Thursday, June 30, 2016

Week of July 1 - 7 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Biopics Lead Off This Week’s Tropic Lineup
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Biographical films take many forms. This week Tropic Cinema presents two, one told somewhat like an unfettered stage play, the other mindful of an action-packed historical documentary. Along with those two films, are three others that offer plenty of thrills, chills, and adventure.

 The first biopic, “Genius” is based on the real-life collaboration between Thomas Wolfe of “Look Homeward, Angel” fame and Maxwell Perkins, the book editor who also worked with Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Jude Law and Colin Firth doff their British accents to play the pair. Detroit News says the film “deals with the creative ego, its trappings and the need everyone has for an editor.” And Kaplan vs. Kaplan adds, “The film is a captivating example of superb acting and writing, not to be missed by serious cinephiles.”

Next up is “Free State of Jones,” the true story of a band of Confederate deserters who found against the Union Army. Matthew McConaughey portrays Newton Knight, leader of the renegades who declared Jones County, Mississippi, to be a “free state.” Tulsa World proclaims, “There’s a good history lesson here, along with the hero turn, and thankfully it’s not totally covered up by the Hollywoodization of the subject matter.” And concludes, “This may be one of the most honest American films about slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction ever made.”

“Our Kind of Traitor” seems like it could be a true story, as we follow the turmoil of a couple (Ewan McGregor and Naomi Harris) caught between the British Secret Service and the Russian Mafia when they try to help a charming defector (Stellan Skarsgård).  Compuserve calls it “a tense spy tale in the John Le Carre tradition.” And Time Out concludes the movie “reveals our world to be run by snakes.”

“Independence Day: Resurgence” is a sequel to the 1996 sci-fi epic about earth fighting off space invaders. Will Smith decided to sit this one out, but Jessie Usher steps in to play his character’s stepson. Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox, and Jeff Goldblum return to help fight off the aliens. Movie Talk states, “The new film isn’t so much a reprise of ID4 as it is a combination of tribute act and reunion tour.” And Huffington Post observes, “Based on the popularity of the original, and the strength of the characters created there, this sequel should have been a sure thing; it isn't. Oh, it is good but it should have been so much better.”

“Nice Guys” is a fun-filled action flick about a mismatched pair of detectives (Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe) investigating the death of a porn star. New York Magazine says “Nice Guys” has a nice feel: “Just slick enough to keep from falling apart, just brutal enough to keep from seeming inconsequential.” And El Antepenúltimo Mohicano notes that it “stands out due to its great dose of cynicism and satire of the Hollywood industry.”

Biopics to bare knuckles, spies to spaceships -- plenty to see at the Tropic.

Free State of Jones (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

In “Free State of Jones” Matthew McConaughey Takes No Prisoners
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I once drove through Ellisville (population: 4,448) without realizing its historical significance. Ellisville is the county seat of Jones County, a 700-square-mile section of swamp and farmland in southeastern Mississippi. It is also the hometown of Lance Bass, a singer with the popular boy band NSYNC -- but that is merely an aside.

Jones County’s most interesting native son was Newton Knight, a farmer and Southern Unionist. That’s the term for white people living in the Confederate States of America who opposed secession from the Union. During the Civil War, Newton was the leader of the Knight Company, a band of Confederate army deserters who fought against the South.

Historians disagree as to whether Newton Knight was a noble man of principle or an unprincipled outlaw. But that does not seem to be a question in “Free State of Jones,” the new Matthew McConaughey movie that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Knight’s grandfather was one of Jones County’s largest slaveholders. But Newton’s father was the only heir not to inherit any slaves, so there were none to be passed along. Thereby, Newton had nothing to lose when it came to freeing slaves -- although some claim it was his devout Baptist morality that sparked his opposition to slavery.

Having no slaves, he did not fall under the Twenty Negro Law, which would have exempted him from serving in the Confederate Army. In late 1862 he deserted, stating, “If they had a right to conscript me when I didn’t want to fight the Union, I had a right to quit when I got ready.”

Proclaiming themselves “Southern Yankees,” about 600 deserters formed the Knight Company with Newton elected as captain. The Knight Company fought some 14 skirmishes against Confederate forces. In July 1864, the Natchez Courier reported that Jones County had seceded from the Confederacy, proclaiming itself to be the Free State of Jones.

Director-writer Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games,” “Seabiscuit”) stuck as close to the historical record as he could, cramming the story into an overly long 2 ½ hours. He consulted with a number of respected historians (Eric Foner of Columbia University, Martha Hodes of NYU, among them) in his attempt to accurately portray the times.

As Newton Knight, Matthew McConaughey (Oscar-winner for “Dallas Buyers Club”) looks like he stepped out of a daguerreotype, the image of a war-weary Civil War soldier with scraggly beard, greasy hair, and fierce blue eyes. Keri Russell (TV’s “The Americans”) adds a sense of sadness to her small role as Knight’s first wife, Serena. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Belle”) brings luminous dignity to her key performance as Knight’s subsequent black wife, Rachel. And Mahershala Ali stands out as Moses, a composite character who exemplifies the slaves fighting alongside Newton and his deserters.

In this moralistic telling, Confederate soldiers and rich plantation owners are all bad, with Newton Knight being a Civil War-era Robin Hood. That’s pretty much the way Knight’s son portrayed him in a 1935 book titled “The Life and Activities of Captain Newton Knight.” The book omits Rachel, given the ongoing bias against interracial sexuality.

However, Knight’s grandniece painted him as “a backward, ignorant, murderous traitor” in her 1951 book “The Echo of the Black Horn.”

Saint or sinner? We’ll leave that to the historians. But as a filmmaker, Gary Ross clearly comes down on the side of selfless sainthood.

As for Matthew McConaughey, it’s another well-thought-out performance in a string of movie roles that began with “The Lincoln Lawyer” and continued with “Dallas Buyers Club.” Here he’s convincing as a rebel who rebelled against the Southern Rebellion. Ironically, one of McConaughey’s ancestors was Confederate Brigadier General Dandridge McRae, a soldier who fought to preserve slavery in the South.

You will appreciate the bloody battle scenes and the documentary-like style that adds historical verisimilitude, but it’s the underpinnings of the movie -- the portrayal of the South as an avaricious cotton-based economy -- that makes Ross’s point. When it comes to that magnolia-scented mythology about the Southern way of life threatened by Northern aggression, “Free State of Jones” takes no prisoners.

