Thursday, September 29, 2016

Week of Sept. 30 - Oct. 6 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview
Tropic Offers a Cinematic Mixture 
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Tropic Cinema adds two films and holds over three -- a mixture of foreign cinema, war thriller, a documentary, a British comedy, and western drama.

New to Tropic screens, “Mia Madre” introduces us to an Italian filmmaker (played by Margherita Buy) going through a bad patch -- tension with her crew, conflict with her star (John Turturro), and coming to terms with a dying mother. SF Weekly notes, “It’s difficult for an expressionistic Italian film about a director experiencing an existential crisis to not evoke ‘8 ½’ to some extent, but Nanni Moretti’s ‘Mia Madre’ is its own lovely meditation on art and life.” And One Guy’s Opinion tells us, “In its quiet, subdued way 'Mia Madre’ touches an emotional chord, enhanced by Buy’s subtle, multifaceted performance.”

Another newcomer is “Anthropoid,” a true-life WWII thriller about the assassination of the Nazi who masterminded the Final Solution. Josef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) are the two soldiers who parachute into their occupied homeland in December 1941 to kill high-ranking SS officer Reinhard Heydrich. Movie Talk advises, “Get past the off-putting title, which sounds as though it belongs to a schlocky sci-fi film. Get past the iffy Czech accents. And get past the stodgy scene setting. Do all this and you will find WW2 thriller ‘Anthropoid’ genuinely stirring.” And calls the film “bracingly realistic, carrying a strong emotional kick in the final act.”

We travel back in time with the Fab Four in Ron Howard’s documentary “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years.” Here we follow John, Paul, George, and Ringo on their concert tours from 1962 to 1966. New Yorker says, “The Beatles now belong to an honored past, stuck there like an obelisk, and yet here they are, alive -- busting out all over, time and time again. Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And Washington Post adds, “It all feels a little glossy, but who can complain when the vibes are so good and the tunes so catchy?”

“Bridget Jones’s Baby” gives us the further adventures of that British lass who’s unlucky in love (played again by Renée Zellweger). However, this time she’s got two beaus (Colin Firth and Patrick Dempsey) wondering which is her baby’s daddy. EntertainmentTell writes, “It’s got the same smart character work and commitment to slapstick as the previous films, while believably adapting the characters to older ages and the passage of time.” And People Magazine observes, “Her heart is still gold and her sense of humor fully intact, reminding us why we fell in love with her in the first place.”

“Hell or High Water” may well be the best movie this year, a bleak-but-bouncy drama about a Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) chasing a pair of bank-robbing brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster). Indie London proclaims the film is “destined to become a modern classic -- and deservedly so.” And Commercial Appeal says, “Worrying his lines like a plug of chaw, Jeff Bridges again proves that an extreme, even expressionistic characterization can be an unlikely vehicle for emotional honesty.”

Five films, five great choices.

Anthropoid (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Anthropoid” Offers True WWII Thrills
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich was the Nazi’s main architect of the Final Solution.

In December 1941 two Czechoslovakian agents parachuted into their occupied homeland with the mission of assassinating Heydrich. The code name for the operation was Anthropoid.

“Anthropoid” is also the title of the historical thriller that’s currently showing at Tropic Cinema.

With the help of a British Special Operations-trained team of Czech and Slovak soldiers, the two Czech agents -- Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš (played by Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dorman) -- managed to attack Heydrich. Even though Jozef’s Sten gun jammed, Jan threw a bomb at his limousine. Heydrich was critically wounded.

No spoiler alert here. This is all historical fact.

Director Sean Ellis spent fifteen years, on and off, working to bring this story to the big screen. He says it was the human side of the story that really grabbed his attention, the willingness of the people involved to risk everything for their country.

Reprisals by SS Troops lay waste to several Czech villages. Over 15,000 Czechs were killed in the aftermath of the “Heydrich Terror.”

Heydrich’s was the only successful assassination of a top-ranking Nazi in World War II.

Mia Madre (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Mia Madre” Is A Director’s Life
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Federico Fellini gave us the memories of a harried movie director in “8 1/2.” And Woody Allen revisited this theme with his Felliniesque “Stardust Memories,” the story of a filmmaker looking back on his life.

Now Nanni Moretti gives us another point of view. In his new film -- “Mia Madre,” now playing at Tropic Cinema -- we meet Margherita, a middle-aged director struggling with a mid-life crisis. She’s wondering whether her movies accurately reflect the world around her.

Margherita (played by Margherita Buy) is distraught. Not only is she having problems with her film crew, she’s at odds with her line-flubbing star, Italian-American actor Barry Huggins (John Turturro). She’s left her boyfriend, at odds with her daughter, and facing her mother’s imminent death. Things are pretty bad.

Nanni Moretti admits to an autobiographical aspect in “Mia Madre.” “It’s the feeling that Margherita has,” he says. “That she never feels up to what she’s doing, that she’s always ill at ease.”

Born in Rome, Moretti had a love of movies and politics. Upon graduating from high school, he sold his stamp collection to buy a super8 cinema camera and began making short films. His first success came in 1973 with “Ecce Bombo,” which has become a cult film. Through a series of short fragmentary scenes, he offers a snapshot of Italian life. It has been called “a true description of the social life of the time.”

Just the kind of film that his protagonist Margherita is ruminating about in “Mia Madre.”

But as the title implies, it’s Margherita’s heart-wrenchng relationship with her dying mother that is at the core of her angst.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Pete's Dragon (Brockway)

Pete's Dragon

If a few subversive sausages are a bit too much to handle, try David Lowery's "Pete's Dragon." This is a re-invention of the 1977 animated Disney feature that uses rich naturalistic details. Rather than duplicate the original storyline, Disney wisely takes a new tact, while still retaining the feel-good magic of the first film.

Here Pete (Oakes Fegley) is a young boy on a camping trip with his parents. The car suddenly flips, leaving the boy an orphan. Alone in the wild, Pete has a guardian animal in the form of a fuzzy green dragon.

