Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Please go to http://tropiccinema.com/movie-reviews for your new source of reviews from the Tropic's local reviewers, Ian Brockway and Shirrel Rhoades.

Thank you for your interest.

Tropic Cinema

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Arrival (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Denis Villeneuve's "Arrival" is riveting, tense and thought provoking. It is the story of alien beings coming to earth to tell us something, and at times it is opaque just what the "something" means.

From the start, we are hooked. While it slightly resembles "Inception" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," its surprise turns and philosophical depth make it a unique film for the genre.

One day linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who is coping with the death of her daughter, is teaching at college. Sudden beeps are heard. Each student is recieving text messages. Louise turns on the TV and discovers to her great shock that alien ships are hovering all over the world in some forty countries.  People are in an uproar.

Not knowing what to do, she goes home and is visited by  Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) who tells her that her expertise is needed with the extraterrestrial language barrier. She refuses. But after being summoned in the dark of night, Louise agrees and she is flown to Montana.

The military camp looks like a toy army field from above, plastic and frozen, the men with guns glued in place. The ship is there, hovering inches from the verdant green expanse, egg like and grayish black: a three-dimensional Magritte painting.

Louise is briefed and introduced to physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). They are put in Hazmat suits and sent upward. This is suspenseful because they are sent up a pitch black shaft and we feel their uncertainty.

They meet the beings but do they mean introduction or harm? The visitors speak in a calligraphic language that has no linear bearing on time and space. Understandably, both Louise and Ian are in a dilemma. How far should they push and just what is the meaning of their encounter if the language used is absent in qualities of beginning or end?

Amy Adams is excellent as a conscientious  professor and grieving mother who cares greatly about her discovery, but more immediately is just trying to cope.

Director Villeneuve (Prisoners) has the sense not to reveal too much and while the story does get technical and maze-like, there is enough heart and emotion to keep one held and transfixed. The singular sight of the huge ship floating  mere inches from an emerald greenspace is enough to make one cheer for Surrealism in the 21st century.

"Arrival" is a contemplative film that rejects spoon-feeding its audience or giving easily digestible images. It is a provocative film which goes deeper than Christopher Nolan's aforementioned highly praised puzzler "Inception".

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Queen of Katwe (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Queen of Katwe

Director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) gives a queen her due in "Queen of Katwe" an bouyant biopic about Phiona Mutesi, the teen chess champion of Uganda. Mutesi, having lost her father and sister in childhood and raised in poverty by a single mother, overcame near impossible odds. She began to learn chess as a young girl and with a prodigious memory, earned a championship.

Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) aids her mom, Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong'o) in selling maize. She likes her home life, but grows increasingly pressured. Phiona is bullied, money is scarce to non-existent and her sister Night (Taryn Kyaze) is known to be going out with whoever has flash. By chance, she spies youngsters playing chess at the Sports Outreach School, a Christian Mission. Phiona wanders in with her brother, Brian (Martin Kabanza).

Her interest is piqued. The kids make fun of her, but the instructor Robert Katande (David Oyelowo) notices her enthusiasm.

Director Nair employs Disney's trademark sweet tone to great effect. Rather than cloying or sugary as some Disney films are, the film is effervescent and bubbly, but never without its pathos. The sister, Night, flirts with the gangster realm but never fully succumbs. The film does not shy away from domestic fireworks, but when it does indulge in drama, it is startlingly authentic.

This film is a true underdog story in the best sense and it is impossible not to cheer. The mere glance at Nalwanga's serious yet cheerful face will have you smiling in an instant. Like Karate Kid's stance and Rocky Balboa's jog, Phiona has a trademark snap after a chess move combined with a dance that is sure to enter cinema history.

The cinematography and editing is so emotionally strong that it floats and leaps upon the eye like music.  The magic is that these very real people are as iconic as any heroes in older classic Disney tales and they are all the more powerful for actually living in this realm.

The best that could be said of "Queen of Katwe" is that it embodies an irrepressibly contagious joy that is possible in life, if we make solid choices along with luck.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Week of November 11 - 17 (Rhoades)

Tropic Overview

Tropic’s Screens Filled With Interesting Characters
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Tropic Cinema welcomes aliens from outer space, brainy chess queens, grumbling misanthropes, cute li’l trolls, gun-blazin’ cowpokes, and crafty murderers to this week’s screens.

