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June 19, 2017

LA POINTE COURTE — CLASSIC FILM PICK

La-pointe-courteAgnes Varda was ahead of the curve in paving the way for the French New Wave. Her 1955 debut is a delicate balance of Bergman-inspired formalism mixed with neo-realistic elements to form a mature depiction of a young married Parisian couple visiting the young man’s hometown for the first time.

'La Pointe Courte' takes its title from the neighborhood in the fishing town of Sète in the south of France where the young pair come to grips with a relationship that may be headed for divorce.

Although not the most picturesque seaside village, the community operates with an anti-authorial mindset that nonetheless adheres to strict social codes of conduct. The sense of tradition and identity is pronounced in things like the way women neighbors chat while hanging their laundry. Agnes Varda's eye for detail focuses on the abstract, the concrete, and the poetic. Life has a value here that is simple but defiant. The tone and pacing take on a hypnotic quality that puts the viewer in a filmic trance. 

LaPointeCourte

Philippe Noiret and Silvia Monfort took no payment for their performances as the couple whose marital issues find context against the social backdrop of a tiny community populated with feral cats. When we see a dead cat floating in the shoreline, it registers as a surrealistic grace note out of Luis Buñuel's dialectic of natural absurdity. It's enough to make you believe that Agnes Varda initiated the French New Wave single-handedly with this unforgettable film. 

La-pointe-courte.colesmithey.com

Not Rated. 86 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

L.A.F.S. DIRECTOR DEBUTS ON FILMSTRUCK STREAMING WITH COLE SMITHEY from Cole Smithey on Vimeo.

June 16, 2017

SWEETIE — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Sweetie-movie-posterNew Zealand auteur Jane Campion broke the ice with a cheeky transgressive familial comedy whose dark thematic import announces itself only at the film’s end. The result is a sucker punch of methodical storytelling. Coincidentally, the movie presaged Mike Leigh’s similarly titled and themed debut picture “Life Is Sweet.”

Campion pulls you in to an emotional rip tide. Neurotic Kay steals her man Lou (played by Tom Lycos) from another woman by seducing him in a car park. Kay’s libido subsides after the escaped couple set up house together with Kay’s (seemingly) bi-polar sister Dawn, a.k.a. ’Sweetie,’ (Geneviève Lemon) moves in with her new (lowlife) ‘talent manager.’

Precise depictions of character habits touch on an undercurrent of sexual abuse in a film that never hits a single theme line on the head. ‘Sweetie’ is a rich black comedy told in dominant chords. When it resolves to minor, you can’t help but be swept away.

SWEETIE

Rated R. 97 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS 7

Return-of-the-secaucus-7In 1980, four years before “The Big Chill” addressed baby boomers crossing over into middle age ennui for mainstream (read Hollywood) audiences, John Sayles created the subject’s wryly indelible mold with an independent ferocity inspired by John Cassavetes’ daring approach to cinematic truth.

Born of lower and middle-class New England families, seven (optimistic but seasoned) friends reunite for a weekend of hanging out, skinny dipping, singing songs, and peeking into the uncertain future staring them in the face. They talk, joke, hook up, and bare their souls to one another in refreshingly honest ways. This film is an exquisite time capsule of New Hampshire culture circa 1980. Dig the Tretorn tennis shoes.

SECAUCUS 7

Financed with money he made from writing B-movie scripts for Roger Corman, Sayles’s episodic storytelling breathes with lumpy authenticity. The reunion crew refer to themselves as the “Secaucus 7” (think “the Chicago Seven”) because of an arrest they endured in Secaucus, New Jersey on their way to a protest in Washington D.C. that they were thwarted from attending.

Secaucus7

Rated R. 104 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)


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WONDER WOMAN

WonderWomanPosterAs boring and flavorless as a three-day-old grilled cheese sandwich that’s been left out in the sun, “Wonder Woman” is yet another reminder that the superhero genre is a lost cause. How much longer can Hollywood pursue this thematically bankrupt and soulless children’s movie genre is anyone’s guess. There needs to be a 10-year moratorium on CGI. I'm not kidding. Lars Von Trier could make films for the rest of his career based on this one's budget, and they'd all be 100 times better.

The filmmakers here (director Patty Jenkins — “Monster”) set modern feminism back a hundred years in more ways than one. The narrative backdrop is World War I. Cough. It took the screenwriters putting the story back 100 years so they could have good guys and bad guys completley removed from the complex problems of the modern world. "Innocent women and children are dying." Uh-huh. Got it.