In addition to being a fantasy, the film with sweeping landscape passages is also a meditation on nature and magic and how the two elements are mixed, especially in a child's mind.

Robert Redford plays well as Meacham, an elderly ranger who is a spokesman for the wilderness and by extension, magic. It is no surprise that his character is the only adult who believes in dragons.

Oona Laurence is solid as Natalie, the other youngster who believes.

We are in typical Disney / Spielberg territory: the adults are clueless and uncommunicative, prefering to solve all obstacles and problems with guns.

Surprisingly, the direct story is very accessible, treating both the dragon and the boy with refreshing realism, heart and grace. These are no mere flashy and zooming effects in 3-D. The dragon is an emotional, feeling creature fused together by a kind of natural supernatural with a real heart and an assemblage of bones.

Taking a cue from "The Jungle Book," Oakes Fegley is perfect as the unschooled "wild child" put together by a unfettered forest and open to the sorcery of trees. This is relatively relaxed old-school filmmaking, possessing notes of "E.T." and even David Lynch's own Disney film "The Straight Story  (given its hyperrealism of the woods) but it bears a stronger resemblance, of course, to the Disney films of the 50's and 60's in its clear delineation of Good and Evil, peppered by comic relief and cleansed with tears.

Whether you are open to flying beasts or not, the new "Pete's Dragon" will have you watching the clouds for more than just inclement weather.

Write Ian at

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sausage Party (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Sausage Party

Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, the bad boys of comedy, have come up with some irreverent goods in "Sausage Party" directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan. This is an adult animated film about the feelings of prefab meat in a grocery store and if you can accept the bizarre premise, the film is free-wheeling in its wildness and eye-poppingly subversive. Better yet, this frenetic and feverish film never stoops to apologize.

The story concerns Frank (Seth Rogen) a foul mouthed hot dog at a grocery store. Frank dreams of being selected on the shelf and taken to the outside world to live in eternity with his curvy hot dog bun girlfriend, Brenda (Kristen Wiig) The entire store has high hopes of being selected and taken to live with gods, (the humans) happily ever after.

But things are not as they appear. While at first look the story seems simplistic, the film is decidedly not. The hot dogs discuss everything from sex to religion and world affairs and you will be laughing all the way.

The villain is Douche (Nick Kroll ) a feminine hygiene product with a score to settle.

The best of the film are the jokes about religion that are as pointed as they are glib, reminiscent of Bill Maher.

There is also a strikingly funny friendship between Kareem, (David Krumholtz), a slice of Middle Eastern lavash bread, and Sammy (Edward Norton), a bagel. Kareem wants to be united with extra virgin olive oil in the Great Beyond, while Sammy in a Woody Allen voice argues for harmony on earth between nations by way of their mutual friend, Hummus.

Much of the film has to be seen to be believed. Suffice to say that hearing a googly-eyed hot dog utter streams of profanity will put one in stitches, not to mention the blunt sexual mores of Salma Hayek as Teresa the taco shell and those  aforementioned  buns. Fortunately, despite the fleshy pinkness of the jokes that are spotted blue, the humor is never mean-spirited.

There is a battle scene involving a few humans that is less provocative, but if you hang in there, the pièce de résistance is a no nitrates barred sex scene that gives new meaning to the popular phrase "food porn." While it is somewhat flat during the action sequences, the story works very well as a riotous send-up of all things Pixar and its unexpurgated barbs about religion and relationships go a long way.

While one may not want to take this kaleidoscopic and invective-infused film to go for a romantic evening, the fearlessness of the roles alone make "Sausage Party" a bawdy matinee choice in place of a chaste lunch.

Write Ian at

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week (Brockway)

 Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week

The Beatles, the supergroup consisting of John, Paul, George and Ringo, are a pop culture frequency and a digital music commodity, now marketed by iTunes. Their influence and vocabulary are ubiquitous and all encompassing, perhaps motivating Steve Jobs who named his computer company Apple, the same as The Beatles' recording entity. As fate would have it, the name as well as Steve Jobs's handling of The Beatle catalogue has led to numerous past lawsuits.

In 1964, however, The Beatles were just four young kids on tour. A new documentary by Ron Howard "The Beatles : Eight Days a Week", gives you a front row seat. It was a slower time with the iPhone decades away. Life was in black-and-white.  The Beatles came from Liverpool: art school students only wanting to play.

They wore leather jackets. One meeting from manager Brian Epstein changed everything. Epstein bought the boys dark suits and cut their hair in the shape of moppy bowls. The four became mirror images, doubled by two: Mod mannequins, ready to lead the young into a glib and spontaneous future.

Here are John and Paul, ultra-pale and grainy with always something to say, snappy with a quip. Most striking in the film are the enormous crowds. Huge ribbons of teen girls break down and tear at their hair, either from ecstasy or shock. Some faint and collapse to the ground, prostrate and overcome. The Beatles as a sound became a religious experience. Instead of giving psalms, John  and Paul, acoustic apostles, gave pratfalls and smiles. The four of them Chaplinesque clowns who wobble and shake without any premeditation.

Whoopi Goldberg tells of The Fab Four showing her the courage to be uniquely herself. Sigourney Weaver confesses her love for Paul. In its last quarter, the film has a sinister tone with the tour clearly getting to John. The four become aware of segregation along with The Right wanting to smash and burn their records. John said religion was passe and that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus.

John, the naughty apostle, suddenly stumbles and apologizes. This moment along with the endless multitudes of girls who tremble and shake in supplication, are  arguably the best segments in the film.

Above all, what you see is The Beatles circa 1964. John with a small white guitar, Paul with a gray one, George struming while Ringo bangs away. The music is metallic, clanking like an old motor, rolling and loud.

Behold The Band, laughing and gigging, vibrant in the joy of play. There are only small dabs of darkness here, but the traces are present. John gets edgy and yells at reporters. The trap door of psychadelia is close behind.

For some two hours though, millenials and Beatle-lensed Baby-Boomers alike can rejoice in "Eight Days a Week," glimpsing the birth of John, Paul, George and Ringo, a fledgling four in monochromatic threads who grew to give us a new and colorful sound.