Genius (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Genius” Examines Thomas Wolfe and Maxwell Perkins
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Years ago, in Asheville, North Carolina, I knew Thomas Wolfe’s brother Fred. He liked to hang around the National Historic Landmark that had been the writer’s boyhood home. This Queen Anne style edifice was originally a rooming house run by his mother called “Old Kentucky Home.” In Thomas Wolfe’s celebrated novel “Look Homeward, Angel,” it was renamed “Dixieland.”

Wolfe’s shadow hangs over Asheville, where he was ostracized following his roman à clef, inspiring a subsequent novel titled “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Wolfe chose to stay away from Asheville for eight years following the uproar.

Some of that time he spent in Europe, but much was spent in Brooklyn where he worked on a lengthy novel titled “The October Fair.” He submitted it to Maxwell Perkins, the editor at Scribner’s who had been instrumental in the writing careers of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

Perkins cut the novel considerably and retitled it “Of Time and the River.”

This time the citizens of Asheville were upset because they hadn’t been included.

Perkins’s severe editing of Wolfe’s work prompted him to leave Scribner’s for Harper’s & Brothers.

This turbulent relationship between author and editor is the essence of a new film called “Genius.” It takes this title from a book, “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius” by A. Scott Berg.

“Genius” is currently showing at Tropic Cinema.

Directed by film novice Michael Grandage, its stagey dialogue is mindful of his background as a theatrical producer. Set in New York City in the ‘30s, the film is awash with the monochromatic colors of a faded photograph.

Jude Law (“Road to Perdition,” “Spy”) develops a hillbilly accent to portray the Southern writer that The New York Times called “one of the most confident young voices in contemporary American literature.” Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech,” “A Single Man”) looks all buttoned-up as Max Perkins. Despite their squabbles over Perkins’s red pencil and Wolfe’s verbosity, at his death Wolfe acknowledged Perkins as his closest friend. This biopic is sort of a literary romance.

As for lustful romance, Wolfe was enamored with a married woman named Aline Bernstein, 18 years his senior. In the film, Nicole Kidman takes on that role.

Also, Dominic West pops up as Ernest Hemingway; Guy Pierce as F. Scott Fitzgerald; and Vanessa Kirby as Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda.

Zelda died in a sanatorium fire in Asheville, Wolfe’s hometown. On visiting the Asheville library, Fitzgerald discovered that it didn’t contain any of Thomas Wolfe’s works, a holdover from the flap about “Look Homeward, Angel,” so he donated a volume. At least that’s the way Fred told me the story.

Now the Thomas Wolfe Collection at Pack Memorial Library honors (as they like to say today) “Asheville’s favorite son.”

When the library was remodeling in the early ‘70s, they sold off some of the fixtures. I bought a sturdy oak reading desk. It sits in my home as a reminder of Thomas Wolfe.

The title of the movie -- “Genius” -- refers to Max Perkins. But for my two cents, it was that 6-foot-6 wild man from Asheville who was the real genius.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Independence Day: Resurgence

Run!!! It's been twenty years and something scaly is afoot in 3D. "Independence Day"  the sequel has arrived and we are at DEFCON 4 once more with enough crunching crashing and bashing for a thousand disaster films. Roland Emmerich again directs and most of the gang is all here, sans Will Smith as our hero, Stephen Hiller. Now we have Hiller's stepson Dylan (Jessie Usher) who is not as cocky and self assured as his stepdad, but he handles all drama with a smile. The reckless character belongs to actor Liam Hemsworth as Jake. He is a hybrid of Captain Kirk and Han Solo. Usually he does the right thing, but he is known to push the envelope.

Jeff Goldblum reprises his scientist role as Levinson, and he is apropriately spaced out and full of dry observations. The one casting surprise is Charlotte Gainsbourg as a scientist and linguistic scholar. Her nervous face and piercing eyes hits you like a wedge across the chest and gives gravity to the pop melodrama.  One can watch her all day, but it is a cinematic sin that she has little to do except take pictures and collect sketches, her haunted charisma squandered.

Bill Pullman reprises his role as the US president who once saved the day while Brent Spiner (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) appears too, once more as the eccentric Dr. Okun, running around naked, scrawling designs and squiggles.

To suffice, this is war and more of the same. Straightaway, the president and first female (Sela Ward) is rendered powerless in seconds. Really? Shouldn't they have some experience from decades ago? During the initial confrontation, there is some popcorn paranoia and suspense. We don't quite know how the aliens will look and maybe, just maybe, events will be different.

But, to reveal too much on screen is to spoil and sure enough, the fighters come out and the explosions commence with "Star Wars" era dialogue. (Yeehaa, we got em!") Midway through it becomes more like a video game than a film as the pyrotechnics blossom in multiples like violent flowers, oddly lacking in emotion  yet crystal clear.

There is one engaging air combat scene between our heroine Patricia (Maika Monroe) and the alien which contains its tension in a 1950 monster movie kind of way. Other than Charlotte Gainsbourg's face, the close up fight is the best thing in the film.

While it may be possible to get swept up in the film for a little bit, there is one belligerent angry line reminicent of current politics that killed my suspension of disbelief. After all, shouldn't we be less interested in militarily trumping these primal creatures and looking for a fight?  A smidgen of logic and philosophy (as in life) would do wonders for a third film. How many "War of the Worlds" can our eyes absorb?

Time will tell.

Write Ian at

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Dark Horse (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Dark Horse

This irrepressible documentary by Louise Osmond chronicles the symbiotic relationship between woman and horse. One day at a bar, grocery clerk Jan Vokes gets an image from a dream which turns into a concept: why not breed a race horse? So begins the improbable but true story of a Welsh bar and a horse called Dream Alliance.

It is the new millenium in the gray and  damp Welsh mining town of Cefin Fforest. When Jan pitches her vision, a few patrons bark but her husband Brian, an ex-bouncer, who bears a resemblance to actor Jim Broadbent knows that Jan can do anything once she sets her mind to it.  She promptly establishes a syndicate, raising enough money to have a foal. Long legged and sleek with a creamy brown coat the color of cappuccino, the horse is intensely affectionate, very like a puppy.

Jan hires trainer Philip Hobbs, who sets to the task, possessing a quirky streak. Little by little, the unknown horse financed by a small circle of jovial men at a bar, gallops up the ranks: fourth, third and then, second place.