Characters speak with laughably wandering accents that point to poor preparation on the part of actors and filmmakers alike. Newbie screenwriter Allan Heinberg crafts dialogue that puts fish to sleep. The pacing and editing is so slack that any chance of dramatic suspense is out the window long before the film’s excruciating 141 minutes gratefully ends. Here’s a movie that not even Hollywood’s best editor could find something resembling mediocrity could extract. The best thing the movie has to offer is Lindy Hemming’s inventive costumes design for Gal Gadot’s heroine of (ostensibly) lesbian descent.

Wonder-woman

Rated PG-13. 141 mins. (F) (Zero stars — out of five / no halves)


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June 15, 2017

HARDCORE — CLASSIC FILM PICK

HARDCORE.colesmitheyStuck between “Taxi Driver” (1976) and “Paris, Texas” (1984) Paul Schrader’s obsessions with the underbelly of America’s porn culture of the era goes down every sleazy back alley that 1979 had to offer.

“Hardcore” is described being “loosely autobiographical,” and indeed Schrader’s Calvinist upbringing plays a major part in the culture shock that his alter-ego Jake VanDorn (played by George C. Scott) endures after his teenage daughter Kristen goes missing during a school vacation to Los Angeles. Jake’s transformation into a (fake) porn film producer allows the Schrader’s theme-filled exposition to expand in all directions.

Season Hubley Hardcore.colesmithey.com

Peter Boyle adds his signature authenticity to the picture as a Los Angeles private detective who never fails to exploit his position in and around the sex trade. But it is Season Hubley’s portrayal as a sex worker named Niki that gives the film its thematic and human resonance. Notable too is Jack Nitzsche’s musical score and Michael Chapman’s vibrant cinematography.   

Although flawed by a trope-filled ending, “Hardcore” is a fascinating social drama that makes scathing commentary about organized religion, capitalism, and America’s politically driven puritanical pretenses. “Hardcore” fills an essential chapter in American Cinema’s Golden Decade.

Hardcore.colesmithey.com

Rated R. 109 mins. (B+) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)

June 14, 2017

DIVA — CLASSIC FILM PICK

DivaIn adapting Daniel Odier’s novel ‘Diva’ to the big screen, Jean-Jacques Beineix set the stylistic tone for a French Cinema movement would later be termed ‘Cinéma du look.’ Luc Besson and Leos Carax are the two other prominent proponents of the ‘80s era French movement that created visually splashy films such as Besson’s ‘Subway.’

In ‘Diva’ Frédéric Andréi is Jules, a young opera lover obsessed with the American singer Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Fernandez), a diva who refuses to make records or to be recorded at all. The outlier Jules surreptitiously makes a bootleg recording of a recital before stealing one of the diva’s dresses after meeting her for the first time. Jules is a fetishist as well as a lightning rod for trouble but that doesn’t prevent him from entering into a romantic relationship with his object of desire even as international gangsters and corrupt cops fix him in their sites. ‘Diva’ is a seductive feast for the senses that sticks. There’s no telling how many audience members this film turned into instant opera fans.   

DIVA

Rated R. 117 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves)


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May 10, 2017

MANIFESTO

ManifestoBy far the best film to come along in the first half of 2017, “Manifesto” is as thought and discussion-provoking as films come. It also happens to be entertaining as hell. This is one provocative movie about the ongoing culture wars that disrupt our lives in the most intrinsic ways.

Writer/director Julian Rosefeldt comments on modern life and art through a textual landscape created from different manifestos from such authors as Marx and Engels, and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism.” Still the barrage of ideologies remains refreshingly transparent thanks to the social setting of each of the film's highly stylized backgrounds. 

Cate Blanchett shows off her chops in a virtuosic display in which she plays 13 different characters, each with a lot to say about art, commerce, creativity, love, hope, desire, geo-global politics, death, global warming, passion, ignorance, authenticity, capitalism and family. If that sounds like a lot, be assured that I have but scratched the surface of the ambitious ideas that Blanchett embodies with a ferocity of purpose seldom seen on stage or screen.

Blanchett

Even the Dogma 95 manifesto makes an appearance in an elementary classroom full of whip-smart students. There’s even a surprise ending that reveals the harmony hidden between each of Cate Blanchett’s wildly different characters.

“Manifesto” is a beautifully conceived think-piece that takes the viewer on a journey of ideas and expression. Any person interested in bold artistic statements should check out this tour de force art film delivered with virtuosic precision from one of the world’s greatest living actresses. It’s not too far a stretch to call this film a real treasure. Bon appetite.

Cate Blanchett

Not Rated. 95 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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