Such smiling percussion is bittersweet.

Write Ian at

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Week of Sept. 23 - 29 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Beatles, Beasties, Buns, Babies, and Bandits This Week at Tropic
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Add caption
Remember when the Beatles came to Key West in 1964? Well, here they come again in “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week -- The Touring Years,” the new documentary from Ron Howard. This is a look at the Fab Four’s concerts from their early days in Liverpool’s Cavern Club to their final performance at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. New Yorker cheers, “The Beatles now belong to an honored past, stuck there like an obelisk, and yet here they are, alive-busting out all over, time and time again. Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And The New York Times tells us it’s “90 percent familiar and a bit hagiographic as well, but just try watching it without smiling.”

Seth Rogen is a funny-looking guy, but you only get to hear his voice in the 3D animated “Sausage Party,” a romance between a hot dog named Frank (Rogen) and a bun named Brenda (Kristin Wiig) who believe heaven lies beyond the supermarket checkout. Underneath the funny foodstuff in this oversized cartoon you’ll also find a serious theological dialectic. Daily Express calls it “A tasty diversion.” And Observer observes: “It may not be suitable for kids, but that's not to say that this strenuously profane cartoon is not unapologetically juvenile in its approach to comedy.”

Disney’s cute 1977 “Pete’s Dragon” has been remade. This updated version sticks close to the original story about a boy and his pet fire-breathing dragon. Cairo360 says, “Don’t think twice before going in to see this magical adventure. You won’t be disappointed.” And finds it “A rare delight in how it respects the intelligence of its audience while still offering up lump-in-the-throat emotional beats in service of a welcomely straightforward story.”

“Bridget Jones’s Baby” is not a remake; it’s the third movie in this series about a British gal (played by American actress Renee Zellweger) who has finally found love with two men. But which one is her baby’s daddy? Globe and Mail saluted, “I’d like to raise a glass of Chardonnay and toast Bridget Jones’s Baby on its (mostly) hilarious, and long-anticipated, homecoming.” And Konexion adds, “A film that meets expectations and satisfies its public.”
“The Innocents” (“Les Innocentes”) transports us to post WWII Poland where a young midwife is called to help with a series of pregnancies in a nunnery. San Diego Reader notes, “Director and co-writer Anne Fontaine makes every shot and every exchange count in her tender but penetrating exploration of sisterhood in a brutal world.” And Missoula Independent “‘The Innocents’ is the best foreign film I’ve seen this year.”

And definitely one of the best films of the year, “Hell or High Water” gives us an old Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) chasing a pair of bank robbers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster). The kicker is that these brothers are robbing the bank that’s trying to foreclose on the family farm and using that money to pay off the mortgage. Poetic justice, huh? Christian Science Monitor says, “All of the performers in this film, right down to the bit players, are quite good, but Bridges demonstrates yet again that he is one of the finest actors in America.” And Irish Independent proclaims, “It’s quite a film.”

Holding over is “Bad Moms,” the “Hangover” style movie for women, wherein Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn demonstrate the adage that girls just wanna have fun. But you’ll find an underlying theme about the conflicting dream of a white house with a picket fence in the suburbs. indieWire sums it up: "A female-driven story that doesn't shy away from bad behavior while also touting the importance of familial bonds and solid parenting choices.” And Cinencuentro adds, "If you wanna have a good time watching a movie full of original gags starring great actresses, I highly recommend 'Bad Moms’.”

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week”
Takes You Touring With Fab Four
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Over at the Hyatt near the airport is a small structure with a sign designating it as Abbey Road. This is a remnant of the hotel room where the Beatles -- John, Paul, George, and Ringo -- stayed in ’64 when touring in Key West. They were supposed to go on to Jacksonville for a day of rest, but stayed over due to Hurricane Dora, spending the day drinking and jamming with Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry and the Bill Black Combo.

“We stayed there for a couple of days, not knowing what to do except, like, drink. I remember drinking way too much, and having one of those talking-to-the-toilet bowl evenings,” recalled Paul McCarthy. “It was during that night, when we’d all stayed up way too late, and we got so pissed that we ended up crying -- about, you know, how wonderful we were, and how much we loved each other, even though we’d never said anything.”

Paul commemorated that visit in “Here Today,” his tribute to John Lennon.

John Lennon had proclaimed their fame as being greater than some deities, and fans seemed to bear that out, turning up in mass for their concerts.

Now there’s a documentary about their touring years, aptly titled “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week -- The Touring Years.” It’s currently making music at the Tropic Cinema.

Directed by Ron Howard (“Sully,” “Apollo 12”), the film covers 1962 to 1966, from their early days in Liverpool’s Cavern Club to their final performance at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. In all, 250 performances in 15 countries.

The film was produced with the cooperation of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon, and Olivia Harrison.

In it, you’ll see Richard Lester, Eddie Izzard, journalist Larry Kane, and Elvis Costello, among others. Sigourney Weaver recalls attending the first Hollywood Bowl show, and Whoopi Goldberg talks about seeing them at Shea Stadium when she was nine-year-old Caryn Elaine Johnson. Along with photos and archival footage are interviews with their manager Brian Epstein and record producer George Martin (“The fifth Beatle”).

You’re reminded of many past tours -- that incident involving Imelda Marcos in the Philippines, protests when booked to play at the Budokan Stadium in Japan, fans injuries during the US tours, etc. The doc’s newsreel approach unspools fact after fact (e.g. The Beatles were the first band to play stadiums, their touring contracts had a provision prohibiting segregated shows in the South, etc.). You get to see life on the road, but without any sordid details. After all, the film was co-produced by Apple Corps Ltd.

The music includes snippets of familiar songs -- “She Loves You,” “Twist & Shout,” “Help,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” et al. -- enough to remind us of Beatlemania -- as well as tacking on 30 minutes of bonus footage of “The Beatles At Shea Stadium” (yes, it’s their entire set from the August 15, 1965 show).

“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” humanizes the Fab Four, showing they were just plucky kids who were out of their depth. And how fandom overwhelmed them and their music.