And, as if to underscore the point of being a contender, the horse is given a blaze on his forehead and nose by mother nature, almost similar to Harry Potter, highlighting the numinous and magical.

Indeed, there does seem something supernatural about the animal. Some say Dream is empathic, having the ability to read human emotions. Whatever the case, most agree that like any proper Welshman, this horse is unpredictable.  At the core, Jan and the motley circle live for surprise. They want to shake up the upper crust, invading the porcelain-silver class and the ladies that become as feathered as peacocks on equestrian afternoons.

In a prepatory race for the Grand National, Dream gets into an accident and gives Death a brown eyed stare.

With its amiable humor and a touch of the zany, this film is plucky and beguiling. Most heartfelt is the bond the entire group shares with Dream, especially when deciding on the approval of a life-saving surgery that borders on science-fiction. All the better to invade the moneyed class.

In defiance, Brian with teeth as green as a training field, does something unheard of in racing history. He brings his own lunch.

Unassuming, joyful and ebullient, "Dark Horse" is one film without an agenda and refreshingly so. Full of stories and good cheer, the film merely shows events as is.

Everyone likes an underdog and Dream, the horse and the film is among the best, one part "Rocky" and one "Made in Dagenham." In addition to a racer, Dream was an empath magician when it counted.

Write Ian at

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Free State of Jones (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Free State of Jones

For those that want a minimalist history lesson  in broad shapes, here you have it in "Free State of Jones" as directed by Gary Ross. Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a freedom fighter in the Reconstruction Era of The Civil War. After his nephew,  (actor Jacob Lofland, McConaughey's co-star in "Mud") dies in a battle, Newton who bares a resemblance to Jesus, gets a spark of an idea to desert against the desperate tyrants of the Confederacy and form his own company.

McConaughey, for his part, is solid in this role excluding the fact that he is often wild eyed and sweating. One can take a bit of comfort in the fact that he has drama in his voice and his rolling southern drawl does have power, albeit comic at times. But suffice to say, this film is generalized and bland having the feel of an illustrated history book.

We have usual stock characters here: a hateful, nonchalant colonel (Lawrence Turner) who talks like Colonel Sanders and his pompous lieutenant (Bill Tangredi). Most of the film highlights the grimy Knight fretting and yes, sweating. He quotes the Bible in grave tones. There is one good combat scene that thrills, but then the narrative snaps back to a gnarled McConaughey proclaming what is good and correct with dialogue out of a John Ford western.

The stunning Gugu Mbatha-Raw is McConaughey's spouse in the film but weirdly, her role is too lightly drawn. Rachel Knight is pushed to the background and all but shoved aside with the exception of a gun and a baby. Her character begs for rounder treatment.

There is a side story about Davis Knight (Brian Lee Franklin) a relative being denied marriage as a mixed race child in the year 1950, but this sideline is hodgepodge and loosely thrown, involving lawyers, bibles and census forms, all of it given soapily.

Granted, it is fun to hate the Confederacy during a battle and there is a haunting montage that recognizes the cinematic offensiveness of 1915's "Birth of a Nation" but for the most part the epic of Newton Knight is watered down to a stick figure who is always right and over-confident, a grimy golden He-man, a Mississippi Messiah.

I declare, a little goes a long way.

Write Ian at

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Week of June 24 - 30 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Offers Seven Films, Big and Small
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Now that Tropic Cinema is allowed to show big first-run films as well as smaller indies, you'll find even more variety on its screens.

“Independence Day: Resurgence” is a CGI-laden sequel to the 1996 sci-fi blockbuster about an alien invasion. Those buggers that Will Smith defeated in the first flick are back again, swarming the skies like locusts. However, Will is not around to save the world in this one. IGN Movies describes it as “a silly, cheesy, spectacle-driven blockbuster with heart.” And Empire Magazine declares, “You’ll enjoy yourself enough that you won’t even miss Will Smith.”

“Love & Friendship” is based on a little-read Jane Austen novel about a manipulating woman looking for a husband for herself and her daughter. Kate Beckinsale is perfectly cast as conniving Lady Susan. Toronto Sun calls this period piece “quick, clever and delightful.” And St. Louis Post Dispatch finds it to be a “comic romp that fans of the classic English author will love.”

Although directed by Rebecca Miller, “Maggie’s Plan” might easily be mistaken for a Woody Allen film. SSG Syndicate notes, “Acerbic and idiosyncratic, it’s tartly erudite to the extreme.” And It’s Just Movies observes, “Greta Gerwig co-stars with New York City in this tame location driven rom-com.”

“Weiner” is a documentary about former Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose political career crashed when he got caught sexting naughty photos of himself. Mountain Xpress says, “Yeah, you almost certainly know how this is going to play out, but that doesn’t keep the film from being compelling and even fascinating.” And Minneapolis Star Tribune calls it “the must-see nonfiction film of the year.”

“Dark Horse” is the true story about a group of working class Brits who take on the uppercrust task of breeding a racehorse. Salt Lake Tribune describes it as “an inspirational sports story, loaded with eccentric characters, dramatic twists, and a rousing, emotional trajectory.” Detroit News calls it “a galloping victory.” And Seattle Times challenges, “Oh, just try to resist this one.”

“Nice Guys” stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as mismatched detectives investigating the death of a porn star.  New York Magazine describes it as “just slick enough to keep from falling apart, just brutal enough to keep from seeming inconsequential.” And El Pais calls it “an exercise in cynicism and cool.”

“Free State of Jones” gives us Matthew McConaughey as a defiant Southern farmer who leads an armed rebellion against the Confederate Army. Hollywood Reporter sees it as “a compelling and little-known story of the Civil War period ….” And San Francisco Chronicle concludes, “It’s a good film, absorbing from beginning to end, but it’s also important.”

Big films, big stars; little films, little stars. Tropic has them all.

Independence Day: Resurgence (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Independence Day:  Resurgence” Marks Return of Aliens
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You’d think those alien buggers would get the message. You can’t invade the earth and win. We’ve proved it in movie after movie.

One in particular stands out as testimony to that fact: “Independence Day,” that 1996 patriotic epic in which a fighter pilot (Will Smith) and the US president (Bill Pullman) lead a counterattack against alien invaders on July 4th -- roughly the same date that the movie opened.

Being that this was a summer blockbuster, Jeff Goldblum was a member of the cast. He was considered “good luck” for such films.

