-kilter humor, hard truths and real emotion.”

Want some action? Well, you’ll find it aplenty in “Jason Bourne,” fifth film in the popular franchise. Matt Damon returns as the spy with no memory who is in search of his past. Here we (and he) learn more. Rolling Stone says, “Damon owns the role and the movie. It’s a tense, twisty mindbender anchored by something no computer can generate: soul.” And Detroit News adds, “Director Paul Greengrass stages three breathless marquee action sequences, including a smash-em-up car chase down the Las Vegas Strip that would make even the ‘Fast and Furious’ gang stop and gawk.”

Oh yes, the new film. That’s “Café Society,” the annual Woody Allen offering. It’s a familiar lost-love story that stretches from the 1930s studios of Hollywood to the nightclubs of New York. Standing in for the Woodman is angst-ridden Jessie Eisenberg, with Kristen Stewart as the girl the heart wants. Ozus’ World Movie reviews finds it to be “an uninspired but satisfactory old-school nostalgia-laden Hollywood love triangle story, set during the late stages of the Great Depression.” SSG Syndicate calls it “Wistfully vintage Woody Allen -- with a jazzy soundtrack worth savoring....” And St. Louis Post-Dispatch sees it as “a film of rare beauty.”

Five plus one – six movies you’ll want to see!