“We just wanted to play,” Ringo Starr says early in the film. “Playing was the most important thing.”

Step by step, we witness these naïve heartthrobs being transformed into cynical businessmen who toured solely for the money because their record contract paid such measly royalties.

“We were not an overnight sensation,” Paul reminds us. Hard to believe. It seems like the Beatles have been a part of our lives forever. A long and winding road.

Pete’s Dragon (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Pete’s Dragon” Makes Second Appearance
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Your kids won’t notice, but the new fantasy film “Pete’s Dragon” may seem familiar to you. Wasn’t there a Walt Disney movie by that same name back in 1977?

Good recall, mom.

Those clever folks at the Mouse House are offering up a new version of an old favorite. You know, the story about a lonely orphan boy named Pete, whose best friend (as the title tells you) is a fire-breathing, flying, green, scaly dragon.

That earlier rendition was a live action movie with a cartoony reptile co-star. In it, Sean Marshall played Pete. Charlie Callas voiced Elliott the dragon. Backup stars included Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, and Jim Backus.

This new one has the same storyline. It too is live action with a cartoon dragon. Oakes Fegley plays Pete. John Kassir voices Elliott. Others stars include Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, and Robert Redford.

“Pete’s Dragon” -- the new version -- is showing at Tropic Cinema.

Why bother with a remake? Well, for one thing, the dragon is now rendered in Disney Digital 3-D graphics, looking much more real than that flat comic-booky dragon in the first movie.

Take your kids. No need to tell them you’ve already seen it before.

Sausage Party (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

Seth Rogen Invites You to a“Sausage Party”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Don’t wander into “Sausage Party” with your kid, thinking it’s gonna be a cute Pixar-type movie about the secret life of food.

It is that. But, as it turns out, the foodstuffs in your grocery store lead a somewhat R-rated shelf life.

Don’t be surprised. Why wouldn’t you expect any movie from Seth Rogan (Pineapple Express,” “The Interview”) that’s titled “Sausage Party” to have an ample sampling of penis jokes and potty-mouth humor?

But beneath the frat-boy laughs there’s actually a serious theological dialectic. Honest to God.

What if the animated food in your supermarket is looking forward to the Fourth of July as some sort of religious passage, enlightenment at the hands of the gods who shop the aisles? How would they react if they discovered that waiting beyond the checkout registers was not heaven or nirvana but, well, the end -- them being devoured by these rapacious shopper-gods?

That’s the theological reality discovered by a wiener named Frank (Rogen) and his girlfriend, a shapely bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig).

Frank: “Hey, Brenda. You and me.”

Brenda: “I’m so happy, the gods put our packages together … It’s like, we were made for each other.”

Along for the epiphany is Frank’s hot dog pal Barry (Michael Cera), a bottle of tequila (Bill Hader), a wad of chewing gum (Scott Underwood), an effeminate Twinkie (Mr. Underwood again), honey mustard (Danny McBride), a bagel (Edward Norton), not-so-kosher gefilte fish (Alistair Abell), an off-the-boat Italian tomato (Brian Dobson), an Uncle Tom box of grits (Craig Robinson), and a spicy taco (Salma Hayek).

Racially insensitive? Maybe. But it’s more a jab at the blind eye of the advertising industry.

Also along for the shopping-cart ride you’ll hear the voices of James Franco, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, and Rogen’s wife Lauren Miller. Co-directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon provide the voices for a potato and a beer can, respectively.

“Sausage Party” is living it up at Tropic Cinema.

To offer a serious take on this animated cartoon: Think of Frank as a sausage-sized Prometheus, a snackable Frank-enstein, who dares to challenge the gods. But what happens once the gods are overthrown? That’s the point of this movie from Seth Rogen, the guy who also gave us the apocalyptic comedy “This Is the End.”

Scatological humor, metaphysical questions, orgies in the produce aisle, anthropomorphic groceries -- all in one movie? Yes, Seth Rogen, that loudmouth stoner Canadian comedian has a serious side, but he hides it inside a pack of Ball Park hot dogs.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Innocents (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Innocents

Though "The Innocents" features a convent in crisis under the blight of snow, giant stone crucifixes, shadowy recesses and a stern Mother Superior, this new film by Anne Fontaine is no added chapter from the Gothic pen of Dan Brown, but rather a tense and gripping drama about a group of nuns in post-war 1945 Poland.

Shocking, visceral and unapologetically direct, the film, based on a true events, is entrancing from start to finish. Mathilde (Lou de Laage) a Red Cross doctor is summoned by a convent member to attend to an epidemic of ailing nuns in dire physical and mental pain.

Mathilde wants to help but she is up against the resolute and taciturn Superior (Agata Kuleza). The nuns have PTSD and invariably feel it is a sin to be touched or to be unclothed during examination. The members try their utmost to ignore the physics of their own bodies, a few of them to their peril.

Though a bit of the film has instances of clinical gore, it is no pulp drama. This is a sociological study of what happens to a group of nuns under very graphic and upsetting circumstances. Though a few of the episodes are unflinching, each frame of this film is a painting to rival Vermeer or Bruegel. Lone nuns resembling anguished birds trudge along the icy woods, their habits indistinguishable from the falling snow.

This is an immersive story of great darkness where people are often vile and unrepentantly cruel but there are also passages of beauty and humor. In one scene, an elder nun coos of over a cherubic and dimpled infant, his body swadled in white cloth in much the same style as the observing nun. At one point, we even glimpse a festival as  every sister is drunk with happiness.

By the last third of the film however, the bouyant  chants of the nunnery seem to signal claustrophobia as the Superior grows more and more unreachable and opaque. The doctor Mathilde, who resembles a hypnotic Gala in a Salvador Dali painting is  overwhelmed by the sheer number of women in need of immediate help.

Like the film "Of Gods and Men" this is a cool and clinical film of Catholic life that places you in the position of an active observer. Existence in this convent is often silent and solemn, bonded with authority and iron rule. But in one moment as in a Hitchcock film, a nun's singsong warble transmutes into a bloodcurdling scream.