Of course, we kicked those aliens’ little green butts.

Now, two decades after that first invasion, the aliens are back in a new movie called “Independence Day: Resurgence.”

Several familiar faces from that first movie -- Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Brent Spiner, and Judd Hirsch -- are back. Along with Jeff Goldblum, needless to say.

For continuity, Jessie Usher will play the Will Smith character’s stepson. The studio wouldn’t pony up the $50 million Smith demanded for two more movies in the series. So they killed him off in a crash while test-piloting an alien hybrid fighter. Bummer.

Both movies are the brainchild of director Roland Emmerich and his sometimes collaborator Dean Devlin. Together, they have given us such megahits as “Godzilla,” “Stargate,” and not-so-big-a-hit “Eight Legged Freaks.”

This week “Independence Day: Resurgence” is carrying the battle to the Tropic Cinema.

As President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) patriotically says, “Today, you will once again be fighting for our freedom...”

Aliens or ISIS, movies like this make us want to defiantly declare (to quote Pullman’s character), “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our ...” … well, you know.

Maggie's Plan (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Maggie’s Plan” Goes Comically Awry
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

 Everybody is calling “Maggie’s Plan” a Woody Allen wannabe.

Sure, it’s about a neurotic New York woman who encounters a number of comic mishaps with intellectual overtones. But, in fact, it’s a belabored labor of love by director-writer Rebecca Miller. Not need to bring Woody Allen into this. She has the creative genes, being the daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller.

Rebecca Miller’s last film was a 2009 comedy called “The Secret Lives of Pippa Lee.” I remember interviewing her via Skype, she chatting nervously, with her husband Daniel Day-Lewis sitting just out of camera range. She seemed very serious about being funny.

“Maggie’s Plan” is a screwball comedy, one of those female-dominant farces with fast-paced dialogue and plenty of plot twists where everything seems to go wrong in a funny way.

Here, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is a control freak who wants a child but can’t find the man of her dreams, so she beseeches an old school chum (Travis Fimmel), a math genius who is now a -- wait for it! -- pickle maker, to provide her with the sperm. However, things go awry when she falls for a brainy college professor (Ethan Hawke), who happens to be married to an even brainer wife (Julianne Moore, using a silly Danish accent).

The message is, be careful what you wish for. Three years later, she’s married to the deadbeat prof and saddled with both her and his children.

Thus comes the story’s biggest plot twist, when Maggie decides her hubby is not Mr. Right and she must formulate a new plan to reunite him with his ex-wife.

Ms. Miller strains a bit to be funny line-after-line. And Greta Gerwig is essentially repeating all those roles -- the ineffectual woman confused by relationships -- that won her the title of “indie darling.” Julianne Moore surprises us by turning a daft part into a screen-stealing performance.

“Maggie’s Plan” is playing at Tropic Cinema.

Rebecca Miller’s New York-centric film may not be as good as a good Woody Allen. But -- wannabe or not -- it’s much better than a bad Woody Allen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Nice Guys (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Nice Guys

In the 1980s and early 90s, comedy films were king and this was true of the buddy cop genre, specifically the "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Lethal Weapon" series. As the years passed, these films gave way to big screen epics, most notably big screen adventure or science fiction films. The movie screen became less like a window and more like a virtual realm.

Well, it is 2016 and who says you can't travel back in time? You certainly will when watching Shane Black's "The Nice Guys" a retro cop comedy very much in the style of Richard Donner or Joel Schumacher. The film is lively, colorful and irreverent with action that is truly nonstop. For those that say this is really nothing new. Fair enough. But the jokes are so deadpan and direct that you will laugh in spite of it all.

Jack (Russell Crowe) is a nonchalant hired gun who throttles people for money whether they deserve it or not. Holland (Ryan Gosling) is a passive detective who just takes his clients money without following up on solid leads. Add to this the fact that he is lazy and accident prone and you have quite a mixture of traits.

Jack is protecting stalkers from young teens while Holland is basically feeling sorry for himself. The two men meet up in a violent encounter of a missing girl, Amelia (Margaret Qualley) who is enmeshed in a mystery involving porn. After a scuffle, the two agree to join efforts to find the girl or at least to get to the heart of things.

The fun of the film is merely the fact that Gosling and Crowe are playing against type and have the looseness necessary to make fun of their formidable onscreen personas. Holland looks like an actor from a stag film with a long drooping mustache, while Jack is a caricature of Mel Gibson.

The pair get into many scrapes and misadventures mostly due to the fact that neither of them are quick enough.

Gosling is perfect as a terrified Lou Costello. He even shrieks at a very high pitch. Crowe will have you laughing as well, given that his character is so overconfident and in control that it renders him silly. Angourie Rice as Holland's daughter nearly steals the film. Rice plays a good-natured pre-teen girl with a glibly  acidic tongue.

While the narrative is directly taken from many films with good and bad clearly defined, the humor is right out of Jerry Zucker's "Airplane!" The two ne'er do wells take themselves far too seriously and consequently accomplish very little.

The swift direction by Black (the writer of Lethal Weapon) turns this film into something conceptual and almost arty in an odd way.

"The Nice Guys" is a Pop Art time capsule in the way that films once were with jarring noise, clashing color and snarky, homicidal villains. Actor Matt Bomer is John Boy, a laconic and sinister loon from "The Matrix" era. For dessert, there is one scene that dizzily recalls both "Lethal Weapon" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" which defies description.

Be sure to leave your logical senses behind and allow yourself to experience all of the bone-crunching bonhomie with a pair of shifty guys.

"The Nice Guys" takes you back for a beating and doesn't disappoint.

Write Ian at

Viva (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


There have been many films about the courage to be yourself despite parental pressures and societal norms from "Billy Elliott" (male ballet) "Priscilla, Queen of the  Desert", "To Wong Foo" (female impersonators) and "The Full Monty" (male strippers) just to name a few.

In "Viva" by the Irish filmmaker Paddy Breathnacht, Jesus, a young boy (Hector Medina) yearns to be a drag performer in the slums of Havana.

As Jesus, the actor Medina is first rate. His alternately inquisitive and spacey expressions tell all there is to know. This is a boy who wants to be placed in another world: one of drama, pathos, color and light. Instead, he is immersed in the brown gray crumbling dwellings of Havana where the rain pours from rusty pummelled roofs tinted in ochre and brown.

He has no money and spends his time wandering from place to place drifting in record stores to buy used records.