Take me to your leader! “Arrival” recounts intergalactic spacecraft landing on earth. Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker lead the team trying to decipher the aliens’ message -- is it a greeting or a warning? This has been called a thinking-man’s (and -woman’s) sci-fi film. Village Voice describes it as “a sci-fi movie that looks not up at the stars but rather deep within.” And RogerEbert.com calls it “a film that forces viewers to reconsider that which makes us truly human, and the impact of grief on that timeline of existence.”

“Queen of Katwe” is certainly a feel-good movie, but it’s much more than that -- a metaphor for rescuing your life. A young Ugandan girl becomes a chess master despite her impoverished existence in the slums of Katwe. Associated Press says, “The colors and rhythms of life in the slums of Uganda are what set Queen of Katwe apart from other underdog chess movies.” And New York Observer adds, “The story is true, and the message it delivers -- with care and help, the disenfranchised can become role models and inspire others -- is unabashedly sentimental, but in a good way.”

“A Man Called Ove” gives us a world-weary grump (Rolf Lassgard) who life is turned around when new neighbors knock over his mailbox with their car, sparking an unexpected friendship. San Francisco Chronicle sees it as “a pleasant journey from pawn to king -- spiritually speaking, of course.” And Killer Movie Reviews tells us, “In the end, we take Ove on his own terms, and he shows us how a bittersweet life can be a life very well lived.”

“The Girl on the Train” is a “Gone Girl” wannabe, a murder mystery with twists and turns. An alcoholic ex-wife (Emily Blunt) spies on her former husband and sees things that make her a suspect in a missing person case. ABC Radio Brisbane promises it “offers intrigue and a few red herrings…” And South China Morning Post says it has a “potential to entertain.”

“Trolls” is a sticky sweet children’s outing, a 3D animated musical about those tiny fright-wigged dolls you remember from your childhood. Justin Timberlake provides the bouncy music. Detroit News tells us, “‘Trolls’ isn't likely to advance mankind in any significant way, but it’s a harmless adventure with a few toe-tapping musical numbers and a positive message of togetherness and teamwork.” And New York Times calls it “Exuberant, busy and sometimes funny .…”

Want a good Western shoot-‘em-up? This remake of “The Magnificent Seven” stars Denzel Washington as the leader of gunslingers (and more) who set out to rescue a small town from bad guys. NPR says, “If body count is what you go to Westerns for, by all means drift into this one's corral.” And Detroit News says this “latest spin on the classic outlaw tale -- comes in guns blazing, sweeps the town and gets the job done.”

Meet them all at the Tropic.


NUTS! (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Nuts!” Is a Deliberately Nutty Doc
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’ve always had a reluctant admiration for charlatans and hucksters. I enjoyed the motor-mouth spiels of Crazy Eddy selling cheap TVs and Vince, the ShamWow guy. And I remember that Will Kellogg created corn flakes as a heath food, while Coca-Cola was originally promoted as nerve tonic.

No surprise that I enjoyed “Nuts!” -- a documentary about the controversial medical doctor and radio mogul, John R. Brinkley. He was a Kansas druggist-turned-physician who claimed he could cure male impotence by implanting goat testicles into the scrotums of his patients.


Did it work? Not really. But what did you expect from a man with dubious academic credentials?

Back in the ‘20s Brinkley invented the infomercial, using “satisfied customer” testimonials to hawk his health cures over his country-music radio station KFKB. Critics said the call letters stood for “Kansas Folk Know Better.”

When the radio station was closed down by the Federal Radio Commission (now the FCC), Brinkley merely started up a “million-watt-regulation-skirting border-blaster” station in Mexico and continued filling Kansas airwaves with dubious messages. Such as hair products containing lead.

His so-called cures were blamed for many deaths.

When screenwriter Thom Stylinski and director Penny Lane decided to make a documentary based on the book “The Life of A Man” by Clement Wood, they were more interested in people’s gullibility than Brinkley’s factual biography

As Stylinski explains, “It’s because people want to believe that something as magical and as weird as this could be true. So I was … interested in investigating that aspect.”

“Nuts!” is showing next Monday night as the latest entry in the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers at the Tropic Cinema. And Thom Stylinski will be on hand to introduce the film.

“Nuts!” is a fascinating film, using a combination of animation, interviews with historians, news clips, and archival footage to tell the wacky story. As narrated by associate producer Gene Tognicci, we find we can’t trust John R. Brinkley -- or the unreliable narration.

Penny Lane says, “We can all get fooled.”