Write Ian at

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Equity (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Director Meera Menon (Farah Goes Bang) puts a gender spin on a Wall Street themed film. Although "Equity" highlights the solid acting talents of Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) in a scaly role, the story doesn't really go anywhere provocative beyond its panelled walls.

Naomi (Anna Gunn) is an investment banker recuperating from a failed company aquisition. She soon gets word of a controversial tech stock Cachet, run by a hoodie wearing Ed (Samuel Roukin) in a role clearly patterned from Mark Zuckerberg. Suffice to say, Naomi finds herself against the wall with a sneaky Samantha (the producer Alysia Reiner), an old friend turned prosecutor.

Things also become knotty when Naomi's deputy Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas) is snubbed. To top it off, there is the boozy and leering hedge-fund maestro, Michael Connor (James Purefoy)  who would sell his mother for a million, but appears passive under Naomi's iron will.

The plot is secondary to the point of the film which is that women, if they so choose, can be just as monstrous as men. This premise is refreshing and original; the cinematic history of Wall Street has been invariably geared to a testosterone bull market. Instead of explicit carnage, we get alot of dialogue and catty quips with intent glances befitting a soap. For the most part, the intrigue is a screen grab of Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" with Naomi mimicking the legendary Gordon Gekko. There is the same ice sloshing in glasses, the same skittish eyes and sweating foreheads.

Where the film hits though is in its style: dark, tinted and clearly inspired by David Fincher. Greed has no gender and men are largely inconsequential. The point is well taken, yet such an original turn begs for more vermilion blood to be spilled ala Elizabeth Bathory in the banker's arena.

The best of the film is Reiner who in one excellent bar scene portrays a wolf in She clothing with melting looks and lupine eyes. This segment full of stealth, power and meaning is almost enough to save "Equity" from its carbon-copy design.

Write Ian at

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hell or High Water (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Hell or High Water

Go get em, Cowboy! This is the overriding thought one has in watching "Hell or High Water," a heist film by David Mackenzie. While that might well be enough, especially with a great cast and solid roles, the story left me oddly wanting more.

Chris Pine (Star Trek Beyond) is Toby, a divorced father behind on his child support. His mother has just passed away and the family ranch is in critical danger of foreclosure. Toby asks his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) to help in robbing a string of Texas banks to raise the cash.

The film begins percussively in the middle of the story without exposition. The two don dark caps over their faces and look quite scary. This is because we don't know right away what is going to happen or who the men are, so we are instantly hooked. Gun barrels chop the air and voices boom. Though the pair are reluctant to shoot, and they usually don't have to, the brothers are fear incarnate.

After a trio of routine robberies however, the mystery is dispelled. Toby is up against it, ditto for Tanner, and both of them mumble somewhat unintelligibly about ex-wives. The boys soon catch the eye of an older, cantankerous and off-color ranger Marcus, played by who else but the actor who has trademarked a trio of grizzly men, Jeff Bridges.

Marcus sputters croaky racial jokes about his fellow partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham) being an 'injun,' making Alberto the straight man for Marcus's Archie Bunker-era quips.

Once the gruff and nonchalant Marcus is on the trail, the film falls to convention becoming a white hat / black hat confrontation with the bothers mumbling, scrabbling and horsing about. Not much happens mid-point beyond a shaded hat over the eyes, some casino drear and a big wait.

The real tin star of the film is the British cinematographer Giles Nuttgens who captures dusty and dispassionate stretches of Texas in the manner of a Sam Peckinpah film, when films were bravely manic with gore and flat in karmic melodrama.

Although "Hell or High Water" could leave a few feeling parched for a less predictable film, the final scene is a stand-alone satisfier. Punchy and effective with a wistful quality of O. Henry, it nearly throws a lasso around the preceeding mainstream drama and kicks it to the curb.

Write Ian at

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Southside With You (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Southside with You

The producer Richard Tanne  strikes a clear, refreshingly lively and heartfelt note in his directorial debut "Southside with You," portraying  the early courtship of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle. This film is vibrant, concise and beautifully understated. It is truly one of the warmest, most affectionate films that you are likely to see this year.

Above all, the film is telescopic, dispelling all extraneous details of agenda or large political issues. What you see is what you get: Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle (Tika Sumpter) in a simple story of interest and romance. This is a short story of only ninety minutes, but it is also sweet and impactful with nearly every frame haunting and easing into poignance, given our current enervating election cycle.

 It is 1989 in Chicago. A young Obama is smoking on a tattered couch. His apartment is cluttered and messy. He is late. Cut to Michelle Robinson whose surroundings are immaculate and pristine compared to the askew scholarly clutter of Obama's apartment. Michelle is surrounded by pink peachy hues and looks like a flower.

Barack puts his vehicle into drive and off he goes, the battered car huffing and puffing all the way, mimicking  the young man's smoking. The camera pays special attention to Obama's hands: long elegant fingers foreshadowing their future intent, deliberating upon the country as our future president. For now though, these fingers are nervous, skittering across the steering wheel, incomplete and jumpy.

Barack arrives at the Robinson house, Clark Kent-like in a white shirt and small loping movements. Michelle is resolute and formal, her gait smooth and measured. This is not a date. But when the two visit an art center filled with African art and see the vibrant paintings of Ernie Barnes, they realize that their own lives are filled with possibility. The motion and magical realism of Barnes' work exists organically within Barack and Michelle, and all of us.

The story unfolds slowly and without pretense. Obama gives a spirited speech and Michelle takes it all in with curiousity, no more no less. Drama comes and then just as quickly goes, like life itself. The overriding magic of this valentine is its unapologetic humanism. There are no Washington superheroes here, just a single young woman meeting a man. The only super effect is one of romance, having the power to turn the couple into two living beings depicted in Barnes' paintings: wild and swirling humans, both birdlike and solemn, who may or may not affect change.

The subtle trick of "Southside with You" is that it maintains suspense and wonder complete with a pair of soft exhales, even though the outcome is oft-told and historically known.