One gets a very visceral feeling from this youngster who glides from place to place, a detached observer, a camera, recording all he sees while immersed in endless, incomprehensible macho noise.

If that were all the film contained, it would have been enough: a picaresque journey of characters and sensations, all while a young boy practices and performs in the confined and repressed air of an unvarnished Cuba.

Instead we get Angel, (Jorge Perugorria) a boxer and Jesus' physically violent father who pays a visit and decides to stay with him after he hits him.

Angel is as sullen, grouchy and as belligerent as you would expect and doesn't have much to say. He shuffles about and barks. Angel tries to rule with an iron hand and shadowboxes, but he is clearly past his prime.

All this in under the rainy ceiling of clouds containing all the dinginess that is Cuba.

The only brightness that Jesus looks forward to are his meetings with Mama (Luis Alberto Garcia) an older drag performer, who inspires him on stage.

Jesus has a neighbor-acquaintance Cecilia (Laura Aleman) who pressures him to use his bed for her date and then turns nasty.

Just when Jesus feels a bit of sun, (onstage as well as outside), clouds once more darken the sky.

Claustrophobia returns.

What was once pensive and thoughtful becomes heavy with needless melodrama and formulaic episodes with loud voices: an over the hill boxer, the caring theatrical mentor and the sassy friend. We half expect Jesus to yell "Leave me alone! Don't push me!"

And he all but does.

When his father nudges Viva on the chin as if to say "There you go kid!" we expect it.

The film would have been better served if it had dispensed with these predictable scenes and just stayed with Jesus, merely recording what he observes.

Less is more.

Surrealistically, there is one short montage showing a body being made for burial paired with Viva putting on makeup for a show as if the boy is reclaiming cosmetics, transforming them in a new positive condition. Although morbid, it proves poignant. If only there were more of these notes rather than a slide into formula.

"Viva" is a mixed bag. Hector Medina is enigmatic and entrancing, but placed up against his charmless father, it all becomes too much of a dark comparsa between father and son.

Write Ian at

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Weiner (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


The provocatively titled documentary "Weiner" by  directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, focuses on the Democrat firebrand Anthony Weiner and his life in the midst of a texting scandal that imperiled a previously shining political career. Weiner was a seven-term congressman from New York City. He was forceful, feisty and full of voltage, never failing to take republicans to task on issues like funding health care for citizens who were near the 9-11 attack site and national parks.

In the film he refuses to yield to the floor. Sweaty with his neck pulsing, he shouts and is ready for a fight.  People love him and he quickly becomes a daring darling on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" championing progressive issues. Then, seemingly out of the blue, a young woman posts a Twitter photo of Anthony Weiner's bulging underwear.

The public is shocked.

At first Weiner denies the photo, only to announce his intention to resign during the Summer of 2011. The picture of his penis under wraps was, in fact, genuine. Given the nature of his indiscretion, not to mention his own unfortunate name, the congressman became the target of jokes and derision by many, despite his attempts to earnestly debate issues that face everyday people.

Enter his wife Huma Abedin, right hand to Hillary Clinton, who gets Anthony to run for mayor of the city in 2013.

This is a sympathetic and compelling study of the human being as well as the politician. While it is true that Anthony Weiner made a mistake in a phone sex scandal involving numerous women while lying, amounting to a betrayal of public trust, the film clearly shows him as a sincere political person who cares about issues.

Weiner stays awake at night writing speeches and going to donors, only to be pulled back into a second scandal as more information is released. The pull of sex and desire is a vortex to him. After each revelation of unsavory news, the congressman seems dumbstruck, as if waking to a horrid dream.

Still, Anthony Weiner goes on.

The best segments of the film feature him rightly fighting a Republican on the congressional floor, as well as verbally fighting someone who hurls invective against his wife Huma at a New York deli. At such moments, your hand will cheer. He can and does do the right thing.

Though Weiner might is a flawed politician, he is also joyful and impassioned. Jokes aside, by no means is he a cold fish. In one moment Anthony Weiner hits the gay pride parade, at the next, he flies the Israel flag, swinging it wildly about his head, his electricity and cheer undaunted. People kiss him, while others hug him. But yet again, the congressman is forced to scurry and evade the eyes of cyber-mistress, Sydney Leathers, dressed in voluptual red.

Despite all sincerity and intent, Weiner, the man, has a sexual Achilles' heel that ultimately threatens to turn him into a tabloid figure.

Interestingly however, "Weiner" the film highlights Huma Abedin as his wife who clearly has the power to either bring about his salvation or leave him behind.

Write Ian at

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Maggie's Plan (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Maggie's Plan

If there was ever a Woody Allen film not directed by Woody Allen, it is Rebecca Miller's "Maggie's Plan." This slick and folksy New York film, which goes down as easy as a Starbucks macchiato in Manhattan, features the often quirky Greta Gerwig as Maggie, a (once more) self-deprecating and hyper college-art administrator.

In the office, Maggie happens to bump into the intense and oddly handsome anthropology professor John (Ethan Hawke). The two strike up a friendship based on book conversations.

In the midst of this, Maggie attempts to secure a sperm donor from an earthy acquaintance who pickles, a taciturn guy named Guy (Travis Frimmel).

In the manner of many Allen films, Maggie and John grow closer. Maggie doesn't care so much about her insemination and John doesn't care so much about being married to the detached Georgette (Julianne Moore). SNL alumni Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph appear as a straight twosome to the frenetic Gerwig and Hawke.

While the initial domestic shenanigans may well be familiar, the characters are amusing and off-kilter just enough to make this comedy enjoyable and nearly madcap. The fun is in Maggie constantly second guessing herself with her unique staccato speech while John never has a clue what either he or Maggie really want.

Also helpful is the fact that this is not a steady comic piece throughout but rather the study of a relationship with all of its knots and bruises. One sees Maggie and John fall in love in a giddy arc. The chemistry felt is like a bolt of lightning.

Julianne Moore does an adequate job as a self-absorbed, professor guru, though her germanic accent is a bit forced and cartoonish, almost out of a Gothic romance.

Excluding this one reservation, the dialogue is sharply comic with a black laced edge of gallows humor. As in "Love & Friendship," "Maggie's Plan" is a film featuring a subversive young woman with a trick up her sleeve, albeit this time in a hipster's New York City, rather than an English manor.