On the film’s website, you will find an outline so you can determine where “Nuts!” stayed true to the facts, altered the chronology of events, or “simply made things up out of whole cloth.”

Or you can simply ask Thom Stylinski during the Tropic’s Q&A.


Arrival (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Arrival” About More Than Extraterrestrials
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My brother runs multiple computers that “listen” for messages from outer space. It’s part of the SETI@Home program.

SETI is short for the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence.

As Agent Mulder used to say in TV’s “X-Files,” the truth is out there.

However, in “Arrival” -- the new science-fiction movie playing at Tropic Cinema -- the truth is closer to home when extraterrestrials arrive on earth.

As spacecraft land around the world, a task force is assembled to investigate the enigmatic visitors. A linguistics specialist (Amy Adams), a physicist (Jeremy Renner), and an Army colonel (Forest Whitaker) team up to avert a global confrontation.

Called “a thinking man’s sci-fi film,” it pays homage to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” while retaining director Denis Villeneuve’s own unique vision.

Contrary to Villeneuve’s previous works (“Prisoners,” “Sicario”) “Arrival” doesn’t offer a dark view of humanity. Rather than a shoot-‘em-up action film, here we find a trio who are trying to understand these aliens. With various nations trying to translate the language, there’s lots of room for misinterpretation. Amy Adams gives a sensitive performance, turning the typical invasion from outer space trope into a backdrop for self-reflection. Dr. Louise Banks (Adams) examines what makes her human as she mourns the loss of a daughter.

So rather than discovering what the aliens are, we consider what makes us who we are. Both positive and negative.


Queen of Katwe (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Queen of Katwe” A Crowd-Pleaser
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

How do you make an interesting movie about a thoughtful, slow-moving game like chess? Just ask director Mura Nair.

Her new movie “Queen of Katwe” is more than just a feel-good biopic. Its subject is 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi, a girl who lives in Katwe, the largest of eight slums in Kampala, Uganda. She cannot read and has to sell maize in the street to help support her impoverished family. The change in her life comes when a local sports official decides to teach the kids chess rather than soccer. Phiona only joins the chess club because it offered free porridge and she was hungry. Other kids say, “She smells,” but the coach welcomes her, noting “This is a place for fighters.” Phiona surprises him with her aptitude for the game … and before you know it she’s beating him.

Nair deftly equates the elements of chess to her young subject’s life. Finding a “safe space” whenever your opponent is on the offensive. Against all odds, marching a pawn all the way across the board to turn it into a queen.

“In chess,” one young player explains, “the small one can become the big one.”

In short, it doesn’t matter how strong or rich you are, the game can teach you to “strategize your way to a better life.”

It did just that for the real-life Phiona. She went on to become one of the first two women in Ugandan history to become titled chess players. Phiona was awarded a Woman Candidate Master after her performance in the 40th Chess Olympiad in Turkey.

Newcomer Madina Nalwanga stars as Phiona Mutesi. Nearly 700 girls were interviewed for the part. Well cast, Nalwanga gives a subtle, nuanced performance as a girl struggling against poverty, self-doubt, and prejudice.

Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) is spectacular as Phiona’s headstrong mother, Nakku Harriet. She exudes a determination to protect her daughter from disappointment, while striving to keep their family afloat, living in a hut they can ill afford.

And David Oyelowo (“Selma”) is charismatic as Robert Katende, the coach who discovered Phiona while conducting a Christian missionary program for slum children.

Don’t leave before the credits, because tears will sting your eyes as you see the actors meet the actual people they played. Kind of like that moment at the end of “Schindler’s List.”

Surprisingly, “Queen of Katwe” is a Disney movie. Mura Nair likes to joke that this is the first Disney film set in Africa that doesn’t have a single animal in it.

Based on a story by Tim Corothers in ESPN magazine (“The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster”), the screenplay was penned by William Wheeler. Despite her earlier success with “Monsoon Wedding,” Nair was forced to film a high-concept short to alleviate Disney’s concerns about an odd kind of sports film set entirely in Africa. But it turns out Disney has a soft spot for “underdog” sports films.

Nair described “Queen of Katwe” as “a radical film for Disney in many ways ... It has beauty and barbarity side-by-side.”

A movie with a female lead and an all-black cast directed by a woman of color, the movie was a long shot. But Mura Nair was determined, just as dedicated as any underdog in a Disney movie. She kept in mind the slogan of a film school she founded in Uganda: “If we don’t tell our own stories, no one will.”