Write Ian at

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Week of Sept. 9-15 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Five Films Spill Over From Summer Season at Tropic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Come hell or high water, you will want to see the five films playing this week at Tropic Cinema.
As a matter of fact, “Hell or High Water” is the title of the modern-day western that’s new to Tropic screens this week. It tells of a pair of bank robbers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) being chased by a pair of Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham). Bad guys and good guys aside, you won’t be rooting for the dastardly bank. Christian Science Monitor applauds, “All of the performers in this film, right down to the bit players, are quite good, but Bridges demonstrates yet again that he is one of the finest actors in America.” And Creative Loafing dubs it “The best movie of the summer season.”
“Southside With You” is a new biopic about young Barack Obama going out on his first date with Michelle. It’s a pleasant walkie-talkie tour of the Southside of Chicago as the winsome future first couple (played by Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter) gets to know each other. San Diego Reader tells us, “President Obama’s fans and haters alike will find something to enjoy in this slightly stilted yet oddly fascinating account of the Harvard law student’s first date with Michelle Robinson, the woman who would eventually become his wife.” And The Atlantic describes it as “a gentle, rose-tinted piece of political nostalgia -- one that glances at the divisions in American society, but still casts a optimistic view toward whatever’s next.”
Next up on the movie screens is “Light Between the Oceans,” the weeper about a lighthouse keeper and his wife (Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander) who find a baby in a boat and raise it as their own. But then on a trip to the Australian mainland they meet a sad woman (Rachel Weisz) … Rolling Stone points out, “Fassbender and Vikander, who fell in love during the making of the film, fully commit to their roles and hold us in their grip.” And New York Magazine notes, “The movie ends up seeming like an inchoate hybrid of melodrama and psychodrama -- between the oceans, indeed.”
“Bad Moms” is lighter fare, albeit with serious underpinnings. Here some suburban moms (Mile Kunis et al.) decide to live it up, to the consternation of a PT-A prude (Christina Applegate). The indieWire sees it as “a female-driven story that doesn’t shy away from bad behavior while also touting the importance of familial bonds and solid parenting choices.” And Chicago Reader opines, “The movie plays like ‘Mean Girls’ with a big dollop of middle-aged wish fulfillment.”
“Florence Foster Jenkins” is the biopic about a truly amazing singer of that name (played by Meryl Streep) – that is, amazing in how bad she was. She’s abetted by her devoted British companion and a boggled pianist (Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg) on her long journey to Carnegie Hall … where the music critics lie in wait. Toronto Star calls it “enjoyable summer entertainment for grown-ups and anyone else seeking refuge from superheroes.” And South China Morning Post says, “Unsurprisingly, Streep hits all the right -- or should that be wrong? -- notes, with a marvelously tragi-comic turn.”
Yep, these films hit the high water mark in entertainment.

Southside With You (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Southside With You”
Takes You on a Date
With a Future President

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

It seems to me like a bad business proposition: making a movie about a sitting president. You lose half the audience, i.e. those moviegoers who belongs to the opposing party.
C’mon, can you imagine a staunch Trump supporter wanting to spend 1 hour and 24 minutes with a young Barak Obama and Michelle on a first date in the Southside of Chicago?
That’s the premise of “Southside With You,” the sweet little movie that’s playing this week at Tropic Cinema.
It could have been titled “A Date With Michelle,” for that’s the substance of this outing on a summer afternoon in 1989 when the future President of the United States went on an epic date with his future First Lady.
According to director-writer Richard Tanne, this was a pivotal point of young Barry’s life.
“Something else is pulling at me,” he says to his pretty date. “I wonder if I can write books or hold a position of influence in civil rights.”
“Politics?” she asks.
“Maybe,” he shrugs.
This is one of those walk-and-talk movies that focus on the conversation of two young lovers. Think: “Before Sunset.” Or “Before Midnight.”
The pair shares their histories (he from Hawaii and Indonesia; she from Chicago’s Southside), their aspirations, their political sensibilities, their growing attraction for each other.
Richard Tanne has found two winsome stand-ins for the real couple. Parker Sawyers (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “Survivor”) makes a convincing Barack Obama, ears and all; Tiki Sumpter (“Ride Along,” TV’s “Gossip Girl”) has the powerful persona of the young Michelle Robinson.
In 1989 Michelle was already a working lawyer. Barack Obama was attending Harvard. She’s an advisor at the firm where he’s a summer associate. She worries that their dating would be “inappropriate,” but he’s a smooth talker, reciting Gwendolyn Brooks’s short poem “We Real Cool.”
Tanne’s fictional recounting of this first date is a stacked deck, laying out the cards that foretell a path to the White House. This low-key date turns out to be more a political forecast than romantic interlude. But I didn’t mind the stroll down memory lane.
While Republicans may not buy a ticket, or read this review, many Dems will. As for an ol’ Independent like me, I’d love to read a review of “Southside With You” written by either Barack or Michelle.

Hell or High Water (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Hell or High Water”
A Modern-Day Western

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

This is what it’s come to: A movie where we root for the robbers and the bankers are the bad guys.
You can’t blame Toby Howard and his ex-con brother Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) for hating the Texas Midland Bank. Those shady loan sharks are foreclosing on the family’s West Texas farm, just as oil has discovered nearby.
Toby, being the clever brother, a divorced dad estranged from his sons, comes up with a plan to buy the farm back. It’s poetic justice: the brothers robbing branches of Texas Midland and using the bank’s own money to pay back the loan.
The boys have it all figured out, only taking the money in the teller’s cash drawers to avoid dye packs and laundering the stolen money by buying chips at Indian casinos.
However, as their crime spree continues Tanner gets sloppy and the robberies attract the attention of two Texas Rangers, wily ol’ Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his half-Comanche partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham). Marcus is nearing retirement, so he’s looking for a last hoorah, the chance to nail these bank-robbing scalawags. Doesn’t matter that he halfway admires them.
Unfortunately it doesn’t go quite the way Marcus expects. Or the way the Howard brothers had planned.
The film – “Hell or High Water” – is currently showing at Tropic Cinema.
British director David MacKenzie (“Starred Up”) and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario”) seem to be channeling the Coen Brothers. “Hell or High Water” mirrors the West Texas feel of “No Country for Old Men” like snapshot fading in the sun.
And Jeff Bridges is the perfect old man, white-mustachioed and shaded by dark sunglasses and a cowboy hat, walking the walk and talking the talk of an aging lawman, drawing on his “True Grit” persona, delivering a performance that sets a high bar. That Ben Foster reaches those heights is not so surprising, for his twitchy acting chops are well documented. The surprise is Chris Pine, transcending his smirky “Star Trek” image with this quietly intelligent turn as a man trying to reclaim what he feels is rightfully his. Even if he has to steal it back.
At its heart a Western, “Hell or High Water” has some glorious shoot-outs and well-choreographed bank robberies. But the dialogue between the brothers … and the jibing camaraderie between the two lawmen … make this a film worth the price of a ticket.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Bad Moms (Brockway0