Write Ian at

Friday, June 17, 2016

Week of June 17 - 23 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Offers Wide Spectrum of Appealing Films
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

From an 18th-Century schemer to a 21st-Century planner, from a politician who exposes himself to a drag queen who hides his candy, Tropic Cinema offers us a wide spectrum of films this week.

“Love & Friendship” is director Whit Stillman’s take on a Jane Austen heroine, Lady Susan Vernon, a conniving woman who in the 1790s sets out to find a husband for herself and her daughter. BuzzFeed calls it “Jane Austen with the romance drained out….” Globe and Mail tells us it’s “adapted with great warmth and wit....” And Fort Worth Weekly sums it up, “Lady Susan is infuriating in her ability to justify whatever she wants to do and you want all her romantic plans to fail … but Kate Beckinsale nevertheless makes her into delightful company.”

“Maggie’s Plan” is Rebecca Miller’s homage to Woody Allen, the modern-day story a New York City single who wants to be a mommy. But her carefully crafted plans go astray in this screwball-ish comedy. Newsday calls it, “Something between Shakespeare, Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach, a cautionary tale filled with Manhattanite wit and small moments that have the ring of truth.” Detroit News notes that it’s “Greta Gerwig’s show, and once again she proves to be one of the screen’s most engaging presences.”

“Weiner” is Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s insider documentary about Anthony Weiner’s disastrous run for NYC mayor. You’ll remember Weiner as the former Congressman caught sexting women, despite being married to one of Hilary Clinton’s top aids. Christian Science Monitor says, “It would make a great double bill with ‘Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer.’” And One Guy’s Opinion notes that it’s “like watching a train wreck in slow motion, though ... the film actually moves quite briskly.”

“Viva” is Paddy Breathnach’s salute to a young Cuban hairdresser who aspires to be a drag queen. But his estranged father has other ideas.  Washington Post observes, “The story is slightly melodramatic, but the director finds ways to make it surprisingly moving at times, in the same way that he makes the Havana slums look paradoxically beautiful.” And San Francisco Chronicle adds, “The lively setting helps, but the main attraction here is the familiar story, which has been around forever and yet never gets old.”

Then for a bit of mindless humor we have Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys,” a buddy film about two mismatched tough guys investigating the death of a porn star. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling star as the doofus duo. MTV says, “Crowe and Gosling are a perfect mismatch. They skulk around Los Angeles like a bear and a weasel who just escaped from the circus.” And Baltimore Magazine observes, “Crowe and Gosling have a wonderful, gruff chemistry here, which is key. If this is the beginning of a ‘Lethal Weapon’ style franchise for the two actors, count me in.”

Yes, Tropic Cinema’s counterbalanced programing is sure to offer something that appeals.

The Nice Guys (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Nice Guys” Are Not So Nice
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A better title for “The Nice Guys” would be “The Odd Couple,” but that is already taken. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are the mismatched stars of this new action crime comedy movie.

Gosling actually has a comedic sensibility. Crowe has a big enough ego to think he has a comedic sensibility. When they appear on TV talk shows together they seem to get along.

“The Nice Guys” is playing at Tropic Cinema.

In it, Gosling plays an inept private detective and Crowe takes on the role of a heavy-handed enforcer. Set in the ‘70s mean streets of L.A., they join up to investigate the death of a porn star. They bumble about, but so does the script.

Nonetheless, you will want to buy a ticket if (a) you need a good laugh but will settle for a few chuckles, (b) are a fan of Ryan Gosling and think he’s dreamy, or (c) you know that the film was directed and co-written by Shane Black, the guy who gave us all those “Lethal Weapon” movies.

C’mon, you know you liked “Lethal Weapon” before you quit liking Mel Gibson. What’s more, Shane Black also directed and co-wrote “Iron Man 3.”

But the real reason to like Shane Black is that he directed the highly underrated “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” an action crime comedy with Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer.

Sure, “The Nice Guys” would have been better if it starred Downey and Kilmer. But we take what we can get. So buy a ticket anyway. Shane Black has “Doc Savage” and “Predator sequels in pre-production, and we want to encourage him to do a better job.

Viva (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Viva” Adds New Life To Father-Son Bond
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A friend of mine used to work for Viva, a sexy women’s magazine published by Penthouse founder Bob Guccione. In the new film of the same name, a young Cuban man spots the magazine on a table when asked what name he’s auditioning under and choses it as his drag queen stage name -- “Viva.”

Although set in Havana, this is an Irish film directed by Dublin-born Paddy Breathnach. Paddy is known for such indie outings as “Blow Dry” and “I Went Down.”

“Viva” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

In it, a young Cuban hairdresser named Jesus (Héctor Medina) aspires to perform as a drag queen, but he needs a makeover. Turning an awkward guy into a sexy gal takes some doing. But Jesus A/K/A Viva has good tutors.

Viva’s stage debut literally hits a bump when a guy jumps out of the audience and punches him in the face. Turns out, the guy is his estranged father, a macho boxer. Angel (Jorge Perugorría) has different expectations for his son. However, after an absence of 15 years, Jesus/Viva doesn’t think his father should have any say-so. Thus, we have a clash between progenitor and offspring. As well as a clash between the Latin machismo world and the drag world.

Héctor Medina is known for his appearance in “Truck Driver.” Jorge Perugorría is remembered for his leading role in the Cuban classic, “Strawberries and Chocolate.”

“Viva” was proposed as Ireland’s entry as Best Foreign Language Film in the 88th Academy Awards. While it didn’t make the cut, getting that far should serve as a recommendation to cinephiles.

This film should resonate here in Key West where we have a well-entrenched community of drag queens ... along with a large, more traditional Cuban population.

While this drama features the show biz backdrop of drag performers, the relationship between a son and his long-absent father crosses all boundaries.

Weiner (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Weiner” Is No Laughing Matter
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

No, I’m not going to make any jokes about Anthony Weiner’s name. You’ve heard them all. Weiner is the politician who in 2011 resigned from Congress after he got caught sexting -- that is, sending nude photos of himself to women.

“Weiner” is a documentary about him. It’s now playing at Tropic Cinema.

While the film covers Weiner’s initial downfall, it focuses more on his comeback attempt, when he entered the 2013 race for New York mayor. He was doing well in a crowded field when more evidence of his sexting popped up (no, that isn’t meant as a double entendre).

Directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, their camera captures an insider’s view of the crumbling campaign. You’re up close, practically looking over the shoulder of Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Mahmood Abedin (a close advisor to Hilary Clinton).

No spoiler alert needed: Anybody who watches TV knows his campaign lost its momentum, with Weiner finishing fifth place in the Democratic primary. He now works as a consultant.

Rather than a source of dirty jokes, this doc is more akin to Greek tragedy. Like the plays of Sophocles and Euripides, where hubris causes the fall of a king, we witness a tragic flaw bringing down a mighty politician. One who went by the prophetic online pseudonym of “Carlos Danger.” No joke.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Love and Friendship (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Love & Friendship

"Love & Friendship" by the offbeat director Whit Stillman is the lively film adaptation of Jane Austen's Lady Susan (1871). It is often difficult to make a film feel as rich as a work of literature, but thankfully this visual incarnation of the author's epistolary novel is catty, fun and irreverent.

All calm is suddenly upended when Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) descents upon the DeCourcy family, a glamorous raven in purple and black. Just how will she strike and what will she say? Susan Vernon is, after all, a widow.

 Beckinsale's Lady is flawless and frenetic, a true creature who actually licks her lips while speaking.

The film starts with music by Henry  Purcell, titled "The Funeral of Queen Mary." A similar version of the melody was done for "A Clockwork Orange." This is no accident. Lady Susan, like Alex in Stanley Kubrick's film is strong stuff, and she is indeed one of the few Austen antiheroes. Susan has the men eating from the palm of her hand.

Actor Xavier Samuel is perfect as a clueless Reginald DeCourcy. With melting eyes, he is both dense and docile. Playing James Martin, actor Tom Bennett almost reaches heights of Monty Python as a sycophantic and silly dancer. Rounding out the cast is Chloe Sevigny as Susan's hissy hussy Alicia who always says yes, and the iconic Stephen Fry as Alicia's husband.

The ladies rule here. All the men are drones and the film is all Susan. Far from lazy, she is half a silken serpent and half a piercing swan. Her hair is dazzlingly intricate with more swirls than a lord's handwriting.

If you are expecting a leisurely snooze, fear not. "Love & Friendship" has enough mouthy malice to put PBS on hold and her lethal loquaciousness will have you in stitches. Her sting of sarcasm is at odds with her sweet voice, making it all the more poisonous.

At film's end, take care or you will be knocked silly like most of the men in this deceptively light, subversive film.

Write Ian at

Monday, June 6, 2016

Week of June 3 - 9 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic Cinema Serves Up a ‘Six-Pack’
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

This week Tropic Cinema’s selections comprise a six-pack. But unlike a carton of same-brand soda or beer, the Tropic’s offerings are delightfully varied. For those who like indie films, you’ll find them. For those who enjoy Hollywood blockbusters, ditto.

“The Lobster” is a new indie starring Collin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. This sci-fi fantasy tells about a future where people are required pair up as romantic couples, or else be turned into an animal (like, say, a lobster). Salt Lake Tribune says the film “neatly satirizes the societal pressures of mating and the difficulties of finding a soulmate.” And Newsday calls it “highly original and mordantly funny. Perfect for fans of Franz Kafka, Charlie Kaufman and other bleak surrealists.”

On the other end of the scale, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is latest blockbuster in Marvel’s superhero franchise. This time we meet the very first mutant, an Egyptian pharaoh who becomes a villain named Apocalypse. Only the X-Men stand between him and his attempt to destroy the world.  Fort Worth Weekly says, “The X-Men series has found some promising new blood in front of the camera.” And Baret News observes, “This episode is … directed by the series’ originator, Bryan Singer, whose sophisticated touch always allows an audience to enjoy a relatively-cerebral cinematic experience.”

On the other hand, “The Meddler” is a smaller film starring Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne. As the title implies, this comedy is about a meddling mother and her exasperated daughter. Spirituality and Practice describes it as “The story of a widow’s self-transformation through generosity, kindness, and letting go.” And Killer Movie Reviews proclaims, “A better film about the complicated bond between mother and child has never had a better, a funnier, or a more heartwarming cinematic incarnation.”

“The Jungle Book” is Disney’s fourth retelling of the Rudyard Kipling story about a boy raised by jungle animals. PlusbitsMix says, “Exciting, fun, impressive and beautiful is how I can summarize ‘The Jungle Book’ experience.” And Proceso observes, “Those who saw the animated version will miss the musical numbers, yet Favreau manages to create a beautiful and balanced film.”

“A Bigger Splash” tells about a rock star and her boyfriend (Tilda Swinton and Matthias Schoenaerts) dealing with an old friend and his daughter (Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson) who interrupt their stay on Italy’s volcanic island Pantelleria. Expect a few human eruptions. Detroit News describes it as “a sensuous and thought-provoking adult drama dealing with temptation, sexuality and carnal desires.” And Missoula Independent says, “I’m recommending A Bigger Splash on the strength of its performances and the complexity of the characters.”

A crowd pleaser, “The Man Who Knew Infinity” explores the unlikely friendship between a grumpy Cambridge professor and a fish-out-of-water mathematical genius. Fort Worth Star Telegram describes
it as “an incredible true story about an impoverished Indian man whose Jedi math skills helped him triumph over race, class, and bad food in early 20th-Century England -- and telescopes it into a well-made yet predictable tale of inspiration.” And adds, “Jeremy Irons and Dav Patel create a bit of magic with their mathematical dance …”

Six films, big and small. A nice selection.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Meddler (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Meddler

If there ever was a film that goes down easily with good production, spirit and verve, it is "The Meddler," the new film by Lorene Scafaria. Some might well say it is transparently feel-good. So be it. The story fits this genre in the best way possible.

Susan Sarandon is Marnie, a widowed mother who compulsively keeps tabs on her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne) by way of calling and calling, message after message. Lori, though irritated, handles this primarily through nonchalance and deflection. Lori is never mean. After all, she just moved to L.A. and doesn't need the drama. Besides Mom means well.

Although Marnie is intense with her daughter, others love her and enjoy her company. Lori's friend Jillian (Cecily Strong) takes a liking to her, as does Emily (Lucy Punch). Marnie has a vivacious spirit and an interest combined with a hint of naïveté that makes her good company.  Lori is vexed by Marnie's popularity, yet tries to go with the situation, rather than resist.