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Bad Moms

In 2011, there was a groundbreaking comedy called "Bridesmaids." It worked precisely because the ladies depicted were expected to fulfill their roles as respected bridesmaids, but instead behaved rudely, spoofing social mores. That film was directed by Paul Feig and proved a breakthrough hit for comedienne Melissa McCarthy.

Now taking a cue from this film (as well as the recent titles of "Bad Santa", "Bad Grandpa" and "Bad Teacher") the directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have made "Bad Moms." Amy (Mila Kunis) is a harried mom with two kids: Jane (Oona Laurence) a school obsessed daughter and Dylan (Emjay Anthony) who is non-plussed. One afternoon Amy finds her sloppy husband Mike (David Walton ) engaging in cybersex with a girl on a webcam.

When visits her daughters' school, hot coffee goes in her face along with a carton of pasta and a student knocks her flat on a soccer field. At work, she is underappreciated by a pompous boss (Clark Duke). Last but certainly not least, a waspy and sadistic head of the PTA (Christina Applegate) forces her to attend a cold and militant school meeting. Applegate's character, Gwendolyn James, is the Cruella de Vil of the film.

Needless to say, Amy goes straight to a bar and orders up.

Though the premise is far from original, the dialogue is funny and the off-kilter humor does disarm in spite of itself. Kathryn Hahn in the role of Carla, steals the show with her glib, rude and crude lines which sound more over the top than anything ever said by Melissa McCarthy or Kristen Wiig.

There is one scene that is particularly funny involving a milquetoast Kristen Bell behaving like a male penis. Seeing is believing. Written discription does not do the 'skit'  justice.

This predictable comedy does better than expected for the simple fact that the ensemble actors play it straight and authentically. These ladies are gross around the edges but are never a gross out. The group never loses sight that they (despite the phallic veggies, the milk in the face and the cock obsessions) are all loving mothers.

The first half of the film is better than the second because our surprise is so fresh. The best segments have a jolting zany quality and the film is at its most effective as a series of loose cartoonish episodes, rather than a coherent story of an underdog fighting a villain. Mila Kunis is well handled and shows verve as does Kristen Bell in her single unsavory but sweetly delivered scene.

There is even an amusing understated turn by Martha Stewart serving jello shots in addition to the comic Wanda Sykes who delivers her trademark straight talk as a marriage counselor.

While the narrative story is molded from the excess cookie batter used in several Paul Feig / Kristen Wiig outings, there is spirit here. "Bad Moms" gives its formula its best slant without any cynicism. The straightman Amy and her transgressive friend Carla are both good moms because they have known what it feels like to be bad.

Write Ian at

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Light Between Oceans (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Light Between Oceans

Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond the Pines) echoes the melodramatic quandries of Thomas Hardy in his latest film "The Light Between Oceans," staring Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender. The film is based on a novel by M.L. Stedman of the same name.

Fassbender is Tom Sherbourne, a World War I veteran who takes a post as a  lighthousekeeper in western Australia. He meets the gorgeous Isabel (Vikander) and they become inseparable. Isabel dreams of one thing: becoming a mother. As fate would have it, the couple have great difficulty in this regard.

Fassbender and Vikander are terrific, and the dilemmas expressed help ameliorate any formulaic predictability. Actor Rachel Weisz  also appears as a mysterious and driven mother.

A highlight of the film is the striking cinematography by Adam Arkapaw who depicts the remote Austrailian island as the surface of a moon embittered with black soot. Also symbolic are a pair of seahorse trinkets which point to Tom bearing the question of children by himself alone, lest we forget that it is the male seahorse that carries its offspring.

True, this is a handwringer of a film with an abundance of tears which fall in buckets. Yet it is a credit to Vikander and Fassbender that they carry such a push-me/ pull-you story with weight and spirit.

In addition to Thomas Hardy there is something of Kafka here too as Tom is caught in a fatalistic bind, crisscrossed with prison bars and braids of blonde hair. Like Joseph K, Tom's face remains an immobile jigsaw, a pieced together mask of silent panic.

In a web that is part biblical and Greek but most strongly Hardy, the subtle star-power of director Cianfrance combined with the actor pairing of Fassbender and Vikander hold together the weepy, Gothic trappings of "The Light Between Oceans", which in other hands would have ripped apart like wet tissue paper.