There have been many films about domineering moms and the struggle for sanity: "Mother," "Guilt Trip," and  "Grandma" to name a few. What makes this film different is its attitude. Marnie is no mother on steriods, single-minded in an almost supernatural intensity. To the contrary, Marnie is lonely and human. Though worried, she has a child's curiousity for life. Marnie is content to experience events and simply drift.

The film is more akin to the mumblecore cinema of Noah Baumbach then any Albert Brooks, Carl Reiner or Woody Allen comedy. Fortunately this is a character study film and does not play for easy screwball bits or farcical hoots. These are real people that grow and transform, not mere cartoons drawn from The New Yorker.

All to the better.

J.K. Simmons gives a refreshing and understated performance as Marnie's new interest, albeit similar to Sam Elliott's role in "I'll See You in My Dreams." Last but not least comedian Jerrod Carmichael, as another of Marnie's friends, does well with energy and charm.

Wonderfully, the light comforts arise from human interaction rather than glib punch lines. All of these characters have a friendship with Marnie, driven by heart, not hijinks. Perhaps the best quality of The Meddler" is that the mom is not a meddler at all, but a mother open to everyone and very real. Moreover, you will feel that you know these people and laugh along the way, which is no small thing.

Write Ian at

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Lobster (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Lobster

From the uncompromising director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose striking film "Dogtooth" focused on an overprotective father shutting in his kids, here is "The Lobster" depicting a suspicious future where being a single person means exile from the human race.

Colin Ferrell is David, a humdrum architect whose wife left him. As government dictates, David is sent to a huge hotel, a kind of Marriott, where he has forty five days to engage in social activities and find a spouse, or else. Batchelorhood and permanent divorce is verboten.

While the premise might at first seem light and silly, the film is far from it. And though reminicent of tales like "1984," "Brave New World" and Franz Kafka, the story has pockets of savage gallows humor to make the preceedings suitably startling and haunting by turns.

To start with, Colin Farrell is nearly unrecognizable as the monotone draftsman. He moves about in a halting rhythm as if held back by a heavy sleep that he cannot shake. Accessorized with a small mustache, Farrell walks hesitantly forward like a Charlie Chaplin of cyberspace. Rather than resist, his character often lets the strange events pass through him. These episodes, frequently involving animals and reproachful looks, are portrayed with a crystal clear sharpness and lucidity as in a painting by Salvador Dali.

Actor Ben Whisaw is a limping man, who alongside a lisping man,  (John C. Reilly) befriends the often speechless David. Rachel Weisz is a spunky but shortsighted ally as well.

While the starkness of the setting combined with deadpan delivery may not be to all tastes, it would be a mistake to get hung up on the echoes of science fictions past. "The Lobster" is unapologetic and biting in its jokes that come with gasps of disbelief. Some will say this is a comedy,  while others might call it a cautionary tale of control gone rabid.

No matter how you define this odd film, the director Yorgos Lanthimos is to be applauded for taking unsavory situations and presenting them just as they might appear in the logic of a dream with confrontation and force.

But more importantly still, in an age of formulaic cinema where our reactions are often hand-fed rather than explored, Lanthimos gives us the space necessary to freely ponder and reflect.

Write Ian at

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Lobster (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Lobster” Fantasizes About Relationships
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Re member “The Prisoner,” that surreal TV show about a man (Number Six) being held captive in a strange village without understanding the charges? Somewhat Kafka-esque. “The Lobster” has a touch of that absurd paranoia.

In this new sci-fi comedy we find a dystopian world where people must have a romantic partner, else be turned into an animal and set loose in the forest. Anyone without a mate is taken to a hotel where he or she has 45 days to match up. Otherwise, off they go.

After his wife runs off with another man, David (Colin Farrell) gets sent to the hotel. He takes along his dog, who used to be his brother.

Hotel Manager: “Now have you thought of what animal you’d like to be if you end up alone?”

David: “Yes. A lobster.”

Hotel Manager: “Why a lobster?”

David: “Because lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives. I also like the sea very much.”

At the hotel David doesn’t have much luck at hooking up, despite the dances, propaganda films, and stimulation by the hotel maid. So he makes an escape, joining a band of Loners. There he meets Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) to whom he’s attracted. The irony here is that as a citizen he must become a couple, but as a Loner he must hide a relationship. What to do?

“It’s one of the main things that we’re preoccupied with in life -- relationships and love,” says Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos.

As weird as “The Lobster” might sound, it won the Jury Prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Even Bob the Dog won a prize.

This is Lanthimos’s first English-language feature-length film. It’s currently showing at Tropic Cinema.

Lanthimos, the Oscar-nominated director of “Dogtooth” and “Alps,” likes to do movies about characters pushing the boundaries that surround them.

“I think I did want to make a romantic film,” Lanthimos says. “I’m not sure if it was intentional from the very beginning, but I’m sure somewhere while writing the script it became intentional. I wanted it to have a real love story … In any case, I would never make a film that was only one thing. Even if it’s my warmest, most romantic film, I still want it to have the more cynical view of things, showing the irony and absurdity of things that we consider normal.”

He certainly does that.

The Meddler (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Meddler” Is Sarandon at Her Best
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Back when Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins were still a couple, I used to bump into them at the Starbucks in New Canaan, CT. She was always friendly, nodding a hello. But she didn’t “meddle” with other coffee drinkers, all the conversations going on in undisturbed huddles, while she and Robbins continued their own private exchange.

But that’s no longer the case. At least, not on the big screen.

Susan Sarandon stars in “The Meddler,” a title that pretty much describes the plot of the movie. Here she plays a mother, recently widowed, who moves to the West Coast to be close to her screenwriter daughter. Not that her daughter invites this proximity.

With the best of intentions, Marnie Minervini (Sarandon) begins to invade the privacy of her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne). Dropping in unannounced. Calling all the time. Being overly helpful.

Too much, her daughter complains.

Fortunately, Marnie soon meets other people who value her assistance, and life smooths out.

Yes, I know many mothers and daughters are close, talk every day on the phone, adore each other’s company. But not always.

My brother-in-law once told me I gave him great advice at his wedding to my sister: “Live as far away from the family as you can.”

But, as “The Meddler” shows, sometimes they follow you, unable to let go.

And as this movie -- playing at Tropic Cinema -- proves, it’s not always bad.

“The Meddler” is one of Susan Sarandon’s best performance. She proves it’s possible to transition from being a young Hollywood actress (“The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Bull Durham,” “Thelma & Louise”) to playing an older woman with impunity.