Write Ian at

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Week of Sept. 2 to Sept. 8 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

You Will Find Family Fare (Sorta) at Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Bad mothers, a hippie dad, a lost child, and searching for missing parents – these are the family films that headline Tropic Cinema this week.
“Bad Moms” is a comedy starring Mila Kunis (Mrs. Ashton Kutcher) and other gal pals as a gaggle of mothers who just want to have a little fun – to the consternation of a prim PTA mom (Christina Applegate). BuzzFeed News sees it as “a movie with a subversive skepticism about traditional white picket fence domesticity in general.” And indieWIRE calls it, “A female-driven story that doesn't shy away from bad behavior while also touting the importance of familial bonds and solid parenting choices.”
“Captain Fantastic” still awes audiences with the performance of Viggo Mortensen as a dad who choses an off-the-grid lifestyle for his family – to the consternation of his father-in-law (Frank Langella). Empire Magazine describes it as “A fiercely original, pleasantly unpredictable character piece. This is a gang of outsiders with something valuable to say about the world we live in.” And St. Louis Post Dispatch alerts us that “The film’s title, suggesting a comic-book flick, will likely cause box-office confusion. But in a way, it’s appropriate. ‘Captain Fantastic’ is a truly heroic effort.
“The Light Between Oceans” tells of lighthouse keepers (Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander) who find a child adrift in a boat and decide to keep her – to the eventual consternation of a woman they meet on the mainland (Rachel Weisz). Parade Magazine astutely observes, “The movie suggests that, like the waters of the great oceans that cover the Earth, all things are connected -- past, present, and future; grief and happiness; war and peace; life and death.” And Tribune News Service writes, “Fine performances and exquisite cinematography, production, and sound and costume design are almost enough to shake off the clingy soapy residue that comes with the romantic drama territory.”
“Finding Dory” is the animated sequel to “Finding Nemo.” In this one, a blue tang fish (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) goes searching for her missing family – to the delight of young moviegoers. New Yorker says, “While not as visually dazzling as its predecessor, the film is still colorful and immersive; the script, while predictable, puts an engaging spin on the issues of home and identity.” And adds, “It’s gorgeous. It’s lively. It’s got terrific performances from a strong voice cast. It's emotionally affecting without being heavy-handed.”
“Indignation” follows the challenges of a young Jewish college student (Logan Lerman) dealing with sexual guilt and his family’s expectations for his future. This drama is based on a recent Philip Roth novel. Minneapolis Star Tribune proclaims, “With its mature perspective on distant formative years, the film feels true to the spirit of Roth; little from the deep wellsprings of the great novelist’s fiction is lost in translation.” And Spirituality and Practice chimes in, “A triumph of elegant writing, exquisite acting, and a vibrant spiritual treatment of righteous indignation.”
“Florence Foster Jenkins” gives us the real-life story of a bad singer (Meryl Streep) who winds up at Carnegie Hall – to the consternation of music critics. Network Film Desk observes, “Streep’s take on the character is so assured that we can’t help but admire her determination and panache, even as it makes her a fool in the eyes of others.” And Film Racket agrees, “Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant are amazing both when they’re apart and together, their earnest portrayals really lending gravitas to people who would otherwise be remembered as a joke.”
And “Star Trek Beyond” takes a step backward in this retro tale about Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock (Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) – to the delight of old TV fans. Chicago Reader notes, “This third installment in the millennial Star Trek reboot races along without an idea in its head, often recalling the silly, monster-driven final season of the 60s TV show.” And sees it as “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.”
With both consternation and delight – these films will engage you during their engagement at the Tropic Cinema.

Bad Moms (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Bad Moms”
Is Just an Act
For Mila Kunis

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Apparently all you need to get a comedy greenlighted these days is to attach the modifier “Bad” to the title. Ergo, “Bad Santa,” Bad Teacher,” “Bad Grandpa.” And now “Bad Moms.”
There may be a Truth in Advertising angle with some of these films. But “Bad Moms” is kinda funny, I have to admit.
In it, Amy Mitchell and her two friends (Mila Kunis with Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn) are bored housewives who decide to go on a wild binge, “Hangover” style, putting them on a collision course with PTA major-domo Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) and her coterie of perfect moms.
“Bad Moms” is currently living it up at Tropic Cinema. Written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (they wrote all three “Hangover” movies), the film’s tagline proclaims, “Party Like a Mother.”
Married to Ashton Kutcher, Kunis is mother to 2-year-old daughter Wyatt. In addition to playing a bad mom in the movie, she confesses to sometimes feeling like one in real life.
Kunis tells of planning a surprise visit to husband at work. She packed up all the necessary items required for travel with an infant and set off in the car. “Wyatt was being really quiet, and I was like, ‘Oh let me look in the rear view mirror to make sure everything’s okay. And I look, and she’s happy as can be, but just not nearly strapped in.”
“I was like, oh, (blank) me,” Kunis says. “And I’m on the 101, and she’s … in her car seat, nothing, no strap whatsoever. And I think I just turned white.”
Pulling over to the side of the road, she quickly buckled her daughter into the seat. “It reminded me how easy it is for parents to make mistakes,” she says.
Mila Kunis vows to redouble her efforts, announcing that she’s expecting a second child. “I’m going to be a solid mom,” she promises.
Maybe so. But “Solid Mom” won’t sell as many tickets at the box office as “Bad Mom.”

The Light Between Oceans (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Light Between Oceans”
Echoes a Previous “Ocean” Film

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Melania Trump may have “borrowed” from Michelle Obama’s speech … but Hollywood does it all the time.
Take the new film “The Light Between Oceans.” It’s playing this week at Tropic Cinema. Other than the lighthouse setting, the film may bring on a case of déjà vu.
Go back and watch “The Deep End of the Ocean,” the 1999 tearjerker starring Michelle Pfeiffer.
Does it seem familiar?
In “The Light Between Oceans” a lighthouse keeper (Michael Fassbender) and his lonely wife (Alicia Vikander) find a baby adrift in a small lifeboat. Of course, they adopt the child as their own. Years later, on a trip to the mainland, the coast of Western Australia, they meet a woman (Rachel Weisz) who lost her husband and baby daughter to a kidnapping. Get out your hankies.
Now compare that with the other “Ocean” movie. A couple (Michelle Pfeiffer and Treat Williams) lost their young son to a kidnapping. But years later, after moving to a new neighborhood, they find him living with another family.
Both films have their claim to originality, being based on separate books.
“The Deep End of the Ocean” was a best-selling novel by Jacquelyn Mitchard. It was the first selection for Oprah’s Book Club on September 17, 1996. A prolific writer, Mitchard has published 9 other novels.
“The Light Between Oceans” was the debut novel by M. L. Stedman. Published in 2012, it was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, an annual prize for the “novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.”
Coincidence or not, each book stands on its own. Besides, even Shakespeare borrowed plots from other works.